Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Curse of the Collector

Yes, dear friends, I have embarked on yet another fool's errand. I've started hunting down Allison & Busby hardback editions of Richard Stark's Parker novels. Now, bear in mind these aren't actually first editions; they date from the 1980s, twenty years after the books were first published in the States. But they are the first British hardback editions. Prior to these, the Parker novels were only available in the UK as paperbacks from Coronet (although with neat silver double-covers, the title of each book to be seen through a 'burn' hole in the outer cover). As a result, the Allison & Busby editions have become highly collectable... and in some cases highly pricey... and in other cases, highly impossible to find.

Nothing like a challenge, eh?

There are sixteen Parker novels in the original run (Stark brought the character back in a second series in the nineties/noughties), and today's post brought two of them:













That's The Outfit (Parker #3, A&B edition 1988, original US printing 1963) and The Handle (a.k.a. Run Lethal, Parker #8, A&B edition 1985, original US printing 1966). And yes, it does seem as if Allison & Busby published the novels out of sequence, which must have been a bit annoying at the time. Then again, pre-internet/wikipedia, it wasn't always easy to work out what all the novels in a particular series even were, let alone what order they came in.

So then. Two down, fourteen to go.

Ooh, and this turned up today too:













Pity Him Afterwards
, Donald Westlake's fifth novel under his own name (Richard Stark was one of his pseudonyms). This is the 1964 American first edition, which I managed to find online. It's about a crazed killer, but beyond that I know nothing. Another early Westlake also turned up a few days ago, Killy, which is about a union rep's fall from grace. That one is a UK first edition, also from 1964, a year after the US edition, and published by Boardman as part of their American Bloodhound Mystery series. I can't find a scan of the cover online, but the jacket sports a great illo of the title character (in white and grey, with a red heart in front of the book's title) by Denis McLoughlin, who was Boardman's art director.

And I should have some more Westlake/Stark news soon...

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

(Parker Progress Report) So I finished reading Richard Stark's Point Blank,

or The Hunter to give it its proper name, and it really is a brilliant book. The prose is brutally efficient, Stark's (or rather Westlake's) descriptions pared down to the bare essentials, yet still beautifully written and with clipped passages that nonetheless convey acres of character colour, particularly about Parker, the book's anti-hero. There are lots of memorable lines, but two in particular stuck in my head. One comes early in the novel (maybe even on the first page), where Westlake is describing Parker's appearance:

"His hands, swinging curve-fingered at his sides, looked like they were molded of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins." There's a fantastic rhythm to that sentence, and indeed Parker's hands feature prominently throughout the rest of the book – often, it has to be said, as they close around someone's neck. And then there's this passage, from later in the novel, where Parker is staking out criminal organization the Outfit's hotel from a restaurant:

"He could look out at the street, and let his fifteen-cent cup of coffee cool. It was a Park Avenue coffee shop, and expensive. Pastrami on rye, eighty-five cents, no butter. Like that."

Terrific stuff. The book's full of things like that. I also loved the twist right at the end of the book with the suitcase, which I don't recall from reading Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel adaptation (maybe it is there though). I've got a 1970s Coronet edition of the next Parker, The Steel Hit (or The Man with the Getaway Face) on the way to me. Can't wait to read it.

Monday, 22 February 2010

As a follow-up to the post below this one,

weirdly, after I'd emailed Goldstone Books about the Richard Stark novel I was after and received no response, and they'd subsequently taken it off AbeBooks and off their website on Friday, on Saturday they listed the same book on eBay... for exactly the same price. So I bought it. And today I received an email saying they'd posted it. Colour me baffled. What a bizarre, roundabout way to do business.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Harumph.

Manners don't cost much, do they? I spied an old edition of one of Richard Stark's Parker novels on AbeBooks yesterday, so I dropped the seller a line to find out if it was still available. Today I looked on AbeBooks again... and the listing's vanished. Which I take to mean they don't have the book anymore. Did they email me to tell me it was no longer available? Did they fuck. So a cheery "fuck you!" to Goldstone Books. A little common courtesy wouldn't have gone amiss, now would it?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Panic on the Streets of eBay

Phew. Had a hairy moment just now on eBay. I put in a bid in the last twenty seconds for a book (a Gold Medal edition of Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, hard to find in this country – and yes, I am a last-minute eBay sniper; sue me) and it looked like the bid hadn't gone through. I'd entered the amount and confirmed the bid, but then another screen came up telling me to enter another bid! Which I did, frantically, and then had to confirm all over again, and I knew at that point I was stuffed. Too much time had elapsed. Sure enough I was met by a message saying the auction had ended and my bid was discounted. Gah!

