Wednesday, May 19, 2021

QUICK SHOTS: "Griffu" By Jean-Patrick Manchette and Tardi

I wish comics like this were stuff that cinematic universes were built on because this is solid adult fare. There's cartoon boobs and everything. The Europeans take comics a bit more seriously then we do over here. I've been reading Euro comics since before I knew there was a difference thanks to a healthy selection of Tintin books contained in my local library. I loved Tintin, he was bit like Indiana Jones and a bit like both Hardy Boys rolled into one. They had gunfights and car chases and all the junk that a 10-year-old me loved (a 35-year-old me too) and when in my later years I figured out that there were whole worlds of comics I hadn't experienced it was a bit like Christmas morning. I found out about Corto Maltese, Gil Jordan and Clifton and had a ball. Also along my way to the forum I had discovered Leo Malet's Nestor Burma novels and became a instant fan. Seriously hunt them down. Via Nester Burma I found out about Tardi, the French artist who was adapting the novels to comics. When I found out about Tardi/Burma none had been translated (now rectified, I own but still need to read it) I found the local (different) library had some Tardi comics, adaptations of different novels by a different guy named Jean-Patrick Manchette. My socks were knocked off. 

Jean-Patrick Manchette is a respected French author and translator who pretty much started the "modern" version of the French-crime novel with a series of slim well-received politically charged pot-boilers. He had a major love for all things crime fiction, novels, movies and must have like comics too because him and Tardi hooked up along the trail and produced in collaboration "Griffu." In the preface it quotes Manchette saying it he wanted to make a slam-bang noir like 1955's "Kiss Me Deadly" which just instantly endeared me to the comic. It's a comfortable story. A twisty, cliched love letter to all fiction private eyes as Griffu untangles a web of deceit on the trail of a women who duped him into stealing some files that everyone seems to want. There's femme fatales, gunsels, fisticuffs, real-estate fraud, shootings and simmering lust. Manchette lays it nice and thick with the hardboiled antics which meld nicely with Tardi slightly cartoon yet detailed style. It's a feast for the eyes six-ways from Sunday. 

Griffu was recently translated for the first time and put into a collection with an adaption of Manchette's novel "3 Days to Kill" as "West Coast Blues" which is a dynamite tale of a man on the run from killers that twists into weird and brilliant ways. I can't recommend this nice package enough. The comics got me to buy a handful of Manchette's books, but I haven't read one yet, which goes to show you how dim-witted I can be. I'll be fixing that shortly with a reading of "No Room at the Morgue" the first in his two book series about P.I. Eugene Tarpon so stay tuned for that. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Violent World of Parker and Me; Plus "Slayground" by Richard (Donald E. Westlake) Stark

Confession time. 

I've been an accomplice of Parker's for a long time. No not as close as Handy McKay or Alan Grofield but I've been around the proverbial block with him. I came to Parker via the 1998 movie "Payback" which I liked a lot more before I found out who Parker really was. I learned that through the library and battered and tattered hardcovers for the later books and much worse paperback copies from the Avon run. I got a few copies for myself back then too, but Parkers have always been hard to get second hand. Parker's a keeper. The tale of Parker, his inception, his trials, troubles, near death and resurrection have been well documented by better literary historians than I, so I won't write anything to pale in comparison. Go to Violent World of Parker and loose yourself if you're not in the know

Donald Westlake taught me a lot as himself and as Richard Stark. Some good shit as Tucker Coe too. He's a writer who seemingly could do it all. Light and fun. Hard and dark. Sad and mysterious. Whatever you need. A true professional.  He's probably best known for being the fictitious Richard Stark, but hell I'm sure Stark would have thought Westlake was the phoney. Westlake taught me a lot about writing. Try to be like Westlake, try to be clean, try to be clever, get out of the way and follow your characters around and most importantly there's no limits. If you want to be funny in one thing; be funny. If you want to be the hardest-boiled ever; do that. He was amazing talent. I read Dortmunder books in a sitting, devoured his stand-alone's and then of course the Parkers. I even like the Grofield's a lot more than most people. I remember reading "Bank Shot" and "Jimmy the Kid" back-to-back over a long Sunday, in re-bound library hardcovers in a chair while visiting my grandmother and trying to block out Lawrence Welk reruns on the TV. Westlake might have made a good crook. If you think up a good way to steal a whole bank, like in "Bank Shot," then you might have had the right stuff. And hey, he already had the alias thing down. 

