Saturday, January 2, 2010

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" - A Review

Note: It's in the last hour of the first day of a new decade and, frankly, I'm still in my New Year's daze. I ain't got nothing new right now. However, since I'm still in a Sherlock Holmes mood and I have a column to prepare, I am going to post here a little blog I wrote in December 2008 about "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" with minor edits. I have a word or two about the Jeremy Brett episode at the end.

Personal note: I'd like to thank all the readers for this group blog. It's an ongoing experiment and one that continues to entertain me. I hope you continue to be entertained in 2010.

Congrats to fellow DSDer Steve Weddle. His story, "Missed Flight," is the first weekly story of the year at Beat to a Pulp. I've read it once. I'm going to read it again.

Now, my take on The Blue Carbuncle from December 2008.

Of all the Sherlock Holmes stories, I have read three over and over. The novel The Hounds of the Baskervilles continues to entertain me. “A Scandal in Bohemia” is unique because Holmes is outwitted by a woman. But it is the sole Christmas story, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” that I have read more than any other Holmes story.

I re-read it again this Christmas season, as I do most years, and enjoyed it as much as I always have. This time, however, I read it as a writer. I am no Sherlockian scholar by any means but I did observe a couple of interesting tidbits. I assume you’ve all read the story so there will be spoilers throughout.

The most obvious facet of the story is so obvious, it can be missed: the structure. Arthur Conan Doyle always gives the reader, in the form of Watson, all the facts of the case. Two days after Christmas, Watson stops by Baker Street “with the intention of wishing [Holmes] the compliments of the season.” The detective has been examining a hat and, after retelling how the hat came into his possession, beckons Watson to play detective. “Here is my lens. You know my methods. What can you gather yourself as to the individuality of the man who has worn this article?” I think Doyle puts this scene at the front of the story not only to propel the case forward but also to offer his readers more insight into the world first consulting detective. “Blue Carbuncle” was the seventh short story published and there might have been a few folks who were not attuned to Holmes’ ways.

The hat wasn’t the only thing brought to Baker Street. It also came with a goose. Holmes released the goose to the policeman who found both items but the story really gets moving when that same policeman returns to 221B with the blue carbuncle in his hand, the very same gem recently stolen from the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Now, Holmes’s little mental exercise pays dividends as he and Watson now must find the owner and trace the path of the carbuncle and exonerate an innocent man.

It is the path that I noted in this re-reading. Holmes and Watson follow the trail of the gemstone: from goose to the club from which it was given to Henry Baker (the hat’s owner) to the reseller to the lady who fattens geese for sale. What fascinated me was the logical progression. Nothing was coincidence, something I struggle with in my own writing. Oh, I think, I need Guy and Girl to meet so they’ll rob a bank together. I’ll just have them talking aloud at a street corner, they’ll hear each other, and then… Yeah. Not believable. Even train of thought and action in “Blue Carbuncle” is consistent and rational.

Doyle’s word choices in this story are also of note. They’re subtle but say a good deal about how Doyle sees his creation. On the first page, Doyle writes, “…he [Holmes] jerked his thumb in the direction of the hat…” It’s the word “jerked” that striking. Not motioned or pointed but jerked. Doyle’s showing us Holmes brain had already moved on past the problem of the hat—something that probably took seconds for him—until Watson arrived. Once he has an audience, Holmes frankly, shows off. I think he needs to demonstrate his prowess. How else can you explain all the times when he doesn’t even let Watson in on his plans?

I also appreciated how Doyle’s word choices allowed the readers to fill in the blanks. With space limited in a short story, Doyle didn’t have time to go on and on describing things. Watson noticing the ice crystals forming on the windows of 221B Baker Street allows the readers to create their own mental picture of what Victorian London at Christmas time. Undoubtedly, we almost all think of Dickens and Scrooge and you probably wouldn’t be far off. A little later, Doyle writes “…and the breath of the passers-by flew out into smoke like so many pistol shots.” Now, if that isn’t a great way to describe seeing people’s breath on a cold night, I don’t know what is. And then there is the use of the word “ejaculated” to describe a vocal utterance. Never understood that one.

As I turn my own writing attention to short stories, it is nice to return to a familiar and loved tale and dig deeper into what makes it a great story. It’s Holmes and Watson to be sure as well as the Victorian setting. The story itself, however, is the key. It’s a page-turner with few pages. The action propels you forward until you reach the end and Holmes’ Christmas pardon to the culprit. Doyle may have grown to dislike his creation but the man can still tell a good story.


Back in 2010 now. Last week, I watched the Jeremy Brett version of "The Blue Carbuncle" filmed in the late 80s. Interestingly, the robbery of the jewel was the first thing we viewers saw. It wasn't until five or so minutes into the episode that Holmes and Watson show up on screen as they examine the hat. I have to say that some of the mystery evaporates when we see the actual robbery. One of the greatest pleasures in reading Holmes's tales is his reconstruction of the crime. Having seen the crime played out (albeit without all the actors on the stage), it took something away from this story. This is, of course, an ironic thing for me to say for it makes me appear to be a traditionalist. I am the same guy who loves the new film for all of its non-traditional elements. Go figure.

