Book Review: THE LAST STAND by Mickey Spillane (Hard Case Crime 2018)


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2018 is the centennial anniversary of Mickey Spillane’s birth! Spillane got his start in comic books, then caused a sensation with his 1947 novel I, THE JURY, introducing the world to that hardest of hardboiled PI’s, Mike Hammer. Hard Case Crime, an imprint every pulp fiction fan should know about, celebrates Spillane’s birth by releasing THE LAST STAND, The Mick’s last completed novel, with a bonus unpublished novella from the early 1950’s.

Spillane with friend/literary executor Max Allan Collins

Mickey’s literary executor and friend Max Allan Collins writes the introduction. Collins is no stranger to the hardboiled genre himself, having been Chester Gould’s replacement on the long-running comic strip Dick Tracy from 1977-92, author of the graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION, and the Quarry series of books (made into a Showtime series in 2016). Since Spillane’s death in 2006, Collins has been editing and completing the writer’s (“I’m not an…

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Book Review: Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff by Sean Penn


The debut novel of actor Sean Penn, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff basically reads as if it was written by someone who read the first thirty pages of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and then thought, “I could do this!  How difficult can it be!?”  When the book first came out, several critics declared it to be the worst novel ever written but I don’t know if I’d go that far.  It may very well be the worst novel of 2018 but it’s not really memorable enough to deserve the grand title of worst ever.

It’s very much a debut novel, which is to say that there’s no plot, all of the characters have cutesy names, and it’s absurdly overwritten.  Penn really goes out of his way to let you know that he owns a thesaurus.  Making it somehow even more annoying is his habit of using footnotes to explain any word or acronym that he suspects that we, being mere readers, will not be able to understand.

As far as I can tell, each chapter is about whatever Penn was upset about on the day that he wrote it.  The first half of the novel is all about Bob Honey making money selling plumbing equipment to Jehovah’s Witnesses and murdering old people because old people take up too much space.  Though the entire book takes place in Honey’s mind, we’re never quite sure who Bob Honey is because Sean Penn himself doesn’t seem to know.  Penn came up with a silly name and a stupid career and some random quirks and then I presume he forced his friends to read the first few chapters.

“Did you like it?” Penn asked.

“Uhmmm…” his friends replied, “It’s …. uhmmm … interesting….”

“I know!  It really is!”

The second half of the book was written after Trump was elected President because Bob Honey suddenly goes from being apolitical and ennui-stricken to suddenly being really pissed off that the country has been taken over by “The Landlord.”  Suddenly, Bob Honey is a woke assassin and you get the feeling that if Hillary Clinton had won, Penn never wouldn’t have had any idea how to finish the book.  However, since Trump won, the book ends with a lengthy poem in which Penn mentions every political cause that he cares about, along with letting us know that he’s skeptical about #MeToo.  Thanks for sharing, Sean.

It’s a strange book because, on the one hand, Penn seems desperate to let us all know how woke and anti-Trump he is but, at the same time, it’s hard to read Bob Honey and not come away with the impression that Sean Penn really doesn’t like, trust, or respect women.  Every woman who appears in the book is either ridiculed for being simple-minded or portrayed as being inherently evil.  Honey is obsessed with his ex-wife, who drives an ice cream truck, for some reason.  I kept expecting some sort of scene between Bob and his ex-wife but no.  Instead, Honey just sees her truck and then let’s us know that everything’s basically her fault.  It appears that the only reason she’s in the book is so Sean Penn can yell, “Ice cream truck!  YOU GET IT!?  ICE CREAM TRUCK!  SYMBOLISM, YOU RED  STATE PHILISTINES!”  There is only one vaguely positive female character in the book but she’s only present in flashbacks and Penn spends more time talking about her vagina than her personality.  Plus, she’s described as being hairless because … reasons, I guess.  The book comes across as if Penn wrote it in between jerking off to his whore/madonna complex.

As I said, there’s really no plot.  Bob Honey gets annoyed.  A reporter bothers Bob Honey.  Bob Honey thinks about how much he hates women.  Bob Honey goes to Baghdad during the Iraq War.  Bob Honey goes to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.  Basically, it’s a tour of places and things that Sean Penn has never experienced but which he has probably considered making a movie about.

(And, to give credit where credit is due, the books reads like something Uwe Boll would have vomited onto the screen.)

Here’s the thing: if you wrote this book, you wouldn’t be able to get it published and people would probably take your obsession with finding a hairless lover as evidence that you should be on a sex offenders list.  Because Sean Penn is Sean Penn, he gets his book published and then gets to appears on talk shows to defend the stupid thing.  If you’re a real writer (as opposed to someone who just woke up one day and said, “I’m going to write a book!”) and that doesn’t leave you outraged, then you’re not paying attention.  Because as bad as Bob Honey is, Sean Penn’s second novel will probably be published as well.  While you’re working hard on a fourth rewrite, Sean Penn will be appearing on Colbert and promoting Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff Part 2.

