Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Majorettes, by John Russo

(pb; 1979)


From the back cover:

"They are young.  They are beautiful.  And they are terrified.

"Already two of the girls have been raped and murdered, victims of a brutal knife and a psychotic mind that kills with no apparent pattern and no apparent provocation.

"At least, that's what the police say.

"But, behind the veil of a murderous psychosis, there works a cold, cruel, calculating logic, with an ultimate goal so obvious the police should have seen it all coming.

"Long before it got this far.

"But they didn't, and they missed him - and he's still out there."


Review:

Fans of Jack Ketchum's novels may especially enjoy this word-lean, plot-taut slasher on the loose work from the co-screenwriter of the 1968 seminal zombie flick Night of the Living Dead.

In Majorettes, a slow-build book in its opening chapters, Russo takes an obvious set-up and genre-blends it with other elements (action, noir) and creates a clever, hard-to-set-down horror offering that sports some wow-that's-sick-sh*t scenes that are all the more unsettling because they read like real life.

This isn't a flashy book, but it is gut-wrenching (in a few parts) and smart, a quiet, assured stand-out read, in a genre that's glutted with gratuitous sex and violence, stupid characters, sloppy plotting and other flaws.

Worth owning, this, with an ending that made me hope that Russo would pen a follow-up story.

#

The film version was released in England, on video, in March 1987.  It was released in stateside video stores on August 17, 1988.

Kevin Kindlin played Jeff Halloway.  Terrie Godfrey played Vicky McAllister.  Mark V. Jevicky played Sheriff Braden.  Carl Hetrick played Roland Martell.  Mary Jo Limpert played Marie Morgan.

Jacqueline Bowman played Nicole Hendricks.  Colin Martin played Tommy Harvack.  Sueanne Seamens played Judy Marino.  Tom E. Desrocher played Mace Jackson.  William R. Mott played Bart.  Tammy Petruska played Margaret.  Gina Cotton played Angel.

Denise Huot played Helga Schuler.  Harold K. Keller played Harry Schuler.  Tom Madden played Teela (who, in the source novel, is the same character as Harry Schuler). 

Edna Kleitz played Elvira.   M. Therian played Hank.  Bonnie Hinzman, real-life wife of the film's director, played a "Teacher".

John Russo scripted the film from his novel; he also played Dr. Gibson (aka "Coroner").  S. William Hinzman, who directed the film, played Sergeant Sanders.  (He also played a "Zombie" in the original Night of the Living Dead.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Loveliest Dead, by Ray Garton

(pb; 2006)


From the back cover:

"To most people it's just a large house, old and a bit run-down.  To the Kellar family it's a new start, a chance to wipe out the painful past and begin again.  But soon it will become a living nightmare.  The terrors begin before the Kellars have even finished unpacking.  They hear things, see things, shadowy glimpses into the impossible, things that are there - and then gone.

"Who are the mysterious children playing on the rusty, vine-covered swing set in the backyard?  Who is the figure sitting in the dark corner of the bedroom at night?  Who - or what - waits in the basement?  They are the dead and they cannot rest.  Horror stalks the halls of the Kellar house.  And the secrets of the past are reaching from beyond the grave to destroy the living."


Review:

Plot-familiar, good read with some truly creepy moments and consistently reader-hooking writing, with an ending that deftly avoids the usual expect-a-sequel bullsh*t.

Check this novel out.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Confessions of a Yakuza, by Junichi Saga

(pb; 1989, 1991: nonfiction.  Previously published under the title A Gambler's Tale.  Illustrated by Susumu Saga.  Translated by John Bester.)


Review:

Confessions is a real-life tale told to the author, by an old school yakuza (Ijichi Eiji) who, by age 73 ,had experienced some of the twentieth century's more interesting and sometimes darker events - three wars, prison, military service, shifts in early yakuza mentality and morality, and his relationships with fellow yakuza and women, which were influenced by ever-shifting Japanese cultural mores.

Eiji's recollections, intertwined with Saga's, emanate from a bygone time, when the yakuza was more interested in honor and getting along with one's non-yakuza's neighbors (so as to keep their gambling joints full and smooth-running), not drugs and the exaggerated violence we often see in films, and, on Saga's end, what it was like to hear these stories.

Eiji also provides a picaresque, relatable historical context for how things ran - e.g., how yakuza and (sometimes) political financing was structured, what winter-hellish prisons (military and civilian) were like, and other intriguing, often personable stories.

