Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Walk Among the Tombstones by Lawrence Block


(hb; 1992: tenth book in the Matthew Scudder series)


From the inside flap:

" 'One million dollars cash, or we kill your wife.' High-volume dope dealers make an easy mark for kidnappers. After all, what are they going to do, call the cops? But Kenan Khoury, heroin wholesaler to the five boroughs, haggled over the price, and his wife came back in pieces. The only person he can trust to avenge her is Matt Scudder, ex-cop, sober alcoholic, who wields his own brand of personal justice.

"Scudder enlists call-girl girlfriend Elaine [Mardell], a streetwise punk from Times Square [TJ], and two phone-phreak computer geniuses to track the killers through the backstreets of Brooklyn. But the killers' depravity is matched only by their cleverness, and their next target is a little girl. . ."


Review:

Walk is a compelling, suspenseful and hard-to-set-down read with a cast of believable and often-likeable characters. I appreciated Block's use of moral gray areas, where most of its characters -- aside from the main villains -- had grime, depth and wear in their personal histories. Entertaining book, this: worth owning.

Followed by A Long Line of Dead Men.

#

The resulting film was released stateside on September 19, 2014. Scott Frank scripted and directed the film.

Liam Neeson played Matthew Scudder. Maurice Compte played Danny Ortiz. Astro, billed as Brian 'Astro' Bradley, played TJ.
 
David Harbour played Ray. Adam David Thompsons played Albert. Laura Birn played Leila Alvarez. Sebastian Roché played Yuri Landau. Liana de Laurent played "Yuri's Wife". Daniel Rose Russell played Lucia Landau.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dark Corners (Winter 2014 issue) edited by CT McNeely, Emily McNeely and Steve Gallagher


(pb; pulp fiction magazine/anthology: Winter 2014, Vol. 1 Issue 2)


Overall review:

Another excellent issue of this promising magazine, this: it has twenty-nine pieces which range from down 'n' dirty crime and Western fiction (sometimes with a touch of the supernatural and the bizarre) to author, book and publishing house reviews (e.g., a review of All Due Repect Books, as well as several works by authors mentioned in the "Standout stories" section below) -- in short, Dark Corners magazine is something that all noir and pulp fans should purchase and otherwise support.  (Another purchase link for this issue on Amazon.com will be available soon.) 

Get your copy now, if you can.


Standout stories:

1.)  "The Rehab Tiffany" - Greg Garth: An ex-Marine-for-hire takes on a gang who put his friend's sister in the hospital. Straightforward, well-written and rough action-revenge story that's all appropriate attitude and no filler.


2.)  "The Lost Sock" - Will Viharo:  Mood-effective desperation, dread, eroticism and surrealism highlight this pop culture-savvy and lust-crusty work about a down-on-his-luck man trying to locate a missing sock. Excellent, Twilight Zone-esque tale, this.


3.)  "The Joe Flacco Defense" - Eryk Pruitt: A dissatisfied wife kills her Fantasy Football Idiot husband then covers it up - perhaps too enthusiastically. Darkly funny work that, in an updated, reworked and lighter spirit, reminded me (in a good way) of a similarly structured tale I recently read: Richard Stark's "The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution" (published in the 1962 anthology Alfred Hitchcock's A Hangman's Dozen). Fun piece.


4.)  "Davey Jones' Locker" - V.A. Freeman: Another fun read about a man (Pete) who become a sailor on a boat whose captain is not only incredibly brave, but might possess some disturbing - if somewhat out-in-the-open - habits. Eagle-eyed readers will likely see where this story is headed, but it's still an entertaining ride.


5.)  "I Don't Want You To See" - Thomas Livingston:  A low-level drug dealer gets an unwanted, dangerous promotion because of someone with a big mouth. Well-written, gritty story.


6.)  "Spare Change" - April Hawks:  Interesting piece about a life-lucky man (Calvin) whose blessed streak ends in tragedy, altering him in drastic ways. Fun, effective tone-twist shift at the finish.


7.)  "Zombies, F##king Zombies" - Max Sheridan:  In a country overrun by undead (who are only good for killing and sex), a man (Carmine) puts out a hit on his live-in mother-in-law. Things go badly, of course, and the combination of the above elements make this a fun read.


8.)  "Bellringers" - Emily Moore:  Darkly humorous Aesops Fable-esque tale about a physically-assaulted waitress, holiday donations and people in general. Good read.


9.)  "Burnt Wood" - Warren Moore:  A cowboy, after a long desert ride, spends the night in a Old Western town (Burnt Wood, Colorado) and finds that everything he has been led to believe about this town is wrong.

Moore takes what would be an Amateur Hour Cliché in lesser hands and turns it into an effective twist that makes this story memorable, when combined with its smart, humane finish. I enjoyed this story a lot.



Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Grim Detail by Henry Rollins


(oversized pb; 2014: nonfiction / memoir)


From the back cover:

"A Grim Detail shoulders the anchor, drags it onward from the end of 2008 and then hurls into the ground in 2010. A world tour, two documentaries and journeys that include North Korea, South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia and many others are contained herein. 'Oh no, not another one!' was said or implied by almost everyone involved in the making of this book. Actually, no -- it was all of us. After three on and off years of proofreading and editing, A Grim Detail became the kid no one wanted to play with. Don't laugh. I was that kid, and I am this book, well, you know what I mean.

