Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Time of the Heathen (1962)

Okay, this is not an overlooked film, it's forgotten to the point of being almost non-existent. I saw the movie on 35 mm film in the screening of the Finnish Film Archive, and I bet my money it's one of the very few remaining prints of the film in all the world, since there are no signs of the film having been shown anywhere in decades. Yet it's a very interesting and occasionally a very good movie.

Time of the Heathen (Ruoho nousee jälleen in Finnish, meaning "Grass Will Rise Again") is the sole film directed by Peter Kass. The film had its premiere in 1962. Kass wasn't a nobody: he was already a director in Broadway, and later on he became known as a trainer of actors. But his film is a total obscurity. To this day, I would know nothing about the film unless it were for the Finnish film critic Tapani Maskula who has mentioned the film to me from time to time. He said he was the only critic in Finland in the mid-sixties who wrote a review of the film.

The film was shown for some 40 people on Monday night here in Turku, where I live, and the film proved to be very exciting and intriguing. It's a very short film, some 75 minutes long, shot probably on 16 mm and widened to 35 mm for distribution. It's black and white, same sort of high-contrast and stark material that Night of the Living Dead and other indie films of the sixties were shot on. (Didn't Romero also shoot on 16 mm?) Time of the Heathen was probably a university project, since the music, composed by Lejaren Hiller, was performed by the Illinois University students' orchestra. Most of the actors are amateur and they don't have any other films to their credit, except for John Heffernan who's in the lead, and Ethel Ayler who has a small but significant role as a African-American servant. Then again she didn't perform in cinema again for ten years (then she was seen in Come Back Charleston Blue).

Heffernan plays a lone man called Gaunt, who's walking somewhere on the countryside, looking and acting strange and citing the Bible, when the sheriff stops him (hence the title, from the Book of Hezekiel). Gaunt comes across an African-American boy, and together they witness a rape attempt by a young white man that leads to the death of the servant. The racist and violent father of the rapist is going to accuse Gaunt of killing the woman, but Gaunt and the young boy flee to the woods.

The story is very simple, but there are enough twists to keep this interesting for the first 30 or 40 minutes. Then the story takes a turn and becomes even more simpler, reducing the story to a minimalist level, and then comes a flashback scene that's almost a complete experimental movie inside the film! It's in colour and at times very striking. It reveals Gaunt's traumatic past during the World War II (won't give it away, though) and broadens the film's thematic scope to greater levels. This is no mere man-on-the-run story.

The experimental scene was done by Ed Emshwiller, who also produced, shot and edited the movie. Emshwiller or Emsh is better known as a science fiction illustrator, but he also did lots of experimental shorts and other films (and a friend of mine recognized artist George Dumpson in a small role - Emshwiller has made a documentary on Sampson's art!). The experimental colour scene comes accompanied by computer-generated (or electronic, it as yet unclear*) music composed and performed by Lejaren Hiller, who's probably best known for his collaboration with John Cage. This is quite an early film to use electronic music. The scene works very well inside the film, because it's made clearly for Time of the Heathen and not as a separate piece of art that's just attached to the film.

Hope this is enough to convince you Time of the Heathen is an interesting film. It has neo-noir touches here and there, and as my friend pointed out, it's actually one long chase scene, so there's also action if you're into that sort of thing. There are some clumsy scenes from time to time, and I thought the script had some inconsistencies, but I'm willing to forget them. Amateur actors perform quite well, which is no miracle, given that Kass was a director on Broadway. The harsh country milieu (the film was probably shot in Illinois, though I'm not sure - it was said in the ending credits, but I forgot already) adds very refreshing scenery to the film, and this almost feels like a precursor to movies like Winter's Bone. Tapani Maskula who hadn't seen the film over 50 years was there in the screening, and he said after the film that it could be shot even today. The themes are still there: war, racism, hatred.

The problem is only that you can't see this film. It has never been released on VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray. It was shown on Finnish TV in 1968, but I don't know of any other screenings. If you know a film or video print exists, keep noise about it. Demand it be shown and eventually digitized. Ask John Heffernan (who's still alive and active) to be guest at your film festival. (Sadly, Peter Kass and Emsh are dead. The film was mentioned in Kass's obituaries, but it was clear not one of the writers had seen it.) Here's hoping this blog post starts the Time of the Heathen renaissance!

