Review by Scott
Writer-director Samuel Fuller was a filmmaker from the fifties and sixties whose work still seems fresh, modern, and bold. His grab-you-by-the-throat intensity of style influenced the likes of Goddard, Scorsese, and Tarantino. What some may not know is that he wrote novels from the 1930s up until the the time of his death in 1997. Hard Case Crime gives us a look into this side of his talent by bringing us Brainquake, a Fuller novel that has just been published in the US and in English for the first time.
Fuller’s belief, “If the first scene doesn’t give you a hard-on then throw the goddamn thing away,” is applied to the first line of the novel: “Sixty seconds before the baby shot its father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park.” The murdered father is a mobster. Before the baby and mother are killed, Paul Pope, underworld bagman, saves them. Paul suffers from mental seizures which he refers to as “brainquakes,” where his mind spins into pink tinted images accompanied by piercing flute music. It is easy to picture Fuller’s avant garde camera cut loose during these passages. Paul falls for the mob widow, who he refers to as “ivory face”, setting up a series of events that ripple through the New York crime syndicate that employs him. The mob puts Father Flannigan, a contract killer who dresses like a priest and crucifies his targets, on to Paul as Flannigan’s next target.
Brainquake has the feel of a Sam Fuller film. The detailed life of a bagman is reminiscent of the attention brought to the lifestyle of the pickpocket Richard Widmark played in Pick Up On South Street. It portrays New York City with gritty realism mixed with pulp stylization. The dialogue blasts out like gunshots and his tabloid inspired prose has the punchy feel of his editing. The emotions are raw and heightened. Everything is heightened, yet retains the truth in its main characters.
Brainquake is full on Fuller. Those who have seen his interviews can hear his boisterous cigar stained voice in the writing. It is uncompromising, wild, tough, and goes right at you, giving a fresh perspective on a great, often under appreciated artist, while delivering a slam-bang read.
Copies of Brainquake are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Guest Post by Kira Peikoff
In my new book No Time to Die, Zoe Kincaid, a 20-year-old college dropout, has long endured a mystifying ailment that has stunted her development. The truth will shock her: she’s biologically stopped aging, and her DNA may hold the key to unlocking a secret sought since the dawn of time: why do we age and die? But with some powerful people willing to kill, soon Zoe finds herself at the center of a dangerous manhunt with epic consequences.
I created the character of Zoe after learning about the real-life case of Brooke Greenberg, an adolescent girl who had inexplicably stopped aging as a toddler. Today, six other similar girls have been identified, and they are all participating in a cutting-edge research study that aims to examine their DNA for shared mutations. The hope is that scientists will discover a gene (or group of genes) at the root of the aging process, which could then be turned on or off. Imagine being able to stop aging whenever you wanted; would you do it? I think I know your answer, but think again. What would it really be like to be forever young? Read No Time to Die to find out…
Copies of No Time to Die are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
7% Solution Book Club to Discuss: SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET, edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan
Next Monday, September 1st, the 7% Solution Book Club will discuss the short story collection Shadows Over Baker Street. This anthology of terrifying and intriguing tales links characters from the world of Sherlock Holmes to the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. This means no less than a basic confrontation between reason and horror, logic and illogic, the taciturn and the unspeakable, forensic science and occult practice, and last of all, guns and tentacles.
How does Sherlock Holmes apply his unique talents of detection towards saving the world from the call of Cthulu? Each author takes their own approach. In some stories, Holmes finds himself out of his depth (and into the depths!). In most, however, he is unflappable as always, calmly preventing such calamities as an unsuitable marriage between a guardian of the underworld and her less hearty suitor (“The Adventure of the Antiquarian’s Neice,” by Barbara Hambly), or the poisoning of London’s water supply by the monstrous citizens of Insmouth (in which Sherlock Holmes fights a crocodile).
