3 Entertainment Titles to Digest This Thanksgiving Weekend

artofhorrorWithout question, the ideal gift book for genre film enthusiasts this holiday season is THE ART OF HORROR: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, a beautiful book depicting ugly things. Edited by Stephen Jones, the full-color hardback from Applause Theatre & Cinema Books presents thousands of images from several centuries past to about a year or so ago, all neatly organized among 10 themed chapters (Halloween, aliens, ghosts, etc.) with accompanying text by an expert in that field. (For example, David J. Skal tackles vampires; S.T. Joshi handles H.P. Lovecraft.) It will surprise that no one that film posters and pulp magazines figure heavily in the mix of monsters and madmen, as do comics and original art, but Jones curates deeper to showcase 3-D sculptures, rare collectibles and even stained glass! Within the chapters, spreads are devoted to more specific studies, from spiders, Cthulhu and Jack the Ripper to Italian zombie movies, various book covers for Bram Stoker’s DRACULA and the Halloween postcards of John O. Winsch circa 1910. Opulent in its scope and sporting a fright-friendly foreword by Neil Gaiman, THE ART OF HORROR is that rare kind of coffee-table book: the kind its target readers actually want to read. You’ll get lost in it for hours, and love every minute, making it a more-than-worthy investment.

top100sitcomsLike art, what is funny is all in the eye of the beholder. I get that. But with THE TOP 100 AMERICAN SITUATION COMEDIES, Mitchell E. Shapiro and Tom Jicha set themselves up for a good ribbing, even by subtitling their book AN OBJECTIVE RANKING, because at the bottom of their list stands FAMILY MATTERS. I mean, if only 101 sitcoms existed, I might see Urkel earning the grade, but as is, it makes the cut, while the likes of PARKS AND RECREATION, IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW and, heck, even THE BRADY BUNCH do not. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is on the list, yet considered inferior to COACH, NIGHT COURT and — gag FULL HOUSE. All over the Internet as blog posts, these kinds of lists — wholly subjective, yet presented as definitive — are silly, and even sillier expanded to nearly 300 pages. Devoting a full essay to each of their selections, however, Shapiro and Jicha prove themselves fine writers who make their arguments concisely and credibly — just not always convincingly. Prepare to be further enraged by the appendix, which presents rankings all the way to No. 377.

canadianhorrorBooks on American horror movies are dime-a-dozen. Not so with our friends to our north, so I welcome any book on Canada’s counterpart. Enter the University of Toronto Press’ THE CANADIAN HORROR FILM: TERROR OF THE SOUL, edited by Gina Freitag and André Loiselle. As Andrea Subissati puts it in her piece on 2008’s PONTYPOOL, “There are uniquely Canadian stories to tell, and … they are stories worth telling.” With 14 essays from almost as many authors, the collection touches on topics of gender, belonging, national anxiety and the environment, while also discussing and dissecting films both little-known (DEATH WEEKEND, RITUALS) and higher-profile (ORCA: THE KILLER WHALE, GINGER SNAPS). You may learn more about the Great White North’s tax-shelter system and the history of animation house Nelvana than you ever dreamt possible (if at all), but that’s the point in a text leaning heavily academic. While the book does a terrific job of proving that the country’s contributions to cinematic terror don’t begin and end with David Cronenberg, the pieces on his work from William Beard and James Burrell prove the strongest. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

Marilyn K / The House Next Door

MARILYNkLike many of the authors appearing under the Stark House Noir Classics banner, Lionel White was once a frequent contributor to the paperback originals rack back in the 1950s and 60s, and has sadly drifted out of print since his last novel was published in 1976 and his death in 1985. Film fans and cinema students might recognize his name as the source of Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING in 1956 (based on White’s novel, CLEAN BREAK), and Quentin Tarantino has often credited White’s work as the inspiration of his breakthrough film, RESERVOIR DOGS.

This, along with the undeniable and enduring quality of White’s work, makes this twofer reissue noteworthy to all crime fiction fans. We get a taste of the kind of failed caper stories White was best known for in THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR, while MARILYN K presents a different but equally masterful kind of White tale.

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Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations

atlascursedOlivier Le Carrer’s ATLAS OF CURSED PLACES is many things — travel writing, folklore, true crime, history, map porn — all wrapped up in a rather splendid package. Consider one box checked on your holiday gift list — two if you buy one for yourself.

