Thursday, July 31, 2008


DC Comics says that under their Vertigo imprint, home of personal favorites like Y: The Last Man and Scalped, they will launch an off-shoot called Vertigo Crime.

Fuck yes.

Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin will be doing his first comic for the line, hopefully opening up the field for other crime novelists. Many of the current generation are already involved in comics, but doing work in series that they did not create (Victor Gischler, Duane Swierczynski, Charlie Huston). Hopefully Vertigo Crime will allow those mentioned and more to start up their own series. Years ago I heard Ken Bruen and Jason Starr were going to do an original comic together but I haven't heard about anything lately. Perhaps Vertigo Crime could carry their story...

For a guy who can only find two comics he likes out of the vast field of superhero boringness, Brubaker's Criminal and Aaron' Scalped, this is great news. I've always felt that comics were well-suited to noir and hopefully this will bring the medium new fans. Hell, maybe it will take comics in a whole new direction.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It's all set to go down next year. Maybe now I don't have to look like such a jackass when The Source ( doesn't have either of my books in.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

CATCHING UP #2: Kiss of Death (1947)

The Parkway Theater in Minneapolis ( is having a little mini-retrospective on the late great Minnesota boy named Richard Widmark. Every Monday night at 7:30 throughout August they will screen a classic Richard Widmark movie where he plays the heavy. The last night kicked it off, and the movie was Kiss of Death, a movie I'd heard much about, but never seen.

And boy, was it a disappointment.

Director Henry Hathaway is known mainly for three movies Call Northside 777, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and Kiss of Death. I remember the other two from when I was a kid because they were actually available at the local Mr. Movies in their very sparse "classics" section. Jimmy Stewart was in Northside, a slick enough thriller, and Gary Cooper was in the whole lot of fun adventure flick Bengal Lancer. With the exception of three scenes and all fifteen of the minutes Richard Widmark's Tommy Udo is on screen (two out of the the three scenes feature Udo), this movie is te-di-ous.

After writing the last sentence, Howard Hawks's old adage springs to mind: all a movie needs is three good scenes and no bad ones. This movie only met half that requirement.

Which is fucking WEIRD because one of the all-timers penned this slow, sad little script, frequent Hawks collaborator Ben Hecht. Really, all I could think about was if Hecht had worked with Hawks on this script, how great it would have been. As it is, it is a decent enough tale told with such earnestness and directness that there is absolutely no fun to be had...except for Tommy Udo.

Tommy Udo is the template for all the bad guys we would see afterward. For its time, Richard Widmark's performance must have really shocked people. His giggle, his toothy sneer, his wide eyes - the whole thing is very groundbreaking. But what it all comes down to is Udo pushing a little old lady in a wheelchair down the stairs. It's a nasty scene, iconic even, and undoubtedly what most people think of when they think of Richard Widmark. But fifteen minutes of excitement within ninety-some minutes of borrrrrrriinnnnggg does not a classic make.

The movie opens with the second best scene of the picture. A gang of criminals go into a skyscraper and take the elevator to a high floor they get off and rob the jeweler on that level. They tie up the jeweler and call the elevator to go down again. Then we cut back and forth between the robbers waiting nervously to make it to ground floor, and the jeweler struggling to reach the alarm. It's a very intense, exciting sequence that ends in robber Nick Bianco (a predictably sucky perfermance from the always disappointing Victor Mature) being apprehended by the police.

He does time, resisting the D.A.'s offer to cut a deal by ratting out the other guys involved in the heist and serving a few years before tragedy strikes. His commits suicide and his kids are sent to an orphanage. And not only that, he finds out that one of his old pals had been fucking his wife, one of his old robber pals, to be specific. Now, it's squealing time.

But not only does he have to squeal on his heist partners but on Tommy Udo, an infamous killer who holds great admiration for Bianco. Once he sets up Udo, he's home free, wipes his hands of the whole deal. Gets a square job and lives in a nice house with his kids and their babysitter who always wanted Nick's dick.

But then Udo beats the murder rap and comes for Bianco's blood.

