Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday's Forgotten Book, May 23, 2014

UNDER THE SKIN, Michel Faber 2001

I decided to read this book because I admired the recent film with Scarlett Johanssen. The film was lyrical, lovely, enigmatic. The book is just as good but less of these three adjectives because the story gets spelled out to a greater degree. We get inside the protagonist's head more and she is not so other-wordly even if she still is an alien. The movie version discards story elements that do not serve its vision of it. And although the outcome bears similarities the plot arrives there quite differently.

As with the movie we wonder who Isserly is, and why is she driving the roads of Scotland looking for men? We wonder what exactly she is looking for in her victims? What happens to the men is horrifying in both screen and print version but differently laid out. We understand it better in the book but it retains some of its mystery nevertheless. In the film, it has a beauty that the book doesn't.

One of the most amazing things that happens in this novel is that as you learn more about Isserly she changes. Where at first she is a predator, and an amazingly heartless one she becomes the biggest victim in the story and we grow to care about her. Faber does this in small graceful actions. 

This is a terrific story if you can accept that you won't understand all of it. But what you do understand makes it worth letting go of the rest.

 The Evil Days by Bruno Fischer

Ed Gorman's most recent book is SCREAM QUEENS AND OTHER TALES OF MENACE.

Bruno Fischer had one of those careers you can't have any more. There's no market for any of it. He started out as editor and writer for a Socialist newspaper, shifted to terror pulps when the newspaper started failing, became a successful and respected hardcover mystery novelist in the Forties and early Fifties, and finally turned to Gold Medal originals when the pb boom began. His GMs sold in the millions. His House of Flesh is for me in the top ten of all GMs.

Then for reasons only God and Gary Lovisi understand, Fischer gave up writing and became an editor for Colliers books. But he had one more book in him and it turned out to be the finest of his long career.

Fischer shared with Howard Fast (Fast when he was writing mysteries under his pen names) a grim interest in the way unfulfilling jobs grind us down, leave us soulless. Maybe this was a reflection of his years on the Socialist newspaper. The soullessness features prominently in The Evil Days because it is narrated by a suburban husband who trains to work each day to labor as an editor in a publishing company where he is considered expendable. Worse, his wife constantly reminds him (and not unfairly) that they don't have enough money to pay their bills or find any of the pleasures they knew in the early years of their marriage. Fischer makes you feel the husband's helplessness and the wife's anger and despair.

The A plot concerns the wife finding jewels and refusing to turn them in. A familiar trope, yes, but Fischer makes it work because of the anger and dismay the husband feels when he sees how his wife has turned into a thief. But ultimately he goes along with her. Just when you think you can scope out the rest of the story yourself, Fischer goes all Guy de Maupassant on us. Is the wife having an affair? Did she murder her lover? Is any of this connected to the jewels? What the hell is really going on here?

Sometimes we forget how well the traditional mystery can deal with the social problems of an era and the real lives of real people. The hopelessness and despair of these characters was right for their time of the inflation-dazed Seventies. But it's just as compelling now as it was then when you look at the unemployment numbers and the calm reassurances by those who claim to know that the worst is over.

All this wrapped in one hell of a good tale by a wily old master.

Sergio Angelini, THE BIRTHDAY MURDER, Lange Lewis
Joe Barone, THE DARK VINEYARD, Martin Walker
Brian Busby, THE MONTREALER, May 1958
Bill Crider, THE VIZIER'S SECOND DAUGHTER, Robert F. Young
Elisabeth Grace Foley, THE GRAND SOPHY, Georgette Heyer
Rick Horton, PORTRAIT OF JENNIE and ONE MORE SPRING, Robert Nathan
Jerry House, RED THREADS, Rex Stout
Randy Johnson, SING A SONG OF SIX GUNS, Burt Arthur
Nick Jones, Patricia Highsmith's Short Stories
George Kelley, BREAKFAST IN THE RUINS, Barry N. Malzberg
Margot Kinberg, THE JUDAS PAIR, Jonathan Gash
B.V. Lawson, I'LL SING YOU TWO-O, Anthea Mary Frasier
Evan Lewis, DEALING OUT DEATH, W.T. Ballard
Steve Lewis/Allen J. Hubin, THE WRONG IMPRESSION, John Malcolm
Todd Mason, The Best From IF and WORLD'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION 1970-71
J.F. Norris, THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY, Charles Willeford
James Reasoner, THE COLONEL'S LADY, Clifton Adams
Richard Robinson, THE ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSE MURDERS, edited Thomas Godfrey
Gerard Saylor, KENOBI, John Jackson Miller
Ron Scheer, BIG HITCH, John Henry Reese
Kevin Tipple, "The Last Horseman" Frank Zafirro and THE THRILLING THIRTEEN
Prashant Trikinnad, THE INTRUDERS, Evan Hunter
James Winter, MARCH VIOLETS, Philip Kerr
Zybahn, NOIR, A NOVEL, Robert Coover


Casual Debris said...

Hi Patti, I have an entry this week.
Robert Coover's Noir. Thanks, Frank

J F Norris said...

Mine's up now:

The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford

Irv O. Neil said...

Hey, thanks for posting this review of The Evil Days. I've enjoyed Bruno Fischer's work and I immediately ordered this from Amazon. Nothing like finding a fine forgotten book!

Although I am primarily a writer of erotica myself, I touch on noir in some of my writing, too:

I look forward to reading more on your blog.

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I have one this week: The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hey, Irv. Let me know if you have a forgotten book to include.

neer said...

Since it was a hectic day today, I have just compiled a list of Collins Crime Club titles published in the first half of 1978.

Here's the link:


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Thank you, Patti.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've heard about Under the skin. I will have to give it a look.

Anonymous said...

Thanks as always, Patti, for including my post. I like the variety of selection here.

Irv O. Neil said...

Thanks, Patti, I will let you know when I come up with a worthy forgotten title!

Meanwhile, I read The Evil Days this weekend and enjoyed it very much, so thanks again for having a post about it.