Monday, September 18, 2017

W. Glenn Duncan: Rafferty's Rules

Lately I've been reading stuff that's been loaded on my Kindle, something I haven't been doing for ages. One of the books I've now read was Rafferty's Rules by W. Glenn Duncan. I think it was author Paul Bishop who said good things about the Rafferty series over at the Men's Adventure Paperback Series Facebook group some weeks ago, so I decided to give it a try.

Rafferty is a private eye working in Texas. Rafferty's as hardboiled as they come, yet he smokes a pipe - for some reason or another, this bugged me a bit. He dates an attractive woman, Hilda Gardener, who's also an antique dealer, and he also has a sidekick called Cowboy. There's something a bit too Spenserish in the set-up, and Robert B. Parker is one of those private eye writers who briefly turned me off the genre 20-plus years ago. I still can't stand him (or his books, to be precise).

Rafferty's Rules however turned out to be a piece of nice entertainment, no matter how much Spenser there is in the book. Rafferty is hired to take care of some bikers who kidnapped and raped a young woman who later turned out crazy. Rafferty says he won't kill the molesters, but goes after them nevertheless. The case turns out to be more than that, as is usual the case with hardboiled private eye novels. The story moves along nicely and there are good action scenes throughout. The Texas settings reminded me of Joe R. Lansdale's Hap and Leonard novels, but they are better. There's too much cute stuff here, such as Rafferty eating nice lunches with Hilda. There are several more books in the series that was originally published in 1987-1990, but I still won't go out of my way to find them.

Here's Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective on Rafferty books.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects

I liked Gone Girl quite a bit, but I liked Gillian Flynn's earlier novel, Dark Places, much more. It was darker and pulled me in with its dirty secrets the way Gone Girl never did.

I was hoping Flynn's debut novel, Sharp Objects, that came out in Finnish translation just a year ago (and which I hadn't read earlier), would pull me in just as deeply as Dark Places. It just quite didn't catch the same depths as the other novel, but it was still very good indeed. (Even though many say Sharp Objects is the nastiest of the bunch.)

The main character is a female journalist, Camilla, who's assigned to cover a possible serial killer case in her hometown. Flynn describes the abysmal feelings that Camilla has go through to get the story done, she lives with her well-to-do mother, her icky husband and their awful teenage daughter, meets all her school mates, eats at the greasy joints, goes to lousy bars. (And she drinks quite a lot - I was thinking all the time: where are my Bloody Mary ingredients?) And Camilla is no pleasant human being to begin with. Flynn is very adept at describing unpleasant characters that the reader cares about. The secrets of a small Missouri town are dark and murky indeed, and Flynn guides the reader's suspicions artfully. The final twist pulls no punches.

Highly recommended - this is also shorter than Gone Girl, which I thought was a tad too long. There's also the fact that Flynn has no series characters. I couldn't take it if the Camilla of Sharp Objects would be the lead character in Dark Places! Here's hoping the publisher won't require Flynn to create series characters.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Stark House Western Classics

There's been some talk about the idea of reprinting classic hardboiled and noirish westerns of the fifties and sixties. I compiled such a list earlier on my blog here (I called the list, jokingly, Hard Case Western) and the Spinetingler Mag maven Brian Lindenmuth has been talking about the same kind of westerns on his Facebook site.

Only now I noticed that Stark House Press has started doing this. Earlier they reprinted three of Harry Whittington's noir westerns, and they reprinted one by Arnold Hano, the Lion Books editor, and now they've done a two-fer by Clifton Adams. This is incredible! I only hope I'd have more time on my hands.

If anyone wants to work along these lines, the list I compiled can be used. I only wish my name would be mentioned somewhere.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Reign of Fire

I didn't see this post-apocalyptic dragon film when it was new, and I got interested only after it had gotten some sort of a cult status. Well, I don't really know if it's really a cult film, but it has its admirers. I searched for the film, but quite haphazardly, didn't really go out for it. I would've watched it via some streaming site, but it doesn't seem to be available in Netflix, at least in the Finnish version. Finally I spotted the film on VHS for 10 cents in a thrift store.

Reign of Fire, directed by TV specialist Rob Bowman, is about dragons set loose in London some time in the present time or in the near future. They destroy the world, and only a handful of people remain. These include Christian Bale (who as a kid was responsible for setting the dragons loose) and Matthew McConaughey, who is an American flying across the Atlantic to destroy the only male dragon. Everything is burned to ashes, and people are living in caves and other barbarian environments.

