Showing posts with label crime fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crime fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Signal Watch Reads: Dirty Money (a Parker novel - 2008)



On Monday around 3:07 Pacific Time (I was flying back from Berkeley, CA), I finished the final Parker novel by Richard Stark, Dirty Money (2008).

It's a hell of a thing to say I read all 24 Parker books, plus the four Grofield spin-off novels.  That's certainly a first for me, when it comes to books.  Back in the 1990's, I read about five or six books with a tight continuity by William Kennedy, and I've read a lot of Hammett's "Continental Op" short stories - but 28 books by one person feels like a lot, airplane reading though they were.

Dirty Money doesn't conclude the series except for the fact that Donald Westlake (Stark's real name) passed on December 31, 2008 without producing any additional Parker novels.  Parker doesn't die, doesn't go to jail, doesn't give up on crime to have 3.5 kids and become a manager at Hardee's.  Butcher's Moon, the 1974 near-conclusion of the Parker series, also didn't feel quite like a finale, although the bodycount in the novel certainly had the sort of thing you didn't imagine Stark wanting to top.  But it did make for a satisfying conclusion of sorts.

Fortunately, so, too does Dirty Money make for a fantastic conclusion to the 90's-00's Parker rebirth.  The story ties together the plots of the two prior books into one continuous novel of sorts, refusing to gloss over the complications that I had, as a reader, half forgiven Stark for, thinking he had maybe written the other too quickly, hadn't really paid the same attention to detail he once did in that 1960's-70's heyday that produced the first ten novels of the series.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

SW Reads: Ask The Parrot (a Parker Novel by Richard Stark, 2006)



Ask The Parrot (2006) is the penultimate Parker novel.  Frankly, I'd been dreading hitting this book based on the title alone, which sounded like one of those caper novels that would get turned into a movie with Dennis Farina that was funny, but not *that* funny, and mostly forgettable.

It's a strange, small book, playing well to several of Stark's strengths and his interest in exploring multiple characters and POV's in a single book.  He sticks with the winning formula, maintaining a limited omniscient narrator's voice but using the 3rd section of the book to jump from person to person in the situation, setting up what would happen in the explosive fourth portion of the novel when everything comes together to fall apart.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Noir Watch: Cry of the City (1948)


We were asked to review Cry of the City (1948) by NathanC over at Texas Public Radio.

Click on over there and read my review and Nathan's review of Boomerang (which I've never seen, but now I want to).   A thousand thank-you's to Nathan.  I had a great time watching the film (which I really, really liked.  But I also think Mature and Conte are Mitchum cool.), and it was a great pleasure getting to contribute to TPR.org.

I'll post a draft of the review here in the future, but for now, please do click over to TPR.org

Monday, October 3, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Breakout (a Parker novel, 2002)



This was the Parker novel I accidentally skipped when I grabbed Nobody Runs Forever off the shelf and plowed through that one.  While I was more than able to follow Nobody Runs Forever - the books are episodic enough that you can tell Stark never counted on anyone having had read the other books, let alone in order - thematically, this book points toward Parker's state in life, and maybe something author Richard Stark realized was far more inevitable in the early 00's than in 1962 when Parker first walked across a bridge into New York.  By 2002, technology had made heisting far harder, the work of cops far more efficient, and the likelihood of escape from a high-profile job that much harder to swallow for the general public.

So, Breakout (2002), is less about a heist and, instead, about Parker getting caught by the law and the difficulties of extracting himself from the situation as complication after complication rears up.  You can almost see how Stark/Westlake might have wanted to use the concept for comedic purposes - the almost insane domino effect of getting compromised within first two or three pages, with nothing following going particularly well.  The premise could make for a trials of Job situation or it was going to make for a white-knuckle thriller and Stark chose the latter.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Parker Watch: The Split (1968)



I'd been wanting to see The Split (1968) for a while.  Based upon one of my favorite Parker novels, The Seventh, it also starred Jim Brown, pro-football superstar turned movie star (and a generally much better presence on the big screen than you generally get out of other former athletes*).  I wasn't aware of the pedigree of the cast for this movie which is all but forgotten.  But when you have a movie with Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Julie Harris, Jack Klugman, Warren Oates, Gene Hackman, Diahann Carroll... and people don't remember it?

