Monday, November 13, 2017

Hard Case Crime comics: Triggerman, Peepland

I've purchased three of the graphic novels Hard Case Crime has published: The Assignment, Triggerman and Peepland. It's interesting to notice that the director and screenwriter Walter Hill has now stepped into a new career as a script writer for the comics, as The Assignment and Triggerman are based on his scripts. Will there be a novel as well?

I have The Assignment floating around the apartment somewhere, but I don't know where, so I haven't read it. It's based on a film he made, which has had only a limited release. The film hasn't had very good reviews, I'm afraid, but I'm still interested in the story. Hill's other graphic novel script, Triggerman, is based on a script he says he wrote 30 years ago and tried to sell as a screenplay for a film. The story resembles Hill's later film, Last Man Standing - at least the milieu and the characters are from same era: the gangster-filled prohibition era of the 1920's. The story about the gunman searching his lover is a bit sentimental and patronizing, but there was enough gunplay and violence to keep me reading. The graphics by Matz and Jef, two French artists, is very stylish, at least to my eye. The era is created convincingly.

There's nothing patronizing about Peepland, written by Christa Faust (Money Shot, Choke Hold) and Gary Phillips (the editor of Black Pulp, and author of over a dozen novels) and illustrated by Andrea Camerini. The story is set in the same age and milieu as the new HBO series, The Deuce, which Faust knows so well: the Times Square peep-show and porn shop blocks of the 1980's. (Why are these both set in the past, though?) The hero of the story is a punkish lap-dancer called Rox, who gets hold of a VHS tape containing evidence on a famous man doing some evil stuff. There are of course lots of other evil men after the same tape. There's lots of violence in here, as befits a Hard Case Crime graphic novel, but there are also lots of touching moments as well. There's lots at stake in the middle of the ruckus. You can feel the tension and get almost to live in the Times Square hoods. Very well made and gripping as all hell, and with strong, convincing female and African-American characters.

I noticed when I started to write this entry that Hard Case Crime is publishing also another graphic novel version of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. I don't know why this is, since there's also the Denise Mina scripted version from some five or six years back. I have no interest in Larsson, but I might read a good graphic novel version of his 10,000-page series. I do have lots interest in Megan Abbott's and Alison Gaylin's Normandy Gold, which is also due from Hard Case Crime.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Celia Fremlin: Hours Before Dawn

I remember Sarah Weinman mentioning Celia Fremlin as one of the domestic suspense writers who she needed to pay more attention to. When I found one of Fremlin's books in Finnish translation, I picked it up. It was one of those books I'd always known existed, but hadn't paid any attention to them.

But boy, what a good book Hours Before Dawn is! I read it almost in one sitting. I had to take care of some business during the reading, but I really wouldn't've liked to. I heard later that The Times Magazine had included the novel in their list of hundred best thrillers, and I couldn't agree more.

Hours Before Dawn was first published in 1959, and it is a perfect embodiment of domestic suspense: the lead character is a still youngish woman with three kids and an impatient husband, and the mystery concentrates almost entirely on what happens inside their little house. Her smallest kid clearly has colic, and he shouts and screams all the time when he should be sleeping. This bugs the husband and the neighbour and keeps the mother awake. I don't know of any other crime novel that deals with colic - and actually makes the colic baby the center of the mystery.

There's indeed a mystery, but Hours Before Dawn is still a crimeless novel. There are no murders, stabbings, thefts, frauds, shakedowns or what have you. Yet this is one of the most powerful crime novels I've read in a long time.

I read the Finnish translation (see the picture; the Polish-style cover is by Finnish graphic artist Heikki Ahtiala), but the book seems to be readily available in affordable reprint.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mack Bolan: The Fiery Cross

The Fiery Cross, an 1988 entry in the Mack Bolan series, written by Mike Newton as by Don Pendleton, is something we sorely need, when the Nazis - the so-called alt-right - are marching in the US, and in Finland as well. In the book, Mack Bolan beats the Nazis and the Klansmen somewhere in the Deep South and finds out that the extreme right wing is financed by the Russians (as they might well be in Europe, don't know about the US). The Nazis and the Klansmen are ridiculed throughout the book, which is very fine by me.

I didn't think this was a particularly good book, though it's solidly written by a professional. I kind of leafed through the whole thing, just looking for something to pass the time. Which is what this kind of entertainment was made for. But it should be vital that this kind of information also tells us what's important, what are the values that are really worth fighting for. And being low-level literature, it's available also to those who are prone to social exclusion and marginalization and thus to the temptations of the right-wing populism. Mack Bolan could never be called a Leftist social justice warrior (a pejorative moniker used by the right-wingers), so there might be a chance for someone to realize fighting Nazis is also manly.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Anthony Neil Smith: All the Young Warriors

I had a one-week holiday in the first week of September. I though I was going to read some crime novels that were sitting on my Kindle. Well, yeah, I did, but it took longer than a week. I read Barry Malzberg's first Lone Wolf novel, Night Raider, written as by Mike Barry (forgot to blog about it) and then I read W. Glenn Duncan Rafferty's Rules (about which I blogged here). I also started Lawrence Block's old sleaze title, Sex Without Strings, but it didn't seem interesting enough (no crime plot that I could see!). And then I started Anthony Neil Smith's All the Young Warriors, really not knowing what to expect. I finished it only tonight.

