May 312012
 
Paperback 533: Pocket Books 78282 (1st ptg, 1973)

Title: End Zone
Author: Don DeLillo
Cover artist: photo

Yours for: $8

PB78282.EndZone
Best things about this cover:
  • Way outside my normal collection timeframe, but the cover (and author) caught my eye—seemed memorable / remarkable—like the last thing you see before you get strangled (to death, presumably).
  • I like that it's a novel about football, but the cover only barely suggests this (title, font, "New Gladiators").
  • That's the opposite of "Fear Hand"—most mid-century covers have a victim POV, with woman reacting to some kind of impending attack. Here, the attacker (in a context that can be only dimly imagined).



PB78282bc.EndZone

Best things about this back cover:
  • Dang, high praise for a novel I've never heard of.
  • "Is God a Football Fan?" is a pretty good tagline.
  • So much for your Nostradamian powers, Cincinnati Enquirer.

Page 123~
"Gary Harkness. Good name. Promotable. I like it. I even love it."
"Thanks."
"Relax and call me Wally."
"Right," I said.
If anyone ever says "Relax and call me Wally," you're gonna want to end the conversation quickly and get out of there.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
May 312012
 

Do you see how bland this playbill is? It perfectly mirrors the play. This was the first and only Broadway premiere we have seen. Oh, so excited to see Wallace Shawn, Rex Reed and various other celebrities in the audience. Play was by David Hare, a big success in London, and starring the woman he'd had in mind while writing it: Blair Brown.

It was 1989 and the review in the New York Times the next day revealed the complete disaster we had seen. Beginning with an inability to do a British accent by Ms. Brown, to a lousy set, to a murky agenda, to odd timing, nothing went right. The play closed very quickly. I wonder if we had seen the London version if we would have come away satisfied. Somehow I doubt it.
May 312012
 

When I am asked which of Robert Van Gulik's mysteries featuring Judge Dee is my favorite, my answer is always the same: "Necklace and Calabash." First published in 1967, the year Van Gulik died, it is one of the best-developed stories in the series.

Looking back, I find that I did a podcast review of "Network and Calabash" just about five years ago, before I started the blog. You can listen to the full review by clicking here.

The story begins with Judge Dee, the magistrate of Poo-Yang, stopping off in a small place called Rivertown, on his way home. He is hoping for a few quiet days of relaxation before he takes up his official duties again. But, of course, if that were to happen there would be no book, so he is quickly pressed into service, first by the military authorities who are in charge of Rivertown, and then by the Third Princess, the emperor's daughter who lives in her summer residence, the Water Palace, located just outside Rivertown. A valuable necklace has been stolen, and the theft appears to be connected to a large, malevolent plot, whose outline is only dimly visible. Judge Dee must also solve the gruesome murder of a young cashier at one of the Rivertown inns, as well as the mysterious disappearance of the innkeeper's wife.

There are wonderful characters in "Necklace and Calabash," including a Taoist monk, known as Master Gourd, who plays a major role in the mystery - even, at one point, saving Judge Dee's life. The Third Princess is also fascinating, and the various military officers and palace guards are memorable.

While the book does follow many of the traditions of the Chinese detective story, it is quite definitely "westernized" for the enjoyment of today's readers. The Judge Dee books, set in 7th Century Imperial China, were among the first "historical" mysteries. If you haven't met Judge Dee, "Necklace and Calabash" makes a perfect introduction.

May 312012
 

I’m reluctant to pepper you with announcements, having just yesterday advised you about the new low price on Tanner’s Tiger in hardcover, but this one’s a steal, and it won’t last. HarperCollins has opened a window for us all, dropping the price of the first Bernie Rhodenbarr book, Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, to a cool 99¢.

Click away: Kindle Nook Kobo Apple

That’s our window, but it won’t stay open long. June 11 is the day Choosers pumpkins up to $4.99, and takes all my other HarperCollins eBooks along for the ride. (In the meantime, they’re just $3.99—and that’s all the Tanners, all the Scudders, all the Kellers, and all the Burglars.)

