martes, 6 de marzo de 2018

The Big Knock-Over

"The Big Knock-Over"
by Dashiell Hammett
USA, 1927

Farfetched but commensurately high-octane crime caper frantically putting the pedal to the metal of the idea of 150 crooks gathering from across the country to pull off an audacious double bank robbery in broad daylight in Prohibition-era San Francisco before succumbing to the inevitable double-cross as the body count mounts.  I liked it.  From a writing standpoint, I enjoyed the tough guy humor & verve of both the pulp similes--"the room was black as an honest politician's prospects" (372)--and of the borderline parodic high testosterone moments like this one: "She was neither tall nor short, thin nor plump...  She was probably twenty.  Her eyes were blue, her mouth red, her teeth white, the hair-ends showing under her black-green-and-silver turban were brown, and she had a nose.  Without getting steamed up over the details, she was nice.  I said so" (365, ellipses added).  From a sociological standpoint, I was even more tickled to see that what the narrator cheekily refers to as a Who's Who in Crookdom (374) matter-of-factly includes blacks, whites, mulattos and various shades in between as apparent gangland equals--crime as the great American melting pot?  Whatever, not a bad way to while away the time and an entertainment whose thrill ride features are complicated by a morally ambiguous narrator and enlivened by some newly minted slang imported from the jazzbo and gangster worlds.  Hep.

"The Big Knock-Over" bloodily graces pages 364-393 of the new Hammett anthology The Big Book of the Continental Op (New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2017) edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett.

lunes, 19 de febrero de 2018

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes.  Music, Music, Music.  Boys, Boys, Boys.  (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014)
by Viv Albertine
England, 2014

Utterly entertaining/bodily fluids-rich punk rock-and-motherhood memoir from original Slits lead guitarist Viv Albertine (b. 1954).  While the pull no punches Albertine can manage to be both amusing and revolting at the same time--"My humiliation is overruled by terror" (59) she fesses up in one early nervous laughter- and squirm-inducing sequence recounting how as a teenager she had to enlist her mother's tweezing and spoon-crushing aid in ridding herself of an infestation of crabs--and the various first generation punk anecdotes were the expected muzak to my ears, what I was increasingly appreciative of by the end was less the juicy tidbits about what it was like to pal around with the likes of the Clash and the Sex Pistols in her adventurous youth and more her openness in laying out how she responded to the more prosaic challenges of motherhood, a failing marriage and a surplus of midlife bullshit once her life went analog to digital age- and youthful exuberance- and fading celebrity-wise.  In short, a very engaging read even w/o the "scandalous" mid-1970s bits about shooting up with Johnny Thunders and what it was like to sort of have sex with a Sex Pistol.  Looking forward to the follow-up.

Viv Albertine then & now (photos: top, David Corio, 1980; bottom, Michael Putland, c. 2014)
When we arrive in Philadelphia, we decide to pay Sun Ra a visit in homage to his great music.  We don't know how to find him so we do what we'd do in England and look him up in the phone book.  Phone directories are inside public phone booths in America, same as England.  We look under Sun, but find nothing, we feel a bit foolish but we also check under Ra, and there it is: Ra, Sun - followed by his number and address.  Someone suggests we call and check he's in (not to ask if he wants to see us), someone else shouts 'No no!  It's destiny, of course he'll be in!'  We all agree we should just take a chance and turn up, so we pile back into the van (Ari, Tessa, Bruce, Steve Beresford, Christine Robertson - who co-manages us with Dick O'Dell - and Dave Lewis, who later plays guitar with us) and navigate through Philadelphia, past rickety clapboard houses with stoops, stopping and asking directions whenever we get lost.  It's Hallowe'en, we're dressed in our usual stuff but the people we stop peer past Christine, who's driving, into the back of the van and ask if those are our Hallowe'en costumes.  We arrive at Sun Ra's small terraced house; it's very ordinary and modest with a front gate, short path and plain front door.  Not what I imagined at all, I thought there'd at least be a plaster planet on the gatepost or something.  We knock, hopping from one foot to the other like children on the doorstep of a birthday party - Christine and Dave stay in the van so we don't overwhelm Sun Ra - no answer.  We knock again.  The next-door neighbour opens her front door: 'You lookin' for Mr. Ra?'  'Yes!' we chorus.  'He's away on tour right now.'  She gives us a quick look up and down and immediately shuts the door.  Still, we got to see Sun Ra's house and Sun Ra's street and talk to Sun Ra's neighbour.  Result.
(Clothes, Clothes, Clothes.  Music, Music, Music.  Boys, Boys, Boys., 236-237)

lunes, 1 de enero de 2018

Mi Top 10 de 2017

Lord Jim, de Joseph Conrad (Inglaterra, 1900)

