Monday, March 13, 2023

Remina by Junji Ito


(hb; 2005: manga)

From the back cover

“An unknown planet emerges from inside a wormhole, and its discoverer, Dr. Oguro, christens the body ‘Remina’ after his own daughter. His finding is met with great fanfare, and Remina herself rises to fame. However, the object picks up speed as it moves along its curious course, eliminating planets and stars one after another, until finally Earth itself faces extinction.  . . Is the girl Remina the true cause of the catastrophe?”



This one-book for-mature-readers horrific science fiction manga series is excellent, gripping, its intense characters (and their actions) and storyline made more so by its stellar and disturbing artwork that highlights the escalating madness of humanity as they howl with madness, even as the devouring planet’s relentless, coming-ever-closer stare promises undeniable doom. Great read, worth owning.

Dance for the Dead by Thomas Perry


(pb; 1996: second book in the Jane Whitefield series)

From the back cover

“. . . the patron saint of the pursued, a native American guide who specializes in making victims vanish. Calling on the ancient wisdom of the Seneca tribe and her own razor-sharp cunning, she conjures up new identities for people with nowhere left to run. She’s as quick and quiet as freshly fallen snow., and she covers a trail just as completely. But when a calculating killer stalks an innocent eight-year-old boy, Jane faces dangerous obstacles that will put her powers—and her life—to a terrifying test.” 



Dance is a good, swiftly plotted follow-up to Vanishing Act, with Jane taking on incorporated, seemingly omnipresent assassins. The action sequences are fewer in Dance (as are Jane’s Native American introspective thoughts) than in Vanishing, but with its different set-up, same character depth, and overall excellent writing, it’s an action thriller worth seeking. Followed by Shadow Woman.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui


(pb; 1993)

From the back cover

“When the prototype models for a dream-invading device go missing at the Institute for Psychic Research, employees soon learn that someone is using these new machines to drive them all insane. Brilliant psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba—whose alter ego is a dream detective named Paprika—realizes she is in danger. She must venture into the dream world in order to fight her mysterious opponents. Soon nightmares begin to leak into daily life and the borderline between dream and reality grows unclear. The future of the waking world is at stake.”



Paprika is an excellent hybrid science fiction/thriller/horror detective story that blends bleeding-edge technology, eroticism, corporate and scientific malfeasance, religious fervor, hope and darker aspects of human nature. Initially mostly waking-world realistic in its storytelling Paprika gradually, entertainingly slips further into dreason (“dream reason”), sleeping nightmare situations seamlessly mixing with waking-world reality, until it becomes a phantasmagoric-monster orgiastic horror novel, with characters worth rooting for or hissing at. Worth owning, this, especially for fans of Christopher Nolan's 2010 film Inception.


The resulting 2006 fêted Japanese anime feature of the same name was directed and co-scripted by Satoshi Kon. Kon’s fellow screenwriters: source book-author Yasutaka Tsutsui and Seishi Minakami.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Dead-Bang by Ed Naha


(1989: movie tie-in, based on Robert Foster and Jerry Beck’s screenplay)

From the back cover

“Detective Beck thought he’d seen it all, until now.

“A quick stop market on a deserted street. A trigger-happy killer with a strange tattoo. A brutal double-shooting, and a cop murdered.

“It’s more than just a robbery gone awry. For L.A. detective Jerry Beck, it’s the start of a pursuit that will take him halfway across the country—and into the soul of hatred and fear. Where a ruthless army of conspirators would rather die than surrender.

“Based on the real-life experience of a Los Angles homicide detective [Jerry Beck], Dead-Bang is a the exciting story of a dangerous and frightening manhunt. . .”



Dead-Bang is a straightforward, starkly and solidly written mission-bent-rogue-cop pursuing what appears to be questionable case book, in this instance a cop-killer with ties to a conspiracy-minded white supremacy group. It sports an effective twist near the end, making it memorable for a brief second, but otherwise don’t expect too much (aside from a fast, entertaining read) from this movie tie-in novel.

The John Frankenheimer-directed film on which it’s based was released stateside on March 24, 1989. Don Johnson played Det. Jerry Beck.

