Friday 2 July 2010

New Rabe: The Cut of the Whip by Peter Rabe / Kill One, Kill Two by Robert H. Kelston

Final new arrival of the day is this:

A 1958 US paperback first edition of Peter Rabe's The Cut of the Whip, published by Ace. This is another in Rabe's series of novels starring reluctant gangster Daniel Port (previously blogged about here and here and here); this is number four, I think (there are six in total, of which I'm only missing a couple now). Dunno which twisted soul was responsible for the cover art, but check the big crazy boss-eyed lady. Scary. The Cut of the Whip seems to be about a kidnap, but it's not Port doing the kidnapping; rather he's trying to find the victim. I would tell you more, but there's no blurb on the back cover... because, folks, this is an Ace Double Novel, and on the 'back' cover, printed the other way up, is this:

Another completely separate novel, Kill One, Kill Two by Robert H. Kelston. Ace published a lot of double novels like this in the 1950s, '60s and early '70s: one novel printed one way up, the other the other way up, so both start from the 'first' page and end in the middle of the book.

It's a neat concept – two for the price of one. They were usually themed – mystery, science fiction etc. – but with two different authors/novels (there's a list of 'em all here). I know virtually nothing about Rabe's companion author on this one: Amazon and AbeBooks only list one other book by Robert H. Kelston, Murder's End (published by Graphic in 1956), although there is a listing for another title, Run to Death, in the National Library of Australia, published by Phantom Books of London in 1959. That could, of course, simply be a re-title of one of his earlier novels. So who was Kelston? The internet certainly can't shed much light. We may never know...

New Arrival: One Rainy Night by Richard Laymon

Off on a slight tangent for this next new arrival:

It's a UK first edition hardback of Richard Laymon's One Rainy Night, published by Headline in 1991. This one falls under the header 'research'; I picked it up cheap online for a book I'm editing. Of course, the fact that it happens to be a really nice first edition, which I'll be 'storing' at home now that I've scanned the cover, is neither here nor there...

Back in the late '80s/early'90s I went through a big Richard Laymon phase, hiring his books from the local library when I was back dahn sarf from university in Manchester, and again after I'd finished my degree and was whiling away my time on the dole (thank you, Beckenham Library). Laymon, for those who don't know, was like a leaner, nastier Stephen King. His books often feature unfortunate young people getting trapped in old houses or lost in forests or cast away on deserted islands and being stalked and tortured and mostly murdered by backwoods loons and malevolent supernatural forces. They're brilliant, twisted reads – the ostensible hero or heroine in each book rarely escapes intact, frequently losing bits of their body by the end of the novel.

Laymon was a lot more popular in the UK and Europe than he was in the States, despite hailing from America; I think a lot of his books were only published in paperback in the US, whereas here in the UK they usually appeared in hardback first. (As an illustration of his European success, the main Richard Laymon website appears to be German in origin, although it hasn't been updated in a while.) He died of a heart attack in 2001 (something I hadn't realised until recently); I'm not sure how well remembered he is now, but for my money you'd struggle to find a better horror writer, yer Stephen Kings aside (King was a big fan). Purely by chance (ahem... there might have been other books mentioned in the text of the book I'm editing that I could've picked to show...) One Rainy Night is the Laymon book I recall most fondly: it's about a weird rain that falls on a small town, turning the majority of its inhabitants into homicidal maniacs. It's a cracker, and it's nice to have this rather spiffing copy in my hands.

New Arrival: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Our second new arrival today is this:

A UK first edition hardback of Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, published by Granada in 1980. I picked up the second Bourne book, The Bourne Supremacy, in Arundel a few weeks ago, and now I have the first one too, so I can get going on this series. Er, at some point. Jesus I've got a lot of books to read. Not bad condition this one: a little yellowing on the dustjacket and pages, but otherwise firm. As I mentioned before, I love the movies, so I'm interested to see how the original novel stacks up. Apparently real-life international terrorist Carlos the Jackal features in the book, so that's one thing that didn't make it into the films.

