The difference between L.A. Confidential the book and L.A. Confidential the movie

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Firstly, apologies for my four-month absence, but I have been doing some editing for a friend and it sucked up a fair bit of blogging time. On the plus side, I now know how to edit a doctorate and I now know a lot more than before about the architecture of nations that have been colonised by the Portugese than I did before.
On-topic, it would probably be quicker for me to tell you what is the same about the book and the movie: “The first third. Kinda.”

An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen points of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic, and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border – right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.

If you’re a fan of the stylish, brilliantly cast neo-noir film do not waste a minute getting this book. You might think with the quality crime oozing from shelves these days there is no point reading a crime novel from 1990 that is set in the 1950s but you’re dead wrong. This is hands down one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read  (and dude, I have read a boatload).

And it is way, way, way different from the film. I finished this book, with lots of “oh my Gods” and goosebumps, wondering how the hell they were going to fit a plot like that into the movie (which I’d seen long enough ago not to remember the plot too well) so of course I immediately forced the Ministry to watch it with me, though he did not take a lot of forcing because it’s pretty rare to get me to sit still for two and a half hours these days.

So the answer to how to fit a plot like that into the movie was, of course, not to. You think you know the story of L.A. Confidential? What you know is basically a subplot of the grand, horrible, confronting, sordid, brain-teasing, almost impossibly complex story that spans decades. You’ll just about need to keep a notebook next to you. By comparison, it makes the characters in the movie look two-dimensional and the plot like child’s play, safe and tame. And this from a person who loved the movie.

On reading, you’ll not only be rewarded by not only a BONUS NEW ENDING and eye-popping violence but the inimitable, sometimes virtually incomprehensible but always awesome L.A.P.D lingo that plunges you headfirst into a time and a place that is long gone (and full of hinky hopheads) but forever exhilarating.

Bonus fact: this is part of James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, which also comprises The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere and White Jazz. I’ve only read The Black Dahlia, which was also dark and strong, but it didn’t knock my socks off like this did. The others I’ll get to, but next up for me is Ellroy’s My Dark Places: an L.A. Crime Memoir.

In which I tell you whether Lee Child’s 20th Reacher book has anything new to offer

More than happy to fork over airport prices for this baby.

More than happy to fork over airport prices for this baby.

Lee Child apparently writes one Reacher book per year and has done for the past 20 – he starts each September.

I love a good routine myself, so I like to read one Reacher book each year, starting around each September, when the new ones are released.

So I know what to expect from a Reacher book.

 

 

For those who don’t (inexcusable) – the books, like most crime series featuring a strong central protagonist or two, Reacher books are formulaic. Jack Reacher was born into a US military family and spent his childhood in temporary homes on military bases. Then he spent his adult working life as a military cop posted to more temporary bases. He has never known permanency or possessions.

A hulking bloke, a fighting machine born and trained for detective work, after his honourable discharge he can’t hack the thought of settled civilian life. So he treats the United States like another set of temporary bases, moving from town to town, hitching rides and catching buses in between, a perpetual traveller. He travels with only what he has in his pockets, buying cheap new clothes and junking them when they get dirty, living in motels, working casually from time to time – but never for long in the same spot. In each book, he hits a town with a dark secret, something fishy going on, and his unshakable sense of right and wrong (not necessarily matching the same compass points as anyone else’s sense of right and wrong) he gets embroiled in a mystery.

The books stand out not only for the supremely original and consistently drawn character but for solid, inventive plotting and – above all – minutely detailed fight scenes, detective work, military training and weapons knowledge.

These books require a little more suspension of disbelief each time (Reacher walks into trouble, something strange is going on in this town, it all starts in the local diner, he chooses not to walk away and there’s an eminently fuckable woman mixed up in it all) but the formula is all part of the fun, making these books like an annual birthday present when you know exactly what you’re getting but you never get any less excited.

The formula has won Lee Child fans across the globe. He is the crime writer that other crime writers read, one of the most famous working today.

To illustrate, when I’m walking home from the bus reading this I pass a lady checking her mailbox. We exchange smiles, then she pauses. “Ooo, my sister-in-law is reading that,” she says. Two days later I’m reading it on the bus and I’m the last passenger, so I’m waiting by the driver’s door to hop off. He looks at the book and says “ooo, I’ve read some of those. Is that a new one? Can I read the back?” And I wait for him to read the blurb, then we have a little conversation about how great Lee Child is. Just yesterday I saw a bloke in my office building carrying a Lee Child on the elevator. Pretty much whole family, regardless of age, gender or usual book taste, reads this series.

Party of five: Me, Lee Child, the Ministry, the dog and the pizza (not pictured. Got et.)

