Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book(s): The Eighth Circle, Don't Ask, Chip Off the Bloc

Here are three books all of which I've read or tried to read recently.

Stanley Ellin's The Eighth Circle (1958) has come with high praise from many crime fiction aficionados as one of the more original private eye novels. Ellin has written some very good short stories, some of which are classics, and some good films have come out of his novels, but I couldn't get past page 100 or so of The Eighth Circle. Maybe I'm the one to blame, but nothing much seemed to happen. I also couldn't get into Ellin's style. The situation might be different if there were a good Finnish translation of the book, but unluckily this is not the case here. I'm sure many of Pulpetti's readers might like Ellin's book. (The Penguin cover is so great I wanted to use that, even though it's not very American in style.)

Donald Westlake's Don't Ask (1992) is one of his Dortmunder novels. I haven't been a fan of Dortmunders (lately I've found I don't really find jokes funny, especially in a book), but I've liked to read one now and then. This wasn't very entertaining, I must admit. I struggled the book through, as I hoped the book would turn funnier. Beside some mild amusement and some satire on United Nations and some quirky characterization the book seemed a bit forced. I'm actually sorry to say this, since I've liked other books by Westlake very much.

Gar Wilson's Chip Off the Bloc (1986) is something completely different: it's a book in the men's adventure series Phoenix Force that's a spin-off of the Mack Bolan series. I don't really care for this kind of stuff, but I have, shall we say, an academic interest for it. I left most of these books out of my first book, Pulpografia, and I've been thinking about a sequel in which I'd talk about these later men's adventure series. (Seems though I'll never make it. I might settle for a longer article.) This one was written by a guy called Paul Glen Neuman who has a website of his own (he lists at least thirty screenplays he's written, but none of them seems to have been filmed). Neuman has done also other men's adventure series, so I guess you could call him a pro. Chip Off the Bloc is written in a pretty dull way, I must admit: there's no actual development, the scenes just follow each other and something just happens in them. I understand this is supposed to be simple stuff, to be read shallowly and leisurely (which is actually what I did), but I think you could do these books with more imagination and better characterization. Now there's not much life to these people. The book has also some funny outdated stuff on early modems and computers. (I recall reading somewhere that Dan J. Marlowe penned one or two of these books, is this confirmed in the new Marlowe biography? The Finnish edition of this book, by the way, is credited with the original title as "Chip Off the Bloch"!)

More Friday's Forgotten Books here.


Randy Johnson said...

Not read any of these, though I did read some of the Phoenix Force books way back when, eventually growing bored and leaving all that stuff behind. The Bolan titles were even worse after Gold Eagle took over and I found a couple that were rewritten Man From U.N.C.L. E. titles from the sixties.

Anders E said...

I liked THE EIGHTH CIRCLE a lot when I read it a couple of years back, but now I can't recall a single thing about the plot. Hmm, perhaps it was not quite that good after all?... Btw, the copy I own is one of the Penguin edition you show.

Dortmunder was always a hit-or-miss venture. When they were good, they were really good. Otherwise, a waste of time. Comedy really is difficult. But really, you don't find jokes funny? That sounds depressing.

And btw, the ultimate Dortmunder movie adaption was made way back in 1955 - LADYKILLERS. Westlake was totally aware of this indebtness - there's one of his books (can't recall which) where someone in Dortmunder's gang is watching it on TV and Herbert Lom is mentioned. I really think it is one of those few movies that are impeccable - you can't really improve on a single detail.

Juri said...

Anders: I can't really tell why some jokey books don't feel funny to me at all, while some do. I'll have to think about it. It seems, though, I've grown tired of narration full of jokes and funny similes - and that's what DON'T ASK was about, almost exclusively so. In films I like visual and physical gags more than funny banter (though there are exceptions).

Juri said...

I like jokes as jokes, but it doesn't feel necessary to me to fill a book with jokes, even if it's intended to be funny.

Howard Sherman said...

I haven't read any of these either but now that I know they exist I have the opportunity! I wish more book bloggers would spend time on older books that dropped out of the spotlight years ago never to return. Too many good books never get read because of this.

Juri said...

Howard: you can skip the Gar Wilson book without any hesitation. :)

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I have rediscovered Mack Bolan, Phoenix Force, and Able Team. I have CHIP OFF THE BLOC in my recently-acquired collection of The Executioner series and I am glad they still hold for me. Not need to put on your thinking cap.