Sunday, January 31, 2010

Roseanna, by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

(pb; 1965: first book in the Martin Beck Police Mysteries. Translated from the Swedish by Lois Roth.)

From the back cover:

"On a July afternoon, the body of a young woman is dredged from Sweden's beautiful Lake Vättern. Three weeks later, all that Police Inspector Martin Beck knows is that her name is Roseanna, that she came from Lincoln, Nebraska, and that she could have been strangled by any one of eighty-five people. As the melancholic Beck narrows down the list of likely suspects, he is drawn increasingly to the enigma of the victim, a free-spirited traveler with a penchant for the casual sexual encounter, and to the psychopathology of a murderer with a distinctive -- indeed, terrifying -- sense of propriety."


Solid, tautly-penned police procedural that thrills with its spare descriptions of Beck and his fellow cops as they slowly piece together what happened to Roseanna McGraw, a visiting American who had a fatal encounter with a murderer. Despite the authors' acknowledgements of time passing, their writing is quick, days passing in as little as two sentences, months experienced in a paragraph.

The tone of the novel is melancholic, steeped in mundane but telling details and moods; excellent authors that they are, Sjöwall and Wahlöö make this work for their narrative, as they steadily increase the tension of the tale for an emotionally-explosive, exciting finish.

Excellent novel, this. Promising start to the Martin Beck Police Mysteries.

Followed by The Man Who Went Up In Smoke.


Two movies resulted from Roseanna.

The original Roseanna was released in Sweden on August 14, 1967.

Keve Hjelm played Martin Beck. Tor Isedal played Gunnar Ahlberg. Gio Petré played Roseanna. Michael Tolan played Elmer B. Kafka. Kersten Tidelius played Sonja Hansson. Leif Liljeroth played Stenström. Mona Malm played Siv Lundberg. Hans Ernback played Folke Bengtsson.

Hans Abramson scripted and directed the film.


The filmed-out-of-series-order remake was released on video in Sweden on October 6, 1993.

Gösta Ekman reprised his role of Martin Beck. Kjell Bergqvist reprised his role of Lennart Kollberg. Rolf Lassgård reprised his role of Gunvald Larsson. Jonas Falk reprised his role of Stig Åke Malm. Ing-Marie Carlsson reprised her role of Gun Kollberg. Bernt Ström reprised his role of Einar Rönn. Niklas Hjulström reprised his role of Skacke.

Ingvar Andersson reprised his role of Per Månsson. Lena Nilsson reprised her role of Åsa Thorell. Torgny Anderberg reprised his role of Evald Hammar. Anita Ekström, this time credited, reprised her role of Inga Beck. Birger Österberg reprised his role of Kvant. P.G. Hylén reprised his role of Kristiansson.

Daniel Alfredson directed the film from a script he co-wrote with book co-author Maj Sjöwall, Jonas Cornell, Rainer Berg and Beate Langmaack.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Queer, by William S. Burroughs

(pb; 1985: sequel to Junky)


Queer was written shortly after the publication of its source novel, but Queer wasn't published until almost thirty years later. Publishers weren't interested in it, "although Junky sold well" (by publishing standards).

Queer picks up where Junky left off.

Lee now lives in Mexico, where his G.I. Bill money keeps him financially afloat, floating between local bars, hoping to score junk (but largely not succeeding) and securing companionship (carnal or otherwise). He's lonely, but he can't return to America, where a long prison stretch (stemming from drug charges detailed in Junky) awaits.

When ranconteur, bleak-humored Lee meets a pretty young man, Eugene Allerton, he falls for Allerton hard, even though he knows Allerton is using him as a sugar daddy. It's a slow, depressing, finance-minded affair that becomes nakedly businesslike when Lee invites the tactiturn, equally self-absorbed Allerton to travel to the Amazon jungle (specifically, the town of Puyo) with him, to find a mystical hallucinogen ("Yage. . . Bannisteria caapi").

Throughout Queer, Burroughs maintains the edgy, bleak tone of Junky, but this time out the structure is less rigid, sometimes rambly (interspersed with strange jokes, outbursts of human warmth, and abrupt social departures).