Party of five: me, Lee Child, Ministry, the dog and the pizza (not pictured. Got et.)

The 2014 release, Personal, got me so excited I begged off the usual Sunday night hangover movie and glued myself to it. Then I abandoned cooking dinner and ordered pizza so I didn’t have to stop reading, something that basically only ever otherwise happens in the Ministry’s wildest dreams. I thought while reading it that Child was at the top of his game. The humour was more pronounced than the faint dry humour usually present and it spoke of absolute confidence and a certain playfulness.

In 2015 I thought, can he do it again?

There are some differences in Make Me. The subject matter of this book is also darker than usual. The humour has not vanished, but it’s dialled right back down. It also gets into unfamiliar territory plot-wise, even for this most wide-ranging of series. There is a focus on technology, an entirely new direction for Child’s old-school protagonist. I’m amazed to tell you that Reacher encounters a woman who is not a tiny, willowy blonde. And we get a glimpse of vulnerability in Reacher we have never seen before, which adds unutterably to the suspense level. It all seems to add up to a new maturity and intensity for this series.

Best of all, it ends tantalisingly, with a question mark.

Do not, I repeat, do not watch the one movie made from this series so far (One Shot, starring Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher). It will ruin this series for you before you’ve even begun.

But there is no doubt Lee Child still has plenty up his sleeve. Do yourself a favour and check out this series.

 

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 21: The Mystery of Swordfish Reef (Arthur W. Upfield, 1943)

Books left: 5. Weeks left: 8 (In the words of Douglas Adams, DON’T PANIC)

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Oh no, this was not his natural background, this heaving water which retained nothing on its surface for long. This was 11 January, and the genesis of the case, dated 3 October, was out here far from land. Life and the elements leave their records on the bush for years; but here on the sea life and the elements left no record for even such as he to read.
In all his bush cases he had many allies: the birds and the insects; the ground which was like the pages of a huge book wherein were printed the acts of all living things; the actions of rain and sunlight and wind. And greater than all these added together was his ally Time. And now of all his former allies only Time was with him.

Here lies another author I would never have discovered without working in ye olde secondhand bookshop and being familiar with its ‘literary crime’ section.

Books of this genre are characterised by their size, being neither the new-release “trade paperback” size or the pocket “A-formats” that generally follow. Literary crime novels are usually “B-format,” the same size as your literary fiction, and as they never fit in the general and crime fiction “troughs” so were generally poked into their own sad little section underneath that no-one saw. This was a shame, because these are some of the best books: a little off the beaten track in content as well as location, they represented the best of both worlds. Arthur Upfield proves that this holds true now as ever, a classic example of this rather unlikely genre: this Australian 1940s author’s hero is detective inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, investigator extraordinaire, bush tracker unparalleled and identified as was in those days called a “half-caste” Aborigine.

Upfield’s mysteries have earned their place as classics in Australian as well as crime fiction.

In this title “Bony”, as he prefers to be called, is asked to go to sea, a little swordfishing town called Bermagui on the coast of New South Wales, He must investigate a murder that appears to have occurred on the open water, and that has baffled the local and regional police.

I wondered for the first part whether I would be bored. I am not a particular fan of things angling or any stories that smell of the ocean – for someone who pities genre snobs, I sure do avoid general thrillers and seafaring fiction.

But the passion and suspense of hunting game fish, with all accompanying bloodlust, is masterfully done in this book. I, poor innocent, soon realised that swordfish were not the two or three-foot jobs I had imagined and I quickly became fascinated. I did a lot of Google-imaging before I was sated.

What begins as a charmingly dignified old-school mystery ends in a satisfying wash of adventure.
Without having even familiarised myself with Bony’s usual stomping-ground, I am delighted by the story of his being a fish (ha!) out of water.

When I am in my native bush, gentlemen … everything I observe, except the clouds, is static. On the sea nothing is static. A ship does not leave tracks on the sea.

And oh, the mystery! I was quickly sucked into this tale, with its distinctly Agatha-Christie type premise of a fishing launch, the Do-me, that vanishes without a trace, and the discovery of the murder of one of those aboard when we know she was seaworthy and those on her trustworthy. Like Marple or Poirot, Bony adores a puzzle such as this.

And so, having read all their reports and having gone through their collection of statements, I decided that this was a meaty bone on which to try the teeth of my brain.
It is certainly an out of the way case. I have to admit that I shy clear of crimes of violence where there are fingerprints and revolvers, bodies and missing valuables, and a nark or two in a thieves’ kitchen waiting to inform for the price of a beer. I like my cases minus bodies and minus clues, if possible. Which is why this
Do-me case so attracts me.

