Saturday, November 22, 2014

Joe R. Lansdale: The Thicket

Joe R. Lansdale's The Thicket (2013) is a bit like Cormac McCarthy wrote a novel from a treatment by Robert E. Howard: it's a weird, brutal and merciless story that moves on with the speed of a bullet, set in the desolate wasteland of the early 20th century Texas.

The Thicket is a western that pulls no punches. Everything is dirty and violent, but Lansdale makes the people he writes about come alive. The reader cares for them and really wishes no harm would come to them - and then Lansdale makes the worst happen. The bad guys are really scary. The Thicket is truly a gripping read.

The book loses some of its momentum after the first half, and some of the characters lose their spark a bit (especially prostitute Jimmie Sue, who seems very vibrant at first), but the first half and the climax just before the end is some of the best stuff I've read all year. Can't wait for the movie to come out.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

100 American Crime Writers out - already in 2012!

I hadn't earlier noticed that 100 American Crime Writers, edited by Steven Powell, is out - has been actually already from 2012! The book looks good based on the Google Books page and some blog reviews I came across (here and here, for example). I was mentioned, and still I didn't notice!

I haven't received my contributor's copies, I'll have to get in touch with someone! Wonder if this is still doable. Now if only I'd remember if I wrote something for 100 British Crime Writers - I have a nagging feeling such a book was in the making at the same time...

Here's Steven Powell's interesting crime-oriented blog Venetian Vase.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Everybody Lies out

My newest book, the short story anthology Everybody Lies, is finally out. It's available here - and of course it's in Finnish and the actual title is Kaikki valehtelevat, which is the literal translation of James Reasoner's story in the book.

The book consists of some 20 criminous short stories from writers like Reasoner, Jason Starr, Kevin Wignall, Duane Swierczynski, Vicki Hendricks and Patricia Abbott. All of the stories came previously out in my mags Isku, Ässä and Seikkailukertomuksia (= Adventure Stories), that were self-published pastiches of old-time crime rags. All the translations have been edited and proofread carefully. It's a nice and varied collection of new hardboiled and noir writing, especially since almost none of these writers are available in Finnish at the moment. Most of the stories were translated by me, but some of them were translated by some of my talented friends, namely Antti Autio, Tapani Bagge, Sonja Lahdenranta and Lotta Sonninen. Thanks for them for the big help! 

The beautiful cover was envisioned by a friend of mine, Jenni Jokiniemi, who works as a designer. This was her first book cover, if I understood correctly. I hope to collaborate with her more in the future. 

Here's the table of contents. 

I'm actually doing another collection in the same vein, of the flash fiction stories I published in Ässä. I've been asking for permissions from writers, but not all have responded. If you read this and remember having received an e-mail or a Facebook message from, please do respond! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some sword and sorcery stories: Robert E. Howard, C. L. Moore, Manly Wade Wellman

A week ago I had a feeling I'd like to read something that wasn't work-related in any way. As usual, I had some trouble finding something suitable to read even though I have some 5,000 books in my shelves.

However, I picked up a Finnish anthology of old sword and sorcery stories, mainly from Weird Tales, but also from some other pulp mags. The book is called Mustan jumalan suudelma AKA Black God's Kiss after the story by C. L. Moore in the book. Of the stories I read, Moore's was the best. It's full of surreal images and still it moves with a breakneck pace. Very beautiful and thrilling. The story came out first in Weird Tales in 1934.

The other stories I read were Robert E. Howard's novella-length "The Black Stranger" (1934-1935, unpublished in Howard's life-time, published in 1953 in abridged form and in 1987 in original form) and Manly Wade Wellman's "Thunder in the Dawn" (Amazing Stories 1939). Wellman's story was a bit slow and dated, I didn't feel the thrill of adventure in this, even though the premise is pretty good: a stone age warrior is really the Hercules of the Greek lore and is the cause of Atlantis sinking in the ocean. Howard's story pits Conan against some pirates and settlers, in the story everyone deceives one and another. It's a great read, though I still preferred C. L. Moore.

The striking cover in the book was drawn by Jukka Murtosaari, a friend of mine, who's studied classical American illustration art for decades now - and it clearly shows. The editor of the book is one Markku Sadelehto, who's done a good day's work bringing American pulp fiction to Finnish readers, as he's edited tons of anthologies for different publishers for over 20 years now. His magnum opus is the edition of the collected stories of H. P. Lovecraft. The sixth and final volume came out just two months ago.

Alas, I didn't have time to read more of the stories from the book. I've read this when it came out some 20 years ago, but don't remember much of it.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Laura Lippman: The Innocents

I was looking for something easy to read between some work-related books and grabbed Laura Lippman's The Innocents I'd bought from a thrift store earlier. I'd read one or two of Lippman's Tess Monaghan novels and thought they were pretty good. I knew this wasn't part of the series, but I knew it was a stand-alone book, and thinking I'd read it in a jiffy started to read it. (Tess Monaghan makes a short appearance, though, giving the story an extra boost.)

