Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: Bill Crider: Blood Marks

Bill Crider, as you probably very well know, is a long-time crime, western and horror novelist who also maintains a popular blog. It's been years since I read something by him, but now I decided to read his Blood Marks, a serial killer thriller from 1991, that's been getting high praise from the likes of Ed Gorman.

It's a good novel, with a horrifying central character and Crider does a pretty good job keeping the reader guessing who the serial killer might be. The book is divided in three chapters, and while it veers towards implausibility, the second chapter with the emphasis on the heavily abused three-year boy is the most horrifying. 

There are some downsides to the novel as well. One of the characters leads a double life, but I didn't really buy that. The main female character doesn't feel like she's been studying English literature and is looking for a job to teach it. (I've known quite a few literature students, mind you.) One of the lead characters is too pointedly unpleasant. The revelation in the end doesn't feel so much a reveleation as it should feel.

But this is a fluent and suspenseful read, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Saint of Fort Washington

The story of two homeless guys, played by Danny Glover and Matt Dillon, is shot quite well on location and there's realism not very usually seen in American cinema. Matt Dillon is a schizophrenic guy who likes to "take" photos with his camera that has no film in it. He also hears voices. Glover is a middle-aged guy whose business went bust and his family deserted him. They meet and start wiping the cars' windows together, dreaming about their future businesses together.

The film is at times touching and it's generally well acted, but it's also a bit bland. It's perhaps a bit too nice about it - these guys don't really look homeless. The reality of night shelters (Fort Washington is a huge shelter) is very well portrayed, but it's unclear why the cops let the character of Ving Rhames terrorize the other homeless guys. Is he himself homeless? If not, what is he doing in there with the others?

The film was directed by Tim Hunter who's done River's Edge (which I haven't seen) and some episodes of Twin Peaks (which I did see). Seems like he's more into television these days. Probably pays better. I read it said The Saint of Fort Washington was barely released.

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Marxist Noir

Very interesting interview with Alan Wald about the connections of American proletarian realism and hardboiled school of crime writing at the Crime Time website. Authors mentioned: Jim Thompson, Kenneth Fearing, Ed Lacy, Ira Wolfert, Albert Maltz etc.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Duane Swierczynski: Expiration Date

As the long-time readers of this blog well know, I've been a fan of Duane Swierczynski's writing almost from the start, ending up translating two of his novels (The Wheelman and The Blonde) in Finnish. Severance Package was a bit of a disappointment for me, as the set-up felt forced and I couldn't get into the characters, even though that has been, I think, Swierczynski's strongest asset: creating believable and likable characters who get into ridiculously tense and violent situations.

But Expiration Date, Duane's next novel after Severance Package... Man, it's good! No wonder he won the Anthony Award for the Best Paperback Original with this. The book deserves its praise. It starts with a bang, a bit like the film noir classic Sunset Boulevard, then proceeds more slowly as we get to know the protagonist (there are no heroes in Swierczynski's world), a bit homey weekly paper staff writer who's just been fired from his job. The events take a wild, wild step from there, one you simply wouldn't guess. And that's not the only wild step in the book, it's a cornucopia of them. And they don't even stop until the end, which leaves you guessing what really happened. But it all makes sense.

Swierczynski blends lots of different genres in Expiration Date: science fiction with a time-travel theme, hardboiled action and serial killer true crime with a decidedly melancholy noir bent. There's also lots of fascinating stuff about Philadelphia's forgotten past. This is probably not something an average science fiction reader would grab, however, as Swierczynski doesn't really dwell on the scientific or even theoretical issues of time-travelling, which is more than fine by me. The action and suspense, noirish atmosphere, good dialogue, great characterization, touching tragedies (for there are them) - these are enough.

If you haven't already read Expiration Date, read it now. I'm so sorry I lost a publisher for my project of translating new American and British noir writing, otherwise this would be high on the to-be-translated pile.

Great opening lines

Pawley watched the rain streak the dirty glass.  He liked the way the droplets started out small at the top, hung there for a moment, raced downward until they met a companion, hung for a shorter time, and then began the long swift plunge to the bottom of the pane, taking everything with them.  Life is like that.  Nobody likes to go down alone.
(from "The Waiting Room" by Charles Runyon, from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine)

(I snatched this from the Rara-Avis e-mail list, from the member Ron Clinton, who probably won't mind. I don't know the publishing year.) 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kevin Wignall: Alchemy

I was away on a trip for over a week. We were in Sicily, in Cefalú to be exact, and travelled around the island for couple of times, in Palermo for instance. It's a beautiful city, with all its history and nice buildings. We also were at the Etna mountain. I'll probably post some pictures one of these days once they have been downloaded from the camera, but I'll save you from longer ramblings. I'll just say that it's a pity we didn't have enough time to try to find Aleister Crowley's house in Cefalú.

