30 June 2013

Books: Joyland by Stephen King (2013)

The Hard Case Crime imprint series was founded in 2004 by publishers Charles Ardai and Max Phillips. The series recreates, in editorial form and content, the style of the paperback crime novels of the 1940s and '50s that also features original art done in the pulp style. The collection includes both reprints of novels in that genre along with new titles written for that style. 

In 2005, Stephen King wrote The Colorado Kid for the line and it became the most well-known titles. Still, that book, offered little in the way of actual procedural detective-work, no sex, violence or action, possibly no crime, and no solution to its mystery (and somehow, the cable net Syfy was able to create a series called Haven, which is loosely based on the novella. It’s in its fourth season). 

Now King returns with his second story for Hard Case Crime line-up, Joyland. It’s the story of a college student, Devin Jones who spends summer and fall 1973 working at a North Carolina amusement park. Reminiscent of King’s The Body (the novella from Different Season collection that became the movie Stand By Me), it’s told by its sixtysomething narrator looking back. Devin has arrived in North Carolina after being dumped by his girlfriend and is still mourning the death of his mother four years earlier. So he’s escaping the ghosts of his past and trying to find a future. Joyland Amusement offers some solace, and soon the 21 year-old finds himself one of the most popular new kids there, and making life-long friends with Erin and Tom. He also becomes involved with a single-mother named Anne, and her wheelchair bound son Mike, who King gives his patented variation on physic powers. While Dev is enjoying his time there, learning the lingo and slang of carny-style life at Joyland, he also hopes to see the ghost in the park’s Horror House, which is supposedly haunted by young woman who was murdered there. With help from Erin, he begins to investigate the girl’s death and stumbles upon a possible trail of dead women that have spanned years. 

This novel is also, in many ways, a coming-of age story, and much like King in his later years (though it’s a theme that goes way back), he talks about how all our joys, the sorrows, our tragedies and even our triumphs are bound together and can assert themselves at any given time. 

But, for fans of this imprint, they will discover that not much really happens. The mystery is not that deep; the ghost –which is real-, makes only a fleeting appearance and I got the impression that the book is really an over-long short story. Still, I forgive King for these indulges. I love his work and even his weakest stuff is still worth reading.

24 June 2013

Books: In the Night Room by Peter Straub (2004)

Near the end of Peter Straub’s Lost Boy, Lost Girl I discovered he wrote a sequel to the book that was released in 2004, a year after the first one. So I looked up the book at the library by my house –and not a huge surprise- they did not have In The Night Room (when it comes to the books I want to read, my library –a four minute walk from my front door- never carries them), but the San Dimas location did. I was going to go there, but on Friday last week, I went to the local used book store by my house and found a beat-up copy at the Book Rack, so I bought it. 

In some ways, this book seems less a sequel and more a continuation of Lost Boy, Lost Girl. Set a year after those events, Tim Underhill is struggling writing his newest book. Still traumatized by the loss of his nephew -to some Elsewhere land- he begins getting cryptic email messages that tell him that the Dark Man –Joseph Kalendar- is in need of something, and Underhill is the man to do it. Whether he wants to or not. He’s also being stalked by a fan that has menace on the mind. Meanwhile, we meet a woman named Willy Patrick –who after a horrible young life that continued with the murder of her husband and daughter- who is about to marry the perfect man –at least in her eyes. But this award winning author is also drawn into places, like a warehouse, where she knows that her daughter Holly is being held in there, despite knowing she is dead.

But worlds are about to collide for both Tim and Willy, and the doorway between reality and fiction blurs and nothing will be the same.

With In the Night Room, Straub’s recent stab at metafiction comes fully out. Readers of Jasper Fforde will understand what Straub is doing here, by creating a novel within a novel, and mixing in some dark fantasy along with psychological horror, he blends the genres and creates a fast-paced, at times Dickensesque type story. 

Plus, I sense, Straub is not done with this arc.

21 June 2013

Books: Lost Boy, Lost Girl by Peter Straub (2003)

Over the years, I’ve read a few Peter Straub books (Ghost Story, Shadowland, Floating Dragon and the two he wrote with Stephen King, The Talisman and The Black House). While he writes a lot of horror, I don’t think its traditional horror like what made Stephen King a household name. His novels have tendency to bit more gothic-like thrillers with supernatural overtones.  Plus he is a bit more florid with his prose, but not in a way that seems to imply any sort of negativity. It’s an interesting style, that’s all. His books are more about atmosphere, about unreliable narrators that include things that go bump in the night.

Now while I’ve been reading books since I was 13 or 14, I’ve remembered all of them. I’ve never re-read a book unintentionally (I was always amazed when working in the book business when I encountered a person returning a book because as they began reading it, they suddenly remembered that, yes, they had read it before). And it was only back in 2006 that I started keeping a full digital record of what I’ve read. For a while, I remember keeping a note book, but for the life of me, I’m not sure what I ever did with them.  

Anyways, the point is I thought I read Lost Boy, Lost Girl before, but that I simply forgotten about it. Which was strange, considering I never forgot what I read. As I began reading the book, I suddenly thought all of this seemed familiar; had I read this? So I racked my brain and came to the conclusion that it was possible to forget a book. But then again, I had just finished reading The Throat back in '03 or '04 and must’ve read a chapter of this book when it came out in hardcover, which is why I remember reading some passages.

But I will admit this is the first time I’m not clearly sure if I have. 

So I rattled on –if I read it before, well so what. 

Beginning in 1988, with his Vietnam novel Koko, Straub introduced us to Tim Underhill, a veteran who has become a successful novelist but continues to be haunted by the atrocities in ‘Nam and encounters with the supernatural. That book formed a sort of loose trilogy called the Blue Rose that included Mystery and the after-mentioned The Throat. While Underhill is mentioned in Mystery, he does not reappear until the third book. 