Recommendations as Westlake: "Bank Shot," "Jimmy the Kid," "Dancing Aztecs," "Why Me?" and "Castle in the Air." 

Parker is about the blankest slate you can make a book series out of. You never know much about him, he doesn't talk much, he just moves like a shark through the narrative to accomplish his goals. The goals are usually robbing, killing or surviving. Or all three, at least they all pretty much always happen. He operates in a quasi-age-less world of professional and unprofessional crooks and big time syndicates or Outfits, if you will of the mob. He's qualified, tough and you certainly don't want to be on his bad side. He's got no friends, associates; yes and a few ladies. Most notably Claire who sticks it out with Parker over a bunch of books. She's mostly a non-character though, often more in the background. It's all you need, the Parker books are about quick moving narratives full of death, deceit and pitch perfect storytelling. Overall some the novels are a bit of a formula pieces while other may stray too far off the formula (I'm looking at you "The Jugger") but Stark/Westlake on a bad day is still better than most.

I eventually read all the original 16 novels before Stark reemerged in 1997 with "Comeback," another confession I'm not really into the 8 novels from '97 to 2008. I've tried, but they failed to connect with me. It may be the time-frame, it may be the slightly longer page count or something stupid like the lack of a mass market paperback. I dislike holding trade paperbacks. I don't know, they just sort of fell flat to me. Someday I'm sure my head will screw on straight and I'll realize that I've been an idiot all these years. At least then I'll have 8 new Parkers to enjoy.

Recommendations as Stark: "The Score," "The Sour Lemon Score," "The Outfit," "Lemons Never Lie" (Grofield) "Deadly Edge" and "Slayground" 

The movies are a mixed bag. Ranging from stone cold classics to complete messes (I'm looking at you "Parker") with a wide range of actors playing Parker (or the equivalent character) such as Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Jim Brown, Mel Gibson, Peter Coyote, Anna Karina and Jason Statham. "Point Blank" is the best movie of the bunch, but "The Outfit" is probably the best depiction of Parker as a character. Both versions "Payback" the theatrical and the director's cut have their pluses and minuses. "The Split" has one of the coolest cast ever assembled, but meanders too much. "Slayground" is an interesting hodge-podge of a movie, but Peter Coyote is miscast. I enjoy "Made in the USA," but it's not Parker at all and never tires to be. The Jason Statham led "Parker" is simply by-the-numbers affair that is quickly forgotten. The only one I haven't seen is the French "Mise a Sac" or "Pillaged" from 1967, which I desperately want too cause I love 60's French crime movies and it's based on "The Score" which is a dynamite novel. For a character that is relatively unknown to the public at large, the Parkers really inspire those who make movies. He's got a lot of adaptions (and ripoffs) for a series character in a non-series way. It's interesting to me that the blank nature of the character has an effect on filmmakers, its a good framework to build a picture on. It's a shame that there aren't more good Parker films. He's a wholly unique character, say if a film was announced tomorrow I wouldn't be surprised if Parker was played by Idis Elba or Mads Mikkelsen or Tom Hardy or Charlize Theron. They could all work. 

So, I felt the itch for a Parker. I don't generally like to re-read, there too many books in the world (and my library) for that. But I wanted a Parker. So, "Slayground" found it's way into my hands and I was off to the races. In my first reading of the series "Slayground" was a standout. It strayed from the standard Parker formula of planning and heisting, instead doing a "Die Hard" in a closed for the winter amusement park against a crew of mobsters and dirty cops. It's a crackerjack tale that builds and builds and leaves you wanting more. If you're new to Parker in might not be the best to start with since it's so far off of formula but there's a clear reason why its a fan-favorite: It kicks all kinds of ass. It's been a while since I've gone through the books and now that I've started I don't think I can stop. Which is fine, they will be almost new books to me, enough time has past that I only remember chunks and parts but not whole novels. 

I imagine I'll always be an accomplice of the professional thief Parker. His dark world somehow feels like home to me, I'll have to watch my back from the couch to the bathroom but home all the same never know who is closing in.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Quick Shots: The Coffin Things by Michael Avallone

The cover of "The Coffin Things" by my man Michael Avallone promises that it'll soon to be a movie by Fran├žois Truffaut. Damn. That's a shame that never happened. I'd give up a finger or two to see that movie. There's a lot of paperbacks claim "Soon to be a Motion Picture" on the cover, but this might be the first one I've come across that exclaims who the director was going to be. Hmmm. There's a story there that's probably lost to the sands of time. Anyway, last year I bought a box of Avallone books off eBay. I mostly was looking for the Ed Noon's that were in there, but "The Coffin Things" caught my eye. This edition has a great cover that it shares with a Len Deighton book. There's a lot going on with this novel and I haven't eve talked about what it's about.  