Well, it's not a great sign.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Nobody Runs Forever (a Parker novel, Richard Stark, 2004)



My mistake - packing for our Seattle trip, I just reached onto my shelf and grabbed this book without checking the reading order.  So, after reading 24 of the Parker/ Grofield novels, I finally accidentally read one out of order.

Mostly with Parker novels, it doesn't matter, they're self-contained.  But of course, after 24 of these things (if you count both Parker and Grofield books, and I do), this one ends on a cliffhanger.  I kind of want to know what happens next rather than go back and read Breakout, the one I accidentally skipped.  So, we'll see.

But we're here to talk Nobody Runs Forever, the 2004 Parker novel by Richard Stark.

Of the post-hiatus Parker novels, this one has Parker feeling, perhaps, the most like Parker again, even if much of what occurs around Parker feels less like an old-school Parker strategy session and execution of a heist and, instead, Stark spends his page count and energies on exploring the cast of misfits around the heist, seeming to want to explore new characters he introduces, possibly for a spin-off series.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Super Krime Watch: Danger - Diabolik (1968)



For years I've been aware there's a movie called Danger: Diabolik (1968), but I didn't know much about it.  You'd see references to it in comics and hear film buffs mention, but details were scant.  The movie is based on some Italian comics I've never actually seen in the wild, and of a genre that's never really managed to cross over the Atlantic and with which I've barely any awareness - a sort of super-criminal fantasy.

The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is currently running a series their calling "Super Krime", which is a series about "super criminals", ranging from the silent era to the modern era, with some Bond tucked in there.  If you're going to do a series about "super criminals", there's hardly a better fit than Danger Diabolik.  The movie is entirely about a master thief and robber, a sort of dark-mirror Batman.  He's a brilliant, quiet mastermind with a subterranean hide-away where he plans his heists and makes time with his Robin, who - in this case is a sexy blonde who knows how to wear go-go boots.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Nick & Nora Watch: Another Thin Man (1939)



After two great movies in a row, the third installment of the Thin Man series, Another Thin Man (1939) feels like a project that just didn't gel as well as it could have.

I recently completed reading The Return of the Thin Man, which is less a book and more the lost story-treatments and scripts that Dashiell Hammett worked on during his tenure in Hollywood and some editorial/ historical notes about what was going on with Hammett in relation to the work.  Frankly, you're probably better off just watching the two movies it covers - After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man, but completionists will find the book worth checking out.

The gist of the notes about this third movie indicate that not only was Hammett sort of done with Nick and Nora before he even started work on the movie, the credited screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett - who had worked with Hammett on the two prior films - were also ready to call it a day.

All in all, the film does work.  Let's not call it a troubled film.  But the alchemy that caught everyone's attention in the original that semi-carried over to the sequel, is fizzling a smidge by this installment.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

70's Watch: Shaft (1971)



In the 1990's, for reasons that involve a lot of co-option of black culture by suburban white kids, and waffling between irony, genuine appreciation and I think a sincere love for the score - young white America somehow became invested in the 1971 film that was considered one of the best films to come out of the blaxploitation movement, Shaft.

Context free, a lot of us cracker kids watched I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka on VHS or HBO, maybe understanding that this was riffing on movies of a prior era, but I hadn't seen them, nor had my peers.  I think the closest I got to taking in any blaxploitation film until the early 90's was tuning into Super Fly one night as a kid in middle school, believing from the title that it was a superhero movie I'd somehow missed.  If anything, I got a clue as to what the spoof movie had been on about via reruns of TV shows that lifted from blaxploitation, but I confess to being mostly ignorant of the genre until maybe 1992 or when I got to college.

Kids hipper to a wider variety of music than what I listened to picked up pop-culture references as 80's and 90's hip-hop name-dropped and sampled from 70's actioners and that bled over to other genres of dance music.  The curious kids picked up some of those movies to rent and saw a lot of stuff I didn't catch until others got me to take a look or I heard about it word of mouth (the internet was just Star Trek fan pages and lo-fi porn then, you see).  Other kids who had gotten into soul and funk music tracked down Isaac Hayes and wanted to actually see Shaft.  I do know that by the time I left high school, I was at least aware of who Hayes was, but that was about it.  Had maybe heard of Shaft, but this was also an era in which your local Blockbuster likely didn't carry movies that were older than 7 or 8 years from the theater.