This book is not just the Sherlock show. Watson experiences moments of the supernatural and horrifying, too, both with his companion and on his own. “The Weeping Masks,” by James Lowder, recounts an incident from Watson’s time in Afghanistan, pre-Sherlock. Elizabeth Bear‘s “Tiger! Tiger!” follows Irene Adler on a tiger hunt ready to restore order to the universe and defeat a weird fire-creature, sans Sherlock’s aid. Neil Gaiman‘s 2004 Hugo Award-winning story “A Study in Emerald” incorporates the strangeness of Lovecraft’s world into a fully developed Victorian Britain, with monsters pervading both politics and the arts. Gaiman’s story is the first in the volume, but Thomas, co-host of the 7% Solution Book Club, has suggested that to enjoy the collection best, read “A Study in Emerald” last rather than first.
Shadows Over Baker Street contains a full-on smorgasbord of Lovecraftian monsters, ranging from bee-creatures that mimic the appearance of those we most trust, to weeping zombies, to devouring hell monsters, all the way to the great Cthulu himself and the nightmares he brings. Tim Lebbon‘s story “The Horror of Many Faces” playfully reinterprets Holmes’ love of bees into a new horror, while Paul Finch‘s “The Mystery of the Hanged Man’s Puzzle” and John Pelan‘s “The Mystery of the Worm” explore the blurry line between science and alchemy when the supernatural invades the logical world. Each author in the anthology clearly glories in intermingling the language of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft, and the word “unspeakable” appears just as frequently as “deduction.”
Shadows Over Baker Street is just one installment of a running series of short story collections with all original material set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. Unlike most of 7% Solutions reading picks, you won’t find this one in the mystery section – it’s shelved in horror anthology.
The concept of Holmes meeting Cthulu may seem rather incongruous at first, when one considers the king of reason solving mysteries involving none other than the epitome of unknowable horror. On the other hand, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft wrote at roughly the same time and in similar nations. Given the steady accumulation of fans willing and happy to write in the styles of either, the two worlds merge together well and bring to mind the early inspiration for both detective stories and tales of horror, the great Edgar Allan Poe.
The 7% Solution Book Club meets the first Monday of each month at 7PM on BookPeople’s third floor. Book Club members get a 10% discount on the month’s selection. Shadows Over Baker Street is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
On Wednesday, the 27th of August, at 7 pm, our Hard Word Book Club will discuss A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride. The book follows a chain of violence triggered by a moment of weakness from a sheriff’s deputy when he takes $52,000 from meth dealer Jerry Dean Skagg’s trailer. The book was our July Pick Of The Month, so we can’t wait to discuss it. Matt was kind enough to take some questions from us.
MysteryPeople: How do you feel about all the favorable reactions to the book?
Matthew McBride: It’s very nice, and still kind of hard to believe. As a writer, you hope people will buy your book and you want them to like it, but I never expected to sell as many copies as I have. It’s mind-blowing, and I’m grateful. Having strangers write you and tell you they love your book is cool. Because I know how it feels to read something you love and feel that way. You want to connect with the author, so you reach out to them. I’ve done that.
MP: While meth is in a lot of rural crime fiction, it is practically a character here. How has it affected where you live?
MM: I’ve been tempted to brand the book Meth Lit, because meth really is a character in this book, and it has affected my life and the lives of those around me in various ways. In Gasconade County, if you’re sick, you can’t even buy Actifed from the pharmacy without a prescription. For some things you have to show a driver’s license. For other things you have to drive to another county. And while Gasconade County is not now technically considered the meth capital of the world as I mention in the book (that distinction now belongs to one of our neighboring counties), it has certainly been called that at times. In the 90’s and into the 2000’s—and even still to this day—meth labs are raided almost weekly. And it was much worse a few years ago. You can read about it every week in the Gasconade County Republican. Someone is always getting busted or someone’s house is getting raided. People get caught cooking meth and they go to jail and they bond out and the cops give them a few weeks to regroup and resupply themselves and then they hit them again. Sometimes guys get caught for the second time before they’ve even been to court for the first time.
