Saturday, December 26, 2009
See you next week.
Friday, December 25, 2009
I hope your holiday is as wonderful. Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I have listened to few audio books. I never seem to have time; at work I tend to concentrate on work and lose the plot and action. In my car I tend to listen to, and curse at, traffic. But my wife gave me an MP3 a few days ago and it took me about two hours to download a book from the library, and I really enjoyed it.
The novel was a short western by Elmer Kelton. The title: Barbed Wire. It was originally published in 1957, and it has lost little of its impact over the fifty years since its first publication. It is a Texas range war story that is told, essentially, from the perspective of a fence builder—although it is told from several view points. The land is split between ranchers and dirt farmers; it is open range country, and the largest rancher—Captain Rinehart—wants it to stay that way.
The story unfolds as the Captain battles against the coming fences that will lock away the water, and cut the land into tiny rectangles of farms and ranches. It is the future; this separation of land that will allow herds to be bred exclusively, crops to be secured against the roaming cattle, and the protection and hoarding of water in a dry country. It is a future that terrifies the Captain enough that he is willing to let himself be mislead into action by his foreman.
Barbed Wire is an excellent western. It is only my second experience with the work of Elmer Kelton, the first was his novel Badger Boy, and I wasn’t disappointed. The plot is fairly generic, but its execution, characters and authenticity, mark it a few notches better than the norm. The prose is gritty and matches the western plot like a glove—
“It was a sorry way for a cowboy to make a living, Doug Monahan thought disgustedly. Bending his back over a rocky posthole, he plunged the heavy iron crowbar downward, hearing its angry ring and feeling the violent jar of it bruising the stubborn rock bottom. He rubbed sweat from his forehead into his sleeve and straightened his sore back, pausing to rest a moment and look around.”
The plot is executed with a tight linear momentum that takes the expected and makes it fresh and somehow new. The characters are tough and realistic, the action is paced with an equitable easiness—a pace that is far from melodramatic, but is exciting and seemingly authentic.
Ken Marks read Barbed Wire. His voice is mellow and southern, a perfect fit for the story. He is easy to understand and he brings the story vividly to life.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
It is a faithful adaptation, and really pretty good. The streaming quality isn't top-notch, but it will do.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I read another H. A. DeRosso collection edited by Bill Pronzini that I want to recommend. It is titled Riders of the Shadowlands; Five Star published it in 1999. It is similar to Under the Burning Sky in that it collects ten of DeRosso’s western-type stories—two were published by mystery magazines, although one of the stories is a strange kind of mystery—but the tales are less eclectic than the first collection, but no less entertaining, existential, or downright terrific.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
This year’s list was more difficult to create than its predecessors because, simply, I read so many wonderfully entertaining novels. The year was a year of discovery. I discovered a dozen or so new authors, the bulk of them wrote during the paperback revolution in the 1950s and 60s and I also rediscovered a bevy of authors whom I had ignored for years. The most important from the latter group is Brian Garfield and Donald Hamilton, and from the former H. A. DeRosso, Merle Constiner and Robert Colby.
Here it is, in ascending order.
5. Line of Fire by Donald Hamilton. I read this title in March and I was awed by the power of both its linear storyline and tight, literate, prose. A perfect suspense novel.
4. Cage of Night by Ed Gorman. This is another early 2009 read; I read it in April. It is a story that doesn’t fit a category, exactly, but it lives somewhere between dark suspense, supernatural horror and crime. It is one of the finest horror novels I have ever read.
3. Under the Burning Sun by H. A. DeRosso. I read this one in December. This is a collection of stories written, for the most part, in the 1950s and 60s. The stories, particularly the “shadowlands” westerns are unforgettable. DeRosso was thirty or more years ahead of his time.
2. Fear in a Handful of Dust by Brian Garfield (originally published as by John Ives). I read this title in July. This modern western / suspense novel knocked me off my feet. It is literally perfect. A masterpiece of suspense.