I was then informed by eBay that the auction had been won by... me! My original bid had gone through after all. Thank Christ for that. I would've been mightily annoyed if that had slipped through my fingers, particularly as it went (to me!) for a decent price. And so now I can blog about the Jim Thompson books I mentioned a couple of posts back, which are:













which is the one I just, er won, and:













which I won the other day (it's a 1950s reprint of Thompson's third novel).

Splendid.

Monday, 15 February 2010

A Little in Column 'A', a Little in Column 'B'

Column 'A' being 'Comics I'm Still Buying', Column 'B' being 'Comics I've Now Dropped'. Specifically, that issue of Invincible Iron Man I missed as a result of Diamond's truck smash turned up in this week's (or rather last week's; I didn't get to the comic shop until Saturday) delivery, so I bought it. But I passed on PunisherMax because... it's just not Garth Ennis. It's OK, Jason Aaron's doing a decent job on the words, and Steve Dillon's art is always engaging... but it's Just Not Garth. So that's another title dropped. Which leaves my monthly list of comics (now that a few miniseries have finished) looking like this:

Batman & Robin
Captain America
Chronicles of Wormwood (miniseries)
Criminal
Crossed (only one more issue to go on this)
Dark Avengers
Ex Machina
Invincible Iron Man
New Avengers
Siege
Unwritten

Huh. I make that eight ongoing series (I'm including Criminal there, as it's a series of miniseries) and three miniseries. And some of the comics on this list are on life-support too. We'll see where we are in another couple of months...

Crime Time

Another new arrival on Saturday:













That's a 1967 first Coronet Hodder Fawcett edition of Richard Stark's Point Blank, a.k.a. The Hunter, the first of the series of books starring single-minded criminal Parker. It's the movie tie-in edition rather than a proper first edition (The Hunter was originally published in 1962, five years before the John Boorman film came out; that's Lee Marvin on the cover as Parker, or Walker as he was called in the film), but I think it was the first time the novel was published in the UK. It's a bit creased, but it's pretty firm. Getting hold of actual US first editions of crime novels like this in the UK is tough unless you're prepared to have them shipped from the States; I keep an eye on eBay, but they don't turn up that often. This'll do me, though. I've actually read the Darwyn Cooke graphic novel adaptation of The Hunter already, which apparently is pretty faithful, so it'll be interesting to compare the two.

I also won a copy of this on eBay:













That's the third or fourth Parker novel, The Outfit, and I believe it's a 1973 Berkley edition (Mr. Postie hasn't delivered it yet), published to tie in with John Flynn's movie. So now I've got a couple of Richard Stark (or Donald Westlake, to give him his real name) books to be getting on with... and soon I'll hopefully have a couple of Jim Thompson paperbacks too.

Elsewhere on the crime beat, I finished George Pelecanos' The Way Home at the weekend, which I liked a lot. It's very low key, and takes pains to navigate round the more obvious trappings of 'crime' novels, so much so that when a typical crime novel device comes into play – a bag of money is found – it feels levered in, and that plot strand just sort of meanders around before providing the payoff at the end. Much more interesting are the passages outlining the sense of failure the father feels over his wayward son, and the section set in the juvenile detention centre. Still, it's a good book.

And now I've started largely forgotten British thriller writer Gavin Lyall's The Wrong Side of the Sky, his debut novel from 1961 (and a first edition I picked up for a fiver at the Rye Book Fair last year). It's about a pilot on the trail of some missing gems, and I think it's going to be a bit of a corker.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

I've just noticed

that the Haywards Heath Book Fair is on this Saturday. Hmm. I really shouldn't.

But perhaps I will.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Latest Arrival

A warm welcome, please, to the latest addition to my burgeoning paperback collection:










A 1949 first Penguin edition of Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male. I've seen one other copy of this edition online, but that listing's now vanished (and was more expensive than my copy anyway). Looking forward to reading this one: for those who don't know, it was originally published in 1939, and is about a sportsman and hunter who elects to stalk and possibly kill a European dictator, modelled on Adolf Hitler. Which, it has to be said, is a brilliant notion for a novel at that time (and even today).