As Burroughs notes in his 1985 introduction to Queer, "In. . . Junky, the protagonist 'Lee' comes across as integrated and self-contained, sure of himself and where he is going. In Queer, he is disintegrated, desperately in need of contact, completely unsure of himself and his purpose."

Queer is an outgoing juxtaposition to Junky, a worthwhile sequel that shows the other side of Burroughs's heroin-laced coin; that is, taken together, these two books form a fuller portrait of a man maturing, facing larger -- often harsher -- veracities.

Check these two books out.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

'U' is for Undertow by Sue Grafton

(hb; 2009: twenty-first book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"In April 1988, a month before Kinsey Millhone's thirty-eighth birthday, and she's alone in her office catching up on paperwork when a young man arrives unannounced. he has a preppy air about him and looks as if he'd be carded if he tried to buy a beer, but Michael Sutton is twenty-seven, an unemployed college droppout. More than two decades ago, a four-year-old girl disappeared, and a recent newspaper story about her kidnapping has triggered a flood of memories. Sutton now believes he stumbled onto her lonely burial and could identify the killers if he saw them again. He wants Kinsey's help in locating the grave and finding the men. It's way more than a long shot, but he's persistent and willing to pay cash up front. Reluctantly, Kinsey agrees to give him one day of her time.

"But it isn't long before she discovers Sutton has an uneasy relationship with the truth. In essence, he's the boy who cried wolf. Is his story true, or simply one more in a long line of fabrications?"


Another reader-hooking read from Grafton.

This entry in the Kinsey Millhone series is less about whodunnit, and more about how-they'd-do-it and why-they'd-do-it. The few red herrings in the novel are standard fare (especially for those familiar with Grafton's work), but the multi-POV'd characterization, the logical-suspensive storytelling, and the satisfactory finish amount to a virtuosic read that's hard to set down.

Check this whole series out!

Followed by V is for Vengeance.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lilith's Dream by Whitley Strieber

(hb; 2002: third book in the Vampire Life series)

From the inside flap

"Lilith, the ages-old mother of the dying race of vampires, has been forced to come out of her cave deep in the Egyptian desert in search of food -- human blood. But she knows nothing about the modern world. She can't drive a car, rent a room, turn on a TV. She struggles to New York, penniless, vulnerable, and starving, protected only by her beauty and her power to capture men with desire. . . especially very certain special men.

"The instant she sess young Ian Ward, she knows that he is part vampire himself. She knows that Ian, if he ever tastes human blood, will belong to her forever. And she needs him desperately, to help her survive and live in this harsh new world of jets and credit cards and guns. She sets out on a campaign of seduction -- as sensuous as it is terrifying -- to touch human blood to Ian's lips, which will then become for him a drug a thousand times more addictive than heroin..."


Lilith's Dream takes place seventeen years after the events of The Last Vampire.

Paul and Rebecca Ward, parents of Paul and Miriam Blaylock's half-vampire child, Ian, see their worst fears realized when Ian is taken by vampires, who wish to bring Ian over to the Vampire Life.

The vampires who have kidnapped Ian are: pop vocalist Leonore Patterson (who, like Paul and Rebecca, was a player in The Last Vampire's drama), and Lilith, an ancient Keeper who, in Paul's words, "makes [Miriam] Blaylock look like a nun."

This is a stellar second sequel to The Hunger, full of action, tasteful eroticism, palpable grue and horror, good characterization, humor and hope. Cineastes may appreciate Strieber's affectionate mentions of David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve, who starred in the film version of The Hunger.

Worth your time, this. Check this series out!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Dangerous Mourning, by Anne Perry

(hb; 1991: second book in the William Monk series)

From the inside flap:

"No breath of scandal has ever touched the Moidore family. Almost every day London's wealthiest and most powerful can be found taking tea or dining in the opulent family mansion of Sir Basil Moidore in Queen Anne Street.

