Thursday, September 28, 2006

Anonymous Rex, by Eric Garcia

(hb; 2000)

From the inside flap:

“Vincent Rubio, a Los Angeles private investigator, is down on his luck: He's out of work. His car's been repossessed. His partner has died under mysterious circumstances. And his tail just won't stay put. Vincent is a dinosaur – a Veliciraptor, to be precise. It seems the dinosaurs faked their extinction 65 million years ago and still roam the earth, disguised in convincing latex costumes that help them blend perfectly into human society. A heightened sense of smell allows the dinos to detect one another – Vincent's got an odor like a tasty Cuban cigar.

“When Vincent is called to investigate a two-bit case of arson at a hip dino nightclub, he discovers something much more sinister, which lures him back to New York City – the scene of his partner's death and a dangerous nexus of dinosaur and human intermingling.

“Will Vincent solve the mystery of his partner's death? Will a gorgeous blond chanteuse discover his true identity, jeopardizing both of their lives? Will Vincent be able to conquer his dangerous addiction to basil, or will he wind up in Herbaholics Anonymous? Will he find true love, or resort to crumpled issues of Stegolicious?”

Review:

This is a rolling-on-the-floor-funny novel, exhibiting one of the more originative neo-noir plots I've read. Vincent Rubio, the laid-back narrator, is familiar enough that I instantly warmed to him, and different enough that he's memorable. The wack-like-life wacky situations that Rubio and the other characters encounter further their -- and the storyline's -- rib-tickling memorability.

Fresh blast of a book.

In 2004, a film bearing the same name was aired. It's actually based on the second/follow-up Vincent Rubio novel, Casual Rex, according to imdb.com.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Jumper, by Steven C. Gould

(hb; 1992: first book in the Jumper trilogy)

From the inside flap:

“Davy can teleport. He first discovers his talent during a savage beating delivered by his abusive father, when Davy jumps instantaneously to the safest place he knows, his small-town public library. As his mother did so many years before, Davy vows never to go home again. Instead, he sets off, young and inexperienced, for New York City.

“Davy gradually learns to use and control his powers, first for sheer survival in an environment more violent and complex than he ever imagined. But mere survival is not enough for Davy. He wants to know if there are other people like him. He needs to know if his mother disappeared so completely from his life because she, too, could Jump. As as he searches for a trace of anyone else with powers like his own, he learns to use his abilities for more than escape and theft.

“A young man with nothing to lose, and the ability to go anywhere he wants, can help a lot of people. But he can also make a lot of trouble, and sooner or later trouble is going to come looking for him. The one way Davy can think of to locate other who can Jump is to make himself visible to them, but if he does, the police will surely find him, too...”

Review:

Dark undertides (domestic abuse, terrorism, non-graphic violent death, alcoholism) add reader-intriguing anxieties to Davy's first-person coming-of-age narrative, an expeditious narrative that becomes darker as it progresses. More than mere teleportation-clichéd frippery, this is a quality, not quite classic, read: worth your time, this.

Jumper, the novel, has two book sequels - Reflex, and Jumper: Griffin's Story (which is set for an August 21, 2007 release).

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The resulting film is set for a February 15, 2008 stateside release.

Doug Liman directed the film, from a script by David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg.

Hayden Christiansen played Davey. Samuel L. Jackson played Cox. Diane Lane played Mary Rice. Michael Rooker played William Rice. Tom Hulce played Mr. Bowker. Kristen Stewart played Sophie. Barbara Garrick played Ellen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blood on the Moon, by James Ellroy

(hb; 1984: Book One of the L.A. Noir trilogy)

From the inside flap:

“Twenty random killings of women remain unconnected in police files. But Det. Sgt. Lloyd Hopkins sees a pattern. In a shattering climax, cold, icy intelligence and white-heated madness are pitted against each other...”

Review:

Lloyd Hopkins, a womanizing, high-strung supercop who's turned his traumas into an unhinged and noble quest to “protect innocence,” stumbles onto the bloody work of a rhyme-minded mass murderer. The victims are almost always women; the killings are definitely sexual, reflecting, in a warped doppelgänger-ish way, Lloyd's obsessive notions about -- you guessed it -- women.

