Jeeves and the King of Clubs, Ben Schott, 2018

jeevesAndTheKingOfClubsJeeves and the King of Clubs by Ben Schott has been received with such fanfare that I find myself in the ironic position of struggling to find something new to say about something which struggled to find something new to say.

There’s been a rush to observe that this daring departure from the beloved Jeeves and Wooster series by PG Wodehouse is not an extension of the canon. Mister Schott himself describes it as an homage, which seems safe enough (although we here at Indefensible have wrapped ourselves in an extra layer of dissemblance in referring to our own The Case of the Canterfell Codicil as having been “written in the style of an homage to Wodehouse”). Nevertheless, there’s plenty here to which a purist could take offence, if offence is what said purist is looking for.

Above all, there’s the rehabilitation of Bertie Wooster, who in Schott’s parallel take on Wodehouse’s world has experienced an intellectual renaissance. The loveable, affable, dependent and dependable Wooster is, in this book, a sort of a cross between Noel Coward and, I suppose, Jeeves. He’s witty and urbane and he regularly and handily gets the better of the dangerous and devious Roderick Spode (Lord Sidcup, to you), who himself has been recast, ham-handedly in some cases, as a Trumpian oaf.

Consequently, the role of Jeeves is rewritten as well. It’s also diminished, not inconsiderably, and the title character has been largely reduced to a supporting technician, working behind the scenes to advance the plot in improbable ways.

Improbable and, rather often, inscrutable. For instance, there’s an entirely extraneous scene set in Eulalie Soeurs, quality foundation garments for discerning ladies, and Spode’s dark secret from The Code of the Woosters. The sequence is so unfunny and awkward that it’s tempting to assume that it’s a genuine editing oversight, something left in from a frivolous early draft in which The King of Clubs was initially going to be written as a Kafkaesque allegory. It’s when encountering these digressions that it becomes most valuable to recall that you’re reading an homage, because as comical and theatrical a scene might be in a Wodehouse plot, it’s always at least tangentially related to the story at hand.

Some and probably most of these departures are unavoidable and predicated on one of the pillar assumptions made by Schott — that readers want to see Jeeves and Wooster address larger threats than crossing Aunt Agatha or marrying Honoria Glossop or facing twenty-eight days without the option. In this variation of Wodehouse’s Britain, war is looming, and his majesty’s government must call upon the wily duo to foil Fifth Columnists already operating within the borders of the kingdom. The theme is a provocative mashup — like those literary exercises that ask how Pride and Prejudice might have unfolded if Netherfield had been besieged by zombies. In Jeeves and the King of Clubs, however, nothing seems to actually get resolved, which may be on its own the single greatest liberty taken by Schott.

Which might leave someone who has yet to read the King of Clubs wondering when all this homaging starts. The answer is the very first line, which is a delight, and representative of a slew of rapid-fire crackers that Schott sets off with not merely an uncanny impersonation of Wodehouse’s voice but a more than passing resemblance to the Master’s apparent ease of execution. There are some clunkers — not the least of which is the jarringly bad joke about Marx and Engels which literally caused me to put the book down for a day — but even they serve to give the breezy narrative style a foundation of confidence, a plucky indifference to the gravity of drafting two beloved icons into the fight against fascism and parachuting them, metaphorically, behind enemy lines.

In Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Sebastian Faulks carefully and gently nudged the canon over the line that Wodehouse dared never cross. That was homage. Jeeves and the King of Clubs is more daring than that, more exhaustive, more to My Man Jeeves as Robert Downey Junior’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes is to the Hound of the Baskervilles.

It’s helpful to think of Jeeves and the King of Clubs as an homage to Wodehouse, but it’s even more helpful to read it as a reboot of the Jeeves and Wooster franchise.

The Review of the Case of the Canterfell Codicil

There’s a literary niche for all tastes including, as of October 30, those who think that either Agatha Christie wasn’t funny enough or PG Wodehouse didn’t include anywhere near as many locked-room mysteries as he should have.

The Case of the Canterfell Codicil is a clever whodunnit written in the style of an homage to the master. The result is a hilarious farce in which Wodehousian gadabout Anty Boisjoly (pronounced “Boo-juhlay”, like the wine region) takes on his first case when his old Oxford chum is accused of the impossible murder of his wealthy uncle.

