Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Locked Room, by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

(hb; 1972, 1973: eighth book in the Martin Beck Police Mysteries. Translated from the Swedish by Paul Britten Austin.)

Review:

Fifteen months after the events of The Abominable Man, Martin Beck and his team encounter two strange cases.

Their first case involves Karl Edvin Svärd, an elderly man whose moldering corpse is found in a triple-locked room with a bullet lodged in his chest - initially thought to be an odd suicide, it now seems to be more than that.

Their second case involves a bank robbery (and subsequent murder) that appears to been have committed by memorable woman (who may've been a man in disguise). This robbery, and Svärd's murder, which may or may not be linked, both foreshadow equally notable crimes, in a season where Vietnam War protests and a depressed economy are birthing an upswing in crime, especially bank robberies.

The Locked Room is as excellent, twist-pretzeled and personable as the other Martin Beck Mysteries.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by Cop Killer.



The film version of The Locked Room was released in the Netherlands on September 2, 1993.

Jan Decleir played Martin Beck. Els Dottermans played Monita. Warre Borgmans played "Winter / Waterman". Jakob Beks played Fisher. Geert de Jong played Roza Moreels. Josse De Pauw played Gilles. Sien Eggers, billed as Stien Eggers, played Ella.

Jacob Bijl directed and scripted the film.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

**Nick Nicholson's Tokyo published on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

Nick Nicholson penned this week's story, the theme-adventurous Tokyo - the third part of his eight-part, loosely-linked Travelogue.

Be sure to check it out, and leave some feedback (if you have the time and urge)!



I'm accepting story submissions for next Wednesday's (2/23/11) slot on the Microstory A Week site. Deadline: Sunday, 2/20/11.

Also, I also need writers for the next few months, so if you or anybody you know has a story, or series that fits the submissions guidelines, feel free to send them. :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Very Bad Deaths, by Spider Robinson


(pb; 2004, 2006)

From the back cover:

"Blind to the beauty of his island home in Canada, shattered by the death of his wife of 32 years, American expatriate Russell Walker is ready to join her. But Smelly won't let him.

"Smelly -- notorious for his refusal to bathe -- was Russell's college roommate, back in 1967. He's lived a hermit's life ever since, and only Russell knows why: Smelly reads minds, can't help it -- and it hurts. After all these years, Russell is still the only person Smelly can stand to be near. And now Smelly urgently needs an intermediary with the police -- suicidal or not.

"He's learned that a serial sadist who would terrify Ted Bundy is at play in the Vancouver area. Unfortunately, he's only got scraps of information that aren't enough to ID either the killer or his next victims. And he can't even come close enough to a cop to tell his story.

"Against his better judgment, Russell brings this unlikely tale to Constable Nika Mandic, a tough but unlucky Vancouver policewoman -- and soon this mild-mannered Sixties survivor finds himself conspiring with a telepathic hermit and an upright cop to track a monster to his lair.

"But are the three together smart enough to stalk a creature who thinks of himself as the first true scientist of cruelty? If not, Russell's suicidal urges may be fulfilled sooner -- and much less painlessly -- than he planned."

Review:

Entertaining blast of a read that seamlessly welds various fiction genres together: historical, speculative and crime, with its tongue firmly planted in its wry cheek. The characters are interesting, the story is off-beat and memorable, and the novel is immediately involving (without any let-up).

Worth owning, this: it makes for a great lazy-day read.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Mary Ann in Autumn, by Armistead Maupin

(hb; 2011: Book Eight in the Tales of the City series)

From the inside flap:

"Twenty years have passed since Mary Ann Singleton left her husband and child in San Francisco to pursue her dream of a television career in New York. Now a pair of personal calamities has driven her back to the city of her youth and into the arms of her oldest friend, Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver, a gardener happily esconced with his much-younger husband.

"Mary Ann finds temporary refuge in the couple's backyard cottage, where, at the unnerving age of fifty-seven, she licks her wounds and takes stock of her mistakes. Soon, with the help of Facebook and a few old friends, she begins to reengage with life, only to confront fresh terrors when her checkered past comes back to haunt her in a way she never could have imagined.

"After the intimate first-person narrative of Maupin's last novel Michael Tolliver Lives, Mary Ann in Autumn marks the author's return to the multicharacter plotlines and darkly comic themes of his earlier work. Among those caught in Mary Ann's orbit are her estranged daughter Shawna, a popular sex blogger; Jake Greenleaf, Michael's transgendered gardening assistant; socialite DeDe Halcyon-Wilson; and the indefatigable Anna Madrigal, Mary Ann's former landlady at 28 Barbary Lane."


