Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tower of the Medusa by Lin Carter

(pb; 1969)

Review:

Carter packages Tower's science fiction elements with pulp-vivid aplomb. Its action-packed plot involves a master thief (Kirin), who is hired by the rich, portly Doctor Temujin to steal a legendary jewel -- the well-guarded Heart of Kom Yazoth, a demon associated with widespread destruction. Kirin and Temujin are en route to enact the dangerous theft, when they are taken prisoner by Azeera the Witch Queen, who also wants the jewel, with which she will rule the known universe. 

Other characters in this fast-paced, exciting mix include: Caola, an Amazonian War Maid of Nar, whose wits and physical prowess may prove valuable to Kirin and Temujin; evil wizards of varying power, Pangoy the Nexian and his magickal master (Zarlak), who also commands the vicious Death Dwarves, whose job it is to guard the Iron Tower, where the jewel -- also called the Medusa -- lies beyond a series of elaborate traps.

There is not much in this story that will surprise readers familiar with science fiction-pulp tropes, but Carter's well-sketched characters, lean-and-mean storytelling and cinematic-friendly writing keeps Tower fun and thrilling: worth owning, this.

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Tower of the Medusa was packaged as a reverse-bound "Ace Double" novel, which means that if readers flip the book upside down and over, there was another science fiction novel, penned by another author, on the other side. (Considering that these books sold for 75 cents a pop, this seems like a great deal, even back in the Sixties.)

In this case, the flipside novel is George H. Smith's Kar Kaballa.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Points and Lines by Seicho Matsumoto

(hb;1958: translated by Makiko Yamamoto and Paul C. Blum)

From the back cover:

"A senior official in a ministry tainted with scandal. A dining car receipt. A name missing from a passenger list. And a young man and woman dead on a beach in an apparent suicide. Disconnected points, but not to a determined detective who keeps searching for the lines that link the living and the dead."


Review:

Points is a clever, word-exact police procedural that immediately immersed me with its crisp, hyper-focused prose and well-sketched characters (as well as its Japanese milieu and abbreviated social commentary). This is a compelling how-the-crime-was-committed read, worth owning.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Two-Bear Mambo by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 1995: third book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the inside flap:

"Florida Grange, Leonard's drop-dead gorgeous lawyer and Hap's former lover, has vanished in Klan-infested Grovetown while in pursuit of the real story behind the jailhouse death of a legendary bluesman's blackguard son. Fearing the worst, Hap and Leonard set out to do the kind of investigating the good ole boy cops can't - or won't - do. In Grovetown they encounter a redneck police chief, a sadistic Christmas tree grower, and townsfolk itchin' for a lynchin'. Add to this a dark night exhumation in a voodoo graveyard, a thunderstorm of Biblical proportions, and flat-out sudden murder. Hap and Leonard vow to face the hate and find Florida, even if Leonard has to put a hole in anyone who gets in the way. Besides, they've packed a lunch."


Review:

This third entry in the Hap and Leonard series is darker, more violent and harrowing than its predecessor books, Savage Season and Mucho Mojo. When Leonard Pine and Hap Collins' investigation into the disappearance of Hap's ex-girlfriend (Florida) leads them into an entire town populated by pernicious racists, even Hap and Leonard's junkyard dog attitudes, trenchant wits and general bad-assery may not be enough to pull them through this rain-drenched nightmare that will shake them to their cores.

Two-Bear is my favorite Hap and Leonard novel thus far, another impressive, character-expansive work. This, like its previous books, is worth owning.

Followed by Bad Chili.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dracula by Bram Stoker

(pb; 1897)

Review:

Told through a series of various characters' journals, notes and cables, this nineteenth-century, milestone novel of vampirism, slow-burn horror, desire and other emotions is an enthralling, descriptive work, one that deservedly has been acknowledged as the blueprint for most vampire-themed art and writing. Stoker crafted the perfect bloodsucker book when he wrote this (I rarely use the word "perfect" to describe any writing); for this reason, this is one of my all-time favorite reads.

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Dracula has inspired so many other works, visual, literary, aural and cinematic, I will not even attempt to show the creative strands stemming from it.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

(hb; 2015)

From the inside flap:

". . . a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysterious business. Almost immediately, while checking into her hotel, she is robbed, her passport and all identification stolen. The crime is investigated by the police, but the woman feels there is a strange complicity between the hotel staff and the authorities—she knows she’ll never see her possessions again.