* There's indeed unclarity as to what kind of music was used in the film. I think the opening credits say Hiller did "computer-generated music" (or sounds) for this, but when another friend of mine got interested in this and wrote the University of Illinois about it, he received this answer:

"Hiller, like many early Electronic Music composers, was rather practical. He used sounds in compositions that were originally written for inclusion in other pieces. He composed a tape loop of percussive concrete sounds for the film, "Time of the Heathen." These sounds were never used in the film, though Hiller did include them as an optional third cue in the suite from "Time of the Heathen." (...) First, I believe the music created for the film "Time of the Heathen" was created by Hiller in 1961 within the Experimental Music Studio at Stiven House, and was realized with electronic sounds (from analog waveform generators) and possibly some musique concrète sources (of which Hiller was fond of using), not computer generated."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thomas Berger: Little Big Man

The cover shows an Apache man,
though the book famously depicts
the Cheyenne. Photo is by Edward Curtis.
I'm doing an essay on the anti-Western Western novels of the 1960's and 1970's, mainly focusing on the latter decade. I read earlier Ishmael Reed's The Yellow-Back Radio Broke Down, which I really couldn't get into, though reading some articles about it helped a bit. It was funny enough at times. Yesterday I finished a more famous novel, Thomas Berger's Little Big Man (1964) that's known also - actually better - as a movie by Arthur Penn, starring Dustin Hoffman. Neither of the books have ever been translated in Finnish, which is a pity.

This was a great novel, epic in scope, hilarious in execution, though it's actually never laugh-out funny, though I remember the film being very funny. Maybe I didn't catch every meaning or phrase. As everyone knows, I'm sure, what happens in the course of the book, I won't go into there, so here are instead some observations. 

Little Big Man should be included in the canon of postmodern novels. Berger uses a framing device in which a young scholar named Ralph Fielding Snell who studies American Indian culture gets to meet 121-year old Jack Crabb, whom he interviews in length. I think that's basically a postmodern narrative device, and actually a bit reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov, especially when Fielding Snell's voice is a bit stuffy. 

Jack Crabb then again is a different animal. He narrates his own story in a vernacular language that's all the time slightly off, he uses "says" and "said" in a same paragraph, and words like "knowed". With this, Berger gives him a particular voice, he's intelligent, though not educated. Crabb is also an unreliable narrator. There are moments when the reader begins to suspect this, though Crabb always comes off sincere. Fielding Snell then adds a short epilogue in which he says he thinks Crabb may not have told him a true story. Really? This is interesting, since it also gives the novel a postmodern aura. Maybe nothing in the book ever took place. It's still a great story, worth telling. (Jack Crabb's voice also makes me think this book has affected Joe Lansdale a great deal, especially Paradise Sky reminds me of Little Big Man.) 

Jack Crabb is played by Dustin Hoffman in the film. It's been a while since I saw the movie, but I seem to remember he's very affable in it. In the book, Crabb is more unpleasant and more opportunist, possibly uncapable of really loving anyone, so Hoffman is possibly miscast. Am I right in this regard or did I just misinterpret everything I read? 

PS. I'm not sure whether I'll ever get back to regular blogging. Seems like time is running out, and there are fewer and fewer books I read that I don't already write about, be it for a book of my own or a review, so it feels a bit weird to write about them both in English and in Finnish. Beside the essay I mentioned, I'm working on a book on Finnish horror literature, which is taking my time. Should be out next year or maybe in 2020, so don't expect too many reviews of American noir or hardboiled here soon. I hear already someone saying I should write about Finnish horror in here... 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Jason Pinter: Fury

I read earlier (eight years ago!) a pleasant paperback novel by Jason Pinter, The Mark, and wanting to read something lightweight I picked up his later novel, Fury (Raivo in Finnish translation). I thought it was better book than The Mark, but I also have some reservations about it.