Really, it's an old story but still a pretty good one. One could easily see a pretty good time coming from this story well-told. Maybe if Hawks and Hecht had at it, came up with a bunch of snappy lines and even snappier-paced scenes. Maybe put a more solid guy in the lead like Holden or Bogart and a classic is born. But these are all hyphotheticals. Instead we're left with laborious exposition and no subtext. The film is just so fucking earnest. Dear God is it ever sincere. Oh, Bianco loves his fucking precious fucking kids just so fucking MUCH. Boo-hoo.

And aside from Udo, everybody around him is so fucking boring and actually pretty stupid. The D.A. could have been a cool character, fucking with Bianco and pressuring him, but he is just straight up. He wants to help Bianco because the guy has kids. How boring is that. It's so fucking noble I could puke. And Bianco's lawyer is completely retarded for being a mob lawyer with connections. He's a million miles behind at every turn. Then there's Bianco's new wife, a gold-hearted kid who used to watch Bianco's kids when their mother was alive. She throws herself at Bianco the minute he gets out of prison, telling him that she's always loved him and blah blah blah. Imagine if it had turned out that she had killed his wife instead of the wife offing herself.

And that's another thing: It takes like ten minutes for Bianco to figure out that his wife is dead. First he wonders why she hasn't written him in three months. Then he has to ask around about her to other inmates. Then he has to sneakily ask a guy in the textile factory he works at what he knows about her. Then he has to go to the library and find her obit in a newspaper from weeks previous. TEDIUM. And, shit, like the warden wouldn't tell him, maybe even let him attend her funeral. It could have been one minute of screen time instead of ten.

And don't get me started on the hilarious obit. To paraphrase, it says, "Maria Bianco, 32, committed suicide by putting her head in the oven. She is survived by two children. Sources close to her mentioned money troubles." Who would write that in an obituary? Can you imagine reading in the newspaper, "John Thomas, 42, was died from auto-erotic asphyxiation in the shower of his sad little apartment where he lives alone. He isn't survived by anyone because his wife left him. Police on the scene noted his small penis."

But in the end, there's the final way-cool scene of the movie. Bianco tells the host at an Italian restaurant to fetch Udo from the backroom, tell him Nick Bianco's waiting for him. Then there's this shot where we see Udo through the crack in the doorway a thin sliver of Udo's face as he's approached by the waiter. Then we watch Udo slowly walk towards us, his eye popping into view every other step. It's a great little scene. And right after that, Udo tells his two boys to leave him and Bianco be at their table, so the two hoods sit at a table where a square couple are enjoying dinner. It got the biggest laugh of the whole night.

After that scene, the actual showdown occurs and it is more than disappointing. That's really the word for this movie: disappointing. I'll probably watch it again thirty years from now, though, wanting to catch that really cool Widmark performance once more. Hopefully next time I'll have a remote on hand to fast forward through the eighty minutes of shit that are covering up the fifteen of gold.

Kudos to The Parkway, though, on setting up this tribute. I plan on attending all the other movies in this mini-retrospective. Up next week is an Andre De Toth movie called Slattery's Hurricane that co-stars Veronica Lake. De Toth is an under-appreciated B-movie guy who made some pretty sharp westerns and noirs back in the forties, fifties, and sixties. Veronica Lake is hot. I'm in.



I keep up better than most when it comes to all the new noir stuff that's coming out, but even I miss some things. The books and movies in this series will not be brand-spanking new like everything else I cover but older stuff, stuff I missed when they first came out. Enjoy!


I've read all the series stuff by Bruen (Jack Taylor, Sgt. Brant) and all of his Hardcase books with Jason Starr (The MAX is on the way!!!) and even his standalone (also his best) novel American Skin, but I have missed a lot of his older work. London Boulevard isn't all that old comparatively, but it ain't new either. Anyway, it caught my eye because over at it was posted that The Departed screenwriter William Monahan is adapting London Boulevard for the talking pictures. I loved The Departed, I love Bruen, I love movies. The book seemed like it could do no wrong!

And it doesn't, really. It is top-notch Bruen storytelling. It has all his little tricks and quirks on display and it's a lot of fun...but there are just some things in there that are absolute...what-the-fuck-is-that-in-here-for kind of things. Okay, I'm not making much sense. Let me back up a little bit.

