Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

With a link to this hilarious book I wish everyone a better new year!

(And yes, if you've been reading news and are wondering: there's been another shooting incident here in Finland, this time in a shopping mall in Espoo which is a largish city/county just near to Helsinki. It's a sad time, once again. When will they ban keeping handguns so readily available???)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kiss Me Deadly: some personal reminiscences

I wrote about seeing Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly for the umpteenth time one or two posts back. I got to thinking about when and where I saw the film for the first time. You know, the film was banned in Finland for 40 years, mostly for being so violent (and it really is, and the soundtrack is full of screaming, screeches, beatings and explosions). I read about it here and there (in Danny Peary's book Cult Movies, for example) and was really intrigued for years. You have to remember this was the time before the internet - you just couldn't swing your Visa and order a VHS from abroad, like you do now (except that you don't order any VHS's anymore).

I'm not sure anymore whether I first saw Kiss Me Deadly in television or in a cinema club screening. I remember distinctly though that I had a hand in showing the film in the cinema club of Pori, where I grew up, and this was already the second time I saw the film. This happened in 1988 or 1989. The film got its first actual screening in Finland in June, 1988. I see from the Elonet database that it was shown on television in 1989. This could be my first seeing of the film, and now that I think of it, I remember the thrill of seeing the ads for the film. I still remember that the teaser was taken from the scene in which Hammer buys popcorn and beats the shit out of a guy who's following him and makes him fall down the stairs - and probably kills him.

My father taped the film and I think I watched the video at least twice, if not more. I remember watching the tape with a friend of mine, who had some liking for film noir, mainly for the stylistic reasons - he liked to wear classic men's clothing. He was very disturbed after the film. He had to play piano to stop his hands shaking. (I'm of course exaggerating a little, but not much. My hands were shaking after I watched the film couple nights back.)

After that I must've seen the film in cinema clubs and the film archive screenings during the 1990's and 2000's, but how many times, I'm not sure. I remember some screenings during which the audience was laughing at the film, thinking it was some high camp. I also remember that influencing my own experience about the film, for which I'm sorry. Later, in the 2000's, I was giving a lecture on the history of cinema at the Tampere university and was talking about film noir and showed the scene in which Hammer tortures the morgue surgeon - the audience was thrilled, some were laughing, some were shocked.

Some years back I started to hear about the original, restored ending. The cheapskate that I am, I didn't order a DVD to watch it, but if it wasn't shown on Finnish television this week, I would've acted sooner or later. If you haven't seen it, I strongly recommend you do it at once.

(Oops... you might want to check this out. Not safe for work.)

A major new novel, still unpublished

Late last night I finished the manuscript of a new novel of an English crime writer. The manuscript is as yet unpublished, but I know that it will be published some time next year in Germany, and possibly some other European countries. The English publication will follow. I don't know when, and I'm not sure if I'm at liberty to discuss this more. Suffice to say that I've written about the said author's works here in Pulpetti.

But I just want to say the book is perfect, just like its predecessors by the same writer. The book is about 9/11 and it has the most plausible explanation I've ever read concerning what happened to the World Trade Center towers. And the effect of that explanation is overwhelming. You can feel the futility of human effort in the last pages of the book.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kiss Me Deadly, once again

I finally saw the real ending of Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, when it was shown late last night on Finnish television. The film itself I saw at least for the sixth time, and it never stops to amaze me.

There's been some debate about whether this, the original ending, is really better than the false ending we've come to know. Okay, it's really unrelenting in the false ending when we never see Mike Hammer and Velda escape the exploding house, but it's always been a bit clumsy and rushed. Some have said that Aldrich foresaw the metafictional techniques of the New Wave of the sixties: when the world goes mad, the films must give up their old narratives and go mad. Yeah, right. They were thinking that in the fifties' Hollywood.

Let's go through this once more: Aldrich was a director who liked to show off how marvellous he is. Look at some of the camera drives in Vera Cruz. The man who made those couldn't have made anything like the false ending of Kiss Me Deadly. These traits show also in Kiss Me Deadly: the backward opening credits, the smooth camera drives from rears of the cars, the short camera drive in the scene in which the truck driver tells Hammer that the man he drove over was pushed*, the editing in the fight scenes (Hammer beating a guy at top of the long stairs, Sugar Smallhouse and Charlie Max fighting in the water with Hammer). They are fast, fluid, furious, never clumsy or crude. How could one think that this guy could've done the false ending of Kiss Me Deadly?

There are some glitches in the film, though. When Christina Bailey is being tortured and we see only her legs (and hear her screaming), her legs don't move. That's clumsy, but forgivable. When Mike Hammer is being tied down to a bed and Dr. Soberin walks into the room and starts talking, we see only his shoes and trousers. We hear him talk, but there's something clumsy about his appearance. It seems clearly that he's not speaking aloud in those scenes. This may have been done on purpose, to heighten the nightmarish quality of Hammer's condition.

There are also some scenes that make some of the ironic hipster audience giggle, like Velda doing her exercise badly (I think that must be done on purpose) or Carl Evello's half-sister sucking up on Mike Hammer. That was parody of the private eye clichés already when the film was made, and the fact that the sister's behaviour is never fully explained actually increases the absurd feel of the film.

I think David Lynch learned everything from this film (plus Sunset Boulevard). You always have a feeling everything is not explained and you're witnessing a dream. Just see the scene in which Carl Evello talks to the tied-up Hammer and repeats: "Remember me." If that doesn't remind you of Twin Peaks, then nothing does. (Or then you haven't seen Twin Peaks.) In the end you also have the flashing lights that are seen in every film Lynch has made, from Eraserhead on. And I'm pretty sure the house that explodes backwards in Lost Highway (Lynch's best film, if you ask me) is a reference to Kiss Me Deadly, as is also Bill Pullman, who looks a lot like Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer. (I've been wondering whether the fact that Jack Nicholson in Chinatown looks like Ralph Meeker is a coincidence or a pun on Polanski's and Nicholson's part. Both films strip private eye of his heroics.)

I'm no fan of Mickey Spillane and his books. I grant he was very, very influential, but I'm a bit sad to notice that he's been replacing Ross Macdonald as the third part in the hardboiled trinity beside Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. That must say something essential about our time. My doubts about Spillane's merits is one of the reasons I like Kiss Me Deadly so much: it shows what kind of guy Hammer really is. I've always wondered how some fans of Spillane like Ralph Meeker and say he's the best Hammer player on screen, while he's clearly incapable of doing right decisions, is a bit stupid, falls for traps and enjoys making his secretary flirt with old men and listening to the sleazy tapes Velda makes of her meetings. And he's a sadist, enjoys beating other people and smashing things. Yeah, the people he beats up are baddies, sure, and yeah, he's angry when he beats the morgue attendant (great scene, that) and the athletic club clerk, sure. Sure. This man is not a hero.

There are so many things I like about Kiss Me Deadly that I could go on and on writing about it, but real life is calling me (gotta take a shower and start preparing lunch for family). If I have the time and energy, I'll write something about whether Aldrich really wanted to make a travesty of Mike Hammer. If I don't, please see James Naremore's discussion on the film in his book, More Than Night.

* The truck driver looks like James Woods in the scene, doesn't he?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"It's a man's world. We just die in it"

Money Shot author Christa Faust's provocative article in LA Mag. You know, Money Shot is coming out in Finnish next February. The cover is thrilling. I'll let you see it if you'll behave nicely.

With this, I say Merry Xmas! Should it be XXXmas, with Ms. Faust?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Old Finnish ERB cover

I'm not sure whether I'll be posting anything before Xmas, but here's an old Finnish cover for a Pellucidar novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I took the photo at a book store, so I don't have it with me right now, but I should say the book's from 1924, published by Karisto. The caption below says "Ten marks". I don't know the illustrator - I don't even know if it's Finnish or import.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Michael Moorcock: Katso ihmistä/Behold the Man

A change of pace: I wrote a review for the recent Finnish translation of Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man. The book is Katso ihmistä! in Finnish, which is the literal translation of "Ecce homo".

