Thursday, April 21, 2011

For Heaven's Sake Catch Me Before I Kill More I Cannot Control Myself

There it was, on a desk in a neat stack: twenty oversized hardcover books, each marked at a tolerable $2.00.  Crimes and Punishment: A Pictorial Encyclopedia of Aberrant Behavior.  I got the set for half-price.

For a true crime junkie like myself, this set that delves into the likes of Jack the Ripper, zombies, serial killers, con men and the like was absolute porn.  Photos and drawings (many of them rare) galore, and a small font ensured that this provide hours of "entertainment." 

BPC Publishing Limited is the publisher, and the advisory editorial board includes the likes of Colin Wilson, H. Montgomery Hyde and Nigel Morland. 

I grabbed volume 20 off my shelf to get some information and turned to the section "Vice Breaker."  It opens with a full page photo of W. T.  Stead and this, "In staid Victorian London a double standard of morals existed.  Child prostitution was legal.  In changing the law, W. T. Stead suffered jail."  Throughout the book are crime scene photos (like the one above), photos of notes from Jack the Ripper, comparison photos of art forgeries, great photos of Maud Allen and the man who accused her of being the head of a "Cult of Clitoris," the man who was licensed to kill KGB members, Joseph Weil (the Yellow Kid) and more.  That's just in one volume!  There are 20 of these!  Amazing and unbelievable.

I talk to quite a few true crime fans who don't even know this set (which came out between 1973-1974) even exists.  I've never seen it in a store since, either, though it can be found online. 

Though it crams a lot in, and is not as in-depth as a single subject book would be, it still has a surprising amount of information, so you're bound to run into something you never knew about before.  Simply amazing.

Mandatory FTC disclaimer: If you click on the links, you may earn me a small commission.  If you don't, I remain stuck at my current job.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dope, Guns and Politicians in the Streets

I read a lot of political books.  Two authors I particularly respect are Noam Chomsky and Hunter S. Thompson.  You could not get two further from each other in the humanity spectrum.  Chomsky is an intellectual, one whom requires a dictionary on hand to decipher.  Thompson is a pill-popping, gun-toting motherfucker who pursues politicians like sharks.  Given the nature of politics, pill-popping and firearms seems to be the only sensible way to deal with the sausage makers.

There is perhaps no better book on the election process than Fear and Loathing: On the Campaing Trail '72.  Thompson on the 1972 presidential campaign is a Thompson unleashed.  You've got Hart, Carter, Nixon, and McGovern.  You've got Thompson attacking not only the process and the hacks, but also the mainstream media.  And you've got the introduction of the mojo wire.  After reading this, it's no wonder that politics became a "cool" thing for young journalists to cover, and while many would try to mimic Thompson, none could quite do it.

Thompson has been a big influence on my writing (though not always apparent).  And though this was not the first book of his that I read, it was the one that caused me to create a Thompson section on my bookshelf (I don't have everything he wrote, but I am working on it). 

Rolling Stone originally ran Thompson's pieces before they were compiled for the book, and for that the magazine deserves my respect.  (The magazine has since fallen from grace with me.)  I can think of few other magazines at the time that would have tried something like this, and fewer that would have had the patience to deal with the madman.  His pieces came in right down to the wire, and they were often just notes that had to be assembled into something resembling an article.  Brilliant.

Thompson is, of course, no longer with us.  His work lives on, though.  Hopefully it is still inspiring.  What politics really needs these days is a good dose of Thompson.  Imagine him covering the Tea Party.  Exactly.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link and purchasing something may earn me a small commission.  I did not receive Thompson's book to review.  I think that is apparent from what I wrote, but the FTC thinks everyone is a dumb as its members.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Killer Inside Me

I purchased Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me because of an unlikely reason.  That is what I told the clerk at the Paperback Booksmith, a bookstore I used to hang out at in the Poconos.  "There's a line about it in a Dead Milkmen song.  I figured I'd check it out."  So I bought it and read it.  The book has garnished a lot of praise, but it didn't blow me away.

If you haven't read it, the book is a quick bit of crime fiction concerning Lou Ford, a deputy sheriff in a small Texas town.  He's got ... problems.  Written in the first person, Thompson's work puts you right into the mind of a man who thinks a bit differently than most people.  Yeah, he's a cop, but not all cops are like this one.