Racism, sacrifice, murder, redemption, rape and bad poetry abound here, theme- and otherwise. This politically-incorrect novel is excellent, memorable and often coarse. Author Ellroy isn't trying to sell us prettiness; he's showing us blunt, surly veracities.

Followed by Because the Night.


A film version of Blood on the Moon, retitled Cop, was released stateside in March 1988.

James Woods played Lloyd Hopkins. Lesley Ann Warren played Kathleen McCarthy. Charles Durning played Arthur “Dutch” Peltz. Charles Haid played Delbert “Whitey” Haines.

James B. Harris scripted and directed the film.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Dry Salvages, by Caitlín R. Kiernan

(hb; 2004)


From the inside flap:

“Three centuries in the future, though much of Earth has been crippled by war, pollution, and catastrophic climactic change, man has at last traveled to the stars and even found evidence of at leat one extraterrestrial civilization. In a bleak and frozen Paris, at the dawn of the 24th Century, an old woman is forced to confront the consequences of her part in these discoveries and the ghosts that have haunted her for almost fifty years. The last surviving member of the crew of the starship Montelius, exopaleontologist Dr. Audrey Cather struggles to remember what she's spent so long trying to forget – the nightmare she once faced almost ninety trillion miles from Earth.”


Review:

The set-up's familiar, but author Kiernan deftly avoids clichés by using sublime, sometimes poetic language, while utilizing a “hard” (fact-based) science fiction feel. It also helps that while she uses those set-ups, she doesn't belabor them. An element of 1950s-ish/Lovecraftian horror - understated and fleeting - also flavors this interesting read.

Worthwhile read, structured and toned with Kiernan's distinctive writing style (which blends classic literature, art-based elements, an edgy directness while playing with - then creatively gutting - clichés).

Check it out.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Shivers IV , edited by Richard Chizmar

(pb; 2006: horror anthology - sequel anthology to Shivers III)


Overall review:

Uneven anthology, with a handful of decent tales, a few excellent ones; the other entries in this twenty-story anthology are generic crap that shouldn't have been published. Save your money for more worthwhile books.



Review, story by story:

1.) “Prohibited” – Kealan Patrick Burke: A smoker ignores a “No Smoking” sign at a bus stop and finds himself targeted for nightmarish, widespread persecution. Not only did it make me think of Stephen King's “Quitters, Inc.” (for its subject matter), but this also sports the feel of one of King's Night Shift-era tales. Fun, if a bit over-the-top and derivative.


2.) “Last Exit for the Lost” – Tim Lebbon: Strange entry about a middle-aged alcoholic who receives three paintings in the mail. Interesting, quirky.


3.) “The Screamers at the Window” – T.M. Wright: A spiral-structured story about a writer (Daniel), his one-eyed terrier (Magnificence) and his perky spouse (Maureen). Colorful characters, but the story doesn't go anywhere.


4.) “The Man in the Palace Theater” – Ray Garton: A homeless man, staying in an abandoned movie theater, converses with cinematic iconic ghosts. Heartwarming, sad homage to classic (pre-1960s) films, with a weak ending.


5.) “Pumpkin Witch” – Tim Curran: An abused, pumpkin-happy wife dishes out grisly payback on her husband and his crone of a mother. This would make a wonderful giallo film (preferably directed by Dario Argento or Michele Soavi), given its long-on-Halloween-mood, short-on-logic structure. Okay, if you read this with that mindset.


6.) “LZ-116: Das Fliegenschloss” – Stephen Mark Rainey: I have no idea what this story is about. While the writing (on a technical level) was decent, it bored me immediately.


7.) “Something to be Said for the Waiting” – Brian Freeman: Too-predictable, cliched story about a man who may have murdered his family. Mercifully, this story is brief.


8.) “Jack-Knife” – Gemma Files: Mostly gripping script-form take on Jack the Ripper. Runs too long, but it has some striking scenes (especially when Jack and Mary Kelly, one of his victims, interact).


9.) “The Spook” – Randy Chandler: Chilling, analogous offering about a soldier who finds himself in the middle of an unexpected war. One of the best stories in this collection, with a great ending.


