A screenplay novelisation …

A Million Ways to Die In The West by Seth MacFarlane

Seth_MacFarlaneThere’s no denying it – Seth MacFarlane is very talented.

Apart from being very handsome, he’s an award winning animator – having worked for Hanna-Barbera after college, he’s the creator of Family Guy, co-creator/producer of American Dad, the comedy film Ted, and he acts/voices many characters. He sings too (wonderfully – I’ve seen him with John Wilson’s orchestra) and had a hit album of standards. Now he’s written a book – sort of…

When I saw his name attached to a comedy western novel A Million Way to Die in the West, I pre-ordered a copy – in fact I forgot I’d pre-ordered it and bought it again – so I have a spare.  It wasn’t until the book(s) arrived, that I found out that the novel is based on a screenplay by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild for a movie of the same name.  A little searching brought up the film poster below – it’s released in May.

millionwestposter_large It’s the tale of a mild-mannered sheep farmer called Albert Stark who’s fed up with life on the American frontier.  It opens just past high noon and Albert’s been waiting for the guy who challenged him to a duel to turn up.  He’s late, Albert’s a coward and he uses his opponent’s tardiness to wriggle out of the duel which would have meant certain death.

Louise is the object of Albert’s affections – she promptly dumps him after the non-duel for Foy – the extravagantly bewhiskered and over-dandified owner of the town’s moustachery.

Albert’s one friend Edward isn’t much help. Edward is a simple and happy soul who is engaged to Ruth, a Christian whore who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, (apologies in advance for the quotation below):

‘Where’s Ruth? She coming to church?’
‘No, she has a ten o’clock blumpkin,’ Edward answered matter-of-factly.
Albert stared at him, confused. ‘What’s a blumpkin?’
‘It’s when a man receives fellatio while he’s making stool. They just invented it in Italy, and it’s become popular here.’ Edward smiled with pride in his awareness of world affairs.
‘Receives fellatio? You make it sound like a Communion service,’ Albert said.
‘Well, it’s just the process.’
‘So, a guy gets his dick sucked while he’s taking a shit.’
‘Albert, don’t use those words, Edward said with indignation. ‘It diminishes Ruth’s work. She takes a lot of pride in doing a good job.’

seth macf

Yes, this is the level of the humour in this story.

What can Albert do to get Louise back?  A mysterious lady stranger may hold the answer – when Albert rescues Anna from danger in a bar-room brawl, they hit it off, and become friends. Anna turns out to be a regular Annie Oakley, and teaches Albert how to shoot.  But before he can put his new-found skills to use, Anna’s past catches up with her when the notorious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood, the deadliest gunman in the west, comes to town…

I think the movie is going to be hilarious – sort of like Deadwood done for laughs – it has an all-star cast and looks great from the publicity photos.

The book though, because it was written up from a screenplay, is a little thin, not enough added to it to make it entirely successful as a novel.  It has it’s moments – there are some great funny gags, and even a reference to Homer’s Odyssey, but there is an awful lot of toilet humour – the film I imagine being aimed at late teens and upwards audience.

There was nothing wrong with the novel, it entertained and was very easy to read, it just lacked a bit of substance.  This is one occasion when I can say – I’m sure the film will be better than the book, and as a lover of westerns, I will probably go and see it. (6.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
A Million Ways to Die in the West by Seth MacFarlane, pub March 2014 by Canongate, 208 pages, hardback.

True Grit’s inheritor…

The Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner

Robert Lautner Road to Reckoning UK coverI’ve turned out to be a big fan of good westerns – this debut novel is one such book.

Young Tom Walker is twelve when this novel begins in 1837. His mother is lost to the pock, his father is a ‘quiet man in a noisy world‘ – a spectacles salesman, when he hears of an irresistible opportunity that could bring in enough money for a comfortable living. Escaping the depression and the disease-ridden boroughs of New York can only be a good thing.

His father agrees to become a salesman for Samuel Colt’s new handgun with a revolving chamber. They set off westwards from Colt’s factory in New Jersey a wooden model gun and twelve of the real thing, which can be sold to clinch an order, or for expenses on the road.

