Friday, August 24, 2018

Jason Pinter: Fury

I read earlier (eight years ago!) a pleasant paperback novel by Jason Pinter, The Mark, and wanting to read something lightweight I picked up his later novel, Fury (Raivo in Finnish translation). I thought it was better book than The Mark, but I also have some reservations about it.

Fury reads a bit like a private eye novel, since the lead character, Henry Parker, is a newspaper reporter who narrates the story in first person. He meets a stranger, who looks like a homeless person. The stranger says he wants to speak about something important. Parker won't hear the man, but finds out next morning that the man is killed. Then the police come to him and tell him the dead man was his brother. Parker starts to dig into the story, feeling guilt and frustration, since he believes he could've saved his brother's life if he had just stopped and listened to him. And then his father is believed to be the killer and is taken into custody...

Fury is a fast-paced thriller with hardboiled overtones and with sensible amounts of grimness. It's an old-fashioned book, reminiscent of early wrong man novels and films and some classic newspaper stories, though Pinter has tried to bring his heroes into modern day, sometimes with a bit forced results. There are some implausibilities in the book (why won't the stranger say he's Parker's brother in the first place?), and some characters are a bit lifeless. There are some very talkative scenes, but still this is an entertaining book.

This is no Forgotten Book, but here's nevertheless a link to the on-going series of blog posts.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Jonathan Ames: You Were Never Really Here

I had an opportunity to see Lynne Ramsay's latest film You Were Never Really Here on big screen, and though it's shot entirely digitally, it worked at times with great verve and grim beauty. Joaquin Phoenix was very good in the lead as an emotionally wounded man, called Joe, who rescues kidnapped girls who are sold as sex slaves. Something in the ending troubled me, it felt like not everything was resolved successfully, can't really say what it was. 

Same goes for Jonathan Ames's tight novella that works as a basis for the film. The endings are different, Ramsay's is more ambivalent, while with Ames it's clear Joe is going to go on with his mission. Yet if felt a bit like a letdown. Maybe it had to do with the fact that plot-wise the book is not very original. 

There are still lots of things to like in the book: the sparse, even minimalist prose and narration, the writer's resolution not to give any easy psychological explanations or even background, save for some brief moments. Ames clearly knew what he set out to do, even though the ending was somewhat anticlimactic. And man, do I like the fact that the paperback edition I bought had only 97 pages in it! This reminded me of James Sallis's Drive that's only slightly longer. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Laura Lippman: Sunburn

I read Laura Lippman's new thriller, Sunburn, already a month ago, when we were coming back from Crete. I started it in a plane and was almost sad when the flight was so short I couldn't finish it straight away.

Sunburn is a very good crime novel, something Anne Tyler and James M. Cain would've written, if they had collaborated (Lippman cites both as influence in her epilogue): a woman, whom life hasn't treated fairly, suddenly (or so it seems) leaves her husband and three-year old child on the beach and moves to a Hicksville in Maryland and meets a tall dark stranger. I don't believe anyone can predict the twists and turns of the novel, especially the first half is very exciting and full of red herrings. The other half is totally different and moves along at a different pace, which some might think is a letdown, but I'm sure it's done on purpose.

There's lots of good and excellent in the book, but I'll mention only two things or themes. Food and making it gets lots of display, but for once this is elementary to the plot and thematics, and not just some sentimental paraphernalia of most new crime novels with food in them. What's especially great is that Lippman almost never describes what her characters look like, but still you get a very full image of them. This happens, because she writes about what kind of an effect her characters have on other people. Lippman is very skillful in this.

Highly recommended, also to Finnish (and Swedish and Greek and Italian etc.) publishers. Sunburn would make a fine addition to the other domestic suspense writers you've been translating and publishing for some years now. This is something entirely different from those dull Nordic noir serial killer doorstoppers: lean and mean and thoughtful, all this at the same time. Hardboiled with a feminist twist. You can't get more exciting than that.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Book: Gardner F. Fox: Barbary Slave

We did a week-long trip to Chania and Gerani in Crete, and I took, as usual with our trips, my Kindle along. I didn't get to read much (who can do that with a three-year old kid on a same trip?), but I managed to get through one novel. I think that's pretty good given the circumstances. And hey, I also wanted to the beach!