Published by Black Dog, the beautiful hardcover singles out 40 of the world’s most notorious places, a scant few of which make ideal vacation destinations. Organized roughly by continents, each spot is spotlighted by an essay with accompanying full-color map. On each map is a starburst icon to mark, quite ominously, where Shit Went Down.

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The Last Witness

lastwitnessThe core plot focus of Denzil Meyrick’s THE LAST WITNESS is strong: a notorious killer gangster long thought to have been dead and cremated, appears far away in Australia, caught on local security cameras, killing a man and a woman. The man and woman had been in a British witness protection program, placed there for their own safety and as a reward for them giving evidence against the gangster. Two questions arise: 1) how did he find them; and 2) why isn’t he dead?

Both questions affect the author’s protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Jim Daley, who was instrumental in putting this bastard away. The questions become even more important when Daley discovers that another witness who had been put into the protection program, one Frank MacDougall, lives very close to the small Scottish patch of turf where Daley performs his work. With both MacDougall and Daley in the area, it seems likely that this Lazarus gangster will come gunning for them both.

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3 New Entertainment Titles from McFarland

worldshaftI knew that private dick John Shaft — as immortalized by Richard Roundtree in the 1971 blaxploitation classic — was a multimedia character; what I didn’t know was just how wide his net reached! Shut your mouth and get schooled with THE WORLD OF SHAFT: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE NOVELS, COMIC STRIP, FILMS AND TELEVISION SERIES, Steve Aldous’ examination of the groundbreaking hero. With the trade paperback being published by McFarland & Company, it shouldn’t surprise you that Aldous has done his homework; the aforementioned SHAFT film figures heavily, as do its two sequels, the short-lived (and near-emasculating) TV series and the 2000 Samuel L. Jackson remake. But it seems like anyone could discuss that; not so with Ernest Tidyman’s 1970 novel that started it all and the six subsequent crazy-sounding adventures (an actual title: SHAFT AMONG THE JEWS), each detailed here. And who knew that Shaft did his thing in the funny pages, too? His brief life as a syndicated comic strip is covered (with examples, thankfully), which brings us full circle to the present day with the current run of SHAFT comics penned by BADAZZ MOFO zinester David F. Walker, who provides this book’s intro.

mastersshootIn respect to Tadhg Taylor’s MASTERS OF THE SHOOT-’EM-UP, calling his subjects “masters” may be overstating the case. This is, after all, a book about “would-be Don Siegels,” as he lovingly dubs them, but that’s not to deny their contributions or the project at hand. Subtitled CONVERSATIONS WITH DIRECTORS, ACTORS AND WRITERS OF VINTAGE ACTION MOVIES AND TELEVISION SHOWS, it gives both voice and due to those journeymen helmers of the 1950s to the 1980s who kept busy cranking out hours of studio-backed entertainment without ever breaking big (or at least to household-name status). For perspective, one of the biggest names among Taylor’s two dozen or so interviews is arguably Jeff Kanew, director of REVENGE OF THE NERDS, but he’s here to talk EDDIE MACON’S RUN and TOUGH GUYS (yet not, oddly, the gun-toting gal pic that effectively halted his career, as well as that of its star, Kathleen Turner: V.I. WARSHAWSKI). Kanew’s recollections of studio interference and dueling egos are told with candor — a refreshing theme carried out by others, perhaps most notably actress-turned-screenwriter Leigh Chapman, who seems awfully dismissive of her own work, ranging from “black flick” TRUCK TURNER to the Chuck Norris vehicle THE OCTAGON. This is a breezy, fact-packed read for fans of Hollywood’s fringes.

insiderisehboTo paraphrase one of the iconic cable channel’s early jingles, great movies were just the beginning at Home Box Office, now known (and beloved) as HBO. For years an employee in its departments of marketing and consumer affairs, Bill Mesce gives readers an insider’s view of its roots and ultimate revolution in his brand bio, INSIDE THE RISE OF HBO: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF THE COMPANY THAT TRANSFORMED TELEVISION. As someone who remembers the days when if HBO wasn’t airing a movie, it was a boxing match, I was seated and safely buckled in for the trip back in time as soon as saw the cover. Mesce gets off to a rough start, rehashing the narrative of the medium’s birth before even reaching the realm of pay TV and specifically HBO. Once he does, however, it’s a hoot to recall such ill-fated tries at “original” programming as the footballs-and-tits sitcom 1ST AND TEN — a long, long way from current fare like GAME OF THRONES, which somehow has found critical acclaim and Emmy love and kept the tits. Ironically, the things I found most interesting are found in the appendices, in which Mesce shares the job details of those who select the movies to show and then put the schedule together like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

