Two Eyes Made Out Of Coal

Button Man: Get Harry Ex by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson. Rebellion / Riverside House, 2013. 9781781081389. Originally serialized in 2000 AD 780 – 791, 904 – 919, 2001, 1223 – 1233 in 1992, 1994, and 2001.

Harry Exton served as a SAS officer and worked as a soldier-for-hire before retiring to Essex in the early 1990s. There he is approached by a friend who tells him about “The Killing Game” in which men murder one another under the direction of “Voices.” The stakes are high but so is the pay. Harry signs up, and he wins a number of matches. But then, bristling at his fate being controlled by a man he knows nothing about, Harry tries to quit. He finds out that it’s pretty much impossible to walk away from the game.

The violence is realistically rendered and the matches feel smart, though no one is as smart as Harry. (He has a habit of killing the opposing button men when wounding them and taking a marker (a finger) would do. It comes across as not so much ruthless or heartless as practical; why face the same gunman again at some point?) The action moves from the UK to the US, and Harry goes up against fiercer and more numerous killers. And there’s a seductive redhead, a crooked politician you’ll hope gets his, and a loyal dog.

The three stories fall somewhere between Get Carter and The Killer. If you liked either I think you’ll enjoy this one.


My Favorite Murder

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin. Felony and Mayhem Press, 2005, originally published 1944. 9781933397009.

After thoroughly enjoying The Moving Toyshop, I decided to go back to the first book featuring literary detective Gervase Fen. A company of actors and a playwright have arrived in Oxford to put on a repertory production of a new play. One of the actresses, thoroughly disliked by pretty much everyone, is found dead, shot through the head at close range. The police are certain that it’s suicide, but Gervase Fen is convinced otherwise. The writing is delightful, light and joking, full of glorious turns of phrase and a very literary vocabulary (have your dictionary handy). The characters are all quite flawed and interesting and the action (and there is a lot of it) takes place over the course of a single week.

Is it a flaw of Generation X that we think we invented self-aware metafiction? This book is clear proof that we didn’t: it is full of winks at the audience and joyful tweaks of mystery conventions. The murder itself doesn’t happen until well into the book, with the author teasing the reader about it the whole time. Then our detective solves the murder and announces that he has done so to every character, but refuses say who the culprit is, with another third of the book still to go. Asin other golden-age mysteries, all the clues are available to solve the mystery, but the complexity of Crispin’s solution to this impossible crime may make you roll your eyes. But you know what? I enjoyed the ride so much that I didn’t care one bit.

Going, Going, Not Quite Gone

The Disappeared (A Retrieval Artist Novel) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. WMG Publishing, 2012. 9780615458564. 319pp.

Rusch founded Pulphouse Publishing along with Dean Wesley Smith back in the late 80s, and I loved almost every short story collection they published. (Their five volume edition of The Collected Short Fiction of Robert Sheckley is still my favorite.) Rusch edited The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for a few years in the 90s, wrote some great books and short stories, and then kind of fell off my radar. I was weeding books in my garage, saw a few of hers, and realized I didn’t know if or what she’s been writing lately. It turns out there are lots of answers to that question (she’s still prolific), and my library had this one, the first in a 15 book series.

Human civilization has expanded beyond our solar system and has contact with several little-understood alien civilizations. When humans are on alien soil, they’re subject to alien laws. The problem is that the laws are little-understood, punishments are harsh, and the aliens are not really up for explaining ahead of time. And when they’ve been violated they are far from understanding. If they’re in trouble with aliens, and if they can afford it, humans hire a disappearance agency to help them start a new life with a new identity so that they (and in some cases their families) can escape justice.

Which brings us to the moon and several cases involving the man who will be our hero, Detective Flint. He’s supposed to help several alien species out for justice. One wants to send an attorney away for decades of hard labor that will probably kill her. Another is there trying to take two children, claimed for crimes their parents committed years earlier. (The crimes committed to warrant such punishment are a mystery until late in the book.) The only things on Flint’s side are the moon’s legal bureaucracy and his partner, a senior detective with a bad rep and little respect for him. Flint doesn’t really want to help the aliens, but he doesn’t seem to have much choice.

Hard to say more than that without ruining it. Hell, I feel like I can’t even explain what a retrieval artist is as it’s kind of a late reveal, and I recommend you don’t look into it ahead of time, either. There’s a manhunt, grisly crime scenes, great characters, intimidating aliens, and a few mysteries/problems to be solved, all written in Rusch’s well-plotted, straightforward style. It was a great read that I could not put down.

Life and Death in America

Killings by Calvin Trillin. Random House, 2017. 9780399591402.

