Monday, January 26, 2009

Mr. Majestyk, by Elmore Leonard

(pb; 1974)

From the back cover:

"Once Vincent Majestyk crashed through a jungle with an M-15 and a sack of grenades. Now he works under the open skies of the American Southwest, growing melons on his farm. But a strong-arming punk came to Majestyk's fields and set off a violent chain reaction that left Majestyk without a friend in the world -- except for one tough, beautiful woman. Heading to prison, Majestyk finds himself shackled beside a notorious Mafia hit man. And now a man who's been searching for peace and a man who's been looking for an angle are about to be set free by a violent breakout: making the farmer and the hit man each other's only hope -- and worst possible enemy."


Solid, straight-forward action novel from Leonard, one of the best and more prolific crime novelists in the writing business. There are few surprises, but the writing is worthwhile, with a touch of quirkiness here and there.

Good read.

The film, starring Charles Bronson as Vince Majestyk, was released in the U.S. on July 17, 1974. Al Letieri played Frank Renda. Linda Cristal played Nancy Chavez. Lee Purcell played Wiley. Paul Koslo played Bobby Kopas. Taylor Lacher played Gene Lundy.

Richard Fleischer directed, from a script by script-uncredited book author Elmore Leonard.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Swimming Without a Net, by MaryJanice Davidson

(pb; 2007: second book in The Mermaid Series)

From the back cover:

"It's not normal for a mermaid to hate being in open water, but Fred never claimed to be normal. To visit the undersea realm of Artur, the High Prince, and the rest of the royal merfamily, she has to fin it to the Cayman Islands. Luckily, hunky marine biologist Thomas is along for the swim -- in his custom-made underwater RV. he'll be able to explore where no 'outlander' has gone before and give Fred a place to escape to when the Undersea Folk start getting on her nerves.

"But as Fred tries to fit in with her own kind, she finds herself hooked on both Artur and Thomas, and caught between two factions of merrfolks: those happy with swimming under the radar -- and those who want to bring their existence to the surface. . ."


A year after the screwball shennigans that comprised Sleeping with the Fishes, Frederika Bimm (aka, "Fred") and her friends and family are back. Her best, metropolitan friend Jonas Carrey and her boss, Dr. Barbara Robinson (aka, "Dr. Barb") are still dating and cooing over each other. Prince Artur of the Undersea Folk, hunky and overconfident, as well as Thomas Pearson, also-hunky marine biologist, have been off elsewhere, presumably pursuing their destinies: past-rivals for Fred's affections, they haven't contacted her at all -- something that greatly irritates Fred.

Then two of the Undersea Folk visit Fred, who's also considered a subject of Prince Artur, and tell her she must come to the Cayman Islands, power-base of the royal merfamily...

This second "Fred the Mermaid" novel is more serious in tone; the stakes, plot- and character-wise, are higher this time out. Little of Sleeping's humor is lost, though, as the humor in Net is simply more plot-centric and situational.

The questions (and realities) to be pondered by Fred and the rest of Net's characters: Should the merfolk reveal themselves to humans (aka, "bipeds"), who, in the past, have proven themselves genocidal and earth-destructive? The Air Breathers, younger merfolk, think so. Or should they remain hidden in the sea, relatively safe, as the Tradionalists, merfolk favoring secrecy, wish to do?

Fred has an additional dilemma. With both Thomas Peason and Prince Arturo resuming their wooing of her -- both are love-worthy, in their distinctive ways -- who should she choose? Or should she choose neither of them?

It's less frivolous than it sounds. Davidson has a way with words that makes the story and its characters crackle and pop with depth, banter-worthy lines and natural good-humor. Like any author worth reading, her writing is seamless (even within its genre-boundaries), and she makes it look easy, almost effortless.

Check this out. But read Sleeping with the Fishes first -- you won't be lost in this second book if you don't, but you won't appreciate the characters and story as much.

Followed by Fish Out of Water.

Monday, January 19, 2009

They Came From Outer Space edited by Jim Wynorski

(hb; 1980: science fiction anthology. "Introduction" by Ray Bradbury.)