"But then, in the early days of 2014, work on A Grim Detail concluded. The relief was total, the contempt incalculable, the ridicule to come, too painful too imagine.

"Now, the damn thing is all yours.

"Have a good cringe and thank you for everything.
" - Henry Rollins"


Review:

Blunt, funny, angry and admirable in it intent, Grim is an intense, kick-in-the-brain journal read. Anyone who's familiar with Rollins' media-diverse and prolific work may find themselves nodding to themselves and thinking I remember him talking about that, and those readers who aren't familiar with his work (and aren't angry about his tough-minded, global-political mindset) may find themselves jolted into a new way of thinking.

Rollins' work is at times heartbreaking: he visits the site of the 1984 Bhopal Disaster (which happened in Madhya Pradesh, India), Vietnam and other politically and socially "hot" areas that most Westerners -- journalists included -- aren't visiting, to see first-hand the effects of these disasters, how it's affected those who were there (as well as their descendants). Other countries he visited are written about in a lighter tone.

Of course, as with all Rollins' work, there's a bit of self-deprecation, outrage (a pivotal event in his life is the unsolved 1991 murder of his friend Joe Cole) and the struggle for clarity -- social and personal -- that many of us, underneath all our layers of talk and other bullcrap, also strive for.

I cannot recommend this work enough. While it is not an light read it is a waste-no-words important book that could easily change some lives in a way other Western-culture books won't. Own this, already.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Firebreak by Richard Stark


(hb; 2001: twentieth novel in the Parker series)


From the inside flap:

"Parker put down the body and answered the phone. And from that moment on he had two jobs to do. One was to rob a remote Montana lodge where a dot-com billionaire hid stolen art treasures in his basement. The other was to find out why a hitman had come to Parker's home -- and who had sent him. Parker couldn't do one job if he didn't finish the other.

"The master thief wasn't the only one in his crew with scores to settle. Recently released from prison, Lloyd is the brains behind the Montana heist, the only guy who can crack the lodge's alarm system. But Lloyd had a quarrel with some former partners -- and a temper. And when he explodes, and shoots a guy through the eye, Parker just happens to be by his side.

"Now Parker and his would-be partner are both cutting swaths of destruction on their way to Montana. With broken bodies and broken promises piling up behind them, one question remains: is there enough room in this heist for both men to come out alive?"


Review:

Warning: possible spoilers in this review.

Parker and his crew have quite a few job-related fires to put out in the twentieth Parker novel. One of those metaphorical fires are two ex-heistmates who may or may not have something to do with a hit that's been put out on Parker (mayhem- and rape-inclined Matt Rosenstein and his partner Paul Brock, from The Sour Lemon Score). Then there's the uncertainty surrounding one of Parker's heistmates, an amateur and socially awkward hacker named Larry Lloyd. Add to this volatile situation a lot of cops and a high-pressure time window that's been placed on this Montana job, and you have another thrilling, fast-paced, cut-to-it and briefly disturbing book in this influential, lean-prosed and often edgy crime series.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Parker novel without at least one Parker confederate in the mix. This time, his confederates are Frank Elkins and Ralph Wiss, last seen in Butcher's Moon.

Like all the Parker novels I have read thus far, Firebreak is worth owning. Followed by Breakout.


Friday, December 19, 2014

I Spit on Your Graves by Boris Vian

 

(pb; 1946, 1998. Introduction -- titled The Dark Side of Boris Vian -- by Mark Lapprand.)

From the back cover:

"Published in Paris in 1946 as a thriller loaded with sex and blood, allegedly censored in the US and 'translated' into French, J'irai cracher sur vos tombes -- I Spit on Your Grave -- was a pure mystification, but also, a direct homage to American literature and movies, by a young author, Boris Vian (1920 - 1959).

"More deeply, it was also a violent attack on racism by a jazz fan who had already befriended many black musicians and was to become the closest French friend of [Duke] Ellington, [Miles] Davis and [Charlie] Parker. . . "



Review:

This hyperbolic pulp-noir genre work is a sometimes fun, way overlong riff on racism, sex and ultra-violent revenge. It is the fevered imaginings of a Frenchman writing about a country he had never actually visited.

Most of the book is comprised of Lee Anderson's first-person point of view, while he gets "revenge" on the white race by bedding every young woman he meets (according to Anderson, every white woman is a slut, just asking for rough sex), fooling those around him into thinking he's white (although he is a half-"Negro" who "passes" for white) by partying with them. At one point, he and a friend rape two twelve-year old children, who -- curiously -- are "Negroes" themselves.  (Yes, this is a morally icky book, written, as noted in the back cover description, as an "homage" to the American pulp novels and noir Vian loved.)

 The sex -- more euphemistic than explicit -- occasionally spills over into explicitness, especially near the nerve-jangling finish when Anderson achieves his ultimate, lust-murderous revenge on the white race with two women.

Spit isn't a terrible book, but it is considerably longer than it needs to be. If you can get past the hundred plus pages of Anderson's theme-repetitive rants about race, partying and sex, it might be interesting. If you can't, don't pick it up.

