Friday, January 28, 2011

Skull-Face, by Robert E. Howard

(pb; 1978: fantasy/horror novella-story anthology. Introduction by Richard A. Lupoff.)

From the back cover:

"A strange coffin is found floating in the mid-Atlantic - and in it, a withered reptilian creature judged to have been dead not thousands but millions of years! Thus begins the chilling story of Kathulos of the yellow eyes the Ages could not close. . .




Okay, over-the-top, xenophobic action tales from Howard, who specialized in this kind of overwrought, mood-effective and adrenalin-rush work that featured hot-tempered, punching and slashing heroes, hideous exotic (read: foreign) villains, and emotional, sexy (and sometimes treacherous) women.

It's not Howard's best writing, but it's enjoyable, if you're a Howard fan. The structures and plots of the stories are pretty much the same, and there are times where Howard throws too much action into the tales, drawing them beyond what would be their natural lengths -- this is particularly true in "Lord of the Dead" and "Taverel Manor" (though anthology editor Lupoff may share blame for this last extended story).

Richard A. Lupoff's introduction is engaging, analytical and fact-filled, an exemplary filter through which to view these occasionally flawed but otherwise good hero tales.


1.) "Skull-Face" (novella): A junkie (Stephen Costigan) in London falls under the power of an ancient sorcerer (Kathulos), and tries to break free of both Kathulous, while stopping the sorcerer from taking over the world with his dark-ish hoards.

Despite its obvious lifting from H.P. Lovecraft's "Cthulhu Mythos" and its inherent - occasionally stated - racism, this is a fun, solid work. (While reading this, one should remember that Howard's stories were written and published in the 1920s and 1930s, when American/blue collar racism was deemed socially acceptable; one should also remember that Lovecraft and Howard were fervid pen pals, who shared writing genres and similar ideas.)

Fast-paced and exciting, like a serial tale.

2.) "Lord of the Dead": Steve Harrison, a cop, is attacked by a strange, superhuman foe (Ali ibn Suleyman, the Druse), leading Harrison into further violence with Suleyman's Mongolian -- and even more powerful -- boss (Erlik Kahn, aka the "Lord of the Dead").

3.) "Names in the Black Book": Erlik Kahn, thought dead at the end of "Lord of the Dead", heals and begins killing those who betrayed and thrwarted him in that earlier tale -- a list that includes Steve Harrison and his girlfriend, Joan La Tour (also from "Lord of the Dead").

4.) "Taverel Manor": British Secret Service agents Steve Costigan and John Gordon, previously read about in "Skull-Face", battle their returned arch-foe (Kathulos, the titular character in "Skull-Face").

Joan La Tour, also seen in "Lord of the Dead" and "Names in the Black Book", is a minor character in this story, sans Steve Harrison (she's engaged to someone else - Harrison is never mentioned).

This last tale is co-authored by anthology editor Richard A. Lupoff, who finished this incomplete story left behind by Howard. (Howard committed suicide in 1936.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Abominable Man, by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

(hb; 1971, 1972: seventh book in the Martin Beck Police Mysteries. Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal.)

From the inside flap:

"The bloody murder of a police captain in his hospital room exposes the particularly unsavory history of a man who spent forty years practicing brutality and force. As this story unfolds, Martin Beck and his colleagues scour Stockholm for the murderer, a demented and deadly rifleman, who finally stages a terrifying scene of chaos and revenge against the police. As the tension builds and a feeling of impending danger and doom settles on Martin Beck, an even stronger sense of responsibility and something like shame urge him into taking drastic steps on his own which lead to shocking disaster."


Sjöwall and Wahlöö vary the pace of the series with The Abominable Man, a novel that favors action over time-consuming police investigations. Thankfully, the husband-and-wife writing team don't sacrifice any of the pathos, humor or other interactions of Beck and his men to do so.

This is a riveting, charming read. Worth owning, too - as are the preceding Martin Beck novels.

Followed by The Locked Room.

The resulting film, titled Man on the Roof, was released in Sweden on October 1, 1976. It was released stateside in April 1977.

Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt, billed as Carl Gustaf Lindstedt, played Martin Beck. Sven Wollter played Lenart Kollberg. Thomas Hellberg played Gunvald Larsson. Håkan Serner played Einar Rönn.

Torgny Anderberg (who also appeared in Roseanna, as a different character) played Malm. Folke Hjort played Melander.

Birgitta Valberg played Mrs. Nyman. Harald Hamrell played Stefan Nyman. Carl-Axel Heiknert, billed as Carl Axel Heiknert, played Palmon Harald Hult. Ingvar Hirdwall, billed as Ingvar Hirdvall, played Åke Eriksson. Bellan Roos played Mrs. Eriksson. Gus Dahlström played Mr. Eriksson.

Bo Widerberg scripted and directed the film.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Moon is Down, by John Steinbeck

(pb; 1942: novella)

From the back cover:

"A beautiful, provincial Norwegian town had been at peace for so long that its people had forgotten the protocol of war. Then one Sunday the German soldiers came. . ."


The Moon is Down is a scathing, intensely personal indictment of imperialism and war. There's not one wasted word is in this stark work, which baldly foreshadows the futile, occupational horrors and (sometimes ironic) disillusionment suffered by both the invaders, and their captives.

