Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

(pb; 1954: novella)

From the back cover:

"Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth... but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire, and they are hungry for Neville's blood.

"By day he is the hunter, stalking the undead through the ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn.

"How long can one man survive like this?"


This is Matheson at his best. Neville is one of fiction's greatest anti-heroes. He vacillates between emotional extremes, sometimes tender, often brutal and gruff, as he struggles to survive, and ultimately understand, the whys of his situation.

Grim, black-humored and sometimes ironic, this is a must-read for any science fiction fan: one of my all-time favorite books.

Check this out.

The novella has been filmed three times.

The Last Man on Earth was released stateside on March 8, 1964.

Vincent Price played Dr. Robert Morgan, the film equivalent of Robert Neville. Giacomo Rossi-Stuart played Ben Cortland.

Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow shared directing duties, co-scripting the film with William F. Leicester and book author Richard Matheson (billed as Logan Swanson).

The second version, retitled The Omega Man, was released stateside on August 1, 1971.

Charlton Heston played Robert Neville. Anthony Zerbe played Matthias, the film equivalent of the novel's Ben Cortland. Rosalind Cash played Lisa.

Boris Sagal directed the film, from a script by John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington (billed as Joyce H. Corrington).

The third version, titled I Am Legend, is scheduled for stateside release on December 14, 2007.

Will Smith plays Neville. Salli Richardson plays Ginny. Paradox Pollack plays Alpha. Willow Smith, daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, plays Marley.

Francis Lawrence directs, from a script by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

And Now You Can Go by Vendela Vida

(hb; 2003)

From the inside flap:

"A sharply humorous, fast-paced debut novel about the effects -- some predictable, some wildly unexpected --that an encounter at gunpoint can have on the life of a (previously) assured young woman.

"The gun in question is pointed at twenty-one-year old Ellis as she walks through a New York City park. In the end she is unrobbed and physically unharmed. But she is left psychologically reeling.

"Over the next few weeks Ellis keeps everyone at bay: the police, the men who want to save her ('the ROTC boy' poet and 'the red-faced representative of the world'), and the university therapist who hints that her sweaters may be too tight. But when Ellis accompanies her mother, a nurse, on a mission to the Philippines, she finds that life -- even if held up -- cannot be held back, and neither, finally, can she."


Vida's debut novel is not as good as her second, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. And Now has its quirky, clever moments, and starts off in a tightly-written manner, but it quickly becomes obvious that for all of this novel's slyness, this should've been a novella. Few of the scenes in that make up the middle section of the novel have anything to do with Ellis's experience with the sad gunman: they're superfluous. It's just a semi-edited ramble, albeit a charming one at times.

Skip this one, but make sure to check out Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Now And Forever, by Ray Bradbury

(hb; 2007: novella anthology)

From the back cover:

"In Somewhere a Band is Playing, a writer is drawn by poetry and dreams to tiny Summerton, Arizona, a community hidden in plain view, where no small children play, and where the residents never seem to age. Enchanted by its powerful rural magic -- and by a beautiful, enigmatic lady who bears the name of an Egyptian queen -- the writer sets out to uncover Summerton's mysteries before the inevitable arrival of a ruthless destruction.

"With Leviathan '99, the author who once colonized Mars returns to the cosmos to brilliantly reimagine Herman Melville's classic masterwork obsession and the sea, transforming a great whale into a worlds-devouring comet. In the year 2099, fledgling astronaut Ishmael Hunnicut Jones boards the Cetus 7, placing his fate in the hands of a relentless madman who is blindly chasing the celestial monster's tail. And in the merciless void, a crew of earthborn and alien star-travelers will face a divine judgment, and an 'enemy' wielding the most fearsome weapon of all... Time."


Somewhere a Band is Playing is a familiar but still-entrancing riff for Bradbury: magic in a small town --this time a town that is magic itself -- replete with quotable poetic passages about youth, the seasons and the inevitability of death. Worthwhile stuff, this.

Leviathan '99, with its Ahab-in-space storyline, is heavier, with a theocratic space program theme running thickly through it. It's good -- of course, it's Bradbury -- but I'm guessing the old radio program which had Christopher Lee providing the voice of the mad captain was more exhilarating. Not one of Bradbury's better works, though some last-minute twists made it memorable.

