There are too many things wrong with this book. Despite some original ideas and a few worthy tense moments, it is most of the time laughably bad, andThere are too many things wrong with this book. Despite some original ideas and a few worthy tense moments, it is most of the time laughably bad, and embarrassingly badly written.
The amount of typos and the atrocious grammar was shocking. Someone needs to tell Keene, the copyeditors and publishers that the past tense of "to spit" is "spat" and that you don’t tell a person to "lay" but to "lie" down. Your prose can also benefit by not using the word "again" (or any word, really) again and again three times in a single sentence. With books like there it isn't surprising that western society is inadequately literate. But I digress.
The explanation of what is causing the zombie epidemic is absolutely ridiculous; I won’t spoil it though it’s revealed early on (no suspense here). The zombies are supposed to be intelligent yet act like hyper teenage boys who make absurd decisions that do little in advancing their cause. In fact, an integral aspect of becoming a zombie in Keene's world is to suddenly & intensely hate humanity, & to drop several notches on the IQ pole. (Kind of like some of our modern cults, I suppose.) Moreover, Keene appears uncertain as to the extent of the epidemic. He can’t seem to decide whether insects are infected or not, and changes his mind mid-text, or simply forgets. If you plan to read this book, keep your eyes out for this. Maybe he clears this up in its sequel? I won’t know since I won’t be reading it.
The characters are two-dimensional and Keene’s image of America is a white-washed suburbia where Hispanic and black people can only be preachers, drug dealers or prostitutes. And as mentioned in other reviews here, the dialogue is bad. And I mean effin’ bad, man. Holy mother-effin’ stinkin’ bad like.
Finally, I was troubled by the amount of emphasis on rape in the book. I don’t need the details. Maybe one brief instance to illustrate the morally decayed post-epidemic world, but not again and again. (That was only twice.) It is just inappropriate. I know I’m supposed to be angry with the "bad guys" but the constant exaggerated rape just has me angry at the author.
I can go on but won’t since really there’s no effin' need to...
Perhaps the most notable member of the group of experimental authors practicing the tenets of the NouveFor my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
Perhaps the most notable member of the group of experimental authors practicing the tenets of the Nouveau Roman (New Novel), Alain Robbe-Grillet's first novel is a fascinating, fun and frustrating murder mystery. It deals with a detective by the name of Wallas who is sent to an unnamed town to investigate the murder of Economics Professor Daniel Dupont. The murder is believed to be linked to a series of eight other murders occurring across the country over the past eight days, each at precisely 7:30 P.M. What's different about this particular murder is that there is no body, and moreover, unknown to Wallas but revealed early to the reader, is that Dupont is in fact not dead.
There are many wonderful aspects to this novel. The setting itself is incredibly well designed, and the nameless town becomes a familiar geography. Characters are colourful, at times comical and often pathetic, like the detective Wallas who is cursed with poor phrenological features which he suspects are linked to his constant failings, while he roams the streets almost at a loss as to how to investigate. The premise that his career is to be judged on the merits of whether or not he can solve a murder that never happened is masterful tragic irony. His fate is perfectly summed up by the fact that he regularly pauses in his investigations to search for a pencil eraser that he remembers well but that may not even exist. Erasers are plentiful throughout the novel, from the pencil erasers to more subtle suggestions, such as pervasive forgetfulness, changing or replacing facts and even actual events, along with the conspiracies that these nine murders were part of a series of hits conducted by hit-men, or "erasers."
The novel contains a number of recurring elements, from notions of duality to the idea that everything and everyone is mirrored. Wallas has an uncanny resemblance to the main suspect in this case, and is constantly being mistaken for that other, shadowy individual. People and objects have their twins and their alternates, as do events which are constantly repeating themselves. It is almost as though the novel is only one link from a never-ending cycle. The bar that opens and closes the novel is described as an aquarium, so that all its inhabitants are fish living in a glass bowl, swimming around in eternal circles....more
There is not a single story in the collection I did not like, and there are at least three that really stand out. What I like about Clegg, or at leastThere is not a single story in the collection I did not like, and there are at least three that really stand out. What I like about Clegg, or at least about these stories, is that they are well written, patiently constructed, with a healthy emphasis on characterization. The stories are framed by a narrative in which a woman named Alice and her two sons have kidnapped a boy for ransom. It turns out that this boy is not quite of this world, and has the ability to project nightmares onto his captors. The nightmares he projects are the thirteen stories. While the framing narrative is unnecessary, and not as well constructed as the stories themselves, it is still nonetheless interesting.
There are a number of themes & ideas that appear throughout the work. There is emphasis on religion, relationships and skin. Religion appears in various forms, from misled zealots to avenging angel-monsters. Relationships vary throughout, from unfaithful lovers to masculine prison love, and all forms of familial relations, and its the tightness of some of the relationships that makes the threats in the stories all the more frightening.
Finally, skin makes several appearances throughout. Clegg deals frequently with human skin and the strange worlds that we hide underneath. We have skins acting as trophies, metamorphosing, housing other creatures and even embodying strange worlds. We even receive brief lessons regarding insects and exoskeletons, that, unlike us, have their soft spots safely on the inside. Overall, the skins in these stories generated a better framework than the story of Alice and the kidnapped boy-devil, and I enjoyed Clegg's ideas regarding skin so much that I waited for its appearance in each piece.
For my full-length review of the collection & its individual stories, please visit Casual Debris....more
For my extended review and a parody of the writing, please visit Casual Debris.
Twilight Eyes fails on every level: conception, plot, character, develoFor my extended review and a parody of the writing, please visit Casual Debris.
Twilight Eyes fails on every level: conception, plot, character, development, character development, setting delineation and writing. Even the title is weak: a misplaced 1980s pop tune. The novel focuses on a seventeen year-old boy who has the inexplicable natural ability to see through the disguises of certain "people" and recognize them for what they truly are: porcine creatures bent on exterminating the human race, driven by their predisposed hatred of humankind. The boy, Slim MacKenzie (as he has aliased himself), is on a journey to destroy these evil creatures which he randomly refers to as "goblins." The novel opens with Slim sneaking onto the closed lot of a travelling carnival, which is the setting for the first half of the novel. The second half of the novel is set in a small town that has become a hive for these monsters.
The narrator of his own story, Slim MacKenzie is a seventeen year-old drifter from Oregon, who is athletic, sensitive, morally upright and older than his years, traits that we are constantly being reminded of as though Koontz is trying hard to convince us of their accuracy. But as Slim sees through the goblin mask, I can see through Koontz and am blatantly aware that Slim is instead uninteresting and unbelievable, as flat as his prose and with less charm than the ink that was wasted in printing the text. The narration itself is immediately marred by the fact that the narrator is ageless, seventeen or a hundred and two, leading me to suspect that it is not Slim himself narrating but someone pretending to be him, and I am left with the notion that Koontz has merely immersed himself in what is essentially a juvenile male-driven fantasy.
Throughout my reading I kept wondering about narrator Slim's vantage point and his motive in telling the story. The events occur in 1963, but it is unclear at what stage in his life Slim is currently in and how distanced he has become from the events he is relating. The voice is ageless and remote, trance-like and devoid of personality, not seventeen but neither forty, which is likely what impels Koontz to keep reminding the reader that Slim is only seventeen. Koontz takes it for granted that this is even an issue, but while we don't require actual details of Slim's present circumstances, we do need to be somewhat grounded with narrator and narrative. The story should have been written in the third person. This would have eliminated the need for the grounding that Koontz is unable to deliver, and would have made Slim so much more interesting. I believe Koontz chose to write the story in the first person in order to allow for some dull moralizing that weighs the book down as heavily as a building would sink a rubber dinghy.
With such an elusive narrator we can only guess as to what inspired Slim to tell his story. The reader is expected to believe the narrator's every word; Slim doesn't even attempt to convince us that these goblins are real, and he proceeds with the presumption that we automatically believe him. Moreover, he is not trying to warn us of the danger of these hell-bent goblins, as he tells his story in a fairly casual way, withholding key pieces of information and revealing them at seemingly random points of the narrative. Slim is not even focused on these goblins and their threat to humanity, as he wades in a swamp of unimportant particulars. The emphasis on the most personal details of his sexual relationship with lover Rya Raines leads me to question his sensitive and moral nature, for he ends up coming off as an immature and overly-sexed man-child, bragging about giving Rya two orgasms before he even enters her, gushing embarrassingly over her perfectly rounded breasts, and then describing in odd detail his own orgasms: "through the medium of my sperm I passed my own heartbeat into her, the two now thumping as one." (p. 143) Perhaps this description is supposed to contrast the "spurting" blood of the goblins in the following paragraph, with "its thick warm jets of thick crimson serum," the serum in contrast with the semen, one giving life while the other steals it away (though this fails not only because of awful execution, but because Rya cannot have children and hence the life-giving aspect is moot). I don't believe any contrasts are attempted here; it is all part of a juvenile male fantasy.
