Recent Read: Kill Devil Falls

Kill Devil Falls

Kill Devil Falls is a town on its final breaths of life. A former mining town whose water has been contaminated; it’s a cold and hostile place in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There is no cell phone service, no main roads in or out, and the electrical power is iffy. The town’s main street is loaded with potholes and consists mostly of a lot of empty, dilapidated buildings and trailers. The few folks still living there are a strange collection of oddballs, deviates, and creeps.

Into this hellhole comes U.S. Marshall Helen Morrissey, sent there on a last minute assignment to transport prisoner Rita Crawford, back to Sacramento where she and her boyfriend Lee Larimer have been on a spree of robberies.  One night while on the run, Rita takes the stolen money and high tails it off to Kill Devil Falls leaving Larimer in the wind.  In town, she is apprehended by the local sheriff, Big Ed and his deputy, Teddy, who happens to be his son.

After filling out the required paperwork to transfer Rita into her custody; ready to take her back to Sacramento, Helen discovers her car won’t start. Has it been tampered with? This is just the beginning of a wild ride of terror and death. Rita is the first to die, but far from the last, and Helen soon discovers she’s on her own, isolated, with no one to trust, and fighting to stay alive.

Kill Devil Falls moves at a breathless speed with surprising twists and turns along the way. The author plays it cool with his cast of disturbing in-bred characters. You’re never certain which of them is the crazed psycho killer, or just creepy unscrupulous opportunists trying to get their hands on the money left behind by the late not so lovely Rita.

Recent Read: Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story.

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What I liked best about Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story is how it went beyond the standard “making of” books that have previously come out. Critic Chris Nashawaty spends about a third of the book giving us a history of the rebellious new anti-establishment comedy that was in the air. They came from the Harvard Lampoon, National Lampoon, Chicago’s Second City, and Saturday Night Live. By the time of National Lampoon’s Animal House they all came together, both behind and in front of the camera.

After the success of Animal House, Hollywood was hot for another film from the same sources. The result was a way too long 199-page screenplay by Brian Doyle-Murray, Doug Kenny, and Harold Ramis. The problems only built from there. Filmed in Florida, away from the prying eyes of the studio, first time director, Ramis, co-writers Kenny and Doyle-Murray along with cast members Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield began to improvise. After all, that’s what they did best. Well almost best, What they did best was drugs; pot and cocaine flowed throughout the entire shoot. The set was one big party! According to the author, the only person on the film who was straight was Ted Knight!

Somehow, thanks to the free-flowing improvisational skills of cast members like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and the writers, a disjointed film was made. Many people have complained the film has no plot, and scenes are not connected. They are more like skits. That’s all true, and that is what the studio heads thought after watching the way too long rough cut. They were very nervous. Something needed to be done. That’s when they brought in the gopher!

Nashawaty gives the readers plenty of juicy, outrageous details and background information to enjoy. However, it wasn’t all fun and games; there is a dark sadness overshadowing it all as we follow the meloncholy road of the comic genius Doug Kenny; his depression and drug use accelerating out of control. Kenny would die in Hawaii just one month after the film was released.

Caddyshack is not as funny as Animal House, the studio at first thought they had a disastrous financial bomb, but it made money, thanks mostly to the performances of Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield. Over the past four decades it has picked up a cult following, and phrases from the film (Be the ball!) have become mantras, at least for golfers.

If you are a die-hard Caddyshack fan, the book is a must, though you may notice that if you own the DVD, some of the information is not all new. If you are not a Caddyshack fan, the book is still a good look at movie-making during those crazy, hazy days.

Recent Read: Strip Tease

StripFlorida is a house of hilarious horrors. Just live here for a while, and you will discover that Carl Hiaasen’s outrageous characters are not that far from the truth. Strip Tease is a wild, murderous trip filled with strippers, unscrupulous lawyers, and crooked, self-serving politicians.

Erin Grant works in a “Gentlemen’s Club.” She needs to raise money to fight a court appeal as she attempts to get back custody of her daughter from her sleazy ex-husband. Hey, don’t be judgmental, everyone has to make a buck the best way they can. The evening activities start out like any other at the club until a drunken party-goer (it’s his bachelor party) jumps up on stage and begins groping one of the dancers. In the audience, that night is Florida Congressman Dave Dilbeck who jumps on stage and start plummeting the drunk with a champagne bottle. Not exactly the best of timing for any politician who should remain in the shadows and unrecognized in this kind of situation. After all, it is an election year. This incident sets off a series of events that include a wild assortment of crazies including political fixers, a wheelchair stealing drug addict ex-husband, scam artists, a variety of roaches, bugs and yogurt, and naturally murder. Despite the odd array of people Carl Hiaasen includes, he makes them believable. Most likely, because it’s set in Florida where a wide assortments of wacky types seem to flock, or maybe it’s the Sunshine State’s overbearing heat that bakes a normal person’s brain. Either way, Hiaasen hilariously captures it all. An entertaining fun read.

 

Recent Read: The Neighbor

The NeighborAs a state, Maine, one of my favorites to visit, has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, yet it is flourishing with writers in the mystery/suspense/crime genre. I am not sure why that is, but author Joseph Souza is one of those authors, and his new thriller may just keep you up way past your bedtime.

