Now available on Amazon here or click the cover image below.
My first publication of 2019: my crime short story, "Nobody But You," was published in the new issue of Dark City Crime & Mystery Magazine (volume 4, issue 2).
Now available on Amazon here or click the cover image below.
You can also read an excerpt of the magazine here, including the full text of my story in which a man desperately clings to the one thing he cannot live without and is willing to do anything to keep!
As a hardcore noir read, and a collector of paperback originals--especially Gold Medal---I had heard of Peter Rabe, who wrote eighteen novels for GM in about five years, but had never read him until I stumbled across this book. And I read it because of an essay Donald Westlake, one of my all-time top favorite writers, wrote about Rabe and his career.
Well, let's talk a little about this book.
First, it's a very interesting concept: two businesses, one legitimate and one likely-mob-backed, fighting over dominance of the jukebox concession in a small city. Of course, it turns violent.
Right from the start, there was something else different about this novel, though. For one, the prose is a little more literary than I expect from a GM book, which gave it a slightly odd feeling.
More than odd, though, the book is downright uneven.
The tone of the novel begins in a hard-boiled literary form, then switches to a humorous tone it keeps up for a while before switching to a more standard hard-boiled crime feel (albeit briefly).
The plot starts out focused, particularly on the problem of the jukebox war, but also on a love triangle but, then meanders into the workings of the record-distribution industry circa 1960 and spends far, far too much time there. Then, in literally the last four or five thousand words or so, the novel remembers it's supposed to be a crime novel and tosses in a pointless kidnapping which results in a murder. Finally, on the very last page, the protagonist finds out that in the six or so hours during which he was kidnapped, all the plot-points have been wrapped up off-camera without his involvement.
As I said, I read this because an essay Westlake wrote on Rabe intrigued me and this was the first Rabe I stumbled across after reading it. Westlake's essay basically says Rabe was a genius storyteller constitutionally unsuited to the publishing industry. He described Rabe's career as writing books that were "pate, but were treated like liverwurst by his agent, the industry and readers alike" and that after five or six years, Rabe started to believe liverwurst was what everyone wanted, so he began to write "some very bad books, often in ten days or less" interspersed with a few books that were weak but had some good parts, before moving away from original fiction into novelizations and media tie-in novels, then leaving writing entirely. Rabe's first novel was published in 1955. MURDER ME FOR NICKELS was published in 1960, which put it right at the tail-end of his so-called "pate phase."
This isn't isn't pate, but it's only a step above liverwurst, to continue the metaphor. It's very much a mixed bag. There are a number of clever turns of phrase in the prose and a few legitimately amusing, even funny, verbal exchanges, but the plot is stupid, meandering and pointless and the characters so paper-thin I honestly had a hard time remembering who was who in several instances, especially in crowd scenes.
I'm still curious to read some good Rabe and if I run across something in the future, I'll check the copyright date to see what era it fits into before making a buying decision. Will I seek more Rabe out, though? I really doubt it.
Time for a revisit of one of my all-time favorite anime series, TERROR IN RESONANCE.
Directed, storyboarded and co-created by Shinichiro Watanabe, TERROR IN RESONANCE is a series I was immediately interested in upon hearing the premise, terrorism in "real world" modern-day Japan, and Watanabe's involvement. Not because I am a fanatical follower of his work or anything, but because it's so different from his previous work, which includes COWBOY BEBOP and SAMURAI CHAMPLOO--both works that combine genre fiction with specific genres of music in fun, quirky ways with a mix of action and humor--and I'm always curious to see what accomplished creators can do outside of their perceived wheelhouse. Because of TiR, though, I now watch anything the man is involved with going forward. It's so incredible, it really made me a die-hard Watanabe fan.
TiR is, on the surface, the story of two genius teenagers wreaking havoc and spreading terror throughout Tokyo. This is done through a series of brilliant bombings, clever media manipulation and a kind of charming audacity that the public--of any nation--tends to love in its villains.
But, of course, there's much more to the story than that.
