Friday 4 October 2013

Competition Time... Competition Time...

A wee announcement before the weekend: next week I'll be running that rarest of beasts on Existential Ennui, a competition. Up for grabs will be three copies of this:

The Art of Movie Storyboards by Fionnuala Halligan, soon to be published in the UK by The Ilex Press, and in the US under the title of simply Movie Storyboards by Chronicle Books. It's a splendid 240-page 10" x 11" hardback beast of a thing, featuring little-seen storyboard art from over forty of the greatest films ever made, including Gone with the Wind, Psycho, Rebel Without a Cause, The Red Shoes, To Kill a Mockingbird, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, Brazil, Ran, Oldboy, Pan's Labyrinth... well, you get the idea. It is, by any estimation, a sumptuous visual feast, but it's also a darn good read, with enlightening info on the films and the storyboards and commentary from the artists. I know all this for a fact because I edited the thing, in my capacity as managing editor at Ilex, and I'm immensely pleased with how it turned out; there's been a copy on my desk for a while now, which every now and then I pause from my chores to fondle lovingly. (The book, not the desk. That would be weird.)

You can read more about The Art of Movie Storyboards by heading here:

Ilex Press: The Art of Movie Storyboards

and there's a Q&A with the author, Finn, here:

Q&A Time with Fionnuala Halligan

I'll be back next week with details of how you can win a copy, plus maybe some musings on how the book came together. (And in the meantime, and if you haven't already, why not go read this week's Existential Ennui posts, on my most recent permanent page, the Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery; Richard Stark's Parker crime novel Run Lethal; and Tom Clancy, who passed away earlier this week.)

Thursday 3 October 2013

Tom Clancy (1947–2013), Jack Ryan, and Red Storm Rising (Collins, 1987): a Friday Forgotten Book

Events, I'm afraid, have rather overtaken me here. I've been promising – myself as much as anyone else – that I'd do a series of blog posts on Tom Clancy for bloody ages, so it was a bugger to learn on Wednesday that he'd gone and died (at the not overly ripe age of sixty-six), thus denying me the opportunity to do so while he was still with us (the swine). Not that Clancy would have cared or even noticed, I'm sure – as, say, Elmore Leonard probably didn't notice anything I wrote about him before he carked it a couple of months back – but even so, it would have been nice, as I managed with Leonard, to post something while he was still alive, given that so few of the authors I blog about are, and also given that I've been reading Clancy for longer than most of them.

There was a period in the 1990s when it felt like the only fiction I was reading was Clancy's. It was, I think, the movies wot did it. As an admirer of well-crafted action flicks and thrillers, I had a lot of time for two of the three Clancy film adaptations that had been released by the mid-'90s: John McTiernan's The Hunt for Red October (1990) and, especially, Phillip Noyce's Clear and Present Danger (1994). (I was much less keen on Noyce's earlier Patriot Games, which lacked the light and shade of his later effort.) Naturally, those two films led me to the source texts: the Jack Ryan (no relation) series of novels, of which Clancy penned eight instalments proper, plus a bunch of spin-offs starring CIA agent John Clark, his partner Domingo Chavez and, latterly, Ryan's son, Jack Jr.

The Ryan books are mostly great big bricks of things, even in paperback, which was how I originally read them. (More recently I've been picking up UK Collins hardback first editions in Lewes charity shops, with that aforementioned, now likely abandoned, series of Clancy posts in mind; you can see them, with their David Scutt-illustrated dust jackets, scattered about this post; they're more akin to breeze-blocks than bricks.) Even so, I tore through them in the late-1990s and early 2000s, from The Hunt for Red October (1984) to The Bear and the Dragon (2000). (I haven't yet read the 2002 Ryan prequel Red Rabbit, which you can spy lurking in the background in the top photo, again bought in a Lewes charity shop.)