The Elementals by Michael McDowell


(pb; 1981)

From the back cover

“After a bizarre and disturbing incident at the funeral of matriarch Marian Savage, the McCray and Savage families look forward to a restful and relaxing summer at Beldame, on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, where three Victorian houses rise above the shimmering beach. Two of the houses are habitable, while the third is slowly and mysteriously being buried beneath an enormous dune of blindingly white sand. But though long uninhabited, the third house is not empty. Inside, something deadly lies in wait. Something that has terrified Dauphin Savage and Luker McCray since they were boys, and which still haunts their nightmares. Something horrific that may be responsible for several and unexplained deaths earlier—and now is ready to kill again.”



 Elementals is a masterful, immediately immersive novel, one whose pacing, thick-with-thematic-atmosphere and striking, sometimes fun characters makes it stand out in the best way possible in a genre glutted with less-than-stellar/standard spookhouse works. (It’s a thin line between lag-time writing in serious need of editing and well-foreshadowed/low-key events and chills, and McDowell’s best work falls on the side of the latter approach).

If it ends in a non-surprising, quiet way—it has character-based twists, so I wouldn’t call it predictable—it’s because I got to know the characters and locations well enough to get a sense of their personalities. This is one of my all-time favorite spookhouse reads, one worth owning and keeping beyond its initial reading.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry


(pb; 1995: first book in the Jane Whitefield series)

From the back cover

“Jane Whitefield is a Native American guide who leads people out of the wilderness—not the tree-filled variety but the kind created by enemies who want you dead. She is in the one-woman business of helping the desperate disappear. Thanks to her membership in the Wolf Clan of the Seneca tribe, she can fool any pursuer, cover any trail, and then provide her clients with new identities, complete with authentic paperwork. Jane knows all the tricks, ancient and modern; in fact, she has invented several of them herself.

“So she is only mildly surprised to find an intruder waiting for her when she returns home one day. An ex-cop suspected of embezzling, John Felker wants Jane to do for him what she did for his buddy Harry Kemple: make him vanish. But as Jane opens a door out of the world for Felker, she walks into a trap that will take all her heritage and cunning to escape.”



Vanishing is an excellent thriller, one of the best works I’ve read from Perry thus far. His slick, well-edited action and usual solid characterization is on display, the latter taken to a new level through a touch of mysticism and his deep-dive, main-protagonist’s knowledge of her multi-tribal-integral knowledge of her peoples’ history, practices and skills (thus making Vanishing an edutaining and effectively heartfelt-but-not-sappy read). Standout novel from a standout writer, worth owning. Followed by Dance for the Dead.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

American Neo-Noir: the movie never ends by Alain Silver and James Ursini


(oversized pb; 2015: nonfiction)

From the back cover

“After scores of books and commentaries on film noir and its classic period, experts Alain Silver and James Ursini turn their full attention to neo-noir—the self-conscious, occasionally mannered, sometimes ersatz, and often surprising genre that sprang from the original movement. This volume surveys the full breadth of American neo-noir—its style and substance, its evolution over succeeding generations of filmmakers from activist through post-modern to millennial and onward—with extensive illustrations, black-and-white and full color, that capture the genre’s dramatic and visual essence.”



American is a great entry in neo-noir nonfiction in that it functions as an educational, sometimes entertaining primer for those unfamiliar with the genre and as an entertaining read, possibly reminder, for those already well-versed in its plays of shadow and light. If Silver and Ursini sometimes come off as cinematic snobs in their tastes (they especially disparage, with moralistic zeal, Brian DePalma and his work), it’s almost something to be expected from critics and not people who’ve created anything (fictional) worth noting—I don’t write this to be mean, but as something for readers to be aware of. I give them credit for their often on-target takes and focused, narrowly defined analyses, but every viewer has their filmic opinions, so don’t let theirs compel you to avoid certain filmmakers’ works just because Silver and Ursini don’t like them. Worth reading, this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Raylan Goes to Detroit by Peter Leonard


(hb; 2018: fourth book in the Raylan Givens series)

From the inside flap

Plato o plomo. These are the last words Special Agent Frank Tyner hears before getting dealt the business end of a .22 Sport King, a gift from known drug trafficker and murderer, Jose Rindo. Nora Sanchez, to track down Rindo and bring him to justice before he slips across the Mexican border. Further complicating things, she’s got some unwanted help from the US Marshall fugitive task force—the kind that’s quick on the trigger and always shoots to kill—in the form of recently reassigned Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens. The duo follows Rindo’s bloody trail through the dusty plains of the Midwest, across the deserts of Arizona and El Centro, and deep into the heart of Mexico.”



