Friday, December 21, 2007

Sleaze novels for your XXXmas pleasure

A while back I posted minireviews of some fifties and sixties sleaze paperbacks to the Rara-Avis e-mail list. I thought it should be posted here as well. Sorry, don't have time to seek for illustrations for these. These are made up from the notes I've been making in the process of trying to do a book about sleaze paperbacks published in Finland. And with this, I wave my hand and yell: "Merry Christmas!"

Brad Curtis: Too Young, Too Wild, Midwood 1966: Brad Curtis was Giles A.
Lutz, a pretty prolific Western writer who penned some dozen sleaze novels on the side. Too Young, Too Wild is a soap opera gone bad: a young girl likes men, but his father, a powerful financial and political figure, destroys all the men the girl has sex with.

Paul Daniels: The Cover Girls, Monarch 1962: Paul Daniels was Paul Fairman,
a prolific hack of science fiction and sleaze, sometimes mixing the two; The Cover Girls is a pretty well-written drama of modelling girls, with some flashbacks and homosexuality thrown in.

Ben Doughty: Sex Slave, Playtime 1965: I haven't been able to find any info on Doughty, except that he wrote some other sleaze novels, beside this one which is a picaresque story about a young woman who gets trapped inside prostitution and sex industry, some interesting points: bad cops work as pimps. How hardboiled can you get?

Arnold English: School for Sex, Midwood 1961: English was really Morris
Hershman (who's probably still alive, in his late eighties), a prolific writer of short stories, crime novels for low-end paperback houses and some science fiction. He was interviewed in Paperback Parade some years back, he said he hated writing sleaze. No one in the business looked him in the eye (except Mike Avallone, he said). School for Sex, Hershman said, was the first bestseller Midwood, one of the biggest sleaze publishers in the sixties, ever had - and he got 600$ for it! The book is a P.I. mystery, about Roy Knox who gets hired by the principal to find out just what the teenagers in the school do after the school closes. Sadly, the book is not as interesting it could be and there's moralism that doesn't seem to be in the right place in the book. ("Arnold English" - compare with "William Irish". It's a homage, Hershman said.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Update's update

As I wrote earlier, I haven't been blogging lately. It's been because I've been pretty busy with several projects. And Facebook also takes up a considerable amount of time... I hope I'll be getting back to the normal schedule some time next year and I sincerely hope I have something to add before Christmas.

In the meantime, I finished Sean Chercover's debut P.I. novel Big City, Bad Blood. It's pretty classic stuff, with a loner hero, but Chercover adds some twists I didn't see coming.

Paul S. Powers, a review by Mike Ward

Mike Ward posted this review of pulp writer Paul S. Powers's hardback Western novel on the Fictionmags e-mail list and I asked for his permission to reprint it (it's not actually a reprint, since this is not a print media...). He said "yes", so here it is. It's pretty long. Here's a site dedicated to Paul S. Powers, who hasn't been very known even in the pulp fandom. Thanks to his daughter, his biography is easily available. Some of his old Westerns seem to be in print, though.

Review of "Doc Dillahay" by Paul S. Powers
Original hardcover publication: MacMillan, 1949

John Dillahay, Arizona rancher's son, teaches school, becomes a doctor, and marries the love of his life. Along the way we find he's a crack shot, a tough brawler when he needs to be, a smart medical man, and a faithful supporter of his friends.

I won this book as a prize in the most recent PGDF text-analysis contest, and I was going to write a basic review of it. But I discovered I don't need to, as someone has already written it for us:

The Amazon reviewer has read Powers' autobiography, and his comments about the book are informed by knowledge of the background story of the writer and his work.

While I was searching the web for further background on the author and the story, I was startled to discover Powers was a rare-book collector (what kinds of books? what happened to his collection when he died?!?!), and that he ended his days working in a bookstore in Berkeley CA -- where I almost certainly bought books from him.

A small number of his short stories are currently indexed in the FMI:

All that said, I'll now do a meta-review of the book:

1. A novel, or a patchwork of short stories?

When a short-story writer does a novel, he needs to be careful that he isn't writing a bunch of shorts about a common character. This is exactly what short-story writer Powers did here.

We meet young John Dillahay, and he begins to grow wise. His odyssey from youth to medical school to adulthood is explicitly divided into "Book 1" and "Book 2," with most of medical school happening during the blank pages between the two sections. Many little things happen that shape succeeding events. Conflicts provide opportunities for growth. "Doc Dillahay" would segment easily into a TV miniseries; there may even be enough episodes for a thirteen-week season.

On the other hand, I hereby state that it's a novel. "Huckleberry Finn" and "Moby Dick," are just collections of episodes around central characters, and these are the stuff of Great American Novels. You have to be careful about this.

John Dillahay grows up; he chooses a career. He finds a mentor in Doc Ledinger, and their relationship is central to the rest of the book. Here I mention that the mentor is a crusty old geezer, a medical practitioner with a mysterious past, who is fully competent except when he is on one of his six-day drinking binges. By John's example, as a man who can survive bad luck without escaping into the bottle, his mentor is redeemed and becomes a grown-up again. Ledinger becomes an alternate
father-figure, who teaches him all he knows and then makes it possible for him to continue learning at a distant academy (where he will soon know more than his guru).

John goes off to medical school, and returns to take his place as an adult. He survives conflicts, both small and large. By the end of the book he has resolved the power struggles that he is party to: some by acceptance, some by negotiation, some by triumph, and even a couple by losing.

He loses the love of his life (so far) to his own brother.

John's birth father becomes sick, while John is far away at medical school. John is unaware of this, and therefore unable to help him' he is thus implicitly guilty for whatever happens to his father. Back in Arizona, a degreed doctor, still he is unable to keep his father from dying, of a disease far beyond the powers of currently modern medicine to cure; he curses his and medicine's ignorance for their failures.

He comes to a better understanding and acceptance of his place in the universe. He, along with most of the other surviving characters, achieves a happy ending. His adopted father-figure marries John's mother, thus becoming his father in fact. Calling Dr. Freud.

Our boy John discovers the true love of his life has always been near him since the earliest chapters. We all just need to look around us.

2. What's the book about?

Personal growth.

Medicine, specifically medical practice in the American western frontier, its strengths and its limitations. There's enough of this to make it kind of a novel about science. Powers used his childhood memories, of his father's medical practice, to make it all seem real in 1885 Arizona.

Family: support for the members of; betrayal and forgiveness; extension of familial group by adopting or marrying (as when his brother marries the niece of his father's business enemy); tradition; foreswearing of tradition.

The American West: It's not all (or even mostly) about gunfights at the corral. Mostly, the West was about families.

Alcoholism and the effects of alcohol on the western frontier. Alcohol as an internal escape, mirroring the external escape from the civilized parts of America. Alcohol as the destroyer of lives: John's dependence on his mentor provides the justification for his mentor's successful battle against binging and benders. The author is said, in the autobiography, to have had personal experience with alcohol.

Surpassing your father's estate (another call for Dr. Freud): John becomes a successful doctor, while his father fails as a rancher, just as he had failed before moving to Arizona. Was Powers working out personal family issues here?

Although his father is successful in organizing the small ranchers against the rich man's combine, he's forced to abandon ranching and take up storekeeping-a lower status occupation. There's an echo here of his parent's move to Arizona after earlier problems in another state; and this in turn echoes the long-ago move of the de la Haye family to Ireland -which led to an earlier reduction of the family's status. Family, again: maybe his father isn't anything much, but by heaven the
de la Haye family was pretty hot stuff back in Norman England.

