Monday, February 27, 2012

Stuckism: Jane Kelly

If We Could Undo Psychosis 1

If We Could Undo Psychosis 2

Self Portrait as a Victoria Sponge Sandwich

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Empty Hours: An 87th Precinct Mystery

The Empty Hours departs from Ed McBain’s usual winning formula; rather than a police procedural novel, The Empty Hours is a collection of three novellas.

The Empty Hours (the first story also serving as the title of the collection) concerns the discovery of a decomposed body in a furnished room in a slum. The body is that of a wealthy heiress – what was she doing living in a dive on South Eleventh?

The story follows Detectives Steve Carella and Meyer Meyer as they try to discover the identity of the killer by tracking down the names that appear in the victim’s cancelled cheques. The Empty Hours manages, in a mere 86 pages, to provide readers with a proper 87th Precinct mystery - McBain even manages to squeeze in one of his trademark musings on the nature of the urban spaces:
The City doesn’t seem to be itself in the very early hours of the morning.
She is a woman, of course, and time will never change that. She awakes as a woman, tentatively touching the day...
McBain continues on in a similar vein for another page and a half.

With the exception of such anthropomorphic meanderings, The Empty Hours is very tightly plotted, and one of the best 87th Precinct mysteries that El Tarangu has yet read.

J, the second story, deals with the murder of a rabbi. The nature of the victim results in Meyer Meyer playing a central role in the investigation. J is good in that the reader gets more of an insight into Meyer than they usually get, but the story is resolved a little too quickly for our liking.

Not bad; not great, either.

Storm represents the greatest departure from the 87th Precinct conventions, as the story, *gasp*, doesn’t even take place anywhere near Isola. Cotton Hawes is taking his lady friend, Blanche Colby, up to the ski resort of Rawson for the weekend. But the romantic tryst is disrupted when someone is murdered on the ski-lift.

Storm’s ski resort setting allows McBain to play around with some genre conventions that could not be used in a story set in Isola. The reader is informed that all roads into Rawson are snowbound, so the killer must still be somewhere on the resort...
And Hawes steps all over the toes of the local law enforcement during the course of his unofficial investigation into the murder, big-city, out-of-jurisdiction detective that he is.

After some initial macho territorial posturings from both Hawes and the local sheriff, the two strike an accord and agree to work together to capture the killer.

Blanche, needless to say, has her holiday ruined.

Storm was an entertaining foray into the whodunit genre from McBain, and we were left wishing that the story had been longer once we had finished it.

Verdict on the collection as a whole: highly recommended.

Buy The Empty Hours from Amazon.

Image from

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Getaway

Carter ‘Doc’ McCoy is a career criminal, a two-time loser who plans to make the bank heist in Beacon City his final score. Carol McCoy is Doc’s moll, as deadly as she is beautiful. Rudy ‘Piehead’ Torrento is also in on the job: a ruthless psychopath, driven only by hatred and rage. In the aftermath of the bank job, things begin to go awry, and Doc and Carol have to evade the ever-tightening net of the law.

The Getaway starts out as a nice, pulpy, crime thriller. The characters are reassuringly two-dimensional and uncomplicated. Doc is a charismatic good ol’ boy from a relatively prosperous family, who turned to crime as it represented to him the most direct path to wealth. Carol was formerly a strait-laced, introverted librarian(!) before she came under Doc’s corrupting influence. Rudy is the classic noir villain: vicious, pathological, and capriciously vindictive. Rudy attempts to double-cross the McCoys; Doc McCoy shoots Rudy but fails to kill him. The McCoys have to remain one step ahead of the vengeful gangster, as well as eluding capture by the authorities.

The first 100 pages or so are standard crime novel fare. Suspicion of betrayal consumes all of the principal characters; as the novel progresses, both Doc and Carol become increasingly paranoid regarding one another’s motives. And Jim Thompson, seasoned hack that he was, gives his readers some nice details in the procedure involved in fleeing a jurisdiction. For example, when hijacking a car, the escapee should always go for one with out-of-state plates - when you murder the hapless driver and discard the body, you will have a little more time before the victim is reported missing. The book features a number of such instances of casual violence (The Getaway is not nearly as explicit as The Killer Inside Me, however).

At around the 100 page mark, proceedings begin to take a surreal tinge. The introduction of the quasi-mythical Ma Santis character stretches the suspension of disbelief to breaking point, and the dreamlike land of El Rey, a haven for criminals south of the border, is positively Kafkaesque. The Getaway’s mad foray into magic realism in the final 50 pages rather undermines the book’s hard-boiled verisimilitude.

Promising beginnings, disappointing conclusion.

