Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter's Bone up for a ton of Independent Spirit Awards

It should come as no surprise to those who have seen the film, but Debra Granik's film Winter's Bone is up for numerous Independent Spirit Awards.  Nominee's include:

Best Film
Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence
Best Cinematography for Michael McDonough
Best Director for Granik
Best Screenplay for Granik and Anne Rosellini
Best Supporting actor for John Hawkes
Best Supporting actress for Dale Dickey

Another reason to see the film is the excellent music by Dickon Hinchliffe. Hopefully this award season will see a few wins and especially an Oscar nomination or two. The Academy Awards don't mean a whole lot to me, but the extra exposure they bring would be nice for this gem of a film.  My brief review can be found here.

Winter's Bone is based on the novel written by Daniel Woodrell..  I read the first ten pages last night, and it's oh so good.

Christmas Time is Coming

It's been a long eleven months.

Each and every day I've done my best to highlight something I've enjoyed, whether it be a comic, movie, book, or poster.  It's been daunting, but I'm glad I've undertaken the challenge, as I've met some great people, read some great books, watched fantastic movies, and overall, enjoyed the hell out of the experience.

But man oh man, it's tough to think of something to say every day.

So for December, I'm giving a little gift to myself, as well as showing some great gift ideas to you.

People always say I'm impossible to shop for, and honestly, I am.  If I see something I like, I buy it.  Impulse control is not something I'm known for.  And while everyone knows I enjoy books and movies, most friends are afraid to even attempt to purchase one for me.  They've seen my bookshelves.  They know how many books are on them, and to expect them to remember what I do and don't have would be silly.  So I get a lot of gift cards, and I am fine with it.

So for the first twenty-four days of December, I'm going to highlight some gifts that could be purchased for those you love if they happen to love crime.  Most will be affordable and easy to find, some will not, but that's the fun of it all.  For the last week, I've got my best of the year awards.  Should any of you have suggestions, please, feel free to weigh in with your opinions.

Don't expect too many reviews from me this coming month.  I'm sure I will pop in with some here and there, but the true gift I give to myself is the ability to read a book without having to write up a review afterwards.

But here is a little pre-Christmas goodie.  Were it to be available before the fatman dropped down the chimney, you could bet your Daisy air powered rifle it would be on my list.

Monday, November 29, 2010

45 Minutes Week 48 - The worst cop show ever

I was twelve years old, the age when they say you really begin to develop your own style, tastes and attitudes. Where who you are going to be begins to peak through into your personality.

God I hope not.

I didn't have a damn clue at that age, and to be honest, I'm not sure any twelve year old knows anything worth knowing.

Case in point.  When I was that age, this was a show I actually watched, and frighteningly enough, it was my first television experience with a police show that I can remember.  I wish I could say it was something cool, like Hill Street Blues, 21 Jump Street, Crime Story, or even something that had become as culturally relevant as Miami Vice.  But nope.  Not me.

Here it goes.

The first cop show I vividly remember watching was....

That's right.  She's the Sheriff.  I'm not sure why I bothered to watch this absolute piece of crap.  It could have been because I absolutely adored Three's Company.  And I did recognize George Wyner from Spaceballs.

But that doesn't excuse it one little bit.  For those of you thankfully not familiar with this claptrap, She's the Sheriff starred Suzanne Somers, she of the Thigh Master fame, as the wife of a small town sheriff.  When he dies, she of course takes over for him.  Isn't that how it always works?  I cannot remember much more than that, and any attempt to remember an actual story has thankfully been blocked out, much like an alcoholics worst transgressions.   Is it proper to equate watching this show with alcoholism?  Sadly, yes, and if there were a twelve step program to account for my lack of judgement, I would join in a heartbeat.

She's the Sheriff has never been released on DVD.  And unless the gates of hell burst open it should stay that way.

To atone for the terrible judgement I showed back in 1987, I'm going over to Netflix and watch some true lady cops from the 80's.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 47 - In the Woods

I've never been a fan of deadlines, so throughout the year, I've tried best to steer clear of them.  However, when the need to review a book a week, the inevitability of the dreaded "D" word becomes clear.   To this point it hasn't been much of a problem.  I've always been an avid reader, and fortunately find myself with enough spare time to put down at least a novel a week.  This week there has been a snag.  I was able to use some trickery, as you might have noticed that Thursday's The Long Con column involved all books I haven't read, but through sheer luck coincided with a holiday.

The question remains.  Why have I been unable to finish a book this week?  Let's go through the excuses.

1.  The book is not good.  We've all run into this from time to time.  As a student, I had to force my way through many novels I had no interest in reading, other than the test/essay that would need to be past upon it's completion.  Thankfully, as an adult, I have the luxury of putting the book down, and in most cases, walking away from it.  But even then, as anyone who has read the blog in the past few weeks, I can usually get to that last page and close the book knowing I gave it every chance to turn itself around.

So no on reason one.

2.  It's just too long.  This is a good possibility.  I've read such weighty tomes as War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Infinite Jest, but never in a weeks time.  At the same time, I devoured The Stand in four days.  And if honesty is going to be a part of this, In the Woods just isnt' nearly that long.

3.  The book is complicated and hard to understand.  Discounting Infinite Jest for it's length, I've managed to make sense (for the most part) and read in less than a week, Naked Lunch.  But for all it's twists and turns, Tara French has not fashioned an overly complicated read.

Well, those are the three excuses I usually use.  Since none of them are reason enough, I'm still left wondering why I haven't finished this book yet.  I think I've figured it out, though this excuse would never fly with a teacher.

It's just too good.

Seriously, In the Woods, Tara French's first novel is terrifyingly well written.  I can zip through a four hundred page book rather quickly, but I've found that I just don't want to in this case.  Countless paragraphs have been read and re-read, just so I can marvel at their construction.  The words flow effortlessly, yet convey the same amount of information as a text book.