Worth owning, this, whether you're reading it for the yakuza angle, the Japanese angle or the historical/interesting character angle (or all three, like myself).

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Vengeful Virgin, by Gil Brewer

(hb; 1958, 2007: republished by Hard Case Crime.  Cover artist: Gregory Manchess)


From the back cover:

"Her wealthy stepfather was dying - but not quickly enough.

"What beautiful 18-year-old would want to spend her life taking care of an invalid?  Not Shirley Angela.  But that's the life she was trapped in - until she met Jack.

"Now Shirley and Jack have a plan to put the old man out of his misery and walk away with a suitcase full of cash.  But there's nothing like money to come between lovers - money, and other women."


Review:

Hot-blooded (non-explicit) sex and violence, sharp dialogue, taut writing, noircentric characters and effective plot-twistiness make this one of the best noir novels I've ever read.  The unrelenting, end-of-chapters cliffhanger heat of the characters and their doomed-from-the-git-go actions is addictive.

Worth owning, this.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian, by Eoin Colfer

(hb; 2012: eighth book in the Artemis Fowl series)


From the inside flap:

"Artemis Fowl's archenemy Opal Kobai has masterminded a way to simultaneously secure her release from prison and bring the human and fairy worlds to their knees.  And, unless Artemis can stop her, the evil pixie's next move will destroy all human life on Earth.

"Ground Zero is the Fowl Estate, where Opal has reanimated fairy warriors who were buried there thousands of years ago.  Their spirits have possessed any vessels they can find - corpses, Artemis's little brothers, assorted wildlife - and they are bound to obey Opal's every command.  Defeating the motley troops and their diabolical leader will require all of Artemis's cleverness - as well as Butler's bravery, Holly's skill, and Foaly's gadgetry.  But if their best efforts aren't enough, Armageddon will surely follow."


Review:

The Last Guardian advances the thrills and chills adventure, plot twists, laugh-out-loud humor and semi-quirky characters of the previous seven Artemis Fowl novels. If you liked those books, chances are you'll like this one, too.

This is one of my favorite entries in this highly entertaining series.

Check it out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Book of Horrors, edited by Stephen Jones

(pb; 2011: horror anthology)


Overall review:

This is an excellent collection of Old School/classic horror-style stories, intended for non-Twilight readers, who bristle at the idea of defanged "sparkling vampires".  (Editor Stephen Jones states this, in different words, in his Introduction ["Whatever Happened to Horror?"].)

As such, A Book of Horrors is an impressive endeavor, one worth owning.


Standout stories:

1.)  "The Little Green God of Agony" - Stephen King:   Good story about a wealthy man (Andrew Newsom) whose post-accident pain has taken on excruciating proportions.


2.)  "Roots and All" - Brian Hodge:  A war-hardened corrections officer (Dylan) and his cousin (Gina) return to their recently deceased grandmother's backwoods house to pack up her things, only to discover that the surrounding woods, heavy with a legendary monster - the Woodwalker - and troubling memories, has become a "meth haven".

Excellent, perfect work, this: a seamless entertaining fusion of old horror elements and modern realities, charged with a sense of mission.

One of my favorite stories in this anthology.


3.)  "The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer" - John Ajvide Lindqvist [translated by Marlaine Delargy]:  A boy's piano lessons provide the possibility for ghosts to re-enter the natural world.

Creepy and unsettling, with a finish that's at once familiar and refreshing.


4.)  "Getting It Wrong" - Ramsey Campbell:  An asocial, disgruntled  cineaste (Eric Edgeworth) finds himself participating in a dark, strange game show where providing wrong answers can prove agonizing.

Solid, interesting piece.


5.)  "The Man in the Ditch" - Lisa Tuttle:  Linzi, a woman with marital issues and uncomfortable in her new country home, sees a dead man on the side of the road.

Good, mood-effective work.


6.)  "A Child's Problem" - Reggie Oliver1811.  Tankerton Abbey, in Suffolk, England.  A boy (George St. Maur), left in the cold-hearted care of his uncle (Sir Augustus St. Maur, Baronet), uncovers a dark, multi-layered mystery surrounding his uncle, his uncle's deceased wife (Lady Circe) and other fatalities.

Wonderful story, replete with classical, philosophical and other elements of particularly human shadiness and light.

One of my favorite entries in this anthology.


7.)  "Sad, Dark Thing" - Michael Marshall Smith:  Miller, an "aimless" man reeling from a divorce, sees an unexpected sign on a backwoods road, and is irrevocably altered by it.

