Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Frank Castle: Lovely and Lethal

After Brian Evenson's weird and effective The Open Curtain I thought I'd be in the mood for something lighter, maybe something old, maybe something pulpy (or paperbacky). I have tons of old paperbacks in my shelves, but not enough to time for them. So I thought I'd read one.

I read two or three westerns by Frank Castle when I was doing my book on American westerns paperbackers called Kuudestilaukeavat ("Six Guns" in English) and liked them well enough to try one of his crime novels. I picked up Lovely and Lethal, a Gold Medal paperback from 1957, and started it - and pretty soon dropped it and moved on to something else.

Lovely and Lethal is a bit like a private eye novel, but the hero of the book, one Jeff Normand, is actually a lawyer moving to a small town and getting acquainted with both the high society and the low-life of the place pretty quickly. He meets a beautiful dame, whose sister had possibly killed herself, but in odd circumstances. Normand starts to unravel the mystery behind the sister's death.

Castle's prose style is flat and not very interesting, not even very hardboiled, though I remember his westerns were pretty tough. The characters in Lovely and Lethal are pretty much stock. There's too much talk, not enough action. So Lovely and Lethal proved a bit boring and thought I'd read something else instead. And the book has a boring cover. Where's Robert McGinnis when you need him? There are enough sultry babies in the book to warrant a nice GGA cover!

Here's my earlier post on Frank Castle and his later crime novel "Sowers of the Doom" that seems to have been published only in Finland, and here's Castle on Steve Lewis's MysteryFile blog. I'm beginning to think that the book published in Finland only was the last one on Castle's career, unless he moved on to markets where he used only pseudonyms, writing porn or some such, and the pseudonyms have never come to light.

I'm now reading Michael Marshall's The Straw Men and enjoying it more.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Brian Evenson: The Open Curtain

I'd ordered Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain on a whim when I noticed someone post about it on Facebook. It looked intriguing, and based on a short description of the plot it reminded me of the manuscript I've been working on. Now that I read The Open Curtain, I can tell it really doesn't resemble much what I've written so far, but let me tell you that I'd really like to be able to write as well as Evenson - and just as daringly and as unpredictably as Evenson! The Open Curtain really grabbed and scared me, even though there are virtually no hallmarks of the horror genre.

Yet The Open Curtain is clearly a horror novel. It's terrifying and very distracting. The main character is a teenage guy Rudd, who seems a bit autistic and lives with his Mormon mother. His father has been dead for some time now, and Rudd finds some letters in a garage that seem to reveal he has a half-brother, called Lael, living somewhere else with his own mother. At the same time Rudd has to make an essay on history for school, and he stumbles on an article on an old murder case in which there was a possibility of an old Mormon ritual of a blood atonement. There were lots of bizarre elements in the murder, such as an accomplice the existence of whom was never proved. All these elements start to show in Rudd's life and toy with his identity that seems to fall apart. The twist in the middle made me almost pee in my pants.

This is something David Lynch might have written, but all the elements are actually very down-to-earth and realistic. Even the 100-year-old murder was a true case. Evenson describes it with a chilling minuteness, and the whole novel is written with minimalist preciseness that's quite scary. To know that blood atonement was a true doctrine in the Mormon faith makes The Open Curtain really effective as a horror novel. Yet Evenson never really gives any sure answers. The end might be a bit of a letdown, but it's the only alternative imaginable.

Someone said (I don't remember anymore where I saw the comparison) that if Jim Thompson were alive today, he'd write like Brian Evenson. Based on The Open Curtain, Evenson is a more literary writer, but there are same elements, for example the use of the unreliable narrator and the disintegration of the identity. (And taking a look at Evenson's Facebook page, I notice there's a discussion on Thompson in which Evenson says: "Have read almost all of Thompson, who I really love.")

I'll definitely be reading more Evenson. There are no Finnish translations, but if I have anything to say about the state of affairs, there will be.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

New publisher in the works

A new Finnish publisher announced its first three books just before the holidays. I had something to do with all of them, so I'm a bit obliged to say something about them, even though the books are in Finnish. The new publisher is called Putki Kustannus (never mind the translation, it doesn't make much sense) and it works only via Lulu. The books are print-on-demand, which is still a novelty in the Finnish book industry, but it's a bit cumbersome to make the books in Lulu, since they don't offer Finnish ISBN codes (or any ISBN codes for that matter), so they are a bit invisible and won't automatically be catalogued in the Finnish National Library system.

But on to the books! Remember my 12-hour novel I wrote some years ago? I thought initially I wouldn't publish the book, but when Jukka-Pekka Kervinen e-mailed me about his idea to publish pulp-styled literature in print-on-demand and asked for help, I thought immediately about my manusript. It fits here perfectly, and the story was actually better than I remembered. The book is called Älä soita sinivuokoille, Joe Novak, which translates roughly as "Don't Call the Coppers, Joe Novak" (Novak being the private eye hero of my one previous novella and various short stories).

I also put together a small anthology of crime and horror stories, some of which were previously published, mostly in my fanzines Isku and others. Some of the stories were previously unpublished, though, for example Harri István Mäki's wonderful story about Edgar Allan Poe's relationship with Annabel Lee. The book is called The Last Shot according to Tuomas Saloranta's sleazy story of a revenge falling over a porn dealer. The first line: "Start jerking off."

The third book is Petri Hirvonen's short story collection Kuolevan jumalan yö ("The Night of the Dying God" in English) that I put together from the stories I've published in various mags through years. There are some western stories, a pirate story with horror overtones, some eighties-style action, some revenge stories, all told with energy and a good eye for violent action. Petri is a little-known pulp writer who's done some Finnish Jerry Cotton stories and the FinnWest western series. Putki Kustannus is also putting out his novella Kalmankylväjä ("Deathsower" or some such) that takes place somewhere in the Central America. The body count is massive in just 100 pages. Both Petri's and my book have forewords or afterwords that explain what's going on.

There are other books coming out from Putki Kustannus: a criminous short story collection by Teemu Paarlahti, a collection of my Mikko Jarmo short stories that mix private eye genre with silly alternative history themes, a collection of flash fiction crime stories I ran in my mag, Ässä, and a collection of my reviews and articles on American hardboiled fiction. I've been also working on a small collection of obscure Finnish pulp short stories from the thirties and fourties, but there are some copyright problems I'll have to resolve. There's possibly also a western short story collection coming from Sami Myllymäki.

Here's more in Finnish on my other blog.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

William F. Nolan: The Black Mask Murders

To commemmorate the holidays I started to read William F. Nolan's The Black Mask Murders that Tapani Bagge loaned me already some years ago. The book features Dashiell Hammett as the first-person narrator, Raymond Chandler and Erle Stanley Gardner feature as sidekicks. All of them wrote for Black Mask, one of the best known and the most influential pulp magazines of the pre-WWII era. Some other writers also get mentioned, just as F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The book is an amiable pulp pastiche, if nothing more. Nolan writes well and the era is created pretty convincingly, but somehow I never really believe these guys really are Hammett, Chandler and Gardner. Perhaps Hammett, narrating his own story, comes closest. It comes off clear though that Nolan knows his stuff and knows how to keep the story moving. The plot sure moves along fast.

I'm now reading Brian Evenson's horror novel The Open Curtain. Seems pretty intriguing so far.

I've been a bad blogger for some time now (and I do know that it's bad blogging to blog about how bad you're at blogging), but I'll try to remedy that in the near future. I've had too little time on my hands, which shows here at Pulpetti. I'm not sure, though, whether I'll be able to squeeze in more hours or even minutes, since we'll be having our second child in the end of January (my third, I feel a bit old). There's not knowing how much the baby will keep me busy. (I can't believe this is the first time I've said this at Pulpetti, but that shows how much I've been able to think about blogging.)

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Fear Over the City

A grinning serial killer is hunting the women of Paris, inspector Le Terrier is hot on his trail. This is the basic and simple premise behind Henri Verneuil's Fear Over the City (Peur sur la ville) that came out in 1975. I just saw it last night on a 35 mm print, though it was somewhat faded and full of scratches.