I, to this day, hold to only one truth: if a man chooses to carry a gun he will get shot. My father agreed to carry twelve.

It’s in a small town in Pennsylvania that Tom’s life changes forever, when they encounter Thomas Heywood in the back of the hardware store where Tom’s father was about to clinch a good order. Heywood, drunk, won’t take no for an answer when he confronts them. Tom and his father change hotels, and then leave town – but Heywood and his pals jump them, robbing them of the remaining pistols. Tom’s father is shot in the back in front of him, leaving Tom an orphan – but with a full order book.

Tom resolves to return to NJ to collect their commission, and it is on his way back that he meets Henry Stands, a retired US marshall. Stands is large, gruff, and although he is heading east, he has no wish to be saddled with an orphan, he’ll only take him so far. Tom persists, and eventually earns Stands’ grudging respect as they make their way east – a journey not without adventure.

There are many parallels between The Road to Reckoning and True Grit by Charles Portis (reviewed here), the former could be viewed as an east coast version of the latter. Although both Tom and Mattie are orphans, Mattie is single-mindedly hunting the murderer of her father; Tom just wants to go home to his aunt with his father’s last pay packet. Both eventually manage to awaken paternal instincts in their chosen protectors, but whereas Mattie sees Marshall Rooster Cogburn as the best man for the job, Stands is the only man around who can help Tom. Both books also have their narrators recounting their childhood from old age, adding the veneer of wisdom that comes with the years to the story.

The Road to Reckoning may owe a debt to Charles Portis, however it did feel very real – you don’t need to be in Texas or the canyons of the West to achieve that  – just leave the city and you’re a pioneer. This book is an assured debut, well-written and emotionally involving and I really enjoyed it. (9/10)

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Source: Amazon Vine ARC. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner, pub 30 Jan 2014 by The Borough Press (HarperCollins), 240 pages.
True Grit by Charles Portis

I reached the Dark Tower!

Stephen King’s Dark Tower Saga

dark-tower-button2

It’s been a long time a-coming, but I have finally reached the end of Stephen King’s epic fantasy series The Dark Tower.

I began reading the books back in May 2011 in a readalong with Teresa and Jenny at ShelfLove.  It was to have been a monthly readalong, but I only managed the first four then, adding the next two at roughly six monthly intervals, and the last after just a couple of months.

That totals 4111 pages of sometimes very small print, and I’ve loved it, and what is clear from Stephen King’s notes that accompany the volumes, so did he.

He wrote the seven books over a period of 34 years, starting in 1970; turning out the first four steadily through the years up to 1997, then the final three in a splurge over two years ending in 2004.

This epic saga is truly genre-bending. Starting off very much a Western, before descending into SF and Horror with monsters aplenty, but also containing elements of high and dark fantasy and, most surprisingly, the Arthurian chivalry of medieval knights – although when you find out that King’s inspiration was Robert Browning’s poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, it makes sense – the poem is included in volume VII as an appendix.

As it’s a complex saga you have to begin at the beginning. Here are the links to my posts on the previous six volumes, so you can start at the appropriate point for you.  Although I’ve finished the main series, I now have a new volume to read – The Wind Through the Keyhole, published in 2012, sits between Vols 4 & 5.

Now for what I thought of the last book …

The Dark Tower: Dark Tower Bk. VII by Stephen King

dark-towerThe final volume is where it gets really personal. Stephen King fans will know that the author was almost killed by an out of control driver whilst out walking near his home back in 1999.

In Song of Susannah, King introduced himself as a character and Eddie and Roland went through a door to visit him to get him to help them. In The Dark Tower, they realise that he hasn’t done what he was meant to, and that the end of their story may not get to be written, so Roland and Jake go back…

He (Jake) opened his eyes. ‘The writer? King? Why are you mad at him?’
Roland sighed and cast away the smoldering butt of his cigarette; Jake had already finished with his. ‘Because we have two jobs to do where we should have only one. Having to do the second one is sai King’s fault. He knew what he was supposed to do, and I think on some level he knew that doing it would keep him safe. But he was afraid. He was tired.’ Roland’s upper lip curled. ‘Now his irons are in the fire, and we have to pull them out. It’s going to cost us, and probably a-dearly.’

