Friday 4 February 2011

Justified: Elmore Leonard's Raylan Givens Novels and Stories; Pronto, Riding the Rap and Fire in the Hole (Featuring a Signed First Edition)

The relationship between novels and their TV or movie adaptations is a subject I've returned to more than once, notably in this missive on Jeff Lindsay's Dexter books and how they compare to the Dexter television show. I was mostly assessing the relative merits of the novels and the show in that post, but I did briefly touch on the matter of the faithfulness of adaptations, if only by way of illustrating how certain adaptations – the movie of Watchmen, say – can be so slavishly faithful to the surface of a text that they overlook the underlying complexities and even the heart of a work. Truly faithful adaptations – those which effectively translate the feel and even the soul (for want of a better word) of a book as well as its plot and characters – are, I think, few and far between, in large part because distilling a 300-page novel down to a one-and-a-half hour film (or even a 400-page graphic novel down to a three-hour film in the case of Watchmen) is nigh on impossible.

But in the last ten years American television has undergone a renaissance, so much so that it is now possible to do justice to a book over multiple episodes of a show. The Sopranos is endlessly cited as being pioneering in the shift to more complex storytelling on television, but alongside it stand Six Feet Under, Mad Men and particularly The Wire, which really did adopt a novelistic approach, each season acting as one long story. (You could make a case for Babylon 5 and the latter seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine being the 1990s forebears of the extended story-arc approach, but good though those shows were, I think you'd struggle to claim they had the depth of The Wire.) TV has become the natural medium for adventurous producers and writers wishing to properly explore storytelling possibilities – and indeed properly adapt a source text (witness the first season of Dexter, for example). Which brings me, in a rather long-winded way, to Justified.

Justified, if you're not familiar with it, is an FX show about a cowboy hat-wearing Deputy US Marshal named Raylan Givens, who, following a shootout at a swanky Miami hotel pool, is excommunicated back to small-town Kentucky, where he grew up. Created by Graham Yost, it stars Timothy Olyphant as Raylan – a character not a million miles from another lawman Olyphant has played, Sheriff Seth Bullock, as essayed in the brilliant Deadwood. Justified is based on an Elmore Leonard short story called Fire in the Hole... at least, that's what the opening credits would have you believe. In fact the 2010 debut season draws from all of the stories Leonard wrote about Givens, which comprise two novels – Pronto and Riding the Rap – and the aforementioned short. Yost and the rest of the production team's mantra in making the show was, "What would Elmore do?" but in reality I doubt they had to repeat that too much: countless sequences and stretches of dialogue are lifted straight from Leonard's stories; his name runs through Justified as if through a stick of rock. It is, without a doubt, one of the most faithful adaptations – in story, character, and tone – of Leonard's or any other writer's work we've yet seen.

I'll be exploring how and why it's so faithful in a series of posts next week on each book (bet you can't wait after that meandering preamble), ahead of the start of Justified's second season on Wednesday in the States. But for now, let's have a look at the UK first editions:

Left to right we have the UK hardback first editions and first printings of Pronto (1993), Riding the Rap (1995) and When the Women Come Out to Dance (2002), all published by Viking/Penguin; that last one is where Fire in the Hole resides. The cover illustrations on the first two are by Mark Taylor and the photograph on When the Women is by Russell Duncan. Now, if you've been paying attention (a big ask, I know, but anyway), you might recall my having blogged about a first edition of Pronto before, which I bought up in London. The copy you can see here isn't that copy, however. This one has something special about it, something that made it irresistible to me:

It's signed by Elmore Leonard. Of course, signed editions of Leonard's books aren't exactly thin on the ground – there are over fifty signed copies of Pronto on AbeBooks alone. But almost all of those are for sale from US dealers, and almost all of the books are US first editions. There's only one other signed UK first edition I've seen online, and that's going for fifty quid, which is way more than I paid for my copy. So in this instance, I reckon buying a second copy of the same (albeit signed) book was... well... justified.

See you next week.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Lewes Book Bargain: The Naive and Sentimental Lover by John le Carre (Hodder & Stoughton)

The various charity shops of Lewes – the East Sussex town where I live and work – and Brighton – the seaside town near to the town where I live and work, which I occasionally visit – are an abiding preoccupation here on Existential Ennui, specifically the second hand books stocked by those shops. Just the other day I was wittering on about the Hospice charity shop opposite the Lewes branch of Waitrose, and how they'd largely cleared their fiction shelves of unwanted BCA editions in favour of cocked cast-offs from the financially troubled British Bookshops up the hill. But there are still one or two older hardback novels nestling on the Hospice shelves, and it's from amongst those that I plucked this for a pound:

A UK hardback first edition/first impression of John le Carre's The Naive and Sentimental Lover, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1971. It's probably the most atypical of Le Carre's novels in that it's not set in the murky world of espionage; instead it details the complicated love life of one Aldo Cassidy, and is partly autobiographical, based on the author's relationship with a couple following the breakdown of his marriage. It was Le Carre's sixth book, coming after a run of hugely successful spy thrillers, and judging by the dustjacket blurb Le Carre's publisher was at pains not to alienate his legion of fans.