Fury reads a bit like a private eye novel, since the lead character, Henry Parker, is a newspaper reporter who narrates the story in first person. He meets a stranger, who looks like a homeless person. The stranger says he wants to speak about something important. Parker won't hear the man, but finds out next morning that the man is killed. Then the police come to him and tell him the dead man was his brother. Parker starts to dig into the story, feeling guilt and frustration, since he believes he could've saved his brother's life if he had just stopped and listened to him. And then his father is believed to be the killer and is taken into custody...

Fury is a fast-paced thriller with hardboiled overtones and with sensible amounts of grimness. It's an old-fashioned book, reminiscent of early wrong man novels and films and some classic newspaper stories, though Pinter has tried to bring his heroes into modern day, sometimes with a bit forced results. There are some implausibilities in the book (why won't the stranger say he's Parker's brother in the first place?), and some characters are a bit lifeless. There are some very talkative scenes, but still this is an entertaining book.

This is no Forgotten Book, but here's nevertheless a link to the on-going series of blog posts.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Jonathan Ames: You Were Never Really Here

I had an opportunity to see Lynne Ramsay's latest film You Were Never Really Here on big screen, and though it's shot entirely digitally, it worked at times with great verve and grim beauty. Joaquin Phoenix was very good in the lead as an emotionally wounded man, called Joe, who rescues kidnapped girls who are sold as sex slaves. Something in the ending troubled me, it felt like not everything was resolved successfully, can't really say what it was. 

Same goes for Jonathan Ames's tight novella that works as a basis for the film. The endings are different, Ramsay's is more ambivalent, while with Ames it's clear Joe is going to go on with his mission. Yet if felt a bit like a letdown. Maybe it had to do with the fact that plot-wise the book is not very original. 

There are still lots of things to like in the book: the sparse, even minimalist prose and narration, the writer's resolution not to give any easy psychological explanations or even background, save for some brief moments. Ames clearly knew what he set out to do, even though the ending was somewhat anticlimactic. And man, do I like the fact that the paperback edition I bought had only 97 pages in it! This reminded me of James Sallis's Drive that's only slightly longer. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Laura Lippman: Sunburn

I read Laura Lippman's new thriller, Sunburn, already a month ago, when we were coming back from Crete. I started it in a plane and was almost sad when the flight was so short I couldn't finish it straight away.

Sunburn is a very good crime novel, something Anne Tyler and James M. Cain would've written, if they had collaborated (Lippman cites both as influence in her epilogue): a woman, whom life hasn't treated fairly, suddenly (or so it seems) leaves her husband and three-year old child on the beach and moves to a Hicksville in Maryland and meets a tall dark stranger. I don't believe anyone can predict the twists and turns of the novel, especially the first half is very exciting and full of red herrings. The other half is totally different and moves along at a different pace, which some might think is a letdown, but I'm sure it's done on purpose.

There's lots of good and excellent in the book, but I'll mention only two things or themes. Food and making it gets lots of display, but for once this is elementary to the plot and thematics, and not just some sentimental paraphernalia of most new crime novels with food in them. What's especially great is that Lippman almost never describes what her characters look like, but still you get a very full image of them. This happens, because she writes about what kind of an effect her characters have on other people. Lippman is very skillful in this.

Highly recommended, also to Finnish (and Swedish and Greek and Italian etc.) publishers. Sunburn would make a fine addition to the other domestic suspense writers you've been translating and publishing for some years now. This is something entirely different from those dull Nordic noir serial killer doorstoppers: lean and mean and thoughtful, all this at the same time. Hardboiled with a feminist twist. You can't get more exciting than that.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Book: Gardner F. Fox: Barbary Slave

We did a week-long trip to Chania and Gerani in Crete, and I took, as usual with our trips, my Kindle along. I didn't get to read much (who can do that with a three-year old kid on a same trip?), but I managed to get through one novel. I think that's pretty good given the circumstances. And hey, I also wanted to the beach!

