Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Boy Who Followed Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

(pb; 1980: fourth novel in the Ripley series)


Highsmith's sly wit is in evidence in the fourth Ripley novel, the follow-up to Ripley's Game. However, that cool wit is warmed by Ripley's increasing humanity (as compared to his attitude in earlier books): now he's an avuncular figure, giving emotional succor, shelter, and protection to a sixteen-year old boy (Billy Rollins, aka Frank Pierson) who reminds Ripley of himself -- up to a point.

When the boy is kidnapped in Berlin, Ripley goes to some drastic -- and oftentimes dryly hilarious -- measures to get the boy back from the kidnappers. Reeves Minot, Ripley's friend and partner-in-crime, also make another appearance -- his third (he first appeared in Ripley Under Ground), also, adding to the dark charm of Ripley's ongoing story.

Excellent read, despite becoming chatty near the end. Check it out.

Followed by Ripley Under Water.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Octopussy and The Living Daylights, by Ian Fleming

(pb; 1966, 1967, 2002: story anthology -- fourteenth/final book in the original 007/James Bond series)

Review, overall:

Decent four-story anthology, best read as side-pieces to Fleming's more plot-substantial novels. It's a gotta-read for Bond fans, of course.

Review, story by story:

"Octopussy" - An alcoholic retired military man and sea-life enthusiast, Major Dexter Smythe, is confronted by a past misdeed when James Bond comes to visit him in the Caribbean. Solid, predictable entry -- light on action, heavy on corruption and karmic justice.

"The Property of a Lady" - In a Sotheby's auction room, during a Faberge egg bidding, Bond tries to flush out a high-ranking Russian agent. Another solid Bond tale, fascinating, with an exciting and quiet finish.

"The Living Daylights" - Bond, protecting a fellow agent (Agent 272) crossing into West Berlin from East Berlin, takes on a KGB sniper he'd rather not shoot. Great story, accentuating Bond's sense of humanity and decency, as well as his disillusionment with his "double-00" status. Memorable, classic.

"007 in New York" - Overly-chatty tale about Bond warning another agent about her cohabitation with an enemy agent. Bond's mission reads like an afterthought, given Bond's lengthier travelogue-style memories about New York in the past, an ex-lover (Solange) and his frustration in trying to order a breakfast consisting of properly-prepared brown eggs (which are curiously hard to find). Mercifully brief bit of fluff, this.


Octopussy became a film in 1983. It has little to do with its source story, aside from its title. The Faberge egg plot stems another Bond story, "The Property of a Lady".

Roger Moore played James Bond. Maud Adams played Octopussy. Louis Jordan played Kamal Khan. Steven Berkoff played General Orlov. Robert Brown played M. Desmond Llwelyn played Q. Lois Maxwell played Miss Moneypenny.

John Glen directed the film, from a script by Richard Maibaum, George MacDonald Fraser and Michael G. Wilson.


The Living Daylights was released in 1987. The movie expands on its source story (see above review).

Timothy Dalton played James Bond. Maryam d'Abo played Kara Milovy. Jeroen Krabbe played General Georgi Koskov. Joe Don Baker played Brad Whitaker. Desmond Llewlyn played Q. Robert Brown played M. Caroline Bliss played Miss Moneypenny. John Terry played Felix Leiter.

John Glen directed, from a script penned by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Edenborn, by Nick Sagan

(hb; 2004)


Eighteen years after their collective awakening from the IVR (Immersive Virtual Reality) Academy in Idlewild, five of the six clone-children -- socially maladaptive Vashti and bubbly Champagne in Germany, loner Halloween in America, Sufi-faithed Isaac in the Middle East, and Halloween-loving Pandora in Germany -- are struggling to rebuild the world as they know it via different sciences and faiths, as well as deal with the amassing fallout of their decisions dating back to their childhoods. Fantasia, who voluntarily disappeared near the end of Idlewild, is still unaccounted for.