That they became, in one respect, increasingly far-fetched – the machinations necessary to elevate Ryan from CIA analyst (Patriot Games, 1987), to Deputy Director of the agency (Clear and Present Danger, 1989), then National Security Advisor, Vice President (Debt of Honor, 1994) and finally, outrageously, President of the United States (Executive Orders, 1996), left Clancy's authorial strings ever more visible – almost didn't matter: they were efficient, dense but incredibly pacey thrillers, turning on plots – Soviet defections, the war on drugs in South America, conflict between Russia and China – with more than a passing nod to real world tensions (and with an eerie prescience in the case of Debt of Honor), and narratives that were never weighed down by the technobabble Clancy loved to lace his thrillers with.

It's for the Ryan novels that Clancy will chiefly be remembered – there's a Kenneth Branagh-directed rebooted Ryan movie on the way which will doubtless help to cement that rep – but for me, Clancy's best book is one of the very few not set in the Ryanverse – his second novel:

Red Storm Rising, co-written with war gamer Larry Bond and published in the States in 1986 by Putnam's and in the UK the following year by Collins (the edition seen here). A plausible account of a hypothetical shooting war between Russia and NATO over oil reserves, its power resides in its breathless, irresistible sweep, in the way the narrative affords a swooping, God's eye view of the theatre of conflict. The action leaps from locale to locale with brazen abandon: Iceland, the north Atlantic, Europe, West Germany, back and forth, surging from one nerve-shredding military encounter to the next, and with the threat of nuclear escalation ever-present.

Admittedly the characterisation is tissue thin – the protagonists are little more than cyphers, and years later I struggle to recall a single thing about any of them (whereas I can still just about conjure up the odd bit about Jack Ryan and John Clark and Ding Chavez) – but that's a relatively minor quibble: for sheer scope and scale, the book can't be beat. Certainly it deserves not to be overlooked in the torrent of Clancy eulogies and obituaries that are sure to ensue, which is why I'm commending it (a day early, as is my wont, but also so that this post doesn't appear too far behind the news of Clancy's demise) to this week's edition of Patti Nase Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books, in order that it should, I hope, escape that eponymous fate.

Parker Score: Run Lethal by Richard Stark (Coronet, 1972), alias The Handle, and the Parker Retitles

NB: A version of this post also appears at The Violent World of Parker.

I hope to have something up on Tom Clancy – who passed away yesterday – shortly, but ahead of that, and fulfilling my Violent World of Parker contractual cross-posting duties, a return, belatedly, to the Parker Mega Score – that stack of Coronet paperback editions of Donald "Richard Stark" Westlake's Parker novels I acquired over the summer – with this:

Run Lethal, published in the UK by Coronet/Hodder Fawcett under a Raymond Hawkey-designed "bullet hole" double-cover in 1972 – the second wave of those covers I guess you could say, the initial Coronet bullet hole editions – The Steel Hit, The Outfit and so forth – having been published in 1971.

Like The Steel Hit, Run Lethal was retitled from its original appearance. Indeed, of the twenty-four Parker novels, six have been retitled at one time or another, one of them twice. Four of those retitlings were the result of publishers responding to movie adaptations: The Hunter (Parker #1, 1962) became Point Blank in 1967 (Gold Medal edition here, Coronet edition here) and then Payback in 1999; The Seventh (Parker #7, 1966) became The Split in 1968 (Gold Medal edition here, Coronet edition here); and earlier this year Flashfire (Parker #19, 2000) became Parker.