#

The film version of J'irai cracher sur vos tombes was released in France on June 26, 1959. (Note that imdb has erroneously listed it under the title I Spit on Your Grave when it is supposed to be I Spit on Your Graves.) 

Michel Gast directed the film from a screenplay by Boris Vian (the book's author) and Jacques Dupagne. The film's credits do not cite Vian's novel as the film's source material.  According to many sources, Vian hated the film so much he died of a heart attack while standing up to denounce it at its first screening. (This appears to be true.)

Christian Marquand played Joe Grant (cinematic stand-in for Lee Anderson). Antonella Lualdi played Lizbeth Shannon. Ferdinand Ledoux played Horace Chandley. Renate Ewert played Sylvia Shannon. Marina Petrova, billed as Marina Petrowa, played Sheila. Daniel Cauchy played Sonny. Catherine Fonteney played Virginia Shannon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

**My latest poetry anthology, Mondo febrifuge: omnibus poems, was published today



I just published my second of two books this year - Mondo febrifuge: omnibus poems, which mixes older previous published (and reworked) mainstream verses with quite a few newer works penned within the past two years.

The poems are, per my usual style, rough and tumble free verse works that detail a tumultuous youth dealing with my own fictionalized dumbassery and growing up, a journey infused with the loving, often raw elements of familial discontent, religion, sex, horror films, heavy metal, nature (read: animals) and living in northern California and eastern Washington state.  While these poems are mainstream, many of them would sport hard R-ratings if they were films subjected to the MPAA film board.

Like Welcome to Horrorsex County: microstories, published earlier this autumn, it's a personal milestone book - a way for me to officially bid farewell to one phase of my writing and move onto the next, whatever its final form takes.

 Feel free to click on the above links if you (or anyone you know) would be interested in picking up the aforementioned books. They cost $9 or less (+s/h) apiece, and thanks for the support!


 (back cover of Mondo febrifuge)


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Flashfire by Richard Stark


(pb; 2000: nineteenth novel in the Parker series. Foreword by Terry Teachout.)

From the back cover:

"Parker hobnobs with the excessively monied citizens of West Palm Beach while impersonating a Texan oilman looking to buy property. The true object of his affection is a twelve-million-dollar stash of jewels that he aims to steal from under the noses of a hundred socialites, a hit man, and six other thieves who have an unhealthy love of explosions. When things go sour, Parker finds himself shot and trapped -- and forced to rely on a civilian to survive."


Review:

When three fellow heisters (Boyd Melander, Hal Carlson and Jerry Ross) cheat Parker out of his money, Parker follows them to Palm Beach, where he hopes to recoup his cash -- with interest -- from them.

Further complications arise when he's at the wrong place at the wrong time, resulting in a hit being put out on him, and a blond real estate agent takes interest in Parker, a.k.a. Daniel Parmitt, who doesn't strike her as a typical client.

Stark's writing is pulp icy, blunt and intense (character- and action-wise), his usual style. Tom Hurley, last seen in Butcher's Moon, also makes a brief "appearance" (he is heard on the phone) in this difficult-to-put-down thriller.

Worth owning, this. Followed by Firebreak.

#

Flashfire inspired the 2013 film Parker, which was released stateside on January 25, 2013. Taylor Hackford directed the film from a script by John J. McLaughlin.

Jason Statham played Parker. Jennifer Lopez played Leslie Rodgers (cinematic stand-in for Leslie Mackenzie). Emma Booth played Claire. Nick Nolte played Hurley.

Michael Chiklis played Melander. Wendell Pierce played Carlson. Clifton Collins Jr. played Ross. Carlos Carrasco played Norte.

Bobby Cannavale played Jake Fernandez. Patti LuPone played Ascension.

Micah Hauptman, billed as Micah A. Hauptman, played August Hardwicke. Kirk Baltz played Bobby Hardwicke. Mike Watson played "Sheriff on Boat". Rio Hackford, son of director Taylor Hackford, played Oliver.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Mind is a Razorblade by Max Booth III

 
(pb; 2014)
 
From the back cover:
 
"Drowning, he wakes besides two corpses. His memory has been wiped clean. He doesn't know his name, what he's doing here, who these people are or even why one of them is a cop. Nor can he explain his strange telekinetic abilities.
 
"Questions plague his mind like hellfire, questions that begin a journey leading into the rot of downtown America, a journey that will not end until every one of his questions have been answered, despite who has to die in the process. Even if those who have all the answers aren't human."
 
 
Review:
 
Mind is an excellent, heady genre blender of a novel, bringing together quirky humor, science fiction, horror and pulp-noir. Some of its twisty elements and revelations, taken singly, are familiar, but Booth's pulp-to-the-marrow, fast-paced and character-relatable writing makes this surprisingly warm-toned word stew come off as a fresh, often laugh-out-loud read that's worth owning. Get this, already.
 
 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Backflash by Richard Stark


(hb; 1998: eighteenth novel in the Parker series)

From the inside flap:

"It's not in Parker's nature to gamble; he steals instead. So when it comes to ripping off a big fat floating gambling casino on the Hudson River, Parker leaves nothing to chance. From the phony politician to the getaway boat, from bringing the guns on board to getting the money off. Parker has it all planned out. There are only a few little problems. . .

