The Shining Girls

shininggirlsHow to begin?

3. The garden-variety fictional serial killer — or at least any incarnation after Dr. Hannibal Lecter — is like the world’s worst poet. Every creation is a baroque manifestation of personal desires and symbology. The cop is a New Critic, reading through the signs and severed limbs to see the True Meaning, and thus, capture the killer.

And the writers of such fictions are locked into the closed loop of genre, forced to travel the stations of the cross and genuflect at each utterly familiar landmark or plot point. Lauren Beukes is having none of this malarkey.

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Get TWISTed, Crime Fans

texastwistJohn Vorhaus introduced “charming con man” Radar Hoverlander in 2010’s THE CALIFORNIA ROLL, followed by 2011’s alliterative THE ALBUQUERQUE TURKEY. Now he’s back in the Austin-set THE TEXAS TWIST. Let Vorhaus fill you in on what’s in store …

Years ago, I dabbled in situation comedy, and there I encountered something called “the page-test,” which was a way a friend of mine had of reading, and judging, sample scripts that were sent her way. “I’ll open the script and read one page at random,” she said. “On that page I hope to see three things: a good joke; a sense of the story; and a reason to read on. If I don’t get those three things, I don’t bother reading the script.”

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Cinnamon and Gunpowder

cinnamonIf I hadn’t already crowned Austin Grossman’s YOU as the best fiction book I’ve read in the past two years, I might have awarded it to Eli Brown’s CINNAMON AND GUNPOWDER, a rip-roaring novel of the picaresque featuring Patrick O’Brian-style naval warfare action, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN-style comedic piracy romps, and GOURMET magazine-style sensitive writing on foodstuffs.

Chef Owen Wedgwood works is providing a feast for his master, Lord Ramsey, when the manor home is infiltrated by a band of scurvy pirates led by a woman named Mad Hannah Mabbot. She shoots Ramsey dead and decides to kidnap the chef.

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Stop Yellin’: Ben Pivar and the Horror, Mystery and Action-Adventure Films of His Universal B-Unit

stopyellinEven as a cult-film cinephile, I didn’t know Ben Pivar’s name, but I certainly knew the man’s work. Among his more lasting projects at Universal Pictures were MUMMY sequels, the INNER SANCTUM MYSTERY series and Rondo Hatton vehicles. A producer of some 60 pictures, chiefly in the 1940s, Pivar was a genre machine, cranking out films so fast that they would have their first preview within four days of a finished score.

So says Thomas Reeder in STOP YELLIN’, an exhaustive chronicle (as in roughly 550-pages-exhaustive) of the relatively unknown Hollywood middleweight who died in 1963 at age 62.

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Evil and the Mask

evilmaskIt’s the ridiculous premise of Fuminori Nakamura’s EVIL AND THE MASK that makes this new work so much less successful than his brilliant debut, THE THIEF.

At the age of 11, Fumihiro Kuki’s father tells the boy that he has been deliberately sired to be a cancer on the face of the earth. It is part of the Kuki tradition that when the patriarch gets to a certain age, he fathers a child who will be taught how to bring misery to as many people as possible for the rest of his life. Eh.

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And When She Was Good

andwhensheLaura Lippman fans first met suburban madam Heloise Lewis in the story “Scratch a Woman,” included in Lippman’s 2008 collection of short fiction, HARDLY KNEW HER. She obviously felt Heloise’s full story was worth telling, and has made her the central character of the stand-alone novel AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, new to paperback. Along the way, Lippman experiments with different structure and narrative styles. The results are surprising, yet completely satisfying.

Over the years, Heloise has worked hard to make certain her suburban escort service business is safe, secure and, above everything else, secret. Lately, however, all this is slowly unraveling. It starts with the breaking news of the death of a suburban madam in a nearby county — ruled an apparent suicide, but Heloise has her doubts.

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Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2012

obits2012Harris M. Lentz III’s OBITUARIES IN THE PERFORMING ARTS, 2012 is kind of like having the Academy Awards’ “In Memoriam” segment in book form, but without the varying bursts of applause to let you know that, even in death, it’s all a popularity contest.

As if there were any question, the 328-page (sadly enough) paperback pays tribute to those actors, actresses, authors, musicians and other artists who left this earth in the last calendar year, from KAMEN RIDER producer Seiji Abe to Argentine actress Olga Zubarry — more than 1,000 in all. Even famous pets make the cut, including the “World’s Ugliest Chihuahua.”

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Kill the Boss Good-by / Mission for Vengeance

kissthebossI think most people who have been reading this site for a while know the score: When you see another book from Stark House Press, you know you are going to get your money’s worth. Stark House releases are packed with two reissues and an accompanying essay or two.

KILL THE BOSS GOOD-BY / MISSION FOR VENGEANCE from Peter Rabe is no different. These two novels share the theme of men losing something and wanting it back. The requisite bibliography kicks things off, followed by Rick Ollerman’s fascinating essay about Rabe’s work and style. It’s quite informative and I loved the Charles Willeford comparisons. My suggestion is to not read it until afterwards, because it contains minor spoilers for these two (and other) Rabe classics.

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Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City

detroitrockcityI love a good oral history. Not only for the different viewpoints and opinions of events that happened, but all the tidbits we otherwise would never have heard about. I’m thinking of books like PLEASE KILL ME and WE”VE GOT THE NEUTRON BOMB, both of which covered the punk scenes in New York and Los Angeles, respectively.

Now, Steve Miller (not the singer) has gone one step above with DETROIT ROCK CITY by condensing five decades of the Motor City’s rock scene. Let me stress the rock aspect; there is no Motown to be found. There already are plenty of fine books about that subject.

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BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS >> Marvel Comics Re-enrolls in the Novel Course

hulkcrybullets broads blackmail and bombsTime for another round of the 1970s Marvel Comics novels featuring a cavalcade of superheroes. I’d like to thank the owner of these books for letting me have the chance to finally read some of them. They definitely are a mixed bag. This time. we have the first family of Marvel, the Fantastic Four; your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man; and the big, green goliath known as the Incredible Hulk, who stomps right into action.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK: CRY OF THE BEAST by Richard S. Meyers — Why does Meyers’ name seem so familiar? Oh, I know: Because all the other books I’ve read by him were under his pen name, Wade Barker. Longtime BBB&B readers may be groaning, since Barker’s books are from the NINJA MASTER series, which truly scrapes the bottom of the barrel.

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