Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette

(pb; 1981, 2002. Translated from the French by James Brook.)

From the back cover:

"Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game - so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart. After all, that's why he took up this profession! But 'the company' won't let him go: they have other plans. Once again, the gunman must assume the prone firing position. A tour of force, this violent tale shatters as many illusions about life and politics as it does bodies."


This Gallic-in-tone thriller is underlined with a mordant and absurdist sense of humor. Its often cruel and cold characters' actions and near-the-end startling plot pretzels are funny (in a quasi-bleak way), even as Manchette's stripped-to-the-cinematic-bone writing chills and highlights the novel's aforementioned qualities.

Prone is not your typical hitman-isn't-allowed-to-retire work, so readers -- especially Americans -- perhaps used to politically rigid and brutally earnest action-political thrillers, may want to bear this in mind before picking up Prone up. Its brutal, succinct philosophy, when mixed with its other exposed-core qualities, makes this an excellent read, one worth owning.


Two films have resulted from this novel.

The first version, Le choc, was released in France on April 28, 1982. (It is also known by the titles Contract in Blood and Shock.) It was directed by Robin Davis and an uncredited Alain Delon (who also -- credited -- played the lead role of Martin "Christian" Terrier).

Catherine Deneuve played Claire. Phillipe Léotard played Félix. Etienne Chicot played Michel. Jean-Louis Richard played "Maubert, l'inspecteur de la DST". François Perrot played Cox. Féodor Atkine played "Borévitch, dit 'Boro'". Dany Kogan played Rosana.


The second version, The Gunman, is scheduled for stateside release on March 20, 2015. Pierre Morel directed the film from a script by Don MacPherson and Pete Travis.

Sean Penn played Jim Terrier (cinematic stand-in for Martin Terrier). Javier Bardem played Felix. Mark Rylance played Cox. Ray Winstone played Stanley. Idris Elba also co-starred in the film, but imdb hasn't listed his role (as of this writing).

Friday, January 23, 2015

Rash Door by E.S. Wynn

(pb; 2012: poetry anthology)

Overall review:

Rash is an excellent poetry anthology, whose images, themes and works not only complement each other, but flow and weave themselves in a natural-order rhythm that deepened the sense of immersion I got while reading it.

Most of the poems revolve around addiction, loss (of one's self, of a romantic partner), Nature, regret and the process of recreation, whether it's through accepting one's flaws and darkish history, romance or writing. 

What's striking about this collection is that even the relatively few poems (out of an impressive sixty) that didn't grab me were appreciable, in the sense that I could see why they were included in Rash: not only were they solid or good, they also contributed to the aforementioned thematic-flow of the overall work. (In an anthology of this size, it's a near-impossibility -- at least for this reader -- for every poem to become a personal favorite.)

Rash is a superb, worth-owning verseworks collection. If you're interested in purchasing it, here's a link where you can do so.

Standout poems:

1.)  "AA": Emotive and highly visual work about breaking one's addiction, self-wounding and -- hopefully -- the renewal of being. Excellent piece.

2.)  "A Weekend": Relatable versework about the discombobulation one encounters (and slow-and-swift polarities) with the passing of two weekly days.

3.)  "Kissing a Smoker": Flavor- and sensory-intensive poem that aptly describes its titular experience.

4.)  "Hangover Morning": Liquid spirits, history, mythology and literature run in celebratory and long-lined fashion before an inevitable, oh-too-relatable finish. Delightful and wise piece.

5.)  "Sh*t in the Shower": Nightmarish, short and sharp work that details a necessary transformation. It put me in the mindset of David Cronenberg's body dismorphic films (Rabid, Shivers [a.k.a. They Came From Within], Videodrome and others). Yes, that is meant in a complimentary way.

6.)  "Dream Blindness": A strong visual sense of yearning forms this poem, with its desperate, driving flow and rhythms.

7.)  "Seawitch": Stark, stellar and startling work about different multi-layered things. Great end-line, one of my favorite poems in this collection. Part of it reads:

"Mom's van
Ancient maritime mistress
Dull blue, gull grey
Primer and seashells
Mermaids and Playa dust 
Greasy drippings under tattered mylar
Musty inside,
Like a forgotten seaside cabin. . .
A place to rest, to lay your head
And wait out the long cold night. . ."

8.)  "Rash Door": Horrific, darkly funny (with its end-lines) piece that reads like a companion piece to the desperate, sketchy "Sh*t in the Shower".

9.)  "Sterilize the Dance": Chilling, stark work revolving around lust, interpersonal evolution, terror and innocence. This is another favorite in the bunch poem.

10.)  "Colors": The ghost-hues of an old relationship impel a man to question his present leanings and choices with women. Especially good poem.

11.)  "Visionaries": The wild, imaginative-soar second half of this versework is wow-good.

12.)  "All Is Folly": Especially dark and effective work that succeeds on multiple reading levels.

13.)  "A Moment in Memory": Beautiful, Nature-appreciative piece, this: serene, wonderful.

