Category Archives: Crime fiction

2021 mid-summer reading report back

I’m conscious that I did not do a post on my top 10 reads at the end of last year, as is my usual habit. To make up for this, here is a quick update on what I’ve been getting into, reading-wise, over the first half of summer in Melbourne.

Shore Leave, David Whish-Wilson

Shore Leave is the fourth book to feature the character of ex-Perth cop turned PI, Frank Swann. This latest instalment is set largely in the Perth seaside suburb of Fremantle. Swann is battling poor health from a mystery ailment and is involved in a variety of complications arising from a US aircraft carrier, Carl Vinson, that has docked in town. These problems include the disappearance of a cache of M16 rifles from the ship that may have found their way into the hands of a local neo-Nazi group, and the murder of two women by what could be a serial killer among the crew. To top things off, as has been the case throughout the entire series, Swann has to deal with problems arising from his chequered past as a cop. Nothing in Shore Leave has dissuaded me from my oft stated opinion on this site that Whish-Wilson is the most underrated crime writer working in Australia today.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Cover Me: The Vintage Art of Pan Books 1950-1965

Pan paperbacks are among the first adult books I can remember making a serious impression on me. My father had a number of Pan editions of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books in the collection of paperbacks he had in his den and from an early age I was entranced by their colourful, energetic, somewhat carnal covers.

Colin Larkin’s Cover Me: The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965 notes the Fleming series was, not surprisingly, a huge seller for Pan. The books my father owned, which I still have, include cover art by Pat Owen and ‘Peff’ or Samuel John Peff, the latter one of Pan’s most used artists in the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s. I also discovered from Larkin’s book that the small drawing of a suave looking Bond holding a pistol that appears in a banner at the bottom of the main cover design in some of the Fleming Pan editions, was an illustration of Ralph Vernon-Hunt, the company’s managing director at the time.

Pan paperbacks appeared in Australia in large numbers in the three decades after World War II, and can still be found relatively easily in second-hand bookstores and thrift shops throughout the country. I have a fairly large collection, including I am happy to say, many of those that appear in Larkin’s simply sumptuous work.… Read more

Parker on the screen #5: Payback Straight Up (2006)

The idea to review every screen iteration of Donald Westlake’s crime character, Parker, originated much earlier in the year, when Melbourne was in deep in winter and the middle of hard Covid lockdown. Melbourne is out of that lockdown now and summer is here, and I am much busier, hence the delay since my last entry.

Anyway, back to it with the next Parker film, Brian Helgeland’s neo noir, Payback Straight Up (2006). This is retelling of the very first Parker novel, The Hunter, published in 1962 and, of course, first filmed by John Boorman as the immortal Point Blank (1967), starring Lee Marvin (and which I wrote about on this site here on the 50th anniversary of the film).

Helgeland, who started out in the movie business as a scriptwriter, is not someone whose work I am particularly across. He did the script for the adaptation of Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential (1997), which I really liked. The same year he also performed wordsmith duty on the script for the simply abysmal post-apocalyptic Kevin Costner vehicle, The Postman. The 1999 film adaptation of The Hunter, titled Payback, was his first outing as a director (he also wrote the script) and by all accounts it was an exceptionally troubled shoot.… Read more

The long, dark legacy of William Hjorstberg’s supernatural neo noirs

One of the great things in the not so great year that was 2020 has been writing regularly for the excellent American site, CrimeReads. My latest for them is live and looks at the the supernatural neo noirs of the late writer, William Hjorstberg.

Hjorstberg’s 1978 book Falling Angel was the basis for Alan Parker’s 1987 supernatural thriller, Angel Heart. Posthumously published for the first time in paperback by Britain’s No Exit Press, the sequel, Angel’s Inferno continues the story of the down at heel private detective, Harry Angel, who takes a routine missing person case and becomes ensnared in an occult nightmare.

Only Angel is now Favorite, the amoral crooner who sold his soul to the devil for fame, then stole Angel’s identity in an attempt to evade payment. And he’s in Paris, determined to hunt down and exact revenge on Lucifer’s earthly manifestation, Louis Cypher.

I was particularly fascinated by the differences between Falling Angel and Parker’s film version, one of several things I write about in my piece which you can read in full here on the crime reads site.

Enjoy.

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Projection Booth episode #495 :To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

I am thrilled to be co-hosting another episode of Mike White’s film podcast, The Projection Booth, this one on William Friedkin’s 1985 neo noir, To Live and Die in L.A. The film pits Treasury agent William Petersen as Richard Chance against Willem Dafoe as artist and forger Rick Masters, and is based on the novel of the same name by former US federal agent turned crime writer, Gerald Petievich. Along with my fellow co-host, Jedidiah Ayres, we were joined by the film’s editor, M. Scott Smith, and one of the its stars, Willem Dafoe.

We dive deep into this film, discussing the breathtaking work of To Love and Die in L.A.’s cinematography Robbie Muller and how the Friedkin demands complete suspension of disbelief from his audience in some many respects of the story and gets it.

We we also talk about the Wang Chung soundtrack, Los Angeles on the screen, how the film embodies the deregulated economic and political policies of the Reagan era, and how it relates to Friedkin’s broader ouvre and other America crime cinema, particularly the other film based on a Petievich book, Boiling Point (1993) and the Michael Cimino effort also released in 1985, Year of the Dragon.

The entire episode is online for your listening pleasure here.Read more