Jake and Roland have to stop King being killed in a potentially fatal car accident.  It appears to happen exactly as it did in real life, except that Jake and Roland are present.  Even the guy driving the car with the distracting dog has the same name as the real driver of the car that nearly killed King.  King’s treatment of himself is again, largely uncomplimentary.

I’m not going to expound on the plot except to say that it ties up many ends, brings in even more references to King’s other works, and is full of drama in Roland’s relentless quest.

As to Roland – Does he ever reach the top of the Dark Tower?
I can’t tell you, but I certainly didn’t predict the ending!  (8.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Dark Tower: Dark Tower Bk. VII by Stephen King, Hodder Paperback 736 pages.
The Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King.

Getting back on the quest for The Dark Tower #6

The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah Bk. VI by Stephen King

dark tower 6

King’s magnum opus is not a series that you can jump into midway through, so if you’ve not read it, I suggest you start at the beginning. See my series of posts: Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4 and Vol 5 and find your starting point, don’t read on.

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It’s fair to say that the penultimate episode in this saga is probably the weakest in the series so far. The largest part of it is devoted Susannah who is pregnant with a devil’s spawn, and possessed by another female demon Mia, as well as her own suppressed split personality Detta, transported back to New York to have the baby, or rather chap.  It is growing unnaturally, and Susannah is trying to suppress the labour until help arrives from members of the Ka-Tet.

Meanwhile back in the Calla, Roland and the others are trying to activate the door through to our world with the help of Henchick and the Manni.  Once opened they will split up.  Jake, Oy and Pere Callahan will go on Susannah’s trail.  Roland and Eddie will go to Maine 1977 to persuade Calvin Tower to sell them the vacant lot back in NYC which is pivotal to their quest, but also to seek out the author of a novel called Salem’s Lot.

Yes, it all goes metafictional – with King introducing himself as a character in his own novel. Tellingly, he doesn’t glamorise himself at all – in fact, almost the opposite:

‘Maybe I’m having a breakdown,’ said the man in the water, but he slowly dropped his hands. He was wearing thick glasses with severe black frames. One bow had been mended with a bit of tape. His hair was either black or a very dark brown. The beard was definitely black, the first threads of white in it startling in their brilliance. He was wearing bluejeans below a tee-shirt that said THE RAMONES and ROCKET TO RUSSIA and GABBA-GABBA-HEY. He looked like starting to run to middle-aged fat, but he wasn’t fat yet. He was tall, and as ashy-pale as Roland. Eddie saw with no real surprise that Stephen King looked like Roland. Given the age difference they could never be mistaken for twins, but father and son? Yes. Easily.

The last sentences above confirm to me that King is playing out his own fantasies of being a gritty gunslinging hero in this series. It must have been fun to write. The King of the novel is back in 1977 – at this stage, The Dark Tower books are just scribbled outlines in a box.

When we reach the climax in the final book to come – will King reappear in the future with the saga complete? Will Susannah survive having the chap? Will they find the rose in the vacant lot? Will they reach the Tower? Will Roland’s quest be ended?

There are so many questions still to be answered, many threads to be tied off. This may not have been the best novel in the series, but it ends on a cliff-hanger and I must finish it – just another 736 pages to go!

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah Bk. VI by Stephen King, paperback, 480 pages
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, paperback 768 pages.

Return to the Dark Tower saga

The Dark Tower #5 – Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Last year I took part in Teresa & Jenny’s Dark Tower readalong at Shelf Love, but I dropped out after book four in the series. I didn’t have the time to get through the increasing page-count then, but was definitely hooked by the genre-busting dystopian western cum SF & fantasy series.

I always intended to return the following summer to read the remaining couple of thousand pages!  However, events prompted me to pick up book five sooner; more of that below.

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This is a series of books which you have to begin at the beginning, it would be nigh on impossible to join in successfully partway through, despite the author’s summary at the beginning of each volume.