Story-wise very little happens. Over the course of 451 pages we are given very little in the way of story and plot, with a rambling narrative that lacks direction. Instead of story we have naïve Christian moralizing and philosophizing (I don't mean that Christian moralizing and philosophizing itself is naïve, just that Koontz's own practice of it is less than insightful). Throughout the narrative Koontz/Slim reminds us that some people are good, while others are bad. Some are so bad that they may as well be evil "goblins," though overall humankind is filled with more good than bad and we should not harm the good because there is some bad in the flock. Destroy bad and maintain good; such is the purpose of life. Koontz tries to add ambiguity by illustrating extreme scenarios of "real" humans who act as though they are goblins, trying to drown us with the notion that the creatures may have a valid point in their desire to destroy humanity.
Furthermore, just like these goblins some "real" humans act friendly but are manifestations of evil and wear their friendliness as a disguise to allow them to perpetrate more acts of evil. These attempts at uniting story with base morality fall flat, as though Koontz was desperate to add some other dimension to the text in order to save it from its inherent uselessness. Amid this mess Koontz repeatedly uses Christian imagery or reference in everything from his similes and metaphors to the moralizing itself. Slim hears a scream that sounds like the voice of God (is it not sinful to assume that a mere man can imagine the voice of God?), and my personal favourite, Slim's statement near the end of Part One that love is the cross on which he was crucified. Each page is seemingly filled with such allusions that the practice is quickly tiring, and eventually more than irritating.
The novel is written with an agonizingly grating stream of repetition. Not only do scenes repeat themselves, but descriptions from death to sex are essentially reformatted every few chapters. We are plagued by constant repetition of how evil these "goblins" are, beaten over the head with overused adjectives such as "evil," "dark," and so forth, and are told over and over when and where Slim and Rya make love, and just how his semen intermingles with Rya's inner self, or some such nonsense.
This repetition is not reserved for descriptions and scenes, but the narrative is approached with a single, lackluster technique. Koontz begins each scene with a statement, either an idea, the introduction of a character or a single event, and he then proceeds to analyze that statement, however mundane. Koontz sticks to this pattern so avidly that I was able to survive the final hundred and fifty pages by reading only the first sentence of each paragraph, while reading in full those few scenes that manage to progress the limited plot. Perhaps aware of the repetitive structure, Koontz breaks off once in a while to gives us a series of brief sentences that are supposed to heighten tension, but that come across as dry and lazy....more
Former horror and current golf author John Coyne wrote The Legacy early in his fiction writing career,For my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
Former horror and current golf author John Coyne wrote The Legacy early in his fiction writing career, and it helped establish him among the ranks of best-selling young American horror authors of the period, such as Peter Straub and Stephen King. While the novel was a best-seller and Coyne did pen some other successful horror books, most notably Hobgoblin (1981), he never reached the heights of Straub or King and his name is not well recognized today. Though regarded generally as a good craftsman who has written horror, literary fiction and a number of non-fiction works, as well as a marketable commodity, it is odd that Coyne did not reach greater heights, nor maintained the height he did achieve. In his introduction to the 1983 anthology The Dodd Mead Gallery of Horror, writer and editor Charles L. Grant honours Coyne by referring to him as "one of the most gifted and literary writers."
The Legacy is a novelization of the 1978 movie of the same title, directed by Richard Marquand (best known for Return of the Jedi) with story and screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. It tells the story of six people invited to Ravenhurst, a remote estate in rural England. They are brought together by the mysterious and wealthy Jason Mountolive, yet while five are familiar with Mountolive and the reason for the gathering, the novel's protagonist, Maggie Walsh, along with her partner Pete Danner, believe they have been recruited from California for an architectural project. The story is a combination of murder mystery along the lines of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, and dark demonic fantasy.
Though it is lacking in some areas, the book is an enjoyable and quick read. The writing is strong and suits the work: it is straightforward and clear, nothing intrusive, simply well constructed prose that allows character, setting and plot to function on their own merits. The characters are recognizable caricatures, but so well delineated that their stock qualities work nicely with the story. The dialogue is strong and the interaction between the diverse members of the gathering worked particularly well. The setting is so clearly rendered that while reading the entire landscape appeared before my mind's eye. There are some grey areas in plotting and resolution, but personally I like my fiction with a little grey. Everything spelled out would eliminate much of the story's required obscurity. Of course many of these elements are likely the result of having to follow the film's screenplay, but regardless are a part of the completed text.
My only real problem with the book is the climax (some spoilers ahead). I did not care for the final showdown with Jacques Grandier. In fact, I did not fully understand it. Grandier was not behind the killings at Mountolive's estate, and I figure he is attacking Maggie and Pete because he believes they are the one's responsible for the recent deaths, and hence believes he is defending himself. Yet there was something odd about Grandier walking the plank of the roof (so to speak) in that I could not imagine him being so lithe and athletic. It does not help that someone who was such a great marksman with bow and arrow cannot shoot a couple of people with a shotgun. Perhaps because the book is so visual yet we are never given a clear image of Grandier on the rooftop that the action appears to be playing out in a kind of fog. ...more
Its excellent premise is what attracted me to Anthony Berkeley's original, innovative and highly entertFor my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
Its excellent premise is what attracted me to Anthony Berkeley's original, innovative and highly entertaining Trial and Error. Mild-mannered Lawrence Butterfield Todhunter learns that due to an aggressive aneurism he doesn't have much time left on this earth. Wanting to commit a great, humanitarian act before he goes, he throws a dinner party and tosses out a hypothetical, which leads nearly everyone to declare that great can be achieved through murder, so long as the victim is deserving of death. Hence Todhunter decides that before his impending doom he must seek out an appropriate victim and commit this terrible act.
There are a number of twists and I won't reveal anything more about the central plot. The novel also boasts great characters, dialogue and attention to detail that is simply riveting. The world Berkeley manages to create is very real, and the geography of the various UK locations are clear; we always know where we are and where the settings lie in relation to one another. Moreover, the novel is filled with a good deal of humour despite its premise and its incessant focus on death. Yet what elevates Trial and Error from a good British mystery to a great novel is its notions of absurdity. Throughout the novel is a pervasive sense that despite the high dramatic aspects of life, both selfish and altruistic actions are governed by nothing more than chance; no matter how we strive for control the idea that we can influence destiny, our own or someone else's, is ridiculous. It is clear that the universe has its plans and the minutest element can thrust and thwart our plans in any seemingly random direction. And in the final scene even these ideas are challenged, as Berkeley twists the entire story into something altogether different.
Trial and Error is additionally a success due to its innocuous protagonist. Lawrence Todhunter is barely a character, a simple man with simple ideas, impressionable and easily influenced, harmless in every dimension of his being. While it initially appears that such a character would undoubtedly fail in maintaining interest in any kind of novel, Todhunter succeeds in growing on the reader, not necessarily through his altruism, but through his determination and particularly because he does indeed transform.
The novel's only weak point is at the early stage of the trial, when Berkeley feels the need to restate details which the reader is already familiar with. This portion of the work suffers a little in its pacing, but once the cross-examination begins, the writing, particularly the dialogue, is so riveting that we nearly forget the slow progress of the previous thirty or so pages....more
(Really 3.5--silly silly ratings system. Please read my full-length review at Casual Debris
What is most effective in the novel as a whole is the idea(Really 3.5--silly silly ratings system. Please read my full-length review at Casual Debris
What is most effective in the novel as a whole is the idea of monsters and monstrosity. We are faced with a legion of candidates pining for the definition of "monster," from a folktale creature to rabid dogs, from "backwards" pineys who drink bathtub gin and neglect their malformed in-bred children to more "civilized" contenders who resent their own offspring. We have a once big city cop who drowns his guilt by blatantly drinking on duty, his partner who is openly unfaithful to his wife, a recently freed convict who threatens his sister-in-law and son for possession of their home, and a lead character who seems to resent her only child. With a cast comprising of characters such as these, and more, we wonder who is the true devil in New Jersey.
(Most devilish, however, are the unfortunate typos in the Leisure edition.)...more
Small town New Hampshire police officer and local well digger Wade Whitehouse is having a crummy week. A crummy week following a crFrom Casual Debris.
Small town New Hampshire police officer and local well digger Wade Whitehouse is having a crummy week. A crummy week following a crummy life. Overall a powerful novel, with some great characters, dialogue and absolutely fine writing.
Then why did it take me three weeks to finish this novel?
Told through the point of view of Wade's youngest brother Rolfe, who has pieced the events together in so horribly an obsessive manner that he can imagine what Wade was eating, thinking and feeling throughout these tragic events. Rolfe's obsession came about as a result of wanting to understand the horrible tragedy that Wade's life had become, and to come to terms with those final hours leading to horrible acts of violence. An ingenuous method and wholly believable, yet what slows down the narrative is the vast amount of detail, often repetitive, that I felt were not only needless, but intrusive.
