Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bill Wouldn't Lie to You

You can see what he has to say about HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY here. (And for good measure, here's the cover art without the logo and title.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Charles Ardai Interview

There's a good interview with Charles Ardai on, a site devoted primarily to Indiana Jones but also to adventure movies and fiction. Naturally, the subject of Gabriel Hunt comes up. You can check it out here.

Y: The Last Man: Unmanned - Brian K. Vaughan

Brian K. Vaughan is now a writer/producer on LOST, but before that he was well-known as an author of comic books and graphic novels. His series Y: THE LAST MAN, with art by Pia Guerra, ran for sixty issues, all of which have been collected in a series of ten trade paperbacks. I’ve just read the first one, UNMANNED. Vaughan takes the old “last man on earth” plot literally: his protagonist Yorick Brown is the only man left alive after some mysterious plague kills every other man on Earth in a matter of seconds, leaving all the women alive. It’s not just the male humans who die, though. Every mammal with a Y chromosome does. Chaos ensues.

Yorick manages to get from New York to Washington, where he finds his mother, who’s a congresswoman. He makes the acquaintance of a woman he knows only as Agent 355, who works from a top-secret government intelligence operation. Together, they try to find a biochemical researcher who may be able to figure out what happened and what to do about it. There are some other characters, like Yorick’s sister who falls in with a group of fanatics called the Amazons, who believe all the men were justly struck down by fate because of their crimes against women. Oh, and Yorick has a monkey, too.

As you may have gathered, there’s ample room here for satire and political incorrectness along with the action, and Vaughan provides plenty of all three of those things. I thought early on in UNMANNED that the writing was going to get so heavy-handed I’d have to set the book aside, but I stuck with it and wound up enjoying it. The story is fast-paced and occasionally funny. Vaughan has an especially good touch with the dialogue. The art by Pia Guerra is excellent. She co-created the series with Vaughan and has a stronger feel for clear layouts and storytelling than a lot of modern comics artists.

I have all ten volumes of this series, and I enjoyed the first one enough that I’m sure I’ll read through the others fairly quickly. I probably won’t post about all of them, but if the quality holds up to the end, I think I can safely say that Y: THE LAST MAN will get my recommendation.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Last Cop Out Cover

In response to a comment from John Hocking two posts back, here's the paperback edition of THE LAST COP OUT, the second novel to feature Mickey Spillane's wife on the cover. I remember liking this book about the same as THE ERECTION SET, which means it was pretty entertaining but not in the top rank of Spillane's work. I think my least-favorite Spillane novels are the Tiger Mann books. I still liked them, just not as much as the others.

Bookgasm Weighs In

You can read Rod Lott's review of HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Erection Set Cover

Bob Randisi mentions this cover in his comment a couple of posts down. For the one or two of you out there who have never seen it, here it is. (I imagine a lot of you have this book on your shelves.) This is the paperback edition. The hardcover edition is uncensored, but I'm a little leery about posting it. Don't want Rough Edges to get a reputation as a nudie blog. (Does anybody under the age of 50 use the word "nudie" anymore?) That's Sheri Spillane, Mickey's wife at the time. I believe she's also on the cover of THE LAST COP OUT, the novel that came after this one. I remember thinking that THE ERECTION SET was an okay novel, but not up to the level of the Mike Hammer books.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


My daughter Joanna shot these pictures around Ennis, Texas, today, and I thought they were pretty enough to post. This has been a good year for bluebonnets.

The February Doll Murders

Bob Randisi mentioned this book in the comments to the previous post. I thought I remembered the cover, but I had to find a scan of it to be certain. Yep, this is the same book I bought off the paperback rack in Buddie's Grocery Story in 1967. I was thirteen years old. No wonder I never forgot it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Forgotten Books: Dead Game - Michael Avallone

In the spirit of full disclosure, Mike Avallone was my friend. When I was a kid, he was one of my favorite writers as soon as I read my first novel by him, which was also the first novel in Ace's MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. series. As I may have mentioned before, that was the book that made me realize a writer could have a distinctive voice, that the work he produced could sound so unique that it couldn't possibly have been written by anybody else. And to this day, I love a book like that, even goofy little gems like the ones Avallone so often produced, like his MANNIX tie-in novel and his entries in the Nick Carter series.