The book in question was Barbary Slave that I'd loaded free on my Kindle. It was written by Gardner F. Fox who's best known as one of the more prolific writers for DC Comics and the creator of the DC Multiverse, alongside with several DC characters. I'm not really into superheroes, but Fox interests me as a contributor to pulp magazines (westerns, sports, science fiction) and as a paperback writer. His reputation hasn't been very good, seems like he could be a sloppy writer with cardboard characters. I thought, though, I might be entertained for a short while reading Barbary Slave. I'd started earlier a new thriller with an interesting premise, but given up after some pages, since there was just too much disposition and not enough action. I'd also started one of Gardner Fox's science fiction novels, but that seemed only ridiculous.

But Barbary Slave proved to be pretty entertaining. Sure, it was racist and chauvinistic as all hell, but I still enjoyed the heck out of it. The action starts from page one and almost never slows down. Barbary Slave is a fast-moving swashbuckler set in the early 19th century Tunis, during First Barbary War (war I knew almost nothing about until now), and the hero is an American navy lieutenant called Fletcher. In the beginning of the book he's already been a slave for several months and been digging food from ditches. He manages to rise from the gutter only to find himself a guardian of a harem. The queen lusts for Fletcher and tries to conquer him with all her might. The book has all the plot twists of several Game of Thrones episodes, with all the violence depicted in an old-fashioned, at times almost ecliptic style, and without the rapes. I actually thought this could've been a Conan novel, set in a fantastic setting, instead of a historically accurate (or at least one pretending to be) setting. Many of the chapters end in a cliffhanger, which kept me turning the pages, though Fox's writing style is florid. This is strictly purple prose, but it's almost never too purple. I also know next to nothing about ships or fencing, but Fox seems to have known was he was writing about.

The racism, though... almost all the Arabs and Moslems in the book are either stupid or cruel and sadistic - or both. The only heroic Arab is an armless man who's been tortured wildly by rulers. There's also no way Fletcher could fall in love with the harem's queen or another Arab woman, there has to be a white American woman who he can fall in love with safely. But given the book's age, this all is somewhat understandable.

The book was originally published as by Kevin Matthews by Popular Library in 1955, but it's been reprinted as Gardner F. Fox for quite a few times now. I noticed the e-book was free through illustrator Kurt Brugel's newsletter (for a limited time, it's not free anymore); he's bringing all of Fox's novels out as e-books. There were some formatting errors throughout the book, but not too many. Here's another review if you don't believe me.

More Forgotten Books at Patricia Abbott's blog here.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Grover Brinkman

When I was doing my ground-breaking first book, Pulpografia, the encyclopedia of over 300 American pulp and paperback crime writers published in Finland, I noticed that some of the books that came out here weren't always published in the US. The first one I could identify was Bruce Cassiday's The Heister (Vain viisi tuntia in Finnish), a solid cop novel that Cassiday and his agent couldn't sell to American publishers in the mid-sixties, so it landed only here (and other Nordic countries, if I remember correctly). It's not a bad book, someone like Gary Lovisi should reissue it.

Some other books that I had difficulties with were four PI novels by one Grover Brinkman. They featured a half-Indian private eye Colt Youngblood (dig that name, will you!), with broads and bullets. Nothing remarkable here, it's no wonder the books didn't sell in the US. But still interesting to know about them.

Going through some old files I spotted a Contemporary Authors entry for Brinkman I've received from someone (as usual, I believe it was Denny Lien). It mentions "a four-part detective novel series published in Scandinavia". Brinkman also had an erratic, but long career in pulps and other fictionmags. See here for more details. Attached are two covers of Brinkman's novels, the other two are Chubasco! (Hirmumyrsky in Finnish) and Thunderbird (Ukkoslinnut in Finnish).

Grover Brinkman

Personal Information: Family: Born February 27, 1903, in Illinois; died March 17, 1999, in Columbia, IL; son of John (a farmer) and Sarah Jane (Friend) Brinkman; married Leona May Stricker, July 21, 1925; children: Gene H., Shirley Jane Brinkman McDannold. Education: Attended
Belleville College of Business. Religion: Methodist. Memberships: Lions Club.


Career: Okawville Times, Okawville, IL, editor and publisher, 1925-47; free-lance writer and photographer, 1947--.


