Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shotgun, by William Wingate

(hb; 1980)

From the inside flap:

"Baptist's Fire was a stormy little town all along, wtih gunfire from bitter Tennessee feuds spilling down Main Street since the 1890s. It was no place for a city slicker to visit, let alone start buying up, and that's what Mr. Cam seemed to be doing. And by the time some of the townspeople realized what was happening, they were too involved -- or too scared -- to do anything about it.

"Lou's pa didn't like it. Didn't like gassing up Mr. Cam's big black Cadillac and being polite to his bodyguards, and didn't mind saying so to the stranger whose broken-down car had to be pushed into the gas station. His name was Hardacre and that was about the only thing they found out about him, even though he stayed with them while the parts for his car were on order.

"Having Hardacre around made Lou nervous. But the strange thing was that it seemed to make the tough Mr. Cam nervous too, especially when he found out that Hardacre didn't scare. Whether provoked or moving swiftly on his own, the stranger was equally capable with his fists or his gun.

"Who was he? And to whom did he owe alleigance? Perhaps Baptist's Fire would never know, but when the dust had settled -- and Lou's shameful secret was bared -- the town and its inhabitants were changed and shaken."


Wingate employs a structure Jack Schaefer used in his classic -- in the truest sense of the word -- 1949 novel, Shane (which later became a 1953 film), except this time it's a fifteen-year old girl (Elsa Lou Colson), not a young boy (Robert "Bob" Starrett), who narrates the story. The daughter of an ornery gas station owner (Jedemiah "Jed" Colson), "Lou" tells how a stranded, quiet stranger (John Hardacre) refuses to be pushed around by a bullying land baron, who's also an exiled East Coast mafioso (Sam Camazza, aka "Mr. Cam").

The local police, led by a quirky Sheriff, Barton Haskins, aren't any help to Hardacre: they're on Camazza's payroll. So, of course, it's up to Hardacre to make things right -- as much as he can, given the situation.

More than a modern-day knock-off of Schaefer's lean, mean Western, Wingate infuses his characters with complex, relatable personalities, especially "Lou" (who, in comparison to Bob Starrett, is a runaway chatterbox), and the action is vivid and riveting -- especially in the last twenty pages, when I couldn't put the book down, even though I had writing of my own to do.

Solid, singular read, this. Shotgun reads like the bastard mating of Schaefer's Shane and David Morrell's novel First Blood.

Check it out.


Shotgun, retitled Malone, became a loosely-linked theatrical release on May 1, 1987.

Burt Reynolds played Richard Malone (a cinematic stand-in for John Hardacre). Cliff Robertson played Charles Delaney. Kenneth McMillan played Hawkins. Cynthia Gibb played Jo Barlow (a cinematic stand-in for Elsa Lou Colson). Scott Wilson played Paul Barlow (a cinematic stand-in for Jedemiah "Jed" Colson). Lauren Hutton (who also starred in the films Gator and Paternity with Reynolds) played Jamie. Tracey Walter played Calvin Bollard.

Harley Cokeliss directed, from a script by Christopher Frank.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

(pb; 2001)

From the back cover

"Victor Mancini's a medical school dropout with a problem. He needs to pay for elder care for his mother, who's got Alzheimer's. So he comes up with the perfect scam: pretending to choke in upscale restaurants and getting 'saved' by fellow diners, who, feeling responsible for Victor's life, offer him financial support.

"Meanwhile, he cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops and spends his days working at Colonial Dunsboro, where his stoner colleagues are sentenced to the stocks for any deviation from the colonial lifestyle. Oh, yeah, and he's desperate to find the truth of his paternity, which his addled mother suggests may be divine."


This is one of Palahniuk's finer novels, joining the ranks of Fight Club, Lullaby, Rant and Snuff.

The jigsaw-puzzle, factoid-laden structure is everpresent in any Palahniuk work, but the happenings of Choke, shown through the first-person POV of Victor Mancini, are less jigsaw-y and factoid-oriented. Rather, the focus is on Victor's dysfunctional, falling-apart life and his strange, crazy pseudo-family -- there's Denny, Victor's slovenly, rock-collecting, sex-addict best friend; there's Ida Mancini, Victor's Alzheimer's-afflicted, crazy jailbird mother, who doesn't even recognize him anymore; there's Dr. Paige Marshall, Ida Mancini's doctor, who says she can help Ida get better, if only Victor will have sex with her (the doctor, not his mother); and there's Cherry Daiquiri (aka, Beth), a stripper, Denny's girlfriend-of-sorts.