And the closing door? That would be The Sins of the Fathers, the first Matthew Scudder book, which HarperCollins has priced at 99¢ for a few weeks now. It’s officially $3.99 now, but Kindle’s been slow to get the memo; if you act fast, you might be able to pick it up right here for 99¢. (But don’t let on who told you…)


Forgotten Books: Fright by Cornell Woolrich

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May 312012
 

Fright (Hard Case Crime)

Cornell Woolrich's first novel emulated the work of his literary hero, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Judging from the first act of the new Woolrich novel Fright from Hardcase Crime, the Fitzgerald influence lasted well into Woolrich's later career as a suspense writer.


The young, handsome, successful Prescott Marshall could be any of Fitzgerald's early protagonists. New York, Wall Street, a striver eager to marry a beauiful young socialite and acquire the sheen only she can give him...even the prose early on here reminds us of Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" and "The Rich Boy." Strivers dashed by fate.

Bu since Woolrich was by this time writing for the pulps and not Smart Set or Scribners Magazine, young Prescott Marshall's fate is not simply to lose face or be banished from some Edenic yacht cruise...but to face execution at the hands of the State for killing a young woman he slept with once and who turned into a blackmailer. This is in the Teens of the last century, by the way; a historical novel if you will.

From here on we leave the verities of Fitzgerald behind and step into the noose provided by another excellent writer and strong influence on Woolrich...Guy de Maupassant. In the Frenchman's world it's not enough to merely die, you must die in a tortured inch-by-inch way that makes the final darkness almost something to be desired. And dying for some ironic turn of events is best of all.

I read this in a single sitting. It's one those melodramas that carry you along on sheer narrative brute force. I woudn't say it's major Woolrich but I woud say that it's awfully good Woolrich with all the master's cruel tricks at work and a particularly claustrophobic sense of doom. Readers will appreciate its dark twists. Collectors will want to buy a few extra copies.

THE AZREAL DECEPTION: Guest Post

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May 312012
 
Part crime-fiction and part cyberpunk, THE AZREAL DECEPTION is a collection Chad Rohrbacher has been working on for years. Yesterday, we had a bit of a chat. Today, I asked him to tell us a little more about the stories.

By Chad Rohrbacher


The Azreal Deception is loosely based on a screenplay I wrote years ago, then subsequently shoved in a drawer somewhere. Unfortunately, the characters bugged me and bugged me until I finally broke down wrote their stories. The cyberpunk collection is the product of their nagging.

The future.  It’s hardcore.  The only people who get to see nature, are the one’s who can afford to buy it. Most, however, live in the cityscape’s squalor or a desolate town, the ones you wouldn’t find on a map, but if you were driving through, say, Texas you’d think you ate peyote for lunch. Or maybe they’d come right out of a Hugo poem – run down and ruinous with desperation a long lost memory.

It’s a dangerous and lonely existence for most people. After the Upheaval, the people begged for safety, for order. Food was running out. Purified water was getting to be a luxury. The Planetary Control Group (PCG) stepped in with molifying rations, water, and their own paramilitary security.

Oscar leads an elite force in that paramilitary organization and it is their job to protect the citizens from the Insurgs, a group bent on destroying the PCG and returning society to the way it was before the Upheaval. He’s good at his job.

The stories catch Oscar’s team (Morris, Swede, Knute, Hob, and Charlie) at various points in their lives. Before and after the Upheaval. We see them fall in love, lose loved ones, find their calling, and, of course, get bloodied. I really enjoyed exploring this world and have a strong inclination that the characters aren’t done with me yet.

Here is a portion of Swede's story ->



Alana first met Swede when she found all 6'4" of his massive frame spewing Rations and beer on her front porch.

To her, it seemed like an awful lot of beer.

Anger welled up inside her right. She gazed down the line of squat houses with their sleek fibrous walls painted in the same tan material that would shield them from most satellites and drone scans, and wondered how this poor Skin ended up on her porch rather than any of the others. Luck followed her like a horsefly.
Once his body stopped convulsing and he rested his cheek on the porch, she went to him and kicked his boot. Nothing. She kicked him again.

He raised his head slightly, like some hibernating bear just aware of something in its general vicinity. He attempted to wipe his chin with the back of his hand but failed miserably. Fwapping the porch slats, his face turned bright pink and Alana struggled to hold in her laughter. It had been a long time since she laughed, let alone felt the need to suppress it.

