Archive for June, 2010

Review: The Maltese Falcon

Friday, June 25th, 2010

After my recent good experience with Chandler, it seemed like another noir classic was worth a look.  And so we come to Hammett.

You can’t mistake Hammett for Chandler.  Hammett’s prose is more pedestrian and not inclined to the poetic – even the poetry of a tough guy in the rough city.  After the joy of finding Chandler, it was something of a disappointment to find that Hammett was something else entirely.  The disappointment wore off pretty quickly as I discovered the joys of Hammett.

Hammett is more grounded in the characters than in the literature.  His Sam Spade is a much more flawed character than Chandler’s Marlowe.  One gets the impression that at his core Marlowe’s a Boy Scout; no one gets that impression about Spade.  Spade’s a tough guy to get along with, and not always because there’s some principle at stake.  Sometimes Spade is just ornery.  You get the impression people are surprised when Spade does the right thing; you also get the impression that they’re surprised often.

It doesn’t help his likeability that my 21st century eyes see a pretty chauvinist guy.  I understand the differences of the times, but even accounting for that, Spade views women mostly as sex objects, and not often ones he enjoys being around.  He’s a well enough drawn character that one can dislike him honestly.  I don’t think I’d enjoy hanging out with him, but I believe him.

Some of the other characters are somewhat broad, but never overly so.  No one’s completely what they seem, and the plot twists a great deal more than The Big Sleep.  I definitely had to pay more attention to who was doing what to whom in Falcon.

Overall I enjoyed The Maltese Falcon quite a bit, but it was much less of a transcendent experience than The Big Sleep. An awful lot of this discussion has been comparing Falcon to Sleep, and that’s not particularly fair.  They’re different in focus and perhaps in goals.  I obviously incline toward Sleep‘s rich language and sense of place, but Falcon‘s unflinchingly real lead character and attention to plot is also rewarding.  Both are worth one’s time.



Sunday, June 20th, 2010

My sister was in town last week, and she and her family invited us up to see a practice round of the US Open up in Pebble Beach.  I was in Berkeley on Monday for a work commitment and flew down to Salinas to meet them as they drove up from LA.  It was a nice flight, and I got to spend a few minutes bumming around the ramp at Salinas before they caught up with me.  Imagine my surprise to see Arnold Palmer’s Citation on the ramp next to me.  (Palmer’s registration – N1AP – is well known among pilots for some reason).

Anyway I took a few pictures, including one with N32169 in the same frame.

Review: Sharpe’s Company

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Yep, back to the Napoleonic Wars, with Bernard Cornwell.  It’s been a while since I’ve checked in with Sharpe and the boys, and honestly, they seem to have gotten a little whinier than I remember.  Sharpe’s always been worried about his fate and his love life, but I seem to recall more of this having been resolved last time.  This all felt more like a replay than new worries.

Overall this was much more like a Twilight book than I was expecting. Both of our leading men spend a lot of time weighing their motives in trying to join a Forlorn Hope, and primary meaning aside, it was rather more introspective than I wanted, and their concerns had been played before.

As much as I liked the Twilight series, I prefer my men of action to brood less and fight more.  Hopefully this was just a brief slacking of the action.  We did learn a bunch about siege warfare, though.

Review: The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2010

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

I’ve read a bunch of these, and I’ll probably keep doing so, even if a fair number of the stories in each are somewhat predictable formula bits, or somewhat over-engineered literary writing.  There’s always a gem or two in here.

I rather liked Galgut’s “The Lover,” which starts without soul and slowly won me over, and Rash’s “Into The Gorge,” which was solid and moving.  Alice Monroe and Annie Proulx are here again, turning in solid work, though I found Proulx’s “Them Old Country Songs” covered ground she’d covered better before.  Monroe’s “Some Women” was a really nice bit of work.  Probably my favorite was Ladsun’s “Oh, Death,” which manages to be elegiac without being overly sad.

Others will find different gold, I’m sure, but there is something to like in here if you’re interested in looking.


Review: Breaking Dawn

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

If you thought the first three books of Twilight were slow and melodramatic, Breaking Dawn is your cure.

We’re back in Stephenie Meyer’s world of vampires and werewolves, and the existing characters and histories from the earlier novels are all in place.  Right from the beginning, though, things happen much faster here than any earlier Twilight novel.  Meyer makes things happen fast without making them seem rushed, which is quite an achievement, given all that goes on.  I don’t want to give anything away, but character’s fates are decided in ways that are satisfying and logical – and often very funny.

Overall, it’s a satisfying conclusion to a fun series.  Even if you found the other books slow, you might enjoy this.

Strongly Recommended.