A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's murder, darling

Lord knows where my original paperback copy of Max Allan Collins' Kill Your Darlings has disappeared to, so it was great rediscovering the book on Kindle (it's also back in regular ol' print, too). The third book in the Mallory series, our man Mallory is now a successful mystery writer, and spends the entire book at a real-life mystery convention, Bouchercon, hobnobbing with mystery fans and fellow writers.

The entertaining and well-drawn convention scenes (apparently, mystery conventions aren't all that different from other conventions, as evidenced by the many scenes set at the hotel bar) soon give way to an actual mystery, as a writer friend of Mal's is found dead in a bathtub. Accident or foul play? Mallory is going to find out.

Originally breezing through the book as a young man, this time there was an added level of richness: I know about mystery writers and mystery publishers now, and also know (via his website and other writings) what Max Allan Collins thinks of many of them. So I kept saying to myself (despite Mr. Collins' assurances in the beginning that none of the characters was based on anyone real), "Hmmmmm, this guy has got to be based, at least a little, on Robert B. Parker", and "Mallory's friendship with the murder victim, Roscoe Kane, has got to be strongly informed by Collins' own friendship with Mickey Spillane, even though Spillane himself is mentioned in other parts of the book." And finally, "That successful but somewhat shady bookseller, editor, and small-press mystery publisher has got to be a thinly-veiled version of...", well, let's be nice, but you get the idea. Of course, I could be wrong about any or all of this stuff, but it was fun to speculate as I was reading.

Anyway, the mystery plot is very good: clean, clear, and engaging, with a satisfying resolution that's unpredictable while playing fair with the facts. Also satisfying is a sweet little romance for Mallory, entertaining observations about Chicago and its attractions, and lots of good banter (aka trade-speak) between all the writer characters. A couple of tough-guy style fisticuffs, some involving Mallory getting attacked by thugs and some involving our hero losing his temper with fellow conventioneers, seemed a little broad and unnecessary, but that's a quibble. So what if Mr. Collins' current polish and subtlety isn't completely evidence in his earliest work?  And, to be fair about some of those scenes, Mallory himself later admits he acted like a boob during his confrontations with his colleagues. 

As I've said once or twice before, these past months it's been a lot of fun moving through this five-book series many years after originally encountering it. I only hope that when I'm done, more Mallory adventures will be on the way. Max Allan Collins has been quite prolific of late, so I'd say it's a definite possibility!

Kill Your Darlings is available on Kindle for $3.99. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Truly seeking justice?

Roger Donaldson's Seeking Justice didn't receive a lot of attention- from the media or audiences- when it was released in theaters not too long ago, but it's worth a look at home via disc, download, or streaming (so many options these days). The film reminded me a lot of Mr. Donaldson's old thriller with Kevin Costner, No Way Out. Like that earlier film, there's lots of tension and action, but all laced with an uncomfortable (and involving) paranoia as both audience members and the center-stage characters constantly wonder who is in on the big conspiracy.

The story in Seeking Justice involves a vigilante group that offers, well... justice to the Nicholas Cage character and his wife after the wife (played by January Jones) is brutally attacked by some weirdo creep. Though it rubs him the wrong way, the husband eventually takes the deal, but soon finds out that there's no free lunch. You see, Cage is all too quickly asked to return the favor and help the vigilante group exact vengeance against some other thug who supposedly did something horrible, this time to a little kid. The "supposedly" is what complicates the film, demonstrating that vigilante justice maybe isn't the simple, satisfying thing many believe it is.

In the end, this was a solid, well-crafted thriller about a topic- taking the law into one's own hands- that is usually relegated to exploitation films and other "crowd pleaser" type movies (the Neil Jordan/Jodie Foster movie The Brave One is the only other modern, A-list movie that comes to mind that tackled the subject, and that did a decent job, too). Anyway, a well-told, intelligent story and complex, understated performances by Nicholas Cage and his co-stars easily make Seeking Justice a good choice for home viewing.