Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Review: The Secret History of Twin Peaks

The Secret History of Twin Peaks The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this while enjoying a piece of cherry pie and a cup of damn good black coffee after installing my silent drape runners. And lemme tell you about this crazy dream I had last night. I was in this room with red curtains….

OK, those are the obvious references, but I’m new to Twin Peaks fandom so cut me some slack. Honestly, I’ve always been kind of fascinated by David Lynch’s work, but I struggled mightily with it because I’m the kind of person who needs the story to make some kind of sense at the end of the day. So Lynchian style dream logic just isn’t my bag.

Or at least it didn’t used to be until all the hype about the return of Twin Peaks got my curiosity up enough to finally work my way through the two seasons of the original show after and the prequel movie Fire Walk With Me. Something clicked for me this time with the whole story about the murder of high school girl in this weird town even if that second season is a real slog at times. And I was utterly transfixed and mesmerized with the return to it over 25 years later. So that’s how I ended up reading this, and as you’d expect from show co-creator Mark Frost even a tie-in book couldn’t be simple.

This came out before the return of the show, and it’s obviously meant to fill in some gaps and lay groundwork. The concept is that what we’re reading is a file compiled by a mysterious archivist who proceeds to link the town of Twin Peaks and the stories of some of its residents to a vast conspiracy that stretches back to the days of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In fact, it’s like a Grand Unified Theory of Conspiracy Theories that includes pretty much everything from Freemasons to Roswell to the JFK assassination along with references to real people like Thomas Jefferson, Richard Nixon, and L. Ron Hubbard.

The impressive thing here is how well this is done so that it actually doesn’t seem that batshit crazy if you’ve seen the show. The structure is particularly interesting in that it’s an epistolary novel using a variety of sources ranging from newspaper accounts to top secret government documents with notes from the archivist which connect the dots. Another layer to this is that we’re actually supposed to be reading this as a report from a FBI agent (One who becomes a character in the new season.) who is vetting the file and adding her own comments and notes to what the archivist is saying as well as trying to figure out his identity.

If you were only reading this to get questions answered from the show then it might be frustrating because while there are sections that deal with the familiar characters a great deal is just about this wide ranging conspiracy about UFOs. Sort of.

The main link is that we learn that a minor character from the original run of the show actually had a whole secret life tied into this vast conspiracy which also connects it all back to the town and its citizens. By the end it all comes full circle so that it makes sense. (Or as much sense as anything in Twin Peaks ever does.) It was probably slightly confusing to anyone who hadn’t seen the last season before reading, but as a companion piece to the entire show I found it extremely compelling.

One thing that I’m scratching my head over is that it seems to have some monumental continuity errors. Especially in the story of how Big Ed lost his true love Norma and ended up marrying crazy Nadine instead. Again, I’m no expert, but this seems wildly different then the story Big Ed told on the show back in the day.

On the other hand, the tale this time is being relayed by another character, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Frost wasn’t doing something tricky here that’s a commentary on how history changes depending on who’s telling it which would be a sly wink as to how much we can trust anything that’s in this book. Or maybe he just screwed up. It’s Twin Peaks so we’ll probably never know for sure, but that’s part of what makes it all so intriguing.

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Review: Noir

Noir Noir by Christopher Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Down these mean streets a man must go. Or to be more accurate in the case of Sammy ‘Two Toes’ Tiffin – down these mean streets a man must limp.

It’s 1947 in San Francisco where Sammy is a good guy with some skeletons in his closet who works as a bartender which is how he meets a beautiful blonde named Stilton, a/k/a the Cheese. As far as Sammy is concerned the Cheese stands alone, and he falls for her instantly. Unfortunately, his attempts at romance are hindered by his sleazy boss insisting that he procure some women for an Air Force general who wants to take them into the woods to provide entertainment for an elite club made up of influential men. Sammy is also working on get-rich-quick scheme that involves selling a deadly snake, there’s a racist cop causing trouble, and the news has reports about a strange incident in Roswell, New Mexico.

Since this was Christopher Moore writing a book called Noir I wasn’t expecting it to be James Cain or Jim Thompson. However, I was kind of hoping that he might stretch himself a little and be a bit less Christopher Moore. That's why I ultimately found this kind of disappointing because he gives it a try at first, but quickly throws it out the window to just write what he always does.

That’s the shame of it because the first couple of chapters do come across as Moore actually satirizing a noir novel with overblown pulpy language and a bunch of really solid jokes based on the concept. If he’d have stuck with that and resisted the urge to just do his usual thing of introducing the weird and/or supernatural he might have really had something. But then we get to the stuff about the aliens, and while it’s still got some laughs, it’s also a formula that Moore has done in pretty much every book.

I also found the shifting POV to be problematic. We start off with Sammy in the first person which lets him do the parody of the classic hard boiled crime novel which I wanted more of. But then Moore shifts to a third person narration which we later find out is coming from a very unlikely source. So the book starts off with this distinct voice which I was into, but when it shifts into something else which is when it becomes standard Moore. Then he tries to go back to first person Sammy telling the story, but he’d lost the tone of what he started with. Which was what I liked best and wanted more of.

It’s not a complete waste of time. Moore is just inherently funny and there are a lot of solid gags and lines that made me chuckle. But I wish he’d managed to actually write a noir parody instead of just doing the thing that comes easiest to him. If he wanted to write something in this time period and have aliens in it then why not do a pulpy '50s sci-fi kind of thing rather than claiming in the title that it's going to be a genre that it has almost nothing to do with?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Sunburn

Sunburn Sunburn by Laura Lippman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two strangers meet at a small town bar. One is a sexy and mysterious redhead. The other is a handsome stranger who says he’s just passing through. That’s either the set-up to a dirty joke or the start of a noir novel.