* Night of the Blood Moon, Independence Press (Independence, Mo.), 1976.

Also editor of This Is Washington County, 1968, and Grover Brinkman's Southern Illinois, 1976. Also author of a four-part detective novel series published in Scandinavia. Contributor to more than two hundred magazines and newspapers, including Life. Editor of Back Home in Illinois, a regional magazine.

Brinkman comments: "I work with my wife as a writing-photographic team; I sold my first piece of fiction to Grit at the age of sixteen; since then have been selling on the regional, national, and international level. I have more than a hundred thousand photographic negatives on file, the work of forty years behind the camera. In other words, I'm a working freelance and we make a living at it. I write fiction `just for fun.' "

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Otso Kantokorpi ja dekkarit

Dekkariseuran Ruumiin kulttuuri
80-luvulta, jolloin Otso lehteen kirjoitti
Oops! This went to a wrong blog, I meant to post this on Julkaisemattomia, my main Finnish-language blog, but I was already tired when I started writing this, so I just can't think of correcting my "mistake". It's about a Finnish art critic who died recently and who'd dabbled in writing and publishing crime fiction.

Niin kuin monet - ehkä melkein kaikki blogiani lukevat - tietävät, kriitikko Otso Kantokorpi kuoli äkillisesti muutama viikko sitten. Se oli pysäyttävä uutinen. Hän oli muutamaa päivää aiemmin kysynyt minulta Facebook-viestillä, missä Turussa kannattaisi syödä, ja sitten saanut bussissa sairaskohtauksen palatessaan Turkuun suuntautuneelta taidemuseomatkalta.

En voi sanoa tunteneeni Otsoa kovin hyvin, mutta tiemme olivat muutamaan kertaan ristenneet.  En ole lukenut hänen kirjoitettua tuotantoaan kovin laajasti, mutta sen verran kuitenkin, että osaan sanoa menetyksen olevan suuri. Ärhäkkäästi, mutta älykkäästi eikä millään lailla itsestäänselvästi vasemmistolaista kuvataidekriitikkoa kaivattaisiin jatkossakin, varsinkin kun julkisesti kantaaottavia kriitikoita on muutenkin niin vähän.

Oli miten oli, tiemme ristesivät epätodennäköisessä kohdassa: olen nimittäin julkaissut kolme Otson kirjoittamaa novellia, joista kaksi oli uudelleenjulkaisuja, yksi varta vasten kirjoitettu bagatelli. Otso oli nuorena miehenä lähettänyt Kolmiokirjalle Joni Skiftesvikin päätoimittamaan RikosPalat-lehteen muistaakseni viisi novellia, joista yksi, yksityisetsivän naissuhteita kuvaava "Lomalle", ilmestyi numerossa 1/1988. Neljästä muusta novellista yksi ilmestyi Like Uutisissa 4/1994 salanimellä Sam Tanner. "Kuolleet kalat" on ylilyövä yksityisetsiväparodia, paljon härskimpi kuin melankolinen "Lomalle".

Kolme RikosPaloihin lähetettyä novellia jäi siis ilmestymättä - ehkä ne ovat jossain Kolmiokirjan arkistoissa. Kummatkin mainitut novellit kaivoin esille ja julkaisin uudestaan: "Lomalle" ilmestyi Isku-lehden vuosikertatarinana (valitettavasti en muista vuotta, mutta todennäköisesti 2004-2006), Like Uutisten "Kuolleet kalat" taas ilmestyi vuonna 2007 ensimmäisessä Ässä-lehdessä, joka oli keskittynyt ultralyhyihin rikosjuttuihin. (Lehden käännösnovelleistahan on oma kirjansa, Ajokortti helvettiin.)

