Thursday, January 28, 2010

John Hillcoat's The Road

For once I had a chance to go to movies last Sunday. I picked John Hillcoat's The Road, thinking it was by the Coen brothers - perhaps they'd've made another Cormac McCarthy film? But no, I remembered the real director when I got to the movie theatre.

I didn't mind, since the film was excellent. The postapocalyptic scenes were so overwhelmingly desolate and grey, almost without colours, I was on the verge of bursting into tears almost throughout the movie. I also thought the usual problem with road movies - there's not enough tension in what happens with everything just taking place one scene after another - was largely gone. This was a very exciting movie.

There were some scenes that were a bit too sentimental, and I didn't find the ending totally satisfying, but there was also a twist that set everything seen before it in a new light and gave it another level of meaning. I was worried for a minute, though, that this might become a cult classic for some extremists who think a new nation can be built upon total destruction (à la The Turner Diaries), but then again they would be idiots. (Has never stopped anyone before, has it, though?)

This got worse reviews than it really deserved. I'm sure it will be recognized as an American classic in ten or twenty years.
And would someone please publish a Finnish translation of McCarthy's Blood Meridian?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A book Tapani Bagge was supposed to be in

Here's a review from Bookgasm for a book my friend Tapani Bagge was supposed to be in. Maxim Jakubowski had picked up Tapani's story "The Face in the Concrete" for the book, but it was dropped out at last minute - the book was getting too thick! But you can still read the story from Thrilling Detective. And you should, too.

Tapani wrote to me just a minute ago that his story should be in part two, if such a book gets made. Here's hoping it will!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Robert B. Parker

Can I go on living my life without saying anything about Robert B. Parker and his sudden death? The guy who's said to have kept the private eye genre alive during the seventies and eighties? (What about James Crumley, Stephen Greenleaf, Marcia Muller, Arthur Lyons, Jonathan Valin, Loren Estleman, Pete Hamill..? They did nothing of the sort?)

I'm one of those who never got into Parker and his Spenser books. Admittedly, I've read only two (Looking for Rachel Wallace and some other, the name of which I can't recall) and both were translations. There just might be something in Parker's style that doesn't come out well in translation. In Finnish it's pretty flat. But what's certain is that Spenser feels like a bore even when translated. It tells something that the two of his books I read are the only Spensers translated in Finnish (his Chandler books got into Finnish, though, but I don't think I've read them). There's just something that doesn't resonate with Finnish readers, me included (and believe you me, there's lots of stuff that resonates with me and leaves many of Finns cold).

Okay, the books are easily read, they run along smoothly, but you never - well, I didn't - get a real sense of anything important happening. Well, okay, some of the classic private eye heroes got too mixed up in their cases, the cases changed them (Lew Archer, Mike Hammer, many of the later ones), but Spenser might be more realistic in that he just does his job, and that's that. Yet his macho attitude feels forced and artificial. I hate when someone makes gourmet meals in books and yaps about it (or pretends not to yap about it, but yaps about it inside, like machos do). It's boring. Parker was one of the reasons I have said that private eyes are no longer interesting - even though it's a genre I very dearly love.

The lack of Finnish translations may be due to the fact the Robert Urich TV series got here under a very bad title: Tough Game in Boston / Kovaa peliä Bostonissa. Even the first novel was translated under that title, with Urich in the cover. No wonder not many took him seriously. I'm sure the sales of the book were poor. I didn't much watch the show and can't remember anything about it. (I watched one of the Jesse Stone movies with Tom Selleck and I thought it was very poor indeed. It was the one with the happy couple suddenly deciding they'll kill some people.)

I do have quite a bunch of Spensers waiting for me in English, so I'll let you really know what I think of him. And oh, I checked: the other Spenser I read is called Ceremony. It was much more annoying than Looking for Rachel Wallace. (Checking the name of the other book I noticed that the other, older Robert Parker, the one reprinted by Hard Case Crime, has had one book published in Finland: Passport to Peril came out in Swedish from a Finnish-Swedish publisher Schildts as På död mans pass in 1952. Man ska göra nånting att hitta det.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eino Liekki

I posted some ponderings about a Finnish pulp writer Eino Liekki in another blog of mine here. Eino Liekki wrote for the Isku and Seikkailujen Maailma magazines in the late thirties and early fourties and vanished without a trace. The name is most surely a pseudonym. I'm publishing one of Liekki's stories in the science fiction issue of my crime fiction fanzine, Isku.