The book in question was Barbary Slave that I'd loaded free on my Kindle. It was written by Gardner F. Fox who's best known as one of the more prolific writers for DC Comics and the creator of the DC Multiverse, alongside with several DC characters. I'm not really into superheroes, but Fox interests me as a contributor to pulp magazines (westerns, sports, science fiction) and as a paperback writer. His reputation hasn't been very good, seems like he could be a sloppy writer with cardboard characters. I thought, though, I might be entertained for a short while reading Barbary Slave. I'd started earlier a new thriller with an interesting premise, but given up after some pages, since there was just too much disposition and not enough action. I'd also started one of Gardner Fox's science fiction novels, but that seemed only ridiculous.

But Barbary Slave proved to be pretty entertaining. Sure, it was racist and chauvinistic as all hell, but I still enjoyed the heck out of it. The action starts from page one and almost never slows down. Barbary Slave is a fast-moving swashbuckler set in the early 19th century Tunis, during First Barbary War (war I knew almost nothing about until now), and the hero is an American navy lieutenant called Fletcher. In the beginning of the book he's already been a slave for several months and been digging food from ditches. He manages to rise from the gutter only to find himself a guardian of a harem. The queen lusts for Fletcher and tries to conquer him with all her might. The book has all the plot twists of several Game of Thrones episodes, with all the violence depicted in an old-fashioned, at times almost ecliptic style, and without the rapes. I actually thought this could've been a Conan novel, set in a fantastic setting, instead of a historically accurate (or at least one pretending to be) setting. Many of the chapters end in a cliffhanger, which kept me turning the pages, though Fox's writing style is florid. This is strictly purple prose, but it's almost never too purple. I also know next to nothing about ships or fencing, but Fox seems to have known was he was writing about.

The racism, though... almost all the Arabs and Moslems in the book are either stupid or cruel and sadistic - or both. The only heroic Arab is an armless man who's been tortured wildly by rulers. There's also no way Fletcher could fall in love with the harem's queen or another Arab woman, there has to be a white American woman who he can fall in love with safely. But given the book's age, this all is somewhat understandable.

The book was originally published as by Kevin Matthews by Popular Library in 1955, but it's been reprinted as Gardner F. Fox for quite a few times now. I noticed the e-book was free through illustrator Kurt Brugel's newsletter (for a limited time, it's not free anymore); he's bringing all of Fox's novels out as e-books. There were some formatting errors throughout the book, but not too many. Here's another review if you don't believe me.

More Forgotten Books at Patricia Abbott's blog here.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Grover Brinkman

When I was doing my ground-breaking first book, Pulpografia, the encyclopedia of over 300 American pulp and paperback crime writers published in Finland, I noticed that some of the books that came out here weren't always published in the US. The first one I could identify was Bruce Cassiday's The Heister (Vain viisi tuntia in Finnish), a solid cop novel that Cassiday and his agent couldn't sell to American publishers in the mid-sixties, so it landed only here (and other Nordic countries, if I remember correctly). It's not a bad book, someone like Gary Lovisi should reissue it.

Some other books that I had difficulties with were four PI novels by one Grover Brinkman. They featured a half-Indian private eye Colt Youngblood (dig that name, will you!), with broads and bullets. Nothing remarkable here, it's no wonder the books didn't sell in the US. But still interesting to know about them.

Going through some old files I spotted a Contemporary Authors entry for Brinkman I've received from someone (as usual, I believe it was Denny Lien). It mentions "a four-part detective novel series published in Scandinavia". Brinkman also had an erratic, but long career in pulps and other fictionmags. See here for more details. Attached are two covers of Brinkman's novels, the other two are Chubasco! (Hirmumyrsky in Finnish) and Thunderbird (Ukkoslinnut in Finnish).

Grover Brinkman

Personal Information: Family: Born February 27, 1903, in Illinois; died March 17, 1999, in Columbia, IL; son of John (a farmer) and Sarah Jane (Friend) Brinkman; married Leona May Stricker, July 21, 1925; children: Gene H., Shirley Jane Brinkman McDannold. Education: Attended
Belleville College of Business. Religion: Methodist. Memberships: Lions Club.

Education:

Career: Okawville Times, Okawville, IL, editor and publisher, 1925-47; free-lance writer and photographer, 1947--.

WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:

* Night of the Blood Moon, Independence Press (Independence, Mo.), 1976.

Also editor of This Is Washington County, 1968, and Grover Brinkman's Southern Illinois, 1976. Also author of a four-part detective novel series published in Scandinavia. Contributor to more than two hundred magazines and newspapers, including Life. Editor of Back Home in Illinois, a regional magazine.

