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HEAD GAMES: the first review comparing the novel and the graphic novel

September 21, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Review published on September 21, 2018.

Whichever version of Head Games you choose to read, the novel or the graphic novel, you’re getting a juicy slice of Americana to feast on. I decided to tackle both books because I thought it would be interesting to read one straight after the other (starting with the novel, which was written first, so that the images in the graphic retelling weren’t influencing my idea of the characters in the novel). Head Games is noir with a touch of humour, in fact I may be underplaying that a bit because I suspect McDonald was having a lot of fun writing this novel and turning it into a graphic read too. Still, Head Games has that hard-boiled feel to it, in the best tradition of the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 40s. A treat for fans of the classic adventure thriller but there are a few knowing twists along the way that gives the give the books an edgy feel.

As McDonald put it in the introduction to the graphic novel, “….you’ll be riding shotgun in a ‘fifty-seven ragtop Bel Air….” [with Hector Lassiter]. That’s because Head Games has revolution, grave robbing, betrayal, ambush, a treasure map, a secret society, political corruption and a host of shoot outs. It’s an homage to a golden age of crime writing with a modern twist – there is so much fun to be had in these pages for fans of the classic American crime story and noir cinema.

It’s rare to get a chance to compare the original novel with the graphic rendition, these two seem apt for the experiment but to be very boring about it, you get the same kick, the same excitement from both (there are a few differences I’ve noted below). Head Games has a double meaning, it refers to the skullduggery in the plot (sorry!) but also to the fact that this novel is a bit of a mind game for the reader too. The main protagonist Hector Lassiter is a writer, he’s also the narrator of most of the novel, so we see things through his eyes but maybe we should take some of the things he says with a pinch of salt? It’s a playful format.

It’s 1957, South of the border. Three men are sitting at a table in a seedy cantina in Ciudad Juarez. There’s Eskin ‘Bud’ Fisk, a short-sighted reporter, poet, here to interview Hector Lassiter, a playwright and crime novelist turned screenwriter. Then there is Bill Wade, a mercenary, con man and a drunk. Wade pulls a bundle out of his duffel bag and unwraps the skull of Mexican general and bandit Pancho Villa. Lassiter knows in his water that the skull, with wisps of hair still attached, really is that of the general. Not least because of the mandibular prognathism (pronounced jawbone, an under-bite). Lassiter tells Wade to put it away before they attract attention. The locals would happily kill three gringos for such a prize and it wouldn’t be a pleasant end. Wade’s idea is for Lassiter to smuggle the skull across the border into the good old US of A. He has a buyer lined up, probably the guy who organised the grave robbing theft in the first place thirty years ago – Senator Prescott Bush. He is prepared to pay $80,000 (rumour has it that he personally stole the head of Geronimo some time past). The men should have been paying attention to what was coming because four Federales burst into the bar waving shotguns.

Lassiter just has time to get Fiske down when the shooting starts. In the gunfight Wade, ironically, gets his head blown off and Bud Fiske, the young journalist, saves Lassiter’s life. The problem is Federales usually come in a big posse so they need to get out of town sharpish. The two men torch Wade’s car as a distraction and flee. Across the border, they head for Lassiter’s house, not that he spends much time here, there are bad memories. That’s where they run into three more armed men. Most likely theory is that the good senator decided to reduce costs by having the skull repossessed by the hired help. Fiske and Lassiter give up the skull but this is only the beginning of the trouble. More than one person out there wants that skull badly! Including a couple of supposedly long dead bloodthirsty hombres.

There’s a healthy dose of violence and killing that follows, pretty much starting form the point I left off. Burned out cars riddled with bullets, amateur bounty hunters, stone cold killers, more grave robbing, sleazy politicians and bent spies not to mention the Skull and Bones secret society, an early forerunner of the “deep state”.