Overall review:

Wonderful, varied collection of classic science fiction stories that, for the most part, became worthwhile (if loosely adapted) films. This anthology is worth owning, a reminder of science fiction's modestly charming roots, as read in the pages of pulp-ish magazines. By all means, seek this anthology out.

Review, story by story:

1.) "Dr. Cyclops" - Henry Kuttner: Four scientists and their jungle guide (Paco), visiting a secretive, bespectacled scientist (Dr. Thorkel, aka Dr. Cyclops) are shrunk to pin-height, via a radium-spraying projector (called a "condensor") so Thorkel can study them. But the scientists and Paco escape into the jungle, hunted by Thorkel and his black cat, Satanas. When the shrunken scientists and their guide engage in retaliatory guerilla-warfare tactics, it's an imaginative, thrill-a-minute adventure.

The popular Dr. Cyclops (and this tale) appeared in the June 1940 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, along with photos of the film, which had been released stateside on April 12, 1940.

Albert Dekker played Alexander Thorkel (aka, Dr. Cyclops). Janice Logan played Mary Mitchell (cinematic counterpart to Dr. Mary Phillips). Tom Coley played Bill Stockton. Charles Halton played Dr. Rupert Bulfinch. Victor Kilian played Steve Baker. Frank Yaconeli played Pedro. Ernest B. Schoedsack directed the film.

2.) "Who Goes There?" - John W. Campbell: A recently-discovered ancient frozen alien ship awakens fresh, mutative horrors amongst human scientific-expedition members in the South Pole.

Initially chatty, but not overly so -- Campbell's characters are filling in the backstory on the ship's discovery -- the story's compelling science-fiction-based tone quickly turns paranoid, Lovecraftian-horrific, and morbidly-funny. The end-paragraph is anti-climactic and a tad pompous. (Though, admittedly, I have to take into account that this story was published in 1938, appearing in the August issue of Astounding Stories.)

Despite that minor end-flaw, this is one of my favorite science-fiction/horror stories of all time.

The (first) resulting film, re-titled The Thing From Another World, illuminated stateside movie screens on April 29, 1951. Directed by Christian Nyby and scripted by Charles Lederer, the movie bears little resemblance (aside from its setting and tone) to its source story -- notably, the monster in the movie (played by James Arness) is a Frankensteinian creation; in the source-story, the alien-monster had neck-tentacles, could mutate/reproduce asexually (incorporating and outwardly mimicking its victims' biologies/outer forms), and had three red "hateful" eyes.

Kenneth Tobey played Captain Patick Hendry. Margaret Sheridan played Nikki Nicholson. Robert Cornwaithe played Dr. Arthur Carrington. Douglas Spencer played Ned "Scotty" Scott. James Young played Lt. Eddie Dykes. Dewey Martin played Crew Chief Bob. Robert Nichols played Lt. Ken "Mac" Chapman. Paul Frees played Dr. Voorhees.

A remake, titled The Thing, was released stateside on June 25, 1982. Closer in spirit monster-wise (it maintains the mutation element of the story, if more-horrifically so), it also kept the characters' original names. (The 1951 version had completely re-named characters.)

John Carpenter directed this oh-so-paranoid graphic gem of a horror film, one of my favorite films of all time. Kurt Russell played MacReady. Wilford Brimley played Dr. Blair (he was billed as A. Wilford Brimley). T.K. Carter played Nauls (a character not in the original story). David Clennon played Palmer (another character not in the source-story). Keith David played Childs (another non-source-story character). Richard Dysart played Dr. Copper. Charles Hallahan played Vance Norris. Richard Masur played Clark. Donald Moffat played Garry. Larry J. Franco (billed as Larry Franco) played "Norwegian [Helicopter] Passenger with Rifle" -- Franco, off-screen, also served as associate producer to the film. An uncredited Adrienne Barbeau (Carpenter's wife from 1979 to 1984) was the voice for one of the computers. The film was scripted by Bill Lancaster.

3.) "Farewell to the Master" - Harry Bates: A newspaper photographer, hidden in a scientific museum, discovers that an otherworldly robot-humanoid and its ship in one of the displays isn't as still-life as it seems, when the robot (Gnut) thinks everyone has left. Intriguing, unique story with able pacing, and a great, simply-wrought end-twist/line.

