Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: Donald E. Westlake, The Hot Rock (1970)

This is less a review of the first Dortmunder novel than a first reaction to the existence of the Dortmunder series. When I finished the last of Donald E. Westlake’s twenty-four Parker novels, I turned to Dortmunder as a possible replacement in my reading program. As the well-known story goes, Westlake wrote the first Dortmunder novel when a Parker novel went awry, becoming too humorous to work as a vehicle for the sociopathically humorless Parker (though Parker does drop a few seemingly intentional one-liners in the later books of the series—a remarkable sign of growth in a generally static character). I love humor, but I love the humorless Parker more, so while I was reading 
The Hot Rock, I was wishing the whole time that it were a Parker novel. That’s just me. Dortmunder came as advertised: He’s a sad-sack Parker who moves through a world of absurdity rather than a world of menace. I often see the Dortmunder novels described as comic, but I would opt to describe The Hot Rock as silly. I enjoyed the silliness (given that silly Parker is better than no Parker), and as I make my way through the rest of the series, I will be interested to see if Westlake can ever manage any of the profundity with silly that he manages with menacing. To be sure, it’s a more difficult task. Grade: B

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pulp Poem of the Week

Excitement and
expectation and
her skill
finished him almost at once.
He lay startled and
humiliated and
the boy who got to the movie
just as it was ending.

     Richard Stark/Darwyn Cooke
     The Hunter

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: Steve Fisher, I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

Steve Fisher wastes a truly memorable character, noir cop Ed Cornell, in this name-dropping Hollywood whodunit, which is amateurishly plotted and overrun with italics and exclamation points. When the excitement builds, you will know it for sure! Grade: C

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pulp Poem of the Week

extra-legal careers
seldom attract
the type of men
which their successful
pursuit demands

     Jim Thompson
     The Golden Gizmo

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pulp Poem of the Week

I tried to give him
the finger,
but I think I was too tired
to lift my hand.

          Dave Zeltserman
          A Killer’s Essence

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book Review: Darwyn Cooke, The Hunter (2009)

Sometimes I react to a graphic novel by mumbling “I guess it was pretty good,” and this is one of those times. Having come to graphic novels too late in life, I often feel cut off from enjoying the art form, and, as a Parker fan, I have a hard time understanding why someone would work so hard at illustrating a detailed outline of a Parker novel, unless it’s to exploit a market of people who would never read a not-graphic Parker novel. This adaptation is well done (I guess), and I enjoyed seeing how Darwyn Cook chose to illustrate Parker himself. The page where Parker’s face first appears is quite arresting—he’s sort of a cross between Clark Kent and the Manhunt apeman. His face is, I think, too pretty, but this may well change with Parker’s plastic surgery. So, curious to see how the post-surgery Parker looks, I do plan on reading the next adaptation in the series (I guess). Grade: B

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pulp Poem of the Week

I’m rich.
Who the hell wants
to be happy?

          Raymond Chandler
          The Long Goodbye


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Review: Richard Stark, Dirty Money (2008)

The final Parker novel, Dirty Money, is good in the ways that all Parker novels are good, but there is nothing otherwise remarkable about it. It picks up right where the previous Parker novel leaves off: Our antihero wants to retrieve the $2 million dollars that his gang left hidden at the end of Ask the Parrot. He wants this money even though he knows that it is marked and therefore useless in the United States. This is a desperate Parker, running low on cash and working without I.D. Thus, his larger goal in the novel is to become a fully functional Parker again, flush and not fearful of an ordinary traffic stop. When Parker achieves this goal, however, the victory feels unavoidably sad, and I’m not too noir to admit it: I felt choked up at the end, sentimental about the exit of a character whose great charm is that he never feels sentimental. Grade: B-

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Ten Novels Reviewed in 2012

(list entries are linked to individual reviews)

Book Review: Dave Zeltserman, A Killer's Essence (2011)

Dave Zeltserman’s A Killer’s Essence put me in mind of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s notion of a Romance. In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables (1851), Hawthorne explained, “When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former—while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart—has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. If he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture. He will be wise, no doubt, to make a very moderate use of the privileges here stated, and, especially, to mingle the Marvelous rather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavor, than as any portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the public.” At its core, A Killer’s Essence is a police procedural, which is to say, a Novel. In the Novel’s main plotline, NYC cop Stan Green grasps at threads to catch a serial killer. The evanescent flavor of the Marvelous is provided by Zachary Lynch, a witness to one of the killer’s crimes. Lynch is a semi-recluse with neurological damage that prevents him from seeing faces. Instead, he sees the essence of people’s souls, be they serial killers or cops. As always, Zeltserman gives readers what they expect from a crime novel—and then a little bit more. Grade: B