(NB: You can read my review of the novel right here.)

New Arrival: A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

Got a few of these new arrivals to get through today, so bear with me. I know these aren't the most scintillating of posts, and they generally don't hold much interest for anyone other than, well, me, but I like doing 'em, and hey, you don't have to read 'em if you don't want. It's a free internet. Well, this bit of it's free anyway. This bit? Not so much. So, I mentioned I had something else on the way from Dennis Lehane in the previous post, and 'twas this:

A UK first edition hardback of Lehane's debut novel, A Drink Before the War, published by Severn House in 2000. This wasn't the first time the book had been published in the UK – originally published in the US in 1994, it was published in paperback in the UK in 1995 by Bantam – but this is the first UK hardcover edition, and as we all know (er, we do all know this, don't we?), it's the hardcovers wot count. There aren't many copies of this edition online; I was lucky and got this for £2.99 on eBay, but generally you're looking at upward of £30.

This copy is ex-library, as are the few listed online, but it's in very good condition; the front endpaper's been torn out, and there's a small stamp on it, but that's about it. Still, that ripped-out endpaper is a bit unnecessary, and hastily done by the looks of it. What exactly is it with librarians and their gleeful mutilation of books? You'd think they'd maybe take a bit of care to remove the withdrawal sheet when they sell books, being, presumably, as they really should be, book enthusiasts. But oh no – they just rip the fuckin' endpaper out. Bunch of arses. The library in question here is Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council Library Service, who should hang their heads in shame. Funnily enough I used to go out with someone from Redcar, which is on the north-east coast of England. If you ever read this, Sally, do me a favour: next time you're up there, pop down the library and give someone a thick ear. Ta.

I've got no idea who the dustjacket illustrator is; they're not credited on the flaps or inside the book. But the book itself is the first of Lehane's series starring private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. I was surprised to note that it's written in the first-person too; the other Lehane books I own are all third-person. I've got a weird aversion to first-person novels; I do read them and often enjoy them, but I much prefer the omniscient third-person narrator. Many people find that approach rather false, but I find first-person as false, if not more so; who, exactly, is this singular narrator relating his/her tale to? Anyway, it's a thing. And there it is.

Wednesday 30 June 2010

New Arrival: The Given Day by Dennis Lehane

For once I didn't have any new arrivals to post about today, which was doubtless something of a relief for my groaning bookshelves. But I happened to pop in British Bookshops up the road when I was out and about just now, and there on the shelf (where on the shelf? right there) was this:

A UK first edition hardback of Dennis Lehane's The Given Day, published by Doubleday in 2008, and at a bargain price too. Good old British Bookshops. Every now and again they come up trumps (witness the signed first edition of Peter Hook's The Hacienda I picked up for a song at the start of the year). And in an ironic twist, The Given Day is... historical fiction, set, as it is, in Boston after World War I. Which rather makes a mockery of my mini-rant in the previous post. Sigh. What a tool. Anyway, it's a weighty old tome, clocking in at 700-plus pages, so gawd knows when I'll get round to reading it. I really liked Shutter Island, and I've got Mystic River to read still (and something else on the way...), but this does look good. Here's wot The Guardian said:

Dennis Lehane, who put in shift work as a writer on The Wire, does here for historical Boston what David Simon did for contemporary Baltimore, creating a cross-section of society within a police framework to show city corruption infiltrating every level from the highest down to the street. His sprawling epic is set at a volatile time in Boston's history, 1918, and is peppered with real-life cameos, Bolsheviks, anarchists, labour strikes, a nascent FBI and a poorly paid police force treated so pejoratively by its command that a strike is on the cards.

So there you go.

