Out Now: Neon Boneyard

The hits just keep on coming — out now and FREE for 48 hours, more adventures from your favourite werewolf PI: The Neon Boneyard.

Neon Boneyard

‘In the neon-soaked, blood-spattered hell-hole they call The City, Roman Dalton struggles to fight the forces of darkness, even when he becomes a creature of the night. Werewolves, vampires, zombies: they’re all just amateurs when it come to the real menace who haunts the streets. Let Brazill take you on a grim dark journey to hell and back. Bring lots of whisky: it’s a rough ride.’ K A Laity, author of White Rabbit.

FFB: Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Carol (or The Price of Salt)
Patricia Highsmith

‘I like to avoid labels. It’s American publishers who like them.’
~ from the afterword

I finally got around to reading this book originally published pseudonymously by Highsmith. Because I read the Bloomsbury edition it’s called Carol instead of the original title, but I wanted to be sure to read it before I got to see the film. Even if you haven’t read it you’ve probably heard the one important thing is that unlike every other exploitative and/or heartfelt lesbian novel at the time, it has a happy ending. But this is Highsmith, so she keeps you wondering until the last few pages.

“The novel of a love society forbids” offers a lot of classic Highsmith: there’s an uneasy undercurrent of suspense that keeps you dreading the worst. The naive Therese seems destined to make a mess of everything and the cool sophistication of Carol almost makes you think she’ll turn out to be a killer or a psychopath, particularly when the two women discover a private investigator is tailing them.

Superb, surprising and pure Highsmith.

Some quotes:

It was the dress of queens in fairy tales, of a red deeper than blood…she wished she could kiss the person in the mirror and make her come to life, yet she stood perfectly still, like a painted portrait.

She looked at Richard’s face in the flare of his match. The smooth slab of his forehead overhung his narrow eyes, strong looking as a whale’s front, she thought, strong enough to batter something in…she saw his eyes open like unexpected spot of blue sky in the darkness.

The milk seemed to taste of bone and blood, of warm flesh, or hair, saltless as chalk yet alive as a growing embryo…Therese drank it down, as people in fairy tales drink the potion that will transform, or the unsuspecting warrior the cup that will kill.

How was it possible to be afraid and in love, Therese thought. The two things did not go together.

See all the overlooked gems at Patti Abbott’s blog.

Classic Crime: William McIlvanney – Laidlaw

William McIlvanney

From its almost surreal opening McIlvanney’s Laidlaw grips the reader.  That first short chapter follows the frantic movements of a young murderer as he tries to find a place to hide. Told in second person, it offers an intimacy and yet an almost god-like insight into the tumbling thoughts of the killer. It’s breathtaking in its effectiveness, immersing the readers in vivid images but leaving them unable to understand how to connect them.

It comes as a bit of a relief to begin the next chapter in a more typical fashion, returning to the more neutral third person narrative and the now-familiar jaded cop — the beginnings of 70s cynicism. Laidlaw offers the prototype for so many iterations that followed. He’s not just the detective who’s ‘seen too much’; Laidlaw is permanently out of step with the human race.

Laidlaw sat at his desk, feeling a bleakness that wasn’t unfamiliar to him. Intermittently, he found himself doing penance for being him.

He’s not just consumed by his job; it’s a kind of existential ache that permeates every part of his being — and makes his pursuit of criminals unconventional yet very effective.

He was a potentially violent man who hated violence, a believer in fidelity who was unfaithful, an active man who longed for understanding. He was tempted to unlock the drawer in his desk where he kept Kierkegaard, Camus and Unamuno, like caches of alcohol.

His departmental rival, Milligan, reflects everything he hates: certainty, arrogance, and violence. They’re like oil and water and we see a lot of the clashes through the eyes of Harkness, the ambitious young detective who alternates between confusion, admiration and impatience dealing with his new partner.

McIlvanney slips between a variety of characters with ease, showing the world from the point of view of the parents whose daughter is missing, gangsters, and petty criminals. But Laidlaw remains at the center tying together all the disparate threads because he allows himself to see them.