Years later, a mutual friend put me in touch with Mike, and we corresponded for years after that, off and on all the way up to his death. I know the stories are legion in the publishing business about how hard he was to work with. I know how quick-tempered he was and felt the brunt of it myself on occasion. I know that a lot of his books, especially the later ones, weren't very good. But he was still my friend, a guy who loved pulps and movies and baseball, and a lot of his books, especially the early novels about his most famous character, private eye Ed Noon, are pretty darned good.

Which brings us to DEAD GAME.

I thought I had read all of the Ed Noon novels except for a few late ones that were published only in England, but when a friend of mine sent me a copy of this one, the third in the series, I realized I hadn't read it. Sitting down to read an Ed Noon novel that was new to me is a treat I figured I'd never have again. DEAD GAME didn't disappoint me, either.

It starts simply enough, with Ed being hired to tail a cheating husband. That's what the guy's wife tells Ed, anyway. But instead of visiting a girlfriend, the man heads for the Polo Grounds instead, to take in an exhibition baseball game between the New York Giants and a visiting minor-league team. Then in the ninth inning, in the middle of the action, the minor-league team's third baseman is somehow stabbed to death, and the guy Ed's been following rushes onto the field to search the dead man's uniform before getting away. Ed is left with the questions of who murdered the third baseman, and what was the man he was tailing was looking for.

Well, things get even more complicated than that, of course. A cop gets killed along the way, putting Ed on the bad side of his old friend, Captain Michael Monks. Ed runs into a beautiful redhead and an equally beautiful brunette, the latter named Mimi Tango, one of the great, oddball character names Avallone could come up with. There's a lot of banter, a few fistfights, and Ed gets hit on the head and knocked out a couple of times, a private eye cliché but one that I happen to enjoy. Finally, there's even a gathering of all the suspects where Ed explains what happened and why, leading up to one last burst of action. The "impossible crime" nature of the murder in the middle of the baseball game sort of gets lost in the shuffle along the way, and when the explanation does come, it's hardly what you'd consider a "fair play" solution. But I don't think that's what Avallone was going for. A book like DEAD GAME is supposed to be fast, flippant, and fun . . . and it is.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Somebody's Zero Key Stuck

There's a used copy of HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY listed on Amazon for $1000.00. That's right, a cool grand. Heck, if you're interested, I know places where you can beat that price and get a copy for, oh, say, $995.00. I'm just sayin' . . .

Another Hunt Review

Randy Johnson weighs in on the book here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Kind Words From PW

Publishers Weekly has picked HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY as one of its Favorite Reads for the Summer. You can read what they have to say about it and see their other picks here. (Yes, I know I'm plugging the heck out of this book, and to tell you the truth, I'm not that comfortable about it. But it's been a while since I've had a book I can claim, so I don't do this very often.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Author Copies

My copies of HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY arrived today. The book looks really, really good. How could it not, with that great Glen Orbik cover? I wasn't sure how they were going to handle the author credit. Several options were discussed early on. But the book says "As told to James Reasoner" on the title page, which I like a lot. Think I'll prop up a copy of this next to my computer for a while.

A World I Never Made - James LePore

Pat Nolan is a retired American construction engineer who is summoned to Paris by the grim news that his estranged daughter has committed suicide there. However, Nolan quickly discovers that the body in the morgue isn’t that of his daughter, who is evidently still alive and trying to get some sort of mysterious message to him. The Paris police and the French intelligence apparatus also appear to be quite interested in whether or not Megan Nolan is still alive, and if so, where she is.