10.) “Ever After” – John R. Little: Stunning, heartbreak of a tale. An unaging man finds himself at familiar crossroads. Excellent, this.


11.) “The Bittersweet Deafening Sound of Nothing At All” – Robert Morrish: Two investors check out an abandoned haunted SoCal business campus. Good story, predictable, but otherwise engaging.


12.) “Up in the Boneyard” – Keith Minnion: Brooklyn. A pilot (Anthony Spangler) confronts a hellish white-boned horror twenty-seven floors high, once in 1913 in an aeroplane, and later, in 1986, in a condo in the same spot. Off-beat, memorable work.


13.) “Mom and Dad At Home” – Ed Gorman: Economical, predictable entry about a boy, his stay-at-home mom, and his traveling salesman dad. Anybody who's seen the 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt will recognize the set-up right away. Despite that glaring predictability, this is an okay story, saved by Gorman's consistent sense of style.


14.) “Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot” – Bill Walker: Clever, appropriately-titled piece. A man discovers that the neighborhood bully of his childhood now works with him, more than twenty years later. The end-twist, effective as it could've been, doesn't work, though, because the author didn't foreshadow properly. Could've been good; is merely disingenuous.


15.) “In the Best Stories...” – Norman Prentiss: A man reads a questionable bedtime story to his nine-year old daughter. Author Prentiss seems to be trying for a subtler brand of horror – not boogeymen, but real life – and that's admirable. However, the story ultimately fails because the ending is too subtle, not developed enough.


16.) “Poetic Justice” – William F. Nolan: A teenage girl (Amber) talks her friend (Michelle) into murdering an “a**hole” classmate of theirs, Mike Rickard – then crazy complications ensue. This tale doesn't work because it feels rushed, largely because the three principles (Michelle, Amber, Mike) read like cardboard cut-out characters. This would be fine if this were a Grade-B slasher flick, but since it's not... Technically solid, but otherwise generic.

17.) “Dust” – Brian Keene: Post-9/11 piece about a woman grieving for her dead spouse. Different, worthwhile.


18.) “The Deer of St. Bart's” – Bev Vincent: Good story about what happens after a dean at a private school dies unexpectedly.


19.) “The Man in the Other Car” – Al Sarrantonio: A bizarre, semi-predictable, sort-of-makes-sense-but-doesn't denouement mars this
could've-been-Twilight-Zone-worthy piece. Strange, at best.


20.) “Liturgical Music for Nihilists” – Brian Hodge: Lengthy tale about what happens when a man's corpse remains unspoiled, causing his friends to react in curious ways. Memories, messianic oddness, and dark family secrets form this work, which wasn't bad, wasn't great.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

California Demon, by Julie Kenner

(pb; 2006)

From the back cover:

“What's a mother to do, when there are only so many hours in the day, and the fate of the world is in her hands?

“Kate Connor was a retired demon hunter. Now, after fourteen years of busting her tail as a suburban housewife, raising two kids, and supporting her husband's political ambitions, she's rejoined the workforce – and except for a few minions of evil, no one has a clue. She tries hard to keep her home and work lives separate – a good idea when your job involves random slaughter.

“Between fending off demon attacks, trying to figure out why the mysterious new teacher at the high school seems so strangely familiar, and keeping a watchful eye on her daughter's growing infatuation with a surfer dude, Kate is the busiest – and most dangerous – soccer mom on the block...”

Review:

Goramesh, a High Demon who escaped from Tartarus (Hell's worst pit-prison), is still around and stirring up trouble for the citizens of San Diablo, California. A few months have passed since Carpe Demon, and Kate has resumed her job as Demon Hunter, while keeping her Hunter activities a secret from her increasingly suspicious family.

Goramesh and his minions want an ancient tome (called the Malevolenaumachia Demonica) that Kate discovered while battling a supernatural nasty. The important-sounding Latin title translates into Demon's Malicious Struggle, and lets demons on this mortal plain free other demons, imprisoned in Tartarus. Of course, Kate, aided by select friends, must stop them.

As in Carpe Demon, many – this time, not all – of the plot twists are predictable, the quips are amusing, and the action and the plot fly fast. Also, there's plenty of minor relationship complications and warm fuzziness to offset the mild gore and Kate's (literally) hellacious encounters.

