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Sunday, December 8, 2019

VINTAGE WESTERN MOVIES—NEVADA SMITH


VINTAGE WESTERN MOVIES
NEVADA SMITH
Steve McQueen takes on the role of young, uneducated, half-breed Nevada Smith (aka: Max Sand). When Nevada’s parents are tortured, robbed, and slaughtered by three men (Karl Malden, Martin Landau, Arthur Kennedy), the scene is set for a truly classic revenge film. Completely ill-equipped for his quest, Nevada finds a mentor in traveling gunsmith Jonas Cord (Brian Keith), who takes pity on him.

Thinking him foolish, but determined, Cord teaches Nevada the skills of a gunslinger, telling him, “Now, you get to where you can do that with either hand when you’re half-drunk or half-awake or inside a dark room or off the back of a running horse, you might stand a chance...a small chance.”

Nevada becomes a dogged man-tracker as he learns to read and write, how to follow clues and sign, and how to use fear to make his quarries sweat after the killing starts. My favorite line in the film deals directly with this scene when Jonas Cord explains, “It ain't that easy, kid. Findin' em's one thing. Killin' em's another.”

Nevada Smith’s character is supposed to be sixteen, which was a stretch for the 36-year-old Steve McQueen. With blond hair and blue eyes, he doesn’t look half Kiowa either. Brian Keith is solid as the itinerant gunsmith, and Karl Malden is suitably menacing as the main villain. Suzanne Pleshette is underused as the young Cajun Pilar whose limited screen time comes to a nasty end.

It is, however, the professionalism of the secondary characters that keeps the film on track—Pat Hingle as a prison trustee, Howard da Silva as the Louisiana prison camp warden, along with Iron Eyes Cody and Strother Martin in uncredited bit parts. The not yet WKRP’s blonde bombshell, Loni Anderson can be spotted sporting a headfull of brunette tresses as a dance hall girl with a line or two of dialogue.

Suffering from uninspired directing and an episodic nature, Nevada Smith could be cast aside as a predictable actioneer. However, I found I was able to overlook the film’s shortcomings for two reasons. First is the relationship between Nevada and Jonas Cord. It is paternal in nature, giving Nevada back an emotional handhold he lost with the murder of his parents. Despite his inclinations, Cord takes naturally to the role of mentor. Brian Keith’s gruff portrayal of Cord has depth and emotion, showing Cord truly cares what happens to Nevada.

This leads to my second reason for rating the film highly. Cord’s warnings about the cost of vengeance, and the ability to recover from tragedy in other ways, can be seen to begin slowly working on Nevada. The life lessons Cord taught do not fall fallow. Instead, they lead to a deep character change within Nevada, which plays out in the film’s finale. This multi-layered examination of vengeance and its effect on the human spirit raise Nevada Smith from mundane to memorable.

The name Nevada Smith was the inspiration for the name Indiana Jones. The Raiders of the Lost Ark character was originally named Indiana Smith. George Lucas named him Indiana after his dog, and Smith after this movie. It was, of course, later changed to Indiana Jones. 

While completely independent of each other, Nevada Smith (1966) can be seen as a prequel to a movie made two years earlier, The Carpetbaggers (1964). Based on the sleazy Harold Robbins novel of the same name, The Carpetbaggers starred George Peppard as Jonas Cord and Alan Ladd (in his final film role) as former western gunslinger turned actor, Nevada Smith.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

BOOK GIFT RECOMMENDATIONS

BOOK GIFT
RECOMMENDATIONS
This blog is most often a conduit for subjects connected to vintage Westerns, men's adventure fiction, and whatever else strikes my fancy or catches my interest. Every once in awhile I even go out on a limb to mention some great books I've enjoyed outside of my usual reading lanes.

I've always shaken my head in bewilderment whenever I hear a reader dismiss entire genres as not worth reading. I've heard it all at one time or another out of the mouths of the ignorant: I don't read romance, it's just for women ignored by their husbands or who can't get one...I never read Westerns, they're too old fashioned...Those men's adventure books are crap...Vampire books are stupid...Y/A books are just for kids...Science fiction is boring...Fantasy novels are just for geeks and nerds...Why read the Bible, religion is irrelevant...I don't understand why you read all that crap, it's a waste of time...


There isn't a genre I haven't read, and I've found crap books in every one of them. But, more importantly, I've read brilliant books in every one of those same genres. Granted there are genres of which I'm not a huge fan. I read very little of what appears on the traditional bestseller lists, but every once in a while I'll give a bestselling beach book a try and strike gold. Good writing is good writing whatever the genre.

