Koreatown Blues

As the title implies, Mark Rogers’s debut crime novel is set in the seldom-celebrated section of Los Angeles known as KOREATOWN. It features a protagonist who finds himself unexpectedly entangled in the traditions of the Korean population he lives and works among.

Wes Norgaard has worked for several years at a carwash in Koreatown. At night he hangs out at a bar not far from where he lives and works, and often finds himself the only white guy in the place.

Read more »

Mars in the Movies: A History

With movies, as with potential mates, everyone has a type toward which he or she instinctively gravitates. For me, it’s heists or spiders. For Thomas Kent Miller, it’s that angry red planet — a lifelong fascination that culminates in the publication of the book Mars in the Movies: A History.

Released by McFarland & Company, the trade paperback surveys nearly 100 Mars flicks, roughly from the 1910 Thomas Edison silent short A Trip to Mars to 2015’s blockbuster The Martian. With the latter making a mint and taking seven Oscar nominations, you’d think Miller would find Ridley Scott’s populist smash to be a source of unending joy. Instead, he had “zero emotional response to the film. When I should have felt elated, I felt nothing.” And that call-’em-as-I-see-’em approach is all part of the book’s hours of fun.

Read more »

Cruel Mercy

CRUEL MERCY is the fifth novel in the series featuring Scottish Detective Sergeant Aector MacAvoy, written by David Mark, and in a series that can be somewhat hit or miss, this one falls mostly in the “miss” category. The first slight misstep, and it is very slight, is that this book is set in New York City not Yorkshire. It would have been a disaster if the author had excluded two of the strongest female characters in detective fiction, MacAvoy’s gypsy wife Roisin and his boss, Trish Pharaoh. Thankfully, these two do make multiple appearances between phone calls, text messages and Skype sessions.

Read more »

Dead Gone

DEAD GONE, the debut novel from by Luca Veste, editor of two previous story anthologies, is a generally impressive and inventive work. The crime tale involves the hunt for a shadowy serial killer while commenting on important but often neglected themes. Sadly, however, Veste’s constantly shifting perspective prevents this debut from being totally satisfying.

The body of a young woman is found in a park in Liverpool, England. The case goes to veteran homicide inspector Detective David Murphy and his new partner, Laura Rossi. They quickly discover that the murder victim was a student at the City of Liverpool University.

Read more »

3 New Film Books for This New Year

Now adults, the children of the 1980s clearly are nostalgic, judging from this past fall’s glut of books on that era’s teen movie. Hadley Freeman’s Life Moves Pretty Fast came first, followed closely by Kevin Smokler’s travel-leaning Brat Pack America. Now, journalist Jason Diamond joins the fray with Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know About Life I Learned from Watching ’80s Movies, but stands out as unique because it’s a memoir. Hoo-boy, is it ever. As a Chicagoan, Diamond felt a particular kinship to Hughes’ movies — Sixteen Candles; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Planes, Trains & Automobiles; Home Alone, et al. — which tended to take place there, albeit in the fictional suburbia of Shermer, so the miserable barista longing to be a professional writer embarked on a biography of the iconic filmmaker. Instead, as we witness, the project morphed into this memoir of the author’s own terrible childhood and arguably even worse teenage years, during which Hughes’ CV offered a recurring temporary escape. The end result is raw, real, gut-wrenching and, like Hughes’ work, worthy of resonating with an entire generation. Oh, if only they read more than 140 characters!

With Applause’s paperback release of Film Noir Compendium: Key Selections from the Film Noir Reader Series, newcomers to the dynamic duo of cinematic historians Alain Silver and James Ursini can get a taste of the goods without having to wonder which prior volume to purchase or whether to buy them all. (You may find yourself doing the latter if you enjoy this lovingly oversized presentation, overflowing with hundreds of stills.) Compendium culls some 30 articles from 20 years worth of contents — all with an academic bent, but not to a point of inaccessibility. Standouts include Ursini’s visual breakdown of the Mike Hammer classic Kiss Me Deadly; Todd Ericsson’s 1990 examination of noir’s then-resurrection as a genre (e.g. Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot, Michael Mann’s Thief and William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A.); and Paul Schrader’s well-informed “notes on film noir,” which is the equivalent of a master class — no surprise to readers of the Taxi Driver scribe’s Film Comment pieces, past or present. The book’s layout could stand a sharper design, but the words are what really matter here — especially when you have Stephen Farber putting “the bitch goddess” under a microscope.

