Tag: James Ellroy

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Posted December 10, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon JamesTitle: A Brief History of Seven Killings (Goodreads)
Author: Marlon James
Published: Oneworld Publications, 2014
Pages: 688
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In the lead up to 3 December 1976 general election, Bob Marley planned to perform the Smile Jamaica Concert to help ease political tension. However seven gunmen from West Kingston stormed his house, although Marley did survive he had to flee the country the next day. Not a lot was said about the fate of the seven gunmen but there are whispers around the streets. A Brief History of Seven Killing is inspired by these events in a fictionalised oral history of what might have happened.

This novel spans three decades, spanning the political tension of Jamaica in the 1970s, the crack wars in the 1980s and the changing Jamaica in the 1990s. It also follows multiple narrators, with very unique narrative styles. One thing I loved about this novel is the fact that each narrator had their own style and you could easily work out who was narrating without looking at the title of each chapter.

A Brief History of Seven Killing is Marlon James’ third novel and has recently won the Man Booker Prize. I read this before the award was announced and I was really hoping it would win. I think there are so many interesting perspectives, exploring ideas of corruption, organised crime and even the CIA trying to control the fate of the country. I was interested in America’s involvement in Jamaica’s politics in an effort to fight the spread of communism.

One of my favourite narrators was Alex, a journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine. I thought he had the right amount of bitterness and sarcasm, making his narrative style stand out. All the other narrators are great as well, and I liked the way I was able to experience so many different angles of the story. There are over seventy different characters that regularly show up throughout the novel; it can be difficult at times to remember who is who, however I think Marlon James did a decent job helping the reader through this.

I have heard people compare A Brief History of Seven Killing to The Wire, but I compare Marlon James’ style as doing something similar to James Ellroy. I hear that HBO have brought the rights to make this into a show; this is the people who developed The Wire. I am glad to see that this novel is getting the attention from winning the Man Booker Prize. I really enjoyed the experience of reading this novel, even though this is anything but brief. I am curious to see what Marlon James’ other novels are like.

Five Decent Film Noir Adaptations

Posted July 20, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Adaptations, Top 5 / 0 Comments

top-5This might be the last in a series of film adaptation posts for a while. Recently I listed ten of the worst adaptations and then five decent adaption; now for Film Noir. I’m a big fan of Hard-Boiled and Noir fiction so it’s time to look at some of the better Film Noir adaptations from these classic novels.

5. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy

4. The Grifters by Jim Thompson

3. L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

2. Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

1. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

 I’m not going to go into too much explanation about these movies; some of them are faithful to the novel and some very different but they are all decent books and film noir classics. I could have also added The Post Man Always Rings Twice, The Black Dahlia, The Long Goodbye and even The Maltese Falcon but I didn’t want to have too many of the same author on the list. Now if you are a fan of Film noir and pulp novels, let me know what I’ve missed.

The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy

Posted March 10, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 0 Comments

The Big Nowhere by James EllroyTitle: The Big Nowhere (Goodreads)
Author: James Ellroy
Series: L.A. Quartet #2
Published: Vintage, 1988
Pages: 472
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Big Nowhere is two separate tales eventually twisted together into one; an LA Sheriff’s Deputy tries to capture a brutal sex murderer while serving as a decoy to expose communism in Hollywood. Gangland intrigue and Hollywood sleaze, young deputy Danny Upshaw along with Buzz Meeks and Mal Considine find themselves caught in a hellish web of ambition, perversion, and deceit.

Like the other books in the L.A. Quartet, and other James Ellroy books for that fact, The Big Nowhere twists a story around actual events that took place at the time. The labour union battles facing the Hollywood studios, the aftermath of the notorious Sleepy Lagoon murder and the resultant Zoot Suit Riots all take place during this novel. Having read both The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential from this series, I have to say The Big Nowhere was a weaker novel compared to the others. The dark and violent plot was there but maybe violent sex crimes are just too far for me.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that sex murders are too disturbing or that I’ve read better crime novels now, but I felt like James Ellroy’s racist and offensive writing was taken a bit too far in this one. I really struggled to get through this book; I kept picking up this book and hitting a wall where I had to walk away for a while before going back. This is never a good sign for a book like this; I think James Ellroy was my first step into the world of noir and hard-boiled fiction but now I’ve read so many other novels I feel like it’s time to leave him behind. I will admit that I really did enjoy The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential and even American Tabloid from his latest series but I’m at a point where I need to decide if I want to read any more of his books. Are the others books in the Underworld USA Trilogy any good? Has he gotten less offensive with age? I keep wondering and hoping he has, because I think he’s a great writer I just can’t take anymore of the racism.

It’s really hard to enjoy a book like this when you take so much offence with the writing but there are some great noir elements throughout the book that were interesting to explore. Maybe with a little more tolerance I will return to his books because he does weave true crime elements with a great crime plot. I know the writing in supposed to reflect the times and how people spoke and acted towards other races but mixed with the graphic sex this book just become too difficult.

