Friday, October 13, 2017

Anthony Neil Smith: All the Young Warriors

I had a one-week holiday in the first week of September. I though I was going to read some crime novels that were sitting on my Kindle. Well, yeah, I did, but it took longer than a week. I read Barry Malzberg's first Lone Wolf novel, Night Raider, written as by Mike Barry (forgot to blog about it) and then I read W. Glenn Duncan Rafferty's Rules (about which I blogged here). I also started Lawrence Block's old sleaze title, Sex Without Strings, but it didn't seem interesting enough (no crime plot that I could see!). And then I started Anthony Neil Smith's All the Young Warriors, really not knowing what to expect. I finished it only tonight.

Okay, it's only 304 pages in a Down & Out Books paperback, but it felt longer - and I don't mean this in a negative way. I could've sworn it was more like 400 pages. The scope is almost epic, close to what you have in more literary novels. Two Somali guys kill a pregnant female cop in Minneapolis while they are already headed towards Somalia, their fatherland, and the lover of the woman, a cop himself, decides to go after them with the help of the other guy's father, who happens to have a gangsta past. And this is only a skimpy outline. The book's more like Conrad's Heart of Darkness taken into the 2000's (well, with the exception that Conrad's novel is a lot shorter). The grim outcome in the end couldn't be darker, even if it's happy for some of the characters.

The subject of the book could easily be racist in the hands of someone else, but Smith, while he certainly pulls no punches, is not your typical stereotype-weaving thriller hack. The Somali characters come out alive, and while some of them are evil and do evil stuff, I didn't see the book calling them evil only because they are Somalis. The discussion about cultural appropriation is hot at the moment, but I didn't see that in here - of course I'm not a Somali myself, so what do I know? But Smith's novel seems free of that appropriation.

All the Young Warriors takes its time to get going, but the reader is awarded in the end.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Where the Sidewalk Ends

I'm a film noir buff, yet I haven't seen many classic film noirs everyone is already acquainted with. So I was lucky to finally see Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends from 1950, about which I remember reading over 30 years ago. It's a classic film noir, and without the ending it would be a perfect noir.

The plot is great, the stuff of the bona fide noir paperbacks: the violent cop, bent on destruction, kills almost inadvertently a suspect and tries to hide it. Dana Andrews playing the cop is actually a homme fatale in the film, as there's no femme fatale anywhere in sight. There's a woman the cop falls in love with, but she's no bad kitty. It's more like the cop drags him down in his personal hell. The ending is too optimistic, but what can you do? This was Hollywood in 1950.

Preminger keeps the story moving along in a nice pace, and Joseph LaShelle's very noirish cinematography shines throughout the film. There are lots of good character actors in minor roles, such as Karl Malden as a lieutenant and Neville Brand as a gangster. And, oh, did I mention it has Gene Tierney? She looks especially lovely in this.

Anyone read the original novel, Night Cry by William L. Stuart? Vintage Hardboiled Reads has, and it looks great.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Duane Swierczynski: Revolver

I've been a fan of Duane Swierczynski's writing for a long time, and I ended up translating his break-through novel The Wheelman in Finnish. Later on I also translated The Blonde. The books weren't big hits, to put it mildly, but the Finnish crime fiction market is now flooded with Scandinavian titles, and we have also lots of our own crime writers, though not many seem interesting to me. The books don't sizzle the way Swierczynski's books do.

And Revolver, Swierczynski's newest novel, sure sizzles. It's a tale of three generations of cops and possible future cops (the latest one in the line is studying forensics), and the murder of the cop of the first generation. In the first story line, Stan Walczak and his black friend, Wildey, work in the 1960s Philadelphia with all its racial tension. They end up getting shot, and the case if officially closed. In the second story line, Stan's son Jim, also a cop, is digging in the 1990's into a murder case that seems like a serial killer on the loose. The third story line is about Audrey, the daughter of Jim Walczak, who, as a part of her exam, is trying to dig into Stan's killing in the present time. Audrey finds new evidence and the plot starts to unravel.

Swierczynski shows that racism hasn't ceased in the USA. He out-Ellroys Ellroy with his depiction of the corrupt society and the secrets cops have had to take part in. The book shines especially in the delivery of the three separate story lines.

Swierczynski also creates a great female character in the daughter. Audrey is a troubled young woman who doesn't really love her family and feels like no one loves her. She's smart and stubborn, and she consumes large quantities of Bloody Marys during the course of the book. I was actually starting to feel I'd have to have one myself.

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.