It’s all about Pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient harvested from these pills; the component meth cooks need most to perfect their product. About ten years ago they started making you show your drivers license and sign a sheet of paper at the pharmacy window. Now Gasconade County prevents you from buying anything with Pseudoephedrine in it period without a doctor’s prescription. So unless you want to pay an office visit, you have to drive 40 miles to a different county, show your driver’s license, then sign a piece of paper stating you will not cook meth. While these laws are inconvenient for law-abiding, non-meth producing citizens, they were actually created to make it harder for chefs to get the pills they need to cook with, and these laws have made a difference—to an extent—but for every new law that’s made to curb the accessibility to precursors, there’s a guy who cooks crank that’s a very resourceful gentleman and he will just find a new way to make it. If such and such pill cannot be obtained without a prescription, he’ll just find the next best pill that will work, and then that pill becomes the new pill. The quality of the product may suffer, but people will still buy it. And they’ll love it. Even though the product is inferior to what they had previously known. They’ll still snort it or smoke it or shoot it and be grateful for it, while already scheming about how they will get more crank when the crank they have runs out.
But for old schoolers that have been in the game for the long haul, they remember what the good stuff was like. How pure it used to be and how easily it was obtained, and I’m sure a small part of them (guys like Jerry Dean Skaggs) will always look back with fond memories of previous product and long for the good old days.
MP: Frank Sinatra In A Blender was more along the satirical lines, while A Swollen Red Sun is a bit weightier (but no less entertaining). Was the change in tone conscious?
MM: If I had any real goal with my second book, it was to write something completely different from my first book. The characters are much deeper, and they’re drawn in such a way you can relate to them because they’re dealing with real world problems. Issues that we all deal with: Death and disease and loss. Suicide and infidelity and drug addiction. And the extremes people go to to satisfy those addictions.
While Frank Sinatra in a Blender was about embracing addictions, A Swollen Red Sun is about being a slave to them.
MP: Two of your favorite authors, Daniel Woodrell and Dan Ray Pollock, have endorsed the book. What from their work do you hope to apply to yours?
MM: They have become literary heroes to a generation of writers and if I could write half as well as either one of them I’d be walking in tall cotton. But honestly, when I wrote A Swollen Red Sun back in 2010 all I could think about was how cool it would be to meet them. Then maybe I could figure out a way to ask them to read my book without feeling like an asshole. But eventually I did meet them both, and over the years I’ve gotten to know them well, have even read and drank with them, so having their names and words on the cover mean a lot to me. The very same writers who have influenced me now believe in me, and not a lot of writers can say that—plus, there are blurbs from: Todd Robinson, Hilary Davidson, Johnny Shaw, and Ben Whitmer. Writers I genuinely care about as people and whose work I admire.
Between both books, I’ve gotten some amazing blurbs that I’ll always be thankful for. So anytime I see these people at a bar, I owe them a drink. Always. Because that’s the rule.
MP: You have a reputation among your peers as one of the best self-editors. Can you talk about your process after that first draft?
MM: Surely you’re making this up; I cannot imagine anyone saying this. In fact, I know five or six editors who are giving you the finger right now—but!—if I have become a good self-editor, it’s just because I have worked with much better editors than me and I’ve learned from them. Truth is: editors don’t get enough credit. They don’t. And sometimes they don’t get any. But they should. Because it’s the editor that really ties the book together. They polish the words and tighten everything down. The more you write and publish, the more you’ll work with editors and the more you will learn. You don’t even have to try. You just pick things up and they stick with you. Small skills you didn’t even realize you had until you found yourself using them. But I’m also very obsessive/compulsive, so that surely plays a role. It’s a curse, really. I write quickly, but I’m slow to let things go. I need to reread everything fifty times. I’ll do ten or twenty rewrites of anything before I’ll even show Stacia (my agent), who is actually my first editor.
