Strip for Murder

stripformurderdoverComic-strip syndicate house detective Jack Starr is back in STRIP FOR MURDER, Max Allan Collins’ follow-up to the enjoyable old-school mystery A KILLING IN COMICS.

That 2007 whodunit was set in the world of comic books, while this one sets its sights on comic strips. Who knew the Sunday funnies were such serious business? I’m guessing Dover Publications, which has reissued the 2008 STRIP in a sturdier paperback edition with a less cartoony cover and under the banner of “Dover Mystery Classics.”

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The Keepers of the Library

keeperslibraryThe weirdness. The mysticism. The End of Days. Let’s hope there are no Knights Templar in Glenn Cooper’s THE KEEPERS OF THE LIBRARY, a terribly ridiculous but fairly readable potentially apocalyptic thriller that should appeal to the Dan Brown crowd. Here’s the premise: it’s the year 2026 but everyone is waiting for the date of February 9, 2027, 394 days away.

Why? Because in the year 777, a child started writing down the names, dates of birth and dates of death of everyone in the entire world. A monastery took him in, recruited women to breed with him and their progeny, and all of them kept writing down names and death dates twenty-four hours a day. Needless to say, the dates were always correct. Until.

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Death and the Olive Grove

deatholiveMarco Vichi’s DEATH AND THE OLIVE GROVE is one in a series featuring Inspector Bordelli of the Florence, Italy police force. There are at least five books all told, all of which seem to be translated by Stephen Sartarelli.

Author and translator work together smoothly to provide a fascinating, somewhat sad and drab, depiction of the Florentine setting in the 1960s, but also there’s a strong counterbalance of the vibrancy and emotion of the life-loving Italians who live within the book’s pages.

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The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film — Second Edition

dreaddifferenceWhen ALIENS was days away from hitting theaters in the summer of 1986, I distinctly remember reading a piece about it in ROLLING STONE. In particular, I recall a reference to the original ALIEN’s Nostromo ship designed as vaginal, while the creature was a phallus.

How this oddball kernel of film theory snuck in such a mainstream mag escapes me, but it struck me as odd: something I had never thought about before and something that has stuck with me ever since. I was pleased to see the subject merits its own chapter — plus half of another among a full 23 — in the University of Texas Press’ second-edition release of THE DREAD OF DIFFERENCE: GENDER AND THE HORROR FILM, edited by Barry Keith Grant.

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positiveWhy, you might wonder, would horror author David Wellington write another novel about zombies? After all, he dealt with zombies in his MONSTER ISLAND trilogy in the mid 2000s — long before they became the most popular subject of horror fiction. Then he reminded us how fascinating – and truly frightening – vampires are in his Laura Claxton series (starting with 13 BULLETS), and even resurrected the long-neglected subject of werewolves in a few novels after that (FROSTBITE and OVERWINTER).

So why zombies again? Probably because it occurred to Wellington how few novels are told from the perspective of someone who has no memory of life before the “Zombie Apocalypse.” That’s what sets POSITIVE, his latest, apart from the shelf full of zombie novels.

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Blood Tango

bloodtangoThe time and setting of Annamaria Alfieri’s BLOOD TANGO is intriguing: 1945 Buenos Aires, Argentina. Juan Perón has just been dismissed from the military government and his actress mistress, Eva Duarte (“Evita”), is angered. As the two of them plot to re-take power, a young woman named Luz Garmendia is stabbed in the back numerous times at the posh dress shop where she worked. Luz was only 16 years old, and the one claim to fame in her short life was that she resembled Eva in quite a remarkable way.

Was the murder done by a family member? Both Luz’s father and first husband have threatened or committed violence against Luz. Or was this some kind of mistaken anti-Perónista killing, wiping out the cunning woman behind the tricky Perón?

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Enigma of China

enigmachinaQiu Xiaolong’s ENIGMA OF CHINA seems a little more focused than the last book of his I reviewed (the still enjoyable DON’T CRY, TAI LAKE). The text seems slightly more refined, tighter in its storytelling, maybe more strongly edited. There are still faults, which we’ll discuss, but this is a stronger entry in the series of which this is the eighth of nine books so far.

Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is called to the scene of an apparent suicide. Zhou Keng, head of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee has killed himself while under detention, or as the Chinese call it, shuanggui. Zhou was held at a hotel and forced to undergo “rehabilitation,” writing down his sins and explaining his actions detrimental to the Party as a whole. Generally a load of crap before they imprison you.