The (first) resulting film, considered one of the best science fiction films of all time, was titled The Day the Earth Stood Still. Its stateside release date was September 28, 1951. Directed by the supremely-talented Robert Wise, this larger-in-scale-than-its-source-story film starred: Michael Rennie as Klaatu; Patricia Neal as Helen Benson (a character not originally in the story); Hugh Marlowe as Tom Stevens (another non-story character); Sam Jaffe as Prof. Jacob Barnhardt (another non-story character); Billy Gray as Billy Benson (another non-story character); Frances Bavier as Mrs. Barley (another non-story character); and Lock Martin as Gort (a cinematic stand-in for the robot Gnut).

(Side-note: The film was scripted by Edmund H. North, who, according to anthology editor Wynorski, "readily admits his loose adaptation of the Bates story contains many specific religious references. . . even beyond the obvious 'resurrection' sequence. For instance, when Klaatu escapes from the hospital he identifies with the man whose suit he has taken. The name is Carpenter -- one [Klaatu] adopts as his own. This too is part of the Christ parallel, a tack the original novella never explored.")

A remake was released stateside on December 12, 2008. Keanu Reeves played Klaatu. Jennifer Connelly played Helen Benson. Kathy Bates played Regina Jackson. Jaden Smith played Jacob Bensen. John Cleese played Professor Barnhardt. Jon Hamm played Michael Granier. James Hong played Mr. Wu. Script-writer David Scarpa updated Edmund H. North's 1951 screenplay. Scott Derrickson directed.

4.) "The Foghorn" - Ray Bradbury: Sad, solid tale about a lonely, last-of-its-kind sea monster who mistakes a lighthouse foghorn for a mating call. Memorable work.

The film, re-titled The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, is a loose-as-loose-gets adaptation of its source-story. (In one of this anthology's charming introductions, "The Turkey That Attacked New York," Bradbury shows disdain for the cinematic version of his story.)

The film hit stateside screens on June 13, 1953. Paul Hubschmid (billed as Paul Christian) played Professor Tom Nesbitt. Paula Raymond played Lee Hunter. Cecil Kellaway played Prof. Thurwood Elson. Kenneth Tobey, also seen in 1951's The Thing From Another World, played Col. Jack Evans. Lee Van Cleef played Cpl. Stone. Co-screenwriter Eugène Lourié directed, from a script Fred Freiberger, Daniel James Lou Morheim (billed as Louis Morheim) and Robert Smith.

5.) "Deadly City" - Ivar Jorgenson: Four people -- a suicidal hooker (Nora Spade), a nice Everyman (Frank Black), a submissive emotional abuse victim (Minna Trimble), and a brash volatile charmer (Jim Wilson) -- wake up and band together in an seemingly-otherwise evacuated city. They're caught between a threatening, weird wailing that echoes throughout the city, and a wealthy, escaped-from-his-keepers psychopath (LeRoy Davis). How will they get out alive?

Jorgenson's writing ably balances the story's spooky/echoes-in-a-strangely-empty-city effect, its (possible) alien-invaders theme, and its civilized-man-confronted-with-savagery theme. Its characters are believably varied and flawed, its plot-flow is spine-tingling and scary, and its character-based finish is knowing, in a tragic-in-the-city way. Stunning, truly-classic story.

Resulting film facts. . .

Keeping its source-story title, this "entertaining" (according to anthology editor Wynorski) B-movie first graced stateside screens on November 7, 1954. Richard Denning played Frank Brooks. Kathleen Crowley played Nora King (a cinematic stand-in for Nora Spade). Virginia Grey played Vicki Harris (a cinematic stand-in for Minna Trimble?). Richard Reeves played Jim Wilson. Robert Roarke played "Davis, the Killer" (cinematic stand-in for LeRoy Davis). Sherman A. Rose directed, from a script by James H. Nicholson, Wyott Ordung and William Raynor. Ivar Jorgenson, the source-story's author, is billed as Paul W. Fairman in the movie's writing credits.