Mood- and theme-efficacious piece, inspired by the author's real-life drive through the Santa Cruz mountains (in California).


8.)  "Near Zennor" - Elizabeth Hand:  A widower (Jeffrey), while sorting through his wife's belongings, discovers some mysterious letters which pull him into even bigger mysteries.

Good, unpredictable, atmospheric read.


9.)  "Last Words" - Richard Christian Matheson:  A serial killer waxes philosophical on the nature of the last moments of one's death.

Creepy, intriguing, vicious, memorable.


Other stories:

"Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint" - Caitlin R. Kiernan;  "Ghost with Teeth" - Peter Crowther; "The Coffin-Maker's Daughter" - Angela Slatter; "Tell Me I'll See You Again" - Dennis Etchison;  "Alice Through the Plastic Sheet" - Robert Shearman

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Red Rain, by R.L. Stine

(hb; 2012)


From the back cover:

". . . Travel writer Lea Sutter finds herself on a small island off the coast of South Carolina, the wrong place at the wrong time.  A merciless, unanticipated hurricane cuts a path of destruction through the island and Lea barely escapes her life.

"In the storm's aftermath, she discovers two orphaned boys - twins.  Filled with a desire to do something to help, to make something good  of all she witnessed, Lea impulsively decides to adopt them.  The boys, Samuel and Daniel, seem amiable and immensely grateful; Lea's family back on Long Island - husband Mark, a chld psychologist, and their two children, Ira and Elena - aren't quite so pleased.  But even they can't anticipate their true nature - or predict that, within a few weeks' time, Mark will wind up implicated in two brutal murders, with the police narrowing in."


Review:

Red Rain, Stine's first adult horror novel, is a solid read that has plenty of chills and thrills (the kind that films like Village of the Damned*, its sequel Children of the Damned and Who Can Kill a Child?  [a.k.a.  Island of the Damned] deliver).

Those who have read Stine's many children/YA horror novels should make no mistake: this is a 'for mature audiences' novel.  It is not for children.

I enjoyed this plot-tight, genre-revering novel until its ending, which marred this otherwise worthwhile endeavor with a cheesy, Amateur Hour finish "twist" that cravenly apes the last-minute twists of lesser, often crappy movies and books.

Red Rain is worth reading, if you can overlook Stine's lapse in good judgment.  These Amateur Hour end-twists may work in children's/YA books, but in adult fiction, not so much.

Check this out from the library, if you're interested in reading it.


[*Village of the Damned is based on John Wyndam's novel The Midwich Cuckoos.]

Friday, November 02, 2012

Cogan's Trade, by George V. Higgins

(hb; 1974: republished as Killing Them Softly)


From the inside flap:

"Jackie Cogan's trade is central to [the underworld].  He is an enforcer.  He can be depended upon to 'handle' a problem before it gets out of control.  And when a high-stakes card game under the protection of the New England mob is heisted by unknown hoodlums, Cogan is called in.  Expert, businesslike, a shrewd detector of other people's weaknesses, he moves in ruthless and efficient ways among a variety of hoods, hangers-on, and big-timers: a compulsive gambler with a dangerous bad-luck streak, a thug who steals dogs, a once successful out-of-town hitman, a cunning lawyer representing the regional don, and a young punk whose 'professional' career as at a crossroads.  Until, finally, in an almost empty parking lot, with five consecutive shots from a Smith and Wesson thirty-eight Police Special, the situation is handled, and 'law and order' is restored."


Review:

Overly chatty crime novel with interesting characters, noir-veracious mood and genre-inevitable murders.

Cogan's Trade (or Killing Them Softly, its new title) is an okay read by a talented writer who  revels in giving his characters plenty of milieu-centric "voice(s)".  If  this novel were edited down to its plot-core dialogue and storyline, this would be an excellent novella.

#

The resulting movie, Killing Them Softly, is scheduled for stateside theatrical release on November 30, 2012.

Brad Pitt played Jackie Cogan.  Scoot McNairy played Frankie.  Ben Mendelsohn played Russell.  James Gandolfini played Mickey.  Vincent Curatola played Johnny Amato.  Richard Jenkins played "Driver".   Ray Liotta played Markie Trattman. 

Trevor Long played Steve Caprio.  Max Casella played Barry Caprio.  Sam Shepard played Dillon.  Slaine played Kenny.

Andrew Dominik scripted and directed the film.