While we see these two boys transferring into a normal high school in the first episode, giving normal-sounding names to their new classmates, we are also shown almost immediately that their normalcy is a mask they wear, just like the literal masks they wear in their internet videos taunting the police, going by the collective name Sphinx. In fact, they don't even have names, not real ones, anyway, and refer to each other as Nine and Twelve. Their motivation is unclear, for most of the series in fact (though we get inklings of terrible trauma in their past right from the start), but it's also clear that they aren't just bored geniuses playing around, as these kinds of villains frequently are in anime and comics. They have a message that the world needs to hear and they feel this is the only way they make the rest of us listen.
TiR is set in the "real" world and taps into some deeply-seated fears of modern Japan, namely, terrorism and the country's place in the world. Japan is one of the most peaceful nations on Earth: it's economically prosperous, it isn't subject to the kind of internal or external strife (political or military) that most of the western world is seemingly constantly involved in. And it's precisely those reasons, along with the fact that its closest ally is the U.S., that make many Japanese fear they will become the target for terrorist attacks. At the same time, there is a feeling among a small, but vocal, minority in Japan that while the second World War may be long over, and the physical scars from it may have healed, their nation's soul still hasn't, that they have spent seventy years under the U.S.'s thumb, living in our shadow as a defeated nation "without dignity or sense of self", as someone puts it in TiR.
Those are real, valid feelings. Even if some people wouldn't agree with them, it's a legitimate perspective to take.
I honestly can't say as much as I want to say about this series without spoiling key information, both because the series is so short (only 11 episodes; an unusually small number for a TV anime) and because what I want to talk about hinges on extremely important plot points weaving real-world issues into the narrative, but let me say this:
TiR is, ultimately, an incredibly powerful story about three separate groups, each with noble goals, doing terrible things to try to achieve them, and coming into conflict with each other in the process.
And let me add this as well: the first time I watched it, I had tears in my eyes when the final episode was over. It's that powerful a story.
Beyond the story aspects, the animation in this is gorgeous. It's not the most amazing animation I've ever seen, but it's certainly the best-looking TV anime I've seen in a long time. Possibly ever. Perhaps because of the relatively-short number of episodes, they had more money to spend--I don't know--but the animation quality is nearly on par with big budget theatrical releases. On BluRay, on a TV screen capable of taking advantage of the format to its fullest extent, it's just gorgeous.
Please, please do yourself a favor and watch this series.
And take my recommendation, if at all possible, and watch it in as few sittings as you can manage. The first time I watched it, I intended to watch an episode or two and became so engrossed I watched the first five episodes in my first sitting. I finished off the other six in two more sittings, and that was pacing myself; I would have watched all six remaining episodes the second night except that it meant there'd be no more for me to watch.
Last week, I read Kenneth Fearing's novel, THE BIG CLOCK, and honestly did not care for it much. It was highly praised by the likes of Raymond Chandler himself as a "noir tour de force," but to me, it lacked substance and ended on a very weak note.
I'd heard better things about the film adaptation, however, so I gave that a shot. Let's take a look.
The basic plot of both the novel and the film is the protagonist (named George Stroud in the novel; Ray Milland in the film) is an editor in a huge magazine empire who has a taste for drink and a wandering eye. He cheats on his wife with his boss's mistress and when his boss snaps one night and kills her, the boss's business partner tries to pin the killing on George/Ray - the twist is that they don't know it is George/Ray, only that another man was at the scene and saw Earl Janoth (though they don't know if he knows who Janoth was and/or can recognize him).
Using the resources of the magazine George/Ray edits, a crime-news magazine with a reputation for solving crimes the cops can't (or at least before the cops do), they put George/Ray in charge of finding this mystery man so they can take care of him.
George/Ray, a very intelligent man who fully realizes what's going on, does his best to obfuscate the situation while trying to find a way to definitively prove Janoth was the murderer without admitting he himself was there (because his wife will find out about his infidelity; in fact, in the novel, he describes it as a choice between doing the right thing and losing his family or saving his skin and losing everything else).
The situation gets tighter and tighter as George/Ray had no reason to cover his own tracks, so it's quite easy for his reporters to him track down (though none ever realize it's him), until he's literally trapped in the magazine's offices and then...
That's where the big difference lies.