14.)  "Midnight Rain": Urban, noir-drenched and femme-fatale-as-a-frame-theme poem that is especially striking.

15.)  "Only Silence": A strong sense of personal nothingness suffuses this -- excellent work.

16.)  "The Sculptor": I love this one, a piece about the making of a truly-alive being.

17.)  "Tattoo": Stark, short and sharp-stanza'd versework. This is an especially effective follow-up/counterpart piece to "The Sculptor".

18.)  "Must": Relatable (for a lot of guys, I'm guessing), blunt poem about women and their curious, sometimes (unintentionally) insulting choices.

19.)  "Rage II": Macho attitudes and overall dumbness, along with break-up-inspired bitterness, suffuse this oh-so-GRRRR piece.

20.)  "Visitation": Urban life and its resultant noises form this versework. This is a fitting companion piece to "Midnight Rain".

21.)  "American Wishes": Another woman-as-a-car poem. Especially good, effective read.

22.)  "My Pen Is A Prophet": Relatable-for-writers, theme- and image-tight piece.

23.)  "The Best Soil": Excellent versework with a biting, heart-ouch end stanza. One of my favorite poems in this collection.

24.)  "Artifice Of A (real) Poem": Cut-to-it poem that nails what's wrong and right about writing stanza'd works. Again, excellent.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dirty Money by Richard Stark

(hb; 2008: twenty-fourth / final novel in the Parker series)

From the inside flap:

"In Nobody Runs Forever, Parker and two cohorts stole the assets of a bank in transit, but the police heat was so great they could only escape if they left the money behind. In this [second] follow-up novel, Parker and his associates plot to reclaim the loot, which they hid in the choir loft of an unused country church. As they implement the plan, people on both sides of the law use the forces at their command to stop Parker and grab the goods for themselves. Though Parker's new getaway van is an old Ford Ecoline with 'Holy Redeemer Choir' on its doors, his gang is anything but holy, and Parker will do whatever it takes to redeem his prize, no matter who gets hurt in the process."


The twenty-fourth and final Parker novel sports a largely familiar cast of characters (many of them from Nobody Runs Forever and Ask the Parrot). It also, once again, teams Parker up with an odd, semi-quirky ally mix -- namely: Sandra Loscalzo (bounty hunter, from Nobody), Frank Meaney, thug-boss of Cosmopolitan Beverages (from Firebreak), as well as -- briefly -- Ed Mackey (fellow thief, last seen in Breakout).

Like most of the previous Parker novels, Dirty is full of plot and character twists, ruthlessness, action, intriguing characters and a strong, word-lean sense of series continuity (that doesn't require that you to read previous Parker books). Excellent capper to the series, this, one worth owning.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ask the Parrot by Richard Stark

(hb; 2006: twenty-third book in the Parker series)

From the inside flap:

"On a sunny October afternoon a man is running up a hill. He's not dressed for running. Below him are barking police dogs and waiting up ahead is a stranger -- with a rifle, a life full of regrets, and a parrot at home who will mutely witness just how much trouble the runner, Parker, can bring into an ordinary life.

"The rabbit hunter is Tom Lindahl, a small-town lonely heart nursing a big-time grudge against the racetrack that fired him. He knows from the moment he sees Parker that he's met a professional thief -- and a man with murder in his blood. Rescuing Parker from the chase hounds, Lindahl invites the fugitive into his secluded home. He plans to rip off his former employer and exact a deadly measure of revenge -- if he can get Parker to help.

"But Tom doesn't know Parker and that the desperate criminal will do anything to survive -- no matter who has to die."


Parrot picks up where Nobody Runs Forever left off. Parker, pursued by law enforcement officers and their tracker dogs, is forced to pair up with a loser-by-his-own-reckoning (Tom Lindahl), who wants to rob his old employers, whom, he feels, treated him in a shabby manner.

Once again, I love how Stark changes the situations that Parker finds himself in, exploring new plot, character and creative territories as the series progresses. The first half of  Parrot is, in turns, amusing and annoying (the latter emotion stemming from the actions of the civilians Parker must deal with). (Parts of this section almost feel like a darkly comedic Parker  side novella.) The second half of the novel brings that slow-build desperation (as experienced differently by Parker and Lindahl) together in Stark's ruthless waste-no-action-nor-words fashion.

As with the previous book (Nobody), impatient fans of the series may want to have the next Parker novel -- Dirty Money -- on hand, as Dirty picks up where Parrot leaves off. Worth owning, this.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Charm School, Book One: Magickal Witch Girl Bunny by Elizabeth Watasin

(oversized pb; 2000, 2002: graphic novel)

From the back cover:

"In the town of Little Salem, magic and modern life collide in a hormonally charged storm. . . meet sexy witch Bunny, her vampire biker girlfriend Dean, and the faerie who tries to come between them!"


Charm School is a fun, flirty, clever and fast-read graphic novel read that is chock full of amusing characters -- e.g., Fairer Than (the brazen "one part faerie.  . one part mortal and. . . one part dragon" faerie who's set her desirous eyes upon good girl Bunny); Bunny's mischievous and protective "hideous" witch "Aunties, Weirdie, Hauntie and Agoosta"; and a few of Bunny's fellow Haunted High School students, whom are somewhat mischievous themselves.

