9 Dragons by Michael Connelly

Standard

Nine Dragons (Harry Bosch, #15)Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This isn’t what I was looking for, either.

Anyway, I read the first three Harry Bosch novels in omnibus form, having snatched the massive hardback for them off the front table at now-defunct Tower Books in Queen Anne. The police procedural plot was a bit predictable but clearly well-researched and the tone was perfect: a sort of morose, cynical inevitability of ruined lives and terrible grief. Yeah, the lead character smoked alone in his little house at night while jazz saxophone music played, but the cliches were effective.

I love that shit. I enjoyed the books so much, I wanted to do my own version.

In the years since, I haven’t kept up with the series, but I have occassionally bought a copy for the giant to-read pile, and I returned to the author now for another taste of that perfect tone.

Sadly, it all gets pissed away partway through the book. What starts as another police procedural about a murdered man with a family suddenly turns into the movie TAKEN, with Bosch in the Liam Neeson role (sans karate).

I can forgive the clunky prose, although this was much clunkier than I remember. I can forgive the tenuous string of clues that lets the Bosch track his daughter all over Hong Kong. I’m less forgiving about the way the Chinese characters are treated, although I guess that’s hard to avoid in a crime novel. Same again for the fridged ex-wife.

By the time the characters return to L.A., I knew the big twist was going to be that the obvious killer was obvious, and I’d lost momentum.

Still, it reads like a thriller, and I worked my way to the end.

I can’t pretend it wasn’t disappointing, but I have A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT here in my pocket, so maybe that will be a return to that bleak, sorrowful tone.



Pick up a copy of 9 Dragons for yourself

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

Standard

A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Matthew Scudder, #17)A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After seeing A WALK AMONG TOMBSTONES at the theater, I was looking for a novel that would make me feel as sad and as bleak as the movie did, without the unfortunate elements that I had to forgive in the theater. This was the closest option and I grabbed it.

It doesn’t have the same punch as the film, but it is very nicely done, as private investigator books go. As in most of these books, it’s primarily dialog but it’s very good dialog.

The plot is pretty straightforward: Matt Scudder, former corrupt NYPD detective and struggling alcoholic, tells a story from decades before when he was an unlicensed private investigator. He does favors for friends, and they give him gifts in return, all very under the table.

In this case, a guy that Matt knew as a kid grows up to be a career criminal. After a stint in prison, he and Matt both end up in AA, trying to stay sober and put their lives back together. Part of the AA recovery process involves contacting people you’ve hurt in the past and making amends and while in the midst of this step, the poor guy gets murdered. Matt gets “hired” to look into the list of people the victim wronged to see if any of them might be the killer.

It’s a sad book, but it’s not as bleak as the film, and that’s what I was looking for. That’s not fair, I know, but I’m still laying out 4 stars for a solid crime story where the most pressing question is whether the protagonist will make it to his one-year sobriety anniversary.

Anyway, if you like private eye mysteries set in NYC of the recent past, this is the book for you.



A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

New creepiness for the Halloween season

Standard

Maybe you guys have heard about The Dionaea House? It’s a story (or is it real?) told through emails, texts and blog posts, a modern epistolary novel.

And it’s spooky as hell.

Not gross, not horrible, or filled with monsters tearing people apart, or demon children, or whatever bullshit modern horror is about. It’s a smart, subtle (except where it shouldn’t be) scary story, and I highly recommend it.

It’s by Eric Heisserer, and it was popular enough that it launched his screenwriting career. The film that was supposed to be made from it hasn’t happened, for the usual reasons, but it’s supposedly going to be name-checked (or featured, not sure) in the upcoming series The Librarians. Anyway, you should read it.

The reason I mention it? Heisserer is back at it: “Information I’m Dumping Here for Safekeeping”

Read through. Open the images. Follow the updates. It’s fun.

h/t to John Rogers (@jonrog1) for the link.

Randomness for 9/26

Standard

1) The 50 Dorkiest Songs You Love. NB: you don’t have to tell me you personally don’t love some or all of them. I know.

2) Edgar Wright – How to do visual comedy. Video. This is excellent and shows why I find modern comedy so incredibly boring.

3) Joaquin Phoenix’s Forehead (Rotated). Video. So weird and funny.

4) Anonymous Gods. The computers at Google automatically blur the faces of famous religious statuary.

5) Netflix’s new spoiler website. #spoilers

6) Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch.

7) Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Charles Manson & the Birth of Cults

Rolling my eyes at THE BLACKLIST

Standard

Probably the least effective promotional tool (for me, personally) is an image of James Spader in a fedora, but that’s all over the ads for the second season of THE BLACKLIST, his latest TV show. I had little interest when the first season aired (I watched two shows last year, both derived from comic books) but when S1 appeared on Netflix Streaming I felt a little poke in my curiosity bone, and I gave it a try.