The film doesn't make much sense (why does killing the male dragon help, when there are still hundreds of female dragons about?), and it's way too serious about its subject matter, when I think it should be done firmly tongue in cheek. The script is not very smart, and only Bale and McConaughey are given something to work on, others are merely extras, which sadly goes also for Izabella Scorupco, who's an flying assistant to McConaughey.

But Reign of Fire was still somewhat entertaining. I'm glad I watched it, but I do hope it would've been better. This didn't become my guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Once Upon a Texas Train (1988)

We just had the annual Summer get-together of the Finnish Western Society. We watched three more or less obscure films, one of them being Once Upon a Texas Train that I had bought earlier on VHS from a thrift store not knowing what it was about.

Turns out it was written and directed by Burt Kennedy, for whom it must've been some kind of a dream project: lots of old Western stars together possibly for the last time. The story is very traditional: an old train robber (Willie Nelson) gathers his old friends together and plans to rob a train. An old friend of the robber, colonel (Richard Widmark) has a hunch of what the robber is about to do and gathers some of their old acquaintances to stop the robber.

The line-up is sure something: Widmark, Chuck Connors, Jack Elam, Stuart Whitman, Gene Evans, Royal Dano, Ken Curtis, Dub Taylor, Kevin McCarthy (in a small role), Dub Taylor, Angie Dickinson, Harry Carey Jr., Hank Worden. But the movie is slow-moving and gets bogged down in the talkative middle. The ending is disappointing, and it seems like they shot two endings shot and used footage of both. Burt Kennedy wrote formidable scripts for Budd Boetticher in the late fifties, but his own films have been disappointing. I don't really care for his better-known films, either, like Support Your Local Sheriff!

Once Upon a Texas Train was made for TV, and it premiered CBS Sunday Movie on CBS on January 3, 1988, being a popular film with over 20 million viewers.

Here's Wikipedia on the film. The film seems to be available on DVD.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Always Outnumbered

I haven't read Walter Mosley's novel Always Outgunned, Always Outnumbered (1997), but when I saw a free VHS copy of the film based on it, I immediately snatched it. It's great when there are so many free VHS cassettes around in thrift stores and other venues nowadays.

The film has a shortened title: Always Outnumbered, and it was a HBO production in 1998. It was scripted by Mosley himself, and directed by Michael Apted. Larry Fishburne plays the lead, an ex-convict by the name of Socrates Fortlow who tries to live almost all by himself, but getting mixed up with the every-day troubles of his neighborhood. This is not really a crime movie, even though most of the stuff Socrates meets is crime-related: drugs, killing of a pre-teenage boy, stuff like that.

The TV movie is almost all black (or African-American, if you will), except for the director (Apted is an odd choice for this, though he's made noirish films before). There's gritty and believable realism to all this, but there's almost too much of the macho posturing by Fishburne and some others. When Socrates Fortlow talks to a woman whose husband he's promised to find, he says things like "if he doesn't show up, I'm gonna come up and take you and your kids with me" or "there are dozen men waiting for a woman like you". I'd feel this would be terribly disturbing, if I were a woman and someone was talking to me like this. The ending is sentimental, though it's not a happy one.

Made-for-TV movies don't suffer much when watched on VHS, so I was glad to give this a try. It's clearly an above average movie, though it has its problems.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Small Crimes

Evan Katz's Small Crimes (2017) is an excellent neo-noir film after Dave Zeltserman's novel of the same name. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays Joe Denton, an ex-cop who's been six years in jail for maiming the D.A. with a knife. In the beginning of the film, we see him get out and try to redeem his bad deeds and getting in touch with his two daughters. We see him getting mixed up with his old colleagues in crime, both cops and criminals, we see him being asked to do some favours, we see him getting trapped. There's no escaping the past. Whatever Joe does, it only tightens the rope around his neck. Near the end, it seems he's getting out - but that impression doesn't last for long. This is noir at its noirest, and there are no mystic serial killers or any of that Nordic Noir shit around. What I especially liked about the film is that there's no back story, you have to be alert to see what's been happening.

Small Crimes is available in Netflix.

Had the crime paperback series I was editing for a Finnish publisher six or seven years ago, I would've definitely included Zeltserman's novel in the series. I would've also picked up Zeltserman's Killer, which is even better, if you ask me. Both books come highly recommended.

I hope there are more Overlooked Films coming to Todd Mason's blog here.