Shaken Not Stirred

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition by Darwyn Cooke. IDW, 2011. 9781600109805. 360pp.

Contains the previously published adaptations of The Hunter and The Outfit, as well as the short “The Man with the Getaway Face,” and a new short, O. Henry-esque adaptation for this volume, “The Seventh”, and lots of extras.

I was having a crappy day yesterday, and somewhere in the back of my mind I must have remembered that this book was about a crook having a few bad days of his own.

The Hunter opens in 1962 as Parker is walking back into New York City. His wife shot him at the end of a recent heist, and then she took off with his partner on the job, Mal Resnick. They assumed Parker was dead. He tracks her down. Then he interrogates the man bringing her an envelope of cash to find out where that’s coming from. Then he tracks that guy down and keeps working his way up the chain of command. Resnick used the money from their heist to buy his way back into the mob. But the mob, instead of protecting Resnick, wants to see him deal with the problem he’s created: Parker.

I won’t tell you how it resolves, but I will say it’s the first in a long line of Parker novels, and at the end of The Hunter Parker needs a new face to hide from the mob (they prefer to be called The Outfit). That’s all covered in “The Man with the Getaway Face.” Then in The Outfit, after Parker survives getting fingered by an informant, he heads out to make peace with the mob by making things tough for them when he and his friends start hitting their operations. It’s beautiful. And all three of those books form one long story.

This is a deluxe, oversized collection of these previously published books. The duotone art looks fabulous on the thick, cream paper, and the larger pages really let the art sing. (Plus I didn’t need glasses to read the print.) There’s a conversation at the front of the book between Tom Spurgeon, crime writer Ed Brubaker, and Cooke, and a ton of extra art by Cooke that includes portraits of Parker, Westlake, and a portfolio of images inspired by the Parker films and others. There’s a drawing of Michael Caine in Get Carter (based on the excellent novel by Ted Lewis) that I just may have to cut out and frame.

These graphic novel adaptations have lead me to track down some of the original novels by Stark (a pen name of Donald Westlake). The original prose is spare, no nonsense, and tough, without the over-description and sentimentality that ruins too many modern mysteries for me. Parker isn’t ever nice or easy, and he doesn’t flinch from difficult and dangerous work, but he’s not stupid. No one could draw a 60s tough guy like Cooke, and the cinematic quality of his art makes this a better adaptation than any of the films — it enhances and clarifies the novels without changing them. (If, like me, you read this and want to see Parker on film, try Point Blank starring Lee Marvin or The Split starring Jim Brown (with Donald Sutherland, Gene Hackman, and Ernest Borgnine). Both Marvin and Brown feel like Parker. But don’t even bother with the latest film adaptation starring Jason Statham — it’s unforgivable even for a Statham fan like me.)

That Skinny Guy

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Vintage, 1989. 9780679722632. 208pp.

Sarah: So I texted you when I was part way through this book because you recommended this as the next detective book for my mystery reading series. You said to read the book and then watch the movie, that it’s the best movie adaptation ever because it captures the feeling of the book.
Gene: Yeah. The pace and the dialogue are really similar.
S: And I picked it up and started reading and texted you that the writing was so good I wanted to punch things. Its beautiful, spare language is so evocative. You can see there’s a huge talent behind how little there is on the page.
G: It’s the couple, too. It’s Nick and Nora Charles. They have a great back-and-forth banter. Continue reading “That Skinny Guy”

Innocent Murder

Innocence: Or, Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius Kovály, translated by Alex Zucker. Soho Crime, 2015. 9781616954963.

Helena, the only first person narrator, has managed to land a job as an usher at a movie theater in Communist era Prague after her husband was arrested for espionage. The other characters’ interactions away from Helena are narrated in the third person, as if the author didn’t want to get too close to these often disagreeable people. One married woman is tired of her philandering spouse, and offers to offload him onto the party girl he’s sleeping with. Another usher’s genteel poverty is an act. A police informant is goaded into becoming a provocateur, and very nearly a procurer of sexual favors. Possibly the creepiest of all the characters is the silver-haired State Security operative who’s fixated on cracking Helena’s husband, and who also wants to incriminate Helena. Meanwhile, an actual spy ring is using the theater to pass microfilm between couriers. All of these folks would probably not wish to draw any attention to themselves, but murders nearby prompt police investigations.

Most mysteries have one big reveal during their climax. Innocence: Or, Murder on Steep Street starts with a murder committed and solved in the first chapter. After that, revelations continue over the course of the book as Helena, her coworkers, cops, creeps, and spies interact. With two and a half murders, a suicide, and a malefactor too powerful to be brought to justice, this is closer to a tragedy than it is to mystery or thriller. It is also a tribute to how confusingly complex a good book can be when written by someone who’d lived through confusingly complex decades.

This book is also, in many ways, an artifact of the early Cold War. The author’s son Ivan Margolius’ introduction gives useful background, including apologetic paragraphs explaining what motivated his father to join Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party after World War II, his family’s disgrace, and his father’s execution in the wake of the 1952 Slansky Trials.  (Kovály emigrated to the United States in 1968, in the wake of the Prague Spring.)

Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest book review!

The Thief Thief

Thief of Thieves Volume 1: I Quit by Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer, and Shawn Martinbrough. Image, 2012. 9781607065920.

thief-of-thieves-1Contains Thief of Thieves #1 – #7.

Thief of Thieves Volume 2: Help Me by by Robert Kirkman, James Asmus, Andy Diggle, and Shawn Martinbrough. Image, 2013. 9781607066767.

Contains Thief of Thieves #8 – #13.

