Thursday, December 30, 2010

Popcorn Fiction

I've talked before about Mulholland Books. Recently, Mulholland has joined forces with Derek Haas and started to cross-promote stories on Haas's Popcorn Fiction site. There are some great stories from people like Scott Frank (The Lookout, screenplays for Get Shorty and Out of Sight) and Charlie Huston.

There are two stories noir-ish I want to call attention to.  Former Bond author Raymond Benson tells a tale of a broken down piano player in "After the Gig".  Early on, I was able to guess what the twist ending would be, but it's fun to watch how Benson piles up the layers and creates a fully fleshed-out character in such a short space.

The other story is a more recent posting called "Impulse Kill" by John Patrick Nelson.  It's a darkly comic tale of a small town sheriff trying to dispose of a body, only to find all the good dumping spots in town have already been taken.  I hadn't heard of Nelson before, but after this story, I'm going to keep my ear out for more from him.

There are a lot of other stories in Popcorn Fiction's archive that I haven't read yet, so head over and take a look.  If you have a favorite, leave it in the comments and I'll be sure to give it a read.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Books of 2010

The year 2010 is almost over and judging by my tally, I've read 18 books. Not too shabby, but not on pace with what I did when I worked in New York. Here's the complete list:

Mind-blowingly Awesome:
A Drink Before the War, by Dennis Lehane
The Dawn Patrol, by Don Winslow

Good Reads:
Drama City, by George Pelecanos
Stalking the Angel, by Robert Crais
Darkness, Take My Hand, by Dennis Lehane
Expiration Date, by Duane Swierczynski
Secret Dead Men, by Duane Swierczynski
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins
Mortal Stakes, by Robert Parker
Trigger City, by Sean Chercover
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Don Miller
The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

Could've been Better:
Road Dogs (It's Elmore Leonard, so it's still enjoyable).
Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell
Firewall, by Henning Mankell
Thank You for Smoking, by Christopher Buckley

Not Recommended
The Cleaner, by Brett Battles

Looking over the list, there are 14 different authors represented; 10 of whom I'd never read before this year. I think that's a very good ratio.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Christmas Experience

Before the Christmas season is over, I thought I post this. I heard it on one of the New York radio stations (Q104.3?) and thought it was cool.

Did you know Jimi Hendrix recorded a Christmas tune?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

MST3K Friday: Mitchell

"This makes Driving Miss Daisy look like Bullitt."
"Buzz off, kid!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Darkness, Take My Hand by, Dennis Lehane

The issue, he wrote, is pain.

Lehane's second book in the Kenzie/Gennaro PI series takes place roughly a year after the events of A Drink Before the War.  Patrick is introduced to his new client by a friend who is a college professor.  Diandra Warren was visited by a young woman calling herself Moira Kenzie who said her boyfriend threatened violence against her.  Shortly after the visit, Diandra received a photograph of her son in the mail, implicitly threatening his life if she did anything to help Moira.  As always, things aren't always what they seem and Kenzie finds himself toe-to-toe with psychopaths and serial killers.

One thing you can say about Lehane is he certainly has a way with words.  His descriptions are crisp and clear and his dialogue rings very true to life.  I'm not a fan of serial killer books/movies, but Lehane was able to keep my interest with the language and the interesting hook as to why the killer is taunting Kenzie.

I like the interplay between our series characters. It is enjoyable to watch he relationship between Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro grow.  Even Phil, Angie's abusive ex-husband, is rehabilitated in the novel.

In many thrillers, the writers either leave a lot off the page until after the climax or tell us everything and we get frustrated with the characters for not putting the pieces together sooner.  Lehane is able to balance it well so we are only a handful of paragraphs ahead of the characters.

I mentioned earlier I don't care for serial killers.  Since they tend to kill for seemingly no reason (could be "cleansing" those who disagree with them or to get some kind of sexual thrill), the type doesn't appeal to me.  Give me villains who kill for jealousy or to keep secrets or for revenge.  Lehane was able to keep my interest by tying the killer's current spree (though not his one from 20 years ago) to Kenzie's past.  He also had his characters get into a philosophical discussion about how long you can deal with violence and muck before it becomes part of you.

Recommended for fans of the series and serial killers.  Not recommended as an entry point for Lehane's work.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmastime is Here

For me, no two (musical) things herald the beginning of Christmas than hearing Nat King Cole and Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.  Of course, everyone knows Nat Cole and "The Christmas Song".  The entire album is great and worth a pickup if you don't have it.  My personal favorites are "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", "I Saw Three Ships", and "A Cradle in Bethlehem".

From the Amazon bio:  "Arthur Fiedler (December 17, 1894 - July 10, 1979) was the long-time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, a symphony orchestra that specializes in popular and light classical music. With a combination of musicianship and showmanship, he made the Pops one of the best-known orchestras in the country." Nothing puts a smile on my face like the opening track of the Pops' "A Christmas Festival", which can be purchased from Amazon here.  For your listening pleasure, I've embedded it below.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Terriers: Pushing Up the Daisies

The news hit around lunchtime Monday that FX had canceled Terriers.  It was not too much of a shock.  I was both sad and disappointed, but like I said last week, I'm at peace with the decision.  As much as I'd like the further adventures of Hank and Britt, the season wrapped up so perfectly that you can watch these 13 episodes over and over as a great self-contained story.

In an almost unprecedented move, FX president John Landgraf held a conference call on Monday to discuss the cancellation.  Yes, the show was great.  Yes, the network wanted it to succeed.  But the numbers were so bad (how bad were they?)..they were so bad that the show had a life expectancy somewhere between a fly and a fly with a heart condition.  Sepinwall has a nice recap of the call here.