The book is originally from 1969; the original novella from the New Worlds magazine came out in 1966, and I just heard that there's some padding in the book Moorcock didn't want to do. It's still pretty powerful in just about 160 pages, even though while padding the narrative Moorcock has resorted to techniques that seems outdated now, like using very short, repetitive paragraphs that have no obvious relation to the plot.

The book's about one Karl Glogauer who's had a somewhat hideous life, living without a father and with a cold, distant mother, being abused in school and at a summer camp, and in his adult age being without a direction and without love. He's given an opportunity to travel back in time and he chooses to go to 29 A.C. to witness the crucifixion of Christ. There's cruel, brutal and clever irony in the outcome. Jesus never had to deal with Glogauer has: the poor man has the history of the world on his shoulders.

If you've never read this before, you should definitely check it out. It's a realistic historical novel, a thought-provoking science fictional novel and a philosophical study at the same time. And to buy it is to give more power to the book's Finnish publisher, the small but potent Vaskikirjat, who earlier brought Silverberg's Gilgamesh the King and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend to Finland.
The Finnish cover of the book, by M-L Muukka, doesn't give away the ending of the book, like many US or UK covers seem to do.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Declan Hughes: The Colour of Blood

Irish writer Declan Hughes is one of those writers who have brought the private eye hero back to the pages of books and shown that private eye books - even those that form a series - don't have to be clichéd or pastiches of older private eye books, like many seem to think here in Finland. I'm hoping some of these new writers can make it to Finnish - alongside Declan Hughes one can mention Dave White, Michael Koryta, Ken Bruen (whose series with Jack Taylor is coming on television), Don Winslow, Ed Lynskey...

The Colour of Blood, which is part of Hughes's Ed Loy series, was my first Hughes and I can recommend it. With some reservations, though, but more on them later. Hughes belongs clearly to the Ross Macdonald school of the private eye fiction, as he deals with the generational evil, living without love, living without a father or a mother, feeling outsider all the time, just like Ross Macdonald did so deftly in his Lew Archer novels. Hughes just brings the themes to this day: the novel starts with a rich man's daughter being kidnapped - or that's what everyone thinks - and the daddy is being blackmailed with porn pictures of her daughter.

Declan Hughes and Ed Loy are linked to Ross Macdonald and Lew Archer also in that Ed Loy is invisible if he turns sideways. He has his own tragedies, but Hughes never dwells in them as much as, say, Russel McLean in his debut novel, The Good Son.

My reservations were largely about the fact that there were too many characters in the novel - it was sometimes pretty hard to discern them from each other. The book was also a tad too long, even though it's not very long, at some 300 pages. There was also some melodrama that I didn't feel was necessary, especially in the climax.
Nevertheless, this is a very strong book that shows private eye fiction is nothing to sneer about. It's also a strong indication that Ireland has produced many good crime writers in the last decade or so.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A review of my war book

And the post # 1,503 is a link to a review of my book - in Finnish! This is getting worrisome. (No worries, though, I'll be reviewing Declan Hughes's The Colour of Blood next.)

So, here's a link to a newspaper review of my war book, Tankki palaa!

Sheila Barnes as a true crime writer

My post # 1,502 is a recycling of a comment on an old post! How boring can you go?

Actually this is pretty interesting, since a lady called Nancy wrote about her mother's writings in true crime mags in a comment to a post about Art Crockett and his editorship of the said mags. I'll post her entire comment here:

My mother, Sheila Barnes, wrote for Art Crockett in the mid to late eighties too. She was in her seventies as well and had moved back from "retirement" in Florida to her beloved Hell's Kitchen. She actually lived down the block from the True Detective offices and I loved telling people my dignified, well-bred, attractive silver-haired mother wrote many of the lurid True Detective tales - usually under the names Nancy O'Brien and Ted McDermott (all thinly-disguised family names). My mother, a newspaper reporter for most of her life, loved working for Art Crockett and telling people what she penned. My mother died two years ago but I still have a number of True Detectives from her time there. I'm glad I stumbled upon this blog, very much by accident, looking for another unrelated friend with last name of Crockett.

So, if you by any chance happen to see a true crime mag from the eighties and notice the names Nancy O'Brien and Ted McDermott, you'll know that Sheila Barnes wrote them.

Oops! I thought this was going to be my 1,500th post!

But it turns out my earlier post - on the French paperback covers - was actually No. 1500 on Pulpetti. So I should've congratulated myself then!

It's never too late, though.

Here are two Finnish book covers, one is my book about forgotten Finnish writers, one is Finnish author Mari Mörö's newest book, a novel called Kuuri. Notice anything funny? It seems that there's a picture bank that the Finnish publishers use and they have only one old typewriter of which they've taken a load of photos. The funniest thing is that I used to have that kind of Remington Portable. I sold it in 1990, if I remember correctly, which I feel stupid about. It's a pretty machine, and in recent years I've amassed a collection of about ten portable typewriters.

Monday, December 14, 2009

French paperback covers, with a dash of Surrealist items

Here's a link to a French blog, with largely erotic and hardboiled paperback covers, some of which are pretty crude, but also eye-catching. Seems like the French also knew how to produce cheap trash. Fascinating, nevertheless. Notice the Gold Medal rip-off series called, seemingly, Oscar.

Listed are also some Surrealist items, like the first edition (rather non-descript) of André Breton and Philippe Soupault's Magnetic Fields.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A new publisher, Dancing Tuatara Press

I just want to pay people's attention to a new pulp-related published, Dancing Tuatara Press, that operates under Fender Tucker's Ramble House. Dancing Tuatara Press seems to be John Pelan, who's had his hands in with many pulp-related reprint projects with other publishers. One of the coming books is a collection of Day Keene's old pulp detective stories! (Pelan is asking for help, see below.)

Here are the first Dancing Tuatara books:

Pelan is lacking these pulp stories by Keene and is asking around if anyone has copies:

League of the Grateful Dead - Dime Mystery 2/41
The Island God Forgot - Strange Detective Mysteries 10/41
Cupid's Corpse Parade - Dime Mystery 7/42
Keep out of My Coffin - Strange Detective Mysteries 9/42
$10,000 Worth of Hell - Strange Detective Mysteries 1/43
Brother, Can You Spare a Grave - Dime Mystery 7/44
If the Coffin Fits - Dime Mystery 3/45
Death March of the Dancing Dolls 9/45

Monday, December 07, 2009

Review of Henkipattojen kylä

(Sometimes it feels pretty awkward to post these things in English, but...)

Review of the collection of Reino Helismaa's western stories, edited by me, in the local newspaper, Turun Sanomat. The book is still available for the measly five euros!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Gil Brewer's Flight to Darkness

New Pulp Press is launching their own reprint line and starting with noir favourite Gil Brewer's Flight to Darkness. Pretty cool cover and a sample chapter here.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A bit more on Ross Macdonald's book

As Bill Crider mentioned in his comment, the Ross Macdonald novel I was reading was originally, in the US, titled Meet Me at the Morgue. I think Experience with Evil, the UK title, might be more Ross Macdonald-esque. There's something stock noir about "Meet Me at the Morgue".

Here's the cover. I didn't have to scan the book, since Todd Mason found one in the net. It is indeed one of the best British paperback covers I've seen from this era, up there with the best of the American artists. The artist is Sam Peffer (his signature says "Peff", which is slightly funny if you're Finnish) and there's a website devoted to him here.