There's much of Italian giallos in this film, and indeed it was partially financed by Italian producers. The Italian feel was heightened by English dubbing, which, while it wasn't badly made in itself, also added to the feel of unintentional humour. The film is at times an uneasy mix between serious thrill-seeking suspense film and a comical, almost self-parodist slapstick. Jean-Paul Belmondo in the lead as Le Terrier made his own stunts and one never really knows whether the scenes are thought to be funny or not, even though Belmondo was clearly at risk here.

In the end, it's only a middling film, with some nice touches here and there, but also with some ludicrous stuff here and there and everywhere. Some of the latter parts are very funny, some aren't. There are some beautiful women to be killed later on, which always makes me squirm a bit. The character of the serial killer is quite intriguing, though, his grin is scary. (I was told that the actor doing the killer's part was Italian, which also may have something to do with the giallo atmosphere.)

The best thing about the film is Ennio Morricone's eerie music. Check out the trailer below. Might've been better in the original French.

More Overlooked Films here at Todd Mason's blog. [Though seems like no post is up yet.]

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Overlooked Film weekend at the cabin: Stake Land, Leonard Part 6, Angst, Samurai Cop etc.

Stake Land
We spent a movie weekend at a cabin, me and six friends of mine, watching 14 feature-length films and an assortement of short subjects in a row. Fun was had by all, but I didn't get much sleep and am only now recovering. The films were a really mixed bunch, with some true oddities thrown in. Here's the lowdown.

Jim Mickle: Stake Land: pretty good gritty vampire apocalypse film from the director of Cold in July. ***½

Steven Knight: Hummingbird: tedious noirish film about an Afghanistan veteran (Jason Statham) trying to make wrongs right. Statham can't act serious stuff, but that's not the only problem here. Knight has done better stuff before (writing Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) and since (directing Locke), but this is just boring. **

Paul Weiland: Leonard Part 6: truly absurd Bill Cosby vehicle that Cosby has tried to keep off the air,.The film has some great moments, but is simply too long, some scenes seem to go on forever. * or ****

Ben Kamras: Life on the Line: shitty home video released in 1995 on VHS and later on DVD, with Finnish people speaking (bad) English. Everything is horribly wrong in this film by the son of a Finnish film mogul and theater owner. The film has some very, very bad fight scenes, the hits miss by a mile. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to die. * or *****

Aurora Productions: S.O.S.: some truly weird moments were had with this: catchy pop songs about Christians being harassed by a mob of soldiers and bar codes being tattooed on people's foreheads in praise of Satan, anti-evolutionist praises and what not. I'd found this on VHS not knowing what to expect, but this was truly something. Possibly shot in Australia. I understand the Family cult behind this has been accused of child abuse and other sex crimes. Some truly disturbing shit on them in the web. Can't really give stars to this.

Michael Bay: Pain & Gain: too long, but still up there with Spring Breakers as one of the essential neo-neonoirs of the 2010s: slick and shallow, full of spectacle, with a heart of pure satire. ***½

Jan Svankmajer: Surviving Life: I've liked Svankmajer's wild and surreal animations, but this didn't satisfy me much, seems like he's not very good with feature films. **

David Ayer: Sabotage: it's no wonder Schwarzenegger's comeback movie didn't make much impact with the audience: all the characters are unpleasant and the story line is botched (possibly because of the producer's interference), but there are still some of Ayer's trademarks: fast and meaningless dialogue and the tension between the bad cops and the worse cops. **½

Gerard Kargl: Angst: intimate and disturbing depiction of a serial killer released from prison and going on a killing spree in an isolated house. Banned in many European countries and possibly in the US as well, but still very intricately shot by Zbigniew Rybczynski and well acted. ****½

Anthony Mann: Strange Impersonation: strong noirish melodrama with an identity switch, suffers from a slack ending. ***

Arim Shervan: Samurai Cop: laughably and entertainingly ridiculous straight-to-video cop flick from the early nineties, shot possibly with a VHS camera. Lots of very bad acting and editing. Still a bit too long. A sequel is being made as I write. * or ****

Efren Pinon: The Killing of Satan: incomprehensible Philippine horror/fantasy film. Might've been a contender, but wasn't, save for some scenes here and there. * (After this we watched a Finnish VHS video from the early eighties in which a Finnish escape artist talks about his faith. I don't know why we bothered.)

Franck Khalfoun: Maniac: intelligent reworking of the dubious slasher classic by William Lustig. The POV technique works well: we almost never see Elijah Wood's face. ***½

Joseph Zito: Invasion USA: inept and stupid Chuck Norris vehicle with a wildly implausible plot to overthrow the US government. Yeah, right. Other guys seemed to love this. *½

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Joe R. Lansdale: The Thicket

Joe R. Lansdale's The Thicket (2013) is a bit like Cormac McCarthy wrote a novel from a treatment by Robert E. Howard: it's a weird, brutal and merciless story that moves on with the speed of a bullet, set in the desolate wasteland of the early 20th century Texas.

The Thicket is a western that pulls no punches. Everything is dirty and violent, but Lansdale makes the people he writes about come alive. The reader cares for them and really wishes no harm would come to them - and then Lansdale makes the worst happen. The bad guys are really scary. The Thicket is truly a gripping read.

The book loses some of its momentum after the first half, and some of the characters lose their spark a bit (especially prostitute Jimmie Sue, who seems very vibrant at first), but the first half and the climax just before the end is some of the best stuff I've read all year. Can't wait for the movie to come out.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

100 American Crime Writers out - already in 2012!

I hadn't earlier noticed that 100 American Crime Writers, edited by Steven Powell, is out - has been actually already from 2012! The book looks good based on the Google Books page and some blog reviews I came across (here and here, for example). I was mentioned, and still I didn't notice!

I haven't received my contributor's copies, I'll have to get in touch with someone! Wonder if this is still doable. Now if only I'd remember if I wrote something for 100 British Crime Writers - I have a nagging feeling such a book was in the making at the same time...

Here's Steven Powell's interesting crime-oriented blog Venetian Vase.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Everybody Lies out

My newest book, the short story anthology Everybody Lies, is finally out. It's available here - and of course it's in Finnish and the actual title is Kaikki valehtelevat, which is the literal translation of James Reasoner's story in the book.

The book consists of some 20 criminous short stories from writers like Reasoner, Jason Starr, Kevin Wignall, Duane Swierczynski, Vicki Hendricks and Patricia Abbott. All of the stories came previously out in my mags Isku, Ässä and Seikkailukertomuksia (= Adventure Stories), that were self-published pastiches of old-time crime rags. All the translations have been edited and proofread carefully. It's a nice and varied collection of new hardboiled and noir writing, especially since almost none of these writers are available in Finnish at the moment. Most of the stories were translated by me, but some of them were translated by some of my talented friends, namely Antti Autio, Tapani Bagge, Sonja Lahdenranta and Lotta Sonninen. Thanks for them for the big help! 

The beautiful cover was envisioned by a friend of mine, Jenni Jokiniemi, who works as a designer. This was her first book cover, if I understood correctly. I hope to collaborate with her more in the future. 

Here's the table of contents. 

I'm actually doing another collection in the same vein, of the flash fiction stories I published in Ässä. I've been asking for permissions from writers, but not all have responded. If you read this and remember having received an e-mail or a Facebook message from, please do respond! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some sword and sorcery stories: Robert E. Howard, C. L. Moore, Manly Wade Wellman

A week ago I had a feeling I'd like to read something that wasn't work-related in any way. As usual, I had some trouble finding something suitable to read even though I have some 5,000 books in my shelves.

However, I picked up a Finnish anthology of old sword and sorcery stories, mainly from Weird Tales, but also from some other pulp mags. The book is called Mustan jumalan suudelma AKA Black God's Kiss after the story by C. L. Moore in the book. Of the stories I read, Moore's was the best. It's full of surreal images and still it moves with a breakneck pace. Very beautiful and thrilling. The story came out first in Weird Tales in 1934.