This was originally published in 1952.  Five years from then, Ed Gein's farmhouse of horrors with its preserved vaginas and human skin masks would be discovered.  That was shocking at the time.  The Killer Inside Me, while not real, was probably just as shocking to readers.  Thing is, though, Gein is still shocking.  Thompson's book is not.

We understand more about what motivates crime and criminals.  Killers, serial and not-so-serial, have written of their thoughts, feelings and deeds.  Thompson's work, while believable, becomes less effective because by now we have heard this story (or variations of it) from the mouths of those who have committed the crimes.  The real crimes.  Not the fictional ones.  The truth, as they say, is always stranger than fiction.

Thompson's work has been praised for being believable, which it is.  I would argue, however, that if you are writing a first person story from the mind of a criminal it better be believable or else you've failed.  Thompson was doing his job.  A job he may have done better than others, but his job nonetheless.  In 1952 that job probably caused quite a few people to shudder.  Today it's just part of the norm. 

I'm not trying to take the piss out of Thompson's book.  I think it holds up well enough, and it has earned its praise.  I just don't think it is nearly as effective as it was when first published, and that is due more to our society than it is due to Thompson's skills.  Thompson's work hasn't detached itself from society.  Society has become Thompson's work.  When Thompson wrote this, he was trying to understand a killer, and show his motivations in a way that made sense and were horrifying to a populace that didn't really understand these things.  Now we have a library full of books that do the exact same thing directly from the source, and specials on cable television to fill in the gaps.  If you are going to read this, you have to understand that idea.  If you want to feel like a reader circa 1952 did when picking this up, you have to forget what you already know.  You have to go in fresh, and I think that is just too hard to do now.

As far as noir goes, though, it sets the bar high ... and it sure as hell works.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Let's call the FTC a cocksucker.  See if its read The Killer Inside Me. If you click on a link and purchase something, I may get a small commission because they are affiliate links.  If you want a good look at real criminals, look at the FTC.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cannibals, Serial Killers and Skin Suits

Silence of the Lambs.  If you haven't seen the movie, there's a good chance you read the book.  (Hopefully you read Red Dragon, as well.  It was better.)  When the film, starring a ham-fisted Anthony Hopkins, came out, it was the film to see, and a large number of people could be found reading the book.

I'm all for people reading, and I don't care what gets them to do that.  I don't blame people for wanting to read the source material after or before seeing the film, either.  The book, as is usually the case, was far better than the movie.

I actually ended up reading the book after seeing the movie.  It just worked out that way.  Of course, when people saw me reading it, they asked if I saw the film, as if I had no idea of its existence.  Inevitably, I was almost always told that they liked the film better!

I had a friend who felt this way, and when I asked her why, she told me it was because Hopkins brought Lecter to life in a way she didn't realize could be possible.  (I didn't mind him, though I thought he overacted just a bit.)  She felt that Harris could've done more with the character, and I think other people thought so, too.  Hence, Hannibal.

Hannibal was atrocious.  I think Harris set out to write something so nasty it couldn't possibly be translated to film correctly, and he succeeded.  Mission accomplished.  In fact, I think that book is a big "fuck you" to all those people who liked the Silence of the Lambs film more than the book.  Since "fans" demanded more, he gave them what they deserved.  More of everything.  Stuff that was so over-the-top that it really seems like Harris either wrote it under protest or lost his damn mind.  The first two books were tight thrillers with Lecter being important, but in a cage.  In Hannibal he was loose, and in being so, he lost all ability to scare.

And the ending was totally unbelievable.  If you don't remember it, I won't remind you.  Ridiculous.

I really believe, though I have no proof, that the movie franchise helped destroy the books.  Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs stand proudly on their own.  There are better books dealing with the same subject matter, but these two are still good reads.  What came after, though, was a complete mess and a slap in the face to those who liked the first two books.  Those two following books (Hannibal Rising was the other one, and there was no way I was going to read that after Hannibal) were created solely because The Silence of the Lambs film did well.  There was no other reason for them to exist.  The story had been told, and it ended quite nicely.  All Harris did was destroy a good character to please people who read maybe three books a year.

The chances of me ever reading another Thomas Harris book?  Zero.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Click on an affiliate link and buy something, and I may earn a small commission ... which I will use to purchase any book that does not have Harris' name on it.

Letters from George 8

Here is another letter from revenge author George Hayduke.  If you haven't read any of his books like Mayhem, you need to know that while some of his revenge techniques are simply annoying, some can cause harm.  That means: Use them wisely!  George opens the letter by commenting on a tape of prank calls I sent him.

