Friday, June 29, 2007

Russian Roulette

The review of the day...today's Spotlight section in the Rocky Mountain News carries my feature review of A Russian Diary by Anna Politkovskaya.


It's also worth looking at this article, "Putin Strikes Again" by Jamey Gambrell in the New York Review of Books examining attacks on Russian journalists in recent years.

I also want to recommend another outstanding piece of journalism about Anna Politkovskaya that's unfortunately not available online. In the July issue of GQ (yes, the one with Jessica Biel unveiled on the cover), there's a chilling article titled "Silenced" by Moscow-based writer Peter Savodnik that includes photographs of the crime scene, interviews with a host of knowledgeable sources, fantastic writing and analysis of the crime, and a not insignificant amount of detective work. The article intimates that the murderers have ties to Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov and directly implicates a separatist field commander named Ibragim Dadayev, also known as "The Bear." The best thriller writers in the business couldn't invent a story this dark.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Crime Report

I’ve been knee-deep in National Book Award winners all day for a current project but here’s a few accounts of fictional criminal activity that are worth sharing.

Sara Paretsky delivers a characteristically eloquent essay on loners in crime fiction at The Guardian. (link via The Rap Sheet).

Martin Cruz Smith gets a proper going over as Stalin’s Ghost hits bookstores. This week’s deliveries include an interview at the Boston Globe, and a ‘web-exclusive commentary’ (whatever the hell that is) at Newsweek. You can still get my take from last month at Bookslut.

Apparently, the chief Bookslut is the “insider’s outsider,” according to Literago. Jessa Crispin and Dennis Loy Johnson debate the death of book reviews.

A small death...Punk Planet has gone to the great magazine newsstand in the sky. Dies irae, dies illa.

Mike Ripley’s new “Getting Away With Murder” column in Shots UK delivers some interesting dope on The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, and mentions a title I need to go track down, I Predict A Riot by Belfast funnyman Colin Bateman. Any novel cribbed from a Kaiser Chiefs lyric by a half-cocked Irishman and I'm there.

Galleycat reports that the International Thriller Writers are launching a “Serial Thiller” with contributions from Jeffrey Deaver and Lee Child, that will be initially released as an audio adaptation.

The prodigious Sarah Weinman has a nice feature in this month’s Poets & Writers all about superhero lit, including an interview with Austin Grossman about the intriguing Soon I Will Be Invincible. She also has time to investigate a book about crime scenes, a topic well served by her background in forensic science.

On the big screen: the director of Finding Neverland has been chosen to direct the 22nd James Bond film. The right choice? Time will tell whether directing Johnny Depp with a nervous tic properly prepares one for motivating an icy Daniel Craig.

Far more exciting is the thought of Frank Miller adapting Raymond Chandler’s Trouble Is My Business as a vehicle for Clive Owen to play Philip Marlowe.

In more casting news, Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, and Ludacris gang up with Guy Ritchie for RocknRolla, a new caper flick set in the London criminal underworld.

Helping give Iron Man a little profane soul? Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, naturally.

In murky tunes, the National rock tunes from the Boxer at D.C.’s 9:30 Club, courtesy of National Public Radio.

And we’re out. Kill the lights.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Parental Advisory, Explicit Lyrics

Let us turn our eyes now, down, down, down, to the very depths of the American conscience. Let’s talk about a guy named Gordon Lee, who is suffering because of one community’s terminal lack of common sense.

Here’s the deal. Not too long ago, I had a good conversation with a very bright creator named Nick Bertozzi. Nick wrote and illustrated a fantastic new graphic novel called The Salon. You can read about it in the new Graphic Lit Spotlight at Kirkus Reviews. It’s an exquisite book – deeply weird, in a good way – about the birth of modern art. I wrote the spotlight and I don’t think anybody would mind my reproducing it here.