Tim returns in Lost Boy, Lost Girl and has him struggling to help his brother Philip and his nephew, Mark, cope with the recent suicide of Philip's wife, Nancy. As perplexing as her death is, Tim begins to realize that just before her death, Mark finally “noticed” the empty house that lies just behind his house –as if it wanted Mark to see it. That triggered an obsession with the fifteen year-old to discover the history of the house, only to learn that Nancy was somehow connected to its dark past. But when Mark disappears, it is first suspected that he fallen victim to a serial killer stalking Millhaven. But with no body, no one is sure what happened to him. Timothy and Philip must struggle to connect the threads of this mystery and find Mark before he falls victim to the horrors of the abandoned home; horrors both human and supernatural in nature.

Straub is a good writer and deserves a wider audience than he has. While some say he plays in the same sandbox that his long-time friend Stephen King does (and has stories set in and around the same area that also features Tom Pasmore, another recurring character) his style is certainly different. While King goes for the juggler, Straub takes a different route, one a bit slower, more deliberately paced. 

So in that way, he makes the same genre a little bit different, yet just as creepy.

13 June 2013

Books: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011)

I came across Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children in June of 2011, a month before Borders announced they were closing down for good. There was that odd, creepy cover with the floating girl, and then those weird and freaky vintage photos inside made me want to read the book. But I didn’t buy it and by the time the stores closing sales began, other books began occupying my mind (I hid a lot of books, which was fun, because the people running the closing –and my stick-in-the-mud GM- where on the look-out for employees stashing books). The thing with me and books is the real interesting ones, the more off-beat ones, have a tendency to stay with me. And this one did. 

But Miss Peregrine’s was to stay in hardcover for two years, only to finally see a paper edition this month. So I bought it at Target, excited to see it and read it. Now that I’ve completed, I’ve got say while the book is far from original, it’s still fun. 

Jacob's grandfather likes to tell these stories about how when he was a child he was sent away from home to an orphanage on a Welsh island, he was accompanied by other "peculiar" children and supposedly kept safe from "monsters". As Jacob grows from wondrous child to petulant teen he realizes that his grandfather's tales are probably just tall tales. Then his grandfather is horrifically killed in an "accident" and Jacob heads off to Wales to visit his grandfather's old home as a form of closure. But it soon becomes apparent that his grandfather was telling the truth all this time.

While the novel is just like many other YA novels of the supernatural that have come out since the Harry Potter series –it does follow the basic color wheel of plotting –Riggs does develop the characters well and creates some really bad monsters. The use of odd vintage photos enhances the story as well. 

Plus, it has time travel, and heaven knows, I love time travel stories.

Overall, a nice start to a series; book two is scheduled for January.

08 June 2013

Books: Murder As A Fine Art by David Morrell (2013)

Three years ago, I read Dan Simmons Drood, a fictional account of writer Charles Dickens last five years as he toiled to finish what was to be his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood –which he never did. Simmons was able to mix a factual biography from the lives of Dickens, Wilke Collins, and other literary and historical figures of the Victorian era into a complex plot, which was long, but well executed.

David Morrell does the same here, somewhat, by using a real person, essayist Thomas De Quincey, and landing him into a 1854 London, a city that is suddenly and violently thrown asunder when a murder resembling a mass killing from 40 years ago takes place. De Qunicey was famous for writing his account of being addicted to laudanum - tincture of opium containing approximately 10% powdered opium by weight (the equivalent of 1% morphine) - in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. At the time, and many decades later, the idea of a man of well means –the stiff upper crust of Victorian England- would lower his “station” and broadcast his personal life for all the world to read was seen as horrifying. 

He also wrote On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts, a fictional, satirical account of an address made to a gentleman's club concerning the aesthetic appreciation of murder. It focused particularly on a series of murders allegedly committed in 1811 by John Williams in the neighborhood of Ratcliffe Highway, London. Williams was the one and only prime suspect, though today everything the police had on him seemed circumstantial at best. As it was pointed out, the courts of that time gave greater weight to logic and eyewitness testimony than to any forensic evidence. The concept was that if a narrative fit the facts and made sense, then more than likely that person was guilty). Williams, who was arrested just before Christmas, never lived to stand trial, as he hung himself over the Christmas holiday. His suicide, it was then recorded, meant he was guilty.

Morrell’s novel brings the aged De Quincey and his devoted daughter Emily to London in December of 1854. Though the author is in debt, the trip and their lodgings were paid for by someone else, a person who also claims to have knowledge of a prostitute named Ann whom De Quincey fall in love with fifty years ago, but is desperate to learn her fate. Then a series of ferocious mass murders, identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier, takes place and De Quincey becomes the number one suspect, as the blueprint for the killings seems to be his classic essay on the Ratcliffe Highway killings. Desperate to clear his name but also crippled by his opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his outspoken Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

The book is a fine psychological thriller, and Morrell has created some wonderful characters that crackle off the page. De Quincey’s addiction runs through the entire book and the author has obviously done a lot of research into addiction and into the mind of a killer. Much like Caleb Carr’s The Alienst, the book is also somewhat about the early days of forensic science, when investigators began looking at killers and their victims differently. Also present you see the dark side of London, the fog (which at times could be considered a character), the soot, the class structure that seems to persist even today. 

Much like what Simmons tried to evoke with Drood, Morrell's does a great job in blending fact and fiction and reads like a Wilke Collins novel (the man that is credited for creating the first real novel of suspense) from the 19th-century. You’ll swear, as you turn the pages, “that you'll hear the hooves clattering on cobblestones, the racket of dustmen, and the shrill call of vendors.”