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Tag Archive: Joyland


Review by C.J. Bunce

You don’t expect a crime novel or pulp fiction to be funny.  Sure, any good story has some humor, but crime mysteries are the stuff of suspense-thrillers and dark alleys, right?  Maybe so, but then there is the late great crime fiction writer Donald E. Westlake.  His novel Help I Am Being Held Prisoner has a lead character that would knock any reader off his chair.  The Chicago Sun-Times called Westlake “the funniest crime writer going” and they’re probably right.  His humor sometimes comes out of nowhere.  It’s not the hard-boiled flavor you may be used to, but his characters are still clever as ever, possessing those traits that make everyone appear so real.  His comedy is decisive and quick and the next thing you know tears are shooting out of yours eyes and coffee out your nose.  Hot on the heels of last year’s posthumously published action thriller Forever and a Death (reviewed here), Westlake’s Help I Am Being Held Prisoner is the latest classic find from the Hard Case Crime series, a 1974 novel now back in bookstores in a new edition for the first time in decades (with a great painted Paul Mann cover), and making people laugh again 44 years later.

Westlake’s protagonist this time is Harold Künt, last name pronounced “koont.”  The umlaut is important because pretty much no one has pronounced his name correctly in his life.  He’s 32 years old and unmarried, after three girlfriends refused to marry him, mainly because of his name.  In a roundabout but direct way, the joke God played on him with his name–in Künt’s mind–was rationale to play jokes on everyone else.  So Künt rebelled and got a sweet vengeance against everyone and anyone via his unique brand of practical jokery.  His signature?  The best practical jokes are the ones you don’t see play out.  You just set them up and walk away.  Künt is a pretty satisfied guy until one of his jokes goes too far off the rails and he lands in a New York jail–five to fifteen years in the penitentiary–a steeper penalty than warranted.  But two married Congressmen and unmarried ladies in the cars with them were part of a 17-car collision caused by Künt’s latest prank.  So Künt was due for his comeuppance.  The novel begins with Künt’s first day in the slammer.  Jailed for a joke, he’s resigned to becoming rehabilitated.  Sort of.  No more pranks, the warden orders, as Künt leaves some goo on the door handle as he leaves with the guard.  Künt is provided good advice, and he’s shown which of the inmates to steer clear of and for which reasons.  Then his roommate gets paroled and everything falls apart.  Or does it?

  

It’s a crime novel, so the novel needs a crime.  Künt falls in with exactly the wrong crowd, a group of thugs who have control over a tunnel out of the prison where they have found a way to live a second life outside of their jail sentences.  Is Künt in or is he out?  The band of criminals develop a plan to rob not just one but two of the local town banks.  What better an alibi to an armed robbery than being locked in jail?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of the 1985 movie Fletch, you probably think of Chevy Chase’ s humorous, over-the-top take on undercover reporter I.M. Fletcher.  But Fletch the movie was only loosely based on the award-winning mystery novels by author Gregory Mcdonald.  Mcdonald wrote dozens of novels before his death in 2008.  One of those is Snatched, a kidnapping story reprinted this year for the first time in 30 years by Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint.

Originally published in 1978 as Who Took Toby Rinaldi? in the U.S. and Snatched in the UK, Mcdonald crafted a thriller about the botched kidnapping of the eight-year-old son of a Persian Gulf region ambassador to the United Nations as he readies a proposal with global impact before the U.N.  The proposal itself is a bit of a Pelican Brief MacGuffin, but the real action follows a thug named Spike as he hides the abducted boy, Toby Rinaldi.  Toby was on his way to meet his mother Christina for a visit to a Disneyland-esque theme park in California called Fantazyland.  Key to the action and tension are the efforts and setbacks faced by Christina as she attempts to catch the kidnapper, despite her husband’s foreign security squad in the U.S. trying to keep the kidnapping secret.

   

Snatched is a great read.  Its slow, simmering pace reflects nailbiters of the 1960s-1970s like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Charley Varrick, Magnum Force, or Bullitt.  Many of the characters are intentionally frustrating.  The characters are frustrated, and that is channeled to the reader page after page.  Toby’s father is caught between the direct demands of his king and responsibility to family.  The political factions behind the kidnapping plot–a small group of tried and tested, denizen mercenaries whose failure to communicate and coordinate because of their own personal distractions cause them to trip over each other as they attempt what might otherwise be the simplest of crimes.  Despite Mcdonald’s Fletch character translated to the big screen, make no mistake:  Snatched is not a comedy.  It’s also low on violence, other than a little boy in jeopardy as the main plot point, which is handled deftly by Mcdonald.

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As the carny says “Step right up! Step right up!”

Talk “the Talk” @Titan Books to Win Prizes Money-Can’t-Buy

What’s “the Talk”?  Check out our review of Stephen King’s newest novel Joyland, released this week at borg.com.  Bestselling author Stephen King’s new tale is a murder-mystery mixed with a coming of age story based in the early 1970s in a North Carolina amusement park.  Fans of King will find it in the same vein as Stand by Me (aka “The Body”) and The Green Mile.

Celebrating the release of Joyland, Titan Books and Hard Case Crime are teaming up with a series of digital partners to host competitions to win a free copies of Joyland and a limited run of EXCLUSIVE Joyland canvas prints of Glen Orbik’s cover painting:

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Joyland cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Tomorrow Stephen King’s newest novel, Joyland, hits the shelves already a pre-release #1 Bestseller.  Come back to borg.com Friday, June 7, 2013, for information on how to win copies of an exclusive edition of Joyland or canvas cover prints of the novel’s artwork from Titan Books, publisher of the Hard Case Crime imprint, as part of the Stephen King-Joyland online book tour.

As a fan of many Stephen King movies and TV series based on his books, strangely enough I never made it through a Stephen King novel before now.  Because King’s adapted visual works have been so consistent, I found the easy-going storytelling in Joyland to be very familiar.  Joyland contains themes found in the innocence of Stand By Me (based on King’s novella The Body) and Silver Bullet (based on King’s novella Cycle of the Werewolf), the supernatural of The Green Mile (based on King’s serial novel of the same name), and the Northeast U.S. town-life found in the TV series Haven (based on King’s The Colorado Kid) and The Dead Zone (based on King’s novel).  King’s storytelling is very recognizable–you’d know his style anywhere.  And Joyland is not horror, but a blend of true crime-type drama mixed with King’s signature violent/explicit/graphic accounts of not just the crime that is the focus of the story but the life of the protagonist.  Yet it is also a coming of age story for the 20s set–written in a manner similar to classic middle grade and young adult works, like S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and Tex, and even some of Judy Blume’s works.

Old Joyland Amusement Park

Old Joyland Amusement Park (King’s is a fictional park)

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