The other stories I read were Robert E. Howard's novella-length "The Black Stranger" (1934-1935, unpublished in Howard's life-time, published in 1953 in abridged form and in 1987 in original form) and Manly Wade Wellman's "Thunder in the Dawn" (Amazing Stories 1939). Wellman's story was a bit slow and dated, I didn't feel the thrill of adventure in this, even though the premise is pretty good: a stone age warrior is really the Hercules of the Greek lore and is the cause of Atlantis sinking in the ocean. Howard's story pits Conan against some pirates and settlers, in the story everyone deceives one and another. It's a great read, though I still preferred C. L. Moore.

The striking cover in the book was drawn by Jukka Murtosaari, a friend of mine, who's studied classical American illustration art for decades now - and it clearly shows. The editor of the book is one Markku Sadelehto, who's done a good day's work bringing American pulp fiction to Finnish readers, as he's edited tons of anthologies for different publishers for over 20 years now. His magnum opus is the edition of the collected stories of H. P. Lovecraft. The sixth and final volume came out just two months ago.

Alas, I didn't have time to read more of the stories from the book. I've read this when it came out some 20 years ago, but don't remember much of it.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Laura Lippman: The Innocents

I was looking for something easy to read between some work-related books and grabbed Laura Lippman's The Innocents I'd bought from a thrift store earlier. I'd read one or two of Lippman's Tess Monaghan novels and thought they were pretty good. I knew this wasn't part of the series, but I knew it was a stand-alone book, and thinking I'd read it in a jiffy started to read it. (Tess Monaghan makes a short appearance, though, giving the story an extra boost.)

Instead it turned out to be a serious mainstream novel, with an episodic and a bit labyrinthine structure, with people's lives mingling with each other's lives, criss-crossing in time and place. Lippman gives hints there's something bad in the past of people she writes about, but she reveals it a bit by bit, very slowly, but enticingly. I didn't read this in a jiffy, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It could've been shorter, but that's just me.

Seems like this was published in the US as The Most Dangerous Thing. I found a British edition that has an alternate title. (Explains why this can't be found from Lippman's site with that title.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

It's been months since I last wrote an entry to this blog meme.

I don't know if anybody noticed, but yesterday marked the sixtieth birthday of Godzilla AKA Gojira. The first Godzilla film premiered on third of November in 1954 in Japan, and I helped organize the showing of one of the later Godzilla films, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, at the Finnish Film Archive screening here in Turku, Finland. It was shown on 35 mm film, in a Cinemascope picture.

The film is a hoot. It's very, very hilarious. It's fast-paced, it never slows down, which is a normal handicap for bad and campy pictures: they are slow. There's always something going on in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla even though none of it makes sense. Cigar-smoking space invaders in silver suits? Check. A huge cyborg pretending to be Godzilla? Check. An ancient Japanese god living inside a cave? Check. A woman singing praise to the said god on a beach with a nice orchestrated background? Check. A mysterious Interpol agent masquerading as a freelance journalist in a long coat trying very hard not to look suspicious? Check. Mysterious gangsters turning into monkeys when they die or even get hit? Check. Name it, and you probably have it in the film.

Highly recommended, lots of laughs guaranteed. More Overlooked Films coming up at Todd Mason's blog here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Dark Places

Some of you might remember I had some gripes about Gillian Flynn's bestselling chick noir novel Gone Girl (here's my short review, I wrote a more detailed review in Finnish). I liked Flynn's earlier novel, Dark Places, more, and it's out in Finnish in a good translation. It's darker and more believable and the seedy and unpleasant atmosphere is very well realized. The plot unravels slowly, Flynn knows how to make the reader turn pages without reverting to easy gimmicks. 

I ran into a good review of Gone Girl at the Rara-Avis e-mail list, written by Mark Nevins. I asked for Mark's permission to publish the review here and he complied. I think he is pretty spot on on some of the weaknesses of the novel. So, here goes. 

Gillian Flynn, GONE GIRL (2012) 

While I'm probably the last person in American to have finally gotten around to reading GONE GIRL, I'll still try to avoid spoilers in this review--which will be hard to do, so consider stopping reading now if you're planning to pick up this novel any time soon.

Gillian Flynn has written an incredibly clever novel in GONE GIRL, and it's worth reading the book just to see how she creates a complicated and layered narrative puzzle, somewhat along the lines of THE USUAL SUSPECTS or THE SIXTH SENSE. Nothing is what it seems in the "perfect" marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne, and the reader is forced to try to make sense of how the pieces of the story fit together via Nick and Amy's alternating first-person chapters, made more difficult by the fact that each of them has multiple "personas" as well.

Most readers seem to think GONE GIRL gets better after the "reveal" in the middle. While I saw the reveal coming, I nevertheless felt the second part of the novel was weaker than I would have hoped, given the fantastic set-up. When Flynn has to shift from narrative cleverness (and her construction of the narrative and all of its many moving parts is very very clever indeed) to real psychological depth, she comes up a bit short. While the first half of the novel promises something truly new, the resolution feels a little too much like the standard mass market thriller, including stock characters such as the creepy doting rich lover and the powerhouse slick attorney.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that I found neither of the two main characters in any way sympathetic: other writers working in the "doomed noir" space (e.g., the obvious candidate, James M. Cain) somehow make us root for bad people to succeed. My other big problem is that the overall tone of the book's prose is a bit too "chick lit" for me. GONE GIRL flirts with postmodern structure and unreliable narrators in ways reminiscent of Italo Calvino or Vladimir Nabokov, and it dances with dirty, twisted characters similar to those you might find in books by Charles Willeford or Jim Thompson, and yet the result is a book that falls somewhere in the comfortable middle, also known as the top of the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list for fiction. (Which may have been the author's objective after all, and who am I to quibble with that?)

I would in the end genuinely recommend GONE GIRL--if only because it's such a phenomenon, and a clever construction--but I think readers well-versed in the classics of noir are likely to find it a little "lite." (On another note, I will be intrigued to see how the book will be adapted to film, since what makes the book so interesting can really only be achieved on the printed page.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Richard Moore and Barry Malzberg on Donald Westlake's The Getaway Car

I spotted this nice mini-review of Donald Westlake's non-fiction collection, The Getaway Car, by Richard Moore on the Rara-Avis e-mail list and asked for his permission to republish it here. Richard, ever the gentleman, gave his permission. It was originally posted to the PulpMags e-mail list.

The Getaway Car by Donald E. Westlake and edited by Levi Stahl (University of Chicago 2014) is a fascinating collection of Westlake’s non-fiction. It is a must for Westlake fans but anyone interested in writing will find it worthwhile.

It includes Westlake’s “The Hardboiled Dicks” first delivered in a May 1982 lecture at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC and later published in The Third Degree. I was at that lecture and it is hard to believe it was over 30 years ago. I remember thinking the lecture was toned down in a couple of spots prior to publication but I will need to find what I wrote for a fan publication at the time for any specifics. It remains a great analysis of the work of the private eye.

One short piece that fascinates me is “Light” an unpublished manuscript found in Westlake’s files and apparently written in 1997 or 1998. His 40th novel “The Ax” was a departure that got great reviews, sold surprisingly well, and caught his publisher’s attention. His return to the world of Parker after a hiatus of more than 20 years in “Comeback” also created a stir.

Suddenly, expectations were raised. He had another novel finished but it was no longer deemed suitable as a follow-up to “The Ax.” He told his agent “It’s a little late for me to have second novel problems, but that is what this is.”

I noticed that the Wall Street Journal has just published an appreciation of Westlake and a nice review of Stahl’s fine collection by William Kristol, editor of the National Review. I rarely agree with Mr. Kristol on anything but I share his enthusiasm for Westlake. I would not go quite as far as Krystol, who said Westlake was “the greatest modern American novelist.”

Here's also writer Barry Malzberg's comment to Richard Moore, published here with Mr. Malzberg's permission: 

As I wrote Lawrence Block off-list a week or two ago, "I am being escorted however reluctantly to belief in Donald E. Westlake as the greatest 20th Century USA writer." A refugee for half a century now from the precincts of quality lit and its bias, I am perhaps unthrilled but also embraced by this inference. No writer alive or dead has given me more pleasure per capita than Donald Westlake. I wish he had not been such a nasty son of a bitch (at least to me) but as Murch's mother would point out, the best route does not usually parallel the most scenic route.

