Monday, September 27, 2010

Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo

(pb; 1939)


The most effective horror stems from a sense of (unfair) helplessness, and our inhumanity to our fellow man. Using that logic, Johnny Got His Gun is one of the bleakest, bluntest and saddest books I've ever read.

Joe Bonham lies in a hospital bed, limbless -- as in: no legs, no arms -- blind, deaf and dumb. He can communicate with no one, it seems, and his sense of terror, loneliness, outrage and sorrow plumbs further hellish depths as he recalls, in wandery dream-like fashion, his mostly-happy small town life, and subsequent war experiences that led him to his current circumstances.

The finish is furious, surprisingly shocking (given the emotional rollercoaster that preceded it) and heart-rending. One of the best anti-war novels I've ever read. Own this.

Two film versions have resulted, both of them keeping the book's title.

The first version was released stateside on August 4, 1971.

Timothy Bottoms played Joe Bonham. Kathy Fields played Kareen. Eric Christmas played Corporal Timlon. David Soul played Swede.

Jason Robards played "Joe's Father". Marsha Hunt played "Joe's Mother". Donald Sutherland played Christ. Peter Brocco played "Ancient Prelate".

Don "Red" Barry (billed as Donald Barry) played Jody Simmons. Judy Howard Chaikin played "Bakery Girl". Anthony Geary, billed as Tony Geary, played Redhead.

Luis Buñuel co-scripted the film, with book author Dalton Trumbo, who also directed the film, as well as playing the role of "Orator". For his film role, Trumbo was billed as Robert Cole.

The second version came out in 2008. Ben McKenzie played Joe Bonham. Meredith Kendall lent her vocal talents to the role of "Mother's Voice". Shane Partlow also provided voice-work.

Bradley Rand Smith adapted the screenplay. Rowan Joseph not only directed the film, he did voice-work in it, too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg

(pb; 1978)

From the back cover:

"Louis Cyphre had a fiendish smile and flaunted some bizarre fetishes. So what. The fat price Cyphre was paying for a routine missing-persons assignment convinced Harry Angel to shake off his customary shivers about Cyphre's weird ways.

"But Harry's pay turned to blood as each of his leads dissolved into a dizzying nightmare of black magic and gory murders. And the more he sought the terrifying shadow of the long lost Johnny Favorite, the closer he came to chasing his own."


Set in 1959, Falling Angel is an original, über clever, supernaturally flavored private dick novel. It's tightly characterized and written, oozy and often bloody with neo-noir-esque shadows and characters who are cursed, but don't know it yet.

Falling Angel has one minor flaw. Hjortsberg, perhaps too clever for his own good, tips his hand a bit early on the final revelations of the book, at least for this (sometimes) sharp-eyed reader.

Despite this minor flaw, both noir/crime and horror aficionados should own this novel, because Falling Angel is a landmark crossover work.

The resulting film, retitled Angel Heart, graced stateside screens on March 6, 1987.

Mickey Rourke played Harry Angel. Robert DeNiro played Louis Cyphre. Lisa Bonet played Evangeline Proudfoot.

Charlotte Rampling played Margaret Krusemark. Stocker Fontelieu played Ethan Krusemark. Brownie McGhee played Toots Sweet. Michael Higgins played Dr. Fowler. Charles Gordone played Spider Simpson.

Dann Florek played Herman Winesapp. Pruitt Taylor Vince played Det. Deimos. Eliot Keener played Det. Sterne.

Alan Parker scripted and directed the film.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dexter is Delicious, by Jeff Lindsay

(hb; 2010: fifth book in the Dexter series)

From the inside flap:

"Dexter Morgan's happy homicidal life is undergoing some major changes. He's always lived by a single golden rule -- he kills only people who deserve it. But the Miami blood-spatter analyst has recently become a daddy -- to an eight-pound curiosity named Lily Anne -- and strangely, Dexter's dark urges seem to have left him. Is he ready to become an overprotective father? To pick up soft teddy bears instead of his trusty knife, duct tape, and fishing wire? What's a serial killer to do?

"Then Dexter is summoned to investigate the disappearance of an eighteen-year-old girl who seems to have been abducted by a bizarre group. . . who just may be vampires. . . and -- possibly cannibals. Nothing like the familiar hum of his day job to get Dexter's creative dark juices flowing again. Assisting his bull-in-a-china-shop detective sister, Deborah, Dex wades into an investigation that gets more disturbing by the moment. And to compound the complication of Dexter's ever-more-complicated life, a person from his past suddenly reappears. . . moving dangerously close to his home turf and threatening to destroy the one thing that has maintained Dexter's pretend human cover and kept him out of the electric chair: his new family."


Dexter takes his Dark Passenger -- or, as his step-son, Cody, calls it, his "Shadow Guy" -- on another pinball-ricochet ride of family craziness, wit, near-ruin and death (possibly his own).

