Collins and Crouch deliver the goods, as seen in our latest thriller reviews

Collins and Crouch deliver the goods, as seen in our latest thriller reviews

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hammer's back

Once again working from notes and fragments provided by the late Mickey Spillane, the always reliable Max Allan Collins has created a solidly entertaining mystery/thriller with Lady, Go Die!, the originally-envisioned follow up to the first Mike Hammer novel, I, The Jury.

The book starts out with Mike, still reeling from the events in that first famous novel, taking a short vacation in a sleepy seaside town to get his bearings back. But he soon learns, first hand, that the sleepy town isn't as sleepy as it first seemed. Before he knows it, Mike and his faithful secretary and sidekick Velda are knee deep in murder, crooked cops, organized crime, and ultimately, true evil.

Scary, puzzling, funny (I loved the way Hammer always referred to his car as "the heap"), Lady, Go Die! is another great Spillane/Collins collaboration. There hasn't been a bad one yet.

Lady, Go Die! is available on Kindle for $7.79. 

This is government?

Available on DVD or via download, 2008's In The Loop is a well done but depressing comedy/drama about the U.S. president and the British prime minister trying to sell a war to their respective legislative branches. It's pretty much a thinly-veiled commentary on the run-up to the Iraq war (or maybe it's exactly the Iraq war they're talking about, just not mentioning it by name), with every scene showing people screaming into phones, running through corridors with files, or engaging in paranoia-laced whispers about who knows what about what secret committee, back-room meeting, or other "inside" event.

The movie is depressing because its main message seems to be that everyone in government, from the most-seasoned legislator to the lowliest staffer, would immediately get behind anything, even a horribly-flawed war initiative, if it would help his or her career or stroke his ego (being offered a seat on the right advisory committee is a particular Holy Grail in the film). And what's truly depressing is that the film makes a convincing case that, too often, that is exactly what happens in situations like that.

But, if you can take the relentless cynicism and endless parade of self-serving characters, In The Loop will certainly entertain you with its sharp dialogue, dark humor, and overall intelligence.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Empire returns

While the next round of Star Wars films probably won't adapt Timothy Zahn's pretty well regarded Grand Admiral Thrawn trilogy of years past, they may make a few nods to some of the occurrences in the books (like the twins born to Han Solo and Princess Leia a few years after the events in Return of the Jedi, for example). For that reason,  I thought I'd finally give the first of the books, Heir to the Empire, a whirl after it's been available for so many years.

My thoughts? I enjoyed it, but maybe not as wildly as others. I missed the kind of swashbuckling action, dark drama, and sweeping romance of the original trilogy of films, finding the book a little heavy on nitty-gritty political intrigue and technical jargon. Make no mistake, the book had Star Wars-style action and drama, but it was often diluted by that other stuff. I mean, what's supposed to be an exciting escape scene in space doesn't necessarily benefit from pages and pages of description about how a tractor beam works.

I also found it strange that the Empire was now being run by an admiral (Thrawn) aboard a star destroyer. Shouldn't there be some kind of seat of government somewhere from which the admirals get their orders? That's kind of nit-picky, I admit, but it bothered me.

It was also weird to see iconic characters like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia being given all kinds of new character traits and opinions about things. It's almost liked Timothy Zahn worked too hard on them, to the point where they didn't feel like good old Han, Luke, and Leia anymore. Again, another strange criticism, I know.

I'll probably continue on with the rest of Zahn's trilogy, as I got enough mild enjoyment out of the first book, I guess. I certainly didn't find it boring, which is the worse sin a story can commit.  And many people loved these novels when they first appeared in the 90's, after years of no new Star Wars stories after Return of the Jedi in 1983. I think the problem for me is that, in the end, the whole thing will probably turn out to be a very good science-fiction adventure, but not necessarily a very good Star Wars science-fiction adventure. We'll see.