Entertaining, breeze-through read. Again, it's well-rendered fluff, which will undoubtedly spawn another sequel, given the series's financial success, and the plot and character elements contained therein.

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick

(pb; 1977)

From the back cover:

“Cops and criminals have always had been interdependent, but no novel has explored that perverse symbiosis more powerfully than A Scanner Darkly. Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug called Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually him. To do so, he has taken on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D – which Arctor takes in mammoth doses – gradually splits the user's brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn't realize that he is narcing on himself...”

Review:

The paranoid stoner (and bleakly hilarious) loop-logic that forms the first half of A Scanner Darkly turns insidious in the second half, as author Dick explores one of his more full-blown literary hallucinations. The tangents, for all their loopiness, are restrained, dope- and character-true, flip-flopping out of the characters' realities (which are constantly shifting, often on the turn of a word).

Add to this controlled madness the fascinating characters who may or may not be what and who they seem to be: there's Jim Barris, a creepy malicious junkie-roommate of Bob's, who's setting Bob up for a fall – or is Jim trying to save Bob from himself? There's also Donna, Bob's sort-of “girl,” who plays middlewoman in some of Bob's deals, deals that reveal her compassionate personality.

About the last sixty pages or so, Dick's narcotized narrative turns more rambly – there's a major shift in the plot: it's irritating, but okay, because of the subversive line that closes the novel.

Well worth your time, if you can deal with Dick's freak outs. Recommended to fans of Williams S. Burroughs (whose own literary vision were often chemically crazed) and Hunter S. Thompson's more “gonzo” writing.

The animated film was released stateside on July 28, 2006. Keanu Reeves played Bob Arctor. Robert Downey Jr. played James Barris. Woody Harrelson played Ernie Luckman. Winona Ryder played Donna. Rory Cochrane played Charles Freck.

Richard Linklater directed and scripted the film.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Which Brings Me to You, by Steve Almond & Julianna Baggott

(hb; 2006)

From the inside flap:

“Two rambunctious, romantic flameouts. One boring wedding. One heated romp in a deserted coatroom.

“John and Jane's lusty encounter isn't really the beginning of anything with any weight to it; even they know that. When they manage to pull back, it occurs to them that they might try start this whole thing over, properly. They might try getting to know each other first, through letters, telling each other everything, aiming for honesty over seduction. And they might end up actually liking each other. More to the point, they might end up actually knowing each other.

“What follows is a series of traded confessions – of their messy histories, their mistakes, their big loves, their flaws, and their passions. The people they've hurt; the ones still bruised. The ones who bruised them. Each letter, each love affair, reveals the ways in which they've grown and changed (or not changed) over the years.

“Where all of this soul-baring will take them is the burning question behind every letter – one that can only be answered when John and Jane meet again, finally, in the flesh.”

Review:

Which Brings Me to You, a witty and occasionally salacious novel, has a moving depth to it, its jack rabbit-quick pseudo-philosophical insights linked to the sorrows, joys and personalities of John and Jane, and those they love(d). The writing rarely lags – except near the end, when Jane is talking about her two-week fiance, Mark. The section with Mark has merit; it merely runs too long.

My only other notable issue is the repeated joke-comments about John's d**k. Once or twice, it was okay, bearably cute. After that, it was annoying; fortunately, the authors ditch the d**k jokes about midway through.

Decent beach read, with some cool commentaries on the human condition, if one can forgive the predictable (but probably crowd-pleasing) ending, which could've been way worse.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White

(hb; 1952)

From the inside flap:

“This is the story of a little girl who loved a pig named Wilbur – and of Wilbur's dear friend Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large grey spider who lived with Wilbur in the barn. With the help of Templeton, the rat who never did anything for anybody else unless there was something in it for him, and by a wonderfully clever plan of her own, Charlotte saved the life of Wilbur, who by this time had grown up to quite a pig...”

Review:

Charming, knowing – author White peppers many of the animals' observations with an adult awareness – and warm, this is one of my favorite kid's books. The plot, life-wise, clever and kind, races along, it has great characters (I confess that I love Templeton's character the most), and the happy ending's promising feistiness (especially Joy's, Aranea's and Nellie's) completes the enchantment.

