Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Simon Lelic's Rupture

I read the Finnish translation of Simon Lelic's Rupture (A Thousand Cuts seems to be the US title) book and wrote a review of it for the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper. I liked it quite a bit, but not enough to keep it on my shelves. It's a frightening tale of a teacher who kills four pupils, one teacher and then himself. Lelic, whose debut novel this is, writes the first half of the book mostly through fragments and witness testimonies which makes for a compelling read, but the second half is marred by a didactic tone and an ending that's way too upbeat. It's simplistic and makes one hope Lelic wouldn't have pulled his punches this way.

Recommended, though, if you're into serious British crime writing or the topic of school shootings. It's interesting to me, since I've been having these dreams of... writing something about school shootings (a publisher actually once proposed I'd write a novel of a school shooting, but nothing came of it).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Moomins, those satanists

Instead of a proper post*, here's a link to a hilariously inane "article" on Moomins, the great fairytale novels of Tove Jansson, the Finnish writer. I really love it when my both children love them just as much as I've always done.

* We just sold our apartment, are prepared to move to a bigger one and I should be packing all of my books, I had a writer's block that lasted a week and now that I'm over with it, I should concentrate fully on writing the architecture book. 

Edit: it came to my knowledge some minutes ago that the Landover Baptist Church is a parody. Well, they fooled me, that's for sure. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Three books in two weeks!

I'm not sure anymore whether I got any new books out last Fall. At least three books were delayed - which of course lead to the situation where they suddenly come out with a burst. Last week the collection of articles dealing with the copyright debate that I edited came out, and this week the reference work to the contemporary historical novelists came out. And as if this wasn't enough, I got a call from the publisher that the vampire anthology is just out of the printers! Yikes! Three books in two weeks! (Must be said, though, that none of these is written by me, they are just anthologies and compilations. I did ten or so entries for the reference book, but I'm "only" credited as one of the three authors, the other two being Sari Polvinen and Jukka Halme.)

There's still one book coming out this Spring that was supposed to be published last Fall - it's the collection of the Finnish outdoor and hunting stories I edited. It'll probably come out next month.

I'll post later more details about these books.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Michael Koryta's A Welcome Grave

You might remember I lost this book for at least a week and my reading experience was a bit ruffled by the incident, but it was still a very good book, a good example of the recent private eye fiction that doesn't have any of the noirish clichés of the private eye fiction that still marr the image of the hardboiled gumshoe in people's eyes. Very few of these books have been translated in Finnish, which means many have the wrong image of the new PI novels.

Okay, to the book. The setting is very intriguing and fresh: someone kills brutally the guy who "stole" Lincoln Perry's (Perry being Koryta's PI hero) girlfriend many years ago and married her. Lincoln Perry is the first suspect, since he's known to have  fought with the deceased. The wife knows the dead man had a son and someone should notify him about the death of his father. Perry finds the son quite easily, but in the middle of the night, in a gazebo somewhere, the son pulls the trigger and kills himself.

And then I lost the book.

And then I found it. (Or actually Elina, my wife, found it while cleaning.)

But I got back on the track. A Welcome Grave is one of those touching and tragic PI novels in the mould of Ross Macdonald or Jonathan Valin. The webs of history and family life are very complex in this book. At times I felt there was a bit too much dwelling on Perry's love life and he has a mildly weird sidekick (a trait I don't really like in new PI fiction), but I'm not really complaining. The climax is quite shattering and full of action. This would make a nice film. My only complaint is that Lincoln Perry is not as memorable characther as someone like Philip Marlowe or Dan Fortune. Maybe that's the point: the people around the PI are the story.

Oh, here's Koryta's website.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Marquise of O

In Arthur Penn's seminal private eye film, Night Moves, Gene Hackman says that watching an Eric Rohmer film is like watching paint dry on the wall. Hackman is not a nice man in the film, so everything he says should be approached with caution.

Especially when Rohmer makes films as beautiful and stunning as his (only?) historical film, The Marquise of O (1976; the same year as Penn's film!). It's based on a story by Heinrich "Mikael Kohlhaas" von Kleist and it's about a widow who gets mysteriously pregnant after being saved from some village savages by a Russian count (played by Bruno Ganz). The sets are very well done, the compositions are beautiful (I believe Rohmer has stolen some images from the famous paintings of the era; see the image on the left), the dialogue is very funny in its pompousness and German strictness, and the story is moving. What more can you possibly want? The film is absolutely hypnotic, even without music (yes, this is an European art film without any music). My only gripe with the film is that the ending, the last line of the film seems a bit too ironical.

More Overlooked Films here.

