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Brandon Barrows Comics
Recently, a friend nominated me for one of those "post the covers of seven books you love, one a day, without comment or explanation" deals on Facebook. Tuesday was the final day, so I thought I'd share them here, as well.
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And for good measure, an eighth book. ;)
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As happens, I was looking for something else and stumbled across this movie. It didn't catch my interest based on what I'd read about it, until I saw it was based on a novel of the same name, by William Irish, which was a pseudonym of Cornell Woolrich, one of the masters of noir.
The story is a variant on the classic noir plot, "Did I do it?" in which a sailor, Alex, wakes up in NYC from a night of drinking to find he's considerably cash-richer than he was. He only barely remembers the night, but does remember a mysterious woman gave him the cash.
In seeking to find her and return the money, Alex, discovers his dubious benefactor, Edna, is dead and since he can't remember the night, he himself is an obvious suspect. With the help of a dance-hall girl, June, Alex sets out to find out who really killed Edna. The title comes from the fact that he has only a few hours before he needs to catch a bus to report to his naval station for duty.
Now, any time you stumble across a minor noir film, there's always people claiming it's a masterpiece and the public just doesn't understand it. This isn't a masterpiece, but it's unusual, for the time, in that the main "detective" is a woman - June. Now, June is not your typical noir frail, neither is she a femme fatale. Instead, she embodies the kind of world-weariness you usually see in cops or P.I.s. The world is terrible and she's just along for the ride because she has no choice, although in her case, her jadedness comes from her lot in life as a dance-hall girl--constantly being hit on by strange men, etc--it's no less real than that of the men who usually lead these films.
Why, then, does she take pity on Alex? Well, you get the feeling that he's just big and dumb and innocent-looking enough that she takes pity on him and maybe thinks he's even slightly worse off than she is. After that, she takes the lead and they get things done.
The movie itself isn't anything particularly special: a lot of wandering around, talking to people (almost at random) piecing together clues. Edna, it seems, was in the blackmail business and finally crossed the wrong person. Same old story, right?
Well, it's a B-movie certainly, but not cheaply nor unskillfully made. From what I've read, this was director Harold Clurman's first and only film, and it's obvious that he put time and consideration into it, rather than just hacking it out and what he ended up with, while not spectacularly, is perfectly solid - especially for a first effort. For that alone, I think it deserves to be remembered.
In 1969, writer Don Pendleton published his novel War Against the Mafia, a novel of a Vietnam vet's (initially) one-man war against the Mafia, in retaliation for their tangential killing of his parents and sister. Mack Bolan, the Executioner, sounds very Punisheresque, no? Well, that's because he's actually the direct inspiration for the Punisher, per creator Gerry Conway, though less-well known by the public.
Pendleton certainly made his mark, however, as, in addition to the 38 Executioner novels he wrote himself, more than five-hundred additional novels have been written by various writers and published under published by Gold Eagle (a division of Harlequin).
Despite the massive number of these books published, you may never have seen one. Until the demise of Gold Eagle, they weren't to be found in any bookstore I've ever been in. But, if you've examined the miniscule books section of a K-Mart or Walmart, you've probably seen these books: tiny, cheap paperback novels. For years, I saw and ignored them. They look, to be brutally honest, cheap and tawdry and bottom-barrel.
Last summer, out of curiosity, I purchased the first, the original novel. It was a little better than I expected, but not much. The story is fairly ridiculous and Pendleton's prose is terrible, but I can see how it would appeal to a certain market. I read it then put it on the shelf and forgot about it.
Recently, however, in a box of free books someone was throwing out after a garage sale, amidst tomes on wildlife and hunting and fishing, I found the above books: the first five Executioner novels, plus a later book--Mack Bolan's War Book--that contains a rough chronology of the first 60-some-odd novels, plus lists of weapons he's used and character he's met. I rarely turn down free books, so I scooped them up.
I've re-read the first novel and read the second one now and I have to say, my opinion of the books is actually worse than before. They are silly to the point of nearly being parody of tough-guy heroes with more bullets than brains. I know, from his own writings on the matter, though, that Pendleton did not intend them as such. He saw his character as an American version of James Bond - tough and principled and unwilling to bend from his own code of honor. He also, of course, called himself "the father of action adventure fiction", as if pulp heroes like Doc Savage, The Avenger and the Shadow didn't exist before he was even born.
These books are not intellectual and they are barely literate--thoough some later novels, by other writers, are apparently much better, I'm told--but I can see the market they were meant for and obviously they were insanely successful in the long-run. I don't know of any other book series with 500+ entries.
If nothing else, Pendleton left his mark on the world.
I bought this novel on a whim because I enjoy a lot of Japanese fiction and the elevator pitch--"Rashomon in an all-girl's high school"--sounded like it might have potential. Not only did it have potential, it blew away my expectations.
If you haven't seen the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, the story is essentially six characters telling subjective, contradictory and very self-serving accounts of their own recollection of a murder. Each character's story paints themselves in a positive light and casts suspicion on someone else.
The Dark Maidens is very similar, albeit a modern day version set in a Catholic missionary, all-girl's private high school in Japan.
Itsumi, the beautiful, kind, intelligent and exceptionally popular (think benevolent queen of the school) president of the school's literature club has died - violently. Whether it is is suicide or murder, the police have not yet determined, but rumors fly around the school that one of the six other members of the school's literature club has murdered her.
One week later, the literature club is meeting for its annual mystery stew slash original short-story-reading event, the event last of the school-year. Itsumi's best friend, Sayuri, formerly the vice-president and now president of the club, has decided to go on with the event despite Itsumi's death, knowing her best friend would want her beloved club to continue this tradition. The twist is that Sayuri has asked each girl to write, instead of a piece of original fiction, a story about their relationship with Itsumi.
What follows is, like in Rashomon, six stories, one for each girl, detailing how close each was with Itsumi, how wonderful Itsumi was to her and casting suspicion on another member of the club. Throughout these stories, bits and pieces (unbeknowst to the girls) of the truth are interwoven. They're not things you can easily pick up on while reading the stories for the first time, but by the end of the novel, I was genuinely impressed with how Akiyoshi seeded "facts" among the fiction.
Aside from that, the last arc of the novel, Sayuri's story, actually written by Itsumi before her death, threw several twists into the narrative. One, I suspected, but others I never saw coming and was not only surprised, but delighted. The last few pages of the work, especially, throw all the shadows and murkiness of what's come before into stark relief - and in a brutal fashion I could never have expected from the rest of the novel.
If it wasn't obvious, I greatly enjoyed the work. If I have any complaint, it's a personal one rather than a real critique of the work and it's only because I am a westerner reading a novel originally written for Japanese audiences, that being that there's a great deal of space devoted to explaining various Christian holidays and Catholic ceremonies. This is entirely understandable for a Japanese audience, as very few would be familiar with these concepts, but as a westerner, they sort of dragged the narrative down in a few places.
Don't, however, let that deter you. Overall, this is a great novel. I literally couldn't put it down as I read and ended up reading it in one sitting. Very much recommended.
I'm Brandon and I write comic books, prose and poetry. I own dozens of clever and interesting t-shirts.