REVIEW: “BRAINQUAKE”

BrainquakeI wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened Samuel Fuller’s Brainquake (Titan Books/Hard Case Crime, 2014) to the first page. And then I read the opening line: Sixty seconds before the baby shot the father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park. Hook goes in mouth.

Paul Page is sitting on a bench in Central Park, watching (or stalking, depending on your point of view) a beautiful woman he knows only as Ivory Face. He’ll soon learn her real name is Michelle Troy. She’s pushing her baby carriage while strolling with her husband when the explosion of a gunshot rips through the air. The husband falls to the ground, mortally wounded, and Michelle, along with everyone else in the vicinity, goes into panic mode. Paul attempts to leap from the bench to assist Michelle, but finds he’s frozen in place. His brain suddenly feels as though it is being crushed. Cacophonous flutes roar through his head. Everything around him is washed in red and pink. The pain and the noise is almost too much to bear.

He’s having a brainquake.

He has these every so often. They’ve been part of his life since boyhood. They don’t last too long, but each one feels like an eternity.

Come to find out, Page is a bagman for the New York mob. Bagmen are notoriously laconic, hardened loners, whose sense of loyalty runs deep. They’re expected to live alone, have no friends, deliver the money on schedule, and kill “pirates”, those who would wrongfully relieve them of said money. Page, who is as noir as they come, fits the job description perfectly. Except for one thing: he doesn’t dare tell his ruthless bosses about his brainquakes. It would seal his own death.

Through some nice plotting, Page becomes embroiled in the Central Park shooting and eventually links up with Michelle Troy and her baby. Helen Zara, a black NYPD detective who stands over six feet tall, is brought in to sort through the case, and we’re off and running.

Fuller, more widely known as an iconoclastic filmmaker and screenwriter, never really registered with me as a novelist. His films, such as Pickup On South Street, The Big Red One, and The Naked Kiss, have been logged as the work of a true auteur of the cinema, and I had seen most of them. But a novelist? News to me.

Turns out he’d written several novels along the path of his long career, none of which made much of a splash. But if they’re anything as noirish as Brainquake, I want to read them all.

Recommendation: Buy it here. This is an unexpected gift of high-caliber noir fiction from Sam Fuller. Besides, it’s from Hard Case Crime, so you know it’s got to be good.

 

 

REVIEW: “DRAWING DEAD”

DRAWING DEAD by JJ Deceglie (2011) Review by Mike Dennis DRAWING DEAD

“I wasn’t always an asshole.”

That’s Jack Andrelli talking in the opening line of JJ Deceglie’s Drawing Dead, and then he takes the rest of this riveting noir novella trying to convince you of exactly the opposite.

Andrelli is a down-and-out private investigator in Perth, Western Australia, with virtually no redeeming qualities, and he appears determined to assist in his own death any way he can. He’s a degenerate gambler, he owes big money to small gangsters, and he consumes every drop of alcohol he can get his hands on as quickly as possible. He’s a wiseass, profane noir character, to be sure, making big mistakes every step of the way, utterly without regard for the consequences. You get to the point where you want to reach into the page and slap the shit out of him to make him act a little more rationally, but of course, that’s when you realize Deceglie has you right where he wants you.

Amid all his grim prospects, Andrelli actually manages to get a client, a gorgeous brunette (“a vixen, a kitten, a demon”) who, in almost any other private eye novel, would be a mawkish cliché. In Drawing Dead, however, she’s a good fit, giving Andrelli an outlet for his bizarre sexual fantasies, as well as making a sturdy contribution to the plot. It seems she can enable him to get his hands on a lot of money, money he needs to pay back the gangsters who are by now considering ways to end his life.

With blinding neon prose, the author places the reader squarely at his protagonist’s side, and through all the boozing and the beatings, you find yourself actually rooting for the guy. I found the unconventional style, which includes no quote marks around dialogue, few commas, and block paragraphs, to be off-putting at first, but I quickly adjusted and let the style close in over my head for a much more satisfying reading experience.

Deceglie has taken the notoriously inflexible private eye format and busted it wide open, cutting this novella loose from the genre’s stifling chains. Drawing Dead breaks new ground.

