Thursday, August 19, 2010

Petty Complaints

My gamble buying four old Richard Stark paperbacks, thinking I would need to have them to read before the new University of Chicago Press editions of Deadly Edge, Slayground, and Plunder Squad were published, failed.  I got the latest UCP edtions from Amazon well before I needed them. (The Passage and a Steig Larsson took longer to read than I bargained for.)  And now I have some garish and overpriced paperbacks sealed in plastic baggies (to preserve them? - or to keep the other books safe?) sitting next to my crisp, clean UCP editions.   Some people (you know who you are) beautifully curate old paperbacks.  I can barely stand to look at these.  It looks like I will, however, get to Butcher's Moon in ratty, paperback form well before the UCP edition is published in 2011.

Nobody seems to want to republish any of the Grofield novels.  I have paperback versions of all four (the first three in Foul Play Press editions and Lemons Never Lie from Hard Case Crime) and just finished the third one, The Blackbird.  And while I love Grofield, this book was not a strong outing by Westlake.  In the first Grofield book, The Damsel, Grofield hears, in his head, a specially composed film score to accompany whatever he's doing.  I thought that was the funniest and most endearing thing I've ever read about a character in crime fiction.  Sadly, there's no more of this in the next two books.  I think Westlake knew that The Blackbird was not properly implausible - but he let's us know that hippies are implausible characters, too (a clear reference to the two hippie villains in the previous Stark novel Deadly Edge.

Now I am on to Slayground, which shares the same opening chapter as The Blackbird.  I should have stricter standards but I love this shared chapter thing in these books and simultaneously feel that it would be a cheap gimmick if anyone else did it or does it.  (Has anyone ever done this?)  I know Westlake does it some with Joe Gores. 

I read an interesting piece in the New Yorker last week about Charlie Chan

and its may be planting the seeds of a future collecting project.  I've never read or seen anything Charlie Chan but the hunt for the books I think I could enjoy irrespective of that little fact.

Also in the New Yorker was a good piece on Agatha Christie

whom I, despite me being a long-time fan of crime fiction, have never read. 

And why can't someone at the New Yorker do a long piece on Donald Westlake?  And when will there be a proper Westlake biography?  Or a journal for Westlake studies?  There looks to be a very good survey of the Richard Stark novels in the New York Review of books back in 1985 but it is not freely accessible online.  I must get my hands on a copy of it.

Better Read Than Seen? Or Not?

I watched The Damned United the other night.  I've been an admirer of David Peace's books for a long time and 2009 was his big year with four of his novels all successfully adapted to film.  I have not read The Damned United but my gut tells me that the movie was better for me than the book would have been.  (I really wanted to listen to the audio book version of TDU read by John Simm of Life on Mars fame but could never find a copy.)  The Red Riding films come out at the end of summer on DVD.  I tried to see them in the theater but in DC they were only here for a very short time and it was logistically impossible to see them all.

Even though nothing could be more alien to me than Leeds in the early 70s and English football, I was thrilled with the movie.  I sort of knew about the legend of Brian Clough (who I discovered via reading about Jonathan Coe's great biography of B.S. Johnson).  I had certain images in my head and seeing them on film worked for me.  And I think that is the problem with adapting novels to film - in general, the depth and vividness of a book cannot compare with the time and budgetary limits of film.  Almost every film adaptation of a book fails.  (This is a sweeping generalization and I know there are countless examples I am not aware of which run counter to my argument.  But it is more or less true.)  I have a hard time watching the filmed version of anything I've read.

-Enduring Love and Atonement by Ian McEwan: couldn't do it
-The Golden Compass: had to stop after 15 minutes
-Watchmen: visually interesting but a failure overall
-Nobody's Fool/Empire Falls by Richard Russo: nice try HBO but no go
-The Ipcress File: this I want to see but its out of print in the US
-Strangers on a Train:  very good both ways
-Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: opens this fall, am very interested to see
-About a Boy/High Fidelity/Fever Pitch(UK version): actually enjoyed all three films
-Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon:  the movie worked
-Clockers by Richard Price: movie was decent
-The Third Man by Graham Greene:  was a great film and then a book so doesn't count
-The Hunter/Point Blank by Richard Stark: something I really want to see now
-Eat, Prey, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: I've been told I have to go see this
-Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee: John Malkovich makes most things great
-Any John Malkovich film that was a novel - they all work
-The Road by Cormac McCarthy:  will know shortly
-The Taltented Mr. Ripley/Plein en Soleil/Purple Noon: yes to the French version

I think I need to do some proper research to come up with better examples of failed adaptations of books.  My little list is comprised of what popped into my head after I watched The Damned United.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Arms and the Man with the Getaway Face

I went to the gun range tonight to help my wife practice.  She has a 9mm Glock 17.  I was unarmed and she did all the shooting.  I had my copy of Slayground by Richard Stark with me but could not get any reading done with all the gunfire.   Instead I was put in charge of reloading the magazines and sweeping up shell casings.  (I'm sort of a modern day Stubbs.  Helpful, but limited.)

I got to thinking while she blasted away that for a series of books called The Violent World of Parker, the guns, for the most part are pretty tame.  In Slayground, Parker knocks off an armored car with some explosives and then gets trapped in Fun Island armed with a Smith & Wesson Terrier .32 five shot revolver with a two inch barrel.  That was in 1971.  Today no one would ever consider using such a dinky gun in a heist like that, especially a big, tough guy like Parker.  (Note:  I have been reading these Parker books in chronological order and realize that the attitude towards firepower may have changed by the time the series resumes in 1997 with Comeback.)  Most of the guns used or mentioned in the books are .32s or .38s.  There are some .22s and .25s.  Yes, machine guns are used in a few jobs but I view those as exceptions.  For the most part, people in Parker's world used small caliber revolvers and they are generally effective enough to do the job.  The few automatics mentioned are .380 caliber and only hold seven shots.  The Glock magazines I was reloading hold 17 rounds (plus the round in the chamber make for 18 shots in one gun).

For a multitude of reasons there has been a sea change in attitudes about the amount of firepower needed in handguns.  My gut tells me that it is guns in pop culture (on tv, and in films, and in music) that drive people to want bigger handguns.  And I suppose gun technology has changed tremendously since the Parker books started so it is cheaper and easier to get good, high-powered weapons. 

So while I was surround by 9mm Glocks and some very loud .45 automatics tonight, I think I prefer the menace of Parker with smaller weapons (or those giant hands of his).