A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Death-tainted treasure

The fifth novel in John D. MacDonald's classic Travis McGee series, A Deadly Shade of Gold, has boat bum, philosopher, and occasional (read: when he needs the money) investigator McGee chasing after ancient gold statuettes and clues to unravel who killed his friend Sam Taggart. Joining McGee in the adventure is Taggart's ex-fiancee Nora, who was on the cusp of renewing her romance with Taggart when his brutal murder put a damper on things.

Like the four books that preceded it, this travel-heavy fifth entry in the series (we spend time in Mexico, California, and New York, in addition to McGee's native Florida) is gritty, detailed, and enjoyable, but for my tastes things got a little bogged down with politics (particularly involving Cuba of the 50's and 60's), too-complicated plotting, and excessive philosophizing my our man McGee. Plusses include well-rounded women characters (pun sort of intended) and many tense confrontations and escapes.

While this slightly overlong tale is my least favorite among the first five books in this 21-book series (I'm finally discovering this series via reading each of its entries in order), all that means is that I enjoyed the book instead of really enjoyed it. The brisk and scary Nightmare in Pink (with its memorable psycho ward setting) is still my favorite so far. But this tale of the corrupt rich and their ethics-free pursuit of priceless antiquities, and the many violent deaths left in the wake of that pursuit, still largely kept me speeding through its chapters. This is rich, dark fun.

A Deadly Shade of Gold is available on Kindle for $7.99. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sure cure for boredom

Once again available to mystery readers via new print and e-book editions, Max Allan Collins' classic Mallory series continues to be a terrific rediscovery. In this second entry in the five-book series, our man Mallory rescues a pretty woman from a brutal assault in a bus station, which all too soon immerses him in a mystery involving dark family secrets, multiple conspiracies, greed, and a rich patriarch (perhaps) trying to atone for past sins. And- oh, yes- there's murder, too, quite a bit of it.

Is Mallory- basically a nice young man home from the Vietnam War and a couple of years of trying out different jobs around the U.S.- up to the task of unraveling a series of deaths that seem to be connected to the richest family in his moderately-sized midwestern town? The author's clean prose and no-nonsense storytelling keep the reader immersed and turning the pages to find out. In fact, if Mr. Collins didn't tell you (in a new introduction penned for this reissued edition), I don't think most readers would guess that this polished, immersive book was written more than forty years ago by a writer still learning his craft.

Oh, one more thing-- Mr. Collins also tells us in his introduction that No Cure For Death was intended to be the first book in the Mallory series, and The Baby Blue Rip-Off the second. However, for various reasons, The Baby Blue Rip-Off was released first and No Cure For Death second, establishing No Cure For Death as the official second entry in the series.  So, though it ultimately doesn't much matter, you might want to read No Cure For Death first, as it's chronologically Mallory's earliest adventure. One or two things happen in this book, including a personal tragedy for Mallory (I won't get more specific), that resonate later in The Baby Blue Rip-Off.

Well, I'm now off to grab book three in the series, Kill Your Darlings, to continue my delightful reacquaintance with a series I haven't read in decades. I had forgotten how much fun dark doings in the American Midwest could be.

No Cure For Death is available for $4.99 on Kindle, or is free to borrow for Amazon Prime members. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A dossier on Bond

Most James Bond fans have at least a rough idea that there was a man named Kevin McClory who established in court that he was a co-creator of the story that eventually became both the 1961 James Bond novel and 1965 film known as Thunderball. That particular claim seems reasonable to myself and many other Bond fans.

Of course, Mr. McClory took things a step further and also claimed that he was the father of the cinematic James Bond we all know and love, that Ian Fleming's original creation was just the same old stodgy spy character seen countless times before in countless thrillers before Mr. McClory shaped him up into the suave adventurer that lit up movie screens. That particular claim is more problematic to myself and many other Bond fans.

However one feels, Len Deighton's Kindle Single essay, James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search For His Father, is a fascinating look at that heady time when James Bond was first making the jump from reasonably popular novels to super popular films (which eventually lead to the novels becoming super popular, too). I especially enjoyed Mr. Deighton's colorful descriptions of Mr. McClory (who I now see as a real person with a passionate, real position, even if I largely don't agree with it), but I also liked learning a little more about the skills, charms, and personal foibles of Ian Fleming, Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, and other notable personalities peppering the James Bond literary and movie landscape.

The paragraphs are a little long and the writing a little dense for what should have been a breezier, lighter reading experience, but the interesting subject matter cut through the thick verbiage and assured that this long essay- which can be completed in one to three sittings depending on your personal reading habits- was never less than a compelling glimpse into a period (beginning in the swinging sixties and extending into the early eighties) when the ownership of James Bond was a hotly-debated topic.

James Bond: My Long and Eventful Search For His Father is available on Kindle for $1.99, or is free to borrow for Amazon Prime members.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spector of fear

Last night I watched the HBO Original Movie, "Phil Spector", about the famed record producer's arrest for murder in 2003.  Like most people, I can be easily drawn into a well-produced drama based on a real criminal case, and that's exactly what happened here.  I'll probably shortly file a few thoughts on the film. 

Anyway, the movie reminded me that I had already read a decent book about Phil Spector in general and the murder case in particular a few years ago.  It was Mick Brown's "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector".  I thought readers would find my review of the book (originally posted on Amazon in 2007) interesting, so here it is:

Tearing Down the Wall of Sound is an engaging, informative, and very entertaining reading experience. This is in large part due to the fact that even if one gets a little tired of the endless personal antics of Mr. Spector, the book also functions as a pretty comprehensive examination of the evolution of popular music from the 50's to the present. But to also give the book's subject his due, it's also fascinating to learn exactly what a record producer does and how Mr. Spector, during several specific moments in history, did it better than anyone else.

Alas, the book also makes it pretty clear that the gun tragedy of a few years ago involving Mr. Spector was bound to happen sooner or later, as author Mick Brown recounts literally dozens of incidents of Mr. Spector waving a gun at someone in jest, in a bullying manner, or in jealousy or anger.

But it's the many musical stories and anecdotes that really stand out here. Reading all the behind-the-scenes stuff about The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Sonny and Cher (Sonny got his start taking down sandwich orders for Phil Spector and his technicians!), The Ronettes, The Teddy Bears, etc. is a blast, and also kind of reassuring: we see that, despite talent and often genius, our musical heroes often struggled to produce good work; usually relied on the guidance of a good producer or other technical person; and worried what people thought of them. In other words, we're reminded that those musical heroes, in at least some ways, weren't too different from the rest of us.

Okay, back to 2013.  "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound" is available for $13.99 on Kindle, which would be a bit of an extravagent purchase, I admit.  Good book, though.