Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Frank Castle: Lovely and Lethal

After Brian Evenson's weird and effective The Open Curtain I thought I'd be in the mood for something lighter, maybe something old, maybe something pulpy (or paperbacky). I have tons of old paperbacks in my shelves, but not enough to time for them. So I thought I'd read one.

I read two or three westerns by Frank Castle when I was doing my book on American westerns paperbackers called Kuudestilaukeavat ("Six Guns" in English) and liked them well enough to try one of his crime novels. I picked up Lovely and Lethal, a Gold Medal paperback from 1957, and started it - and pretty soon dropped it and moved on to something else.

Lovely and Lethal is a bit like a private eye novel, but the hero of the book, one Jeff Normand, is actually a lawyer moving to a small town and getting acquainted with both the high society and the low-life of the place pretty quickly. He meets a beautiful dame, whose sister had possibly killed herself, but in odd circumstances. Normand starts to unravel the mystery behind the sister's death.

Castle's prose style is flat and not very interesting, not even very hardboiled, though I remember his westerns were pretty tough. The characters in Lovely and Lethal are pretty much stock. There's too much talk, not enough action. So Lovely and Lethal proved a bit boring and thought I'd read something else instead. And the book has a boring cover. Where's Robert McGinnis when you need him? There are enough sultry babies in the book to warrant a nice GGA cover!

Here's my earlier post on Frank Castle and his later crime novel "Sowers of the Doom" that seems to have been published only in Finland, and here's Castle on Steve Lewis's MysteryFile blog. I'm beginning to think that the book published in Finland only was the last one on Castle's career, unless he moved on to markets where he used only pseudonyms, writing porn or some such, and the pseudonyms have never come to light.

I'm now reading Michael Marshall's The Straw Men and enjoying it more.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Brian Evenson: The Open Curtain

I'd ordered Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain on a whim when I noticed someone post about it on Facebook. It looked intriguing, and based on a short description of the plot it reminded me of the manuscript I've been working on. Now that I read The Open Curtain, I can tell it really doesn't resemble much what I've written so far, but let me tell you that I'd really like to be able to write as well as Evenson - and just as daringly and as unpredictably as Evenson! The Open Curtain really grabbed and scared me, even though there are virtually no hallmarks of the horror genre.

Yet The Open Curtain is clearly a horror novel. It's terrifying and very distracting. The main character is a teenage guy Rudd, who seems a bit autistic and lives with his Mormon mother. His father has been dead for some time now, and Rudd finds some letters in a garage that seem to reveal he has a half-brother, called Lael, living somewhere else with his own mother. At the same time Rudd has to make an essay on history for school, and he stumbles on an article on an old murder case in which there was a possibility of an old Mormon ritual of a blood atonement. There were lots of bizarre elements in the murder, such as an accomplice the existence of whom was never proved. All these elements start to show in Rudd's life and toy with his identity that seems to fall apart. The twist in the middle made me almost pee in my pants.

This is something David Lynch might have written, but all the elements are actually very down-to-earth and realistic. Even the 100-year-old murder was a true case. Evenson describes it with a chilling minuteness, and the whole novel is written with minimalist preciseness that's quite scary. To know that blood atonement was a true doctrine in the Mormon faith makes The Open Curtain really effective as a horror novel. Yet Evenson never really gives any sure answers. The end might be a bit of a letdown, but it's the only alternative imaginable.

Someone said (I don't remember anymore where I saw the comparison) that if Jim Thompson were alive today, he'd write like Brian Evenson. Based on The Open Curtain, Evenson is a more literary writer, but there are same elements, for example the use of the unreliable narrator and the disintegration of the identity. (And taking a look at Evenson's Facebook page, I notice there's a discussion on Thompson in which Evenson says: "Have read almost all of Thompson, who I really love.")

I'll definitely be reading more Evenson. There are no Finnish translations, but if I have anything to say about the state of affairs, there will be.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

New publisher in the works

A new Finnish publisher announced its first three books just before the holidays. I had something to do with all of them, so I'm a bit obliged to say something about them, even though the books are in Finnish. The new publisher is called Putki Kustannus (never mind the translation, it doesn't make much sense) and it works only via Lulu. The books are print-on-demand, which is still a novelty in the Finnish book industry, but it's a bit cumbersome to make the books in Lulu, since they don't offer Finnish ISBN codes (or any ISBN codes for that matter), so they are a bit invisible and won't automatically be catalogued in the Finnish National Library system.