"Sidelights"
Brinkman comments: "I work with my wife as a writing-photographic team; I sold my first piece of fiction to Grit at the age of sixteen; since then have been selling on the regional, national, and international level. I have more than a hundred thousand photographic negatives on file, the work of forty years behind the camera. In other words, I'm a working freelance and we make a living at it. I write fiction `just for fun.' "

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Otso Kantokorpi ja dekkarit

Dekkariseuran Ruumiin kulttuuri
80-luvulta, jolloin Otso lehteen kirjoitti
Oops! This went to a wrong blog, I meant to post this on Julkaisemattomia, my main Finnish-language blog, but I was already tired when I started writing this, so I just can't think of correcting my "mistake". It's about a Finnish art critic who died recently and who'd dabbled in writing and publishing crime fiction.

Niin kuin monet - ehkä melkein kaikki blogiani lukevat - tietävät, kriitikko Otso Kantokorpi kuoli äkillisesti muutama viikko sitten. Se oli pysäyttävä uutinen. Hän oli muutamaa päivää aiemmin kysynyt minulta Facebook-viestillä, missä Turussa kannattaisi syödä, ja sitten saanut bussissa sairaskohtauksen palatessaan Turkuun suuntautuneelta taidemuseomatkalta.

En voi sanoa tunteneeni Otsoa kovin hyvin, mutta tiemme olivat muutamaan kertaan ristenneet.  En ole lukenut hänen kirjoitettua tuotantoaan kovin laajasti, mutta sen verran kuitenkin, että osaan sanoa menetyksen olevan suuri. Ärhäkkäästi, mutta älykkäästi eikä millään lailla itsestäänselvästi vasemmistolaista kuvataidekriitikkoa kaivattaisiin jatkossakin, varsinkin kun julkisesti kantaaottavia kriitikoita on muutenkin niin vähän.

Oli miten oli, tiemme ristesivät epätodennäköisessä kohdassa: olen nimittäin julkaissut kolme Otson kirjoittamaa novellia, joista kaksi oli uudelleenjulkaisuja, yksi varta vasten kirjoitettu bagatelli. Otso oli nuorena miehenä lähettänyt Kolmiokirjalle Joni Skiftesvikin päätoimittamaan RikosPalat-lehteen muistaakseni viisi novellia, joista yksi, yksityisetsivän naissuhteita kuvaava "Lomalle", ilmestyi numerossa 1/1988. Neljästä muusta novellista yksi ilmestyi Like Uutisissa 4/1994 salanimellä Sam Tanner. "Kuolleet kalat" on ylilyövä yksityisetsiväparodia, paljon härskimpi kuin melankolinen "Lomalle".

Kolme RikosPaloihin lähetettyä novellia jäi siis ilmestymättä - ehkä ne ovat jossain Kolmiokirjan arkistoissa. Kummatkin mainitut novellit kaivoin esille ja julkaisin uudestaan: "Lomalle" ilmestyi Isku-lehden vuosikertatarinana (valitettavasti en muista vuotta, mutta todennäköisesti 2004-2006), Like Uutisten "Kuolleet kalat" taas ilmestyi vuonna 2007 ensimmäisessä Ässä-lehdessä, joka oli keskittynyt ultralyhyihin rikosjuttuihin. (Lehden käännösnovelleistahan on oma kirjansa, Ajokortti helvettiin.)

Vuosia myöhemmin Otso innostui, kun huutelin Facebookissa yhden sivun mittaista täytejuttua Länkkäriseuran Ruudinsavun novellinumeroon, jota olin kasaamassa. Otso kommentoi, että seuraavana aamuna minua odottaisi novelli sähköpostissa - niin kuin odottikin. Olin ilmoittanut hänelle hiukan liian pienen merkkimäärän, mutta ehdin saada novelliin myös kuvituksen mainiolta Aapo Kukolta. Intiaaniaiheinen novelli oli nimeltään "Petollinen helmikoriste"; se löytyy Otson blogista. Mietin ja varmaan jollain leikin varjolla heitinkin idean, että näistä kolmesta novellista saisi oman pienen kirjasensa - sellaisiahan olen tehnyt aiemminkin, Verikoirakirjojen nimellä, esimerkiksi amerikkalaisen David Terrenoiren Hyvässä naapurustossa on kolme mininovellia ja 16 sivua. Otso ei kuitenkaan tarttunut tarjoukseeni, mahtoiko ottaa tosissaankaan?