James LePore’s debut novel A WORLD I NEVER MADE is the story of Pat Nolan’s investigation into his daughter’s life in Europe, and naturally, the deeper he digs, the more complicated – and dangerous – things get. It’s not giving away too much to reveal that Megan was involved with a Saudi terrorist, since LePore uses parallel storylines to flash back to the events over the year leading up to the call that told Pat Nolan his daughter was dead.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this book, since it’s a first novel from a publisher I wasn’t familiar with, but what I got was a well-written thriller with a likable hero and interesting characters. Pat Nolan reminded me a little of another two-fisted American construction engineer, Matt Erridge, who appeared in a number of globe-trotting adventure novels by the prolific Aaron Marc Stein. (I know some of you have probably never heard of Stein, but he was a good solid mystery author worthy of rediscovery.) LePore keeps the pace moving along briskly and saves one last surprise for the epilogue, which is always a good thing as far as I’m concerned. A WORLD I NEVER MADE is a fine novel, and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for future books by James LePore.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jack Jardine ("Larry Maddock") R.I.P.

I learned today that author Jack Jardine passed away last week. I didn't know him, but I have very vivid memories of reading and enjoying the books he wrote during the Sixties under the pseudonym Larry Maddock. As a science-fiction fan and also a huge fan of all the secret agent novels, movies, and TV shows from that era, I was definitely a member of the target audience for the Agent of T.E.R.R.A. novels. Luckily, they were intelligent, well-written, and very entertaining. Here are the covers from all four books in the series. Rest in peace, Mr. Jardine.

One More Reason I Love the Internet

I got an email this morning from the great-niece of pulp author and editor Roy deS. Horn, who found a mention of him in a blog post of mine from last year. She was trying to find out more about his work, so I sent her the list of his stories from the indispensible Fictionmags Index and suggested that she explore the site herself. Now, without the Internet, what are the odds that I would have ever made contact with a relative of Roy deS. Horn, a mostly forgotten writer whose name I've seen on dozens of pulp issues?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Forgotten Books: Green Ice - Raoul Whitfield

A number of Raoul Whitfield’s stories from BLACK MASK have been reprinted and anthologized over the years. I’ve read quite a few of them and enjoyed them all, going back to one of his Jo Gar stories that was reprinted in the anthology THE HARD-BOILED DICKS, which I bought at The Book Oasis in Seminary South Shopping Center in Fort Worth on a December evening in 1967. (Yes, I remember that. Just don’t ask me what I had for lunch yesterday.)

Anyway, I’d never read any of Whitfield’s novels until now. GREEN ICE was his first novel, published in 1930 and based on a series of five linked novelettes published in BLACK MASK from December 1929 through April 1930 that are put together pretty seamlessly. It’s the story of what happens when ex-con Mal Ourney gets out of Sing Sing after having served a two-year sentence for manslaughter. Mal wasn’t really guilty; he took the rap for his girlfriend at the time, who was really behind the wheel in a fatal car crash. She comes to meet Mal when he’s released, but he’s no longer interested in her and refuses to go with her. A good thing, too, because a short time later, she’s dead, the first of at least a dozen murder victims in this novel.

While in prison, Mal has made friends with several small-time crooks who were drawn into the rackets by the big bosses, the men Mal refers to as the crime breeders. He decides that when he gets out, he’ll go after these big bosses and try to bring them down. Before he can even get started on his crusade, though, he finds himself up to his neck in murder after murder, all of them tied together by some missing emeralds, the green ice of the title. This is one of those early hardboiled novels where the plot gets incredibly complicated, to the point that Whitfield has to stop the action every so often to have his characters explain to each other everything that’s happened so far. He even manages to save one last major twist for the very end.

