If you want to experience one of the great masters of the hard boiled detective novel, a writer who defined the genre and raised it to a fine art thenIf you want to experience one of the great masters of the hard boiled detective novel, a writer who defined the genre and raised it to a fine art then I whole-heartedly and without reservation encourage you to move on to Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. If you want to read the third guy, the one who made a lot of money writing shlock this three novel collection is the way to go. For the price of a single trade paperback you get Spillane's first three novels, allowing you to trace his career from first-novel jitters to hitting his stride, such as his stride was.
Though infamous in their day for bringing a new level of sex and violence to the detective genre, they're actually quite tame by modern standards. What's more likely to offend are scenes many would consider racist, sexist, or homophobic today, though by comparison to other writers of his era Spilane was actually not so bad on those points. REaders with a sense of historical change will not be offended.
The good in Spilane is that he keeps the pace moving, and that his descriptions are very cinematic in their color and clarity. You get a real feel for a darkly romanticized New York in the years just after Word War 2. Sadly, Spilane's faults overwhelm the good.
A striking problem is that Mike Hammer is a sociopath. He brags endlessly about being the guy who can snuff the criminals that the police cannot, and more than once admits that he enjoys doing so. HIs first novel is aptly named except that it leaves out "judge" and "executioner". Villains of sufficient badness he kills outright, while toward characters of secondary goodness or badness he meets out less than terminal justice accoding to his own harsh code without ever questioning he might be wrong. Spilane's character might saitisfy a certain quality of male ego, I rather suspect one frustrated by his inadequacy at meeting the challenges of the world, but quite frankly I've played video game assassins with a more balanced sense of justice.
A more heinous crime for a mystery writer is that Spilane's supposedly surpise endings came as no particular surprise to me. For all three novels I was able to identify the killer well before the end. As a fluke you can expect to work out who the killer is once in a great while even with the best of writers. Being able to do it three out of three times means just plain bad writing.
Hint: Just look for the character (not necessarily a suspect or witness) related to the case who is being painted as the least likely, who will also be the character associated with the Mike Hammer likes the most. That's your killler. Spillane's style gives it all away, the only mystery being how he'll contrive to make the clues add up in the last scene. Then Hammer will kill the perp....more
Ha-Ha-Ha! Book two is every bit a mass of noir splattery excess as the first. Though having been inoculated somewhat by the first it has a bit less imHa-Ha-Ha! Book two is every bit a mass of noir splattery excess as the first. Though having been inoculated somewhat by the first it has a bit less impact. One hardly bats an eye to discover that when Stark is not hunting vampires freelance for an angel-run Department of Homeland Security he's serving as Lucifer's personal bodyguard in and about Hollywood as the Prince of Darkness sees to the filming of his autobiography. Or to find that Stark's roommate above the video store is still an animated severed head, or that a Czech porn queen turns out to moonlight as a professional zombie hunter. That latter part comes in handy when a zombie apocalypse threatens to destroy LA.
As you can see, this book is not sublte or understated. Excess is the word. I doubt it qualifies as literature either, but it is embarrassingly fun to read. And better written than the first....more
"Excess" would make a fine one-word review for this book. A lot of other descriptives apply (sarcastic, snarky, violent, urban fantasy, noir, hard-boi"Excess" would make a fine one-word review for this book. A lot of other descriptives apply (sarcastic, snarky, violent, urban fantasy, noir, hard-boiled and splatter-punk) but excess is really the operative word. There's not subtlety here. Kadrey's gone a long way toward demonstrating that going too far can perhaps be an art form.
Embarrassing as I found it to like this book, I found it to be a literal page turner. It may not be the kind of classic people will still be reading 50 years in the future, but it may evoke a few snorts and chuckles out of you in the here and now when you read it.
That Kadrey can go so overboard and have it be pronounced "good" by so many reviews invites a review of the current state of both horror and thriller fiction. Could it be that we live in an apocalypse of originality when an author like Kadrey has to go so far out to the fringe to find it? And then bring it down so hard? I cannot remember the last time I saw a recent author achieve this level of entertainment value by being understated or subtle. By being so overboard Kadrey might very well be writng for our times....more
Warning: Delving into this one too deeply may lead to REH overload. Here we find that when Howard crosses into Howard all of the peculiarities of hisWarning: Delving into this one too deeply may lead to REH overload. Here we find that when Howard crosses into Howard all of the peculiarities of his writing style are greatly intensified-both all that is good and all that is bad-making the contents of this book almost too intense to read, except in short snippets. I could not stand more than two or three stories in a single sitting.