3. Why did the author write the book?

Money, career, personal growth.

To work out personal family and career issues. Why am I here? Why is my market for short pulp fiction going away? What am I going to do about it? Why wasn't my Dad like Ludwig Ledinger? Or maybe he was, in the wrong ways.

4. Yucca City == Tombstone? Not exactly.

5. Doc Dillahay == Doc Holliday?

Nope. Dillihay may be Holliday spelled sideways, but I think Powers chose the name simply for its evocation of Arizona history. Holliday was a dentist, and more or less contemporaneous with Doc Ledinger, our protagonist's guide, role model, and mentor. Our boy John was just learning the ropes.

6. Mainstream work from a pulp writer?

Apparently so. Well, mainstream, if you consider a western a mainstream book.

Our author included a couple of jokes at the reader's expense, or maybe they were simply old WILD WEST WEEKLY tropes he couldn't shake. Hero John can beat up one of his larger and more noxious students, throwing him, deservedly, into the cesspit. He can shoot three cans tossed into the air with his pistol, Bam Bam Bam, just like that. He is, in fact, the best shot around; and him just a young feller; he outshot the cartridge salesman, we're told. In fact, his friends suggest a career as
a trick-shot marksman would pay better than doctoring.

During the big gunfight at the end of the book, John takes a brand-new rifle from the store (with the price tag still on it, so he knows it's in good condition!) and carefully wings all the bad guys attacking the Marshall and company holed up in the newspaper office. Dillahay reluctantly kills the syphilis-maddened Cullen La Mar, and his mentor Doc Ledinger reappears on the scene: not dashed to bits at the bottom of the mining pit, as everyone had feared, but safe and sound, having hidden in the outhouse during the battle.

7. Did you like the book? If so, tell why. Should I read it?

Yeah, it was worth the time spent. The sections about medical practice in 1885 are almost science-fictional; certainly they're fiction about science and technology. The American West background is interesting and well-drawn. The main characters generate some empathy in the reader; they are self-consistent and show human traits. Few of the things they do make the reader cringe for their stupidity. (Sometimes we cringe for John's obliviousness to things going on around him, but in these cases
it's an author's device to foreshadow later events.) You could read it and enjoy it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A quick update

Haven't blogged much lately. (I heard an expert say lately that blogs have lost some of their zest. It indeed seems that way, there are fewer comments on some blogs I've been following. I should say that with Facebook and other stuff the web moves away from being anonymous to being someone with a name and an identity. (Admittedly this notion comes from someone who's never understood the point of being anonymous.))

Okay, I digress. Some books and movies I've read and seen lately:

Allan Guthrie: Hard Man. Finally got around to reading this. Pretty much blew me away. I exchanged some e-mails with Allan (or should I say "Sunshine"?) about this and we discussed why a critic like Eddie Muller described the book as "torture porn". I can see that - I think it's mainly because Allan's book lacks (quite deliberately, I should think) social content. There's no whys and hows, there's only what (and how to get out). Allan wrote to me that the book is his most complex. Indeed, there are several discourses in the book, several points of view, and several narratives. It occurred me to compare Allan to - can you take this? - Vladimir Nabokov! His books are also complex and multi-layered, with the focus on the narration and the language, and I should say this applies also to Guthrie. (And I'm not kidding with this!)

Richard Matheson: I Am Legend. This one blew me away big time. Vow! From the start it's so suspenseful you want to die. This was quite recently translated for the first time in Finnish by a new publisher, Vaskikirjat. More power to them! Here's my friend pHinn talking about the book and digging up the old trailers from YouTube...

(I blogged about these on Crimespace. It's getting pretty difficult to keep all these Web 2.0 things together... Who remembers anymore that I have a MySpace account?)

Carl Th. Dreyer: Vampyr (1932). This one also blew me away. Almost like silent David Lynch of Lost Highway and Fire Walk With Me (even though the film is not silent, there's only very little of dialogue). Very inventive and very mysterious, based loosely on a story by Joseph le Fanu. The Redemption DVD I watched (thanks, Markku!) wasn't of a very good quality, but it may be the case that the negative of the film has been destroyed and all the copies are just as murky and dark. I don't mind: I've been waiting for 20 years to see this one. (Here is an essay about restoring the known prints of the films. Here's an essay comparing Vampyr to a film by Lucio Fulci. And here's the film...)

David Lynch: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1994). Now, this one didn't blow me away. You may remember my fascination with the Twin Peaks series. I didn't like this film when I saw it originally, but I was ready to take a challenge. It's still flawed, but more interesting than the first time around. It's pretty difficult to fathom what one would think of this if he/she wouldn't have seen any episode of Twin Peaks. In this respect, the film is a precursor to Lynch's more mysterious latter-day films, such as Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr.

Okay, is there still something more? Oh, I've been reading Boccaccio's Decamerone and The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, maybe later... And I started Sean Chercover's Big City, Bad Blood. Seems pretty strong so far.

Some late additions (I wrote the above yesterday): Antonioni's La Notte: nice photography and very nice ladies in the lead (Jeanne Moreau and Monica Vitti, in very nice early sixties party costumes and high heels!), but something in Antonioni leaves me cold. The films are detached, yes, and it seems quite deliberate, but still there's something... Pirates of the Caribbean: okay fun, but too long.

EDIT: I had some e-mail exchange with Sunshine Guthrie and decided to change my "blow me out" phrases into "blow me away". Sorry all. My English isn't flawless. And thanks, Al!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The cover of the coming Isku

Here's the cover for the seventh issue of Isku, my crime fiction fanzine. It's the only of its kind in Finland! The cover illo is drawn by Henri Joela, who captures the violence in Timo Surkka's story quite well. He also did a breath-taking pin up illo for the story... Here's some more details.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The New Adam magazine

I was checking some stories out of the Finnish porn magazine called Uusi Aatami (New Adam) at the university library. Uusi Aatami used some stuff out of the American sleaze magazine Male and I was able to recognize some writers of the stories, such as Jim Harmon who's best known as a writer on old radio programs, but also some SF.

The Uusi Aatami magazine was quite ugly, with rough black-and-white photos and not much content beyond that. I was looking for a story that a friend of mine remembered having written in 1971 or 1972, but it seems that all the original Finnish stories were published without a byline. The magazine was published from 1965 to 1972 by one Aarre Grönlund, who was the premier publisher of the second-rate men's mags in Finland. (He also wrote one crime novel by himself - you can see it here.)

I'll post here some "interesting" ads and cartoons from the mag. These are not for kids! I don't really know whether they are suitable viewing for adults either, but here goes nevertheless. Some more Uusi Aatami covers (and other Finnish sleaze) here.

Not the Vampirella you're used to?

Now, this one is ugly. An artificial vagina, called Vampyrella, advertised by none other than the Warren company's great heroine. (Elina, reading over my shoulder, said that she first thought it's a car tire.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Stuff about Finnish pulp fiction

I posted on another blog a bunch of entries I wrote for Thrilling Detective many years ago - but Kevin Burton Smith declined these, since they didn't meet his criteria for a private eye. One of the entries has a real P.I., though (Richard Rauta) - I'll have to rewrite it for Kevin. The foreword in the post is in Finnish, the rest are in English.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ossian Saarman's sex cartoon

Here's a two-page cartoon made by Finnish artist Ossian Saarman for the Uusi Aatami magazine. The story goes like this: A woman sees her husband having sex with another woman and thinks about revenge. She almost has a car-wreck and ends up having sex with the two men who are driving the car. She goes back to his husband and laughs at him in her mind.
Ossian Saarman is a legend and he published almost all of his comics in self-publications. Here's some discussion on him and some of his pictures on Kvaak.