But the other retitlings – The Man with the Getaway Face (Parker #2, 1963), which became The Steel Hit; The Score (Parker #5, 1964), which became Killtown; and The Handle (Parker #8, 1966), which became Run Lethal – appear to be the result of nothing other than publisher preference... and it seems they were all the fault of Coronet. See, for a long time I assumed it was Berkley, the American paperback publisher of the Parkers in the early 1970s, who retitled at least The Score and The Handle (I'm not sure if they ever got round to issuing The Steel Hit, even though it's listed, under that title, under "By the same author" in my Berkley reprint copy of The Outfit). But I own a copy of Berkley's edition of The Score, or rather Killtown:

and it was published in 1973 (November of that year, to be precise); whereas Coronet's edition of Killtown was first published in 1972. And it's the same deal with The Handle/Run Lethal: Berkley's edition of Run Lethal arrived again in 1973, and Coronet's in 1972. Which means that Berkley adopted the new titles from Coronet, not the other way round. Which in turn means that in the cases of at least two retitlings, Parker fans have us Brits to blame.

I'm not quite sure where I'll be going next with the Parker Mega Score; I think I might take a look at a bullet hole edition of a Parker Coronet had already published once, but I may change my mind, mercurial bastard that I am.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Introducing a New Existential Ennui Permanent Page: the Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery; plus the Patricia Highsmith Papers

Well, I surprised myself with this one. I sort of figured that if I ever got round to setting up a new permanent page, a la Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s, it would be focused on one or other of the artists featured in Beautiful Book Jacket Design – Val Biro, say, or Denis McLoughlin; either that, or I'd set up a paperback cover page. Instead, Existential Ennui's second permanent page has ended up being devoted not to an artist or a format, but an author.

In a way, that's rather fitting. I've been collecting Patricia Highsmith in first edition longer than any other writer – longer than Donald Westlake, or Kingsley Amis, or any other of the literary reprobates wot litter Existential Ennui. The 1974 Heinemann first of Ripley's Game at the top of this post was, I think, the first first edition I ever bought – purchased on London's Cecil Court, no less, from a secondhand bookshop the name of which escapes me and which has since vanished anyway – while my inaugural visit to the Lewes Book Fair upon moving down to Lewes in 2008 netted me Heinemann firsts of The Cry of the Owl and The Two Faces of January. Highsmith, then, is in large part responsible for all that's followed – my book collecting habit and consequently this 'ere blog, basically – so it's entirely apt, I feel, and given that I now own first editions of all sixteen of the Highsmith novels initially published in the UK by Heinemann, that she should get her own permanent page:

Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery

The gallery can be accessed by clicking the link above, or via the permanent link in Existential Ennui's sidebar, just below the link to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s. Note that I've titled it simply a first edition gallery, not a British first edition one, or indeed a Heinemann first edition one (which was what I originally thought of assembling – as a post, not a page – when the notion occurred to me last week). For while the page does currently consist of British editions, and the vast majority of those were published by Heinemann, I reserve the right to add in American – or even foreign – first editions should I come into possession of them – and I certainly reserve the right to include Cresset Press firsts of Strangers on a Train, The Blunderer and The Talented Mr. Ripley, in the unlikely event that I ever find affordable copies of them.

If you're a fan of Highsmith's work, you'll find all manner of stuff to look at – not just jackets and cases but uncorrected proofs and a few intriguing, little seen editions of her novels – but even if you're not a fan, the gallery is interesting as a demonstration of how dust jacket design changed over the course of five decades, from the kind of hand-lettered, illustrated wrappers that were prevalent in the '50s and '60s (and which are also featured on the aforementioned Beautiful British Book Jacket Design page), to photographic and typographic treatments and, finally, back to illustrations again.

Incidentally, in the course of researching my own Highsmith archive I stumbled upon another Highsmith archive – one I dimly recall having encountered before, actually, but which I don't believe I've ever blogged about: the Patricia Highsmith Papers at the Swiss Literary Archives (part of the Swiss National Library, where a Highsmith exhibition was held in 2006). The site is essentially a catalogue of material that's archived elsewhere – manuscripts and notebooks and scrapbooks and the like, which Highsmith's biographers, Andrew Wilson and Joan Schenkar, must have drawn on heavily – but it's still well worth a rummage, especially Highsmith's photo albums, pages from which can be viewed online.