Lassiter and Fiske detour to Venice California where Orson Welles is filming Touch of Evil (one of the great noir movies). Lassiter knows Welles but he’s a big ‘friend’ of the Kraut, aka Marlene Dietrich. I won’t tell you what this is all about but it reinforced the noir credentials of the novel and adds to the playfulness of the story. When Welles is jealous about Marlene he abuses Lassiter, who notes as he leaves the set:

“I heard Marlena say to Welles, ‘Stop it you fool what does it matter what you say about him? He’s a man…..that’s all.’”

Thus insinuating himself into film history as the last line of the movie is:

“He was some kind of a man….What does it matter what you say about people?” [Tanya/Dietrich]

It’s a nice in joke/conceit. Lassiter also picks up a girl friend, Mexican beauty, Alicia Vicente.

Both the novel and the graphic novel have potted histories that add a bit of background colour (although it’s in black and white in the graphic novel): Pancho Villa was born Doroteo Arango in 1878, and was a bandit by the age of 17, having killed the man who attacked and raped his sister. In his early twenties he changed his name to Villa and became a robin hood style bandit. Originally fated by the Americans, General Black Jack Pershing was impressed when he was sent to parley with the Mexican Revolutionary, Villa, in 1913. In 1916, Villa’s men were blamed for a raid on Columbus, New Mexico, killing local inhabitants. Pershing was sent south to catch Villa dead or alive, a mission that was called off when the war in Europe ramped up. It wasn’t until Villa had retired that he was gunned down in the street, shot in the back, in 1923. His body was dug up in 1926 and the head taken, it was rumoured to contain a map to Villa’s treasure.

The dialogue is pure hard-boiled heaven – snappy, witty, cutting. There are echoes of the road movie and a great sense of place as the novel shifts from location to location. Lassiter is a great character and some of the set pieces are solid gold. As a bonus the novel contains a readers’ guide, a short story and an essay on Lassiter.

The novel has a breakneck pace but the graphic novel ramps it up a bit – spare, crisp and action packed. The drawings reinforce the dark atmosphere and the text bubbles are sparingly used, which is an indication of the clever visual interpretation of the original but the hard-boiled style is maintained. The images lead you to the double meaning of Head Games pretty quickly. I loved the sequence in Venice, CA, where the opening shot of Touch of Evil (one of the most iconic movie scenes) is recreated in the graphic novel – it’s a nice doffing of the cap to Welles and the masterpiece of the cinema. The shot of Wade reaching for the skull in the duffel bag makes his face look like a skull presaging his coming end. There are a few heads that get blown off in this story! The simplified story here is more direct than the novel but essentially the same. I’d have no problem recommending the novel or the graphic novel depending on your taste, both are entertaining and exciting reads.

Paul Burke @ https://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/09/head-games-novel-by-craig-mcdonald-and-graphic-novel-by-craig-mcdonald-and-kevin-singles/

“Exciting Poetic Thriller” – exactly!

August 7, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

We just have to share this reader’s review! It’s wonderful when somebody REALLY gets the book! Thanks to @fatorange23, whoever he/she is, for sharing this with other readers:

5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting Poetic Thriller

4 August 2018Published on Amazon.com

Format: Paperback

In order to be a great writer one’s style must be distinct. However, by daring to have a distinct voice a writer runs the risk of annoying or irritating the reader. O’Sullivan implements an obvious technique that’s often tried but very rarely succeeds. He builds the foundation of the plot with brief passages that are equal parts poetry and prose.

Honestly, if someone told me that I would NOT be inclined to read the book because I’ve seen it fail so many times. But the reason why it almost always fails is the poetry (or maybe more correctly put the poetic prose) doesn’t advance the plot. Usually, it will only serve to re-establish something. O’Sullivan advances the plot, economically even, while showcasing his skill as a poet – all the while, keeping the reader fully engaged and turning the pages.

I read comparisons to Murakami, Aldiss, and even Black Mirror writers. I love all that stuff but I personally think O’Sullivan offers us something we really needed much more deeply: a modern-day Edgar Allan Poe. Horror that dares to be great.