The Hell-Bent Kid: Reprise

Sorry, haven't been blogging much lately, but here's a comment that just came to an old post here. It's about Charles Locke's Western novel, The Hell-Bent Kid, which I reviewed over a year ago.

I've just finished this book. Found it in a garage sale and almost didn't read it! So glad I did. Your review is excellent. Locke wrote brilliantly really. I note, from several reviews I've managed to track down, the film altered the ending making to something less tragic. However, in so doing they obviously failed the author by turning what could well have been something quite remarkable into a film some reviewers saw as forgettable. That was also tragic. Though I gather there were some memorable scenes. I would very much like to see the movie, but the chances seem slim as it is very rare. The book, however, I will keep as it is, in my mind, a stand-out Western.

I didn't know the film is rare - maybe it's not available as DVD -, but I think I know at least one person who has it on VHS. I'm not sure if I've seen it myself, probably not.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hurrah for the Fleischers!

We've been watching quite a lot of old Superman cartoons by Max and Dave Fleischer with Kauto. I bought an old VHS cassette some time ago and Kauto was enthusiastic from the word go. He said to me today he's gonna be a film maker when he grows up, and later he said he'll make a movie in which he shows how Superman is born and how the planet Krypton blows up. Didn't know we have Richard Donner living with us.

(Kauto also said that he'll make the world's longest movie that shows someone sleeping for 24 hours... We've been talking about the longest movies and I told him there's a film called Sleep. Kauto also said that it may be even 100 hours long. "No one sleeps that long", I said. "He's not a real man, he's fabricated!")

Those Fleischer Supermans (Supermen?) are fascinating. They are pretty well-made in their own right, but it's interesting to note how noirish they are in their design, with steep camera angles and very shadowy lighting, the use of silhouettes and such. It's at times like watching Citizen Kane.

Here's one that's not on the VHS I bought. I seem to remember my kid brother used to watch these, too, and this was one of his favourites.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Book: Don Tracy's Criss-Cross

Don Tracy is a little-known writer these days, but he had a long and, at times, distinguished career. In his later career he wrote largely movie and TV tie-ins, which isn't always a good sign. His second novel, Criss-Cross, is probably his best-known book and it has served as a basis for two films: Robert Siodmak's film of the same name and Steven Soderbergh's The Underneath (1994; in Finland only on video as Isku vasten kasvoja). Later Tracy wrote many shocking novels, like How Sleeps the Beast? (1938), which was published first only in the UK and Lion could publish it in the fifties as "a paperback original" which it wasn't, and The Big Blackout (1959). Both deal with racism of the South. There's not much on Tracy on-line, but Bill Crider and his commentators don't let us down.

I had recently a chance to read Tracy's novel in English - it's been translated in Finnish, but I've never read the translation, which, I believe, is abridged. (I was going to confirm it for this post, but never got around to it. The same thing happened, by the way, to watching Siodmak's film. I'm not sure if I've ever seen it.) Criss-Cross was first published by Vanguard Press in 1934 as a hardback, and it was later reprinted several times in softcover. The copy I read is a Triangle Book reprint from 1948, in hardcover. (There's a copy of the book in the Finnish Film Archive's library.)

Criss-Cross is quite a good novel. It's told in a very terse, very hardboiled style (that reminded me of Jason Starr's first novels, for some reason or another). Tracy uses ellipsis to a very good effect and he writes good dialogue. Some dated slang words, like "potatoes" for money, don't get much in the way. The story is about a guy who's done some boxing and who now guards money trucks. He's in love with Anna Krebak, a flimsy good-looking babe who goes out also with a guy called Slim, handsome creep. Tracy lets the action develop slowly, but you know how the story goes: this has been rewritten at least hundred times since. Tracy paved way for the Gold Medal and Lion writers, alongside with James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice was published the same year as Criss-Cross, so it's not sure Tracy was influenced by Cain).