Say what?

Couple of very ugly and amateurish cartoons from the Uusi Aatami magazine.

The man: "I get the feeling that at least in one matter women are equal to men..."

"What are you laughing at.. you'll get yours shrink too when you go to swim...!!"

I can only say: Huh?

Love Doll

And finally, an ad for a love doll. At least she's arrived! A wondrous, pumping Barbara. The baby doll for all the big boys at last in Finland. A normal sized adorable girl to last for years for little money!

Forgotten books

You know that I've written two books on forgotten writers (well, you could count my Pulpografia and Six Guns also, since most of the paperback crime and western writers are forgotten by the reading public). Thus it was nice to see someone is keeping a site called Neglected Books. Interesting examples of interesting literature. I could quibble about some choices - Will Eisner's Contract With God? Forgotten? Really?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Nice covers for Michigan Conservation

Some time ago I picked up from the university library's remainder shelf several issues of a magazine called Michigan Conservation that was (or maybe still is) published by the Michigan Department of Conservartion. The contents hold no interest to me, but the covers are pretty nice. The artist signs him- or herself "Schafer" in all of the covers, but I can't seem to find any info on him or her. I'll be sending these to a friend of mine who collects cover illustrations.

First, some scans. The first one is from March, 1952, and the second one is from the same year's May. There's a previous owner's stamp on the covers. T. H. Järvi was presumably a professor of some kind and donated these mags to the library (and then they discarded them - what unthankful bastards!).

Another Michigan Conservation

Here's still another issue of Michigan Conservation - it's from May 1953.

And still couple cartoons

Michigan Conservation had also a cartoon on its backpage, of course on conservationist material. The illustrator was someone called Warbach - ever heard of him? It seems that there was one Oscar Warbach, who's done stamps on animals, so it must be the same guy.

The style seems pretty okay to me. Here's two examples. The raccoon sleeping in the tree's arms is very sympathetic.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Films seen lately: Mesa of Lost Women, Eaten Alive, Near Dark

Should do everything when they first come to mind. I meant to write something about two rather forgotten horror films when I saw them at a small horror film festival, but that was already over a week ago and I'm not as enthusiastic about this as I once was. Here goes nevertheless.

Tobe Hooper has made one of the best horror movies ever: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Its reputation has been very, very low, especially in Finland where it almost by itself caused one of the most strict censorship systems on VHS videos and video markets. Massacre however is quite an intelligent movie - you might see it as an ironic take on family comedy (as Robin Wood has done), with touches of absurd humour here and there. People don't normally understand me when I say that I think Massacre is a comedy, but look at it closely - there's even slapstick (Leatherface moves like a cartoon character, the mummified grandfather with his hammer). If you can - the movie is also filled with terror and hysteria, so it's pretty difficult to sit through.

Eaten Alive was Hooper's second film after Massacre and it's downright comedy. The absurdist elements are magnified by using a very theater-like set-up and very artificial lighting and colours. Neville Brand (who's simply brilliant in this) and others use very exaggerated movements and facial expressions and no one talks normally - they mumble, scream, yell, shout, babble. The plot is simple: Neville Brand is a motel owner who kills the people who get lost in his motel. There's a great scene in the beginning which shows the banality of the killer in his everyday life: Brand is sitting on a crumpled chair, reading some newspaper clips and trying several eyeglasses on - they are presumably his victims'. There is a United States of America flag on the wall and seemingly a Nazi flag, with a swastika on it, on another chair. Boring country music is on the radio all through the film, which makes an annoying soundtrack - but the disgust is also quite fulfilling, given what the movie is after.

So, Eaten Alive is one of the post-Psycho films based on the case of Ed Gein. There's lots of violence and splatter and some of it is stupefyingly absurd. This is as close to the world of Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett as American horror film is most likely to get. (With the possible exception of David Lynch, but he's too conscious of this to be wholly satisfactory.)

After Eaten Alive I saw Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987) that's been called one of the best horror films of its decade. I won't dispute that, since the eighties weren't actually a very good decade for horror films, at least in the US. This one, too, is too much style and not much substance - compared to Near Dark, Hooper's film is full of sociological wit.

Near Dark comes quite close to being a Western film (why hasn't Bigelow made a bona fide Western, by the way? her sensibilities should make a very good Western with lots of action) in its depiction of Texas and its bunch of vampires who look like rock stars on a one-year heroin gig. The film is mean, but there are also scenes of love and warmth. I just didn't get into the film very deep. Maybe that wasn't meant to be and it was meant to be looked at from a distance. This could also apply to Bigelow's other films. They all look like there's something in there, but in the final analysis there's... well, maybe nothing. This doesn't really apply to her Weight of Water that received pretty bad press, but I thought it was a very good and very insightful essay about womanhood.

Now, something completely different: Mesa of Lost Women. This one I saw on VHS - a friend of mine had taped it for me from a channel that I cannot access (meaning Ylen digikanava). It seems that this movie - or at least something that resembles a movie - was made from using two different unfinished films and adding a voice-over narration to explain things. The narration however explains nothing and the preachy voice makes you want to leave the room. There's also horrible guitar music that's on all the fucking time! Impossibly bad and stupid, but somehow fascinating. Check out the comments on IMDb, some of them are quite funny in their own right.

Monday, November 12, 2007

My comix

In our on-going series about kiddie affairs: here's a cartoon I made to entertain Kauto and Ottilia a while back. It's called Ottilia and Kauto Are Waiting for Christmas. The thing takes a sudden absurd turn.

Ottilia = O, Kauto = K, me = I (since dad is "isä" in Finnish). Bunnies because they are Ottilia's love of life. 'We are supposed to be outside playing. I'll translate:

(In November.)
Ottilia: No snow. Boring!
Kauto: Where's snow?

Me: You'll get it soon!

Ottilia: You promise, dad?
Kauto: Dad?

Me: I promise. It comes soon.

Kauto: Here it comes!
Ottilia: Yeah!
Me: ?

The snowflake: I'll bring you Winter and snow!

Ottilia: It talks!

The snowflake: I won't even melt in the ground!
Ottilia: A wondrous flake!

The snowflake: I'll bring you Winter and snow!

Ottilia (looking angry): We heard that already!

The snowflake: But first I want a beer! Take me inside and give me a beer!

Ottilia (squashing the flake with her foot): Boring snowflake!
Kauto: Splat splat!
Me: Oh oh...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ottilia's fairytale of sorts and old typewriters

I have several old typewriters. They are all post-WWII - I think one is from the fifties, the rest (three or four, I'm not actually sure) are from the sixties and seventies. All are manual, I've never cared for the electronic ones.

I haven't really intended to start collecting old typewriters - I've just managed to grab some cheaply (for one euro, for example). I learned to write with these things and I even worked in newspapers at the time when these things were common and in actual use, so there's a nostalgia factor. I have a dream that some day we will have a summer cabin and I'm writing pulpy crime stories for my own amusement in the yard, with a whiskey sour in my hand.