Does it get any better than that?
viewbook.at/TheDarkManual

A glorious review of Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel “The Dark Manual”

June 15, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Isaac Asimov had Three Laws of Robotics:

1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov’s laws are sourly tested in Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel, The Dark Manual. The author, Winner of the Prix Mystère de la critique 2018, just gets better with each book, and with this, his third, he is becoming one of the finest storytellers out there. His prose keeps one glued to the page, with delightful concentration.

Colin O’Sullivan does not write a bad line. His characters become a part of the reader as they turn the pages, and they dwell in the mind between reads. I found myself setting the book down, two or three times, but not able to leave it until I picked it up again, and read some more. Colin O’Sullivan’s writing style reminds me so of jazz, with its one-word, then two-word, then three-word sentences. Bop, bop, bop-bop, until you realize you have read a paragraph, then onto a new riff. Lyrical, powerful, humorous, poetic, emotional. He is a lyrical master of the written word. There are sections of the book that are heartbreaking, in their emotional and physical sense of loss, and moments of humor, surprise, suspense, pure sudden horror, and stark naked joy.

Susie Sakamoto, came from Ireland, to live in Japan with her husband, Masa, who designed and built “homebots,” domestic robots. Their primary role: clean the home, cook, make drinks, tend to the owner, and stand still in the corner when turned off for the night.

With their little boy, Zen, Masa and Susie have a happy life, until the day when Susie bids goodbye to her son and husband at the airport, where they are setting off on a trip to South Korea. A trip that becomes a tragedy when an errant missile launched from North Korea causes the plane they are on to break apart, its pieces and bodies of those on board falling into the sea. Her dear husband and darling son, suddenly gone. Their bodies never recovered.

Susie now spends her days in a deep depression, going over the what-ifs, coming to hate the homebot that lives with her, and staying drunk most of the time. Appearing at work, where she is a reporter, occasionally, but contemplating suicide, and spending nights in a bar getting wasted and mourning the tremendous loss she has suffered. A drunken Irishwoman in Japan, with little reason to get up in the morning, except to order the home robot to bring her another drink, while outside, in the trees, the owls are gathering, as if something was amiss.

At the bar she hangs out at each night, Susie becomes somewhat friendly with the ultra free spirit and flamboyant Mixxy Makanea, a Japanese woman who speaks English, and pretty much does what she wants, when she wants, and with whomever she wants. When Mixxy struts into a bar, all heads turn. Green streaked hair, fishnet stockings, glossy lips, and just a touch of white powder under her nostrils, she is ready to steal the evening. Mixxy is one of the great characters from the author. With her flash flamboyance and pizzazz, she colors the novel with her profane antics, and so-what attitude. Mixxy also feels the presence of the owls. Knows they are in the trees. Watching.

Susie continues to struggle with whether to live or die and blacken it all out once and for all. Her anguish palpable. Her loss profound. Her hatred for the annoying domestic robot growing each day. Then she begins to hear about the Dark Manual, a legendary means to shut off all the machines, that might or might not exist. Susie starts thinking that if she could find it, she could shut the damn thing off. Shut them all off. If she gets Mixxy to help her, could they find it? Did her husband write it? Is it close by, within her reach?

Meanwhile the homebot waits. All the homebots wait. Lights flashing on and off. Eerie sounds emitting from where there mouth would be. Do they come into the bedroom at night to watch the sleeper? Are they capable of harm? If Susie and Mixxy find the Dark Manual, will the machines know, and try to stop them from shutting them down? Can they think? Can they communicate with other homebots? Are they evil?

Worst of all, can they kill?

Meanwhile, outside, more owls gather in the trees, and now also the crows. They too gather and caw in the trees and rooftops. More and more of them. Watching. Waiting.

