Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jason Pinter's The Mark and John Rector's The Cold Kiss

As this is a literary blog and not really about my personal life and what I've been doing lately (it used to be, but as I've grown older and wiser [hah!], I've decided to go for an alternative), it has to suffice that I write about the books that I read during our 1½-week trip through Finland. Well, let me say this: we went first to Mänttä to visit my relatives, swam in the lake nearly all the time and visited the Mänttä Kuvataideviikot art thing, and then we went to Nokia to visit my dad and went to the Särkänniemi amusement park and Ottilia made me go to the new Motogee thing and I have to say I almost started to cry when it finally - after 28 seconds - ended. And then we went to Pori to visit my mother and just tried to chill out - which is near impossible in this temperature. (Over 25 Celsius all the time and no rain.)

Okay, the books. Jason Pinter is one of the newer thriller writers who hark back to the older traditions of the genre and don't write high tech thrillers à la Tom Clancy or don't go for the huge historical conspiracies like Dan Brown and his followers. The Mark, his first novel from 2007, is very reminiscent of the wrong man thrillers of the 1930's and 1940's. In fact, the novel could be labelled "noir", unless one wants grimness and an unhappy ending from one's noir. In The Mark Pinter creates his series character, journalist Henry Parker, who's involved accidentally in killing a police officer and becomes a most wanted criminal. Parker decides to solve the case before the police catch him, just like many heroes of the films from the thirties and fourties.

There's much to like in the book: the narrative is catchy, the pace is good, the description about journalism and journalists is good (Pinter is a journalist himself) and there's not much padding. I thought however that there were some implausibilities that nagged me from the halfway on, and the romance felt a bit forced and clichéd. I notice now - after having finished the book over a week ago - that I don't remember much about the book. But I guess that's one of the criteria of entertainment: you don't want to think too much about it. Me, I could've wished for more.

John Rector's debut novel, The Cold Kiss (out now from Forge in hardcover), was more to my taste: a noir novel that has the grimness that's required in noir. Rector's minimalistic style and the plot reminded me very much of the classic noir paperbacks of the fifties and writers like Day Keene, Gil Brewer and Richard Deming. Of course Rector, writing in the 2000's, is more open about sex, drugs and violence than his predecessors, but the picture he paints about human evil is no less chilling than with Keene or the other writers. The Cold Kiss is essentially a thriller set in a snowbound roadside motel where there are only a few people, one of them seemingly dead.

One of the best things about The Cold Kiss is how Rector reveals facts about his characters little by little. You get to know them and feel for them and even when they are not the best of people, you have to sympathize for them and hope the best for them. Even though they seem pretty stupid and do unnecessarily nasty things.

I can't much say about the plot, since there are lots of twists early on. I can say, though, that mentioning Scott Smith in the back cover copy gives too much about what will happen in the book. These things said, I must admit that the book is just a bit too long, maybe by 20 or 30 pages. I also guessed who the bad guy in the book is - there are too few characters in the novel. And the ending could've also been just a bit grimmer. There's a hint of ambivalence in the end, but I could've wished for more. Let's make it clear, though: an excellent debut.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review of the Isku webzine

Paula Arvas reviews the first issue of the electronic Isku here. (In Finnish, of course.) She writes:

Iskuun tutustuminen [kannattaa] aloittaa vaikkapa ottamalla käteen kuppi kahvia ja lukemalla Kevin Wignallin hieno novelli "Kuolema", joka on alunperin ilmestynytEllery Queen's Mystery Magazinessa.

In English:

You get acquainted with Isku best with having a cup of coffee and reading Kevin Wignall's fine short story "A Death" that was originally published in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Safe back from the trip

Just wanted to let you know that we came back from our trip that eventually lasted more than a week. I'll be posting something about it - perhaps some photos and reports about the books I read during the trip, including a thorough essay on John Rector's debut novel The Cold Kiss.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

John Quinn's Terminator novel

I finished Justin Cronin's massive vampire novel The Passage (Ensimmäinen siirtokunta in Finnish) yesterday and wrote a review of it for the local newspaper. I enjoyed the novel quite a bit and can recommend it; now, suffice to say that any friend of long, epic western novel should try The Passage.

After finishing the 850-page The Passage I wanted to read something quick. I had recently found a free copy of an eighties' men's adventure paperback, John Quinn's The Kill Squad (1983) - or actually the Finnish translation of it, called Nitistäjä ja salamurhaajat (1985). Since Quinn's hero Rod Gavin is called Terminator after the "best" men's adventure fashion, calling him Nitistäjä in Finnish doesn't really work, since it sounds like he's hiding in the bushes and shoots in the back. The other two Quinn translations, Silicon Valley Laughter/Kamikazemurhaaja and Mercenary Kill/Viimeinen isku, don't carry the Nitistäjä label. The author behind the John Quinn pseudonym is presumably Dennis Rodriguez, who's probably written lots of these kind of books.

Okay, back to the book. I read the book in one hour or so, which is a virtue in itself. As for the other virtues in the book...

The book's kinda episodic and there's not much plot, basically just scenes put together. The premise is kinda interesting: a group of terrorists hides behind the survivalist group working somewhere in Arkansas, seemingly scheming to kill president Reagan (why in Arkansas of all places is never clear) and seemingly getting instructions from someone in the US federal state organization. The book's also kinda erotic or even pornographic, as almost every baddie in the book seems to get sexual satisfaction from beating up and killing women. In the end, the book's kinda clichéd. Kinda?

I started to think about Rod Gavin, the Terminator of the title. What right does he have to use the Terminator label? He doesn't do anything in the book. If he really were the Terminator, he'd be able to prevent at least some of the killings and slayings in the book, don't you think? Instead he's hit in the head and while he's unconscious, two thugs torture and kill a nice young lady. (Okay, he does kill them later, but that doesn't much help the young lady.) Similar thing happens also later in the book. Only in the end, he gets to shoot some of the baddies, but it comes all too late after several innocents have been maimed. To my surprise, I began to hope Mike Hammer would step in and start hitting some teeth with his gun. Rod Gavin is a wimp, if you ask me!

Here's another review of the book at Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot. He seems to basically agree with me.

The Finnish cover of the paperback seems to be an exact copy of the original one, which is kinda rare in the history of the Finnish paperback publishing.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Summertime Blues

I know, I know, it is pretty boring to post just to say is busy and will be busy and will be having a vacation, but that's what I'm gonna do right now. My daughter came to Finland to spend the summer with us and we are doing a bit of travelling, so there won't be much to write.

But, ah man, there's been a lot to write about. I just don't know where I'm spending my time (on Facebook, maybe?), but some things I've been meaning to write about but haven't:

1) the Red Riding trilogy: superb rendering of David Peace's book quartet: serial killing put in the social context (I really was meaning to write a long essay about this, but suffice to say that T. Jefferson Parker did this thing better in his California Joe; brilliant nevertheless)

2) Robert Harris's Rome novels: utter bores, don't waste your time on them

3) a Mexican wrestling movie from the early seventies I watched with some friends of mine: forgot the title, but the movie was hilarious, just like the sixties Batman TV show

4) Arturo Perez-Reverte's novels on Captain Alatriste: just can't get hooked on them, even though they are said to be popular and hark back to the golden days of the adventure novels, give me a Thomas B. Costain any day over Perez-Reverte!

I know I'm forgetting something. I just know it.

I'm reading Justin Cronin's celebrated vampire novel The Passage (Ensimmäisten siirtokunta in Finnish) and liking it a great deal, but