book: A Florentine Death (2005; trans 2007 Howard Curtis) by Michele Giuttari

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Author Michele Giuttari was for a time a top cop in Florence, and led investigations including that of the celebrated Monster of Florence serial killings. In his Afterword to this, his debut novel, Giuttari admits that his hero, a Florentine top cop called Michele Ferrara, is an idealized version of himself. This is a worthwhile admission since throughout the novel there are mentions of Ferrara having earlier investigated the Monster of Florence case, and indeed some justifications of the conclusions he came to — whatever his damnfool detractors might say, sorta thing.

Now, though, Ferrara is investigating a series of mutilatory killings of gay men. Moreover, he’s receiving threatening anonymous notes that seem to be from the killer. Oh, and there are clues in the mutilations perpetrated on the corpses that point to the killer’s plan being for Ferrara himself to be the final victim of the diabolical scheme.

It become clear quite early on who Continue reading

o/t: Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts charity anthology

Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts is a charity anthology of original short (in fact, short-short) stories, from humorous to dark, of love that goes ‘orribly wrong; it’s being published on Valentine’s Day by the Australian press Things in the Well. All profits from the anthology will go to the disaster relief effort connected with the devastating recent Australian bush fires.

I’m proud to say that one of my own humble efforts is to be included in the anthology.

Submissions are not quite closed for the anthology but the editors, Louise Zedda-Sampson and Chris Mason, have given permission for people to post the Table of Contents as it looks so far:

Erik Hofstatter: “Tender Whisper on a Crimson Tongue”
Kurt Newton: “Honeymoon Lodge”, “Bloom”, “The Rose Room”
Susan Snyder: “When He Comes”
Janis Butler Holm: “Abduction Again”
Russell Hemmel: “Orchid, Squirrel, White Hot Star”, “Lover Song, Mantis Instinct”
Joshua Strnad: “A Receipt”
William Falo: “Broken Crows”
Bruce Meyer: “Invisible Boy”
Miguela Considine: “Oldstones”
Lynne Lumsden Green: “Smoke Signals”
Kevin David Anderson: “Damaged”
Liam Hogan: “A Ballet of Blood and Flames”
Kevin J. Kennedy: “Edible Panties”
Matthew R. Davis: “The Ballad of Elvis O’Malley”
Alyson Faye: “Fallen Angel”
Sara Tantlinger: “Fermented Fatalities”, “Incisions”, “Or Something”, “Polluted”
E.E. King: “DNA”
James S. Dorr: “A Saint Valentine’s Day Tale”
Ronnie Smart: “Doris”
A J Collins: “Valentine’s Volunteer”
Josh Dygert: “King Cupie”
Anthony Ferguson: “One from the Heart”
John Grant: “The Music of the Heart”
Sarah Doebereiner: “Melody in the Dark”
Steve Dillon: “Cleaning up the Act”

As I said, the book’s to be published on Valentine’s Day. However, you can already place pre-orders for the Kindle edition, which is cheap enough that you might want to think of buying copies for your significant other(s) as well as for yourself. Your mum might like a copy too!

Here are the relevant Kindle LINKS:

US
UK
Australia

The book has a Facebook page where you can find out more and keep up with any breaking news. If you’re on Facebook, do please Like the page; similarly, please feel free to Reblog and Twitterpate this page here. The more the news is spread and the more money the anthology earns for disaster relief, the better, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

book: The Stranger (1942; trans 1988 Matthew Ward) by Albert Camus

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Albert Camus’s L’Étranger/The Stranger/The Outsider is one of the most written-about books of the 20th century, so I doubt that any jejune thoughts of my own are going to add much to the sum of human understanding. It’s a book that somehow I didn’t read during my schooldays and should certainly have read since; I’m kicking myself that I put it off until now, because I really liked the novel — which is like something that Jim Thompson or David Goodis might have written had they been raised in French Algeria in the first half of the last century: the book was created within a much different culture to theirs, but it has the same underlying nihilism and, I think, despair over human behavior. (Translator Matthew Ward, in his introductory Note to this edition, suggests this was not just a matter of happenstance, that Camus was deliberately emulating US writers like Ernest Hemingway and James M. Cain.)

The novel’s narrator, Meursault, is a young French Algerian clerk who’s devoid of Continue reading

Affairs of a Gentleman (1934)

US / 65 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: Edwin L. Marin Pr: Carl Laemmle Jr Scr: Cyril Hume, Peter Ruric, Milton Krims Story: Women (1928 play; vt The Women in His Life) by Edith & Edward Ellis Cine: John J. Mescall Cast: Paul Lukas, Leila Hyams, Patricia Ellis, Phillip Reed, Dorothy Burgess, Onslow Stevens, Murray Kinnell, Lilian Bond, Joyce Compton, Sara Haden, Dorothy Libaire, Richard Carle, Charles Wilson, Wilfred Hari, Gregory Gaye, Marcia Remy

An interesting Pre-Code B-feature that’s often listed as a comedy mystery even though it isn’t: it has a few humorous moments, mainly thanks to snappy dialogue inherited from its stage original, but the overwhelming mood is one of impending tragedy.