Classic work, for and with a reason.

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Three films have directly resulted from the book.

The animated 1973 version touts the voice talents of Debbie Reynolds (as Charlotte A. Cavatica); Paul Lynde (as Templeton); Henry Gibson (as Wilbur); Pamela Ferdin (as Avery Arable); Danny Bonaduce (as Avery Arable); Agnes Moorehead (as The Goose).

#

A direct-to-video animated sequel, Charlotte's Web 2: Wilbur's Great Adventure, appeared in 2003. Julia Duffy voices Charlotte; David Beron, Wilbur; Amanda Bynes, Nellie. Anndi McAfee and Maria Bamford voice Aranea, at different stages of her life (I'd guess, anyway). Brenda Vaccaro voices Mrs. Hirsch.

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A live-action version is set to be released on December 15, 2006. Gary Winick directs the film, from a script by Susannah Grant and Karey Kirkpatrick.

Sam Shepard narrates the film.

Dakota Fanning plays Fern. Julia Roberts voices Charlotte A. Cavatica. Oprah Winfrey voices Gussy. Steve Buscemi voices Templeton. Kathy Bates voices Bitsy. John Cleese voices Samuel. Robert Redford voices Ike. Cedric the Entertainer voices Golly the Goose. Beau Bridges plays Dr. Dorian.

Zodiac Unmasked, by Robert Graysmith

(pb; 2002: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

“In the 'provocative' (San Francisco Chronicle) true-crime classic, Zodiac, Robert Graysmith tracked the violent path of a sadistic sex killer whose true identity was shrouded in mystery. Now, after twenty-five years, Graysmith unmasks the killer...

“Between December 1968 and October 1969 a hooded serial killer called Zodiac terrorized San Francisco. He claimed responsibility for thirty-seven murders. His actual death toll may have reached fifty. All the while, he manipulated the media with depraved cunning, inundating the San Francisco Chronicle with warnings, dares, and tantalizing cryptograms that baffled the brightest FBI code-breakers. But as suddenly as the murders began, they stopped. Zodiac disappeared into the Bay Area fog forever and was never brought to justice.

“Now, through painstaking research and exclusive interviews, Robert Graysmith closes the last chapter on America's greatest unsolved mystery. Accumulating overwhelming evidence, Graysmith, who was on the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle when Zodiac's first letter arrived, finally exposes the elusive killer's true identity, reveals the twisted private life that led to the crimes, and provides startling theories as to why they stopped.

“With never-before-published photos, a complete reproduction of Zodiac's letters, incriminating envelopes, confidential notes, secret messages, and puzzles, Zodiac Unmasked is an important and fascinating coda to one of the most notorious crime sprees of the twentieth century.”

Review:

Author Graysmith concludes the real-life Zodiac drama in his follow-up to Zodiac.

Robert (“Bob”) Hall Starr, not the man's real name, had been named as the prime suspect in the Zodiac killings near the end of Zodiac. Many cops “liked” him for the murders, but there was that can't-match-his-handwriting-with-Zodiac's snag they couldn't get around.

Graysmith, armed with a plethora of new leads, proves that Starr, whose real name was Arthur Leigh Allen, was the killer. It was a teenage boy who led the authorities (and Graysmith) to Allen in 1987.

Everything matches. The dates of Zodiac “inactivity” (the lapse in murders and letters) stem from a prison stint Allen was serving for molesting two prepubescent boys (1974-1978); the murders declined about the same time that Allen started encountering health problems; Allen was a cineaste, particularly obsessed by the movies A Game of Death (1945) and Run for the Sun (1956), as well as the story that spawned those movies, Richard Connell's “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Also, Allen's hobbies coincided with the Zodiac's: skin-diving (explaining why Zodiac utilized the Zodiac SeaWolf watch logo as his own); Allen hated women, especially his mother, and was a pedophile; like many serial killers, Allen had applied to a police academy, only to be rebuffed, therefore fueling his hatred of cops; like his father, Allen had been in the Navy (Zodiac displayed Navy knowledge and references in his techniques and cryptograms); Allen was hyperthymic (highly emotional), as was Zodiac in his letters; Allen was a mechanic (Zodiac, in trying to lure his victims to him, had tinkered with their cars); Allen knew a hippie named Robert Emmett Rodifer, which linked him to the “ROBERT EMMETT THE HIPPIE” cryptogram in one of Zodiac's early media letters; Allen intentionally misspelled words in letters to friends, many of the misspellings similar to Zodiac's (e.g., eggs = “aigs”); Allen's birthday (December 18) coincides with Zodiac's, as well as one of the Zodiac's victims, S.F. cabbie Paul Stine (who was shot in the back of the head).

