It was obvious, when I was stopped by the Russian, that no good would come of our encounter. For what good has ever come from a Russian stopping a person on the street, especially one of Polish descent? The person that is, not the street. But the Russian did stop me, and a conversation did take place. For I was not expecting anything out of the ordinary. Alas! At that time I knew nothing about Harry Stephen Keeler, nor the Dutchman, nor the mysterious Ramble House and the strange goings-on in the blogosphere.
I knew the Russian. Sergey, I believe his name was, and an informant he had become for everyone over the last several years. For he seemed to know everything. All one had to do was to stop him and ask him a question, and answer it he would. And over time, as these things tend to happen, people began to call him "the Russian" or "the Gogol." I knew not the reason for this nickname, but it seemed to fit him.
“Well,” I replied, “I suppose I could spare some time. For I wasn’t doing anything in particular. As a matter of fact, I was heading back home to read my brand-new book, The Purple Parrot by Clyde B. Clason. But if you want something, I suppose my literary endeavours can wait.” And with that, I tucked Mr. Book back under my coat.
We’ve seen Parker on screen several times. Point Blank is still perhaps the greatest adaptation of a Parker novel ever filmed, starring Lee Marvin as “Walker”. Payback starring Mel Gibson as “Porter” was also pretty good, although the (shorter) director’s cut is far better than the original theatrical version. One thing has been common in every adaptation – nobody has been allowed to use the name “Parker”. And so when I found out about the new film Parker, I got excited. Someone was finally allowed to use Parker’s name??? What sort of sorcery was this? And then I found out the movie was due to be released in October before being pushed back to January, which isn’t always a good sign. So what is this movie? A gem to be embraced, or a crappy movie that’s being flushed out with the rest of the trash this time of year?
James Bond is looking forward to a bit of a break. Having taken care of the Mr. Big threat, he is relaxing back home in England, living a dull office life and wondering when he might get another summons from his boss, M, to signal the start of another mission. It happens a lot sooner than he bargains for, but M is acting strangely. It turns out that M hasn’t got any mission in mind, but he wants to ask Bond for a personal favour.
You see, M is a member of Blades, an elite club for gentlemen who wish to play cards. Its membership is highly exclusive and prized among the upper classes, and M is one of the club members. Another member is Sir Hugo Drax, the brilliant industrialist who is currently building the Moonraker, a revolutionary rocket that will place any European capital within England’s firing range. He is admired by the people and revered by the media. He also cheats at cards.
In a London that is still run to some extent on the old-boy system, why would Sir Hugo commit the one crime that stings more than any other crime among gentlemen? Why risk his reputation and his club membership in order to win a few card games? M doesn’t know for certain, but if the story falls into the wrong hands, it might mean the end of Drax… and possibly the end of the Moonraker project. M asks Bond to come to Blades and find out how Drax is cheating and to stop him before he destroys himself.
I recently had an e-mail discussion about the James Bond films, when the talk turned to the Bond theme songs. That was when I attempted to describe Madonna’s horrific contribution to the series with Die Another Day: “Imagine Alvin and the Chipmunks singing out-of-tune through a fan, and then the music editor printing out the sheet music, feeding it through a propeller blade and reassembling the tune in whatever order came out. And you have her theme. Atrocious stuff.” Unfortunately, that description could work just as well for much of today’s music, or at least the stuff I hear. I'm afraid I've long been driven away from the world of music. Crap spews forth from the radio in seemingly-endless waves. When I go to a store or to a coffee shop I can't escape it, but I choose not to listen to any of it on my own free time.
But strictly speaking, I do listen to a type of music. I absolutely love listening to musical scores from movies, such as the work of Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight Rises, Gladiator, and Inception are among my favourites). Another one of my passions, in case you haven’t noticed over the last little bit, is James Bond. I positively love the books of Ian Fleming and also love the series of films that they inspired. Many of these films were scored by the legendary John Barry, and I love listening to them. Some scores are better than others, of course, but Barry provided the music that kept tying the series together despite all the different actors portraying 007 throughout the years. I guess it was only a matter of time before somebody wrote a book about the music of James Bond. Enter Jon Burlingame, author of The Music of James Bond.