Un barrage contre le Pacifique, de Marguerite Duras (Francia, 1950)

Muerte súbita, de Álvaro Enrigue (México, 2013)

The Broken Road, de Patrick Leigh Fermor (Inglaterra, 2013)

Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy, de Max Hastings (Inglaterra, 1984)

The Centurions, de Jean Lartéguy (Francia, 1960)

The Praetorians, de Jean Lartéguy (Francia, 1961)

Midnight in Sicily, de Peter Robb (Australia, 1996)

Fiesta en la madriguera, de Juan Pablo Villalobos (México, 2010)

Thérèse Raquin, de Émile Zola (Francia, 1867)

Mención honorífica [Honorable Mention]
Journey into Fear, de Eric Ambler (Inglaterra, 1940); Young Man with a Horn, de Dorothy Baker  (EE. UU., 1938); David Copperfield, de Charles Dickens (Inglaterra, 1849-50); Chourmo, de Jean-Claude Izzo (Francia, 1996); The Way Some People Die & The Galton Case, de Ross Macdonald (EE. UU., 1951 & 1959); Gaudy Night, de Dorothy L. Sayers (Inglaterra, 1935); Los mares del sur, de Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (España, 1979).

*en orden alfabético por autor [in alphabetical order by author]*

lunes, 9 de octubre de 2017


Chourmo (Folio Policier, 2014)
by Jean-Claude Izzo
France, 1996

Two books into Izzo's brooding Marseille Trilogy, I'm increasingly bummed that I only have one more title in the series to look forward to.  Rad "mayhem yarn," somewhere between Raymond Chandler's Marlowe novels and Yasmina Khadra's Commissaire Llob quartet both in temperament and on the crime-and-disillusionment scale, spun with pace and soul not to mention an unusually distinctive sense of place.  A Marseille where corrupt cops, the white collar wing of the international mafia, and local Islamist extremists from the Bronx-like northern banlieues of the city all vie to suck the life blood out of their teeming prey in the so-called "première ville du tiers-monde" ["first city of the Third World"] (423).  And a Marseille in which even the most world-weary among its inhabitants can find some much needed solace in revisiting old folk songs imported from Algiers and Naples, savoring the perfect bouillabaisse or partaking in some other aspect of the immigrant-rich patrimony of "l'art de vivre marseillais" ["the Marseille-style art of living"] (389).  "La vie est un mauvais film, oú le Technicolor ne change rien au fond de l'histoire" ["Life is a bad movie where Technicolor doesn't change anything at the heart of the story"] (385), laments ex-cop Fabio Montale in a line that could have been lifted straight out of a Jean-Pierre Melville French gangster film, reflecting on friends and family now gone--a lament rife with irony given the vitality of the life-force coursing through Izzo's sour mash note to his native city. A treat.

Jean-Claude Izzo (1945-2000)

Chourmo appears on pp. 305-579 of Izzo's La trilogie Fabio Montale (Paris: Folio Policier, 2014).  For more on the preceding volume in the trilogy, please see the post about Total Khéops written in an almost unintelligible French here.

domingo, 1 de octubre de 2017

"Entre Andreiev y Arlt": The 2017 Argentinean (& French & Russian) Literature(s) of Doom: September Links

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Juan Moreira by Eduardo Gutiérrez

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola

Rise, in lieu of a field guide
(on The Lover by Marguerite Duras)

Richard, Caravana de recuerdos
For anybody interested in more Zola (and who isn't?), just want to put in a belated plug for the five bitchin' posts Tom of Wuthering Expectations ran as part of Thérèse Raquin Week all the way back in 2010.  Great stuff!