Thief of Thieves Volume 3: Venice by Robert Kirkman, Andy Diggle, Felix Serrano, Shawn Martinbrough.  Image, 2014. 9781607068440.

Contains Thief of Thieves # 14 – #19.

Thief of Thieves Volume 4: The Hit List by Andy Diggle and Shawn Martinbrough. Created by Robert Kirkman.  Image, 2014.  9781632150370.

Contains Thief of Thieves #20 – #25.

Redmond, the greatest thief of his generation, retires on the eve of a 9-man job that is set to be the heist of the millennium. He’s just successfully sued the FBI for harrassment. He tells his ex-wife that he wants their old life back. But their son Augustus is a bit of an idiot, as well as a poor thief who trades on his father’s reputation. He’s just been arrested in the middle of a drug bust. Will the feds get him to give up his father? Can Redmond make the case against his son go away? What about the debt Augustus owes to the drug cartel for the job he f-ed up?

Of course he can’t retire. Of course Redmond has to pull that big heist, the Venice job. And of course it looks like everything is going to come apart around him.

Smart, violent, and very entertaining, these were the perfect graphic novels to read after my computer crashed last week — I was in a foul mood and needed a distraction while waiting and waiting and waiting for the repair. I haven’t rooted for the “bad” guys this much since Heist

thief-of-thieves-2  thief-of-thieves-3  thief-of-thieves-4

Cops: Baghdad

The Sheriff of Babylon Volume 1: Bang. Bang. Bang. by Tom King and Mitch Gerads. Vertigo, 2016. 9781401264666.

the-sheriff-of-babylonPublisher’s Rating: Suggested for Mature Readers.
Contains The Sheriff of Babylon #1 – #6.

The Sheriff of Babylon is a gritty graphic novel set during the American occupation of Iraq in 2004. It opens with two American soldiers cleaning up “garbage” from the middle of the street — the bloody corpse of an Iraqi police trainee. Turn the page and there’s a huge, two-page spread, at the bottom are the two soldiers, in the distance, dragging the body away, oblivious to the bloody smear they’re leaving in their wake. They’ve depersonalized, dissociated, and the image is the perfect way of letting us know. The horror of the scene is only apparent to us, the readers, and only if we can magnify it with our imaginations. Apparently no one in the story is going to feel anything.

But that’s not true. On the next page we meet Chris Henry, a former cop who blames himself for 9-11 who is in Iraq to train its new police force. When told there’s a girl in a Green Zone restaurant with a suicide bomb he goes in to talk to her, to offer her chocolate. It doesn’t end well. Bang. Bang. Bang. This incident doesn’t keep him from trying to do some good. He’s supposed to take care of the body of his dead trainee. He calls his lover, Sofia, an Iraqi woman who has returned to her family’s country for revenge and power. She introduces him to Nassir, a local policeman who may be able to help investigate the murder, or to at least help return the trainee’s body to his family. But violence is everywhere, and whoever killed the man doesn’t want anyone looking into the matter.

The entire story was heartbreaking in the best way possible. It showed both the futility and heroism of trying to do the right thing in an impossible situation, and the end of the book broke my heart.

High school f’ing football!

southernbastards3Southern Bastards Volume 3: Homecoming by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. Image, 2016. 9781632156105.

Contains Southern Bastards #9 – #14.
Publisher’s Rating: Rated M / Mature.

This is the latest volume in the best crime series in comics. At the heart of it all? High school football. I know. I’m as shocked as you.

Coach Euless Boss isn’t just in charge of the Craw County High School’s Runnin’ Rebs, he’s also got the sheriff in his pocket and other former players helping him run the town. But as the big homecoming game approaches, a member of Boss’s coaching staff dies, raising tensions between Craw County and its rival, Wetumpka County. There’s a lot of violence and mayhem here, but this third volume in the series focuses on character backstories: the sheriff, Esaw (who wants to be Boss’s right hand man), Boone (a badass, religious backwoodsman out for justice), and Materhead (former Craw County fullback, now Boss’s thug, though he may be having a change of heart). They all come together for the big game, and Latour’s vivid, violent illustrations make it clear that it’s as brutal as any battlefield.

The last chapter beautifully sets up volume four. A marine returns home from Afghanistan. She moves into her father’s house, faces down his bigoted, sexist neighbors, and then heads to Craw County to find out how her father died.

Sale on European Artist’s Work

DieterLumpen.jpegThe Adventures of Dieter Lumpen by Jorge Zentner, Rubén Pellejero. EuroComics (IDW). 9781631406065. 260pp.

This omnibus includes eight shorter comics and three graphic albums featuring adventurer Dieter Lumpen, originally published between 1985 and 1994, written by Zenter (Argentina) and drawn by Pellejero (Spain). I must have ordered it from the Seattle Public Library when checking for new graphic novels, which I do periodically. I’m not much of a fan of realistic European comics of this time period, but artist Tim Sale’s introduction gave me a way in: he talks about Pellejero being a kindred spirit in terms of how he balances black and white in his drawings. If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Sale’s work (my favorites are probably Batman: The Long Halloween and Catwoman: When in Rome) you’ll love these stories more than a little, too.

Full of sex, violence, criminals, and settings around the globe, the eight short comics were the high point of the book for me. “A Dagger in Istanbul” opens with Lumpen on the run from a gunman in a Turkish market. He’s been hired to chauffeur a widow who is out to recover a dagger her husband donated to a museum, which has been stolen. The next short, “Games of Chance,” picks up right where this left off (as does the next, and so on.) After a run of bad luck, Lumpen must kill a man to clear his gambling debt. But after the man saves his life, Lumpen tries to find a way to do what he must and maintain his honor.

See more of Tim Sale’s art and Rubén Pellejero’s art.