Just published, The Neighbor, takes place in Dearborn, Maine and asks: how well do you know your neighbors? How well do they know you, and how well do you know your spouse? If you are like the two narrators in this fast-moving psychological suspense thriller, the answer is probably not as well as you think.

Souza never lets up the pressure leaving you, really forcing you to turn page after page wondering what happens next? What perverse secrets will be revealed? It’s a dark and winding road filled with characters who all have a box full of secrets and lies they are keeping to themselves.

The dual narrators are husband and wife Clay and Leah Daniels, recent transplants to Maine from Seattle. Their neighbors are Clarissa and Russell Gaines, a black couple. Clay has kick-started his dream job of opening up a craft beer brewery. Leah, a stay at home Mom, is hoping for a friendly neighborhood with friends for both of their two kids and herself. Neighbors Clarissa and Russell Gaines have careers at the local university. They are also not very neighborly. Leah finds herself left alone in a deserted, still undeveloped neighborhood. Lonely, Leah starts doing things that good neighbors don’t do. Clay does things a good husband shouldn’t do. In the process, secrets best left hidden for all begin to unravel.

Reading The Neighbor is  like riding a twisty out of control roller coaster that you will not want to get off as you watch everyone’s lives crumble and their dark and haunted pasts all come colliding together.

Recent Read: Early Autumn

EarlyRobert B. Parker was at the top of his game in his early books.  Early Autumn was the 7th in the Spenser series and remains one of his best.

Spenser is hired by the mother of  15 year Paul Giacomin to find her son who has been kidnapped by the father. More out of spite than love. In truth, neither parent wants the teen. The boy seems disinterested in life; he does nothing except look at TV. When asked a question he shrugs. With uncaring parents, Spenser determines that if the boy is to survive in life, he needs to become autonomous: independent, learn how to do things for himself.

Spenser takes the young teen up into the woods of Maine, staying at a cabin owned by Susan Silverman, Spenser’s lady. Here Spenser teaches Paul structure, and how to work with his hands. Spenser tells him he needs to finish what he starts and learn what he is good at doing. It doesn’t matter what you do; you just have to have something in your life that is you.

Spenser meanwhile digs up dirt on the parents. The father is involved with mob figures; the mother sleeps around with men and now has a boyfriend who’d doesn’t want the kid around.

This not the typical Spenser crime novel, though Hawk makes an appearance and when Hawks around people die. And there are plenty of the smart-aleck remarks as you expect from our hero. Still, the story is more about Spenser mentoring the teen boy; teaching him to be self-sufficient, learn to live on his own and wanting something for himself in life. As usual, there are vivid descriptions of New England.

Recent Read: The Hangman’s Sonnet

Hangmans-SonnetRobert B Parker’s Jesse Stone is one of my favorite characters. Jesse was once a promising shortstop until he suffered a career-ending injury. After that, Jesse became a police officer with the L.A. Police. He developed a drinking problem (Johnny Walker Black) after his wife Jan left him. It cost him his job. He eventually got the position of Chief of Police in the small fictional Massachusetts town of Paradise; mainly because the town’s political honchos knowing his damaged history thought they could control him. They didn’t know Jesse.

The Hangman’s Sonnet, Reed Farrel Coleman’s fourth book in the series,  picks up not too long after where Debt to Pay finishes with the death of Jesse’s fiance Diana. With Diana death, his drinking, always a problem, has unraveled forcing one on one interventions from co-workers and friends to help Jesse keep his job. Meanwhile, the management team of Terry Jester, one time called Boston’s Bob Dylan, has approached Jesse about a big industry party to be held in Paradise to publicize the release of Terry’s first album in decades. The recordings mysteriously disappeared before its release as Jester himself did a J.D. Salinger at the same time, and has not been heard from or seen since. The few who heard the album years ago say it is a masterpiece and would place Jester in the top ranks of artists.

Meanwhile, two thugs, King and Hump, recently released from prison, break into the home of a wealthy old lady. They have been hired by a third person, to retrieve some important items, they themselves are not even sure what they are looking for which makes the job difficult. The thugs tear up the house as they search. Unfortunately, during the home invasion the elderly woman, tied up and gagged, dies. No one was supposed to die.

Jesse is working the case, trying to hold on to his job, and his drinking problem all at the same time. He eventually comes to the conclusion that somehow the missing Jester tapes and the break-in resulting in the old woman’s death are connected. If he’s wrong, his job could be once again in jeopardy.

 The Hangman’s Sonnet is a fast-paced read, though there may be a little too much time spent on Jesse’s drinking which is full tilt boogie. Coleman though is a good storyteller and he captures Parker’s rhythm and nuances perfectly.

 

Recent Read: The Killer Inside Me

 

Jim Thompson’s protagonist, deputy sheriff Lou Ford, is slow thinking and a bit on the corny side, at least, that is what he wants everyone in the small Texas town he lives in to believe. He bores people with dull platitudes so he can watch them squirm, and he gets a laugh for himself as they all get sucked into his game. Everybody sees Lou as a good guy, a good ‘ol boy, who wouldn’t hurt a fly. However, in truth, Lou is a violent psychopath with a dark history and a streak of violent behavior that he keeps in control under his regular guy facade…until he can’t.