(I wrote this review a couple of years ago, and I recently got to thinking about Drawing Dead again. I noticed it was buried in Amazon’s rankings and has few reviews. In an attempt to bring this book to light, I’m re-running this review, hoping to bring more people and more attention to JJ Deceglie’s startlingly original style.)

REVIEW: “DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES / 3-D”

Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_ApesSo far, most of the reviews of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes have been pretty good, but there have been more bad reviews than I would’ve expected. Memo to bad reviewers: Get over it. This is Planet Of The Apes, not Citizen Kane. You have to take the movie on its own terms.

Now that I think about it, though, this could well be the Citizen Kane of the Apes series. This is the eighth installment, and Michael Seresin’s fearless style of cinematography sets it apart from all the rest. Seresin blends odd angles with relentlessly dark colors to create a moody, unstable environment for the plot, which begins some eight years after the end of 2011′s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. His off-balance shots of dozens of apes swinging through trees at an alarming pace makes the viewer very uncomfortable, in much the same way as Orson Welles and his cinematographer Gregg Toland did during their unorthodox filming of Kane. Even the 3-D effects, which in many films get in the way of the story, are used somewhat sparingly and to good effect in Dawn.

Director Matt Reeves, to his everlasting credit, takes the material seriously and sees to it that every cast and crew member does the same. The result is an intelligent tale of a world wracked by simian flu, killing off most humans, and allowing the apes to develop a well-organized society, complete with family units, schools, the beginnings of a written language, and weapons. When a small colony of humans is discovered (they were “genetically immune” to the flu, it is explained) in what used to be nearby San Francisco, tensions mount.

Caesar, who has ruled his band of apes for the eight years since the end of Rise, is respected and loved by his followers. He wants peace with the humans, who seek to reopen a hydroelectric plant at a dam near the ape colony. However, his right-hand man, Koba, has different ideas. Unlike Caesar, who was raised by humans and has learned the love they are capable of, Koba was raised in a lab, where he was tortured and disfigured for experimental purposes. He sees weakness in the humans, knowing they cannot survive without the power the dam will provide, so he advocates war, regardless of the cost to the apes.

Andy Serkis, who played Caesar in Rise, gives a tour de force this time around. He is clearly the star of the movie and achieves an emotional trajectory I would not have thought possible for someone wearing such heavy layers of ape makeup. He gives real dimension to Caesar’s wisdom, yet stands up to Koba when necessary in a very believable way.

The action, ironically, slows down when the humans take over the screen. This may be intentional, though, so we don’t forget the apes are the real focus of the story. Even when the power comes back on, and little stores open up in San Francisco and music plays through speakers, Reeves and Seresin keep the viewer at a distance.

Needless to say, the ending leaves the door wide, wide open for another sequel, one of ape-human armageddon, which is already in the works. It’s scheduled for release in 2016.

Recommendation:  *** 1/2 (out of 4)    Go see it before it leaves, and see it in 3-D. This is easily the most outstanding entry in the Planet Of The Apes series.

THE “LOST” SHORT STORIES OF JD SALINGER

THREE EARLY STORIES

I’m very pleased to announce my latest audiobook narration, Three Early Stories, has just gone live. It’s a collection of three “lost” short stories by JD Salinger. I was thrilled to have been chosen to narrate this book, and I thank the publisher (DeVault-Graves) for selecting me.

These stories were among the first material Salinger ever published. They appeared in obscure publications in the early 1940s and have not been seen since. In fact, this book is the first legitimate publication of ANY Salinger work in 50 years. As with so much of Salinger’s writing, these stories offer a sly, subtle look at human relationships.

Now the best part. It’s only $3.95, which, believe it or not, is considerably cheaper than either the print version or the digital version. So catch up to the unfolding of history and go to Audible.com. Check out the audio sample here and then spring for the $3.95 and buy it. You won’t be sorry.

 

 

REVIEW: “BORDERLINE”

BORDERLINEImagine several cars plowing full speed ahead from all different directions toward a common intersection. Only now imagine that, instead of going in straight lines toward the center, their routes are long and curvy, allowing some of them to pass each other like ships in the night. In some cases, they even ride two abreast for a while. But their destination is never in doubt. Because this is noir, baby!