“I had this idea that there was this magical blue absinthe that modernist painters could drink that would allow them to jump inside paintings,” says Nick Bertozzi, author of The Salon, a surreal yet thoughtful examination of the act of creation. His fanciful notion launches the audacious adventures of Paris’ finest minds as they play cat-and-mouse with a serial killer. With a cast that includes Gertrude Stein and her life partner and muse Alice B. Toklas, as well as Georges Braque and the uproariously uncouth Pablo Picasso, the book touches on dozens of sophisticated concepts but never gets bogged down. The fast-paced narrative strays far from Stein’s salon to propel its lustful icons from the gaslit bedrooms of downtown Paris to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but its unique take on modernism remains intact. The result is an affectionate experiment that taught its creator more than just art history. “I learned that when you’re working on a big project like this, you’re kind of along for the ride,” he says. “You have to let the subconscious take over, let your associative mind do most of the work and trust your instincts. That sounds so cheesy but it’s true.” The book’s artwork blends the artist’s bold reinterpretations of modernist masterpieces with a brazen two-toned color scheme to evoke the weird and wonderful birth of contemporary art. “I wanted to show that cubism didn’t arrive as a gift from on high,” says Bertozzi. “It’s not a gift from the gods. It’s this painstaking process of happy accidents that takes a long time.”

Good deal, art created, a round of absinthe all around, right? Not so fast. A bit of the material that eventually became The Salon was once featured in an alternative comic book called “Alternative Comics #2,” meant for mature readers. But on Halloween of 2004, Gordon Lee, the owner of a comic book store in Rome, Georgia, decided to give out free comic books instead of candy, one of which happened to be the aforementioned comic book.

An admirable notion to give youth something of educational substance, and done with good intentions. Except -- the book features artist Pablo Picasso as one of its protagonists and wouldn't you know it, he's naked. Somebody squealed, and the law came knocking. Lee was arrested on charges of distributing material depicting nudity, and distributing obscene material to a minor.

At the time, Lee said, "Though I am willing to apologize for this particular art book getting in the hands that found it offensive, I will adamantly agree that the book is not 'harmful to children' or 'obscene.' In my opinion, this book is no more offensive then viewing the beautiful paintings of the Sistine Chapel or reading one of the best selling books with stories of sex, lust and nudity known as the Bible."

Most of the charges have been rightfully dismissed, but Lee goes to trial on August 13th for two remaining misdemeanor charges. The court costs alone are expected to hit $20,000. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a damn fine cause, has already spent $80,000 defending Lee from this childish nonsense. Though he’s not personally involved with the lawsuit, Bertozzi has been admirably vocal in his defense of Lee.

“When the court case is over, hopefully this will be done,” Bertozzi told me. “I feel awfully bad for Gordon Lee that he has to be the poster boy for the First Amendment. People talk about the tide of history and this time we were all swept up in it. I’ll be glad when it’s over and he has prevailed.”

Well said. Until that celebratory day, the CBLDF could use your help. Please visit them to find out what you can do. One day you might want a comic book, too, and then where will you be?

Donations: http://cbldf.safeshopper.com/12/cat12.htm?479

Membership: http://www.cbldf.org/membership.shtml

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Accounting

A certain number of years have culminated in another damned birthday. Here’s the math, as best I can figure it.

Hundreds of thousands of sentences, the sum perhaps half a million words. John D. MacDonald might be charitable and say I’m halfway there.

Two hundred plus books read and measured, dozens of authors plumbed in the past few years. Twenty-eight columns about blood, whiskey and other vices for Bookslut magazine.

Scintillating conversations with accomplished writers like Elmore Leonard, Walter Mosley, Christopher Moore, Tim Sandlin, Andrew Vachss, and gifted newcomers like Steven Hall or Richard Lange.

The stories of extraordinary, humble and decent people told in their own voices, from wingwalkers to poker players, flying farmers to seasoned soldiers.

My fair share of late nights spent with rock n’ roll bands, burlesque dancers, and other like-minded mutineers. An equal amount of time spent trying to assemble the vestiges of competency into a career, alas, to no avail.