Now these things function as toys from time to time. Kauto especially seems very interested in them. Here's a fairytale of sorts that Ottilia dictated to me and I punched. (Didn't really remember what hard work you had to endure writing with these things!)

You want a translation? Okay, we'll try:

Dad built a house. Dad went to change his shirt. A rabbit was laughing at dad, when he saw his bare stomach muscles. He laughed and went ho ho ho. The rabbit was disappointed when he saw the typewriter, since he didn't have one of his own. So he backed away his back moped. [Don't ask.] So he jumped on his moped and drove away.

The bunny was so sad that he hit himself with a toy hammer, which was made of plastic. Because he burst out crying and he'd developed a bulge. And then he went to sleep with his hundred-meter bulge and dad was laughing at his bulge. And went ho ho ho.

The bunny was so saddened that he went in his nightgown over to the neighbour's house and took his toy hammer with him. He hit him [presumably it's dad] with the hammer and a tiny, one centimeter bulge appeared on his head.

So they both apologized to each other and hugged each other. And that was the end of the story, but did I forget to tell you their names? Their names were Topsy and Turvy. THE END.

Friday, November 09, 2007

About the high school shooting

Here's a pretty good news link about the Jokela high school shooting. The country is in a shock, as you might surmise, since nothing of this sort has ever happened here. Well, okay, it has, but not on this scale. (And there was the Civil War, which was one of the bloodiest in the Western Europe.)

I was going to mention it earlier today, but forgot: it was pretty eerie to read Justine by Marquis de Sade at the same time when this guy was shooting people. He'd been boasting about his right to eliminate people since he was superior to them - exactly the same thing as de Sade's horrible heroes.

Thanks to Peter Rozovsky for the link.

The Divine Marquis

Finished late last night Justine by Marquis de Sade. What a read! I said to Elina that it's one baffling book. "Is it exciting?" Elina asked. I said: "If I jerked off to this, I'd feel bad afterwards."

Nevertheless, I can highly recommend the book. First, it's not as boring as seems to be the consensus - it's actually quite readable, once you get past the late 18th century lingo and long dialogues. Second, it's a very interesting in that you can see the critique de Sade launches against the society of his time and the society that put him in prison. He might have enjoyed the same horrible deeds that are described in the book, but through the dialogue de Sade makes clear that it's the society and its high and mighty that does the most horrible things. They are rich heirs, highly-regarded monks, judges, etc. And all talk about will to power - no matter what you do to those who are weaker than you, they can do the same to those weaker than they.

It's easy to see why some people regard de Sade one of the earliest describers of the capitalist society which is based on exploiting the weak.

This one was highly rewarding read. I'm planning to read something about de Sade next, so expect to see some of that here. (The Finnish Wikipedia article on de Sade seems to be pretty bland and quite wrong about some matters. Here my friend Jussi Parikka talks about de Sade - in Finnish.)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I'd like to be right for once

(I trust that at least most of our foreign readers have read or heard something about the high school massacre here in Finland in which eight people got killed.)

I've been wrong in two big issues during this century. When the WTC attacks came, I said at first it's the work of the American ultra-right-wing patriots. Now when we first heard about the shootings in Jokela (and still thought that there's only one dead), I said to Elina that it's probably not some narcissistic egomaniac.

"Don't you want somebody to love?" is singing in my earphones as I type this. "Tears are running down your dress / and your friends are treating you like a guest." Yeah, right.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

European Film Noir

I just finished an interesting collection of essays and articles called European Film Noir. The book was released early this year, and it was published by Manchester University Press and edited by Andrew Spicer, who seems to have written a whole book about the whole thing (simply called Film Noir, 2002). The book is quite academic, but I didn't mind (well, maybe at times, especially in the section about the Italian film noir).

The book has nine articles on five countries and their film noir traditions: France, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy. The films depicted in the book seem all quite interesting, but it seems also that some of them are deemed to be pretty obscure and not easily to be seen, even on DVD. Some of these are for example the French rendition of Leo Malet's 120, rue de la Gare from 1946, with P.I. Nestor Burma, and Carlos Saura's debut film, Los golfos (1960), which was made with a very limited budget.

I wrote a review of the book for Ruumiin kulttuuri, the Finnish Whodunnit Society's magazine, but it turned out to be too long, so I posted the original version here and will edit the print version. It's in Finnish.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jan Wolkers's Turkish Delight

I finished yesterday on a train a Dutch novel, Turks fruit (1969) by Jan Wolkers. I don't think the book has ever been published in English, but the film based on the novel was seen in English-speaking countries under the name Turkish Delight. It's one of those erotic classics I'm reading for a forth-coming book.

I'm not entirely sure whether this could be called erotic - there's lots of sex and explicit language and the overall feel of the book is lewd, but it's not very rousing. However, the book has other qualities - it's funny as hell and there are lots of comments about post-WWII Dutch life. The book has also some interesting stuff related to the concentration camps - a theme that Wolkers, who was also known as a painter and sculptor, worked on in his art. Written in modernist, almost stream-of-consciousness style, this is an intriguing novel.

I haven't seen the film, but some say it's one of the best Dutch movies ever made (which probably isn't saying much). It was directed by Paul Verhoeven when he was still living in the Low Countries and it stars Rutger Hauer as an artist (yes, the book is autobiographical) whose wife has left him.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Naked Came the Stranger

In the on-going escapade of reading erotic novels for a forth-coming book, I recently finished Naked Came the Stranger by "Penelope Ashe". Now, everyone knows for sure that "Penelope Ashe" was a journalist called Mike McGrady and a bunch of his colleagues and that the book was written as a prank to prove that anything will be published if there's enough sex. The result: the book was on the best seller list for quite a while and became one of the best-selling books of 1969 when it first appeared. You can read a lot about the whole case here.

Now, the book is at best uneven and not very erotic by today's standards, but it's also not as bad as some make it sound. Sure, it's dated and even today's YA novels have more straightforward sex, but at times it's almost funny. But were it not for the scam McGrady and his friends pulled off, no one would remember the book and it wouldn't most certainly being in our book as one of the classics of erotica.

The most interesting thing here, cultural-historically wise, is that it's been said that the book broke boundaries between pulpy sex paperback and hardback mainstream novels. From 1969 on, the sex paperbacks concentrated more on sex (and later on, on hardcore porn) and mainstream novels could have more sex in them without anyone being embarrassed (or jailed, as had happened to many sex publishers and writers in the fifties and sixties). There was also The Sensuous Woman, by "J", that was published almost at the same time. It's intriguing to note, though, that Naked Came the Stranger isn't very liberal in its depiction of sex: all the men who are willing to cheat on their wives either get killed, shoot themselves or go crazy. It's like the eighties' teen slasher movies: have sex and die.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The book on forgotten writers out

My newest book is out: 11 essays on forgotten Finnish writers. It's already available at the Helsinki Book Fair to which I'll be attending only tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Holocaust 2000

I saw a quite rare Italian horror film last Monday on the Finnish Film Archive's series: Holocaust 2000 by Alberto Di Martino. The Finnish title for this 1973 made was Terrori 2000, which makes the film sound even more cheezy. But cheezy it is not - well, maybe in places. There were some awkward moments, but all in all I found the film quite interesting and well-made.