In fact, this is Borderline (Hard Case Crime/Titan Books), a 1962 effort by Lawrence Block, and it’s as steamy a tale as you’ll ever read. Block was writing erotic crime fiction in those days, and while this would never be confused with pornography today, in 1962, it was pretty hot stuff. Beyond that, though, is a solid plot involving people moving, for their own troubling reasons, back and forth across the Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

Marty Granger is a professional poker player who lives on the Texas side and plays in the lucrative games in Juárez. One day, while walking in a park on the Mexican side, he meets Meg Rector, newly-minted divorcée from Chicago, who’s looking for kicks. And so it begins.

Throw in a teenage runaway and one of the most frightening and despicable serial killers ever to walk onto a printed page, and you have the makings of a delicious noir brew. Noir characters traditionally allow themselves to be consumed by extraordinary emotions, and when faced with their subsequent choices, they always choose wrong. Block has seen to it that his characters do not disappoint.

Hard Case Crime has toiled in these vineyards for years, re-releasing pulp and noir classics from days gone by. Several of Block’s novels are in their catalog, as are many from lesser-known writers. All of these books, however, have spent decades in the forgotten swamps beyond literature’s fringe, awaiting reclamation. And HCC has succeeded in introducing them to new generations of readers.

Recommendation: Buy it here. Print or digital. Audio coming soon. Besides, it’s from Hard Case Crime, so you know it’s going to be good.

NOIR CLASSICS GO LIVE AS AUDIOBOOKS

TiskTiskI’ve had a bunch of new audiobook narrations bottled up with publishers and at Amazon for awhile now, but they’re finally shaking loose. The first two came out today. Sharecropper Hell, written by Jim Thompson and The Secret Squad, written by David Goodis are now live on Audible.com. Published by the folks at Chalk Line Books, these tales are noir to the max, let me tell you. Thompson could delve into the criminal mind of his characters better than anyone before or since, and he did it in the first person. He created some of the most chilling “ordinary” people ever to appear in literature. Goodis was a master at creating characters who lived in a hopeless world, utterly devoid of promise, and his Philadelphia was the bleakest of all possible places.

 

I have to say that these books have been retitled. Sharecropper Hell was originally released as Cropper’s Cabin (1952), while The Secret Squad was first titled Night Squad when it was released in 1961. The publishers aren’t trying to pull a fast one here, since they disclose this fact quite freely in the Amazon descriptions of these novels, so there’s no deception involved. I just have no clue as to why they’re doing it. In any case, it was a true thrill to be able to narrate novels by these princes of noir, and I hope to do more like them in the future.

Meanwhile go here and here to check out their audio samples and then buy them. Come on. It’s Jim Thompson and David Goodis, for cryin’ out loud!

MEMORIAL DAY, 2014

Memorial_Day_Art_American_Soldier_Salutes_Half_Mast_US_Flag-01Nothing more need be said.

 

“GLIMMER” audiobook now available

GLIMMERI’ve got four audiobooks coming out in rapid-fire order over the next week or so. The first one went live on Audible.com today, and will be on Amazon and iTunes in a few days. It’s a novelette called Glimmer, written by Karlos Prince. The author has woven a suspenseful tale around a man trapped in an abandoned mine in Kentucky’s coal fields. Prince has not only captured the claustrophobic nature of the situation, but he also breathes life into the secondary characters, the locals who inhabit rural Appalachia.

The publisher prepared a brief trailer, a very unusual step for such a short piece of fiction. It’s a remarkable example of what can be done with little money and a lot of creativity. You should take a moment and go see it here.

Glimmer is only $6.95, so how can you say no? Go here and check out the audio sample and see if it doesn’t reel you in. Go on. I dare you.

 

“SONS OF THE FATHER” AUDIOBOOK NOW AVAILABLE

sons of father-360x360My latest audiobook narration, Sons Of The Father, a crime fiction tale written by Janette Anderson, is now live on Audible.com. It’s the first entry in a planned series by the author, and it introduces Philip Vega, macho chieftain of a major US organized crime family. This was a very different kind of book for me to narrate, in that it contains elements of suspense, thriller, crime fiction, intrigue, and sexy romance, all deftly woven together by Anderson, who has proven herself in the Kane Branson series of novels.

The audiobook is now available on Audible.com and will soon be live on Amazon and iTunes as soon as it wends its way through their respective pipelines. Check out an audio sample here, and then buy it. I know you’ll enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed narrating it.

HAPPY EASTER 2014

Easter Doxies

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