Friday, October 30, 2009

The cover for my war book

Here's the cover for my newest book, Tankki palaa! It's a collection of Finnish war-time stories about, well, war, namely the Second World War (which means in this case the Winter War and the Continuance War, Finland's two wars against the Soviet Union). The book collects together 22 (if I counted right) short stories and vignettes that were originally published in magazines or other periodicals. Almost all of the stories might be called propaganda, but some of them are also straight adventure (and some very good at that). One of the stories is a piece of left-wing critique against the war and the story in question isn't very well done, but interesting nevertheless. I would've liked to have more of that stuff in the book, but I couldn't find the estates for some authors. Here's the table of contents for the book; on the same blog, there's lots of other stuff concerning the book and war-time short stories.

The cover design is by me (oh man, I did the layouts for the whole book!) and the cover illustration is by Poika Vesanto, the artist extraordinaire. The picture is from 1943. (I posted Vesanto's western book covers here and here a while back.)

The book should be available through any bookstore in Finland, but not necessarily in any bookstore. So far the book doesn't seem to be available in the net bookstores, but it will.

A telling anecdote: I got my author's copies from the publisher earlier today (it's a local publisher, so I don't have to take a train to get to them) and walked home and forgot to tell Elina, my wife, about the books! A new book seems to be too common a commodity around here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

James Ellroy: Blood's a Rover

As often happens nowadays, I'm busy, so I won't be writing long about James Ellroy's Blood's a Rover (out in Finnish as Levoton veri / The Reckless Blood, or something to that effect). It's a book, though, that could've - should've - deserved a lot lengthier review than I'm able at the moment. Suffice to say that I wrote a long piece on it for the Turun Sanomat newspaper.

On Facebook, I gave the book four stars out of five. Four, because the book rises to a very high level during the last 100-150 pages. Not five, because the book's first 200 pages pretty much failed to grap my attention. The mystery - or the mysteries, as there are many - isn't powerful enough and is pretty far away from such masterpieces of suspense as The Big Nowhere or L.A. Confidential. But four, because in those last pages Ellroy really makes the mystery shine - as they all twine together and we at last get to hear what it was all about Ellroy manages to create a mystery that bears a comparison to the statue of The Maltese Falcon.

One point more: Ellroy has been accused of being a racist, a sexist, a male chauvinist, a right-wing extremist. I know he's said all those things aloud (and he was part of a Neo-Nazi movement in his youth, but then again I just heard that one of Finland's most revered young novelists was, too, in his youth), but I think Blood's a Rover makes clear that Ellroy is on the side of the defeated. His heroes can be bad and sleazy, but they are also tragic and larger than life. More tragic are those who they stomp on, and in this book Ellroy makes the history of American Communism fascinating and tragic. It's clear that when one of the lead characters decides he's been tortured too much and makes a headturn turning against his former employers and friends, it's a picture of Ellroy himself.

What I didn't say here, Stuart Neville says much better in his review here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Comic anthology NOIR

Quickly before Ellroy: Dark Horse's new crime story anthology, called simply Noir, which looks very interesting. Here's a story from the book, Jeff Lemire's "The Old Silo".

Swedish cover for Jay Williams's novelization

Okay, this is getting pretty ephemeral - and I haven't read the book in question -, but I want to get this out of the way before I move onto more important things, such as Ellroy's Blood's a Rover, which I just finished reading.

This is the Swedish cover for the novelization of King Vidor's spectacle Solomon and Sheba (1959). The writer is Jay Williams and the Swedish publisher is B. Wahlströms; the year is 1960. I can't remember anymore where I picked the book up, but it must've been cheap or, perhaps, free. Due to the language, I'm throwing the book away after this, since I have neither use nor space for it.

I'm sure that amongst the pulpsters Jay Williams is best remembered for the Danny Dunn books (some of which were translated in Finnish in the early seventies), but he seems to have written quite a lot some other books.

The Swedish cover is nice and pulpy, but the original American cover is pretty bland. I don't know who the Swedish artist is, as there's no name given in the book.