The Wolves of the Calla introduces a major new character. Pere Callahan is an ex-drunk priest from New York who, like the rest of Roland Deschain’s ka-tet (fate-bound compadres), found his way into Roland’s world when life got too hot in his own.  The ka-tet make his acquaintance as they stop in Calla Bryn Sturgis on their quest to the tower, and we soon find out that he will become essential to the story.

Meanwhile the folks of the Calla are expecting something awful to happen, and  believe that the Gunslingers could be their salvation. Once every generation, the ‘Wolves’ arrive in force and carry away half the children, who return to their families years later as mutant idiots. They can’t let it happen again…

This traditional Western guns-for-hire against the bandits story forms the back-bone to this chunkster, but the real plot developments are in all the other bits. It gets quite complex but holes get filled in and back-stories expanded, and more strands start. Such is King’s skill though that it all hangs together really well. The final battle is everything it should be, and the cliff-hanger coda left me dying to open volume six.  (8.5/10)

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Or should I read the new volume 4.5 instead?  

King’s latest novel is another in the Dark Tower series set between books 4 & 5 called The Wind Through the Keyhole.  Jenny and Teresa have already read and reviewed it here.

I only really mention it because I entered a Facebook competition to have my photo (see left) included in the photo montage on the back cover of the UK hardback – and I’m on there – somewhere!

I was sent a link to my exact location – but the link is now broken and I can’t remember where I am (serve me right for not printing it out). You can see the dots in the cover which are the size of everyone’s heads. There are over 7000 on there, so it may take some time with an enlargement and a magnifying glass to find me again if I bother.

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I bought my copies. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Dark Tower #5 – Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King, Pub Hodder 2003, 771pp.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel by Stephen King, pub Hodder & Stoughton, April 2012, Hardback 352pp

Stephen King’s Dark Tower Readalong #4

The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass Bk 4 by Stephen King.

It’s the fourth month of the Dark Tower Readalong hosted by Teresa and Jenny at Shelf Love.  The fourth book was the longest yet at a massive 845 pages (I’ve been able to say that each month!), but it was also very enjoyable and the pages sped by.

This is a series that you can’t really dip into, you have to start at the beginning and go on Roland’s quest for the dark tower with him all the way.

In book four, we rejoin the Ka-tet (a group joined by fate) where we left them – on board the runaway train having to riddle for their lives to appease the insane computer brain of Blaine the train – how about all those rhymes eh!

Needless to say they work out a way to get the train to stop at the end of the tracks in Topeka Kansas, and emerge to find a strangely familiar city which has been ravaged by a superflu virus. Getting out of the city, finding their way back to the path of the beam, they sit and finally Roland is persuaded to tell his story.  We are taken back to what happened next after he became a young gunslinger.

The teenaged Roland and his compadres Cuthbert and Alain are sent to the town of Mejis to be ‘counters’, verifying numbers of horses, fishing boats, etc for the Affiliation.  This should be an easy assignment, but it soon becomes clear that factions in the town are no longer for the Affiliation, but are with the rival for power in this crazed land – John Farson.  We have a classic Western set-up – all that’s missing is the girl.  Young, blonde and beautiful, Susan Delgado has been promised to the Mayor come the Reaping Moon, but when she and Roland happen to meet, it’s love at first sight, and they risk everything in a hidden relationship – doomed of course!  The one other component which takes us away from a pure Western is the witch Rhea – she’s definitely more of a witch than a wise woman with her crystal ball.

Roland’s story takes up around three-quarters of the book and it’s a great one. After the post-apocalyptic tones of the opening, this western is a great contrast, and we finally get to hear how Roland heard of the dark tower, and elected to go on his quest.  Roland’s back story over for now, the band get back on the path of the beam, only to come up against the ‘Emerald city’ – yes, that one, and it ties up the two previous sections neatly.

I particularly enjoyed Roland’s story – loving westerns as I do, and there was more than a hint of Romeo & Juliet about the central love story too.  I wasn’t so fond of Blaine the train at the start, and couldn’t wait to get the riddling over.  I liked the increasing influence of the Wizard of Oz on the story, which I only really got thinking back once the Emerald City emerged – we’re definitely not in that Kansas any more though!

Book four is a definite highlight (9/10) and I’m with the series until the end now. It’ll be interesting to see how the others hold up to the first four.