What it comes down to is this: I loathe the thought of anyone reading something I’ve written that’s not as good as it can possibly be. If I think there’s a way to improve what I wrote and make it better I have to try. It’s all about editing: rereading and rewriting. In a way, writing books has ruined me. I look for mistakes all the time now. Even when I’m dining out. I can’t read a menu. I proofread everything.
MP: Would you tell us what you’re up to next?
MM: I don’t even know myself. Maybe nothing. Then again, I might start a new book a half-hour from now. When it comes to writing, I don’t plan a single word. Planning what I want to say robs creativity from the process. For me, writing is about total freedom.
The Hard Word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month in BookPeople’s cafe at 7 pm. Join us on Wednesday, August 26, for a discussion of Matthew McBride’s A Swollen Red Sun, available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
The Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and donations to combat ALS is starting to run through the crime fiction community.
Alifair Burke, author of two mystery series, one starring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, and the other driven by Portland, OR, Prosecutor Samantha Kincaid, accepted the challenge from Michael Connelly, author of the Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch series and the Mickey Haller novels, who also dumped the ice water on her.
Two of the people she challenged were McKenna Jordan, owner of Houston’s Murder By The Book, and her dad, James Lee Burke, winner of the Edgar Award and writer of the Dave Robicheaux mysteries.
He challenged SJ Rozan, Hilary Davidson, and Gary Phillips. Gary accepted the challenge on Reed’s facebook and Hilary and SJ are good sports, so look forward to more videos.
Ed Kurtz joins us this Friday, August 22nd, at 7 pm, to speak about and sign his new book, The Forty-Two, set in the Times Square of the early Eighties with the feel of the grindhouse movies that played there. Kurtz started out writing horror but has since expanded into noir, and we hope he keeps writing in the mystery section for quite some time. After the event, we will screen Vigilante, a classic of the genre. Ed was kind enough to take some questions from us about the book and the films that inspired it.
MysteryPeople: Which came first, the story or wanting to set one in Times Square?
Ed Kurtz: I’d been wanting to write about the 42nd Street scene the way it was for some time, and between reading Bill Landis’s Sleazoid Express and Jimmy McDonough’s terrific biography of Andy Milligan (upon whom Andy Donovan is based), I decided it was time. The set-up seemed a natural fit to me—a grindhouse fanatic getting involved in a murder right in one of the Forty-Two’s most infamous theaters.
MP: Times Square exists in the story as another character and a complex one at that. How did you go about writing about a place in a previous era?
EK: Quite a lot of research—and quite a lot of maps and photos. As I state (apologize about?) in the acknowledgments, I was born in the wrong time and place to have experienced the Deuce firsthand, but as a lifelong exploitation addict it’s in my blood. That said, I needed to know late 1970s/early 1980s New York well, so I read voluminously, studied all those maps and photographs, and kept my writing space strewn with all of that stuff to completely immerse myself in the milieu. I even got my hands on old copies of the Village Voice so that the films playing in the book are accurate. My biggest fear was messing it all up, of course, so I sent it to a friend and colleague, a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, to give it a brutal analysis once it was done. To my delight he told me I’d only flubbed one minor detail. I’m not saying which.
MP: At times the book has the feel of a grindhouse film to it. What did you want to take from those movies to apply to your own work?
EK: The down-and-dirty electric energy of the best—or at least most entertaining—of the exploitation pictures from that period is what I wanted to emulate in The Forty-Two. I hope when people read the book they can see the grain and spots and cigarette burns on the celluloid, hear the crackle of the overused film print. I love this stuff every bit as much as Charley does in the novel, and I wanted that little obsession of ours, mine and my character’s, to bleed through the narrative. You have to wallow a little bit to really get what makes the sleazehound tick, I think, and the novel allows the reader to slum with Charley without all the danger he faces!
MP: You’ve been writing a lot of crime fiction lately. What attracted you to it?