Old Books for New

The only problem with collecting twentieth century first editions, I'm finding – apart from the expense, the time, and the all-consuming feverish obsession that takes hold of you and permeates your every waking and even sleeping hour to the extent that you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night worrying whether a book you've ordered in haste online does, after all, come with a dustjacket – is I tend to be not so aware of new books. I do read the Guardian and the Observer book sections at the weekend, but they lean towards nonfiction, and the fiction they do cover is usually more 'highbrow' than my standard interests. I get emails from Firsts In Print, but again, they're generally about yer historical fiction and the like. (And what exactly is the current obsession with historical fiction? Why not simply read books that were written in that period? Er, unless, of course, books weren't being written in that period... But still, my point stands. I think.)

Book Glutton kindly drew my attention to a new book in the comments here (which I've just ordered), but the odd helpful suggestion aside, where should I go to find out about new books of a crime/thriller/SF-bent? Any suggestions gratefully received...

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Rabe v. Stark

A few meandering thoughts on Peter Rabe and Donald 'Richard Stark' Westlake, triggered in part by the opening line of one of Rabe's Daniel Port-starring books (which I'll get to in a minute), but also prompted by the opening paragraph of Stark's The Green Eagle Score (1967), which I'm reading at the moment. That opening para didn't make me think of Rabe per se, but it did remind me to write this post, in a roundabout way. Let's have a look at it:

Parker looked in at the beach and there was a guy in a black suit standing there, surrounded by all the bodies in bathing suits. He was standing near Parker’s gear, not facing anywhere in particular, and he looked like a rip in the picture. The hotel loomed up behind him, white and windowed, the Puerto Rican sun beat down, the sea foamed white on the beach, and he stood there like a homesick mortician.

"...he looked like a rip in the picture." Brilliant stuff. And actually fairly atypical; Westlake tended to begin his Parker novels right in the thick of the action, which is possibly something he picked up from Rabe. As has been stated before by myself and others (including Westlake), Peter Rabe was a big inspiration for Westlake. And not just on the Richard Stark/Parker novels either; I think you can see Rabe's influence across Westlake's books, from the taut hard-faced crime setting of the Parkers to the snappy dialogue of the Dortmunders.

But where you can see it most clearly is in the opening lines of the Parker novels. Like Rabe, Westlake/Stark almost always begins his books right in the thick of it. The Green Eagle Score and the preceding Rare Coin Score (1967) may both start on beaches, but other than those, the Parker novels usually begin with Parker in motion, either doing something or sometimes engaged in an act of violence. The first eight and the last eight Parkers all start with "when": "When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed" (The Outfit, 1963); "When the bellboy left, Parker went over to the house phone and made his call" (The Score, 1964). (Handily, there's a list of Parker opening lines here.) Even those that don't start with a "when" still have Parker in action ("Parker jumped out of the Ford with a gun in one hand and the packet of explosive in the other" – Slayground, 1971).

Rabe does a similar thing. Daniel Port, his reluctant hoodlum, isn't quite so single-minded as Parker, so the openings aren't quite so focused. But they still throw you right into it. Here's The Out is Death (1957), for example: "The tight overcoat gave him the long shape of a tube and he walked bent forward to keep the rain out of his face." That "long shape of a tube" recalls Westlake/Stark's stripped down descriptions (rooms shaped like oblongs etc.); no words wasted, all the info you need. All of the three Port novels I own open a bit like that. But there's one opening line in particular that really made me sit up. It's from Bring Me Another Corpse (1959), and you'll see what I mean straight away:

When the road flattened out towards Albany, Daniel Port started to drive faster.

Now that could have come straight out of a Parker novel. There's the opening "when"; there's the character's name; and there's also that comma right in the middle of the sentence, breaking it in two like a hinge.

Damned if the Stark/Parker template isn't set right there – three years before the first Parker novel.