PS. And oh, I could also mention The Jack Bull, a rather recent TV western I watched some weeks ago, because it's based on "Mikael Kohlhaas", von Kleist's best-known story. The transition of the 16th century Europe to the late 19th century Wild West is made quite well, but I didn't buy John Cusack as a Western character, for some reason or another. Recommended otherwise.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: Patricia Highsmith's A Game for the Living

It's been a while since I last read something by Patricia Highsmith. I haven't read enough of her work to call myself a fan, but I've liked what I've read. For some reason or another, it's almost twenty years since I've read any of the Tom Ripleys.

But I have a book project for which I'm supposed to read some Highsmith. I grabbed one of the Finnish translations from the shelf, but it proved to be one of her weaker books - or at least that's what I think. It was A Game for the Living from 1959, translated literally as Peli eläville in 2000. It's set in Mexico which makes it resemble some of Margaret Millar's work, but Millar seems quite liberal compared to Highsmith when it comes to her depiction of the Mexicans. Highsmith's view of them is racist: the Mexicans are stupid, arrogant, child-like, corrupt, violent, acting on a whim. One of the whims is a deadly one: a beautiful woman who's affiliated with many artists is killed brutally and the two men with whom she was in love with begin to act out their own guilts.

This seemed interesting at first, but then it bogged down to a mediocre thriller, with too many scenes in which the lead men were just suffering. The climax wasn't very grabbing, I'm sorry to say. It has to be said, though, that I had some difficulties to concentrate in reading the book - I had to read some other stuff at the same time and that always eats the experience. I'd be interested to hear about other opinions on the book.

Other Forgotten Books for this Friday can be found here at Patti Abbott's great blog.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Pirates of the 20th Century

Seems like I'm doing only these Overlooked meme posts nowadays... (And I keep forgetting the blogger's rule No. 1: don't complain about why you haven't posted and why the stuff you post is lame.) I'll try to remedy that, with posts coming on Michael Koryta's A Welcome Grave (I found it!) and James Reasoner's long-lost novel Diamondback. Okay, back to the meme.

Pirates of the 20th Century (1980) is possibly the only Soviet karate film ever made. And it is possibly the only full-blown action film ever made in the Soviet Union. There have been some actioneers along the way, starting from the early 1920's (and Civil War films like Red Imps that resemble American Westerns very much) and moving well to the 1980's. But Pirates of the 20th Century is something of an anomaly: there's no social or political message to be seen, there really are some karate and diving scenes, with some tough violence. All in all, the film resembles the James Bonds and at times even the Hong Kong karate flicks of the seventies. The Soviet public wanted this stuff so badly the film received over 100,000,000 viewers!

It's not a bad film. It's stagey at times and the characters are not much more than cardboard sketches. There are some scenes in which you can only wonder what the script writers were thinking, and the climax is way too easy. There's some heavy-duty violence against women (whipping with a bamboo stick on a bare back, for example), which is surprising. The music is mostly Italian-styled funkjazz. The only Soviet angle thing is probably that there are no lonely heroes: these guys act as a group in which there are no hierarchies. (Okay, the bad guys, the pirates of the title, are mercenaries who've worked in places like South Africa and Angola, which places them with the imperialist gang.) The film is entertaining throughout, though, and if there's a copy available I suggest you grab it: this is one of a kind. I believe the film is on out DVD. Below are the opening credits and the climax, without English subtitles, though. (More Overlooked films at Todd Mason's blog.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Tuesday's... er, Wednesday's Overlooked Film: Manifesto

Honestly, I was going to post this already yesterday, on Tuesday, but I never got around to doing it, so I'll do it now and send a link to Todd Mason who collects all the posts on this meme here.

Okay, to the point. I'll be short about this. Dušan Makavejev was the often controversial Yugoslavian director of the late sixties and early seventies, with his politico-pornographical essays Sweet Movie and WR, but he more or less vanished from sight after those films. He's been making films still in the 1990's, even though the results haven't been up there with his early films.

However, Manifesto from 1988 which I saw recently on the big screen is a very funny rendering of an Émile Zola short story, set in an unidentifed country just after the First World War, with people trying to kill the (hilariously stupid) king. It's full of sexual exhilaration and the film boasts with surreal ideas. It's incoherent, but always hilarious, with some good actors (Simon Callow, Eric Stoltz, Alfred Molina). It's not as experimental or as political as Makavejev's old films, but the fact that the lead woman in the film is very firm in getting her sexual satisfaction is enough for me to make the film political. Actually the erotic content, mixed with absurd comedy, with some mild domination thrown in, made me think of my own sleaze paperback, Lausteen himokämppä (and its sequel, which I, by the way, finished writing the other day).