Doom, with a new table of discontents, will continue in October.  It's never too late to join in on the "fun."

sábado, 30 de septiembre de 2017

Crossing the River Zbrucz

"Crossing the River Zbrucz"
by Isaac Babel [translated from the Russian by Peter Constantine]
USSR, 1926

Rereading Isaac Babel's two-page short story "Crossing the River Zbrucz"--like Zola's "noir" Thérèse Raquin, yet another Doom classic with a totally different vibe but a similarly vivid palette--was a great way to close out my reading month.  In between terse, war reporting-like writing about "the stench of yesterday's blood and slaughtered horses" and of innocents caught in the crossfire of the Polish-Soviet War, Babel's narrator seamlessly slips in lyrical appeals to the senses.  Item: "Fields of purple poppies are blossoming around us, a noon breeze is frolicking in the yellowing rye, virginal buckwheat is standing on the horizon like the wall of a faraway monastery."  Item: "The orange sun is rolling across the sky like a severed head, gentle light glimmers in the ravines among the clouds, the banners of the sunset are fluttering above our heads."  Item: "Only the moon, clasping its round, shining, carefree head in its blue hands, loiters beneath my window."  Then, before you can appreciate an abrupt transition is at hand, you're in a commandeered room with the narrator as he tells how "I find ransacked closets, torn pieces of women's fur coats on the floor, human excrement, and fragments of the holy Seder plate that the Jews use once a year for Passover."  Would that shit were the only thing to be found in that room visited by the dogs of war!

"Crossing the River Zbrucz," the attention-grabbing leadoff tale in Babel's Red Cavalry collection, appears on pp. 203-204 of the Nathalie Babel-edited The Complete Works of Isaac Babel (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001).  1,000+ more pages of Babel to look forward to, comrades!

miércoles, 27 de septiembre de 2017

Mientras la ciudad duerme. Pistoleros, policías y periodistas en Buenos Aires, 1920-1945

Mientras la ciudad duerme.  Pistoleros, policías y periodistas en Buenos Aires, 1920-1945 (Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2012)
por Lila Caimari
Argentina, 2012

Un ensayo perspicaz y bastante jugoso sobre la Buenos Aires de los años veinte y treinta desde la perspectiva del "gremio ladronesco" del crimen (40).  Caimari, investigadora del CONICET y historiadora y docente de la Universidad de San Andrés de Bs. As., mantiene que el aumento de los delitos violentos en la capital, frente a "la comparativa moderación estadí delitos tradicionales" y/o no violentos en ese período de tiempo, servió para confirmar la certeza pública "de una calle cada vez más insegura" a través de unos "golpes de potencia estimulante y evocativa absolutamente novedosa" llevados por la difusión del automóvil, del revólver y otras herramientas modernas (31).  La proliferación de la pistola automática y, más tarde, la ametralladora entre criminales criollos como el Pibe Cabeza, Chicho Grande o --mi apodo favorito-- un tal Mate Cocido, por ejemplo, fue vista por porteños obedientes a las leyes como algo relacionado con la importación de bienes y valores extranjeros como se puede ver en esta editorial extraña publicada en La Nación: "Las leyendas de la edad primitiva hacían intervenir a los dioses para crear la espada, la creación del revólver parece obra de un norteamericano que tiene prisa" (53).  En otra parte, Caimari señala un cambio en el estilo de reportaje sobre el crimen, notando que "en la medida en que se interesa más en el espectáculo del delito que en su verdad"  --o en la presentación de "sucesos de cinematográficos aspectos"-- "la narración fotográfica de la prensa" se convirtió en "una suerte de 'alcaponización'...del transgresor local" en el que "este transgresor preocupa menos que su performance" en cuanto a "la nueva fabricación de celebridad" del "pistolero-estrella" (63-64 & 74-75).  Un libro interesante, lleno de citas de Arlt y Borges, que incluye algunas reflexiones sumamente irónicas sobre la nostalgia de un bajo fondo antiguo en Buenos Aires y en otros lugares de hoy: "Cuenta el bandoneonista José Libertella", escribe Caimari, "que para publicitar su espectáculo en París, en 1981, Le Monde lo describía como un espectáculo de 'treinta y tres artistas del bajo fondo de Buenos Aires'" (157).  Pues, ¡que viva el bajo fondo!

Lila Caimari