"The guy who tipped off Parker in the first place is a bureaucrat who has a moral streak - or a yellow streak - plus a story that doesn't quite add up. The guy who's steering the getaway boat has some unsavory friends who happen to have plenty of guns. And a reporter on the casino has enough sense to know that something on this cruise isn't quite right.

"Suddenly Parker's surefire plan is blowing up like fireworks on the Fourth - only these bangs make people dead. Now with his luck going south and no one left to trust but himself, Parker will do what he does best: punch, claw and kill his way out of the night."


Review:

As Parker heists go, this is a relatively smooth one, meaning: there are a few character-based complications and a betrayal or two, but they are relatively minor -- this translates into a lighter-in-tone-than-usual Parker novel. (The writing is still sharp, concise and ruthless, of course, because this is a Stark work.)

Joining Parker this time around are a few series-familiar, distinctive faces: Lou Sternberg and Noelle Braselle from The Mourner, and Dan Wycza and Mike Carlow from Butcher's Moon. These returning characters add an almost-chummy feel to Backflash's thievery as well as its trifling post-heist bumps.

Like all the preceding Parker novels, this is worth owning.

Followed by Flashfire.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Magnificent Wilf by Gordon R. Dickson


(pb; 1995)

From the back cover:

"When Earth is contacted by galactic civilization, our heroic couplet - diplomat Tom Parent, and his linguist wife, Lucy - prove  themselves to be just the pair to tour the galaxy representing Earth and learning the whys and wherefores of galactic civilization. There's only one tiny catch to this grand tour - on Tom and Lucy's performance hinges on our acceptance by the rest of the galaxy as a civilized world rather than as a ward of some more 'advanced' species. (You don't want Earth to become a galactic ward.) In the normal run of events this would be fine, because Tom and Lucy are the kind of folks any race might be proud to have represent them. The trouble is that while Tom is a regular fellow, Lucy is - or may be - a Wilf. And Magnificent or not, you know what that means. . ."


Review:

Magnificent is a clever, laugh-out-loud funny lark of a science fiction novel that builds on its episodic, character- and action-thrilling events. While the stakes are life-or-death high for Tom, Lucy, Rex (their dog) and this galaxy's alien races, Dickson maintains a frolicking feel throughout this superb and character-twisty work. This is one of my favorite reads in any genre, perhaps even an all-time favorite read. This is a book worth owning.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Feral by Berton Roueché


(pb; 1974, 1983: novella)

From the back cover:

"Jack and Amy's fear was turning to primal terror. Like cornered prey, they cowered in their house, the dark woods howling with shrieks out of hell. From every side. . . came the eyes. Hundreds and hundreds of fixed, glaring eyes gone wild with ravenous hunger. . .

"Jack and Amy had loved the isolation of their cedar-shingled home by the ocean. Far from their city, they had found the peace and quiet of unspoiled nature. Not a neighbor in sight.

"Now they were watching the death throes of the policeman sent out to rescue them. Watching, transfixed by horror, as the writhing mass of shredded human flesh sank screaming into a snarling frenzy of dripping teeth and claws."


Review:

Bland and predictable 124-page entry in the nature-gone-wild horror genre. Feral isn't badly written, but there's nothing in this novella that you haven't read before in better versions of this storyline. The characters are cardboard, the author's slow-build-into-terror runs too long and lengthwise, this should have been a short story.

Near the end, there are a few suspenseful moments, which made Feral an almost-worthwhile fast-moving afternoon read (I read it in forty-five minutes), but not quite. Don't even borrow this from the library.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Comeback by Richard Stark


(hb; 1997: seventeenth novel in the Parker series)

From the back cover:

"The heist went down while the people prayed. An angel walked with sagging shoulders - he was Parker's inside man, dressed in wings and robes and destined to be a problem. An hour later, Parker, [George] Liss, and [Ed] Mackey were out in the shimmering heat of a stadium parking lot with four duffel bags full of cash. Then the double cross began.

"Now the half-million-dollar robbery of a Christian crusade is drawing a crowd of cops, crooks and the evangelist's own unrelenting security man, a tough ex-Marine who trusts nobody and nothing. What began at a gathering of the faithful has moved into the realm of night. Here every move has a countermove, every man is on his own, and every lie leads to the deadliest moments of truth."


Review:

Comeback is an excellent, hard-to-set-down crime thriller with lots of action, plot twists, colorful characters and lean 'n' mean writing that is Stark's trademark style. Great series, all of the books in this series thus far are worth owning.

Followed by Backflash.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

**Peter Baltensperger's microstory All For The Pain was published in Black Heart Magazine

Peter Baltensperger, whose Nocturnal Tableaux* graced the Microstory A Week site in October 2012, has had another microstory published: All For The Pain, on the Black Heart Magazine site.

Pain details the emotions and sensations of a writer (Silas Connor) in the future and his struggles to deal with the burdens technological improvement has wrought upon him and those around him. Fans of Baltensperger's past works and speculative fiction should check out this gem of a microstory.