Reading through these details I found myself skimming, my thoughts drifting off, wondering why the narrator is so desperate to pound certain points across, as well as certain minor details. The more he pounded, the less I was inclined to buy into his theories, as though we were kids in the schoolyard and he wanted so badly for me to believe his incredibly tall tale that to help convince me he was being insistent, nodding his head aggressively and staring at me as though daring me to disbelieve. Yet because I trusted him at the beginning, this insistence was simply annoying, and I wanted to tell him to just go on with bloody story already. How exhausting, to the point that I was longing for the schoolyard bell to ring and quiet the little bugger.
And yet it is a powerful novel with some great moments. I just wonder if there's an abridged version available somewhere......more
A minor anecdote in history, the marathon dances of the 1930s, proves to be an appropriate setting through for examining the indiviFrom Casual Debris.
A minor anecdote in history, the marathon dances of the 1930s, proves to be an appropriate setting through for examining the individual's place in the world. Having worked in such a setting, Horace McCoy makes vivid not only the torturous experiences of the event, but helps to illustrate the desperate reality of suffering during the Great Depression, as people storm to the humiliating dances in order to obtain bed and food, to seek the illusive fame and fortune of Hollywood, or simply to get away from a bleak day-to-day existence. Yet even the era of the Depression is secondary to the individual's inability to make a place for oneself in the absurd world in which we live.
The novel focuses on a passive and naive young man who aspires to become a film director, and a pessimistic and aimless runaway, who are trying to earn jobs as extras in Hollywood productions. Gloria convinces Robert Sylverton to enter a dance marathon starting up on the waterfront, and the unlikely duo join up. The rest of the novel is a fast-paced view of the inner workings of the event as we follow the pair through the various trials, physical and emotional, of the event.
Aside from the vivid portrayal of the reality of the event, author Horace McCoy equates the futile and desperate struggle of the marathon event with the equally futile struggle of daily life. The world is likened to a merry-go-round, and Gloria stresses that there is no purpose in what we choose: where we get on is where we get off. Moreover, a strong connection is made between people and horses. In the marathon people suffer through the ordeal of the derby, where dancers must rush around an oval track, much as merry-go-round horses rotate in an unending circle. People just like horses must work hard and often suffer for their livelihood, and in essence their fate is the same, illustrated with the shooting of Gloria as it is contrasted with the shooting of horses. The life of man and the life of beast are equally irrelevant. Like horses we are forced to perform for a master and when we are no longer useful we are put down. Additional comments are cleverly inserted by McCoy to elevate this comparison, such as Robert's comment "I didn't have a leg to stand on," implying that that when a horse breaks a leg it must be shot dead.
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is an innovative crime novel whose genre is seemingly incidental. The murder element is not the focus of the plot, and the plot is progressed by it only structurally. We know from the start who did it and what he did do; the mystery lies in the why. Though the novel fits the categories of crime fiction and its later descriptor, noir fiction, because its focus on character and situation trumps the criminal element, it stands out. The killing itself is also different: a mercy killing with no gain for the killer; the criminal is sympathetic and driven by sleep deprivation, not villainy. He is essentially an incidental murderer.
On a side note, the movie that Richard hopes to be cast as an extra in is most likely the aptly titled Crime and Punishment. Director Josef von Sternberg is Richard's idol, and the film was released in 1935, a year after the novel's setting....more
Eleven year-old Harry Crane and his little sister Thomasina "Tom" stumble upon the mutilated corpse of a black woman along the SabiFrom Casual Debris.
Eleven year-old Harry Crane and his little sister Thomasina "Tom" stumble upon the mutilated corpse of a black woman along the Sabine River in East Texas, 1933. The boy's farmer father, Jacob Crane, acts as the community's lawman, and through the boy's perspective we are brought into the investigation of brutal slayings amid a racially charged place and time.
Though I picked out the guilty party relatively early on, along with piecing together the mystery of the folkloric Goat Man, I nonetheless enjoyed the book tremendously. Lansdale's novel is elevated from basic mystery by its historical subject matter and, for the most part, the presentation of that subject matter.
There is a vividness to this novel that is important to its period setting, as the sights and scents of place and time come across clear and distinct. At no point did I feel that scenes had been inserted in order to deliver "local colour," as the plot was interwoven with each locale and character that steps onto the page. Nor did the novel feel at any time to be overlong or winded, so that even if Lansdale did include some pages for the sake of backdrop, he succeeded in weaving them into the overarching story-line. Perhaps because the plot is so tightly interwoven with each of the book's individual elements, much else can be forgiven. Despite this I would like to mention two points for thought.
While I enjoyed reading the characters of the novel, they are depicted with little ambiguity. It is suspect that any white person of 1933 would be so clearly one-sided in their estimation of persons of colour, since character is a product of its time, place and culture. I will stress that this issue does not detract from the novel nor did it from my reading the novel; the story precedes its presentation, and the plot is so tight that there is no need to complicate it with additional details. Regardless, those characters that are racist are full-fledged racists, which is believable, whereas those who are not racist are entirely without prejudice, which can be a little challenging. The only middle ground is offered by a minor character (when I locate my copy I will include his name here). A surprisingly sensitive portrait is given to this character whose function in the plot is clear and precise. He is trusted (practically forced) to watch over a black man who is brought in early as a suspect, and though, dim-witted as he is, he does try to do a capable job despite his obvious prejudices, which are enhanced by the fact that his daughter had relations with a man of colour, something if known publicly would be a death-call to the family. These details are not integrated into the plot and no resolution is offered, which is wise; but this detail complicates the hiding of the black man and, though the man entrusted with hiding him appears up front to be a pure racist, there are some touches that imply another side to his outlook on the situation, which I won't discuss here as it would reveal an important turn in the plot. In short, the bulk of the characters are defined with strict boundaries, as though the author were pointing at each one, saying "This one is good, we like her," or "This is a bad dude, we don't like him at all."
The other point I'd like to pause on is the representation of memory and voice. Without dalliance the reader is expected to accept that a dying man in his eighties is able to reconstruct, with an acute grasp of detail, events that occurred seven decades earlier. Collins recalls the minutest of details from conversation to observations, and has the added imaginative touch to describe his surroundings with the most visual of similes, such as the moon coming through the clouds as though it were awakening and peeking out from underneath sheets. Memory is inherently inaccurate and unreliable, and if we are to apply this reality to the narrative, we would be struggling with the idea that Crane is sharing an interpretation of events rather than the facts as he believes them to be. However, if we simply accept him at face value as a trusted narrator, we can immerse ourselves into the story.
The Bottoms received the 2001 Edgar Award for novel of the year (2000). The book is is currently in pre-production for a theatrical release that was originally slated for 2017. The man attached to directing the film was the recently deceased Bill Paxton, from a screenplay by Brent Hanley, who also scripted Bill Paxton's full-length directorial debut, the enormously entertaining Frailty. Sadly we will not see the results of a second collaboration between these two, though likely the project will continue at some point with another director attached....more
The Town is structured through a series of episodes involving a number of characters, though centred mainlyPlease see my full review at Casual Debris.
The Town is structured through a series of episodes involving a number of characters, though centred mainly around Gregory Tomasov and his family. After winning a substantial Los Angeles lottery and as a consequence feeling idle and inconsequential, Tomasov moves his family (wife, three children and practicing Molokan mother) to his childhood home town of McGuane, Arizona. We soon learn that their new home, along with the entire town, is over-run with "uninvited" spirits. The episodic structure does not suit this novel well, as the episodes are often not directly connected to the central idea, and many scenes do little in enhancing or revealing the mystery around the strange occurrences. The novel does have a clear direction yet it has little in the way of plot, and this awkward, clunky format leaves the work wholly uneven.
Some scenes are certainly tense, and we find ourselves climbing up a slope toward its climactic peak, while others are seemingly pointless or just plain silly, tossing a roadblock ahead of us and stunting that upward climb. In maintaining its good moments and excising the silly, The Town could have been a decent novella. There is a nice chapter involving a boy who takes a picture of the evil banya, quickly developing the film to reveal the empty and run-down bathhouse filled with the wrinkled forms of some elderly ghosts. Another good moment has Tomasov's wife volunteering at the local library, happily chatting it up with the other volunteers until she learns that are each hopelessly paranoid, believing that the government is concealing the truth about a meteor that is hurtling toward the earth and a doom-filled collision. This tense and surprising moment is shortly followed by a scene depicting a Molokan priest being attacked by his bible. I could not help but laugh and think of Bruce Campbell and the fluttering book in Army of Darkness; though silly, Campbell's escapades are at the least entertaining. Unfortunately the strange photographs of the banya and the conspiracy theorists at the library never reappear, so that these moments have little to do with anything, making me wonder why I was led to read them.
Bentley Little seems to have had a fairly general and abstract idea, and rather than unite the small parts into a solid an cohesive whole, he simply fills 276 pages with as many creepy (or silly) scenes that fail to help ground the work. Just because something is supernatural does not mean it should not be governed by some form of logic.