I take my time with it, because I'm not sure if I will read anything this good again.

Luckily for me, she's written two other books, both of which I will read.  If I ever finish this book.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies Week 47 - Bound

Who want's to see some girl on girl action?

There.  That's all you are going to get, because it would be a downright shame to distill this excellent neo-noir down to "that lesbian crime flick by the Matrix people."  Sure, the lesbian angle is probably what sold a pair of first time directors to the studio, but once you look past the sex, the Wachowski's really made a film that plays with the archetype of a noir and made it their own.

Corky is a tough ex-con working in an apartment building as a plumber.  Corky meets Violet, falls in love, and decides to steal two million dollars from Violet's mobster boyfriend Caesar.  Nothing works out as planned and things go terrible wrong.
From that paragraph, it doesn't sound all that different from a hundred other crime flicks.  However, since Corky is a girl, played with a perfect amount of toughness and sexiness by Gina Gershon, complications are going to arise.  What I noticed most about this plot, is that since Corky and Violet are both women, the mobsters don't really notice them all that much.  Had Corky been a strapping young man, you can bet your ass that Caesar would have taken a few more precautionary measures.  But that's our weakness as men.  We don't always find women threatening, and more often than not we don't consider them sexual rivals.  I'm sorry, but Gina Gershon should be considered a rival for just about any species.

The rest of the cast is filled with excellent character actors, mainly Joe Pantoliano.  Can anyone play sleaze as well as him?  Even pre-Law & Order Christopher Meloni gets in on the act.  But the real challenging role in this flick belonged to Jennifer Tilly.  She's a solid actress, even award nominated, but she's got a voice that you can either love or hate.  Me, I'm perfectly fine with it, and her, so it wasn't a problem.  For others, she might just rub you the wrong way.  But as Violet, the dissatisfied mob moll, she absolutely nailed it. 

Despite all the acting talent on display, the real stars of the film are the Wachowskis, directing their first feature film.  Shot on a modest budget of  4.5 million, they use some excellent shots to make the most of their screenplay.  Who can forget the two million dollars hanging from clothesline throughout the apartment, or the long, slow camera movements?  Cinematographer Bill Pope certainly earned his money. 

And speaking of which, how did they go from this to The Matrix?  That was a hell of a crime flick guys, heres 100 million dollars to go make a sci-fi Christ allegory action flick.  Hopefully, after the trilogy and Speed Racer, they got the need for spectacle out of there system and will go back to something this small and tense.  

Easily, along with The Last Seduction, Red Rock West, and A Simple Plan, one of the best neo-noirs of the 90s.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Long Con Week 47 - Happy Thanksgiving

  I've never read any of these, but they seemed appropriate for today.  I'm now really hungry for pie.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Comics Wednesday Week 47 - Femme Noir

This is Port Nocturne.  The Dark City.  Where the acrid scent of gunpowder lingers in the air like cheap perfume...where every black alley comes to a dead end...where enemy and ally are but temporary distinctions...and justice...is blond.

It's hard to describe the book that Christopher Mills and Joe Staton have created.  Should I be pressed to describe Femme Noir I'd simply have to say it's a combination of Chandler, Will Eisner, Dick Tracy, Mad Science Fiction, and Pulp Magazines all tossed into a blender with a gallon of the blackest ink.  Take that concoction and hand it to a smoking blond in a trench coat and hope she doesn't kick your ass.  That is Femme Noir.

Open up the collection, The Dark City Diaries, and by the end of the first short story, Night in the Life, you will know if this book is for you.  In five short pages you meet:

Ghastly, a criminal who looks like the Crypt Keeper
Thom Katt, a cat burglar hoping to make out with the Star of Rhodesia diamond
Jeepers Jacoby, stool pigeon
The diabolical Damian D'Eath and his homicidal homunculi
The Douglas Street Boys
Gorilla with a gun, Simeon Link
and Underworld killer Gator DeNoux

Each character and situation receives barely more than a panel, but the situations and character design create the world in which Femme Noir inhabits.  Each interaction is steeped in history and a sense that it's all just part of a day for our heroine.  Five pages.  That's all it took to sell me on the concept.

Thankfully, the collection also contains the stories:

Blonde Justice, in which a writer tries to deduce the identity of the Femme Noir.  Is she Mob daughter Vanessa DeMillo, nightclub singer Dahlia Blue, or ace reporter Laurel Lye?  The case is strong for each, but don't expect to come away with answers.

Come aboard the luxury boat Little Miss Fortune, where Mister Diamond and his muscle Mr. Klubb have created a gamblers paradise three miles of the coast of Port Nocturne.  Away from the prying eyes of the law, feel free to gamble your problems away.  Just make sure you can pay, or you may end up drawing the Dead Man's Hand.

Society made him a criminal!  Science made him a monster!  Vic Tober, robot mobster, is the Killer in Steel!  Robot mobster.  Do I really need to sell that story to you?  How about this.  There is a bar called The Alibi.

In Concrete Jungle, members of the elite Port Nocturne Adventurers Society are being hunted and killed.  What, if any, is their connection to the mysterious jungle girl Okona?  Professor Mycroft Powell might have the answers, and they might save his life.  Maybe he shouldn't have stolen that mysterious orb from Monster Island?

And lastly, meet Private Eye Red "Rusty" Nales as he teams up with "the blonde" to solve the case of The Dingus.

In today's world of decompressed storytelling, where stories are stretched out to accommodate the inevitable collection, it's refreshing and welcome to see tales where so much can happen in a shorter page count.  It doesn't matter if the chapters are five pages or thirty, you'll get your money worth here.

