Hatcher’s Junk Drawer #2: The Shelf of Shame

I stole this expression from Matt Bird, years ago. Or possibly from his wife Betsy…both of whom are very fine writers themselves, as it happens.

But anyway, it was one of them, and I adopted the expression immediately because it was so perfect. The Shelf of Shame is what you call the big pile of books you keep meaning to get to. That is certainly apt, because I am overcome with shame and guilt whenever I look at mine, especially since recently there are so many review copies. The current incarnation looks like this….

So I thought, in an effort to assuage the mounting guilt over being gone so long and the site being screwed up for about a week and so on and so on, I’d talk about the couple of them I did manage to get to. It’s a real hodgepodge, as you can see. So here we go.

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Hard Case Crime sent a couple of nifty ones along. Snatch is a new one from Gregory Mcdonald.

Well, actually, it’s an omnibus of two short novels from the eighties, Snatched and Safekeeping. (Snatched later was re-issued a couple of different ways, notably as Who Took Toby Rinaldi?)

Most people know Mcdonald for his Fletch books, a couple of which were adapted for film and starred Chevy Chase. (The first one I thought was okay, but I would have preferred more Fletch and less Chevy Chase schtick.)

But it was a pretty fair adaptation. The second movie… wasn’t. But the books are great fun, filled with snappy dialogue. So much so, in fact, that for the first few years of paperbacks that was actually the cover art.

So I had a moderate feeling of pleased anticipation when I settled in with Snatch. Both stories were dependably good Mcdonald snarky noir— the second one, Safekeeping, was smarter and funnier, the first one is more of a straight-ahead thriller. Though both have Mcdonald’s trademark dark humor. Worth your time, though really I think I’d suggest the Fletch novels first if Gregory Mcdonald is new to you. If, on the other hand, you can’t shake the memory of Chevy Chase mugging his way through the story, then this would be a great palate-cleanser and give you a much better idea of what Mcdonald’s really about.

Hard Case also sent their new one from the great Donald Westlake, Forever And a Death.

One of the reasons I am so smitten with Hard Case as an imprint is that editor Charles Ardai has such a knack for unearthing lost manuscripts from the greats. But this one especially won my heart because it started life as a James Bond script.

That’s right. Bond. By Westlake.

Back when it was starting to look like Goldeneye was going to be a hit (and this was by no means certain, back in the 1990s) Eon Productions started to think about following it up. One of the writers they reached out to was Westlake, and he came up with a treatment featuring the handover of Hong Kong back to the Chinese, and an evil business tycoon who was going to crash the computers of the world’s banks. It didn’t go anywhere, partly because, unknown to Westlake, crashing the computer network of the world’s banks was actually something the villain was doing in Goldeneye. But it was mostly because Westlake couldn’t really get his head around the Bond scripting method, which is a brief outline or treatment calling out the various stunts and set pieces, so the studio techs can get an early start on booking locations and building sets, and once that is nailed down, THEN you write it. That was counter to Westlake’s decades-honed method of working, which was never to outline at all. So they came to an amicable parting of the ways, and Westlake took his original idea, excised all the Bond stuff, and rewrote it into this novel. And it’s great stuff. Hugely recommended, and there is a nice little afterword from the producer who booked Westlake on behalf of the studio detailing the story I just told you about how it all happened.

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One of the books on the Shelf of Shame is Hauser’s Memory by Curt Siodmak, who also gave us Donovan’s Brain. The two books make a nice little set, and some smart fella even put together an omnibus edition of the pair between the same two covers. I like Donovan’s Brain a great deal and I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one as well.

But here’s the thing. The reason I was even interested enough to go looking for this book is because of the movie that almost nobody remembers but me.

I saw it ONCE, on a rainy Saturday afternoon forty years ago; a rerun on the local syndicated station when I was in high school. It starred David McCallum and it was terrific. The story is that McCallum is a brilliant scientist who has found a way to inject another person’s memory into his own brain and get access to those memories. As it happens, a dying scientist, Hauser, knows a lot of missile secrets. In order to preserve this information, the CIA has McCallum inject himself with the cerebro-spinal fluid extracted from Hauser, to get at the memory and the information there. However, Hauser’s memory starts to take control of McCallum and causes him to go chasing off to Switzerland try to settle some old Nazi scores. It’s one of those great 1970s suspense things, working the same espionage-meets-SF turf as movies like The Boys From Brazil and The Andromeda Strain. Directed by Boris Sagal, who was just coming off The Omega Man.

The hell of it is, it’s completely unavailable. There are a couple of excerpts on YouTube and that’s IT.

I guess I could buy a shitty home-recorded-from-VHS DVD off a bootlegger or something, but I’m not THAT desperate. I keep thinking Shout Factory or Warner Archive or whoever is going to get to it, and it keeps getting overlooked. That just seems wrong to me in a world where this and this and this are all available commercially. Hauser’s Memory was more successful than any of those and it’s good, damn it, even nominated for a couple of awards. How about it, home video manufacturers?

