Saturday, September 13, 2014

Slayground, by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake)

(pb; 1969, 1971, 2010: fourteenth novel in the Parker series.  Introduction by Charles Ardai.)

From the back cover:

"The hunter becomes prey, as a heist gone sour and Parker finds himself trapped in a shuttered amusement park, besieged by a bevy of local mobsters.  There are no exits from Fun Island.  Outnumbered and outgunned, Parker can't afford a single miscalculation.  He's low on bullets - but, as anyone who's crossed his path knows, that doesn't mean he's defenseless."


One of the many things I appreciate about the Parker novels is how Stark changes up the elements (structure, characters, tones, etc.) from book to book, while maintaining the overall qualitative elements that make this character-progressive series so great - e.g., in the last Parker outing, Deadly Edge, much of the book was about Parker's relationship with Claire (when they weren't fighting and evading those villainous amateurs); in Slayground, Claire is generally mentioned but not seen, and most of the action takes place in the amusement park that could easily become Parker's last battlefield. . . it's just him and the worse guys.  Not even Alan Grofeld, one of Parker's semi-regular heistmates - who's seen briefly in the beginning of Slayground - gets much "air time" (though Grofeld's post-crash fate is shown in the side-series novel The Blackbird).

Like all the preceding Parker novels, Slayground is an excellent, waste-no-words crime thriller with a consistently compelling anti-hero: this, also, is worth owning.

Followed by Plunder Squad.


Slayground  was released stateside as a film in February 1984.  The film was directed by Terry Bedford from a screenplay by Trevor Preston.

Peter Coyote played Stone (cinematic stand-in for Parker).  Mel Smith played Terry Abbatt.  Billie Whitelaw played Madge.  Phil Sayer played Costello.  Bill Luhrs played Joe Sheer (a character who was killed in the sixth Parker book The Jugger).  Clarence Felder played Orxel.  Ned Eisenberg played Lonzini.  David Hayward played Laufman.

Side-note:  This film references Point Blank (based on Stark's first Parker novel The Hunter) and the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Deadly Edge, by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake)

(pb; 1971, 2010: thirteenth novel in the Parker series.  Introduction by Charles Ardai.)

From the back cover:

"Deadly Edge bids a brutal adieu to the 1960s as Parker robs a concert, and the heist goes south.  Soon Parker finds himself - and his woman, Claire - menaced by a pair of sadistic, drug-crazed hippies.  Parker has a score to settle while Claire's armed with her first rifle - and they're both ready to usher in the end of the Age of the Aquarius."


The darker-than-usual sensibility that set the tone for The Hunter and The Sour Lemon Score is also evident in Deadly, another hard-to-set-down crime thriller that has some particularly torture-giddy (if amateur) villains.  Still cut-to-it and not for the sentimental, Deadly is one of the bloodier books in the Parker series and an excellent one at that.

Followed by Slayground.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Siren, by John Everson

(pb; 2010)

From the back cover:

"Night after night, Evan walked along the desolate beach, grieving over the loss of his son, drowned in an accident more than a year before.  Then one night he was drawn to the luminous sound of a beautiful, naked woman singing near the shore in the moonlight.  He watched mesmerized as the mysterious woman disappeared into the sea.  Driven by desire and temptation, Evan returned to the spot every night until he found her again.  Now he has begun a bizarre, otherworldly affair.  A deadly affair.  For Evan will soon realize that his seductive lover is a being far more evil and more terrifying than he ever imagined.  He will learn the danger of falling into the clutches of the Siren."


Siren is a fun B-flick horror novel that is best read with a sense of humor and a willingness to accept that the supernatural obsession of its lead character (Evan) with Ligeia (the Siren) strains credulity, even for such a work.  If you can get past that, and I had a difficult time doing so, you'll probably enjoy this book a lot.

What kept me reading Siren - which would made an excellent novella, which might have made Evan's obsession more plausible - was its fast-paced plot, its sometimes-funny dialogue (I love Evan's verbal exchanges with his friend Bill) and Everson's overall solid (despite its extended length) writing.  By most writer's standards this is a good book, and it is, up to a point.  However, when compared to Everson's genre-transcendant novels Covenant, Sacrifice and Violet Eyes, Siren feels like a missed opportunity at B-horror greatness, an overlong trifle.

Either check this out from the library or pick it up for a few bucks.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Sour Lemon Score, by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake)

(pb; 1969, 2010: twelfth novel in the Parker series.  Foreword by Dennis Lehane.)

From the back cover:

"Bank robberies should run like clockwork, right?  If your name's Parker, you expect nothing less.  Until, that is, one of your partners gets too greedy for his own good.  The four-way split following a job leaves too small a take for George Uhl, who begins to pick off his fellow hoisters, one by one.  The first mistake?  That he doesn't begin things by putting a bullet in Parker.  That means he won't get a chance to make a second. . ."


