Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Doom Patrol, Volume 2: The Painting That Ate Paris by Grant Morrison, Doug Braithwaite, Richard Case, Scott Hanna, John Nyberg and Carlos Garzón

(2016: graphic novel, collects issues 35-50 of the rebooted-in-1989 comic book series)

From the back cover

“Originally conceived in the 1960s by the visionary team of writer Arnold Drakes and artist Bruno Premiani, the Doom Patrol was reborn a generation later through the singular imagination of a young Scottish author─and the result took American comics in a wholly unexpected direction.

“In forging their new path, the reborn World’s Strangest Heroes left behind almost every vestige of normality. Though they are super-powered beings, and though their foes are bent on world domination, all that is conventional ends there. Shunned as freaks and outcasts, and tempered by loss and insanity, this band of misfits faces threats so mystifying in nature and so corrupted in motive that reality itself threatens to fall apart around them─but it’s still al in a day’s work for the Doom Patrol.”


Review

Doom, with its sly humor, unique and unsettling characters and multiverses as well as its smarty pants, abstract notions/genre twists, is one of my all-time favorite comic book series. It does not hurt that the artwork is stellar, straddling the line between Golden Age and then-Modern Age illustrations and tones; it furthers my enjoyment of Doom that the storylines are unpredictable and, at times, mind-bending.

In this particular Doom volume, our unusual heroes further their acquaintance with Danny the Street. They also battle The Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E. (fake and real), fangsome smoke dogs, and the chaotic Mr. Nobody─escaped from the “Painting That Ate Paris” he was trapped in, in Volume 1─and his new Brotherhood of Dada.

Followed by Doom Patrol, Volume 3: Down Paradise Way.

Knife by Jo Nesbø

(2019: twelfth book in the Harry Hole series. Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith.)

From the inside flap

“Harry is in a bad place. Rakel─the only woman he’s ever loved─has kicked him out, permanently. He’s drinking again. And though he’s been given a chance for a new start with the Oslo Police, it’s in the dreaded cold case office. Wht he wants to be is investigating─what he’s made to be investigating─are new cases that he suspects have ties to Svein Finne, the most notorious criminal in Norway, the serial murder and rapist Harry helped put behind bars a decade ago. Now Finne is free. Free and, Harry is certain, unreformed, and already taking up where he left off.

“But things are about to get worse. When Harry wakes up the morning after a drunken blackout, it’s only the beginning of what will be a waking nightmare. . .”


Review

Knife is an excellent, near-impossible-to-set-down pot boiler thriller that─for the most part─masterfully builds on previous events in the series, repercussions from Harry’s and others’ pasts that now come to often-violent fruition. Main characters are knocked off or their stories warmly or horrifyingly expanded upon, big-and-bold twists and turns punctuate every other chapter, and its pace is full-speed-ahead.

The only misstep is the identity of the main killer(s) stalking Harry’s family. While it was technically well-foreshadowed, its seeds planted expertly along the way, the reason for his/her turn to the dark side felt forced, a trifle-excuse of a justification for Nesbø to further show off his clever chops. That said, it is a minor nit, albeit a near-the-end-book-take-away one, in an otherwise wow-that’s-popcorn-worthy entertaining read.

Knife is worth reading, and owning, if you can get past a killer (or killers) whose breaking points seem writerly.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Friday Night in Beast House by Richard Laymon

(hb; 2001: novella. Fourth book in The Beast House Chronicles)

From the inside flap

“Return to Malcasa Point, where two young lovers are meeting at midnight for a very special date. Meeting at the legendary Beast House. . .after hours. . .in the dark. It will be a night they never forget!”


Review

Warning: possible spoilers in this review.

Plot: When unsure-of-himself Mark lands that unexpected first date with the oh-so-hot Alison, he is thrilled. Of course, there is her “one condition” that said outing take place in the local Beast House.

Friday is a trifle side-story in the Beast House quadrilogy, set at no specified time─although bad-ass cop Eve Chaney, last seen in The Midnight Tour, is in this fourth book.

