Friday, June 03, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Book: It Rhymes with Lust

Possibly a first edition,
based on the defects on the cover.
One of the stablemates in any genre is to discuss what was the first artifact produced in the particular genre. Hence there are many first graphic novels. I don't know what the first graphic novel really is, but I do know that there were many before It Rhymes with Lust was published in 1950 by a small outfit called Picture Novels, a subsidiary of St. John Publications.

It Rhymes with Lust was written by Leslie Waller and Arnold Drake and illustrated by Matt Baker. Drake and Baker had been doing regular comics for some time, mainly for DC, Waller had published a crime novel or two. Later on he did lots of movie novelizations. There have been two reprints, one in Comics Journal ten years ago and one by Dark Horse in 2007. It's been sold out for some time now, but I managed to pick up a copy.

It Rhymes with Lust (a great title, by the way!) is a slightly noirish exposé story of a cynical journalist who's called to a town called Copper City to run a newspaper published by the big man of Copper City, Buck Masson. Masson has passed away just before the story starts, but our man doesn't know it entering Copper City. It's soon revealed to him that Copper City is a corrupt place and eventually he has to stop the corruption. He has to face some thugs run by the deceased Buck Masson's lusty widow, Rust ("it rhymes with lust"), but he also falls in love with Buck Masson's daughter.

It Rhymes with Lust wouldn't be great literature if if were a prose novel, but now it's interesting, at least as a curiosity. It might work also as a movie, but even then it would be cliched. The active woman, Rust, is a bad femme fatale, and the passive one, Buck Masson's daughter, is a good girl. You've seen this a thousand times. Matt Baker draws well (beautiful women especially), his line is fluid, and the continuity is pretty good - this stuff reads fluently -, but as a story this would require some extra twists.

Picture Novels published another graphic novel, The Case of the Winking Buddha, by pulp novelist Manning Lee Stokes and illustrator Charles Raab -, but that's never been reprinted, so I'm not very likely to be able to read it. It has a great cover, though. Stokes wrote some crime novels from the thirties on and later he did a dozen Nick Carter paperbacks.

I noticed while reading this that a new small publisher Automat.Press has just launched a new Kindle edition of another early graphic novel, also in paperback format, i.e. Joseph Millard's Mansion of Evil. It was originally published by no less than Fawcett Gold Medal! Millard was an interesting character in his own right, making comics in the 1940's and 1950's and then moving to paperback originals. He wrote as Joe Millard some The Man With No Name westerns in the early seventies (though everyone knows Clint Eastwood has a name in all the Sergio Leone movies he's in). There are some free pages of Mansion of Evil in Amazon, and from those it seems that Mansion of Evil is purer noir, with its doppelgangers and all that stuff. Graphicwise, it doesn't seem as solid as It Rhymes with Lust.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Arthur Lyons: The Dead Are Discreet

Arthur Lyons is one of those now forgotten private eye writers who brought some seriousness to the genre, following in the footsteps of Chandler's later novels and Ross Macdonald, shying away from Mickey Spillane's evangelist violence and Brett Halliday's light-heartedness. I don't think many read Lyons now, and there are no Finnish translations.

I'd read earlier one of Lyons's Jacob Asch novels and liked it a bit, so I decided I'd try another one. I'd found a used copy of a No Exit Press reprint of Lyons's first novel, The Dead Are Discreet (originally from 1974), and started to read it while we were at the summer cottage. I had to bring the book to town, since I didn't have time to finish it at the cabin. Jacob Asch is a grumpy and lonely man, in the normal tradition of the hardboiled private eye literature. In this book, his first outing, he tackles the early seventies' Californian milieu of Satan worshippers and other firm believers of the occult.

The premise is intriguing, but The Dead Are Discreet was a disconcerting experience for me. I like Asch's character and Lyons keeps the story moving, but the image of homosexuals as sick perverts was disgusting - and, mind you, also clichéd. It's very much of its time, and I don't think Lyons would make this kind of book any more (he's not writing, though, he died some years back).

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Some books I read: Michael Connelly, Mack Bolan, David Markson, Patrick Modiano, Lee Goldberg et al.