James Bond, introduced to the world in Casino Royale, would see the light of day once again one year later, with the publication of the novel Live and Let Die. 007 is sent to the most bizarre, exotic location you could possibly imagine: The United States of America. Specifically, he starts off on the streets of New York City. Old gold coins have been showing up all over the States, and these appear to be part of a legendary treasure. But how did they get into the country? Somebody is smuggling the gold into the country, and in this case, all the roads lead to the larger-than-life gangster Mr. Big.
Larger-than-life is a literal description in this case. Mr. Big is simply an enormous man, the most powerful black criminal in all of America, possibly the world. He strikes terror into the heart of the black community and is believed to be the incarnation of the feared Baron Samedi, of the voodoo religion. They say he cannot be killed. They say that anyone who opposes him will meet death face-to-face. And they also say that he is an agent of SMERSH, the secret Russian organization that James Bond tangled with in Casino Royale.
“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.”
In a desperate attempt to recoup his financial losses, Le Chiffre has come to Royale-les-Eaux. His plan is to win back his money in a high-stakes baccarat game. That’s where 007 comes in. His mission: humiliate Le Chiffre by beating him at the card table and thoroughly cleaning him out. Killing him would be futile – the opposition is already displeased with Le Chiffre, and SMERSH (a contraction of the Russian phrase smyert shpionam– “death to spies”) has reportedly sent a man to deliver punishment to Le Chiffre for bungling.
As these cases often do, The Bughouse Affair begins as a relatively simple matter. Sabina Carpenter is hired to catch a ruthless lady pickpocket. Meanwhile, John Quincannon is hired to tackle a house burglar who seems to be working his way down an insurance company’s list. These cases have no apparent connection to each other, but after some investigation, the detectives realize that there is a connection between the two crimes. But almost on cue, a bizarre locked-room murder takes place, and the detectives are left with no clues. Into all this is thrown a crazy Limey who calls himself Sherlock Holmes. This is nonsense of course, since Mr. Holmes has been dead for a while now. But this bughouse Sherlock proves to be a constant nuisance, snooping around the crime scenes and looking for clues that probably don’t exist.
It’s an admirable idea, and after all, what could go wrong? Sure, a volume of this sort is bound to contain some omissions, but at least its inclusions should be excellent, and the different viewpoints should cancel each other out. For every author who is convinced that nothing is better than noir you can have one author who is convinced that plotting in the Christie mould is the best policy. For every author who prefers characterization and setting you can have one who prefers plotting and action. And thus, this collection should contain a book for everyone, and at the very least give you a balanced portrait of the genre.
Ha! In a perfect world, maybe. But we live on this world, and in our world we got a highly biased and highly problematic book. Some of the individual contributions are brilliant, but just as many (if not more) are very bad indeed and in only gets worse the further you read.
I’ve read almost all the Bond novels – You Only Live Twice is the only exception – and I’m a big fan. But I knew nothing about the author, Ian Fleming. What was he like? How did he get the idea for Bond? I had no idea. All I could tell you was that he was British and that his Jamaican house was called Goldeneye. As readers of my blog might recall, I decided that in 2013 I would read all of Fleming’s Bond novels. But to do this properly, I felt it was best to first learn more about Ian Fleming. And so I picked up Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond by Andrew Lycett.
But upon awaking, Tay discovers that he is being shut out of the investigation. His superiors suggest taking a leave of absence, while Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) take over the investigation. Tay has made himself a nuisance in certain corners, and now ISD is demanding that he be shut out of the investigation. And so Tay finds himself investigating an ordinary death in some remote corner far away from the terrorist plot.
I have no idea what kind of books Lee Child writes. For all I know, they could be as preposterous as The Da Vinci Code. But if his work is even half as entertaining as Jack Reacher, I want to read these books! Okay, so the plot: a sniper named Barr takes out five random people, is quickly arrested and is going to be prosecuted. But Barr refuses to admit his guilt, and will only write down the words “Get Jack Reacher”.
2012 was an interesting year by any definition. Back in January, I watched and reviewed the second series of Sherlock, one that was far more rewarding and intelligent, I felt, than the first series. And then to end the month I got to “meet” and interview Paul Halter, an author I’ve long admired. It was a fascinating discussion where I asked M. Halter about his more recent work, work that wasn’t covered in Roland Lacourbe’s excellent interview for the simple reason that so much had yet to be written.