 That said, it is a mostly fun, short read, with a disturbing and─for the main characters─happy ending. I write “disturbing” because Laymon’s dark, and I mean dark, sense of humor perhaps goes too far when one of the characters, subject to an extended rape session, is nonchalant about it at book's end. While I understand I was meant to be disturbed (on a certain level), reading this─in 2001 or 2019─strikes me as amazingly tone deaf. True, there were other rapes in the Beast House books, but Alison’s blithe shoulder-shrug response is unlike other, more realistic characters’ responses to the same experiences. It would be a stretch to say I am offended but Alison’s seemingly sincere attitude just seemed off, not realistic and, as I said earlier, tone deaf.

Friday is not a terrible book, but it is an unnecessary entry in the Beast House series. Borrow it from the library if you can, and if you must purchase it, get it used and cheap.

Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell with Craig Sanborn

(2017: memoir)

From the inside flap

“One of my dad’s favorite jokes about getting older was ‘I went out for coffee when I was twenty-one and when I got back I was fifty-eight!’

“I get what he meant now. Time flies. My first book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, was published back in 2001 and it chronicles the adventures of a ‘mid-grade, kind of hammy actor’ (my words), cutting his teeth on exploitation movies far removed from Hollywood.

“This next book, an ‘Act II’ if you will, could be considered my ‘maturing years’ in show business, when I began to say no more often and gravitated toward self-generated material. Taking stock of the overall quality of life, I fled Los Angeles and moved to a remote part of Oregon to renew, regroup and reload.

“If that sounds tame, the journey from Evil Dead to Spider-Man to Burn Notice was long, with plenty of adventures/mishaps along the way. I never pictured myself hovering above Baghdad in a Blackhawk helicopter, facing a pack of wild dogs in Bulgaria, or playing an aging Elvis Presley with cancer on his penis─how can you predict this stuff? The sheer lunacy of show business is part of the fun for me and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

“—Bruce ‘Don’t Call Me Ash’ Campbell”


Review

Hail is an interesting, graceful, fun and smart-minded read, a mix of oddball occurrences, strange and educational encounters (often within Hollywood- or low budget film-based situations), charming self-deprecation and honest evaluations as well as the joys of, and contrasts between, Los Angeles and the boonies of Oregon. This is worth checking out from the library or purchasing for fans of Campbell and his expanding oeuvre.

The Furies by Niven Busch



(pb; 1948)


From the back cover

“With his novel Duel in the Sun (1946) and his screenplay for Raoul Walsh’s Pursued (1947), Niven Busch brought the western into decidedly Freudian territory, marrying the genre’s rugged exteriors with equally untamed psychologies. First published in 1948, The Furies continued his revisionist steak with the thundering tale of Vane Jefford, tough right hand and hot-blooded heiress to her beloved patriarch, ruthless New Mexico cattle baron T.C. Jefford. But when her widower father brings home a new flame, Vance’s simmering jealousy threatens to shatter trust, draw blood, and bring ruin to the clan.”

Review

Furies is a cinematic-vivid, psychologically intense, epic and sometimes suspenseful Western tale of tempestuous familial struggles, betrayal, greed, murder and─for some of the characters─redemption. It gets chatty at times but not so much that it made me, a minimalist reader and writer, want to set it down. This is an ambitious, accomplished and memorable work, one that will stick with this reader for a long time to come. This is not only worth reading, it is worth owning.

#

The resulting film was released stateside on August 14, 1950. It was directed by Anthony Mann, from Charles Schnee’s screenplay.

Barbara Stanwyck played Vance Jeffords. Walter Huston played T.C. Jeffords. Gilbert Roland played Juan Herrera. Wendell Corey played Rip Darrow (cinematic stand-in for the book’s Curley Darragh). Judith Anderson played Flo Burnett.

John Bromfield played Clay Jeffords. Blanche Yerka played “Herrera Mother.” Thomas Gomez played El Tigre. Wallace Ford played Scotty Hyslip. Frank Ferguson played Dr. Grieve. 


Doom Patrol, Volume 1: Crawling from the Wreckage by Grant Morrison, Doug Braithwaite, Richard Case, Scott Hanna, John Nyberg and Carlos Garzón

(2016: graphic novel, collects issues 19-34 of the rebooted-in-1989 comic book series)

From the back cover

“Originally conceived in the 1960s by the visionary team of writer Arnold Drakes and artist Bruno Premiani, the Doom Patrol was reborn a generation later through the singular imagination of a young Scottish author─and the result took American comics in a wholly unexpected direction.

