The Old Dogs in question are Dora and Letty, two sisters and retired hookers who still turn tricks, though the tricks nowadays aren't fornication but swindle. When we first meet them they're posing as Italian aristocrats, selling phony ownership-certificates in thoroughbred horses to Glasgow’s upper-crust. Age hasn't slowed them down by a long shot: they’re two clever, randy and hip canines. Letty even sports Ramones and Kings of Leon T-shirts. They’d make great dinner guests, although you’d be wise to lock up your valuables and your sons.
The ancient bitches soon turn eyes on two other Old Dogs: a couple of golden Shih Tzu statuettes on loan to a local museum. Unfortunately for the crafty whores, others also have sights on the precious pooches: the museum’s former curator, on a jihad against her smarmy, job-stealing ex-lover; an earnest, guileless Buddhist neophyte; a lumpen-prole Laurel and Hardy duo; Dora and Letty's slimy-as-an-eel chauffeur; and the most charming, erudite sociopath you’d ever want to meet. I want to be Victor Stanislav when I grow up.
Unlike a lot of writers, Moore doesn't rely on a single strength. Old Dogs’s layered, arabesque plot twists and turns but never induces migraines. Honestly, I think Moore penned screwball comedies in another life. That or wrote strips for Viz. And like all screenwriters worth their salt, she’s adept at jump cuts, telling details, and snappy dialogue. Speaking which, I can’t pass up the chance to quote some of my favorite passages:
"I haven’t used any elbow grease since I stopped giving shandies to all those tight bastards who didn’t want to pay for a full shag."
"I need a Barry White. "No fucking way, Raymie. You’ll need to hold it in. "I cannae, Dunc. I’m touching cloth."
"Sheehan... watched Scotland’s rich and famous swarm around his new employers like bluebottles around diamond-encrusted shite."
And like the best of movies, Old Dogs offers a total world. It’s a travel guide to a violent, chaotic and cynical Glasgow. But Moore cuts the darkness with dollops of slapstick humor and even a little hope. Think of a dark-chocolate cake with an orange-cream filing. I can only hope that some enterprising film-director will put Old Dogs up on the silver screen, and at the very least, you’ll do yourself a favor and read this terrific book....more
What is terrorism? Is it the use of violence, particularly against civilians, to effectuate political change? If that’s the case, why should we limitWhat is terrorism? Is it the use of violence, particularly against civilians, to effectuate political change? If that’s the case, why should we limit our definition to lethal aggression practiced by relatively small groups like Al Qaeda and the IRA? Governments constantly unleash deadly force upon innocents: just ask the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or former inmates of Auschwitz and Dachau.
Australian film-reviewer Robert Cettl raises this and other vital points in the introduction to his “Terrorism in American Cinema: An Analytical Filmography, 1960-2008.” It never occurred to me there was a terrorism genre, but Cettl with tremendous care limns its development. It has roots in the spy genre, although the form came to maturity in the 1970s with the rise of the PLO hijackings and such films as “Black Sunday.”
Like magicians and filmmakers, terrorists conjure spectacles that both fascinate us. More than Hitchcock or James Bond villains, they parallel movie monsters: as with Dracula, Freddy Kruger, and Jason, they impregnate our minds with inexorable nightmares. As Cettl writes of terrorism beginning the 1970s,
"In the targeting of these non-combatants and the deliberate courting of media exposure, the new and refined definition of terrorism soon became of paramount importance in cinema to distinguish it from previous Cold War agendas."
Unlike the war movie, which by its nature allows audiences to divorce themselves from the carnage, the terrorist film depicts an assault upon civilians. The audience can’t help but empathize with the victims, and as with the horror movie, experience their pain.
And like the horror movies, terrorist films make morally curious bargains with audiences. Whether they admit it or not, viewers attend terrorist films not just for the depiction of right avenging evil, but also to witness evil wielding bloody violence. The catharsis is amoral. Just as a zombie movie must include the undead masticating on the flesh of the living, a terrorist film must depict the death of innocents.
As with the war and horror genres, the terrorist film until recently was often marked by painfully stark delineations of good and evil.
“The good patriarch, very often a father figure as much as a loner, has the essential duty to restore the functioning of proper patriarchal order—i.e., of the American way of life. That is held to be a sacrosanct epitome of freedom so that the right to individual self-determination and the American way of life are symbiotic ideals. In this way, the terrorist is considered the universal but pathological enemy of freedom, enigmatic and threatening beyond justification or even explanation in either political-ideological or humanist terms.”
Despite their often knuckleheaded, jingoistic worldviews, terrorist movies “could almost be considered miniature morality plays. They explored what happens when such an essential human right as self-determination is violated.” And yet the conversation is often not between the terrorists and the power they oppose, but between different elements of the West. “[I:]f hostages are killed, it is solely the fault of the negotiating (or non-negotiating) party rather than the responsibility of the terrorists themselves.”