And as for the book which I thought I was reading for the first time: Bill's revelation about the US title made me check, and yes, I've read the Finnish translation that came out in 1997, under the title Tavataan ruumishuoneella (which is the almost literal translation of the original US title). I just didn't remember a darn thing about it. Well, if I remember right, I read the book slightly after I'd broken up with the mother of my daughter, so it's been somewhat difficult time... (And it's been almost nine years since.)

Now, back to the book. I've still got some 30 pages to go!

(Oh, here's a review for another non-Archer book by Macdonald, in Finnish. Check it out!)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: Experience with Evil

I'm in the middle of John Ross Macdonald's Howard Cross novel Experience with Evil, from, I think, 1954 (I don't have the book with me as I write) and enjoying it, well, maybe not as much as a bonafide Lew Archer novel, but almost as much. It's interesting to see how Macdonald uses his usual tropes of fatherlessness and cold mothers and the generational evil even when Lew Archer is not around. Not to be missed by any Ross Macdonald fan. I'm not sure if the book is in print; I'm reading an old Pan edition. With a great cover, but you'll have to wait for that one.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

My first novel

Here's the cover for my first novel, Outoa huminaa, Joe Novak / It's a Weird Buzz, Joe Novak. It's a self-publication, so I'm not sure if it really counts, and the print run is only 50 - I can take more, if I run out of copies. So far I've sold five, and since I got the books from the printers earlier today, it seems I'll have to print extra copies.

The book is about my fictional hero, private eye Joe Novak, who runs into some weird things happening in the early sixties, sometime after JFK has been shot. There are weird sex cults, UFOs and men dressed in black - there's actually an abundance of them. In the middle of the plot are a brother and a sister who have moved from rural Washington to LA; the brother's wife has died from cancer and he seems to have lost his mind and has a habit of disappearing from time to time. Joe Novak runs for help - but notices pretty soon he doesn't know what's going on.

I described the book elsewhere as a mix between Carter Brown and David Lynch: it's playful and jokey and weird and incoherent at the same time. Joe Novak runs into beautiful and strange ladies in a tale that's full of secret and changing identities. I hope the mixture works, and I added some sadness in there, too, as befits the hardboiled private eye novel.

The book has only 90 pages, the text is somewhat under 20,000 words. The cover is done by Henri Joela who's also done stuff for my magazines, Isku and others. He says he took inspiration from a Finnish edition of a James Hadley Chase novel.

If anyone's interested (the Finnish readers, I mean), I'm selling the book for mere 6 euros. The publisher is called Verikoirakirjat, meaning Blood Hound Press. There's really no publisher under that name, but I've used it earlier, in the Robert Silverberg booklet I made some years back.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe from Norway

This book is probably not out in English, but it's likely it will be, since it's been getting lots of favourable reviews and the Finnish translation came out quickly, so the author's agents are doing their work very well. Nikolaj Frobenius (who scripted the original Insomnia) is a Norwegian author and one of his earlier novels was about Marquis de Sade's servant who can't feel pain. His newest novel, Jeg skal vise dere frykten (I Will Show You Fear, if I know my Norwegian well enough), called Pelon kasvot / The Face of Fear, in Finnish, is about Edgar Allan Poe and his battle with anthologist Rufus Griswold, and also about his battle with a mysterious serial killer who seems to duplicate Poe's tales, especially "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (that's the story we all want to duplicate, right?).

The book hovers somewhere between a gimmicky serial novel and a serious literary novel, not making up its mind which it wants to be. There are several good moments in the book and Frobenius has Poe's moods down well. He has also done his homework on Poe and even his lesser-known writings, such as Eureka, and especially on obscure American authors of the 1840s. Still Jeg skal vise dere frykten feels only like a gimmicky serial killer novel. If it winds up translated in English and you're a fan of Poe, try it. It's not a bad novel in any way.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Harlequin's vintage collection, pt. 2

Harlequin's line of crime and melodrama reprints was met with joy from the enthusiasts. Now that Harlequin's told that the books were slightly revised, maybe even censored, everyone's angry and not wanting to buy the books. See the comments.

Okay, I can understand that. But hey, were the books any good to begin with? I would say that Harlequin did the larger mistake by bringing these six books back to print. The crime fiction community was fooled: what are these hardboiled classics I've never heard of? Yeah, there are books that are very good even though no one's ever heard of them, but these six just are not any of those. Someone's talking about To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind in the Harlequin blog's comment section, but that makes no sense to me.

The fact that James Hadley Chase's books are probably the best in the bunch says quite a lot. Not every hardboiled paperback original of the bygone years is good.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Still on Stieg Larsson

Anders Engwall posted a short comment on this post about Swedish crime fiction, and I post the comment here, too:

Pardon this late comment, but I came across a rather interesting take on Larsson's books today.

If you don't want to exercise your Swedish capabilities, the gist of it is that while the writer can understand somehow why the books sell so well, whe can't for her life understand why they are considered to be among the better ones in the genre. She then points out why she thinks they are rubbish, and the way she describes them is basically how I always suspected them to be.

The last paragraph is perhaps the most interesting. She suspects that the reason for the international success is because poor writing may not translate too well; that somehow stylistic awkwardness is smoothed out when presented in another language.

[Juri here: There's been some talk about the first English translation of Larsson's work being not very successful, so the last comment may not be right on the mark, but let it be said that I haven't been very interested in Larsson's books anyway.]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Scott Phillips: The Ice Harvest in Finnish

I finally got around to posting the interview I made with Scott Phillips, the author of the admirable The Ice Harvest, published in Finnish as Jäätävää satoa by Arktinen Banaani whose paperback series I edit. The cover is by Ossi Hiekkala, who's just as admirable as Phillips.

The Ice Harvest was your first novel. It's a remarkable accomplishment. How long did you write it and what goals did you have in mind?

I wrote the first part of it over the course of a year or so, in fits and starts. Then I decided to finish it and as I recall the second half went much more quickly. All I wanted to do was write the kind of pulpy novel I liked to read.

I've compared your book to David Mamet's writing and his axiom: enter late, exit early. Was this something you tried to do? Can you tell us something about your writing and plotting technique? Based on your other novels, you seem to be changing your technique and style from book to book.

No plotting technique at all, apart from creating a situation that allows oter things (bad ones, mostly) to happen. The styles and techniques change from book to book mostly because I get bored. My latest book is called "Supply Sarge," and it's very much inthe vein of the 1950s chapters of The Walkaway, and it's also very short like The Ice Harvest.

What other influences did you have, besides Mamet (if you had Mamet)?

I love Mamet, but if he's an influence it's unconscious. James Crumley and Charles Willeford, Richard Russo, who adapted The Ice Harvest for the movies, Derek Raymond, were all important to me early on. Lately writers I find myself cribbing from are Jack Pendarvis, William Gay, Ken Bruen...

The Ice Harvest is full of irony and black humour. Is irony something that comes naturally to you?

I don't know about irony, but I do find humor in dark things. I'm always in trouble for making jokes at inappropriate times.

There's been a lot of talk about noir renaissance of the 2000s and The Ice Harvest has been hailed as one of the most important novels of the movement. Do you feel there's a movement and what lies behind it?

There are a lot of good writers working that particular vein at the moment: Megan Abbot, Christa Faust, Vicki Hendricks and Anthony Neil Smith come to mind. There are also a number of people working in what you might call a noirish style writing about rural America: Chris Offutt, Daniel Woodrell, William Gay and Tom Franklin, as well as an up and coming group consisting of Frank Bill, Jedidiah Ayres, Kieran Shea, Greg Bardsley, Malachi Stone, Daniel O'Shea and a few others. In Scotland you have Allan Guthrie, in Ireland Declan Burke, in France any number of practitioners of the genre, loosely defined. So there's a lot of really good noir being written right now; it's just a question of whether the general public starts reading more of it or not.

Do you have any favourite books amongst the new noir books?

I loved Dope Thief, by Dennis Tafoya. He just sent me his latest in manuscript, which I'm very excited to read.