Victor Gresham (Lukas) is a bestselling novelist and an obsessive roue. It’s not hard to work out where he gets the inspiration for each new smutty novel, as his publisher, Paul Q. Bindar (Carle), explains to the sales reps:

“You must continue to play on Gresham’s personal life to the press. Victor Gresham, one of his own heroes. Every book represents a woman in his past, and every woman in his present means a book in his future.”

(With over eighty books to my own credit, Continue reading

book: Jar City (2000; trans 2004 Bernard Scudder) by Arnaldur Indriðason

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This is the third I’ve read in Indriðason’s longish Inspector Erlendur series: my first encounter with it, Silence of the Grave, left me distinctly underimpressed, so it was quite a number of years before I read another, Outrage, which I enjoyed very much more. In the interim I watched and was pretty bowled over by Baltasar Kormakur’s MYRIN (2006; vt Jar City), the screen adaptation of the current novel. And so finally I got to the novel itself, which I’ve had sitting on my shelves for more years than I care to think.

An old and solitary man is found in his basement apartment with his head beaten in. At first glance it appears like an instance of a burglary gone wrong, but someone — presumably the killer — has left a terse (just three words) and enigmatic note. Middle-aged Inspector Erlendur and his crew dig deeper to discover that the old man wasn’t the genial old duffer he might have seemed: in his youth he Continue reading

Tendre Poulet (1977)

vt Dear Inspector; vt Dear Detective
France / 106 minutes / color / Ariane, Mondex, GEF–CCFC Dir: Philippe de Broca Pr: Alexandre Mnouchkine, Georges Dancigers, Robert Amon Scr: Philippe de Broca, Michel Audiard Story: Le Commissaire Tanquerelle et le Frelon (1976) by Jean-Paul Rouland and Claude Olivier Cine: Jean-Paul Schwartz Cast: Annie Girardot, Philippe Noiret, Catherine Alric, Hubert Deschamps, Paulette Dubost, Roger Dumas, Raymond Gérôme, Guy Marchand, Simone Renant, Georges Wilson, Henri Czarniak, Maurice Illouz, Georges Riquier, Armelle Pourriche, Francis Lemaire, Guy Antoni, Guy Di Rigo, Jacqueline Doyen

For some reason I had it in mind this was a far more noirish movie than it proved to be; I must have been getting it confused in decades-ago memory with something a bit dourer, like Pierre Granier-Deferre’s ADIEU POULET (1975; vt The French Detective) or even Claude Chabrol’s POULET AU VINAIGRE (1984; vt Cop au Vin). However, on what was effectively a first-time watch I fell completely in love with the piece, and thus persuaded myself it deserved a place here. Even though it’s essentially a romantic farce in police-procedural guise, there are four murders, one of which is shown in moderately grim detail, so it does kinda sorta hook into the French school of noir.

No?

Well, that’s my justification, anyway.

Lise Tanquerelle (Girardot) is a senior police detective and divorced mother in Paris. One day, hurrying home in the car for the birthday party of her little daughter Catherine (Pourriche), she knocks Professor Antoine Lemercier (Noiret) off his moped. After she’s Continue reading

book: Based on a True Story (2015; trans 2017 George Miller) by Delphine de Vigan

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A slow-starting but eventually mesmerizing tale of writer’s block, identity theft, the nature of memory and the purpose of fiction. The fact that the narrator is a successful novelist called Delphine and is clearly based on de Vigan herself has led some to believe this is autobiography rather than fiction; my guess is that it’s fiction through and through but borrows a few peripheral details from real life. The London Daily Torygraph apparently thought the novel was “the next Gone Girl,” which only goes to show you can trust the Torygraph as much on books as you can on Brexit — i.e., not at all. No, less than that.

As noted, our narrator is celebrated Parisian novelist Delphine. In the wake of publicizing her latest novel, a bestseller, she’s floundering a little as tries to settle on what next to write. Into her life comes L., a woman of about the same age as herself and with a similar background (indeed, L. claims that they were in the same class at school, although Delphine doesn’t remember her) who works in roughly the same trade: L. is a highly regarded, much-in-demand ghostwriter. As Delphine’s hesitancy about her next project becomes a full-fledged writer’s block, to the point that she can no longer face a computer screen or even so much as hold a pen, L., who’s sort of an alter ego, is always there to help and encourage her. In fact, L. begins to take over her life and to try to turn her into a different writer . . .