Westlake Score: Bank Shot by Donald E. Westlake

You might notice I've given up numbering these Westlake Scores in the post headers. For one thing, it'll start to look a bit much when we get into double-digits; for another, I completely forgot to title my post about The Spy in the Ointment as a Westlake Score, so this new one will be #8 and there'd be no #7 (unless I re-title that Spy post, and I can't be arsed with that), and confusion would reign. So we'll just call them Westlake Scores and leave it at that (er, if I remember). And if you're still reading after all that blather, let's have a look at my latest score:

It's a UK hardback first edition of Bank Shot, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1972, the second of Westlake's Dortmunder novels (my 1971 Hodder first of the debut Dortmunder, The Hot Rock, on the right there for comparison). This rather fine copy actually came all the way from Australia; there's only one copy of this edition available online from the UK so far as I can see, and that's ex-library. This one ain't, and I defy you to find a nicer copy. (I defy you! I do!) I considered getting a US first, but I really like the cover on this one; same general design as The Hot Rock (and Somebody Owes Me Money for that matter), but with nice typography and a well wikkid bullet motif.

I was a bit cool on The Hot Rock when I was halfway through reading it; I think I was so used to Westlake's lean, straight-faced Richard Stark/Parker books that the more laidback approach in The Hot Rock threw me a bit. But by the time I'd finished it I realised I had really enjoyed it (particularly the final sequence where Dortmunder's on the run at an airport and has to hitch a lift in a small plane, much to the bemusement of the pilot), and also that I really liked John Dortmunder. He's often described as a hard-luck version of Parker, and there's some truth in that, but he's seemingly a more decent human being than Parker, and therefore more readily likeable. Bank Shot is about Dortmunder and crew's attempt to steal a whole bank – a mobile one – which is an intriguingly daft premise. Should be good, and also I should have news on the next few books in the series soon...

"Your name will also go on The List. What is it?" "Don't tell him Pike!"

Heh, that post header will confuse a few people I'm sure. It's from a classic episode of Dad's Army, in case you were wondering, in honour of our truly embarrassing defeat in the World Cup at the hands – or rather feet – of the Germans. I don't really follow football so much, but I did catch some of that match and, Jesus, England were a shambles. Anyway, it's time to look at the comics I'll be getting, or might be getting, or even won't be getting, this week! And I will almost certainly definitely probably be getting these:

Captain America
#607 is a cert, as is Garth Ennis' Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle #4, which is nearly-prime (although not quite) Preacher-style Ennis. (I've been mulling over re-reading Preacher soon. God that was a brilliant comic. Whither its like now?) I'll also more than likely get the Invincible Iron Man Annual, as Matt Fraction's Iron Man is well readable, like, and I'll probably get Wonder Woman #600, another anniversary issue from DC. Let's hope it's better than the atrocious Superman #700 from last week, the only high point of which was J. Michael Straczynski's story at the back, and even that wasn't that great (his characterisations of Batman and the Flash were a bit off in my opinion – neither of them would be as offhand as he made them out to be). JMS writes some of this issue too, and then takes over the title, so we'll see what he does with Diana. The last time I enjoyed a Wonder Woman comic was Greg Rucka's run years ago, which was damn fine stuff.

I'll take a look at these too:

Action Comics
#890 is Brit writer Paul Cornell's first stab at the title, focusing on Lex Luthor (Superman has been removed from the comic, as he embarks on his trek across America in JMS' Superman). Cornell's a decent writer, best known for his Doctor Who work, and his recent run on Captain Britain was reasonably enjoyable. I might also give Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards' Turf #2 a look, although I don't think I ever finished the first issue. Way too wordy, Wossy. Get that man an editor. And there's Death of Dracula #1, which seems to be Marvel's attempt to make sense of vampire mythology within the Marvel Universe. I'm as much a sucker (hey!) for vamps as the next nerd, so I guess I'll take a look-see at it. As for Secret Avengers #2, much as I love Brubaker, I wasn't feeling the first issue of this at all. Might still give this second issue a go though.

Crikey that's a lot of comics. Bit of a big week. Still, I'm up in London on new comics day (Thursday), so I might be able to use a pal's (hello Mart!) Forbidden Planet discount and splurge.