Some signs of age, among them cracks at the corners of my eyes, largely due to a good many days spent out in the sun instead of toiling away at industry. Hair reduced from an insubordinate ponytail to the buzzsaw length of a football hooligan.

Hundreds of thousands of Lone Ranger cracks fielded with (mostly) good humor and only the occasional epithet.

Two broken knuckles. A scar on the left hand caused by experimentation with fire and caps for a child’s pop gun. A two-inch scar running the length of my ring finger whose origins are lost to antiquity. The vestiges of 18 stitches to the chin installed when I was twelve. One knee that makes the sound of a broken beer bottle crushed under a cowboy boot.

Memories of the things that will flash before my eyes when I go. The breakneck speeds of country roads. The unearthly echoes of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the comforting constancy of the Thames. That morning in Amsterdam, so cold the windmills had ceased their turning and my fingers numb to the touch. The dizzying trials of finding a foothold in the median of the Champs Elysees, high on red wine. The companionship of friends, be they disappeared or dead or consolingly, still among us.

And that was a number of years gone by. We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast. I’m off to finish I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, which may bear commentary later.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Moo Hoo Ha Ha

I'm sure this is just a coincidence, but someone pointed out that apparently I share names with the villain in a children's book called Winchell Mink: The Misadventure Begins by some pollyanna motivational writer.

Unfortunately, the book's description doesn't do much for the protagonist, either. "Constantly bullied by the inventively articulate Clayton Moore, quirky Winchell Mink, 11, finds solace with his box turtle, Hannibal. One day, it begins communicating telepathically with him and encourages him to go out and experience life, but he ends up falling off a cliff."

But I am loving the excerpt at Amazon. "It would be bad enough if they were all just your run-of-the-mill bullies. But this bully bunch was led by the deadly clever Clayton Moore, the meanest and most articulate bully known to bullykind."

If only it were so. I'm off to stroke my white cat while I polish up my Latin. Have a safe weekend, everybody. Don't run with scissors. Or get brainwashed by your telepathic pets into falling off a cliff. (I swear, I couldn't make this up if I tried).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Kirkus Lives!

In happier news, Kirkus Reviews seems to have shaken off the technological blight on its website these recent months. You can now read several of the special issues to which I contributed. Note that the specials are in .PDF format so they might take a minute or two to load. You'll also need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to see them.

The 2007 Graphic Spotlight

The most recent special is the 2007 Graphic Spotlight. Inside, you'll find some finely honed little features on Jason Rodriguez' fascinating Postcards project, for which he tasked artists and writers both famous and novice to create new stories based on the slim contents of antique postcards from his private collection. I also interviewed Peter Kuper (Mad Magazine, Stripped) about his autobiographical fiction Stop Forgetting to Remember, delved into the mad mind of Nick Bertozzi and his artistic murder mystery The Salon, and went down the rabbit hole with Bryan Talbot (Sandman, The Tale of One Bad Rat) to uncover the secret history of Alice in Sunderland. Finally, there's a short visit with Larry Gonick, who has continued cartooning the history of life, the universe and everything in his latest volume in the Cartoon History series.

The Big Book Guide

Prior to digging into comic books, I worked on a number of spotlights for this issue highlighting some of the books most hotly anticipated at BookExpo America and the American Library Association's annual convention. My contributions include a conversation with poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman, who created a fascinating hybrid of journalism and literature with The Zookeeper's Wife, a chronicle of two Warsaw scientists during World War II who helped save their fellow human beings from the concentration camps. You can also read about Red Moon Rising, a gripping history of Sputnik's launch and its consequences by old-school journalist Matthew Brzezinski, and Land of Lincoln, a more lighthearted look at America's gauntest president by Andrew Ferguson. Also on the governmental side, thriller novelist William Martin crafts a smart thriller in the 'lost treasure' vein that sends his series hero Peter Fallon looking for The Lost Constitution. Lastly, retired four-star general and 2004 presidential candidate Wes Clark talks to me about leadership, politics and what it's like to get shot at. Often, no less.