6.) "The Alien Machine" - Raymond F. Jones: Too many story-bogging technical details (pertaining to the titular device) made me abandon this story after two pages. Fans of "hard" (technologically-detailed) science fiction will probably appreciate this story more.

The film, titled This Island Earth, was released stateside on June 1, 1955. Rex Reason played Cal Meacham. Faith Domergue played Ruth Adams. Jeff Morrow played Exeter. Lance Fuller played Brack. Russell Johnson played Steve Carlson. Scripted by Franklin Coen and Edward G. O'Callaghan, the film was directed by Joseph Newman.

7.) "The Cosmic Frame" - Paul W. Fairman (aka, Ivar Jorgensen): When a teenage driver (John Carter) accidentally hits an extraterrestrial with his car, the situation gets quickly complicated. Fast-paced, clever story -- excellent.

The resulting film, retitled Invasion of the Saucermen, hit stateside silver screens in June 1957. It was directed by Edward L. Cahn, from a screenplay by Al Martin and Robert Gurney Jr. Steve Terrell played Johnny Carter. Gloria Castillo played Jean Hayden. Frank Gorshin played Joe Gruen. Lyn Osborn played Art Burns.

8.) "The Fly" - George Langelaan: An experiment with a matter "disintegration-reintegration" machine goes mutatively awry for a scientist (André Delambre). Tragic, tightly-written classic work.

Several films resulted from this short story.

The first version, titled The Fly, was released in the United States on July 16, 1958. Produced and directed by Kurt Neumann, the screenplay was written by James Clavell. Vincent Price played François Delambre. Al "David" Hedison played André Delambre. Herbert Marshall played Inspector Charas. Charles Herbert played Philippe Delambre. Kathleen Freeman played "Emma, the Maid".

Two sequels followed: Return of the Fly (released in the U.S. in July 1959); and Curse of the Fly (stateside release month: May 1965).

A remake of the original Fly graced American screens on August 15, 1986. David Cronenberg directed and co-scripted the film. (He also made an appearance in the film, as a gynecologist.) Jeff Goldblum played Seth Brundle (the updated stand-in for André Delambre). Geena Davis played Veronica Quaife. John Getz played Stathis Borans (a role Getz reprised in the 1989 sequel, The Fly II). Charles Edward Pogue co-scripted.

9.) "The Seventh Victim" - Robert Sheckley: Mordant, sly, word-efficacious story about a peacetime human society where government-sanctioned murder is a real-world, deadly game - either for the Hunter, or the Victim, depending on who's luckier and/or more clever. Semi-predictable twist-finish to this one, but still worth reading.

The film version, titled The Tenth Victim (aka, La Decimma vittima), was released in Italy on December 1, 1965. A stateside release followed soon thereafter, on December 20, 1965. Elio Petri directed and co-scripted the film, along with script writers Ennio Flaiano and Tonino Guerra. Marcello Mastroianni played Marcello Polletti. Ursula Andress played Caroline Meredith. Elsa Martinelli played Olga.

10.) "The Sentinel" - Arthur C. Clarke: Smart, interesting first-person narrative about a mysterious alien structure-machine that's been discovered on the moon. (Clarke, with film director Stanley Kubrick's help, later expanded this 1950 story into a novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

The film, bearing the same title as the novel, was directed and co-scripted by Kubrick. It was released stateside on April 6, 1968. Keir Dullea played Dr. Dave Bowman. Gary Lockwood played Dr. Frank Poole. William Sylvester played Dr. Heywood R. Floyd. Douglas Rain voiced HAL 9000. Story and novel author Arthur C. Clarke co-scripted the film, as well.

11.) "The Racer" - Ib Melchior: Willie Connors, a driver in a highly-competitive, sadistic multi-state automotive race, gets a sudden, shocking -- and life-changing -- attack of conscience. Solid, satiric, memorable work.

Two films, loosely adapted from their source story, resulted from this work.