Mitchell has just gotten out of prison after serving some solid years for beating a guy within an inch of his life. Upon his release he has it pretty easy. A villain friend of his named Norton has given him a sweet flat to stay in situated in a trendy part of London. He saves some woman from muggers and she sets him up with a cush job at a rich old actress's house as a handyman where he's paid a boatload. Said old actress is pretty hot-looking for her years and she likes to hop on him now and again. All in all, not a bad gig.

But you've heard this set up before, you know that something evil is just around the corner.

Norton's boss wants to pull him back into the fold of evil once more, and Mitchell is up for it. To add gas to the fire, he falls for a pretty little colleen and the old actress fuck buddy and her strange eastern European butler aren't fans of such an occurence. And his daffy sister Briony is up to her old crazy ways once more as well. All of this escalates in the out-of-left-field way that Bruen has become known for, leading to many murdered and much loss for our hero.

All in all, that's a pretty good story. A little old-school, but in Bruen's hands it's swift and fresh. Mitchell is a good character who, naturally, loves crime novels and pop music and likes to remind the reader of said affinities over and over. If I wasn't such a big fan of Bruen I would have probably LOVED this book. But since I'm seasoned, jaded, I was a little let down.

The main reason is this: What is with the old actress and her crazy European butler? The storyline has a couple variations from it, but all in all it is fucking William Holden, Erich Von Stroheim and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. And he's obviously trying to make the connection. I mean, the book is called London Blvd. But why? What does he really add to the story that really warrants a retelling? I can't figure out why he was so enamored with the idea, why he felt he had to throw in his two-cents on a classic movie.

Aside from that things are mostly solid. The bad guys weren't really all that threatening in the end, but the "twist" makes that clear why that was Bruen's choice. The story was a little predictable but Bruen's style and choices always make that a non-issue. He can take something old and make it exciting again. Just look at what he did for P.I novels and police procedurals with the Taylor and Brant series.

But my question is this: Out of all the awesome shit that Bruen has done over the years, why is this the one to adapt? William Monahan wrote a mean, edgy script for one of the best crime movies in recent years so he's obviously got a plan up his sleeve. But seriously, what is it?

I mean, I'm glad that nobody is attempting to flat-out remake Sunset Blvd because that would just make thousands angry (and no money). But if that was your intent, to make something kind of similar to Sunset Blvd, why choose something that has essentially the same story within it, while surrounded by some pretty good peripheral crimes as well? Okay, looking back on that last sentence, I may have just answered my own question. But I really think that without the narrator, the written style, that this will be hard to make a decent movie out of. I mean, all of Bruen's books are that way, where if you just make it about the events it doesn't really give your the point or even the flavor, but this one especially. Out of all the Bruen books I'd like to see adapted (even if they ended up shitty), this one would undoubtedly be last on the list.

That being said, there isn't a book on that list I wouldn't be first in line for at the movies.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Minnesota Boy Makes Good with YELLOW MEDICINE

Okay, so Anthony Neil Smith is not exactly a Minnesota Boy. He actually come from "Deepsouth," as Borat would say, but he is currently living out west (sorry to hear it) and his latest novel, Yellow Medicine, is set in that particular wasteland of my great home state.

There have been a few other crime novelists of note from Minnesota, but not that many that I'm a fan of. Pete Hautman wrote some great novels in the Carl Hiaasen/late-period-Elmore-Leonard vein back in the nineties but now (with the exception of the wonderful Arizona set crime novel The Prop) he sticks mainly to writing for teens. William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor books are very good, but not really my kind of crime books, more along the lines of Connelly and the like but with more compelling characters. Though I have yet to read anything else by Smith yet, he has my vote for best Minnesota Crime Novelist.

Smith apparently pals around with Victor Gischler and Sean Doolittle, the three like to tour together and pimp each other's shit as much as possible, but none of their books are really alike. Victor Gischler writes crazy, funny, plot-focused novels where blood and guts drench every page. Sean Doolittle is possibly the most "organic" crime novelist of the current generation, his books driven naturally by their great characters. Like I said, I've only read one Anthony Neil Smith book to date, but with Yellow Medicine it appears that he is somewhat of a half-way point between the two.

