Muriel Spark is an endless delight and not nearly enough good films have been based on her books. This film for television has a stellar cast and does a reasonable job of portraying her macabre humour, though it loses the subtlety of her novel (as inevitably movies seem to do) making it a little more homophobic (rather than just some of the characters being so) and spelling out the meaning in case viewers couldn’t put it together themselves. Spark has a delightful time playing with the tropes of drawing room mysteries and putting them to an altogether different aim. Well worth your time and available on YT if no where else.
Film for a Friday: Variances (1971) #PatriciaHighsmith
I understand this may also be playing on the Criterion Channel which I do not have. Brush up your French with Pat! Honestly she’s about an advanced beginner level because I can understand most of it.
Don’t speak French? There’s also this interview over on Vimeo.
I have actually read some books lately, which seems such a novelty. Well, I’m always reading books, but for the whole of this shit year of lockdown I’ve often found it difficult to finish them even if I am enjoying them. I’ll be re-reading a bunch of books as I’m teaching the Killer Women course again (and fending off non-stop requests to over-enroll it, too). Maybe I’ll post about that collection of novels later. And there’s Highsmith’s 100 birthday next week. In the mean time:
This is a thrill ride that just doesn’t stop. It packs events plucked from the headlines with the non-stop craziness of social media, the weird exclusive life of the rich, a reclusive ex-pop star, eating disorders, jetting around Europe (ha, that’ll date it now, eh Brexiteers), hauntology (!), and the coldest killer imaginable. As usual Mina knits it all together with humour and effortlessly efficient prose. Don’t start reading this late at night — start in the morning so you can be sure to finish it.
Liz has been obsessing about Henry Darger for years. I recall a talk she gave on him and other ‘outsider artists at ICFA in the 90s or early noughties. But it was her mom who suggested putting him into a book as a detective. This book is just stuffed with the careful research she did of the era — don’t let that scare you off: it’s seamlessly knit together — including the amusement park where much of the action takes place. There’s also the nascent movie company through which Charlie Chaplin, Wallace Beery and other luminaries pass like the ambitious Glory, who wants to be an opera singer but making pictures pays better. She dazzles Pin, the girl who’s hiding as a boy and carrying the grief of a murdered sister along with some other heavy loads (also a dawning realisation about her own sexuality).
While Pin is the main anchor of the narrative, chapter to chapter we follow along other character, including the former cop/whistleblower who’s now security at the park and Darger himself, who thinks like he writes. There’s all the amusement park folk, some of whom are based on historic figures: Clyde, the black magician, Max & Maxene the ‘She Male’ and Pin’s mother who is a fortune teller. Then there’s the ride Hell’s Gate where the first murder takes place.
An ambitious weave of storylines with wildly different voices, but Hand makes it all work.
Soundtrack for a Sunday: Get Shorty
On a whim, I watched Get Shorty again last night. I’ve been feeling kind of lousy lately and I thought it would be just the ticket. Of course it’s hard to miss with Elmore Leonard’s dialogue (though it happens, alas), but it struck me again that the soundtrack by John Lurie is part of the magic that makes the picture sing.
Finger-snapping New York feel but wandering in the sun: the keys give the walking pace, the horns the attitude, and the tick tick tick of the percussion is a lively mind ticking along looking for angles, opportunities. It’s of a piece with the Florida bright text of the opening credits and the trouble that kicks off the film.
Everything works so well in the film: Rene Russo’s intrigued grin (a criminally underused actor), Travolta hits all the right notes and conveys the sense of wonder of someone from a world away in love with Hollywood (before the reality sets in). I remember that feeling when I first moved there. You carry the romance for a while. Maybe some carry forever. What else? Delroy Lindo looking fine. Gene Hackman playing a clueless hack. Farina: ah man. Gandolfini giving such character. And all the swell folks taking bit parts like Bette Midler and Miguel Sandoval.
But the music pulls it all together, makes it seamless. It matches Leonard’s pacy dialogue. That’s what goes all wrong in the tepid ‘sequel’ Be Cool. Hollywood literalism: it’s about how the music industry makes everything a product (because yeah, Hollywood doesn’t do that, right?). So forget the original soundtrack, let’s stuff it full of product — seriously stuff it. A bloated bag of nothing but air.
Makes me want to get out my Lounge Lizards vinyl…
The television series is good — though it strays a long way from Leonard — maybe because their soundtrack is aces.
[Tangential digression: Elmore Leonard is often called the ‘Dickens of Detroit’ which is a disservice to both. I get it: popular, he writes intricately interweaving narratives of people from all walks of life, but Dickens was never funny. If you have to compare him to a nineteenth century writer, why not Trollope? Funny and cracking dialogue plus all kinds of people — but I mean, funny. But the Trollope of Tiger Town? Probably not going to catch on, is it?]
