The Fireman

firemanJoe Hill’s latest novel, THE FIREMAN, effectively presents this popular young horror author at his creative best, as well his self-indulgent worst. And it’s the striking creativity of the story that makes you wish the end result were so much better.

Can a person really die from spontaneous combustion? No, unless they are stricken with Draco Incendia Tyrchophyton – the disease central to the novel (more commonly known as “Dragonscale”) that marks its victim with beautiful black and gold bruises before it causes them to burst into flames. No one is sure how it began, but it has turned into a plague spreading across the country and hitting cities one by one.

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5 New Entertainment Books to Buy with Father’s Day Gift Cards

newfrenchextremityAs recent attacks in Paris have demonstrated, the City of Lights unwillingly can be at odds with its postcard-perfect image propagated by the tourism board. Terrorism aside, Alexandra West examines the “nihilistic forces and presences” at work from within France, and how they have made their way into Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity. With a piercing critical eye and a wealth of insight, West takes a long, hard look at about two dozen movies, several of which have become well-known in the States: among them, Baise-moi, Irreversible, Trouble Every Day and the ultra-gory triple threat of Martyrs, Frontier(s) and Inside, all arranged into loose themes. Prior consumption of titles is hardly required; she keeps discussion lively and engaging, whether it’s a movie fresh on my mind (Sheitan) or something I never plan to see (anything else from Gaspar Noé). Published by McFarland & Company in trade paperback, West’s book is so très fantastique that I wish it were a reference guide that covered hundreds of films, while I remain appreciative of what it is: a well-curated representation of the movement at large, even extends to High Tension director Alexandre Aja’s Hollywood work as a remake machine.

byebyemanCan’t wait to put some scares into your summer moviegoing with The Bye Bye Man? Well, hate to break it you, but the flick has been delayed to December. Fear not! You can temporarily scratch your urban-legend itch by reading the book on which the film is based. Originally published as 2005’s The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America, Robert Damon Schneck’s work has been slyly and slickly repackaged as a TarcherPerigee trade paperback tie-in as — hell, what else? — The Bye Bye Man and Other Strange-but-True Tales, with a new afterword so brief, it hardly merits this mention. The title tale is an account of some Wisconsin teens’ terrifying experiences after screwing around with a Ouija board. Schneck approaches it and each of the seven other stories with the doggedness of a journalist, albeit a journalist reporting on ghosts, inexplicably vanishing kids, spirit advisers, mummies and the like. Even if I don’t believe any of them, Charles Fort sure would be proud and potential surely exists for a fun horror film … or eight.

citizenkaneleboLiterate Orson Welles fans have had it rather good of late, with A. Brad Schwartz’s Broadcast Hysteria, Peter Biskind’s My Lunches with Orson and Josh Karp’s Orson Welles’s Last Movie hitting shelves, to mention just three. Now add Harlan Lebo’s Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey, in hardcover from Thomas Dunne Books, to that list. On second thought, scratch that: Move it right to the top. Drawing upon intimidating levels of research, Lebo has crafted what must be the definitive telling of this classic film’s complete story; while many Kane texts are keen to settle on the actual production and the behind-the-scenes war of the words with William Randolph Hearst, Hebo widens the lens on both sides, with particular attention paid to how the movie’s reputation ballooned over subsequent decades, often in disproportion to Welles’ own. The greatest of this type of book is to make you want to revisit its subject yet again while lending your eyes a fresh perspective; Lebo’s Journey does just that. A toast, Jedediah, to love on its terms!

kissencyclopediaAttention, all members in good standing of the KISS Army, Brett Weiss’ Encyclopedia of KISS: Music, Personnel, Events and Related Subjects is for you. Not being a fan myself of the legendary ’70s shock-rock band, I’m hardly the target market for this McFarland & Company paperback release. Much more than focused on albums and singles, the work catalogues forays into film, TV and comics, yet it strikes me as large in scope and light on detail. For example, the movie nut in me is drawn toward three things: the infamous Hanna-Barbera production KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park and Gene Simmons’ better half, erotic-thriller queen Shannon Tweed. While both are included, information on each is extremely limited; therefore, the band’s legion of hungry followers may find the book ironically wanting. Completists will want it nonetheless.