Which horror films feature the most of Mr. Mephistopheles? Which horror soundtracks are the scariest? Who draws horror comics best? The answers to these and many other superlative-determining questions await in The Thrill of Repulsion: Excursions into Horror Culture. For the Schiffer-pubbed hardcover, Horror News Network contributor William Burns presents nearly two dozen essays on terror-related topics primarily concerning movies, but also not ignoring TV, music and books (comics included). Nearly all of the chapters are presented in the ever-popular list format, each cleverly and consistently going to 13, rather than the standard, ho-hum 10. I was unfamiliar with Burns’ name or work, so I don’t know how much critical credibility he brings to the project, but he obviously is well-versed in cinema that goes bump in the night. I especially enjoyed his countdown of horror films “That Deserve Better,” because his selections prove him right, from The Boy Who Cried Werewolf to the top-slotted The Spider Labyrinth. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

The Apartment

No, not a novelization of the 1960 Jack Lemmon/Shirley MacLaine comedy, THE APARTMENT is a slow-burn horror/suspense story that, if it were indeed a film, would be more suited to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock rather than Billy Wilder.

Mark and Steph are a mismatched married couple living in Cape Town with their toddler daughter. One night, the family is subjected to a home invasion. Although they are left physically unharmed, the psychological stress wears on the couple. They decide to get away for a week with the hope that it will alleviate much of the dark cloud that has surrounded their lives since the break-in. Steph contacts a website that assists would-be vacationers in “residence swapping,” a way for folks to stay somewhere exotic without paying hefty hotel rates. Soon after, Steph receives an email from a couple in Paris that would like to swap residences for a week. Jackpot, right? Well, no…

Read more »

Glop: Nontoxic, Expensive Ideas That Will Make You Look Ridiculous and Feel Pretentious

The tough thing about parodying actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s much-derided Goop “lifestyle” website is that it already feels like a parody of itself, what with its advice on steam-cleaning the vagina and all. Still, that hasn’t stopped Gabrielle Moss from trying, in the hardcover humor title GLOP.

Mimicking the sterile, ice-queen look of Paltrow’s internet venture, GLOP delivers deliciously barbed contents in support of Moss’ subtitle of NONTOXIC, EXPENSIVE IDEAS THAT WILL MAKE YOU LOOK RIDICULOUS AND FEEL PRETENTIOUS. These articles address how to determine which shaman to bring along on your family vacation, how to decorate your home’s closed-off wings and how to throw a party “That Screams, ‘I Have Two Black Friends!’” (Just so you know, the latter includes such tips as offering a gift bag with “bowel-detoxing tea samples” and quoting the hip-hop lyric “face fucked you in your kitchenette.”)

Read more »

The Dark Room

Jonathan Moore’s latest novel, THE DARK ROOM, combines an unexpectedly complex plot with equally unexpected character empathy. Call it a thriller if you like, but certain plot elements and the character intimacy especially make it an engaging and thoroughly contemporary mystery.

Gavin Cain, a homicide inspector for the San Francisco Police Department, is supervising an exhumation at a cemetery just outside of town as the novel opens. Suddenly his phone rings, and Cain is told that a helicopter is on it way to bring him to the mayor’s office. The exhumed casket – central to a cold case Cain has worked on for several weeks – will have to wait.

Read more »

A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies

Hands down and no question about it: For me, the entertainment book of 2016 is A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies. Written by Trapped Ashes screenwriter Dennis Bartok and collector extraordinaire Jeff Joseph, the University Press of Mississippi hardcover shines a light on the rarest of film subcultures: one I didn’t know existed!

There’s a whole history of FBI arrests and/or investigations into film obsessives who sold and/or traded actual prints — typically 35mm and often stolen from studios and theaters. They range from Hollywood’s own (Roddy McDowall and Rock Hudson) to two-bit ex-cons, and nearly two dozen of them have their colorful stories told here, run-ins and close calls included.

Read more »

In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper

Themed short story anthologies are usually the result of an editor suggesting a specific topic to a group of authors, or an editor gathering together previously published stories that are similar in subject. Master crime author and editor Lawrence Block took a slightly different approach for IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW.

Block suggested that his fellow authors use one of the paintings by American narrative artist Edward Hopper as the inspiration for a story. “His work bears special resonance for writers and readers,” Block notes of Hopper in his foreword, “and yet his paintings never tell a story so much as they invite viewers to find for themselves the untold stories within.” The result is one of the most varied and yet rewarding story anthologies to appear in a long time.

Read more »

Next Page »