Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Black Lizard by Edogawa Rampo

(pb; 1934, 2006. Translated from Japanese by Ian Hughes. "Introduction" by Mark Schreiber.)

From the back cover:

"A master criminal -- as deadly as she is beautiful -- wagers all in an epic battle with a master detective."


Black Lizard  is a difficult-to-put-down, plot-pretzel crime thriller, infused with Rampo's hinted-at supernatural touches and psychologically twisted sexuality. It pits Akechi, the equivalent of Conan Arthur Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, against the Black Lizard (a.k.a. Midorikawa), Doyle's equivalent of Moriarty. (Akechi also appeared in other works by Rampo.)

The twists are not unexpected -- a fact Rampo acknowledges by directly addressing readers in jocular, knowing fashion. This does not detract from the dark joy of reading this sly, intense and perfect novel. Lizard is a landmark work, one worth owning.


Two film versions of this novel exist.

The first, translated into Japanese as Kurotokage, was released in Japan on March 14, 1962. Umetsugu Inoue directed the film, from Yukio Mishima and Kaneto Shindô's musical stage play.

Machiko Kyô played Mrs. Midorikawa. Minori Ôku played Kogoro Akechi. Junko Kanô played Sanae Iwase. Hiroshi Kawaguchi played Jun Amemiya. Masao Mishima played Shobei Iwase. Sachiko Meguro played Mrs. Iwase.


The second version, titled Kuroto Kage, was directed by Kinji Fukasaku and released in Japan in 1968. Its screenplay was based on Yukio Mishima's stage adaptation and co-authored by Masashiga Narusawa.

Akihiro Miwa, billed Akihiro Maruyama, played Black Lizard. Isao Kimura played Detective Akechi. Kikko Matusoka played Sanaye. Jun Usami, billed as Junya Usami, played Shobei Iwase. Yûsuke Kawazu playec Junichi Amemiya.

Kô Nishimura played Private Detective Keiji Matoba. Toshiko Kabayashi played Hina. Sônsuke Oda played Harada. Kinji Hattori played Toyama.

Kurotokage playwright Yukio Mishima played a "Human Statue".

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale

(2016: story/novella anthology -- thirteenth book in the Hap and Leonard series)

Overall review:

Hap compiles seven stories, which have been previously published and take place at different times. One of the stories, Veil's Visit, by itself makes this collection worth owning, because prior to this, it was only available in an expensive collector's item book.  Inexpensive, practical (for most Hap and Leonard fans) and entertaining, Hap is worth your time and cash.

Followed by the story anthology Hap and Leonard Ride Again.

Story by story:

1.)  "Hyenas": See Hyenas review.

2.)  "Veil's Visit" (co-authored with Andrew Vachss): Leonard's new lawyer, a bad-ass named Veil, defends him in court -- the charge: arson, stemming from events in Mucho Mojo.

This story, full of Lansdale's trademark lively banter, was originally published as an expensive/out-of-print novella Veil's Visit: A Taste of Hap and Leonard (1999).

3.)  "Death By Chili": Leonard solves a decades-old murder case without resorting to busting heads. This fun, super-short work sports a post-script recipe for "Lansdale Chili".

4.)  "Dead Aim": See Dead Aim review.

5.)  "The Boy Who Became Invisible": Originally published in the Hyenas novella, "Boy" is told from Hap's first-person point of view. In it, he looks back on an unfortunate childhood friend (Jesse) whose hard life leads to some brutal choices. The interaction between Hap and Jesse provide an effective heart-punch to this timely, you-can-guess-where-this-is-going short story.

6.)  "Not Our Kind":  In 1968, a young Hap and Leonard encounter racist, homophobic school bullies. They also glimpse a scene from their possible future.