Yellow Medicine centers around disgraced Yellow Medicine county cop Billy Lafitte, a southern transplant who left the gulf after some shady business took place around Katrina. Lafitte bums around town fucking coeds and taking bribes from meth dealers, occasionally taking in a show by his favorite band, Elvis Antichrist. After a gig the singer asks if he'll look after her boyfriend, a dumbass mixed up in the meth trade who is in hot water from some "foreign" fellows looking to horn in on the local illegal trade. Lafitte takes the gig not only because he loves the girl, but because this is his town, and if anything's going down, Lafitte better be getting his cut.

From there we follow Lafitte as he gets entangled in all sorts of crazy shit, eventually leading to a low-rent Muslim terrorist cell and the involvement of Homeland Security. A novel that starts with meth dealing hicks and ends with terrorists sounds like it should be a crazy, nutso good time (shades of Gischler) but in Smith's hands it is all fairly plausible. Lafitte is a bit of an asshole, but he is not a dick. He is a very flawed man but not a bad man. His very nature tends to make a mess of things quite often, and as often as his motivations are guided by his love of his friends and family they are also guided by his need to save his own ass. He is complex and interesting and believable, all of which makes him very Doolittle-ian (it will be a term in your 400 level English courses soon enough, trust me).

By marrying these two styles (okay, enough with the comparisons to the man's friends, this is getting insulting) he has made something totally his own. I hope to see more novels set in this universe and hope, for my own selfish reasons, that he at least continues to write about Minnesota. The Yellow Medicine County he portrays is a dark, unforgiving place with the occasional ray of light only coming from a handful of the people around Lafitte - people armed with "hot dishes" and ice-less "pop," no less. It is definitely a place I wish to spend more time in. Here's hoping Smith takes us there again.

If anything, maybe he could take us on a journey through the dark heart of my turf, the good old Twin Cities.

But no matter what he does next, I'll buy a copy. But before then, I'll be sure to read Psychomatic and The Drummer.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan has it down. The guy just makes good movies that nobody can balk at. And don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm saying that he plays it safe. The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Memento - these are FAR from safe films. But they are beautiful bastards (like the greatest of American films), love children created through the surprisingly holy one night stand where Miss High Art and Mister Crowd-Pleasing Entertainment did the deed for twelve hours straight. Christopher Nolan seems destined to make a Godfather, to give us a Chinatown. The Dark Knight sure is awfully damned close. Hell, people are already calling it The Godfather Part II of superhero movies. I'd agree with that, but it would be a disservice to the film. After all, what superhero movie would you even call The Godfather Part III of superhero movies?

Okay, so what is the crime geek doing talking about a superhero movie, you ask? If you have to ask, then you clearly haven't seen the film (and why not? It's already broken every box-office record ever, apparently, where were you on that one?). I'm reviewing this movie because it IS a crime movie. The opening bank robbery sequence? Easily one of the best heists we've seen in years. I'll bet Michael Mann pooped his pants when he watched it, it's so good. But that's not the only thing that makes it a crime movie.

The Joker may be costumed, he may be completely deranged, but you kind of love him. And it's not through knowing his origin (forget about getting any backstory right away), it's not about seeing him be sweet to his woman or some other shit. No, it's about the fact that, in a sick and terrible way, we almost understand him. After all, he is the inverse of Batman and therefore practically the same as Batman. A million things have already been said about Heath Ledger's performance, but a million and one is simply not enough: Heath Ledger's Joker is up there with Hopkins's Lector and Bardem's Chigurh, it is a performance both out of this known world and at the same time completely human. It is a further testament to how much of a loss to the film world his death really was.

So, great heist sequence? Check. Complex villains? Check. Convinced that this is appropriate for the site yet?

If not, then we'll get into !!!SPOILERS!!! territory. Procede to the bottom of the page if you haven't seen the movie yet.

The main thing that makes this into a noir film is the moral choices that are made. Batman doesn't kill. It's something that always bothers me about superhero movies, something that always makes me throw up my hands and shout at the screen: Fucking KILL that dude, already!!! But he has to make some terribly morally suspect choices in this film. He beats the living shit (AND BY THE WAY, IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT, WHY ARE YOU STILL READING??!!) out of the Joker like he's Bud White in L.A. Confidential only to find out that he has to choose whether to save Harvey Dent, the great white hope against crime, or Rachel Dawes, the only woman he loves. And, for the good of his city, he saves fucking Harvey Dent, the man who is currently fucking Rachel Dawes. It is absolutely heartbreaking. It is such a sick, demented scene that it could have been written by my man Allan Guthrie.

