Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book: The Red Right Hand, by Joel Townsley Rogers (1945)

It’s one of those books that pulp aficionados speak of with reverence. For years, I’ve been meaning to read it. A short time after Donald E. Westlake died, Ed Gorman reran a 2006 interview in which Westlake said that “The Red Right Hand should be reissued every 5 years forever.”

That cinched it. And now I owe Mr. Westlake even more.

The cover of the copy I bought at San Francisco’s Kayo Books describes Hand as “a classic of suspense-horror-mystery.” That claim does not represent indecision on the part of the promotions department. The book belongs in all three genres, and is a smashing success in each. It’s a singular, deranged, balls-out masterpiece.

I won’t describe the plot, for fear of spoiling even one of its treasures. All you need know is that it’s about the hunt for a mad killer. An unforgettable one, an “ugly little auburn-haired red-eyed man, with his torn ear and his sharp dog-pointed teeth, with his twisted corkscrew legs and his truncated height.”

Rogers achieves wonders with POV, the narrator never quite having a grasp on his own story, what he didn’t see every bit as important as what he witnessed. Never have I read a book that so effortlessly conjured up feelings of dread, with paragraphs of fevered Lovecraftian detail that make the inside of the skull sweat. And structure? Read the closing pages and be amazed. I finished the book in the wee hours and sat there dumbstruck, listening to the walls creak.

Then I almost read it again, just to figure out how Rogers did it.

DVD: Le Trou (1960)

This movie also knocked me on my ass. Jacques Becker’s final film is perhaps the definitive prison break drama. Non-professional actors, documentary realism, a pitiless focus on the physical toll of the bust-out, and an ending that had me hollering at the screen grindhouse-style.

It’s been a good week.

Miscellaneous: Links

A pair from the AV Club: Random Roles with Bruce Campbell and an appreciation of the brilliant commentary track on the DVD of The Limey.

The Financial Times on the relationship between comics and movies. H/t to Arts & Letters Daily.

And a headline that perfectly captures the Florida that I know: Fake Foreigner drummer allegedly steals Corvette.