What did you think about the film that was based on The Ice Harvest?

I loved the movie, apart from the change in the ending. I have to admit that I supported that change along with everyone else at the time, because the studio thought they had a big hit on their hands (they didn't), but only if the ending was changed. Harold Ramis had a very good feel for the tension between the humor and the bleakness.

What are you working on now? I hear you have a novel coming out, can you tell us something about it?

The new novel is called "Supply Sarge," it's the story of a corrupt US Army quarter master who comes out of the army in 1946 and finds himself in Wichita trying to lead that quintessential postwar American life: husband, father, businessman. The trouble is that at heart he's a psychopath. His name is Wayne Ogden, and I've written about him before. In my second novel, The Walkaway, he was the villain. I found myself enjoying his voice so much that when [crime fiction publisher] Dennis McMillan asked me a few years later for a short story set in the 30s, I went back to Wayne's adolescence, when he was a bit more innocent but still a villain waiting to be born. Then I wrote another story, set in that same period, where Wayne and his friends kill a bald eagle. In this novel he's teereing on the brink between wanting to be a good citizen and feeling the need to be a pimp and a thug.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Allen Baron's Blast of Silence

A couple friends of mine organized a minifestival last weekend: they watched, I think, twelve films on a big screen, projected from a canon (is this the right word? I'm not very savvy in these). Each participant brought one or two films with them. I brought Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors and Blast of Silence by Allen Baron that I recently purchased. (I realized I couldn't've watched it myself, since my DVD player plays only Region 2 discs, and this was Region 1.)

Now, Blast of Silence really holds an interesting place in my movie history. I still remember a tickling sensation I got out of reading the film's entry in Alain Silver's seminal book, Film Noir. This was something like 1987, and I'd lended the book from the library in Pori, my hometown. At the time, there were no copies of the film around - certainly not a film version that I could've seen anywhere and no VHS cassettes were released. It was even hard to find any information on the film and the director, Allen Baron, and I suspected I'd never see the film. When in the late nineties I acquantained Tapani Maskula, a film critic known for his liking of American film noir and gritty B-movies in general, I asked him about the film. Even he hadn't seen it, even though he'd bought every American B-movie available at the time. (Yeah, technically Blast of Silence isn't a B-movie, I know: it was an indie picture, bought and distributed by Universal. But I don't know if it was played as a feature, since it's only 77 minutes long.)

You can guess how enthusiastic I was when I noticed that Criterion had published the film on their DVD series. I bought the film the first chance I got. Watching the film after all these years was a bit of suspense for me. Would the film really be worth the wait?

I think it was, even though I think time had eaten it a bit. There's the voice-over narration by Lionel Stander, which sounds a bit comical and forced today - but it's only because we've grown so accustomed to it, in Sin City and the likes of it. It's become a parody of its self. The actors in the film weren't very good (but Allen Baron, the director himself in the lead, looks a lot like Robert De Niro!). But the cinematography and the dark mood in the film are top-notch. The ending is so dark you don't even want to know why everything happened the way they did. This is a very bleak look into a hired assassin's lone life, and you might compare Blast of Silence to, for example, Kevin Wignall's novels about lone assassins. Blast of Silence is essential to everyone who claims he/she likes film noir.

Here's a very interesting take on the film, linking it to European movements, neorealism and the New Wave of the sixties, and here's another review quoting a historical review from New York Times.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Review of Jarkko Sipilä's book

Steve Lewis provides a guest blogger's review of Jarkko Sipilä's novel Helsinki Homicide: Against the Wall here. More on the book here and here. (The later link leads to another review.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dave Zeltserman: Pariah

Dave Zeltserman has been getting lots of praise for his novel Pariah that came out earlier this year. All of it is well-deserved. Every bit of it.

Pariah is a novel that's full of violence, some of it very, very grim, but it's never full of crowd-pleasing action, so you don't want to take this to bed as a good night read with which to lull yourself to sleep. The narrator is seriously narcissistic and full of himself, yet he's not actually delusional, like protagonists of, say, Jim Thompson or Jason Starr. This gives the story even more edginess. Zeltserman creates a character a reader won't like or sympathize with, but his is the only view we are ever getting and we just have to get along with it. This makes the book very scary. The last lines of the book left me jittering.

The book is not only a crime novel. It's also a satire of book business, with the protagonist of the book, life-long career criminal Kyle Nevin, getting to be a famous writer with a huge advance for his novel.

There's one thing that seems a bit implausible to me - the point where Kyle Nevin's luck suddenly turns sour, after his book has turned out to be an international bestseller -, but this must be due to my Finnish and European perspective. Writers simply are not that big here and the accusations against them are not that important. But then again, USA is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monte Hellman: The Shooting

I just saw Monte Hellman's enigmatic western film The Shooting, for the first time on big screen, I think. I had seen the movie earlier at least two times, but both times from television only, and with a wrong picture ratio. I'm loving the film more each time I see it.

There are lots of things to like about The Shooting. It may not suit any western fan's tastes, and I believe there are more people who are not into westerns, but like Hellman's film, than there are people who love westerns and still like Hellman's film. Get it? That might've been a bit convoluted... The atmosphere is very eerie, nothing is ever very clearly explained and there's a feel of absurd theatre. The photography is great, with people running in a distance from one edge of a picture to another. There also lots of extreme close-ups, like when we see Jack Nicholson's eyes for the first time. There's not much action and when there is, it's not exactly very thrilling, but that's not what Hellman has set out to do.

Someone might ask: "What has set out to do then?", and I have to admit the answer is not very clear. There's not much symbolism in the film, which coincides with the feel of absurdism. Someone might get some clues from the names of the characters, which may - or may not - point to some moments in American cultural history. Hellman himself said that the shooting in the end is meant to resemble the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby - there's a newsreel grittiness to the picture, alright, but otherwise I find it pretty far-fetched.

What's the most important thing about this film, to me, at least, is that it's a perfect embodiment of American cinematic art, emphasis on "American". The Shooting, regardless of the absurdist feel to it, is essentially an American film. There are no elements of French New Wave brought to it. The Shooting is not self-reflective, as something by Jean-Luc Godard might be. Even though it's a piece of absurdism, The Shooting is still a B-western, populated with smirking hired guns, saloons, horses, saddles, six-shooters, Indians, a tough lady, deserts. You could watch this in a drive-in and, well, feel cheated, but you wouldn't be able easily to recognize it as art.

The later American art films, of the late sixties and early seventies, have a European feel to them, and I've always thought there's something phony about it, starting from Bonnie and Clyde. Not so with The Shooting. Hellman's western is something Budd Boetticher might have done had he gone on directing westerns in the sixties, and it's also something Elmore Leonard's western novels, like Valdez Is Coming (which admittedly came a bit later), were going to. The idea of one man suddenly standing alone in the desert (take a look at how Leonard's "The Captives", the basis for Boetticher's The Tall T, starts) is something essentially American.

The same could be said about Hellman's other 1966 western, Ride the Whirlwind, and even more so, but The Shooting remains the most important of the two.
This isn't very good, but check it out anyway: a later-made trailer for The Shooting.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

And what Crank and Beat the Reaper have in common?

The usual apology: I've been busy, haven't been able to post anything here. I've seen lots of interesting movies lately and been wanting to write about them, but for now this will have to suffice.

Crank, starring Jason Statham, seems to be a minor cult favourite already, even though it came out in 2006. The movie is no-holds-barred crime flick, with Statham running around for 1:30 hours, drugged almost all the time, trying to find out - well, what? I kind of lost track. The movie is just too over over-the-top, with every scene being full of cinematic, editing, cutting and photographying gimmicks.