GET REAL shows a 75 year old writer going out at the top, his gifts not only undiminished but soaring. The two posth, the last novel, and the last published in Westlake's lifetime shows his gift not only intact but still growing. The posthumously published novels are sensational, in fact THE COMEDY IS FINISHED, dealing with the same essential national dilemma as AMERICAN PASTORAL outdoes Roth's great novel as social and literary document.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Errors circulating about Gil Brewer's career

I just spotted this blog post via the Facebook group for Gil Brewer fans. It's a review of The Vengeful Virgin, Brewer's novel that was reprinted by Hard Case Crime some years ago. (Mind you, I've never read it, maybe it's about time!) There are some glaring errors I want to point out.

First of all, Gil Brewer didn't start writing at the age of seven. He was born in 1922, so he couldn't have started out in pulp magazines in 1929! It was his father. I know where this originates from: the St. James to The 20th Century Crime and Mystery Writers, but I believe it's been corrected in later editions. Anyone should see it's plain wrong, but apparently not.

Second, Gil Brewer didn't hit the pages of Black Mask, but then again, his first novel was published in 1950, and Black Mask ceased publication in 1951! And as for someone not publishing in Black Mask, let me point out that Fredric Brown - whom we all consider a genius, right? - published only one story in Black Mask. And Manhunt that has been one of the most influential crime short story magazines in history was Brewer's mainstay for years.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Shining

Well, most certainly Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, based on one of Stephen King's best-known books, is not an overlooked movie. It is to me, though, since I have never seen it on big screen, and it's been years since I saw it on TV. The screening of the Finnish Film Archive last night remedied this, and I can say the film blew my mind. I've had some problems with Kubrick's films - maybe even all of them -, but they are very cinematic to the edge of maniacal perfection.

Almost everything in The Shining is honed to perfection: the camera drives (remember that Francois Truffaut said Kubrick started out copying Aldrich's camera drives!), weird shooting angles, Jack Nicholson's acting (I wouldn't blame him on overacting on this, as many have done, he's masterly at timing his bursts), the use of music... There are some problems in the film, though: the use of Scatman Crothers's character is mechanic and doesn't bring much to the thematics of the film, and the ending is a bit abrupt.

However, the biggest problem is this: who cares what happens to these people? As the French critic Jacques Rivette once said, Kubrick makes films about machines to other machines. Shelley Duvall's wife is irritating, always almost bursting out in tears, Danny Lloyd's little boy is fascinating, but I think Kubrick could understand his kind of autistic kids. And you never really know what makes Nicholson's Jack Torrance tick. It's of course the basic idea in the film: you never really know... but one would hope for some clues. The film and its story and people exist in a fictional maze that's closed from the other society. It fascinates only as a game, even though it's a really suspenseful game.

This is my first foray into this theme in months. Here's a link to Todd Mason's blog where all the things happen, and here's a link to the previous gathering.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

King Vidor, the pulp writer?

Checking something else from the Fictionmags Index, I noticed this entry:

VIDOR, KING (chron.)
Southern Storm, (ss) Esquire May 1935
The Texas Rangers, (ms) Texas Rangers Dec 1936

Now, can this be the famous film director of Fountainhead, Ruby Gentry, War and Peace and other films?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Charles Beckman's short story "The Dancing Death"?

As many of you probably know, pulp writer Charles Beckman who specialized in hardboiled and noir crime stories and wrote also for the western market has been seeing a revival of his work getting into print. (Here and here Amazon links for the new collections of his old stories.) Beckman is still alive and I was able to ask him via James Reasoner if I could a small collection of his work that's been translated in Finnish.

The collection would be with two stories. There's an old story in an old Finnish pulp magazine called Seikkailujen Maailma (The World of Adventures), and then there's a called story "Class Reunion" that was translated by my friend, Tapani Bagge, that appeared in a late crime fiction magazine called RikosPalat (Crime Bits or some such in English). Beckman gave me his permission. (There are also some three or four stories in the old issues of the Finnish edition of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, but I don't have an easy access as to who translated them and where I could find them for a permission.)

After I'd typed "Class Reunion" I started typing the other story from the 1955 pulp mag. The Finnish title is "Tanssiva kuolema", which translates back as "The Dancing Death". The anti-hero of the story is one "Kippy Nikkeli" (I believe the name's been changed), who's on the run from some organized crime thugs, one of whom is called Pope (probably so, since his name is translated as "Paavi", which is the literal translation of "Pope"). In the beginning of the story Kippy finds himself in a junky joint trying to have a hamburger. It seems he hears voices in his head, and he also reminiscences another joint where he used to dance. He's also involving with Pope's mistress falling in love with another man. It's a moody noir-type piece where there no winners, only losers.

Now, there are several problems. Beckman himself didn't remember the story, nor did he find it in the pulp magazines he still has from his writing days. The story is not "Run, Cat, Run" that was reprinted in Beckman's Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers, nor is it "Should a Tear be Shed" in the same book, even though they share some similarities.

Googling the story's name with "Charles Beckman" doesn't give any clues. I don't have access to the crime fiction short story indices and I could check only the Fictionmags Index. There are some stories with the title "The Dancing Death", but none that match. Some of the stories listed therein did appear in a pulp magazine, but they seem to be a bit old or too long, i.e. serials. The story that I have at hand is more like a filler, even though it's a good story.

But there's a story called "Die Dancing, Kid" from Detective Tales, January 1947, and by Charles Beckman. Now, the publisher of Seikkailujen Maailma used lots of stories from the Popular Publications' magazines, such as Dime Detective and Detective Tales (and also Dime Mystery). I asked Beckman again if this could be our story. He said he doesn't remember writing that story and doesn't have a copy.

Now, does anyone have the issue of Detective Tales, January 1947, and can check the story out for me?

The photo accompanying this post is the illustration for the Finnish publication. For all I know, it could be the original illustration for Beckman's story.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Nic Pizzolatto: Galveston

This is a very good book: original, well-written and unpredictable, even though at times there are some elements that might be a bit too familiar.

That happens in almost any noir novel, though. I can't see how you could get away without adding any tough gangsters or any other clichéd material. At least Pizzolatto does a pretty good job with them.

The antihero of the book, Roy Cady is a man without a future. He's doubly that: he's got cancer in his lungs, and he works as a hired hand for a local crime boss who loves Cady's ladyfriend. Cady is a man without qualities, he's empty inside, were it not for the cancer.

Yet he speaks in a beautiful voice. Galveston is full of poetic touches, marvellous lines, quotable stuff on the seedy side of life. And still I don't feel Pizzolatto is over-doing this. Galveston remains believable and plausible almost throughout. (There's one thing plot-wise that didn't wholly convince me, but I won't go into that.)

By the way, I haven't seen any episode of True Detective. I'm pretty eager to see it, yet I'm too lazy to try look it up. (I know there's a chance of seeing it on HBO Nordic, but I'm still waiting for it come on proper TV channels.)

Monday, September 01, 2014

Quick update after the holidays

I've been trying get back to work on a regular basis after the long summer holiday. We did quite a bit of travelling, mainly in Finland, but we also paid a visit to Denmark (Copenhagen and Legoland), where we'd never been. We also bought a summer cottage, so we spent lots of time there. (It's not actually a cottage, but the long explanation might be too difficult.)

Even though July and August were supposed to be a vacation, I had to read work-related stuff: I've started doing a book on the history of Finnish western literature. I also reread lots of Tolkien, since I did a non-fiction book on Tolkien with a friend of mine. I finished it up late last week and sent it off. Now I'm finishing some other lesser books, such as a small anthology of western-themed horror stories by Finnish writers. Then I'm rushing off to finish a book on Finnish war-time photography. Then I'll be able to concentrate on my book on Finnish westerns.