More so than any of the Parker sequels thus far, Sour recalls the especially dark acuity of the first book in this series (The Hunter) - its outlook, reflecting Parker's and several other characters', is harsher than usual and its delectably wicked finish is especially memorable and applaudable.  For these reasons Sour is one of my favorite entries in this twenty-four book series, and - like the preceding Parker novels - is worth owning.

Followed by Deadly Edge.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Ancient, My Enemy, by Gordon R. Dickson

(hb; 1974: science fiction anthology)

Overall review:

Excellent, memorable science fiction anthology - all of the nine stories in this collection are well-written, entertaining: worth owning, this.

Standout stories:

1.)  "Ancient, My Enemy": A clan of mountain-ranging cannibals, led by a feud-minded chief (Hehog), track a group of prospectors back to civilization.  Excellent, memorable tale that resonates on multiple levels with its timeless themes and troubling emotions.

2.)  "Tiger Green": Intriguing story about a human crew that's trapped on a jungle world, awash in their own nightmares and impending insanity, who are trying to escape.  Like other stories in this anthology, "Green" sports a strong, satisfactory sense of morality, humanism and logic, especially in how the men's situation(s) play out.

3.)   "The Friendly Man": A time traveler (Mark Toren) discovers that his arrival in a strangely familiar future may be less - and more - than he expected.  Compact, fun Twilight Zone-esque read.

4.)   "Love Me True":  Another compact, fun Twilight Zone-esque entry, this one about a soldier (Ted Homan), whose exotic, affectionate alien pet (Pogey) raises red flags among his commanding officers. 

5.)  "The Bleak and Barren Land":  Bureaucratic pettiness forces a Colonial Representative (Kent Harmon) into an untenable political and survival situation - trying to head off an impending conflict between planet-native aliens (Modorians) and incoming imperious human settlers.  This is a masterful story, resonant on multiple levels and increasingly intense; it's also one of the best pieces in this collection.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Intruders, by Michael Marshall

(hb; 2007)

From the inside flap:

"For Jack Whalen, it all starts with a visit from a childhood friend, now a lawyer, who asks for his help on an odd case.  The family members of a scientist have been brutally murdered and the scientist - who may have had something to hide - is nowhere to be found.

"But Jack has more pressing matters on his mind.  His wife has told him that she's on a routine business trip to Seattle, yet she hasn't checked into her hotel.  Calls to her cell phone go unanswered, and when Jack travels to Seattle to investigate, she's vanished.

"And in Oregon a little girl goes missing.  She's found miles away, but it soon becomes clear that she's not an innocent victim, and is far from defenseless.

"Unusual events, all leading to the same place.  As a former patrol cop who left the force under difficult circumstances, Jack is determined to find some answers.  Yet the more he digs, the more the intrigue grows.  Searching into the dark secrets of a past that still haunts him, Jack discovers the truth has roots deeper and far more evil than he ever feared."


Intruders is a mostly solid, intimate conspiracy thriller - slick, (often) nuanced in its tone and insinuations, entertaining (in a mainstream way) and lots of plot-pertinent action in this one. 

What kept this novel from getting higher marks with me was that its action and plot points, for the most part, were predictable.  Also, its ending, while obvious, wasn't effectively foreshadowed (when compared to the nuanced tone of the rest of the book) - its last "twist" was clumsy at best, forced.  

Marshall is a talented genre writer, no doubt about that.  That said, check this one out from the library or pick it up for a few bucks (at most).

The resulting BBC America television series, Intruders, began airing on August 23, 2014. 

John Simm played Jack Whalen.  Mira Sorvino played Amy Whalen.  Tory Kittles played Gary Fischer.  Millie Bobby Brown played Madison O'Donnell.  Sonya Salomaa played Allison O'Donnell.  

James Frain played Richard Shepherd.  Robert Forster played Frank Shepherd.  Daryl Shuttleworth played Detective Ron Blanchard.   Tom Butler played Brud Zimmerman.  Karin Konoval played Bobbi Zimmerman. 

Andrew Airlie played Todd Crane.  Shanae Tomasevich played Paige Crane.  David Dalmalchian played Oz Turner.  Alex Diakun played Marcus Fox.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown

(pb; 1973)


Bawdy, milestone, blunt and well-written, Rubyfruit is a mainstream-ish coming-of-lesbian-age tale about a Southern girl (Molly Bolt) who realizes early on that her urges - often not considered "lady-like" - don't gibe with the repressive societal elements of the Fifties and Sixties.  It's emotional without being overly so; its points, plot and otherwise, cut across different social territories; its characters feel real and familiar.

Rubyfruit is an excellent, occasionally chatty read, one worth owning.


This book provided the basis for the 1989 four-minute short film Me and RubyfruitIt was directed by Sadie Benning, who may have written the screenplay as well (the above film link doesn't say who did).

Random side note:  Brown also wrote the screenplay for the 1982 slasher film The Slumber Party Massacre (and other films).

Steve Isaak has published two hundred stories and poems, and is the author of three anthologies: Behind the wheel: selected poems, Shinjuku sex cheese holocaust: poems and the forthcoming Horrorsex County: stories (which are, or will be, available at Lulu and Amazon).