Monday, September 30, 2013

Reliving The Horror: THE SHINING by Stephen King

The Shining (The Shining, #1)In readiness for the publication of DOCTOR SLEEP (2013), the follow-up to Stephen King's THE SHINING (1977), I thought I go back to where it all began and re-read one of the true classics of isolated horror.

Much like the first time I read THE SHINING (around 10yrs ago give or take) the chapters still had the same bite, chilling me to the bone by virtue of evocative and tension building horror drip fed through clever plotting and subtle overtones of the otherworldly.

Jack, a former teacher and promising author with an anger management problem is accompanied by his wife, Wendy, and young son Danny (aka Doc) to manage the Overlook during closing season. Unbeknown the to family is the dark and grisly history of the hotel which has seen mob hits, hauntings, unlawful dealings, and murder soil its reputation and stain the carpeted rooms with blood and brain matter from owner to owner.

Before long, Danny - gifted with 'the shining' sees death in bathtubs, inanimate objects seemingly coming to life and people stalking the hallways where none should be. Jack and Wendy eventually fall victim to the Overlooks power themselves as the snow piles and escape becomes little more than a redundant thought.

Wendy tries to hold firm for the sake of her family while Jack's already damaged mind is corrupted with the vindictive dead of the Overlook. Though possessed to do their murderous bidding, King keeps a little of Jack's own twisted persona as a willing element in league with the Hotels agenda. The result is a mixed bag of horror as the plot reveals Jack's checkered and violent past and the equally violent history of the Overlook - the two merging as one for this latest round of caretaker bloodletting.  

Given the time between THE SHINING and DOCTOR SLEEP being published, I recommend a re-read of the highly atmospheric and creepy first installment prior to picking up DOCTOR SLEEP anew.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Catching up on crime: MAFIYA by Charlie Stella

18593458Charlie Stella is one of my favourite authors, a big call considering I've only read one of his books (prior to MAFIYA) - JOHNNY PORNO multiple times. MAFIYA is the sixth book (2008) published by Charlie Stella and follows other books of a similar theme sitting in my TBR.

There's just something about the gangster underworld of mutli national mobsters duking it out in the densely populated U.S.A that suck me in time and time again. MAFIYA is no different.

Here Charlie Stella goes more Angel Dare (protagonist of CHOKE HOLD, MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust) than Sorpano with the mobsters largely on the peripheral as a reformed prostitute turns vigilante on a quest to take down the Russian mobsters responsible for her friends murder.

Rachel Wilson is a single mother putting her kids through school and food on the table the only way she knows how - hooking. Agnes Lynn, her best friend, is temping as a lackey to a sleaze lawyer having given up the life. Now in their thirties, the two women find themselves as different ends of the social spectrum.

When Rachel tells Agnes of a big money play she's about to make, Agnes tries to talk her out of it. Even with sparse details, the job screams danger, yet Rachel is a veteran of the street and evades Agnes pleas to give up the life. It's the last conversation the friends have.

What follows is a deadly game of turf wars and mob assassinations as a snuff film brings down more than the victim with tensions between the Italians and Russians running red hot. Complicating matters is Agnes, out for answers and revenge, her boyfriend and former cop Jake, a wealthy Saudi weapons dealer, and a corrupt cop with retirement to the good life in his sights.

MAFIYA has been on my radar for a while now (since its publication actually) and I cant pin point why this one slipped through the cracks until 2013. It was so entertaining and engrossing I read it pretty much in a single sitting. The characters leaped off the page, the plot kept ticking away at a frenetic pace, and the action rivaled a Hollywood blockbuster. SHAKEDOWN is sitting on my kindle and looms as a likely read in the near future.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: SKINNER by Charlie Huston

SkinnerComplex narrative in league with the finest James Ellroy. In Charlie Huston's current day spy thriller, protagonist, Skinner is embroiled in modern global warfare, a deadly game of smoke and mirrors where trust is a commodity he can ill afford.

Skinner's primary occupation is that of protecting his assets as deemed by the secretive agency he's employed. Skinner will do anything to protect his asset, murdering any threat with little or no remorse.

He's a unique assassin, a victim of experimental parents who used him as a test case for life inside a skinner box for most of his youth. The breeding ground for his violent and emotionless ways introduced from birth sprouted a highly effective and dangerous man who would eventually be an asset and liability to the spy game.