But then two threats make themselves known: the mysterious Deuce shakes the integrity of the Pandora-run IVR where a second generation of clone-children (fourteen of them, including Penny, a wild child waiting to explode) are visiting, learning the things they'll need to know to further their parent-creators' designs. The second threat is of the microbial variety: it appears that the Black Ep virus, which destroyed humanity, as well as rendering it barren, has mutated, and might kill the new generation of clone-children, and by extension, the human race -- this time for good.

Sagan's writing and imagery is less mindf***ish than in Idlewild's, but is no less effective here. As the possibility of humanity's final hours grow more probable, the characters -- whose personalities are sharply defined, and often at odds with each other -- become more real (and therefore worth caring about), via quirks, actions and Sagan's fascinating language.

Worthwhile follow-up to Idlewild, this. Check this series out.

Followed by Everfree.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Paul Verhoeven: Beyond Flesh and Blood, by Jean-Marc Bouineau

(pb; 1994 & 2000: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"Paul Verhoeven's name means controversy. His films have shocked the world of movie goers. Provocation is his moto. Sex has never been depicted so freely in movies before Turkish Delight, his second feature. RoboCop has set up new standards for the science-fiction genre. His somewhat overt cynicism has made him a fearless director eager to push the boundaries of movie-making.

"For the first time the director of The Fourth Man and Basic Instinct has been given the possibility to express his thoughts and feelings freely. He... speaks of his childhood, his intimate relationships with Rutger Hauer and Sharon Stone, violence, the media, [composer Igor] Stravinsky and much much more."


Interesting, short, glossy-paged read. The Dutch-born and -raised Verhoeven is blunt about his early films -- some of them not, by his own admission, worth revisiting (e.g., Business is Business), others transitional (e.g., Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange and Flesh+Blood, with actor Rutger Hauer, whom Verhoeven calls "my spokesman. He passed on my feelings, my philosophy.")

In talking about some of his films made in America -- the Alfred Hitchcock/Vertigo-influenced Basic Instinct; Total Recall and RoboCop (influenced by director Fritz Lang's Metropolis); and his other skewerings of American life, Showgirls and Starship Troopers -- Verhoeven is equally blunt, and more philosophical. (It makes sense, as he's talking about a subject -- a country -- that's largely removed from his formative years.)

Verhoeven also talks about his working relationship with actors Sharon Stone (with whom he has a "love-hate relationship"), Arnold Schwarzenegger ("He is very supportive of the director... He has no ego") and screenwriter Joe Estzerhas, who scripted Basic Instinct and Showgirls.

This is a good read, not only for film-geeks or film school students, but for artists, as well. Verhoeven doesn't talk much about technology or equipment, but his approach towards showing sex (which often signals manipulation), violence and its often-attendant politics may be one worth considering as an influence.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Traitors Gate, by Anne Perry

(hb; 1995: fifteenth book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

"...Police Superintendent Thomas Pitt is charged with investigating nothing less than a matter of treason. Someone in the Colonial Office is passing information to Germany about England's African strategy, and the traitor can only be one of a half dozen distinguished public servants. At the same time, Pitt is quietly looking into the sudden, tragic death of his childhood mentor, Sir Arthur Desmond, whose demise, an inquest has concluded, was due to an accidental overdose of laudanum.

"Pitt's own verdict is that Sir Arthur has been murdered, and that the crime is connected in some way to the treachery in the Colonial Office. He is certain that the link is a clandestine organization called the Inner Circle that, beneath the cloak of anonymous charitable benevolence, wields a sinister secret power over public affairs and private lives. But despite the apparent cooperation of great men in government, he makes little progress -- until news of a second sensational murder reverberates through London's most elegant drawing rooms.

"In the small hours of a May morning, a Thames waterman finds the strangled body of an aristocratic society beauty floating nearly lonely Traitors Gate. Only then do hard-pressed Pitt and his clever wife, Charlotte, begin to untangle the threads of passion and intrigue, to see clearly the pattern of tragedy and frightening evil that Pitt must deal with, at the risk of his career -- and his life."