singlesitcomI had a blast perusing page after page of Bob Leszczak’s Single Season Sitcoms of the 1980s: A Complete Guide. A sequel to his similarly named project covering the years 1948-1979 (also published by McFarland & Company), the paperback profiles an entire era-appropriate TV Guide’s worth of ratings-challenged comedies I grew up with (well, for several months, anyway) and loved: It’s Your Move, starring Jason Bateman at his smarmiest; The Duck Factory, with then-unknown Jim Carrey as an animator; the non-sequitur No Soap Radio; the Police Academy-influenced The Last Precinct; and Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin in Police Squad!, in color! There are many more that I didn’t like, and those are here, too. (I should note that then, as with today, I had no social life.) Leszczak provides a significant amount of background info for each show, supplemented with comments from actors and creators when available. While lists of episode titles don’t do anything for me, they are here for historical preservation. Who else is willing to do it? —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

The Travelers

travelersThe main character in THE TRAVELERS, Chris Pavone’s third espionage novel, is a writer for a travel magazine. This allows Pavone to indulge in his knowledge of various far-flung locations. Sadly, however, the awkward pace and abundance of distracting secondary characters robs the narrative of its intended suspense.
Will Rhodes is a correspondent for Travelers Magazine. That means he often spends several days away from his wife Chloe and their New York home flying to both popular and little known destinations to inform his readers of the sights and experiences in countries all over the world.

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The Second Life of Nick Mason

secondlifeAcclaimed crime author Steve Hamilton’s latest work, THE SECOND LIFE OF NICK MASON, introduces a new series to accompany his popular Alex McKnight novels and occasional stand-alone works. This latest book is that rare debut that stands proudly as an accomplished novel in its own right while introducing readers to a character who promises more exciting stories to follow.

Nick Mason has been a criminal all his life. Starting with stealing cars, the Chicago South Side native son quickly moved to safe cracking and armed robbery. But he decided to leave his criminal life behind when he got married and became a father to a young daughter. Then an old friend from Nick’s past offers Nick a role in a lucrative heist he can’t refuse. But things go seriously wrong, and Nick lands in prison with a 25-to-life sentence.

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Scratch a Thief / House of Evil

scratchathiefJohn Trinian is an enigma partly of his own making. We learn from the short biography on the back cover of Stark House Press’ SCRATCH A THIEF / HOUSE OF EVIL twofer that he adopted the name Zekial Marko as his preferred name, but published seven novels as “John Trinian” before establishing a career writing television scripts under his Marko name for such shows as THE ROCKFORD FILES, THE NIGHT STALKER and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE before his death in 2008.

Trinian spent his formative years hanging out with the Beat writers in San Francisco in the 1950s. But unlike the semi-autobiographical works of Jack Kerouac or the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, Trinian chose instead to write genre-based pulp fiction. These two reissued novels demonstrate his talent at depicting memorable characters while involving readers with engaging plots.

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The Kingdom

thekingdomIf you haven’t started your first-edition collection (hardback and paperback) of the work of Fuminori Nakamura, perhaps you should start with his latest, THE KINGDOM, as translated by Kalau Almony. Nakamura’s kind of an acquired taste. He writes with intensity and passion, but his work revels in the dark, dour and desperate. He will make you uncomfortable but also surprise you with some psychological thoughts and insights that will make you put the book down and think about actions and consequences.

In THE KINGDOM, we meet young Yurika who works for a powerful man named Yata. She poses as a prostitute to get close to other men, drugs them, then takes compromising photos of them that Yata then uses to manipulate the men.

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The Everything Box

everythingbox“Oh, thank God.”

That was the thought I had about a quarter of the way through Richard Kadrey’s THE EVERYTHING BOX. Allow me to explain:

I’ve been a fan of Kadrey’s SANDMAN SLIM series since its beginning, but I’ve been somewhat disappointed in the last few books. A feeling of stagnation has set in, with the stories falling into familiar patterns and a general sense of the characters (and the series overall) not progressing. In essence, I’ve felt the series has fallen into a rut.

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