After completing my book on Finnish Westerns, I decided to take a little break and read anything I just wanted to read, not anything I had to read. I'd been quite worn out by the Finnish Westerns many of which were not very good and I wanted something that could grip me and entertain the hell out of me. Usually this happens in a vertical position - I read on a sofa. I once thought I'd read in a chair, but doesn't seem to be the case.

I often find comfort in the work of Michael Connelly, and The Drop proved no exception (Luottamuksen hinta in Finnish). Harry Bosch is a very likable character in his grumpiness and Connelly plots like a master - I still find it very distracting that he said he doesn't plot beforehand, he just makes it up as he writes and corrects afterwards. But The Drop was too long, only because Connelly decides to explain some of the things that are taking place or Bosch or the other cops are doing, I don't know if this has something to do with the American readers - do publishers think they are stupid and make their authors put all these explanations in their books? I mean I can do fine with less facts, less explaining. Still, The Drop was entertaining. Should reread some of Connelly's earlier novels, stuff like Trunk Music and City of Bones is cracking good.

I also read some e-books on my Kindle. I don't have a credit card and I have to rely on books that can be loaded free from Amazon. Luckily I have quite a few Facebook friends who like to post about such things, and I have a pretty good collection of newish indie noir and western stuff, with a bit of new pulp thrown in. I read one short story by Lawrence Block ("Like a Thief in the Night", supposed to be published in Playboy, but never came out, exquisite story telling) and two novels and one novella of which short reviews have to suffice:

Lee Goldberg: My Gun Has Bullets (originally published as by Ian Ludlow): hilarious, occasionally too hilarious Hollywood-cum-crime romp. Westlake on speed, one might say.

Jake Bible: Z-Burbia: mediocre zombie novel that's too reminiscent on The Walking Dead, but some nice touches here and there and a likable narrator, also with some seriously nasty characters some of whom turn out to be so nasty after all. The book starts well, but starts to lag soon. Finished it nevertheless, the climax was better.

Rob Hart: The Last Safe Place: another zombie story, in novella length, but actually quite atmospheric and with a clever twist. Hart seems to come highly recommended by the noir gang.

The third novel I read on my Kindle is worth more wordage. I've never cared much for the Mack Bolan series. I found Don Pendleton's original novels lacking plot and character, just endless killings after endless killings. I'd never read any of the new ones written by other writers and when I was suffering a fit of gastroentritis, I thought I'd give it a try. I had a book called Arctic Kill on my Kindle, and it was written by one Joshua Reynolds - of course not the painter, but a new writer mostly concentrating on neo-pulp and pastiches of Conan Doyle and other Victorian and pulp writers. This shows in Arctic Kill, and I think Reynolds uses here the same neo-Nazi conspiracy he has created for his more pulp-related writing. This is by no means great literature, but I found Arctic Kill quite enjoyable on its own terms. Reynolds keeps the story racing along, though he's a bit wordy. There's certainly no character development in Arctic Kill, but there's a solid plot, which was missing from the Pendleton Bolans I'd read previously. Might even read another Mack Bolan by Reynolds. I hear Harlequin killed recently its Gold Eagle line that focused mainly on the Bolans, which is a pity.

I also read the latest Finnish translation by the 2014 Nobel prize winner Patrick Modiano (So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood in Enligsh). If you're in the mood for some melancholic mystery, Modiano is your man, though he's no crime writer. There's still not much differentiating him from the likes of Sebastian Japrisot or other French crime novelists of the 1950's and 1960's. Should be reading more of that stuff. I realized reading this that Modiano possibly affected my short novel on Lovecraft in Hollywood, called Haamu ("Ghost"). The same short sentences, the same melancholy feel are there.

Ernesto Sábato's The Tunnel also belongs to the same category: a literary novel that could be seen as a crime novel. Originating from 1948, this novel by the Argentine writer is dark psychological suspense about a sociopathic artist who torments a young lady, whom he sees as his lover. It's not surprising this has been compared to Camus's The Outsider.