#

*Nocturnal Tableaux also appears in Baltensperger's story/vignette anthology Inside from the Outside.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Splatterpunks II: Over the Edge edited by Paul M. Sammon


(pb; 1995: horror anthology)


Overall review:

Excellent, gory horror anthology. Of course, in a work featuring twenty-eight stories, there are bound to be a few stories I don't care for, but that is due to personal preferences regarding writing tenses, overwriting and other (relatively minor) issues. If you're a horror/gore fan, get this collection.


Standout stories:

1.)  "Accident d'Amour" - Wildy Petoud: Excellent, witty, cut-to-it tale about a woman's literally sick vengeance against an ex-lover. Memorable, vivid.



2.)  "Impermanent Mercies" - Kathe Koja:  A callous photographer (Ellis) witnesses an accident involving a little boy (Andy) and his unlucky dog (True). Bizarre, disturbing (for animal lovers) and excellent work.



3.)  "One Flesh: A Cautionary Tale" - Robert Devereaux:  Multi-layered, horrific and laugh-out-loud clever story about the conjoined reincarnation of a son and father and all the tragedies that stem from it. Great work, with a chuckle-worthy finish.



4.)  "Rant" - Nancy A. Collins:  A divine white supremacist being with conspiratorial leanings tells the tale of his undoing. Darkly hilarious and chilling (his rhetoric is disturbingly media realistic) piece.



5.)  "Heels" - Lucy Taylor:  A shoe fetishist-turned-serial killer (Theo) meets a woman (Jules) whose sexual predilections impact his own. Blunt read with concise and masterful explanations for why Theo and Jules are the way they are.

The resulting film short was released stateside on August 2, 2014. Jeremy Jantz scripted and directed it. Brian Adrian Koch played Theo. Julia Angelo played Felicia.



6.)  "Scape-Goats" - Clive Barker:  Two couples on an island-crashed sailboat quickly recognize that there's something wrong about the rocky mass their boat is abutting.

Atmospheric, solid read with an interesting island backstory.


"Scape-Goats" also appeared in the single-author anthology Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Three.



7.)  "Cannibal Cats Come Out At Night" - Nancy Holder:  Two cannibals (Dwight and Angelo) who are also best friends approach a crossroads event which may undo their bond of amity. While the event itself isn't surprising, there is a well-foreshadowed twist to it, making this exemplary, fast-moving story even better.



8.)  "Embers" - Brian Hodge:  Entertaining, good read about an arsonist-for-hire (Mykel) whose reaction to a shocking, personal tragedy drives him to revenge.



9.)  "Xenophobia" - Poppy Z. Brite: Two Goths roaming through Chinatown find themselves working an unexpected, morbid job. Brite's deft writing keeps this dark-hued morality tale humorous and fresh.



10.)  "Calling Dr. Satan: An Interview with Anton Szandor LaVey"  - Jim Goad: Interesting, philosophical and provocative (in a productive way) conversation between Anton and Bianca LaVey and the author.



11.)  "Within You, Without You" - Paul M. Sammon:  A post-gig campfire hang-out with her favorite industrial-noise band (Detour) leads Reba down heady and dangerous by-ways.

The direction and ending of the story aren't surprising (nor are they meant to be). Sammon's worthwhile writing - with its theme-appropriate media-savvy references - renders the destination less important. This one is about experience.

#

Please note that there are authors whose names are labelled at the bottom of this post but they are not actually mentioned in the review. This is because they have work published in this anthology but their work (in this instance), for one reason or another, didn't stand out for me. (This is not necessarily a criticism of their works.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille


(pb; 1928, 1977, 1987: erotic novella. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel.)


From the back cover:

"In 1928, Georges Bataille published under a pseudonym [Lord Auch] this first novel. . . [which] uncovers the dark side of the erotic by means of forbidden, obsessive fantasies of excess and sexual extremes. . . Story of the Eye finds parallels in Sade and Nietzsche and in the investigations of contemporary psychology; it also forecasts Bataille's own theories of ecstasy, death and transgression which he developed in later work."


Review:

Fearless, giddy, lust- and death-surreal 85-page novella that is one of the most vivid and cinematically visual works I have read in a long time. Obviously, those with sensitive and religious sensibilities and/or an aversion to violent writing should not even consider picking this book up. Excellent, landmark sex-and-death psychological work - worth owning, this.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NightWhere by John Everson


(pb; 2012)

From the back cover:

"When Rae broached the idea of visiting an underground sex club, Mark didn't blink. He should have. Because NightWhere is not your usual swingers club. Where it's held on any given night. . . only those who receive invitations know. Soon Rae is indulging her lust for pain. And Mark is warned by a beautiful stranger to take his wife away before it's too late.

"But it's already too late. Because Rae hasn't come home. Now Mark is in a race against time - to find NightWhere again and save his wife from the mysterious Watchers who run the club. To stop her from taking that last step through the degradations of The Red into the ultimate BDSM promise of The Black. More than just their marriage and her life is at stake: Rae is in danger of losing her soul."


Review:

Everson seamlessly melds agony and pleasure in this ultra-vivid, sex- and horror-graphic work. I had one minor nit with NightWhere at Chapter 26 where one of the main characters abruptly goes from being smart to becoming Plot Convenient Stupid by reversing a wise decision - a declaration - he had made a few pages prior. This forced set-up is a minor nit, one Everson to his credit tries to explain as a foible of human nature.

