2016 marks the centennial of the birth of author John D. MacDonald, creator of the enduring Travis McGee mystery series. What better time for Stark House Press to reissue THE RED HOT TYPEWRITER, journalist Hugh Merrill’s biography of this popular, prolific, and influential author (first published in 2000). And this new edition contains a few extras, making it even more valuable to the legions that know and admire MacDonald’s work.
Although a lover of fiction since childhood, John D. MacDonald thought writers were born instead of made. It wasn’t until his was old enough to enlist in the Army, during World War II, that MacDonald tried his hand at writing stories. When he made his first short story sale, aided by his wife Dorothy (known to John D. and most everyone as Dordo), MacDonald kept at it while earning an income through a variety of jobs. Writing eventually became his main profession and lifelong passion.
For a few years now, Epicenter Comics has been publishing books from the legendary Italian Sergio Bonelli Editore for the American market. Following in the footsteps of Dark Horse (who published issues and collections of DYLAN DOG, NATHAN NEVER and TEX from the Bonelli stable), Epicenter has made a small dent with their two weird Western books MAGIC WIND and ZAGOR. More about both in future Euro Comics Roundups. What caught my attention was their plans to start releasing new DYLAN DOG material. The first volume just landed in my eager hands.
Crime author Duane Swiercznski toned down the wild imagination that distinguished his Charlie Hardie trio (FUN & GAMES, HELL & GONE and POINT & SHOOT) with his last novel, CANARY, published earlier this year. REVOLVER, his latest, continues this more realistic tendency, but is far more inventive in its plot structure; depicting a murder and its aftermath over two generations. And its one of the most engrossing and satisfying works in Swierczynski’s growing list of worthy novels.
In 1965 Stan Walczak, a Philadelphia street cop, is gunned down in corner bar along with his black partner. Although a suspect was later arrested and imprisoned for an unrelated crime, the murder of Walczak and his partner was never solved.
Alvise Marangon, a tour guide and translator, and his friend the gondolier Bepi, await the arrival of tourists in mid-18th-century Venice, Italy. A likely English pair, Mr. Boscombe, a young man on the Grand Tour and his tutor Shackleford, appear briefly, but another pair of sinister men pay off Bepi and try to take charge of the newcomers. Marangon senses fraud and intervenes. Not wishing to cause a scene, the others allow Marangon and Bepi to take Mr. Boscombe and his tutor under their wing, but they are none too happy about it.
And then no one is happy when the tutor is found with his throat cut.
That’s the high-concept pitch on the back cover of Daniel Godfrey’s NEW POMPEII. There’s also a comparison to Michael Crichton, another author known for his high-concept plots. Crichton was also known for his paper-thin characters, but the plots of his novels and the neat ways he would tie all the loose ends together by the end of the book made up for it.
Unfortunately, Daniel Godfrey is no Michael Crichton.
THE ADVENTURES OF DIETER LUMPEN by writer Jorge Zentner and artist Ruben Pellejero is a phenomenal release from IDW’s EuroComics lineup. Gathering under one cover the complete series featuring Lumpen, a reluctant leading man, this globe-trotting book set in the 1940s rolls out with several short pieces that set the tone before hitting a rapidly ascending trajectory with three longer works that fill out this gloriously printed oversized volume, stunningly drawn and beautifully written for the entirety of its 260 pages.
Since I learned how to read, books have been where I’ve turned for consolation, hope, and a clarifying dose of perspective. Lately, my solace seems to come from classic literature. Classics remind me how resilient humans are, how much beauty exists in the world. They remind me of the cyclical nature of human history. They illuminate all that humans have survived—insane rulers, endless wars of all kinds, devastating plagues, more devastating plagues … yet another devastating plague. We have survived it before, and we can survive it all over again.
1. THE ILIAD by Homer (maybe)
That this poem, set in the 10th year of the Trojan War, has survived thousands of years provides hope in itself. Gruesome battle scenes play counterpoint to moments of grace, as when a Greek and a Trojan honor their past friendship by refusing to strike each other down. Woven throughout the poem are timeless snapshots familiar in any time and place – the pleasure of a cozy sleep, a satisfying meal, children at play.
Daniel Silva’s latest, his 16th novel featuring Israeli spymaster Gabriel Allon, makes for difficult reading. Not because of any imperfections in the style or plot; but rather because the terrorism depicted in the novel is so uncomfortably close to current events happening throughout the world.
Silva confesses, in his brief Forward, that he was tempted to put the manuscript aside when he saw how it resembled recent acts of violence committed by ISIS. “I take no pride in my prescience,” he says. “I only wish that the murderous, millenarian terrorism of the Islamic State lived solely on the pages of this story.” Fortunately he completed the novel, and THE BLACK WIDOW stands as perhaps the most relevant and unsettling title of the entire series.
WILLNOT, the latest novel by James Sallis — author of DRIVE, the Lew Griffin mystery series, THE KILLER IS DYING, and several other notable works — is just under 200 pages. But don’t let its slimness fool you. The richness of its characters and insight into the human heart far exceed the number of pages.