SKINNER showcases Charlie Huston's diversity as a writer. The style far removed from his earlier works in the Henry Thomspon noir trilogy and the Joe Pitt casebooks. The plot is deeply entrenched in current events and plays upon conspiracy theories and Government corruption and greed without over-reaching.

I had been eagerly anticipating something new from Charlie Huston, having been a fan since he first appeared on my reading radar some years ago and SKINNER didn't disappoint.

Highly recommended for fans of spy v spy and high octane, intelligent thrillers.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Interview: Luke Preston (author of OUT OF EXILE)

Luke spent most of his twenties as a freelance writer, a private investigator and listening to rock 'n roll. He drinks heavily on occasion, is a half decent musician and his idea of a good time involves a jukebox designed to bleed ears.

Luke's work has been recognised by The Inside Film Awards, MTV and The ATOM Awards. He writes in cafes, bars and in parking lots on the back of old fuel receipts and cigarette packs. He doesn't believe in writers block or in the magic bullet theory and his favourite album is Exile on Main Street.

Luke's writing is as much influenced by AC/DC and Johnny Cash as it is by Richard Stark and Raymond Chandler. He is undertaking a Master of Screenwriting at the Victorian College of the Arts and has absolutely no intention of moving to a shack in the middle of nowhere. He likes bad traffic, noisy neighbours, cheap beer, loud bars and has been occasionally known to howl at the moon.

Luke is the author of DARK CITY BLUE and the explosive follow-up OUT OF EXILE (links to my reviews can be found at the end of the interview). Luke was kind enough to drop by and answer a few questions about the new book and series protagonist, Bishop. 

(Josh) OUT OF EXILE's multi-layered criminal plotting went against the grain. The focus in constant shift to keep the reader guessing the motives of the bad guys. What books/events did you draw upon for inspiration?

(Luke) When I first set out to write the Tom Bishop books, I wanted to tell a story that punched the reader in the face on page one and kept them on their toes for the following two hundred and fifty. For inspiration, I started each and every writing day blasting Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name of, read the books of Richard Stark and played a bunch of fast paced games such as Call of Duty and Max Payne.

Tom Bishop is a well defined protagonist who has a dark side, painful past and dim future. What's it like to write a character, have a connection with him, only to then put him through the ringer?

Characters exist to be put through hell... and hopefully make it out the other side better for it. OUT OF EXILE is a story about redemption and hope. Tom Bishop does bad things but is desperate to prove he is still a good man. Every single violent, distasteful and just downright mean thing that happens to Bishop, in a strange way is for his own good. It forces him to evolve... Also, I think Bishop likes it a little bit in hell.

Noir and crime go hand in hand. A tainted protagonist with questionable motives stuck in an almost unwinnable predicament. Those elements are paramount throughout your first two novels. Is this something you focused on when writing Bishop or did it just evolve?

I find it difficult to write anything without first knowing what I am writing. I envy writers who one day can sit down at the typer, write a sentence and see where the story takes them. That approach doesn't work for me. Every single story strand, character arc, turn-around as well as the overall thematic question is predetermined way before I write page one. I generally know who my hero is, what predicament they are in, what they want, what stands in their way and what happens if they don't get it. That may all sound like a lot and in a way it is, but it's also nothing more than can be written on a single A4 page or on the back of a couple of cocktail napkins (depending on where you are).

DARK CITY BLUE was the first book to feature Bishop and Justice, for readers not familiar with it, can you pimp the plot?

A fistful of people are murdered, fifteen million dollars is stolen and detective Tom Bishop is stuck in the middle. When he hits the street, every clue points in the same crooked direction; his fellow colleagues in a police department. Hunted, alone and with no place left to turn, Bishop embarks on a hellish journey down into the gutters where right and wrong quickly become twisted and problems are solved with gunfire and bloodshed.

Over the next two days, Tom Bishop will be cornered. He will be beaten. He will bust into prisons. He will shoot at police. He will team up with violent criminals. He will become one of them. He will break every rule in the book, chasing a lead nobody else will go near down a rabbit hole of corruption, murder and buried secrets.

Will Bishop become the very monster he set out to destroy?

A modern hard-boiled tale that unfolds at a relentless pace, DARK CITY BLUE is SERPICO, if SERPICO snorted a fist full of cocaine and hung out with Lee Marvin.