First Fiction

I love debut novelists. They're smart, eager and never dodge a question or sigh miserably like you've just asked them where they get their ideas, as some of their older brethren do from time to time. In the Kirkus First Fiction Special, you can find Craig Davidson, a genuine glutton for punishment if I've ever met one, talking about the street-fighting men who populate The Fighter. Eugene Drucker, the founding violinist behind The Emerson String Quartet, weighs in on his elegiac Holocaust novel The Savior. Escaped screenwriter Lisa Lutz spills the beans on The Spellman Files, a hilarious look at a dysfunctional family of private eyes. Real-life Wall Street whiz Lee Vance seeks Restitution. Last but absolutely not least, Richard Lange does his best Raymond Carver in Dead Boys, an exquisitely crafted selection of a dozen stories that bring on the bad guys.

If you haven't already seen it, you might also peruse the Mystery Special, including new stuff from Elmore Leonard, Donald E. Westlake, Walter Mosley, and Ridley Pearson. Next month, we can look forward to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Special - now with more sandworms!

It's Not Even Funny.

I don't follow all that many of my fellow writers on the web but there are a handful that just jump out at you with their clever writing and lunatic access to that giant, interconnected web of cool artists, musicians and thespians. Some people are just completely wired to what's happening in the weird world of pop culture.


I knew of Daniel Robert Epstein from his amazing interviews at SuicideGirls (Yes, I read it for the articles. Sue me). But he was also always bouncing around at Newsarama, UGO and various other melting pots of cultural miscellanea. The man was just profanely prolific and seemed to have interviewed every cult figure in the known universe. A couple of times, I contemplated sending him a note saying how much I liked his work, but I never got around to it.

Damn my eyes if I wasn't too late. He died Tuesday night. He was 31. His last blog entry was at 3:33 on Tuesday: "i'm so sick its not even funny"

You can find tributes and leave your godspeeds at Dark Horizons, SuicideGirls, CHUD, ComingSoon, Newsarama and various other spontaneous memorials. His interviews at SG are probably the best example of his work but you can also read past interviews with him here, and here.

Damn.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Just another shoot-em-up?

Why was it again that Clive Owen had no interest in playing James Bond?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Being of sound mind and questionable veracity...

I'm taking a break from deconstructing a spy novel about a man who may or may not be a figment of his own imagination. This stuff will give you a tic after a while if you're careful.


Right. Work. The new issue of Bookslut is up. Those of you with less indelicate constitutions can read this month's column on all murderous things Thai and hotly anticipate the release of John Burdett's Bangkok Haunts and Timothy Hallinan's A Nail Through the Heart. Also please to find inside a lot of literary stuff including interviews with Catherine Wagner, Cecil Castellucci; Heather Smith and Jeff Vandermeer dragging the latest comics out into the fiery sunlight; and Colleen Mondor's lazy summer reading list for girls. (Disarmingly similar to my own columns about blood and whiskey and firearms, I know. Try not to get them mixed up).

Speaking of comics, check out the cool new trailer for Eddie Campbell's cool new comic book The Black Diamond Detective Agency. You can also read a nice healthy excerpt from the book here.

Ed Gorman's novel The Poker Club is being adapted for the big screen, with a cast that includes Johnathon Schaech, who did such memorable work in Poison Ivy 2 and Road House 2 and 8MM 2. This does not bode well.

If you insist on delving into the less violent side of my illustrious writing career, you can try this month's non-crime work, which isn't half-bad. I had the pleasure this month of profiling the Silver Wings Wingwalking Team, who perform jaw-dropping feats of aerobatic daring for your viewing pleasure.