What's interesting is that this was a Cannon Group film, produced by the Israeli duo of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They made some artsy films, at least one by Robert Altman and possibly others. I don't have time to look for the other titles now...

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Little interview with JT Ellison

Some years ago I published a small flash fiction story, called "Madonna in the Grass", by American writer JT Ellison in one of my mags, Ässä. So it was nice to notice she made it pretty big with her Nashville-set Taylor Jackson series. Especially nice was that Taylor Jackson also made it to Finland. Her first novel with Jackson, All the Pretty Girls, came out in Finnish before Christmas. I managed to find a copy, though the MIRA paperbacks have a very short shelf life and they are not available everywhere, and I read the book during the holidays. I'm not big into serial killer, but I thought All the Pretty Girls was entertaining and pretty plausible in its solutions. A fast, solid read.

I sent some questions to JT and got some answers back - the thing that usually happens with interviews, right? Okay, here's the Q&A.

Was it always clear to you that you'd write about a woman character?

Yes. From the very beginning, I wanted to have a strong female lead, one that was strong without being strident, who commanded the respect of her peers not from fear, but because she’d earned it. A female Lucas Davenport, that was my goal. Half cop, half rock star. On a deeper level, I see Taylor as Athena, the warrior goddess of Nashville. She is the city’s protector in every way. A hero.

But having a strong male lead was important to me as well. That’s why Baldwin has such a big role in the story from the get go.

Taylor Jackson is not the main character and actually not all the time very crucial to what's happening in the book? Why is that?

Taylor is definitely the main character of the book, she’s just working on a secondary investigation. That’s just the way the story played out in this first book. Because she is a police office with Metro Nashville, she can’t go jetting off to other jurisdictions to follow the Southern Strangler. John Baldwin is the profiler tasked with finding the Southern Strangler, but Taylor’s role in that investigation has to be focused on the Nashville aspects only. Real cops can’t move into other jurisdictions without a lot of paperwork and headaches. I thought it would be fun to show what it’s really like for a cop dealing with a multi-state investigation.

You've published six books about Taylor Jackson? What's happened to her after the first book (mind you, I haven't read them before this). What's going to happen to her later?

Taylor faces all sorts of challenges in the following five novels. In 14, she’s investigating the case of a long dormant serial killer who seemingly has returned from the dead. In JUDAS KISS, she’s working a single murder of a young mother, and dealing with a major invasion of her privacy that results in her being demoted. In THE COLD ROOM, she’s up against another serial killer, The Conductor, and chases him across Europe with a new character to the series, James “Memphis” Highsmythe, from New Scotland Yard. THE IMMORTALS has her back in Nashville hunting for a killer who’s tied to the occult, and the newest book, out March 1 in the US, SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, sees her up against her nemesis from 14, the Pretender. The girl has a full plate. I’ve just finished the seventh, WHERE ALL THE DEAD LIE, (Oct 1) which is more of a gothic suspense than my usual thriller. No killers to hunt, just Taylor, working through some rather serious issues.

Do you have any other series characters or one-off books in mind?

Yes, I do. I’m starting a new series right now, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

There are quite a lot police procedural influences in the book, which I found refreshing. Could you name some of your influences in that genre?

I’m a big fan of John Sandford. He’s the one that got me going on police procedurals. Tess Gerritsen, Alex Kava, Erica Spindler, Karin Slaughter, John Connolly and Lee Child all inspire me too. I breathlessly await their new books.

In your earlier web-published stories, there were more noir and hardboiled influences in sight. Will you go back to those influences someday?

I find that most of my short stories have the darker, noir feel to them. I love experimenting though, love to stretch my wings and try new genres. I absolutely have some more noir up my sleeve.

How do you see the future of books and publishing? You made it big from the webzines to Harlequin/Mira, but that leap is not possible to everyone.

I am quite bullish on the future of publishing. We’re in flux, yes, with the advent of ebooks and their popularity. But readers will always want a well-crafted, well-told story, and publishers will continue to bring those stories to them. I was very blessed to have an excellent agent who had a plan for me, and followed through on that. I know it doesn’t always happen that way. My work is more commercial in nature, I think, and that’s what helped springboard me to the place I am now.

How about e-books and all that?

Love them. I have a Nook Color and think it’s the bomb. I hate that they’re putting bookstores out of business though. It’s painful to watch. I adore going to bookstores, feeling the weight of the books in my hand. But I travel so much that an ereader is a great solution for me. I read probably 50% of my books on the Nook now.

BTW, seems like JT's "Madonna in the Grass" is available as an e-book, with some other short stories of hers. Check the collection Sweet Little Lies out here. And JT has also another book out in Finnish, check it out here. It's called Lumikkimurhat (as in "The Snow White Killings").