Monthly Review – January 2013

Posted January 31, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

As the first month of 2013 comes to a close, it has been amazing to see how much excitement people are having towards both The Shadow of the Wind and the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. For those who don’t know about the reading challenge, there is still time to join in the fun, so check out my introductory post here.

I’ve been off to a flying start this year, I’ve read twenty books, a feat I’m not sure how I managed, but I’ve had so much fun doing so. Nine of those books go towards the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge and you can find my own record of the challenge here. I’m thinking about trying to read two books for each genre this year and I’m keeping a record of every book and which genre it best fits into on that page as well, just to see which genres need more attention in my exploring.

Highlights of the month for me include; the highly talked about Wool by Hugh Howey, the bittersweet Big Ray by Michael Kimball and the existential The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. But the one I really thought deserves high praise is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, a novel of great beauty, decorum and love lost. I haven’t reviewed these books yet but keep an eye out, they will come. So what have you been reading this month?

Monthly Reading

  • Big Ray by Michael Kimball
  • Black Vodka: Ten Stories by Deborah Levy
  • Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis
  • Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles by Paul Lieberman
  • In the Midst of Death by Lawrence Block
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
  • Revenge: Stories by Yoko Ogawa
  • The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy
  • The Dark Winter by David Mark
  • The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
  • The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Silver Linings Play Book by Matthew Quick
  • The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block
  • The Toe Tag Quintet by Matthew Condon
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • Wool by Hugh Howey

Guest Post: Brief Overview of Pulp Fiction – Part 4 (1990’s & On)

Posted December 16, 2012 by Guest Post in Guest Posts, Literature, Pulp / 0 Comments

There are currently many prolific authors working in crime fiction, whose names will not be mentioned, that occasionally find themselves labelled as noir by fans and critics alike and quite simply are not. They write about cops who have problems with their superiors or former military men with vengeance on their mind, they pile up the bodies and solve dark cases but they border on fantasy and as we’ve seen in the previous three parts to this overview true noirs are realistic and bleak with very few happy endings.

After assessing fifty years of noir and hard-boiled writing it becomes quite obvious that the fourth generation, the contemporary American hard-boiled and noir writer are yet to truly find their own unique voice or societal change to rail against.

If you accept that 9/11 changed the world completely in the same way that WWII and the threat of nuclear war did to previous generations we should expect a dramatic increase in distinct creative output from the next wave of authors.

What is clear is that, as with the rise in popularity of dystopian fiction, contemporary hard-boiled and noir authors are looking to their genre heritage and their countries past for settings and places to escape to. They are almost a lost generation, dreaming of a time when things were friendlier, less scary, less connected and invasive, that time when there was still some hope for the American Dream.

I discovered the work of Megan Abbott this year, she’s approximately 3 feet tall and specialises in reworking dark noir stories with a female centred twist. If you saw her on the street she’d probably be the last person you would imagine writing such dark novels. Her debut, Die A Little (2005), is set in 1950s LA and steeped in atmospheric suspense and voyeuristic appeal. She wrote four of these excellent period re-workings and then along came The End of Everything (2011) in which she updated her noir styling’s to teenaged girls in 1980s suburbia to amazing effect. It is a tale of lust, revenge, guilt, and my favourite four noir words; secrets, lies, passions and repressions.

Walter Mosley created the iconic hard-boiled hero Easy Rawlins in Devil in a Blue Dress (1990) and went on to write ten more books about his black private detective in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, ending with Blonde Faith (2007). Utilising the style of Chandler and MacDonald Mosley manages to craft top quality hard-boiled mysteries and blend them with analysis of the social inequalities of the time.

George Pelecanos is one of the most famous names from this list, especially for his time writing for the HBO series The Wire. He came to prominence however for his D.C. Quartet, a series of four historical crime novels set in Washington D.C.. He also created two fantastic hard-boiled series featuring first Nick Stefanos in A Firing Offense (1991) and then the pairing of Derek Strange and Terry Quinn with Right as Rain (2001) which has built him a reputation for his gritty depiction of street life and a focus on hard-luck criminals.

James Ellroy, the King of Sinnuendo, the Demon Dog of American crime writing, knows how to write bleak noir filled with hard-boiled characters like nobody working today. His work is generally set in the 1950s and 1960s, featuring densely plotted criminal behaviour from all sides of the law with his tone relentlessly pessimistic. Perhaps his best work (or at the very least the best place to start) is L.A. Confidential (1990) and should be followed up with the first part of his Underworld USA trilogy American Tabloid (1995). But nobody can describe him better than he describes himself:

“Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I’m James Ellroy, the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey dick. I’m the author of 16 books, masterpieces all; they precede all my future masterpieces. These books will leave you reamed, steamed and drycleaned, tie-dyed, swept to the side, true-blued, tattooed and bah fongooed. These are books for the whole fuckin’ family, if the name of your family is Manson.”