[This paragraph contains some minor spoilers.] The strange events are never clearly explained and ideas are tossed about randomly, most often never followed up, characters disappear (such as the handyman Odd), so that it all becomes meaningless. Characters receive revelations "suddenly" rather than through any form of deductive process. This haphazard conceptualizing makes for a poor mystery and is not terribly fair to the reader; mysteries should be a collaboration between author and reader, with the reader being involved and taking part in the investigation. Town characters themselves do little active investigating despite the odd occurrences which I suppose makes sense since by the final page we realize there really isn't anything within these pages to investigate.
Despite these Major flaws the novel is strangely not terrible, and this is a mystery I have spent some minutes investigating. The characterization, including relationships, general interaction and internal thought processes, is quite good. There is here an unevenness as well, as some characters are inexplicably shoved to the background (not just in Odd disappearing but Tomasov's daughter Sasha is forgotten over much of the novel's middle while her two siblings are given a large amount of attention). There are some nice surprises near the end and the writing itself is not terrible: it is straightforward, lacking in a distinct style but making for a speedy read. There is some clunkiness but that is provided by the publisher and their unusual number of typos (unusually high for a Signet paperback). The Town is the second novel by Little that I have read, and clearly The Store is a far superior work. Frankly, The Town is a novel I would not recommend....more
The first novel in English to have been published from a native of Papua New Guinea is Vincent Eri's The Crocodile. Set before andFrom Casual Debris.
The first novel in English to have been published from a native of Papua New Guinea is Vincent Eri's The Crocodile. Set before and during the World War II New Guinea campaign which saw the invasion of the nation by Japanese forces, the novel centres primarily on a young man, Hoiri, and his growing awareness of the colonial world in which he lives. Though Hoiri is the main character of the work, the story focuses primarily on the broad effects of Australia's occupation, and on the co-existing world views of traditional Papuan culture and Christianity within a small community.
The novel is structured in an episodic format; there is no linear plot, and the reader witnesses an evolving society through the major events in Hoiri's life. This is important since the purpose of the novel is to illustrate how a traditional culture has been affected by the modern rationalism of the west. Though the locals have adopted financial economics, there is still a good deal exchanged through trade; while Christianity's tenets are tossed about in common conversation, the belief and fear of traditional spirits nonetheless drives people's actions. The pairings of the old and new systems are so interwoven that the world Eri describes both fascinates us and makes us uncomfortable as our own western ways are being indirectly challenged. The disturbing aspect is that as Hoiri and his society age, and as they experience a war brought to them by the occupying west, it becomes clear that the original customs are, rather than intermingling with the new, being replaced by them.
While the novel is certainly educational and fascinating, it is, as a novel, highly flawed. The episodic format does not allow for strong character development, and most of the players are flat and underdeveloped. Leaps in time are sudden and awkward, and though we are following Hoiri on his life adventure, we learn many important details, such as his interest and engagement to the woman Mitori, almost in passing. There is no notion of point of view since we are inexplicably brought into the thoughts of secondary and even tertiary characters, and dialogue is used often as an expository tool, coming across as unnatural.
Despite these obvious flaws, the purpose of The Crocodile is achieved, and our sympathies for Hoiri extend to the entire Papuan populace. It is the notion of the crocodile and its dichotomy that directs most of the novel. The indigenous population respects and fears the crocodile. The creature is described as a powerful predator that nabs its victims and, before devouring them, displays their bodies as they are clenched helplessly between its teeth. Mirroring the crocodile are the white Australian officials who, in their own predatory fashion, manipulate the locals to support them in their own war. Caught between the predators of their natural habitat and those of the external ruling forces, the natives of Papua New Guinea have little choice but to adopt this new way of life, yet nonetheless remain instinctively bound to the old....more
The Unborn is a standard suspense/horror novel, lacking in suspense and devoid of horror. At times it readsReview originally posted at Casual Debris.
The Unborn is a standard suspense/horror novel, lacking in suspense and devoid of horror. At times it reads like a trite medical romance, though I mostly enjoyed its elements of technological parody. Unintentional, of course.
The plot deals with a pregnant woman taking part in a medical sleep study, during which the foetus begins to communicate with the medical centre's super computer. An interesting, far-fetched idea.
Author David Shobin is himself an obstetrician and gynaecologist still practicing in New York (as of the writing this articles publication, June 2010). The Unborn, his first novel, utilizes a fair amount of medical knowledge to narrate its story. While Shobin's knowledge certainly adds to the somewhat thin plot and does help to ground the far-fetched premise, I kept wondering how a sleep-study researcher knew so much about obstetrics, including obscure bits of information related to pregnancy and gynaecology. Is the smart, dashing and sensitive hero of the novel the author in disguise? Or perhaps, while the foetus was communicating with the super-computer, the doctor was in tune with the narrator; a more frightening prospect and a neat idea for a future Shobin novel.
The unusual premise and medical slant help to save an otherwise bland novel. The writing, characters and plot are weak, and though it is a fast read, a third of the 301 pages could easily have been shaved off. Shobin spends far too much time in the first eighty pages delineating these all-too-familiar characters. Samantha ("Sam"), the pregnant woman and Jon, her sleep-study doctor, are both highly intelligent, exceptionally good-looking and hyper understanding of each other. If not convinced of these qualities, rest assured that the author will not hesitate in reminding his readers just how intelligent and good looking these two are. The two fall in love, which is evidently what good-looking people do, and unfortunately they must prove their love again and again at the expense of the reader.
The good doctor has an older, maternal assistant who helps him professionally and socially, and cares about Sam as much as he does. The minor characters, and there are very few, are stock and impossible to tell apart. The computer, sadly, does not act as a character, but as a machine. Shobin had the opportunity to create a creepy menace but avoids it altogether, though at times Sam's foetus does come across in a nice, eerie light.
The writing is weak, but I suppose passable for a doctor trying to write his first novel. The sex is laughable and Shobin seems quite taken by Sam's breasts, though I suppose the attention he lavishes on them might be an attempt at enhancing the focus on maternity. Dialogue is paint-by-numbers and plot is almost non-existent while scenes are quite repetitive. The reader knows well in advance what is happening, so there is no suspense for us (though in abundance for the doctor and his assistant) until about page 200 or so. What kept me reading was wanting to know what will the foetus turn out to be? Freak, innocent child or Damien? I give Shobin credit for not overdoing this in the course of the read, since some authors might find it tempting to fill reams of pages wondering what freakish being resides in the pregnant woman's abdomen to the point that the reader will get fed up and no longer care. I will peculate that Dr. Shobin, during his career, has developed a sensitive view of women in their pregnancy, and I applaud his sensitive approach to what could easily have been a juvenile speculation. Hence little time is spent on such musings, with the occasional mutter from Sam, so that the reader's own imagination can wander at will.
The Unborn was published in 1981, and social and gender roles come across awkward and self-conscious, with the good doctor clearly acknowledging that abortion is the woman's choice. Shobin wanted to make his doctor the well-rounded yet perfect modern male, who is sickened when he feels used by sex and all-understanding of women's lib. Modern at the time perhaps, but a little contrived and comical today.
Moreover, the computers are clunky machines of the past. I mention above that Shobin missed an opportunity in creating a menacing, life-like computer, but in reality this machine may have appeared more frightening in the dark ages of the early '80s. It is indeed 1981, and these massive data banks and "minicomputers" are hilarious. Have a look at Shobin's description of the precursor to the home computer:...more
The publication is quite diverse in content (featuring interviews and reviews) and in the style of itsPlease see my in-depth review at Casual Debris.
The publication is quite diverse in content (featuring interviews and reviews) and in the style of its fiction. The overall fiction seems to prefer some element of fantasy, and all but two stories function on the basis of a strong fantastical element. Despite this continuity in (sub)genre the editors chose well and present a wide range of story type and writing style, with stories ranging from competitive stuffed animals to zombie love, paranoia and baseball. There is only one truly weak entry but also a stand-out story worthy of a future reprint. Overall the selections are above average, and I commend the editors for making the inaugural issue of the bi-annual publication something worth picking up. I've since ordered issue #2....more
For my full-length review and reviews on the individual stories, please visit Casual Debris. My rating is 7/10... had a hard time translating to 3/5 orFor my full-length review and reviews on the individual stories, please visit Casual Debris. My rating is 7/10... had a hard time translating to 3/5 or 4/5.
Amid its varied approach, the stories in Blood and Water offer tales narrated by both men and women, as well as by other more unusual narrators, such as a boot and a fly. Stories take place in England, India and the US, from Manhattan and Greenwich Village to the Louisiana bayou. We have tales about houses, family histories, vengeance, psychological breakdowns and the post apocalyptic, with the prominent undercurrent of sexual repression and perversion. Consistent throughout is McGrath's elegantly verbose and controlled prose. The writing throughout each of the thirteen stories is a pleasure to read.