A lot of people have held up Bob Honey as evidence of Sean Penn’s stupidity.  I don’t think he’s so much stupid as he’s just insecure.  A common theme when it comes to anything that Sean Penn does appears to be a desire to be known as more than just a good actor.  As a result, Penn directs overwrought movies that take themselves too seriously.  (I mean, I liked Into the Wild but, even while watching that film, it seemed like a minor miracle that Penn restrained his instinct toward pretension just enough not to blow it.)  He goes on talk shows and insists that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Hugo Chavez was a great guy and people in Venezuela are really, really happy.  He takes it upon himself to let Oscar viewers know that “Jude Law is one of our finest actors” and he sends angry, profane notes to the creators of South Park.  And, of course, he ends up writing books like Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff.  “Look, world,” Penn seems to be shouting with all of this, “I’m complicated!  There’s more to me than you think!”

And you have to wonder: why not just take joy in being really, really good at what you actually can do?  Sean Penn’s performance in Milk probably did more for the cause of human rights than any book he could ever write or speech he could ever give.  And yet, apparently, that’s not enough.

We need good actors who are willing to give performances in films that might otherwise not get made without a “name” in the cast.

We don’t need a sequel to Bob Honey.

Hopefully, Sean Penn will rediscover his love of acting before writing one.

Book Review: NOIR by Christopher Moore (William Morrow 2018)


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In between everything else I do, I read about a book a week, mainly mystery fiction. Current favorites include James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, and John Sandford, all with their own unique styles, and all masters of the genre. But when I need a good laugh, I pick up Christopher Moore. I first became aware of Moore’s work with his brilliant 2002 novel LAMB, OR THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO BIFF, CHRIST’S CHILDHOOD PAL, an irreverent satire narrated by Jesus’s good buddy Biff that’s as outrageous as it sounds, and sinfully funny to boot.

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in “Out of the Past” (RKO 1947) have nothing on Sammy and The Cheese!

This time around, Moore goes from taking on the Scriptures to the hard-boiled world of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The novel is set in 1947 San Francisco, a very good year for noir

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Book Review: ORSON WELLES’S LAST MOVIE by Josh Karp (St. Martin’s Press 2015)


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There’s a lot of buzz around the film community about THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, Orson Welles’s unfinished film begun in 1970 that he worked on for almost a decade. Welles used different film stocks (8, 16, & 35 MM) and varied his styles to create a film-within-a-film focusing on the early 70’s clash between the Old Hollywood of the studio system and the New Hollywood auteurs (Welles, the ultimate auteur himself, disdained the term).  Netflix has announced the film has finally been restored and completed with the help of an Indiegogo campaign, and will be available for viewing sometime in 2018 (When, Netflix, when???). In the meantime, you can read author Josh Karp’s fascinating 2015 book ORSON WELLES’S LAST MOVIE: THE MAKING OF THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.

Karp gives us a fast-paced look behind the scenes of a genius at work, creating art on…

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Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


Tonight, HBO will be premiering a new film version of Fahrenheit 451, one that stars Michael B. Jordan as “fireman” Guy Monag and Michael Shannon as his boss, Captain Beatty.  If one may forgive the expression, it’s a hotly awaited production.

That said, regardless of whether the HBO film lives up to the hype or not, don’t forget to read the book that inspired it!

Written by Ray Bradbury and originally published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 takes place in, what was then, the near future.  It’s a world where the citizens are too shallow to realize that they’re living under an authoritarian regime.  Everyone is kept docile through the use of pharmaceuticals and there is no culture beyond what’s televised on the “parlor walls.”  (Actually, Bradbury’s near future doesn’t sound that different from our present.)

It’s a world where books are forbidden.  Of course, some citizens still insist on trying to hide books in their attics and their basements but, fortunately for the government, there’s always somebody willing to inform.  Whenever it’s discovered that’s someone’s been hoarding books, the firemen are deployed.  Of course, these fireman aren’t used to put out fires.  Instead, they burn books.  Fahrenheit 451, we learn early on, is the temperature at which paper will burn.

Guy Montag is one of the firemen.  Though he can’t always explain why, he doesn’t feel satisfied with his “perfect” life.  Even when his wife Mildred survives an overdose of sleeping pills, Montag can hardly be bothered to react.  Guy has started to have doubts.  When he meets a teenage girl named Clarisse, he’s stunned when she says that she doesn’t care about “how.”  Instead, she cares about “why.”  Guy finds himself intrigued by Clarisse, even if he still finds himself wondering if she’s going to inform on him.

And then there’s Captain Beatty!  Beatty is Montag’s boss but at times, he almost seems to be encouraging Montag to doubt the system.  Beatty even reveals that he used to be an avid reader himself.  Is he sincere when he encourages Montag to read or does he have ulterior motives of his own?

Fahrenheit 451 holds up remarkably well.  True, some of the dialogue is a bit clunky and things slow down a bit whenever Montag interacts with Faber, a former English professor.  But, much like Orwell’s 1984, the book’s central theme remains relevant today.  Right now, there are people on both the Right and the Left who would happily burn books if it meant doing away with ideas and opinions with which they disagree.  (I imagine even some of our self-righteous centrists would be more than willing to burn a book or two in the name of bipartisanship.)  Democracy dies not in darkness but in ignorance and the best way to keep a population ignorant is to not only burn anything that challenges the state but to also ridicule the very idea of thinking for one’s self.  That is the society that Bradbury portrays in Fahrenheit 451 and it’s one that feels very much like our own.