It's about Kirk Douglas (who's as good as ever, pulsing with masculine energy and even hidden rage) who's planning a huge nuclear reactor in an unnamed Arab country. It seems there are some hidden powers at work here and soon Douglas finds out that he's being used as a pawn - the player of this game is none other than Devil. There are some quite horrific scenes in which the director shows his flair for the absurd - especially the scenes in the madhouse which is like Michel Foucault's bad dream, with glass walls and all. The Finnish censorship had cut away some of the goriest moments, but they'd been restored - the result was that the cut scenes looked different from the usual stock. They were red and pale, which only added to the bizarre feel of the film.

Holocaust 2000 is also more political than the American counterparts it copied so freely (especially The Omen). Douglas is a vehement capitalist who cares only about his investments and mangles the documents so that everything looks safe, even though it's far from that. The ending is a bit abrupt and the narration bogs down for a moment. Uneven, the film is still very interesting and moody.

I was in awe when I noticed that the people in the audience were laughing all the time. (Hey, isn't there enough proof that I really don't understand what's funny?) Maybe they'd been expecting to see a turkey, but as I said, this is not a turkey. I don't know if it's on dvd or has been on vhs, but would recommend it if you came across it and have a taste for this sort of thing.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A pissed-off author

I reviewed a new Finnish crime novel by a first-time author recently. I didn't like the book a bit. It was purported to be funny and hardboiled and noirish, but I was only bored - the plot got on too slowly, the characters were a bunch of clichés and there were too many racial and sexual stereotypes in the mix, some even quite hateful. My review came out last Friday in the local newspaper.

The author wrote me back today on Monday saying that I'd understood the whole thing completely wrong. The book was a parody and it was based on reality, so it was nowhere near racist or sexist.

Okay. I've read some 2,000 books in my life (the number came strictly off top of my head) and should recognize parody when I see one. Nowhere in sight here. Okay, yeah, there were some overdone characters and overwritten prose, but still I couldn't see the book as parody. And, um, yeah, there were some awkward moments when there were actual characters with supposedly funny names such as "Don Heremy" (the book is about porn business), but I didn't laugh.

I'd made one mistake for which I asked the editor to publish a correction. The book was published by a publisher that has mainly been doing vanity books, i.e. books that the author paid for. It wasn't the case here. Which actually makes me feel more sorry - did someone pay someone to write this? However I sincerely think that the publisher should've notified about this somewhere in the book - maybe with changing the name of the imprint or with notifying the reviewer in a slip with the book.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chester Himes's Pinktoes

As I've mentioned couple times before, I'm doing a book on classics of erotic literature for a big publisher. I've quite recently started reading the books and writing the entries, after being rehabilitated from doing the book on forgotten writers. I started with Chester Himes's Pinktoes (Rusovarpaat in Finnish) - a bad choice, even though I've largely enjoyed Himes's street-wise, violent and funny crime novels starring Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. Pinktoes (1963) is purported to be a funny sex novel, but it seems badly dated, especially in the Finnish translation which tries very hard to be hip and cool - which it of course isn't, at least anymore. It may have been in the late sixties when it was first translated.

Okay, off to other books: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs from 1869. It's dated of course, but in this case the datedness seems quite fascinating. Rude scenes of vigorous flogging intercourse with discussions on philosophy and ethics. Recommended, if you're into this sort of thing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Facebook and CIA

I'm on Facebook, as - it seems - everyone else is. One of those rare friends who's not there just sent me this link, telling all about why one shouldn't really trust in Facebook. Just three letters: C. I. A.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

My sneaker collection

I mentioned a while back that I've developed a fascination for old sneakers and other sports shoes. I put some on sale on (the Finnish eBay, that is) and thought I should post the pictures of the shoes here as well.

First we have a couple of nice red Adidas Superstars. A classic model, but perhaps a bit too hiphoppish to my tastes (and actually not very comfortable on foot). These are retro, perhaps from the early 2000's.

Then we have a couple of Finnish Karhu running shoes from the early eighties. Striking yellow, with the easily recognizable logo. Karhus are very fashionable now and I'm thinking of buying some retro models.

And last, but not least: a couple of Finnish football shoes from the sixties, called Jokke. They are great, but not very good to walk with (and I don't play football).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Frank Castle's Sowers of the Doom

Here's a book that has been somewhat puzzling to bibliographers, henceforth me. It's not known to have appeared in English at all, even though Castle was a paperback writer who published a lot of books in the fifties and sixties. The original title is given in the verso page: The Sowers of the Doom. Yet there's no book under this title.

Castle's book wouldn't be the first one. There are several examples of American paperbacks having been published only in Europe or even only in Scandinavia. When I was doing my Pulpografia, these books puzzled me as they'd puzzled Simo Sjöblom who'd done a massive bibliography of crime fiction in Finnish.

The books were a puzzle until I managed to make contact with Bruce Cassiday. He'd been writing pulps and paperbacks since the fourties and my letter found him near his 80th birthday. I contacted him because there's a Finnish paperback called Vain viisi tuntia (= Only Five Hours), with the original title given as The Heister. Yet, The Heister is not known to have been published in English. I wrote Cassiday asking about this and he wrote back saying that he and his agent couldn't sell the book that he'd written already in the early sixties in the US. They shopped it around in Europe. It ended up being published in Finland in 1968 and in Norway in 1971 as Blindgaten. Cassiday remembered it was first published in Sweden, but that appears not to have been the case. I sent him the Finnish copy of the book and he thanked me kindly sending me a chapbook collection of his old pulp crime stories (published by Gryphon Books).

After this I took a closer look into some books. Dean Owen's Hot Line, several WWII paperbacks by Robert Sidney Bowen, a spy novel by Joseph Chadwick, four P.I. novels by Grover Brinkman, another P.I. series by I.G. Edmonds... all turned out to be published only in Finland (some in Sweden, some in Norway). There are some that are certain (such as Brinkman and Edmonds), some that are not so certain (Dean Owen, Chadwick, Bowen).

For some reason or another, I didn't look into Frank Castle. Don't know why. I wrote about him later in my Kuudestilaukeavat/Six Guns that's about Western paperbacks published in Finnish and noticed he was hell of a writer. I highly recommend his Guns to Sonora (Berkley 1962), it's hardboiled and it's noir and also lots of violent action fun in which everyone tries to deceive each other. Also very good is Brand of Hate (Tower 1966). I have notes of Blood Moon (Fawcett 1960), but I don't remember reading it.

Not much is known about Castle. He started out in the late fourties writing for the pulps, mainly mags like Fighting Western and Leading Western. He also wrote for Ranch Romances. I don't know for sure, but I don't think these were grade A western pulps. He moved into paperbacks alongside tons of other authors when pulps died in the early fifties and penned also lots of crime novels, mainly for Fawcett Gold Medal. His Move Along, Stranger came out in 1954 and was his first Gold Medal offering. He also wrote westerns for the Ace Double line. Castle's known to have used Steve Thurman as his byline. Castle faded out in the late sixties. My notes say his latest novel is Lobo that came out in 1969 (from Belmont). I don't know what happened to him.