There are some problems with the novel, though. There are some twists you don't see coming in the end of the novel, but the drive also slows down a bit. You feel there's no need to read the rest of the novel after, say, page 200, even though Tracy gives hints of the protagonist's descent into madness. The irony in the last, very short chapter is very gripping, though. Truly noir, this one.

This copy of the book belonged to Finnish film scholar Matti Salo who's known for his studies in film noir and the Hollywood black list. He has made some notes and quotes in the behind of the book. "Tracy belongs to the hardboiled Hemingway school of writers, related also to Burnett." (I think this quote comes from The Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties, an old anthology of articles.) Salo also makes the note of the reversal of the handsomeness of the leading men: in the book, the protagonist, Johnny is ugly with a broken nose, and Slim is the pretty boy, but in Siodmak's film Slim is played by Dan Duryea and Johnny is played by Burt Lancaster. There's also this quote: "Tracy's novel is rather predictable and thin, not a thriller, really, but related to a gangster novel." My opinion is higher, and I don't much see relation to gangster novels. There's no organized crime in Tracy's novel.

Lee Server offers some other quotes in his The Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers. The critic Cyril Connolly reviewed the book for the New Statesman: "A fascinating crime story - aesthetically worse than The Postman Always Rings Twice, if that were possible [sic!] - but begin it at any page, nevertheless, and you can't stop till you've read all the other others. It is a mass of fake simplicity, fake intensity, fake slang. Only the sentimentality and bad grammar are genuine. But one has to read it." I should say this is not sentimental in the least! Bad grammar is genuine, because Tracy writes about characters who don't know grammar!

(Lee Server's book has received lots of bad reviews, but his entry on Tracy is very good - check it out! He offers a good rundown of Tracy's career, not forgetting his sequels to Metalious's Peyton Place.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Steven Soderbergh's The Good German

The Good German is a film about Americans in Berlin just after the Second World War. George Clooney is a reporter who gets mixed up in international intrigue that has to do with concentration camps and the Nazis' attempt to build rocket missiles. The film is based on Joseph Kanon's novel, but I haven't read that one; Kanon is well-respected, though.

I saw a comment somewhere that this just isn't Casablanca. I don't think that's an apt comparison, since this is far more brutal and cynical than Casablanca. True, Soderbergh uses a very stylish technique that brings back images of film noir and the Expressionistic films of the thirties, with their back-projections and dark shadows. But this is still something else than Casablanca, a look into a dark world that almost entirely abandons the romanticism of Casablanca. This is more noir than Casablanca ever was.

That said I must admit that The Good German didn't win me over totally. It's still far more about style than content. Especially the end left me pretty cold, even though the big revelation comes at the last minute. It has something to do with the fact that Cate Blanchett's character never comes as alive as one would like her to be. (There are conflicting opinions in the IMDb I provided above.)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Best in 2009

The best books I read last year. Some of them really were last year's books, some of them are from 2008 or 2007, some are older. I put the latter ones in a separate list. I'm sure there are books I haven't remembered. I may do another list of films later.

Dave Zeltserman: Pariah
James Ellroy: Blood's a Rover/Levoton veri
Peter Leonard: Quiver/Ihmismetsällä
Megan Abbott: Die a Little
Gabriel Hunt, as told to Charles Ardai: Hunt through the Cradle of Fear
Allan Guthrie: Savage Night
Jason Starr: The Follower; Panic Attack (I think I liked Panic Attack more, even though The Follower really has its moments)
Jonathan Maberry: Patient Zero (with some reservations)
Anthony Neil Smith: Yellow Medicine; Psychosomatic
Petri Salin: Toinen nainen/The Other Woman

Books that have come out earlier, but I just read them last year or there was a Finnish translation:

Elmore Leonard: Valdez Is Coming (Finnish translation in 2009 as Valdez)
Michael Moorcock: Behold the Man (Finnish translation in 2009 as Katso ihmistä)
Ross Macdonald: Meet Me at the Morgue, under the UK title Experience With Evil
Ken Bruen: London Boulevard
Jonathan Valin: Day of Wrath
Thomas B. Costain: The Black Rose/Musta ruusu
John Fowles: The Maggot/Ilmestys
Marguerite Yourcenar: The Memoirs of Hadrian/Hadrianuksen muistelmat
Norah Lofts: Madselin/Kohtalokas valloittaja; The Concubine/Kuninkaan jalkavaimo (maybe a bit of an exaggeration to call these one of the best books I read last year, but for some reason they get stuck to my mind, especially Madselin, romantic, but serious historical novel about the Norman conquest)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Finnish vintage sleaze Westlake