But star of the week, if it turns up, is this, from Fantagraphics:

Norwegian cartoonist Jason's Werewolves of Montpelier. No idea what it's about, but I love Jason's comics (the heartbreaking Hey, Wait..., the thrilling I Killed Adolf Hitler), which are like an anthropomorphic take on early cinema (to the extent that many of his graphic novels are 'silent'). His work is quite unlike anything else around right now, and all the better for it.

Monday 28 June 2010

New Arrivals (The Spy in the Ointment by Donald Westlake / Final Notice by Joe Gores) and More

Bit of a lengthy, cumbersome title for this post, but I sometimes have to search this blog myself to find book covers and whatnot, and it makes life easier if the titles of the posts bear some relation to what's in 'em. And it only took me till now to work that out. Sigh. Anyway, let's have a look-see at the two books Mr. Postman brought me over the weekend – both of which I bought online for the princely sum of a fiver apiece:

That's a UK first edition of Donald E. Westlake's The Spy in the Ointment, published in hardback by T. V. Boardman in 1967 (originally published in the States in 1966). The wrapper is by Martin Pickwick – it's the same illustration as the US Random House edition I believe. I was actually surprised by how cheap this was; there aren't many copies of this edition online, and this one's in good condition; the jacket's a little rubbed, and the folds at the jacket spine are weakening a bit, but I've put it in a protective cover now so it should be OK. The Spy in the Ointment is, I think, Westlake's take on the kinds of spy novels that were big in the 1960s (Bond, Modesty Blaise etc.), and having read a few of those, it'll be interesting to see what Westlake does with the form.

The other new arrival was this:

A UK first edition of Joe Gores' Final Notice, published in hardback by Victor Gollancz in 1974 (originally published by Random House in the US in 1973). This is the second of Gores' DKA (Dan Kearney & Associates) mysteries; regular readers might recall my recent rant about his first DKA novel, Dead Skip. This one is in mint condition – it looks absolutely unread, and is so clean and bright it could've rolled off the presses yesterday. Smashing.

In other thrilling book news, I picked this up in a charity shop in Brighton at the weekend:

A battered old Penguin paperback of Chandler's The Long Good-Bye. It's actually the 1959 first Penguin printing, but it's really rather tatty, as you can see. Still, it's readable enough, and I've been wanting to see how Chandler stacks up against the likes of Westlake and Peter Rabe.

Speaking of whom, I finished Dig My Grave Deep, which I really dug (deep). It kept me guessing right up till the finish how Daniel Port's quest to escape the clutches of the mob would end, and now I can't wait to read the next Port tale, The Out is Death. I also polished off Peter O'Donnell's first Modesty Blaise novel, which was a solid spy thriller. What really worked for me were O'Donnell's characterisations: it's true that Modesty herself and Willie Garvin don't quite shake off their comic strip origins, but British secret service head Tarrant and his deputy Fraser are deliciously realised, the latter taking a pervy pleasure in his work. The interplay between those two really zings; hopefully we'll see a lot more of them in the next Modesty novel, Sabre-Tooth.

But before I get to that, next up I'm reading Patricia Highsmith's The Glass Cell and Richard Stark's The Green Eagle Score. I'm only a few pages into the former, but already it's quite different to a lot of other Highsmiths, set, as it is, in a US prison. As for Green Eagle, I'll be starting that today. Always good to get back to the Parkers...


Gracias to Trent at Violent World of Parker for the links to here he's been throwing up on Twitter. That actually made me remember I too have a Twitter feed, which has been languishing, unloved and un-updated, for some time. Here it is:


Can't promise I'll update much – I rarely even remember to update my Facebook status – but, y'know, it's there. I'm not entirely sure why I joined Twitter in the first place, and by the lack of activity it's safe to assume I never really worked out a purpose for tweeting, but I'll try and remember to link to Existential Ennui from Twitter whenever I post something new here, or at least something worth reading (the two things don't necessarily correlate).