"Now Sir Basil's beautiful widowed daughter has been stabbed to death in her own bed, a shocking, incomprehensible tragedy. Inspector William Monk is ordered to find her killer without delay -- and in a manner that will give the least possible pain to the influential family.

"But Monk, brilliant and ambitious, is handicapped, both by lingering traces of amnesia caused by an accident and by the craven ineptitude of his supervisor, who would like nothing better than to see Monk fail.

"With the intelligent help of Hester Latterly, an independent young woman who has served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, Monk gropes warily through the silence and shadows that obscure the case. Step by dangerous step, he approaches the astonishing, appalling solution..."


Monk and Hester are thrown together again to solve another high society murder, of course ripe with scandal, media screaming, and probable career ruin (for Monk).

Monk's handling of the case is more certain this time: he's less hampered by his memory loss, which still occasionally hinders him, but doesn't make him look incompetent (as it did in The Face Of A Stranger).

The snippy sparks between Monk and Hester still alight their mutual air, but their respect for each other has deepened; much of what makes this Perry-standard mystery shine so brightly are these feisty half-fights, and the equally-clever friendship between Monk and his police partner, Evans.

Excellent series, this, one that provides a character-veracious contrast to Perry's Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series.

Check it out!

Followed by Defend And Betray.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Last Vampire by Whitley Strieber

(pb; 2001: second book in the Vampire Life series)

From the back cover

"Miriam Blaylock knows the secrets of civilization, the mysteries of life -- and the agony of undeath. For centuries, she has traveled the world undetected. Until now. Interpol agent Paul Ward has cleansed continents of vampires, orchestrated the extermination of an ancient lair, and obtained their sacred Book of Names. He knows where they hide. He knows where they feast. And he knows their weaknesses. But he has a weakness of his own: Miriam. Cunning and elusive, she has escaped his complex network of hunters for years. Toxic and seductive, she has become his obsession. Now, predator is about to become prey. Killer to become lover. Good and evil will become inexorably entwined as the endgame begins. . ."


Set more than twenty years after the events of The Hunger, Miriam is still with Sarah Roberts, whose willful brush with undeath has scarred her, and who continues her thus-far-failing experiments to avoid that fate again.

That the world situation has changed becomes brutally clear to Miriam, a Keeper -- one of the original vampires -- when she finds herself hunted by the ruthless Paul Ward, who's tortured by memories of atrocities inflicted on, and committed by, him.

Miriam sets a clever trap for the intrepid Interpol agent, one that may also ensnare her and her entourage.

The melancholic mood that suffused The Hunger is evident in The Last Vampire, but in this latter novel it's been supplanted by more overt violence, international implications, and a fascinating, expansive backstory (regarding Miriam, the Keepers, and how the Keepers bred and shaped the human world).

The Last Vampire is an excellent example of how a worthwhile sequel builds on source-novel moods and premises, characters (whose ambivalences fuel natural plot twists) and other story series elements.

Impressive follow-up to a memorable work, this. Check it out.

Followed by Lilith's Dream.

The Last Hunger is scheduled to become a theatrical film, titled The Hunger 2, sometime in in the future. As more information becomes available, I will update the film information on this link.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How To Read/Write A Dirty Story, by Susie Bright

(pb; 2001: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"Susie Bright, the bestselling editor and founder of The Best American Erotica series and the first Herotica anthologies, has finally written the complete guide for people who like to read, write, publish, and think about sex.

". . . Bright offers the dream How-To book -- not to mention a How-To-Dream book -- for the erotic literati:

"For Erotic Writers:
"What is Your Sexual Story?
"Creating Sexual Characters
"Steamy Plots
"How to Mix Sex with Other Genres
"Up-to-Date Resources for Erotic Authors

"For Erotic Readers:
"Is This a Stroke Book or Is This Art?
"The Erotic Reader's Bill of Rights
"The 'Good Parts'
"Susie's Favorite Erotic Reference Library

"For Erotic Thinkers:
"Is Writing Sex Better than Having Sex?
"The Similarities Between Erotica and Pornography
"Sex and Violence
"Erotica Burn-out

"For Erotic Publishers:
"A Devil's Argument Against Publishing
"Finding the Perfect Editor
"Money Money Money
"Big-Time, Small Press, and Internet Publishing
"Can You Be an Artist and a Salesman?
"Fan Clubs, Book Tours, and Book Reviews

"With candor and humor, Bright tells her own explicit adventures in erotic publishing from the creative inspiration to the nitty-gritty economics. She offers provocative exercises for writers and readers alike to hone their writing and critical skills, and opens up the whole treasure chest of erotic literature and history. Here's a guide that will teach you not only how to 'write a dirty story,' but also to recognize the most powerful and insightful places in the erotica experience."