Bony is like my beloved Poirot, too, in his immaculate turnout, grand manner and “abnormal vanity” and lack of bother about things like procedure or the chain of custody; “his custom [much like Poirot’s] being to fade away after having placed the key-stone of an investigation into position.”

A note on historical context – apart from the occasional alarming use of the word half-caste, which is to the modern reader the equivalent of throwing a grenade on to the page; and a slightly hair-raising instance of Bony’s “Aboriginal instincts” rising up in a time of extremity to allow a “primitive” rage to rise to the surface, these instances are in exception to the general tone of the book, which has minimal reference to Bony’s origins, apart from the occasional pointing out the lack of prejudice other characters greet him with once they witness his “educated” voice and elegant manners. Perhaps in the other books’ more landlocked settings the racial elements are more pronounced.

Add to Upfield’s masterful mystery and delightful hero a pretty turn of phrase, and like a swordfish, I’m hooked. (Sorry, I’ll stop.).

I have found another crime writer I love… as if I needed one.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac here.

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 18: Exit Music (Ian Rankin, 2007)

Books left: 8. Weeks left: 12
027Part 18 serves as a prime example of why I have resorted to a project like this to pull my book buying, reading and keeping habits into line.

I began Ian Rankin’s series of novels about Scottish detective John Rebus years ago and loved them so much I painstakingly collected a matching set, with the exception of one rogue unmatching cover. When I heard that Rankin would be retiring Rebus and along with him the series I collected the last book, Exit Music, in trade paperback, not wanting to wait until it came out in small format.

But then I got more books… and more… and more… and never ended up reading Rebus’ last hurrah.

With all this in mind I thought it was an obvious candidate for the project. I would read that final part of the series, acknowledge that my love affair with John Rebus had reached a fitting end, then I would consign the complete collection over to the secondhand bookshop for a new reader to fall upon gleefully.

If you love something, let it go.

If you love something, let it go.

So, I read and loved Exit Music. I thought it a perfect end to a series. I took the whole pile to the bookshop.

Here, the bookseller informed me that Rankin had restarted the series a few years back. Rebus was Back. With a dawning sense of something sitting uneasily between delight and horror, I betook myself to the shelves and found the New Series.

Even its cover taunted with me, with its REBUS IS BACK tagline emblazoned upon it.

Get this: Rebus stayed retired, bugger him, for five years, then started working on cold cases.

Exit Music was published in 2007 and soon afterwards I was no longer seeing the new fiction releases, having begun work in a nonfiction bookstore. By the time Rankin published Standing in Another Man’s Grave in 2012 I was working in journalism. He has now published a second title in the new series, Saints of the Shadow Bible, 2013.

Joke’s on me.

The harsh lesson: if you buy a book you don’t have time to read and hang on to it for eight years, you run the risk of the author actually being able to retire a bestselling series, get bored, re-launch the series and put out another two books, putting you hopelessly behind again.

But now I know I have really begun to take the lesson to heart, because I put those new titles back on the shelf and Walked Away from it, not to mention from the rest of the collection.

I don’t have the time right now, especially given this project is yet to run its course.

Now for a brief note on Exit Music, which I waited, as I said, eight years to read.

Hooray! It’s one of those stories in which a crusty old copper has only ten days to go until he retires. Obviously, a big nasty murder lands in his lap. In a surprising twist, old authority-hating Rebus finally sasses a boss so badly that the boss, incensed, suspends him for the remainder of his final days in the job. Again obviously (and I mean obviously in the best kind of way) Rebus ignores that directive as he has only days left and one last chance to put his nemesis, a crime boss who has eluded capture for Rebus’ entire career, away for good.

It’s set in real time, just about, with the book divided into a chapter for each day plus a one-day epilogue, which makes for a ripper of a police procedural and a detailed and political portrait of the seedy Edinburgh underbelly Rankin has always evoked so sharply.

Had it BEEN a swan song, I say bitterly, it would have been a damned good one – it’s full of fuss, blood and mess, to borrow a phrase from Rebus himself, and its bittersweet conclusion gave me a little shock of goosebumps.

Mr Rankin, you have my undying respect. Argh, go on, write another one.

Keep or kill? Already gone, my friends.

The Silkworm (Robert Galbraith, 2014)

The Silkworm: rainy-day fiction.

The Silkworm: rainy-day fiction.

Time off from The Curing of a Bibliomaniac is allowed, because my friend Sturdy lent me this alluring paperback and anything by J. K . Rowling, that is, Robert Galbraith, is essential reading.