Absolutely anything can happen in Port Nocturne, and I'm thrilled to to have such capable tor guides as these. Mills has crafted some genre busting tales that are soaked in noir traditions, but allow them to be tweaked into something more,  And Staton's art has never looked better.  Dark, shadowy, and with a noticeable tip of the hat to Will Eisner, Joe's Port Nocturne is a fully developed city, with something interesting at every street corner.

Also included are an excellent introduction by mystery legend Max Allan Collins, an afterword by Thrilling Detective Website's very own Kevin Burton Smith, and some character sketches by the criminally underrated artist Joe Stanton.

For a mere $19.95, or less, you've got no reason to fork over your hard earned cash.


Besides all his comic work, Chris also writes the DVD Late Show blog, home of some fantastic movie reviews.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Short Con Week 47 - Patricia Abbott

Patricia Abbott first came to my attention way back in March when she reached out to this green blog writer and offered me a chance to take part in her Friday Forgotten Books series of reviews.  Needing as much attention as possible, I said yes without even knowing who the woman was.  If she was willing to take a chance on me, the least I could do was the same.  So I checked out her site, was instantly impressed, and immediately was terrified.  I still wasn't confident in my ability to review a book (something that still troubles me) but Patty accepted my words with grace and encouragement.  The boost she gave my confidence is one of the reasons I'm still writing this blog today.

Fast forward a few months, and the more I check out internet magazines and publishing, the more I see her name pop up.  A contest win here, her name on a cover over there, this woman was everywhere, and every story I've read has been quality.   It's no surprise when I see her name in a collection, and it usually causes me to take a chance on an unknown book.

She recently took on another experiment, a writing challenge called La Ronde, where different writers, myself included, pick up the pieces of a previous writer's story and run with it.  Six stories in, and I'm feeling those nerves ramp up again, especially considering I'm writing the chapter before she wraps it all up.

If you're not familiar with Patricia Abbott, please check out her blog.  You'll find her post archives as well as links to her work, well over twenty-five stories.  You won't be let down.  In the meantime, enjoy this quick little Q&A.

First, tell everyone a little about yourself.  How did you get into writing and such?  How much time do you spend writing? 

I always wrote stories for my kids and a little poetry, but I took writing up in more seriously after taking four writing workshops in a MA program in the late nineties/early 2000s. All of my initial stories were literary, but they also were dark. So moving into more crime-oriented stories was a natural progression for me. I spend anywhere from no time to six hours a day, averaging about 3-4 hours most days probably. Most of the real writing takes place in my head when I am doing something else entirely.

What are your favorite stories to write?  Long? Short?

My favorite length is between 2500-4000 wrds. I always feel too much character and atmosphere must be left out of a flash story and the opposite is true for stories over 5000 words.  And I really dread reading stories that are all dialogue so I try not to write them.

It seems you are all over the internet with your short stories. What is the appeal of writing for internet publication for you?

In the beginning all of my stories were in print literary publications. I never met anyone who read them. Nor did I meet any of the other writers in them. I also disliked waiting months for acceptance and months to see them in print. One story had a two-year birth process. I prefer quicker gratification. And I especially like reading stories by writers I know through the Internet. I like knowing that that story is a Sandra Seamans story or a Kieran Shea. I feel like we are all working on one big project. It feels very communal to me, something I see through my blog as well.

I've noticed you've edited some anthologies as well.  How does that compare with writing for them?

I found almost no satisfaction in editing an anthology. It was all about sending out mass emails, waiting to replies, contracts. There was no creativity in it. Too much like a regular job—and I already had one of those where I did this very same sort of thing.

You first came to my attention when you asked me to write up a Friday forgotten classic.  Be honest, how many books have come as a complete surprise to you.  I'll be honest, after each Friday, it seems I've got a list of at least five new books to add to my shelf that I'd never heard of before.

Here’s a surprise. The great majority of books come as a complete surprise. Most of my regular writers read a very different sort of book than I. More fantasy, science fiction, western, pulp. I always feel woefully under-read. But on the other hand, I could list hundreds of books I have read that they probably have not. We read a different sort of fiction, I think. In the beginning I thought I would be able to read a lot of the books mentioned, but that has not turned out to be possible.

What upcoming projects would you like to promote?

Of course I am hoping more people will read Discount Noir, available anywhere ebooks are sold. I am contemplating trying to put together a collection of the forgotten book reviews but not very fervently. I have two novels I would like to see in print—but seem unable to do what I need to make that happen. Other than that, write on

Monday, November 22, 2010

45 Minutes Week 47 - Veronica Mars

She might be tiny, and look more like a homecoming queen/cheerleader than a hard boiled private eye, but Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) is sharp as a tack with a tongue to match. She's fearless, fiercely intelligent, and lets be honest, cute as a button.

Meet Veronica Mars. Your typical high school student and private eye. A year ago, Veronica's best fried Lilly was murdered. Her father Keith, then the town sheriff, accused Lilly's billionaire father of the murder. When another man confessed, Keith was booted from office. All of Veronica's friends stopped talking to her, and her mother left town. But as Veronica starts her junior year of high school, it becomes clear that nothing about her life is what it seems.

For a mere three seasons, this series re-wrote the book on what a private eye show can be.  Balancing between cases and school, Veronica Mars walked that tightrope, much like Buffy, between teen angst and genre fiction.  The first two seasons hung on a main mystery, her friend's murder, a bus crash, while the third takes on a more "campus problem of the week" tone.  The third season lost me a bit, much like Buffy's first freshman year, but the first two seasons are rock solid.