Have a read of some  excerpts and then head on over to your local Amazon dealership:
Amazon UK   Amazon US   Amazon Canada  Amazon India   Amazon Oz

Time Travelin’ Gunslingers

ttg-cover

Philip James continues to pulp up the joint with a mashup for the ages — Time Travelin’ Gunslingers is the tale of a US marshal pursuing an outlaw from 1870s Arizona to the prehistoric age, from medieval England to modern day Las Vegas.

Dare Shine is a cut-out white hat who’s all duty and no fear, until he pursues blood-thirsty outlaw Race Brody into the Catalina Mountains, and comes face-to-face with a rowdy gang of Velociraptors. Meanwhile, dull-witted Race is hootin’ and shootin’ his way up the Las Vegas strip, unaware that both men have been put on a collision course by an unseen hand, capable of manipulating time itself.

The marshal discovers, perhaps too late, that there’s a lot more at stake than frontier justice for a renegade outlaw, and he faces monsters, mobsters, magic, and his own fears in the corridors of time to keep Race from fulfilling a prophecy that means the end of everything Dare holds dear.

Time Travelin’ Gungslingers has none of the urbaine, hard-boiled charm of Deceased and Residing in Oakland, and that’s clearly intentional. The folksy, accessible, naive narrative is reminiscent of the heyday of pulp Westerns, when all a lawman had to deal with was a cheatin’ coyote or an ambush at the pass. That same style applied to a story of gunslingers facing time-bending magic, ageless passion, hate, love, heaven, hell and purgatory, creates a very satisfying juxtaposition, like visiting the Louvre in your pyjamas.

Your pyjamas and your running shoes, in fact, because Time Travelin’ Gunslingers is no leisurely pastoral stroll through yesteryear. It’s a quick-drawing, fast-shooting, fast-talking, galloping, rollicking ricochet against the walls of time’s labyrinth. Time travel is achieved by simple magic, and hence no words are wasted trying to explain it as a feature of string theory or faster-than-light travel, and there’s no time for brooding on the effect of butterflies flapping their wings.

In fact, apart from the convention vortex, the story is linear, and there’s little room for existential twists. Time travel is a utility which allows for an original story which has, on its own, plenty of traditional plot pivots without the need for the high-concept hypotheticals that are the typical tropes of time travel stories.

In short, in spite of the prohibition era mobsters, prehistoric monsters, Elvis impersonators and magic, Time Travelin’ Gunslingers somehow manages to deliver an old-fashioned white hat/black hat Western saga. The structure is old-school pulp serial, and each visit to another time and place has its own sub-plot, complete with cliffhangers and plot twists.

Time Travelin’ Gunslingers is in Amazon from March 16.

Deceased & Residing in Oakland – New Pulp Cover, New Pulp Price

Deceased and Residing in Oakland has a new pulp price to celebrate its new pulp cover.

Pulp_Fiction_Book_Coversample

The zombie/noir mashup has also been completely edited and revised — misspellings and misnomers have been all but eradicated, leaving an unobstructed, hard-boiled narrative of zombies, detectives, dames, drugs, death-metal and Nietzsche. Everything you want in a modern ode to the pulp-fiction potboilers of the forties and fifties.
That includes a new, old-school cover, complete with digital dog-ears and heightened halftones.
The illustration — capturing reluctant private detective Conrad Crete in the moment he finds himself alone in an Alcatraz prison surrounded by zombie concubines — is by Fiverr favorite Adrian Doan Kim Carames (www.fiverr.com/krrjuus) and the vintage, maltreated cover effect is courtesy of http://www.bluelightningtv.com.
Part of the appeal of pulp fiction — in addition to the shamelessly effusive language, audacious stories, and exaggerated personalities — is the easy, breezy, low commitment cover price. So the ebook version of Deceased and Residing in Oakland now has a permanently pulpy price of 99 cents to complement its classic cover and contents.

Like a Metaphor

The Big Sleep

The three-word titling metaphor, seen here in its natural habitat.