Instead it turned out to be a serious mainstream novel, with an episodic and a bit labyrinthine structure, with people's lives mingling with each other's lives, criss-crossing in time and place. Lippman gives hints there's something bad in the past of people she writes about, but she reveals it a bit by bit, very slowly, but enticingly. I didn't read this in a jiffy, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It could've been shorter, but that's just me.

Seems like this was published in the US as The Most Dangerous Thing. I found a British edition that has an alternate title. (Explains why this can't be found from Lippman's site with that title.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla


It's been months since I last wrote an entry to this blog meme.

I don't know if anybody noticed, but yesterday marked the sixtieth birthday of Godzilla AKA Gojira. The first Godzilla film premiered on third of November in 1954 in Japan, and I helped organize the showing of one of the later Godzilla films, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, at the Finnish Film Archive screening here in Turku, Finland. It was shown on 35 mm film, in a Cinemascope picture.

The film is a hoot. It's very, very hilarious. It's fast-paced, it never slows down, which is a normal handicap for bad and campy pictures: they are slow. There's always something going on in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla even though none of it makes sense. Cigar-smoking space invaders in silver suits? Check. A huge cyborg pretending to be Godzilla? Check. An ancient Japanese god living inside a cave? Check. A woman singing praise to the said god on a beach with a nice orchestrated background? Check. A mysterious Interpol agent masquerading as a freelance journalist in a long coat trying very hard not to look suspicious? Check. Mysterious gangsters turning into monkeys when they die or even get hit? Check. Name it, and you probably have it in the film.

Highly recommended, lots of laughs guaranteed. More Overlooked Films coming up at Todd Mason's blog here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Dark Places

Some of you might remember I had some gripes about Gillian Flynn's bestselling chick noir novel Gone Girl (here's my short review, I wrote a more detailed review in Finnish). I liked Flynn's earlier novel, Dark Places, more, and it's out in Finnish in a good translation. It's darker and more believable and the seedy and unpleasant atmosphere is very well realized. The plot unravels slowly, Flynn knows how to make the reader turn pages without reverting to easy gimmicks. 

I ran into a good review of Gone Girl at the Rara-Avis e-mail list, written by Mark Nevins. I asked for Mark's permission to publish the review here and he complied. I think he is pretty spot on on some of the weaknesses of the novel. So, here goes. 

Gillian Flynn, GONE GIRL (2012) 

While I'm probably the last person in American to have finally gotten around to reading GONE GIRL, I'll still try to avoid spoilers in this review--which will be hard to do, so consider stopping reading now if you're planning to pick up this novel any time soon.

Gillian Flynn has written an incredibly clever novel in GONE GIRL, and it's worth reading the book just to see how she creates a complicated and layered narrative puzzle, somewhat along the lines of THE USUAL SUSPECTS or THE SIXTH SENSE. Nothing is what it seems in the "perfect" marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne, and the reader is forced to try to make sense of how the pieces of the story fit together via Nick and Amy's alternating first-person chapters, made more difficult by the fact that each of them has multiple "personas" as well.

Most readers seem to think GONE GIRL gets better after the "reveal" in the middle. While I saw the reveal coming, I nevertheless felt the second part of the novel was weaker than I would have hoped, given the fantastic set-up. When Flynn has to shift from narrative cleverness (and her construction of the narrative and all of its many moving parts is very very clever indeed) to real psychological depth, she comes up a bit short. While the first half of the novel promises something truly new, the resolution feels a little too much like the standard mass market thriller, including stock characters such as the creepy doting rich lover and the powerhouse slick attorney.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that I found neither of the two main characters in any way sympathetic: other writers working in the "doomed noir" space (e.g., the obvious candidate, James M. Cain) somehow make us root for bad people to succeed. My other big problem is that the overall tone of the book's prose is a bit too "chick lit" for me. GONE GIRL flirts with postmodern structure and unreliable narrators in ways reminiscent of Italo Calvino or Vladimir Nabokov, and it dances with dirty, twisted characters similar to those you might find in books by Charles Willeford or Jim Thompson, and yet the result is a book that falls somewhere in the comfortable middle, also known as the top of the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list for fiction. (Which may have been the author's objective after all, and who am I to quibble with that?)

I would in the end genuinely recommend GONE GIRL--if only because it's such a phenomenon, and a clever construction--but I think readers well-versed in the classics of noir are likely to find it a little "lite." (On another note, I will be intrigued to see how the book will be adapted to film, since what makes the book so interesting can really only be achieved on the printed page.)