Set a few years after the events of the show Justified (2010-15) Peter Leonard’s Detroit maintains the same burn-through, tightly written, humor-, character- and violence-driven feel of his father’s previous Raylan Givens novels and stories, making this a worthwhile legacy read, one worth checking out.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Metzger's Dog by Thomas Perry


(pb; 1983)

From the back cover

“A soldier of fortune. His cat. His ex-lover. With a clean shot at 10 million.

“All they have to do is read the want ads. Blackmail the CIA. Shut down a major American city.

“And get away with it.”



Metzger’s is a fun, action-punctuated and relatively light-in-tone heist and blackmail tale, one that sports a 1970s-cinematic, semi-loose-in-telling (but always focused and character-centric) feel, especially in comparison with Perry’s four-book, tightly edited Butcher’s Boy series. This touch of the offbeat in this ambitious, animal-friendly heist/ransom story makes Metzger’s and its characters a joy to read (about, particularly Chinese Gordon, a.k.a. Leroy Charles Gordon). Worth owning, this, especially for fans of Charles Willeford and his creative ilk.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

The Folks by Ray Garton


(hb; 2001: novella. Published by Cemetery Dance Publications.)

From the inside flap

“Welcome to Pinecrest, an isolated mountain village halfway up rural Mt. Crag. . . a place of natural beauty and solitude. . . a place where village life has remained unchanged for decades. . . but also a place where dead bodies have a strange way of showing up every couple of years. . . ravaged, mutilated bodies.”



Told from the point of view of polite, non-religious twenty-one-year-old Andy Sayers, whose fire-scarred face scares many of his fellow Pinecrest residents, Folks details what happens when a mysterious benefactor offers Sayers a scholarship to the nearby College of Hand of God, and he’s seduced at a Halloween party by a mysterious, wealthy Amanda Bollinger whose familial, vine-covered house is hidden within neighboring Mt. Crag, hotbed of unyielding Christianity (and the aforementioned college).

Folks’s hybrid horror tropes and set-up may likely be familiar to those longtime genre readers but that’s a moot in point in this Old School 1980s, 130-page novella, given Garton’s excellent, tightly edited play-with-cliches writing, quick-but-effective characterization, and equally effective pacing. For Garton fans, the author’s fondness for well-written (brief in Folks) sex scenes and effective/cringe-worthy ickiness may further sell the tale to them. This is a great, hourlong read, with a finish that brings to mind the ending of King Diamond’s Conspiracy (1989) album. Folks is worth owning if the above description appeals to you.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino


(pb; 2021: movie tie-in)

From the first inside page

“RICK DALTON—Once he had his own TV series, but now Rick’s a washed-up villain-of-the-week drowning his sorrows in whiskey sours. Will a phone call from Rome save his fate or seal it?

“CLIFF BOOTH—Rick’s stunt double, and the most infamous man on any movie set because he’s the only one there who might have gotten away with murder.

“SHARON TATE—She left Texas to chase a movie-star dream and found it. Sharon’s salad days are now spent on Cielo Drive, high in the Hollywood Hills.

“CHARLES MANSON—The ex-con’s got a bunch of zonked-out hippies thinking he’s their spiritual leader, but he’d trade it all to be a rock ‘n’ roll star.




More an expansive, structural rework companion piece to Tarantino’s 2019 character-centric, plot-rambling and world-building filmOnce is best read as a screenplay without a script structure. (When I write “rework” I mean it—e.g., the film’s climactic finish is lacking in the book, mentioned in almost-conversational passing early on. And when I write expansive, that’s equally true of Once, especially when Tarantino details Cliff Booth’s immediate post-WWII years (considering becoming a “man of leisure” in Paris; the details of his stateside homicides, once in Cleveland, the other his wife’s on-boat demise). As with the film, there’s a lot of sly mixing of real-life history and often-wistful, sometimes meta-humored, wish-it-happened Hollywood fantasy.

Mostly, Once works as an alternate-version, well-written book, though Tarantino, true to form, sometimes lets his love of cinema, his characters, and world-building run long (e.g., chapters where he details the plots and characters of his fictional television shows as well as the passages detailing the foreign films that Cliff likes and dislikes).

Once is an impressive, sometimes exasperating (excessive detailing of films and shows) read, one worth checking out, perhaps owning, if you’re looking for something more than the usual, rigid-to-the-film movie tie-in book, and/or a Tarantino fan.