Friday, January 1, 2010


By Russel D McLean


Its here. The bells rang at midnight. Jools Holland's annual Hootenany on the Beeb likely had some great music (and probably a few guests where you think, what the hell is that? But its all part and parcel of his eclectic new years mix), some awkward interviews with celebrities who just want to keep drinking and ended with some boogie-woogie. Edinburgh either had an amazing street party or gave up because of the weather. Inverness made the best of scuppered celebration plans And across the world, we wake up in a new decade. Some of us with hangovers. Some of us still suffering from end of year colds*.


It seemed so futuristic. I mean, when I watched Roy Scheider lead that US/USSR team of astronauts out to Europa I was thinking, "all of this seems so far away - I'll be an old man when this happens."

I'm thirty years old.

There are no space flights. There are no monoliths.

But the future still seems exciting and full of possibility.


I make no predictions. I just look forward to whatever happens.

And I want to say thank you to all the new friends I have made in this decade, the ones who have helped me personally and professionally. You know who you are. And you know why I am thanking you.

And I want to say a big thank you to my friends here at DSD for making me feel finally like I'm part of a gang. A good gang. Not a knife wielding one. And especially to the readers. I hope you'll all come with me into the new decade with as much enthusiasm and joy.

And a special thank you from all the DSD gang to Rob Kitchin at View from the Blue House for making us one of his blogs of the year. We're still the new kids on the block, but we're incredibly honoured. We'll try and keep up the standards this year as well.


Its here.

So let's make it a good one.

*at the time of writing, none of this had happened, of course, and I was merely speculating on various new yearly celebrations and their outcomes - whatever yours was, I hope it was a good 'un.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Now that Secret Santa is Over

by Dave White

2010 awaits.

It's New Year's Eve, and you're all out buying Champagne and beer and making dinner reservations, so I'll keep this one short.

The '00s was a hell of a decade for crime fiction.

Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, James Ellroy, and Laura Lippman really showed me what the pinnacle of a mystery novel could be.

Hard Case Crime brought the pulps back and made them cool again.

Blogs were the place to find all sorts of discussions on any subgenre of the mystery.

DO SOME DAMAGE was born.

So for my this decade was fantastic. I've learned so much and can't wait to see what happens in the next ten years.

But the thing that never changes is what a book needs to be successful. Readers.

We here at Do Some Damage want to thank you for keeping up with our blog over the past few months. And we hope you'll stick around for the next few years.

This post is dedicated to you.

Happy New Year.

And, we have a question for you, dear reader. What do you want to see happen to crime fiction in the next decade? How can it change and what will make it better?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

“If I wasn’t going to write crime fiction, I’d write...”

John McFetridge

The last of the Secret Santa topics, “If I wasn’t going to write crime fiction, I’d write...”

I guess first I’d have to figure out why I am writing crime fiction. Or why I'm writing at all.

I wasn’t one of those people who grew up reading all kinds of books. In fact, I didn’t read many books at all. The truth is, I still don’t read a huge amount of books.

I had newspaper route when I was a kid – back when the papaerboy was actually a kid - the Montreal Gazette, and I used to get up at six and deliver the papers. I’d get back from my route and read the paper while I ate my Cornflakes before going to school.

I really liked the newspaper. Later on, I realized what I really liked was the storytelling, the personalities.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Gazette had some great writers. I liked the sportswriters best, Red Fisher, Dink Carrol, (later Jack Todd) and lots more. What I liked about them was the characters they wrote about. Jean Beliveau, Ken Dryden, Rusty Staub, the great Montreal Canadiens teams of the ‘70’s and the always-underdog Expos. I remember when an American football player, Johnny Rodgers, came to play for the Alouettes and said he just wanted to be, “an ordinary superstar.” I thought that was such a great line. The sports pages were full of great lines.

As I got a little older, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, I started to read the whole paper. At that time in Montreal, the mid-70’s, one of the things that was going on was the rise of cocaine as the popular club drug and a mob war to control the supply, a struggle between two families – the family that ‘won’ became known as the Sixth Family, a kind of branch office of one of New York’s Five Families. The newspaper stories were great, full of characters, violence – real stories with great plots. Just like the movies only real, right there in my town.

(a sidenote here, the son of the family that ‘won’ in the 70’s, Nick Rizuto, was shot and killed on a Montreal street in the NDG neighbourhood - where I lived for years - a couple days ago. Newspapers are calling him the boss of the Montreal Mafia. His father, Vito Rizuto, has been in prison in the USA since 2007, convicted in the killings of three Mafia captains in New York – murders that were made famous in the movie Donnie Brasco.)

