Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: Hartley Howard Double Bill

Okay, let's be honest about this: I haven't finished these two novels I'm about to introduce. I've been away and travelling and one of the books was forgotten behind and when I was able to get back to it, I couldn't anymore remember what had been going on. The other one then didn't simply feel rewarding enough.

Then why am I writing about these books? Because I'd really like to get my book on British crime paperbackers done. Hartley Howard's books were originally published in hardcover in England, but all of them were paperback in Finnish translation. They also have something of a paperbackish feel to them: Hartley Howard's private eye hero Glenn Bowman feels a mix between Mike Hammer and Lew Archer. The earlier of the two books, A Hearse for Cinderella (1956, translated as Kaikki menetettävänä/Everything to Lose; see the photo, illustrated by Bertil Hegland), starts like Kiss Me Deadly: Glenn Bowman is driving in his car late at night and almost runs over a young woman dressed only in an overcoat. Bowman takes the girl to the doctor to find out the girl escapes the minute he's taking the doctor to see her. Escapes - or is kidnapped. The plot is a bit too convoluted to be fluently followed, but there is big stuff at stake here.

Epitaph for Joanna, published much later (1972), reminds me more of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer books and is more serious in tone. Bowman comes across as a really sad type, being all the time all alone without any friends - which was typical to the private eyes of the bygone days. Did Archer or Philip Marlowe ever have any friends? The same goes for Bowman as well. The plot also reminds me of Ross Macdonald, with the stuff from the past affecting the present-day lives of the book's characters. In this book, the stuff from the past is the accidental death of a young woman called Joanna a decade earlier.

The biggest problem with Howard's books is that his scenes are a bit too long and stilted. The melancholy of Glenn Bowman is too meticulously told, the reader - at least I am - is too easily bored with Bowman's whinings. Less would do. The plots are over-complicated to be at times so thin. The books might read better in the original English, I read these in Finnish translation and the old Finnish paperback translations are not usually very good. But nevertheless I'm going to give Hartley Howard another shot or two.

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Maniac (1980)

This slasher flick by William Lustig is known for its outrageous violence and utter splatter, and it has been banned i.e. in Finland. Now it's been released on DVD in here as well - there are two discs, the other containing the uncut version. I watched the uncut version earlier today and wrote a three-star review of it.

There's a short introduction by Drive and Pusher director Nicolas Winding Refn in the beginning of the film. Refn says that Maniac is a combination of an European art film and a splatter film. He may well be right, as the film is purposefully slow and brooding, with Joe Spinell's confused monologue on top of everything else. The slow pace gives the film a detached, yet somehow intimate feeling. There are also no clear explanations as to why Spinell's character, Frank Zito, is killing all these women and scalping them. There are one or two scenes about it, but that's about it.

The combination of the slow pace and extremely brutal killings is an uneasy one, and I think John McNaughton did it better with his Henry: The Portrait of a Serial Killer, just six years later, but Maniac is still worth seeing, if you can stand it. There are some implausibilities, though. I didn't buy that a maniac like Frank Zito could pull out the artist act and almost seduce the woman photographer like he does in the film.

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Harry Patterson aka Jack Higgins: Comes the Dark Stranger

We were on a trip for over a week and my reading time was pretty limited, but I still managed to read a few books. One of them was an early Jack Higgins title under his real name Harry Patterson, called Comes the Dark Stranger (1962). It's a fast-moving thriller about a man who got a bullet in the head in the Korean war and comes back to England to find the man who was guilty of getting the squadron leader killed. There are lots of noirish elements throughout the book, such as the protagonist's foreboding doom. There's also stuff that's a bit reminiscent of Condon's and Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate. This is a fast and fluent read, but not very original or ground-breaking. Published in Finland in 1987 under the title Yön varjot (The Shadows of Night). I'm not sure what edition is in the picture, but it sure ain't the first edition.

The Returners: Matt Helm being reissued!

I just learned today that Donald Hamilton's dark and brutal spy series with Matt Helm is going to be reprinted, starting from 2013. See for some details here. Added are two coming covers, with thanks to Bruce Grossman who blogs at Bookgasm. I'll also quote Bruce who said that "Matt Helm would make James Bond cry".