 

 

My history as a crime junkie dates back to a time after I finished my uni degree, filled with postmodern literature, ye olde English literature, film theory, poetry, Shakespeare, Shakespeare in film, Australian fiction, Australian fiction in film, etc, etc.

This stuff was wicked, but it bruised my brain so severely that by the time I graduated I shuddered at the very sight of a Thinky Book.

Enter crime. The compulsive nature of crime serials by excellent authors such as Val McDermid, Colin Dexter, Lee Child, Ian Rankin and Frances Fyfield, to name but a few, served as a panacea to my aching soul, serving up quality reading material in a structure I could rely upon to be relatively unchanging.

Not THAT proud of my matching Colin Dexter collection, jeez.

Not THAT proud of my matching Colin Dexter collection, jeez.

 

Like a fool, I kept buying all kinds of books as well as these, hence large, slightly bibliomaniacal (is this a word?) collection of the unread. And the need for a cure. Hehehe. Searching for a cure for the unread. Get it?

 

 

But I digress. Suffice it to say that when a friend delivers a succulent new morsel such as this, I drop everything and snuggle down and say goodbye to society for a couple of days.

Silkworm did not disappoint – Galbraith’s writing is so deft and perceptive you can’t help but break into delighted smiles as you read, nodding in recognition, and sometimes even a giggle at some particularly incisive phrase.

The evocation of London is such that it makes you long to see it in front of you as Strike (central character, ex-soldier-turned private detective) does. Well, at least it was raining in Perth.

This is the second novel in the series, the first being The Cuckoo’s Calling, and as Sturdy says, there is some excellent character development in this instalment, with the promise of more to come.

The same thing struck me about Silkworm as The Cuckoo’s Calling: Galbraith inhabits diverse worlds with remarkable comfort, moving from poverty to riches, and detailing industries from fashion to publishing as though born to them.

This is a joy to read, a traditional, engrossing detective novel with everything it needs to be among the best in the genre: depth of character, tight plot, mood and style, with some deliciously shivery moments. It deserves to have real money spent on a physical book that takes up real space in your house.

If you’ll indulge me in a cringey metaphor, it’s more satisfying than a good meal, because generally after good food you feel a bit overfull and regretful, whereas this is a perfect portion that leaves you wanting more.

After continuing with How to Cure a Bibliomaniac, of course.

Red (2010)

John Malkovich reportedly said somewhere he wanted to make an action movie for himself. I hope the idea of this excites you as much as it did me.

What Malkovich apparently wanted was pure adrenaline and fun, and Red has this in spades.

It’s a promising premise for a film – a bunch of retired secret agents join up for one last escapade – and it’s executed masterfully. The best comedy comes from Malkovich’s ultra-paranoid, twitchy and irrational character, but he’s perfectly complemented by the rest of his ‘old’ friends and the plot continues to generate and build on its own momentum and you find yourself genuinely emotionally engaged – when misfortune that seems insurmountable catches up with a certain character, you really, truly care!

Well, I did. The movie has heart, as well as brains, balls, bawdiness and funnies (I couldn’t be bothered thesaurusing till I found a humour-related b-word) and there’s never a boring moment.

It’s got a killer cast – Helen Mirren is dynamite, and her hapless Russian love interest provides her with the ideal comic foil. I’ve never found a sixty-something year old lady hot before, but there’s a first time for everything.

Mary-Louise Parker does some beautiful rubberfaced comedy and manages not to annoy me even once even as a helplesss female character.

Bruce Willis is as tough and cool as always (I sure hope he plans on being cryogenically frozen, because I don’t think I can stand to live in a world without Bruce Willis making action movies).

John Malkovich is worryingly good at being an LSD-addled, compulsively murderous conspiracy theorist.

Morgan Freeman as good as ever, and, somewhat worryingly, is wonderfully convincing as an infirm 84-year-old.

Love the cameo-type role of underground records officer played by Ernest Borgnine, who really should be cast as Mr Toad in a Wind in the Willows adaptation without delay.

The movie has great action sequences with stylish fighting – but the fighting remains visceral and not TOO stylish (If you don’t know what I mean by too stylish, think Angelina Jolie-type-action). To illustrate, Bruce Willis channels John McCain in a memorable running exit from a speeding car, emerging upright and shooting in an impossible stunt – but at no point does the movie sell itself short by relying on clever tricks like this. They add to the sense of pace and style but are used judiciously enough not to detract from the film’s main strengths, namely, characterisation and humour.

I hate describing things as ‘romps’ but this, if any movie does, deserves the old cliche. There is a sense of pure enjoyment and energy about it that is charming, but it keeps its edge with the perfectly choreographed action and acting clout that its veteran cast brings to the table.