While the stories in this collection do include some clear horror tales, they encompass aspects of the darker parts of our inner selves rather than of an exterior threat. Whatever horrors the characters encounter, they are inflicted not by outward malevolent forces, but as a result of human malevolence. Our dark subconscious, our repressed desires and our inability to recognize truths about ourselves and those around us, or to simply deal with them appropriately, are factors lying in abundance here. These stories are unconventional, and many don't have a clear, linear plot, but are presented more as character sketches, people confronted or dealing with unusual circumstances. Most of the stories borrow elements of classic literature, both of classic supernatural tales as well as elements of Victorian and Edwardian prose, Gothic and otherwise.
McGrath is very much a stylist. His prose is flawless, smooth and literate. His sentences are so well constructed that often I read them aloud in order to better appreciate them. The stories also embody elements beyond simple story-telling, as McGrath imbues many of his tales with serious thematic elements. Often he will open a story with a kind of discussion on a topic, such as colonialism in "The Dark Hand of the Raj" and the humourous considerations on priesthood in "Ambrose Syme." He is not being didactic or preachy in any respect, but rather playful.
There is not a bad story in this collection, but a few do suffer in that the plot aspect is lacking in a tale that should be more story than sketch....more
The novel tells the overlapping narratives of a hit-man known as "The Butcher's Boy" who gets caught amid tensions of the organized crime assortment,The novel tells the overlapping narratives of a hit-man known as "The Butcher's Boy" who gets caught amid tensions of the organized crime assortment, and an intelligent and hard-working Justice Department crime analyst on her first field assignment. The Butcher's Boy is a good read, both tense and interesting. The tension is generated by a smart, nameless hit-man trying to outrun the criminals determined to find and kill him. The interesting bits come from the fact that the various judicial parties of the United States are improperly organized, work poorly together amid professional diplomacies and lack of straightforward communication, and essentially foil an investigation that our young analyst, Elizabeth Waring, works so hard to piece together. The two separate narratives work well side by side with only a few plodding moments in an otherwise well-paced thriller. I bought the plot except for one all-too convenient encounter near the end.
The problems with the novel are more social than technical. For one thing, having been written in the archaic heyday of those dark ages known as the 1980s (yes kids, the 80s are not a myth that your parents have made up just to freak you out; they really did happen). Characters spend far too much time looking for telephones, waiting to be transferred and placing messages that even a semi-Luddite such as I is now considering getting a cell phone. There is even a scene when Waring asks where the police keep their computers, as though the entire precinct shares two. Earlier novels get away with their own ancient forms of technology, but reading something fairly modern, written shortly before the computer craze, feels somehow odd. Of course I don't blame Perry or the novel for this, but rather I blame the world that we have created.
Strange things are occurring around the Moorish community of Dunstonholme, odd events proving fatal toPlease see my extended review at Casual Debris.
Strange things are occurring around the Moorish community of Dunstonholme, odd events proving fatal to the simple townsfolk. When the local priest is found dead Dr. Tom Allen and adventurer Moldon Mott begin to investigate the events, and uncover an unlikely cause to the recent bouts of insanity.
Children of the Night is presented as a cozy mystery, upholding many traditional elements of suspense, along with its stock characters (though well drawn), simple tensions and bits of humour. Despite strong mystery elements, it revolves around a distinct supernatural element. Moreover, the book is more violent, with a greater body count than cozy mysteries are normally prone to, and the looming threat has not just a community affected, but potentially the entire world. The combination of elements work well overall, and we are not suddenly surprised by the supernatural since (other than those fantastical covers) it is made clear right off the bat that we are dealing with a supernatural and sinister mystery. Though there is nothing terribly shocking about the reveal, it is certainly interesting, and if you think about it seriously, beyond the scope of fantasy, quite disturbing....more
"The Locket" is the second novella in John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles. It is weaker than it's fairly average predecessor, "The DoFrom Casual Debris.
"The Locket" is the second novella in John Saul's Blackstone Chronicles. It is weaker than it's fairly average predecessor, "The Doll," but the broader story is made more interesting as characters peripheral to the main plot are further developed, generating expectations for their own stories in later chapters of the series. In addition, the focus on the peripherals helps crystallize the community and develop readers' interest in the over-arching tale.
We saw in the first part of the Blackstone Chronicles that a doll stashed away at the local derelict asylum was reclaimed by a mysterious figure and planted at the home of the McGuires in an act of unspecified vengeance. The goal was to destroy family harmony, which was successfully achieved. In the second part a locket is obtained from the same closed off stores of the asylum by the same mysterious figure, and delivered to another happy home, that of banker Jules Hartwick and family. Clutching this locket leads Jules to develop an outwardly aggressive persecution complex, which escalates in a straight line until the expected climax.
Saul makes sure to set up his victim as an all-around likable rich guy. The family members, parents and one grown-up daughter, Celeste, love each other undeniably. Daughter is about to marry a super cool dude who works at dad's bank and daddy dotes on him. They are good, community-oriented bankers who do good for their fellow townsfolk and, despite being top dog, daddy wishes good morning to all them common folk, like the tellers and what-not. He never even asks his female secretary to get him coffee! A true modern male role model. (Arguably, Saul could have created a female manager and a male secretary, but perhaps that was too modern for the bygone days of 1997. Alas, despite the date of publication and setting, the community presented in the series is an old fashioned one that hearkens back to Bedford Falls.) The streak of good people we have so mat in Blackstone is unevenly balanced by the few (I count two so far) "bad" characters, both dissatisfied middle-aged women who lack a man in their lives. Character depth is certainly not something this series boasts.
The fall of good people is tied to heritage, as we learn there are familial ties between the asylum of the past, where treatment of patients was less than ideal, to the happy families of today. What we do not yet know is the source of the vengeance, who is conspiring against the good folk of Blackstone, and from where doth ye olde magic manifest itself from. We also know that the local journalist has a supernatural connection with the asylum's past, and receives visions and headaches whenever something is up. As his pa was once curator or director or some such at the asylum, we can suspect that he will likely uncover the plot of vengeance that is a-brewing, using his reporter skills and advice from the kindly uncle. Uncle aside, he has no family so perhaps will not be the object of an asylum trinket, or perhaps kindly uncle will meet an awful demise in Book Six.
Overarching story aside, the plot of locket is a straightforward tale of paranoia. It escalates in a straight line, without twist or any deviation whatsoever, and the trigger is the locket that its victim Jules clutches. At least with "The Doll" there was a tie-in with the object, while the locket is incidental; might as well have been a crown or a ring or a hot dog. Without the greater story riding astride this plot, as a piece of fiction it would be unnecessary and un-publishable....more
Norman Bogner's 1978 novel Snowman is essentially an adventure story with some elements of horror. The Himalayan Yeti has made its way to the Sierra m Norman Bogner's 1978 novel Snowman is essentially an adventure story with some elements of horror. The Himalayan Yeti has made its way to the Sierra mountains in California, where he has transformed a brand new ski resort into a self-service snack bar. The snacks decide to rebel, but afraid of turning away potential visitors (i.e. re-stocking the snack bar), the head cheese decides to hire some mercenaries, led by Daniel Bradford and his Sherpa guide, leftovers of the legendary snowman dinner of 1966.
I enjoyed the first six chapters, totalling seventy-four pages of blood and amoral behaviour. When the local ski queen is torn to pieces, her remains left as evidence that she is only the appetizer, small town newspaper mogul Jim Ashby manipulates resort managers and the town sheriff to buy some time and locate former great Daniel Bradford. Our '66 survivor is now an outcast, since popular belief is that the nineteen victims of his tragic expedition to the Lhotse mountain face were disposed of not by the legendary Yeti, but by Bradford's own cowardice. Now Bradford wants revenge, and as soon as Ashby locates him on an Indian reservation somewhere deep in a dusty desert, I quickly lose interest in the entire adventure, and can hope only that the snowman has a healthy appetite.
At first I thought this was because I found Bradford comical, with his pop mysticism complete with peyote-popping and a bearded Yaqui buddy. Yet why should I lose interest over this? Why not instead hope that our famished snow creature uses him as a toothpick? I realized only after finishing the novel that what bothered me more than the badly conceived character was the extreme switch in setting. Bogner managed to get me all cocooned up in the icy mountains of Sierra, boarded in with the colourful resort staff he described at length, only to remove me from that grip and toss me into its complete antithesis: an open, sweltering desert landscape. When I was plopped back into the snow, I just didn't care for it anymore. Gone was the coziness; gone the icy excitement of silliness to come; gone was my interest.
Yet like our wintry hikers I trudged on, only to groan at the ludicrous page-and-a-half love story between Bradford and resort Public Relations officer Cathy Parker. The entire scene was an afterthought, possibly forced onto Bogner by his publishers ("We need a love story here, Normy. What we need is SEX!"). All of a sudden the penetrating cold is again heated up by the penetratingly bad writing and awkward breast fondling. There really isn't any heat here: the sex is dull and brief, yet long enough (pun intended) to inform the curious reader that rugged and manly Bradford is a tender lover, leaving us to wonder what genre we have unknowingly been tricked into reading.