As a good, sorta-hip white kid of the 1990's, I caught Shaft at some point during film school.  I don't remember if it was before or after a unit on blaxploitation as a genre and my first exposure to Pam Grier (something a young man never forgets).

The funny thing is - watching it this last weekend, I didn't really remember Shaft all that well.  Once the one guy gets tossed out the window, I couldn't really piece together what the plot had been, just snippets here and there.  So, I was pleasantly surprised to find out - Shaft is actually a strong private detective story in a classic pulp-crime style (deeply appealing to this viewer), with a fascinating protagonist who is literally not playing by anyone else's rules - if'n you should ever want to see what that actually looks like, you with your anti-heroes.

And, of course, Shaft is a Black superhero who cuts through white culture through the sheer power of not giving a good goddamn.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Firebreak - a Parker Novel (by Richard Stark)


While I'm glad that Stark came back to try Parker again in the 90's, and then, with this novel released around 2001 (and a few more afterward), there's no question that the tone had changed.  The first two books back were nearly comedies.  Firebreak (2001), has moments of delving back into the Parker of The Green Eagle Score, and, especially, The Sour Lemon Score, but Stark was no longer able to tap into near nihilism that drove the first third of the series again until Slayground and Butcher's Moon.

Here, you can feel Stark doing some hand waving as he deals with the fact that the world of heists has changed since Parker was pulling armored car heists and knocking over rare coin shows.  By 2000, security systems were everywhere, surveillance was commonplace, and the internet was still called "The Information Superhighway" by dopey newscasters.

Stark wants to deal with these modern touches, but when he does, it's half-satisfying.  Every once in a while he states how something works, and you want to say "well, no...  Not even in 2001.".  And he's saddled the heisters with a character he's concocted to bridge the books into this new age of technology (which was already well underway when this book was released).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: The Little Sister (by Raymond Chandler, 1949) audiobook



The Little Sister (1949) is the fifth Raymond Chandler novel starring Phillip Marlowe, the detective character made most famous in The Big Sleep.  Clearly written after Chandler's stint in Hollywood (he would team with Billy Wilder during the writing of Double Indemnity), Marlowe's time in LA finally gets him crosswise with Hollywood machinations and mob ties.

A fairly prissy but possibly pretty young woman with the unlikely name Orfamay Quest from Manhattan, Kansas appears at Marlowe's office.  She's seeking her brother, Orrin, who has been in LA for a while, but seems to have disappeared.  Taking Midwestern thriftiness to extremes, she hires Marlowe at half-price (also, because Marlowe is bored and has no other clients that day) and it soon becomes clear the touchy Orrin may have been in deep into something shady, and, because it's a Chandler mystery, deadly.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Parker Watch: The Outfit (1973)



I've seen a few adaptations of the Richard Stark-penned series of crime novels starring heist-man, Parker.  Point Blank (great), Payback (not so great), Parker (really not so great).   Maybe another one or two.  But The Outfit (1973) was maybe the closest to an actual Parker book in spirit and execution.  I won't dwell on the differences, because they're many, but the movie does use scenes from the book in whole and in part (it's been a while since I read the early Parker books, and I think they pulled a scene or two from other Parker books, but I may be wrong).

The movie captures a lot about the world of Parker.  It's a lot of backroads, hiding or waiting in cheap motel rooms, the people you try to work with are unreliable and dangerous, and the people who are the closest thing to something you'd call "friend" tend to wind up dead, in prison or both.

I really didn't know much about the movie before SimonUK brought it over Sunday morning for a view, other than that it starred Robert Duvall in the Parker role - here named "Macklin" (author Richard Stark wouldn't let films use the name "Parker" - I suppose until they made a straight adaptation).  The film co-stars Karen Black and Joe Don F'ing Baker.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: "The Lady in the Lake" by Raymond Chandler (1943) - audiobook


The great thing about novel adaptations back in the day was that they clearly either adapted the movies of books they'd read ten years prior and couldn't remember anymore, or they'd be damned if they were going to finish the book before pounding out a script.