Okay, it's only 304 pages in a Down & Out Books paperback, but it felt longer - and I don't mean this in a negative way. I could've sworn it was more like 400 pages. The scope is almost epic, close to what you have in more literary novels. Two Somali guys kill a pregnant female cop in Minneapolis while they are already headed towards Somalia, their fatherland, and the lover of the woman, a cop himself, decides to go after them with the help of the other guy's father, who happens to have a gangsta past. And this is only a skimpy outline. The book's more like Conrad's Heart of Darkness taken into the 2000's (well, with the exception that Conrad's novel is a lot shorter). The grim outcome in the end couldn't be darker, even if it's happy for some of the characters.

The subject of the book could easily be racist in the hands of someone else, but Smith, while he certainly pulls no punches, is not your typical stereotype-weaving thriller hack. The Somali characters come out alive, and while some of them are evil and do evil stuff, I didn't see the book calling them evil only because they are Somalis. The discussion about cultural appropriation is hot at the moment, but I didn't see that in here - of course I'm not a Somali myself, so what do I know? But Smith's novel seems free of that appropriation.

All the Young Warriors takes its time to get going, but the reader is awarded in the end.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Where the Sidewalk Ends

I'm a film noir buff, yet I haven't seen many classic film noirs everyone is already acquainted with. So I was lucky to finally see Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends from 1950, about which I remember reading over 30 years ago. It's a classic film noir, and without the ending it would be a perfect noir.

The plot is great, the stuff of the bona fide noir paperbacks: the violent cop, bent on destruction, kills almost inadvertently a suspect and tries to hide it. Dana Andrews playing the cop is actually a homme fatale in the film, as there's no femme fatale anywhere in sight. There's a woman the cop falls in love with, but she's no bad kitty. It's more like the cop drags him down in his personal hell. The ending is too optimistic, but what can you do? This was Hollywood in 1950.

Preminger keeps the story moving along in a nice pace, and Joseph LaShelle's very noirish cinematography shines throughout the film. There are lots of good character actors in minor roles, such as Karl Malden as a lieutenant and Neville Brand as a gangster. And, oh, did I mention it has Gene Tierney? She looks especially lovely in this.

Anyone read the original novel, Night Cry by William L. Stuart? Vintage Hardboiled Reads has, and it looks great.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Duane Swierczynski: Revolver

I've been a fan of Duane Swierczynski's writing for a long time, and I ended up translating his break-through novel The Wheelman in Finnish. Later on I also translated The Blonde. The books weren't big hits, to put it mildly, but the Finnish crime fiction market is now flooded with Scandinavian titles, and we have also lots of our own crime writers, though not many seem interesting to me. The books don't sizzle the way Swierczynski's books do.

And Revolver, Swierczynski's newest novel, sure sizzles. It's a tale of three generations of cops and possible future cops (the latest one in the line is studying forensics), and the murder of the cop of the first generation. In the first story line, Stan Walczak and his black friend, Wildey, work in the 1960s Philadelphia with all its racial tension. They end up getting shot, and the case if officially closed. In the second story line, Stan's son Jim, also a cop, is digging in the 1990's into a murder case that seems like a serial killer on the loose. The third story line is about Audrey, the daughter of Jim Walczak, who, as a part of her exam, is trying to dig into Stan's killing in the present time. Audrey finds new evidence and the plot starts to unravel.

Swierczynski shows that racism hasn't ceased in the USA. He out-Ellroys Ellroy with his depiction of the corrupt society and the secrets cops have had to take part in. The book shines especially in the delivery of the three separate story lines.

Swierczynski also creates a great female character in the daughter. Audrey is a troubled young woman who doesn't really love her family and feels like no one loves her. She's smart and stubborn, and she consumes large quantities of Bloody Marys during the course of the book. I was actually starting to feel I'd have to have one myself.

Monday, September 18, 2017

W. Glenn Duncan: Rafferty's Rules

Lately I've been reading stuff that's been loaded on my Kindle, something I haven't been doing for ages. One of the books I've now read was Rafferty's Rules by W. Glenn Duncan. I think it was author Paul Bishop who said good things about the Rafferty series over at the Men's Adventure Paperback Series Facebook group some weeks ago, so I decided to give it a try.

Rafferty is a private eye working in Texas. Rafferty's as hardboiled as they come, yet he smokes a pipe - for some reason or another, this bugged me a bit. He dates an attractive woman, Hilda Gardener, who's also an antique dealer, and he also has a sidekick called Cowboy. There's something a bit too Spenserish in the set-up, and Robert B. Parker is one of those private eye writers who briefly turned me off the genre 20-plus years ago. I still can't stand him (or his books, to be precise).

Rafferty's Rules however turned out to be a piece of nice entertainment, no matter how much Spenser there is in the book. Rafferty is hired to take care of some bikers who kidnapped and raped a young woman who later turned out crazy. Rafferty says he won't kill the molesters, but goes after them nevertheless. The case turns out to be more than that, as is usual the case with hardboiled private eye novels. The story moves along nicely and there are good action scenes throughout. The Texas settings reminded me of Joe R. Lansdale's Hap and Leonard novels, but they are better. There's too much cute stuff here, such as Rafferty eating nice lunches with Hilda. There are several more books in the series that was originally published in 1987-1990, but I still won't go out of my way to find them.

Here's Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective on Rafferty books.