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The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass v. 4 by Stephen King
The Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum

The Dark Tower Readalong #1

The Dark Tower Book 1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King.

It’s simply years since I read any Stephen King, and then I only read his horror stories.  I was only vaguely aware that he had written a series which was a dark fantasy.  Then Shelflove decided to launch a readalong of The Dark Tower, a series that King himself has described as his Magnum Opus. I decided that if Teresa and Jenny loved it, I probably would too. I duly ordered book one, The Gunslinger, and was quickly immersed in the strange world of Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger.

I have to say, it was not what I expected at all – it was far better! I think I was anticipating an overt homage to Lord of the Rings, but instead we got a mystical The Good, the Bad and the Ugly set in the post-apocalyptic territory of The Road in this first volume. There is a very dark, deep fantasy element which subtly creeps in from Arthurian legend. There are too, parallels with LOTR, particularly Frodo’s journey through the Mines of Moria; but there were also no hobbits or other mythical folk, unless you count a few zombie/lazarus and mutant types.

The first book splits into two main sections: – We meet Roland Deschain on his quest.  He rests with a smallholder at the edge of the desert, and recounts the story of his days in the last town he passed – a place he came to and nearly began to feel part of. That wasn’t to be, and hounded from town the gunslinger leaves the townsfolk of Tull changed forever. Then he takes up his quest proper to hunt down the Man in Black and find the Dark Tower. After a long journey involving much hardship, and a friendship with a ten year old boy raised from the dead, Roland does catch up with the Man in Black, who has both revelations from the past to stir things up further, and prophesies for Roland’s future. Sprinkled in between is the story of Roland’s later adolescence and his coming of age initiation as one of the youngest gunslingers ever, in a society which emulated the Arthurian ideals of chivalry.

I was never quite sure whether this dystopia was set on our Earth, or an alternate one. References to earthly things abound, notably The Beatles’ song Hey Jude, the chorus of which wafts through early chapters. It was never quite as obvious as in Planet of the Apes, where they eventually discover a half buried Statue of Liberty in the sand. I liked that ambiguity which added to the mystical feel of the novel.  The landscape may be sprawling, but this novel moves on at a fair pace despite all the thinking that Roland does.

This made for a good read although, for me, King sometimes likes to stick in an occasional elaborate word that seems out of place – ‘Neither of them had any means of telling the clock, and the concept of hours became meaningless, abnegate. In a sense, they stood outside of time.’  But minor stylistic quibbles apart, King’s writing was full of strong descriptions, and Roland will surely evolve into a character to be really reckoned with.  I read the 2003 revised and expanded version – King revisited this novel to iron out inconsistencies, tweak the plot into a more linear form and make slightly less dry for new readers.  King explains this in a new introduction and foreword to the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this Western-style dystopia in which the chivalric order no longer has a place.  King has created a frightening yet thrilling vision, with plenty of questions to be answered and room for dark magic in the following books.  Yes, I shall be carrying on with this readalong, book 2 is on order!  (8.5/10)

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To buy items mentioned from Amazon UK, click below:
The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Bk. 1
The Dark Tower: Drawing of the Three Bk. 2

The Blues Brothers meets Deadwood

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

If I had to make a movie pitch for this book, it would be The Blues Brothers meets Deadwood, HBO’s fantastic wild west series, and that encapsulates it in a nutshell for me, save to say that the combination is an absolute winner.

The Blues Brothers just happens to be my favourite film ever – I saw it on a big screen in London on the day it opened to the public back in 1980. By the time the opening tracking shot of the Chicago panorama had narrowed down to Jake’s release from Joliet prison and the chugging strains of He caught the Katy began in the background I was irrevocably hooked.

It’s the mid 1800s and notorious killers for hire, Charlie and Eli Sisters, are are on their way from Oregon to California to kill Herman Kermit Warm.  If you transplanted Jake and Elwood Blues into a western, you’d have Charlie and Eli – and they’re on a mission for the Commodore, (rather than God).