–Marvin Minkler of Modern First Editions

read an excerpt here

“Colin O’Sullivan writes gloriously”

April 16, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

In Tom Russell’s song about Lightnin’ Hopkins, ‘Scars on His Ankles,” he writes of Lightnin’s scars on his ankles where the chain from the chain gang cut his skin. In Colin O’Sullivan’s jewel of a first novel, Killarney Blues, winner of the “Prix Mystere de la critique,” in France, the main characters also have scars, but they are the emotional ones, ones that were thought to be buried, ones that lie scratching deep beneath the surface of their skin, never to be forgotten.

Thirty year old Bernard Dunphy is a jarvey by trade, driving a horse-carriage, that carries the many tourists, who flock to the lovely Irish town of Killarney each year. Pulled by his old worn-out, dying, but gallant horse, Ninny, Bernard is considered by most a town weirdo. Gap-toothed, overweight, and grubby in his old tobacco and sweat stained black coat, that he wears on even the warmest of days. Walking alone through the town, large headphones in place, listening and mumbling along with the likes of blues-man Son House, as his raw, passionate, stomping sound tears up out of his body and soul, filling Bernard’s ears. “That rhythm is the beat of Bernard’s heart.”

He knows all the old blues-men, from Muddy Waters to Howling Wolf, Sleepy Ma Rainey, John Estes, and Robert Johnson. They are his heroes, and Bernard cannot get enough of them. In his small room alone at home with his guitar and voice, he records blues songs, then gives them to his childhood crush, and love of his life, the beautiful Marian, though she is less than pleased about it. In fact, her two childhood friends, Cathy and Mags, delight in teasing her relentlessly about poor old goofy Bernard’s ongoing devotion to her.

Bernard’s other childhood friend is the handsome, popular footballer, heavy drinker and ladies man, Jack Moriarty. Jack is supposed to be Mags steady, but he is spending a lot of bed time with her best friend Cathy behind Marian’s back. Bernard and Jack share a dark secret that remains a scar on their souls from a terrible night back when they were little boys, young and innocent. A terrible night that also scared Bernard’s father John Dunfey, who also loved the blues and taught Bernard to play, and his mother, Brigid, who smothers Bernard with love and devotion, since her husband John Dunfey’s questionable death by drowning in the lake. They only have each other, a home that once held lovely memories, but also a never-mentioned shameful secret. A secret that during this green, glorious summer will finally scratch through their skins, and alter all their lives.

The green and blue lake beauty of Killarney, Ireland, runs through this wonderfully written novel, and the blues are the glue that holds it all together. Colin O’Sullivan writes gloriously. Hope, frailty, sadness, joy, resilience and surprise. The novel jumps back and forth in time and character viewpoints, but never once does it alter in any way the grand flow of this lyrical and compelling story as it moves forward. The reader carried along steadily, and then hurriedly, as the pages fly by a bit faster, eyes reading in a hurry to find out what happens next, until finally the last paragraph, and a large smile spreads across the face.

Killarney Blues is what the pleasure of reading a totally enjoyable novel is all about.

–Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions

Original review: https://www.facebook.com/MarvinMinklerModernFirstEditions/posts/1498995423542236

More praise for Sam Hawken’s LA FRONTERA five years after its release

April 3, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

If, like us, you value long-sellers over best-sellers and content over marketing, this book might be for you:

Book Noir review, published on March 30, 2018

Every time I read one of Hawken’s novels I enjoy it immensely; he is a consummate storyteller with a real knack for getting to the heart of the matter. La Frontera is a powerful novel because is deals with the lives of real people in tough situations. That has been a feature of Hawken’s writing since his first novel, The Dead Women of Juarez, a blistering thriller based on the murders of 1500 women in Ciudad Juarez during the drugs wars on the border. This was an important novel but Hawken has gone on to write much better thrillers (from a stylistic point of view). I don’t think anybody writes about La Frontera with the same depth of knowledge of the borderlands (north and south). Hawken is a Texan, and he brings the many stories of real people to life with compassion and honesty. In this case it is Ana, Luis and Marisol. That depth of characterisation sets his novels apart from a lot of thrillers and it’s totally engrossing. The people we meet on these pages are nuanced and complicated. Hawken seems to be able to make ordinary detail seem fascinating and once he introduces a character you will want to know their story. Most importantly Hawken knows how to tell a story with verve and depth; La Frontera is fast paced, absorbing and exciting – it is one of his best and that is saying something.