The source of the charm of pulp fiction is its freedom from the manners imposed on high literature leaving it, like the imagination of a child, unfettered and unfiltered by any notion of shame. Popular fiction is as free as beat poetry to be as absurd and exaggerated as its readers will stand, and the limits of what readers of pulp fiction will stand have never been plumbed.

The phenomenon reproduces like rhizomes, popping up in improbable plots as outrageous characters and gaudy dialogue and, most particularly in the case of American crime fiction, the effusive simile.

The simile and her abstract sister metaphor have been with us for as long as it’s been helpful to describe something by comparing it to something else, which probably literally predates language itself or at the very least adjectives. Statistically, this is probably a bad thing, but for occasional passages of spun gold it’s objectively not.

It’s in American crime fiction where, like Braque’s tableaux of found objects, this handy instrument is elevated to an art form. Yet its utility and ubiquity mean that the device largely goes unnoticed in context, like shoelaces and every line in this article so far.

The etymological wellspring of the practice is the word “hardboiled”, so succinct that the rest of the metaphor isn’t even necessary to encapsulate the stoic cynicism of the private detective as twenty-minute egg. The best of them are like that, hard and hurting and, ideally, humorous.

Arguably the first hardboiled fiction is The False Burton Combs, by Carroll John Daly, and it builds a good case on tough-talkin’ street jargon of dames and dicks and a sparse but convincing distribution of juxtaposition:

“There ain’t nothing in governments unless you’re a politician. And as I said before, I ain’t a crook.”

“One of the others was fat and looked like an ex−bartender.”

“He paints up those three crooks like they were innocent young country girls.”

These were early days, though, before Hammett really got going and nearly ten years before Chandler would give up the oil game and bring us…

“He collapsed like a half-filled sack of sand.”

“ It glittered like a Ziegfeld chorus.”

and

“His clothes fitted him as though they had a soul of their own, not just a doubtful past”

which is a respectable showing for the first time out of the gate (Blackmailers Don’t Shoot, Black Mask, 1932).

The best of them paint a picture too big to be seen in anything but the abstract, composed of jungian touchstones and communal memory…

“Waves rose like apparitions at the surf-line and fell like masonry.”

Ross MacDonald, The Barbarous Coast

“The rain was hitting the streets as though fired from a machine gun.”

Philip James, Deceased and Residing in Oakland

“The house itself was not so much. It was smaller than Buckingham Palace, rather gray for California, and probably had fewer windows than the Chrysler Building. I sneaked over to the side entrance and pressed a bell and somewhere a set of chimes made a deep mellow sound like church bells.”

Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely

“It was ten minutes by foot, if you were on your way to church, about two and a half minutes if your old lady was chasing you with a razor.”

Chester Himes, All Shot Up

“There was nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn’t cure.”

Ross Macdonald, The Drowning Pool

Or they sketch a character in the present with the full pallet of past and personality…

“As far back as Lieutenant Anderson could remember, both of them, his two ace detectives with their identical big hard-shooting, head-whipping pistols, had always looked like two hog farmers on a weekend in the Big Town.”

Chester Himes, A Rage In Harlem

“…the stigmata of the trouble-prone.”

Ross MacDonald, The Chill

“His nose spread itself across his face like an inadequate police cordon trying to hold back an ugly mob.”

Philip James, Deceased and Residing in Oakland

“Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Of course it’s the danger, deception and desirability of the inevitable femme fatale that test the distance between cynicism and sentiment…

“She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight.”

Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket”

Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely

“She was all legs and hair with a pleasantly hilly terrain in between.”

“Her lips were full and quivery. When she talked she looked like she’d been dubbed into English from a language that had 900 words for ‘foreplay’.”

Philip James, Deceased and Residing in Oakland

“She ran the tip of her red tongue slowly across her full cushiony, sensuous lips, making them wet-red and looked him straight in the eyes with her own glassy, speckled bedroom eyes.”

Chester Himes, A Rage in Harlem

“From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.”

Raymond Chandler, The High Window

But it’s arguably when the poetry of the pulp fiction simile stays close to its hard boiled roots that it’s at its sad, cynical, psychological best…

“…as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again. “

Raymond Chandler, The High Window

“In wine was truth, perhaps, but in whisky, the way Hoffman sluiced it down, was an army of imaginary rats climbing your legs.”