I’ve been meaning to read Laura Lippman for a while now, and this one was right up my alley. I don’t want to say too much about the story because I think it’s one of those that the less you know the better going in. Suffice it to say that there’s plenty of twists and turns with both the main characters, Polly and Adam, hiding their own secrets and spending a lot of time wondering if they can trust the other even as neither of them can resist the attraction they have.

The plot is exceedingly clever with a James Cain feel to it, and that’s obviously deliberate since he’s even referenced. It’s one of those books where even the reader feels unsure of their footing as you’re constantly reevaluating each of them as new revelations come out. It’s also interesting that there’s actually very little action within the book. Most of what would be considered ‘the exciting parts’ happens before the book begins, and the biggest event that occurs essentially takes place between chapters. We don’t even know the truth about that until the end. In fact, a great deal of this just takes place in the heads of the people as they think about their secrets and suspicions even as they go about the routines they fall into over the course of the story.

That’s where the character work shines, and Lippmann shows a real flair at walking the line of leaving a reader unsure of what to think of both of them. Is one the victim and one the villain? Are they both villains? Both victims? What’s great is that the more you learn the less sure you’ll be about making any judgments about either one of them.

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Review: The Infinity Crusade: Volume 2

The Infinity Crusade: Volume 2 The Infinity Crusade: Volume 2 by Jim Starlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As Adam Warlock and Thanos try to stop his good feminine side, the Goddess, from saving the universe by destroying it, a bunch of Marvel superheroes end up fighting their fellow good guys who are in the Goddess’ thrall.

This isn’t bad as far as crossovers went, but as with the The Infinity Gauntlet and The Infinity War this is really a story about Adam Warlock and Thanos with the other folks like Wolverine and Spider-Man just here to sell books so those characters feel kind of shoehorned in. At least this one does a better job of working them into the story and giving them something to do.

Reading these old early ‘90s crossovers is also like a time capsule that reminds you of crazy random things that happened in Marvel’s past like Sue Storm wearing an incredibly skimpy version of her costume. It’s also funny how you’ll see characters that they were desperately trying to turn into the Next Big Thing but who I’d forgotten all about. I don’t think we’ll be seeing MCU films or Netflix shows about Darkhawk, Night Thrasher, or Windshear any time soon.

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Review: The Infinity Crusade: Volume 1

The Infinity Crusade: Volume 1 The Infinity Crusade: Volume 1 by Jim Starlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Adam Warlock’s supposedly good feminine side manifests as a separate being who promptly networks a bunch of cosmic cubes to gain nearly unlimited power and declares herself the Goddess. She also gets a whole bunch of superheroes to join her cause to purge the universe of evil. Sounds OK in theory, but turning a bunch of super beings into religious zealots in service to a leader whose ultimate goal is to bring about the Rapture has some serious downside.

The remaining good guys try to figure out what the Goddess’ plan is. Meanwhile, Adam Warlock is working his own angles to try and stop this aspect of himself, and his plan involves Thanos. I’m sure that will work out just fine…

As big crossovers go this one is far from the worst, and Starlin came up with plots that were epic in scope for all of the Infinity stories of the early ‘90s. However, this really should have been boiled down to just having the six Infinity Crusade issues in one collection instead of including issues of Warlock & the Infinity Watch and The Warlock Chronicles because they don’t add much except for giving Marvel the excuse to sell two trade paperbacks instead of one.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Review: The Lonely Witness

The Lonely Witness The Lonely Witness by William Boyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.

I'm from Kansas, but I think I may have developed a New York accent after reading this book.

Amy is a young lady living modestly in her Brooklyn neighborhood, but she used to be a hard partying Manhattan bartender. After her girlfriend dumped her Amy shed most of her once beloved vintage clothes and records and became a regular church goer who lives in a basement apartment. One of her volunteer jobs for the church is giving communion to elderly shut-ins, and one woman that Amy visits complains that her usual caretaker hasn’t been around in days but instead sent her son, Vincent, instead. Vincent has been barging in with the key and going into the old woman’s bedroom even though she asked him not, too.

When Vincent shows up Amy confronts him which makes him angry, but he leaves. Amy is worried that he might come back and that he may have have done something to his mother so she follows him around the neighborhood. Haunted by a homicide she witnessed as a teen that she was threatened into keeping quiet about, Amy continues to shadow Vincent until she witnesses a murder which triggers an odd reaction to it that kicks off a chain of events that involves several people.

I’m surprised how much I liked this book considering that it’s loaded with one of my pet peeves, a plot that depends on the main character regularly acting like an idiot. However, that usually bugs me because too often it’s just a lazy way to make things happen in a thriller, but this is one of those books that is either a character drama with some crime in it or a crime novel driven by the character drama in it. (Six of one, half-a-dozen of another.)

So it works here mainly because Amy is such an interesting and complex person. She knows she’s behaving irrationally at times, but she’s driven by both compulsions related to the old crime she witnessed as well as reexamining her life as she wonders who she really is. Adding to her confusion is the reappearance of the father who abandoned her as a child.

The other strong point is just how thoroughly William Boyle develops the Brooklyn that Amy lives in. There’s such a strong sense of place here that the neighborhood comes to feel like another vivid character, and yet it’s realistic and not sentimental. It’s so well done that you can do Google Street View along with Amy’s movement and see many of the locations mentioned in the book and they look exactly as described.

If you’re interested in a complex character study that uses a crime as a launching point then this fits the bill. Also, I didn’t realize this while reading but have since learned that this functions as a follow-up to Boyle’s Gravesend so now I’m adding that one to the to-read pile.

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