One thing this collestion makes clear is that Howard's particular style of purple prose is best suited for the genre he created, that peculiar mix of fantasy, adventure and horror that came to be called swords & sorcery. In other settings it a bit much. He's at his best writing of an adventure in some fantasy realm half Arabian Nights, half Lovecraft. At that the man was simply brilliant. Anywhere else his prose is trying to fit ten pounds of content into an eight pound story. It does not fit. (And sometimes is a four letter word that rhymes with fit.) The farther he got from the real world the better he got. Sadly, good horror is too often best when presented in a setting very close to the real world.
I offer the caution that some of these stories reflect social attitudes not acceptable today. The man was a product of his times, and in reading his failings seem to be born more of ignorance than spite. In some was it makes REH all the more fascinating, that such an imagination could have sprung up in an otherwise un-notable small town in Depression era Texas.
Under normal circumstances I am not one to goggle at commemorative editions of novels or stories. For me it is the content that counts the most, not tUnder normal circumstances I am not one to goggle at commemorative editions of novels or stories. For me it is the content that counts the most, not the presentation. But this commemorative edition is just too good not to praise. As a collection of Lovecraft stories in general, commemorative or not, it is very complete. All the essential tales are here, including the Radolph Carter/Dream-Cycle tales, and the often overlooked Herbert West: Reanimator. To any Lovecraft virgin simply looking to find an reasonably complete collection under one cover I recommend this book.
And the presentation is excellent. it has a nice faux-;eather cover, and the famous Gahan Wilson map of Arkham on the endpages. While the paper stock is not up to the standards of a good hardback, it is certainly above average for a paperback. The book is nicely illustrated with pen & drawings. While individual pictures may sport images not directly related to the story they may be found in, they all have a nicely Lovecraftian them to them.
This book would make a fine addition to the restricted section of the Miskatonic University Library....more
I read this stuff because I like it, not because it is good by any of the standards that the literature police or the pc busybodies would apply.
If youI read this stuff because I like it, not because it is good by any of the standards that the literature police or the pc busybodies would apply.
If you would like an opinion on Robert Jordan's Conan books in general see my review of Conan the Destroyer. In fairness to Mr. Jordan, I have never read any of his non-Conan stuff so I am unqualified to opine about his general efforts as a writer....more
This is not the edition I have, which is the first printing from 1984, with a photo on the cover featuring Ah-nold in his fur Fruit of the Looms fromThis is not the edition I have, which is the first printing from 1984, with a photo on the cover featuring Ah-nold in his fur Fruit of the Looms from that dreadful second Conan movie of the same name. Of the same name because this is the book version of the movie, and frankly more entertaining. My edition does not seem to be listed on goodreads.
I'll admit a certain weakness for trashy swords & sorcery may have biased my rating a star or so above what it really deserves. Being something of a Howard purist I could not indulge my weakness to give it more, since this is not a true R. E. Howard Conan novel. It certainly lacks the feel of a Howard story, but unlike some Howard purists I am willing to cut some of the later writers some slack.
Circa 1980 the people who held the Conan intellectual property rights began inviting in authors to write new Conan stories, for reasons I expect were almost purely financial. Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp had been witing new Conan stuff for a few years by then, but Conan Properties opened the doors to admit other writers. The results were mixed. Nobody ever quite captured the true Howard style, and most of their efforts were fairly lame.
Jordan did not capture the Howard style, but at least he had an entertaining if trash style of his own, which made him the best of the post-Howard writers. He avoided the traps of trying to copy Howard or revere Howard to follow his own path instead. His is not the same character, simply one the same name in a similar world, but entertaining enough in his own right. He is less dark but more lusty, and eternally about 17.
This stuff is not literature, and it has no more depth than kiddy pool in your neighbor's back yard. It's lurid male fantasy clothed in no more political correctness than the minimum that popular culture demands. In other words, pure escapism. Which is why I read the stuff.
Content warning: These remarks contain heresy against certain beloved genre icons. They also go on rather longer than a book of this quality really deContent warning: These remarks contain heresy against certain beloved genre icons. They also go on rather longer than a book of this quality really deserves.
Fist of all, on its own qualitative merits this book really earns only about two stars. The plot is predictable, the story deerivative, and the protagonist, Conan, does little in the novel but be there and be Conan. The action goes on about him leaving him little to do. I gave it for stars because of how much I enjopyed what it says about fan written literature. That is what this novel really is, a grand piece of fan lit that says much about why we fans sometimes write the stuff, and why it generally suffers such a low reputation for quality.
