Friday, August 31, 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Queenpin by, Megan Abbott

I want the legs.

A young woman hired to keep the books at a seedy nightclub is taken under the wing of the infamous Gloria Denton, a mob luminary who reigned during the Golden Era of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano.  Suddenly, the world is at her feet - as long as she doesn't take any chances, like falling for the wrong guy.

Megan Abbott's Anthony nominated 2006 short story "Policy", which appeared in the collection Damn Near Dead, was the genesis for Queenpin.  It featured the same setup, the same characters, and the same killer opening line.  A throwback to the era of pulp, Queenpin won the 2008 Edgar Award.

When you boil it down to the core elements, Queenpin is pretty standard noir, only with the gender roles reversed.  Gloria Denton schools our unnamed narrator in how to make fat stacks of cash and stay safe and alive.  The girl falls in love with a gambler in the middle of the rottenest streak of bad luck you'd ever seen who tempts her to double cross her boss.  Double and triple crosses ensue until everyone is doing what they can to stay ahead of both the gun and the law.

What makes Queenpin a whole heck of a lot of fun are the well drawn characters and Ms. Abbott's ability to echo the patois of noir without making it sound like parody.  That's a feat few modern authors can pull off.  Within mystery circles, each new book by Ms. Abbott is greeted with anticipation and ebullient praise.  I'm definitely going to check out more of her work.

Recommended.

More praise for Queenpin here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Devil May Care by, Sebastian Faulks

"What an enormous pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bond. Now, shall we play?"

Bullets, babes, and booze make the James Bond formula one of the most successful, and most copied, franchises in the whole world.  Ian Fleming's 14 novels have been followed by another 14 from John Gardner, 6 from Raymond Benson, and 23 official movies featuring the adventures of the British Secret Agent.  Ian Fleming's estate commissioned author Sebastian Faulks to write a new Bond adventure to be released on the author's centennial on May 28, 2008.  Faulks approached his novel as if it was a 15th Fleming book - placing it 1967, shortly after the events of Fleming's last novel, and doing his best approximation of Fleming's style.

The target of Bond's assignment is Dr. Julius Gorner, a power-crazed pharmaceutical magnate who has taken up an interest in opiate derivatives, both legal and illegal.  As befitting the best Bond villains, he has a physical deformity - his right hand is that of a monkey's paw.  Oh, and his top henchman has undergone a surgical procedure that makes him impervious to pain.  Gorner has a fiendish plan to topple the British Empire and turn the Cold War into a hot war by antagonizing the Soviets.

While I liked the Benson and Gardner novels I read, most of the recent Bond books read like the Bond of the movies.  For Benson's in particular, I could almost see Pierce Brosnan performing the stunts and spitting out the quips.  The words on Devil May Care's book jacket ("Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming") is more than just marketing hype; Faulks's Bond feels like Bond as he was created in the books.

Since the novel was written for Fleming's centennial, Faulks put in a lot of nods Bond's past.  There are appearances by Rene Mathis (Casino Royale) and Felix Leiter, as well as references to old Bond villains.  I think the book that got the most references was From Russia With Love.  Bond uses the alias David Somerset, thinks about Kerim Bey, and there's even an homage to the train fight with Red Grant.  Many more may be found be eagle-eyed Bond fans, so I won't spoil any more.

There are certain instances where Faulks might stick too closely to the Bond formula, but it works.  Devil May Care is a fun, exciting read that keeps you turning the pages.  I could have used a few more Bondian quips, but it was good to see 007 back in action one more time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Song of the Week: Texas Flood

This is the last week of our place-themed Songs of the Week.  They were all going to be city names, but then I noticed the last Monday in August was the 27th - the 22nd anniversary of the premature death of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Here's an awesome live version of his hit song "Texas Flood".

Monday, August 20, 2012

Song of the Week: St. Louis Blues

Another week, another city tune, another city in Missouri. "St. Louis Blues" is one of the fundamental songs that belongs in any jazz musician's repertoire.  Since Dave Brubeck is my favorite musician, here's a version he did live in Belgium in 1964.  This is the classic version of his Quartet with Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Song of the Week: Kansas City

Anyone who knows me would probably think I'd take The Beatles version of this tune.  Instead, I'll use Fats Domino's rendition of the classic Leiber and Stoller song.

Friday, August 10, 2012

MST3K Friday: The Teenage Strangler

This collection is the "best" of the character Mikey from Teen-Age Strangler.  Two observations: 1) why does he have a Southern accent and his brother doesn't?  and 2) Steve Urkel could beat the crap out of this guy.

"I think we found Waldo."


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Things I Think I Think

Yesterday, I read a brief remembrance of critic Robert Hughes, long-time art critic for Time, who died this week at age 74.  I'd never heard of Hughes, but he sounds just like the sort of outsized character who used to roam newsrooms across the country.  The Daily Beast has a nice roundup of quotes from Hughes, but there's one I like most.  A former associate of his says this one "pretty much sums him up in his own words":
I am completely an elitist in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work or a good carpenter chopping dovetails. I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones. I would rather watch a great tennis player than a mediocre one, unless the latter is a friend or a relative. Consequently, most of the human race doesn’t matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights. I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this. I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today, more (perhaps) than it ever has. I hate populist s***, no matter how much the demos love it.
Sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Crime City Central

In early July, a new crime fiction podcast debuted:  Crime City Central.  Every week, they will present an audio version of a crime short story.  The first episode featured a story by Lawrence Block, so I had to check it out.  The most recent one (OK, looks like there's been one more) is Chris F. Holm's "A Simple Kindness". It's a killer story, so if you have a half hour to burn, I recommend checking it out.

Direct link to the episode here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Song of the Week: The Sidewalks Of New York

For August, I'm going to do something a little different - a theme month!  Each week's Song of the Week will have a place name in its title.

Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899-1974) is probably the greatest composer, American or otherwise, of the 20th Century.  I've always been, and will continue to be, a big fan of Gershwin, but it's hard to compare anyone with Duke's output (over 1,000 compositions) and influence.  Though he's primarily categorized as jazz, Duke's music spanned multiple genres.

This week's tune is "The Sidewalks of New York".

Friday, August 3, 2012

MST3K Friday: The Crawling Hand

"Hey, they all have stripes in their hair." "Yeah, looks like the Land of the Skunk People."
"She needs about 150 hours of beauty sleep."