And finally, for your listening pleasure, The National rock out on French radio in what all the cool kids are calling "The White Sessions." I'm off to read about grief, sorrow, insanity and murder, toes tap-tap-tapping all the while.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Green Day - Working Class Hero

Not strictly crime-related but there's enough murder going on in Darfur to last us all a lifetime, so check it out. I kind of like Billy Joe Armstrong's take on John Lennon's bastard manifesto of a song. Also note that VH1 is streaming the album at www.vh1.com/artists/az/lennon_john/1544905/album.jhtml. Find out more about the album at www.instantkarma.org.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Loose Ends

I’ll alert you to a new column at Bookslut in the next day or two, delving into the mysterious metropolis that is Bangkok. Apparently there are some minor technical issues (“that end with me spending hours on the phone pretending to the nice helpful tech guy that I know what the fuck he's saying,” says Jessa). In the meantime, the chief Bookslut herself is rocking the mike at several events around Chicago through Monday. Check out the Blog for more details.

BookExpo America is over and done. I haven’t read too many exciting reports from this year’s show, so I’m not too piqued over not making it. So far, the most intriguing images have come from Hard Case Crime, where Charles Ardai apparently found a pair of dead-on 1940s vamps to breathe life into the pulp publisher’s sensational covers. That's publisher Charles Ardai, gun moll Meredith Napolitano, actor James Huffman as the P.I., and Victoria Lee as a good girl gone wrong.

In other news, I neglected to post the Rocky Mountain News’ summer reading special. My very cool editor Patti Thorn flogs several crime titles I’ve already perused, including books by Robert B. Parker, John Burdett, and Jeffrey Deaver. I briefly lay eyes on The Raw Shark Texts, The Spellman Files, Heyday, and Sacred Games. Um, beach books, all. I swear.

John Harvey has been awarded the Cartier Dagger Award for 2007. Sarah has the full roundup of this year’s nominees.

Also, the Quill nominations are out, for you unsophisticated peasants who like that sort of thing. (I’m one of them. They may be the only organization who managed to figure out a way to give Christopher Moore an award). Besides the usual boring Oprah-anointed nominees, the Quills give props to Sissy Spacek’s thoughtful reading of To Kill A Mockingbird, Bryan Talbot’s Carrollian acid trip Alice in Sunderland, and Matt Beynon Rees’ terrific detective story A Collaborator in Bethlehem.

There’s a quick-and-dirty interview with transplanted Irish crime writer Adrian McKinty over at Crime Never Pays.

To quote the late Bill Hicks, if you work in marketing or advertising, kill yourself. Just planting seeds.

Finally, a hell of a lot of good guys died on this day in 1944. Take a moment to remember them. There are a few interesting recollections at National Geographic and the UK’s D-Day Museum at Portsmouth.

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Half Awake in a Fake Empire

I don’t normally get into the business of recommending music here but I’m going to make an exception. I’m not entirely dead to new music, but since I quit staying up late writing about pint-swilling, rock-and-roll bands at all hours of night, I tend not to sponge up new creativity the way I used to.

That said, I’ve had the Brooklyn-based band The National on heavy rotation for weeks now. Their latest album, The Boxer, is a very weird amalgamation of straight-up musicianship, anchored by Matt Berninger’s offbeat bass voice, thrust upon deeply inventive stories of murder, lust, and madness. It’s music to write stories by.

You can listen to some essential tracks at the band’s Myspace site. Try “Fake Empire,” which starts as an idyllic excursion, layers in a peculiar backbeat that diverges wildly from the original melody, draws all the elements together again, and then descends into a Velvet-esque cacophony.

Bask in the elegance of a line like “You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends,” a lyric that could inspire a tale of furtive romance all by itself.

That’s without even getting into the back catalog, with songs like “Murder Me Rachael,” a relatively simple, repetitive pop song with some very sinister lyrics. “I saw my love with pretty boy, so say goodbye to pretty boy… murder me, Rachael I made a mistake, I loved her to ribbons.”

And the lovely, romantic ode to romance that is “Karen.”

Karen, put me in a chair, fuck me and make me a drink

I've lost direction, and I'm past my peak

I'm telling you this isn't me

No, this isn't me

Karen, believe me, you just haven't seen my good side yet

You can also try the band live at Radiolibre, delve deeper in the madness with an interview at Sixeyes, or check out an article on the band article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.