If you were to cast Tom Bishop in film - who would be your ideal actor to play him? (I picture Bruce Willis - a Die Hard type of character)

I love Die Hard. It's one of my favourite movie to drink beer to. As well as an author, I am also a screenwriter. There is a screenplay of DARK CITY BLUE that has been doing the rounds over the past year or two and in that time many names have been thrown around to play to role of Tom Bishop. From Guy Pierce, Gary Sweet, Eric Bana and even to Steven Seagal. They're all fine actors, well, almost all. But I've been around long enough to know that a film can get up in a variety of ways with a variety of budgets. I'd love to see DARK CITY BLUE made on a shoestring budget with a kick in the doors, ask questions later type of attitude with an actor like Sullivan Stapleton or Jason Clarke in the lead.

As for OUT OF EXILE, the story is so big that I doubt that it could ever be adaptable for the screen. If anyone has the guts to try, I'd be very interested to see the result.

Lastly, what can readers expect to read from you in the future (more Bishop)?

I'm working on a couple of screenplays over the next couple of months and as soon as I have a three or four week gap, I will unleash another Bishop rampage.

Links:

- My review of OUT OF EXILE

- My review of DARK CITY BLUE

- Luke's website

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT by Andrez Bergen

Tobacco-Stained Mountain GoatPost apocalyptic Melbourne is the place setting for this dystopian noir that's as much a homage to the great authors of noir as it is an ode to the pulp sci-fi futuristic storytelling greats.

Floyd Maquina is a seeker, a kind of private investigator/secret law enforcement agency operative who is tasked with hunting down Deviants for the purpose of relocation and, if need be, termination. It's a job that conjures up images of equal parts Mike Hammer, and Minority Report (just more gritty and hard edged).

Despite a smooth, smart mouthed, devil-may-care attitude, Floyd is not without his personal demons, having lost his wife and being haunted by his killing of a Deviant, his emotional perspective shifts to match each predicament he faces with each of those incidents paramount to his action/reaction.

TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT is a fusion of cultures both true and fantastical depicted through veil of murder, deception, and uncertainty. It's unique and ambitious. The plot doesn't drive this novel, rather an intriguing cityscape, interesting cast of characters, and a world very much alive despite the perceived death. 

A great book and a must read prior to the newly released anthology TOBACCO-STAINED SKY (view more on Goodreads).

I recently interviewed Andrez Bergen HERE

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlDark, twisted, intelligent ,and addictive. GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn is an emotional roller coaster of love and hate entwined in a deceptive criminal concoction that's equal parts psychological and procedural.

Nick Dunne's world is brought crashing down when he discovers his wife of five years missing, his house in disarray, and the cops, sighting him as a key suspect. Amy, a housewife who craves her former big city life openly admitted a dissatisfaction of moving to Nick's hometown following his mother falling ill. She supported Nick's decision as best she could yet the tension of the move evidently bubbled closer and closer to the surface - their once picture perfect marriage threatened to collapse. Then she disappears, Nick is left with nothing but a fear for the worst and a anniversary puzzle dredging up emotions he'd felt long lost.

GONE GIRL really is an exceptionally good novel. The multi POV telling of accounts switching between a conniving and desperately vindictive Amy via her journal, to Nick's living hell as he shifts from feelings of loss, hate, anger, love, and ultimately hopelessness.

The course of the investigation paints Nick in light of a victim and perpetrator seamlessly switching perspective as 'facts' come to light - Gillian Flynn toys with the readers mind just as much as her well rounded characters.

GONE GIRL hooked me line and sinker from the get-go and didn't release it's vice like grip until the end. A great read that is sure to resonate for a time to come.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review: OUT OF EXILE by Luke Preston

18485241OUT OF EXILE follows Tom Bishop, a damaged and dangerous ex-cop with the result simply noir; blurred justice, violence, and a case for vengeance tripping over the borders of criminality. Dig deeper, and the deluge of the damned and corrupt seeps deep into the cracked Melbourne pavement. The reality not distilled by the outrageous but supported by the outlandish. This level of rife corruption and blatant disregard for civilian safety could easily happen, a factious tag-line ripped from the Herald Sun or Australian.

And that's what makes OUT OF EXILE so good.