“In forging their new path, the reborn World’s Strangest Heroes left behind almost every vestige of normality. Though they are super-powered beings, and though their foes are bent on world domination, all that is conventional ends there. Shunned as freaks and outcasts, and tempered by loss and insanity, this band of misfits faces threats so mystifying in nature and so corrupted in motive that reality itself threatens to fall apart around them─but it’s still al in a day’s work for the Doom Patrol.”


Review

Doom, with its sly humor, unique, unsettling and intriguing characters, and smarty pants, abstract notions/genre twists, is one of my all-time favorite comic book series. It does not hurt that the artwork is stellar, straddling the line between Golden Age and then-Modern Age illustrations and tones; it furthers my enjoyment of Doom that the storylines are unpredictable and, at times, mind-bending. Worth owning and re-reading, this. Followed by the 2016 graphic novel Doom Patrol, Volume 2: The Painting That Ate Paris.

Friday, October 04, 2019

The Midnight Tour by Richard Laymon

(pb; 1998: third book in the Beast House Chronicles)

From the inside flap

“It is the summer of 1997. Many years have gone by since Janice Crogan’s summer of horror. The town of Malcasa Point has changed a lot─and so has the Beast House tour. Due to several popular books and movies about the infamous house of death, the tour is bigger and better than ever.

“The self-guided daytime tour, safe for the whole family, gives the sanitized version of the attacks and murders. If you want the real story, however, you can get it.

“Just take the Midnight Tour.

“Every Saturday night, for a hundred dollars, you and twelve other guests can participate in the special picnic, private screening of The Horror, and the tour itself.

“The tour starts at midnight. Your guide is the spunky young ‘Tuck,’ who knows everything about Beast House. As she leads you through the gloomy old house, she’ll be happy to tell you all the most grisly, shocking, lurid details about the beast, its weird anatomy, and the horrible rapes and killings that have been committed in the various rooms and corridors, in the attic, in the cellar.

“Don’t worry, the tour’s a little scary and disgusting, but it’s perfectly safe.

“Usually.”


Review

Warning: possible spoilers in this review.

One of the things I like about the Beast House Chronicles is how Laymon approaches each book from a different, often plot- and character-progressive angle. Sandy, one of the main characters in The Cellar, is a welcome, major player in this longer-than-other-Beast books. Like its previous Beast novel, The Beast House, there is plenty of violence, rape-happy monsters, other disturbing sex and humor. Again, there are some Scooby-Doo-ish, gung-ho characters. This time out, the vibe is more plot-oriented and characters’ personalities and characters get more airtime than the horrifying rapes and other sexual intensity.

If there is a big flaw in Midnight, it is that the ending is essentially, almost-word-for-word the same as the finish of The Beast House, with some rapeable characters being subjected the brutal, bloody and intoxicating (read the book before you judge that last word) desires of the “bad” characters.

This is worth reading and owning─if purchased for a few bucks. Followed by Friday Night in Beast House.

Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography by Chris Salewicz


(2019: nonfiction)

From the inside flap

“The original enigmatic rock star, Jimmy Page, is a mass of contradictions. A towering presence in the guitar world and one of the most revered rock guitarists of all time, in private he is reclusive and mysterious, retiring, and given to esoteric interests. Over the decades he has the exchanged few words with the press, given the level of his fame, and an abiding interest in the demonic and supernatural has only made the myth more potent.

“In the mid-Sixties Jimmy Page was London’s most-in-demand session man, playing on records by everyone from Donovan to the Who to the Kinks. In 1964 he accepted an offer to join the Yardbirds, where he replaced Eric Clapton and made blues-based music alongside Jeff Beck. Quickly tiring of the constraints of that band, Page, along with Robert Plant, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones, formed what would quickly become the biggest rock band of all time, Led Zeppelin would go on to sell over 100 million records in the U.S. alone. Songs like ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ‘Dazed and Confused,’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ remain rock radio staples to this day. With their mountain of money, revolving door of groupies, and excessive drug-taking, Led Zeppelin wrote the book on rock ‘n’ roll until it all inevitably imploded.”