Most readers (I'm an editor and writer) probably won't be bothered by my aforementioned nit and Everson's writing is, as always, worth reading - and, in this case, worth owning.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith


(hb; 1954)

From the back cover:

"For two years, Walter Stackhouse has been a faithful and supportive husband to his wife, Clara. She is distant and neurotic, and Walter finds himself harboring gruesome fantasies about her demise. When Clara's dead body turns up at the bottom of a cliff in a manner uncannily resembling the recent death of a woman named Helen Kimmel who was murdered by her husband, Walter finds himself under intense scrutiny. He commits several blunders that claim his career and his reputation, cost him his friends and eventually threaten his life. . ."


Review:

Blunderer is a good, intense thriller where Highsmith's trademark panicky murder suspect (a spineless Walter Stackhouse) encounters a self-assured killer (Melchior Kimmel), as well as a blunt, relentless cop (Detective Corby) who is bent on breaking both of them even - especially - if it kills them. Worth owning, this.

#

One film has resulted from this novel; another is forthcoming.

The first cinematic version is titled Enough Rope. It was filmed in 1963 and released stateside on July 14, 1966. Claude Autant-Lara directed it, from a screenplay by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost.

Maurice Ronet played Walter Saccard (cinematic stand-in for Walter Stackhouse). Yvonne Furneaux played Clara Saccard (cinematic stand-in for Clara Stackhouse). Gert Fröbe played Melchior Kimmel. Marina Vlady played Ellie. Robert Hossein played Corbie. Harry Meyen played Tony.

#

The forthcoming second film, titled The Blunderer, is being directed by Andy Godard. Susan Boyd wrote the script.

These actors - whose roles are not listed on imdb.com - appear in the film: Imogen Poots, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Toby Jones, Haley Bennett and Eddie Marsan.

Jennifer Enskat plays Mrs. Philpott.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin


(hb; 2014: Book One of the Earthend Saga)

From the inside flap:

"The daughter of India's ambassador to the United Nations starts speaking in tongues and having violent visions. A young Haitian girl claws at her throat, apparently drowning on dry land.  An Iranian boy suddenly sets himself on fire.

"Called to treat the ambassador's daughter, renown child psychologist Caitlin O'Hara is sure that Maanik's fits have something to do with the recent assassination attempt on her father - a shooting that has escalated nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan - but when teenagers around the world start having similar outbursts, Caitlin is forced to consider that a more sinister force is at work.

"Caitlin must now race across the globe to identify the links connecting these bizarre incidents in order to save Maanik - whose soul might be in peril - and perhaps the world."


Review:

Vision is a solid, well-written - if slow-build - set-up novel for Anderson and Rovin's science and speculative- iction storyline. The writing is concise, vivid and highly visualized (making it television miniseries-friendly, should someone decide to adapt it), and the characters and the concepts are interesting. This is a promising start to Anderson and Rovin's future serial work.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Butcher's Moon by Richard Stark


(pb; 1974, 2011: sixteenth novel in the Parker series.  Introduction by Lawrence Block.)

From the back cover:

"Parker's back in town where he lost his money, and nearly his life, in Slayground. He wants his money back and he's willing to call in a career's worth of favors - and drop a career's worth of bodies - to get it. Even if it means starting a gang war."


Review:

Butcher's is the wrap-up novel of the "first cycle" of Stark's Parker novels (he wouldn't publish another one until 1997, twenty-five years later).  It is a great early summary work that not only recalls the structure and storyline of the first Parker novel (The Hunter) but updates it by reworking and updating those elements with characters Parker has met throughout the previous fifteen books - particularly Slayground, Plunder Squad, The Green Eagle Score, The Outfit and The Score, among others.

This series is easily one of the best series - in any genre - that I have read in my forty-plus years as a reader. Do yourself a favor (if you're a fan of taut, waste-no-words crime writing) and read these books, preferably in order.

Followed by Comeback.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Black by Max Booth III


(pb; 2013: novella)

From the back cover:

"Black: A Novella A horrific Western tale of a gunfighter cursed with unwanted immortality. It's one thing to make a deal with the Devil; it's another when the deal is made for you."


Review:

Black is a horror-and-action gory, stripped-to-its-genre-core, thoroughly entertaining and perversely humorous sixty-three page Western with a sympathetic (if violent) protagonist. Excellent read, worth owning.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dark Corners (Fall 2014 issue) edited by CT McNeely, Emily McNeely and Steve Gallagher


(pb; pulp fiction magazine/anthology: Fall 2014, Vol. 1 Issue 1)

Overall review:

Excellent two hundred and fifty-nine-page anthology that got published as a pulp magazine - it's got a bit of everything for lovers of this genre: stories, novella segments, book reviews and author interviews. While not all of the thirty-seven pieces struck me as wonderful - there were a few, disappointments I chalk up to my personal preferences - I could see why the McNeelys and Gallagher published them. If future issues of this magazine-anthology are this exceptional and gut-punch effective, this will be a read-every-issue publication.


Standout works:

1.)  "Company Man" - Tom Pitts:  A hit man (Jerry) offers to show a new-to-crime associate (Rico) an imaginative way to do a job.  Well-written, effective finish.