The story is narrated by Eli, who like Elwood, is the thinker of the pair. It becomes clear as the story goes on, that Eli is not happy with their gun-for-hire way of life – he’s ready to find a wife and settle down.  Charlie is a different kettle of fish; he’s a cold-blooded killer and when he’s not on a job, he drinks and whores. They’re so different in character, yet Charlie knows how to rouse Eli’s temper and protective instincts towards his brother to make the pair feared throughout the wild west.

At the start of the story, Eli is talking about horses.  His mount got killed in the last job they did, and he’s had to ride an inferior animal supplied by the Commodore ever since.  Eli is in a bad way, suffering from a poisonous spider-bite and an abscess simultaneously, so when they come upon a cabin, Eli is happy to get rest despite having share the cabin with a mad-woman who curses the doorway. Charlie is superstitious and won’t cross the threshold or let Eli through. Eli can’t fit through the tiny high window, so Charlie leaves Eli to recuperate while he goes to get an axe to widen the window.  Meanwhile a grizzly appears and goes for Eli’s horse, so he goes through the door, shoots it, and goes back inside before Charlie gets back …

‘That’s some nice shooting, brother.’
‘Lucky is all.’ Hoping to change the subject, I asked about the ax.
‘Prospectors heading south.’ he said. There was divot of skin gone from one of his knuckles and I asked how he came to be injured. ‘The men were hesitant to loan me their equipment. Well, they’ll not need the ax, now.’ He returned to the cabin, entering through his hole. I did not know what he was doing at first, but soon saw the smoke issuing from inside. Next, my bag and pan jumped out the window, with Charlie following closely behind and wearing a wide smile. As we rode away the structure was a whirling tornado of whistling heat and flames and the bear, which Charlie had coated in lamp oil, was likewise burning – an impressive sight, but sad, and I was grateful to take leave of the place. It occurred to me that I had crossed the threshold for a horse I did not want but Charlie had not done the same for his own flesh and blood. A life of ups and downs I thought.

That early paragraph encapsulates the brothers’ personalities perfectly to me, and by page 42, I already begun to really like Eli a lot; can’t say the same for his brother though!

The brothers continue on their way, leaving a trail of murder, mayhem and looting behind them and then they reach California. They trade a prized bear pelt to the boss of Mayfield town, who entertains the brothers in the saloon, where they all get drunk.

I grew tired of their strained banter, and became quietly drunk. The women continued to visit and tease me, sitting on my lap until my organ became engorged, then laughing at me or it and moving on to my brother or Mayfield. I remember standing to correct and retuck the bloated appendage and noticing that both my brother and Mayfield were likewise engorged. Just your everyday grouping of civilized gentlemen, sitting in a round robin to discuss the events of the day with quivering erections.

Eli does have a certain turn of phrase! More murder and mayhem will ensure before they finally reach San Francisco where they are to meet the Commodore’s man on the spot with information about their target. San Francisco is a wild and desperate place, the gold rush has caused massive inflation, and in this town you’re either a winner or a loser. Eli chats with a man who’d stopped flogging his horse, as it was dead (!)…

‘It is a wild time here, is it not?’ I said to the man.
‘It is wild. I fear it has ruined my character. It has certainly ruined the character of others.’ He nodded, as though answering himself. ‘Yes, it has ruined me.’
‘How are you ruined?’ I asked.
‘How am I not?’ he wondered.
‘Couldn’t you return to your home town to start over?’
He shook his head. ‘Yesterday I saw a man leap from the roof of the Orient Hotel, laughing all the way to the ground, upon which he fairly exploded. He was drunk they say, but I had seen him sober shortly before this. There is a feeling here, which if it gets you, will envenom your very center. It is a madness of possibilities. That leaping man’s final act was the embodiment of the collective mind of San Francisco. I understood it completely. I had a strong desire to applaud, if you want to know the truth.’

It’s fair to say that Eli didn’t like San Francisco, and the brothers were keen to take up the chase to find their quarry. I won’t elucidate any more, save to say that there is more adventure still to come, and more very black comedy indeed, laced with sadness too in the brothers’ story.