Overall, this two-novella collection is a good read for Bradbury fans. First-time Bradbury readers should probably avoid this until they've read other books by him.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ripley Under Ground, by Patricia Highsmith

(pb; 1970: second novel in the Ripley series)


Tom Ripley, enjoying the quiet life with his wife Heloise and live-in maid Mme. Annette, suddenly finds his life turned every which way when an American art collector (Thomas Murchison) begins questioning the authenticity of certain Phillip Derwatt paintings -- high-priced artwork that's actually the result of a forgery ring that is Ripley's brainchild. Also, Bernard Tufts, the depressed, possibly suicidal painter who created the aforementioned forgeries, is threatening to quit painting, making the crisis even worse -- just as Christopher Greenleaf, a curious cousin of Dickie's (who met a watery end at the hands of Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley) is about to visit Ripley's Villeperce-sur-Seine home.

Darkly funny, often ironic and self-assured, both the novel and Ripley are dead-on winners. Those readers who didn't cotton to Ripley's panicked up-and-down personality in the first novel might cotton to the older, smoother Ripley, who has the good sense to worry about things, but the mature wherewithal to deal with them -- even if it means burying more bodies.

Check it out.

Followed by Ripley's Game.


The movie version of Ripley Under Ground premiered stateside on November 6, 2005. Barry Pepper played Tom Ripley. Jacinda Barrett played Heloise Plisson, Ripley's wife. 

Tom Wilkinson played John Webster, a detective. Willem Dafoe played Neil Murchison (a cinematic stand-in for Thomas Murchison?). Alan Cumming played Jeff Constant, one of Ripley's partners-in-art-crime. Claire Forlani played Cynthia, Bernard Tufts's ex-girlfriend. Roger Spottiswoode directed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

(hb; 2005)

From the inside flap:

"Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim's burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes how desperately Moss and his young wife need protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex-Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem. The pursuit stretches up and down and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?"


McCarthy's trademark apostrophe- and quotation mark-free prose makes this hyperviolent tale even more compelling, as Anton Chigurh, an escaped sociopathic killer, and Sheriff Bell, a laid-back no-nonsense cop, separately pursue Llewelyn Moss, who means to confront Chigurh on his terms, not Chigurh's.

But Chigurh and Bell aren't the only people interested in Moss. There's Carson Wells, a middle-aged ex-military hitter and ex-associate of Chigurh's, who's been hired by his unnamed employer to retrieve, by any means possible, the $2.4 million that Moss loped off with.

This bloodier-than-a-catamenial-clusterf**k work is often exceptional, with some great third-act plot twists and virtuosic omissions (leaving much to the reader's imagination), and characters (women included) who come off tougher and larger than life.

One of the things that mars this otherwise engrossing tale are the superfluous chapters where Bell reminisces about how times and people (particularly criminals) have changed since he first became a lawman, many years back. These first-person interludes feel completely out of place here: they're unnecessary speed-bumps in this pedal-to-the-metal read.

The other flaw is the disappointing finish, which peters out in semi-rambly fashion. It fits the themes running though No Country (Regret, Death, Change, Aging), but like those shoe-horned first-person ruminations, it doesn't fit in with the quirky ferocity of the rest of the novel.

Good book, worth your time -- not one of McCarthy's best, by most accounts I've read.


The resulting film is set for limited theatrical release on November 9, 2007. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen scripted and directed the film. Tommy Lee Jones plays Ed Tom Bell. Javier Bardem plays Chigurh. Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss. Woody Harrelson plays Carson Wells. Kelly Macdonald plays Carla Jean Moss. Tess Harper plays Loretta Bell.

Survivor, by Tabitha King

(hb; 1997)

From the inside flap:

"Kissy Mellors, an extraordinary photographer, is at the wheel of her Blazer when a shattering accident sparks a slow-burning, ultimately explosive drama of desire and decision. It is night. She is driving back to her apartment through the campus of a Maine college. A yellow T-bird zooms past her and hits two female pedestrians. One life is ended. One life is suspended in a coma. And Kissy's life is changed forever.

"After the accident three men enter Kissy's life. One is James Houston, the drunken premed student responsible for the fatal collision. One is Mike Burke, the policeman who arrived at the scene moments later. And one is Junior Clootie, a college hockey star being groomed for the pros, with whom Kissy begins an intensely sexual affair while still shaken by the aftershock of the nightmare experience."