Plots so complex that they get a little far-fetched are a hallmark of hardboiled fiction from that era, though, as is terse, staccato prose. Whitfield delivers on that score, too. There’s a little snappy patter and considerable tough guy slang, along with plenty of fistfights and tommy-gun massacres, before Mal finally untangles all the various interwoven strands of plot. As you can imagine, I thoroughly enjoyed it, too. These days, GREEN ICE would have to be considered a historical novel, but if you’re interested in the genesis of hardboiled crime novels or just looking for a good yarn, I recommend it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Landscaping

After spending most of the day helping to build a stone wall -- a teeny, tiny stone wall -- and put in a little vegetable garden, all I can say is . . . man, I'm glad I don't do this kind of work for a living.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Batman: The Man Who Laughs

I was in the mood for a good old traditional Batman yarn, and you can’t get much more traditional than Batman versus the Joker. BATMAN: THE MAN WHO LAUGHS is a trade paperback reprinting the long story of the same name, plus an unrelated three-part Batman story featuring the original Green Lantern. Both have scripts by Ed Brubaker, one of the most highly-regarded writers in comics today.

“The Man Who Laughs” is an updated retelling of Batman’s first battle against the Joker, but it’s a reasonably faithful one and includes a number of respectful nods to the long careers of the characters. I like this early setting for Batman stories, when everything still seems new, Jim Gordon is still a police detective, not the commissioner, and Batman is still a lone vigilante. Brubaker’s script is excellent, and I like the art by Doug Mahnke, too.

“Made of Wood”, the story featuring the original Green Lantern, is even better. I’ve always been really fond of the Golden Age Green Lantern, whose secret identity is broadcaster Alan Scott. This story features a modern-day serial killer who evidently has ties to an old, unsolved case that involved Green Lantern several decades earlier. At one point, Batman and GL discuss the case while playing golf in their civilian identities as Bruce Wayne and Alan Scott. I love the sense of camaraderie among many of the DC superheroes and the way they know each other’s secret identities. Again, Brubaker’s script is top-notch, and the art by Patrick Zircher likewise. By the way, the title of this story, for those of you who aren’t comics fans, refers to the fact that Green Lantern’s power ring is powerless against anything made of wood, its only weakness. I always thought this was a little goofy, but charming in its way, probably more so than the modern-day GL’s weakness, which is the color yellow.

I had a great time reading this one, so good, in fact, that I may feel a Batman binge coming on . . .

Monday, April 13, 2009


Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is an accountant, a beaten-down drudge who works in a cubicle and whose girlfriend is having an affair with his best friend. He’s given up on life. And then one day while he’s at the drugstore, a mysterious, beautiful woman called Fox (Angelina Jolie) comes up to him, tells him that his father is dead, and then grabs him and throws him out of the way of a bullet from a gunman who evidently wants to kill Wesley, too. Just like that, he finds himself in the middle of a war between a centuries-old secret society of assassins and one of their members who has gone rogue. It seems that Wesley’s long-missing father was a member of the society, and Wesley has inherited his enhanced abilities. The assassins want to train him to fully utilize those abilities, because for some mysterious reason, they believe he’s the only one who can take down the rogue.

Naturally, things get a lot more complicated before everything is said and done. WANTED, based on a comic book series, is almost as bloody, goofy, and over-the-top as SHOOT ‘EM UP. Not quite, mind you – there are no carrots involved in this one – but almost. Probably needless to say, I loved it. As for the reason . . . well, at one point while we were watching it, my daughter looked over, saw me grinning at some ludicrous action scene, and said, “You are such a boy.”

Guilty as charged.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Quantum of Solace

I heard and read a lot of negative comments about this film when it opened, but hey, we’ve seen all the other James Bond movies. Had to watch this one, too. And while it’s far from my favorite in the series, I didn’t hate it.

But I do hate the – all together now – quick cutting in the action scenes. Do the filmmakers sit down and say to themselves, “How can we possibly make these scenes impossible to follow and annoy the hell out of the viewers?”