Speaking of reading, I've just started George Pelecanos' The Way Home, and it's already utterly compelling. It follows a young guy, Chris, a ne'er-do-well who gets sent to a young offenders institution. That's all I know so far, but Pelecanos draws his characters so deftly in such a short space of time (without reams of description) that you're hooked almost from the off.













God I love books.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Five Things I Learned from Reading Patricia Highsmith Novels

1. Men are weak.
Either that, or they're cowards, or creeps, or weirdos, or indeed psychos. Or all of the above. And also usually a bit gay. Probably best to avoid men altogether, or, if that's not practical, avoid men called Guy or Charles, as likely as not they'll become obsessed with you and then murder you. And maybe avoid any Roberts, who will prowl around outside your house and then murder your ex, or Howards, who are liable to kill you accidentally (although your body will never be found), which is small comfort as you'll still be dead. As for Toms... well, it could go either way.

2. Women are bitches.
If it weren't for women, everything would be fine. They're nothing but bloody trouble. When they aren't actively trying to entrap you or scheming your downfall, they'll flutter about being generally useless or spending all your money on extended extravagant holidays. Or they'll commit suicide.

3. Crime does not pay.
Unless you're Tom Ripley. In which case, it does, although it also requires further crime, usually the odd murder or two.

4. There's no such thing as an ending.
Either happy or otherwise. Events merely peter out, often accompanied by the ringing of a telephone.

5. Better answer that tele--

James Bond Pan Collection

You'll have to indulge me here. I posted a bunch of Bond novel Pan covers fairly recently, but for the purposes of posterity I am now going to post many of the same covers again, except in a slightly different context: this is my personal collection of Pan-edition James Bond novels, which I've been hunting down over the past few months (although the covers I present here are, as ever, stolen off the interweb), and which I'm rather pleased with. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.













This is the 1958 re-set of Casino Royale, i.e. the first edition of the debut Bond novel with this particular cover. The earlier Pan editions with the blond Bond are a bit too pricey for my liking, but I like this cover a lot, and it's in great nick. I've only seen one other copy of this for sale online, for rather more than I paid for it.













 

Live and Let Die. My copy of this is actually the 1959 third printing of the first Pan edition – same cover as the first Pan edition, but a later printing.













 

Moonraker. This is another re-set, the first edition with this cover from 1959. As with Casino Royale, the earlier Pan edition with a different cover is out of my price range.













 

Diamonds Are Forever. I've got a second printing of this from the same year (1958) as the first Pan printing. Not in great condition, but still nice to have it.













My copy of this is a 1959 first Pan edition. Of the Bond novels I've read so far, I think From Russia, with Love is my favourite (and my favourite cover).













And finally, a 1960 first Pan edition of Dr. No. Which hasn't actually turned up yet – I only got it the other day. This is the last of the Pan Bonds with this style of cover; the next iteration of Pan Bonds (Goldfinger and reprints of Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia, with Love) had a strap across the front with an old-looking 007 holding a gun. I'm less keen on those covers, but if I want to carry on reading the novels past Dr. No, I'll have to get Goldfinger in that style.

So there you go.

I've noticed

the odd thoughtful comment popping up on this blog recently, which is nice, particularly as most of my missives are very far from thoughtful. So if you've taken the trouble to comment, thank you. It can be terribly lonely writing a blog sometimes, even one as bollocks as this one; feedback is always appreciated. Even if it's just to call me a twat.

Hassocks!

Yes, Hassocks! I went to Hassocks! on Sunday, for the rather grand-sounding Mid-Sussex Book Fair, so named, I imagine, because it's in West Sussex, but also quite near East Sussex, and someone evidently thought calling it the Hassocks! Book Fair didn't quite do it justice (although the addition of an exclamation mark, like the one I inserted, would've helped there, I feel). It was a smallish, quaint-ish affair, maybe twenty dealers in all, and I picked up a cheap copy of this:













A first edition of John Le Carre's Smiley's People from 1980. Been meaning to read one of Le Carre's novels at some point, and Smiley's People seems as good a choice as any. Elsewhere at the fair the goods on offer were the usual mix of local interest books, motoring, military, and a few novels, but curiously the Scientologists obviously thought Hassocks! would be a fertile recruiting ground, as they had a table there flogging copies of Dianetics and handing out personality tests. It's the first time I've seen those sinister chancers at a book fair; why did they plump for Hassocks! and not, say, Lewes, or Tunbridge Wells? Curious.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

As predicted,

I've forgotten what the long post I had brewing was, the one I mentioned back on 21 January. I think it was something to do with the curious appeal of old books, but now I can't remember what it was I had to say on that subject. Fuckin' 'ell. Then again, evidently it wasn't even interesting enough to stay in my brain for very long, so I doubt it's any great loss to the world.