One final note: I found my copy of this book at Half-Price Books last December.  The copy that I found once belonged to a student named Ashley and she filled the margins with notes about her friends Taylor and Sidney.  At the start of the book, they were best friends.  About halfway through, she suddenly hated both of them but, by the end of the book, they were friends again.  Yay!

Altered Carbon, Book Review by Case Wright


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I grew up loving pulpy detective stories of the 40s.  Sam Spade and The Thin Man were my heroes from another time.  They dealt in visceral reality and tarnished ideals, but still meted justice to the deserving.  However, because of the mores of the time period, the more explicit side could only be implied.

“Altered Carbon” takes the Gumshoe genre mixes in the concept of a Ronin (A Japanese samurai who no longer has a liege lord and becomes a sword for hire), has the mystery take place hundreds of years in the future, but still keeps the setting of the Rainy City (Seattle, My Home) and Bay City (Future San Francisco).  What results is greatest pulp detective story that I have ever read.  The story touches upon issues of morality and our technology stripping us naked of our humanity.

In the future, we are able to download our memories onto flash drives and re-upload them into “Sleeves” (bodies grown or bought).  Crime is punished by you losing your body and putting your consciousness on a server where it will remain for as long as 200+ years, making you return to a body not your own and family scattered in time.  We have colonized worlds throughout the galaxy and corporations and the super rich rule us all.  The wealthy are able to have unlimited bodies to download into, giving them immortality and total perversion.

Takeshi Kovac is taken out of storage by an extremely wealthy man – Lorenz Bancroft- who is over 300 years old because he wants to find out who murdered him.  I’m going to be cautious about spoiling anything in this excellent book, but I will tease some more as to why it should be read.

Kovac was chosen because he a former “Envoy” (hyper-trained marine of the future).  He searches through brothels both high and low end to solve the murder.  He battles pimps, robots, enhanced humans, and virtual torture.  Be warned, it has the steamiest sex scenes I have ever read in my entire life.  If sex, violence, and mystery doesn’t interest, keep browsing, but you’re making a mistake.

Book Review: The Man With The Golden Gun by Ian Fleming


(SPOILERS)

On August 12th, 1964, Ian Fleming died in Canterbury.  He was 56 years old.

Like his famous creation, James Bond, Ian Fleming was both a heavy drinker and a chainsmoker.  Unlike Bond, he suffered from heart disease.  In 1961, he had his first known heart attack and his health was always precarious afterward.  It is said that his last words were to the ambulance drivers: “I am sorry to trouble you chaps. I don’t know how you get along so fast with the traffic on the roads these days.”

Eight months after Fleming’s death, his final James Bond novel, The Man With The Golden Gun, was published.  (One more collection of short stories, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, would follow in 1966.)

The Man With The Golden Gun opens with a brainwashed Bond attempting to assassinate M and ends with Bond turning down a knighthood and again declaring his loyalty to Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  In between, Bond is tasked with tracking down and killing the notorious assassin, Pistols Scaramanga.  (Scaramanga is known for using a golden gun.)  Bond once again goes undercover, assuming the name Mark Hazzard and working his way into Scaramanga’s operation.  Felix Leiter makes another appearance and, by the end of the book, it looks like Bond might even find happiness with his secretary, Mary Goodnight.

It’s an unfortunate book.  Apparently, Fleming had finished his first draft but was still in the process of editing when he died.  As a result, The Man With The Golden Gun has all the flaws that you would associate with an early draft.  The plot is thin.  There’s little nuance or subtlety to the dialogue.  Bond comes across as being rather dull, showing little of the wit or personality that was present in both On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.  Scaramanga is a bit more interesting but he can’t compare to the great Bond villains like Blofeld or Goldfinger.  There’s really not much else to say about The Man With The Golden Gun.  It’s a sad way to end Fleming’s Bond series but, at the same time, it doesn’t diminish everything that Fleming accomplished in the previous novels.

Anyway, since I’ve reviewed all of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, I guess now is the time to rate them all, from best to worst.  Not included in the list below are the two collections of short stories that Fleming wrote, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

From best to worst:

  1. On Her Majesty Secret Service (1963)
  2. From Russia With Love (1957)
  3. Moonraker (1955)
  4. Goldfinger (1959)
  5. Dr. No (1958)
  6. You Only Live Twice (1964)
  7. Casino Royale (1953)
  8. Live and Let Die (1954)
  9. The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
  10. Diamonds are Forever (1956)
  11. Thunderball (1961)
  12. The Man With The Golden Gun (1965)

Despite Fleming’s death, Bond would live on.  Not only would there be the films but other writers would continue Bond’s literary adventures.  Later this year, I’ll start in on the non-Fleming Bond novels.  Until then, I hope everyone has enjoyed this look back at Ian Fleming’s original novels!

Bond, as visualized by Ian Fleming.