Sounds like I'll be busy, eh? I'll try to get back to regular blogging, but don't expect much, since I'll be loaded with work. Our son went to a fourth grade and comes back home at two p.m., so the working hours are a bit short. Maybe some Overlooked Movies and Forgotten Books every now then.

Oh, I started Nic "True Detective" Pizzolatto's novel Galveston and it seems really, really good. I also read Gillian Flynn's Dark Places (came out in Finnish as Paha paikka) and I liked it a great deal. It's almost like a private eye novel in which the protagonist is herself in the middle of the mystery. Every move, every inquiry she makes affects her own life. Highly recommended, even more so than her celebrated Gone Girl.

Friday, August 15, 2014

James Reasoner's collection in Finnish

I just picked up my copies of a new book I was making. I compiled a small collection of James Reasoner's stories that had previously been published in my fiction magazines Isku and Seikkailukertomuksia and such, and a micropublisher a friend of mine runs published it. Here's more info on the book - it's in Finnish, but you can still read the original titles of the stories. "Red Reef" wasn't previously published in Finnish, it came out only in this book. It's a nice little book full of good old-fashioned pulp fun!

The striking cover is by Pertti Jarla, known for his humorous Fingergpori strip, but alas his name got dropped out at the last minute.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Charlie Huston: Already Dead

I'm still alive and kickin', though you wouldn't realize it by looking at this blog. I've been on holiday which has also meant not blogging. We've travelled quite a bit and been doing some renovations at our new summer cottage (I'll probably post about that something soon).

But here's something that's more in the vein of Pulpetti. Someone might remember I wasn't thrilled about Charlie Huston's vampire private eye novel Already Dead back in 2007, but I've now read the book in Finnish translation and I'm happy to say I liked it more this time. It's a fast-moving, cynical and very violent book about Joe Pitt, a guy who went vampire when being given a blow-job in a New York punk club in the late seventies and who now works as a private eye between the world of vampires and the real human beings. Highly recommended. And this also proves that translations are sometimes a good thing, even though books are usually best read in their original language. Not this time, for some reason or another.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Some e-books I read during the trip: Allan Guthrie, Peter Brandvold, Paul Levine, Gerard Brennan, J. David Osborne

That's a long subject line, isn't it?

We were on a smallish trip earlier this week: we went to Denmark, where we've never been. We visited Legoland, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (highly, highly recommendable) and the vintage Tivoli entertainment park in the centre of Copenhagen. It was a fun trip, for most part, but I'm not going to write about it. Instead, in the spirit of this blog, I'll say something about the books I read during the trip. I had nothing with me but my Kindle. I download only free e-books, since I don't have a credit card with which I could buy e-books, so I'm dependent on what comes free. Even with this approach, I've managed to accumulate a pretty good selection of new noir and hardboiled writing, with some westerns and horror thrown in. Mentioned should also be some classic noir stuff that's coming from publishers like Prologue Books.

Okay, to the books. Peter Brandvold's better known as a western writer, but I've never read any of his books in that genre, but they seem quite good. I read his short novel Paradox Falls that I think is mislabelled as horror. It's more like a suspense thriller, with a possible serial killer hunting some hikers in the Colorado mountains. The book reads pretty fast, but the ending is a bit abrupt. There was also some interesting stuff on being a writer that seemed a bit autobiographic, as the main character, a sympathetic young man yearning for his early love affair, makes his living writing sex westerns. Paradox Falls could've been published as a cheap paperback in the early eighties, and I mean this as a good thing.

Allan Guthrie's Kill Clock was even a shorter book, a novella-length tale of Guthrie's occurring character, Pearce. Guthrie tells his brutal tale with short sentences, but also manages to make Pearce a sympathetic character in all his bruteness and tendency to sudden bursts of violence. Kill Clock also has a good plot for a novella. Recommended quite highly.

Paul Levine's Last Chance Lassiter is the first Jake Lassiter story I've ever read, as I'm not very keen on courtroom thrillers. But this one was so funny and entertaining I'd be willing to try more of Levine's work. Very fluent writing, very smooth plotting, some quite funny wisecracking.

J. David Osborne runs Broken River Books that's a very interesting crime and horror fiction outfit specializing in edgy and bizarre neo-noir. Osborne's own short story collection Our Blood In Its Own Circuit is full with, well, edgy and bizarre stuff that's not easily labelled. I read the first three stories on our flight back, and two of them were very strong: the titular story is about Mexican cops who bathe in the blood of chickens, and the western story "Amends Due, West of Glorieta" is full of shocking violence and characters straight out of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Check out this free Broken River Books sampler!

I also started Gerard Brennan's novella The Point, a brutally realistic story about two brothers whose life goes to hell when they move to a small town on the seaside and the other one starts dealing stolen cars. The plot could be more original, but Brennan's clipped style makes it interesting. I'm only halfway in the middle, so there might be some surprises coming.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Me and my new book

Pulpografia Britannica just came from the printers! Here's me with a happy smile and my first book, Pulpografia that came out in 2000 and deals primarily with American crime pulpsters and paperbackers. You can see it's a worn copy. Hopefully this new book comes just as handy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Patricia Abbott's short story collection – in Finnish!

Just when I finished my book on British crime paperbackers, I was notified that another book was ready to be picked from the printers. It's Patricia Abbott's Merenneidot (meaning "Mermaids") short story collection I edited and published with a small print run. The book collects six of Abbott's insightful, clever, cruel and empathetic crime stories, most of them are in the flash fiction length, but the longest story in the book is about ten pages long.

The stories are: "Mermaids", "My Hero", "How to Launder a Shirt", "Johnny Jinx", "Hole in the Wall" and "Initiation". Most of these were originally published in the web, but some were print publications. Most of the stories came out in Finnish in my magazines Isku and Ässä, but "Mermaids" and "How to Launder a Shirt" were translated for this book and were never before published in Finnish. "Johnny Jinx" and "Hole in the Wall" were translated by my friend Lotta Sonninen and I'm sure their translations are better than my attempts!

The cover is by Aapo Kukko as are my usual mini books. See the Ray Banks book here and the Ed Gorman book here. (Seems like I haven't blogged about the Gorman book, but it's a translation of his "Scream Queen".)

Most of the copies I'm selling are going to the libraries here in Finland, but this is also available through me for a measly three euros!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Pulpografia Britannica to the printers

Just sent my Pulpografia Britannica to the printers. Here's the cover by Ville Manninen who did spectacular job.

It was a 15-year work. This at least should prove I'm no ADHD person, even though the idea crosses my mind every once in awhile.

Here's the list of authors tackled in the book:

Ray Alan
Eric Ambler
W. Howard Baker
John Boland
David Brierley
Jonathan Burke
Peter Cave
Johnny Cello
Peter Chambers
Philip Chambers
Leslie Charteris
James Hadley Chase
Peter Cheyney
Hugh Clevely
Basil Copper
John Creasey
Paul Denver
Adam Diment
Rex Dolphin
John Drummond
F. Dubrez Fawcett
P. A. Foxall
Stephen Frances
Pete Garroway
Tudor Gates
John S. Glasby
Berkeley Gray
Sean Gregory
Leonard Gribble
Angus Hall
Roger Hamilton
Rex Hardinge
Edwin Harrison
Jack Higgins
Harry Hobson
Hartley Howard
John Hunter
Warwick Jardine
Hank Janson (the pseudonymous efforts of the unknown authors)
George Joseph
Harold Kelly
Arthur Kent
Bill Knox
H. L. Lawrence
Brian McDermott
Arthur MacLean
Wilfred McNeilly
James Moffatt
Stanley Morgan
James Munro
Victor Norwood
Flann O'Brien
Peter O'Donnell
D. J. Olivy
Anthony Parsons
Bryan Peters
John T. Phillifent
Hugh C. Rae
Desmond Reid
Colin Robertson
Angus Ross
Kenneth Royce
Jimmy Sangster
Julian Savarin
Frederick E. Smith
Gordon Sowman
James Stagg
Jack Trevor Story
Rosamond Mary Story
Frank Struan
Martin Thomas
E. C. Tubb
Walter Tyrer
Gerald Verner
John Wainwright
Vernon Warren
Ronald Wills

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Some problematic Sexton Blakes

I've been posting some bibliographic puzzles here on Pulpetti for some time now. I'm finally getting my book on British crime paperbackers to print (hopefully at the end of the next week), but there are still some things I'd like to be more sure of. I have several Sexton Blakes translated in Finnish in the early sixties for which I haven't been able to find the original publishing info, as I don't have an access to original English stories.