"Stripped of her identity, she feels both burdened by the crime and liberated by her sudden freedom to be anyone at all. Then, a chance encounter with a film crew provides an intriguing opportunity: A producer sizes her up and asks, would she be willing to be the body-double for a movie star filming in the city? And so begins a strange journey in which she’ll become a stand-in—both on-set and off—for a reclusive celebrity who can no longer circulate freely in society while gradually moving further away from the person she was when she arrived in Morocco."



Review:

Diver's Clothes is a love-or-hate novel. Vida not only tells the story through a second-person point-of-view (told in the present tense, with lots of "you"s), but her protagonist -- a flighty, irrational woman -- often makes bizarre, ill-advised decisions that may be off-putting to some readers. (The reasons for the protagonist's irrationality are eventually, somewhat revealed.)

Normally, a book like this would not appeal to me. What compelled me to read Diver's Clothes was that I am a fan of Vida's work, which consistently has an exotic surreality, an dangerous dreaminess to it, as well as her swift-paced, turn-on-a-dime storytelling. Also, this book has the feel of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, where the protagonists plunge headlong into unpredictable situations whilst panicking -- and trying not to think too long on the consequences of their wild, criminal decisions. (I am not the first person to note this; the same person who made the Vida-Highsmith connection also suggested an Alfred Hitchcock link, which makes sense: Hitchcock filmed a loosely adapted version of Highsmith's Strangers on a Train.)

If you can get past the second-person POV and the protagonist's bad decisions (which threaten to bury her even as their repercussions amass), this is a hard-to-put down read. The tale's finish is open-ended, keeping with the tone of what precedes it, with Vida providing sufficient foreshadowing to suggest that this, too, while a bad choice, is also an exhilarating (and character-true) one.

Borrow it or check this out from a library before you buy it, if you are iffy about Diver's Clothes: better to spend money on something where you are fairly certain you will like it, right?



Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cannibal Island by Michael Faun

(pb; 2014: novella)

From the back cover:

"In the 1920s, a British expedition sets out to investigate a crater caused by a meteorite on an uninhabited island in the Zanzibar archipelago -- a four-week-long journey by boat that culminates in a nightmare. But when they finally arrive at the island, no nightmare could compare to what they discover."


Review:

This entertaining, fast-moving homage to men's adventure magazines and cannibal films is a short and to-the-point read, one worth owning. Characters are well-sketched (familiar caricatured meat puppets who are funny, sometimes in a horrible ways), the sense of calamity ever-present and the gore (while intermittent) effective and vivid enough to pay proper respects to the genres which Faun clearly is smitten with. Fun, brief work, this -- worth your time and cash.

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At the time of this writing, Faun has posted several exuberant Facebook posts pertaining to his current authorial endeavor: a sequel to Cannibal Island. When more information is available, I will update this review.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 1994: second book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the inside flap:

"Under the blister of a Texas sun, you distract your mind or watch it die. For Hap Collins, slaving in the rose fields of July, the diversion is fantasies of iced tea and willing women. For Leonard Pine's Uncle Chester, the mental deterioration is too fatally advanced. Dying in the slums of LaBorde, he  no longer despises with the same passion his gay nephew Leonard. He ignores the crack house next door. And he forgets about what he'd buried under the floorboards of his house.

"He does remember to erect a forbidding 'bottle tree': a ragged post festooned with glass, designed to ward off black magic.

"When Leonard and his old friend Hap clean out Uncle Chester's house, they dig up a small skeleton, wrapped in pornographic magazines -- along with a grotesque link between an unsolved series of child murders and Leonard's late relative and guardian. Thinking white, Hap wants to call the police. But Leonard, intimate with the unwritten codes in his black part of town, persuades his partner to help clear Chester's name, sans outside reinforcement. Together, they unearth the deepest, ugliest truth of all."


Review:

Mucho builds on the Texas-based, neo-pulp-saturated world of Leonard Pine and Hap Collins (first introduced in Savage Season), resulting in another all-around entertaining and burn-through read in the Hap and Leonard series. As with Savage, Hap and Leonard's longtime friendship provides the banter-punctuated core around which the action revolves, the action this time perhaps more personal than that of the first book (Leonard's Uncle Chester may not have been as noble in his gruff worldview as he seemed).

This is another great read, an impressive, character-organic expansion in this series -- and, like its source novel, worth owning.

Followed by The Two-Bear Mambo.