Recently, I've read three books, which would not have usually jumped to the top of my teetering To Be Read pile, but I'm glad they did. Any one of them would make a great holiday gift for the reader on your list...


DAD IS FAT
JIM GAFFIGAN
Jim Gaffigan never imagined he would have his own kids. Though he grew up in a large Irish-Catholic family, Jim was satisfied with the nomadic, nocturnal life of a standup comedian, and was content to be "that weird uncle who lives in an apartment by himself in New York that everyone in the family speculates about." But all that changed when he married and found out his wife, Jeannie "is someone who gets pregnant looking at babies."

Five kids later, the comedian whose riffs on everything from Hot Pockets to Jesus have scored millions of hits on YouTube, started to tweet about the mistakes and victories of his life as a dad. Those tweets struck such a chord that he soon passed the million followers mark. But it turns out 140 characters are not enough to express all the joys and horrors of life with five kids, so hes' now sharing it all in Dad Is Fat.

From new parents to empty nesters to Jim's twenty-something fans, everyone will recognize their own families in these hilarious takes on everything from cousins ("celebrities for little kids") to growing up in a big family ("I always assumed my father had six children so he could have a sufficient lawn crew") to changing diapers in the middle of the night ("like The Hurt Locker but much more dangerous") to bedtime (aka "Negotiating with Terrorists").

Dad is Fat is sharply observed, explosively funny, and a cry for help from a man who has realized he and his wife are outnumbered in their own home.


THE LIBRARY OF THE UNWRITTEN
A. J. HACKWITH
In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren't finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Winga neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil's Bible. The text of the Devil's Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell….and Earth.


THE BOOK CHARMER
KAREN HAWKINS
New York Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins crafts an unforgettable story about a sleepy Southern town, two fiercely independent women, and a truly magical friendship.

Sarah Dove is no ordinary bookworm. To her, books have always been more than just objects: they live, they breathe, and sometimes they even speak. When Sarah grows up to become the librarian in her quaint Southern town of Dove Pond, her gift helps place every book in the hands of the perfect reader. Recently, however, the books have been whispering about something out of the ordinary: the arrival of a displaced city girl named Grace Wheeler.

If the books are right, Grace could be the savior that Dove Pond desperately needs. The problem is, Grace wants little to do with the town or its quirky residents—Sarah chief among them. It takes a bit of urging, and the help of an especially wise book, but Grace ultimately embraces the challenge to rescue her charmed new community. In her quest, she discovers the tantalizing promise of new love, the deep strength that comes from having a true friend, and the power of finding just the right book.

A mesmerizing fusion of the mystical and the everyday, The Book Charmer is a heartwarming story about the magic of books that feels more than a little magical itself. Prepare to fall under its spell.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

THE HITMAN'S HITMAN


THE HITMAN'S HITMAN

Lawrence Block's philatelic hitman Keller and Max Allan Collins' hipper than hip hitman Quarry get all the attention, but there is a third literary anti-hero hitman who, if his body count is any indication, may be deadlier than the other two killers combined—Detroit based hitman Peter Macklin created by Loren Estleman. 

Macklin is certainly the most taciturn of the three, an average everyman, a cypher who still manages to have more family drama and angst than a full season of Real Wives of Beverly Hills. Add in a bad break with his previous employer—The Mob—and it’s no wonder the guy is a cold killing machine.

I am a fan of Loren Estleman’s work. Everything from his underrated Amos Walker private-eye mysteries to his Westerns featuring Sheriff Page Murdock to his numerous standalone titles. There is no doubt Estleman is a good writer, an excellent writer if his five Spur awards and a Pulitzer nomination qualify him as such. However, somewhere along the way, his Amos Walker novels drifted off my radar.

I’d enjoyed Estleman’s first three books to feature hitman Peter Macklin in the eighties (Kill Zone, Roses Are Dead, Any Man’s Death), but by the time numbers four and five appeared in 2002, after a sixteen year gap (Something Borrowed, Something Black and Little Black Dress), my reading habits had changed from hardboiled novels and associated mystery genres to a steady diet of Westerns.

However, at the recent Bouchercon event in Dallas, those attending had the opportunity to pick four free books from a vast array of publisher provided promotional copies. Amongst the dross, I was pleased to find a stack of Estleman’s 27th Amos Walker novel, Black and White Ball. Reading the jacket copy, I realized it was a Walker/Macklin crossover tale and was immediately sold.
 
Of the four books I picked up at Bouchercon, Black and White Ball intrigued me the most. Once back home, the other three were relegated to the bookshelves. However, I began reading Black and White Ball and was quickly reminded why Estelman is considered a master storyteller.

