Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Deep, by Peter Benchley

(pb; 1976)

From the back cover:

"On a perfect day in Bermuda a honeymooning couple dives into the offshore reefs. They are looking for the wreck of a sunken ship. What they find is surprising. It lures them into a mysterious and increasingly dangerous encounter, a relentless struggle for survival."

Review:

Fun, informative, mysterious, blast-through-it-at-the-beach suspense novel. Some of the scenes are brutal, but if you read Jaws and didn't flinch, you're probably okay reading The Deep.

This is a consummate guilty pleasure. Check it out.

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The film version was released stateside on June 17, 1977.

Nick Nolte played David Sanders. Jacqueline Bisset played Gail Burke. Robert Shaw played Romer Treece. Eli Wallach played Adam Coffin. Lou Gossett Jr., billed as Lou Gossett, played Henri Cloche. Robert Tessier played Kevin.

Peter Yates directed the film, from a script by book author Peter Benchley and Tracy Keenan Wynn.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson

(pb; 1952)

From the back cover:

"Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas. The worst thing people can say against him is that he's a little slow and a little boring. But, then, most people don't know about the sickness -- the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger. The sickness that is about to surface again."



Review:

Killer is a brisk paced, often chilling first-person account, seen from the point of view of the murder-minded Lou Ford. This account takes place during Ford's latest round of assault, robbery and killing. Harsh, gets-under-your-skin stuff that made this reader want to be a little less trusting than usual when dealing with someone who seems exceptionally kind or easy-going.

Check this out.

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Two film versions resulted from this novel. Both versions kept the book's title.

The first version was released stateside in October 1976. Burt Kennedy directed the film, from a screenplay by Ed Mann and Robert Chamblee.

Stacy Keach played Lou Ford. Susan Tyrell played Joyce Lakeland. Tisha Sterling played Amy Stanton. Keenan Wynn played Chester Conway. Don Stroud played Elmer. Charles McGraw played Howard Hendricks. John Dehner played Bob Maples. John Carradine played Dr. Smith. Royal Dano played Father.

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The second version was released stateside on June 8, 2010. Michael Winterbottom directed, from a script by he co-authored with John Curran.

Casey Affleck played Lou Ford. Kate Hudson played Amy Stanton. Jessica Alba played Joyce Lakeland. Ned Beatty played Chester Conway. Elias Koteas played Joe Rothman. Tom Bower played Sheriff Bob Maples. Simon Baker played Howard Hendricks. Bill Pullman played Billy Boy Walker. Matthew Maher played Deputy Jeff Plummer.



Friday, July 16, 2010

Zebra, by Clark Howard

(hb; 1979: non-fiction/true crime)

From the inside flap:

". . .[Zebra] is the true account of five Black men who held a city in a 179-day grip of terror. Provoked and guided by their leaders, these men randomly selected for kidnap, rape, robbery, mutilation and murder, 23 victims from the streets of San Francisco -- any street, any time. Calling themselves Death Angels, they set a goal: to sacrifice nine 'blue-eyed devils' each, for their God, Allah.

"Using every avenue open to the research journalist (and some known only to the author himself) -- records, reports, witnesses, surviving victims, relations even the convicted men themselves, and the informer who risked a nightmare death to stop the killings -- Howard has probed as deeply into the minds of murderers as anyone is ever likely to go. He shows us frenzied men, killing in the name of a religion that is teaching them white hatred. And he takes us into the insecurities about color, their desire for respect, their burning ambition to rise above their status. He shows us killers as we have never seen them: caught in a clash of right and wrong, black and white, life and death. . ."

Review:

Subtitled "The true account of the 179 days of terror in San Francisco", this is a riveting chronicle of five Black Muslim extremists who killed fifteen random people and attacked eight others in the Bay Area between the latter part of 1973 and early part of 1974. Their luck in eluding capture -- on par with that of the Zodiac killer -- was incredible, considering the enormity of their criminal ignorance: incredible but horifically true.

Damn near impossible to put down, this. Worth owning, too.

[Interesting side-note: the crimes, then-Chief of Police Donald M. Scott said in a 1973 press release, were not dubbed 'the Zebra killings' because of the black-on-white violence of the attacks. They were called this, Scott told the press, "[because] the Z-for-Zebra channel happened to be the only frequency available for exclusive use." (p. 241)]

Monday, July 12, 2010

Walkers by Graham Masterton

(pb; 1989)


From the back cover:

"It didn't take long for Jack Reed to decide to convert the huge gothic building in the woods into an idyllic, up-market country club.

"But behind the ornately carved walls of The Oaks lurks a past that was anything but idyllic. Sixty years ago the house was an asylum, home to crazed psychopaths -- all of whom disappeared one night, never to be seen again.

"Now the empty rooms echo the soundless screaming of the madmen trapped inside the brick and plaster, walking endlessly through the maze-like mansion. And now Jack's son, dragged into the hellish prison of the walls, is held a screaming hostage by Quintus Miller, leader of the insane.

"Quintus took the killers into the walls. Now, he insists, Jack Reed will set them free -- or his son will die."