I need a piss.

Fewer and Fewer Comics

Diamond Comic Distributors – these days (pretty much) the sole distributor of American comic books – continue to do their bit to help out in my ongoing quest to cut down on my comics consumption. In January we had the snow, which disrupted deliveries, and this week there was this little announcement:

Dear Customer,
































Due to a serious accident involving the truck transporting Marvel Comics





titles from the printer to Diamond's Distribution Centers in the US,






several Marvel titles were damaged or lost.




























Please see details below for the approximate percentages







that Diamond UK expect to fill in this week’s delivery.








We hope to have an update later this week










as to when we expect the balance of these titles to fill.







As a result, orders for several Marvel titles that are








scheduled to arrive on February 4th will not be filled in full.

























45 % DEC090497 INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #23




50 % DEC090501 INDOMITABLE IRON MAN B&W




55 % DEC090432 SIEGE #2 (OF 4)




66 % DEC090433 SIEGE #2 (OF 4) DELL'OTTO VAR




77 % DEC090434 SIEGE EMBEDDED #2 (OF 4)




80 % DEC090464 ULTIMATE COMICS X #1




80 % DEC090465 ULTIMATE COMICS X #1 A ADAMS VILLAIN VAR




80 % DEC090551 WOLVERINE WEAPON X #10

Lo and behold, when I went to the comic shop today, they had no copies of Iron Man (that and Siege were the only comics I wanted from that list). So that's one more comic I won't be getting anymore (I was losing interest in it anyway). Thanks Diamond!

As for Siege, I read that on the way home on the train, and all I could think was, meh. There's a tedious extended battle, complete with lots of glowering and posing; a standard-issue dismemberment (de rigeur in comics these days); a standard-issue call to arms; and the expected missteps in continuity (Captain America is handed a briefcase – containing, I would guess, Tony Stark's Iron Man armour – and told by Jarvis the butler that he has reason to believe the owner of the briefcase is near the battle in Oklahoma; except Cap would already know that, 'cos he saw the incapacitated Tony in Oklahoma in a recent issue of Iron Man). Still, Olivier Coipel's art is kinda purty.

Rather more excitingly, the new issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal shipped this week, which is probably my favourite comic right now, and streets ahead of just about anything else in 'mainstream' comics at the moment, with the possible exception of Ex Machina, which, also excitingly, I managed to blag a copy of the issue I missed the other week. Thanks Rob!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Ooh look.

I've installed a little page-view counter. There it is, just below my glorious portrait. Actually I only intended for it to be on my log-in page, but it's showed up on the blog itself, and now I don't know how to remove it. So we'll just leave it there, and watch the numbers... er... stay where they are now, probably.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Lookout

I've been trying to think of the name of a movie comics writer Ed Brubaker raved about in an issue of either his Criminal series or his Incognito miniseries, a contemporary noir from 2007 that Brubaker reckoned was one of the best films he'd seen in recent years. Of course, typically I couldn't be arsed to dig through my comic boxes to find the relevant issue, but I was sorting through and throwing out old magazines at the weekend, and I came across a review I'd torn out of Sight & Sound... and I think this is the film:













So I've bought the DVD on eBay for the princely sum of £4.16 (which is about 50p cheaper than Amazon). It's directed by Scott Frank, who wrote or co-wrote various rather good films, including Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Minority Report. The Lookout is also written by him, and it's his directorial debut. We'll see if it's any cop when it turns up. Can't be any worse than Ripley Under Ground...

Ripley Under Ground Movie Review

So I watched the Roger Spottiswoode film version of Ripley Under Ground – co-written, incidentally, by Donald E. Westlake, alias Richard Stark – and it ain't that great. There are all sorts of problems with the movie – Barry Pepper's performance as Tom Ripley is decidedly lacklustre (physically he reminds me of a young Gary Busey, but with none of the intensity or magnetism or, apparently, acting ability); Willem Dafoe as art collector Murchison is pretty bloody awful – but the main issue is that Tom is effectively neutered. The decision was evidently taken to make Ripley Under Ground (the film) standalone, but the problem there is, by removing Tom's backstory, you get no sense of the awful things he did in The Talented Mr. Ripley, and his general lack of conscience in doing them. The best that Spottiswoode and co. can come up with for Tom in the movie is that he's a bit of a rogue and a bit of a chancer. That's not the Tom Ripley we know and love (or indeed loathe).