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ridley Scott: Prometheus

I've always liked the Alien movies and have a soft spot in my heart for almost each one of them. There's much to like even in David Fincher's Alien3 and almost in Alien Resurrection as well (don't mention the Alien Vs. Predator movies here). I was almost excited to see Ridley Scott's Prometheus, though I must admit I haven't particularly cared for anything Scott has done since, with the possible exception of Thelma and Louise. (I don't actually much care for Blade Runner either, but to be able to say something precise about it, I'd have to see it again.) Especially Gladiator left me utterly cold.

Prometheus has an intriguing, if over-developed and over-familiar premise (von Däniken, anyone?). I liked the way the film seemed to say: there's no point thinking about whether your God likes you, you have to go on living nevertheless. But the film also has lots of meaningless subplots and too many characters that are not developed enough. When you think "now this is finally getting somewhere", the film ends. (And the ending is particularly stupid.) There's still some nice tension-building throughout and some spectacular scenes. I liked the way this is an Alien film without actually having any Aliens (save the end).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: Hartley Howard: Put Out That Star

There's not much info on Hartley Howard, real name Horace Ognall, in the web. No one seems to be talking about his books. Still he was a popular crime writer in England from the fifties to the seventies, specializing in hardboiled private eye tales that are so popular in some blog circles. Well, seems like Howard wasn't as good as this game as some of the better known names in the field.

I've started slowly getting back to my book project on British paperback crime writers and been reading some Hartley Howard. I've read one or two of his novels earlier, now I read one of his novels under the pseudonym Harry Carmichael, called Put Out That Star from 1957. It stars the insurance detective John Piper, one of Howard's series characters. In Put Out That Star Piper gets to solve the mystery of a disappearing starlet. This is almost a locked-room mystery, but not quite. The first half of the book is set almost like a play and there's lots and lots of talk. This is pretty far from Howard's better-known Glenn Bowman series in which the hero is a bit like Mike Hammer. They are slow-moving too, though, so I guess this is typical to Howard's output.

Put Out That Star is not a bad book, but it's not very good either. It's safe to say it's mediocre. Howard's career with over 90 novels was so long though he shouldn't have to be so forgotten. I'll be reading more of his work during the coming weeks and months and will be posting about it.

Put Out That Star was published in Finnish under the title Huoneisto n:o 15 in 1959, in the publishing house Gummerus's Salama (= Lightning) series of paperback novels.

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Duane Swierczynski: Fun & Games

I really liked Expiration Date which I read rather recently. I had been mildly disappointed in Severance Package, but Expiration Date was so good my expectations were high when I started to read Fun & Games, the first in the series of the exploits of one Charlie Hardie, ex-cop who sits houses and fills the voids in his life watching DVDs and drinking whiskey. It has already been followed by Hell & Gone.

My reading of Fun & Games wasn't as non-interrupted as I'd hoped it to be. I took it with me to the summer cabin we were for the last week, but kids wanted all the time me to do something. Still the book hooked me from the first words, though I must admit there's something slightly wrong with the rhythm of the book: the first action scene starts from the first pages and goes on until the page 200 and then something else starts to happen as if from the new beginning. There's a small misbalance there, but I'm willing to forgive that as there's so much speed and tension going on all the time.

But this is not merely a bang-bang thriller. The theme of Swierczynski's book is how a counter-reality enters into our world. There's a subtle hint to Philip K. Dick, but what makes Swierczynski's take on the theme fresh is that the counter-reality is a part of our own reality: it's the counter-reality of the media and the so-called reality television.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Lust in the Dust

This movie has almost everything going for it: a seedy sex western with Divine in the lead as a bar-room singer, Tab Hunter as the male hero, Henry Silva and other assorted villains in other roles. I'm not sure whether Paul Bartel in the director's seat is an asset, though.

But the film proves to be pretty dull. The jokes are lame and repetitious, the scenes are static, there's something always lacking, though it seems something's always happening. Funny if you think about it, but very unfunny if you watch it.

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog here.