Free from prison, Bishop finds himself embroiled in a multi-layered crime of smoke and mirrors where the true purpose of the corrupt elite isn't clear until the bloody ending. Raw from the loss of his daughter, Bishop's justice radar still leans towards the blue line - this despite being involved in a kidnapping, break-in of his former foe's house and torture of a prominent cop wife. While things look bad for Bishop's predicament, his relentless pursuit of justice enforced by street law provides a constant glimmer of hope where none should filter.

OUT OF EXILE builds upon the Aussie conceptual noir, DARK CITY BLUE, the first book to feature Tom Bishop. The key players return (those not six feet under) with more character depth and for the reader, more situational awareness of the fictitious Victorian police landscape. While I think anyone could read OUT OF EXILE as a standalone, it works much better having read DARK CITY BLUE. 

Author Luke Preston does a great job at keeping the reader guessing while planting landmines of explosive twists throughout the course of events. Like its predecessor, OUT OF EXILE is an action pack non-stop noir where no one is safe from the tantalising grip of corruption and promised wealth.   

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsTHE SHINING GIRLS is a tantalising novel of time travel and serial killings where blood spills stickily red irrespective of time and place. As long as the light/glow of the shining girls is snuffed in the most violent of ways, the plot proceeds accordingly at a breakneck pace, leaping between the 1920's and 1990's with knife edge precision. For the killer, it's a life's work amounted to pain and suffering, all for the privilege of being able to step into a house and walk out into another time.

Author Lauren Beukes deftly portrays time travelling murder in a manner than maintains the continuity of plot; chapters read like days, logically progressed, not years between events as they actually are.

Kirby is a survivor, having nearly succumbed to the blade of the time travelling killer for being one of the shining girls, she embarks on a journalistic sojourn to undercover the truth behind her attack and bring her attempted murderer to justice years after the attack. Joined by a sports reporter, Dan, the duo canvas crimes spanning decades looking for answers - what they find is something neither had expected.  

I was really impressed with THE SHINING GIRLS. It's style was unique, the premise well executed and the wrighting simply addictive. Lauren Beukes is fast becomming my go-to author when I want to read something outside the norm that still satisfies my crime fiction urges.

Review: LETTERS FROM A MURDERER by John Matthews

Letters From a MurdererThe perfect blend of fact and fiction seeps a bloody trail across John Matthews' LETTERS FROM A MURDERER, a book that revisits Jack the Ripper and his terrorising murder spree in the 1890's.

In this take on the infamous Ripper murders, the genius-like Jameson and hard nosed cop Argenti investigate the untimely end of a number of women of the night; those with loose morals and wanton ways who peddle their most valuable commodity for survival in pre 1900's America. Yes, that's right, the Ripper has crossed continents to slice fear into the severed arteries of the American public.

Compounding the murders is another criminal dynamic; an underworld organisation of sorts that runs girls, drugs and controls the beat cops in the broken down alleyways of New York. Not wanting the Ripper murders to get in the way of business, nor bring unwanted attention, Jameson and Argenti find themselves the target of first an assassination and then suspects in the prostitute killings.

LETTERS FROM A MURDERER captured the essence of the murderous Ripper period to perfection. Both London and New York had a real sense of place and their own unique identity. The police investigation showcased the true nature of law enforcement at the time detailing it's limitations and reliance upon personal accounts of eyewitness to bring forth justice. It's a dramatic difference to the technology used in real and fictional world crime fiction today.

For me, author John Matthews ticked all the right boxes. From the interesting and odd coupling of Jameson and Argenti, to the characterisation of peripheral prostitutes and victims. Each element was three dimensional and invoked a sense of realism which helped transport me to the time where this heinous tale of bloodshed was splashed across the headlines.

I hope readers get the opportunity to enjoy more stories to feature Jameson and Argenti, I got the impression, we're just scratching the surface of their potential.

Fans of historical crime, and crime fiction in general will get a real kick out of reading LETTERS FROM A MURDERER. Highly recommend. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

What I Want From An Ebook

Like any avid reader, I have an e-reader and loads of physical books sitting in my tbr. Print books offer something more for the bibliophile in me; that new/old book smell, cool covers, books signed by authors, sentimental gifts by family, collected editions (Hardcase Crime, Penguin Classics etc.). Whereas ebooks, while convenient and easy on the eyes (by virtue of having the capacity to adjust font and size) do at times feel incomplete, lacking that same feel as the print product. I know, ebooks cant recreate that distinct book smell (not yet any way) or provide that same aesthetically pleasing look on the bookshelf but they can at least provide readers with a polished product that mimics the satisfaction if not enhance the experience of reading the physical counterpart.