More on the artsy side was also David Markson's Reader's Block (1996) that was recently translated in Finnish for the first time, as Lukijan luomislukko. Markson had another foot in the world of pulp, as he wrote three beatnik private eye paperbacks in the early sixties and also a Western novel called The Ballad of Dingus Magee (later turned into a film, which I haven't seen). Reader's Block is no pulp, though, it's a collection of fragments snatched from other books, including trivia on how famous and not so famous writers have died. It's a fascinating read, though not for everyone obviously. It's quite light, though, and I found it pretty hypnotizing. There's also a quote in which Markson (or his narrator or narratee) says that John D. MacDonald was a better writer than Saul Bellow! I've never really liked MacDonald, so I don't know, but the quote cracked me up nevertheless.

After Markson and Modiano I thought I should get back to work and work-related reading. I decided still to dip into Bill Pronzini's Games of which I'd heard good things. And it proved to be a pretty good and suspenseful thriller, though the ending was a bit of a let-down and misogynistic at that. But then again, noir and hardboiled are full of misogyny. Still glad I finally read the book.

Now I'm reading a Zane Grey and thinking I really should get back to work. It's just that after a large body of work it's hard to concentrate on other books, not really knowing what to focus on. I have some news coming up, so stay tuned!

PS. I realize after posting this that all the authors I read were male. Oh well, have to remedy that.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Swedish paperback cover for Edward Aarons

I found this book in a trash bin and decided I should at least salvage its illustrated cover.

The book, originally Assignment - Treason is the second one to come out in Edward S. Aarons' Assignment series that took its protagonist, Sam Durell all over the world. The books are at least serviceable, if nothing great to my mind. The Swedish edition came out in 1959 from Wennerbergs Förlag, translated into Swedish by Margareta Sahlström. The illustration is by Mitchell Hooks. It wasn't originally meant for this book. "Förräderi" means "treason" in English.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Battle Beyond the Stars

Science fiction can be pretty stupid at times, especially olded science fiction, the stuff with zap guns and space ships. But it can also be pretty entertaining, as proves the Roger Corman-produced Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) that I saw last night on a 35 mm film. I'd seen it before on television, but never on big screen.

At core, the film is indeed stupid: John Saxon plays a maniacal tyrant, who wants to destroy or enslave whole planets. One of the planets, Akir, wants to fight, and a young man is sent to find some hired guns to help them. Battle Beyond the Stars is a riff on The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven (with even one of the actors of the latter film, Robert Vaughn recreating his role as a lone gunman), but more essentially it's a Star Wars copy, with lesser space fights and less fictional mythology. The film races along fast, but the scenes are loosely jointed. The battle scenes are clumsy and a bit confusing at times.

But on the good side are many things: John Sayles' funny and clever script with lots of sexual innuendo that's largely missing from George Lucas' Star Wars, many nice actors in bit parts (Sam Jaffe, George Peppard, Vaughn), Sybil Danning in a goofy role as a female warrior, and good music from Howard Shore. Sayles' script shows his feminism also in the female computer of the hero's space ship, she's clearly an grumpy older lady who takes no shit from no one. Too bad she doesn't make it in the final battle.

Though nothing great, Battle Beyond the Stars was a good-humored film and I left the cinema grinning to myself. And oh, by the way, I thought I spotted Sayles playing one of the doll-like androids in Sam Jaffe's space station, but IMDb doesn't mention him.

Huge amount of links to other reviews on Todd Mason's blog here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sarah Weinman on Benjamin Black, Chandler and other literary brands

Just a sidenote: this article by Sarah Weinman is already two years old, but it caught my attention only just now, when I noticed Weinman post it on her Facebook page. It's a very intriguing piece, you should check it out. Lots of stuff I didn't know and also lots of stuff that piques my interest and fascination.

Friday, April 22, 2016

My book on Finnish Westerns

Sorry for the absence, folks. I've been working my ass off and writing my book on Finnish Westerns, but it's finally ready and being sent off to the printers. The book turned out pretty huge, clocking at 370 pages in its final version. You can see why I haven't been blogging - and not doing pretty much anything else either. This took me at least ten years from the first idea, and the actual writing took at least four years - but of course I did some other books in the interim.

I'm too tired at the moment to write more fully about the book and its contents, for now it's enough that I post the great cover by Timo Numminen. The book is out in May.

The book will be accompanied by an anthology I also compiled, with twenty or so Finnish Western short stories from the 1820s on up to this day. I'll post about it as well later.