Full review here: https://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/03/la-frontera-by-sam-hawken/

Colin O’Sullivan’s “KILLARNEY BLUES” is on RTL!

January 22, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Colin O’Sullivan‘s novel KILLARNEY BLUES (French translation, Éditions Rivages, Sept. 2017) is on the RTL radio (C’est à lire – To be read)!

“This first Noir novel from Colin O’Sullivan is magnificent, very finely written, and profoundly sad. To be savoured while drinking a Guinness and listening to some old blues, by Muddy Waters or Bessie Smith. And if rain knocks on the window glass, like in Killarney, it’s even better.”

C’est à lire : “Killarney Blues” de Colin O’Sullivan

Bernard Poirette, Journaliste RTL

À Killarney, charmante bourgade irlandaise, Bernard Dunphy passe pour l’idiot du village. Il n’a pas trente ans, s’habille hiver comme été d’un lourd manteau de laine et conduit d’une main sûre sa calèche à touristes tirée par sa vieille jument Ninny.

Bernard a toujours le sourire. Il est légèrement autiste. Ça ne l’empêche pas d’avoir deux passions dans la vie : le blues et… Marian, la sublime Marian, qu’il courtise à sa façon, en lui envoyant des cassettes de ses chanteurs préférés. Bernard, c’est en quelque sorte la face lumineuse de Killarney.

Pour le reste, la petite ville a essentiellement du sombre à offrir. La violence perverse de Jack Moriarty, une brute épaisse, sur les terrains de sport comme dans le lit des filles. Parlons des filles, justement : Mags et Cathy, l’officielle et la maitresse de Jack, qui noient leur temps libre dans des pintes de Guinness en attendant le prince charmant. Qui bien sûr ne viendra pas ; rebuté peut-être par les 250 jours de pluie annuels sur Killarney. Rebuté sans doute aussi par les fantômes qui hantent la petite ville… à commencer par celui de John, volontairement noyé dans le lac et dont les lourds et terribles secrets remontent à la surface, comme des cadavres gonflés. C’est tout cela, l’innocence de Bernard et la laideur du monde alentour qui vont se percuter, l’espace de quelques jours, à Killarney, comté de Kerry.

Ce premier roman noir de Colin O’Sullivan est magnifique, très finement écrit et infiniment triste. A déguster en buvant une Guinness et en écoutant un vieux blues de Muddy Waters ou Bessie Smith. Et si, comme à Killarney, la pluie frappe les vitres au dehors, c’est encore mieux.

Review of “Killarney Blues” in Le Soir

October 2, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Voilà à quoi ressemble Killarney à l’aube de ce siècle nouveau. Il y a des bagels. Et c’est le genre d’endroit dans lequel elles viennent prendre un café : un bistrot élégant, bien éclairé, minimaliste, avec des tableaux de bon goût sur les murs, des décorations végétales spectrales en forme de bâtons sur les tables et des fauteuils qui vous aspirent, des fauteuils qui vous vaudront des problèmes de vertèbres à terme mais qui sont paradisiaques le temps de ce bref répit, alors que les sacs de shopping lacèrent atrocement les bras fins. »

Colin O’ Sullivan, inconnu au bataillon avant ce premier roman (on lui doit paraît-il de nombreuses nouvelles et des recueils de poésie), a un ton, un style et un univers. Il n’a par contre pas grand-chose en commun avec les innombrables auteurs de polar et de thriller actuels.

