Monday, June 24, 2013

Killer Apps, Westerns, Pinkertons, Hammett's Missing Years, and Bodies In Your Bed

Snitch World by Jim Nisbet (PM Press). Another example of absurdist noir from one its foremost practitioners. This is, in some ways, a throwback to Nisbet's earlier work, with an added dose of San Francisco psychogeography thrown in for good measure. But Snitch World is also an homage to blue collar San Francisco, or at least those  on the margins who can still remember it. A kind of  last stand against killer apps, with survival techniques, be they drugs, drink, crime, wit or public disorder. With its barroom scenes and taxi cab rides, this is Nisbet at his most painfully humorous. Could there be, as SW's Klinger might wonder, an app for this kind of writing? I doubt it.

Hollywood Westerns by Robert B. Pippin (Yale University). After reading his book on film noir, my review of which can be found here, I was expecting great things from Hollywood Westerns and American Myth. The book concentrates on Howard Hawkes' Red River, and John Ford's The Searchers and Who Shot Liberty Valance. So it's somewhat limited in scope and perhaps slightly disappointing. Nevertheless, Pippin draws a great deal from the myths those films represent, relating it to the trajectory of the US. In fact, there's as much, if not more, packed in these 155 pages then in a book like  Slotkin's mammoth Gunfighter Nation. Anyone who loves westerns will certainly want to have a look at this one.   

Western Crime Fiction Goes East: The Russian Pinkerton Craze 1907-1934 by Boris Dralyuk (Brill). A fascinating subject: the popularity and social meaning of Pinkerton, Holmes, and Nick Carter stories in Russia prior to and just after the revolution. Published in pulp formats, they represented a Manichean universe that, even though they came from the West, fit into both the old order, already in turmoil, and into the new command society overseen by Bukharin and, citing Marx's love of crime fiction, his demand for "red Pinkerton" stories. It turns out that a number of Russia's top writers- Esenin, Blok, etc.- dabbled in the Pinkerton genre. Dralyuk compares the publications to dime pulp novels and comic books in the U.S.. Likewise, the role of such fiction was similarly ambiguous: was it subverting the culture, upholding its values, or doing both at the same time. The book is fascinating when it comes to Russian reading habits, the  role of parody, wrestling, and the kinoroman- not dissimilar from the original Serie Noire ethos. Overpriced, so, unless you're part of the 1%, order it at your local library.

Hammett Unwritten by Owen Fitzstephen, with Notes and Afterword by Gordon McAlpine (Seventh Street Books). An ingenious little book. Fitzstephen is both the name of the author and the name of  the mastermind writer and Hammett doppelganger in Dain Curse. It's a novel that purports, tongue only half in cheek, to explain Hammett's two decade long writer's block.  Reminiscent of Dominic Stansberry's Manifesto For the Dead and Ariel S. Winter's Police at the Funeral, but even more reliant on biographical detail and used to a greater effect. In doing so, Fitzstephen/McAlpine  highlights crucial moments- based on fact as well as fiction- in Hammett's life, all of them revolving around something close to the Maltese Falcon. Incredibly, those disparate moments are pulled together to make a compelling narrative. But why no mention of Hammett's unfinished Tulip?

Stiffed by Rob Kitchin (Snubnose Press). From another small press churning out novels that are often more interesting than those produced by the majors with their conglomerate concerns. Kitchin's book is a hilarious and frightening Westlakesque tale about keeping one's friends,  getting rid of unwanted corpses and how to deal with the subsequent fall-out. Because waking at 5 a.m with a hard-on and a corpse in your bed might not be the best way to start the day. Uneven at times, with occasional repetitions, implausibilities, and mid-Atlantic perplexities, but, in all, thoroughly entertaining and not without a smidgen of social value.

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