She worked for the Planetary Control Group (PCG) in a level 5 security research center doing 12 hour days, 6 days a week, and she expected that dedication from her colleagues. Alana was called a lot of things: brilliant, meticulous, hard working, a soulless bitch. While some of these things bothered her at first, she soon found the benefits of such a reputation.

Alana’s hard features and hazel eyes were striking against her midnight colored skin. Her full lips had a slight upturn, making people think she was personable until they actually got close. Early on in life, Alana learned how dangerous a little flash of teeth, a slight crinkle of the nose, and a twinkle of the eye could be. She trained herself to not use them, even involuntarily. A smile would let people get away with mediocrity through the guise of friendship or amicability. Niceness inevitably led to misunderstandings.

Alana put her hands on her hips and considered her options that included calling the Regs, pushing him off her landing and onto the concrete, or letting him wake up with splinters in his nose. She decided to kick him again.

Sporting standard PCG fatigues, he looked like a typical Skin: shaved blond hair, finely toned arms bulging from under his white T-shirt, large hands. For a moment she wanted to touch him, make sure he was alive, the last thing she needed was some fool dying in front of her door, and then she felt her body flush. It was an awkward experience to feel her body do something she did not will it to do, to feel the pop of blood prickle the back of her neck.

Gritting her teeth, Alana peered into the bare street then back at the body at her feet. She had no patience for the Skins, though she understood they needed to be here, to protect her research. This display by this man was completely over the top; she’d have to speak with his corporate handler in the morning.

In the distance she heard three more Skins stumbling towards her place and back to their barracks. It was a shortcut they were not supposed make but made anyway. Just like they weren’t supposed to mix rations with alcohol or worse smoke them, but some of the boys did in the evenings after duty. Alana knew that once a man started smoking his rations it was impossible to stop. Once found out those men would be fired and, without a job, find themselves on the streets looking to turn into a full-blown Ration Rat.

Her stomach dropped in a moment of something close to sadness. Her skin felt like a simple wrapping holding her muscles and she for a fleeting moment she wanted to tear it off and let herself go. Her eyes furrowed. She worked her teeth, the muscles in her face tensed. Damn Rats. She kicked him again.

“Come on, before I report you.”

Rolling onto his back, Alana noticed his searing blue eyes, square jaw, his shirt pulled up just a little exposing a smile of hip and strong stomach. She felt her body relax and her cheeks flush again.
When Alana saw him trying to focus, she scolded him and once again tried to shoo the man from her porch.

The man rubbed his eyes and tried to shake his head like a wet dog. Then he shared a goofy childlike grin.

Alana almost giggled.

Of course he is Alana thought noticing his officer status.

“What are you smiling about?”

“Am I smiling?” the big man said rubbing his cheeks like putty.

Again Alana had to suppress her grin despite the feel of her stomach plunging to her knees.

“I suppose I am. Imagine that.”

“I’d appreciate it if you removed that puke stinking mug from my porch.”

He took in his surroundings then smirked, “I’d be happy to get off your porch if I thought I could walk  without falling down and breaking my face again.”

Alana turned her head toward the three Skins, arm-in-arm, stumbling towards her with the PCG jingle rolling off their tongues, horribly off-key.

“They your men?” she asked jutting a thumb over her shoulder.

“What’s your name?”

“If those are your men….” She stopped. “What?”

“Your name? What do people call you?”

Alana’s brow furrowed then she faced the three Skins about to pass her house.

“You,” she called. “You men get this sloth off my porch before the next person you see is from Home Office.”

The men could’ve been brothers: shaved heads, medium builds, standard uniforms. At first they regarded her as some ghost, shaking their heads, focusing their widening eyes on her, their song lost in the weight of silence.

“Don’t stand there. Get your asses moving.”

By their dash towards the porch, it was clear they knew she was way above their pay grade.


***

Grab your copy of THE AZREAL DECEPTION here.

What Speaks to You?

 Writing  Comments Off
May 312012
 

Interesting article in the Huffington Post about what qualities in a novel pull you in. How different people are attracted to different voices/themes/characters.