Situé à Killarney, ville irlandaise touristique, son Killarney Blues ne compte que deux flics (en uniforme) venus arrêter un type dans un bar. La scène se passe à la page 231 d’un ouvrage qui en compte 270. Elle se termine à la page 234. C’est dire que l’intrigue policière n’est pas au centre de cet ouvrage qui vous happe pourtant dès les premières pages pour ne plus vous lâcher.

[“This book grabs you at the first page and won’t let you put it down.”]

Car Colin O’ Sullivan fait naître une galerie de personnages d’une formidable justesse auxquels on s’attache instantanément.

[“Colin O’Sullivan creates a gallery of characters so true and real that you get attached to them immediately.”]

Au centre de ce petit monde, on trouve Bernard Dunphy, grand amateur de blues et jarvey de profession. En clair, Bernard promène des touristes dans la ville à bord de sa calèche tirée par la jument Ninny. Bernard est un drôle de type, solitaire, un peu inadapté au monde, puant la sueur et portant toujours un gros manteau noir.

Autour de Bernard, il y a sa mère, dure et forte, qui s’occupe de tout pour son grand fils un peu décalé. Et qui porte en elle le souvenir de son mari, noyé dans le lac tout proche. Il y a aussi la belle Marian, dont Bernard est amoureux depuis toujours et qui semble l’ignorer. Elle passe son temps avec ses deux copines, Mags et Cathy, à faire du shopping, à s’envoyer des vannes et à se murger tous les week-ends dans leurs bars préférés tout en s’inquiétant de n’avoir pas encore trouvé l’homme de leur vie à près de 30 ans.

Un récit choral

Il y a encore Jack Moriarty, que Bernard considère comme son seul pote mais qui ne voit pas tout à fait les choses de cette façon. Jack le séducteur, Jack le joueur de foot gaélique incapable de canaliser sa fureur, Jack qui traîne aussi ses fantômes du passé. Et puis il y a Linda la serveuse qui se mue en chanteuse à la nuit tombée, Laura la touriste américaine et son frère, amateur de blues lui aussi…

Tout un petit monde que l’auteur met en scène et suit entre passé et présent, bondissant de l’un à l’autre, tissant un récit choral où les dialogues se réduisent à la portion congrue au profit d’une écriture qui embrasse tous les aspects de l’intrigue, emporte tout sur son passage, tend la main au lecteur pour l’emporter au cœur de ces vies banales et pourtant porteuses d’une multitude de petits et de grands drames.

Au fil des 270 pages, chacun se découvre petit à petit. Tout ce qui semblait évident dans les premiers chapitres prend de nouvelles couleurs, de nouvelles directions, de nouvelles raisons d’être. Le passé resurgit sans cesse et vient le plus souvent pourrir le présent. Heureusement pour Bernard, il y a le blues. Cette musique qui l’habite littéralement, sa passion pour Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, B.B. King et tant d’autres. Dans une Irlande où les clichés culturels croisent sans cesse un nouveau mode de vie mondialisé, Bernard va petit à petit se révéler, ainsi que tous ceux qui l’entourent. Pour le meilleur ou pour le pire.

Porté par un véritable souffle d’écrivain, Killarney Blues est un roman noir, plein de mélancolie et de rêves inaboutis où surgit malgré tout une étonnante lueur d’espoir. Sans la moindre naïveté. Une révélation.

[“Carried by a genuine writing talent, Killarney Blues is a Noir novel full of melancholy and unfulfilled dreams with a surprising glimmer of hope at the end. Without the slightest naivety. A revelation.”]

Roman noir. Killarney Blues, Colin 0’Sullivan ; Tr. de l’anglais par L. Bouton-Kelly, Rivages, 272 p., 21 €, e-book 14,99 €

http://plus.lesoir.be/116429/article/2017-09-29/killarney-blues-une-lueur-despoir-dans-un-ocean-de-blues