Here's a Finnish cover for a sleaze paperback by Donald Westlake, writing as "Alan Marshall", which was one of the pseudonyms he alone used. If I remember correctly. The sleaze pseudonyms are a tricky thing.
The book in question was called originally Virgin's Summer (Midwood 1960), which is also the Finnish title. I haven't read this one, but a friend of mine - who knows his Westlake - has and he said that it's clearly Westlake. The cover copy says: "He [or she?] felt his/her first love experience as a waking dream. [Huh?] And then it wasn't a dream anymore... Roaring tale about what goes on behind the closed doors of American motels!"
The Finnish edition was published by Finnbooks in their Domino series in 1967.

Oops, I forgot something!

I forgot one item from my earlier post about what books I published or wrote last year: I completed the first draft to a short novel. It's a sleaze or sex - or even pornographic - novel about some policemen in present-day Turku struggling with their everyday life and their needs. It's under 20,000 words and I'll self-publish it some time later this year.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My 2009

The last year turned out to be very prolific for me, if not very productive in the sense of actual money. I published at least books, although some of these were small or what you might call pamphlety self-publications, and some of them didn't have the ISBN code on them. However, several major books came out during the last year, including my first novel (sic). Here's a rundown:

Elokuvan lyhyt historia / The Short History of Cinema. BTJ.

Retrovauvat / Retro Babies. With Elina Teerijoki and Ville Hänninen. Ajatus Kirjat. (Actually this was a 2008 book, but it wasn't announced until 2009.)

Historiallisen romaanin taitajia 1 / Historical Novelists 1. With Jukka Halme and Sari Polvinen. BTJ. (Seems like I didn't do anything to promote this... but here's something. In Finnish.)

Päivitysten kirja: 11 kuukautta Facebookissa / The Book of Updates: 11 Months in Facebook. Abraxas (= self-publication).

Outoa huminaa, Joe Novak / It's a Weird Buzz, Joe Novak. Verikoirakirjat (= self-publication).

Bodice Ripper Apart: A Book of Spam Poems. ntamo.

Parhaita Isku-jännityskertomuksia. Edited. Turbator. (Collection of original Finnish crime stories published in my crime fiction fanzine, Isku.)

Reino Helismaa: Henkipattojen kylä / Village of the Outlaws. Edited by me. Suomen Länkkäriseura / The Finnish Western Society.

Veikko Hannuniemi: Suuri jano / The Great Hunger. Edited. Turbator.

Tankki palaa! / Tank Is Burning! Edited. Turbator.

Tuhansien zombien maa / The Land of the Thousand Zombies. Edited. Turbator.

Kaarlo Uskela: Vainovuosilta. Edited. (A collection of stories from during the Finnish Civil War.) Turbator.

The translation of Duane Swierczynski's The Wheelman as Keikkakuski. Arktinen Banaani.

I think there was at least one small leaflet of spam poetry... um, yes, it was called Will Load Patterns. Then there were issues of my fanzines, Isku, Pulp and Ässä, plus two issues of Ruudinsavu, the official magazine of the Finnish Western Society.

Am I forgetting something? Oh, I finished writing a crime/horror novel and did the first round of edits. I edited the YA novel Elina and I wrote already three or four years ago and sent it to a publisher that had showed interest in it. I edited a crime novel that I've written ten years ago and sent it to a publisher who were reading my earlier crime novel manuscript - comments have been promising, only wishing they'd make up their minds. (And by the way, a publisher I'd thought had already vanished from face of the Earth came out saying that they might still be interested in publishing a horror/fantasy novel that I sent them in 2003! There are just some problems with this, more on them later.)

I also edited the Arktinen Banaani's crime paperback series that had five books come out last year: Duane's Keikkakuski, Allan Guthrie's Kiss Her Goodbye as Viimeinen suudelma, Kevin Wignall's Who Is Conrad Hirst? as Kuka on Conrad Hirst?, James Sallis's Drive as Kylmä kyyti and Scott Phillips's The Ice Harvest as Jäätävää satoa. The series hasn't been as successful as we all hoped, but we have some tricks in our sleeves. More on them soon. (If someone's thinking I don't have a life: I didn't do much actual copy-editing with these books.)