Sepinwall also has a chat with creator/executive producer Ted Griffin here.  I like the Griffin chat because he talks about the show and the actors and plans they had for season two (and three!).

As much as I'm going to miss the show, I look forward to watching it again (and again) on DVD.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dave Brubeck

Today is the 90th birthday of jazz legend Dave Brubeck.  Born in Concord, CA, Brubeck grew up on his father's ranch.  He often attributed his ability to juggle multiple rhythms in the same piece to a childhood spent watching the rhythm of horses trotting across the field while thinking of another in his head and pounding another on his leg.  You can really hear the rhythm of a ranch in his his 1961 composition "Unsquare Dance" (which is where I got the title of this blog).

There are a number of tributes across the web in honor of Brubeck's 90th birthday.  I like this one at the Wall Street Journal. Jamie Cullum wrote a brief essay for BBC.  And Turner Classic Movies is debuting a documentary called "In His Own Sweet Way" today at 5pm.  The title of the documentary is a riff on a Brubeck composition called "In Your Own Sweet Way".

In spite of his advanced age and pacemaker surgery in October, Brubeck is still writing and touring more than people a third his age.  He recently played a sold out three night set at The Blue Note in New York City.  I got the chance to see him in Morristown, NJ a few years back and he was amazing.  I'd definitely see him again next time he plays nearby.

Happy birthday, Dave!  Here's hoping for many more.

Unsquare Dance:


In Your Own Sweet Way:


My tribute from 2 years ago (with two more clips) is here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Terriers: Hail Mary

That was a pitch-perfect ending to a nearly perfect season of television.

The writers (this episode credited to Ted and Nicholas Griffin) weaved in a lot of the elements from earlier this season while adding one new one in the Big Bad.

Throughout the first half of the episode, Hank is saying goodbye to everyone he loves.  In the pre-credit sequence, he tells Britt to clean up and go to his court appearance.  Hank than says "Take care of yourself, partner."  He visits his ex-wife and hands her his will.  Unlike everyone else, he doesn't tell her to call him if she needs anything (following Jason's murder).  Hank then visits Gustafson and fills him in on what he knows about the airport, the land grab, Jason's murder, and Laura's disappearance.

Hank is nearly ready to hop on Zeitlin's boat and shoot the bastard when Mark shows up.  Laura posted a new article online about the airport and includes a veiled reference to Hank's sister.  (Yay for Stephanie!)  Hank goes to the home and finds Laura hiding out.  He and Mark take Laura down to the police station to get her set up with protective custody, but Hank is placed under arrest.  Turns out two thugs confessed to Jason's murder and said Hank hired them to do it. (oh shit!)  Hank was seen stalking Jason, accusing him of being a child molester, and using his credit cards - all things he did throughout the season.  Hank is allowed one visitor and he chooses his ex-wife.  In a great scene, Gretchen says Hank is screwed up, but she knows he would never kill Jason and he should fight whoever is setting him up.

Great, great twist there.  Never saw it coming, but all the pieces fit perfectly.  Of course, Mark springs Hank and allows him to continue his investigation.  They find out from the Zeitlin employee Britt seduced last week that Mickey Gosney's daughter was at a meeting with Zeitlin, Lindus, and their boss, and could identify the guy.  Elanor Gosney tells them she doesn't know the guy's name, but he was an old drinking buddy of her father's and he had some blackmail material on the rich guy.  He probably kept it in his old army jacket - which is in a box of Mickey's stuff at Hank's place.

Hank retrieves the stuff (killing Zeitlin's tan-suited lackey in self-defense) and our duo force Zeitlin to give up his boss - a man named Tom Ketchaw (Neal McDonough).  How great is Neal McDonough?  I've been a fan of his since his Emmy worthy appearance as DA David McNorris in the short-lived series Boomtown.  He only has one scene, but he fits perfectly.  In order to keep the blackmail stuff from going public, he agrees to stop the airport and feeds Zeitlin to the wolves.

We never find out what exactly Mickey Gosney had on Ketchaw.  Sepinwall seems to think that it shows Ketchaw is a pedophile (could be considering an earlier photo of him surrounded by children).  Others seem to think it could be a love child from a long ago Mexican fling.  At one point, I thought it might be proof that Ketchaw could be involved in an accidental death south of the border.  Whatever it was, it was powerful enough to stop his plans cold.

With all the other pieces of the puzzle now in place, we see a fuller picture of what's been going on.  Mickey's murder (the event that started Hank's crusade) wasn't about the land grab.  It was about preventing blackmail.  Hank and Britt just happened to stumble upon a much larger mystery.  Something that happens quite a bit in PI novels.

Hank is in a better place at the end.  He avenged his friend's death and stopped the airport.  He's healed the wounds between him and Gretchen.  Britt has reconciled with Katie and has come to terms with going to prison.  The episode ends like the series began, with Hank and Britt in the truck.  While stopped at a long red light, Hank says he can go straight and take Britt to prison, or he can turn left and they take off to Mexico.  They banter about the pros and cons and feel comfortable with each other again.  The light turns green and Hank says "What do you say, partner? Which way will it be?"  Fade out.  The end.

I hope there's a second season.  There are so many stories to tell with Hank and Britt and I know they'll be great considering the writers and actors involved.  If the show gets canceled, I'll be sad, but I'll be OK with it.  I'll buy the DVD and watch it again and again as a flawless 13 hour movie. To ask for more seems almost greedy.