I read three books during the trip (I had four with me, and I started the fourth late last night, and it looks very good indeed: Duane Swierczynski's Expiration Date), one of them being a Finnish crime novel from an author I was requested to do an interview with. One was James Herbert's The Spear (1978), essentially a fun novel about neo-Nazis trying to rule the world with the help from the spear of Longinus, but also a bit outdated, with lots of old-fashioned thriller clichés to somewhat ruin the experience. But the one book rose above all the others: Kevin Wignall's Alchemy, the second installation in his Mercian trilogy. I reviewed the first one, called Blood, here. I seem to have written that Blood will be published in Finland, but that has changed, I'm sorry to say. I'm not sure what the current situation is.

Back to Alchemy. I was a bit confused in the beginning, since - being lousy on plots - I didn't remember much about the first book. Eventually I got into the story and it drew me in with irresistible force. The sadness and melancholy gave way also to other feelings, such as hatred and aggression, as Wignall introduces new characters. There are also some revelations of the most evil character in the book - in the whole universe, it seems - and it shows Wignall's mastery that I was beginning to doubt whether Lorcan Labraid really is worth all the talk, but indeed he is. The book ends in the midst of one of most harrowing reading experiences I've had in a while. Can't wait for the third book, Death, to appear. (And I'm sorry that it will be the final episode in the series.)

One point still, though: there are lots of discussion in the blogs and other venues that crime and other genre writing has deteriorated in the recent decades, say, Alistair MacLean is better than Tom Clancy. I won't dispute that, but Wignall absolutely beats James Herbert hands down. (Well, okay, Herbert isn't a very good example. I did enjoy his Rats, though.) What I mean to say is that sometimes things are just done in a bolder way. Wignall does exactly that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Aviation magazine fresh off the printers

This one-shot magazine that I've been trying to compile and edit for some years now is finally out. The title means "The Heaven of Adventures" and the magazine features for old-style aviation stories, two old and two new. The new ones are by me (writing as "Jaakko Ensio", the story features dragons and zeppelins) and Petri Laine whose story is also retroish science fiction. The old ones are an old pulp story by Joe Archibald, translated by me, and a Finnish story from during the WWII, by Antero Aulamo, whose relatives have been very kind - this is already a third publication I'm doing with a story by Aulamo! I think there's more to come at some point.

The illustrations throughout the magazine are by Anssi Rauhala who did a marvellous job!

I've been thinking of compiling a whole book of old and new Finnish aviation stories. One of these days...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: Patricia Highsmith: Ripley Under Water

I'm not sure if a Tom Ripley novel by Patricia Highsmith is forgotten, but they don't really seem to get the merit they deserve. The books are strangely appealing, even though there's a nihilistic streak to them. It seems to make the books more enticing, though.

In Ripley Under Water Ripley is suddenly threatened by a strange American couple, who seem to know something about Ripley's shady past and some killings he's done. Ripley of course wants to get rid of them, but there's also another reason: he thinks they are irritating, behave badly, disturbing the peace of the French countryside. It's entertaining that Ripley can consider murdering people only for behaving badly in public, not playing by the rules. Ripley only wants to spend time with his beautiful wife, play some music, do some amateur paintings of his own, eat the good food his maid prepares. In Highsmith's world, this can be sometimes achieved only through murder.

Ripley Under Water suffers somewhat from being too slow, especially in the middle when nothing much happens, but the ending is strong.

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here.

Edit: of course I meant "appealing", but this went as "strangely appalling" for many days. I noticed it, but couldn't do anything about it as I was travelling!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday's Ovelooked Film: Jacob's Ladder

I saw this film by Adrian Lyne in 1991 or 1992 when it ran for a week in Tampere, the town where I was living at the time. I saw it twice, first in the press screening and then on the last day before it left town and almost disappeared from my view. I thought it was a very well made drama with a touch of horror and absurd in it, permeated with sadness. I also thought it must've been Lyne's best film.

Then the other day last week I was shopping at the thrift store and noticed a VHS cassette in a box with "Take free" sign on it. I always check these out. This particular cassette turned out to be Jacob's Ladder which I hadn't seen since 1991 or 1992. I watched it and persuaded Elina to watch it with me. She was hooked and also sad in the ending when the guy that Tim Robbins plays makes contact with his dead son. The same with me. I thought the film is still Lyne's best (I haven't seen them all, but enough to be able to say this) and the sadness of the film was still intriguing, alongside with the horror scenes, but now I should say the ending is weak. It seems to take away everything that's been said before.

I won't give away spoilers, though, suffice to say this all has to do with Vietnam. More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog here.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Ray Bradbury in Finland

As I promised, here are some of the Finnish covers for Ray Bradbury's books.