[Tiny spoiler.] Cathy disappears through much of the novel, as do the colourful characters we meet at the still-entertaining beginning. Why should we be made to read about Erich, the German instructor who was hired despite a bad record because the company believed he might give the resort a European flavour? This is a good detail, but we never see the guy again. Additional afterthoughts are the sudden re-introduction of Ashby in the final chapter; he disappears throughout much of the latter novel, only to re-appear briefly in the final pages wallowing in guilt. This is an inappropriate comeuppance for the character: he needs to have been eaten up. Indeed, he should have been a fitting dessert!
Aside from early-Ashby there are no interesting characters. The mercenaries are stock: the white Vietnam war veteran; the black dude; the tall long-haired American-Indian; the Sherpa guide; the white American loner dude. Cathy Parker, who I initially believed would be the novel's hero, keeps changing personality page-to-page. And the snowman, with his heat-ray vision and animal call mimicry, is not too threatening. There is an early Kodiak-killing scene that is quite good, but I think since some portions of the novel are told through the monster's point of view, it does not appear as threatening to the reader as it does to the characters, who knows less of the creature than we do. And it doesn't help when you're cheering for the beast.
[Some more spoilers.] I am baffled as to why Bradford selected these men in particular for the snowman hunt. They are not terribly resourceful. The Indian is afraid of heights, the black guy won't step inside the cave, while the traumatized war vet rants on and on about being a peon in the war, and they are all actively argumentative. Even their limited talents cannot be utilized on the mountain: the explosives expert, for instance, can't bring along any explosives since it would cause an avalanche. Then why recruit the guy! Each freaks out at some point, and they all get killed. In fact, Bradford doesn't even inform his gang that the snowman can expertly mimic any living animal, so that one guy gets called away because he thinks he can hear someone, only to become a late-night bite. Moreover, Bradford doesn't seem to care about these guys; rather than call in the government he wants to bring these men up against the twenty-five foot monster because he wants vengeance. Yet revenge for what we do not know: the death of nineteen members of his team or the fact that he has since had to live in exile on an Indian reservation, discredited and humiliated? It is unclear what is driving this man, and labelling his drive in terms of "revenge" is too simplistic a way out. Captain Ahab he is not. He isn't even Captain Crunch.
When I was a kid in the mid-to-late 1980s my parents were among the last in the neighbourhood, perhapsPlease read my complete review at Casual Debris.
When I was a kid in the mid-to-late 1980s my parents were among the last in the neighbourhood, perhaps even the western hemisphere, to purchase that bulky hunk of metal known as a video cassette recorder. Popularly known at the time as a VCR, it was a piece of medieval technology that could both record and play back movies using a cheap, slim strip of plastic encased in a large rectangular hard plastic casing (known as a cassette). Oddly, at times appropriately, the hard casing was worth more than the flimsy strip that contained the data. This massive cassette slipped inside that box of metal, often getting stuck, which in turn was hooked to your television set--not that sleek and slim apparatus in your living room, bedroom, washroom, etc., but that massive 100-inch frame that held your sixteen-inch monitor and needed at least six people to help cart away to the nearest garbage heap when, with a startling puff of smoke, one of the glass tubes blew up.
(Most of you are probably laughing at my wild fantasy, but this was reality back in those dark ages.)
One evening before supper my mom ushered me out of the house to pick up a movie. My brother didn't want to come and the pressure to find a good film gripped me during that ten-minute walk to our video rental store. (Yes, this was a dark era when to watch a movie at home you had to first leave the house.) I dreaded the chore, knowing that if I picked a bad film my mom, being a film lover, and my brother, being an older brother, would never let me hear the end of it. Days it seemed I searched those shelves of videocassette boxes for something we all would enjoy, until my eye was caught by a photo of Charles Bronson covered in western garb hanging from a train overlooking a ravine. That film was (obviously) Breakheart Pass, a film scripted by the novel's author, Alistair MacLean.
Fans of MacLean consider Breakheart Pass to be among the oddest of his novels, and it flopped on its initial release. A later MacLean work, it focuses as usual primarily on action and plot, but is his first novel set in the American West. It deals with a motley crew of white gun-runners, US Army soldiers and Paiute Indians, rather than his normal array of spies, soldiers and other evildoers. I have little opinion on all this since I haven't read any of MacLean's work prior to this one. Wanting to have a go at popular authors I've been ignoring, MacLean came to mind, and it's my memory of the film that peaked my interest in the novel. Though it's been twenty-plus years, I recall quite a bit about the movie, and I enjoyed it at the time, which is a lot more than I can say about the novel.
Breakheart Pass is a quick adventure, and despite a fairly decent premise, a wide range of colourful characters, plenty of mystery and a train (there's just something about a good story/movie set on a train), it all ends up derailing. Yes, even the train. The problems are many, but really what killed it for me was MacLean's unfair treatment of information and the all-too uninteresting tough-guy hero John Deakin.
Information appears to be revealed at the most convenient of times. Hero Deakin knows so much more than the reader, and smiles knowingly not only at the bad guys and the token woman who hates/is hot for him, but he seems to also be grinning at us. (Hey reader, he seems to be saying, this is gonna be cool.) Perhaps this mess is the result of an attempt to make us feel as though we too are on that chaotic train, but it's most likely the consequence of rushed writing and laziness. The novel is written so haphazardly and with such unbelievable lines as "She gave him a look as cold as ice," that I doubt MacLean spent too much time in the composition, or perhaps this quick straightforward and unimaginative style was his bid for the contract to write the screenplay, which was eventually offered to him.
As for Deakin he is a man of few words, but his few words are so vacuous and expected that it would have been better had he been mute. He comes across as abrasive and unpleasant, and the film producers lucked out in nabbing the abrasive yet far more charming tough guy Bronson to take on the role. On paper Deakin is too clever both for the plot and the reader, concocting not too exciting methods of escaping the train and dealing with the evildoers, methods he keeps to himself and, well, keeps to everyone but the reader, saying things like "I've got a plan" fittingly at the end of the chapter, allowing the author to jump to another scene at the opening of the next chapter and leaving us in the dark. And what Deakin comes up with usually consists of blowing something up.
The opening was a little slow but half-way through I was quite into it, soon losing interest and speeding through the rest so quickly that I had to pause and wait for the train to catch up with me before I could go on. Finally I was done, and had to face that final pitiful exchange between Deakin and Marica.
Sadly I'm left to wonder if re-watching the movie would kill that twenty-something year memory of a "good" film....more
In 1985 Academy Chicago Publishers released a four-volume series of books featuring rarely re-printed novellas by popular mystery wFrom Casual Debris.
In 1985 Academy Chicago Publishers released a four-volume series of books featuring rarely re-printed novellas by popular mystery writers. The books were divided into four mystery sub-genres and included four novellas apiece. The volume titles and themes were: Women Sleuths, Police Procedurals, Locked Room Puzzles and Great British Detectives. The series featured sixteen stories by sixteen different authors, with no writer appearing more than once. Though labeled as novellas some were actually longer short stories, or novelettes. Many of the stories saw little print, which is not surprising as it has always been difficult to publish and re-print stories of such awkward length. The series itself was later reprinted, in 1991, as a boxed set by The Readers' Digest Association.
Volume two in the series is well balanced in that it features two strong stories and two average ones, two real novellas and two novelettes, and though each work follows police procedure, the stories themselves are diverse within the sub-genre. The better works are the first two: McBain's "The Empty Hours" and Westlake's "The Sound of Murder." While the Simenon and Pentecost stories are not bad, they are not memorable and, with so many stories out there, questionable in their re-print worthiness.
McBain's "The Empty Hours" is a cold, distant telling of the murder of a young woman who, despite her modest situation, lived in an expensive apartment with expensive things. The mystery expands and reveals itself very much through official procedure, and culminates in a tragic denouement. Westlake's story is similar in that it too is genuinely tragic, but while McBain's tragedy is brought on by the gritty reality of the urban landscape (specifically New York City), Westlake's tragedy in "The Sound of Murder" is internalized and the petty needs of humanity are reflected in a neurotic and sensitive middle-aged detective.
Georges Simenon's novelette "Storm in the Channel" is a far lighter story than the first two. It involves a recently retired Jules Maigret on holiday with his wife, stranded in a rooming house during a rainstorm, where one of the employees gets murdered. Though there are procedural elements in the investigation, much of the focus is on humour so that it reads more like a cozy than what a reader might expect a procedural to be; paired down to its investigative elements and removing the lightness could have led the story toward its own dramatic tragedy, but instead the death and motivation feel almost incidental. Similarly Hugh Pentecost's "Murder in the Dark" is an uneven story that reads like a fusion between different sub-genres, with the procedural aspect being not among its most notable. In an interesting change the detective is relegated to observer as a secondary player, an initial suspect, abducts the narrative and investigates in a clumsy, inefficient way. Add a love story and other tidbits from assassins to the locked room ("where in the hotel are those diamonds?") and the mish-mashing is complete. The story's greatest achievement is in the confessional written out by our protagonist, and the details in diamond-smuggling, appraisal and retailing that I found fascinating.