As for the handwriting snag, Allen's handwriting, both real and altered (he was ambidextrous), was also matched to the Zodiac's, as was his DNA (though the DNA evidence was kind of sketchy).

Before the cops and Graysmith could prove Allen's guilt, Allen died of a heart attack on August 26, 1992.

Zodiac, along with Jack the Ripper, has the distinction of spawning stylistic, stated copycats.

In 1990 (and later in 1994), Zodiac II (as he was called by the press) appeared in New York, shooting people with a zip gun. Heriberto “Eddie” Seda, whom the cops had also dubbed “The Vampire,” was arrested on June 18, 1996, after a shoot-out with New York's finest, and subsequently revealed to be Zodiac II via Seda's confession, and numerous Zodiac II-consistent weapons in his apartment.

Zodiac III (as he was called the press) struck in Kobe, Japan in March 1997, beheading a retarded neighborhood boy. On June 28, 1997, a fifteen-year old boy was arrested and convicted of attacking five kids, two of whom died.

This teenager, Zodiac III, had been emulating a murder he'd seen in the 1990 film, The Exorcist III, which was based on William Peter Blatty's 1983 novel, Legion (book sequel to Blatty's novel, The Exorcist). In one of his 1972 media letters, the original Zodiac had found the (1973 wide-release) film to be “the best saterical comidy that I have ever seen.” [misspellings intentional]. Eleven years later, in a nod at Zodiac's mention of the film version of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty modeled his Gemini (originally called Zodiac) killer in Legion after the original, real-life Zodiac.

Author Graysmith ends his two-book serial-killer odyssey in dovetail fashion by mentioning new evidence linking Allen to the first stated Zodiac casualty, Darlene Ferrin. (Zodiac had killed two people before Ferrin, but only later took credit for their deaths.) It's a fitting finish, bringing the real-life drama back to the Ferrin murder, which began the first book, Zodiac.

As necessary as its predecessor, this is as perfect a close as one could hope for. Definitely worth reading.

Zodiac Unmasked, along with Zodiac, is the basis the film Zodiac. Released stateside on March 2, 2007, it was directed by David Fincher.

Jake Gyllenhall played reporter/author Robert Graysmith. Robert Downey Jr. played Paul Avery. Mark Ruffalo played Dave Toschi. Anthony Edwards played Bill Armstrong. Brian Cox played Melvin Belli. Clea DuVall played Linda Ferrin. Donal Logue as Ken Narlow. Dermot Mulroney played Captain Lee. Chloë Sevigny played Melanie.

Other films inspired by the Zodiac murders include: The Zodiac (2005); Dirty Harry (1971); Zodiac Killer (2005 – most reviews I've read about this film have said this film was horrible, as in badly-made).

Zodiac, by Robert Graysmith

(pb; 1976, 1986: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

“A sexual sadist, his pleasure was torture and murder. His first victims were a teenage couple, stalked and shot dead in a lovers' lane. After another slaying, he sent his first mocking note to authorities, promising he would kill more.
“The official tally of his victims was six. He claimed thirty-seven dead. The real toll may have reached fifty.

“He was never caught.

“Author Robert Graysmith was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 when the hooded killer's first letter arrived. In this gripping account of Zodiac's eleven-month reign of terror, Graysmith reveals hundreds of facts previously unreleased, including the complete text of the killer's letters.”

Review:

Political-cartoonist-turned-investigative-reporter Graysmith charts the infamous killer's murders and the ongoing investigations resulting from them. According to Graysmith, the murders that could be legitimately attributed to the Zodiac happened between 1966 and 1974, though the killer continued to sporadically send letters to the cops and media long after that.