The citizens of the small southern town of Willnot are shocked when the remains of several dead bodies are discovered buried in the woods outside of town. Dr. Lamar Hale, the town’s general practitioner and surgeon, is awakened to examine the remains. Like most of Willnot, Hale’s normal life is dramatically upset as he and the small local law enforcement investigate what looks like a mass murder.
Curiously, two new books are about the idiosyncratic and ill-mannered German cult actor Klaus Kinski. The one to get is Klaus Kinski, Beast of Cinema: Critical Essays and Fellow Filmmaker Interviews, edited by Matthew Edwards and including the perspectives and talents of several others. (It takes a village, people!) Edwards — whose excellent 2007 collection, Film Out of Bounds, also was published by McFarland & Company — separates the book into thematic thirds: essays, interviews and reviews. In doing so, he and his contributors approach their subject from a variety of angles and points of accessibility. Covering everything from his iconic collaborations with Werner Herzog to his late-in-life residency in B-moviehell, the essay portion finds Beast of Cinema at its most buttoned-up, whereas the book loosens up considerably for Edwards’ Q&As with those who worked with Kinski and lived to tell about it — most notably, Schizoid director David Paulsen and actress Flo Lawrence, both rife with tales of the actor’s bad behavior, physical and sexual. By the time Beast hits the section of approximately 50 reviews, it has its shirt unbuttoned and feet on the table. Pour yourself two fingers of your hard liquor of choice and peruse the reviews, heavy on spaghetti Westerns, sexploitation, spy adventures and scary fare — unsurprisingly the reason I’ll return to this text in years to come.
Having written the history of American International Pictures in 1984’s Fast and Furious, it makes sense the ridiculously knowledgeable Mark Thomas McGee would be the one to write Katzman, Nicholson, Corman: Shaping Hollywood’s Future. Available from BearManor Media, the book spotlights the careers of “three pioneers in bargain basement entertainment,” primarily in the 1950s: producer Sam Katzman, AIP co-founder James Nicholson and multihyphenate content machine Roger Corman. Rather than tie them together in one narrative — which would make sense, given their crossed paths — he handles each man separately. In his usual easygoing style, McGee is less interested in sharing their stories than he is leaping from one anecdote to another, not always stopping to ensure transitions for smooth sail-through. The result is highly conversational, as if you’re seated at the corner of a bar with the author, but he’s a good drink or two ahead of you, so forgive him if and when he rambles. While I would have preferred a tighter-told work — or at least one with consistency in presentation among its thirds — fans of the AIP era should find enough behind-the-scenes nuggets to chew on, not to mention capsule reviews of select films and a smattering of photographs. KNC is not bad, but it’s not essential, either.
Few things have influenced the horror film more than the Grand Guignol, aka that theater in France in which characters were rather graphically tortured and killed onstage; it’s not uncommon to see “Grand Guignol” used as a descriptive adjective in film criticism today. Short of catching some brave local theater troupe in your area staging a tribute show, Mel Gordon’s Theatre of Fear and Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, 1897-1962 is as close as we can get to experiencing this late, great art form. (And having sat through one of those tribute shows, I much prefer this book.) Gordon quickly but satisfyingly dispenses with the origins and history of the place so he can dig into the real meat of the piece: single-paragraph descriptions of 100 Grand Guignol classics, supplemented with a more-than-generous helping of photos, playbill covers and revealed tricks. Originally published in 1988, this expanded edition from Feral House arrives with an additional script (“Orgy in the Lighthouse”) and, in the trade paperback’s center, 14 color pages, all but the last of which reproduces the original illustrated posters, both lavish and ghoulish. Thriving on visual stimulation throughout, the volume is a gorgeous package of garish content. Following Sin-a-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks and It’s a Man’s World: Men’s Adventure Magazines, Feral House continues to knock these new-and-improved reissues out of the park.
The genre of the giallo is so voluminous by now, it is all too easy to fire off a bad book in search of a quick buck. Mind you, Michael Sevastakis’ Giallo Cinema and Its Folktale Roots: A Critical Study of 10 Films, 1962-1987 is not that book. (This is.) With each chapter devoted to a particular film, the McFarland book makes the case for the giallo’s artistic merit — an idea most mainstream critics scoff at once the blood runs running. Rather than focus on the usual suspects (in titles and directors), Sevastakis spreads the wealth, with no filmmaker repped more than once; while the names you expect are indeed here (Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, etc.), the work chosen for each is not necessarily the anticipated default selection — for instance, Umberto Lenzi is featured by neither Eyeball nor Spasmo, but Seven Blood-Stained Orchids — and damn, does the author break it all down with aplomb. His discussion is detailed, insightful and intelligent — perhaps a deeper dive than you’d like for leisurely reading, but hey, it backs up his point that there’s much more to these films than meets the (gouged) eye. —Rod Lott