7.)  "Bent Twig": Tillie, prostitute daughter of Leonard's girlfriend (Brett), becomes -- once again -- the reason why Hap and Leonard put themselves in danger, this time to rescue her from herself and her live-in pimp boyfriend. Of course, this is only the beginning of a much-larger-in-scope adventure for the do-right, brawling duo.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

(hb; 2009, 2012. Translated from Japanese by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates)

From the inside flap:

"The Thief is a seasoned pickpocket. Anonymous in his tailored suit, he weaves in and out of Tokyo crowds, stealing wallets from strangers so smoothly sometimes he doesn’t even remember the snatch. Most people are just a blur to him, nameless faces from whom he chooses his victims. He has no family, no friends, no connections.... But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when Ishikawa, his first partner, reappears in his life, and offers him a job he can’t refuse. It’s an easy job: tie up an old rich man, steal the contents of the safe. No one gets hurt. Only the day after the job does he learn that the old man was a prominent politician, and that he was brutally killed after the robbery. And now the Thief is caught in a tangle even he might not be able to escape."


Thief is an excellent, fast-paced and word-spare crime tale, told from the first-person point-of-view of the Thief, whose emotional journey from jaded loner pickpocket to reluctant protector of a boy is marked by occasional violence and the predations of Kizaki, a master criminal with a dangerous political agenda – an agenda that may result in the Thief’s death.

Thief, a pulp-to-its-core read, is worth owning.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In Brief by Shelley Lee Riley

(pb; 2015: story anthology)

Overall review:

This seventeen-story and -poem anthology is a sampler of various genres, from light-hearted slice-of-life joy to nightmarish journeys. The theme that links them together (for the most part) is a black-and-white morality -- most of these tales or, in some cases, would-be tales, are about punishing those who transgress or rewarding those who do not. If black-and-white morality puts you off, you might want to skip this collection.

For those who appreciate mixed-genre morality works, there is a lot in Brief to entertain you: concise writing, well-developed characters, (mostly) relatable situations and overall good writing.

Some of the works in Brief feel like warm-up exercises to better, more fully-realized stories or poems. With re-writing, time and a different pair of editorial eyes, these pieces could easily become publishable works, butterflies to their Brief-current cocoons.

The pieces that work are polished and microfiction-excellent. Short fiction can be a hard art to master, and Riley is close to doing so. Brief is a worthwhile purchase, not only for the pieces that work, but for the author's willingness to risk experimentation with the aforementioned warm-up exercises and occasional harsh characters.

Riley is a promising, on-the-cusp-of-greatness talent worth reading and supporting, with your time and your cash, if you can appreciate a firm ever-present morality and mostly-effective brevity.

Standout works:

1.)  "Brown Shoe": The physical journey of a shoe takes on more personal significance for a woman observing it.

2.)  "Ageless":  A woman in a store learns another lesson from her mother, now an old woman.

3.)  "Vanquished":  Vivid tale about an abusive father(Jack), his wife (Sophie) and his son (Jamie), whose lives are wildly altered by the events of one night.

4.)  "Night Changes": Avery, a teen rebelling against her mother's rules, has an unexpected encounter while sneaking out.

5.)  "Mother's Recluse": A woman takes care of her dead mother's cats.

6.) "Rouge": A terrible dog's arrival in a woman's life kicks off a series of significant life changes for her.

7.)  "#17": Twilight Zone-esque tale about a woman on a beach.

8.) "Images":  A meeting in a sleazy bar leads to unexpected developments. Fast-moving, entertaining stuff.

9.)  "Details": This television-themed vignette is light in tone, a promising start for a full-fledged story.

10.)  "Face in the Wall": Good use of symbolism in this fairy tale-esque, nightmare-toned tale about a grandmother and her grandchildren.

11.) "Sam's Stories": Fond, nostalgic story about an old horse trainer who humbles his critics with his independent attitude and actions.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 2016: twelfth book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the inside flap:

"Only Hap and Leonard would catch a cold case with hot cars, hot women, and ugly skinheads.