Below is my list of essential components that, in my view, all ebooks must have in order to satisfy a bibliophile (as much as an electronic edition can). 

1. Full screen capable cover images in high resolution. When I open an ebook book on my Paperwhite, the first thing I want to see is the cover (I'm a visual kind of guy). Covers are generally what attract me to new books in the first place so this is important for me. It needs to fill the screen much as a hardcover doesn't have 'white space' around the edges.

2. Cover preview images. One of the reasons why I bought the Paperwhite a year ago was for this feature. I like seeing the book covers (6 to a frame) in my e-tbr collection. All books need to be formatted this way as when browsing my device for an ebook to read, again, covers pay a big part in the selection process.

3. Page numbers. While I like the % read indicator, I still want page numbers. Some books are huge (eg. Stephen King's THE STAND, George R. R. Martin's GAME OF THRONES) and without page numbers to actual show you're making progress, the continued page turns leave little by means of satisfaction from a good reading session.

4. Chapter breaks. Some ebooks have this, some don't. In my view this is essential for managing those shorter reading sessions where time is limited. The Paperwhite offers the 'time to read' function, the keyboard kindle offered a display at the bottom of the screen indicating where the chapter breaks were. I can flip through a physical book to determine the number of pages I need to read before reaching the next chapter, ebooks should be no different.

5. Formatting. I don't want to read a book where the formatting jumps throughout the text. Paragraph indentations shouldn't change chapter to chapter.

6. Editing / Proof Reading. There will always be the odd correction and that's fine but where a book is riddled with typos from a major publisher, then that's not acceptable. Same with the editorial process. Editors generally do a great job and should be used for print and ebooks alike.

Additionally, ebook prices need to be comparable to print or lesser. I don't see how an ebook can be priced higher than a hardcover.

I write this, not as an anti ebook advocate (I've read close to 200 ebooks on my kindle and kindle Paperwhite) but as a reader who has noticed a disparity in the quality of ebooks being produced today (this does not exclude the major publishers who often miss a number of my 'must haves').

Review: VOLUNTARY MADNESS by Vicki Hendricks

Voluntary MadnessPunch and Juliette are living a care-free life, spending big, taking risks and engaging in criminal activity with little regard for the ramifications of their actions. Juliette continuously pits herself against fate, throwing her body at the mercy of predators in Key West - gambling with such a precious commodity with a breezy facade' that borders on a deeper need to succumbs to the perils of her vice. It's an interesting dynamic that feel organic, a devil without a care.

Yet, there is method to the madness, and it's entirely voluntary (hence the title). Punch and Juliette are impersonating life for the purpose of art. Seeking a creative outlet for his work in progress, Punch takes Juliette on a roller coaster ride through Key West, exposing her to new sensations (on either side of the law) and teasing out the limits of her comfort zone. Documenting the events as a work of fiction/liberated fact, Punch has his sights set on writing the great American novel, made macabre by a suicidal pack that will see him and Juliette call it quites once the final draft has been finished.

Vicki Hendricks knows how to write engaging characters who leap off the page and consume the 'real life'. Punch is an imposing figure yet his gentle side adds another dimension to him, particularly with his relationship with Juliette - it's interesting that he loves her so yet has talked her into the idea of killing herself once they've attained their goal.

As for Juliette, she's a summer breeze after a rainfall. A breath of fresh air that want to fornicate with the rancid yet doesn't. She's headstrong and independent yet hopelessly under Punch's spell - one which takes a witch and the law to test the spells limits.

VOLUNTARY MADNESS is not conventional and doesn't fit within a specific genre for me, yet it works on all the right levels; interesting and colorful characters, engaging plot, liberal doses of humour, and a serious side to balance things out. Like everything else I've read by Vicki Hendricks, VOLUNTARY MADNESS is a great entertaining read.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pick Up A Pulp [2]: CAMPUS TRAMP by Lawrence Block

Campus TrampLawrence Block has written loads of diverse material spanning decades. Using multiple aliases his genre leaping work has attracted and entertained many the eclectic reader. In this latest instalment at revisiting pulp fiction, I turn my sights on one of Block's earliest novels in CAMPUS TRAMP - a story of a young woman, new to college looking to find fulfillment and purpose through education at Clifton College. She gets an education, just not the one she deliberately set out for.