The premise: Spader plays Raymond Reddington, one of those super-criminals who travels all over the world doing favors and generally playing fixit for other bad guys. He has a background in military intelligence and a mysterious, tragic incident that prompted him to disappear and become a baddie. Essentially, his backstory is a dead wife and daughter, the first two female characters fridged on the show. After decades on the Most Wanted List, he turns himself in to the FBI, volunteering to be an informant in exchange for immunity. He promises to give them criminals so secret the government hasn’t even heard of them, but he’ll only talk to one person, an obscure young agent no one has ever heard of.

The show is cheesy from the start, but it opens with mystery: What’s Reddington doing? Why this young woman in particular? What *really* happened to Reddington’s family? Is the young agent’s husband really who he says he is?

So it’s cheese, but it’s smart, fast-moving cheese. (Contrast that with FOREVER.) This is one of those shows where the cops get into gunfights all the time, shoot people, then brush it off. It’s also one of those shows where the criminals they chase are all evil masterminds of their fields. Usually, their so good that no one even realizes they’re committing crimes.

Sadly, they have a habit of fridging their female characters. Supporting character Agent Action-Hero gets to reunite with his ex only to lose her tragically. Tragically, I tell you? And the season finale threatens to bump off three series regulars, but only the woman is really gone.

They should be smarter than that.

The whole thing is exaggerated as hell. The mystery behind Reddington’s list, the over-the-top quality of the eeeevil plots, the constant uncertainty of who can be trusted, all reminds me of some best-selling thriller novels, and it’s been interesting to study.

But the second season premiered last night and I skipped it, because while it’s fun, it also feels like it ran it’s course. Still, it’s an interesting exercise in popular entertainment.

Movie Review: THE GUEST (tl;dr: See It)

Standard

I don’t usually review movies because most of what I see at this point is Corporate Hollywood Entertainment [1] (case in point: My kid is dragging me to THE MAZE RUNNER next week) and I’m not part of anyone’s marketing team. If there’s something worth saying, sure, but I only write “SEE IN THE THEATER/RENT IT AT HOME, MAYBE/ONLY IF YOU WANT TO PUNISH YOURSELF” for smaller movies folks might miss.

THE GUEST is in limited release in the U.S. as of today, and I’m going to tell you why you should see it.

First, here’s the trailer.

For those who didn’t watch, it’s a Deadly Friend story, in which average people find themselves the “beneficiary” of a powerful, dangerous new pal. Stephen Black’s Deadly Friend subplot was one of my favorite parts of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and it’s a subgenre I have wanted to dabble in for a long time.

The Peterson’s are a typical family, but they’re struggling. Mom is still stricken over the death of her eldest son in the military. Dad is drinking too much and stalled in his career. Their eldest daughter secretly seeing her drug-dealer boyfriend on the sly, and their remaining son is friendless and bullied at school. In walks David, who knew their son in the military and was with him when he died. He’s come to deliver a message of love, and to fulfill his promise to help his dead comrade’s family, if he can.

Unfortunately, David is a vicious psychopath and maybe somewhat more than human, too. What starts off with small kindnesses quickly escalates into terror and violence, but despite all that, there’s still an underlying attraction for all the characters. He’s a bit like a vampire; attractive and compelling, but once you’ve invited him in, you’re in the shit.

One thing the movie gets right is just how seductive David’s penchant for violence can be. He starts off by responding to attacks with counter-attacks, and there’s an undeniable appeal to that sort of strength, especially for the youngest boy. It feels like power, like agency, like something to be admired and emulated. As David gets closer to the family, and the things he does to “help” them become more awful and outrageous, the connection he’s established with them is still powerful. There’s a scene late in the movie–just a conversation between two characters–that would be the epitome of “What the fuck are you doing? Are you nuts?” in any other movie. It’s a metaphorical go-into-the-basement-along scene. And yet, because of the characters’ history, it’s the most believable, heart-breaking, and terrifying scene I’ve watched in months.

The movie’s being partly billed as part comedy[2] but it’s not, really. It has some subversive moments, and there’s a dark comic playfulness to it, especially at the end, but nothing to make you[3] laugh aloud. For me, the weird absurdity of it lent the violence extra weight and realism.

The trailer features a lot of action shots, but this is more psychological thriller than action movie. Dan Stevens, (who does a pretty good American accent) brings real charm and unpredictability to the part.

Anyway, it’s in limited release right now, but if you can see it, you should. If you can’t, see it when it goes into wide release in October. Everyone claims to want original, interesting movies, don’t they? Well, this is it.

[1] Hey, I wonder if I could make a useful acrony–oh, never mind.

[2] Or an comic thriller

[3] meaning “me”

Playing Football and Erasing The Self

Standard

Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing about his decision to stop watching football games because of his concern about head injuries.

Part of this is my own mix of spirituality and atheism. I generally think of the ghost not in the machine, but as the machine. My body is me, and while my brain is particularly important, when I dislocate an ankle I have injured part of myself. Anyone who is being honest about football knows that injuring people is part of the game.

One summer during my college years, a friend of mine broke my ankle during a particularly rough basketball game. Me, I thought it was just a bad sprain and didn’t seek treatment, After a week, I wrapped up the injury, went to my day job, and got back out onto the court. It was only months later, after numerous re-injuries, that I had it x-rayed.