And so, logically, I can see why they also took the decision to make Murchison's murder... not a murder. In this film, it becomes pretty much an accident – because this Tom clearly hasn't killed before, so he has no impetus to start doing so now. He gets in a fight with Murchison when Murchison uncovers the forgery and deception at the heart of the story, sure, and he hides the body, but he doesn't actually kill him. In fact, Tom doesn't kill anyone in the movie. That's a major piece of the Ripley psyche removed right there, possibly even the most important piece: his willingness to kill to preserve his way of life, and his almost total lack of conscience about killing (with the exception of Dickie Greenleaf – maybe).

Once you remove that aspect of Ripley, that murderous thread of self-preservation born of the sense of entitlement he has for a better existence for himself, everything else falls apart, which is why the film doesn't work. In the end it's actually left to Tom's girlfriend-cum-wife Heloise to take up the potential criminal mantle, because now it makes no sense for Tom to do so (her eventual taking control of events is slightly foreshadowed throughout the film).

It's not all bad, mind. Ian Hart (who would go on to play Tom Ripley himself in a series of BBC Radio 4 adaptations of Highsmith's Ripliad) is quite good as painter/forgerer(erer) Bernard, and Tom Wilkinson is eminently watchable as the police inspector, Webster (Wilkinson is always great, as anyone who's seen his performance in Michael Clayton can attest); there's a nice bumbling sequence where the two of them are driving round the English countryside trying to find the house where Ripley, Jeff Constant and co. have hidden the body of Derwatt, the painter Bernard's been forging. But as a result of the meddling with Tom's character and motivation, what you're left with is a mildly entertaining but essentially toothless movie – and definitely not a genuine Ripley flick.

Latest Arrivals

Rather excitingly, there were two – count 'em, two – packages waiting for me at home yesterday:













That's a first UK edition of Fletch and a first UK edition of Confess, Fletch, the sequel. (And that's my hand holding both.) Except, on closer inspection, Confess, Fletch turns out to be a book club edition. Gah! What was I saying about the internet being trustworthy? Ah well, never mind. It was only a quid, and aside from the "BCA" logo on the case spine (but not on the jacket) and the lack of a price on the front flap, you wouldn't know the difference. It must've been a book club run-on from the first edition, as the inside bears the Gollancz logo and no mention of it being a book club edition. It'll do me. (Unless I change my mind and get another copy... there seem to be a few cheap ones on AbeBooks... no... must resist... that way lies MADNESS.)

As for Fletch, that's definitely a first edition, but it's ex-library. However it's in nice condition, no pages removed, the only evidence of it being ex-library a small "Cumbria County Library" stamp on the copyright page (and it's price-clipped of course). So I'm very pleased with that one. I started reading it last night; I read most of the Fletch novels years ago (borrowed from the library, natch, so those yellow Gollancz covers are very familiar), and re-reading it now it surprised me how close it is initially to the Chevy Chase movie, Fletch coming across in the book as quite the wise-ass. And it is as description-light/dialogue-dense as I remembered.

In other book news, I've got my eye on eBay on a 1949 Penguin edition of Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male, and elsewhere on the web on a 1944 British Publishers Guild edition of the same novel. I'm also toying with getting a first Pan edition of From Russia with Love, and keeping my eye out for old editions of Richard Stark's The Hunter (or Point Blank, as it was first published in the UK to tie in with the Lee Marvin film) and Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me (now made into a film by Michael Winterbottom, of 24 Hour Party People fame). And I'd quite like to get my hands on a copy of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. It piqued my curiosity when I was working on a book about cult books recently.

On the reading front, I polished off Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island in short order. Really enjoyed it, but without spoiling it, it does leave you with a slight feeling of what I like to call Boxing Helena Syndrome. If you know that film, you'll have an inkling of what I'm on about (although Shutter Island is nowhere near the level of utter shitness that Boxing Helena resides on). Currently I'm reading Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, which, like many of her books, I initially struggled to get into, but now it's starting to grip. And I've begun another Bond, Moonraker this time, which starts with a great description of Bond's day-to-day office life when he's not on assignment (according to the novel, he only has a couple of assignments a year).