How To... is a practical, informative and supportive guide for any fiction writer who may find themselves (or their characters) confronting the issue of sex. A well-written, plot-centric sex scene furthers the narrative, and reveals (non-)emotional elements of the characters in question; it's not just thrown in to titillate: so says Bright early on, a point she maintains throughout How To....

In straightforward, warm language, Bright tells readers how to start and maintain a writing career, no matter what genre(s) you write for, fiction or non-fiction, erotica or mainstream pop fiction, et cetera. It covers how to become/stay sane and successful while navigating the wild and unexpected script-flips life throws at you: publishing and marketing joys, follies and failures; critics, many of whom won't (intentionally or unintentionally) "get" your work, no matter what you write; financial woes and boosts. . . You know, life!

This is one of the best 'how to be a writer' books I've read.

If you're an open-minded and mature writer or artist (i.e., you acknowledge that diversity and sex is healthy and nothing to be ashamed of), this may be an excellent resource for you. (Experienced writers/artists may get a lot of out How To..., as well -- a creative life is one lined with inevitable, particular blues, and we all need suportive reminders, from time to time, about how to get back on our feet.)

Worth owning, and re-reading, this.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Osterman Weekend, by Robert Ludlum

(pb; 1972)

From the inside flap:

"In a secret room in Washington, D.C., a man named John Tanner is asked to stake his life and those of his wife and children in a gamble whose goal and risks no one will fully reveal to him.

"In a small suburban town, where only the nicest people live, friends, neighbors, everyone and anyone may be part of a monstrous conspiracy of international evil."


Laconic, paranoid, twisty actioner from one of the masters of explosive political thrillers.

This is one of Ludlum's more personal efforts, in terms of scale, plot and characterization.

The core players in this steadily ratcheted-up drama are four couples who have been friends for twenty years, since the Sixties. Every couple embodies a varied, evolved social/political outlook from that turbulent period. Any possible conflict between these eight individuals has been (mostly) dodged, with eyes toward preserving the calm of their long-distance friendships, nothing more.

Throw into the cautious mix Laurence Fassett, a highly-regarded and sympathetic CIA agent, who tells Tanner that his friends are international conspirators -- and has proof to back up his outrageous charge -- and you've got suburban bedlam ready to happen.

Ludlum's ruinous fireworks, personal and physical, don't explode until late in the novel. Character-inherent betrayals and maneuvers (some unexpected) precede and follow the fireworks, of course, as does Ludlum's sublimated quirkiness and ever-present sense of humanity.

Oddball, moreish, intense entry in Ludlum's ouevre. Check it out.

The Osterman Weekend was released stateside as a film on October 14, 1983.

Sam Peckinpah directed the film -- it was his last, in a storied career -- from a script by Ian Masters and Alan Sharp.

Rutger Hauer played John Tanner. Meg Foster played Ali Tanner. Craig T. Nelson played Bernard Osterman. Dennis Hopper played Richard Tremayne. Helen Shaver played Virginia Tremayne. Chris Sarandon played Joseph Cardone. Cassie Yates played Betty Cardone.

John Hurt played Lawrence Fassett. Burt Lancaster played Maxwell Danforth. Kristen Peckinpah, daughter of Sam Peckinpah and Marie Selland, played Tremayne's secretary.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Face Of A Stranger, by Anne Perry

(pb; 1990: first book in the William Monk series)

From the back cover:

"His name, they tell him, is William Monk, and he is a London police detective. But the accident that felled him has left him with only a half a life: his memory and his entire pat have vanished.

