Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson (occult horror)

In memory of author Richard Matheson, I recommend this, one of my favorite books of his. This is another terrific thriller from Richard Matheson. When the film version of A Stir of Echoes came out years ago, it was instantly dismissed as a rip-off of The Sixth Sense — a difficult feat considering that the novel that was the source of the film was written over forty years prior.

As a fan of the film (it is highly underrated and will definitely provide entertainment for fans of the genre) and of Matheson's work, I felt I owed it to myself to check out the original. (For some reason, a definite article is good enough for The Sixth Sense, but an indefinite article not good enough for Stir of Echoes. I'm sure someone was paid well for making that decision.)

A Stir of Echoes by Richard MathesonWhen Tom Wallace is hypnotized at a party by his brother-in-law, he turns out to be a surprisingly good subject. Afterward, he is told how malleable he was, and a good laugh is had at his expense when he unwittingly performs a post-hypnotic suggestion.

But then things aren't the same for Tom: he begins having dreams that a woman in black is in his house, and then realizes that he is able to read people's minds. This comes in handy on more than one occasion, but generally appears to be a nuisance, especially to Tom's wife, Anne, who wants him to see a doctor.

Given what I had read of Matheson's, I wasn't surprised by the level of quality presented in the story. What did surprise me, however, was that A Stir of Echoes, although first published in 1958, is not at all dated; it could have just as easily been written today, Matheson's story and characters are so "modern" and timeless. This is particularly true given the modern atmosphere of being more accepting to the idea of spirits "crossing over" from another plane.

As the story progresses, the tension ratchets higher and higher. Matheson hardly lets up, steadily adding more complications to the plot until the surprise revelation. This is one of the reasons that I like Matheson's work so much: the knowledge that I am always in for a ride.

(Fans of the movie please note: the plot of A Stir of Echoes differs from the film in many details. The base story is, of course, the same, but the identities of the participants — the alleged ghost, the alleged killer — are different, which allows for a new experience in reading a book you think you're already familiar with.)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Re-Kindling Interest: Different Strokes: How I (Gulp!) Wrote, Directed, and Starred in an X-Rated Movie by Lawrence Block writing as John Warren Wells

This is one of a series of reviews focusing on out-of-print works that have become available again via a variety of e-book formats.

In 1973, at the height of the mainstream pornography heyday, with films even now considered classics of the style (Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones) playing alongside other Hollywood fare, author Lawrence Block was hired to write a similar film that would have "a real script and a good cast and wide distribution." (Something author Terry Southern predicted in his novel Blue Movie.) The film was to be titled Different Strokes, but things didn't quite work out and it was never made.

But, as part of the deal, Block had arranged with his publisher to document the production in a book that would also include the screenplay and interviews — "for some subsidiary income [since] I wasn't going to be getting much actual cash for [the script]" — and publish it under Block's sexual-behaviors pseudonym, John Warren Wells.

Neither saw a reason why they couldn't go ahead with that part.

The result, Different Strokes: How I (Gulp!) Wrote, Directed, and Starred in an X-Rated Movie, is almost entirely fiction. (Some of it based on actual events that occurred before the production was cancelled.) But, according to Block's afterword in Different Strokes, "that was easy enough. It was fiction, and I'd been writing fiction for years. I liked fiction. You weren't tied down by facts."

And if there's something Lawrence Block is great at, it's fiction. I've been a fan of his for a couple of decades now, and Different Strokes has the same voice, humor, and skill at characterization and storytelling that have made him a best-seller since the 1980s.

His work from before that period is generally of the same quality; it has just been hard to acquire due to its often being hidden under a variety of pseudonyms. But now that Block has begun digitally releasing back-catalog works like Different Strokes: How I (Gulp!) Wrote, Directed, and Starred in an X-Rated Movie — and giving some away on Orange Wednesdays at his blog — it's going to be much easier to find a high-quality Lawrence Block book to read whenever I want one.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Devil's Manhunt by L. Ron Hubbard (western audiobook)

With Devil's Manhunt, author L. Ron Hubbard puts his own spin on the classic "most dangerous game" yarn." The title story first appeared in Famous Western magazine in February 1950, and this audio edition also contains the stories "Johnny, the Town Tamer" and "Stranger in Town."

After eight months of hard work, Tim Beckdolt struck gold in Desperation Peak, Arizona — 175,000 dollars' worth that took him more than three more months to gather up.

A life of leisure is in his direct future, until he's found by a Virginian aristocrat named Bonnet and his Swedish henchman, Sven. They know that the only way to all that money is through Tim's corpse, and Bonnet sees it as an opportunity for a little fun.

While the actor who plays Tim is fine, the performance of Bonnet truly disturbs. R.F. Daley once again delivers a powerful narration, and the only bad apple is Phil Proctor (fantastic in Shadows from Boot Hill), who plays Sven like one of his Firesign Theater characters.
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