News for week ending 2020-03-14 (open thread)

A slow week, but a couple of items of interest.

Off-topic

Over at my side blog, I’ve got a brief look at the awful German comedy western Manitou’s Shoe. Never heard of it? If you’re lucky, you never will again. https://trentofftopic.com/2020/03/12/movie-review-manitous-shoe-der-schuh-des-manitu-2001/

On a more substantive note, “A psychology of my music listening; or, why I’m going to write a bunch of album reviews.

Book review (take two): In the Midst of Death by Lawrence Block (Matthew Scudder #3)

Note: I wrote a rather perfunctory review of this years back. One problem then was I that I listened to the audio book, so was unable to flip back and forth. I’m reading the Scudder series in order at the moment and revisited this one, so here is an updated review. It’s more negative. Spoilers!

A police whistleblower has his halo not just tarnished but trashed when he is accused of extortion by a high-class call girl. Claiming innocence and knowing he is being targeted by a furious police force angry at their dirty laundry being revealed, he hires Scudder to get to the bottom of things. Before Scudder gets too far into it, the call girl is murdered.

After two terrific Matthew Scudder novels, The Sins of the Fathers and Time to Murder and Create, Lawrence Block stumbles with the third, In the Midst of Death. Block’s skill with writing will keep you turning the pages, but the book is a mess.

Nothing leads to revealing the killer’s identity other than Scudder’s instinct. There aren’t clues, there’s no foreshadowing, nothing. Something just clicks in his head and, voila!, he’s right!

There’s a ridiculous sex scene that leads to an attempted romance where the lovers talk of the moon and such. We are supposed to buy that this is more than a romance of convenience, but it’s difficult to believe that it’s a romance at all.

For the second novel in a row, Scudder pressures someone into suicide, and in the same way. You’d think Scudder would have learned after the first time. Why is nearly the exact same situation in two books in a row? In Time to Murder and Create, Scudder at least felt guilty about it, but this time out, he doesn’t really care.

In fact, Scudder bears partial responsibility for two deaths in this book. Scudder, who apparently has never read a mystery, doesn’t realize that if someone involved in a murder case is furiously trying to get in touch with you and you purposely avoid responding, that person will end up dead. This death doesn’t concern him much, either.

Throw in a plot hole with a major loose thread wrapped around it, add in some really awkward attempts at humor, and you’ve got a mess on your hands.

The last few pages are poignant, but that is not enough to salvage In the Midst of Death. If you are sampling the series rather than reading it in order, you are safe to skip this one. If you are reading the series in order, it’s short, at least not boring, and is important in tracking Scudder’s further descent into alcoholism, so go ahead and plow through it. Just don’t try to make sense of it.

Have no fear. Block and Scudder will right the ship, and soon.

Other posts in this series

News for week ending 2020-03-07

Greetings! Here are some items of interest from the past week.

From The Westlake Review–Existential Question: Will There Ever be Another Donald Westlake?

Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom drew attention on Twitter to a couple of pieces on Westlake from his archives:

Off-topic

I have revived my occasional blog of reviews of movies, books, and music not related to Parker, Donald Westlake, or crime fiction. Although I mostly write there, often quite quickly and sloppily, to amuse myself and as a diary of some of the things I watch, read, and listen to, it is viewable by all. I know you care about my opinion on everything (right?), so if you would like to read it, it’s at trentofftopic.com. This week I have a short review of the new H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, The Color Out of Space.

Content is pretty scant there at the moment, but it will get beefier pretty quickly as I port over scribblings I’m not too embarrassed of from other fora.

I also set up a separate Twitter feed for the same topics: @trentofftopic. If you are reading this and move quickly, you could become my first Twitter follower!

Have a great week! And remember, if you see something you think might be of interest to VWOP readers, I can be easily reached via Twitter or e-mail.

 

Review: Time to Murder and Create by Lawrence Block (Matthew Scudder #2)

Small-time crook “Spinner” Jablon hits it big running a blackmail racket. He’s got dirt on three people, who become the three prime suspects when he’s found in the river. Matthew Scudder had been given the evidence by Spinner, just in case that happened.

Why Scudder?: “Why I think you’ll follow through,” says Spinner, “is something I noticed about you a long time ago, namely that you happen to think there is a difference between murder and other crimes.” And Spinner is, of course, correct.

The second Matthew Scudder novel following the stunning The Sins of the Fathers does not pack the wallop of that classic, but few novels do. However, it’s an entirely worthy follow-up. Block’s extraordinary skill with character development is on full display as Scudder crashes into the lives of the three suspects, only one of whom is likely to be guilty–at least of the crime Scudder is investigating.

Block continues to develop Scudder’s moral compass in Time to Murder and Create, and it’s often a broken one. Scudder is barely interested if at all in bringing justice to a situation that’s nearly as reprehensible as murder, likely leaving the reader a little, or a lot, queasy.

The ending of Time to Murder and Create is ultimately unsatisfying–not because of a failure of writing, but because in life, endings often are.

Posts in this series

News for week ending 2020-02-29 (open thread)

Here are some items of interest from my first week back.