Told partly by Walker in first-person and partly by Macklin in third, Black and White Ball places private detective Amos Walker squarely between two remorseless killers—his client Peter Macklin and Macklin’s deadly grown son. Whether Walker succeeds or fails in his quest to protect Macklin’s estranged second wife, death threatens to take its toll. 

Black and White Ball moves along at a speedy pace and was satisfying enough to make me want to reread the early Macklin series and also pick up the two Macklin books I missed. However, what I really want to read is a tale in which Macklin, Keller, and Quarry collide in a hitman vs hitman vs hitman scenario. You could take my money now for that story.

THE MACKLIN SERIES

KILL ZONE
A terrorist group comprised of a killer, a bassist, an ex-marine, a demolitions expert, a Black Panther, a national guardsman, and a couple of spoiled teenagers, are about to become Detroit’s worst nightmare. Armed with M16s and enough explosives to burn the city down, the dangerously volatile gang takes a tour boat with eight hundred passengers hostage on Lake Erie—and if they don’t get what they want, they will kill every soul aboard...Rescue is impossible. No cop could get on the boat. The only man with the skills for the job is Peter Macklin, a professional killer with ties to the local mob. Hired by the FBI bureau chief to sneak aboard the ship and destroy the terrorist crew from the inside out, Macklin finds killers not only in front of him, but also coming up fast from behind.

ROSES ARE DEAD
Macklin has problems—His wife is divorcing him, his kid is on drugs, and the Mob wants him dead. For years, Macklin’s wife Donna ignored the guns in his safe, his long hours, and all the cash he couldn’t possibly have made as an efficiency expert. When she is finally forced to admit Macklin is a killer for hire, Donna wants a divorce—and she wants to take Macklin for all he’s worth. But she won’t get a penny if he’s dead...Macklin realizes the Detroit mob has turned on him, and they’ll keep sending assassins until he’s cold in the ground. He’ll have to kill like never before—or he won’t live to make his first alimony payment.

ANY MAN'S DEATH
The Reverend Thomas Aquinas Sunsmith is halfway through his sermon when killers open fire. He is preaching against the evils of gambling, which a cartel of mobsters is trying to legalize in Detroit. The hail of gunfire misses the reverend, but a choir member is cut down—the first victim in the battle for the soul of the Motor City. The Detroit mob has erupted into civil war, and professional killer Peter Macklin is caught in the middle. A former mob employee, he has since tried to stay away from the savagery of organized crime, but now they’re offering him a job too tempting to refuse. The mob will kill whomever it takes to bring gambling to Detroit, and Macklin is about to discover their secret weapon: a seventeen-year-old prodigy assassin, who happens to be Macklin’s own son.

SOMETHING BORROWED
SOMETHING BLACK
 Davis has just left the Alamo when he feels the garrote wrap around his neck. The bookie slams his foot on the gas, sending the car into oncoming traffic. It bounces off a van, hops the curb, and crashes into a hotel, knocking Davis unconscious and breaking the neck of his would-be assassin. Davis can breathe again, but just for a moment. When the mob wants you dead, they’ll always send another killer...The only man for the job is Peter Macklin, a veteran killer who’s trying to put his old life behind him. He’s just married Laurie, a beautiful, innocent young woman who believes her husband is a salesman. They’re on their honeymoon in Los Angeles when he gets the call, and it’s a gig he can’t refuse. Macklin is going to Texas for a battle so tough it will make the Alamo look like a fair fight.

LITTLE BLACK DRESS
What happens when a hitman meets his mother-in-law? Peter Macklin was a hit man for a long time but he has taken steps to distance himself from his tattooed past, like quitting the mob, moving away from Detroit, and marrying the gorgeous, intelligent Laurie. But retirement isn't easy for an ex-hit man. Now the man accustomed to killing people in cold blood must adjust to a sadistic ritual of early marriage—spending time with his eccentric mother-in-law. When Macklin discovers his mother-in-law's boyfriend Benjamin Grinnell has a hit out on him, it quickly becomes clear Grinnell's jeopardy endangers both Macklin’s mother-in law and his new wife.

BLACK AND WHITE BALL
Detroit hit man Peter Macklin forces private eye Amos Walker to furnish protection for Laurie, Macklin's estranged wife, while Macklin tracks down the party who has threatened to kill her. The man Walker’s client suspects cannot be ignored—his own grown son, Roger Macklin, who has inherited all his father’s killer instincts, and has all the training necessary to carry out his threat.