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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Mikey and Nicky (1976)

I'd read of this little gem of a crime film for a long time, but always failed to see it. I once had the Finnish VHS published in 1989, but I couldn't watch it, since the picture ratio was so wrong, my eyes started to bleed. Now I finally had a chance to see it on screen, and boy, was it good! Mikey and Nicky was ahead of its time as a crime film and hasn't aged as some other crime films of its era have.

John Cassavetes and Peter Falk play minor gangsters in the movie. In the beginning we see the freaked-out Cassavetes in a sleazy hotel room, seemingly afraid of everything. He thinks other gangsters are trying to kill him, and Falk offers to help him. It becomes a bit of an odyssey through night-time streets, dirty joints and movie theaters. Ned Beatty plays the hired killer who doesn't seem to get anywhere on time. There's a bit of a surprise twist near the end, but more essential is the actual ending of the film, very poignant and touching, with a nice touch in the dialogue.

The writer and director Elaine May let Cassavetes and Falk improvise their scenes (at least partly), and this brings life to the characters that otherwise might be stock. There's warmth, energy, fear, abruptness, violence and jerkiness to these guys, and while they are not very likable, they feel very real.

The improvisation led to film being burned, which made the studio angry, and then Elaine May sat on the results for three years and trying to bring the thing together, but then the studio decided otherwise, and the end result isn't what May had in mind. I don't know whether we'll ever see May's version of Mikey and Nicky. (The Finnish version, seen here after a five-year break in 1981, is slightly shorter than the original American print.)

Someone has said this is the best film ever produced in Hollywood directed by a woman. I don't know if this is the case anymore, but it may have been. At least Mikey and Nicky is different and interesting. Here's Jonathan Rosenbaum on the film.

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog. (Hopefully.)

PS. Oh, I'd written about this and the goddamn Finnish VHS earlier.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Jesuit Joe (1991)

I'd seen this ultra-rare French northern film back in the day, in 1992 actually, and I saw it twice, even though it made only a short round in Finnish cinemas. I'd never seen it again, but for some reason or another it had stuck to my mind and having an opportunity to see it again on 35mm film (okay, I had a hand in organizing the screening) I jumped the wagon.

Saying "ultra-rare" means that Jesuit Joe has only been released on VHS in French with no subtitles and on DVD in French with no subtitles. It's never been shown in Finnish television and before this it was never shown on the Finnish Film Archive screenings. It seems from IMDb that Finland was the only country where the film was shown originally beside France. So not many have seen it. It's available on YouTube, but they have only the cropped VHS copy without any subtitles.

The copy on YouTube is in French, but the copy I just saw was dubbed in English, so the producers at least tried to make this international. The film is based on Hugo Pratt's 1980 graphic novel with the same title and Pratt also was writing the screenplay, but they did some extra and not so necessary changes here and there. The original graphic novel, for example, has no vulture buzzard giving a voice-over narration, as in the film. It works at times, at times it doesn't.

The whole film suffers from the same problem: at times it works, at times it doesn't. The aerial scenes of the wintery Canadian landscape (the film was shot in Canada) are breath-taking, but the actors are pretty bad almost throughout. The screenplay has some dubious explanatory scenes or dialogue, which are not necessary. The director, Olivier Austen, has done only some unit managing in some other films beside this, and it shows. There are some very clumsy scenes here and there. Even the soundtrack shows the same undecisiveness, with hard-rock themes suddenly bursting out.

Yet there's something intriguing about the unrelenting story about the half-Indian Jesuit Joe killing mercilessly those he doesn't like or approve - or not killing. Take a look if you have the chance - or can speak French and can suffer through the bad VHS copy of YouTube.

Todd Mason doesn't seem to be gathering any links to other Overlooked Film posts, but here's his blog anyway.