The first, provocatively titled Death Race 2000, graced U.S. movie screens on April 27, 1975. David Carradine played Frankenstein. Simone Griffith played Annie Smith. Sylvester Stallone played Machine Gun Joe Viterbo. Mary Woronov played Calamity Jane. Roberta Collins played Matilda the Hun. Martin Kove played Nero the Hero. Scripted by Robert Thorn and Charles (B.) Griffith; Paul Bartel directed.

The second version, Death Race, was released in America on August 22, 2008. Jason Statham played Jensen Ames. Joan Allen played Warden Hennessey. Ian McShane played Coach. Tyrese Gibson played Machine Gun Joe Mason. Natalie Martinez played Elizabeth Case. Robert LaSardo played Hector Grimm. Paul W.S. Anderson scripted and directed.

12.) “A Boy and His Dog” - Harlan Ellison: 2034. Vic (a “solo,” a single man) and Blood (a “rover,” a mutt) who share a psychic link – as do all solo/rover pairs – find themselves in worlds of trouble when Vic falls in lust with a too-good-to-be-true woman (Quilla June). Classic, black-humored finish.

(This story also appeared in Ellison's excellent 1969 story anthology, The Beast Who Shouted Love at the Heart of the World .)

The resulting film was released in America in November 1975. Don Johnson played Vic. Susanne Benton played Quilla June Holmes. Jason Robards played Lou Craddock. Tim McIntire voiced Blood. L.Q. Jones, who co-scripted the film, also co-produced, directed and played a porn actor within the film.

A remake of the film is scheduled for release in the near future. David Lee Miller, who's co-scripting the film with Harlan Ellison and original film director L.Q. Jones' input, is set to direct it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sleeping with the Fishes, by MaryJanice Davidson

(pb; 2006: first book in The Mermaid Series)

From the back cover:

"Fred is a mermaid. But stop right there. Whatever image you're thinking of right now, forget it. Fred is not blonde. She's not buxom. And she's definitely not perky. In fact, Fred can be downright cranky. And it doesn't help matters that her hair is ocean-colored.

"Being a mermaid does help Fred when she works at the New England Aquarium. But, needless to say, it's there that she gets involved with something fishy. Weird levels of toxins have been found in the local water. A gorgeous marine biologist wants her help investigating. So does her mer-person ruler, the High Prince of the Black Sea. You'd think it'd be easy for a mermaid to get to the bottom of things. Think again. . ."


Quirky chockful-o'-zingers paranormal-romance breeze read, this. Davidson keeps the tightly-plotted laughs rolling along through the book. The characters are engaging and worth caring about; the comic drama feels natural and unforced, and the one sex scene fits well with the story: it doesn't feel shoehorned in, requisite-genre banging for its own sake.

Check this one out, even if, like myself, you're not into "paranormal romance" novels. It's a minor masterpiece of genre writing.

Followed by Swimming Without a Net.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Let Me In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

(hb; 2004, 2007: translated by Ebba Segerberg)

From the inside flap:

"It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last -- revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day.

"But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door -- a girl who has never seen a Rubik's Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night. . ."


Excellent, landmark vampire-horror novel, with sympathetic characters (even Håkan Bengtsson, Eli's aging pedophilic human keeper, initially comes off a somewhat relatable creation) and an impressive narrative scope: it reads like something Stephen King might've written in his prime -- i.e., most of his published work prior to It.

Lindqvist has conceived and delivered a warm, original work that should appeal to fans of King, Clive Barker and Anne Rice. (I realize I'm actually echoing one of the blurbs that graced the cover of the book, but its story, tones and characters constantly reminded me of these writers when I read this fast-paced, character-rich story.)

If you're into vampire fiction, you should read this.

This novel was originally published under the title Let the Right One In (its title references a line from a Morrissey song, "Let The Right One Slip In").

As of October 1, 2010, two film versions will have resulted from this novel.

The first film version was released in Sweden on January 26, 2008. The film graced stateside screens on October 24, 2008.

Kåre Hedebrant played Oskar. Lina Leandersson played Eli. Per Ragnar played Håkan. Henrik Dahl played Erik. Karin Bergquist played Yvonne. Peter Carlberg played Lacke. Ika Nord played Virginia. Mikael Rahm played Jocke. Karl-Robert Lindgren played Gösta.