"The Naive and Sentimental Lover is not a breakaway book," runs the back flap copy. "In describing the agonising night-walk of a man caught between the two sides of his aspiring nature, John le Carre has lost nothing of his skill in narrative and suspense. But in the humour, the pain and the love with which he relates the rise and fall and striving of Aldo Cassidy, we witness the full flowering of his talents. This is a marvellous and magnificent book." Le Carre himself apparently disagrees these days: in 2008 he described the novel as a "toe-curling embarrassment".

The dustacket on this first edition was designed by typographer Tony Geddes, while the author photo is by Andreas Heumann. And that's the last of this little run of Lewes Book Bargains (there'll be more down the line). Tomorrow I'll have a teaser for a series of posts next week on Elmore Leonard's Raylan Givens stories and how they stack up against the TV adaptation Justified, the second season of which begins airing in the States on Wednesday. Ooh, get me and my well-timed blogging...

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Lewes Bookshop Bargain: The Alteration by Kingsley Amis (Jonathan Cape; Tom Adams Cover Art)

Here's a book wot I bought fairly recently (does last year still count as 'fairly recently'...?) in A&Y Cumming, up near Lewes Castle:

A UK hardback first edition of Kingsley Amis's The Alteration, published by Jonathan Cape in 1976. It's from the period in Amis's career when he was experimenting with genre – see also The Green Man (1969, a ghost story), The Riverside Villas Murder (1973, an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit) and so forth. The Alteration is an alternate reality tale, set in a 1976 where, as the jacket blurb has it, "things are not the same. Due to a slight alteration in history involving Catherine of Aragon, Martin Luther, Thomas Moore and others, a Holy Victory was won in an event called the War of English Succession, and today England, like most of the world, is virtually ruled by a Machiavellian Pope who hails from Yorkshire." Residents of Lewes might note that scenario's relevance (well, maybe not the northern Pontiff) to our contrary town and its Bonfire proceedings...

I did already have a copy of this edition (and I have a paperback too, with a Beverley le Barrow cover – I'll have more on him soon), but this new copy is in much better nick than that previous one, certainly the best condition I've seen this particular edition in (and it was only a tenner, which was very reasonable). You'll often find with the Cape first that the pages have browned and the dustjacket spine has sunned (i.e. faded – and yes, I'm aware this is all dreadfully nerdy book-collector stuff; have you read Existential Ennui before?), but this copy has only lightly tanned pages and the spine is as brightly coloured as the rest of the jacket. Which is good, because the illustration, by Tom Adams, wraps all the way around it.

The Alteration isn't the only Amis jacket that Adams illustrated; he also provided the Dali-esque dustjacket for the Cape first edition of Amis's pseudonymous James Bond novel Colonel Sun (written as Robert Markham). But he's best known for the series of covers he created for the Fontana paperback editions of Agatha Christie's novels in the 1960s and '70s. There's an entire book dedicated to those – Tom Adams' Agatha Christie Cover Story (a.k.a. The Art of Her Crimes), long out of print, although we have a copy at home – not to mention a Flickr group and a Facebook page. And there's also Tom's website, which is definitely worth a gander.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Lewes Book Bargains: Echo Park and Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly

Regular readers of this blog – and astonishing as it may seem, there are one or two – will know that I haunt the charity shops of Lewes, the East Sussex town where I live etc., like a bearded, lanky but ultimately benign ghost, always on the lookout for new consignments of donated books to browse. It's a bit of a weird pursuit, but it's probably better than stalking or stamp collecting, and Lewes being a cultured kind of place you do find all sorts of interesting first editions turning up in its charity shops (and with all the books I've bought in them over the last few years, I reckon I could make a fair claim on the title of Lewes's Most Charitable Man... if such a title existed).

I've blogged about the fruits of my furtive rummaging before, such as the first edition of Jackie Collins's debut novel I found, or the 1976 edition of P. D. James's Cover Her Face, and I'll be posting some more recent finds quite soon. But as 2011 got underway, I noticed something odd happening in a couple of Lewes's charity shops: there was a sudden influx of fairly recent hardback first editions, all published in the last five years or so. It was most apparent in the Hospice shop opposite Waitrose; I wandered in there sometime during the first week of the new year, intending to have a nose at the hardback fiction shelves, and one of the assistants was clearing them off, sweeping books into a box and replacing them with new-looking hardback novels, mostly of a thriller or crime bent. And the thing was, almost all of them had British Bookshops price stickers on their covers.