But on to the books! Remember my 12-hour novel I wrote some years ago? I thought initially I wouldn't publish the book, but when Jukka-Pekka Kervinen e-mailed me about his idea to publish pulp-styled literature in print-on-demand and asked for help, I thought immediately about my manusript. It fits here perfectly, and the story was actually better than I remembered. The book is called Älä soita sinivuokoille, Joe Novak, which translates roughly as "Don't Call the Coppers, Joe Novak" (Novak being the private eye hero of my one previous novella and various short stories).

I also put together a small anthology of crime and horror stories, some of which were previously published, mostly in my fanzines Isku and others. Some of the stories were previously unpublished, though, for example Harri István Mäki's wonderful story about Edgar Allan Poe's relationship with Annabel Lee. The book is called The Last Shot according to Tuomas Saloranta's sleazy story of a revenge falling over a porn dealer. The first line: "Start jerking off."

The third book is Petri Hirvonen's short story collection Kuolevan jumalan yö ("The Night of the Dying God" in English) that I put together from the stories I've published in various mags through years. There are some western stories, a pirate story with horror overtones, some eighties-style action, some revenge stories, all told with energy and a good eye for violent action. Petri is a little-known pulp writer who's done some Finnish Jerry Cotton stories and the FinnWest western series. Putki Kustannus is also putting out his novella Kalmankylväjä ("Deathsower" or some such) that takes place somewhere in the Central America. The body count is massive in just 100 pages. Both Petri's and my book have forewords or afterwords that explain what's going on.

There are other books coming out from Putki Kustannus: a criminous short story collection by Teemu Paarlahti, a collection of my Mikko Jarmo short stories that mix private eye genre with silly alternative history themes, a collection of flash fiction crime stories I ran in my mag, Ässä, and a collection of my reviews and articles on American hardboiled fiction. I've been also working on a small collection of obscure Finnish pulp short stories from the thirties and fourties, but there are some copyright problems I'll have to resolve. There's possibly also a western short story collection coming from Sami Myllymäki.

Here's more in Finnish on my other blog.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

William F. Nolan: The Black Mask Murders

To commemmorate the holidays I started to read William F. Nolan's The Black Mask Murders that Tapani Bagge loaned me already some years ago. The book features Dashiell Hammett as the first-person narrator, Raymond Chandler and Erle Stanley Gardner feature as sidekicks. All of them wrote for Black Mask, one of the best known and the most influential pulp magazines of the pre-WWII era. Some other writers also get mentioned, just as F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The book is an amiable pulp pastiche, if nothing more. Nolan writes well and the era is created pretty convincingly, but somehow I never really believe these guys really are Hammett, Chandler and Gardner. Perhaps Hammett, narrating his own story, comes closest. It comes off clear though that Nolan knows his stuff and knows how to keep the story moving. The plot sure moves along fast.

I'm now reading Brian Evenson's horror novel The Open Curtain. Seems pretty intriguing so far.

I've been a bad blogger for some time now (and I do know that it's bad blogging to blog about how bad you're at blogging), but I'll try to remedy that in the near future. I've had too little time on my hands, which shows here at Pulpetti. I'm not sure, though, whether I'll be able to squeeze in more hours or even minutes, since we'll be having our second child in the end of January (my third, I feel a bit old). There's not knowing how much the baby will keep me busy. (I can't believe this is the first time I've said this at Pulpetti, but that shows how much I've been able to think about blogging.)

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Fear Over the City

A grinning serial killer is hunting the women of Paris, inspector Le Terrier is hot on his trail. This is the basic and simple premise behind Henri Verneuil's Fear Over the City (Peur sur la ville) that came out in 1975. I just saw it last night on a 35 mm print, though it was somewhat faded and full of scratches.

There's much of Italian giallos in this film, and indeed it was partially financed by Italian producers. The Italian feel was heightened by English dubbing, which, while it wasn't badly made in itself, also added to the feel of unintentional humour. The film is at times an uneasy mix between serious thrill-seeking suspense film and a comical, almost self-parodist slapstick. Jean-Paul Belmondo in the lead as Le Terrier made his own stunts and one never really knows whether the scenes are thought to be funny or not, even though Belmondo was clearly at risk here.