Whenever the movie would slow down and take a breath, though, I thought it was pretty good. I don’t mind Daniel Craig as James Bond, even though – all together now – Clive Owen would be better. Craig’s done a good job of giving us a more hardboiled Bond. It took a while, but I’ve gotten used to Judi Dench as M. Great photography throughout, and the opening credits were okay, with a theme song that’s not as bad as I’d heard.

But it did bother me that they used the classic James Bond theme only over part of the closing credits, and I don’t care how hokey it is, it wouldn’t have killed ‘em to have the line “Bond. James Bond.” in there somewhere. I liked the little visual nod to GOLDFINGER, though. (Ah, GOLDFINGER . . . still the all-time best Bond movie.) The final fate of the villain bothered me a little, too. Just didn’t seem like the way Bond would have handled it.

So what does all my quibbling and damning-with-faint-praise add up to? I liked QUANTUM OF SOLACE and will certainly continue to watch the James Bond movies, but I sure think they could do better.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hot Cargo - Orrie Hitt

HOT CARGO is a very different sort of book from PUSHOVER, the first Orrie Hitt novel I read. It’s the story of Hank Storms, a tough American sailor working on a boat that’s dredging out a channel in the river flowing through a port city in a Pacific island nation that seems to be loosely based on the Philippines. At one time, Hank was the captain of the boat, but he’s been replaced and demoted because of an accident that occurred while he was in charge.

That’s not all he has going on, though. It seems that there was a recent coup in the island’s government, and Hank is also smuggling guns to the followers of the deposed leader, who plans to stage a counter-revolution. Plus there’s the mistress of the guy who replaced Hank as captain. She’s actually more interested in Hank, and doesn’t mind proving it. And the beautiful native girl he meets in a bar who claims to be a virgin. And the mistress of the island’s current dictator, who’s also involved in the counter-revolution. And Hank’s beautiful but estranged wife, who shows up unexpectedly with a suitcase full of money. Throw in a sinister Dutchman, drug smuggling, pornography, blackmail, a lot of boozing, and a hurricane, and you can see that Hitt’s packed a heck of a lot into this yarn.

And “yarn” is a good description of this book. It’s definitely larger-than-life, an updated version of the sort of story that might have appeared in the pulp SPICY ADVENTURE during the Thirties. As such, although it’s plenty gritty, it lacks some of the realistic edge that can be found in PUSHOVER. However, the style is faster-paced and has a really nice terse rhythm to it, making it a prime example of what I’ve started calling hardboiled sleaze. Hank is a fine character, tough and definitely amoral about 99% of the time . . . but there’s that one per cent when he finds that he does have a sort of code after all and has to do the right thing even though he doesn’t really want to.

Several fans of Hitt’s work have told me that this isn’t one of his better books, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. That’s just me, of course. I have a fondness for South Seas yarns to start with, and a story can’t get too pulpy for my taste. From what I’ve seen, HOT CARGO isn’t really typical of most of Hitt’s novels, and it’s true that the ending isn’t really all it could be (endings seem to be a bit of a problem for Hitt, from what I’ve read and what other readers have told me). But it’s one of those books that resonated with me, for whatever reason, and I’m certainly glad that I read it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Forgotten Short Stories: Main Currents of American Thought - Irwin Shaw

I believe I’ve mentioned here before that Irwin Shaw’s “Main Currents of American Thought” is my favorite short story. I’ll get to the reasons for that in a minute. I think it qualifies as a forgotten short story because, like a lot of other former bestsellers, pretty much all of Shaw’s work seems to be forgotten today. A few of his novels may still be in print, and I’m sure some people remember the Seventies TV mini-series “Rich Man, Poor Man”, based on Shaw’s excellent novel of the same name. But check your local used book store, and you probably won’t find many – or any – of his books. Which is a shame, because he was as good as anybody at writing about America during the middle of the Twentieth Century, from the Thirties to the Sixties.