Olin ennen näitä novellejakin tiennyt Otson dekkarifanina ja -kriitikkona, jota kiinnosti sama lajityyppi kuin minuakin, amerikkalainen kovaksikeitetty kirjallisuus. Yhtenä kimmokkeena esikoisteokselleni Pulpografialle oli nimittäin hänen paneutunut artikkelinsa amerikkalaisen pulp-klassikon, dekkareita ja länkkäreitä useiden vuosikymmenien ajan kirjoittaneen Frank Gruberin suomennetuista kioskikirjoista. Se ilmestyi Dekkariseuran Ruumiin kulttuuri -lehdessä joskus 1980-luvulla. Sitä ei jostain syystä mainita Pulpografian lähdeluettelossa, mutta siteeraan Otsoa kuitenkin Gruberin kohdalla: hänen mukaansa kirjailijan humoristiset Fletcher ja Cragg -kirjat ovat kuin kadonnut linkki Cervantesin ja Chester Himesin välillä. Mikä ettei.

Dekkariseurassa Otso oli myös aktiivi (hän ei ollut perustajajäsen, niin kuin tässä aiemmin väitin). Sittemmin hän oli Kaarle Ervastin ja kolmannen henkilön (jonka nimeä en tiedä) kanssa perustamassa Nostromo-nimistä kustantamoa, jonka dekkarilöytöihin kuuluu lyömätön klassikko, James Crumleyn Viimeinen kunnon suudelma (The Last Good Kiss, 1978; suom. Risto Raitio). Se on kirja, jonka luettuaan ei oleta mitään siitä, minkälaisia  yksityisetsivädekkarien tulisi olla. Samana vuonna Nostromolta tuli myös uusi laitos Ray Bradburyn kauhuklassikosta Something Wicked This Way Comes (1963) - kirjassa käytettiin Jertta Roosin suomennosta, joka oli ilmestynyt nimellä Painajainen vuonna 1964, mutta uuden kirjan nimeksi tuli alkuperäistä lähellä oleva Paha saapuu portin taa. Muita rikosromaaneja Nostromo ei julkaissut eikä kustantamo kovin pitkäikäinen ollutkaan. Myöhemmin Otso perusti toisen kustantamon, taidekirjoihin ja Pieneen kävelykirjastoon keskittyneen Jack-in-the-boxin.

Otso sanoi usein Facebookissa käydyissä keskusteluissa, että vaikka hän oli pitkään innostunut dekkareista, hän luopui kokoelmastaan jossain vaiheessa eikä palannut lajityyppiin. Yllä olevat esimerkit ovat kuitenkin jättäneet lähtemättömiä jälkiä - ainakin minuun.

EDIT: Lisätty kuvailuja Otson novelleista ja korjattu RikosPalojen toimittajan nimi.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Robert Silverberg: Gilgamesh the King

I seem to have some difficulties with my reading. The two earlier books (and some others I haven't mentioned here in the blog) I almost slogged through. This one was more fascinating, but it didn't grab me the way I hoped it would. No way I would call Gilgamesh the King a bad book, though.

Even though I have only admiration for Robert Silverberg (and have published his works in Finnish!), I have read only few novels or short stories by him. I bought the Finnish translation of Gilgamesh the King when it came out some ten years ago (and I also have the English paperback version of it, with Silverbob's signature!), but I got to read it only now. I didn't really know what goes on in the original epic, but I believe Silverberg has it nailed. This is a realistic version of Gilgamesh's story, told in an archaic, but believable manner. There are some great adventures along the way, but I found that I couldn't really concentrate, and it took my over a week to finish the book. Maybe it's the stress, the feeling I should be reading something totally different, or at least something work-related. The book got more interesting in the end, when Gilgamesh goes on a journey to find out how he could keep himself alive as long as he wants to, only to find himself. The ending has misogynous undertones, which I felt were a bit distracting. 

Nevertheless, highly recommended, not only because it's by one of the great masters of his generation. It's too bad I missed seeing him during the last year's WorldCon in Helsinki, Finland.

P.S. I can't but laugh at the joke someone (I think Denny Lien at the Fictionmags discussion group) that Gilgamesh the King beats the contest where you have to find the longest time between the original work and the sequel. (Gilgamesh the King isn't actually a sequel, though, it's more like a retelling of the original epic, but the joke is too funny not to use.)