  • Clive Cussler dead at 88: 
  • Brian Cronin at Comic Book Resources: Darwyn Cooke Perfectly Melded the Worlds of DC and Richard Stark Together. It’s a look at Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score, Cooke’s precursor to his Parker adaptations. 
  • Dean Koontz has a new series called “Nameless,” published by Amazon. “His latest project is a bit of a throwback to the Parker novels by Donald E. Westlake (writing as Richard Stark): short, gritty crime stories with a no-nonsense protagonist. In one scene, Koontz even drops the name ‘Alan Grofield,’ a recurring character in Parker’s capers.”I hope to check out this series soon.
  • James Davis Nicoll at Tor has an introduction to the Dortmunder series: 
  • CrimeReads has an exclusive excerpt from Double Feature, the new Hard Case Crime volume featuring two Donald Westlake novellas. 

That’s it for this week! If you come across something that might be of interest to fellow Westlake and crime fiction fans, feel free to send it my way via e-mail or Twitter.

 

 

IDW Publishing announces Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition: Last Call

I’m very excited about this. IDW Publishing has just announced Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition: Last Call.

For those of you not familiar with the first Martini Edition, it was released in 2011 and was a massive, and I mean massive slipcased volume containing the first two of Darwyn Cooke’s already-classic comic book adaptations of The Hunter and The Outfit. But there was more. So, so much more. For a look at it, see my review.

Pug for scale

With both Darwyn’s tragic death and the passing of years, I had given up on a second volume, but it is coming in September 2020. Announced contents include (per the IDW site):

  • The Score
  • Slayground
  • More than 100 pieces of never-before-seen Parker art by Darwyn Cooke
  • A roundtable talk with Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Bruce Timm, and Scott Dunbier on Parker and Darwyn Cooke
  • A brand-new 17-page story by Multiple Eisner Award-winning creators Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

I know without having to ask that this is a labor of love for Scott Dunbier of IDW, and I know it’s going to be amazing.

List price is $99.99, but…

<turns into guy hawking commemorative plates on TV>:

You will treasure it for a lifetime!

 

But wait!

There’s more!

 

The first volume is coming back into print as well!

 

So if you missed out in 2011, coming soon is your chance, and it may be your last chance, to acquire that handsome volume as well!

</TV guy>

If ever books were worth $100 a pop, these are them. Start saving your pennies.

Here’s (The Violent World of) Parker!

Greetings dear readers! After a long hiatus, I’m back.

A very brief version of the past couple of years…

The violentworldofparker.com URL expired because I wasn’t on top of things. I went to purchase it, assuming it would be available. Who would snatch up a URL like that with no monetary value?

Well, someone did, and judging by the page that came up when you went to the site, it was someone in Japan. Frustrated and angry, I still tried to offer the owner some blood money, but I never got a reply, likely because whoever grabbed it didn’t speak English.

Following that, I purchased violentworldofparker.us, and through much trial and tribulation got the site working again. I briefly did pretty well with it, but then two things happened.

First, I found out that I had somehow lost all of my files other than what was posted on the site. I had loads of stuff not yet posted. This was deeply depressing, and, in conjunction with my other difficulties with the site, dampened my enthusiasm for the project.

Second, I went through a series of health issues, one right after another. I’m a pretty healthy guy overall, but I had three separate health crises in 2019.

So not much happened with the site.

But I did check in on the .com URL every now and again, and one day, it was available again! I quickly snatched it up.

And, miracle of miracles, I recovered nearly all of those files. I had a dead hard drive I had been using for backup that I’d retired long ago but hadn’t gotten around to destroying yet. I decided to roll the dice and paid a lot of money, and voila!, most of the files were there. (Before anyone tells me to be better about backing things up, I was doing it. Something, I’m not sure what, just went horribly wrong somewhere along the way.)

Also, I got past all of the health issues. I’m not only fine, I’m healthier than I have been in ages–the New and Improved Trent is here! (Well, my back is still a little iffy…)

So the site is back, and I’m excited to be working on it again. It felt like something important was missing from my life for the past couple of years, so I’m champing at the bit to get galloping again.

I am indebted to Isaac at Austin Web and Design for his excellent assistance with getting the site back to the .com URL and helping me upgrade the back end–it turns out a lot has changed with the web since I moved the site to WordPress a decade ago. (Please rest assured that despite the company’s name, the flawed site design is all mine.) I highly recommend them for your website design needs, and please let them know that I sent you.

Thanks for sticking with me, thanks for reading, and please spread the word that I’m back. And do check back tomorrow for an exciting bit of news…

 

 

New (old) Donald Westlake coming from Hard Case Crime

Some exciting news from our friends at Hard Case Crime. Two short novels have been repackaged as Double Feature. The title is appropriate, as both were adapted into films, and both involve film.

I haven’t read either, nor seen the film adaptations, so I’m looking forward to this.

First in the volume is Ordo, which was adapted into a French film of the same name starring Roschdy Zem and Marie-Josée Croze (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and written and directed by Laurence Ferreira Barbosa.