In the end, it's only a middling film, with some nice touches here and there, but also with some ludicrous stuff here and there and everywhere. Some of the latter parts are very funny, some aren't. There are some beautiful women to be killed later on, which always makes me squirm a bit. The character of the serial killer is quite intriguing, though, his grin is scary. (I was told that the actor doing the killer's part was Italian, which also may have something to do with the giallo atmosphere.)

The best thing about the film is Ennio Morricone's eerie music. Check out the trailer below. Might've been better in the original French.

More Overlooked Films here at Todd Mason's blog. [Though seems like no post is up yet.]

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Overlooked Film weekend at the cabin: Stake Land, Leonard Part 6, Angst, Samurai Cop etc.

Stake Land
We spent a movie weekend at a cabin, me and six friends of mine, watching 14 feature-length films and an assortement of short subjects in a row. Fun was had by all, but I didn't get much sleep and am only now recovering. The films were a really mixed bunch, with some true oddities thrown in. Here's the lowdown.

Jim Mickle: Stake Land: pretty good gritty vampire apocalypse film from the director of Cold in July. ***½

Steven Knight: Hummingbird: tedious noirish film about an Afghanistan veteran (Jason Statham) trying to make wrongs right. Statham can't act serious stuff, but that's not the only problem here. Knight has done better stuff before (writing Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) and since (directing Locke), but this is just boring. **

Paul Weiland: Leonard Part 6: truly absurd Bill Cosby vehicle that Cosby has tried to keep off the air,.The film has some great moments, but is simply too long, some scenes seem to go on forever. * or ****

Ben Kamras: Life on the Line: shitty home video released in 1995 on VHS and later on DVD, with Finnish people speaking (bad) English. Everything is horribly wrong in this film by the son of a Finnish film mogul and theater owner. The film has some very, very bad fight scenes, the hits miss by a mile. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to die. * or *****

Aurora Productions: S.O.S.: some truly weird moments were had with this: catchy pop songs about Christians being harassed by a mob of soldiers and bar codes being tattooed on people's foreheads in praise of Satan, anti-evolutionist praises and what not. I'd found this on VHS not knowing what to expect, but this was truly something. Possibly shot in Australia. I understand the Family cult behind this has been accused of child abuse and other sex crimes. Some truly disturbing shit on them in the web. Can't really give stars to this.

Michael Bay: Pain & Gain: too long, but still up there with Spring Breakers as one of the essential neo-neonoirs of the 2010s: slick and shallow, full of spectacle, with a heart of pure satire. ***½

Jan Svankmajer: Surviving Life: I've liked Svankmajer's wild and surreal animations, but this didn't satisfy me much, seems like he's not very good with feature films. **

David Ayer: Sabotage: it's no wonder Schwarzenegger's comeback movie didn't make much impact with the audience: all the characters are unpleasant and the story line is botched (possibly because of the producer's interference), but there are still some of Ayer's trademarks: fast and meaningless dialogue and the tension between the bad cops and the worse cops. **½

Gerard Kargl: Angst: intimate and disturbing depiction of a serial killer released from prison and going on a killing spree in an isolated house. Banned in many European countries and possibly in the US as well, but still very intricately shot by Zbigniew Rybczynski and well acted. ****½

Anthony Mann: Strange Impersonation: strong noirish melodrama with an identity switch, suffers from a slack ending. ***

Arim Shervan: Samurai Cop: laughably and entertainingly ridiculous straight-to-video cop flick from the early nineties, shot possibly with a VHS camera. Lots of very bad acting and editing. Still a bit too long. A sequel is being made as I write. * or ****

Efren Pinon: The Killing of Satan: incomprehensible Philippine horror/fantasy film. Might've been a contender, but wasn't, save for some scenes here and there. * (After this we watched a Finnish VHS video from the early eighties in which a Finnish escape artist talks about his faith. I don't know why we bothered.)

Franck Khalfoun: Maniac: intelligent reworking of the dubious slasher classic by William Lustig. The POV technique works well: we almost never see Elijah Wood's face. ***½

Joseph Zito: Invasion USA: inept and stupid Chuck Norris vehicle with a wildly implausible plot to overthrow the US government. Yeah, right. Other guys seemed to love this. *½