All of these characters figure prominently into Victor trying to push through the fourth step of his twelve-step Sexaholic Recovery program (listing and righting all of own's past sins, if possible), and his increasingly desperate attempts to pay for his mother's nursing-home care.

Thematically, this shares recognizable elements with Fight Club, and most of other Palahniuk's works. There's a mention of masturbating near a pool intake valve (which brings to mind the pool masturbation scene of Saint Gut-Free in Haunted).

The main thing that sets Choke apart from most other Palahniuk novels (aside from Diary and Snuff) is how warm (emotionally-speaking) and relatable Victor Mancini is. Less nihlistic than Tyler Durden (Ida Mancini ably fills that Palahniuk-recurrent role) and other like-minded Palahniukian characters, he's just a normal person -- like most of us -- trying to muddle his way through life as smartly as possible, with a minimum of fuss.

Great, fast read. Check it out.


The film version is set for a September 26, 2008 theatrical release. Sam Rockwell plays Victor Mancini. Anjelica Huston plays Ida Mancini. Kelly Macdonald plays Paige Marshall. Brad William Henke plays Denny. Bijou Phillips plays Ursula. Jonah Bobo plays "Young Victor" (Victor as a boy).

Clark Gregg (who also directed and wrote the screenplay for the film) plays Lord High Charlie.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox, by Eoin Colfer

(hb; 2008: sixth book in the Artemis Fowl series)

From the inside flap:

"After disappearing for three years, Artemis Fowl has returned to a life different from the one he had. Now he's a big brother, and spends his days teaching his twin siblings the important things in life, such as how to properly summon a waiter at a French restaurant.

"But when Artemis's mother contracts a life-threatening illness, his world is turned upside down. The only hope for a cure lies in the brain fluid of the silky sifaka lemur. Unfortunately, the animal is extinct, due to a heartless bargain Artemis himself made as a younger boy.

"Though the odds are stacked against him, Artemis is not willing to give up. With the help of his fairy friends, the young genius travels back in time to rescue the lemur and bring it to the present. But to do so, Artemis will have to defeat a maniacal poacher who has set his sights on new prey: Holly Short.

"The rules of time travel are far from simple, but to save his mother, Artemis will have to break them all. . . and outsmart his most cunning adversary yet: Artemis Fowl, age ten."


Artemis, Holly Short, Foaly, Mulch Diggums and No1 (a demon who first appeared in Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony) are thrust back into collective action when Artemis's mother (Angeline Fowl) mysteriously contracts an antiquated fairy disease, fatal to humans as well. They travel back in time, to eight years prior, to try and alter the past and the future, in order to save Angeline.

Their primary foe this time out is Opal Koboi, a megalomaniacal scientist-fairy, who appeared, or is mentioned, in earlier Artemis adventures. She is joined by Damon Kronski, a dim-bulb, wealthy spokesman for the controversial Extinctionist movement, which takes dark delight in procuring and executing animals that are on the verge of extinction.

As in previous Artemis adventures, the semi-predictable story is solid, seeded with good characterization, humor and painless (for the reader) morality lessons. All of this, coupled with its familiar, adrenalized pace, left this reader nearly-breathless and wanting more.

Read this series!

Followed by Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Eva Moves the Furniture, by Margot Livesey

(pb; 2001)

From the back cover:

"On the morning of Eva McEwan's birth, six magpies congregate in the apple tree outside the window -- a bad omen, according to Scottish legend. That night, Eva's mother dies, leaving her to be raised by her aunt and heartsick father in their small Scottish town. As a child, Eva is often visited by two companions -- a woman and a girl -- invisible to everyone save her. As she grows, their intentions become increasingly unclear: Do they wish to protect or harm her? A magical novel about loneliness, love, and the profound connection between mother and daughter. . . fuses the simplicity of a fairy tale with the complexity of adult passions."