“Main Currents of American Thought” was first published in the August 5, 1939 issue of THE NEW YORKER and later reprinted in several places, including the massive collection of Shaw’s short stories, FIVE DECADES. Because of its subject matter, I’m admittedly biased when I say it’s my favorite short story. I think it’s the best story about being a freelance writer that I’ve ever read. The protagonist, a young man named Andrew, writes scripts for a couple of daily radio dramas, and in a few thousand words, Shaw perfectly captures what it’s like to deal with all the pressures of trying to write for a living. Some of the lines, which I can’t quote without ruining their impact, are just devastating. And there are other little details, like figuring expenses in terms of how much writing you’ll have to do in order to pay for them, that are utterly true. I don’t know how many times I’ve said things like, “We can afford that. It’s only half a Longarm.” There’s a lot packed into this story, and it’s dated a little, but its core is still true. And if you’re a writer, it’ll break your heart.

Shaw’s best-known short stories are “The Eighty Yard Run” and “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses”, and both of those are fine stories. In fact, everything I’ve read by him has been very good to excellent. FIVE DECADES is a great collection, and I recommend it highly. But “Main Currents of American Thought” is a story I reread at least once a year (I picked it up to glance at it before writing this post and wound up rereading the whole thing), and it’s the only story of which that’s true.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Chapter 11

I’ve seen several mentions of the Chapter 11 meme that’s going around, where you post the first line of Chapter 11 in whatever book you’re reading. Well, I just picked up the book I’m reading, opened it to the bookmark, and, you guessed it, I’m on Chapter 11. That seems like too much of an omen to ignore. I’m going to fudge a little, though, and quote the whole first paragraph of that chapter, since the first sentence is pretty short:

“The storm came up suddenly, without warning. One moment the sky was clear and blue, the sun burning through a heat haze, and the next minute it was dark and ugly.”

The book is HOT CARGO by Orrie Hitt. I’ll be posting my thoughts about it in the next day or two.

The Book of Lies - Brad Meltzer

I’d read one novel by Brad Meltzer, the similarly-titled but otherwise unconnected THE BOOK OF FATE, as well as one trade paperback reprinting a story arc from his run as the writer of the Justice League of America comic book. Both of them were pretty good, so I didn’t hesitate to give his most recent novel a try. THE BOOK OF LIES combines two of Meltzer’s interests, thrillers and superheroes.

Cal Harper is a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who resigned after fouling up a case, and now he works with a homeless shelter in Fort Lauderdale. One day he runs across a homeless man who’s been wounded in a shooting, and this victim turns out to be Cal’s long-estranged father, who went to prison when Cal was a kid for accidentally killing Cal’s mother during an argument. It doesn’t take long for Cal to discover that his dad is now mixed up in some sort of dangerous conspiracy and trying to help him out puts Cal in danger, too, from a mysterious assassin. All of this turns out to be tied in with the unsolved 1932 murder of Mitchell Siegel, the father of Jerry Siegel, who was one of the creators of Superman.

Meltzer takes this actual bit of comic book history and spins a very elaborate yarn around it involving centuries-old conspiracies, war, murder, crooked federal agents, and a mystery dating back to biblical times. Does the whole thing border on being a little silly and over-the-top at times? Yeah, probably. But Meltzer keeps the pace moving along briskly and creates a likable protagonist in Cal, along with several hissable villains. It’s all pretty entertaining, and I definitely intend to read more of Meltzer’s novels, as well as his comic book work.