I hope you can tell that I absolutely loved this book. It ticked all the boxes for me – it was slick, hilariously funny, inevitably sad, and very quirky, as well as being extremely strong visually. It would make a spectacular movie in trademark Coen brothers style. The Sisters brothers are larger than life characters with immense appeal for a pair of murdering psychopaths and, like Tony Soprano, you can’t help but like them, all the time you’re not loathing them. (10/10)

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I bought my copy. To get your own from Amazon UK, click below:
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Blues Brothers [DVD] [1980]
Deadwood : Complete HBO Seasons 1-3 (12 Disc Box Set) [DVD]

Great cover – hope the book lives up to it

I was browsing in my local indie bookshop yesterday afternoon, and this new book, which they’d only just put out on the table leapt out at me.  What a fab cover!

Then I turned it over and read the blurb, and two more words made me buy it without further investigation.  They were ‘Cowboy Noir’. These words are guaranteed to interest me – loving both Westerns and classic styled crime. Comparisons to the Coen brothers also feature.

Set during the Gold Rush of 1851, it’s the story of brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters who are notorious killers and are on their way to California to kill someone.

It’s also a no-brainer – no prizes for guessing what I shall be reading next!

To buy this book for yourself from Amazon.co.uk, click below:
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Getting the right man for the job …

True Grit by Charles Portis

This was our Book Group choice for reading in March.  It’s fair to say that while no-one hated it, not everybody loved it like I did.  One thing that we were all agreed on though, was that Mattie Ross was a remarkable young heroine, however irritating she could be.

If you are only familiar with the 1969 film starring John Wayne as Marshall Reuben Cogburn, you’ll find that the film, although great fun, is quite different to the book.  The original movie is more of a star vehicle for Wayne, who indeed won an Oscar for his role in 1970.  The book, however, is narrated entirely by Mattie, who looks back on the adventure she had when she was fourteen on her quest to find Tom Chaney, her father’s murderer. This enabled me to disassociate my reading from the original movie somewhat. I’ve yet to see the Coen brothers’ recent movie, but I’m told it’s very close to the book and rather good – might have to wait for the DVD now though …

We had a lot of discussion about Mattie.  Was she really as determined and clever at fourteen, or was she remembering through the veil of age?  She certainly stepped up to take on the patriarchal role of her family.  We all loved the scene where she bargains with Stonehill, the auctioneer and stock dealer, over her father’s horses.  She has such tenacity, backed up with the threat of a writ from lawyer Daggett, that he gives in to the slip of a girl that has wit and brains way beyond normal girls her age.

She knows her own mind, when she asks the Sheriff about which Marshall she should hire, she makes an instant decision …

“Who is the best marshall they have?”
The Sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, “I would have to weigh that proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Walters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Commanche an it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tought, and fear don’t enter his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L.T.Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then, but he believes that even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner.  He is as straight as a string. Yes I will say Quinn is about the best they have.”
I said, “Where can I find this Rooster?”

Arguably, it is Mattie herself that has the most true grit, as she wears down one man after another.  They don’t stand a chance against her, but she couldn’t do it without Rooster’s help though.

The first half of the book is full of wonderful exchanges, between Mattie and Stonehill, Mattie and LaBoeuf (also on the trail of Chaney), Mattie and Cogburn – the dialogue is absolutely sparkling.  Once they’re out on the trail, things do drag slightly; there’s too much about Rooster’s ‘biscuits’ and not enough scenery, (something that another classic western story, Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey has in abundance, my review here).

Set as it is in the late 1800s, our group felt it had an authentic feel, the casual racism, the hanging Mattie steels her self to see at the beginning, the frontier town and pioneer spirit, we were amazed to find it was only written in 1968.  Like Donna Tartt, in the introduction to this edition, we also did a compare and contrast with Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, (my review here).  Whereas Dorothy is a homemaker in training, Mattie is forging a path away from rather than back home.

Over the past months, I’ve really fallen for Westerns big-time – Lonesome Dove is on my bedside bookshelf now too.  This is another great read, and I heartily recommend it especially if, like me, you haven’t seen the Coen brothers’ film yet.  (9.5/10)

For another review of this book, read John Self’s here.

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I bought my copy.  To buy from Amazon.co.uk, click below:
True Grit by Charles Portis
True Grit [DVD] [1969]