After the intermission is A Travesty, which was adapted into a TV movie, A Slight Case of Murder directed by Steven Schachter, with a script by Schachter and William H. Macy. Macy also stars, along with Adam Arkin, Felicity Huffman, and James Cromwell. The title is swiped from the 1938 film, but I don’t believe there’s any relation beyond that.

Here is the HCC blurb:

THE MOVIE STAR AND THE MOVIE CRITIC—
HOW FAR WOULD THEY GO
TO KEEP THEIR SECRETS BURIED?

Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Donald E. Westlake was also an Academy Award Nominee—for the screenplay of The Grifters—and a lifelong fan of the movies. So it’s no surprise that some of his most brilliant writing intersected with Hollywood in unexpected and unforgettable ways.

“One of the great writers of the 20th Century.”
Newsweek

In New York City, a movie critic has just murdered his girlfriend—well, one of his girlfriends (not to be confused with his wife). Will the unlikely crime-solving partnership he forms with the investigating police detective keep him from the film noir ending he deserves?

On the opposite coast, movie star Dawn Devayne—the hottest It Girl in Hollywood—gets a visit from a Navy sailor who says he knew her when she was just ordinary Estelle Anlic of San Diego. Now she’s a big star who’s put her past behind her. But secrets have a way of not staying buried…

These two short novels, one hilarious and one heartbreaking, are two of the best works Westlake ever wrote. And fittingly, both became movies—one starring Jack Ryan’s Marie-Josee Croze, and one starring Fargo’s William H. Macy and Desperate Housewives’ Felicity Huffman.

    • First appearance in bookstores in 40 years!
    • Donald E. Westlake won every major award in the mystery genre and gained fame both under his own name and writing as “Richard Stark”

I’m looking forward to checking out both, and maybe the movies as well. Coming February 2020.

In memoriam: Brian Garfield

A lousy photo of some of my collection.

I believe the first time I corresponded with Brian Garfield was when I was seeking a copy of, and permission to scan and post, his unfilmed screenplay for Butcher’s Moon.

He gave me permission, but couldn’t find the manuscript. It was written before hard drives and cloud storage and all of that stuff, so the paper manuscript was all there was. He thought it might be in the vaults of some studio (Paramount, I think), but good luck with that one. But he looked for his copy, with full intention of getting it to me. I believe he concluded that it was lost in a flooding incident.

So me reprinting the Butcher’s Moon script never happened. But what I got out of our interactions was that he was a really nice guy, and he really appreciated his fans. Maybe he didn’t need to appreciate his fans–I imagine the movie rights and residuals for Death Wish and sequels made him some good bucks, with no future need to interact. But he did appreciate them, very much. His e-mail address was always on his personal page, and if you wrote to it, he would reply back, often at (always interesting) length.

My main interaction with him after my failed attempt to acquire a copy of that screenplay wasn’t really an interaction at all. I put Levi Stahl (The Getaway Car) in touch with him. Levi was working on the Parker reprints for University of Chicago Press at the time. Levi really didn’t need my help–as I wrote above, Brian was always accessible–but maybe I greased the skids a little bit. One of the results was this must-read interview about Brian Garfield’s friendship with Donald Westlake. If you haven’t read it, read it. If you have, read it again.

Brian Garfield was a hell of a writer and, from every indication I had in our limited relationship, a hell of a human being. Lost to Parkinson’s Disease at 79 (I hate that disease almost as much as I hate Alzheimer’s).

Rest in peace, and God bless Brian’s family and friends in their time of loss.

Bonus:

I had no idea until I read it in an obituary, but apparently Brian Garfield was a man of many talents. He was a member of the Palisades, who had a top-40 hit with “I Can’t Quit.” This song, like his fiction, is right up my alley.

Memory, and a link roundup

A personal note, before we begin.

My mother-in-law, Betty, is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It came on quick, where the mama I knew for many years was suddenly not the same person. She remembers Becky the Rodeo Rider visiting her, not entirely clear that that was a dream, but thinks I’ve been avoiding her even though I brought her a new set of clothes, a dresser, and a television just a week prior.

Memory is a precious thing. Watching Mama’s sad decline made me recall one of my favorite Donald Westlake novels, the posthumously published Memory, where the protagonist doesn’t have any memory. If I had read it when it was written, I would have thought Memento ripped it off. But there was no way for me, the screenwriter, or the director, to have read it. They do make a neat pair of compare and contrast.

I thought I had written a proper review of it, but my memory failed. Looking at the archives, I never wrote that piece. I did do a podcast about it with Jesse Willis of SFFaudio and the sadly late Gregg Margarite. I’ve never listened to it, but I don’t think I embarrassed myself.

Memory is a hell of a book. Losing your memory is a hell of a thing. Betty doesn’t remember me coming to see her, but she remembers Becky the Rodeo Rider, who doesn’t exist. It’s heartbreaking.

This is my long-winded (as usual) way of letting you know that I’m participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s a couple of weeks from now. First time I’ve done something like this, but it’s personal. I’d love to raise a few bucks. Links below, all more fun than this subject.

Here.

Link roundup.