"The Coffin Things" is a carnival fun-house of a book. Once we bought our ticket and walk into the home of Dr. Stewart Garland, the world's finest mortician, the rug is constantly pulled out from underneath us. It's a full-tilt ride full of corpses, grisly murders, private eyes, local cops, nudity, ghosts (maybe),  lesbian sex in cars, missing plus found prostitutes, and interesting ways to spend the after-life. Being a Michael Avallone book there's Gary Cooper references, musical bits, James Bond name-drops with some spy-ish gadgets and a lot of old fashioned fun. Garland is the mortician to the rich in a small town and after a series of personal rejections and loss he looses his grip and begins to take his subtle revenge. Which he does in the nude in his basement mortuary, It's easy to imagine Boris Karloff in the part. It really has a feel of a classic 40's B-Horror-Movie. A spooky house film updated for the wild late-60's. Though hopefully Karloff would have remained clothed if the film was made. To top that off there are some "weird vengeance" pulp-vibes running through it, but like all of Avallone's work it really could only have came out of his typewriter. 

Man, I loved this book. "The Coffin Things" is top-shelf Avallone, so particular, fun-loving and spooky. It might be my favorite of his novels, but it's hard to top a couple of Noon's. It's easily my favorite of his non-series work. Now I'm on a quest to track down the Gothics he did as Edwina Noone (perfect) which seem like they might be similar. It's not the easiest (or cheapest) book to track down, all old horror books seem to go for a premium, but there was at least two editions of it so that helps. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

Quick Shots: "Let's Here It for the Deaf Man" by Ed McBain

Now, I've read Ed McBain before; a few times actually sometimes as Ed McBain sometimes under other names. BUT I've never read an 87th Precinct novel and now that I have I feel like an idiot. Why, oh why was I depriving myself? Well, actually I know why: it was an intimidating 55 book series and an admitted dislike of police procedurals. The concept of simply procedurals implies there's less fireworks than I usually like in a book. 

That whole paragraph was just there for me to announce to the world that I've been a dunce.

Ed McBain was Evan Hunter, sort of anyway. Evan/Ed could write the hell out of a book. I've read some of the stand alone crime/private eye novels he wrote towards the beginning of his career and uniformly enjoyed them. "I'm Cannon - For Hire" is a lot of fun in a specific 50's pulp kind of way, as is his work as Richard Marsten. I think I have have read some of his Matthew Hope series, but that was many beers and books ago so I can't rightly remember.

That whole paragraph was just there for me to announce to the world that I damned well knew Ed McBain could write and I STILL didn't read an 87th Precinct. What a dumbass.

So, I picked "Let's Hear it for the Deaf Man," because I have seen the film adaptation of "Fuzz" cause if Burt Reynolds is in a movie I'll watch it. Plus Yul Brenner. Plus Rachel Welch. Even plus Jack Weston. The Moriarty-like character of The Deaf Man, a criminal mastermind who toys with the boys of the 87th intrigued me. Half a page in I regretted all the lost time. McBain crafts several precision stories, crimes and criminals that need to get caught/solved by our heroes. Then he jumbles and and crosses the wires a bit. We bounce back and forth while semi-lead Steve Carella tries to find out who Crucified a hippie. While Kling tries to catch a cat-burglar who leaves kittens as his calling card. While the rest of the squad pop in and out helping out and dealing with their own crimes and misdemeanors. Then topping it off with The Deaf Man who is cryptically telling the 87th when and where he's going to rob a bank. Then we spend time with The Deaf Man and his associates and then we spend time with the unnamed city where all the action takes place. The city is just as important as the rest of the cast, we get bursts of activity, like small snippets of a news story rolling at the bottom of a TV screen while the newscaster tell your a bigger tale. The characters all had unique personalities and it seems by this time in the series, McBain knew them like old friends. The dialog crackles between the cops, bickering and spit-balling and joking. The action when it does come is fast and clear. Then it all wraps up nicely with some nice twists and turns. 

Bottom line, you should probably stop reading this and go pick up a Ed McBain book.