(By the way, be sure to check the Wikipedia article on the co-author of the Danny Dunns, Raymond Abrashkin. I didn't know he was the writer for Little Fugitive, the rare American cinéma vérité film from the fifties. Jay Williams seems to have a small part in it! Weird history of pulpish writing!)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Crying my eyes out: Chaplin's The Kid

You know the scene in The Kid where they come to take Jackie Coogan away from Chaplin? With Coogan throwing his arms out and yelling: "Papa! Papa!" (I'm not sure, but that's what I read from his lips.)

It's a scene that makes me cry every time I even think about it. And now I just saw the film again, for the first time in years (in its entirety, I've seen bits of it every now and then and I've showed it to students when I've done some lecturing on the history of cinema). I was crying almost all the time, especially since I knew what was coming. And thinking that Jackie Coogan is just as old in the pic as our son, Kauto, is now made me weep even more.

But when I got back from the film archive screening, Elina showed me this photo she'd taken of Kauto earlier tonight, I couldn't but laugh.

Review of Jarkko Sipilä's Against the Wall

Someone called Toby commented on my months old post on Finnish writer Jarkko Sipilä's Helsinki Homicide: Against the Wall, the English translation of his cop novel. Here's his review he wrote some time ago - it's not entirely positive, but still merits a look, as he's clearly knowledgeable and mentions having read one of David Peace's crime novels. (I haven't read Sipilä's book myself, so I can't really comment.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Finnish Ice Harvest

Here's the Finnish cover for Scott Phillips's The Ice Harvest, done, again, by the great Ossi Hiekkala.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hard Ticket to Hawaii

You know the type of film that turns out just great when you watch it with a bunch of folks and everyone's little drunk - even though the film is actually just a piece of crap, with which you wouldn't bother if you were sober and alone.

This happened last Saturday night with Andy Sidaris's Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987), which might best be described as "a cheesy 80's action movie". It has lots of girls with guns - and the girls are usually Playboy models. There are lots of explosions, evil drug lords, sexy and stupid eighties' clothing, nudity, motorcycles - what's not to like? The film also has Ronn "Ridge Forrester" Moss in the lead (even though he's not seen all that much) and a venomous snake. It's shot around Hawaii, so there's lots of nice scenery.

But then again... The venomous snake is a boa that's been bitten by cancer-infested rats - what the fuck? And it's not seen at all for some 20-30 minutes until it comes attacking through the toilet, exploding the toilet on the way, bursting in a cloud of smoke. Just what were these people thinking? The songs on the soundtrack are appallingly bad, especially the title track. There are weird illogical moments throughout the movie. In one scene, Ronn Moss and the other drug cops are planning an attack at the smugglers' house where one of the cops is held hostage, but then, suddenly, Ronn Moss and one of the ladies go to another room to have sex (and that sex is weird - strictly unexplainable).

At times, Hard Ticket to Hawaii is just as bad as Plan 9 from Outer Space. It's daytime, then it's suddenly night and in just two or three minutes it's daytime again, all through the same scene. This happens especially in the end climax (with the snake coming through the toilet), where you have no idea where Ronn Moss is coming from and where he's been all this time - he's probably been riding his motorbike for eight hours.

But hey, what am I complaining about? Everyone was enjoying the hell out of themselves and some of the scenes will stick to my mind forever.

Take this one, for instance:

Great, huh?

Here's the trailer for the film:

There are other clips from the film at YouTube, go check them out! The scene with the snake exploding from the toilet is also there...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Review of Conrad Hirst

Ossi Hiekkala, the great illustrator of Arktinen Banaani's paperback series, found this very positive blog review of Kevin Wignall's Kuka on Conrad Hirst? The writer, blogger Kari Naskinen, compares, quite rightly, the book to Graham Greene's thrillers and says that Wignall's book could've well been published in the high-literary and prestigious Keltainen kirjasto series, which is quite a compliment. (Even though, with the exception of Brighton Rock, none of Greene's entertainments came out in that series.) He also compares Conrad Hirst to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which is pretty apt.

The writer ends his review: "The best book I've read in years."

He mentions that this was so good he rushed out to buy the other books in the paperback series: Duane Swierczynski's Keikkakuski aka The Wheelman and Allan Guthrie's Viimeinen suudelma aka Kiss Her Goodbye. He says about Keikkakuski thus: "Top-notch, represents the American hardboiled tradition at its best."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Two Leonards

I read recently two books by father and son, Elmore and Peter Leonard. Elmore is a self-deserved classic and Peter is a new-comer, albeit he's over 50. Both are simply great.

