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Tag Archive: Laura


Review by C.J. Bunce

Crime novels tend to include an element of mystery.  Usually the attraction for the reader is going along for the ride with the detective, the cop, the private eye, or the wrongly accused.  Some novels have variations on the theme, but few are purely character studies that begin with the reveal of the murderer and then take readers on the pathway of whydunit.  That’s not 100% what’s going on in Oakley Hall′s So Many Doors, but it’s close.  First published in 1950 and reprinted by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 60 years, So Many Doors centers around Vassilia Baird, a teen girl who, despite her father’s best efforts, ends up in the arms of a bad boy, resulting in a downward spiral that leads to her death.  Hall’s writing has a storytelling quality that may make it a good study for writers, but, despite his quick prose, it is bogged down with ugly characters in the obscure world of Depression era bulldozer operators.

At first Baird is the obvious character whose cause needs championed–an innocent.  But without explanation, she’s transformed overnight into a femme fatale.  Hall does not give the reader enough access to her to understand anything personal, any motivation, any reason other than she’s in the position of the novel that a reader should ordinarily be sympathetic toward, until she isn’t.  Hall never gets into her head, instead choosing to provide access to others who were part of her life, including an odd father, a would-be friend, a creepy much older neighbor, and her murderer.  Readers will not likely find those characters as particularly real either, or follow common sense (or decency toward others in many cases), or participate in the average person’s experience with the human condition.  And the single twist is predictable.  It’s unfortunate, because the set-up is brilliantly introduced upfront: A public defender is assigned to the bad boy, who refuses his services and admits to murdering Baird (known throughout the story as “V”).  But that’s followed by 300 pages of waiting for something exciting to happen and the action never again matches the first chapter.

The fact that So Many Doors saw acclaim in 1950 is unfortunately telling about the era, a story full of shockingly smarmy or cowardly men on the one hand and stock naïve and stock evil women.  It wants to be Vera Caspary’s Laura, but isn’t.  Instead the leads are caricatures of characters with little chemistry out of The Great Gatsby, embedded in a setting from The Giant and East of Eden and unpleasant interactions and relationships like those found in On the Waterfront and Dangerous Liaisons.  That kind of tale may very well still have an audience out there, but the sum of the parts may not add up for modern readers.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Crime stories are full of dark places and dark characters, characters like Waldo Lydecker in Vera Caspary’s Laura, Rebecca DeWinter in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Jim Williams in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Barbara Sabich in Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, Catherine Trammell in Joe Eszterhas’s Basic Instinct, Noah Cross in Robert Towne’s Chinatown.  But what if you were to populate an entire story with only the most vile of these characters, everyone despicable, reprehensible, soulless.  Then you would have Richard Vine’s crime novel Soho Sins.

The New York City in Vine’s novel can’t really exist, and if it does it explains a lot about its perceived debauchery-filled subculture of million dollar art deals and even bigger real estate deals.  Most noir novels take you into places that dip into the dark, but along the way you meet a few “cool” characters, characters that have a trait or two you’d want to emulate, even if they are bad at their very core in a nice, pulp novel way.  That’s not the case in the Soho of Vine’s New York of two decades past (for those not familiar with New York, Soho is the lower Manhattan neighborhood known for its artist lofts and art galleries).  Nobody is personable, likeable, enviable, charming, or authentic.  And this ugliness means that as you forge ahead in a densely crafted 384 pages, the way Vine tells his story and the way he incorporates the shock and awe of the depravity, self-hatred, and apathy, is necessary to keep you engaged.  To Vine’s credit, it all works, complete with a couple of eleventh hour whoppers at the end of the tale.  Not bad at all for a first time novelist.

Vine takes you on a journey through New York City that illustrates in fine detail everything that is bad about the city, primarily in its wealthiest, seediest corners.  Vine brings his years of experience in the contemporary art world to provide a peep show peek into a world where artists and dealers live for no purpose other than to impress and outdo each other.  Our tour guide is a member of this vapid class, art dealer and real estate owner Jackson Wyeth, whose lack of true compassion and concern for anyone including himself at first make it difficult to tag along.  Vine partners him with an old friend, an ex-cop private eye named Hogan, who is a welcome relief from all the banality of the modern art trade and its actors, but ultimately, he and Wyeth are just two sides of a tarnished coin.  Hogan is after the murderer who shot Wyeth’s best friend Philip Oliver’s wife Angela, and Hogan uses Wyeth to introduce him to the art scene, a close-knit club, to prove whether or not Philip committed the murder.  And, by the way, Philip has already confessed to the crime.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The ideas and situations in Steven Savile’s new novel Glass Town could hardly be more enticing:  In 1922 Alfred Hitchcock began, but did not finish, a film called Number 13. One of the sought-after lost films of Hitchcock, little is known but some film stills and production information, leaving an opening to take the film as a linchpin for a noir mystery.  Savile takes that film and several fascinating ideas and blends them into what becomes a horror story that incorporates compelling visuals from many possible sources: Dead Again, Laura, Vertigo, Portrait of Jennie, Hugo, The Illusionist, The Prestige, and even an element of Tron.  The story doesn’t quite live up to all its antecedents, but it provides some interesting concepts for genre readers willing to dabble in a story full of sex, violence, and grotesque horror along the way.

