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.