Monsters in the Movies / Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s / House on Haunted Hill: A William Castle Annotated Screamplay

If I were to list my top 10 most influential movie books, Kim Newman’s 1988 edition of NIGHTMARE MOVIES would sit snugly right alongside Danny Peary, Pauline Kael, Phil Hardy and Joe Bob Briggs.

And if I were to list my top 10 film personalities, both John Landis and William Castle would be on that list — both boisterous, larger-than-life and whip-smart directors, and both with new books. Given that Castle shuffled off this mortal coil some 35 years ago, makes his penmanship appearing now, indeed, larger than life.

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Trespasser

TRESPASSER is Paul Doiron’s second novel featuring Maine game warden Mike Bowditch. Apparently, in the first, THE POACHER’S SON, Bowditch had to track down his criminal father and, in the process, made some enemies on the police force. These enemies continue to haunt him during this outing, so the conflict stems from both his efforts to solve the crime and personal conflicts with his colleagues and even his wife. Sadly, all this interpersonal drama doesn’t do much for the overall story.

While responding to a vehicle/deer collision call, Bowditch finds the car, but not the driver, a young woman by the name of Ashley Kim. He passes the case on to the state patrol, but her disappearance nags at him, and so he investigates, eventually discovering the poor woman, raped and murdered, in a nearby house. The police are none too pleased that Bowditch was clever enough to find the body, and apoplectic that he contaminated a major crime scene.

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Cowboys

Gary Phillips, the excellent and criminally underappreciated Los Angeles-based crime-fiction author, is no stranger to comics. Fact is, he’s been producing series and graphic works for almost as long as he’s written his various novels and short stories. Among his more recent illustrated ventures is Vertigo Crime’s COWBOYS, a stunning example of how a complex and involving crime story can be told as a graphic novel.
 
At the heart of the story are two law enforcement officers, different in their professional approach and personal lives as night and day. Deke Kotto is an investigative cop who works the urban streets in a reckless, rogue manner that always seems to get results. But when he discovers the dead body of tax auditor, he’s assigned to drastically clean up his appearance, go undercover and follow the trail of the money the auditor was involved with.

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The Devil Amongst the Lawyers

It’s no surprise why Sharyn McCrumb is a bestselling author. In THE DEVIL AMONGST THE LAWYERS, she accomplishes a feat most writers wouldn’t be able to pull off. She creates a large cast of fascinating characters, differentiates them significantly from each other, tells their own individual stories in relatively few words, and combines them all into a solid overarching story. It’s a character study within a mystery.

This book is the eighth in McCrumb’s “Ballad” series, set in the Appalachian mountains of Wise County, Va. A young woman has apparently killed her father in a fit of rage. For some reason, the case gets a bit of national attention, and so a few big-city journalists are traveling to the area to report on it.

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Black Jack: Volume 17

It’s with both great sadness and a sigh of relief that BLACK JACK: VOLUME 17 arrives — sadness, because this marks the end of Vertical Inc.’s trade-paperback reprints of Osamu Tezuka’s “peerless medical drama” manga; relief, because the publisher actually saw it through to the very end, as promised. I guess that meant the thing continued to sell.

If so, I’m not the least bit surprised. From the start, Tezuka’s series — first serialized from 1973 to 1983 — was a work of creative excellence, and stayed that way, through all these thousands of pages. If you’re looking to make an investment in a series that will pay off more than what you put into it, look no further.

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Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball

Rebecca T. Alpert’s OUT OF LEFT FIELD: JEWS AND BLACK BASEBALL is a gem of a history book: a concise, fascinating account of a significant American cultural element, black baseball, and an exploration of one particular aspect of that element, the interactions and attitudes — both real and perceived — between Jews, blacks, black Jews and their audiences, and what it meant to identify oneself along those lines in the mid-20th-century United States.

At first glance, you might think it’s one of those dreary academic tomes that sprout from moribund Gender Studies departments, complete with confusing jargon and tremendous amounts of moral outrage. But Alpert is better than this. She doesn’t try to be encyclopedic about the numerous black baseball leagues.

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Stainless / Brand New Cherry Flavor

“Who is Todd Grimson?” That was the first thought I had when someone recommended his work to me.

Apparently, he’s an author of quirky subject matters who burst onto the literary scene in the 1990s, and then faded just as quickly. Although from what I’ve read about him, he never stopped writing; he simply wrote under a different name. Now, Grimson is back with his older work — STAINLESS and BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR — reissued by Schaffner Press, and a new novel on the horizon.

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Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark

Not one who could afford a subscription to THE NEW YORKER, I had read Pauline Kael’s movie reviews in sparse instances over the years. In other words, my exposure to her — this was pre-Internet, mind you — was limited compared to other film critics.

It need not matter when presented with PAULINE KAEL: A LIFE IN THE DARK, Brian Kellow’s biography of the woman, who passed away in 2001. The author does his job in letting readers know why she was important. He also does his job in not deifying her, allowing her own words and actions to stand for themselves — sometimes, that doesn’t show her in the best light, but she had only herself to blame.

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Deathless

I’ve had this one on my TBR pile for a while. It’s not that I didn’t want to read DEATHLESS or that I’m not a fan of Catherynne M. Valente …

I thoroughly enjoyed her THE HABITATION OF THE BLESSED, but her writing is dense and lyrical, a step away from verse. In other words, it’s not easy Sunday-afternoon reading. You don’t speed-read your way through it, because every line is another brush stroke on a very large canvas. Rush your way through her story and you’ll miss an important wash of color.

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Inner Sanctum: Tales of Mystery, Horror & Suspense

A doll possessed by the devil, a freshly dug-up corpse, a musician driven to madness, a mentalist with a twisted gift, a woman who suspects her husband is a vampire, a family driven by greed — these are among the tales of terror in the hardcover comics anthology INNER SANCTUM, written and illustrated by Ernie Colón.

Pegged right on the cover as being inspired by the radio program of the same name — which birthed a series of films starring Lon Chaney Jr. in the mid-1940s — the book presents stories in the spirit of the show, rather than adaptations.

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