With the exception of Pentecost's piece, the investigators themselves play an important part in the story itself. The gritty down-to-earth qualities of McBain's detectives are very much a part of the dark New York landscape. Westlake's detective is a self-questioning and neurotic late middle-aged man whose awareness of his own mortality makes the reader aware of general human mortality, and his self-concern is in striking contrast with the waste in which human life is eventually equated to. Finally, Simenon's detective is more comical and unaffected by the tragedy of the victim in his story, and to me this unfortunately diminishes the characters themselves. In Pentecost the characters are more pastiche, and the detective is a bit player who stands grinning in the background.
Though overall the anthology is somewhat above average, it is certainly an interesting overview of the procedural, at least for the twenty-five years leading up to 1962. I'm certain there are other, more comprehensive anthologies out there dealing with police procedurals, though perhaps not devoted on the longer short form. ...more
I received a copy of the Anchor Books edition from the publisher through a Goodreads giveaway, and am offering up this review in return.
Jennifer McMahon's The Night Sister is a construct of two prime elements: plot and character. The two are entirely intertwined; just as character relies on plot for its development, characterization is also limited as a result of plot requirements. This produces unevenness as some characters are required only for certain specific aspects of the plot, and remain flat throughout many sections. Regardless of these shortcomings, the novel is a highly enjoyable dramatic suspense story.
The novel opens with the apparent murder-suicide of Amy Slater and her family, with the exception of her daughter Lou, who is found hiding on the roof. A former friend of the killer's, Piper, returns to London, Vermont, to grieve and to help take care of her emotional pregnant younger sister Margot. Finding herself back in the town of her youth, Piper becomes involved in the mystery of the killings and uncovering secrets surrounding Amy's family.
The novel is split into three distinct time periods: the present, a summer in 1989 when Amy, Piper and Margot were young teens, and 1959-1961, focusing on Amy's mother Rose when she was teen. The timelines are clearly indicated (a little too clearly), and though each period revolves around a central mystery, each section has a distinct story-line, which is an achievement. The present is somewhat less interesting than the two pasts and takes up less of the novel (excluding the framing sequences). In the present plot moves slowly as Piper, and on occasion Margot's cop husband Jason, pursue the mystery in brief spurts as each event leads us back to one of the two pasts. Moreover, characterization in the present is limited, as even Piper focuses mostly on her youth and youthful obsession with Amy, while Jason is stock and Margot is present and pregnant only to intensify the eventual climax.
Characterization is strongest in 1989, where we focus primarily on the charismatic, impatient and unlikable Amy, mostly from Piper's point of view. As the girls interact in their corrosive relationship, they stumble on some fragments of Amy's family's past. Amy lives in the motel that her grandfather owned, the Tower Motel, named after the tower he had built for his British wife. Being also the central time period, 1989 is the link between present and the distant past, where the actual mystery begins to unfold. We learn in the 1959-1961 sections that Amy's mother Rose was jealous of sister Suzie, and moreover believed her to be a mare, a changeling able to take on animal form. Rose would follow her sister out to the tower late at night where she would be sneaking around, and hence giving us the novel's title.
The ending is expected but there is nonetheless mystery along the way, as McMahon for the most parts builds upon suspense. The pacing is effective, generating momentum from complication to the climax. The final sequence I found lacking, but this is a symptom of the genre and not poor construct on the author's part. A requirement for the thriller, in book and particularly film, is that after the final reveal there is some kind of action, which rarely plays up to the rest of the work.
Setting also plays key a role. The bulk of the novel is set at the motel and its accompanying tower, with limited time spent in other town spots. Like other elements, setting is important in relation to plot, since the movement of characters and their locations at specific points of the story are defined by the plot....more
My hiatus on reading periodicals/fiction journals came to a halt over the holidays when I picked up a then unread issue of one of my favourite antholoMy hiatus on reading periodicals/fiction journals came to a halt over the holidays when I picked up a then unread issue of one of my favourite anthology publications, The Fiction Desk. Their ninth publication proved to be yet another solid read; one of their stronger issues, in my opinion. It contains nine short stories encompassing The Fiction Desk's usual variety of the serious, the fantastic, the comic and the near tragic.
The best story award, as voted by its contributors, went to the story I too would have voted for, Adam Blampied's "The Cobble Boys." Other notables (or more notable notables since there was not a single weak story in the issue) are Mark Newman's "Before There Were Houses, This Was All Fields," and Louis Rakovich's "Jonathan."
Set in bustling 1977 Calcutta, Song of Kali is the story of a sentimental American poet who travFor my full-length review, please visit Casual Debris.
Set in bustling 1977 Calcutta, Song of Kali is the story of a sentimental American poet who travels with Indian wife Amrita and newborn child Victoria on a commission to locate a manuscript. Evidently the celebrated Calcuttan poet M. Das has resurfaced eight years after having disappeared without a trace, and has produced a new poetic saga about the goddess Kali.
It's difficult to discuss Song of Kali thoroughly without spoiling it, so I will touch upon some of the more impressive aspects of the novel without over-elaborating. The novel pits the notion that violence equates power against the abstract sentimental view that amid all crises there exists an element of hope. Simmons sets this battle amid the chaos of Calcutta, where idealistic poet Robert Luzcak struggles against the reality of ever present and pervading violence. Far from his serene and rural Massachusetts, he quickly rejects the world of Calcutta, wandering its streets and listening to its tales with disbelief. Yet Calcutta, like the goddess Kali that the city is named after, manages nonetheless to be seductive, and his return home is continually delayed as he becomes enmeshed in a conspiratorial plot involving a missing poet and the mysterious Cult of Kali. Luzcak's ideology of hope is particularly challenged when his infant daughter is endangered.
The novel succeeds not because it is a good story (which it most certainly is), or because it is well written (which it most certainly is) but because the story is well fused with Simmons's ideas. Though the struggle between the ideology of hope and the notion that violence equates power is not subtle, it doesn't need to be, allowing the reader to grasp the point quickly and focus on the plot, the disturbing sequences and the wonder that is Calcutta (and India in general). The novel weaves through Calcutta as it weaves through plot, constantly shifting and hence never growing dull. A hunt for a manuscript encompasses tales of body snatching, kidnappings and cult practices...more
Discontented advertising clerk Ben Bennell finds himself in an alternate reality after purchasinFor my full-length review, please visit Casual Debris.
Discontented advertising clerk Ben Bennell finds himself in an alternate reality after purchasing a newspaper using a Woodrow Wilson dime. Unhappy with his work and his wife, in this new reality he finds himself married to an old flame and riding high in a great advertising career. Though there is nothing deep or challenging about The Woodrow Wilson Dime, the novel is a great read, genuinely funny and highly entertaining, and with Finney's many scripted stories, I am surprised this one hasn't yet made it to mainstream cinema as a romantic comedy.
Though often referred to as science fiction, The Woodrow Wilson Dime is more appropriately fantasy. The fantastical element is made up of time travel and an alternate New York, yet the time travel method to this alternate landscape is pure fantasy with no allusions to science whatsoever. Bennell stumbles upon the portal uniting the two realities by using a coin from the other world to purchase a paper in this one, and logically the way back is the same, by substituting the Wilson dime with one from his own New York. The alternate New York is almost identical to our narrator's New York but with gaps in technology, such as the absence of motor bikes and zippers, along with gaps in culture, such as the music of Cole Porter. The alternate world is on a different course from our own, with different former presidents occupying the face sides of coins (though we know Wilson was president in both universes), and people pursuing different steams and obtaining different levels of success.
The main flaw in the novel, if we were to look at through a serious lens (as opposed to its clearly playful approach, only partially interested in the finer points of the co-existing realities), is what happens to Ben Bennell Two when Ben Bennell One enters his world? When Ben I enters World II, his counterpart is nowhere to be seen, and the logical assumption is that Ben II transfers over to World I whenever Ben I enters World II. This is evinced by the fact that we learn Ben I's relationship with Hetty progressed while he was away. Further deductive assumptions would lead us to believe that no matter where Ben II is at the moment Ben I transits into his world, he in turn is tele-ported to the other, so that the Bens can never co-exist in the same reality. And yet there is no concern for this Ben II and his plight from successful ad executive to measly ad clerk. No suspicions from Hetty who must've been freaked out by a Ben II claiming not to belong to this world, appearing at her doorstep wondering who she is, likely having discovered Ben I's address as Ben I discovered his. Moreover, Ben I does not even consider the implications of flip-flopping between realities, likely sending Ben II into a crazed whirl, driving him to all levels of madness.