Double Shot #FallFriday: Brix & the Extricated + Imperial Wax
Brix & the Extricated‘s new SUPER BLOOD WOLF MOON is out today: check out the first single ‘Dinosaur Girl’ — a healthy helping of power pop and get the Rufus Dayglo image on t-shirts!
Imperial Wax present the first follow up to GASTWERK SABOTEURS with the crime-themed video for their latest release ‘Bromide Thrills’ plus tour dates. I’ll be seeing them in Limerick as part of the Fall Symposium.
Review: Gumshoe Blues
Paul D. Brazill
Punk Noir Magazine
Following the breakdown of his marriage, in a booze addled flash of inspiration, Peter Ord decides to become a private investigator. However, is Seatown ready for him? More to the point is he ready for the Seatown’s cast of ne’er do wells, gangsters and lunatics? Peter must tackle many challenging cases, including one involving a legless crooner. When he comes under the radar of local crime lord, has he bitten off more than he can chew? With sidekicks like hack Bryn Laden failure is not an option it’s compulsory.
There is always reason to rejoice when a new Brazill book hits the streets. The northern setting of Gumshoe Blues offers a laconic pace which suits the humour and makes the stark failures of the impromptu gumshoe Peter Ord a little (dare I say it?) poignant. As Vic & Bob can tell you, Northern doesn’t always travel well down to the sunny climes. Their loss, because there’s much amusement here along with the noir-flavoured escapades. The adventures of this PI ‘feel like they rolled out of a Tom Waits song’ — crime with the feel of a shaggy dog story, complete with running jokes.
Ord’s adventures seem to ramble, but most of the colourful characters (like Tuc, the guy who tattooed his own neck looking in the mirror) and seemingly disparate threads effortlessly web together in the end. Brazill makes it look easy. After all, the only sin is making it look like work — or playing bad music.
The world of Seatown feels so real that you’ll be sure you’ve walked those streets and heard those songs. Chances are you ran into Ord in some dark pub. He was the one in the corner in the suit beginning to fray, nursing a bad hangover and wondering how he got there. Buy him a drink. He needs it.
Another Fine Review for LOVE IS A GRIFT
A fine new review of LOVE IS A GRIFT over at stalwart reviewer Col’s Criminal Library. He found entertaining the mix of:
Sex, drugs, drink, music, crime, robberies, guns, bikers, kidnap, witches, family feuds, take-downs, consequences, trailers and diners, fake friends, dead boyfriends and a swimming lesson, real friends and a false alarm, nasty neighbours, a werewolf PI in the background, a good deed and an oven clean, and lots more.
Col has been a great supporter of the crime community for some time. Check out his massive collection of reviews at the blog and be sure to leave him an encouraging word. He’s been kind enough to review Satan’s Sorority, Extricate and Smallbany, so I am eternally grateful.
Also check it out: Fahrenheit Press and F13 in the news!
Well that is a GREAT full-page article in @WritingMagazine about Fahrenheit & @F13Noir & @69Crime & @AidanDFThorn & @NickQuantrill …
Love it. pic.twitter.com/dWmbcw3yoq
— Fahrenheit Press : Crime Fiction Publishers (@fahrenheitpress) July 4, 2019
Review: Worst Laid Plans/Bang Bang You’re Dead
Kicking off the Tête-bêche series from Fahrenheit Press (AKA 69Crime), it’s Aidan Thorn’s Worst Laid Plans and Nick Quantrill’s Bang Bang You’re Dead. While I am published by Fahrenheit, I paid for this book out of my own pocket, because I knew it would be a worthwhile read.
Thorn’s book has a fun premise:
Vinnie Travers, lead singer with The Down & Outs literally doesn’t know what’s hit him when his path crosses with four young lads on a night out in a borrowed Mercedes.
Andy Dickson, home alone while his parents are on holiday, is left trying to figure out how a simple night out with some mates ended with a dead body flung hastily into the backseat of his dad’s car.
But it’s not until the next morning that the fun really begins…
This fast-paced novella has a new twist around every corner. I was laughing out loud with the unexpected changes and the always brutal, black humour. It will keep you guessing as things go from bad to worse and oh the clever plans that just go wrong. A hoot. I’ve got a soft spot for a heist gone wrong and this one just gets wronger.
Flip it over and you’ve got Quantrill’s gritty realism as a change of pace.
Fresh out of prison, Sam is back home and determined to turn his life around. Be the man his family needs him to be. But it’s not so easy going straight when you’re friends with Jonno.