Sowers of the Doom must by from the same era or maybe from the mid-sixties. It came out in Finnish in 1971 and the copyright says "1970". Wouldn't bet on that. The book starts out pretty crisply (I'll try to translate back into English):

Cleve Haig sensed the death moving in the desert. He could smell it in his nostrils, he tasted it his mouth - and for the first time in his nice life he felt completely helpless: the woman behind him was pressing the gun barrel hard against on his back.
Cleve Haig is a millionaire's carefree son, who gets hijacked into the world of international intrigue and spying. There seem to be some terrorists on the loose in the American soil - and they have atom bombs. Cleve Haig joins the extra unit that fights the terrorists and falls in love with a woman who's also in the unit. Her husband has been reported killed in action, but there are also some doubts about her being a traitor.

Maybe it's the Finnish translation (they weren't always very good and many were abridged), but the book is a bit boring. It moves pretty fast, but the plot seems overtly complicated and the persons never come out alive and distinctive from each other. There are some nice action scenes throughout the book, but it's not very engaging in the whole. Maybe Castle wrote it in 16 hours - it certainly reads that way.

But nevertheless, I'd really like to know more about this and Frank Castle's fate. What came of him and what urged him to write his great noir westerns? And as I haven't read any of his crime novels, I'd like to hear about those. (And no, he didn't become The Punisher.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I Am Legend in Finnish!

I heard some good news during the Turku Book Fair that was held the last weekend: Richard Matheson's vampire/zombie classic, I Am Legend, will be translated in Finnish and it will be out in November! More power to Vaskikirjat! [They are a new publishing house and their first book, a Lankhmar book by Fritz Leiber, is just out. With Matheson there will also be a translation of Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter.]

Friday, October 05, 2007

Another piece of ephemera: Murrang

Here's another weirdo from the university remainder shelf: the Estonian little magazine called Murrang. I have no idea what it means, but it's strictly culture and literature. Some of the contributors are well-known Estonian writers, such as Marie Under and A.H. Tammsaare. The year is 1921 of which I now seem to possess the whole yearly volume.

On the cover is a word that may be familiar even to foreigners: "sisu". Now, in Finnish that means (roughly) "guts", but it seems in Estonian mean "the contents". That's of course where the guts come from - inside you.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The 1000th post: H. A. DeRosso

This is the thousandth post on Pulpetti. At first I thought I should do a long post and ruminate on what I've accomplished ("Oh my God, what have I done?") and dug up some worthier posts, but then again I thought: what's the point? (And it would've taken up a considerable amount of time and I feel narcissistic enough as it is, without pointing out with my fingers: look how marvellous I am, did you think of that, etc. Even though I know some people who would expect that from me. I'll write my memoir later.)

Instead I'm writing about the grittiest and darkest western novel I've ever read. I've read some gritty and dark western novels before - for example The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Tilburg Van Clark - but they don't come near H. A. DeRosso's first novel from 1953, simply called .44. I don't know if that was DeRosso's own title - the American paperback publishers were in the habit of changing names of the manuscripts - but it's catchy nevertheless.

I've also read several noirish western novels - for example by Lewis B. Patten and Gordon Shirreffs -, but this is what you usually call noir: the hero is a total anti-hero, he won't do anything to stop his downfall and the ending sure ain't happy. There's also the femme fatale, and there's also a loot which never surfaces, by the way, which increases the noir feel in the book.

I don't know much about H. A. DeRosso - I don't think many do. He was born in 1917 and he died presumably in 1967. His first short story appearance seems to have been as early as the mid-thirties, when he contributed to the Western Novel and Short Stories pulp magazine. As you can see from his pulp magazine bibliography, he wrote almost mainly for the western pulps, ending up in 1970, which begs the question on when he actually died. He also had some stuff in the crime pulps and digests, such as Manhunt, and also something called "The Quest of Quaa" in the short-lived Rocket Stories in 1953, which seems like a pulp fantasy story. Doesn't feel like a genre a writer like DeRosso would've tackled. I've read three of his western short stories in Finnish and they were all very good and very noirish: one of them opens up with the "hero" waking up in middle of the desert tied up to the sand. There's a femme fatale, of course, and 100,000$, the basic ingredients of a good noir story.

.44 was the first of his five western novels and the reprint from 1998 is available through Abebooks cheaply. It's about a man who's fallen into being a hired killer. He hates every minute of his life and he fears the day he starts to like his job. In the beginning of the book he's set out to kill his latest victim. The victim doesn't defend himself, just stands there and stares at him. When Randall - that's the hero's name - pushes him far enough, the man draws and is quicker than Randall. He gets a bad shot and Randall kills him. Scared out of his wits, Randall decides to hunt down the man who sent him to this job.

This is a clever take on Hemingway's short story "The Killers", even though similar things happen in the film Robert Siodmak made based on that story in the late fourties. DeRosso has another goal in his mind, though: his focus is on the killer who wishes to put an end to his life, not on the victim. And Siodmak's killers (and later Don Siegel's) are not victims of cruel life, like Randall, they are only professionals who think maybe there's a reward somewhere in there. Randall hears pretty soon that there's a reward, but he's not interested in it, which baffles his enemies.

DeRosso's style is terse and sometimes poetic. It's also a bit clumsy sometimes, which may be a result of not enough proofreading and editing. There are some empty holes in the drama (not necessarily in the plot), but I don't mind that when the dark atmosphere and claustrophobics are as intense as they are here. All the characters in the book are doomed, some because of their laziness to do anything worthwhile, some because they are set to do something bad and try to come up with a reward. (In this DeRosso is quite different from another writer whom I consider to be another top noirist in westerns: Dean Owen. Owen's characters seem paranoid and maniacally driven, while in DeRosso's universe no one simply cares.)

This was never translated in Finnish. Thanks to the late Kent Johnson, I got a good copy of the original Lion publication and I finally got around to reading it. There's not much on DeRosso in the web, but Bill Crider just won't let us down. I think Ed Gorman has written about him, but not in his current blog. The older ones seem to be down. Peter Enfantino mentions some of DeRosso's crime stories here - in an article that's quite intriguing in its own right.

Lending libraries in Germany

Jürgen from Hamburg sent this to an earlier post and I thought it should pay to be published properly:

Thanks, Juri, for your inspiring blog. It's quite new to me and I enjoy seeing pulp from a Finnish point of view.
Lending libraries specializing in pulp fiction and subsequently publishers doing the same thing seems to be a phenomenon from the the 1930s to the 1960s. In Nazi-Germany they were flourishing as well with only the war putting an end to that. After the war it took on a new lease of life. 220 different publishers produced about 30 to 40 thousand individual titles from about 1950 to 1970. These titles were not available at bookshops, only at one of the 28.000 lending libraries in Western Germany. All that's left now is a small community of collectors. At Ebay there are always more than 300 titles of "Leihbuecher" available.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Oh man

(Seems like I've used the same subject line before...)

I've earlier griped about the editing process and how I hate and despise it. Yeah, well, okay, the outcome is usually better one than that I sent to a publisher, but still... In this case, it may have been the case of the editor remaining anonymous all through the process. It's like this huge faceless power would be dictating me how and what I should do or have done. And I just don't like that. (That's the main reason I didn't go to the army. I couldn't've handled that someone else decides for me what I'm supposed to do. I'd've gone crazy in two weeks. And this is really serious, I'm not kidding about this.)