Everything about this book worked for me: the characters, changing and deepening over time; the prose, spare, enchanting, and emotionally veracious; the interweaving of past and present -- and how the former creates the elements of the latter.

Check this out.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Me of Little Faith, by Lewis Black

(hb; 2008: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

"What do we believe? And for God's sake why?

"Those are the thorny questions that Lewis Black, the bitingly funny comedian, social critic, and bestselling author, tackles [in this book]. And he's come up with some answers. Or at least his answers. In more than two dozen essays that investigate everything from the differences between how Christians and Jews celebrate their holidays, to the politics of faith, to people's individual search for transcendence, Black explores his unique odyssey through religion and belief.

"Growing up as a nonpracticing Jewish kid near Washington, D.C., during the 1950s, Black survived Hebrew school and a bar mitzvah (barely), went to college in the South during the tumultuous 1960s, and witnessed firsthand the unsettling parallels between religious rapture and drug-induced visions (even if none of his friends did). He explored the self-actualization movements of the 1970s (and the self-indulgence that they produced), and since then has turn an increasingly skeptical eye toward the politicians and televangelists who don the cloak of religious rectitude to mask their own moral hypocrisy.

"What he learned along the way about inconsistencies and peculiarities of religion infuriated Black, and in Me of Little Faith he gives full vent to his comedic rage. black explores how the rules and constraints of religion have affected his life and the lives of us all. Hilarious experiences with rabbis, Mormons, gurus, psychics, and even the joy of a perfect round of golf give Black the chance to expound upon what we believe and why -- in the language of a shock jock and with the heart of an iconclast."


The description on the book's inside flap is accurate. Black's humor stems from his cogent, well-written, and often-hilarious outrage at those around us who brazenly disregard the rules/facts of logic and good social behavior, in, as it says in the book flap, "the language of a shock jock and with the heart of an iconclast." Those who are religious and easily offended should not read this book, because it'll just tick them off. (Black also offers this warning in the beginning in Me of Little Faith.)

Thankfully, Black doesn't just come across as a funny jerk. His ideas, humor and personal experiences are shot through with some of the finer elements of humanity: humility/acceptance of his limitations and knowledge, cogent reasoning, and warmth for those around him.

Check it out, if you're not sensitive/close-minded about religious matters, and not afraid to enjoy some truly dark-ish humor.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Bedford Square, by Anne Perry

(pb; 1999: nineteenth book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the back cover:

"The freshly dead body sprawled on the Bedford Square doorstep of General Brandon Balantyne is an affront to every respectable sensibility. The general denies all knowledge of the shabbily dressed victim who has so rudely come to death outside his home. But Superintendant Thomas Pitt cannot believe him. For in the dead man's pockets he finds a rare snuffbox that recently graced the general's study. He must tread lightly, however, lest his investigation trigger a tragedy of immense proportions, ensnaring honorable men like flies in a web. Pitt's clever wife, Charlotte, becomes his full partner in probing this masterpiece of evil, spawned by an amorality greater than they can imagine."


June 1891. Several men in relative power (but not a lot of wealth) are being blackmailed via defamatory letters by someone who isn't making traditional blackmail demands (money, or political votes). One of these men is General Brandon Balantyne (who also appeared in Callander Square and Death in the Devil's Acre). That's not Balantyne's only problem: he's just had a murdered corpse dumped on his front doorstep, with a personal item of Balantyne's stuffed in the corpse's jacket pocket.

One of the other men being blackmailed is Assistant Commissioner Cornwallis, Pitt's immediate boss (who first appeared in Traitors Gate). While Pitt delves into Cornwallis's blackmail situation, Samuel Tellman, Pitt's right hand man (who, progressively, with every new book, gets increasing amounts of point of view time), sets out to discover who dumped the body on Balantyne's front steps -- and if that person is the same person who's blackmailing Balantyne and the others. Inevitably, Pitt's and Tellman's investigations dovetail into one case, one that has a tragic, though not completely unsurprising, finish.

Excellent reading, as are all the Pitt novels. Check them out.

Followed by Half Moon Street.

<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]...