I admit there's sort of inventiveness involved, but even for me it was too much. I could've taken most of it, if there had been more sense or depth to the plot. There's a possible tragedy in the movie, but I wasn't touched. In contrast I found myself moved when I saw the last 30 minutes of Luc Besson's Leon the other night. I'm no fan of Besson, far from it, but I've always liked this film. The scene with Jean Reno forcing Natalie Portman to leave is a tear-jerker. Yet the film is overtly violent - over-the-top in its day. Will I cry in 2025 when I see Crank again? I mean, the ages change and what seems to be over-the-top might someday become the norm, but with Crank - nah, no way.

So what's this gotta do with Josh Bazell's hyped crime novel, Beat the Reaper, that was recently translated in Finnish (under the title Niittaa noutaja)? The same sort of over-inventiveness, almost being over-the-top only for the sake of being over-the-top. The plot isn't much, and I thought the backstory with all its Auschwitz connections was very lightweight and felt forced. When I reached the climax I said: "C'mon, that's plain stupid!" But okay, I gotta give Bazell that I hadn't seen that one in any other book.

Same goes for Crank. After we'd watched it, Elina said: "Never seen anything like this." Neither had I, and I'm not sure if this is the way things have to go.

Nevertheless, I was happy Beat the Reaper being translated, since in its own way it's part of the noir renaissance, the neo-noir movement.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

More on e-books

I've been posting some posts about e-books and their affect on publishing - here's one more link, to Peter Rozovsky's ponderings about cuts in author royalties. (He provides a link, so there's more to read there.)

Bud Webster's Past Masters

Here's a site, maintained by Phil Stephensen-Payne, linking to all of Bud Webster's science fiction-related Past Masters columns he's written for the Helix magazine (which is, I think, now defunct). You'll get essays on H. Beam Piper, Leigh Brackett etc. (The site is still preliminary, I believe, but looks pretty okay to me.)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Fred Zackel and Dave Zeltserman on e-books

There's been a lot of discussion over Kindle and e-books over at the Rara-Avis e-mail list (the list is about noir and hardboiled literature) and I thought that at least two of the posts would be worth to post here. (The Rara-Avis posts are archived here, though, but not many know that.)

The first is writer Frederick Zackel
(Cocaine and Blue Eyes) and the second is writer Dave Zeltserman (Fast Lane, Small Crimes, Pariah, etc.). Dave's post was a reply to Fred's, which kicks off from the recent Bouchercon crime fiction festival. The discussion went on from here, but you'll have to find about that from the Rara-Avis archives. And oh, don't forget to check what Ed Gorman said about the issue here.

Can we start a discussion about Kindle, something deeper than "it's the Beast 666" or "I think the future will be Kindle-licious."

Bouchercon was fun. Went to panels, got free books and bought other books. Got some of them autographed, even.

But what stood out was Kindle. This guy from Amazon had a panel about the Kindle. The room was standing room only ... with writers and not readers or zealous fanatics. The session also went over its hour time limit, got kicked out, and then moved out into the hallway, where it stayed informally for almost another thirty minutes.

I liked what I heard. Kindle seems like the most feasible (most plausible) place for most older books and manuscripts down the line.

A friend of mine has a kindle and uses it on airplanes and for reading in bed at night. He swears by it. Buys ten books at a time.

About an hour or so after Amazon's panel ended, I bumped into the Amazon guy in the hotel lobby. He said -- and this is what got me the strongest - that Kindle would link manuscripts with whatever is listed at Amazon.

Before I met this Amazon guy, I meet some disgruntled, disgusted, frustrated, pissed-off writers at Bouchercon. As soon as their rights revert back to them, these guys were switching their manuscripts to Kindle.

All these manuscripts can get cobbled together as a sort of virtual backlist through Kindle. Maybe one of them ms. can help sell the others.

Kindle was the talk in the hotel bar after hours. Which surprised us.

I met one writer at Bouchercon whose agent is trying to get all thirty (yes, 30!) of his books onto Kindle. Most are out of print, he said, and his publisher won't offer them. He wasn't worried about the book collectors. Collectors will always buy and trade his old hardcover stuff. But his new readers -- until now (maybe) -- will never get a shot at reading them.

One writer said, "Nobody autographs a Kindle." But she had four out-of-print books she was worried about. Whatever's out of print is no longer out of print. And because it's electronic, it has no effect on the collectors who want a hard copy no matter what. And people who read it electronically can also get linked to everything else in your series ... and, if they wish, order hard copies to keep forever.

We also met a writer whose agent shopped a manuscript but couldn't find it a home. The agent told the writer, give it to Kindle, the writer sold 7000 copies, and Simon & Schuster bought it for a future hardcover. I spoke with the guy; he was in shock.

Mister 7000, we started calling him; we saw him everywhere. Oh, I know that story is the old "once upon a time it happened ..." and it only happened once. It's not about that.

I liked what the guy from Amazon told me about Kindle. You upload the manuscripts, then there's more fiddling around, whatever, and you get to set the price for the piece. Prices are kept low so you get those who devour books.

And here's Dave Zeltserman:

E-readers (Kindles, Nooks, Sony, iPhones, what have you) seem to be the future. When this future arrives, who knows? Personally I think it will take eReaders coming down in cost ($50 or less) for that to happen --maybe they'll be like cell phones where the e-book stores sells the readers cheap to lock you into buying e-books from them. As a reader, I don't want to move from paper to spending more time staring at a screen, as a writer, I'm very concerned with the effect this will have on bookstores, especially the independents.

For newer writers, it's the independents who support us -- they're the ones discovering us, recommending us and handselling us. It happened with Michael Connelly, as well as many other authors, and they're the ones now selling Small Crimes and Pariah. My fear is as more and more indies get knocked out of business and books are bought for e-readers, it will make it nearly impossible for newer writers to be discovered and read except by a very small niche of readers.

I suspect over time as 100s of thousands of out of print and self-published books are dumped onto the kindle store and other e-book stores that these stores will more and more resemble Walmart, where only a handful of the biggest bestsellers are given prominent display space and all other books buried deep in the web-site. I also suspect as the volume of books grow on these stores, the chances of any book being bought at high enough volumes to attract a real publisher is going to be close to 0.

So to summarize, I think this trend will be disastrous for most writers (although probably a boon for the biggest names), unless all you're aspiring to is to sell a few hundred copies of your book.

But this is clearly the future. I'm just hoping it takes a while to get here.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Winterbottom directs Thompson's Killer Inside Me!

Check out the promo trailer here.

On Stieg Larsson and Swedish crime fiction

I'm not very interested in the current trend of Scandinavian crime writers, as almost everyone else seems to be. Admittedly I haven't read any of, for example, Stieg Larsson's books, but they just seem too damn long to my tastes. I can take Ellroy, but his stakes are a bit higher than Larsson seemingly has - and I'd like to point out that the American private eye writers, like Stephen Greenleaf and Jonathan Valin, dabbled the same issues with a considerably lesser amount of pages in the late seventies and the eighties.

So, I was pretty pleased to note that Swedish science fiction critic John-Henri Holmberg said this on the Fictionmags e-mail list some days ago:

Two days ago the final vote was taken to finalize the shortlist for the Swedish annual best crime novel and best first crime novel awards. As a member of the selection panel, I've read -- as far as necessary -- over a hundred original Swedish crime novels published this year. It's not been an experience I'm keen to repeat. Why is it that because Stieg Larsson has by now sold 22 million copies of his three books (now contracted for in 41 countries), seemingly every publisher in the country will publish seemingly even the worst manuscripts to be found in their submissions as long as they're crime? In my experience, it is sadly true that the vast majority of readers is blind to stylistic abilities. But I've never found it true, as it seems current publishers believe, that readers are also blind to the absence of any storytelling ability.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Vintage Harlequins

Here's a link to an article about Harlequin's vintage collection of their old crime titles. I wrote about them earlier here. And here's James Reasoner writing about the books, which prompted me to provide the link - and here's James still at it, providing some great vintage Harlequin covers.