Dexter is Delicious is another blast-through-it, funny, subversive take on American life from Lindsay, with an effective wraps-it-up-for-now, sequel-friendly finish.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by Double Dexter.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk

(hb; 2010)

From the inside flap

"Soaked, nay, marinated in the world of vintage Hollywood, Tell-All is a Sunset Boulevard-inflected homage to Old Hollywood when Bette Davis and Joan Crawford ruled the roost: a veritable Tourette's syndrome of rat-tat-tat name-dropping, from the A-list to the Z-list; and a merciless send-up of Lillian Hellman's habit of butchering the truth that will have Mary McCarthy cheering from the beyond.

"Our Thelma Ritter-ish narrator is Hazie Coogan, who for decades has tended to the outsized needs of Katherine 'Miss Kathie' Kenton -- veteran of multiple marriages, career comebacks, and cosmetic surgeries. But danger arrives with gentleman caller Webster Carlton Westward III, who worms his way into Miss Kathie's heart (and boudoir). Hazie discovers that this bounder has already written a celebrity tell-all memoir foretelling Miss Kathie's death in a fortcoming Lillian Hellman-penned musical extravaganza, Unconditional Surrender, in which she portrays Lilly defeating Japanese forces from Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki. As the body count mounts, Hazie must execute a plan to save Katherine Kenton for her fans -- and for posterity."


Subject-wise, Tell-All is one of Palahniuk's more lightweight efforts, a skillful side-step rather than a stepping-up of his storytelling talents. (This isn't a backhanded compliment; I'm noting that if this short novel were a song, it'd be a b-side song, not an album cut.)

Hazie Coogan, the tale's narrator, is less clever than she thinks, and Palahniuk seems to know this, so he wisely goes way over-the-top satirical, funny and bitchalicious in this Coogan-viewed neck of Tinseltown. Check it out.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dog Blood, by David Moody

(hb; 2010: Book Two of the Hater trilogy)

From the inside flap:

"The world has been torn apart: split into two unequal parts by an unstoppable outburst of violence more brutal, far-reaching, and extreme than any previous conflict. Governments have fallen, communities have been destroyed, and families devastated. Everyone has been forced to take a side. Your past counts for nothing now -- the only choice you have left is how hard you fight.

"The terrified Unchanged masses cower in fear, holed up in vast, barely functioning refugee camps in major city centers. The war continues to rage all around them, with neither the military nor the Haters prepared to stop fighting until their enemy has been destroyed.

"Danny McCoyne isn't interested in the war. His only concern is finding his five-year old daughter, Ellis. McCoyne, however, hasn't realized the true importance of children in the new world order. Uninhibited by memories of how things used to be, children are strong, fast, and unstoppable. They are the true Haters.

"Every step McCoyne takes drags both him and Ellis deeper and deeper into this cruel and bloody war, a war that won't end until one side has completely eradicated the other."


Savage, unputdownable, refreshing and often disturbing take on the clichéd zombie genre. Like Hater before it, the raw force, nuanced writing and surprising characters of Dog Blood makes it a landmark work, and an exceptional follow-up to its prequel.

According an August 25, 2010 entry on Moody's website, Them Or Us, the third novel in the Hater trilogy, is scheduled for a Summer or Autumn 2011 release.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

52-Pick-Up, by Elmore Leonard

(pb; 1974)

From the back cover:

"Detroit businessman Harry Mitchell was having a mid-life crisis. He had an attractive wife at home. He had a voluptuous girlfriend on the side. And now he had a problem with porno movies.

"He was in one.

"A man with a stocking over his head and a .38 in his hand wanted a hundred grand to keep Harry's picture out of circulation. But the hoods behind this blackmail scam made a big mistake when they fingered Harry Mitchell for their pigeon.

"Because Harry Mitchell was the type of guy who played every game by nobody's rules but his own. And the more they got him mad, the more certain it was that the only pay-off Harry planned was getting even."


Taut, plot corkscrew-y, riveting, edgy crime thriller, with characters and a denouement you're not likely to forget any time soon.

Excellent work from a top-notch writer.

Check this out.

The film version was released stateside on November 7, 1986.

Roy Scheider played Harry Mitchell. Ann-Margaret played Barbara Mitchell. Kelly Preston played Cini.

John Glover played Alan Raimy. Robert Trebor played Leo Franks. Clarence Williams III played Bobby Shy. Vanity played Doreen. Lonny Chapman played Jim O'Boyle. Doug McClure played Mark Arveson.

Ron Jeremy (billed as Ron Jeremy Hyatt) played "Party Goer". Other porn star "Party Goer" cameos included: Amber Lynn, Tom Byron, Sharon Mitchell and Herschel Savage (billed as Harvey Cowen).

John Frankenheimer directed the film, from a screenplay by book author Elmore Leonard and John Steppling.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach

(hb; 2010: science/non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

"Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can't walk for a year? Have sex? Smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a spacewalk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout from space? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startling bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it's possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the Space Shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA's new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth."


Another entertaining, informative, laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes icky, and snarky read from Roach.

Own this, already.

<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...