"Trying as best he can to hide that fact, Monk returns to work and finds himself assigned to the brutal murder of Major the Honorable Joscelin Grey, Crimean war hero and popular man about town, in his room in fashionable Mecklenburg Square. The exalted status of the victim puts any representative of the police in the precarious position of having to pry into a noble family's secrets -- which in itself will be difficult for Monk, as he's forgotten his professional skills along with everything else.

"But slowly the darkness begins to lighten as each new revelation leads Monk step by terrifying step to the answers he seeks but dreads to find."


Intriguing, fast-moving gem of a mystery, this. It's especially intriguing because of Monk's nearly-complete amnesia, which makes him wonder who his friends and enemies are, and why -- what sort of man was he, prior to the accident? Arrogant, at times, certainly; but what beyond that?

And why is his boss (Runcorn) so intent on seeing Monk arrest the wrong man for a media-charged high society murder, a move that will surely ruin Monk's career?

While trying to hide his amnesia -- it makes him look incompetent and awkward at times -- Monk tries to regain his life. In the hands of a great mystery writer like Perry, it's enthralling, excellent.

Check this out.

Followed by A Dangerous Mourning.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Mask Of Circe, by Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore

(pb; 1948, 1975)

From the back cover:

"Had time been swept backward three thousand years? Had I, Jay Seward, been borne back into the gray mists of the past to emerge, standing ont he deck of the Argo, as Jason of Iolcus?

"That could not be the whole answer. Strangeness whispered in the earth and waters and wind. Some alien hand had stooped over this world. This was not Earth. . . But where was I? And why had I been brought here?"


This is a wild, surrealistic science fiction tale that moves along at a whiplash-fast pace. The authors structured The Mask of Circe around the Jason and the Argonauts myth-legend, reworking it with time-travel elements and shades of Doctor Who as well as their own heady-hazy-crazy brand of mindf**ked action.

If you prefer to be spoonfed your stories, don't read this book: short, frenetic and fun, this will probably confuse you early on.

Worth purchasing, this. In order to read it, you may have to purchase it, as it may be out of print.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Grotesque, by Natsuo Kirino

(pb; 2003, 2007: translated by Rebecca Copeland)

From the back cover:

"Life at the prestigious Q High School for Young Women in Tokyo exists on a precise social axis: a world of insiders and outsiders, of haves and have-nots. Beautiful Yuriko and her unpopular, unnamed sister exist in different spheres; the hopelessly awkward Kazue Satō floats around among them, trying to fit in. Years later, Yuriko and Kazue are dead -- both have become prostitutes and both had been brutally murdered.

"Natsuo Kirino. . . weaves together the stories of these women's struggles within the conventions and restrictions of Japanese society. At once a psychological investigation of the pressures facing Japanese women and a classic work of noir fiction, Grotesque is a. . . novel of ambition, desire, beauty, cruelty, and identity. . ."


Psychologically penetrating work about female classmates, whose acted-upon insecurities, pettiness and cruel lies mark -- ruin -- them for life.

The novel's mostly chatty (but restrained) first-person narratives -- which take on the personality of whatever character is speaking -- is intense, noiresque, crazily varied and seethes with a feminist political bent. A couple of male characters get their "air time", but they're superfluous: it's the b*tch-girls-turned-whores who are the main attraction here.

Kirino manages a fine balance of plot-flow, characterization and situational overlaps (seen from different perspectives) until three-quarters of the way through Grotesque, when one of the male characters (low-life Zhang Zhe-zhong) rambles for eighty-six pages about sh*t that has little or no bearing on any of the storylines.

In the Zhe-zhong section, I'm guessing that Kirino was injecting a psychological/stylistic variation into her multi-POV narratives, as well as establishing Zhe-zhong's background and point of view. However, this long-winded pig's rambling almost made me abandon this otherwise stunning book for a better one.

Worth reading, this -- as long as you skip the Zhe-zhong section (in my English-translation copy, pages 240 to 326).

<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]...