Linda Shepard's only sexual encounters where on the shy side of the explicit prior to arriving at college, free from her family and small town life, she instantly connects with a stand-up gentlemen but diverts her attention towards the rougher crowd after being briefly introduced to the local newspaper editor Don Gibbs.

Looking for love in the wrong places, she ends up having an almost fatal attraction, smothering Don with time (in and out of bed) to such an extent that her education suffers as does her relationship.

Cast out following Don's frank break-up, Linda finds herself broken hearted and cold bedded. Seeking the obliterate the pain of a love lost she pushes her most desirable asset, her body, on any young man willing to love her a little, if only to satisfy a craving.

CAMPUS TRAMP is like nothing I've read before and comes across as a mixture of sleaze and literature. An odd and unlikely combination yet apt in my opinion. Block explores the journey and pain of self discovery through the blatant disregard and destructive nature of self ridicule and carelessness to evolution via redemption and self awareness. CAMPUS TRAMP is much more than the title suggests and was a great pulp find.

Lawrence Block wrote CAMPUS TRAMP under the alias Andrew Shaw.

This is the second book to feature in my Pick Up A Pulp Series, the first being Gil Brewers' THE BRAT - click on the Pick Up A Pulp label below to find a link to that post.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: THE HOT KID by Elmore Leonard (Carl Webster #1)

The Hot Kid (Carl Webster, #1)Chronicling the kills of Carl Webster, a gun toting prodigy working as a US Marshal, THE HOT KID pits wanna-be gangsters and bank robbers (and some reluctant gun molls) against a man who is as much legend as the revered outlaws of the time.

Carl Webster was inducted into the life of crime at an early age when famous bank robber, Emmett Long robbed a store where Carl bought his ice cream as a kid. Long left a lasting impression on the young Carl, not only by killing an officer of the law but also making matters personal between him and Carl having tried to intimidate the youth.

This event, and another in which a thief attempted to steal some property of his fathers land were the catalyst for Carl's evolution from skilled young gunman to legend with a badge.

Dubbed 'The Hot Kid', Carl's primary target is Jack Belmont, son to a rich and powerful oil magnate who wants to emulate the great bank robbers. Unfortunately he lands dead centre within the trigger sights of the Marshals, resulting in a unique game of cat and mouse - only this time, both seek that final confrontation.

Without spoiling too much I'll keep my views ambiguous as there is so much going on inside the 300-odd pages. Elmore Leonard gives this fabled hero a dose of realism referencing actual crimes and the criminals that commit them in passing throughout the story. The shootouts are first class and reminded me of the old western farm barn shootouts so popular in that genre. There's a lot of killing but it's not without cause. Carl comes across as almost an unwilling killer yet it's hard to ascertain if he enjoys his work or not - this adds a little darkness to the polished facade.

THE HOT KID is one of Elmore Leonard best works, it reads like a TV series with some chapters almost self contained yet linked by the broader plot. Readers will get a lot of satisfaction reading the first book by Elmore Leonard to feature Carl Webster.

Interview: Andrez Bergen (author of WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA?)

Having just published the noir/superhero romp Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, Bergen is currently putting out an anthology of short stories and comics by himself and other writer/illustrators relating to the dystopia of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (2011).

Bergen makes music and videos under aliases Little Nobody, Slam-Dunk Ninja, and Funk Gadget, he ran indie/experimental record label IF? for fourteen years, he creates the occasional comic, and he's a self=professed amateur saké connoisseur. 

Bergen is married to Japanese artist Yoko Umehara, and they have a daughter, Cocoa.

Find more at: facebook.com/andrezbergenauthor

Andrez was kind enough to stop by the blog to answer some questions about his latest book, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? and comics in general.

(Josh) Your love for the graphic medium of story telling is apparent throughout WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? At what stage did you turn to the longer form of fiction?

(Andrez) I think I've loved both mediums since I was a kid. Comics were the easy romp I spent a half-hour or so reading on the floor, but books were long haul stuff so I’d find somewhere more comfy. And much as I dig graphic novels and comic books when great writer/artist combos do them, I like the idea of allowing my imagination a wider wingspan while reading a book with no pictures.