Cover image from Tuneupspace blog.

Monday, February 13, 2012

True Grit (novel)

Frank Ross, of Yell County, Arkansas, is gunned down in cold blood by Tom Chaney, a man that Frank Ross had assisted and provided with employment in his time of need. Mattie Ross, Frank Ross’s fourteen year-old daughter, is not prepared to allow her father’s death go unavenged, and enlists the help of U.S. Marshal Reuben ‘Rooster’ Cogburn in tracking her man down.

Anyone who has seen the Coen brothers 2010 adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel, or Henry Hathaway’s earlier adaptation, will be familiar with the novel’s storyline: Mattie Ross, Cogburn, and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf set out across the Indian Territory to find Chaney (neither film’s plot differs much from that of the source novel).

The laconic quality if Mattie Ross’s narration is works very well in descriptions of characters and dialogue; the following is from the scene is which Ross, Cogburn, and LaBoeuf are staking out the dugout, awaiting the arrival of Tom Chaney and Ned Pepper:
Rooster talked all night. I would doze off and wake up and he would still be talking. Some of his stories had too many people in them and were hard to follow but they helped to pass the hours and took my mind off the cold. I did not give credence to everything he said. He said he knew a woman in Sedalia, Missouri, who had stepped on a needle as a girl and nine years later the needle worked out of a thigh of her third child. He said it puzzled the doctors.
Mattie Ross’s deadpan delivery does not work as well when dealing with the narrative’s dramatic elements. El T felt a little let down at the description of the shootout that ensues when Ned Pepper’s gang arrives at the dugout; perhaps it’s because we had seen the film already, but we weren’t completely wowed by the levels of tension.

An enjoyable read, but not as good as the film.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Iconic Explosions Depicted in Cauliflower

The Hindenburg Disaster

 Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki

Images by Brock Davies, via

Saturday, February 4, 2012

5 Card Stud

5 Card Stud opens on an after-hours poker game. A tinhorn (card cheat) is caught palming cards. An argument ensues, and the rest of the card players, with the exception of Dean Martin’s character, Van Morgan, take the tinhorn off for lynching.

Dean Martin, who was in the commode at the time of the kerfuffle, rides out in an attempt to stop the lynching party. He gets a bop on the head for his troubles (courtesy of Roddy McDowell, the ringleader of the lynch mob), and the tinhorn is hanged anyway.

Pretty soon afterward, the card game’s players begin to turn up dead – each the victim of a form of strangulation. Unsurprisingly, suspicions arise amongst the remaining card players as to which of them is responsible for the killings. And who is this gun-toting preacher who has lately shown up in town?

El Tarangu remembers really liking 5 Card Stud. For years, it was one of our favourite westerns, and one of the main reasons that we liked director Henry Hathaway. So it was quite saddening when we watched the film again recently and discovered that, in fact, it actually isn’t that great at all.

By the late 60s, the western genre was on the wane, and 5 Card Stud has the aura of a film from a genre in decline. From the opening credits, the chintzy theme song (sung by a double-jobbing Dino) gives the film an awfully dated feel. Dean Martin, who at 51 was getting a little long in the tooth for playing romantic male leads, puts in a decent performance as Van Morgan, the dissolute anti-hero gambler. Robert Mitchum is quite good as the psychopathic, trigger-happy preacher (if this sounds familiar, it’s almost the exact same role that Mitchum played in Night of the Hunter, only with a gun instead of a knife). Roddy McDowell puts in the most enjoyable performance in his sneering, weaselly turn as Nick Evers, the lynch mob ringleader. McDowell chews the scenery, with undisguised English accent, in a most delightful manner.

5 Card Stud boasts some enjoyable set pieces. There is a big shoot-out involving half the town, some fist fights, some inventive murder scenes, and a decent showdown at the end. Hathaway uses the nice device of having all the surviving participants of the game meeting up at the card table after each murder; at every meeting, there’s a newly vacant chair.

The film remains less than the sum of its parts, however, and overall, 5 Card Stud has a somewhat half-baked feel. The relationship between Dean Martin and Inger Stevens feels like it was thrown in as an afterthought, and the identity of the killer is disclosed too early, rendering the ending a bit of a damp squib in tension terms.

5 Card Stud is actually not bad; it’s just that the film failed to live up to El T’s rose-tinted recollections on our most recent viewing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sammy Davis Jr. – Sandwiches and Satanism

While searching for the above video clip, El Tarangu began to type “sammy davis jr sandwiches” into Google. We got as far as “sammy davis jr sa...”, which Google autocompleted as “sammy davis jr satanist”.