Stunning, timely work; worth owning.

The film version was released stateside on March 14, 1943.

Henry Travers played Mayor Orden. Lee J. Cobb played Doctor Albert Winter. Dorris Bowdon played Molly Morden. Margaret Wycherly played Mme. Sarah Orden. William Post Jr. played Alex Morden.

Cedric Hardwicke played Col. Lanser. Peter van Eyck played Lt. Tonder. Henry Roland played Capt. Loft. E.J. Ballantine played George Corell. Hans Schumm played Capt. Bentick.

Irving Pichel directed the film, from Nunnaly Johnson's screenplay.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Enormous Crocodile, by Roald Dahl

(hb; 1978: children's picture book. Illustrations by Quentin Blake.)

From the inside flap:

"When the Enormous Crocodile decides he would like a nice juicy little child for lunch, the other animals - his friend the Notsobig One, Humpy-Rumpy the Hippopamus, Trunky the Elephant, Muggle-Wump the Monkey, and the Roly-Poly Bird -- are horrified.

"But the Enormous Crocodile continues on his way with his secret plans and clever tricks, which will bring deliciously exciting shivers to the spine of every young reader.

"In the end, he get exactly what he deserves.

"One of Roald Dahl's most popular picture books. . . The Enormous Crocodile is now in a storybook edition for those beginning to read on their own. It was the first of Roald Dahl's stories to be illustrated by Quentin Blake, marking the beginning of a wonderfully successful relationship."


Darkly serendipitous wordplay and tone abound in this sublime moral (i.e., the moral is never stated outright) beginning-to-read children's book.

Blake's illustrations are true to Dahl's almost-shocking-for-a-kid's-book vision, storyline and characters, adding to the hijinky and comic payback feel of The Enormous Crocodile.

Going to be chuckling over this one for a while. Worth owning, even if you're an adult without kids.

The Devils of D-Day by Graham Masterton

(pb; 1978)

From the back cover:

"September, 1944. . . the villagers of Pont D'Ouilly still shudder at the memory of that infernal day when a special division of American tanks aniihilated a Nazi armored column. Thirteen U.S. tanks, all painted black. A strange sight, even in wartime. One of the vehicles had broken a track, and stopped, its deadly mission complete. For some mysterious reason, the Allies sealed the hatch, and left the tank by the roadside. For thirty years, it sat there, rusting with time, a grim reminder of the nearly forgotten battle.

"Some local people claimed the tank was cursed. Hadn't they heard eerie voices and wild laughter echoing from within? And didn't an old woman die exactly thirteen days after she'd tried to exorcize the supposed demons? Was there indeed a supernatural force inside. . . something so unearthly and sinister that no one would come near. . . something capable of unleashing an unspeakable evil that no power on earth could destroy?"


Fun, off-beat horror novel - if you ignore the unconvincing motivations and lack of imagination of one the key characters. It isn't exactly a People Have Many Incredibly Stupid Moments novel, but it isn't Masterton's best - or even more solid - works, either.

What kept me reading the book was Masterton's impressive writing chops: he knows how to streamline even the cheesiest of storylines into compelling reads, and the occasional (if often pro forma) goreworks and demonic background stuff create some effective, unsettling moments.

Enjoyable b-movie war-themed romp from an excellent author. Worth reading, or owning, if you only pay two or three dollars for it.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Murder at the Savoy, by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

(hb; 1971: sixth book in the Martin Beck Police Mysteries. Translated from the Swedish by Amy & Ken Knoespel.)

From the inside flap:

"Accustomed as he was to public speaking, powerful Swedish industrialist Viktor Palmgren had no idea that his after-dinner speech in elegant Hotel Savoy would be so rudely interrupted that warm summer evening. Suddenly, in the midst of Palmgren's entertaining remarks, an uninvited guest pulled a blue-steel object from his pocket, shot the speaker in the head, and disappeared through an open window. No one in the restaurant was able to identify the gunman, and local police were sheepishly baffled. Enter: Chief Inspector Martin Beck, of the National Homicide Squad. . . and his dogged fellow detectives of Sweden's National Police."


Another excellent, taut mystery from the Martin Beck series, sporting all the charm, quirkiness and cleverness of the preceding novels.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by The Abominable Man.

The video film was released on October 6, 1993 in Sweden.

Per Berglund directed the film, from a script by Rainer Berg, Jonas Cornell, Pelle Berglund (aka Per Berglund, the director), Beate Langmaack and book co-author Maj Sjöwall.

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

Ingvar Andersson played Per Månsson. Lena Nilsson played Åsa Thorell. Birger Österberg reprised his role of Kvant. P.G. Hylén reprised his role of Kristiansson.

Claes Sylwander played Viktor Palmgren. Görel Crona played Charlotte Palmgren. Marie Richardson played Helena Hansson. Arthur Brauss played Jürgen Hoffman. Reine Brynolfsson played Hampus Broberg. Anders Ekborg played Mats Linder. Lena T. Hansson, billed as Lena T. Hanson, played "Grunvald's Sister". Tommy Johnson played Bertil Svensson.

An uncredited Stellan Skarsgård played "Security manager at Palmgrens Company".

<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]...