I’ll end with one long quote that really captures the spirit of this excellent book which feels entirely contemporary. It comes after Laidlaw gets yet another dressing down from his boss:

They had these confrontations several times and always Frederick was at least as understanding as you could expect him to be, and always Laidlaw finished up depressed. The pair of them had the art of conjuring hopelessness together. They had managed it again. But at least Laidlaw had the melancholy satisfaction of feeling that he understood why, a little more clearly. Listening to Frederick’s advice, he had thought again of how much he disliked that room, the deodorised furnishings, the uncluttered desk, the smiling photograph, the ashtray never used. It was like a shrine to a God he didn’t believe in. It was the God of categories.

Good stuff: highly recommended.

FFB: Picnic at Hanging Rock

PicnicathangingrockPicnic at Hanging Rock
Joan Lindsay (1967)

I think I may have vaguely known there was a novel behind Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, but I suspect not. So stumbling across it at the Oxfam Book Shop I was at once intrigued. My Vintage edition has a sedate, sepia-toned photographic cover that emphasises the genteel girls at the centre of the tale. I like how the first edition cover captures the fractured narrative. Weir’s film does a brilliant job of capturing the narrative, too.

I don’t know if I thought I’d find more answers than there are in the film; I love that the film doesn’t spell things out. At the heart of everything are many unknowable mysteries. What happened to the girls on that rock in 1900 is not as important to Lindsay as how the people around them cope with the mystery — or fail to do so. It’s not a spoiler to say that the girls’ disappearance is only the start of events.

The tale has the same leisurely pace as the film and much of it unspools with the same beauty and menace:

Miranda was looking at her so strangely, almost as if she wasn’t seeing her. When Edith repeated the question more loudly, she simply turned her back and began walking away up the rise, the other two following a little way behind. Well, hardly walking — sliding over the stones on their bare feet as if they were on a drawing-room carpet, Edith thought, instead of those nasty old stones.

The hostility of the English to the mysteries of the Australian landscape permeate their reactions, whether they’re trying to recreate a little homey countryside or just exploit the resources before leaving the land behind.

Of course the darkest parts of human nature show themselves in the wake of the disappearance. The hostility is sudden and strong, and the ripples of horror keep spreading.

As always, in matters of surpassing human interest, those who knew nothing whatever either at first or even second hand were the most emphatic in expressing their opinions; which are well known to have a way of turning into established facts overnight.

The one girl who is rescued imagines that her friends will be glad for her narrow escape, but when she returns to the school, their greeting is chilly to say the least:

There were no answering smiles, no hum of excited greeting. In silence the ranks broke to the shuffling of rubber-soled feet on the sawdust floor. Sick at heart, the governess looked down at the upturned faces below. Not one was looking at the girl in the scarlet cloak. Fourteen pairs of eyes fixed on something behind her, through and beyond the whitewashed walls. It is the glazed inward stare of people who walk in their sleep. Oh, dear Heaven, what do these unhappy children see that I do not?

It’s a slow build that gradually gathers speed, force and is ever so chilling. If you have the patience for the leisurely development, the payoff is several hard blows of horror that linger long after you’ve closed the book.

Just like the film.

See Patti’s blog for a round up of forgotten gems.

Swank: Runyon First & Last

I thought I would try to remember to add pictures of some of the swanky old paperbacks I still have. I think this one came from Hal the Bookie (here’s hoping you rest in peace surrounded by comics and lurid paperbacks, just as in life). Can’t beat Runyon for swing.

Runyon1 Runyon2

Readings for the Noir(ish) Course

I’m teaching our crime fiction course in the spring, which hasn’t been taught in a while. This is a reading not a writing course. I’m still deciding on the three films I can squeeze in (I’ve yet to write up the syllabus) but I’ve had to fix the readings because the students need to order them soon. In other words, I’m not looking for a debate about the choices made. The clown is down.