EK: I have always loved crime fiction, particularly with a noir bent, for its attention to darker impulses among human beings that tend to be more subtle than that found in a lot of horror. Themes like obsessive love and revenge, for example, strike such deeper chords than buckets of blood—though I’m certainly attracted to that, too! I started out in horror, and I think that much is evident in a lot of my crime output like The Forty-Two, but I also don’t think the two are all that different. I’m interested in the choices people make, good and bad, and how it can change them and affect their circumstances. How choices can bring out the best or worst in a character, which seems to me a crucial part of crime fiction storytelling.
MP: As someone who has written in several genres, do you see the point in those divisions or is a story a story to you?
EK: For the most part, the latter. When I wrote A Wind of Knives, I set out to create a story about love and revenge, and found myself puzzled that to most commentators it was a “gay Western.” I can’t see the need in ghettoizing literature to that extent, apart from pointing out those aspects that might be most interesting to particular readers, I suppose. My love for grindhouse and the Times Square scene comes directly from my love of horror, so the two are inseparable in my head—so although The Forty-Two is a crime novel, the horror aspects are there, too. Sometimes I like to say I write about people doing bad things to each other, if I’m forced to categorize. But even that is probably oversimplifying. It reminds me of how aggravated I get when I hear someone refer to a novel as “literary,” when a novel is by definition literary, whether it’s William Faulkner or Edgar Rice Burroughs.
MP: If someone was wanting to understand grindhouse cinema what three films would you have them start with?
EK: Just three? I could give you three hundred, and I’d be happy to do it, but I’ll play nice. Just to spread things around a bit, I’ll touch on some different genres that were common to the place and time Charley McCormick is haunting the Forty-Two.
Five Fingers of Death, aka King Boxer — Cheng Chang Ho’s 1973 kung fu classic got a bit lost in the shuffle when Enter the Dragon was released the same year, but it was a mainstay on 42nd Street and one of the very best examples of the sort of violent martial arts extravaganzas that opened the door to the kung fu craze…and was a perfect fit for the grindhouse scene and tastes. Highly recommended.
Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS — Don Edmond’s infamous 1974 smorgasbord of sleaze and poor taste introduced Dyane Thorne in her first turn as the sadistic Ilsa, classlessly using the Nazi era as the backdrop for as much nudity, violence, and kinky sex as he could get away with. By no means suitable for everyone, the film nonetheless was a major presence on the Deuce and paved the way for countless mimics. Predecessors from Italy like Pasolini’s Salo and Cavani’s The Night Porter may have set the stage for this sort of WWII-era degeneracy, but no one did it more outrageously than Ilsa. (Fun fact: it was shot on leftover Hogan’s Heroes sets! Bob Crane probably loved it.)
Zombie, aka Zombie 2 — Intended as a cheap, unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (which was released in Italy as Zombi), Lucio Fulci’s made this gut-munching gore masterpiece a classic all its own and filled it with so many wild set pieces—from the underwater zombie/shark fight to one of the most stomach-churning bits of eyeball violence you’ll ever endure—that the picture is every bit as unforgettable as the American counterpart it was meant to capitalize upon. Bleak, unrelenting, and gritty as hell, it may not be Fulci’s best outing (which is probably The Beyond), but an unbelievably entertaining piece of trashy 70s Eurohorror and another pillar of the Forty-Two.
MysteryPeople welcomes Ed Kurtz to BookPeople Friday, August 22, at 7 pm on our third floor. He will be speaking and signing his new book The Forty Two. The signing will be followed by a screening of Vigilante, a grindhouse classic. Copies of The Forty Two are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. All BookPeople events are free and open to the public.
This Wednesday, August 20, MysteryPeople is proud to present the latest and last installment of our summer Noir Double Feature series. For those of you new to the series, each event is a two-parter: we screen a film based on a book available on our shelves and then discuss the book and movie together. For our last screening, we present to you Winter’s Bone, director Debra Granik‘s 2010 adaption of Daniel Woodrell’s book of the same name.