Cettl points out that immediately following 9/11 there was a dearth of terrorist films. As with the Vietnam War, it was only after some time had passed that Hollywood’s cameras were ready to focus on the subject. Unsurprisingly, the Bush administration embraced the Manichean mindset of earlier terrorist films: “Either you’re with us or against us.” In time, Cettl writes, this position in both politics and cinema gave way to more nuanced and sensitive perspectives. Starting in 2007 came a new breed of films that critiqued the War of Terror, such as “Rendition” and “Redacted,” or emphasized religious tolerance like “Traitor.” Only a year later came the election of Barack Obama.
As with a survey of any genre, many of the films documented by Cettl in his filmography are mere schlock. However, “Terrorism” does include some great films such as “Network,” “Fight Club,” and the overlooked masterpiece “Burn!” Nevertheless, the genre has yet to give birth to its “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Apocalypse Now” or “Chinatown”: a masterpiece that both follows its genre’s conventions and redefines them.
“Terrorism” is an excellent contribution to film studies. It identifies, documents, and analyses a genre ignored by most, yet vitally important in understanding the American imagination.
Of Jim Thompson’s novella “This World, Then the Fireworks,” Max Allan Collins remarked “reading it will be for some rather like drinking a can of frozOf Jim Thompson’s novella “This World, Then the Fireworks,” Max Allan Collins remarked “reading it will be for some rather like drinking a can of frozen orange juice without adding the water.” That’s exactly how I feel about “The Bastardizer” by Bill Thunder. I don’t mean that either as praise or criticism. It’s just a fact.
Just the facts, ma’am. Well, nearly the just the facts. Facts plus mind-blowing violence, negativity, and misanthropy. Sounds like most hardboiled detective novels, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. It’s what black metal is to Led Zeppelin: far more destructive but comparatively limited in scope and palette.
Who is Bill Thunder? He’s “the Bastardizer” in question. According to a promotional interview, Thunder is a British private investigator who decided to put some of his experiences, mixed surely with fiction, into a novel. How much is truth and how much is fantasy is hard to say, although unless I’ve been living in another dimension, the book’s conclusion must be the product of a warped imagination. (I hope so.)
In some ways the novel is a parody of the hardboiled genre: a wife turns to a gruff, tough detective to find her rich husband. But the subtle shades of color, mood, and sympathy we expect from a Chandler or MacDonald aren’t here. There’s no time for it.
“[A]nd so I just nodded and grunted occasionally while scribbling notes as fast as I could. I needed all of this info. It might not all be relevant, but you never know what you’re going to need to know or when. I might have a good memory, but I’m not a Dictaphone. Notes are essential. Good note-taking skills are essential. I’ve had years of practice and am a good note-taker.”
Is it me, or does that paragraph suggest someone who’s crazy? Why would anyone, least of all an investigator, justify and brag about his or her note-taking skills? That’s just one of the many hints of madness that litter “The Bastardizer.” After reading a highly revealing and emotional email from the husband he’s seeking (one Michael Jackson, no less) to an unknown woman, Thunder merely speculates that Jackson might’ve been “having affair and a something of a breakdown to boot.”
With few exceptions, it’s details, not people or ideas, that fascinate Thunder.
“I was itching to get the hell out of there, and not just because of the heat—an insufferable 29 C—or the caffeine which had sent my BP soaring from its standard ‘borderline’ status of 140/90 to 160/100 which stat on the cusp between mild stage one and moderate stage two hypertension.”
“It was a pleasant if hot afternoon: 27 C, 3mph south-westerly breeze, humidity 90%, a high, almost of the scale, pollen count.”
To me, Thunder’s nearly machinelike character is the novel’s most disturbing element. The blood and dustups are secondary.
“The Bastardizer” ends with a gory assault on literature’s and private investigation’s latest rival: the Internet. “You want sanguinary kicks?” I can hear Thunder yell. “Well, I got some real stomach-turning stuff here, stuff you ain’t going find on no Website.” And he’s right. The pen is crueler than the Webcam.
Students of contemporary British culture will enjoy the novel’s caustic asides on students, hen parties, and gastro-pubs. “The Bastardizer” is recommended readers who like their tales short and violent, and their heroes as brutal as their villains. ...more
Why do we review books from other publishers? Because we like to, that's why! There are a lot of good books out there, and we think you should know abWhy do we review books from other publishers? Because we like to, that's why! There are a lot of good books out there, and we think you should know about them.
The Ghost of Neil Diamond is the best novel I've read in years. I've not experienced fiction like it since "Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky.