Here's a lowdown, with the Finnish titles translated literally back to English (but do note that the English titles don't match any known Sexton Blake stories):

Edwin Harrison: "The Green Spider" (published in 1963): someone is coming to meet Sexton Blake at his office, but is hit by a car just in front of Blake's building and gets killed.
Edwin Harrison: "Spanish Blood" (1963): a matador is poisoned by syanide.
Anonymous (only Sexton Blake published in Finnish without the author's name): "The Disappeared Author" (1963): the promising writer of a great book gets lost.
Desmond Reid (a house name): "The Avenger from Dartmoor" (1962): the authorities let a a prisoner escape so that he can revenge and take out his former allies who let him down
Desmond Reid: "The Woman Is Dangerous" (1962): takes place in fictional state of Costa Barria, features also Huxton Rymer, but is still clearly from the post-WWII era
Desmond Reid: "The Trumper Killer": a jazz player makes extra money killing people
Desmond Reid: "The Angel of Death": an early story on animal rights movement, some young people are fleeing the circus animals
Jack Trevor Story: "Gold Means Death": Splash Kirby looks into the world of Italian immigrants and is kidnapped and taken to Italy
Jack Trevor Story: "Death Before One's Eyes": now, this is interesting: Blake is a first person narrator (the only time in the history of Sexton Blake?) and is approached by a former lover who asks Blake look into a mystery
Jack Trevor Story: "Love Under the Gallows": Sexton Blake vs. the teenage gangs

And also, is Jack Trevor Story's Invitation to Murder about someone killing models?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kenneth Royce

Of all the British pulpsters and paperbackers I've been covering in my forth-coming book, there have been only a few writers whose work I've really been fond of. I don't know why this is, but it's something I've been noticing for the past dozen years: I like American stuff more than British, and this is the case even with films and music. Give me The Sonics anytime over The Rolling Stones or The Dead Kennedys over The Sex Pistols!

But there are indeed some British crime writers whose work I really like. Kenneth Royce is one of them. He writes in clear prose that keeps the story moving, he creates interesting characters with just a few lines, they are likable even though they are not heroes, his plots are unpredictable and original. Too bad he's not very well known these days. I'm not sure if he's known at all. He does have a Wikipedia page, though. He's had three Finnish translations, all in pulpy paperbacks and with not interesting covers (see below).

Of the two translations, the first two have Royce's serial character, Spider Scott, as the hero. He's a former master burglar, who's gained his nick name with his skills in climbing. He climbs any wall. In the beginning of the first Spider Scott book, The XYY Man (1970; Ansa ilman muuta in Finnish; the original name comes from the "fact" that most of the male criminals have an extra chromosome). Scott is lured by some secret organization to break and entry the Chinese embassy or his brother's career in the police force is threatened. Spider Scott doesn't want that, so he complies - and has to kill the Chinese ambassador in order to stay alive. And now he has to flee everyone. This is a very intriguing thriller, to the last page.

In the second Spider book, The Miniatures Frame (1972; Tie murhaan in Finnish), the plot is even more original. Spider is taken into a committee that's supposed to make the prisons better places for the prisoners. The head of the committee is a rich asshole who collects art and antique. Spider is lured by the man's teenage daughter into a secret chamber the man has in his house and Spider spots two extremely valuable miniature paintings he's stolen ten years ago! The man threatens Spider with the jail, but Spider fights back. Spider Scott was developed into a TV series, but I've never seen it.

The third translation, The Stalin Account (1983; Tappavat varjot in Finnish), is an interesting spy novel the plot of which starts in the 1920s and the attempt of the Soviet bolsheviks to turn Brits into communists and then spies for the Soviet Union. What follows is a tragic love story between a Soviet spy and a young British girl. The thing comes again alive in the early eighties when the woman of the love story dies almost entirely alone, nurtured only by her nephew. When the elderly woman dies, her diary also goes missing. It all ties around the story of Stalin's son, Jacob. It's a very interesting spy novel with believable characters and believable history.

I haven't read any other books by Royce, but I come across them, I'll be sure to take a look. George Kelley says in his entry for Royce in The St. James Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers that some of Royce's best books are The President Is Dead (1988), Fall-Out (1989) and 10,000 Days (1981). The last one should prove interesting as it's about the ending of oil.

Everybody Lies and other crime stories

Apart from finishing my book on British pulpsters and paperbackers, I've also been compiling and editing the book that will hopefully come out later this year. It's a collection of the new crime stories that came out mainly in Isku, but also in Ässä and Seikkailukertomuksia (Adventure Stories), all mags I published in 2003-2011. Here's the lowdown:

Ed Gorman: Tauko (Layover)
Allan Guthrie: Rakkain terveisin Rex (Love, Rex)
Patrick Shawn Bagley: Vielä yksi sotku (One More Mess)
Bill Crider: Ilta Carlin kanssa (Evening Out with Carl)
Lawrence Schimel: Pudotus (Falling)
David Terrenoire: Tulipalo (The Fire)
Harry Shannon: Langanpätkiä (Loose Ends)
James Reasoner: Kaikki valehtelevat (Everybody Lies)
J. A. Konrath: Ihmisen paras ystävä (Whelp Wanted)
Duane Swierczynski: Munakello (Eggtimer)
Kevin Wignall: Kuolema (A Death)
Anthony Neil Smith: Clive tunnustaa (Clive Confesses)
Vicki Hendricks: West End (West End)
Keith Rawson: Veri, sirpaleet ja kaikki muu (The Blood, the Shattered Glass and All the Rest)
Pat Lambe: Lemurian portto (The Whore of Lemuria)
J. D. Rhoades: Satanen (The Hundred)
Jason Starr: Viimeiseksi valittu (The Last Pick)
Pearce Hansen: Halvaantunut tappajasimpanssi (Paraplegic Killer Chimp)
Sandra Ruttan: Ihana tapa kuolla (To Die For)
Ed Lynskey: Isoveli (Think Pink)
Michael Wiecek: Lahja veljeltä (A Brother's Gift)
Molly Brown: Tähti (Star)
Sandra Scoppettone: Lihamureke (Meatloaf)
Patricia Abbott: Aukko seinässä (Hole in the Wall)
Christa Faust: Anna tulla (Hit Me)

The book will be titled according to James Reasoner's story. It will also have a short preface by Tapani Bagge and a longer preface by me. There's no cover yet. I think that's a mighty good table of contents, don't you?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Michael AKA Mike Hervey, pt. 2

I promised to say something about short story writer Mike Hervey's short stories. I covered what I know of his life in this post. It's not much and lots is mere speculation.

Same goes for his short stories. I can't say I read them carefully, many I only eyed lazily. Lots were translated in Finnish and published in mags in the late fourties and the fifties. As you remember, he had a magazine to his own name in Australia, called The Mike Hervey Detective Monthly Magazine. The Finnish magazine called Salapoliisilukemisto (Detective Digest; see photo) seems to have taken its stories from that magazine, since it had issues that contained only stories by Hervey! And many were straight from the Australian magazine.

Hervey was as prolific as hell, writing over 3000 short stories in a span of ten years. That must show in the quality of his stories. Many are pretty simple, focusing on the twist at the end, as in the story "Death of a Widow" (1953). There's not much description of the scenery, nor is there much character development. Most of the characters are what's usually called stock characters: detective, police officer, career criminal, deceitful babe, disappointed wife, etc. In "Nick to the Rescue" (1953) that's almost of a flash fiction length we get both the career criminal and the deceitful babe. There are some variations, though. "Death on Wheels" (1953) is about a race driver who's forced to win in a race. If he loses, he'll be killed.