When I call Charm School "flirty" I mean that it is a PG-13 read (there is no explicit sex, though there is kissing, butch dykes and other Sapphic, gender- and sex-leaning characters). Obviously, conservative parents who are not LGBT-friendly may not be fans of this graphic novel, whose main story ("The Wrecking Faerie") ends on a cliff-hanger note.

Watasin also provides several side-backstories about the characters' pasts: "Bunny, the Good Li'l Teen Witch" (which shows how her Aunties' spell to get Bunny a boyfriend backfires in a big way), "Dr. Vanessa Leather, Monster Maker" (where Bunny, confused by her hormones and her budding interest in girls, visits a hilariously "evil scientist") and "Radiate" (a post-"Bunny" story, where Bunny's three Aunties -- with their various reactions, some of them ovary-busting -- process Bunny's coming out while meeting Dean, her girlfriend).

Charm School is a fun, smile- and sometimes laugh-inducing work, with artwork that's fetching while maintaining a curious, slapstick mix of realistic and comic-ky faces, figures and action.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Nobody Runs Forever by Richard Stark

(hb; 2004: twenty-second book in the Parker series)

From the inside flap:

"Seven men came to a meeting in Cincinnati. One wore a wire, and another didn't hesitate to kill him -- fast and hard. Now Parker has left that meeting and the murder behind, and gotten involved with a scheme that is stuffed with money and trouble.

"In the rural northwestern corner of Massachusetts, Parker and a pal plan to steal an armored car. But the human element gets in the way. From a nervous ex-con and his well-intentioned sister to a bank manager's two-timing wife and a beautiful, relentless cop, too many people have their hands too close to Parker's pie. Then a bounty hunter, who just happens to be hunting the man who never left Cincinnati meeting, joins the fray.

"Parker can see this job turning bad, yet he can't let go of the score. And when guns go off and the heist goes down, the perfect plan will explode with a sound and fury all its own. For Parker, there's always the choice of turning from fight to flight -- even if there's nowhere to run."


Parker and his current heistmates -- Nick Dalesia (from an earlier Parker novel, I forget which one) and Nelson McWhitney (a recent acquaintance) -- have their hands full when they take on an armored car heist that initially seems easy-peasy but quickly turns complicated because of other human scavengers who, for various reasons, have taken an interest in the heisters' activities. (Briggs, an explosives expert and another former Parker heistmate, briefly makes an appearance in Nobody as well.)

This twenty-second novel in this series is, like all previous Parker novels, a high-water pulp-noir mark work, hardboiled, masterful and entertaining. It's worth owning, and those reading Nobody should have the next Parker novel in their possession if they can't wait to see how this character-complicated actioner plays out.

Followed by Ask the Parrot.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

There Are No Spies by Bill Granger

(hb; 1986: seventh novel in The November Man series)

From the inside flap:

"The time is early March. The place is Lausanne, the Swiss city with a university and a cathedral, an easy place to live. The name is Devereaux, also known as November, the American field officer with ultrasecret R Section who has gone to ground above the shores of Lake Geneva.

"He does not know that a beautiful KGB agent with a talent for murder and making love has been ordered to stalk two Novembers -- and kill them both.

"He does not know that Hanley, the man who has been his control for nineteen years in R Section, has had a nervous breakdown -- and is currently in a government-subsidized asylum for people who have too many secrets.

"He does not know that Hanley's desperate message 'There are no spies' will activate him back into service -- and into a mission to save both his own life and R Section itself.

"And he does not know that zero hour ticks closer for Nutcracker, the top-secret plan to lure the Soviets' master spy into the fold of the West with himself as the designated pawn. When Devereaux emerges, reluctantly, out of concealment, he will find himself alone and betrayed inside an international free-fire zone. Here morality comes, if at all, at the end of the game -- when there is no victory, only the absence of defeat."


Spies is a solid and entertaining -- if sometimes chatty -- read, with plenty of Cold War-conspiratorial action livening up the storyline. It runs a bit long near the end, but it's still worth your time if you can overlook those relatively minor flaws, and if you check it out from the library.


The resulting, better-than-the-book film, The November Man, was released stateside on August 27, 2014. Roger Donaldson directed the film, from a script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek.

Pierce Brosnan played Devereaux. Luke Bracey played Mason. Olga Kurylenko played Alice. Bill Smitrovich played Hanley. Amila Terzimehic played Alexa.

Lazar Ristovski played Arkady Federov. Mediha Musliovic played Natalia Ulanova. Eliza Taylor played Sarah. Will Patton, billed as William Patton, played Perry Weinstein. Caterina Scorsone played Celia.

Steve Isaak has published two hundred stories and poems, and is the author of three anthologies: Behind the wheel: selected poems, Shinjuku sex cheese holocaust: poems and the forthcoming Horrorsex County: stories (which are, or will be, available at Lulu and Amazon).