Joining Kristen Bell for her adventures are best friends Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and Mac (Tina Majorino), each with their own skill set, be it handiness with computers or the actual ability to talk to the jocks without getting a wedgie.  Should she need muscle, there is always bad boy biker Weevil Navarro (Francis Capra) who seems to have a soft spot for Veronica.  And what's a good show without a foil/love interest?  While I personally didn't care for Logan at all, it's of no fault to Jason Dohring.  He was dealt a tough hand, going from snotty dickish rich kid to Veronica's main squeeze, but he played it as best he could. And when her loverboy wasn't a big enough shoulder to lean on, her father, disgraced sheriff Keith Mars (the perfectly cast Enrico Colantoni) was always there, and always entertaining.

Sadly, like all really good shows of the past few years, Veronica Mars was not a ratings juggernaut, and cancelled before it's fourth season.  If the following preview is any indication, it would have been a welcome "skip" of the college years and onto the FBI.  Rumors constantly swirl about either a full length movie or even a comic series, but I'd be surprised if either ever saw the light of day.  It saddens me a tiny bit, but at least I've a few DVD box sets to watch while I dry my eyes.  If you have a Netflix account, you can stream the episodes and cry along with me.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The the Mattresses Week 46 - Patricia Highsmith

She may be considered one of the great grand dame's of criminal fiction, but sadly, I've only read The Talented Mr. Ripley, and that was only after seeing the film.  One day I will remedy that because the book was absolutely fantastic, and well worth the multiple follow ups.

As it turns out, it seems the woman might just have been as interesting as her creations.  A book came out last year, which while it is on my saved list at Amazon, never made it into the checkout.  A trade version of it ships in January, and I think that might be the time to finally purchase it.

And while I'm not as familiar with her literary work, I've seen quite a few of the film adaptations.  The Talented Mr. Ripley is an absolutely stunning film, and perhaps the best work of Matt Damon's career. I was surprised as hell to discover that wasn't even the first time that story had gone in front of the camera.  Purple Noon is just as good.  Sadly, despite my love for all things Malkovich, I wasn't that enamored of the later Ripley film, Ripley's Game.  Certainly worth a viewing, but it doesn't stand up compared with the other two.  I have yet to see 2005's Ripley Under Ground or the Wim Wenders film The American Friend, but the thought of Dennis Hopper as Ripley is too intriguing to ignore.

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Purple Noon

Ripley's Game

The American Friend

But all of these films, some quality looking, some not, don't compare to my absolute favorite Highsmith adaptation, Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train.  I haven't watched it in years, and I just might run to the video store today to see if they have a copy

Strangers on a Train

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies Week 46 - Frozen River

Melisa Leo, where did you go?  Sure, you did some television between Homicide and now (Veronica Mars, Law & Order, The L Word) and did some time in quality flicks like 21 Grams, and The Three Burials of Melquaides Estrada, but nothing like the quality you showed as Sgt. Kay Howard, the ball-busting lady who didn't take any hell from the mostly male squad room.  You wore those ties with pride, and there wasn't anyone cheering against you.  So it's good to see you back in something showcasing your talent.

Frozen River, like last Winter's Bone, is another one of those quality independent films that is far more concerned with story, acting, and quality, than your typical Hollywood fare.  It's easy to brand the big studios as bad guys, only after your hard earned dollars.  But when tiny boutique studios release films this excellent, well, the reputation is well deserved.

But you didn't come here to listen to me bitch about vapid summer blockbusters and their inferiority to the independent darlings.

Frozen River is simply a spectacular film, with an engrossing lead character as you are going to find.  The aforementioned Melissa Leo reaped a metric ton of praise (Oscar nomination, Independent Spirit Award) for her portrayal of  Ray Eddy.  From her opening, certainly unglamorous shot, to the last seconds of film, she IS a mother who will do anything for her children, even if it means smuggling illegals across the frozen waters of the St. Lawrence River between upstate New York and Canada.  As her plans begin to fall apart, and desperation sets in, you cannot help but feel terrible for her and her burdens.

But don't, not even for a second, think this show belongs to her and her alone.  A mesmerizing performance can only take a film so far.  The contributions of writer/director Courtney Hunt cannot be ignored, and thankfully they were not.  Her Oscar nominated screenplay is solid, honest, and believable.  What could have been a Op-Ed soapbox maintains it's focus on the story and the people within.  An opening scene shows Ray purchasing $7.75 in gas, and anyone ever hard up for money knows just what that feels like.  It was a small moment, but from there I was hooked.  Her direction, while hardly flashy, was economic and sparse, again choosing to concentrate on the parts of the story that mattered, especially the tiny details and some beautiful winter scenery.  Hard to believe it was her debut film.

Supporting turns from newcomer Misty Upham as Lila Littlewolf,Ray Eddy's partner in crime, and veteran character actor Michael O'Keefe as Trooper Finnerty, round out a good cast.  They might not have had the biggest and best roles, but they were memorable, especially Misty.  Her deeply wounded Lila said a lot without talking much.

This taut, suspenseful film delivers an emotionally charges, and for me, completely surprising ending.  It left me thinking for a few hours, and that's the most I can ask of a movie.  Frozen River deserves a bigger audience.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Long Con Week 46 - Chasing the Night

Even Duncan is a forensic sculptor whose mission in life is to bring closure to the families whose children have gone missing.  She is able to piece together the bone fragments and re-create their faces. She is driven, she is intuitive, and she is haunted because her own daughter, Bonnie, was stolen from her so many years before.  Bonnie has never been found.

Catherine Ling is a CIA agent who is as tormented as Eve.  Her young son, Luke, was taken from her when he was only two years old, as an act of revenge against Catherine.  For nine years, she hasn't known if Luke is alive or dead.  But she knows exactly who took him...

If Eve can re-create Luke's face the way he would look now, at age eleven, Catherine has a chance at finding him.  If Catherine gets closer to the truth, she may put Eve, and all those she loves, in the path of evil and vengeance.  If Luke is actually alive, can he still be the son Catherine lost?