I promised to dig up little something about one M. Scott Michel who wrote some private eye novels for Harlequin in the late fourties and early fifties, but that'll have to wait.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Review of the zombie book

Here's a review of my zombie anthology from the Portti magazine. It's pretty positive, for which I'm proud and happy. The main point: "Finland's never had her share of good trashy literature, so this is a step to the right direction!"

Monday, November 02, 2009

Alain Robbe-Grillet: Trans-Europ-Express

I just got back from the Finnish Film Archive's screening of Alain Robbe-Grillet's Trans-Europ-Express (1966), a parody of French spy flicks of the sixties that's both hilarious and theoretical at the same time.

I'm not a big fan of French New Wave films. I suppose I should be, since I'm a young film buff living in Europe, but I've felt for some years now that many of the inventions of the French films of the sixties have become obsolete and not very effective today, even though there might be a dose of Verfrämmedungseffekt, to quote Bertolt Brecht on this. (I hope I spelled that right!) Same goes for Trans-Europ-Express: the metanarrative is clumsily made, the main narrative drags on for quite a while, the direction should've been more dynamic considering the film's theoretical contents. Now the viewer is only distracted, not entertained at the same time. There were some great moments - especially in the erotic scenes, which were pretty much ahead of their time in their kinkiness - which makes me think Robbe-Grillet made those clumsy and awkward moments in purpose. But the question still remains: why?

But don't take my word for it. Here's Senses of Cinema on the film, praising it very highly.

Here's also a very weird scene in which Jean-Louis Trintignant, the pervert smuggler of the film, is being interrogated.

The film, in all its clumsiness, made me think I should take my copy of Robbe-Grillet's Labyrintissa/In the Labyrinthe and read it.

Cthulhu for children

Here's a very cute animation, Lil' Cthulhu. Suitable for even four years old! (I didn't try this on my kids, though - no Finnish subtitles.)

You just gotta love him! (Or "her"? Or "it"?)

Friday, October 30, 2009

The cover for my war book

Here's the cover for my newest book, Tankki palaa! It's a collection of Finnish war-time stories about, well, war, namely the Second World War (which means in this case the Winter War and the Continuance War, Finland's two wars against the Soviet Union). The book collects together 22 (if I counted right) short stories and vignettes that were originally published in magazines or other periodicals. Almost all of the stories might be called propaganda, but some of them are also straight adventure (and some very good at that). One of the stories is a piece of left-wing critique against the war and the story in question isn't very well done, but interesting nevertheless. I would've liked to have more of that stuff in the book, but I couldn't find the estates for some authors. Here's the table of contents for the book; on the same blog, there's lots of other stuff concerning the book and war-time short stories.

The cover design is by me (oh man, I did the layouts for the whole book!) and the cover illustration is by Poika Vesanto, the artist extraordinaire. The picture is from 1943. (I posted Vesanto's western book covers here and here a while back.)

The book should be available through any bookstore in Finland, but not necessarily in any bookstore. So far the book doesn't seem to be available in the net bookstores, but it will.

A telling anecdote: I got my author's copies from the publisher earlier today (it's a local publisher, so I don't have to take a train to get to them) and walked home and forgot to tell Elina, my wife, about the books! A new book seems to be too common a commodity around here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

James Ellroy: Blood's a Rover

As often happens nowadays, I'm busy, so I won't be writing long about James Ellroy's Blood's a Rover (out in Finnish as Levoton veri / The Reckless Blood, or something to that effect). It's a book, though, that could've - should've - deserved a lot lengthier review than I'm able at the moment. Suffice to say that I wrote a long piece on it for the Turun Sanomat newspaper.

On Facebook, I gave the book four stars out of five. Four, because the book rises to a very high level during the last 100-150 pages. Not five, because the book's first 200 pages pretty much failed to grap my attention. The mystery - or the mysteries, as there are many - isn't powerful enough and is pretty far away from such masterpieces of suspense as The Big Nowhere or L.A. Confidential. But four, because in those last pages Ellroy really makes the mystery shine - as they all twine together and we at last get to hear what it was all about Ellroy manages to create a mystery that bears a comparison to the statue of The Maltese Falcon.

One point more: Ellroy has been accused of being a racist, a sexist, a male chauvinist, a right-wing extremist. I know he's said all those things aloud (and he was part of a Neo-Nazi movement in his youth, but then again I just heard that one of Finland's most revered young novelists was, too, in his youth), but I think Blood's a Rover makes clear that Ellroy is on the side of the defeated. His heroes can be bad and sleazy, but they are also tragic and larger than life. More tragic are those who they stomp on, and in this book Ellroy makes the history of American Communism fascinating and tragic. It's clear that when one of the lead characters decides he's been tortured too much and makes a headturn turning against his former employers and friends, it's a picture of Ellroy himself.

What I didn't say here, Stuart Neville says much better in his review here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Comic anthology NOIR

Quickly before Ellroy: Dark Horse's new crime story anthology, called simply Noir, which looks very interesting. Here's a story from the book, Jeff Lemire's "The Old Silo".

Swedish cover for Jay Williams's novelization

Okay, this is getting pretty ephemeral - and I haven't read the book in question -, but I want to get this out of the way before I move onto more important things, such as Ellroy's Blood's a Rover, which I just finished reading.

This is the Swedish cover for the novelization of King Vidor's spectacle Solomon and Sheba (1959). The writer is Jay Williams and the Swedish publisher is B. Wahlströms; the year is 1960. I can't remember anymore where I picked the book up, but it must've been cheap or, perhaps, free. Due to the language, I'm throwing the book away after this, since I have neither use nor space for it.

I'm sure that amongst the pulpsters Jay Williams is best remembered for the Danny Dunn books (some of which were translated in Finnish in the early seventies), but he seems to have written quite a lot some other books.

The Swedish cover is nice and pulpy, but the original American cover is pretty bland. I don't know who the Swedish artist is, as there's no name given in the book.

(By the way, be sure to check the Wikipedia article on the co-author of the Danny Dunns, Raymond Abrashkin. I didn't know he was the writer for Little Fugitive, the rare American cinéma vérité film from the fifties. Jay Williams seems to have a small part in it! Weird history of pulpish writing!)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Crying my eyes out: Chaplin's The Kid

You know the scene in The Kid where they come to take Jackie Coogan away from Chaplin? With Coogan throwing his arms out and yelling: "Papa! Papa!" (I'm not sure, but that's what I read from his lips.)

It's a scene that makes me cry every time I even think about it. And now I just saw the film again, for the first time in years (in its entirety, I've seen bits of it every now and then and I've showed it to students when I've done some lecturing on the history of cinema). I was crying almost all the time, especially since I knew what was coming. And thinking that Jackie Coogan is just as old in the pic as our son, Kauto, is now made me weep even more.

But when I got back from the film archive screening, Elina showed me this photo she'd taken of Kauto earlier tonight, I couldn't but laugh.

Review of Jarkko Sipilä's Against the Wall

Someone called Toby commented on my months old post on Finnish writer Jarkko Sipilä's Helsinki Homicide: Against the Wall, the English translation of his cop novel. Here's his review he wrote some time ago - it's not entirely positive, but still merits a look, as he's clearly knowledgeable and mentions having read one of David Peace's crime novels. (I haven't read Sipilä's book myself, so I can't really comment.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Finnish Ice Harvest

Here's the Finnish cover for Scott Phillips's The Ice Harvest, done, again, by the great Ossi Hiekkala.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hard Ticket to Hawaii

You know the type of film that turns out just great when you watch it with a bunch of folks and everyone's little drunk - even though the film is actually just a piece of crap, with which you wouldn't bother if you were sober and alone.