I was half-crazy yesterday after receiving the edited manuscript of my book about forgotten Finnish writers. There were also lots of technological problems and I couldn't see first all of the gimmicks the editor had done and I wasted two or three hours of valuable working time. And then I couldn't do anything anymore, when Kauto got back from the daycare - him and computers just don't mix well. I had to start again when he went to sleep, about ten thirty. And then I woke up at six thirty to start once again. Oh man. It's over, once again, but I can't say I enjoyed it. I should even say that if there's a writer who says he enjoys the editing process he's a liar.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Another piece of ephemera

Another freebie find from the university library remainder shelf. This isn't actually ephemera - it's a real magazine, but it seems ephemeral at first sight. The year is 1926, and the subtitle says it all: "A periodical to the point on matters of health, wealth and life". The publisher was The C.W. Daniel Company working in London. It seems to be up and running still. Here's some background. Delsarte mentioned in the cover is one Francois Delsarte, a Frenchman who was born in 1811 and taught acting and drama.

There are some ads in the back pages. "P.R." Olnut Biscuits are advertised this way:

"It is generally admitted that most of us eat too much bread. Bread, if it is made from the whole wheat, is a good thing in itself, but eaten to the customary excess it becomes dangerous. It sets up an internal clogging that is well-known to be a principal root of most serious diseases."

Other advertisers include Nutona Rissola Powder and Eltekon Orthopaedic Institute.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Harry Etelä book out

The collection of Finnish pulp writer and lyricist Harry Etelä's horror stories is out. The Secret Chamber of Horrors/Kauhujen salakammio that I edited features seven stories from the Finnish pulp magazines Seikkailujen Maailma and Isku (The World of Adventures and Punch), from the years 1937-1940. The stories are quite rough and contain lots of erotic sadism which begs the question: how on earth did these stories get published in the thirties' Finland? They are the best (perhaps only) equivalent of the American shudder pulps written in Finland. Some of the stuff is even rougher than anything written in the wake of splatterpunk in the eighties and early nineties. The titular story is about a man who takes young boys into his chamber, roasts them over fire and eats them. Palms first. You can order the book from the publisher by sending an e-mail to
Here's the cover that's been made using one of the illustrations Harry Etelä's brother, Pentti Viherluoto, made for one of his notebooks. (Pentti was a composer and Harry wrote the lyrics.) (Earlier I forgot to mention that I'd posted my foreword here.)

Another book was also published at the same time. It's Harri Kumpulainen's aka Harri Erkki's collection of his weird and horrific science fiction stories he's been writing for fourty years now, starting in 1967 from a slick broadsheet magazine called Koti-Posti (Home-Post) and ending up in the present-day fanzines, like Portti. Pitkä jauntti/The Long Jaunt is highly recommendable if you're into this sort of thing. The both books are part of the M series that was started with Viides testamentti I edited. (The next book will be a collection Boris Hurtta's horror stories.)

Here's also a photo taken at the announcement party on Wednesday. From the left: me, Markku Soikkeli (whose book, Marsin ikävä/Mars Spleen in the M series is one of the contestants in the Helsingin Sanomat first book contest) and Tapani Maskula who wrote the afterword for the Harry Etelä book. He's a film critic, but also an aficionado of old Finnish popular music.
PS. You might notice the new layout. Pulpetti is closing in its 1000th post, so I thought I should spice up things a bit. Maybe I'll even do a link list.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Denny Lien's review of a British hardboiled novel

SF expert and librarian Denny Lien posted this review on the FictionMags e-mail list and I asked his permission to publish it for a wider audience.
Acting on a random whim, I recently read my copy of ASSIGNMENT: NEW YORK, a hardboiled detective novel written by E.C. Tubb as by "Mike Lantry" (which is also the name of the protagonist of the novel).
Philip Harbottle provides the introduction to the Gryphon reprint (the original edition was a 1956 UK Badger pb). As usual, he talks up the work as a wondrous lost classic, though he doesn't quite get to the level of fulsome praise typical ofhis commentaries on John Russell Fearn reprints.
Tubb apparently applied his usual method of the time of making it up as he went along without much clue of how anything would end, and found near the end that he'd written himself into a corner and lacked a solution to the murders, so he had to go back and heavily rewrite and reclue, an experience which soured him on doing more mystery novels (this apparently being his only one).
I had a bad moment when I found a typo in the second line on the first page, but really I should have begun worrying at the title itself. The private eye does in fact solve a case in New York city, but since he lives there and has his office there, that's not too surprising. Harbottle muses approvingly on how Tubb used all of the standard conventions of the genre to stunning effect -- the cynical, tough but fair, down-on-his-luck private eye in a crummy office with a bottle of Scotch in his desk, the stern patriach who hires him, the drunken son and sexy daughter and conservative lawyer and ex-showgirl wife and punch drunk pub and perky female newspaper reporter and the one honest cop the P.I. can trust to help him and so on. I'd say he uses all of the conventions to very conventional effect, to the point where I was mentally checking off each character and each bit of repartee as encountered -- "yup, he didn't miss that cliche either" sort of thing.
There was one brief scene that seemed to me to have a bit of life in it, though it had nothing to do with the mystery plot (which is probably why). After a narrow escape from thugs, Lantry has lost his wallet in the melee; when he gets word that someone has found it and wants to return it to his office, he assumes it's a trap and manages to insult the poor-but-honest citizen who really had no ulterior motive. A moment of almost-reality.
On the other side of reality, Lantry is attacked outside a NYC nightclub by a tommy-gunner in a speeding car. He fires back, kills the tommy-gunner and wounds the driver, who crashes into a lamp post, sending the car up in flames. Nobody else seems to be around, as Lantry saunters off to continue his investigations at his leisure.
I don't know if Tubb has visited the U.S. by the time he'd written this book, but he gets a number of things slightly wrong (and yes, I realize American authors setting books inthe UK or elsewhere are notorious for doing the same thing). He has his tough P.I. speaking of making "his morning toilet", which I can't imagine any 1950s Yank doing with a straight face (he'd more likely just say that "I washed up and shaved"or the like). Both Lantry and others buy their cigarettes in "packets" rather than in "packs." Etc. But my favorite was the jeer of the psychopathic tommy-gunner Lefty, who, when prodded by Lantry as to where he'd gotten his gun, replied that he found it in a Christmas cracker (the custom of pulling which is unknown in the US -- and most Americans seeing that line would probably have a puzzled mental image of a really big red and green Saltine).
I like a lot of Tubb's science fiction, but I don't think the mystery field lost anything when he decided to stop his career here at one book.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Robert Martin

A good and lengthy article on Robert Martin, a nearly forgotten PI writer from the fifties. I've read only two stories by Martin and both were good.

Books read: Charlie Huston, Arthur Maling, Emerson Dodge (almost)

Some capsule reviews of some books I've read recently, after completing the book on forgotten writers:

Charlie Huston: Already Dead. One of Huston's Vampyre novels, with Joe Pitt as the vampire private eye. I'm not sure whether I'll read more of these, but this was entertaining enough, with Huston's ultrahardboiled style that moves in present tense. A bit too long, perhaps, and not enough plot for my taste. Huston's received lots of praise from the hardboiled aficionado, but the Vampyre mythology pretty much wore me out. Couple of real Ross Macdonaldish moments in the bunch, however, which makes me want to read more of his non-Vampyre work.

Arthur Maling: From Thunder Bay (1981, translated in Finnish as Veljensä vartija, WSOY/SAPO 1988 or so). Seems pretty obscure these days, but Maling has published quite many books. This one is a Dortmunderish story, without Westlake's humour, about a two-bit loser who accidentally kills a cop after a raid on a plane he's been flying without knowing he's smuggling guns into the US. I had mixed feelings about this - it's touching and warm in its depiction of its anti-hero, but also pretty long, and as I said, there's not much humour in it. But I did finish the book and should say that read it if you can find it cheap. There are elements you don't easily find in an American crime novel - one of the heroes (or anti-heroes, actually) is an Ojibwa Indian who belongs to the Canadian Marxist-Stalinist Party.