In the novel, Earl Janoth initially wants to turn himself in for the killing, but his business partner, Steve Hagen, convinces him that Janoth Publications can't survive without him and he'd be putting thousands of people out of work by turning himself in. At the same time, Janoth has been fighting off a hostile takeover attempt by a rival company. In the end of the novel, just before George is about to be caught and have to make his own hard choice, it's revealed that earlier that day, the rival company's takeover succeeds and Janoth then calls off the investigation, as there is no more purpose to trying to save his own skin, then kills himself. It's a weak ending that actually made me angry as it let George completely off the hook without him ever having to make the really difficult choice that he has struggled with most of the novel.
In the film, Ray finds evidence linking Hagen rather than Janoth to the crime and confronts the two men. Hagen, panicking, points the finger at Janoth, who calmly says he'll stick by his friend and get him the best legal defense available. Hagen, furious, reveals that Janoth killed the girl, whereupon Janoth kills Hagen and tries to flee, only to fall down an elevator shaft to his death. It's a much more exciting ending, though it, too, feels contrived, albeit in a different way.
All told, I do think the film is superior to the novel. There are a number of great shots, and a surprise find that I enjoyed:
Harry Morgan, best known as Colonel Potter in MASH, as Billy, Janoth's nearly-mute (in the novel, anyway) chaffeur and all-around-strong-man. He does coldly detached menacing quite well.
At any rate, in this case the film > the book, so skip the novel and watch THE BIG CLOCK, if you're interested (and ignore all the stupid clock references in the film; the film-makers clearly didn't understand the clock metaphor from the novel).
Happy New Year, everyone!
Updating a day early to get in on this hopefully-auspicious date.
And here's some good news for the new year: a story of mine has been published in 32 White Horses on a Vermillion Hill, a charity anthology meant to raise money for friend and colleague Christoper Ropes's medical bills.
Featuring 32 stories of horror and dark fantasy, all profits from the book will go to the GoFundMe campaign currently running to help repair Chris's badly-damaged teeth, for which he has no dental insurance.
Below is the table of contents. As you can see, there are some great people associated with this, some whose names you may recognize, some you may not.
introduction -- Nadia Bulkin
1. Farah Rose Smith – Blue Broken Mind
2. Matthew St. Cyr – An Incident on a Cold Winter’s Afternoon
3. Douglas Draa – Fishing Boots
4. Frank. R. Coffman – Chindi/Night of the Skinwalker
5. Norbert Gora – How to live without meds?
6. Calvin Demmer – Nothing Else Matters
7. Jo-Anne Russell – The Denturist
8. Russell Smeaton – The Tooth
9. Paula Ashe – To Anne
10. James Fallweather – I Can’t See the Bottom
11. K. A. Opperman – Forbidden Knowledge
12. Bob Pastorella – Outlaws
13. Christopher Slatsky – Project AZAZEL
14. E. O. Daniels – Prototype
15. Maxwell Gold – Eton’s Last Will and Testament
16. Kathleen Kaufman - Last Call at the Overlook
17. Scott J. Couturier – Reflection in Blood
18. Shayne Keen – Four Ropes
19. Brian O’Connell – Vore
20. John Claude Smith – "Hotel California" is the Devil
21. Jill Hand – Spare Parts
22. John Boden – Salten
23. Matthew M. Bartlett – The Fever River
24. Brandon Barrows – Verdure
25. Sarah Walker – Ink
26. Robert S. Wilson – Twitching and Chirping
27. C. P. Dunphey – Denizens of Mortuun
28. John Linwood Grant – Hungery
29. Jeffrey Thomas – Chrysalises
30. S. L. Edwards – I Keep It in a Little Box
31. Jason A. Wyckoff – Trace of Presence
32. Donald Armfield – Thirty-Two
You'll notice, of course, that it includes my military sci-fi/horror (an exceedingly rare genre jump for me), "Verdure." A shorter version of this story was first published in 2014, but this version has been partially revised and somewhat expanded.
So, please, if you like varied horror or contributing to a good cause, check out the book here, share the word and let's see if we can help a friend.
I'm Brandon and I write comic books, prose and poetry. I own dozens of clever and interesting t-shirts.