Another black private investigator, Lew Griffin, got his start in The Long-Legged Fly (1992) by James Sallis, a novel that starts in the 60s and moves through to the 90s and would lead to five more outings. Sallis has his own way of writing these hard-boiled private detectives, they’re complex and often poetic in their structure. He would go on to create another great of modern noir, Drive (2005) about an unnamed stunt driver who also works as a getaway driver for criminals.

Don Winslow might be most widely known for his brilliant and brutal modern noir Savages (2010) but he also created the surfing private detective Boone Daniels in The Dawn Patrol (2008). Winslow is known for his adrenaline-fueled novels and unique prose style, his subject matter is nothing ground breaking but he entertains like nobody else in the genre.

That leaves us with only Dennis Lehane to draw part four to a close. Lehane might just be best known for his psychological thrillers turned in to Oscar bait movies but his six Boston based noir thrillers featuring male/female investigation team Kenzie & Gennaro are some of the best in modern hard-boiled crime writing. Their first outing A Drink Before The War (1994) set a high standard to live up to but he reached incredibly bleak heights with Gone Baby, Gone (1998).

I’ll reserve special mention for another Brit, Philip Kerr, the creator of the Bernie Gunther novels. These books are a fantastic throwback to classic hard-boiled novels. Bernie starts as a private detective in Berlin as Hitler is consolidating his power and witnesses some truly awful things. His first three adventures are collected as Berlin Noir (1989 to 1991) and are well worth your time.

This is a guest post by blahblahblahtobyYou can find him discussing books on Goodreads, discussing movies on Letterboxd, tweeting nonsense as blahblahblahtoby and on his blog blahblahblahgay, feel free to say hi.

There are literally dozens of great authors and great novels that could have been suggested as essential reading for this guide. The writer of the article went through agonising decisions over who to leave out and is more than aware that your favourite author probably hasn’t been mentioned but feel free to start a discussion in the comments.

This post is part of a four post series exploring the history of Hard-Boiled and Noir Fiction, for recommendations check out each post;

The 1930’s – 1940’s

The 1950’s

The 1960’s – 1980’s

The 1990’s – Onwards

Question Tuesday: Is Your Preferred Crime Style Gritty, Hardboiled And Realistic; Or Genteel And Cosy, A Puzzle To Examine With Cruelty And Realism Downplayed?

Posted August 14, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Question Tuesday / 0 Comments

If you are a regular reader or know me at all you’ll know the answer to this question is Dark, Gritty and Hardboiled. I’m a big fan of the hardboiled and Noir genres that have become famous in the 1940’s and you can see book reviews for these types of books under Pulp (if you are curious to know the difference between Hardboiled and Noir check out this post).

I’ve always been a fan of the dark and realistic, and while I do like that occasional cosy read, I often feel that the downplaying can often be overdone and in the end, I tend to not enjoy them. Those major bestselling crime novels tend to annoy me because they all feel formulaic and predictable. I want the laconic and dispassionate styles of a good pulp novel.

I know pulp novels don’t seem to be very popular anymore, there are some novelists that still write them like James Ellroy, James Sallis and Lawrence Block but I would love to know what others think of this genre and what they look for in a crime novel.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Posted August 12, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction, Western / 0 Comments

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthyTitle: Blood Meridian (Goodreads)
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Published: Vintage, 1985
Pages: 337
Genres: Historical Fiction, Western
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I’ve wanted to read another Cormac McCarthy book after enjoying The Road so after a long time of sitting on my To-Read shelf; I decided it was about time to give Blood Meridian a go. This is probably McCarthy’s most known book; other than the Pulitzer winning The Road. Narrated by a runaway known as the “the kid”, Blood Meridian follows the Glanton gang scalp hunters as they massacred North American tribes. Judge Holden is the main antagonist and is an intelligent man but terrifying with his constant need for conflict and violence.

I often enjoy books’ aspects from history to make a compelling story; James Ellroy and Hilary Mantel come to mind when thinking of authors that do this well and now Cormac McCarthy. As an author McCarthy is rather brilliant, he knows how to spin an entertaining and intelligent story with wonderful prose for a book of intense violence and bleak environments. I’ve not read many Westerns but if this is anything to go on then I might have to read some more.

Blood Meridian has very environmental and character driven and it was a real pleasure to read. But then there is an aspect of this book that I really didn’t like. The violence and horror aspects of this book is not for the faint hearted, and I tend to enjoy these elements but even for me I feel like maybe Cormac McCarthy took it a little too far; to a sickening level. This is like reading a nightmare; the acts of violence are so intense and evil that even I was disturbed.

This book is not for everyone, it’s a hellish read and Cormac McCarthy brilliance does seem to be drowned out by the blood of Judge Holden’s victims. I couldn’t recommend this book to anyone as it is really intense, but if you think you can handle it, it’s worth reading. The book is fairly dense when comparing it to The Road, but it was still an interesting look at the disturbing nature of Judge Holden and the Glanton gang.