I've been also reading Emerson Dodge's Australian paperback novel that was published in Finnish as Lyijypuuroa aamiaiseksi (translates back as Lead Porridge for Breakfast), without mentioning the original title. I've carried this along with me to buses and banks and such, so I'm pretty much in the middle. It's pretty okay so far, traditional Western with raggedly handsome Buck Fallon as the hero. Dodge is Paul Wheelahan, one of the most prolific Australian paperbackers.

Now I'm reading Laura Lippman's Charm City from 1998, but really have to get on again with my work.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another one ready to go

Just finished the book on forgotten writers. There are one or two minor things I'll have to check still, but I consider the book now ready. Celebration will have to wait till tomorrow and Friday night! Friday, Friday, come on Friday...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

New Commonwealth

I have a friend whose hobby is collecting narrow gauge railways. I don't know the current number - he had to sell one of his most precious German locomotives -, but at one time he had at least four locomotives. Besides that he has an old GMC truck and he at least used to have an old tractor - forgot the brand of that, sorry!

I had him in mind, when I picked up a copy of New Commonwealth from the early sixties from the remainder shelf at the university library. Nice rollers in the cover! There's also a full-page, four-colour commercial for an industrial locomotive in the mag. (If anyone wants to see that, just holler.)

Review of Matheson's I Am Legend

My friend pHinn reviews I Am Legend, the legendary horror/SF novel by Richard Matheson.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Kevin Wignall's masterpiece on European crisis

An epic title, isn't it? But I think it's true: Kevin Wignall's Who Is Conrad Hirst? is a masterpiece of new crime writing and it's about European crisis.

I got the advanced reader's copy from Kevin who wanted to know whether there are any Finnish publishers who might be interested in this sort of thing. I said sure and gave him some names. It would be criminal to leave this unpublished in Finnish. The publisher - Simon & Schuster - advertises the book as new Jason Bourne or something to that effect. Kevin himself wrote in his e-mail that he thinks the book is more like Graham Greene. He's right: Who is Conrad Hirst? is This Gun for Hire for the 21st century. Wignall's book has also the same international feel that is so prevalent in the thrillers of the thirties.
Conrad Hirst is both a sociopath and a killer for hire, just like Greene's Raven. He has no feelings, but his last job made him want to get out of the business. So he decides to hunt down and kill all the four people who know him and his doings. It turns out pretty rapidly he's got it all wrong and several dead people, including his former boss, are found killed or missing.

The book deals on many things and does it satisfactorily despite the fact it's only about 200 pages. Conrad started his killing business in Yugoslavia where he thought he could be the new Robert Capa, but he saw pretty soon there was no way one could be a hero in Yugoslavia. It's obvious that the whole new generation went to Yugoslavia only to get kicks, not for any cause or ideas about better world. (This was seen also in Finland in the figure of Marco Casagrande, who fought in Yugoslavia and wrote a book called Mostarin tien liftarit/The Hitchers at the Mostar Road in 1997 about his experiecens in the war.)

I had some minor quibbles in the end, when Conrad finally meets someone in charge, but there was also a very nice twist that gave the book a whole new purpose. It was pretty hard to notice, but it's there.
Check the book out. It's out in November. There will also be a film based on the book - at least I sincerely hope so.

Urdu pulp

Someone's selling a vintage Urdu crime mag in eBay.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fascinating ephemera

I've been using the label "ephemera" when I've written about my own life or about family matters or stuff like that. The word is also used when one talks about little publications that don't fall into category of books or magazines. I have some fascination for this kind of publications and you can only wonder what I felt when I noticed that at the university library here in Turku there was a remainder shelf with very obscure ephemera (and to be sure, some books and periodicals also). And everything was free: take away! For four days, I spent my leisure time, away from reading my forgotten Finnish writers in the reading-room, digging the shelves and taking up everything that seemed even remotely interesting. ("Even remotely interesting": that sums up my life pretty much.)

I'll be posting some of my finds in coming days. At first we have a Hungarian cultural magazine from the thirties with a very nice Modernist Functionalist cover. I don't really know what the magazine is about, but who cares? (I'll be writing about Kevin Wignall's Who Is Conrad Hirst? as I promised, but that will have to wait, maybe till tomorrow. It was just as excellent as I first said.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The true origins of noir?

There's been a lot of heated discussions on what's noir fiction on the Rara-Avis mailing list. I really don't know why the topic raises so much hot blood - you'd think everyone could live with each others' definitions, wrong though they might seem to be. (Well, it is true that the word is getting out of hand, given, for example, Akashic's city noir anthologies - the stories really don't seem to me to be noir which should at least imply some sort of grimness.)

Now, a guy called William Ahearn, has dipped into this and written a pretty fascinating account of how noir came to be. It's been said that French critic Nino Frank coined the term in the years after WWII when he saw some American films for the first time. Ahearn has found out that this wasn't so - he used the term "noir" in reference to some other films. Ahearn has also taken a look into A Panorama of American Film Noir, a French reference work that was first published in 1955 and that has been regarded a key work in the noir discussion. Ahearn says it's one of the worst books he's ever seen, with totally incoherent argumentation and illogical deductions on what's noir and what's not. (Someone might say: "It's French. What do you expect?")

I have some quibbles with Ahearn's essay. He quotes James M. Cain and Billy Wilder who have been reported saying sarcastic things about the origins and definition of noir. I wouldn't put much weight on those guys, since they were known bull-shitters, and Cain seems to have spoken whatever came to his mind. (And I don't really see the point in asking artists about genres and other classifications.)

Ahearn's point is however right: noir has been used to detect films (and books and comics and TV shows) that aren't really noir. Laura is not noir, The Big Sleep is not noir, etc. - at least that's what he says. Ahearn refutes the incoherent definition of noir that's offered in A Panorama of American Film Noir and seems to be saying that we should really look really hard when we use the term. But I don't see why he then chooses to imply that the original French definition of noir is the right one. The first one is always the right one, is that what he's saying? I don't see why that should be. Theories are always corrected and commented on and so forth. Should we only look at, say, Marx and not what's written about him?

And we might also say that there really are lots of different definitions of noir: there's the one emphasizing the nihilist side of noir, then there's the political definition of films noirs being a Leftist genre, rising from the thirties' political movements, then there's the aesthetic definition (which furthermore includes two subdefinitions: the one emphasizing the distorted view to look at the world and the one emphasizing fedoras and raincoats and rainy streets and saxophones), then there's the psychological definition (in which case Laura is noir: it's about a man who falls in love with a dead woman). Etc., etc.

Ahearn (and every other noir fan) should really look into James Naremore's More Than Night which is the best book on the subject, at least of those I've read. In his book - which is a pretty thorough collection of linked essays - Naremore takes a look at all the definitions of noir and concludes that they are all discursive, i.e. the term, whenever it's used, defines what critics and viewers want it to define. (One should always tackle Rick Altman's useful book on film genres.) Hence there's no point in trying to define the "real" noir, since there have been so many theories of what it is. The original French one is no more adequate than the ones that have followed.