This is three-quarters of a perfect novel, with characters at once admirable and deeply flawed, and an immaculately paced story that charts the twists and turns of each of the characters' lives as their paths cross and diverge. I was immediately absorbed in King's reads-like-real-life-yet-eloquent prose, and loathed having to set the book down to deal with my own life, which rarely fails to fascinate me.

It's in the final quarter of the novel that it stumbles, character-wise. One of the characters -- namely Kissy, about whom the action/story revolves -- acts uncharacteristically erratic and selfish in her desires, when before, even her impulsive acts made sense. Granted, some extreme situations present themselves in the story, but still...

The finish, ably and slyly built up to, dovetails the novel nicely, almost making up for Kissy's forced, oddball behavior near the end.

Good read that could've been great -- still worth reading, though. For a better King novel, check out The Book of Reuben.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Death Sentence, by Brian Garfield

(hb; 1975: sequel to Death Wish )


Less than a year after the tragic happenings of Death Wish, Paul Benjamin is still hunting criminals. His daughter, Carol, comatose at the finish of the first book, is now dead, as an indirect result of the attack that took her mother's life; Paul has moved to Chicago, hoping to shake off his grief, and to continue his mission: hunting and gunning down street scum.

Things have become complicated, however. No longer benumbed to life -- and a hostage to his rage -- Paul has fallen in love again, this time with a woman named Irene, who's clueless about his late-a.m. activities.

Not only that, but police are stepping up their efforts to catch him, as a copycat vigilante (whose actions have resulted in the deaths of innocent bystanders) is prowling the streets of Chicago, as well.

Logical, ably-written as the first book, Death Sentence lacks the bite of its predecessor. Part of this may be due to the fact that while Paul is angry, he's begun to let joy -- in the form of Irene -- enter into his life. He's begun to intellectualize the vigilante/crime thing, as opposed to just reacting to it.

The ending packs a wallop, not unlike the first book. Worthwhile sequel.

The in-name-only film version of Death Sentence was released stateside on August 31, 2007.

Kevin Bacon played Nick Hume. Kelly Preston played Helen Hume. John Goodman played Bones Darley. Leigh Whannell played Spink.

James Wan directed the film, from a script by Ian Jeffers.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

(pb; 1955: first novel in the Ripley series)

From the back cover:

"Tom Ripley is sent to Italy with a commission to coax Dickie Greenleaf back to his wealthy father. But Ripley finds himself very fond of this prodigal young American. He wants to be like him -- exactly like him. Suave, agreeable, and utterly amoral, Ripley stops at nothing -- certainly not only one murder -- to accomplish his goal."


The author of The Price of Salt and Strangers on a Train was starting to come into her own with this book, in which Ripley, a penurious, clever, first-time murderer with an inferiority complex, becomes the cincher of his destiny. Highsmith's analytic, distinctly European ambiance and tone lends an almost languid chill to the story, in which Ripley regularly slues between abject terror (when he thinks he's going to get caught) and thrill-seeker peaks (when he thinks he's going to get away with it all).

A psychological, adroit and perturbing literary delving into deviant nature, this. Memorable, worth your time.

Four book sequels followed the novel. The first sequel is Ripley Under Ground.


Two film versions have resulted from The Talented Mr. Ripley.

The first version, Purple Noon, was released in France on March 10, 1960.

Alain Delon played Thomas Ripley/Phillipe Greenleaf. Maurice Ronet played Phillipe Greenleaf. Marie Laforêt played Marge Duval. Billy Kearns, billed as Bill Kearns, played Freddie Miles.

René Clément directed the film, from a script he co-penned with Paul Gégauff (billed as Paul Gegauff).


Anthony Minghella scripted and directed the second version, The Talented Mr. Ripley. The film was released stateside on December 25, 1999.

Matt Damon played Tom Ripley. Gwyneth Paltrow played Marge Sherwood. Jude Law played Dickie Greenleaf. Phillip Seymour Hoffman played Freddie Miles.

Cate Blanchett played Meredith Logue. Jack Davenport played Peter Smith-Kingsley. James Rebhorn played Herbert Greenleaf. Sergio Rubini played Inspector Roverini. Phillip Baker Hall played Alvin MacCarron. Alessandro Fabrizi played Sergeant Baggio.

<em>The Letter, the Witch and the Ring</em> by John Bellairs

(pb; 1976: third book in the Lewis Barnavelt mysteries . Drawings by Richard Egielski .) From the back cover “Rose Rita [Pottinger]...