Novelists can succeed at their craft four ways: storytelling, architecture, painting, and poetry. You almost certainly know what I mean by "storytelling." Great storytelling is exactly that: the ability to convey a tale that holds the reader's interest. It can be a story of high-school angst or interstellar war. Regardless, the writer spins a yarn that keeps your attention, one that you're glad you made the time to read.
Architecture refers to novel's intricacy, staging, and development. "War and Peace," a novel I don't like, is impressive in its sheer breadth, the swath of time, space, and people it covers. While the grandeur of its architecture is undeniable, its storytelling is abysmal. It's a hideously boring book. A novel doesn't have to be epic in scale to exhibit fine architecture. While a book might cover a single day spent alone in a protagonist's life, through its exploration of the character's actions, memories, and psyche it could be as vast as "The Odyssey."
A novelist can paint portraits, scenes, and images so striking that it doesn't matter whether the novel's story and architecture are weak. Jim Thompson's "The Grifters" and "The Getaway" are like that. As a stories go, they're not terribly interesting, but Thompson wields his pen-brush with such artistry that it doesn't occur to you until later that the plots were pretty threadbare.
Poetry and painting are closely related, but not the same. "Painting" for a novelist is the creation of singular, beautiful, or shocking people, places, or events through words. The word choice itself doesn't have to be remarkable. With simple, unassuming brushstrokes, the writer can limn memorable language-paintings. Charles Bukowski was like that.
It's very rare to find writers who can imbue their prose with poetry. And by poetry I don't mean sonnets and the like. I mean language that conveys that which can only be communicated through words. Plenty can be told through multiple media: books into plays into movies into comics into musicals… Poetry is different. It expresses experiences—layered, ephemeral moments—that are language's sole domain.
A few rare novels excel in all four categories. The Ghosts of Neil Diamond, like "Suite Francaise," is one such book.
Honestly, I had a good feeling about Ghost right from its opening:
"Amen to all sorrows.
"With a few splashes of cold water Neil washed away his sins. He watched them slip down the plughole, one by wretched one. The wrongdoings and the wrong turns, the bad debts and the bad memories sank beyond the U-bend, and his soul lay empty and prepared. A whiff reached him from the urinals, the stale reminder of the catalogue of men who had fallen short just this point—the last call, the swan song. Well, forget them, he decided. They had their lives and this is mine. He lifted his aching head to the mirror. This time. Maybe this time."
As Sinatra once said, "If you don't like that, you don't like ice cream." It's as simple a scene as one could imagine: a man washing his face in a public lavatory. But the painting (the meticulous details, the imagery) coupled with the poetry (character's inner dialogue and the artistry by which it's expressed) is exquisite.
"So what's it about?" you ask. One the one hand, it's "a dark comedy," as its promotional bookmarks advertise. And an ingenious one at that. Set roughly ten years ago, it chronicles (figurative) death and rebirth of Neil Atherton, a middle-aged English folk musician. Well, more like former folk musician. Atherton has spent most of his life touring the folk circuit, "the shabby pub rooms, the British Legion Clubs, cellar bars, back rooms, church halls," struggling, waiting, plying and honing his art, waiting for the folk's revival. But sadly, unlike rockabilly, big band, and ska, there's been no folk revival. Folk died years ago, is still dead, and almost certainly will remain dead. (Now, to all you hipsters who are about to write angry emails about how there's a vibrant folk scene in your town, chill. I'm sure there are some swell singer-songwriters warbling in basements near and far. But unlike the hip-hoppers, their music ain't paying their bills. Day-jobs at the office, the library, and the department store are.) Neil's wife, Angel, in a last-ditch effort to escape destitution, takes up a lucrative job selling shipping space in Hong Kong, dragging Atherton along.
In Hong Kong Atherton transforms from anti-establishment, gypsy troubadour to a kept man. The thing is, Mrs. Atherton isn't so keen to keep her man. She's taken to Hong Kong's restlessness, ruthless meritocracy, and itches to trade Atherton in for a newer, sleeker model. Jobless and purposeless, Atherton keeps his self-esteem on life-support by singing karaoke, much to unsympathetic wifey's disgust.
One night, a local shady businessman, Elbert Chan, catches Atherton performing "Reason to Believe" as Neil Diamond. Chan, sensing a hot-property ripe for the plucking, gives Neil his business card. "If you want to fix up some dates, some bookings," he offers, "just call or stop by… I think you're terrific. Terrific. I really do. Any time. Open door. Perhaps I can be of service."
(Minor point: I can find no mention of Neil Diamond performing "Reason to Believe" under its Wikipedia page or that of its composer, Tim Hardin. What does that mean? Any number of things. Maybe Diamond did cover it. Wikipedia is far from infallible. Maybe the author made a mistake; certainly not an important one. Perhaps this is an instance of a novelist rewiring reality ever-so slightly to fit better his novel's architecture.)