Before I start in on today's book, Chasing the Night, let me give you a little background info on Iris Johansen.  She's been writing for over thirty years, both in the romance and mystery genre.  Over sixty books have been published in that time, including ten starring Even Duncan and Joe Quinn.  Obviously, she is prolific as well as popular.

That being said, Chasing the Night is a terrible thriller/mystery.

Eve Duncan and Joe Quinn have the potential to be very interesting characters.  She is a highly skilled forensic sculptor and Joe is pretty much a supercop.  As a couple, they are a force to be reckoned with.  Add to the mix, black op spy Catherine Ling and child prodigy Kelly, and a few mercenaries, and the potential is certainly there.

But this book was flat out boring.

Characters talked at each other, not too each other.  Conversation felt flat and repetitive.  How often do people really tell each other exactly what they are thinking? And do it over and over and over again.  I get the point.  Eve is talented.  Joe loves her to death.  Catherine is more talented.  Blah blah blah.

And listen to this speech from the villain.

"Duncan taught you that.  How annoying.  It modifies my efforts in increasing your pain.  I'm going to remember that when I have her at my disposal."  He paused.  "I'll be thinking about you while Duncan is doing her wizardry.  I'll be imagining every expression on your face, every bit of agony that you're feeling.  Is it really your little Luke?  Did the bullet hurt him before he died?  I wish I could devote more time and concentration, but I've had to initiate the prologue to my farewell party, and it's requiring my attention." 

You can practically hear him twirling his mustache.

The first two thirds of the book was full of stuff like this, and it took me well over two weeks of reading to get that far.  In that time I could have read Ulysses or Infinite Jest, but even those books were easier to get through than this.  Don't get me wrong, the book wasn't as complicated or dense as those novels, but after five pages or so I just found my mind wandering, completely uninterested on what was on the page.

I could go on and on about what I didn't like about the book, but what's the point. Unlike Iris Johansen, I'm not going to beat a point to death.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Comics Wednesday Week 46 - A Sickness in the Family

I've been a big fan of the Vertigo Crime books since the moment the first one arrived on my doorstep.  While the stories and/or art might not have always been as good as I hoped, they at least maintained a solid standard of quality.  So far, I haven't regretted a single purchase.

However, there are also inherent problems with the format.  The stories have all been around the same length.  Might not be considered a problem, but there have been a few tales I wished were fifty pages longer.  There is also the imprint's title, Vertigo Crime.  So when stories like today's graphic novel, A Sickness In The Family, bend more towards the supernatural, you know they will have to come back around to crime sooner or later.

And that is unfortunate.

 Meet the Ushers.  The parents, Ted and biddy. Grandma Martha.  The three kids, Willam, Amy and Sam.  Just a normal family gathered around the dinner table.  

Until they start dying.  One by one.  Each of most decidedly unnatural causes.

Is there a curse on their house, as a recently unearthed history of witchcraft in the area would suggest?  Or has one of the Ushers declared open season on the rest?

As shameful secrets and bitter resentments boil to the surface, it becomes clear that more than one Usher harbors a motive for killing off the others.  Bu in the end, the truth turns out to be far more shocking than anyone in this ill-fated family could have imagined.

Possible spoilers ahead.

Denise Mina's tale of a family spiraling down is as good as any "ghost" story you are going to read.  Characters are well developed, with long standing grudges, dysfunction, and feelings hidden just beneath the surface.  Tension is constantly in the room, and when bruises start appearing, and bodies start dropping, it's only a matter of time before authorities are involved. But does that make what has happened murder?

Had this been published outside of the crime imprint, I would have been convinced it was indeed an angry spirit.  But knowledge that honest to goodness human depravity was behind the crimes and not poltergeists doesn't make the story any less effective.  It was creepy, malevolent, and very believable.

Mina's story was aided by the art of Antonio Fuso.  His characters were easily identifiable, and the storytelling strong.  Another downside to the format is the lack of color, something Fuso's art would have benefited from, as evidenced from his Punisher Noir story from Marvel.  His art isn't as black heavy (but the grey are nice) as other artists, and a story like this really needs that "mood."

Overall, this is a solid book, and it's made me reconsider reading Mina's previous comic work, the supernaturally bent Hellblazer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Short Con Week 46 - Winning

Jenny was one of two female patrol officers under the age of thirty-five working for the Missoula County Sheriff's Department.  Tonight she was the one tapped to work as a prostitution decoy at the truck stops along I-90.  She loved this job but not this assignment.  Half naked in the bitter wind, the cold, dry air freezing the insides of her nostrils while an unwashed trucker eyed her over so she could negotiate an agreement of sex for money.  but once the nasty part was over, it was easy.  It was supposed to be easy.  Drive around back, hon, and I'll meet you there.  Then the supporting officers would take him down.  That's the way it was supposed to go.

Suffice it to say, but in Alafair Burke's Winning, that's not the way it went.  Something terrible happened to Jenny.  But this story is not about the crime itself, rather the aftermath and how she and her husband deal with it. It's a fascinating exploration of gender identity, and how the different sexes interpret and handle stressful situations.

Jenny, the skilled police officer, considers the situation a win.  Yes, she was sexually assaulted, and admits to the reader it was so horrible that she cannot bring herself to talk about it.  But the man was captured and arrested, all thanks to her.  It was a little too late for her liking, but she did the job she's paid to do.  She considers this a "win."

Her husband Greg thinks differently.  Why was the man able to drag Jenny into his vehicle while other officers where around?  How was he able to drive away with her a captive?  Why wasn't she allowed to carry a gun on such a dangerous assignment?  All he sees are ways the system failed to protect her.  As a husband, he considers it his job to protect his wife, especially when law enforcement wasn't able to.  For him, the situation was a total "loss."

These arguments would have probably been left for therapy sessions had her assailant been convicted and thrown in jail for the rest of his life.  No one expected him to make bail and to be set free while awaiting trial.  How will Jenny and Greg react?