Then this leads to Dent becoming Two Face, the ultimate sympathetic villain. He's lost the woman he loves and, more importantly, faith in not only the judicial and executive system, but in humanity. He becomes a man who leaves everything up to the chance of a coin, and sometimes he'll keep flipping because he can't even let fate guide him. He is what Batman could have become after the murder of his parents. Once again, we have that scary duality, the thin line that separates Batman from the people he pursues. And, shit, when Dent holds the gun to Gordon's son's head, you're not entirely sure the kid will live. That is a tricky thing to pull off in a PG-13 blockbuster, to make people think that there are no rules. It just shows how dark Nolan's vision is, how he can make you forget that you're watching a superhero movie.


There is certainly superhero stuff going on, here. Batman gets in the Batmobile and has an amazing car chase with the Joker through the tunnels of Gotham (which is clearly Chicago, despite messing with geography). Batman still has amazing fighting skills and can take down a ton of badguys with guns simply with his karate moves. And thankfully, unlike Batman Begins, the action is actually intelligible while not being overly stylized like in The Matrix or V for Vendetta. There is a stark efficiency to the violence, much like the Bourne movies. And, yes, The Joker still looks like a super villain and Batman still looks like a guy in a costume and all those other trappings of a superhero movie. But the design on everything makes it seem a world apart from other superhero movies. Somehow, they've made an authentic feeling comic book world, they've created a superhero universe that reflects our own to a startling degree.

Are there flaws? Yeah, a few. It's a very long movie, a hair over two-and-a-half hours. That is fucking looooong. That being said, my attention only flagged for about five minutes toward the very end during a slightly overlong section of the climax (the part with the sonar shit, another slight problem for me). And, like I said, superheroes can't kill anyone and that always bothers me. But at the same time I'm glad it still works as a superhero movie. These quibbles aside, this movie still rocks.

Nolan and his brother Jonathan are masters of plot, and this one is a doozy. Like their previous films, it has a ton of twists and a strong focus (well, I didn't feel Batman Begins was focused enough, but everything else was incredibly strong) and it will satisfy any discerning crime movie fan as well as anybody just looking for the best, most challenging superhero movie ever made.

On there is nothing listed for what Nolan has in the works. I'm sure there's another Batman movie coming up and I'll be first in line for sure (despite Heath's sad absence as the Joker), but here's hoping he makes a straight up noir film. He's already done a million variations on the theme (Insomnia could be called film blanc), but I think he's due for a James Ellroy adaptation or something totally his own. Either way, I'm sure it'll be a real bastard. The Dark Knight sure is.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Gischler goes all sci-fi on your ass!

Victor Gischler is one funny-ass novelist. Pistol Poets is probably the funniest book this side of the early Carl Hiaasen stuff. Shotgun Opera makes you laugh just at the pure ridiculousness of the characters. Suicide Squeeze had the ultimate hard-luck protagonist and one of the more clever MacGuffins I've encountered. But what makes Gischler the real deal is not just that he's funny and silly, but that the laughs don't shit on the stuff the die hard crime folks want, i.e. the blood and guts and depravity.

Now he's gone all Charlie Huston on us and got himself a little shelf space in the sci-fi/fantasy section. Granted it has a great title, Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, but I was still skeptical of this book. From the descriptions I'd read online about the novel it seemed more like an adventure novel than a hard-boiled novel, and adventure I don't I tried to a while back with Mario Acevedo's vampire series, but couldn't get it into it. The hero was too much of a pussy, the story too cute to really justify my wanting to read anymore of it. For some reason I worried that this was what would plague The Gischler's latest book, that it would be all the whacky without the nasty.

I was wrong.

My fears were put to rest in the first chapter where Mortimer Tate, our hero who has waited out the end of the world on top a Tennessee mountaintop for almost a decade, blows away the first three people he's seen in nine years. And I mean blows away. Gischler is not of the Elmore Leonard belief that violence should merely be, "Tom shot Kevin." and other simple phrases like that. He's all about blowback, blood, bone fragments, geysers, spurts, brains, and the like. He relishes violence with the glee of a twelve year old watching Predator for the first time. I applaud.