Vuosia myöhemmin Otso innostui, kun huutelin Facebookissa yhden sivun mittaista täytejuttua Länkkäriseuran Ruudinsavun novellinumeroon, jota olin kasaamassa. Otso kommentoi, että seuraavana aamuna minua odottaisi novelli sähköpostissa - niin kuin odottikin. Olin ilmoittanut hänelle hiukan liian pienen merkkimäärän, mutta ehdin saada novelliin myös kuvituksen mainiolta Aapo Kukolta. Intiaaniaiheinen novelli oli nimeltään "Petollinen helmikoriste"; se löytyy Otson blogista. Mietin ja varmaan jollain leikin varjolla heitinkin idean, että näistä kolmesta novellista saisi oman pienen kirjasensa - sellaisiahan olen tehnyt aiemminkin, Verikoirakirjojen nimellä, esimerkiksi amerikkalaisen David Terrenoiren Hyvässä naapurustossa on kolme mininovellia ja 16 sivua. Otso ei kuitenkaan tarttunut tarjoukseeni, mahtoiko ottaa tosissaankaan?

Olin ennen näitä novellejakin tiennyt Otson dekkarifanina ja -kriitikkona, jota kiinnosti sama lajityyppi kuin minuakin, amerikkalainen kovaksikeitetty kirjallisuus. Yhtenä kimmokkeena esikoisteokselleni Pulpografialle oli nimittäin hänen paneutunut artikkelinsa amerikkalaisen pulp-klassikon, dekkareita ja länkkäreitä useiden vuosikymmenien ajan kirjoittaneen Frank Gruberin suomennetuista kioskikirjoista. Se ilmestyi Dekkariseuran Ruumiin kulttuuri -lehdessä joskus 1980-luvulla. Sitä ei jostain syystä mainita Pulpografian lähdeluettelossa, mutta siteeraan Otsoa kuitenkin Gruberin kohdalla: hänen mukaansa kirjailijan humoristiset Fletcher ja Cragg -kirjat ovat kuin kadonnut linkki Cervantesin ja Chester Himesin välillä. Mikä ettei.

Dekkariseurassa Otso oli myös aktiivi (hän ei ollut perustajajäsen, niin kuin tässä aiemmin väitin). Sittemmin hän oli Kaarle Ervastin ja kolmannen henkilön (jonka nimeä en tiedä) kanssa perustamassa Nostromo-nimistä kustantamoa, jonka dekkarilöytöihin kuuluu lyömätön klassikko, James Crumleyn Viimeinen kunnon suudelma (The Last Good Kiss, 1978; suom. Risto Raitio). Se on kirja, jonka luettuaan ei oleta mitään siitä, minkälaisia  yksityisetsivädekkarien tulisi olla. Samana vuonna Nostromolta tuli myös uusi laitos Ray Bradburyn kauhuklassikosta Something Wicked This Way Comes (1963) - kirjassa käytettiin Jertta Roosin suomennosta, joka oli ilmestynyt nimellä Painajainen vuonna 1964, mutta uuden kirjan nimeksi tuli alkuperäistä lähellä oleva Paha saapuu portin taa. Muita rikosromaaneja Nostromo ei julkaissut eikä kustantamo kovin pitkäikäinen ollutkaan. Myöhemmin Otso perusti toisen kustantamon, taidekirjoihin ja Pieneen kävelykirjastoon keskittyneen Jack-in-the-boxin.

Otso sanoi usein Facebookissa käydyissä keskusteluissa, että vaikka hän oli pitkään innostunut dekkareista, hän luopui kokoelmastaan jossain vaiheessa eikä palannut lajityyppiin. Yllä olevat esimerkit ovat kuitenkin jättäneet lähtemättömiä jälkiä - ainakin minuun.

EDIT: Lisätty kuvailuja Otson novelleista ja korjattu RikosPalojen toimittajan nimi.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Robert Silverberg: Gilgamesh the King

I seem to have some difficulties with my reading. The two earlier books (and some others I haven't mentioned here in the blog) I almost slogged through. This one was more fascinating, but it didn't grab me the way I hoped it would. No way I would call Gilgamesh the King a bad book, though.