I need an emotional content, something at risk, a person I find interesting even if unlikable. What about you?
May 312012
 



Lone McGantry, the hero of Wayne D. Dundee's fine debut Western novel DISMAL RIVER (currently nominated for a Peacemaker Award for Best First Novel) returns in RECKONING AT RAINROCK. This time former scout and all-around tough hombre McGantry is hired by an attractive lady lawyer to accompany a fugitive who is being returned to justice. The twist is that the fugitive is a beautiful young woman who was unjustly convicted of murder, and she wants to return for a retrial so that her name will be cleared.

Getting Roxanne Bigbee back to the town of Rainrock, where the murder and the previous trial took place, isn't that easy to start with, but even after he accomplishes that, McGantry's troubles are just starting. The forces that conspired to railroad Roxanne the first time are still there, and they have an even greater stake now in making sure she doesn't stand trial again and expose what they did before.

As usual, Dundee spins this yarn in fast-paced, hardboiled prose, while at the same time creating characters that grip the reader's interest. The noirish atmosphere and the menacing small-town setting are reminiscent of the novels of Lewis B. Patten, and the gritty action scenes are very effective. There are echoes of the Gold Medal Westerns by authors such as Patten, Dudley Dean, Gordon D. Shirreffs, and William Heuman, but Dundee has his own distinctive voice touched with both melancholy and hope. On top of that, Lone McGantry is a great character and a very likable hero, and I hope he returns many times in the future.

I'm reluctant to start talking about "the New Western" as if it's a separate movement, but there are several newer writers, including Dundee, Heath Lowrance, Edward A. Grainger, Troy Smith, Matthew P. Mayo, and others, putting their stamp on a classic genre and generating an appreciation for Westerns among readers who might not have tried them before. That, along with continued excellent work from a number of seasoned veterans in the field, makes this an exciting time to be both a Western writer and a Western reader. RECKONING AT RAINROCK is a fine example of the great Westerns being published today, and if you haven't tried one before, you won't go wrong by starting with it.

And if you're already a fan of tough, hardboiled Western novels, don't miss this one. Highly recommended. 
May 312012
 

PerspectiveThe critical debate surrounding Stanley Fish’s defense of “spoilers” seems to focus mainly on how it affects the reader’s enjoyment of the book, either in a negative or positive way. What I think what needs to be discussed is the purpose of criticism. Why do readers read them, and what purpose do they serve? Do they exist merely to promote a book, and to inform readers in advance of their actual reading of the book?

As a reviewer, not including “spoilers” is a limiting, often frustrating, roadblock. How are we to critically discuss a book if we have to keep dancing around the facts? This can result in more generalized commentary or surface-level evaluations instead of the more deep, comprehensive reviews that the books deserve (and which crime fiction is often denied). If reviews are supposed to avoid serious, objective discussion, then they are just another branch of publicity, like blurbs or jacket flap copy.

I agree with those readers who do not wish to have the plots “spoiled.” And for that reason, I typically don’t read reviews until after I’ve read the book. When I don’t care about advance knowledge — or when I wish to be convinced that I should read a particular book — then I’ll go to a review, and if something crucial to the plot is revealed, I understand it comes with the territory. Sometimes those “spoiler” details can change my mind and convince me to go buy and read a book that I might not otherwise have given a chance.

In my own reviews, I should note, that I try not to include many “spoilers.” However, I’d be lying if I thought that excluding some of that information has lead to weaker discussions of the texts and many regrets that I’m not delivering the in-depth review that I’d like to.

From the opening paragraph of Fish’s article on The Hunger Games, it was obvious that his was going to be more than a just a cursory review. The depth of his analysis should have been sufficient indication that Fish wasn’t going to beat around the bush in terms of plot. As a reader, I greatly appreciated Fish’s thoughtfulness and insight; and as a reviewer, I admire his craft and thoroughness. His defense of “spoilers” may have been too cerebral and academic for my own tastes, but his original piece on The Hunger Games was refreshing to read because it was a real piece of criticism, not just another knee-jerk fan reaction from Amazon.com; consumer reviews serve their purpose, but that’s not professional criticism.

Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Moving Image Source, Spinetingler, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review.