Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Note: Dave Dickerson, Japanese Serial Killers: True Tales of 13 Notorious Murderers (2011)

With an interest in Japanese noir, I couldn’t resist a cheap eBook about Japanese serial killers. My instincts said it looked like a piece of self-published crap, but the price was only $2.99. Unsurprising moral of the story: Trust your instincts. Most of the write-ups in Japanese Serial Killers: True Tales of 13 Notorious Murderers read like underdeveloped Wikipedia entries. Favorite moment in the book: the sentence that ends [citation needed]. FOOTNOTE: Just got curious and checked . . . they are Wikipedia entries! Ha!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review: Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note (2003-2006)

Tsugumi Ohba, author of the Death Note story, admits that he is no good at keeping plots going. Therefore, every time he has an idea for a new plot point, he immediately sticks it in. The upside to this strategy is that it gives Death Note a real sense of unpredictability; the raggedly constructed narrative arc will frequently surprise you. The downside is that the plot eventually feels arbitrary, sort of like a season of 24. Heroes and villains come and go, and sometimes it does feel that the author has no purpose other than to keep the damn thing afloat till the end of his projected 108 chapters. Fortunately, most of the time the upside outweighs the downside. Favorite thing about the art: the hilarious reaction shots of the Japanese police force. Grade: B+

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

Burglary, I thought,
and the more I thought
the more I liked it.
It seemed somehow akin
to writing
you set your own hours,
you avoided human contact,
and, if you were successful,
you managed to touch the lives
of people you never even met.
Lawrence Block
Introduction to The Burglar Who Quoted Kipling

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

You couldn’t trust
anything she said,
colored as it was
with her personality.
Gil Brewer
The Hungry One

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

the safe,
the god,
embedded in the wall,
squat and somnolent,
with its triple lock,
its massive flanks,
its air of a brute divinity
Èmile Zola
The Kill (La Curée)
(translated by Brian Nelson)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

If I had anything
left to lose,
I couldn’t remember
what it was.
John D. MacDonald
The End of the Night

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

The cheaper
the crook
the gaudier
the patter.
Dashiell Hammett
The Maltese Falcon

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book Review: Gil Brewer, The Hungry One (1966)

Herb Forrest and his wife Wilma are traveling to Tampa, where a new job awaits Herb. They stop for the night in perhaps the world’s sleaziest motel, and, in the novel’s most memorable scene, find their room invaded by Danny and Joy, a couple of speedfreaks. Danny/Joy kidnap Herb/Wilma and force them to participate in the fake kidnapping of Joy, an effort to get a suitcase of loot from Joy’s rich father. On the whole, not bad when one is running out of Brewer novels to read. Grade: C+

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

the ponderous machinery of the law
grinds the sausage of circumstance
into links of evidence
Damon Runyon
“The Eternal Blonde

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

in the line of duty
is heroic,
but dying
while unemployed
is just stupid.
Tsugumi Ohba
Death Note
(translated by Pookie Rolf)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

College is fun
as long as
you don’t die.
Tsugumi Ohba
Death Note
(translated by Pookie Rolf)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1930)

Maybe it’s sacrilege to be thinking of John D. MacDonald while reading The Maltese Falcon, but that’s what I’ve been doing. In 1981, when asked if he were an admirer of Hammett, JDM answered in part, “The prose style of Hammett is certainly a more solid and a more artful style than that of Chandler. But he was an idiot as far as plots are concerned. If you want to drive some high school or college kid nuts, make him do an outline of the plot of The Maltese Falcon. It’s incredibly mixed up and nothing ever happens the way it’s supposed to. But the flow of the narrative is such that you’re caught up in it and you believe it. But you can’t believe it if you try to dissect it.” What I kept thinking as I was reading was how strange it was for JDM to criticize Hammett’s plotting of The Maltese Falcon in the same breath that he was mentioning Chandler. Worse than being “mixed up,” I find the plot of The Maltese Falcon to be patently uninteresting, but Raymond Chandler sets the standard for incomprehensible hardboiled-detective plots. The thing about it, though, as JDM does seem to know, is that with Hammett and Chandler plots may well be beside the point. Grade: A

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

Apples taste
so much better
Tsugumi Ohba
Death Note
(translated by Pookie Rolf)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

more relieved
than bereaved

Koushun Takami
Battle Royale

(translated by Yuji Oniki)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: Richard Stark, Plunder Squad (1972)

After taking a kind of vacation in Slayground, Parker gets back to work in Plunder Squad, and it is, as always, the kind of book that Starklake does best: a slice of life from the career thief. Whereas Slayground was a set piece, Plunder Squad is tangle of events from the ongoing story of Parker’s criminal career. And it is, as well, the clearest evidence you could want that Parker is a pure sociopath: Any sane person would work in a McDonald’s rather than deal with Parker’s problems. Grade: A-

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: Koushun Takami, Battle Royale (1999)

Lord of the Flies as formally organized competition: In a Japan-like dictatorship, 42 fifteen-year-old classmates are forced to play a killing game till one of them remains. Each kid is issued a bag of supplies—including one weapon, which could be anything from an Uzi to a fork—and they are turned loose on an island, where they will complete the competition or all be killed. The 2009 English-language edition of Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale features a newly corrected translation, interviews with the author and with the director of the film version, and a foreword by Max Allan Collins in which he makes a fair case for himself as the world’s coolest dad. These bonuses in some measure compensate for the novel’s weak dénouement, which culminates in perhaps the lamest final page in the history of the printed word. Grade: C+

Pulp Poem of the Week

I sit here writing, not daring to stop,
For fear of seeing what’s outside my head.
Bob Kaufman
“Jail Poems”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