Even though I have only admiration for Robert Silverberg (and have published his works in Finnish!), I have read only few novels or short stories by him. I bought the Finnish translation of Gilgamesh the King when it came out some ten years ago (and I also have the English paperback version of it, with Silverbob's signature!), but I got to read it only now. I didn't really know what goes on in the original epic, but I believe Silverberg has it nailed. This is a realistic version of Gilgamesh's story, told in an archaic, but believable manner. There are some great adventures along the way, but I found that I couldn't really concentrate, and it took my over a week to finish the book. Maybe it's the stress, the feeling I should be reading something totally different, or at least something work-related. The book got more interesting in the end, when Gilgamesh goes on a journey to find out how he could keep himself alive as long as he wants to, only to find himself. The ending has misogynous undertones, which I felt were a bit distracting. 

Nevertheless, highly recommended, not only because it's by one of the great masters of his generation. It's too bad I missed seeing him during the last year's WorldCon in Helsinki, Finland.

P.S. I can't but laugh at the joke someone (I think Denny Lien at the Fictionmags discussion group) that Gilgamesh the King beats the contest where you have to find the longest time between the original work and the sequel. (Gilgamesh the King isn't actually a sequel, though, it's more like a retelling of the original epic, but the joke is too funny not to use.)

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Urban Waite: Sometimes the Wolf

I really liked Urban Waite's first novel, The Terror of Living. It's a tough crime novel, a bit reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy, but standing still very much on its own. I haven't read Waite's second novel, The Carrion of Birds, but I happened to pick up his third novel, Sometimes the Wolf, not long ago, and now I decided to read it.

I don't know what happened. The book started out strong and well and I got the hang of it. The story about a bad cop getting out of prison possibly looking for the loot of 200,000 dollars and his son working as a sheriff in a small town felt interesting.  Then somewhere on page 150 or so I realized I didn't anymore know what was going on and what the persons were after. There had been too many days when I'd only been able to read only a few pages, and that started to show. I pushed through, since the book was well-written, but even in the end I couldn't really tell what had happened between. The ending was strong, though.

I really wanted to like this. Hell, I would've liked to know what happened in the book! I'm sure it's totally my own fault - it's been really hectic around here for some time now, and I've also done some travelling, which is never good for reading. As I said, the start of the book was really strong with interesting characters and a good plotline.

Nevertheless, next I'll pick up Waite's The Carrion of Birds. It was translated in Finnish, as was The Terror of Living, but I believe Sometimes the Wolf won't be, which is a pity.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Photo of William Campbell Gault

I once spotted a French Série noire edition of a novel by American hardboiled crime writer William Campbell Gault. As I don't speak French, I had no use for the book, but I noticed it had a photo of Gault in the back. So, here it is, with the actual cover. As the French book covers usually go, this is pretty bland.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Favourite crime novels written by female authors

For no apparent reason at all, I decided to list my favourite crime books written by woman writers. The list includes only books written originally in English, some of them have been translated, which is indicated in the list. I published this first in Facebook.

Vicki Hendricks: Miami Purity
Dolores Hitchens: Sleep with Slander
Elizabeth Sanxay Holding: The Blank Wall
Dorothy B. Hughes: In a Lonely Place (translated as Yksinäisessä paikassa, 1981)
Megan Abbott: The End of Everything
Celia Fremlin: The Hours Before Dawn (Hetket ennen aamunkoittoa, 1963)
 Margaret Millar: Like an Angel (Kuin enkeli, 1996)
Patricia Highsmith: The Cry of the Owl (Öinen huuto, 1998)
Gillian Flynn: Dark Places (Paha paikka, 2014)
Christa Faust: Money Shot & Choke Hold (Money Shot translated in Finnish as Koston enkeli, 2010)
Marisha Pessl: Night Film (Yönäytös, 2013)
Sarah Weinman (ed.): Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives

Bubbling under:

Dolores Hitchens: Footsteps in the Night (transl. as Askeleet yössä, 1962)
Doris Miles Disney: The Magic Grandfather (transl. as Kosto, 1969)
Lionel Shriver: We Need To Talk About Kevin
Sara Gran: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead

Friday, April 20, 2018

Michael Moorcock: The Steel Tsar

Just a quick note to possibly encourage more constant blogging:

Finished the last entry in Michael Moorcock's Oswald Bastable trilogy, The Steel Tsar. I really liked the two earlier installments in the series, but this one was too talkative and lagged. The normal steampunky Moorcock touches are of course intact, with Josef Stalin being a steel monster of the title and him chasing the anarchist leader Mahno with a zeppelin. But still, I liked the two earlier parts a lot more.