The fifteenth Pitt mystery shows Pitt dealing with three professional -- and life-threatening -- problems: discovering the Foreign Office traitor who's selling state secrets to the Germans; clearing the name of his mentor, Sir Arthur Desmond, who was probably poisoned with laudanum in gentlemen's club; and unmasking the killer of a well-liked, lovely Society wife -- all of these dilemmas are likely tied to the Inner Circle (a ruthless secret society whose existence was first revealed in Belgrave Square), and may center around one killer.

Traitors Gate focuses more on Thomas Pitt, as he goes into places that Charlotte and their friends and family can't go -- that's not to say Charlotte, along with series regular Vespasia Cumming-Gould, and even Eustace March (Emily Radley's easily-scandalized, semi-blustery great-uncle by her first marriage) don't help, it's just that their case-pivotal roles in this deadly drama are limited this time out.

The killer(s) is/are not easily sussed out, there are some surprising twists scattered throughout, and the ending, as usual, is superbly rendered.

Another excellent read from Perry. Followed by Pentecost Alley.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Infinite, by Douglas Clegg

(pb; 2001)

From the back cover:

"Harrow is haunted, they say. The mansion is a place of tragedy and nightmares, evil and insanity. First, it was a madman's fortress; then it became a school. Now it lies empty. An obsessed woman named Ivy Martin wants to bring the house back to life. And Jack Fleetwood, a ghost hunter, wants to find out what lurks within Harrow. Together they assemble the people who they believe can pierce the mansion's shadows.

"A group of strangers, with varying motives and abilities, gathers at the house called Harrow in the Hudson Valley to reach another world that exists within the house... A world of wonders... A world of desires... A world of nightmares."


This is best read as a sometimes-clever, by-the-numbers homage to other classic horror/haunted house novels, namely: Thomas Tryon's Harvest Home, Shirley Jackon's The Haunting of Hill House, and Richard Matheson's Hell House.

Clegg is a competent writer, but The Infinite lacks the necessary haunted-house tension. Clegg lays the multi-layered creepiness on thick -- problem is, most readers have read this story before, created by more effective writers.

The characters are semi-stock: Chet Dillinger, an angry nineteen-year old hick telemetrist, who can move things with his mind; Calista Nybird, a friendly urban psychometrist in her late twenties ("she could hold an object associated with... murder... and if the situation was right, find out something about the murderer or the victim..."); Frost Crane, a forty-five year old bestselling author who channels otherworldly "Voices," most of whom are like Crane himself -- seething, circumstantially-impotent and violent; Jack Fleetwood, an academic type who's in love with the going-mad (and rich) Ivy Martin, who owns the Harrow mansion; and Miranda Fleetwood, Jack's sarcastic sixteen-year old daughter, who lacks psychic abilities (and nevertheless senses the mansion's ethereal-dread).

Near the end, there are some well-rendered splatter-punkish scenes of supernatural mayhem, but even they can't make this anything more than it is: a disposable spookhouse beach read.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Coffee & Kung Fu, by Karen Brichoux

(pb; 2003)

From the back cover:

"Twenty-six year old Nicci Bradford doesn't exactly love her job of fixing the grammar in company brochures. She doesn't exactly love living in Boston, or going on awkward dates with men she barely knows. What she does love is Kung Fu movies... especially the ones starring her beloved Jackie Chan. Their timeless and inspired wisdom offers her a philosophy of life. The problem is, she doesn't have much of a life to philosophize about.

"But wisdom isn't the only thing that Jackie Chan has to offer. he's also a pretty good action hero. And when opportunity -- and risk -- present themselves in unexpected ways, it's up to Nicci to follow her hero's example, focus on her goal and strike..."


A thread of melancholy runs through this light-on-the-surface work, which is simultaneously funny and sad. Brichoux's gimmick -- relating Nicci's life to lessons learned from Jackie Chan movies -- is used sparingly, so the novel's underlying emotions are never cheapened; it's the lightness that balances the novel, makes Nicci's moodiness palatable.

Brichoux's writing is good, neither saying too much nor too little, which can be difficult when writing a first novel.

Excellent, funny and a great read -- worth your time.

<em>Mother Night</em> by Kurt Vonnegut

(pb; 1961) From the back cover “ Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy du...