Review:

Mary Ann in Autumn is as warm, fresh, joyous, City-centric and charming as the original Tales of the City novel, with a dark mystery element (much like the original novel, More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City).

The mystery element in this gradual-passing-of-the-torches novel isn't such a mystery (a mild disappointment), but the writing is tight and witty, and the characters still feel like family, as usual, with a welcome return to form - as much as I liked Michael Tolliver Lives, I prefer Maupin's multicharactered storylines, which structure his best novels.

Readers familiar with Maupin's work will probably recognize Gabriel Noone, who gets a mention in Mary Ann. (Noone is the main character in one of Maupin's non-Tales books, The Night Listener - further proof of Maupin's ability to seamlessly bring his otherwise disparate characters together, and making his readers smile.)

I love this book. One of my favorite entries in this series. Worth owning, this.

Followed by The Days of Anna Madrigal.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Animal Factory, by Edward Bunker

(pb; 1977)

From the back cover:

"The Animal Factory goes deep into San Quentin, a world of violence and paranoia, where territory and status are ever-changing and possibly fatal commodities. Ron Decker is a newbie, a drug dealer whose shot at a short two-year stint in the can is threatened from inside and outside. He's got to keep a spotless record or it's ten to life. But at San Quentin, no man can steer clear of the Brotherhoods, the race wars, the relentlessness. It soon becomes clear that some inmates are more equal than others; Earl Copen is one of them, an old-timer who has learned not just to survive but to thrive behind bars. Not much can surprise him -- but the bond he forms with Ron startles them both; it's a true education of a felon."

Review:

The Animal Factory is an immediately immersive, character-intriguing and waste-no-words novel that's simultaneously a caveat and a pulp read (inherent, given its subject matter).

This, for me, is a perfect novel. All the delicate plot and character elements work together to form a raw-truth, hard-to-lay-down read that should appeal to those who've read prison writing before, as well as those who haven't.

Worth owning, this. Landmark, informative work.



The resulting film was released stateside on January 24, 2000.

Steve Buscemi produced and directed the film, from a script by book author/co-producer Edward Bunker and John Steppling.

Willem Dafoe played Earl Copen. Edward Furlong played Ron Decker. Danny Trejo played Vito. Mark Boone Jr. played Paul Adams. Seymor Cassel played Lt. Seeman. Mickey Rourke played Jan the Actress.

Tom Arnold played Buck Rowan. John Heard played James Decker. Chris Bauer played Bad Eye. Michael Buscemi, Steve Buscemi's brother, played Mr. Herell.

Book author Edward Bunker played Buzzard. Director Steve Buscemi played A.R. Hosspack. Independent filmmaker and actor Larry Fessenden, billed as Larry Fesenden, played Benny. Independent filmmaker, producer and actor Sal Mazzotta played Florizzi.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Odd Girl Out, by Ann Bannon

(pb; 1957: first book in the six-book Beebo Brinker Chronicles)

Review:

When Laura Landon first meets one of her college roommates, the popular and pretty Beth Cullison, she begins to experience feelings she's never known, or at least acknowledged, before -- the tinglings of desire for another woman. And when Beth responds in a way Laura didn't expect, it further stirs up the hormonal, emotionally-fraught soup that is equal parts restriction, youthful angst and irrepressibility.

The backdrop of the college, written and set in the socially rigid 1950s, provides an inherently potboiler-ish stew for this melodramatic (but hard to set down) tale of a secret love that's constantly being tested by oppressive and punitive (heterosexual) social codes, jealousy (on Laura's part), the confusion of youth, and divided loyalties resulting from these elements.

The characters are complex and interesting, particularly the leads: even the prudish Mary Lou, a relatively minor but pivotal character, isn't cookie cutter, though she easily could be, without the novel's effectiveness being compromised.

If the well-edited dialogue in Odd Girl Out seems sometimes melodramatic, it's because it's about the passion of first, life-changing loves, which can be quite messy to chart (a feat that Bannon pulls off admirably and unfalteringly), as well as the fact that it features no explicit sex -- hence, the het-up language, where a kiss is considerably more than a kiss (much like the "fireworks kiss" scene in Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 To Catch A Thief).

Excellent, passionate, groundbreaking pulp read, this. Worth checking out.

Odd Girl Out is followed by these five books: I Am a Woman, Women in the Shadows, Beebo Brinker, Journey to a Woman, and Who Loves a Woman.