True Grift

truegriftLongtime trial lawyer Jack Bunker joins the ranks of attorney-turned-author with TRUE GRIFT, his debut crime novel. But rather than add to the endless series of dramatic and complicated courtroom dramas, TRUE GRIFT – as the title indicates – is a comedic romp through a scam gone wrong. Along the way Bunker impressively avoids most of the pitfalls of first time authors.

J. T. Edwards, a bankrupt lawyer, meets Al Boyle, a greedy insurance adjuster, in the coffee shop of the golf course they both frequent in the land-locked “Inland Empire” section of Southern California, several miles southeast of Los Angeles. After sharing their mutual financial and professional woes, the two devise a quick-cash personal injury scam.

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Art and Murder

artmurderThe ninth entry in the Jack Taggart shows no sign of slowing down. For those unfamiliar with the series, Taggart is a Canadian undercover mountie who gets the job done. And if you have never ventured into this Canadian crime series, then go pick up the whole series. Trust me, folks, this is probably some of the best crime fiction that’s kept my attention throughout. Never one has author Don Easton gone for a cheap out or ludicrous plot devices. Taggart is human through and through not some Superman in plain clothes.

This entry of the series, ART AND MURDER, is not as dark as some of the previous outings. But it’s definitely up there with tense moments and a great twist. The book finds Jack coming to rescue of one of his informants. This time an escort who has an in with a drug dealer. Things get a bit too rough and she needs Jack’s help ASAP. And with that the ball rolls into typical Taggart bull in a china shop type of action.

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Buffalo Noir

buffalonoirBuffalo, New York’s second largest city is the latest destination in Akashic Books on-going series of original short crime fiction anthologies based on a national or international locations. And while the town is nowhere near as well known or celebrated as its larger neighbor, the stories in BUFFALO NOIR result in one of the most impressive and memorable of Akashic’s many NOIR collections to date.

In his unusually structured but evocative introduction, co-editor Park recalls one particular incident of his youth in Buffalo that proved there were darker things happening beneath the quiet suburban surface of his hometown. He and his partner have solicited several well-known crime authors, as well as a few lesser-known but no less talented scribes, to create stories based within the various section of this eastern U.S. locale.

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Engineering a Future

czerneda-gulfSince 1997, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has shared her love and curiosity about living things through her science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers and the perils of power. Her 14th novel from DAW Books was her debut fantasy, A TURN OF LIGHT, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel, and now Book One of her NIGHT’S EDGE series; Book Two, A PLAY OF SHADOW, is a finalist for this year’s Aurora. In the meantime, Julie’s presently back in science fiction, writing the finale to her CLAN CHRONICLES series. Book One of her new REUNIFICATION trilogy, THIS GULF OF TIME AND STARS, is now available. Here, she discusses the basis for its creation. (Spoiler: It’s right in the novel’s title.)

The beautiful, or scary, part of being a writer or any creative is how everything you care about folds into the work. You may have heard me talk about my biology background and how I use it for aliens and worlds and curiosity. What you might not know is my other passion.


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His Right Hand

hisrighthandI think it’s easy to see why Mette Ivie Harrison scored a bestseller with her first mystery novel, THE BISHOP’S WIFE. She has a way of explaining the tenets of the Mormon religion simply and straightforwardly, apologizing for nothing, understanding the traditions of others, and working the Mormon religion, culture and society deftly into a pretty thrilling story of detection. She has done the same thing with the second book in the series, HIS RIGHT HAND.

Her protagonist, Linda Wallheim, is the wife of a bishop of a ward in the heart of Utah. At a meeting of some of the ward men and their wives, she discovers there is some upset between one Carl Ashby and his wife, Emma. Linda also clashes with the ultra-conservative and intolerant Carl. Later, Carl goes missing and Linda and her husband eventually find him, murdered in one of the chapel classrooms. It is only later that the story gains another layer, as it turns out Carl was biologically female.

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