Some of the stories are science fictional, for example in the story called "In the Year 2500" (I don't know the original title, and I don't even know what really takes place in the story). "You Can't Deceit Faith" (the original title missing, probably from 1953) is about foreseeing the future and clairvoyance.

I realize this isn't much, but it's a start! There's not much info on Mike Hervey in the web.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Michael AKA Mike Hervey, pt. I

My forth-coming book on British paperbackers doesn't really cover the writers who specialized in short stories. There are two reasons for this: there were only few translations from those who wrote only short stories, and then again I haven't had enough resources to check the magazines that could've carried British writers' stories. The American pulpsters were covered in great length by mainly a one magazine, the Lahti-based Seikkailujen Maailma (The World of Adventures; see this post in English by me), but none were specialized in British pulps.

I do have sketchy entries for some writers from whom I found only short stories. One of them is Michael AKA Mike Hervey. Not many have heard of him during the past 30 or 40 years. He had lots of stories and serials translated in Finnish pulp and other fictionmags in the fifties. The magazine called Salapoliisilukemisto (The Detective Digest or some such) had issues that had only stories by Hervey in them!

Now, who was Mike Hervey? He seems a pretty enigmatic character in his own right. He wrote lots of cheap paperbacks for mushroom publishers like Forsyte and Mitre in the 1940s and 1950s. Many of his books are one-act plays or skimpy short story collections. The books have hardboiled titles like Dumb Witness or No Excuse for Murder. (The book in the picture is from 1946, hardback from Alliance, yet another publisher I've never heard of.) This guy wrote a lot.

But not for a great many years. Seems like his first book (Save Your Pity) came out in 1943 and his last one Crime a la Carte in 1953. His career lasted only ten years, yet he's said to have written 3,500 short stories.

There's something fishy about Mike Hervey. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia tells us more. He was born in 1915, but he told everyone he was born in 1920. His birth name was apparently Mark Hockman, but he used the name Mark Hoffman. Then he changed it into Michael Hervey. And then, in the early fifties, he moved to Australia. Therein he edited a magazine called The Mike Hervey Detective Monthly Magazine that a publisher called Transport put out. The magazine seems to have contained only stories by Hervey himself. (The Finnish digest I mentioned earlier probably picked its stories from this magazine, and only hell knows how the stories found their way into Finland.) And then it stopped in 1953. (The years are uncertain.) The SFF encyclopedia tells us Hervey died in 1979. What did he do for the last 26 years of his life?

And what was with the name changes and all? Was Hervey a swindler? Changed names to deceive those whom he owed money to? Or was he just a guy down on his luck who couldn't find any reasonable way to make his living? Anyone know anything about Mike Hervey? Did he change names again living in Australia and write something entirely else?

How are his stories then? I'll get back to them in a later post, now I'm slightly drunk and getting soon to get to bed.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Philip Chambers and Sexton Blake

Philip Chambers is a writer almost next nothing is known of. He was born in 1936, is possibly dead by now, wrote six Sexton Blake stories in the early sixties and nothing else. I've skimmed through his Blake story Bullets to Bagdad (1960) in which a secret organization is planning to take over the government in Iraq and take their oil supplies. In the story Blake's boss is and old man called Craille. He's the leader of the British counter-intelligence organization, as secret as the criminal organization in the book.

Here are some of Chambers's Sexton Blake covers. Pretty good ones, too, but I don't know the illustrator. There's a signature in Keep It Secret!, it seems it says "S. Barany".

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Sean Gregory's serial hero Mack Regan

I'm sure not many of you have heard of Sean Gregory, not even by his real name, Harry Hossent. He started out in the early 1950s writing cheap crime hardbacks for Hamilton under the house name Jeff Bogar. He went on to write more thrillers in the sixties under his real name. He seems to have dropped out of the publishing business in the early seventies.

As by Sean Gregory he wrote some short paperbacks for the Tit-Bits Books paperback series in the early 1950s. (At least I think they were paperbacks, but I'm not 100 % certain. Hope someone can confirm this. I believe the books accompanied the issues of the Tit-Bits magazine.) His stories in that series were for some reason or another translated in Finnish in a paperback series called Max Strong (who was an Australian series character, but that's another story altogether). I've browsed through the three stories, here's a lowdown.

All the stories came out originally in 1954. The hero, appearing in all three stories, is one Mack (short for Mackenzie) Regan. He's a Hollywood PR agent, but in what I believe was the first story in the series, Murder Bangs a Big Drum, he's still trying make his living in Ohio. He gets a phone call from a Hollywood producer, who asks Regan to come down to Hollywood to prevent a young actor's name appearing in headlines. Reason: he's disappeared. It all ties down to a hazy union job. In Murder Makes the Corpse Regan is asked to write a book on an undertaker firm. He agrees, but finds out soon there's something fishy about the outfit. Murder Is Too Permanent finds Regan working for a gangster called Ricky Vescino. He wants Regan to make way for his beautiful wife and escort her into high society, but at the same time his own life is being threatened as someone wants to blow up his car.

The stories are old-fashioned private eye fun, nothing more, but nothing less, though. As I didn't really read the stories, I can't say how well they hold up, but if you come across them, I'll advise to take a look. Seems, though, that the Tit-Bits Books are hard to come by.

One more thing: Harry Hossent-Sean Gregory came up with some strange names for his stories. This seems a staple in this kind of private eye stuff. There are Bats Moloney, Lex Hupner, Alvar Domonici, Rafe Engels, Bull Gregow and Jed Yurfy, and there's also a heavy called Griff, which is a nod to a house name of British mushroom jungle publishers.

Photos accompanying the post are the covers of the Finnish editions of Sean Gregory's stories.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Frank Struan's other stories from Tit-Bits Books

Remember I wrote about Frank Struan's private eye booklet Murder's So Unpleasant? It was published in the Tit-Bits Books paperback series in 1954 and translated in Finnish some ten years later. The story features one Johnny July, and I got to thinking he might warrant an entry in the Thrilling Detective site, but I've now browsed through (note: not read!) Frank Struan's other translated titles and none have Johnny July in the lead. Of course there's a possibility that Struan has more stories that were not translated in Finnish.

Struan has another series character, though. His stories Tunnel of Nightmare, Ruthless Enemy and Fall Guy, all from Tit-Bits Books and from 1954, are spy stories about a British counter-spy called Fabian and his bosses called Delmer and Johnstone. The best of the bunch is probably Tunnel of Nightmare (Painajaistunneli, see the photo) in the beginning of which Fabian wakes up from the seedy side streets of the London port and seems to have lost his memory. Ruthless Enemy is about an East-European communist leader whom other commies want to kill. Fabian is set to protect him. I didn't really make any notes on Fall Guy, so I can't say anything about that.

There was still another piece by Struan in Finnish. The story The Girl from the Sea (yet another from 1954)
is about, well, a girl from the sea. A guy is swimming by the sea and notices a young woman is trying to escape from a ship that's anchored some hundred meters from the shore. It all has to do with the English nuclear weapons.

I'm a private eye man myself, so these spy stories didn't interest me as much. The stories seem competent enough, but they are no hidden gems.

I'm finally getting my Pulpografia Britannica - book on British crime pulpsters and paperbackers - together. It should be out in June. Don't know for sure yet, still got tons to do. I'll post some stuff on the writers therein in the blog for some days now.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

John Wainwright: four crime novels

As I mentioned earlier, I read four novels by British writer John Wainwright to be mentioned in my forth-coming book on British crime paperbackers. I've been at it for over ten years and I thought it would finally come out next Summer, but we'll have to see about that, as I still have loads of work to do. But now John Wainwright has finally been done with.

Wainwright is best known - if known at all today - for his police procedurals. He wrote some dozens of them saying he got his inspiration from Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct series and that clearly shows. The settings are realistic and Wainwright shows some critical insight into the society he writes about. There are lots of characters, all colourful. The police are a mixed bunch, some of them are almost crooks themselves, taking law into their own hands, some of them just look on from the side and realize there's no use getting mixed with their colleagues' doings. The actual crooks are very much crooks: sleazy low-life scum. This is one of the weakest things in Wainwright's police novels. He shows real contempt when he writes about the lower class people and their inhabitats. In Wainwright's novels there's also lots of dialogue. One can imagine being in a police station amidst all the nervous talk and shouting.