The Martian Chronicles as Marsin aikakirjat (literal translation). Otava 1953. I don't know the illustrator, could be foreign for all I know. This was the first Bradbury published in Finnish in book form; there were some earlier magazine publications, though.

The second edition of Marsin aikakirjat, also by Otava, this time in 1974. The translation is the same, and it's abridged, I'm afraid. Don't know even the illustrator for this. (Mind you, I have these books, but I don't really know where they are. It's easier to find the scans in the web than to scan my shelves.)

I believe this one is by one Piotr Tomaszewski (who was Polish originally, I think), since he did lots of covers for the Kirjayhtymä science fiction series in the seventies. I'm not actually sure, but I think this if from 1975.

Another one from the Kirjayhtymä publishers and also, I think, by Piotr  Tomaszewski. We've never really gone for outlandish pulpy covers here in Finland, have we? This is The October Country, the Finnish translation (and the only printing) is from 1985.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, my favourite from Bradbury's novels, was published here as Painajainen/Nightmare. The publisher was the high-literary Tajo that did lots of new novels and some poetry, Allen Ginsberg for example. There was a second edition of the novel, the same translation (by Jertta Roos) under the title Paha saapuu portin taa (which is almost literal). Did you know the film based on this, directed by Jack Clayton, was banned in Finland? It was shown for the first time in television in 1995.

The Other Heavens AKA Toiset taivaat was one of the short story collections Markku Sadelehto compiled in the nineties. The range of the book is from the old pulp stories to the science fiction classics of the sixties. This one has also "Lorelei of the Red Mist", collaborated with Leigh Brackett (and I, for one, happen to think Brackett does better than Bradbury). The cover is by a friend of mine, Jukka Murtosaari, and the book was published in 1992 by WSOY.

The Early Shadows is supposed to be Bradbury's own idea for another short story collection that came out in 1998, also compiled by Sadelehto. I didn't check the book, but I was told that this was also done by Jukka Murtosaari.
Death Is a Lonely Business, as Kuolema on yksinäinen juttu (very literal translation), was for long my favourite Bradbury. I haven't read it in years, but I just might, one of these days, to see if it will hold up. I'm not sure about the illustrator.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

My Ray Bradbury

Don't get me wrong: I love The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 as much as anyone, but to me Bradbury means more as a horror writer and also even as a crime writer.

I read Bradbury's noirish crime novel Death Is a Lonely Business in my teens two or three times almost in a row. I just loved it. I loved the atmosphere oozing from every page of the book. (Gotta admit, though, that I couldn't get through the sequel, A Graveyard for Lunatics.)

And his Something Wicked This Way Comes is a very scary and atmospheric novel, not to mention Bradbury's nasty horror stories. For some reason or another these resonate with me more than Bradbury's actually pretty sentimental science fiction.

By the way, here's an old 25-minute documentary on Bradbury.

And, oh, it came to me I might do a post on some Finnish Bradbury covers, but not now.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

I was finally able to see this after reading about it some twenty-five years ago. I still haven't read George V. Higging's novel the film is based on, but I intend to - one of these days. I know some of you are gonna say "You're looking forward to a treat" or some such, and I'm sure you're right. No question about that.

As the film is pretty great. The laconic style is familiar to anyone who's seen Bullitt, made by the same director Peter Yates, but there's not much talk in Bullitt. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, however, is very dialogue-driven. The characters just talk, talk, talk - and it's all fascinating! The lines don't all make much sense and they don't forward the plot, but it's much greater for that.

The film also trusts that the viewer can detect important plot points for him/herself. There's no one telling what happened or what will happen. In this respect, the final scene may be unnecessary.

The minus point in the movie is the funky soundtrack that's ripped out from a blaxploitation flick. This could well do without a music at all. (Mind you, Dave Grusin's soundtrack is very good, but not in this particular film.)

Here's a New York Times run-down on Higgins.

More Overlooked Movies (later, hopefully) at Todd Mason's blog here.

Edit: seems like Todd hasn't made up his usual round.

The Demars redux

The Demars, the band my kid brother Matias and our cousin Juho had some dozen years ago, seems to have some renewed interest in them and there's been some traffic at Pulpetti, mainly on this link in which I tell the story of the band.

Anders Engwall was complaining - and rightly so - about the absence of downloadable material by The Demars. There's none that I can think of, but someone has downloaded one of the songs on the Veriläiskiä EP, their only record that's been available. The title translates as something like "Round-Shaped Pussy" (no, don't ask).

Friday, June 01, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: Margaret Millar

Patti Abbott is hosting a Margaret Millar week at his blog here, and all I have time or patience to do is to link to this earlier posting of mine. I've done some other posts on Millar, here's another.