Ross Macdonald, The Chill

“He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.”

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

“She visibly weakened when she said that. She always visibly weakened when she said that, and the feisty went somewhere quiet to have a good think.”

Philip James, Deceased and Residing in Oakland

“He looked around at the daylight as if it had betrayed him, again.”

Ross MacDonald, Black Money

Deceased and Residing in Oakland is 99 cents for one week

It’s not enough these days to write a gripping crime novel populated with compelling characters caught up in an impenetrable mystery and delivered with a vivid noir narrative. Now you’ve got to have zombies and you’ve got to have reviews.

Deceased and Residing in Oakland has all of that but for the reviews, and to fix that the Kindle version is only 99 cents from Friday, 8 September to Thursday 14 September.

It’s a genuinely new take on two genres and it’s an excellent read for an Autumn commute or a lazy weekend. It’s normally $2.99 on amazon.com but for seven days it’s 99 cents, plenty of time to pick up and give it a kind (or at any rate fair) thought on Amazon so other aficionados of American Crime fiction or Zombie fiction or both can know there’s a new kind of crime novel, and you’ve read it.

ReadFree.ly

Indie Serendipity

One of the original title proposals for Deceased and Residing in Oakland was “Cold Tidings” (for those who’ve read the book that makes perfect sense, I assure those of you who haven’t). Due diligence turned up that the expression was already in better use by Portland Indie band Crude Thumb for their signature mood medium Cold Tidings Beyond the Bends.

riot

The correspondence of the quirky, quiet and disquieting attitude of this frankly stunning song and the viewpoint of a 1940s style detective tale set in the zombie era is uncanny. So with the generous support of one-man operation Chayse Cope (whose name alone warrants some degree of star status) Cold Tidings Beyond the Bends now accompanies the trailer to Deceased and Residing in Oakland and it complements the quotes and visuals with a haunting ease.

The video can be found here and of course you’re encouraged to watch it for the eccentric yet concentric meeting of mediums — excerpts from the book and the entirety of Cold Tidings Beyond the Bends. Having done that (and bought the book) you should give a listen to more of what Crude Thumb is working on. Cold Tidings is an excellent introduction but no two songs on the current four-title space are alike. They are, however, smoothly thematic, and work together as the foundation on which Crude Thumb is currently building new material to be released this year.

It’s a compelling project. The polished production quality is probably a function of Cope’s intimacy with his own work — it’s got the flawless flow of a stream of consciousness and indeed the beat lyrics present themselves not unlike Leonard Cohen’s written poetry:

Tendrils of glancing around the hall
Fought for the pillar it stood alone
Spoken direction across my own
Grey fatigue, kept uncomfortable
Elephant Factory

Slow, living through the tolls
Fit in it, pace around, flaunt the glove
You may be late for everything
Turn around, turn around
Cold Tidings Beyond the Bends

Cope describes the current state of Crude Thumb as more of an experimental folk project than a band and that’s as good a classification as any. But the fact that it’s hard to classify Crude Thumb is fundamental to the serendipitous experience of accidentally finding something genuinely new.

 

Deceased and Residing in Oakland

Deceased, And Residing In Oakland - Philip James

Deceased and Residing in Oakland is available now on Amazon
as an ebook
or paperback

Deceased and Residing in Oakland is a mystery thriller in the tradition of American Crime Fiction, set twenty-five years after the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. San Francisco is a city under siege — it’s heaving with refugees and it’s seething with crime — but it’s still a city. It’s got cops and courts and commerce, and it’s got one burned out cop in particular living a careful life a bay away from the rot that still stalks the suburbs, looking for a heartbeat. All he wants is a quiet life, but when he’s hired to track down the mysterious daughter of one of the city’s elite and the case starts killing his friends, he’s forced on a high-velocity ride among the eccentric citizens and dangerous diversions of fortress San Francisco and all the way back to the last place he ever wants to be.

The story is a fast-paced genre-mixer presenting a hard-boiled mystery in the style of 1940s noir but with characters, twists and tension that can only occur in a Bay area struggling to sustain the remains of civilization. The result is a world-building exercise that depicts a thorough and convincing city of high-density, multi-purpose buildings, Frankenstein cars and an economy based on dark entertainments and goods retrieved from the suburbs by daredevil privateers.