Elmore's best-known western novel, Valdez Is Coming, was just translated for the first time in Finnish (partly due to my suggestion to the publisher). In fact, it was Leonard's first western translated in Finnish (apart from a short story in Seikkailujen Maailma in the 1950s), which is surprising. Then again, Leonard had only two crime novel translations in the paperback series of the seventies and sixties (both, Mr Majestyk and 52 Pick-Up, are very good and come highly recommended), so there might've been some issues with his agent. Leonard's had a bit of bad luck with Finnish publishers even later on, with publishers changing almost from book to book and the publishers treating him with bad translations and not very good covers and bad marketing. Some of his earlier masterpieces are still left untranslated, so it's even more fabulous that Valdez Is Coming is now available in Finnish (the Finnish publisher is Bookkari, by the way).

The book is famous also for having been filmed, by Edwin Sherrin in the early seventies, with Burt Lancaster. The film is remarkable for keeping Leonard's ending intact - in the 2000's it would've been changed into a lengthy gunfight. This ending is more in par with Leonard's terse prose and the worldview of his characters: do, don't just tell you're doing. It's something deeper than the old advice "show, don't tell". Leonard's style and narration are always about what needs to be done, what's necessary to do. Thus the emotions of his characters come clear, even though there's not much talk about them per se.

Valdez Is Coming must be one of the best western novels ever.

A minor bibliographical point: the Finnish edition has the original publishing year as 1970. That was however the year when the book was published in the USA, by Fawcett. The book had come out from the British lending library publisher Robert Hale a year before that, as a hardcover (which seems to be very rare), so the actual first publishing year is 1969.

Elmore's son, Peter, has written two novels so far (actually three, the third one just hasn't been published as yet). The Turku-based literary publisher Sammakko picked Leonard's books up, for which I'm very glad, and his first, Quiver from 2008, was just published in Finnish under the title Ihmismetsällä ("Man Hunting"). Peter Leonard came to Finland to promote the book (I got to change only a few words with him, but he seemed like a very nice guy). The book is excellent. It's more in a thriller vein than Elmore's books, but it's still strictly hardboiled. Peter has learned a lot from his father: the pace, narration, style all bear the marks of Elmore. The best thing about the book is that Peter Leonard can make his characters full-rounded by using only small things, bits of dialogue, short reminiscences of their pasts. Just like his father does.

I'm really looking forward to reading more Peter Leonard from Sammakko. I think Leonard's second novel, Trust Me, is coming pretty soon, but don't quote me on it.

What I'm even more glad about is the fact that some other publishers have also noted the new rise of hardboiled and noir writing. Count in also Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper which came out from Siltala just one or two weeks ago as Niittaa noutaja. A crime reader like me couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My war book

I'm not sure how much I've been talking here about my project about Finnish war-time stories about, well, the war. The focus is on stories that were published in various magazines during the Second World War (meaning the Winter War and the Continuance War). The book has been pretty difficult to compile and I've done lots of work to find and contact heirs of the writers - there's only one living writer in the bunch!

But now the book's coming to be, finally. I've managed to assemble 21 short stories for it, ranging from outright war propaganda with dubious political agenda to straight pulp action and Leftist critique of the war. Almost all of the writers are well-known Finnish authors, but there's at least one amateur in the bunch, and also some pretty forgotten writers and hacks. I've also written a lengthy foreword for the book.

I posted some stuff about the book on one of my other blogs. Here's the table of contents, with bibliographic info on original appearances, and here and here are two stories that a friend of mine typed, but that weren't included in the book in the end. I'm posting the foreword in some point, but I'll let you know. On the same blog there are several other pieces relating to the war book - check them out.

Oh? When will it be available? I hope already in the beginning of November - the book will be published in POD, so the printing process shouldn't take much time. I'm sad to say we won't make it to the Helsinki Book Fair that was the original plan. The title of the book, by the way, is Tankki palaa! / The Tank Is Burning!, after the title of the short story by Tenho Palsa, who, accidentally, is the only amateur writer in the book, a tank sergeant who won numerous writing contests for the war-time magazines, but never published a book.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Dan Brown, per Damien Broderick

Texan-Australian science fiction writer Damien Broderick wrote this funny piece on Dan Brown on the Fictionmags e-mail list and I asked his permission to use it also here in Pulpetti.