Before trashing de Camp and Carter too throughly, I will get down on bended knee and pay them the homage they deserve as the men arguably most repsonsible for rescuing Conan, and by extension the swords & sorcery pulp genre, from the dustbin of literary history. By the 70s Howard and a lot of his contemporaries were all but forgotten, save for a small number of loyal fans. Carter and de Camp were just such fans, and when the 70s saw a Tolkien-driven boom in the adult demand for fantasy, they used that boom to bring R. E. Howard back into print.
Sadly, they also indulged in that classic fan urge to emulate the master, and so wrote a number of their own Conan stories. Unlike most of us fans of a particular author or genre, can rarely bring our efforts before more than a handful of eyes, they were industry insiders able to get their work published. Most of their Howard pastiches suffer from the three biggest flaws of fan lit. Conan the Liberator is merely the most high profile.
The most predictable flaw is that the quality of writing is not up to that of the original master, in this case Howard. Carte is a fine example of how some of us fan writers are simply not as good as we would like to be. The kindest thing I can think to say of his efforts as a writer is that he will be most fondly remembered for is contributions as an editor and anthologist. De Camp, who has written well when not writing Conan, demonstrates that most often those of with talent exhibit it better when we are pursuing original ideas, not when are copying our literary heroes.
A more heinous flaw is that they put the protagonist, Conan, on a heroes pedestal, atop fo which he can do no wrong. This kind of hero admiration is endemic to fan literature, adn it constrains the hero from doing much of anything at all. In the case of Conan it prevents him from displaying any of his moody, darker side as he did so enjoyably when in Howard's hands. There is little more dull than a hero on a pedestal, and this alone is why most fan literature stinks.
Finally, like many fans Carter and de Camp are bound by too many cliches of the day. The late 70s was a time when very nearly every fantasy paperback had a blurb on the cover to the effect "The greatest (insert verbiage here) since Lord of the Rings!" Tolkien-think is evident in how Carter and de Camp handled Howard. They found it desirable to try build Conan's life story into a grand epic by first arranging the original Howard tales along some imagined timeline, and then designed their own stories to fill in the numerous gaps.
This particular novel, a story of how Conan claimed the crown of Aquilonia, is surely a product of this kind of Tolkien-think, which also makes it soemthing Howard, himself, would probably never have written. His methodology was to write stories as they came to him with now thought to chronology, more as random snapshots from this character's chaotic life. I also suspect that if by some chance he had lived to write such a tale, it would have been far shorter, more lurid, and more violent than this rather pale and constrained piece these fan writers produced.
If you want to check out Conan the Liberator in a form that can be finished more quickly it can be had in graphic novel form. Look for The Savage Sword of Conan, volume 6. Or, if you have never read any Conan at all, start with reprints of the original Howard tales, not the stuff by later writers. Ballantine publishes a very nice collection in three volumes....more
Having just encountered "Black Canaan" in another collection (of zombie tales by assorted writers) developed an urge to offer a few thoughts on this cHaving just encountered "Black Canaan" in another collection (of zombie tales by assorted writers) developed an urge to offer a few thoughts on this collection, of which "Black Canaan" is one of the more notable offerings.
A point we fans of Howard fequently have to make allowances for is the time and social milieu he lived in. Howard whas a white male in mid-30s Texas, and the social attitudes inherent to that show in many of his stories, particularly in this collection. I do not think Howard was an overt racist, but he clearly accepted the less enlighened assumptions of his day.
This is actually part of what makes Howard interesting to read, that we get to see an imagination working in a world devoid of our modern notions of political correctness. We see a mind unbounded by the self-restraint of a modern socially conscious writer, and yet one not poisoned by the deliberate hatred of a modern racist. Very interesting if you can tolerate the change from our modern viewpoint.
The theme of this book is Howard tales with a connection to America, or at least the New World. Most are set in the historical past, varying from fantasies to westerns, though there is also a Conan story collected here, "The Black Stranger," which may be better know to some fans in an adulterated form as "The Treasure of Tranicos." This is the Howard original, with the real ending, and ever so much better for it.
That a Conan story may be included in a book of "American" tales may seem odd to a Conan reader, but the inclusion is entirely justifiable on thematic grounds. Those Conan tales in which the Picts appear feature elements taken from classic frontier myth and then inserted into Howard's Hyborean Age. But on those grounds I am inclined to think that "Beyond the Black River" would have been a more appropriate choice of Conan stories, being very nearly something James Fenimore Cooper might have written....more