So far, so orthodox — at least for this kind of novel. But as I was reading I began to realize that there were Continue reading

Drugoe Litso (2008 TVM)

vt Another Face
Russia / 93 minutes / color, with some sepia & white / Mostelefilm, Star Media Dir: Igor Shternberg  Pr: Aleksandr Razarionov, Valentin Opaliov, Vlad Riashin Scr: Yelena Gustova Cine: Yan Voronovskiy Cast: Aleksandra Afanasyeva-Shevchuk, Ilya Liubimov, Dmitri Volkov, Elena Ruchkina, Igor Kirillov, Oleg Shklovsky, Rasmi Dzhabrailov, Natalia Pavlenkova, Nikita Prozorovsky, Victor Sternberg.

The face of lab assistant Vera Grishchenko (Afanasyeva-Shevchuk) is hideously injured when a chemical experiment goes explosively awry. She and husband Pasha (Volkov) have no idea where they can find the money for plastic surgery until her kindly hospital doctor (Prozorovsky) tells her that famous cosmetic surgeon Maksim Pereslavsky (Liubimov) has noticed her plight and reckons she’d be the ideal candidate for a new technique he’s devised—and, since she’d be an experimental subject, there’d be no cost. Naturally she and Pasha agree like a shot.

After the surgery, when the bandages come off, Vera discovers her new face is nothing like her old. It is, however, very beautiful, so she reckons she’ll adapt to it in time.

Aleksandra Afanasyeva-Shevchuk as Vera — soon after the bandages come off

Vera, before

What she hasn’t expected is that Pasha will be the one who has difficulty adapting to the “new” Vera. He does try, at one point telling her that, now she’s lost her job, they should start a family—”You’ll have a baby girl looking exactly like you . . . er, I’m sorry”—but he has difficulty showing her affection and in finding any enthusiasm for sex: he loves and wants to make love to the Vera he married, not this beautiful “stranger.” Continue reading

book: The Swimmer (2013; trans 2015 Elizabeth Clark Wessel) by Joakim Zander

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The publisher seems keen to make us believe that this novel represents the emergence of a new John Le Carré or Graham Greene. Their copywriters should read a bit more Le Carré or Greene before making such comparisons, because they’re not doing Joakim Zander any favors. You won’t find in The Swimmer any of the philosophical subtexts you’d expect to encounter in a Greene “entertainment” and you certainly won’t find that slow-moving, intricately layered creepiness/paranoia that marks the best of Le Carré.

What you’ll find instead — and this is what The Swimmer should be lauded to the skies for — is a slam-bam, action-packed thriller that’s so beautifully put together (and so superbly translated, by Elizabeth Clark Wessel) that the book practically reads itself, with the sole task of the reader being to cling on by the fingernails. In this context you might not regard The Swimmer as great art, but you’d be wrong not to recognize it as great craft, and for the average reader — i.e., moi — that’s if anything Continue reading

Nightmare in the Sun (1965)

US / 79 minutes / color / Afilmco, Zodiac Dir & Pr: Marc Lawrence Scr: Ted Thomas, Fanya Lawrence Story: Marc Lawrence, George Fass Cine: Stanley Cortez Cast: John Derek, Aldo Ray, Arthur O’Connell, Ursula Andress, Sammy Davis Jr., Allyn Joslyn, Keenan Wynn, George Tobias, John Marley, Lurene Tuttle, Robert Duvall, Richard Jaeckel, Chick Chandler, Bill Challee (i.e., William Challee), Michael Petit (i.e., Michel Petit), James Waters, John Sebastian.

An oddball but interesting piece of rural noir that has languished in obscurity for a long while. There was a VHS release a couple of decades ago, but it seems to have had a very restricted distribution. Even so, it seems to be the only extant source for the movie.

It’d be nice to describe the obscurity as undeserved, but I’m not sure that’s completely accurate. If you go into the movie expecting it to obey the normal rules of narrative then you’re likely to be disappointed: judged in that context it’s fairly mediocre. If you’re happy simply to let Nightmare in the Sun take you wherever it chooses, then you may find it a more enjoyable viewing experience—if such a minor movie deserves such a pompous term. And it does, of course, have a pretty noteworthy cast.

John Derek as Steve

Thanks to a lift given him by a deaf trucker (Davis, in what must surely be the smallest role of his career), a hitchhiker called Steve (Derek) arrives in the small town of Calab, otherwise known as the butt end of nowhere. The friendly gas station proprietor, Hogan (Marley), informs him that the local sheriff don’t like him no hoboes, and advises him to get out of town while the going’s good.

Ursula Andress as Marsha

Steve is soon picked up by Marsha Wilson (Andress, whose marriage to Derek was by this time effectively over), ostentatiously unfaithful much younger wife of local bigshot and boozer Sam Wilson (O’Connell). She takes Steve back to the ranch and, enlisting the help of a swimming pool, seduces him with startling ease, bearing in mind how much he Continue reading