My own peculiar tastes show here; I envision my role as ‘gateway drug’ to more of the dark stuff. Also, I plan to persuade some of pals to chat to the class, either in person or via tech (cough, looking in your direction!). I balk at having all 20th century readings, and Poe is a necessary place to kick off the idea of ‘detective fiction’ in English language literature, though I quickly focus on that period.

Films? At the moment it’s Double Indemnity, The Third Man and Night of the Hunter, but I’ve not made my mind up. I have also considered choosing films of the books to compare and contrast, however at the moment I’m leaning away from that, tempting though it may be. Maybe Mildred Pierce to slip in Cain after all or something with Ida Lupino — I have to decide soon. It’s tough to choose. So here’s the choices if you want to read along —

Edgar Poe: The Purloined Letter (available online for FREE)

Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon

Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep

Elizabeth Sanxay Holding: The Blank Wall

Dorothy B. Hughes: In a Lonely Place

Patricia Highsmith: Strangers on a Train

Jim Thompson: The Killer Inside Me

Chester Himes: Cotton Comes to Harlem

Another class would be another set of choices: I dropped Margaret Millar and James M. Cain when I knew I was overloading the reading. There’s just too much great stuff. I’d love to do a Brit Grit or international noir course. Maybe soon.

Friday’s Forgotten Books: The Crust on its Uppers

Derek Raymond is generally acknowledged as the godfather of Brit Grit, based on his ruthlessly dark novels like I was Dora Suarez, but there’s a sheer delight in this earlier work that doesn’t seem to get the same love, maybe because it’s not as hard-boiled. Admittedly, the narrative is a bit elliptical. The central dodgy heist doesn’t really get going until late in the novel.

But the chief difficulty for readers both contemporary and modern is probably what I like best about it: the language.

I love how they call each other ‘morrie’ and I love the wealth of rhyming slang and sly jokes that fill its pages. Wonderful bits like:

“…those two gaffs have more ears stuck around the walls than a Cocteau film”

“Only one thing to do about all that slag–there’s a brick there, so I pick it up and hurl. Bang through the window. No slag hit, but all smothered in glass, and that followed by two fireballs flung with the master’s hand and lo! sylphidewise one falls with a dying fall flop almost on to a bird’s espresso-bongo hairdo.”

“It was nice the way she said cash like a civilised girl and not the reddies or something; though she was in the morrie world she was somehow not quite of it, which made me fonder of her than almost anything else–when I say Christice was loyal I mean she had values of some kind, though daughter to pompoons.”

“Pushing our way through now against the va-et-vient, Marchmare and I gain this haven, to be rewarded at once by the sight of Messrs. Copewood and Cream, purveyors of shooters, etc., to the trade, who, with their followers, queen it from a table near the bar, where they feed steak to a snarling hound and rack their ganglia over the race-page of the linens. A quick butchers shows up Old Bill three-handed, also a particularly nasty female grass–and if looks were acid baths the two she collects from us would reduce her to gristle quicker than Mrs. Durand-Deacon.”

“‘You Englishmen,’ said Herr Wurter. ‘You are all the same. Wherever you are you behave as if you were at home and your word was law.'”

Sure, it’s not for everybody, but it’s a real treat if you love a real wild spin in somebody else’s garrulous mind. And if you get lost, my edition anyway had a glossary so you could find that ‘vera’ means ‘gin’ and ‘slags’ (not quite in the current sense) mean the opposite of ‘morries’ who are all right.

“I wonder what it is we must deplore that turned us into morries evermore?”

See all the forgotten books over at Patti Abbot’s blog Evan Lewis’ blog.

Reading Noir Nation 3

Making my way through Noir Nation 3 — loving all the mehndi and tattoo art (of course), and the stories are terrific. Just read Richard Godwin‘s creepy little roadside tale, “Tattooed Highway” and if you don’t have much time, try “Two Stories Under 100 Words” by Bianca Bellová.

Eddie says issue 4 will be not long away — and you know you can get it in print, too?