While the identity of the Zodiac isn't revealed – there were several strong suspects, among the 2500 people investigated – a composite of the killer's personality emerges: he was a movie buff, especially fascinated by the movies The Most Dangerous Game (1932) A Game of Death (1945), and Run for the Sun (1956), which were but three cinematic adaptations of Richard Connell's 1924 adventure story, “The Most Dangerous Game.” Connell's story (and the resulting films) not only birthed the Zodiac's M.O., but the story was referenced in the killer's taunting letters (“...man is the most dangerous animal of all to kill...”).

The killer was a weapons nut, particularly enamored of guns; he also was into diving – his symbol, a cross within a circle (resembling a rifle's cross hairs), was taken from a popular diving wrist watch called the “World Famous Zodiac Watch.” (Zodiac's cineaste leanings are further revealed in Graysmith's follow-up book, Zodiac Unmasked, when Graysmith mentions that there was a 1939 movie which the killer undoubtedly saw, called Charlie Chan At Treasure Island, which featured a character called Zodiac.)

As Graysmith notes, Zodiac displayed little, if any, originality in his cryptograms, varying M.O., or letters. Everything he said and did stemmed from popular items or culture, though his cryptograms were difficult to solve.

This is an excellent book. Graysmith captures well the personalities of those involved in the Zodiac drama, from the victims to the cops to the killer himself, though Graysmith doesn't prove who did the murders. Graysmith does mention a likely suspect, whom many seemed to “like” for the killings – Robert (“Bob”) Hall Starr, not the suspect's real name. The last part of the book sums up why Graysmith thinks Starr is the Zodiac, though there was one big snag: Starr's handwriting, probably not his real handwriting, and possibly written while under the influence of another personality (which could alter one's writing style), doesn't match the Zodiac's.

This is also a landmark book, in that for the first time, Graysmith brought together all the known facts about the Zodiac. Prior to this, many of the facts had been hoarded by jurisdiction-minded police departments. Had the departments been less protective of their legal turfs (Zodiac killed in areas of confused jurisdictions, on the edges of towns), Zodiac might've been caught long before he eventually was.

Check it out.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The PowerBook, by Jeanette Winterson

(hb; 2000)

From the inside flap:

“... Winterson's seventh novel enfolds the world of computers, and transforms the signal development of our time into a wholly human medium. The story is simple: an e-mail writer called Ali will compose anything you like, on order, provided you're prepared to enter the story as yourself and risk leaving it as someone else. You can be the hero of your own life. You can have freedom just for one night. But there is a price, and Ali discovers that she, too, will have to pay it.

The PowerBook reinvents itself as it travels from London to Paris, Capris, and cyberspace, using fairy tales, contemporary myths, and popular culture to weave a story of failed but requited love.”

Review:

Poetic, romantic, metaphysical, seductive, inventive, word-playful: these are but a few of the phrases that could be used to describe this flow-meld of thematic and emotive elements, as the fictionalized author, Ali, writes about an affair that exceeds its flesh-enhanced truths.

Another distinctive, genre-traversing novel from Winterson. It's not my favorite – I prefer Art & Lies to The PowerBook, as the former book feels more focused – but it's still a mind-bending pleasure.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Dark Thicket, by Elmer Kelton

(pb; 1985)

From the back cover:

“Young Owen Danforth rides home to Texas as a wounded Confederate soldier, at a time when his home state is as savagely divided as his nation. As a grievously wounded America stumbles towards the inevitable end of the Civil War, secessionist 'home guards' and staunch Union loyalists fight their own bloody battles on a more local scale. For Owen, sick to death of fighting and yearning for peace and recuperation, his homecoming is bittersweet. And when his blood ties force him to choose a side in an unwinnable conflict, Owen begins to wonder if he will ever see peace in Texas again.”

Review:

Unrelenting tension, tight story-plotting, captivating violence, and relatable characters made this damn near impossible to put down. The anger and frustration of many of the characters is tempered by forgiveness and understanding, imbuing its lean 183 pages with a timeless and universal appeal.

One of the best Westerns I've read in a long time, possibly one of my all-time favorites.