I say this, because I've seen the odd-ball noir detective film, The Lady in the Lake directed by and starring Robert Montgomery at least twice, but more like three times.  Why?  Well, it's a super strange movie told from a first person POV with a windy plot that takes a surprisingly believable break in the action for Christmas Eve, and features Audrey Totter at her Totter-iest.

Why, yes, I am going to look right into the camera the whole movie.  Why?

But I don't really want to write a compare-and-contrast of the film and book.  First, only one of you has likely even seen this movie (for shaaaaaame...), and, you know, they're two different beasts.

Still, Audrey Totter.

seriously, this movie is odd, and I totally recommend it

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: The High Window (1942) by Raymond Chandler



I've been thinking a bit about the difference between the Continental Op work, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.  Brighter minds than me have surely covered this - but you're here reading this, so...  here we go.

To be sure, there are more similarities than there are differences.  Working class detectives working in a shadowy world where wealth buys your way into indulging your perversions and clear of ignominy.  Low class hoods are always on the make.  Dames who can work an angle have it made, until they don't.  And then they wind up cold and stiff.  It's not whether everyone you meet has an angle, it's what their angle is - and if they don't have one, they're a chump.

Mostly, anyway.

The Continental Op doesn't have a heart of gold, but he's a square guy.  He's a brawler, almost always has a gun and will throw some lead around.  Sam Spade has a heart in there, too, one that's more likely to fall for a dame than the Continental Op, who knows he's no looker and has reason to distrust any dame that gets too close.  But Hammett's detectives never really warm to much of anyone, even when they tell you otherwise.  At best, they tolerate others and try not to admit it when any women get too close.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler (1940) - audiobook



I haven't read all that much Raymond Chandler.  I read The Big Sleep more than a decade ago (specifically when I was trapped in a hotel in Las Vegas the week of 9/11 and I couldn't fly home).  And if I've read more than that, I don't really recall.  I do remember thinking "I'm more of a Dashiell Hammett guy" after reading The Big Sleep, but sooner or later you want to read some of the other stuff.

Of course you can't be into noir film and not stumble across adaptations of his work and work he adapted into screenplays (see Double Indemnity, where he gets a brief cameo).

But I figured I needed to read some more Philip Marlowe, Chandler's go-to Detective where Hammett had Sam Spade and The Continental Op.

Farewell, My Lovely (1940) is a winding mystery that starts on page 1 as Philip Marlowe fails to mind his own business when he sees a giant of a man, a white guy, walk into an African-American club and start a ruckus.  He literally sticks his nose in and gets grabbed by Moose Malloy, a heist-man just paroled and out looking for his ex-girlfriend, Velma.  Moose is stronger than he knows, stupidly violent, and single minded, and winds up killing the bar's manager.

In the aftermath, Marlowe gets wrapped up in the case, but no sooner does he decide to bail than he gets hired by a suave gentleman looking for protection as he bargains for the safe return of a lady-friend's hi-jacked jewels.  Marlowe doesn't protect him and the gentleman winds up dead, and that, in turn gets Marlowe all the more involved with his failed job.  Soon, beautiful dames, crooked cops, mentalists, shady hospitals and honestly illegitimate off-shore gambling operations all play a part.  And a bright young daughter of a former police commissioner.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

McQueen Watch: The Getaway (1972)

Full confession time.



I haven't seen that much in the way of Sam Peckinpah.  It's not usually something I think Jamie will like, and as we watch movies together, I haven't seen The Wild Bunch since college.  And, prior to this evening, I'd never seen this movie, but I didn't know it was Peckinpah until the credits rolled.  I just didn't say anything to Jamie because, well, I really wanted to watch this movie.

I also haven't watched all that many Walter Hill movies, and only saw The Warriors sometime in the last 12-24 months.  And I loved it for what it was.

And, of Jim Thompson's work, I've also only read The Killer Inside Me.  And, at that, a long time ago, and I barely remember it.