I wondered which would be better
to work as a prostitute to live,
or to die rather than work as one?
I’d say the latter answer would be
the one chosen by the healthy mind,
but then again,
there’s not really anything healthy
about being dead.
Anyway, they do say that women
who are sexually active tend
to have a better complexion.
Not that I cared if
I was healthy or not.
Hitomi Kanehara
Snakes and Earrings
(trans. by David James Karashima)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: Hitomi Kanehara, Snakes and Earrings (2004)

Woodenly translated Japanese nihilnoir. Sort of like They Shoot Horses, Don't They? with the dancing replaced by tattoos, piercings, and demeaning sex. Grade: C-

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

I had no idea
How much brains
He had
I saw them.
David Rachels
Verse Noir

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review: Richard Stark, Lemons Never Lie (1971)

The best Grofield novel earns its status as the best Grofield novel by being the Grofield novel that is most like a Parker novel: The Sour Grofield Score with minimal opportunities for Actor Alan to play the wiseass. Grade: B+

Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review: Richard Stark, Slayground (1971)

I prefer to read novels knowing as little as possible about them going in, so Slayground represents a special achievement for me: I began reading the often-discussed, often-praised fourteenth Parker novel knowing absolutely nothing about it—I even managed to tune out the illustrations on the cover of the Chicago reprint (except for the always-present Big Gun). So, in that spirit, I’m not going to tell you anything about it, either. Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: Richard Stark, Deadly Edge (1971)

Deadly Edge perhaps deserves better than the grade I give it, but I’m trying to make distinctions within the Parker canon—or, to put it another way, a C-level Parker novel is still a damn good novel. “Part One” of the book, which runs uninterrupted for nearly 50 pages, details Parker and his partners stealing the all-cash take from a rock concert. No one does this sort of thing better than Starklake, and Deadly Edge would be worth reading just for this set piece. The 150 pages that follow are not nearly so compelling, as Parker plays cat and mouse with two uninteresting villains who want to steal what he has stolen. This, too, is well done, but Parker-the-thief is almost always more interesting than Parker-the-anything-else. Grade: C+

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

Lit by her son,
a signal flare burst
under the skirts of
Mme Roger, of Clichy;
damages were
Félix Fénéon
Novels in Three Lines
(translated by Luc Sante)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Review: Richard Stark, The Blackbird (1969)

One reason that the Parker novels are superior to the Grofield novels is that, over the long haul, it's more pleasant to spend time with a sullen sociopath than a smartass. In The Blackbird, Grofield's schtick begins to wear thin around page 100, but the book has more than enough action and intelligence to keep you going. Grade: B-

Book Review: Gil Brewer, Memory of Passion (1962)

Contrary to what you may have heard, Gil Brewer had his mojo working well beyond the 1950s. Memory of Passion tells of a husband wife who still have “active glands,” though not for each other. Things get complicated when the flame of the husband’s teenaged years reappears in his life—having not aged a day in more than 20 years. Things get more complicated still when we learn that this ageless flame is being stalked by a serial killer. Another excellent Brewer ripe for rediscovery. Grade: A-

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

I stood on the top
of the toboggan slide,
thinking how small it was
and how large it had looked
to me when I was a kid.
It had been a world then,
a big one.
You could get lost in it.
Now I knew no world
was big enough
to get lost in.
Gil Brewer
“Final Appearance”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

It’s too late
for anything
getting away.
Gil Brewer
The Red Scarf

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

He looked as if
somebody had
his soul.
Gil Brewer
13 French Street

Friday, September 2, 2011

A New Gil Brewer Story!

Courtesy of yours truly, an unpublished Gil Brewer story will appear in the next issue of Needle. Read all about it here:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

When one sells mattresses,
one has an in.
Talk comes quickly
to the point.
A woman wants to
purchase a mattress.
Take it from there.
Gil Brewer
Play It Hard

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

I was as hollow and
as the spaces between the
Raymond Chandler
The Long Goodbye

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

Cars littered
the sloped lawn
like discards
on green felt.
Gil Brewer
A Taste for Sin

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

The calm,
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.
Langston Hughes
“Suicide’s Note”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

Gil Brewer
Appointment in Hell

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: Gil Brewer, A Taste for Sin (1961)

David’s Femme Dépravée Theorem: The quality of a traditional Everyman noir is in direct proportion to the depravity of its femme fatale—and it doesn’t hurt if she also happens to be married to a clerk at the local bank. Brewer had written this book before, but not with this much panache. Available in a two-fer from Stark House Press. Grade: A-

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

Once you’ve
made up your mind,
it doesn’t
hurt so much.
Gil Brewer
“The Axe Is Ready

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: Gil Brewer, Appointment in Hell (1961)

Gil Brewer didn’t like writing this book, and I didn’t like reading it. Brewer didn’t like writing it because its South American setting required him to do research; I didn’t like reading it because Brewer’s sex-driven characters aren’t believable in this setting. Three men, three women, their plane has crashed in the jungle, and, yes, of course, they want to tend to their injuries, to find food . . . but the main thing they want to do is have sex . . . oh, and to find shelter, too, and maybe to build a raft to take them back to civilization . . . but, hey, is it okay if they screw some first? Please? They’ll worry about that whole survival thing later. Really . . . they promise . . . right . . . after . . . the . . . next . . . LAY! Grade: D+

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pulp Poem of the Week

The halls twisted like a digestive tract
through the spacious house.
They hadn’t been designed to be complicated—
at least I thought they hadn’t—
and yet at each intersection I found myself
losing track of where I was.
As I walked along the black floorboards,
I started to feel the illusion of the halls
languidly moving
like the peristalsis of the intestines.

Black Fairy Tale
(translated by Nathan Collins)