The novel was published in 1952 when post-war America was drawn to Eisenhower, conformity and white picket fences in the suburbs. Americans were reading books like My Cousin Rachel, The Silver Chalice, and The Caine Mutiny. They weren’t in the mood for cheap paperbacks dealing with alienated,  psychologically damaged killers. It’s easy to see why. Thompson’s first-person narrative forces the reader to go inside the blistering mind of a diabolically crazed killer in a way that most writers cannot even fathom. It’s a chilling, nasty, and at times hard to stomach journey. The Killer Inside Me is noir at it darkest.

Note:

This is the second novel I have read by Jim Thompson. I mistakenly told a few folks on-line The Killer Inside Me was my first. Writing this review reminded me I wrote an article, a few years back, on the film version of After Dark, My Sweet, and at that time had read the book. Okay, that’s about it for true confessions. 🙂  I have attached a link to the After Dark, My Sweet article here if you are interested.

Recent Read: The Deep Blue Good-by

The DeepThe master of Florida noir, John D. MacDonald was admired by writers like Stephen King, Lee Child and Dean Koontz among many others. MacDonald’s most famous character was Florida’s dark-knight Travis McGee.  In his first adventure, there were 21 books in the series, McGee willingly helps out, he called himself a “salvage consultant,” a young woman recover illegal funds her father stole and smuggled back home during the war.  His fee is fifty percent of what he recovers.

Travis’ methods of getting information are not always, I guess you can say legal. In this book, he strips one drunk guy, ties him up in a shower, hits him with cold water to sober him up, and then with hot scorching water to get him to talk. That said, McGee can be introspective, philosophical, sometimes cynical, and does have his moments of charm with women. Florida isn’t all fun in the sun.

 

Recent Read: Sunburn

Sunburn

Laura Lippman’s latest novel, Sunburn, sizzles evoking the long-ago classic noirish, pulp fiction of writers like James M. Cain, David Goodis, and other genre masters. It’s a world filled with deadly, duplicitous dames and the guys who fall foolishly hard for them.

Polly Costello, at least that’s her most recent name, arrives in the sleepy town of Belleville, Maryland. It’s a nothing town where zero happens; a seemingly perfect place to hide out for a while. Polly’s dangerously sexy and cold-blooded. Still, she may have been hurt more by those in her life than the pain she has inflicted on others.

Polly had a good childhood, but at seventeen years old she became pregnant by a guy in his early twenties. Her life spiraled downhill from there. They married, he became a crooked police officer in Baltimore. He also began drinking too much and beating her when she didn’t listen to him. After one too many beatings and a threat to kill her and their child, who has cerebral palsy, one night in bed while her husband was sleeping she stabbed him right through the heart.

The battered wife defense didn’t work in court and Polly spent a few years in jail, but received a pardon, along with a few other women, from the Governor. She soon found herself pregnant and married again to another jerk. Fed up with her bad luck, one day Polly decides to escape from her life. It helped that with the aid of a crooked insurance agent; she sued the hospital her first daughter was born at and won a two million dollar settlement. Her husband knows nothing about the money, and she will have to keep it that way until he is out of the way…divorce.

With the settlement money tied up, Polly’s working at a local dive in Belleville as a waitress. One day, in walks Adam Bosk. He claims he is a salesman, and his truck broke down. He has to wait for a part will be sticking around for a time.   He’s good-looking, in a Ken doll sort of way, and she’s just plain hot. Neither plan on getting involved with the other or falling in love, but things happen even though no one seems to be who they are.

With a pissed off husband, and a crooked insurance man after her, plus a lot of sexual heat between Adam and our anti-heroine, the question becomes will it work out for Polly and will our lovers live happily ever after…or not. Sunburn has the definite feel and mood of a modern day version of The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Lippman builds it all up devising an ending that will not disappoint the reader.

Recent Read: The Woman in the Window

WomanWith its nod to cinema’s master of suspense, A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window is a thrill filled ride of twists and turns that do not let up until the final pages.

Anna Fox is an agoraphobic mess who has not left her home for almost a year. She spends most of her time watching film noirs like Gaslight, and plenty of Hitchcock: Spellbound, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, and Vertigo, drinking lots of Merlot, mixed with too many meds. She also likes to “look in” on her neighbors via a 35mm camera through the window of her expensive home in uptown Manhattan. Her only companion is her cat.

Anna’s husband has left her and taken their daughter with him. She misses them, but they do talk a lot by phone. She’s a child psychiatrist. However these days her only patients are with online chats. Of the neighbors, she spies on the Russell’s, Alistair, Jane, and teenage son Ethan are the most intriguing. They are a troubled family, and it is with them that the author’s tale begins its glorious spin.

Revealing more would only expose the many layers of twists that Finn has in store for his readers. He excels at establishing false impressions and misdirection throughout, though there are one or two minor clunks that can be guessed at or are a bit of a stretch to be believable. Still, this book will grab your interest from the beginning and will most likely keep you up late at night.