Still, I'm familiar with all of their work by reputation.  You can't watch and read what I do and not have that stuff enter your sphere a little.

I wanted to watch this because it's one of the three or four "must watch" Steve McQueen movies, and I'd never gotten around to it, and, I'll be honest, I'm totally kicking myself for not having had watched this 20 years ago so I could have re-watched it a bunch by now.  It's a @#$%ing good movie.

Directed by Sam Peckinpah.  Written for the screen by Walter Hill, based on a novel by Jim Thompson.  Shot in Huntsville, San Marcos, San Antonio and other parts of Texas.  Starring Steve McQueen and with a small role by Slim Pickens.

What's not to like?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

"Parker" Watch: Payback (1999)

Way back in 1999, I remember this movie coming out, but I didn't really care, because I wasn't much of a Mel Gibson fan.  And even since I began reading the Parker novels and found out that Payback (1999) was an adaptation of The Hunter, the first Parker novel by Richard Stark, I've been curious, but I wasn't going to make it a priority.



You kind of have to understand where action movies were in 1999.  It was an era that loved (I mean loved) formula and plot point checkboxes every movie had to contain.  Once you knew the formula, you were going to see action stars basically go through the motions, and by the late 1990's, these movies were going through the motions in pretty terrific style as new filming techniques and ideas were lifted from Asian action movies and cinematography techniques changed.  But the scripts were beginning to feel pretty anemic as action heroes became overly familiar, their tropes predictable, and, frankly, maybe got a little long in the tooth for what they were doing.  Really, if superhero movies and The Matrix hadn't come along, it's a pretty good question where action movies would have gone, but even as an action-movie guy, I was losing interest, and I was squarely in the intended demographic as a 24-year old dude at the time of this movie's release.

But last night I found this movie available for free on Amazon Prime, so I figured - hey, why not?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Flashfire (a Parker Novel)

As much as the folks write the introductions in these books want to say otherwise, when Stark came back to Parker after decades of being away, it's pretty clear his worldview had changed a bit, what he could and wanted to do in a heist book had altered.  But, you know, you're talking about the 15th or so book of the Parker series, and, if you include the 4 Grofield novels, this is the 19th written under the nom de plume of Richard Stark rather than Donald Westlake.



It's an oddly silly Parker novel, a pretty far cry from The Seventh or The Sour Lemon Score, and after however many years of writing Dortmunder novels, I have to assume it all bleeds together for the writer.  Also, as in the return novels, a lot relies on coincidence and hoping the reader isn't thinking too hard about possible holes in the plot.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (audiobook)

This isn't the first time I have read Red Harvest (1929) by noted crime and detective author Dashiell Hammett.  In fact, it was the first Hammett I ever read, but it was about fifteen years ago and over the course of a few plane rides, and after reading my fair share of Hammett since, I could only remember snippets here and there and the general plot and tone.  But with Hammett's birthday recently passed, I decided that was my cue to revisit the book.



It would seem this novel inspired a whole lot of other stuff from general tone to dialog to whole films, but to my knowledge it has never been translated into a movie of the same name with the same characters.  And it's just as likely the things the book inspired were, in turn, the inspiration for other works.  There are certainly similarities to the book in the Kurosawa movie Yojimbo (but Kurosawa states he was inspired by The Glass Key, a different Hammet book turned into a movie with similar themes - and the movie has Veronica Lake, natch), which in turn would have inspired A Fistful of Dollars and the mediocre as hell Last Man Standing.

I'd argue that the Coen Bros. were obviously nuts for Hammett, and Miller's Crossing is essentially a particularly strong blend and distillation of Red Harvest and The Glass Key, in everything from plot similarities to character archetypes to Hammett's very specific dialog and use of slang.  Further, the term "Blood Simple" is used more than once in the book, and is - not coincidentally - the title of their debut film.

Hammett had a favorite character, a detective who refused to name himself (cough... Man With No Name... cough) in his narratives.  The character appeared in what must have been dozens of short works published in magazines like Black Mask and which are known as The Continental Op stories.  A private detective employed by The Continental Detective Agency usually solves crimes around the Bay Area during the 1920's - the period during which Hammett was writing (and drinking, one assumes).