The novel is a pleasure because of its original ideas, the zany concepts Bennell devises, the constant scheming to not only win his wife back, but in obtaining capital. The novel is fresh, energetic and charmingly silly, and though the characters are two-dimensional as they would be in most romantic comedies, the writing is genuinely funny.
Based on Finney's short story "The Coin Collector," originally published as "The Other Wife" in The Saturday Evening Post, 30 January 1960. The novel was first published in 1968, and was updated for the 1987 omnibus volume, Three By Finney. The updating was done (sadly) in an attempt to make it more accessible to contemporary 1987 readers, which becomes completely absurd since our narrator from 1968 references the likes of Cindy Lauper and quotes prices astronomical to the late sixties, where a newspaper is still worth a dime. If you can, hunt down a copy of the original, and you'll have that great cover, the images on which make sense once you've read the text....more
Insomnia is a lesser-known, little read and mostly neglected Stephen King novel. And for good reason. The novel is a plodding, generally uninteresting and often silly, over-sentimental fantasy. I often like a slow, plodding tale, but this one is padded with details that do little to serve the whole of the novel and nothing to build suspense.
We are served up tension with the idea that our senior citizen heroes, Ralph Roberts and Lois Chasse, must save the world (or at least the Derry Civic Centre) within a matter of hours! (This urgency after a few hundred pages.) Pressed for time, at their wits' end, our swift heroes quickly decide to take a lovely meandering stroll through Derry toward their destination while thoughts are leisurely focused on their new abilities, like floating and becoming semi-visible, and their local haunts, like the neighbouring park where old friends play chess and argue about social matters which are related in so much detail that we forget what our purpose is and all tension is sucked dry.
Characters abound by the thousands, and many are needless, barely mentioned, while some are arbitrarily done away with. One seemingly major character (I will avoid a direct spoiler here) is done away almost as an aside fairly early on, in such a way that I'm left with the impression the author just didn't know what to do with him and couldn't be bothered to re-write the first few hundred pages. Maybe he was also too bored with the work to invest in a re-read. (King has, since the book's publication, claimed not to have plotted the novel, and has also stated that a novel that is not properly plotted ends up lacking. Insomnia is in need not only of proper plotting, but some severe editing.)
The lengthy conversations between characters and the genuinely uninteresting reflections of protagonist Ralph Roberts are among the easily expendable portions, and a pared down version of Insomnia might actually have been an above average read. There are some interesting elements that could have contributed to a half-decent novel, such as the idea that the elaborate emphasis on abortion is merely a ploy for something entirely different, and though his prose falters with alarming frequency, King manages nonetheless to create a mostly vivid geography.
Speaking of abortion... For my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
The inaugural issue of Prole is a good, varied and quick read. The first half of the fiction secFor my full-length review, please visit Casual Debris.
The inaugural issue of Prole is a good, varied and quick read. The first half of the fiction section is considerably stronger than the second half, with the better stories being the reprint of Matt Denison' "Flower as Big as the Sky" an original "Clocks without Hands" by Stephen Ross. ...more
Despite being a great novel, I was slightly disappointed with John Fowles's The Collector. The novel teFor my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
Despite being a great novel, I was slightly disappointed with John Fowles's The Collector. The novel tells the story of social outcast butterfly collector Frederick Clegg who, after having come into a considerable sum of money, kidnaps young art student Miranda and keeps her captive in his basement. The first part of the book is told through Clegg's point of view, while the second is told through Miranda's, with a brief return to Clegg at the end.
The novel is great in its treatment of character and how it plays with the readers' sympathies. Clegg is an unusual kidnapper as he does nothing to hurt Miranda, but rather fawns over her, tolerates her every mood and does his best to please her, though with the exception of giving her her freedom. Despite being clearly disturbed and doing something terribly wrong, he is not "evil" the way in which we imagine kidnappers to be. During his narrative we grow to like Miranda, who is a spunky and intelligent twenty year-old. I was rooting for her to get the best of Clegg in their little game of outwitting each other, or rather of Miranda trying to outwit Clegg's obsessively careful game of warden. I found the first part fascinating because, though I was rooting for Miranda, it was all told through Clegg's point of view.
Jarring is the point of view shift half-way through, yet it is meant to be jarring (like this sentence). Now we are reading Miranda's journal, and our impression of her soon changes drastically. She is an unbelievably arrogant woman who thinks highly of herself and looks down without hesitation on others, including Clegg. Like Clegg she too is the collector of the title, as she collects and examines and catalogues the people around her. Of course there is no physical collecting on her part, though she has learned to keep herself captive amid her arrogant and narrow world view; there's no pinning of wings and keeping anything under glass, yet her sharp mind and sense of self allows her to pin people metaphorically, and examine them through the glass of her eyes. While I was still rooting for her to escape since Clegg's crime is greater and more accessible, she was no longer the spunky Miranda that we meet through Clegg's point of view.
My disappointment in the novel is fairly basic. I was so involved with Clegg's point of view that the switch to Miranda was not overly welcome. While I did get into Miranda's story, it lumbered on and became a little repetitive. Fowles makes his arguments clear and there was no need to have so many lengthy spiels in her diary, or so many scenes devoted to Miranda's playboy mentor G.P. Once I'd finished the novel, however, I found myself liking it more than when I was reading these sequences, at times wanting them to end quickly. With The Collector Fowles has given us a fascinating read incorporating two characters that are simultaneously likeable and despicable, and a finish which, though a little predictable for our time, is nonetheless quite disturbing....more
The Vanishing Corpse is highly entertaining. It's short, straightforwardly written and manages to sFor my detailed review, please visit Casual Debris.
The Vanishing Corpse is highly entertaining. It's short, straightforwardly written and manages to sustain a good mystery. In brief, the case involves the death of John Braun, the founder of a health centre who is found dead in a locked room. His throat was cut yet there is no weapon around and no way to access the room other than through the locked door. It is a genuine locked-room mystery. Before becoming a corpse, John Braun discovered that he was dying of cancer, and cut everyone but his wife from his will. Moreover, he gave instructions to close down his lucrative health resort, upsetting his various business partners. Before the actual murder, when Inspector Queen is considering taking up the case of the estranged and missing Braun daughter, Ellery Queen wanders in looking for a good plot for his next novel. Pursuing a lead in locating Barbara Braun, he encounters love interest Nikki Porter, friend of Barbara's. Nikki doesn't remain just a friend, since soon after Braun;s death she is upgraded to primary murder suspect.
The screenplay for the film was written by Eric Taylor, so he should receive much of the credit, even if just for the dialogue. The story was evidently conceived by Dannay and Lee, the prose transposed by a ghostwriter, yet the dialogue belongs to Taylor, who had a busy two decades as a screenwriter until his unfortunately early death. While the comedy does slow the pacing of the mystery, particularly in the early portion of the novella, the bantering is quite good, particularly between Ellery Queen and Nikki Porter. There are comedic gags as well, such as the burnt steak, but though familiar nonetheless well rendered on paper. With Nikki we have another 1940s gal who is less than an ideal housewife, not necessarily marriage material for that reason alone, but is nonetheless good looking despite being also a bad fiction writer. Yet while she can't cook she is neat and organized, so I guess we can't sway too far from 1941 social norms, and when we do it's supposed to be funny, which it often is. Kudos to Taylor for keeping it funny for seventy years later.
The mystery itself is quite good, and though I figured out the murderer's identity early on, most elements of the crime evaded me, such as how the weapon went missing, which really I should have figured out. For a locked room mystery it's clever enough as well as believable....more
Over the past couple of years my standard response to most literary journals is that while the overall quality of the writing is quite good, only twoOver the past couple of years my standard response to most literary journals is that while the overall quality of the writing is quite good, only two stories (commonly the first two) are really worth reading. The problem is not only in the stories themselves, but in that there is usually a tiring sameness to the stories collected in any given journal, so that a story that might be more appealing amid a wider ranging collection, can never gain any form of autonomy amid its kin. Imagine painting a blue tree on a blue wall: the shades might be different but the overall effect is not terribly distinct. This particular issue of Prairie Fire is an exception to the trend, and while the first two stories were clearly the strongest of the bunch, others proved more enjoyable than I'd anticipated.
There are similarities between some of the stories: two feature decapitations, two have young narrators, two have doctors, two have chickens... Truth be told there is more diversity in content than is usual, and this was refreshing. I have many partially-completed journals, both literary & genre, lying about my study & bedroom, so that completing any one feels like a rare accomplishment. Sure there were the standard thematic elements, but the idea is to produce common ideas (for what ideas are truly original?) in less than common form of expression, whether an interesting story-line, creative structure, good humour or interesting characters. This issue was a breeze to read; there was only one story I didn't care for and couldn't finish in a single sitting.
The three stories of note are David Bergen's Excellent "Søren and Regine," "Mazing Grace" by Michael Van Rooy, and the brief piece of fiction "Shelterbelt" by Amber Hayward.