"The story starts simply enough when Hap, a former 60s activist and self-proclaimed white trash rebel, and Leonard, a tough black, gay Vietnam vet and Republican with an addiction to Dr. Pepper, are working a freelance surveillance job in East Texas. The uneventful stakeout is coming to an end when the pair witness a man abusing his dog. Leonard takes matters into his own fists, and now the bruised dog abuser wants to press charges.

"One week later, a woman named Lilly Buckner drops by their new PI office with a proposition: find her missing granddaughter, or she'll turn in a video of Leonard beating the dog abuser. The pair agrees to take on the cold case and soon discover that the used car dealership where her granddaughter worked is actually a front for a prostitution ring. What began as a missing-person case becomes one of blackmail and murder."


Honky is one of my favorite entries in this series thus far. It has all the best aspects of previous Hap and Leonard page-turners, with its effective levity, lots of raw and realistic action, characters who are worth rooting for or hissing at, effective twists and a storyline that blends old and new elements – and characters, as well. New, colorful characters include the creepy, strange and compelling Booger; older characters include Vanilla Ride, Jim Bob, Cason Statler (Hap and Leonard’s playboy-reporter friend) and Marvin. Throw in a bunch of especially sicko hillbillies, and you have another future classic worth owning.

Followed by the story anthology Hap and Leonard.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Disciple by Laird Koenig

(pb; 1983)

From the back cover:

"They came together at the Willows.

"There by the riverside grave of his twin sister, Marc-Anthony met Brother Leaf, a soft-spoken man blessed with the awesome power to perform miracles. Cure the sick. . . Heal the crippled. . . Raise the dead. . .

"Marc Anthony became his most devoted disciple, and Brother Leaf rewarded his family with wondrous gifts. Love, for his lonely mother. Faith, for his arrogant father. Passion for his beautiful sister.

"Soon everyone came to Brother Leaf., for they believed he was a prayer come true. . . until the night of horror. Until the night when the miracles didn't work and the killing wouldn't stop."


Disciple is a fun, fast-read thriller about a family whose peril comes into being in the form a quiet young man whose underlying faith is more manipulative and dangerous than his uttered ideals and pursuits. There are few, if any surprises, in this tidy and well-written novel but that is not necessarily a bad thing if you keep your expectations modest and realistic about this effective tale of religious obsession, lies and other aspects of human darkness.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Blood Father by Peter Craig

(pb; 2005) 

From the back cover:

"Lydia Carson is an accident waiting to happen. Strung out, she's always running from disaster, and more often she's running right into it. Now at seventeen, Lydia has stumbled onto real trouble. Not only has she witnessed a brutal murder perpetrated by her boyfriend, but his minions are out to make sure that she doesn't have a story to tell the police.

"John Link is a former Hell's Angel, an ex-con, trying to stay clean and sober while running a tattoo parlor from the kitchen of his trailer home. He's also Lydia's long-estranged father, and when both the police and her boyfriend's thugs are hot on Lydia's trail, Link becomes Lydia's only hope."


Blood  is an edgy, excellent drama-with-action novel with a strong story, characters who resonate as real people and concise writing, whether Craig is penning a quiet, regret-tinged moment between Lydia and Link or an explosive car chase-shootout scene. The heart and impetus of Blood is Link and Lydia's relationship, as it builds into something better. Everything fits here, there are no wasted words -- this is worth owning and it is one of my favorite reads of this year.


The film version was released stateside on August 26,2016. Jean François-Richet directed it, from a screenplay by the book's author and Andrea Berloff.

Mel Gibson played Link. Erin Moriarty played Lydia Carson. Diego Luna played Jonah. William H. Macy played Kirby. Miguel Sandoval played Arturo Rios.

Michael Parks played Preacher. Dale Dickey played Cherise. Richard Cabral played Joker. Daniel Macada played Choop.Raoul  Ryan Dorsey played Shamrock. Max Trujillo, billed as Raoul Trujillo, played The Cleaner.