What's Atherton's reaction to such a promising overturn? Disinterest, of course. But Angel (now that's interesting name choice) pushes him to take up Chan's offer. ("Losers can't be choosers, Neil.") And thus begins Atherton's initiation into Neil Diamond's world, or more accurately, the world of Neil Diamond impersonation. Initiation to a literal cult of personality. Suffice to say nothing is as it seems, or as Atherton hopes.
Chan becomes Atherton's second wife. The relationship isn't intimate or loving, yet it's very sexual in that it's driven by lust: specifically, lust for recognition and money. (Neil Diamond.) Like a shrewd shrew, Chan alternately encourages and belittles Atherton, ignores and lavishes attention, knocks him down only to build him up again.
"Ghost," though quite original, follows the noir trope of the basically innocent man suddenly swept into a strange and corrupt world. Although there's no gangsters or violence, the underworld pulsates just below story's surface (forgive the pun).
I could reveal more of the novel's masterful architecture, but that would be unfair to you. If a family tells you they're making a pilgrimage to visit a beautiful cathedral, you don't show them photographs of its interior. No, let the church's stained glass, carvings, and sheer vastness astonish them. And at the risk of sounding effusive, you should make a pilgrimage to "The Ghost of Neil Diamond." It's that superb.
"Ghost" is about a lot more than one man's venture into show-business's fringes. It tackles authenticity versus imitation, generations of duplication, identity, art versus commerce, representation, and transformation. (Andy Warhol would've loved this book.) It's not for nothing that "Ghost" is set in the Far East, where factories churn out products originally made in the West. The output's quality varies from shoddy knockoffs to substantial improvements:
"A beautiful Chinese girl came on, dressed in a silvery sixties slip that was little more than a nightdress… She delivered a flawless Downtown. Petula Clark had to stay on the opposite screen the whole song. But Petula Clark was ignored, irrelevant. She'd been upstaged. Against her beautiful Chinese impersonator, Clark—in her mid-thirties, in dowdy black and white, 1965, couldn't compete. Not even with her one and only British hit. There was a discipline about this girl's performance that was unsettling to Neil… It was like watching a mirror image to Clark, except that she was so much prettier and sexier and more exotic."
Oh, and if that's not enough, "The Ghost of Neil Diamond" is also about culture clashes; performing; music; ambition; success; failure; desperation; home and homeless; music; sex; desire; flatulence…
"When he looked down, everywhere he looked, the thighs were trapped under the overflowing buttocks of European, Australian and American men, in their Thai silk suits or linen chinos… And trapped deep and tight between those overflowing buttocks were arseholes that had farted and shat on long haul flights to and from every capital in the world. Arseholes that had shat in Hyatts all around Asia, broken wind in conference rooms scented with rosewater, in Macau and Shenzen and Guangzhou."
That's a hysterically funny passage, but it's also an example of Ghost's poignant—yes, I said poignant—poetry.
If you can't see the lyricism in farting—although, hey, passing gas is as much a part of life as work, eating, and sex—savor this passage from late in the novel, when Atherton and Chan have a business breakfast at a swank hotel's cafe. Atherton contemplates the restaurant's stunning vista:
"Now, sipping his second glass of coffee, Neil came to understand what gave the view its power. It wasn't just the beautiful panorama itself, with all its gliding reflections and deceptions. It was the silence of the scene beyond the glass. The silence underscored it all, as it were. The wash in the harbor was heavy from the weight of traffic—the ferries, barges, crane barges and liners—yet they all went by without a sound, not a hundred yards away. In the closeness of the sea traffic to the massive glass walls there was a danger, a recklessness, but it was suppressed, silenced, there was not a word about that. The risk had been taken and forgotten, had sunk to the bottom of the sea."
Like the hotel, Atherton seizes Hong Kong's spirit of risk and takes a gamble, perhaps the first real one he's ever wagered. Does he win? That's for you to find out. But "Ghost" itself takes a gamble—a story about an English folkie in Hong Kong impersonating Neil Diamond? Really?—and it pays off brilliantly.
Can I find any faults in Ghost? A few, but again, like Sinatra said, too few to mention. I would've liked a blurb about David Milnes: who he is, his past, and how come he writes Goddamn good.
A great package! I knew nothing about Robert Bloch when I picked up this book at the library. I selected it largely because of my experiences with othA great package! I knew nothing about Robert Bloch when I picked up this book at the library. I selected it largely because of my experiences with other Hard Case titles. Bloch was the author of "Psycho" and the youngest within H. P. Lovecraft’s circle.