His post-apocalyptic world is one where men either reinvent themselves (Mortimer's sidekick Bill takes up wearing two six-shooters on his belt) or are merely savage Darwinian beasts, where a strip club franchise is the key to rebuilding society, and where women are looked upon more as trade items than people. There are plenty of great ideas in every chapter (a train run a handcart powered by speed-fed body builders, a war fought with hybrids and MINI Coopers to preserve precious gas) as Mortimer and his merry band seem to constantly make it out of the frying pan into the fire as he searches for his ex-wife throughout the Southeastern United States.

But through all these satirical ideas and characters and situations he manages to keep the action brutal and the story moving. Sex, violence, and satire. What else do you reall need. This is one of those that I'll be passing around to everyone I know (anyone who wouldn't be interested in something called Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse is not a friendship you need to hang on to) in hopes of further discussing our favorite characters and aspects of this world Gischler has set up. It'd be fine with me if the author wanted to make more books set in this world, maybe earlier or later in the timeline with different characters. He's got a knack for this sort of thing. That being said, if this book really takes off and he goes strictly into the sci-fi genre, I'd be disappointed.

I'd still eagerly anticipate each new novel, though.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Piccirilli's THE FEVER KILL

After reading The Cold Spot I broke down and bought a snazzy-looking copy of The Fever Kill, another book in the noir vein from Tom Piccirilli. The introduction to the book by Ken Bruen informed me that Piccirilli had been writing westerns and horror novels up until now and this book is a mean hybrid of western and noir, a personal favorite type of hybrid for me.

Elmore Leonard wrote westerns before he took to crime books which are essentially contemporary urban westerns in his hands. George Pelecanos often writes books that play out like great westerns set in the gritty streets of D.C. (my favorite series of his books, the Karras and Clay trilogy of King Suckerman, The Sweet Forever, and Shame the Devil were VERY much in line with classic westerns). No Country for Old Men was western, noir and neither all at the same time. In other words, I was pumped to see a writer I'm less familiar with take a swing at a meshing of two favorites.

Like the previous novel I'd read, this one opens with a prologue that kicks you right in the balls. I brought it along fishing with my dad over the weekend and he picked it up and gave the first page a look and couldn't stop reading until he'd read the whole chapter. To take a phrase out of Karl's word-a-day calendar, I "concur." We start out with a disgraced cop being carried home drunk on the back of his put-upon son Crease. The cop had fucked up a ransom hand-off years previous that resulted in the shooting of the kidnapped little girl. The image of the son dragging his dad while the local deputy slowly follows him in his patrol car through town is burned in my brain. The whole sequence is just so perfectly mean and quietly sadistic that it brought a nasty little smile to my face.

Crease is run out of Hangtree following his father's death only to return a decade later to settle old scores along with some new ones. He's been working undercover trying to bring down the brutal druglord Tucco (nod to Eli Wallach, perhaps?) while finding some time to bone the big man's wife on the side. He has a son who hates him, a wife who doesn't understand him, and another kind coming soon by way of Tucco's girl. Before coming up to Hangtree to finally figure out what happened all those years ago in regards to botched kidnapping that ruined his father, he tells Tucco the truth about his identity. Tucco tracks him down to Hangtree and taunts Crease via disposable thugs and minor confrontations, allowing Crease the luxury of putting his father's old case to rest before the final showdown goes down (that's either an awesome way to end the sentence or super lame).

So you have the classic Chandler-style mystery thing going on where Crease interviews all the players with varied success to finally find out what happened while the classic ticking clock High Noon situation with Tucco looms overhead to keep things tight and the danger close. There is much discussion of how quick Tucco is "on the draw" with his butterfly knife instead of a gun, as well. Apparently Tucco's favorite way to kill people is to pop them in the temple in one quick flash with the blade. Cold. There are also many minor stand-offs throughout the book, usually involving Crease's favorite tough guy phrase "Do you want me to ____." (Naturally, this makes more sense if you read the book.)