I read The Big Tickle (1969; Kurja päivä kuolla in Finnish) and Talent for Murder (1967; Huhtikuun murhat in Finnish) and liked the latter more, even though the former is more clearly set in the reality of the streets. The novel suffers from bad Finnish translation though.

Wainwright also wrote some middle-class tragedies. I read two of them, The Distaff Factor (1982; Tuomion jälkeen in Finnish) and Cul-de-sac (1984; Umpikuja in Finnish). Georges Simenon spoke highly of the latter, and it is indeed the better of the two in its depiction of a sad marriage that ends in the death of the wife. It's already declared an accident, when an eye-witness comes forward saying it was a murder, done by the woman's husband. Cul-de-sac is a dense book with a pleasing climax. I hope I'm not giving anything away saying Wainwright uses the same technique that made Gillian Flynn famous with her Gone Girl.

The Distaff Factor starts with a promising idea: the husband of a middle-class woman is declared guilty of maiming and killing three prostitutes. This one also has a twist in the middle and yet another in the end, but I wasn't entirely satisfied. The book drags somewhat in the middle and the end climax is both misogynistic and somewhat implausible. Yet it also shows Wainwright could really write tragedy.

Wainwright wasn't a paperbacker in his native land, but his books came out in paperback here in Finland, that's why I'm including him in my book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Finnish film noir: some worthy specimens

The Warsaw Song, Chris Paischeff in the middle
Some weeks (or months?) ago I wrote a review of John Grant's A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir and listed some Finnish specimens of film noir. I mentioned I'd be seeing some of them on big screen, since there was a festival of Finnish cinema here in Turku where I live and one of the themes of the festival was - ta-ta! - Finnish film noir. Here's a lowdown of the films I managed to see.

Varsovan laulu (The Warsaw Song, 1953, director: Matti Kassila): hardboiled and cynical tale of two booze smugglers, who struggle with love and lust. Very noirish with a downbeat ending and some quite seedy love triangle in the middle of the film. Chris Paischeff makes a very nice femme fatale in the lead. Suffers from the director's indecisiveness: there are two plotlines that don't mix easily. Suffers also from laughably props in the scenes set overseas.

Pikajuna pohjoiseen (Express to North, 1947, director: Roland af Hällström): I'm not sure whether this really qualifies as a film noir, but it has a very downbeat ending. The film seams almost effortlessly into a tragedy after being a thriller with comic overtones. Possibly one of the best Finnish feature films ever, reminiscent of English thrillers of the thirties and especially French films of the thirties and fourties. Set almost entirely on a train. Suffers from overacting at various points.

Silmät hämärässä (Eyes in the Mist, 1952, director: Veikko Itkonen): a very peculiar film about a writer who's down on his luck and drifts into a hotel room seeing four desperate-looking men in a room across the street. The writer imagines what has brought the men together. Their fictional story is told in a flashback (that has some flashbacks seamed in it), and in the end it's revealed the men's story forms the writer's new short story. Quite intricate with some good scenes throughout, but a bit contrived and not very plausible, but still possibly the most noir of the Finnish film noirs.

Joel Rinne gets mad in The Price for One Night
Yhden yön hinta (The Price for One Night, 1952, director: Edvin Laine): an attempt to bring the neorealistic formula of the films such as The Naked City to Finland. Succeeds at times, but is also unintentionally funny, especially in the scenes with criminals. On the other hand, Joel Rinne as the criminal mastermind gets into a Dennis Hopper craze as he twists his lady friend's head violently back and shouts: "Kiss Me! Kiss Me!" The film is fast-moving, though, and never really boring.

Olemme kaikki syyllisiä (We Are All Guilty, 1954, director: Aarne Tarkas): director-writer Aarne Tarkas was very interested in American film and film noir (and in American popular culture altogether, he picked his last name from ERB's Mars books!) and that shows in his comedies and crime films. This is a serious attempt to depict a doomed love story between a young man who suffers from mania and fits of rage and an innocent young woman who loves him first, but betrays him in the end. Quite believable and suspenseful to the end. I believe Tarkas himself suffered from ADHD that was left unattended, and I got to thinking this film might be something of a self portrait.

Tulio's The Criminal Woman
The film noirs I didn't manage to see:

Kultainen kynttilänjalka (The Golden Candelabra, 1946, director: Edvin Laine): crime film with gothic and comedy overtones. Never seen it, so can't comment. From what I've heard veers into camp.

Rikollinen nainen (The Criminal Woman, 1952, director: Teuvo Tulio): I've seen this earlier, a story of a woman who's driven mad by a jealous and abusive husband. I've written about Tulio earlier here.

These are of course not all the film noirs made in the Finnish studio system, I'm sure there's at least a dozen more. And of course there are some fringe examples, crime films that have lots of comic element in them, spy films made in the appropriate era, psychological thrillers that are devoid of the noir feel, pessimistic domestic dramas with downbeat endings etc.

I'm sure some of the films I mentioned above could be shown at a noir festival like, say, Noir City that has had British and Spanish film noirs during the past years. Paging Eddie Muller!

See also my posts on Finnish western films, part one here and part two here. And since this probably qualifies as an Overlooked Film post, go to Todd Mason's blog here to check the other overlooked films out!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Rapture, The Sniper, John Wainwright et al.

In the midst of life I find my hands full with work. So, here's only a quick update:

Michael Tolkin: Rapture: challenging film about religious hystery, seems quite underrated and somewhat ahead of its time ****
Edward Dmytryk: The Sniper: also ahead of its time in its depiction of a sexually frustrated serial killer, who kills young women with his rifle, but slightly muddled by some naïvety and too many policemen on screen! ***½
Robert Altman: McCabe and Mrs. Miller: has yet to be seen properly on big screen, but still convincing in its depiction of a frontier town, probably one of the very few really realistic westerns there are ****

I've also been reading - amidst the Finnish war stuff and some Tolkien (work-related both) - police and other crime novels by British John Wainwright, whose books are quite good, despite Wainwright's tendency to overwrite his rants about the slums and the people therein. Will get back to them later on.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Private Hell 36

Don Siegel was once one of the Hollywood's best paid directors, but his star seems to be fading. Does anyone anymore remember any other film by him than Dirty Harry? Yet he directed some thirty films, some very good (Charley Varrick, Hell Is for Heroes, The Killers, Flaming Star, The Beguiled, The Shootist and others), some quite good, all quite capable. 

Private Hell 36 (1954) is one of his lesser-known films, yet it's a very capable, at times a very good film noir with cynical characters and a downbeat ending. It was produced by Ida Lupino's and Collier Young's indie outfit called Filmakers (no Filmmakers!) and Siegel was brought in at a late date. Collier Young scripted the film originally for his wife, Lupino, but Lupino had already divorced Young and married Howard Duff, who plays the other lead in the film. The other lead is Steve Cochran, who's very good at playing a sleazy cop who wants to get some extra money and start all over with Lupino with whom he's fallen in love. 

Some of the scenes last too long (something that mars also Siegel's The Killers), but all in all this is a pretty effective low-key drama. I'd hope there was more action, as Siegel really knows how to edit fight and chase scenes. I'm not complaining, though. There's also some naivety in the outcome, especially Howard Duff gets out a bit too nicely. 

Comes highly recommended by me, even though this is no means perfect. 

I saw the film at the Finnish Film Archive's screening. Before the film, the film critic Tapani Maskula offered a half-hour lecture on how he met Siegel in Finland in the late seventies (you know, Telefon was filmed partly in Finland) and discussed Siegel's fifties' films. Siegel told for example that while filming Private Hell 36 the lead actors were often suffering from hangover. There's a scene with Ida Lupino in which she's sitting on a bumper of a truck. Lupino had said to Siegel that he'd better shoot the scene quick, since she's about to throw up. And you can see it in the scene. It works miracles. Lupino has never looked so vulnerable, tired, bored and broken. 

More Overlooked Films here.