Archive for hard case crime

odds and ends

Posted in odds and ends with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2012 by Christopher Pearce

I’m proud to say the first book I’ve read in 2011 was Quarry’s Ex by Max Allan Collins, a new release from the Hard Case Crime imprint.

I’ve tooted my horn about my enjoyment of the HCC series of books here and I will continue to do so because I find them to be fun, quick reads. I’m especially a fan of these Quarry books- Collins has crafted a weirdly appealing blue collar antihero in his midwestern hitman. Oddly enough, Collins ended the series with The Last Quarry before dipping into his past with the next few HCC novels.

Quarry’s Ex takes place in the 1980’s and directly references previously established continuity by brining the guy’s former wife into the fold while he investigates a film director on whom a hit has been taken. I really enjoyed the movie-making setting of Quarry’s Ex as a change, but I missed some of the bleaker Midwestern settings from the previous books. In all honesty, Quarry’s Ex is probably the least of the newer Quarry novels, although I enjoyed it a hell of a lot. I wonder if Collins boxed himself into a corner by giving his working stiff hitman a happy ending in The Last Quarry.

That aside, I’m on the hook for any new stories Collins chooses to tell with the character.

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I suppose I’m late in this, but IFC recently released the first season of their sketch comedy series Portlandia to Netflix and I’ve been really enjoying the first season. Starring Saturday Night Live‘s Fred Arminsen and Carrie Brownstein, Portlandia is sort of a send up of youth culture based in and around the eclectic West Coast city. Armisen and Brownstein do the heavy lifting in the series, although there is a nice stable of guest stars in the first season’s six episodes.

One of the things I really like about Portlandia is that, on the surface, it seems like Armisen, Brownstein and Company are mining an ultra-specific topic for their comedy… but as you watch a few episodes, you begin to realize that the hipster trappings are just window-dressing for the quirky humor. One of my favorite sketches in the series so far involves two artistic go-getters pimping their genius aesthetic strategy of taking things and “putting a bird on it!” While there is a hipster veneer to that sketch, the concept quickly degenerates into easy-to-appreciate goofiness.

When I was a teenager in the 1990’s, there were half a dozen sketch comedy series percolating on the upper dials of cable television. Reruns of SNL and The Kids in the Hall were ubiquitous on Comedy Central… and I remember watching shows like The State, Exit 57, The Vacant Lot, and Friday nights on HBO, Mr. Show with Bob and David.¬† Even the networks would occasionally take a run at sketch comedy with things like The Dana Carvey Show and The Edge, although I think the only real success on that front was In Living Color.

I’m probably forgetting half a dozen shows which didn’t make it beyond their first few episodes. Sketch seems to be a television show format which has died down in recent years. Every once and awhile it will show signs of life but I’m surprised there aren’t more cable channels actively developing and supporting more shows like Portlandia.

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Last week, The Onion’s AV Club (my go-to source for intelligently written pop culture articles and barely comprehensible message board discourse) has published a helpful article detailing what exactly makes a good all-ages comic. Author Oliver Sava give a nice run-down of the subject and also provides a list of comic books that would be great to share with young readers. He hits the big ones (Bone, Owly) while making some nice arguments for newer books like DC Comics’ O.M.A.C. and Marvel’s Mystic.As it happens, I have copies of both O.M.A.C. and Mystic in my lending library thanks to a generous donation from a friend of mine and although no one’s yet picked up Mystic, the first issues of O.M.A.C. has been a pretty big hit with my students.

Written by Dan Didio with art from superhero comics’ mainstay Keith Giffen, O.M.A.C. IS sort of an Incredible Hulk type story with lots of fighting and a really appealing lead character. The book was easily accessible with beautiful pencils by Giffen, sporting a heavy Jack Kirby influence. I was looking forward to picking up more issues… but sadly, the title was cancelled last week.

I don’t agree with Sava that Good as Lily is the best title of DC’s now defunct MINX line of books (I’d tip my hat to The Plain Janes on that one) but besides my own personal preferences I give the article a recommendation.

odds and ends

Posted in odds and ends with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2011 by Christopher Pearce

I must be honest and tell you folks this has not been the most illuminating week of teaching I’ve ever executed. I spent three of the last five work days administering a standardized test… and the last two days were my classes playing catch up. I don’t hold out great hope for next week either, which features a day given to taking the 9th grade for hearing and vision screenings, to say nothing of the craziness of Homecoming. Hopefully I can squeeze in a lesson or two at some point before October.

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I thought this was interesting. FOX is trying to figure out a way to make an all Simpsons cable channel, somewhere down the line.

I don’t know if something like this is likely, or just an idea that FOX executives are kicking around. I will say it make me think about the current state of Simpsons syndication, which absolutely annoys the hell out of me. I don’t know what the syndication package looks like when it’s offered around, but there are over 400 episodes of The Simpsons right now. That’s more than enough to air one Simpsons episode a night for a year and never have any repeats. Yet, for some reason, our local FOX affiliate seems dedicated to airing only episodes from the last two or three seasons.

I understand the reasons why this might be done… the older episodes probably don’t look as good on HD TVs, they’ve already been aired a million times, DVD sales and whatnot… I get all that.¬†Still, it seems like SUCH a wasted opportunity… especially going into October. At this point, you could air almost a full MONTH of Treehouse of Horror episodes for Halloween!

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I was excited to read that Hard Case Crime, the beautifully presented crime paperback series, will be returning to stores this week with four new books. HCC’s book designs are top shelf, featuring¬† all the hyperbolic copy and lurid artwork that defined the genre for many years.

Although crime fiction has gone somewhat upscale, these books are fondly fashioned to resemble the genre’s paperback heyday. I was a little concerned when I began to see some of the Hard Case paperbacks show up remaindered in our local Big Lots, but it looks as though this was just a temporary setback on the part of publisher Charles Ardai.

I am guessing the most popular (or at least, the most well known) Hard Case Crime paperback was a one-off that Stephen King did called The Colorado Kid.

I wasn’t a tremendous fan of that book, but Hard Case has gone out of its’ way to publish a ton of new authors as well as some genuine classics from Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block, and Mickey Spillaine. If I had to pick a favorite book out of the series though… if I had to pick just one of these for you to sample… I would choose The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins.

Quarry (the protagonist’s nom de plume) is sort of a blue collar hitman. Collins fashions him as a no-nonsense guy who just wants to do his job and get paid… and in The Last Quarry, he doesn’t even really want to do that. He’s semi-retired. I imagine that the Quarry series found some new life through Hard Case Crime; Collins had penned several stories featuring the character over the years, but did several full-length books through HCC with the character, working backwards from The Last Quarry to The First Quarry onto Quarry in the Middle… and now HCC’s releasing Quarry’s Ex this month!

Worth reading. They’re great, trashy fun.