The grand ideas ultimately are in need of a more refined and pared down plot and possibly a more compelling lead character–Josh is a descendant of a line of men who spent their lives infatuated with a lost actress who appeared in the Number 13.  On Josh’s grandfather’s death he is reeled into a world of his own family connections and a history that he learns about and shares with us along the way as he, too, becomes infatuated with the missing actress and the interworkings of his family, tied into a well-known crime lord.  But we never learn much about Josh and why we should care about him.  Early London cinema and 1990s London don’t quite come through visibly, and the lack of more detailed world building results in a story that could be about a Boston or Chicago or Irish mob family as opposed to the familiar Victorian London of so many classic Gothic novels.  We encounter many bleak and unsavory characters and over-the-top situations–the kind of grotesque fantasy of a Clive Barker movie instead of what could have been a more accessible mainstream mystery interweaving the aura of magicians, the historical authority you might find in a Connie Willis novel, or the command of the details of early film technologies you might find in a Kim Newman story.

The only known image from the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s lost film titled Number 13.

Yet many great ideas come into play.  Josh uncovers and meets a lost and long-dead magician who was able to pull off the ultimate spectacle–hiding an entire town in a glass lens.  An evil ancestor of Josh used the magician to trap the actress he was so fascinated with in this world, a world where a day in this Glass Town can equal a week in the real world.  The story’s bad guy can even manipulate characters within the films of the silent era to do his bad deeds in our world, and we first meet the famed actress as a ghost as she attempts to find a secret talisman of glass in Josh’s home.  Much of the imagery is excellent–a walking and moving actress straight from the beginnings of filmmaking appearing in your living room, incorporating the flickering image of old film as she moves about.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

I like western movies.  I like the sounds of the Old West, the cattle, the clinking of spurs as the two guys slowly meet up in the center of the old western town.  I like epic western soundtracks and I like slow guitar soundtracks, and theme songs that sometimes tell a familiar story.   I also have read a little Louis L’Amour and love his writing and descriptions.  I’ve never thought of picking up a comic book about the Old West, mainly because they don’t make ’em anymore.

I almost didn’t pick up All-Star Western #1, one of DC Comics’s New 52 line.  Mostly because it had the crazy looking Jonah Hex on the cover.  All I knew of Hex was watching a bit of the Jonah Hex movie, which for whatever reason I didn’t finish on video.  But somehow (fate?) it ended up in my pull list.  I have read a super western-ish book recently called El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman, by Jai Nitz, Ande Parks, and Phil Hester, that was just awesome (to be reviewed here later on).  Intrigued by the idea of a current western comic in the midst of the Justice League superheroes, I read it first from the stack.

From a literary standpoint there is almost an unending supply of reasons to check this one out.

Unusual Setting

One would think a western comic took place in the Old West.  This takes place in Gotham city in the 1880s, which in my mind is more Old East.  The drawings have a nice old-time feel to them.  The colors offer more than just sepia tones.  There’s a little Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell’s Gotham by Gaslight feel here for sure.  A good thing, as I wished that book had turned into its own series.

Narration

The narrator is none other than the founder of Gotham’s own Arkham Asylum, Doctor Arkham himself.  Arkham is our narrator, and he’s a bit odd.  His character, his mannerisms, and his creepiness might remind you of Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger’s Laura.  A further creepy scene may also make you think he’s a bit of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Familiar But Reliable Plot

To get us into this world quickly, the plot seems to be a mix of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and a Jack the Ripper tale.  Pacing is reminscent of Alan Moore’s From Hell.  There’s also a bit of the outcast element of Danny Glover’s Mal in Silverado.  There’s a medical aspect of the 19th century as well, the sleuthing of an early Detective Comics of sorts, but again, familiar because of the similar treatment in From Hell.  The art here, however, is a lot more stylish and evocative.  The only downside will be if this continues to be just another Jack the Ripper story.  Too many stories end up there.

The Archetype Western Anti-Hero

Not only does the half-mangled faced Jonah Hex play the anti-hero, he talks a bit like Clint Eastwood mixed with Sam Elliott.  Hex’s confederate uniform really brings you back to Sam Elliot’s performance as Dal Traven in Louis L’Amour’s The Shadow Riders, but there is also a little of Elliott’s Ghost Rider’s Caretaker mixed with The Golden Compass’s Lee Scoresby.  To get me to conjure any incarnation of Sam Elliott in your character is a win in my book.  But then again there’s a spin on Eastwood’s Stranger from High Plains Drifter, as you can see the whole town of Gotham closing in on Dr. Arkham and Hex after only the 24th page.  Who would have thought Jonah Hex could be so cool?

If you want something truly different, pick up this book.