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Not technically part of the pile, but I’m excited to hear that it’s happening. Ron Goulart– who was the guy that introduced me to the Phantom in the Avon paperbacks, years ago– is back doing the Ghost Who Walks.

From Hermes Press: The year is 1962, and the Phantom returns once again in a new adventure! There’s a possible world war with Russia looming on the horizon, and newly minted President John F. Kennedy calls upon his old friend Kit Walker for help – let the action and intrigue begin!

In this all-new Phantastic adventure, veteran Phantom script writer Ron Goulart returns with artist Sean Joyce, a newcomer to the Phantom and to comic books, but no newcomer to the art world! Joyce is best known as one of Hollywood’s most talented matte painters and storyboard artists, and he is lending his talents to comics for the first time, to bring The Phantom to life in this exciting new adventure!

This five book story arc (each issue to be released every month and a half) has something for every Phan- history with JFK, Russian femme fatales, espionage, lost U.S. astronauts on a secret mission, Singh pirates, and, of course The Phantom, Diana, and Devil!

Journey back to the swingin’ 1960s with The Phantom!

Honest, Hermes, you had me at “Goulart.” But the preview art looks cool and the last miniseries they did from Peter David and Sal Velluto was great. I just hope they can stick to the schedule this time.

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It’s not in the pile because it was an advance PDF, but I really enjoyed Loved and Lost, the latest Wave Blue World entry from Tyler Chin-Tanner and a host of artists.

Now, full disclosure– we know Tyler personally, he was our next-door neighbor at Emerald City a few years back and we occasionally correspond. But that doesn’t mean he gets a pass. We don’t recommend everything friends send us, and we get a lot. My rule is, I won’t torpedo a friend’s book, but if it’s bad I won’t plug it here, either. Thankfully, I am able to recommend this anthology to you with a clear conscience.

Here’s the blurb: Chances are that in life we’ve all had more romantic relationships that haven’t worked out than have. This 9 story collection isn’t so much about tragic heartbreak as it is an examination of the common pitfalls of love; false pretenses, cultural divide, and fear of vulnerability. Take a closer look at the society we live in and how we choose to establish our identity through relationships; both the ones we maintain and the ones we leave behind.

I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I was going to. Tyler Chin-Tanner and his colleagues have done something that many would have considered impossible: a hugely engaging romance book that is sentimental without being saccharine, realistic without being cynical, humorous without being silly. Everyone who has ever navigated the awkward stages of a relationship will find themselves in here. Sometimes you smile, sometimes you wince. But the recognition in each piece will be constant. We all know people like this and a lot of the time we’ve been people like this. A remarkable book that’s required reading for people who think comics can’t be layered and subtle. I particularly enjoyed the one about the farming collective and the one about the whiskey aficionado, but they are all good.

Tyler’s writing is what impressed me, but you need good artists too, and these folks are all bringing their A-game. Variously, Jason Copland, Tadd Galusha, Ayşegül Sinav, Varga Tomi, Ryan Alexander-Tanner, Mac Cooper, Julia Krase, Robert Ryan, James Boyle and Michael Wiggam all deliver artwork that’s pretty to look at, tells the story, and– this is really important to me– looks naturalistic and human, even when the protagonists are getting all sexy and smoochy.

It’s a good-looking book and we wish Tyler and crew the very best of luck with it. You’ll probably have to get your retailer to special-order it, but I’d encourage you to do so. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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Well, that’s about it for this time out… because, among other reasons, this just arrived.

The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay Faye. You may recall in my very first column here at the Junk Shop I talked about Ms. Faye’s wonderful Dust And Shadow, and I firmly believe that Lyndsay Faye is the best Holmes pastiche writer working today. Full stop. And as someone who’s done a few published ones himself, I don’t say that lightly. It’s damn hard and she is just NAILING it.

Now there is this companion volume featuring all the Sherlock Holmes short stories Faye has done since Dust and Shadow, most of them for the new Strand Magazine. I am so excited for this that….

…well, that the rest of the Shelf of Shame is going to have to wait, because this one’s just moved to the top of the pile.

Back next week with something cool… probably more from the pictured stack o’stuff, with a side trip or two along the way.

11 Comments

  1. Damn, just when I think I’m into some obscure stuff, Hatcher comes along and out-obscures me.

    Our Shelves of Shame (great name) have one book in common: one book of the 50th Anniversary Star Trek TOS Legacies Trilogy. I bought the first one last summer and got sidetracked while reading it, as I often do. So now I’d likely have to backtrack a bit to remember where I was in the plot.

    I ended up buying the next two books in the trilogy anyway, though. The Simon & Schuster booth at Star Trek: Mission NY was offering discounted copies of the final two books in the trilogy, autographed by author David Mack and Kevin Dilmore, and I couldn’t pass that up.

    I’m also intrigued by Donald Westlake writing a James Bond-style book. I’d heard that the original idea for Tomorrow Never Dies was supposed to involve the handover of Hong Kong, but I had no idea that Westlake had ever been involved. I’ll have to track that down.

    And your bit about Ron Goulart writing the Phantom with a P.T.-109 era JFK involved sounds very interesting, too. I still have to get the TPB of the pseudo Phantom/Tarzan crossover Peter David and Sal Velluto put out through Hermes. I lost track of the individual issues when my shop stopped ordering it during all the delays.