Who will be the first to seek vengeance?

This short story can be found in The Best American Mystery Stories 2009.  For more information on Alafair's work, including her newest book 212, check out her website.

Monday, November 15, 2010

45 Minutes Week 46 - Bones

For once, I've found something where I like the show better than the books.

To be fair to author Kathy Reichs, I've only tried to read one of the novels, but after five stops and starts I just gave up.  The written Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist extraordinaire, just wasn't as compelling as the "Bones" that Emily Deschanel created on the show, well, Bones.

Over the past five seasons (haven't watched six) Deschanel has brought what would be considered an unbearable woman to immense likability.  I'm not sure if I could deal with her all-knowing-detachment-from-actual-humans on a daily basis like Special Agent Seely Booth, but on television, she's an absolute delight to watch.  She is unbelievably intelligent, capable, and a truly one of a kind character.

And she's not the only one.  The supporting cast is equally as excellent.

I gave the show a shot because of David Boreanaz.  I didn't exactly care for his self-loathing on Buffy, but was surprised by how I enjoyed the exact same character once he got his own show Angel.  And Bones uses his strengths, mostly rugged good looks and physical nature, perfectly.  He's a good emotional balance to the logical Bones, kind of like a modern day Captain Kirk and Spock.

But the show isn't all about them.  Joining Bones and Seely are the "squints," the team of scientists that aide them on their adventures.

There are the usual nerdy scientist guys, mostly rich-boy Dr. Jack Hodgins (TJ Thyne) and eager-beaver Zack Addy (Eric Millegan), but also some very capable, very beautiful female scientists.  Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin) might not be a doctor like the rest of the team (she's an artist) but her skills at facial reconstruction are without peer.  And leading the whole team is a former flame of Booth, Dr. Camille Saroyan (Tamara Taylor).  I'm not sure if I need to mention their looks as well as their skill, but far too often characters of this nature are usually one dimensional, either occasional eye candy or the tech talker.  With Bones, they are both, as well as well rounded characters who occasionally get their own spotlight.  They might not be as important as the leads, or the cases, but that doesn't make their screen time any less interesting.

If you are not watching this show, you should be.  There are five seasons available on DVD, and they can be streamed on Netflix.  You have no excuse.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 46 - Hard Case Crime Near Casualty

We dodged a bullet with this one.

I've been a member of the Hard Case Crime Book Club for a few years now, and when Dorchester Publishing decided to pull the plug on the line I was rather disappointed.  My mailbox would certainly feel empty without that monthly delivery of both classic and new crime novels.  I'm certainly capable of choosing my own reading choices, but there was just something special about getting that unknown book picked out for me.  Without the club I would have never discovered an author such as Christ Faust, and her novel Money Shot.

THEY THOUGHT SHE’D BE EASY. THEY THOUGHT WRONGIt all began with the phone call asking former porn star Angel Dare to do one more movie. Before she knew it, she’d been shot and left for dead in the trunk of a car. But Angel is a survivor. And that means she’ll get to the bottom of what’s been done to her even if she has to leave a trail of bodies along the way…

Money Shot is one of my favorite books of the past few years, and you can bet money that I will be rereading it shortly.

See, there was a planned sequel, and it was supposed to come out this month from the now defunct club.  Not only was I being robbed of a monthly pleasure, but now they were taking away a book I was really looking forward to.

Well, Titan Books came to the rescue and next year that book, Choke Hold, will be published.

Angel Dare went into Witness Protection to escape her past—not as a porn star, but as a killer who took down the sex slavery ring that destroyed her life. But sometimes the past just won’t stay buried. When a former co-star is murdered, it’s up to Angel to get his son, a hotheaded MMA fighter, safely through the unforgiving Arizona desert, shady Mexican bordertowns, and the seductive neon mirage of Las Vegas...

As I wait for that to come out, I think I might have to give another book of hers a shot.

LIKE CASABLANCA, WITH MEXICAN WRESTLING MASKS…Hoodtown, a lucha libre ghetto where the family ‘gimmick’ is sacred above all and the mask is the sole expression of one’s identity. ‘Hood’ prostitutes are turning up murdered and worse, unmasked, and the ‘Skin’ establishment is as much help as a paid-off referee. Enter X, former luchadora with a bruised past, a bum knee and no time to play Santo. She’s no hero, but there’s no one else to tag-in, as her hunt for a killer uncovers a conspiracy that could take down all of maskedkind.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies Week 45 - Winter's Bone

Some movies are so got you just don't want to talk about them right away.  The impact needs time to disperse, soak in, let the bruise fade before you are ready to verbalize.  Winter's Bone had that effect on me, and much like Ree Dolly, I'm left a little stricken by everything I saw.  I'm not sure what I have to say yet, other than I'm sure it's going to be one of my favorite movies of the year.

Rarely have I seen anything so raw and brutal with such little violence.  Much credit goes to the screenwriters Debra Granik (who also directed) and Anne Rosellini for an amazing, efficient adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's novel.  So much is understood without being spoken, and all the actors do an amazing job of portraying their thoughts with just looks and mumbles.  You think La Cosa Nostra has a vow of silence?  You haven't seen anything.  The folks that inhabit this movie are as tight lipped as they come, to family, friends, and especially the authorities.

I'm going to let my thoughts simmer a bit more, but in the meantime I'm going to immerse myself in the discs special features which include a commentary, making of, and some extra scenes.

I will say this though, Jennifer Lawrence better get a damn Oscar nomination.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Long Con Week 45 - Deception

How well do you know your significant other.  I'm sure you have his/her birthday memorized, can cook or order his/her favorite meal, maybe even name a favorite movie and color.  But when the day comes to an end, and heads hit the pillow, do you really know what they are thinking?  Do you want to?  It's much easier to think they are dreaming of nothing but loving you and the life you've built than an alternative.