This happened last Saturday night with Andy Sidaris's Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987), which might best be described as "a cheesy 80's action movie". It has lots of girls with guns - and the girls are usually Playboy models. There are lots of explosions, evil drug lords, sexy and stupid eighties' clothing, nudity, motorcycles - what's not to like? The film also has Ronn "Ridge Forrester" Moss in the lead (even though he's not seen all that much) and a venomous snake. It's shot around Hawaii, so there's lots of nice scenery.

But then again... The venomous snake is a boa that's been bitten by cancer-infested rats - what the fuck? And it's not seen at all for some 20-30 minutes until it comes attacking through the toilet, exploding the toilet on the way, bursting in a cloud of smoke. Just what were these people thinking? The songs on the soundtrack are appallingly bad, especially the title track. There are weird illogical moments throughout the movie. In one scene, Ronn Moss and the other drug cops are planning an attack at the smugglers' house where one of the cops is held hostage, but then, suddenly, Ronn Moss and one of the ladies go to another room to have sex (and that sex is weird - strictly unexplainable).

At times, Hard Ticket to Hawaii is just as bad as Plan 9 from Outer Space. It's daytime, then it's suddenly night and in just two or three minutes it's daytime again, all through the same scene. This happens especially in the end climax (with the snake coming through the toilet), where you have no idea where Ronn Moss is coming from and where he's been all this time - he's probably been riding his motorbike for eight hours.

But hey, what am I complaining about? Everyone was enjoying the hell out of themselves and some of the scenes will stick to my mind forever.

Take this one, for instance:

Great, huh?

Here's the trailer for the film:

There are other clips from the film at YouTube, go check them out! The scene with the snake exploding from the toilet is also there...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Review of Conrad Hirst

Ossi Hiekkala, the great illustrator of Arktinen Banaani's paperback series, found this very positive blog review of Kevin Wignall's Kuka on Conrad Hirst? The writer, blogger Kari Naskinen, compares, quite rightly, the book to Graham Greene's thrillers and says that Wignall's book could've well been published in the high-literary and prestigious Keltainen kirjasto series, which is quite a compliment. (Even though, with the exception of Brighton Rock, none of Greene's entertainments came out in that series.) He also compares Conrad Hirst to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which is pretty apt.

The writer ends his review: "The best book I've read in years."

He mentions that this was so good he rushed out to buy the other books in the paperback series: Duane Swierczynski's Keikkakuski aka The Wheelman and Allan Guthrie's Viimeinen suudelma aka Kiss Her Goodbye. He says about Keikkakuski thus: "Top-notch, represents the American hardboiled tradition at its best."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Two Leonards

I read recently two books by father and son, Elmore and Peter Leonard. Elmore is a self-deserved classic and Peter is a new-comer, albeit he's over 50. Both are simply great.

Elmore's best-known western novel, Valdez Is Coming, was just translated for the first time in Finnish (partly due to my suggestion to the publisher). In fact, it was Leonard's first western translated in Finnish (apart from a short story in Seikkailujen Maailma in the 1950s), which is surprising. Then again, Leonard had only two crime novel translations in the paperback series of the seventies and sixties (both, Mr Majestyk and 52 Pick-Up, are very good and come highly recommended), so there might've been some issues with his agent. Leonard's had a bit of bad luck with Finnish publishers even later on, with publishers changing almost from book to book and the publishers treating him with bad translations and not very good covers and bad marketing. Some of his earlier masterpieces are still left untranslated, so it's even more fabulous that Valdez Is Coming is now available in Finnish (the Finnish publisher is Bookkari, by the way).

The book is famous also for having been filmed, by Edwin Sherrin in the early seventies, with Burt Lancaster. The film is remarkable for keeping Leonard's ending intact - in the 2000's it would've been changed into a lengthy gunfight. This ending is more in par with Leonard's terse prose and the worldview of his characters: do, don't just tell you're doing. It's something deeper than the old advice "show, don't tell". Leonard's style and narration are always about what needs to be done, what's necessary to do. Thus the emotions of his characters come clear, even though there's not much talk about them per se.

Valdez Is Coming must be one of the best western novels ever.

A minor bibliographical point: the Finnish edition has the original publishing year as 1970. That was however the year when the book was published in the USA, by Fawcett. The book had come out from the British lending library publisher Robert Hale a year before that, as a hardcover (which seems to be very rare), so the actual first publishing year is 1969.

Elmore's son, Peter, has written two novels so far (actually three, the third one just hasn't been published as yet). The Turku-based literary publisher Sammakko picked Leonard's books up, for which I'm very glad, and his first, Quiver from 2008, was just published in Finnish under the title Ihmismetsällä ("Man Hunting"). Peter Leonard came to Finland to promote the book (I got to change only a few words with him, but he seemed like a very nice guy). The book is excellent. It's more in a thriller vein than Elmore's books, but it's still strictly hardboiled. Peter has learned a lot from his father: the pace, narration, style all bear the marks of Elmore. The best thing about the book is that Peter Leonard can make his characters full-rounded by using only small things, bits of dialogue, short reminiscences of their pasts. Just like his father does.

I'm really looking forward to reading more Peter Leonard from Sammakko. I think Leonard's second novel, Trust Me, is coming pretty soon, but don't quote me on it.

What I'm even more glad about is the fact that some other publishers have also noted the new rise of hardboiled and noir writing. Count in also Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper which came out from Siltala just one or two weeks ago as Niittaa noutaja. A crime reader like me couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My war book

I'm not sure how much I've been talking here about my project about Finnish war-time stories about, well, the war. The focus is on stories that were published in various magazines during the Second World War (meaning the Winter War and the Continuance War). The book has been pretty difficult to compile and I've done lots of work to find and contact heirs of the writers - there's only one living writer in the bunch!

But now the book's coming to be, finally. I've managed to assemble 21 short stories for it, ranging from outright war propaganda with dubious political agenda to straight pulp action and Leftist critique of the war. Almost all of the writers are well-known Finnish authors, but there's at least one amateur in the bunch, and also some pretty forgotten writers and hacks. I've also written a lengthy foreword for the book.

I posted some stuff about the book on one of my other blogs. Here's the table of contents, with bibliographic info on original appearances, and here and here are two stories that a friend of mine typed, but that weren't included in the book in the end. I'm posting the foreword in some point, but I'll let you know. On the same blog there are several other pieces relating to the war book - check them out.

Oh? When will it be available? I hope already in the beginning of November - the book will be published in POD, so the printing process shouldn't take much time. I'm sad to say we won't make it to the Helsinki Book Fair that was the original plan. The title of the book, by the way, is Tankki palaa! / The Tank Is Burning!, after the title of the short story by Tenho Palsa, who, accidentally, is the only amateur writer in the book, a tank sergeant who won numerous writing contests for the war-time magazines, but never published a book.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Dan Brown, per Damien Broderick

Texan-Australian science fiction writer Damien Broderick wrote this funny piece on Dan Brown on the Fictionmags e-mail list and I asked his permission to use it also here in Pulpetti.

I decided to read ANGELS AND DEMONS. The Dan Brown method is truly amazing. It seems at first to be quite incredibly amateurish and bad. That can't be all that's in play. It alarms me to think that he probably researched 100s of best sellers and factored down to the kind of sentence structure most people like because it is nothing but a string of concrete labels that convey expertise and wealth or terror, and dialogue right out of those pulps that were enormously popular among the barely literate. It would be excruciating to try to write for hundreds of pages in this sort of vulgarized voice. Well, for a few million bucks--if guaranteed--maybe it'd be worth the pain and disgust.

Brown assumes that the reader is a know-nothing simpleton, but here is his stroke of genius: instead of infodumping baldly, he has his man explain to a genius wheelchair bound Stephen Hawking figure who Galileo is and what his crime was, who the Illuminati were, who the fucking Masons were. You can see why people in the middle of the Bell Curve would warm to this.