As with The Cold Spot, my favorite aspect of the book was in the little details. Piccirilli has a knack for little criminal scams and insights that he peppers throughout, bringing a certain authenticity and originality to the prose seldom seen in many noirs. My favorite details involved Crease's knowledge of human nature, how he seems to be able to read what everyone is thinking around him, from his shify ex-girlfriend Reb to the old jock who used to throw bottles at him when they were kids. These small insights are what make the story hum, make it come alive.

Again, as with The Cold Spot, I felt there were a few too many cute moments in the story. The relationship between mute gravedigger and his bright son became tiresome as did certain attempts to humanize Crease like his relationship with his sister-in-law, a woman whose kids are legally adopted as Crease's so they can get health coverage. Since, compared to many noirs, Crease is a pretty "good" guy I felt that the story didn't need these cuter moments to help me root for him. But then I want even the assholes that populate your average Jason Starr novel to succeed.

But through it all Piccirilli keeps it tight and moving forward. The mystery aspect of the novel is kept to a minimum (a plus in my book, whodunnits aren't my bag) and pays off believably, no crazy-stupid twists here. The western stuff is nicely translated to the present and the small-town noir details make it feel like something Jim Thompson might have written. With The Fever Kill and The Cold Spot Piccirilli is fast becoming one of the noir writers to watch.

Friday, July 4, 2008


Allan Guthrie goes all the way. In terms of critiquing noir, I think that that is one of the best reviews a writer can receive so I will repeat myself: Allan "The Mad Scot" Guthrie goes all the way and refuses to wear shoes while doing so! The man is just ballsy and brilliant and goddamn fucking GOOD.

What does "going all the way" mean, you ask? It means that he comes up with a sick, nasty premise (which all noir writers do naturally) but then takes the story so far and breaks so many rules that you believe anything could happen, that anyone - even kids - are capable of meeting grisly, disgusting ends. I consider myself a tough, manly reader but with Savage Night and Hard Man, Guthrie honestly tests my mettle.

To quote Roger Ebert's original review for Blood Simple, " There is a cliché I never use: Not for the squeamish. But let me put it this way. Blood Simple may make you squeam." Now just replace Blood Simple with Savage Night or Hard Man and "may" with "will" and it's just about right.

The aforementioned Coen Brothers classic brings into focus a major reason why I love Guthrie's Savage Night. I think that the Coen film is brilliant because it is actually a very simple story that is made into an extremely complicated plot simply by what certain characters know and what others don't. Ray wouldn't have killed Marty if he known the P.I. had started the job instead of Abby. You see? It's a simple concept but in a way but an extremely complex sentence. That is kind of how Guthrie's hyper-intense book works. It seems simple enough (two families killing each other) but because of what certain characters know and their actions because of that knowledge (and Guthrie's twisty time line) it is made very, very complicated. There is something indescribably exciting about that to me, that the plot is complicated and twisted not through there being spies and hidden secrets and corrupt nations, but through life-size characters fucking up their lives and each other over simple motives.

It's also like Blood Simple because it is abso-fucking-lutely agonizingly intense. In fact, if this were made into faithful movie, it would make the Coen Brothers classic look like Muppets in Space. This book is sick, brilliantly plotted, filled with sharply-drawn characters, brutal, brutal, brutal, and funny (though most of the laughs were along the lines of "dear Jesus, I can't believe he's actually going to go through with this" than "oh, isn't that cute and clever").

But the main reason this book floored me so comes back to going all the way. Within the last few years I have become a horror fan after spending most of my life resisting such films. What made me come around to them is I realized that horror films were the one genre that can easily break rules. You can kill the big star in the first act. Everyone can die at the end. There can be a mix of humor and violence. The film can be unrelentingly grim. The first half of the film can be really slow and the second super intense and sick. You can literally do ANYTHING in horror movies as long as it is scary. You can GO ALL THE WAY. I think that Guthrie's approach to noir is much like an edgy filmmaker's approach to his horror movie. Hell, with all the torture and blood and guts in this book, you might actually think you were reading a horror novel. Guthrie just rewrites the polite rules of genre books and keeps the pages flying, never making you groan along the way.

I really liked Two-Way Split and Kiss Her Goodbye but it wasn't until I'd read Hard Man that I really stood up and cheered. It was my favorite novel of 2007. If a book rocks me harder than Savage Night later this year, I'm writing up '08 in the noir history books.