An uncredited Lena Nilsson, who also appeared in Murder at the Savoy and Roseanna, played a "Nurse" (or: "Håkans sjuksköterska").

Tomas Alfredson directed the film, from a script by the book's author, John Ajvide Lindqvist.

An American remake, retitled Let Me In, is scheduled for stateside release on October 1, 2010.

Kodi Smit-McPhee played Owen (the Americanized equivalent of Oskar). Chloë Grace Moretz played Abby (the Americanized equivalent of Eli). Richard Jenkins played The Father. Elias Koteas played The Policeman. Cara Buono played Owen's Mother.

Matt Reeves directed and scripted the film.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Southampton Row, by Anne Perry

(hb; 2002: twenty-second book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the inside cover:

". . . toward the end of her long reign, Victoria's gold is tarnishing. With a general election fast approaching, a deep rift separates the aristocratic Tories from the Liberal opposition. The powerful Inner Circle -- a secret society of men sworn to support each other above all other loyalties -- is committed to seizing one critical seat in Parliament, a first step towards the achievement of sinister secret ambitions. Passions are so enflamed that Thomas Pitt, shrewd mainstay of the London police, has been ordered to forego his long-awaited vacation, not to solve a crime, but to prevent a national disaster.

"The Tory candidate is Pitt's archenemy, Charles Voisey, a ruthless leader in the Inner Circle. The Liberal candidate is Aubrey Serracold, whose chances may be hurt by his wife's passionate commitment to the Socialist agenda. Equally damaging is her dalliance with spiritualism. Indeed, she is one of the three participants in a late-night séance that becomes the swan song of stylish clairvoyant Maude Laumont. For the next morning, the maid finds Lamont's brutally murdered body in the séance room of the house on Southampton Row.

"To Pitt's heavy burdens is now added the investigation of this most baffling crime. Meanwhile, his wife, Charlotte, and their children are enjoying the country vacation that Pitt has been denied -- unaware that they, too, are deeply endangered by the same fanatical forces hovering over the steadfast Pitt."


Caveat -- (possible) plot spoilers in this review.

Less than a month after the murders and political dirty deals of The Whitechapel Conspiracy, Thomas Pitt -- once again, without warning -- is relieved of his post as Superintendent of the Bow Street police station. And, again, it's likely that Charles Voisey (whose Inner Circle-backed governmental coup was thwarted, at the last minute by others, including Pitt) is behind Pitt's demotion to -- once again -- Special Branch, under the watchful eye of Victor Narraway (head of Special Branch, whose motives and political leanings are unclear).

With Charlotte, their maid Gracie and their kids removed to the country for safe-keeping, Pitt is instructed to watch Charles Voisey, as Voisey campaigns for an important Parliament seat. But Pitt isn't politically-savvy; he's used to investigating murders, not monitoring the dirty dealings of politicians -- least of all, a politician who's the head of the nefarious Inner Circle.

Then a medium (Maude Lamont), who has links to the wife of Voisey's political opponent, is murdered. Pitt (on the quiet) is assigned to investigate that, as well, along with Pitt's sometimes-surly right-hand man (Sergeant Samuel Tellman) and Victor Narraway. Also helping them, indirectly (as usual): Emily Radley (Charlotte's sister and wife of Jack Radley, who's also running for a Parliament seat) and the quietly-influential Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould (Charlotte and Emily's great-aunt by marriage).

Like The Whitechapel Conspiracy, Southampton Row is a turning point in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series. The stakes are higher than ever, and Pitt has a specific nemesis (Charles Voisey), who's eyeing the highest leadership position in the British Empire. Also, Pitt's not squeaky clean anymore -- when he hid key evidence to maintain political stability and prevent likely riots in Whitechapel, he joined the dirty-deal game (albeit in a limited manner): in Southampton Row, he's still reeling from that act, and further acts he may have to commit, just to keep him and his friends/family safe.

Excellent, excellent, excellent series! Check these books out!