Drawn into a drugs deal involving petty local gangs, things quickly take a turn for the worse when he discovers the notorious Nolan brothers are involved.
With simmering rivalries coming to the fore, Sam has to decide between new and old loyalties. And with old sores over his brother’s death being picked at, it’s not so simple. Especially when you have a gun in your pocket.
Things start off bad and then get worse. He’s got an eye for the downward spiral of a town run by thugs, where every choice lands you in ever hotter water. Just when you think you can’t trust anyone, help may come from an unexpected source.
Check out all the Fahrenistas and get yourself some hot sauce while it lasts.
I blame Carol at the Cultural Gutter for kicking me off onto this tangent. To my film shame, I had not ever sat down to watch the entirety of Fritz Lang’s classic crime film, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse. As an academic, I am of course always in search of ways to supplement my paltry pay so I joked about turning to hypnosis or tarot or even advertising, as well as crime.
‘Why not combine them all, Mabuse style?’
She was right as usual. Put all my esoteric and criminal arts to use as a mastermind behind capers of a nefarious nature: genius! Only in fiction, surely! First I needed to sit down and enjoy Lang’s masterpiece of expressionist cinema, collaborating with his talented wife Thea von Harbou, who adapted one of Norbert Jacques‘ unfinished novels on the shadowy figure (yes, I’ve got to read the novels, too).
There’s just so much good here, even if you’re not contemplating a life of crime. Secret hideouts, nefarious plans, dapper grifters, glass alligators — and a medical school (in 1933) more diverse than many top ones are now. Cool special effects, too. So here’s a bunch of images to give you a reason to watch the film, too. Helps if you have the Criterion Channel or Kanopy. Click the images to embiggen. I’m going to work on my hypnotic stare now.
Catch Up on Reviews: Harris, Simenon, Libby, Spark
I was really excited about a new book from Harris. His best work is hypnotic and even books of his that others have disparaged, I have greatly enjoyed (though I would have loved to see an editor push him through one more reqrite of the climactic scene of Hannibal Rising). Much of this novel is fascinating and exciting. I could have done without the constant reminders of how attractice the main character is, but her background as a child soldier was gripping and tragic. The primary antagonist, Hans-Peter Schneider, was singular and repulsive in a particularly interesting way and there were all the elements of international crime to keep the plates spinning and the tension taut. As many have mentioned, however, it all feels a bit thinly sketched. I would have loved to see a lot more of this world. The inclusion of a chapter of Red Dragon at the end just made me want to re-read that immediately. The book is gorgeous but since Penguin is doubling down on publishing and promoting fascists and anti-Semites, I don’t plan to throw money their way any time soon.
MAIGRET AND THE GOOD PEOPLE OF MONTPARNASSE
Penguin book, too, but as I found it on the shelf at the pub, I didn’t hand any money to them. A particularly good shelf that day, where I had to choose between a few good choices. I am slowly acquainting myself with the Simenon catalogue, though I think there’s something essentially Gallic missing from my sensibilities. I can appreciate Simenon without really liking him. Maybe — after listening to Andy Lawrence talk about them — I need to try some of the romans dur instead. I did enjoy the first part of the biography of the writer, but had to return it to the library when I changed countries again. Shall have to get back to that. I enjoyed this; Simenon’s style is without artifice. I always learn from reading him.
I have been obsessing on Libby Holman for a while now. The tragic torch singer inspired the theme song for LOVE IS A GRIFT and the film that we used in the music video. Holman was a huge star on stage, lived life to the fullest, but everything started to go wrong when she married the spoiled heir to a tobacco fortune. He shot himself but local prejudice and anti-Semitism led to Libby being charged with murder (despite her husband having a long history of suicidal tendencies and raging alcoholism). They finally give up on the trial, but from that day things seem to go south. She never quite gets her career back on track and people around her seem to die at an alarming rate — including her bizarre and needy later relationship, Montgomery Clift — and her own sad end. But she left her estate to Connecticut where its natural beauty can be shared by all. Kind of a trashy bio, but a quick read.
I can end on a high note: my god, Spark is a wonder. Is there anyone who can skewer quite so deftly as she? Who can whip together murder, Scots border ballads, eccentric relatives and snarky suburbanites with apparent effortlessness? Margaret worries she has the evil eye, Uncle Magnus has a purple tie, the painter would quite like to paint and not have dinner parties, the mother of the groom wants to give them a Monet even though she rather hates the bride and what’s really up with the servant and his very expensive watch. This is the kind of book where all the unexpected pieces fit together so neatly that when you finish it, it is tempting to re-read it immediately to relish the pleasure of it all. Clever, but not in the way that people usually mean that. Delightful is a better word. Savagely so. Laugh out loud funny, too.