Some of Brown's absurd success is no doubt accident of timing, and the big buck PR push on a selected candidate, but not all. It's possible to identify the elements--strange ancient mysteries, dark conspiracies of church or state, and the usual blockbuster "expertise" of a grotesquely itemizing kind ("He slipped into his Slashnburn 450-GT hybrid manufactured in Uppchuck Sweden, of which only five had ever been handcrafted for the Kings of Siam, careful of the crease in his Fortum&Freemason grey twill pantaloons handstitched by the leading Gnome of Zurich, Herr Frogleg Sauerkraut"), etc.

While e-mailing about this, Damien asked me to add this:

There was another great bit 70 or so pages on, where a genius explains antimatter:
"Everything has an opposite. Protons have electrons. Up quarks have down quarks." Protons have antiprotons, you moron! I screamed at the book. Up quarks have anti-up quarks! But the book didn't hear me, or didn't care...

Floyd Smith's Action Girls

Remember? Well, it wasn't that long ago. Last Summer I wrote a Forgotten Book entry about an obscure sex paperback called Action Girls, by one Floyd Smith. I couldn't find any bibliographic info for the book.

Just now I got a comment from a used-book seller, called Rags & Bones Antiquarian Books:

I am a bookseller and I do have a paperback copy in English of Action Girls by Floyd Smith. It was published by Midwood Publications, New York 1977.

To which I replied:

It must've been a reprint in 1977, since it was published in Finnish as early as 1974. It could've been a trunk novel that sold in English only in 1977, but somehow I don't think that was the case here.

It's possible we never know. It's also possible that no one really cares. I'd like to know, though. Maybe it's another Harry Whittington looming... maybe not.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Round-Up: Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, The Hurt Locker

Okay, seems like I'm not very much into blogging these days. Been busy, will be busy, will hopefully take a break, a day or two.. one of these days. Been editing the book with Finnish war-time stories, and it's proven to be a bit of a pain in the ass. Will hopefully get it out of my hands next week.

Some mini-reviews of books I've read recently and one film:

Megan Abbott: Die a Little, her first novel from some years back. I was mesmerized by the voice and the first 50-60 pages, but then the plot got a bit too ordinary, but I'm not complaining with her skills as a narrator and writer. A bit reminiscent of Elizabeth Sanxay Holding - which is a compliment of a highest kind.

Ken Bruen: London Boulevard. I got this out-of-print book as a text file from Ken Bruen's agent and I read it from print-outs. I'm not sure how much the simulation of Sunset Boulevard really holds, but Bruen's voice, very staccato, very terse, more Hemingway than Hemingway himself, is enough to maintain interest.

Now, a question: what do these books have in common?

And just at a cinema club screening I saw Kathryn Bigelow's ultra-realistic Iraq film, The Hurt Locker. This is not your typical war film and there's very little of action, even though some of the scenes are very suspenseful, but the main point is the utter frustration of these young guys who are dropped in middle of the desert nowhere to fight the war they don't understand against the people they don't understand. It's frustrating to see, though, that the film isn't going to make it to cinemas here in Finland. The copy I saw had Italian subtitles and I really had trouble understanding what the guys were saying, since they mostly mumble and shout, so I'd really like to see this with Finnish subtitles.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Zombie book out

Readers of this blog may remember that I had a zombie anthology coming. It's now out and soon available from the bookstores, and also straight from the publisher at On the left is the striking cover from Mika Myyry, and here, on another blog of mine, is my foreword to the book. The book's title means "The Land of the Thousand Zombies" - Finland has traditionally been called "the land of the thousand lakes".

The book is full of hilarious and horrific zombie stuff, with a certain melancholy Finnish bent. It was interesting to notice when the stories began to arrive for the book that even when writing about zombies the Finns do stories about the Finnish Civil War of 1918, the Second World War, depression, loneliness, domestic violence, etc., the traditional themes in Finnish literature. Some of the stories have lots of delicious political satire, which is rare in Finland nowadays, so this book should be a good treat for anyone looking for serious literature.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Outfit, JT Lindroos's new publishing house

Over a week ago I said I'd noticed that JT Lindroos, the man behind PointBlank, had come up with a new publishing venture, The Outfit. I sent JT some questions and received just now some answers, which I'll duly post below.

PointBlank became known as a very original publisher of crime fiction - it had Dave Zeltserman, James Reasoner, Pearce Hansen... Why was it cancelled?

PointBlank isn't dead yet. There may be life yet in the old dog. PB was too ambitious for its own good, and as much help I rec'd from Sean Wallace, John Betancourt and Al Guthrie, too much of it was on my shoulders and I couldn't hack it while working a regular job on the side. We all are wiser from the experience, and narrowing its focus will help in getting results. PointBlank will remain under the wings of Wildside Press. Many PB books will remain in print, some are looking for a new home.

What kind of books will The Outfit be publishing?

The Outfit will focus on hardboiled entertainment. We don't have plans on doing domestic or U.S. reprints like Point Blank or Hard Case, but we will bring in English language fiction from across the world that has not yet been released for the US market. That may well include new novels by American and British authors. A little later down the line it may include translated novels from other countries.

For recommendations, all I can say is that give our first two books a shot. Leigh Redhead's PEEPSHOW is a fun, sharp and a little exotic hardboiled entertainment by an author who should be huge. Frank McAuliffe's SHOOT THE PRESIDENT, ARE YOU MAD? is a book written by an Edgar winning author right before JFK was assassinated. With a title like that, it's not difficult to understand why it wasn't published at the time.

The Outfit will share the same roof with another publisher, Prime Books. What can you tell us about that?

Prime Books is Sean Wallace's baby. He publishes high quality fantasy and horror titles. If you have any interest in said genres, Prime Books is very much worth a look. I worked with Sean on getting Leena Krohn's TAINARON published through Prime, but despite it receiving nods for the World Fantasy Award, getting spectacular reviews, and being one of the most beautiful books I've ever worked on... it pretty much died on the shelves. Which is a damned shame because it was a wonderful book by a wonderful author, and we put a lot of effort into it and I don't think anybody made a penny off it. It was still worth it.

Here's also the official press release.

September 21, 2009
For Immediate Release

Here's the score. The Outfit has the handle on tough guys and even tougher girls. Even the book business needs its own plunder squad.

Formed by Prime Books head-honcho, award-winning editor Sean Wallace, and the Point Blank Press co-founder J.T. Lindroos, The Outfit has their plans, artillery and blueprints ready for the big takeover.

Their breakout title is the award-winning Australian hardboiled debut PEEPSHOW by the criminally under-appreciated Leigh Redhead. The Weekend Australian called it the 'best new [crime] novel of the year'. The follow-up featuring our smart and sexy stripper slash private investigator Simone Kirsch, CHERRY PIE, is scheduled for 2010. Redhead -- yes, really -- has not worked as a private investigator, but she has been a cook on a prawn trawler from Cairns to Cape York, stripped at the Crazy Horse and Club X Bar in Melbourne, written five novels, and currently teaches English in Vietnam.

"I couldn't believe this series had not been picked up for US publication," says Lindroos. "It's entertaining, smart and tough, and Leigh obviously knows what she's writing about. There's a lot of outstanding downunder crime fiction that just isn't getting the exposure it deserves, and we're planning give it some."

The Outfit will chase the inaugural title with a long-lost novel by Edgar Award winning author Frank McAuliffe. SHOOT THE PRESIDENT, ARE YOU MAD? is the final book to be published in McAuliffe's series featuring the rapscallion Augustus Mandrell. The reason for the long delay in getting the book published? McAuliffe submitted the manuscript to his publisher just prior to death of JFK, and the book was cancelled. The Outfit is about to correct that mistake.

"We'll handle four to six titles a year, making sure all the books are smart and entertaining. Don't expect a 500-page tome. We like short and sharp. Like an icepick. Every book we publish will be a really good read."

PEEPSHOW is available now.