In the introduction to this expanded reprint of essays originally written for The New Yorker, Trillin writes about how he could cover stories of murder in a very different way than a newspaper could. His column inches weren’t dictated by how important the editor decided the victim was. He wasn’t writing for the paper of record, so he wasn’t required to cover every significant news item. He could write about people who were ordinary without having to justify the reader’s interest with “what reporters call a “nut graf” (“The Iowa murder is a part of a growing national trend toward vaguely disreputable people in small towns killing each other”).” Writing essays on death allowed him to capture moments in time and see the details of lives and communities that would ordinarily be hidden.

Unlike his more famous essays about his family or food, Trillin keeps himself out of these. He sets the scene, delves into the people involved, then tells the story of a death and its aftermath in a way that is never sensationalized. His writing is expert but never feels artful. There are occasional moments lightened by Trillin’s dry wit, but his precise style and elegant reconstruction of events gives each lost life the requisite gravity and respect.

I also like Tony Murchison

Control written by Andy Diggle and Angela Cruikshank, art by Andrea Mutti. Dynamite, 2016. 9781524102685.

A detective who’s made enemies in her department because of her dogged pursuit of the truth? I’m in love. And she looks like Sue Perkins in a Versace pantsuit? Sign me up, like, yesterday.

Detective-sergeant Kate Burnham and her partner Mitch, responding to a report of officers down, find an attempted murder that was supposed to look like suicide. Mitch is killed going after the suspect and Kate is left to follow the trail of the perpetrator. She finds connections to a powerful senator sponsoring a privacy bill and to a media empire that gathers both gossip and blackmail material through hacking and other “Dark Arts” in a department called The Black Room. As more people involved in both the bill and the investigation are killed or silenced, Kate has to risk her job and make alliances outside the force.

I loved that the women in the book had complex motivations. The pace was nonstop, and the conspiracy was delightfully complex. This book is a lot of fun with just enough darkness.

Totally Killer

The Killer Volume 1 by Matz and Luc Jacamon. Archaia, 2009. 9781932386448. 128pp.

The Killer Volume 2 by Matz and Luc Jacamon. Archaia, 2009. 9781932386561.  176pp.

Gene: The Killer Volumes 1 and 2, my pic for our book club!
Sarah: Do you want my first reaction?
G: Yes!
S: I went to an exhibit on Martin Scorcesse and there was a little thing in there about a film he directed for Roger Corman. (Many great directors directed a film for Corman because he would hire you before you were well known.) And apparently Corman said “You can rewrite the script however you want as long as there’s nudity every 15 minutes.” So I felt like this was one of those movies.
G: Ow!
S: There was murder, there was darkness, and there was nudity every 15 minutes.
G: Well it’s about a killer for hire, he’s French.
S: The whole book is so French! They translated the words in the word balloons but not the sound effects.
G: The book was originally published in French. It’s very hard to translate sound effects because they’re part of the image — changing them would require the art to be redrawn. It’s easier to change the letters in the balloons because they’re isolated. That’s why in manga you usually see sound effects in Japanese.
S: Good to know!
G: I love the coloring of these graphic novels so much. It’s subtle and amazing. It’s from the mid 1990s so I’m not sure whether it was done digitally, but probably not.
The story starts with the killer waiting to shoot a doctor from an apartment where he’s holed up. The guy doesn’t show up, doesn’t show up, doesn’t show up, so the killer reminisces about other jobs he’s done. He thinks about a job he had three months earlier, another rich guy who he killed next to his swimming pool. There’s a picture of the guy sitting next to the pool with his hand on a drink and you don’t realize until you flip the page that the guy is dead already. Loved that.
Continue reading “Totally Killer”

I also like the Kaiju swears

Kaijumax Season Two: The Seamy Underbelly by Zander Cannon. Oni Press, 2017. 9781620103968.

I had to quit watching Orange is the New Black after a season and a half — I decided I was too sensitive to watch a prison drama. I was constantly worried about what would happen to the characters. It turns out that I needed the inmates to be the giant city-stomping monsters of Kaijumax Season One instead of human women to really enjoy it. Season two of Kaijumax means I don’t have to watch The Wire: Electrogor escapes and goes on the lam, hiding out with other criminal monsters, trying to get back to his kids.

Cannon writes in the afterword that he didn’t start out intending to write social satire. He’s careful to keep the real-life parallels vague so he can write an homage to monster, prison, and crime films (and be thought-provoking, too) without comparing a particular group of people to Godzilla. It’s a delicate balance and he pulls it off. I’m already looking forward to season three.

(And if you already like Kaijumax, check out the Anne Hathaway movie Colossal. It’s really good.)