Review:

Landmark work that takes its subject way beyond its specific-source subgenre (spookhouse fiction) -- Masterton keeps it creepy (and f**ked-up funny in some parts), continually ratcheting up the terror factor and the unexpected plot and character turns. More than the usual "ooooh, scary ghosts" horror fare, Masterton not only manages to raise the genre bar, but morphs it into something greater, while thematically linking it to his five-book The Manitou series: an added perk for Masterton's "regular" readers.

Worth owning, this.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, by Will Viharo


(pb; 1993: first book in the Vic Valentine series)

From the back cover:

"Meet Vic Valentine, a San Francisco private eye whose romance is on the rocks, with a twist. An abusive, alcoholic baseball player has hired him to find his missing wife. Trouble is, it turns out she's also Vic's long lost lover. Coincidence? Fate? A setup? Join a hopeless romantic on his quest for the answer in this twisted tale of old-fashioned romance gone awry in a shadowy, postmodern world of lovelorn losers, vengeful vice, dangerous deceit and swingin' Sinatra songs."

Review:

Nostalgic, quotable-quippy, humorous and sharp writing highlights this neo-pulp work, with its nods to classic noir films (as well as Eighties music and San Francisco). Its characters are interesting and relatable, the action never lags, and the character-based twists are often unexpected and always worthwhile: this is one of the best neo-pulp works I've read in long time.

Worth owning, this. You can purchase it at Lulu.com or Amazon.

Actor Christian Slater has bought (and repeatedly renewed) the film options for this dyed-in-the-gray noir-classic novel. The film is currently "in development" as of this updated writing (April 7, 2014).

Love Stories has several sequels.  The first two, Fate Is My Pimp and Romance Takes a Raincheck, have been published as one book.  My review for them is here.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Blood & Thunder: The Life & Art of Robert E. Howard, by Mark Finn

(pb; 2006: biography. Introduction by Joe R. Lansdale)

From the back cover:

"Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Cimmerian, Solomon Kane, King Kull, and many other characters helped define the genre of heroic fantasy, lived all of his thirty years in the small town of Cross Plains, Texas. While his books remain continually in print, Howard himself has fallen into obscurity. The details of his personal life have become mired in speculation, half-truth, and lies. This engaging biography traces the roots of his writing, correcting many long-standing misconceptions, and takes on a tour of Howard's world as he saw it best: through his own incomparable imagination."

Review:

This is a solid biography that keeps true to its themes (Howard was considered a social misfit within his longtime Texas town; Howard's larger-than-life characters were exaggerated imaginings of rugged Texas men that Howard grew up around; and Howard was a multi-genre writer - humor, fantasy, Westerns - whose non-fantasy works overshadows his other well-written works).

Finn's writing doesn't gets bogged down in superfluous dissections of Howard's work, nor does Finn wallow in unnecessary details regarding Howard's tragedy-truncated life: this makes for a fast-flowing, intriguing book.

Good read, worth owning if you're a fan of Howard's writing.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Joyride, by Jack Ketchum

(pb; 1994, 2010; end-capped by a novella, Weed Species, 2006)

From the back cover:

"Carole and her lover, Lee, knew there was only one way to get rid of Carole's abusive husband for good. They planned every detail. And they thought they had committed the perfect crime. But a stranger named Wayne wants to be their friend. He wants to share the excitement of murder with them. He wants to take Carole and Lee on a road trip straight to hell so his new friends can enjoy an all-out killing spree that can end only one way. . ."


Review:

Violent blast of high body count death-trip, this; Ketchum-regular readers will recognize this as Ketchum's usual true crime-based work, as nasty, sharp and bloody as The Girl Next Door, though it lacks the bleak finish of Stranglehold (whose real life-veracious ending still infuriates me).

This is an excellent worthwhile genre read.

A story-separate novella, Weed Species, caps this book. It's a good, equally gripping, if less immediate, tale about events that spiral out of a series of rape-murders. Its wry finish suits the work.

Check this out. Worth owning, this.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Sleeping Dragon, by Miyuki Miyabe

(hb; 1991, 2010; translated by Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi)

From the inside flap:

"A fierce typhoon strikes Tokyo one night, flooding city streets. Someone removes a manhole cover, and a little boy out searching for his pet goes missing and is believed drowned in the sewers. Is it murder?

"These events throw together a struggling journalist named Kosaka with two young men who may or may not have psychic powers. Forming an unlikely alliance, the three dig into the boy's disappearance. However, as a series of inexplicable events unfold, Kosaka wonders if his new young acquaintances haven't snared in him in some kind of strange con game.

"Then the journalist's former fiancée disappears. Known to be still harboring strong feelings for his now-married old girlfriend, Kosaka becomes the main suspect in the case.

"With his reputation and his personal life threatening to crumble altogether, Kosaka is forced to wrestle not only with life-threatening events but also his rising doubts about the two young men who have so suddenly appeared in his life."

Review:

The Sleeping Dragon is a character-veracious, at times sublime, offbeat and plot-twisty work that's hard to put down.

The tightly-penned pace lacks laggage, though Miyabe tips her plot hand early a few times and some of the characters are motive-transparent (but that could also be my cynicism showing through).

Despite the above minor nits, The Sleeping Dragon is a mostly masterful, character-intriguing read that's worth owning.

Either way, Miyabe is an author to read, just avoid Shadow Family (unless you're a completist).