My right ankle is still a problem to this day. It hurts when I walk too much, it aches in certain kinds of weather, it even hurts if I drink too much alcohol. I can’t imagine the effect of ignoring injuries to my brain.

Unlike Coates, I don’t really follow NFL news anymore, so I didn’t know that John Abraham, who is apparently one of the league’s best defensive players, retired for a year because of “severe memory loss,” but is now planning a return.

Maybe I’m being a bit of a writer about this, but to me, memory is self. It’s one thing to destroy the parts of the body that let you walk, or wipe your ass, or sit upright. It’s something else to destroy all the memories that make up your life. Whatever it is that drives players to wreck themselves for the sake of a win seems, in Abraham, to be the pursuit of a living suicide.

If that were the story of a movie or a novel, it would be LEAVING LAS VEGAS. A tragedy. Since it’s real life, it’s something people will make people jump out of their seats and cheer.

Abraham can do what he likes, provided no one convinces a court that his brain damage had made him unable to make his own decisions. Fans and casual viewers can do what they like. So can I, and what I like is to leave the TV off on Sunday morning and afternoons, so I don’t have to see men drive themselves into self-annihilation.

ADDED: Has anyone brought up the issue of brain damage and violent tendencies with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson?

The Health Benefits of Reading

Standard

The WSJ has an interesting article on “reading parties,” (skip the comments). People are getting together to read in silence, which is fine, I guess?

The really interesting thing is the list of health benefits to reading, which is included in this handy graphic.

Hot-linked Pseudo-Venn Diagram of the Benefits of Reading

“Reduces stress” is vital, and “Improves listening” makes me think I should have my son read three or four times a day.

But I’m still stymied by the idea of reading parties. I get that it can be pleasant to meet new people doing the thing you love (especially if you’re the type to bring “impressive” books so everyone could see how smart you are) but it still seems like putting yourself in a position where the people around you will, with your permission, police your own behavior. “I’d never stay off Twitter for 30 minutes if I were alone, but if I have all these people watching me…”

I’m not saying there’s something wrong with it, but it’s not a choice I would make. If I realize the book I’m reading can’t keep me so absorbed that I stay off Twitter, I put the book away. Then again, I’ve never been the sort who tried to impress people with my reading choices.

ADDED LATER: I took the speed reading test. While my comprehension was perfect (partly because I knew I’d be tested) my wpm was 261, slightly above average. That surprises me, because I’ve always believed I was slower than average. I guess I’m just slower than everyone I know.

Time is running out on Dark Fantasy StoryBundle

Standard

Mind if I show some covers?

All 9 StoryBundle Covers

The countdown for the dark fantasy StoryBundle is about to run out. If you want to do a little early Giftmas shopping, now is the time.

Some points:

    Pay $3 or more, get five books.
    Pay $12 or more, get all nine.
    You get to choose how much goes to the author and how much to StoryBundle.
    You get to choose which charity, if any, your purchase will benefit.
    You can buy the books as a substantial but inexpensive gift.

Anyway, I’m trying one last push to sell some books. The more retweets this tweet receives, the more free bundles I’ll give away. If you have a Twitter account, please consider clicking that RT button.

No one is ever going to hire me for my graphic design skills. Yikes.

The last Twitter giveaway got over 70 RTs, so I have hopes this one will do ever better. Thanks for clicking “retweet.” Frankly, I need the money.

My Wonder Woman Pitch

Standard

[I started this post way back when Gal Godot was first cast and I'm blowing the dust off it because what the hell.]

So we’re getting Wonder Woman in a movie, but not a Wonder Woman movie.

Christopher Bird has an interesting post about the difficulties the character faces. I’m not sure I agree that Wonder Woman has never had a “definitive” run: while I’m not a WW expert by any means, William Marston created the basics of the character, and Greg Rucka’s stint where she was the ambassador from Themyscira is pretty awesome.

I’m not sure the U.N. is a place to start a franchise, though. It might work for a TV series, but movies would need more setup and a greater willingness to break status quo.

(BTW, supposedly WB seems to have a pretty good version of The Flash coming up. Hopefully it’ll be a step above the ’90′s version.)

Unfortunately, it seems WW is going to be a supporting role in the new Man of Steel movie. Gal Gadot has been cast. People are already complaining about her: she’s too this, she’s too that, but I’ll reserve judgement. Yes, she is a former Miss Israel and a Miss Universe contestant (her “National Costume” is disappointingly non-bonkers) and yes, she served two years in the Israeli military (as a “sports trainer”?). Yes, it’s fun to speculate.

But I remember when people were complaining about Daniel Craig being cast as James Bond (“A blond Bond? What are they thinking?”). I remember when they griped about Tom Cruise playing Lestat. Both actors were terrific in those roles. The truth is, if the script is good, we will love Gadot in the part. If the script sucks, we’ll blame her for screwing it all up.

Anyway, this is how I would pitch a Wonder Woman movie if they were going to make one, which they should:

It opens during the climax of MAN OF STEEL (to tie the films together). Continue reading