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Catching up on my neglected Highsmith novels: so focused on the Ripliad lately, it’s good to remember to step aside for her other work. In her introduction Denise Mina talks about this novel being her gateway to the creepy world of Pat, completely by accident. What an introduction! This book is pure dread. It’s crime by content, but as in many of her books, the crime is hardly the main plot element. Edith’s crumbling dissolution as life keeps disappointing her is utterly terrifying as well as perfectly drawn.
It would never get published today because ‘head hopping’ is considered an insurmountable crime. Highsmith hops adroitly from Edith’s increasingly buzzing head to that of her wretched offspring, the supremely creepy Cliffie — incel supreme! — without losing the reader at all or making it too jarring. The jumping off points are well chosen. Highsmith is so good at building unsettling creepiness — Cry of the Owl and This Sweet Sickness also do that superbly. But I think the choice of this invisible middle-aged woman adds a poignant sorrow that breaks you in a way those two novels don’t.
There’s a moment when Edith stands in the little stream in her aunt’s back garden, looking up at the house where she had often been happy. She recalls a line from a Goethe lieder (this is Highsmith, you know), ‘Kennst du das Land?’ and it captures perfectly the distance between the sometime happy child and the woman completely lost in fantasy. Edith remembers the line about the roof and the pillars, but the line that really resonates is, ‘What have they done to you, poor child?’
Highsmith shows you the obvious things, like Cliffie as a child trying to kill the family cat, or her husband’s very dull, very middle-class affair — but in throwaway lines, she also lets you know the cold family life Edith had even as a child. It’s striking that as she veers into insanity the woman not only moves from left-wing political activism to bizarre right-wing diatribes (that often match the author’s opinions) but she also becomes more creative, both in writing her alternative diary-life and her self-taught sculpture. So Pat.
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!
Love it. pic.twitter.com/dWmbcw3yoq
— Fahrenheit Press : Crime Fiction Publishers (@fahrenheitpress) July 4, 2019
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.
After something of a dry spell I have a new short story out at Punk Noir Magazine, the DIY collective of writers and artists who just can’t (won’t) fit the mainstream. I suppose in the midst of promoting LOVE IS A GRIFT it’s absurd to say ‘dry spell’ but it was weird to realise that I hadn’t published a new short story since last year.
It’s been a weird year, but I think I’m back in the land of the living — though the landscape has changed.
‘Funny Little Frog’ of course was inspired in part by Belle & Sebastian’s song of the same title, which is a heartbreaking little tale of its own. I’m grateful to Mr B for poking me to actually listen to it. Forever on the brain jukebox now:
For a very short story, I managed to fit in another song reference:
But wait, there’s more (as the old advertisements say)! I fit a third reference in there because why write when you can steal?
Yeah, you might better know Elvis or Sir Tom but this is the first version I knew. Every note of this LP is seared on my memory. And I have duly added these songs to the list of Inspirations: Songs that Spawned Stories.
See, they’re not all Fall songs…
This is modern, fast-paced, hard-hitting neo-noir doing exactly what it’s supposed to do and doing it remarkably well.
Thanks! Every review helps. Sometimes it wins a prize.
I’m taking part in one of the roundtables over at The Big Thrill this week. The topic is:
Drop by and offer your opinion and see what the other have to say.
How much do you write? Every day? Only on weekends? When the mood strikes?
Check out my interview in The Big Thrill newsletter, too.
Don’t forget: the big LOVE IS A GRIFT gift package is awaiting someone who reviews the book. Enter to win!
Check it! A super prize package that includes an XL t-shirt, travel mug, notebook, and sticker all emblazoned with S. L. Johnson’s wicked cool cover design for LOVE IS A GRIFT plus a free download of Victoria Squid’s theme song for the book. What do you have to do to win?