What was the inspiration for your latest novel? Superheroes are a niche market yet this works on so many levels (noir, detective, mystery, Sci-Fi), was it a conscious decision to make this diverse to capture more readers or was it something that naturally evolved throughout the writing process?

Simple response first — the big motivator came two years ago while I was visiting my mum back in Melbourne, and while cleaning up the odds and ends I store with her I stumbled across an old sketch I did for a character I created in high school called Southern Cross. While the costume was original, if passé 1980s, the drawing wasn’t. It was a mirror-rip of Jack Kirby’s superb cover picture for Captain America #102 (1968) — and straight away I remembered just how passionate I used to be about comics and how much various creators like Kirby, Jim Steranko, Stan Lee, Barry Windsor-Smith, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, Frank Miller and John Byrne affected me when I was growing up.

The book pretty much wrote itself. It was always intended to branch out of the near future dystopia of Melbourne that I explored in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, but aside from that I set myself no perimeters. Since I came up with the title early (it’s a play on the 1978 George Segal film Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?) I kind of had no choice but to make this a murder-mystery as well.

As for the old school noir elements... well, I think anyone who knows me understands how much I love Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain.

Fusing them all together i something I have no problem with. I learned this making electronic music, when I refused to let myself be categorized as techno, tech-house, house, trip-hop, experimental, or whatever — by throwing the lot together into one stainless steel cocktail shaker.

The resultant concoction can be a right mess, but sometimes it brews just right.

I love the dystopian Melbourne setting briefly touched upon as Jacob finds his way to Heropa. You introduced this in one of your earlier novels, should readers first read TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT to gain an appreciation of Melbourne?

Thanks, Josh. Feels like Melbourne's made for the role!

I am only kidding round. I love Melbourne. I think it would help to have read that book, but I doubt this is essential — it’s a big ask and a wee bit cheeky getting people to read three or four of your novels. By having a look at Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat you do gain a better understanding of the status of Melbourne and the rest of the world, along with the environmental problems, the politics and the oppressive police state that robbed Jacob of his parents. It goes further into technology like idInteract gaming and the proliferation of plastics.

With Heropa we venture back there but I didn’t to rehash the details since Melbourne plays second fiddle to Heropa, and the background — the whys — weren’t important to the unfolding tale.

The again, perhaps because he hadn’t read any of the prior books, a reviewer recently complained about a lack of world-building going on in Heropa. I couldn’t sworn I put a lot of energy into expanding upon this digital city and the rules prevailing there...

At the end of the novel, you mention some of your favourite comic issues. Of the plethora of heroes to choose from, who are your favourite characters (The Thing, Wonder Woman, and Cap are obvious inspirations for the characters in Heropa)?

Good call, and you’re spot on — the Thing and Captain America do vie for top billing in my headspace, but it does come down to the artists involved. For me Kirby and Joe Sinnott created the perfect Thing in the mid ‘60s, while Cap sparkled in the hands of first Jack Kirby and Syd Shores in around 1968, and then Jim Steranko for all-too-brief a time. The stories involving these guys were patchy, but one of my all-time favourite comic books is Fantastic Four #51 (1966), in which the Thing shines — and for the better part of the book it’s not actually Benjamin Grimm.

I also really dug Wolverine when John Byrne and Chris Claremont handled him in 1979-80.

Funnily enough I was never all that enamoured with Wonder Woman. Of the DC roster I preferred the Flash (when he was still Barry Allen) and Batman in his various incarnations, from the whacked-out 1950s to Frank Miller’s spin in 1986.

I think when it comes to female superheroes I prefer Japanese manga and anime, people like Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, Battle Angel Alita, PreCure and Sailor Moon.

When I was younger I was moved by the path that Byrne and Claremont took with Jean Grey in X-Men, leading up to her death in 1980, but there’ve been so many similar routes taken in comic books since, a lot of them plotted by these same guys, that the power of the finale (#137) has waned.

Talking about comics and superheroes, the golden age of comics is most collectors’ favorite age. What do you think of the recent reboot of DC (New 52) and Marvel (Marvel NOW)?

For me it's the silver age, particularly Marvel in the 1960s that holds sway — though I grew up with and respect much of the bronze age stuff from the 1970s and ‘80s. I also appreciate the inroads and development phase of comic books from the 1940s.