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Predator One

predatoroneWhat differentiates PREDATOR ONE, the seventh in Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, from the earlier titles are is weapons used by the villains. Instead of bio-engineered mutants or contagious pathogens, the villains here wreak havoc using mostly mechanical drones.
But just because these weapons need a little less imagination to envision doesn’t make this latest title any less frightening. In truth, PREDATOR ONE is the most terrifying and intense novel of the series to date.

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The Redeemer

redeemerJo Nesbø’s THE REDEEMER is actually the sixth book in the tremendously popular Harry Hole series, having originally been published in 2009. The title character is a hitman, one Christo Stankic, who prides himself on his professionalism and success rate. He was given the nickname during his experiences in the Bosnian War, a background filled with horrible vignettes that Nesbø sprinkles throughout the text to fill out Stankic’s background and develop his character.

And then, one day, Stankic makes a mistake. Sent to kill a man who works for the Salvation Army, he kills the man’s brother instead, realizes his error and tries to set things right which only sends him spiraling into catastrophe as Harry Hole and his team close in on the killer.

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3 New Entertainment Titles from McFarland

copshowsFrom DRAGNET to JUSTIFIED, COP SHOWS: A CRITICAL HISTORY OF POLICE DRAMAS ON TELEVISION gives 19 mini-histories of some of the tube’s all-time greatest series of the men and women (but mostly men) behind the badge. Written largely by Roger Sabin, with assists from Ronald Wilson, Linda Speidel, Brian Faucette and Ben Bethell, the trade paperback proves a fun read for Gen X-ers who grew up on the 1970s prime-time powerhouses — both live and in reruns — and then played as the characters throughout the neighborhood (um, not that I’m speaking from experience), as a bulk of the contents covers that era forward. Although the collection could be read cover to cover, I found it worked best for me by skipping around, based on which programs I either liked the most or wanted to learn more about. Of particular note are Sabin’s chapter on CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION and Fawcett’s on MIAMI VICE, reminding us how revolutionary these programs are and were. Speaking of the R word, one wishes Sabin and company would have involved the insight of their subjects’ creators, à la Alan Sepinwall’s THE REVOLUTION WAS TELEVISED; this’ll do for true police-tube aficionados, even if it is by no means essential. (One also wishes McFarland & Company had found stock photography for the cover that wasn’t embarrassing.)

columbianoirAccording to Gene Blottner in COLUMBIA NOIR: A COMPLETE FILMOGRAPHY, 1940-1962, the Columbia Pictures studio proceeded with caution when it came to making noir pictures. Nonetheless, it eventually produced some of the genre’s all-time classics: THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, ANATOMY OF A MURDER, ON THE WATERFRONT and GILDA (poster art from which adorns the paperback’s cover). Each of these and 164 other films — revered to forgotten — gets its own entry, so why isn’t Blottner’s book more interesting? Honestly, it suffers from the same drawbacks as Ronald Schwartz’s recent HOUSES OF NOIR: DARK VISIONS FROM THIRTEEN FILM STUDIOS, from the same publisher: There’s too little substance. More ink is given to beat-by-beat plot summaries and complete cast listings than anything that passes for commentary and criticism. And in covering a single studio’s output, it’s even too niche to work well as reference material. I didn’t dislike it so much as I didn’t get anything from it.

monstrouschildrenKids: Can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em! Paraphrased old joke aside, the big screen has served as home to plenty of bad seeds, many of whom have met their demise by the hands of had-it-up-to-here adults, and Markus P.J. Bohlmann and Sean Moreland have edited an entire book on the subject, MONSTROUS CHILDREN AND CHILDISH MONSTERS: ESSAYS ON CINEMA’S HOLY TERRORS. As you’d expect, most of the 15 chapters explore examples from the horror genre — ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE SHINING, IT’S ALIVE, ORPHAN and other arguments for birth control — but not wholly; one of the most memorable pieces is Debbie Olson’s live-wire takedown of the Oscar-anointed PRECIOUS for “its validation … of the monstrousness of the black female.” Other less-obvious suspects include the chicken baby of ERASERHEAD, an obscure BEOWULF adaptation few have seen and the entirety of Ridley Scott’s CV. (What, no chapter on John Ritter’s PROBLEM CHILD trilogy?) Variety is the spice of life for this collection; just expect the bun to come out of the oven more academic in tone than its title suggests. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

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