Winter’s Bone, both as a film and as a novel, presents an icy, poetic portrait of Ozark strength and suffering. The film and novel have much the same plot. The story begins as Ree Dolly, teenage caretaker for her younger brothers and mentally ill mother, finds out that her meth cooker father has put their house up as collateral to make bail. When he fails to appear for a court date, Ree must go on a quest to find him – a quest that proves more dangerous than she could have imagined, as she works her way through relatives and members of the community in an increasingly desperate quest.
Daniel Woodrell lived the world he portrayed, and he understands that teens like Ree Dolly have few options. Ree plans to join the military, something Daniel Woodrell himself did at the age of 17. If she loses her property, she can foist her younger brothers and her mentally ill mother off on relatives. However, she knows that by doing so, she will condemn her brothers to a life of criminality and most likely prison, and she doesn’t trust others to take in her mother long-term. Knowing that she must ensure her family’s safety before she herself can leave means that she will risk any danger to ensure their future well being, and her future escape.
Winter’s Bone portrays a world where men are either obstacles or absent, and women are the forces that preserve their near-destroyed community. As Ree goes from relative to relative looking for her father, she must approach any man through their woman, and it is the women of the community that decide what information to pass on and what to hold back.
Winter’s Bone contains a beautiful reversal of noir tropes – instead of an irresponsible, violent man who has created many of his own difficulties, Woodrell has written a strong young woman who tackles challenges head-on, no matter how insurmountable her difficulties may seem. Winter’s Bone passes the Bechdel test in spades. Ree exist within a fully realized female world where topics of conversation run the gamut. She also has strong bonds of friendship that give her the courage to continue dealing with her extraordinarily difficult life.
Winter’s Bone takes place in a community where predefined roles govern each life from cradle to grave. There are no options other than to mimic the lives of those who have come before, and standing in the community is determined solely by how well you fulfill those roles. Happiness, therefore, can come only through succeeding in your role or in leaving the community entirely.
Winter’s Bone has found universal acclaim both as a novel and a film, and although the film is mostly faithful to the novel, the two compliment each other rather than acting as redundant. Winter’s Bone as a book comes in a long line of critically lauded works by Woodrell. The film catapulted Jennifer Lawrence to fame with her powerful performance, as well as bringing director Debra Granik to prominence. The film does not use sets, but uses actual Ozark houses, and this is just one part of the authenticity of Woodrell’s story and Granik’s production.
Come to BookPeople’s third floor, Wednesday, August 20, for a near-perfect movie and a perfect novel. Our screening starts at 6, and discussion of the book and film will follow the screening. As always, our events are free and open to the public. Copies of Winter’s Bone can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Double Feature Stats
Adherence to book:
4.5 [out of 1-5]
Ride with the Devil, In Country, Cold Mountain, Harlan County, USA
We can’t wait for next week, Friday 22nd at 7PM to host Ed Kurtz to discuss his first crime novel The Forty-Two (along with a screening of one of his favorite grind house movies, Vigilante). Starting out as a horror writer, Ed has been earning respect for those in crime fiction with his short work, like this story from Shotgun Honey.
“Maury was taking a smoke break when the two thugs showed up. They arrived in a black Lincoln and summoned the crew boss from the dusty light of the car’s headlamps. Lucky was bawling out a digger at the time, a Puerto Rican backhoe operator, and Lucky didn’t quit bawling a guy out for anything. But he quit it for them.
The P.R. stared and Maury figured he was probably the only guy on site who didn’t grasp the situation. He’d never seen Cuco Minchillo’s guys come around a worksite in the dead of night, didn’t even know they worked for the guy whose name was on all the equipment. Minchillo & Sons. Both his sons were dead…”
Ed Kurtz will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Friday, August 22nd at 7PM! You can pre-order signed copies of The Forty-Two now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.