One stylistic note: There was a time when I wouldn’t have read a book like this, because it mixes not only first-person and third-person POV, but also past tense and present tense (first person present and third person past, to be specific). But I’ve gotten a little more tolerant of such things in recent years, and Meltzer makes it work pretty well here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Comment Moderation

I've been hit by the same swarm of comment spam that's showing up on other blogs, so I've turned comment moderation on for a couple of days until things settle down.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Ranger Jim Rides Again

I drove up to Jacksboro, Texas, today to meet Western author James J. Griffin, who’s been an Internet friend for years, but who I’d never met in person until today. Jim’s on a book tour through Texas and New Mexico, and he’s also stopping at a few libraries along the way and doing presentations about the Texas Rangers, his area of expertise. Today in Jacksboro, he put on a program for 90 fourth-graders, and I’m not sure who had more fun, Jim or the kids. He talked a little about the history of the Rangers, but he managed to work even more info into a series of demonstrations and games that had the kids taking part and learning stuff without even realizing it. It was a masterful performance all around.

I was able to visit with Jim for a while before the program began and it was great to be able to talk with someone I’ve known on-line for years. I also met Jim’s dad Willis and his dog Dougie (hope I’m spelling that correctly). Dougie was a big hit with the kids, too, as you might expect. All in all, it was a very enjoyable little road trip for me.

And now I’m an official Junior Texas Ranger, too. I have the badge to prove it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


The rest of the family watched SHOOT ‘EM UP with me, so it seemed only fair that I watch TWILIGHT with them. In writing about movies here in the past, I’ve commented that I wasn’t the target audience for various films. Well, I was wrong. This is the movie for which I’m really not the target audience.

I don’t think there’s any need to go into the plot. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in the books or the movie, I’ll bet you’ve absorbed the basic story anyway from all the hype. (It’s a form of osmosis, I think, but I’m not sure since high school biology was a long time ago.) So what did I like or dislike?

Well, the first half is awfully slow and broody and full of teen-age angst. However, I liked the supporting cast. They looked and acted like actual high school kids, rather than actors in their mid-to-late twenties pretending to be high school kids. And the Pacific Northwest scenery is pretty.

The pace starts to pick up in the second half, and I got caught up in the story to a certain extent. Pretty good action here and there. And lots and lots of foreshadowing for the rest of the films in the series. This one might as well have ended with a “To Be Continued” graphic.

So, to put TWILIGHT to the ultimate test for a film that’s “not my kind of movie” . . . I watched the whole thing and stayed awake all the way through. Make of that what you will.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Shoot 'Em Up

Those of you who really wanted to see this movie have probably already watched it. Those of you who haven’t and are undecided . . . well, I have a hunch you’ll either love it or hate it. I don’t think there’ll be much middle ground on this film.

It opens with a nameless stranger (Clive Owen) sitting at a bus stop munching on raw carrots. A frantic pregnant woman about to give birth runs past him with a bad guy in pursuit. Owen, against his better judgment, gets involved, winds up in a shootout with a number of would-be killers who are out to murder the woman and her baby, and rapidly proves himself to be deadlier than any of them. The woman gives birth, promptly gets killed, and Owen is stuck protecting the newborn baby from a horde of assassins led by Paul Giamatti. This leads to an almost non-stop series of very bloody, over-the-top, wildly improbable gunfights and chases. Owen’s character turns out to be just about the best shot in the world, and he can wield a carrot with lethal results, too. I’m not kidding. The Bugs Bunny references are appropriate, because SHOOT ‘EM UP is a live-action cartoon most of the time, albeit a very violent one.

Owen’s character is a cipher for most of the movie, although we eventually do find out his back-story. There’s quite a bit of plot packed in around the gunfire and explosions, so you have to keep up. I don’t know if it all makes sense in the end or not. Things move too fast to worry much about that. Watch this for the sheer audacity of the action sequences and Giamatti’s scenery-chewing performance as the lead villain, as well as Owen’s unflappable cool as he deals out death to, oh, at least two hundred of the bad guys.