2.)  "Short and Choppy" - Will Viharo:  Grisly, sexually explicit and brutal story about a dwarf (Cameron) whose hatred for his writing teacher (Sean) and lust for Sean's wife (Sabrina) leads Cameron toward some fantastically violent actions.  Excellent, black-hearted and noirish laugh-out-loud tale.



3.)  "Domestic Tableau" - Warren Moore:  An adolescent's life of crime and drug addiction place him and his family in desperate and dangerous situations.  There are some nice twists at the end, with a clever, theme-appropriate mention of the band Queensrÿche as a story-layer element (for those familiar with their early-to-mid-career music).
 



4.)  "The Husband Killers" - Deborah Lacy: During the live taping of a popular morning show, a man dies on camera, the apparent victim of poisoning.  Detective Jocelyn Reed, at the scene of the crime, has to weed out the killer or killers from a large group of people - most of whom have sufficient motives to want the man dead.  This is a good, attention-holding read.


5.)  "Adele" - Vito Racanelli: Immediately involving tale about a cop (Sommers) who stabs his cleaver-slashing wife (Adele) in self-defense while the only witness - her latest lover, a junkie - escapes. Now, Sommers must track down the junkie before Sommers gets sent to prison. There aren't a lot of surprises in "Adele," but it's well-written. 


6.)  "Next to Nothing" - Sam Wiebe: A private investigator (John Wakeland) tries to talk down an old acquaintance (Mr. Jacks) after Jacks - grieving for his dead son, Wakeland's friend - gets violent with sharp objects in his motel room.

Excellent, memorable, horrific and humane (if bleak) work, one that sensitive animal lovers might want to skip.


7.)  "The Natanhala Kidnapping" - Gary L. Robbe:  Disturbing, effective story about old friends who resurrect an outdated ritual of kidnapping each other on their honeymoons - only this time, the ritual goes south in an irrevocable way. 


8.)  "Off, Park and Up" - Martin Zeigler:  An OCD-addled, cineaste encounters agitating delays on his all-important "Movie Day." Laugh out loud funny (in a dark way, of course), tone-effective work.


9.)  "Will Viharo: Unsung Hero of the Pulps" (article) - CT McNeely:  Excellent, succinct overview of, and appreciation for, Viharo's work and his in-the-flesh contributions to the pulp and cinematic genres. A man of many talents, Viharo deserves to be recognized for what he's done and this is a worthy salute to the man.


10.)  "John D. MacDonald's The Executioners" (book review) - Reviewed by Dyer Wilk:  MacDonald's 1957 novel, which brought into being two films, both titled Cape Fear (one in 1962, the other - a remake - in 1991) gets its worthwhile due once again.  Good, smart review.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark


(pb; 1971, 2006: fourth novel in the Alan Grofeld series)

From the back cover:

"When he's not pulling heists with his friend Parker, Alan Grofeld runs a small theater in Indiana.  But putting on shows costs money and jobs have been thin, which is why Grofeld agrees to listen to Andrew Myers' plan to knock over a brewery.  Unfortunately, Myers' plan is insane - so Grofeld walks out on him.  And you don't walk out on Myers."


Review:

Lemons is a distinctive - and, along with The Blackbird, one of the best books - in the Alan Grofeld series. What sets Lemons apart from the three previous Grofeld entries is that it also shows Grofeld interacting with his supportive and easygoing wife, Mary (last seen in the Parker novel The Score). When he's with Mary, he's not nearly as caustic or wise-cracking as he is when he's working as a heistman; this shift in personality makes him even more likeable. Even when a murderous amateur (Andrew Myers) forces Grofeld into a tiresome endeavor - getting revenge on Myers, and hopefully some much-needed cash while doing so - Grofeld is tender and loving with his wife, in a way he isn't with his occasional, extramarital women or those he encounters in his criminal works.

This being a Stark novel, there's no wasted words, the action is swift and smart, the characters' core personalities are deftly sketched out and the ending is edgy and memorable - this time with an added amiability, as this is a Grofeld story.

Excellent, hard-to-put-down conclusion to a standout series. Worth owning, these books.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk


(hb; 2014)

From the inside flap:

"Penny Harrigan is a low-level assistant in a big Manhattan law firm who has an apartment in Queens and no love life at all. So it comes as a great shock when she finds herself invited to dinner by one C. Linus Maxwell, a.k.a. 'Climax-Well,' a software megabillionaire and lover of the most gorgeous and accomplished women on earth. After taking her to dinner at Manhattan's most exclusive restaurant, he whisks Penny off to a hotel suite in Paris, where he proceeds, notebook in hand, to bring her to previously undreamed-of heights of orgasmic pleasure for days on end. What's not to like?

"This: Penny discovers she is a test subject for the final development of a line of sex toys to be marketed in a nationwide chain of boutiques called Beautiful You. So potent and effective are these devices that women by the millions line up outside stores on opening day and then lock themselves in their rooms with them and stop coming out. Except for batteries. Maxwell's plan for the erotically enabled world domination must be stopped. But how?"


