Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Books: A Pair of Hard Cases

What have I been doing? Working like mad and reading books from Hard Case Crime.

The Cutie (1960) was Donald E. Westlake’s debut novel, and it confirms my suspicion that Westlake sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus or the pulp equivalent thereof. It’s the story of a mob fixer – not muscle, y’unnerstand, he’s too smart for that – ordered to figure out who would put a two-bit junky with the singularly Westlakian moniker of Billy-Billy Cantell in the frame for the murder of a kept woman.

Many of the Westlake trademarks are already in place: the dry wit, the offbeat settings, the smooth prose. The main character Clay is the book’s best feature, a clever guy who fell into the criminal life and isn’t sure if he wants to remain there. The scenes with his girlfriend, a dancer who knows exactly who Clay is and what staying with him will mean, have a sneaky power.

The book was originally published as The Mercenaries. I may be alone in this, but I think that was a better title.

I bought the Hard Case edition of David Dodge’s Plunder of the Sun (1949) four years ago. I finally decided to read it before I watched the movie. An American adrift in South America is approached to smuggle an artifact from Chile into Peru. One wild boat trip later, he realizes he’s holding the key to the treasure of the Incas. A terrific adventure novel, with vivid characters and locations. I’m hoping that the new Gabriel Hunt books from the people who brought you Hard Case Crime are something like this. The first title in that series, written by James Reasoner, just won a rave from Publishers Weekly.

Miscellaneous: Links

A few extras, because you kids have been so well-behaved while Daddy was gone.

Lessons in game design taught by Walt Disney.

You know why everyone’s linking to the Dallas-style opening of Star Wars? Because it’s hilarious. And as Rosemarie said, it tells you everything you need to know about the difference between movies and television.

Now that the movie is happening, it’s time to revisit this 2004 New Yorker article on the Farrelly Brothers’ plans to reboot the Three Stooges.

Slate sez: Bring back yellow journalism!

A.O. Scott revisits The Maltese Falcon in the wake of recent financial shenanigans.

The AV Club Random Roles I’ve been waiting for: Wallace Shawn.