Maybe it's not you they really love.  Maybe they secretly loathe you.  Perhaps worth.

Reading Deception by Denise Mina, I couldn't help but be reminded of Eye's Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's last film.  There might not be any elaborate sex parties or midnight romps through New York City, but the monologue that Nicole Kidman delivered at the films beginning, where she talks of leaving her entire life behind if that soldier had just asked her to, really sunk in as I turned every page.

Lachlan Harriot had a good life.  He graduated with a medical degree, but chose instead to be a stay at home dad for his infant daughter while his wife, a psychiatrist, worked.  To most, it would seem like a young family.  Only Susie grew distant, spending more of her time at work and locked away in her office.  Communication suffered, and Lachlan felt his wife slipping away.

Then she was convicted of murder.

Andrew Gow was a serial killer; an admitted one.    But despite his initial confession, Gow claimed innocence.  Pending an appeal he was set free, and soon found dead along with his wife.  He was under Susie's care, and it soon becomes apparent to Lachlan that their relationship might have been more.

Could she have been in love with him, and killed out of jealousy?  Could she have been defending Gow's wife, even though she was soon found dead as well?  Is it even possible she was innocent.  Lachlan certainly believes so.

Deception is written as Lachlan's journal, as he digs through his wife's hidden life.  He enters her previously off limits house office/space, and obsessively searches through the files, the papers, even through her computer, hoping to find anything that will come to her defense, no matter how much she protests.  And why does she object to him helping her out.  What secrets does she hide?  What could be so horrible that she wouldn't want him to read it?

Lachlan is an amazing character, perhaps one of the best unreliable narrators I've ever read. Mina's florid prose pushes him through every emotion a human can feel in this situation.  The guilt at maybe not loving his wife enough, especially when he strays from the marriage, is real and heartfelt, as well as his rage at not being fully included in his wife's life.  Such emotions can go back and forth numerous times each chapter, and it was easy to go along for the ride.  It's an intense experience, and impossible to put down until the questions are answered.  By the end of the book I needed to know just as much as Lachlan did.

A fantastic book that can alternate between unbelievable sadness and moments of black  humor with ease.  Mina is an author I need to become more acquainted with.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Comics Wednesday Week 45 - Stumptown

Mister Marenco, I gamble, I drink, I smoke, and I've got a car that runs half the time.  I just took out my second mortgage, half my bills are past due, and my mentally retarded brother pulls a steadier income than me.  

I own three pairs of shoes, one dress that I'm not ashamed to be seen in, two pairs of jeans, and a collection of T-shirts that say more about my adolescence than I care to remember.  I'm thirty-two, single, unattached, and the last time I went on a date the president was white and in his first time.  

My word is all I have.

Meet Dex, the sole employee of Stumptown Investigations.  She's honest, but she also sells herself a little short.  Besides honesty, she's got everything an investigator needs.  She might not be a genius, have the snappiest lines, or be a master of kung-fu, but she's got guts and instincts.

Dex has been hired to find the granddaughter of Sue-Lynne, who happens to be the owner of the casino that Dex currently owes almost $18,000.  Pretty good timing if you ask me.  Charlotte might have run away with a boy, or a girl, or who knows what, but Dex finds it a bit mysterious that she happened to take off with her shampoo but not her Mini Cooper.  (Hence the excellent story title, The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo but Left Her Mini).  Before Dex can even build an investigation, she's warned off the case by the creepy Dill and his muscle Whale.  The first warning goes unheard, so the second comes with a pair of bullets to the chest.

Just who is Charlotte, and why do the local crime family, the Marencos, keep inserting themselves into the investigation.

I'd love to say that Stumptown, from Oni Press, is my favorite book on the stands.  Besides Dex, Greg Rucka has established a compelling cast of supporting characters, with hints of backstory that lends itself well to future stories.

There is Ansel, her high functioning, highly observant, brother who just happens to have Down Syndrome and an addiction to video games.  I credit Mr. Rucka for not only creating a character with a development disability, but not making him only about that feature.  Ansel is intelligent, caring, and judging from how many people ask him, very well liked.  He's a character with a tremendous amount of potential.  Along with Ansel comes his job coach/support staff Grey.  He's another likable guy, who cares for Ansel almost as much as he is in love with Dex.  It's unspoken, but it's there.

As for Dex herself, she's another strong, believable female created by Mr. Rucka, who has made it a niche of his in the fiction world.  (Don't believe me, read Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Queen & Country, The Question, as well as the Atticus Kodiak novels or my review of A Fistfull of Rain.)  This girl can take a punch with the best of them and retain her femininity.  Like any good PI, she's also got some great contacts.  There is Tracy, the good cop who can give her the information Dex needs, as well as pick her up at the hospital.  And if there is a good cop, there must be a bad, and that is Hoffman.  He's got a serious mad on for Dex,  most likely because she broke up his marriage.  I love that Rucka didn't explain the how or why, as it gives great potential for future stories.

Notice how I keep mentioning future stories?  The one reason this is not my favorite book on the stands is because only FOUR issues came out this past year.  I realize it's an indy book, and the money isn't great, but damn, I want to see this comic on the shelf every month!

But Matthew Southworth's art is worth the wait.  He's quick to admit, in both informative and honest backmatter, that he is a slow artist, and the delays were his fault.  It's refreshing to hear an artist admit that, and I'm willing to forgive him in his pursuit of artistic perfection.  His storytelling is lovely, and his line/brushwork is realistic and gritty.  If I have one complaint about the art, it is the colorist switch of Lee Loughridge  for Rico Renzi between issues two and three.  Loughridge is one of my favorite colorists, and his muted palette was a perfect addition to Southworth's art.  Renzi's choices are a bit to bright for my tastes, and it was noticeably jarring when I re-read all four issues last night.