Hi Doug,

Thanks for writing and for the tape.  I will take it along on a trip I am taking soon.  I am sure it will amuse and amaze me.  And, no I don't have any prank call tapes.  Some of the radio stations around here play them once in a while.  I always thought they were commercial in nature.

Did I sent you a photo?  If you're doing an interview for publication I could send you a picture for your artist to use.  I forget if I already [did] so.  Anyway ... here is another or one ... whatever.  My mind is slipping.

The legend at the bottom of this page [Oderint, Dum, Metuant] means: Let Them Hate So Long as They Fear.  It's old German.  I'll be thrilled to see your 'zine #8.  Seriously, I will be.

Hope you had a Happy Holiday!!

Cheers, George

I did do an interview with him that I will republish someday.  As mentioned before, I have since lost touch with him.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Clicking on the affiliate link and buying something may get me a small commission.  If you buy that book, you'll have ideas with what to do with the FTC.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dabbling in the Occult

Colin Wilson's The Occult is something of a triumph and a failure.  Published in 1971, this tome seems like it would cover the occult in-depth.  It is, after all, a thick read. If you are like me, a large book on a subject you are interested in is akin to a panhandler finding a cache of gold nuggets in the creek.  What it signifies here, however, is something quite different.

The book itself deserves praise for its scope.  Just about everything and  
anything occult related prior to the '70s gets mentioned.  (And some get referenced even though the occult ties are kind of spurious, such as the Masons.  I've never considered them in the realm of the occult, though I could see the argument that could be made.)  Because the book covers so much, it becomes little more than an overview, though in fairness to Wilson, even an overview from him becomes interesting reading.  It works as a history of the occult.  If you already knew some of the history going in, however, you can't help but feeling a bit empty after reaching the last page.  You want more.

There are books that go into great depth on each of the subjects, groups and people that Wilson covers in this book.  (Some of them are even written by Wilson.)  So to say this is the be-all end-all of occult history books is nothing more than a lie.  It is, however, an excellent place to start for someone who knows nothing of the past occult history.  Once finished, the reader can go seek out those subjects which peaked his interest while reading Wilson's work. 

I have an interest (though not a very deep one) in people like Aleister Crowley and Rasputin.  The thought processes of these men are fascinating, as is the hold they had (and still have) on people.  As I contemplate the theories that we live in a computer generated simulation, I find myself wondering how these men fit into that theory (quite well, actually).  That says to me that Wilson's book still has a place in our world.  Granted, there may not be a fascination with the occult like there was in the '70s, but it still has a use in our lives if only to send shivers down the spines of the easily scared and to open other minds to a new way of thinking.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  Clicking on one of the links will not only curse you, but since it could be an affiliate, I could earn a commission.  I did not get a copy of this book for review.  I bought it.  That's right.  I paid cold, hard cash for it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Right to Be Lazy: More Fun From AK Press

AK Press, enemy of stodgy, narrow-minded rightwing nutters everywhere announced some of its upcoming books a few days ago.  Good stuff is coming.  Being a Friend of AK Press, I'll be getting my mitts on these soon enough.  The rest of you have to order them.  Two of the most anticipated ones for myself are The Right to Be Lazy and Marshall Law: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther

The Right to Be Lazy is being released with legendary publisher Charles H. Kerr (around 125 years and still pissing people off), and features a revised edition of the original English translation.  I don't have a copy of the original book, so finding out that one was coming my way brought a smile to my face.  The bigger smile was reserved for Marshall Law, however.

The Black Panther Party fascinates me.  Armed black men giving out free breakfasts sounds like every white person's biggest nightmare.  ("Oh, God!  They're organizing!")  Doing so with a political agenda sounds like Washington's biggest nightmare.  (And those Tea Party Parrots think Obama is bad.  Imagine having a Black Panther in the White House.  Shit, I'd vote for him or her, and I don't vote for leaders.)  This look at Eddie Conway's life behind bars after being falsely imprisoned for killing a cop is going to be interesting stuff.  Attempted escapes.  Labor organizing.  Militancy.  You name it, it should be covered here. 

There are other titles, of course.  AK Press always does other titles, too.  These two stand out, though.  They take the proverbial anarchist cake.  While the rest of the population is reading Danielle Steele at the beach, I'll be reading about Conway's exploits while sticking it to The Man.