    And of course as a Holmes fan, I’m intrigued by the Lyndsay Faye collection as well, which reminds me that I still haven’t finished the collection of Leslie S. Klinger Holmes short stories I got a year ago…

    And there’s the whole pile of TwoMorrows swag I’ve either gotten freebies of or bought at discount (The Krypton Companion, The Hawkman Companion, Comic Book Fever, the Don Heck & Carmine Infantino books) and barely read because I’ve been so busy interviewing and writing for TwoMorrows lately… It’s a high-class problem to have, but man, I wish I could squeeze more reading into my life.

  2. Le Messor

    Your shelf of shame is much smaller than mine.

    Also, I tend to keep my comics and prose books separated; my comic book shelf is 0. (My prose shelf is over 40… I’ve been going through The Wheel Of Time, and I’m not a fast reader.)

  3. Edo Bosnar

    I had a pretty sizeable shelf of shame (mainly non-fiction books) long before I’d ever discovered Greg’s columns back at the CSBG site. Since then, however, it has grown exponentially – obviously with fiction books as an overwhelming majority (Le Messor: I fondly recall that time some years ago when I only had 40 books left to read…)

    Anyway, I’m going to try to resist the temptation to make the pile even bigger after reading this one – but it’s going to be tough. Seriously, another previously-unpublished Westlake book? That’s a Bondesque spy thriller? I want it for that cover alone! (By the way, I see you have it in paperback – how’d you swing that? I can only find hardcover editions at Amazon, Book Depository, etc.)
    As for Fletch, I unapologetically love both movies (although I agree that the first one is much better). They’re perfect for those rainy Saturday, or Sunday, afternoons that you mentioned. Never read the books, though, although now you’ve got me interested in those as well (crap, one lifetime will not be enough to read all of these books…)

    1. I see you have it in paperback – how’d you swing that? I can only find hardcover editions at Amazon, Book Depository, etc

      Mine is an Advance Reading Copy – Uncorrected proof. Bound galleys, basically, that they send out to press. I don’t mind. I just like that it’s a real book and not a PDF like most publishers send out.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Mine’s more of several Piles of Shame, and a few fugitives on other shelves. I was a bookseller for 20 years and accumulated a lot. When the experience was going sour, I wasn’t reading: too much stress. Now, I have an hour lunch break and am slowly working my way through. I’ve got Terry Pratchetts military histories, reprints of The Spider, Phillip Jose Farmer Wold Newton stuff, Fritz Leiber, Christopher Moore. Donald Hamilton, Kipling, Le Carre and much more.

    I had the uncorrected proof for Paul Malmont’s The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, which I stumbled into when i opened a bunch of shipments from several publisher’s marketing departments. The cover was rather mundane; a darkly lit street, somewhere in a city. The title was what got my interest and I read the back copy and immediately put it in my briefcase. When the book was released, it had a much cooler pulp novel cover reprint; so, I had to buy that. Sometimes, they send those proofs out in a package that doesn’t help sell you on the book. Sometimes, they do.

  5. Knightsky

    What you call the Shelf Of Shame, Fritz Leiber in his book “Our Lady Of Darkness” refers to as the ‘scholar’s mistress’.

    I prefer the latter term, if only because that means I have an entire harem in my room.

  6. M-Wolverine

    James Bond and the handover of Hong Kong. What circles that went in. Westlake’s or any of the other versions of the script weren’t done in time, so they had to jettison that idea for what eventually became Tomorrow Never Dies. Still China, but not so much Hong Kong. (And funny that the system that turns Westlake off can still be seen in the movie because they still used SE Asian set pieces even if the takeover went bye-bye).

    But the same year on the literary side Zero Minus Ten came out by Raymond Benson that covered it. I know the literary and film sides and rights are separate, other than the movie adaptations, but it would have been strange to have two different HK takeover stories comes out at the same time in different media. It wasn’t how they did it at the time, with a series author or the revivals of the books, but they could have probably saved the middle man and lost work just by having Westlake write the Bond book.

  7. (And funny that the system that turns Westlake off can still be seen in the movie because they still used SE Asian set pieces even if the takeover went bye-bye).

    Well, it’s actually a fairly common system, using what you have on hand or figuring out what’s possible and then building a strory around it. You can trace it back to the early days of pulps and comics– Walter Gibson was told to insert a Chinese angle into his very first Shadow story so they could use an old pulp cover with a Chinese guy on it. Julius Schwartz used to commission freaky covers and then demand writers come up with a story to justify the art. John Woo started Mission: Impossible II by figuring out the stunts and then getting a screenwriter to tie them together into a story. Most of what I’ve published in the last five years– the fiction, that is– was done to order, responding to an editor saying, I need a story about _____________. The art comes in trying to work within the boundaries and still come up with something engaging. It’s fashionable to condemn this kind of writing as ‘hackery’ but it is the vast, vast majority of the entertainment we consume. Any open-ended series of stories that employs multiple writers works that way to some extent.

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