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August 20, 2008

Genre Linkage

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Polly Frost bemoans "audio overload" in contempo horror films. One especially concise, "I wish I'd said that myself!" passage: "A person’s nerves can only take so much before they tune out entirely."

* Vince Keenan is dazzled by a new Lawrence Block novel.

* Andrew Klavan makes some good psychological-crime novel suggestions. As it happens, psychological suspense is my own favorite narrative genre. I wrote about the genre back here.

* I see that New York's legendary Mysterious Bookstore has just started a blog. Many of the entries are written by crime-fiction dean Otto Penzler himself.

* Listen to an interview with Otto Penzler -- who is, IMHO, a major figure in contemporary American book-fiction -- here. Is it a complete coincidence that the interview was published by a rightie outfit? Sigh: Why doesn't the leftie-arty set see more in genre fiction? It may be worth pointing out that genre fiction is, in the U.S. at least, the book-fiction of "the people." Hey, didn't lefties used to make a big deal out of their commitment to "the people"?

* MBlowhard Rewind: I raved about two novels that struck me as genuine 20th century greats -- but that you won't find on any official canon: James M. Cain's mean yet fullbodied "Mildred Pierce," and Francis Iles' sly, creepy, and beyond-brilliant "Before the Fact." (UPDATE: Mr. Tall enjoyed "Before the Fact" too.)

* A fab bit from a recent Robert Townshend comment about American crime writing:

There are no grand moral backgrounds, no straining for hard-boiled glamour. The prose is level, which always helps. The evil is shabby and domestic. I feel relaxed-in-a-good-way when I pick up a Goodis or James M. Cain, also Woolrich, Fredric Brown, others. The quality is very uneven -- nearly all these guys died of the booze -- but I usually pick up their works with a sense of relief and refreshment.

And ain't that well-said?



posted by Michael at August 20, 2008


Having jumped from your appreciation of Francis Iles to the film Unlawful Entry and your opinions about commentary tracks on DVDs:

George Stevens Jr.'s and screenwriter Ivan Moffat's commentary on Giant is perceptive and comes from two people who were directly involved in making the film.

Roger Corman's commentary for X-the Man With the X-Ray Eyes, a very good sf film, despite the title, is intelligent and informative. Corman is certainly the most intelligent person I know of who is famous as a purveyor of often low-brow entertainment, an interesting paradox in itself.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on August 20, 2008 7:27 PM

Thanks for keeping up with the links and tips on your fave genre, Michael. I read Before the Fact on your recommendation, and enjoyed it thoroughly. My short review is here if anyone's interested.

After reading the book, I had a look at 'Suspicion', i.e. Hitchcock's take on the book. Gaaah! Don't ever ever ever watch this before reading the book!! I know I'm sounding hysterical, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what possessed the master himself to end that film in the way he chose to . . . .

Posted by: mr tall on August 20, 2008 8:17 PM

Hi Michael;

Thanks much for the shout-out!

Hate to be a whiner, but your link to the little review is bad; it should be:

Posted by: mr tall on August 20, 2008 10:55 PM

PLW -- Many thanks for the recs, they're now on my list.

Mr. Tall - Excellent review, tks for letting me know about it, apologies for the botched link, now fixed.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 21, 2008 1:06 AM

Re: the horror movie bit.

I'll go around in a circle here. Yahoo posted an article today about another great societal "first," a transgender on a show I've never watched (and will never watch) called "Top Model."

The transgender in question is what we used to call a "cross-dresser." He/she aspires to a show biz career and is trying to accomplish this in the old fashioned way: by shocking the rubes with how outrageous he/she is.

Have you noticed that this old PR ploy has a new twist, courtesy of identity politics? Once he/she lands on TV, the transgender wants to lecture the audience that being a freaky cross-dresser is really just another life-style choice! Thinking that there's anything odd about being a freak is another form of bigotry. Don't you dare do it!

The audience, I think, gets a couple of odd kicks out of this. First, they get the thrill of the freak show. Then, they get to put on their halos and feel all sanctimonious about their compassion for the freaks. Win-win! I wish that these types of PR tactics came naturally to me.

So, what I'm thinking about the horror genre is this: shouldn't it be taking advantage of this PR tactic? Sure, we're monsters, and we scare the hell out of you. But, that's really just another kind of bigotry. When will the Frankenstein monster make an appearance on the Tonight Show to demand understanding for his life-style? After all, he didn't want to be born a monster. God made him that way.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 21, 2008 8:21 AM

Nice roundup...thanks. But linkee no workee for the Klavan piece.

Did you ever try the Inspector Rebus series by Ian Rankin? It's Scottish police-procedural genre writing, but it's as good as anything from these shores. You're well-served to do that one in chronological order.

Posted by: Scott on August 21, 2008 9:44 AM

What a sloppy linker I was! Link to Klavan now fixed ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 21, 2008 10:50 AM

Second the Rebus rec from Scott. Scott, have you read the Inspector Banks novels from Canada-based Brit Peter Robinson? Banks is a troubled guy, nothing like our dear messed-up Rebus, but there's a same sense of the Britain of today and an out-of-time cop smack dab in the middle of it. Good stuff.

I'm definitely going to check out the Block. I've never read any of his Keller books, giving my love to the Matt Scudder novels. Problem: the Scudder books have gone all the way down the proverbial tube, with the last few featuring a boringly domesticated Scudder, simplistic plots, and a generally less and less interesting cast of characters, along with the loss of any sense of New York City, something I've always gotten from Scudder stuff before. Eight Million Ways to Die, A Walk Among the Tombstones, A Dance to the Slaughterhouse, and (damn!) one other are as brutal and wicked and good as anything from James Ellroy, and far more plausibly gritty and human than the molto preposteroso Burke novels from Andrew Vachss, which is some general ways they resemble.

But Scudder's lost it, IMO. Good to hear Keller's picking up the slack. Will check him out, and thanks Mr. Klavan.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 21, 2008 11:21 AM

Thanks for fixing the link, but I've read all those already, excepting Tiger in the Smoke.

Never heard of the Banks series, but now I have, and honestly can't wait. There's nothing better than a new series to anticipate, is there?

Off to Half-Price Books.

NB: I concur with your Scudder analysis. Quite disappointing, as I used to devour those. The last Keller book I read was less than it's predecessors, as well, but this new one sounds like it has a good hook. I always liked Keller immensely. May I just say how much I admire your characterization of Burke, as well? I'm going to have to work molto preposteroso into my lingo somehow.

Posted by: Scott on August 21, 2008 2:05 PM

Sorry to Vince Keenan, who praised the Keller book, not Andrew Klavan (whose suggestions were excellent, too).

Posted by: PatrickH on August 21, 2008 4:23 PM

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