Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Getting Carter, Ted Lewis & the Birth of Brit Noir

The time is past when one could accurately describe Ted Lewis as a lost or under appreciated author. His best books have recently been re-released, Mike Hodge’s 1971 film, Get Carter, based on Lewis second novel, Jack’s Return Home, continues to be seen as a crime cinema classic, and Lewis’s profound, albeit posthumous, influence on the origins on Brit Noir is regularly reiterated by many of the leading lights of crime fiction.

But we know little about Lewis as a person and the influences on his work. Nick Triplow’s Getting Carter: Ted Lewis and the Birth of Brit Noir is obviously the product of considerable time, energy and shoe leather spent hunting down the facts of Lewis’s life. That Triplow doesn’t completely succeed in unravelling all the mysteries surrounding Lewis’s spectacular rise and fall is not for want of trying and, it must be stressed, the book is none the worse for it.

Contemporary literary culture, with its focus on the writer’s journey, literature as personal confession and the book scribe as media celebrity, is a relatively new phenomena. Lewis went to his grave without leaving a detailed archive of papers or journals and having only done a handful of newspaper interviews. He had neither the time nor, one suspects, inclination to record his inner most thoughts.… Read more

Book review: Paperbacks from Hell, the Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction

I loved Grady Hendrix’s soon to be released book, Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction. From the opening, his discussion of John Christopher’s totally bizarre 1966 novel, The Little People, about an assortment of unsavoury individuals who spend a weekend in an Irish castle which is also inhabited by evil Nazi leprechauns (‘the Gestapochauns’) to the last few pages, the dying days of American mass market paperback horror, it is a wild, exhilarating ride.

But as well as being a lot of fun, Paperbacks From Hell is also an important work of pulp fiction and pop culture history.

The book comprises a series of thematic chapters, grouped from the most part around one or two foundation texts. Thus the chapter on satanic pulp and mass market paperbacks opens with a look at the cultural importance of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. The Omen (1976) is the starting point for a look at the large sub-genre of books about women being impregnated by all manner of hell spawn and murderous offspring. Peter Benchley’s paperback sensation, Jaws, is the precursor to a discussion about the wave of pulp and mass market paperback books featuring murderous creatures and animals turned homicidal: rats, dogs, cuts, pigs, insects, even rabbits.… Read more

Book review: The Student

Regular Pulp Curry readers will know I have a particular fondness for noir fiction. In particular, Australian noir fiction. And, let’s be honest, when all is said and done, there’s not much Australian noir fiction, and I mean really noir fiction, out there. The publication of Iain Ryan’s The Student adds another more book to this rather slender canon of local crime writing.

I reviewed Ryan’s debut novel, Four Days, on this site when it was released in late 2015. A very dark police procedural set in the Queensland cities of Cairns and Brisbane in the 1980s, the plot of Four Days involves a borderline sociopathic cop with a drinking problem who becomes obsessed with the case of a murdered prostitute, in the process coming up against a police hierarchy who are keen to bury any investigation into her death.

Now Melbourne based, Ryan grew up in Queensland – a place that for various I am also very familiar with – and he completely nailed the corruption and picturesque sleaze that typified much of the state in the eighties, a time when its police force was one of the most violent and corrupt in Australia. Ryan cited James Ellroy as a major influence and I was particularly taken with the way he was able to pay homage to legendary crime writer without sinking into pastiche or cliche.… Read more

Book review: Frightmares – A History of British Horror Cinema

FrightmaresOne of the things I love about cinema is the possibility it offers for discovery and immersion in new material and genres.

After a long time consisting on a staple viewing diet of film noir, neo-noir and crime cinema, the last year has seen me delve more into horror. Don’t get me wrong, like many people my age, I have fond memories of watching horror movies on late night television in the seventies and VHS nasties in the various shared houses I lived in in eighties. But in the last year I have really dived deep into horror cinema, exploring movies by theme and director. It’s almost akin to a re-education of sorts, a journey that has required learning a new cinema language and style.

You need to be discerning about which guides you take on these journeys. One absolutely indispensable resource is the relatively recent ‘Daughters of Darkness’ podcast done by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, the editors of Diabolique Magazine. These women know their stuff, and their podcasts cover a fascinating selection of rare horror and exploitation cinema, gems too numerous to mention here, with well thought out and nuanced diversions into subjects as varied as medical science, sexuality, literature and the craft of film making.

Another great guide is the recently released book, Frightmares: A History of British Horror Cinema, by screenwriter and author, Ian Cooper.… Read more

Book review: The World of Shaft

The World of Shaft

You might remember the news last year that New Line pictures had acquired the rights to do yet another film remake featuring the iconic character of John Shaft. If so, you may also remember the ensuring controversy that erupted over plans to make said film a comedy, including an open letter protesting the move by  award winning journalist, David F Walker.

I am not sure at what stage the proposal Shaft remake is at, but I totally agree with Walker in his introduction to Steve Aldous’s recently released guide to the character, ‘When author Ernest Tidyman’s book Shaft was first published in 1971, and director Gordon Parks’ cinematic adaption followed a year later, a new era of representation began in American pop culture.’

The World of Shaft attempts to chronicle the cultural phenomena that is the ex-juvenile delinquent, Vietnam Vet, New York private eye known as Shaft. From the character’s origins via the pen of white ex-newspaperman Tidyman to the, in my opinion, rather average 2000 cinematic remake, this is an exhaustive examination of every aspect of the character and his various manifestations.

Shaft emerged from a combination of Tidyman’s desperation to make it as a writer and, as he put it in an interview, his “awareness of both social and literary situations in a changing city.… Read more