Review

Jimmy is an excellent biography about the storied multitalented musician and producer. Salewicz, for the most part, focuses on Page’s musical output, business life and his romantic/bad habits, only briefly mentioning his children, so if you are looking for details about his kids, you won’t find much here. This is worth reading, maybe owning, if you are a rock/Zeppelin/Page fan.

Lake Monsters (a.k.a. Dark Twilight) by Joseph A. Citro

 (pb; 2001)

From the back cover

“Downsized from his job and dumped by his girlfriend, Harrison Allen longs for a fresh start. Alone with no prospects or plans, he relocates to a borrowed house on Friars Island in Lake Champlain to relax, contemplate, and begin redefining his life. Then he hears about the monsters.

“Creatures─perhaps similar to those of Loch Ness─are said to inhabit the murky waters and fogbound marshes of his new island home. His interest piqued, Harrison becomes preoccupied with finding them. But his innocent questions provoke a surprising response: the islanders won’t discuss monsters. After Harrison meets the lovely local schoolteacher, Nancy Wells, events inexplicably turn menacing. He suspects he is being watched; he is warned away from an abandoned monastery; and somehow he incurs the wrath of a murderous local bully. Then people begin to disappear and die. . .”


Review

Lake is a good, steady-build mystery horror B-movie of a book, with mostly interesting, multilayered characters─even the local bad guys are afforded some relatable, consistent emotions and actions, given their bents. Lake is an “old school” work with a few surprising mini-twists, written with masterful, word-economic focus and a sense of humor (fans of The Police song “Synchronicity II” may appreciate its structure), a novel worth reading─and owning.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

(hb; 2018: children’s picture book)

From the inside flap

“It’s Penelope’s first day at school, and she can’t wait to meet her classmates.

“But making friends is hard to do when they’re so delicious!

“Readers will gobble up this hilarious new story from award-winning author-illustrator Ryan T. Higgins.”


Review

This dark-humored children’s book hits the sweet spot between amusing-to-adults and amusing-to-appropriate-for-children. By making Penelope a sweet-natured T-Rex child─who quickly learns to not consume her classmates, a lesson without any lasting harm─and the other characters’ mild response to her actions, Eat is a perfect-for-its-genre read: it sports a simple (but not simple-minded) story arc, easy-to-spot and multilayered moral lessons, and laugh-out-loud funny, surprising moments. I especially love Walter the goldfish and the end-line of this inspired book. Eat is a charming, funny and memorable three-minute read, one worth owning (if you are into this genre and darkly funny mindset).

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Beast House by Richard Laymon


(pb; 1986: second book in the Beast House Chronicles)

From the cover

“The house known as Beast House has become a museum of the most twisted and macabre kind. It is a monument to its own infamous past. On display inside was wax figures of its victims, their bodies mangled and chewed, mutilated beyond description. The tourists who come to Beast House can only wonder what sort of terrifying creature could be responsible for such atrocities. Surely nothing human.

“Bur some people don’t believe the beast even exists. They are convinced Beast House is a huge hoax, an elaborate tourist trap, Nora and her friends don’t believe. They are determined to find the truth for themselves. They will dare to enter the house at night, when the tourists hae gone. When the beast is rumored to come out. They will learn, all right.”


Review

Beast is a vast improvement on its predecessor, The Cellar. Beast is a great, fun B-flick of a splatterpunk─extreme horror─novel. It is a fast-paced, waste-no-words work, with its violence, rape-happy monsters, other disturbing sex and humor. Its characters, some of them seen in The Cellar, are stock and sometimes Scooby-Doo gang stupid and gung-ho. These observations are an amused appreciation, not a criticism in this case. Beast is one of the most entertaining B-movie horror books I have read in a long while.

Followed by The Midnight Tour.

<em>Doom Patrol, Volume 2: The Painting That Ate Paris</em> by Grant Morrison, Doug Braithwaite, Richard Case, Scott Hanna, John Nyberg and Carlos Garzón

(2016: graphic novel, collects issues 35-50 of the rebooted-in-1989 comic book series) From the back cover “Originally conceived in ...