At the time I just figured the local branch of British Bookshops was clearing some space in their stockroom: most of the books were slightly cocked, suggesting they'd been stacked somewhere and forgotten. But then I began to notice other charity shops were suddenly full of recent hardback novels too, not just in Lewes but in Brighton, and all of those books bore British Bookshops price stickers as well.

In retrospect I suppose these were the first signs that something was up with the chain; it seems likely that having gone into administration at the start of 2011 the various British Bookshops stores were dumping excess stock and file copies on charity shops. But at the time, I must admit I simply thought to myself, 'Brilliant! Cheap first editions!', and bought a stack of 'em. Such as these:

UK hardback first editions/first printings of Echo Park and Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly, published by Orion in 2006 and 2009 respectively, and bought in the Hospice shop for a quid each. I've since seen a bunch more of Connelly's novels turn up in other charity shops, in particular the Brighton Oxfam Books, again looking suspiciously like British Bookshops stock, but never having read any of his work, I decided to stick with these two for now. I seem to recall Book Glutton rates Connelly, so mebbe he can tell me if these two novels, which both feature homicide detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, were worth picking up.

The jacket design on Echo Park is by Sue Michniewicz, who apparently is a keen biker, while the author photo is by Wendy Werris. The jacket design on Nine Dragons, meanwhile, is by Nina Tara, and the author photograph Mogjami Azimi. As for the other British Bookshops cast-offs I nabbed, well those will form the basis of future posts, although I'll just say here they're all by a certain comedian-turned-crime writer...

Monday 31 January 2011

Rabe in Hardback: My Lovely Executioner by Peter Rabe (Herbert Jenkins)

Right, this really is the final entry in what has become, thanks to the arrival of a couple of books I'd written off as lost forever, a slightly extended series of posts on cult American crime writer Peter Rabe. And today I've got a scarce copy of one of the very few of Rabe's novels – just two in his lifetime – that made it into hardback:

This is the UK hardback edition of My Lovely Executioner, published by Herbert Jenkins in 1967. As I detailed in this post, the only other Rabe novel to be published in hardback during his lifetime was Anatomy of a Killer, which was published straight to hardback in 1960. My Lovely Executioner is a little different, however. It was initially published by Gold Medal in the US in 1960, in their usual paperback format; I wrote about that edition here. So it wasn't until seven years later that Jenkins picked it up for US publication. I don't know why they chose that particular Rabe story, but it might be because it's one of the few – possibly the only – he wrote in the first person.

It certainly wasn't unusual for Jenkins to publish American crime novels well after their US debut. The publisher made something of a habit of it in the 1960s, although out of all the authors they picked – Day Keene, Bruce Sanders, etc. – the only one I recognised was Rabe. They also had an... interesting approach to cover design. The dustjacket illustration on My Lovely Executioner is signed 'Phillips', and while I haven't been able to find out anything about the artist, the fact that I also own the earlier Gold Medal paperback means I have been able to do a little comparison:

Yep, the mysterious Mr. Phillips has essentially sketched a pen and ink version of the original seemingly photographic cover (turning the thick, forbidding drapes into lovely soft bath towelling in the process – mmm, snuggly...). I'll have another Herbert Jenkins hardback edition of an American crime novel fairly soon, so we'll see how Mr. Phillips handled that one.

The jacket flap blurb differs from the copy on the back of the Gold Medal edition too, although in both cases the copywriter has adopted the first person narrative of the novel to draft their own words. Here's the Gold Medal back cover:

And here's what the Herbert Jenkins edition has to say:

Three weeks . . . That was all. Just three more weeks and I'd have walked through the prison gates the legitimate way, with my seven-year sentence completed and the chance for some sort of life ahead of me. But Rand had planned a jail break, and when the time came he took me with him—by force.


That's what I couldn't understand. What was it he thought I knew? And where was it supposed to lead? Whatever it was, it had to be something really big because there was highly efficient organisation behind the getaway.

It was the perfect escape—from one prison to another. Only this time my cell was a luxury apartment and my warders were hardened killers who would dispose of me just as soon as I'd served their purpose. Whichever way the ball bounced I could only be the loser, and all I could do was play desperately for time.

Not the least of my problems was the beautiful girl called Jessie. Was she my fellow-prisoner, my jailer . . . or my executioner?

Nice play on the title of the novel at the end there. Except of course, famously almost all of Peter Rabe's novels were either clumsily retitled by Gold Medal or Rabe didn't even bother titling them in the first place. So our copywriter is playing on a title that probably wasn't assigned by the author of the book. Never mind, eh?