I also had my hand in editing Petri Salin's first novel, Toinen nainen/The Other Woman, and it was partly due to me that Elmore Leonard's Valdez Is Coming was published in Finnish for the first time. (I didn't have anything to do with the actual process, except that the translator used my copy of the book!)

There are several book projects on their way, but I'm not sure when they'll come out. I think 2010 won't be as productive as 2009 was. Sad, but there's also the fact that it's a bit of shameful to put out so many books. I can't explain it very well, but it is awkward if someone asks a question: "What are you working on now?" "Umm... there are seven books on their way and I've just proposed a couple of new ones." (Usually I just say that I'm working on a book.)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Monday's Forgotten Book: Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead

Should I save this for the coming Friday or write about it now? I've noticed that if I don't write about books or movies I've read or seen at once, I just don't write about them. So here's a new series: Monday's Forgotten Books. It's possible that this will be the only entry.

Now, is anything by Michael Crichton really forgotten - now that Hard Case Crime brought out two early outings by him as "John Lange"? And Eaters of the Dead was made into a film, The Thirteenth Warrior, with Antonio Banderas in the lead. Forgotten?

At least in Finland. For some reason or another, the book has never been translated in Finnish. Eaters of the Dead was originally published in 1976. My battered paperback copy I purchased for 50 cents recently is from the nineties, when the movie was coming out. You can see from the film's credits in the back cover that the movie was supposed to be called Eaters of the Dead, but then it was changed, for some reason, into The Thirteenth Warrior. Maybe "Eaters of the Dead" was thought to be too garish. The reprint has a 1992 afterword by Crichton, in which he tells anecdotes about making of the book. It's interesting in its own right and gives some background to what Crichton did with his novel. [Editing the entry and Googling for links I notice that the Wikipedia article on the film has many anecdotes about making the film.]

Eaters of the Dead is essentially a postmodern novel, since many - if not all - of the sources Crichton mentions are fictional. The book consists of the diary of one Ibn Fadlan, an Arab diplomat travelling to the city of Bulgar and meeting a bunch of Vikings in the way. He's assigned to be the thirteenth warrior when the Vikings are told to come back to help their king fighting an anonymous enemy. (This assignment must be the weakest element in the book. I couldn't decide whether it was logical or not. It might've been better if Ibn Fadlan had followed them by his own choice.) In the North, they fight against hairy beasts that may or may not turn out to be Neanderthals. There's also some fighting amongst the Vikings, and some anthropological notions about the Vikings and their habits. Seems like Crichton has done his homework - but of course I'm not sure, since I don't know much about Vikings.

This is not a straight-forward adventure novel, mainly due to the ancient diary style Crichton mimicks. But it's still a gripping yarn. There are some good horror scenes with the Neanderthals attacking in the night. The book has some connections to Beowulf - even though Crichton admits in his afterword the chronology is way off -, which are not necessary to decipher if one simply wants to enjoy the adventure. Crichton also gives a possible and plausible explanation to the dragon-like monster described in Beowulf.

All in all, I enjoyed the novel. It was actually my first Crichton, but I'm not very interested in his other work - beside the John Langes which I may read in the future (and possibly Congo, another of his early novels, but I found much to dislike in the film). I'd very much like to see this translated in Finnish, but I don't think I'd be up to it. I'm not sure though who'd make a good publisher for this: the SF/fantasy folks don't necessarily want to read Crichton and the usual Crichton readers might be put off by the postmodern narrative techniques.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Minireviews of my books

Here are two short comments on my recent books received in e-mail.

Boris Hurtta Tuhansien zombien maasta: "Zombi-kirjan sain luetuksi. Oli odottamattoman hyvä tai sanotaan, että pidin odottamattoman monesta kertomuksesta."

Tapani Bagge esikoisromaanistani: ""Novak-romsku oli oikein mukavaa luettavaa, sympaattinen pastissi. Tyyli piti hyvin, juoni ei ehkä ihan loppuun asti, mutta se tuskin oli tarkoituskaan."