Followed by Seven Dials.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Cat Chaser, by Elmore Leonard

(hb; 1982)

From the inside flap:

"One of the stupidest things George Moran ever did was fall in love with the wife of a Miami millionaire. The ex-Marine should have known better, but there's something about beauty and money and that seductive Miami heat that sizzles the brain and throws common sense out with the tide. Add in a con that puts Moran smack in the crossfire, and there's trouble, the kind even an ex-leatherneck knows is going to be tough to handle."


All of Leonard's best crime-novel trademarks are here: slick action-pacing; snappy dialogue; characters whose intentions (at best) are murky; and plenty of who's-zooming-who twists that leave the reader guessing what's really going on until the end. Add to that a finish that's reminiscent of a Mickey Spillane tale, and you've got a sure-fire winner.

Check this out.

The movie version, lensed in 1989, premiered on video stateside on October 2, 1991.

Abel Ferrara directed the film. One of his lesser efforts, it was strictly a director-for-hire gig.

Peter Weller played George Moran. Kelly McGillis played Mary DeBoya. Charles Durning played Jiggs Scully. Frederic Forrest played Nolen Tyner. Tomas Milian played Andres DeBoya. Juan Fernández played Rafi. Kelly Jo Minter played Loret. Maria M. Ruperto (aka, Millie Ruperto) played Luci Palma. Phil Leeds played Jerry Shea. Tony Bolano played Corky.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Solstice at Stonewylde, by Kit Berry

(pb; 2007)

From the back cover:

"Yul and Sylvie are once more at the mercy of the dark powers threatening to destroy them.

"Will Magus win the dreadful conflict that begun in the Stone Circle one Winter Solstice many years ago?"


Solstice picks up a week after the dark conclusion of Moondance of Stonewylde. Yul and Sylvie, both ill -- Yul deathly ill -- are barely recovering from the Magus's malicious greedy actions. But their suffering isn't for nothing: now the Village folk (i.e., Yul's "people") are getting to know the Magus for what he is -- corrupt, reckless and destructive.

As in Magus of Stonewylde and Moondance of Stonewylde, Berry keeps Solstice's pace quick (while ably drawing out the necessary tension), the characters interesting and relatable, and the dramatic elements non-clichéd. Solstice's ending satisfactorily concludes first storyline-section of the Stonewylde pentalogy -- I'm impatient to see what happens in the last two books of the series!

Followed by Shadows at Stonewylde.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Woods Are Dark, by Richard Laymon

(pb; 1981, 2008)

From the back cover:

"Neala and her friend Sherri only wanted to do a little hiking through the woods. Little did they know they would soon be shackled to a dead tree, waiting for Them to arrive. The Dills family thought the small hotel in the quiet town seemed quaint and harmless enough. Until they, too, found themselves shackled to trees in the middle of the night, while They approached, hungry for human flesh. . .

"When this classic novel of terror was first published, it was heavily cut, with nearly fifty pages removed. Now, for the first time ever, the missing text has been completely restored and every horrifying page is back. Finally, the novel can be read the way it was meant to be!"


Two groups of tourists, passing through a backwoods town called Barlow, are kidnapped by the townsfolk and chained to forest trees in the middle of the night. The tourists have been left for the Krulls, a race of misshapen, cannibalistic, woods-dwelling creatures who are barely human. When one of the townspeople, Johnny Robbins, decides to free the tourists, things go haywire.

Laymon's writing is stripped to the bone here, making for a savage (occasionally shocking), adrenalin-laced tale. For the most part, Laymon's sketched-out characters work.  This is, after all, a well-written, action-oriented B-movie plot.

Development-wise, one of the characters suffers because of Laymon's character-sketching: Lander Dills, one of the kidnapped tourists.  Lander is a middle-aged father and husband, who, from the get-go, has loose screws in his head.  In unbelievably swift fashion, he slips into the primitive mindset of a full-on killer.

The above nit aside, this is an excellent read. Make sure you read the new restored version of Woods.  Without those key Lander Dills pages (which were cut from the original publication of the novel, without the author's consent/knowledge), Woods would be little more than a hackneyed-could-have-been-memorable novel.

Fans of Jack Ketchum's Off Season and Offspring will probably enjoy this novel.

<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...