Stumptown deserves a hardcover collection, which I will pick up as soon as it hits the stores.  Hopefully many others will as well, because this is a story that deserves more issues, or possibly a novel.

You put a hand on her...I let weather into your skull. 

And for the curious out there, call the number. And check out GregRucka.com.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Short Con Week 45 - The Blind Man's Sighted Daughters

Joyce Carol Oates has an impressive resume, a lengthy list of novels under three names, poetry, essays, dramas, novellas, and even some children and young adult fiction.  But I haven't read any of it.  I would have loved to have read a book this month, but since that slate is already full, I guess I'll have to make do with another short story from my handy Best American Mystery Stories series.

Good thing it's a damn fine story.

The story centers around two sisters, Helen and Abigail, and their elderly, blind father Lyle Sebera.  Abigail is back in town to visit her family after years of being away, gone with a good job and a good family.  Helen hasn't been so lucky.  She decided to stay in Sparta, New York, to take care of him after a debilitating stroke.

He, Him were the ways in which we spoke of our elderly father in our lowered voices.  He, Him seemed more appropriate than such intimate words as Father, Dad.

Helen hasn't done as well as Abigail.  She's been stuck in a meaningless food service job, has no boyfriend, and generally hates life.  Will things change when Abigail decides it's her turn to take over his care?

It turns out, Abigail does more than wash the windows, change the sheets, and clean the house.  She also brings out secrets that have been quiet since 1967, when a mistress of her father, along with an old business partner of his, end up dead on the side of the road.  A beating disguised to look like a car accident.  Helen and her sister were just children then, but they knew something was up.  Could their father be a murderer.

The Blind Man's Sighted Daughters is not about finding the answers, so don't expect a tightly wrapped conclusion.  Instead, expect to read some fine storytelling with very compelling, sympathetic characters.  The father may be the one going blind, but it's everyone else who has turned a blind eye to the possible truth.  Keeping secrets can kill you as much as old age.

Monday, November 8, 2010

45 Minutes Week 45 - The Ladies of Law & Order

One of my favorite aspects of the Law & Order series is it's ability to both write excellent female characters and cast them with great actresses. They have positions of power and responsibility, and take back seats to no one, despite billing.  The men, specifically in SVU and CI, are the "lead" characters, but that old idiom about who is behind every great man couldn't be more true. One could argue that the men might be behind them.  As much as I like Detective Stabler, he wouldn't be the strong person he is without Dectective Benson, and would Goren have been nearly as tolerable without Eames?

Here are just a few of the reasons to watch any of the shows incarnations.

For a thorough character guide, plus a whole bunch I didn't  include, check out this site : http://sharetv.org/shows/law_and_order

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Saturday, November 6, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 44 - Jodie Foster vs. Everyone

Why is it that I have such a hard time believing most actresses in "tough as nails" roles these days.  

It wasn't always the case. I adore the Alien movies, and Sigourney Weaver can kick the hell out of most of the men in those films, especially that puss Bill Paxton.  Even the grunt Pvt. Vasquez made my adolescent self shrivel up in the bathing suit area.  But that was 20 years ago.  I need someone more current.

Which brings me to Angelina Jolie.  Okay.  Her I can believe.  She nails her stunts, and in movies such as Wanted (I haven't seen Salt) and Mr. and Mrs. Smith she whoops ass.  However, thanks to her role in Girl Interrupted, I also believe that she used to be batshit crazy, and that goes a long way towards my believing she is badass.  That and her admitted love of knives and Billy Bob Thornton.

As I run down most of the films I've enjoyed with a hard ass leading lady, the one trait that continually comes to the forefront is mastery of their craft.  Jodie Foster immediately springs to mind.  Her attitude was shown at the tender age of thirteen when she played a prostitute in Taxi Driver.  She went toe to toe with DeNiro and Keitel, so that gets her some props in my book.  It was almost twenty years later when she went on to win the Academy Award as Clarice Starling, an FBI agent holding her own against Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.  Since then she's been an overprotective mother in both Panic Room and Flightplan,  a woman with an agenda in Inside Man, and the female Charles Bronson in The Brave One.

So she kicks ass.  She has also been around for years.  Who is going to unseat her and Jolie?  Ashley Judd took her shot, and despite some success (Kiss the Girls), the less said about films like Double Jeopardy, Eye of the Beholder, and High Crimes the better.  So I'm not sure if I should blame her or her agent, because those roles did her no favors other than a paycheck.

So based on these examples, I obviously can believe that some woman can carry the tough girl act.  But for every Sigourney and Angelina there is a Michelle Rodriguez, who has built a career out of playing the woman with a chip on her shoulder.  The one difference between her and the previous two actresses is they can actually act.  Rodriguez is like a robot who has only a default setting of "hardcore" and loses all believability with me.  She is incapable, mostly through typecasting, of expressing any other emotion, so her bravado seems more of an act.  She doesn't speak softly, but carries the big stick, and therefore is a caricature.  I'm not going to count her.

Evangeline Lilly, who was on Lost with Rodriguez, had some of the bad girl aspects to her.  She had the attitude, the cunning, definitely the charm, but physically it was hard to believe she could punch a man and not break every bone in her hand.  The woman is tiny and thin, so while I had no problem with her firing a gun, I took issue with her general ass kicking.

Uma Thurman had a shot thanks to Kill Bill, but since then she seems to have hung up the yellow jumpsuit.  Too bad.  She could have been awesome. Next.

Sadly, most of today's action heroines come not from the crime genre, but from sci-fi.  Resident Evil has Milla, Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix, and Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Television has a few thanks to shows such as Alias, The Shield, and Undercovers, but for modern day movies I'm drawing a blank.

Help me out. Who has the ability to be the next Pam Grier?