Which brings me to more recent comic books and the reboots. I’m not going to get all grouchy (and old!) and say it’s nonsense, but to be honest I’m not particularly interested. I have read recent comics, mostly Marvel — things like All-New X-Men by Brian Bendis and  Stuart Immonen (I loved the concept of bringing back the original team, and it's created some interesting possibilities).

I also checked out the rejig of Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick, which was cool, and some issues of the reformed Avengers.

Still, nothings really grabbed me. Maybe the glossiness of it all — and the exorbitant cover prices —overwhelm my pickled brain? P’raps I’m missing something. But I’d prefer to kick back and read Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 2 (in black-and-white on crap newspaper-print paper), old issues of Judge Dredd, or one of Tintin’s romps with the gloriously drunk Cap’n Haddock.

There's a big push in comics to bring back the pulp classics of yesteryear (largely thanks to Dynamite), could you see yourself writing a monthly at some stage and follow the footsteps of authors such as Duane Swierczysnki, Victor Gischler, Jason Starr etc. who have all written great books (comic and novel alike)?

Yep, I noticed Dynamite brought back Tarpé Mills’ Miss Fury, one of my favourite golden age comic books (that’s why in the novel Louise has a doll named Tarpé). I’m right into the idea. And I’d dearly love to do a monthly comic — that was my dream back in high school, though at that stage I saw myself as an Orson Welles wannabe who ran the whole show, from writing to art and production. These days I’m more aware of my artistic shortcomings, so hammering out sentences would be fine.

I've actually been working on a few noir-based sequential art short stories over the past couple of years, eking the words for artists like Michael Grills (Runnin’ With a Gun), Drezz Rodriguez (El Cuervo) and Nathan St. John (Baja). These are finally being released - most of them this morning via an anthology I put together with fellow Aussie scribe Guy Salvidge for Another Sky Press in the U.S. This book's called The Tobacco-Stained Sky and brings together a lot of writers and artists looking afresh at the near-future, rain-washed dystopia of Melbourne. Again.

And I'm publishing my first comic book next month (October) in collusion with fellow Melburnian Matt Kyme (That Bulletproof Kid), who did the art. This comic will be 25-pages in full colour — titled Tales to Admonish. Yes, it’s a play on the famous Marvel title (Tales to Astonish) from the late 1950s, and Matt’s artwork roves from classic golden age to silver and on into a modern sensibility — or lack of it. We put this issue together, from scratch, in about two months. The guy is a whirlwind to work with, and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.

More, please!

I found myself deliberately slowing down as I came towards the end of WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? because I didn’t want it to end, any chance of a sequel/series? Southern Cross and co. certainly have series value.

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?Ha Ha Ha... a few people have asked me that now, and that was never my intention. Once I finish a novel I like to leave the finale open-ended, more for the reader to imagine a continuation in any way he or she sees fit rather than to leave myself room to do a sequel.

But all three novels I've written are related, and I have explored the characters further in short stories and now sequential art form — in the comic I mention (Tales to Admonish) there’s actually a Heropa prequel tale featuring Sir Omphalos (the Big O).

I have since thought about possible avenues (sequel/prequel/offshoot) but nothing solid has come to mind as yet. I’d certainly like to update Southern Cross’ union suit.

By the way, thanks for telling me that. It was really nice to hear you didn’t want to depart this world so quickly. Neither did I, to be honest. 

Lastly, what can readers expect from Andrez Bergen in the future? Any books currently in the works?

Well, I mentioned the anthology out in September, The Tobacco-Stained Sky — which I have a few stories inside, but it also features people you’d know like Josh Stallings, Paul Brazill, Liam José and Gerard Brennan. It’s up for pre-order at Another Sky Press and is diabolically cheap: $5.46 plus postage for the trade paperback (http://anothersky.org/asp/in-print/the-tobacco-stained-sky/).

I also have the comic book Tales to Admonish being printed up and published in Australia by October. We have a Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/talestoadmonish

Otherwise I'm trying to decide the next novel.

I'm tossing up between a contemporary procedural set in Japan called The Mercury Drinkers, but think I’ll shelve that for now and do a DC/Marvel reboot thing of an old manuscript I last fiddled with in 1993. It’s titled Well, Actually, My Favourite Colour is Red.

And a nice long kip would be good.

You can read my review of WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? here:

http://justaguythatlikes2read.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/review-who-is-killing-great-capes-of.html