Life has been crowded, hence no blogging. I'll try to squeeze some posts in.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Paul Johnston: The Golden Silence

Paul Johnston is a writer I've had some interest in for quite a while. His thrillers have been published in Finland only under Harlequin's Bestseller imprint, and the books haven't had almost any kind of recognition. Yet I've heard good things about them, and I've been looking for a cheap copy (meaning one euro, tops) in thrift stores and used book stores. Finally I found The Golden Silence, Kultainen hiljaisuus in Finnish (it's a literal translation) and read it a week ago wanting to read something light-weight. 

The book was light-weight all right, but it also clearly wanted to be something deep, yet not really achieving that status. There are many original things about the book, though. First, the hero: private eye Alex Mavros lives and works in Greece. Second, the mystery he deals with in The Golden Silence has to do with the Greek dictatorship of the early seventies and the Leftist uprising against the said dictatorship. Mavros's older brother disappeared in the aftermath of the uprising and he keeps looking for him, and this case brings him closer to finding him. 

Mavros is a likable character, though not very multidimensional, and the Greek setting is believable - Paul Johnston lives in Greece -, but there's still something that unfortunately doesn't make to want to back for more. The style is too straight-forward and flat, and there were lots of stilted moments throughout the book. During some of these I thought of letting the book go, but the mystery remained interesting. It also made the torturing duo of father and son more intriguing and essential to the plot, though I wasn't all the time sure if they were necessary characters. 

The Golden Silence is not bad at all, and it may have suffered from the hasty translation (Harlequin is not really known for their good salaries), so if this sounds your kind of stuff, go for it. In the back cover there are enthusiastic blurbs from George Pelecanos (!) and Mark Billingham, so if you have any trust for blurbs, you could do worse than picking up Paul Johnston.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Marisha Pessl: Night Film

During the holidays, I wanted to read - as always - something that is not at all related to my work, usually something criminous. Normally I like to read something hardboiled or noirish, but during this holiday I decided to try something else entirely.

I'd heard good things about Marisha Pessl's Night Film, and though it's over 700 pages in Finnish translation, I read it. I wasn't disappointed, and the length didn't bother me at all. There's bound to be some padding in 700 pages, but not overtly so in this case. Night Film (translated Yönäytös, which is a literal translation, though it misses the "film" part) is about the mysterious film director Stanislas Cordova and his legacy, and the death of his daughter that seems like a suicide at first. An investigative journalist starts to dig around Cordova and finds himself deep in the mysteries and even horrors of Cordova's films.

There's some forced deepness in the book, especially in the end, but then again the ending is also fitting with the rest of the book and the themes of Cordova's films, which, quite wisely, are described only shortly. There are also some scenes that are gripping as all hell, and I found myself turning a page after another and not wanting to stop reading. (This also affected our Christmas holiday, as I didn't seem to be interested in the festivities.)

Night Film wasn't 100 % non-work reading, as I have an unfinished novel manuscript in which similar things happen, but in a Finnish milieu instead. Don't really know if reading this helped, but I also wanted to know what roads had already been traveled. I'm thinking I'd order me a copy of Tobe Hooper's novel, Midnight Movie, and maybe go back to Theodore Roszak's Flicker (a great novel, if you ask me). Night Film resembles Flicker, by the way, but not too much, and the conspiracy theories Roszak weaves are much more world-embracing than the ones Pessl has.

By the way, I seem to remember stumbling on a mention of a new novel, possibly translated from German, that's also a thriller about a mysterious film or a film director. I can't trace this anymore, so if somebody could help me identify the book, I'd be grateful.

I also managed to squeeze in a Sue Grafton title (C Is for Corpse) in a memory of her death. I've never read her much, but can't see why: Kinsey Millhone is a likable protagonist and the stories are believable and complicated.