1. Violent Saturday by W. L. Heath. I read it in May. There are only a few crime novels I would ever refer to as beautiful—defined as haunting, sharp, and meaningful—and this is one of them. It is a novel that everyone should read. Really, I mean everyone.
This list easily could have gone to ten of fifteen titles, but I sweated, worked, chaffed, and even cried a few times in my attempts to reduce it to the mandatory five. A few more titles that could have made the list but didn't are: Northfield by Johnny D. Boggs, North Star by Richard S. Wheeler, The Midnight Room and Ticket to Ride by Ed Gorman, Necessity by Brian Garfield, Binary by John Lange, and Slammer by Allan Guthrie.
All in all 2009 was a fine year for reading. I bet 2010 will be just as good.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The eighth, and reportedly last, Sam McCain novel opens in 1965 at a Vietnam peace rally in Black River Falls, Iowa. The rally is held in the local Presbyterian Church and after 90 minutes of the same arguments—being spoken by different people—McCain is ready to leave the rally for the comforts of a double feature at the drive-in. But then as the newest local superstar, a pretty boy named Harrison Doran, is speaking a man takes the stage and asks to rebut the protestor’s arguments.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
"Dance of the Dead" was written by Joe Ballarini, and directed by Gregg Bishop.
Warning: The trailer is rated R.
Monday, December 07, 2009
I read an astonishingly good collection of stories by pulp writer H.A. DeRosso titled Under the Burning Sun. The collection contains twelve stories—two are novelettes. Ten of the stories are straight westerns, although generally far from traditional, and the other two are suspense with a western voice. It was compiled and edited by Bill Pronzini; in the introduction Pronzini writes that each of the stories, save one, was lightly edited “to eliminate superfluous and repetitive passages contained in the original magazine versions.”
The best story in the collection is a novelette titled “The Bounty Hunter.” It is what Bill Pronzini labels a “shadowlands” story—a surreal western that is more related to the bleak otherworlds of The Twilight Zone than a traditional western. It reminded me of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. The story is relatively simple. It follows the track of a bounty hunter named Spurr who kills an outlaw who, he is told later, may be his own son. It is a mythical story—from the beautifully surreal landscape to the internal demons that drive Spurr to search for the truth.
The other stories range from the more traditional “Hold-up”—the story of the father of a failing rancher who is forced to choose between his self-identified morality and both his, and his son’s, future—to the rich rendering of the final months of the Chiricahuas’ fight to stay off the reservation in “The Last Sleep.”
Under the Burning Sun is more than a collection of western stories. It is a sample of how good the genre story can be. The violence—and there is some—is realistic and vivid. It is examined with a neutrality that allows the reader to see its affects on the characters and story. The “shadowlands” tales—“The Bounty Hunter” and “Those Bloody Bells of Hell!”—are brilliant. The prose is written in a surreal form that depicts the landscape as a hellish nightmare where only monsters can exist. It is best related to a high quality comic book; something like Jonah Hex.
Under the Burning Sun is one of the best books I have read this year. It read like a train steaming through the vast deserts of the Southwest; desolate, beautiful and deadly. Bill Pronzini relates DeRosso’s style to the Black Mask school of hardboiled in general, and Cornell Woolrich’s work in particular.
Do yourself a favor and find a copy. You won’t regret it.
UPDATE. Here is a link to a .pdf file of DeRosso's "Hide-away," which appeared in Triple Detective in 1954. It isn't on the par of the stories included in Under the Burning Sun, but it is enjoyable.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Also related to the contest, I received several terrific recommendations for pulp western writers. Including:
Donald Hamilton, Marvin H. Albert (aka Al Conroy), Harry Whittington, H.A. DeRosso--I just started a story collection and so far I am blown away by the bleak power of his writing--T.T. Flynn, Peter Dawson, Luke Short, Clifton Adams, and Jack Slade.
Thanks to everyone!