Review:

Beautiful is an excellent, bleakly hilarious satire - a fictional reality that reads like real life in an exaggerated way.  Its journalistic tone is analytical, almost chilling, with touches of perverse, risible humor in the first quarter of the novel (a trademark of Palahniuk's work); after that, as all the plot-puzzle pieces begin to fall into place at the right time (for reader like myself), it's a warmer-in-tone rollercoaster ride for Penny - Beautiful's determined but frazzled protagonist - who is trying to gather information with which to defeat her ever-present and seemingly unstoppable ex-sexmate (to call Maxwell her lover would be tonally incorrect).

Readers who are familiar with Palahniuk's writing will likely spot some of his well-foreshadowed, necessary and theme-centric twists.  (This is not a criticism, of course.)  These twists, along with the ones that surprise and further delight, make Beautiful an effective work that amuses, otherwise entertains and rips into mindless pop culture and its resulting mindset with savage aplomb.  Worth owning, this.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dead Skip by Joe Gores


(pb; 1972: first novel in the DKA File series.  Loosely linked crossover novel with Richard Stark's novel Plunder Squad.)

From the back cover:

"Ballard had 72 hours to find out who attacked his partner, Bart Heslip. Bart was no help.  He was in the hospital, in a coma; his woman was doing a slow burn by his side. Now Ballard was racing around in the frayed edges of Oakland and San Francisco tracing down deadbeats.  A lush stripper, an embezzler and an ex-con all had repo'd cars in common.  Did they also share a murder? With the clock ticking away like Bart Heslip's heartbeat, Ballard was up against a dead skip, a blank wall. Then Ballard's boss, Dan Kearny, jumped into the hunt, loving every minute of it - and hurtling them both toward the pointed barrel of a gun."


Review:

Dead is a fun, fast-moving and P.I.-gritty novel that features the East Bay and San Francisco area, written with feels-like-you're-there detailed effectiveness.  Good book for a lazy autumn afternoon read, worth owning.  Followed by Final Notice.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Plunder Squad by Richard Stark


(pb; 1972, 2010: fifteenth novel in the Parker series.  Introduction by Charles Ardai.  Loosely linked crossover novel with Joe Gores' novel Dead Skip.)


From the back cover:

" 'Hearing the click behind him, Parker threw his glass straight back over his right shoulder, and dove off his chair to the left.' When a job looks like amateur hour, Parker walks away. But even a squad of seasoned professionals can't guarantee against human error in a high-risk scam. Can an art dealer with issues unload a truck of paintings with Parker's aid? Or will the heist end up too much of a human interest story, as luck runs out before Parker can get in on the score?"


Review:

Plunder is another favorite-for-this-reader entry in Stark's Parker series.  It not only varies up the usual Parker storyline in a taut and thrilling way, it brings together familiar faces from previous novels in this series: Ed Mackey, one of Parker's cheerful semi-regular heistmates; Dan Kearny*, a P.I. who crossed paths with Parker prior to the main storyline of The Hunter; George Uhl, a murderous thug Parker encountered in The Sour Lemon Score; Stan Devers, whose work with Parker in The Green Eagle Score led to Devers' expulsion from the ROTC and his subsequent life of crime; and, of course, Handy McKay, a ex-Parker-heistmate-now-diner-owner in Presque, Maine who serves as Parker's "contact man" for jobs.

Plunder, like the preceding Parker novels, is an excellent read, one worth owning.

Followed by Butcher's Moon.


[*Dan Kearny is the main character in Joe Gores' DKA Files series.]

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith


(pb; 1964)

From the back cover:

"Athens, 1962. Rydal Keener is an American expat working as a tour guide and running cons on the side. He is mostly killing time, searching for adventure. But in Chester MacFarland, a charismatic American businessman, and his flirtatious and beautiful young wife, Colette, Rydal finds more than he bargained for. After an incident at a hotel puts the wealthy couple in danger, Rydal ties his fate to theirs. He's compromised. Events spin out of control, and infatuation and sexual tension mount among the dangerous triangle. . ."


Review:

January is a good, mostly suspenseful book whose effective plot twists are brought into being by its key characters' emotions and actions. American readers, used to the black-and-white morality of their birth country's crime novels, may be put off by the moral ambiguities of January's sometimes irrational characters and their circumstances - moral ambiguities that are omnipresent in Highsmith's other works, as well. (This is an observation, not a criticism.)

The cat-and-mouse reversals between Rydal and MacFarland run a few chapters longer than they should, resulting in a solid, if almost banal finish that may prove disappointing to readers who prefer that their entertainment end with a climactic bang.

That minor nit aside, this is a worthwhile, mostly enjoyable read from a consistently distinctive and fearless author.

#

This novel has inspired two films.

The first version, Die zwei Gesichter des Januar, was released in West Germany on April 17, 1986. Wolfgang Storch and Gabriela Zerhau co-directed the film from a script penned by Storch and Karl Heinz Willschrei.

This film starred Charles Brauer, Yolanda Jilot and Thomas Schücke, whose roles were not listed on imdb.

#

The second film was released stateside on August 28, 2014. Hossein Amini scripted and directed it.

Viggo Mortensen played Chester MacFarland. Kirsten Dunst played Colette MacFarland. Oscar Isaac played Rydal.

<em>Phantom</em> by Jo Nesbø

(hb;  2011, 2012: ninth novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett .) From the back cover...