Like I said above, you’ll probably either love or hate SHOOT ‘EM UP. I thought it was incredibly entertaining. But I’ll certainly understand if you watch it and say, “Well, this is just stupid.” It probably is. But sometimes I don’t mind that.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Phantom Spy - Max Brand (Frederick Faust)

With this book, Max Brand (Frederick Faust) becomes the first author I’ve featured more than once in this Forgotten Books series. Some of you may recall that the very first Forgotten Books post I wrote was about Faust’s mystery novel SEVEN FACES. Once again, instead of one of the Westerns for which he’s most famous, I’m writing about one of Faust’s mysteries, or at least an espionage novel.

THE PHANTOM SPY is set in Europe in the mid-Thirties, the era during which it was written. This isn’t a Ruritanian, Graustarkian, comic opera Europe, either. It’s the real thing, with the grim threat of Hitler’s growing power in Germany looming over everything. In Faust’s novel, however, Hitler isn’t even the real menace. The true villains are an international cabal of warmongers who think that Hitler isn’t moving fast enough and want him to go ahead and invade France right away. To further that end, they’ve managed to steal the plans for the Maginot Line and intend to present them to Hitler so that Germany can attack France’s defensive fortifications at their weakest points. (In reality, the Maginot Line didn’t pose much of an obstacle to the Germans a few years later, but Faust had no way of knowing that.) The British Secret Service sets out to steal the plans back before Hitler gets his hands on them, and the agent entrusted with the job is Lady Cecil de Waters, a British noblewoman who has offered her services as a “talented amateur” in the espionage game. (Yes, Emma Peel without John Steed is exactly what I mean.)

Giving Lady Cecil a hand is a would-be suitor of hers, wisecracking millionaire American playboy Willie Gloster, as well as a mysterious phantom spy known only as Monsieur Jacquelin who turns up when he’s most needed. Faust keeps the action moving along briskly as the characters take turns stealing the plans back and forth from each other, and in the process Willie and Lady Cecil uncover the plotters pulling the strings behind the scenes. Sometimes in his Westerns, Faust can get a little flowery and long-winded in his prose, but not here. This one cooks along in a breezy, hardboiled fashion with double- and triple-crosses, characters pretending to be other characters, fistfights and shootouts, and only occasional pauses for reflection. There aren’t many real twists to the plot – really, if you don’t figure out the true identity of the Phantom Spy early on, like when the character first appears, I’ll be surprised – but that doesn’t matter much because Faust is having so much fun, and so is the reader.

THE PHANTOM SPY first appeared as a serial in the pulp ARGOSY in 1937, under the title “War For Sale”. It was reprinted in hardback by Dodd, Mead in 1973 and then in paperback by Pocket Books in 1975, when Pocket reprinted a number of Faust’s non-Western novels. Both of those editions are available pretty inexpensively on-line. As much as I enjoy Faust’s Westerns, I’d really like to see more of his non-Westerns reprinted, especially some of the pulp serials that have never been published in book form. I believe he wrote a Revolutionary War novel that’s never been reprinted, and I’d love to read that one. There are several pirate novels, too, as well as numerous mysteries and contemporary adventures. If you’ve only read Faust’s Westerns, or if you’ve never read his work at all, give THE PHANTOM SPY a try. I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Killing Off Characters

I ran into a dilemma today that crops up from time to time in my writing. There’s a character in the book I’m working on who needs to die. I didn’t really make a conscious decision to kill him off. I never even thought much about it. I just knew instinctively that he was one of the characters who wouldn’t survive the book. Now that I’m farther into the manuscript, I even know how he ought to meet his end, right down to some of the dialogue.

But here’s the problem: I like him. He’s fun to write. And unlike some of the other characters, he hasn’t really done anything to deserve the gruesome death I have planned for him. I don’t want to keep him around for other books, mind you. He’s just a supporting character in this one particular plot and has no place in future books in the series. There’s still a part of me that would like to see him make it through alive.

Luckily, I still have seventy or eighty pages to go in this manuscript, and if he does die, it’ll be fairly late, so I don’t have to decide right away. It’s a hard decision, because killing him off would make for a pretty effective moment in the story, I think.

And they say doctors have God complexes.