Author Philip James makes no effort to hide his admiration for preceding pulp greats and the narrative regularly veers very close to homage, with an endless supply of Chandlerisms like “Mean in a feral, fundamental way. Mean the way cats are stealthy and bees are industrious and vultures are indiscriminate diners.”,  “She finished her drink and brought the glass down like the gavel of a hanging judge” and “There was a night behind her that was more than mere darkness.”

But the attention to noir narrative doesn’t make this any less a zombie thriller, and the style extends to the undead as “like an army of macabre marionettes made of broom handles and sack cloth” and “staggering and broken and with parts missing and debris acquired, like a taxi that’s just driven madly through a dense jungle.”

The plot and poetry are matched by the population of eccentrics including a one-armed barkeep, a philosophy professor preaching Nietzsche beneath the ruins of the Golden Gate Bridge, a alluring blonde pinup girl who can out-drink the toughest detective, a ruthless villain with a sadistic henchman, the world’s luckiest pirate and a shell-shocked former zombie-squad officer with an overdeveloped sense of symmetry and paralyzing fear of the undead.

Lightly On Sacred Ground

black_eyed_blonde_coverRaymond Chandler’s dead so he won’t object if I speak for him with regards to how he’d react to The Black-Eyed Blonde, the second effort to appropriate his voice and most famous creation, Philip Marlowe. I’m quite certain that he wouldn’t give a shit.

Chandler was an iconoclast, unimpressed and unintimidated by what were considered the giants of literature, even when he was forcibly inducted into their number, so he could hardly have objected to an irreverent cannibalisation of his own canon.

However that’s not what this is. The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black (the nom de pulp of high concept Irish writer John Banville) is a meticulous homage, and it shows. It’s not a rip-off nor a convincing forgery. It doesn’t take Philip Marlowe into uncharted territory and it doesn’t subvert the genre. And all that would be fine with both me and Mr. Chandler, I’m quite sure, if it achieved the only goal that could logically remain — to read as though it was written by Chandler.

The inventory is fully stocked. There’s a knock-out dame, naturally, and ruthless heavies and even a MacGuffin imported wholesale from The Long Goodbye. There’s a mystery within a mystery that has Marlowe searching for a man that’s supposed to be dead and turning up improbable links to those that definitely are. There are killings and beatings and a vibrant sexual tension between the main characters. Above all Chandler’s narrative style, punctuated with original and evocative similes, is faithfully duplicated.

But the Black-Eyed Blonde doesn’t try too hard, it tries way too hard to sound like Chandler, and the result is inorganic and arrhythmic. If you’re familiar with the original lore the constant reminders of people and places and events from previous books becomes quickly tiresome and heavy-handed, and if you’re not you’d presumably be misled into thinking that these diversions are in some way relevant to the plot. Why is Marlowe arguing with this random doctor that he called to discreetly look into an apparent overdose? Well obviously because some animosity remains from the affair that Marlowe had with the doctor’s wife in the Long Goodbye.

The narrative never rises to heights of “…a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back” (The Long Goodbye) or “She had eyes like strange sins.” (The High Window) but it’s not for lack of earnest effort. So instead we get overwrought exhibitions like “the rain was making the water in the lake look like a bed of nails.” and “the rain was coming down now like polished steel rods.” It’s not the Beatles, but an incredible simulation.

So the relationship between Marlowe and the sad-eyed Clare Cavendish is forced and inexplicable, the villains lack clear motivations and the inevitable similes are sterile and unrelated to the story. And the plot pays dutiful respect to this gallery of artifacts, even to the point of taking literally Chandler’s advice: “In writing a novel, when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.”*

Having said all that, Chandler and I are going to have to lean toward recommending The Black Eyed Blonde. It’s definitely Chandleresque and so long as you’ve already read everything else in the canon plus Hammet, MacDonald and Himes, it’s the closest thing you’re going to find to a new book by Raymond Chandler published in 2014.

*1950 April 15, Saturday Review of Literature, The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler (There’s a 1944 version that doesn’t include the quote “When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”) http://www.unz.org/Pub/SaturdayRev-1950apr15-00013