I decided to read ANGELS AND DEMONS. The Dan Brown method is truly amazing. It seems at first to be quite incredibly amateurish and bad. That can't be all that's in play. It alarms me to think that he probably researched 100s of best sellers and factored down to the kind of sentence structure most people like because it is nothing but a string of concrete labels that convey expertise and wealth or terror, and dialogue right out of those pulps that were enormously popular among the barely literate. It would be excruciating to try to write for hundreds of pages in this sort of vulgarized voice. Well, for a few million bucks--if guaranteed--maybe it'd be worth the pain and disgust.

Brown assumes that the reader is a know-nothing simpleton, but here is his stroke of genius: instead of infodumping baldly, he has his man explain to a genius wheelchair bound Stephen Hawking figure who Galileo is and what his crime was, who the Illuminati were, who the fucking Masons were. You can see why people in the middle of the Bell Curve would warm to this.

Some of Brown's absurd success is no doubt accident of timing, and the big buck PR push on a selected candidate, but not all. It's possible to identify the elements--strange ancient mysteries, dark conspiracies of church or state, and the usual blockbuster "expertise" of a grotesquely itemizing kind ("He slipped into his Slashnburn 450-GT hybrid manufactured in Uppchuck Sweden, of which only five had ever been handcrafted for the Kings of Siam, careful of the crease in his Fortum&Freemason grey twill pantaloons handstitched by the leading Gnome of Zurich, Herr Frogleg Sauerkraut"), etc.

While e-mailing about this, Damien asked me to add this:

There was another great bit 70 or so pages on, where a genius explains antimatter:
"Everything has an opposite. Protons have electrons. Up quarks have down quarks." Protons have antiprotons, you moron! I screamed at the book. Up quarks have anti-up quarks! But the book didn't hear me, or didn't care...

Floyd Smith's Action Girls

Remember? Well, it wasn't that long ago. Last Summer I wrote a Forgotten Book entry about an obscure sex paperback called Action Girls, by one Floyd Smith. I couldn't find any bibliographic info for the book.

Just now I got a comment from a used-book seller, called Rags & Bones Antiquarian Books:

I am a bookseller and I do have a paperback copy in English of Action Girls by Floyd Smith. It was published by Midwood Publications, New York 1977.

To which I replied:

It must've been a reprint in 1977, since it was published in Finnish as early as 1974. It could've been a trunk novel that sold in English only in 1977, but somehow I don't think that was the case here.

It's possible we never know. It's also possible that no one really cares. I'd like to know, though. Maybe it's another Harry Whittington looming... maybe not.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Round-Up: Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, The Hurt Locker

Okay, seems like I'm not very much into blogging these days. Been busy, will be busy, will hopefully take a break, a day or two.. one of these days. Been editing the book with Finnish war-time stories, and it's proven to be a bit of a pain in the ass. Will hopefully get it out of my hands next week.

Some mini-reviews of books I've read recently and one film:

Megan Abbott: Die a Little, her first novel from some years back. I was mesmerized by the voice and the first 50-60 pages, but then the plot got a bit too ordinary, but I'm not complaining with her skills as a narrator and writer. A bit reminiscent of Elizabeth Sanxay Holding - which is a compliment of a highest kind.

Ken Bruen: London Boulevard. I got this out-of-print book as a text file from Ken Bruen's agent and I read it from print-outs. I'm not sure how much the simulation of Sunset Boulevard really holds, but Bruen's voice, very staccato, very terse, more Hemingway than Hemingway himself, is enough to maintain interest.

Now, a question: what do these books have in common?

And just at a cinema club screening I saw Kathryn Bigelow's ultra-realistic Iraq film, The Hurt Locker. This is not your typical war film and there's very little of action, even though some of the scenes are very suspenseful, but the main point is the utter frustration of these young guys who are dropped in middle of the desert nowhere to fight the war they don't understand against the people they don't understand. It's frustrating to see, though, that the film isn't going to make it to cinemas here in Finland. The copy I saw had Italian subtitles and I really had trouble understanding what the guys were saying, since they mostly mumble and shout, so I'd really like to see this with Finnish subtitles.