Saturday, April 25, 2020

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

There is an awful lot of good stuff in Dennis Lehane’s 2012 gangster novel Live by Night.

This story of Boston bootleggers, beginning in the mid-1920s and ending in the mid-1930s, is not the tough, fast crime novel I was expecting when I picked it up.

At the start, Joe Coughlin is a 20-year-old punk and stick-up man with an unusual background. He did not grow up on the mean streets, but in the suburbs. His father was a high-ranking member of the Boston Police Department.

During one of his robberies, Joe meets Emma Gould, and is infatuated by this girl with eyes as cold as her personality. She is nothing but trouble for Joe. But then Joe is not as bright as he thinks he is. Even with his rise in the illegal liquor business and his becoming an underworld boss in Florida, he makes a ton of mistakes, mostly due to his inherent softness.

Lehane’s depictions of 1920s Boston and 1930s Tampa are loaded with atmosphere and history. The connections with Cuba and the rum-running from that island nation to the U.S. was a highlight.

But the book is heavy with dialogue that struck me as too modern and some of the action – like the attack on a boat – read like scenes from an exploitation movie.

Lehane, author of Mystic River and many other novels, spins a good yarn, but frankly I was expecting more from him.

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

(Also, please check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot, too. Thanks.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is Marvelous

One of the best written, best acted, best produced shows is “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Miriam Maisel is a young, New York, Jewish, mother of two, who has a gift for being funny. The show follows her from her first, accidental, stand-up comedy performances, to her rise in the Greenwich Village club scene, and beyond.

Set in 1958, 1959, and 1960 (so far), a big part of the show is about how this woman, played by Rachel Brosnahan, breaks into a man’s world. Very, very few women were stand-up comics at that time.

The show is also about her vulgar and hilarious friend and manager, played by Alex Borstein.

It is also about Miriam’s nutty family: her ex-husband, played by Michael Zegen; her father, played by Tony Shalhoub; her mother, played by Marin Hinkle; her ex-father-in law, played by Kevin Pollak; and her ex-mother-in law, played by Caroline Aaron. Viewers will get to know them all and more.

There is also the mysterious recurring character of  real-life comedian Lenny Bruce, played by Luke Kirby.

Every episode is fast and funny, and for all of us here, hunkered down at home, it is a great break from crisis around us.

Check it out. (But be warned, the language is rough and definitely not for the kiddies.)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Faceless Killers was Henning Mankell’s first Detective Kurt Wallander novel and just recently it became my first reading experience with the author.

A few years ago, I enjoyed a couple of the Kurt Wallander TV movies starring Kenneth Branagh as the Swedish police detective. But the novel remained in my TBR pile for a long time. That was a mistake, because Faceless Killers is a terrific book. Not only is it an intriguing mystery and a nice character study, but also a comment on a changing world.

Fortyish Wallendar, confronted with the horrific murder of an elderly farmer and his wife, wonders what is happening to his country when this level of violence reaches even the calm, remote rural areas of southern Sweden.

When it leaks that the suspect may be a refuge living in one of the local migrant camps, a hate group threatens to retaliate against the immigrants. Before the killer can be caught, refuges are assaulted and killed.

There is a strange lack of urgency on the part of the police. Perhaps Mankell wrote it that way to show a police force not used to handling this kind of case or the increasing frequency of cases like it.

Kurt Wallander is all too human. He is divorced and out of touch with his adult daughter. The relative he is closest to is his nasty, overbearing father who is in the early stages of dementia.

Makell’s book is at its best when it follows the dogged efforts of Wallander to find the killer. Where it falters is in a couple of action passages. The author goes too far making the book feel like a Hollywood movie. But Mankell reins it all in and sets it back on track.

By my count, Henning Mankell (1940-2015) wrote nine novels, one novella and several short stories featuring Wallander.

Faceless Killers was nicely translated by Steven T. Murray and is a book I should not have waited so long to read.

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

(And please check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett in print and on television

Last week, Evan Lewis posted a link to a 1949 TV broadcast of Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key.

(Check it out here.)

As I commented on his site, if the 1950s were considered the Golden Age of television, then the 1940s were the Stone Age of TV.

That said, the play is surprisingly good.

Sure, the sets are cardboard and some of the acting is more suited to the stage than the screen, but overall, it was a very smart production.

The Hammett novel, which I posted about (here), is a complicated yarn of murder and political corruption.

Nick Beaumont is an advisor and right-hand man to Paul Madvig, a political power broker. In the book, Hammett showed the strong ties between the men who were long-time friends.

A lot of that was lost in the 1942 movie starring Alan Ladd as Nick and Brian Donlevy as Paul because the story needed to be trimmed down to fit a movie’s normal running time. (There is also a 1935 version starring George Raft and Edward Arnold, but I have not seen it.)

Even more of the flavor of the book was cut to fit the story into a one-hour television play. But Worthington Miner, a big producer in early television, did a good job adapting it. Enough of the plot is retained and it moves along nicely.

Donald Briggs was a pretty good Nick. He was believable as a sharp guy, but not as a tough guy, which Nick was in the book. In that respect, he reminded me of Robert Montgomery in “Ride the Pink Horse.”

The production was broadcast live but preserved on film by a crude method of pointing a movie camera at a monitor. Compared to today’s productions, the quality of a Kinescope is horrible. But, it is better than not having it.

So, if you are at home (and I hope you are staying safe) and looking for something to watch. Give this one a try.