At the time I thought maybe I wanted to be a sportswriter, but the older I got the less interesting sports seemed to be. The newspapers even seemed to get cleaned up, or at least the stories in the sports section seemed to be full of a lot more innuendo and a lot less of what I’d call direct prose.

It was about that time I found out Hemingway had started out as a newspaper reporter so I thought maybe I should check him out, maybe there was something there after all. That’s when I discovered the clean, declaritive sentence, and I liked it. I liked the sports stories like “Fifty Grand,” and the Nick Adams short stories and what is “The Killers,” but crime fiction?

So, Hemingway led me to Dashiel Hammett and I liked him, too.

Then I started writing short stories, or trying to. I tried to write those Hemingway-esque “young man” stories and thankfully none survive. I tried some genre stories, sci fi and even mystery. In the mid-80’s, after going out to Alberta for a few years and working on construction sites, getting married and having a daughter, I was back in Montreal and in a band called Smiley’s People. The bass player, Michel Basilieres (who would later write the award-winning novel Black Bird) introduced me to John le Carre and I tried spy stories. I sold one to a magazine called Espionage, which was like Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock but it went out of business before my story appeared.

Then the drummer, Alan Taylor, handed me a novel and said, “You might like this.” It was called Unknown Man #89 by some guy named Elmore Leonard. And everything came together for me. The clean, declarative sentences of Hemingway, the crime stories of Hammet and the ‘regular guy’ characters from the newspaper stories. Here they were, all fleshed out, the little things in their daily lives, their relationships with women – especially that maybe – the most realistic, complete relationships between grown up men and women, none of that cutesy romantic comedy stuff.

So, then I discovered this Elmore Leonard guy had a bunch of novels out and I read them all. Some of them were westerns.

And I thought maybe I could get serious about this writing thing. I enrolled in the Creative Writing program at Concordia University – taking night classes and working in a warehouse during the day. I Was in my late twenties then, divorced with my daughter living with me, usually ten years older than anyone else in the class. Still I spent five years at Concordia and it took me another ten to unlearn everything they tried to teach me. It seems literature had moved on from declaritive sentences and stories about real people. Most of the young people in my classes had come straight from high school and were looking at writing as if it was a profession, like law or accounting, something you studied, learned how to do and then did. I’ll admit, I was very intimidated by how many books they’d read, how many literary references they could drop into a conversation so casually. I was way out of my depth.

It looked like this writing books thing was going to be way too hard. There didn’t seem to be any way I could go back to being twelve years old and read all the Hardy Boys novels instead of the newspaper stories about Montreal’s gangland wars. I really couldn’t get into Dickens. I liked Alice Munro, though, her rural Ontario was an awful lot like my mother’s rural Nova Scotia where I spent a lot of summers as a kid. Even the current stuff at the time, American Psycho, Slaves of New York, Less Than Zero, all filled with irony and knowing inside references went right over my head. Most of the other people in my writing classes were basing everything on other books, on other writers’ work.

So, I looked into writing movies. I saw a lot of movies. Another mistake it took me years to undo. But while working on movie sets and trying to write screenplays, I met Scott Albert and he had the idea to enter the three day novel writing contest. We collaborated on a book, each writing stories from the points of view of different people working on the set of a movie. We didn’t win the contest, but we had a decent first draft, we rewrote it a few times and sent it to publishers.

Karen Haughian of Signature Editions published it as Below the Line and I started to think maybe I could write a novel. A few years later I had the first draft of Dirty Sweet.

I didn’t realize at the time it was crime fiction but I liked it and I’ve just continued to write that kind of fiction.

So, if I wasn’t writing this, I guess I wouldn’t be writing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Secret Santa: What Have I Learned this Year?

By Jay Stringer, consulting detective.

You all know the drill by now, we’ve each been assigned a title at random from another member of the DSD crew. Some idiot came up with this idea, but dammit I’ll make do as best I can. My Gurrl did the hard work of assigning the titles using a super secret random machinery type thing. I saw the machine, it was very H.G.Wells.

So here’s the title I was given;

What Have I Learned This Year?

Well….where to start? Lets see. I learned how many coins you can put in a microwave oven before it explodes (six) and how many body parts stop working at 29 when you mistreated them at 21 (also six). Then there was this cold morning in February when I sat on the toilet and learned……

…..oh wait a minute……

The questions says, “what have I learned this year?”

That’s how it was given to me, so it’s not about my own lessons. It’s being asked of me by a fellow DSD scribe. What has this fella learned this year? Lets see. That changes things totally. I need to deduce who has asked me the question if I’m going to be able to answer it.

Sherlock Holmes got it easy. He would have someone standing in front of him with a frayed cuff or a microscopic blotch of ink. OF COURSE he managed to figure these things out. All I’ve got is the sentence itself. So what does that tell us?

What Have I Learned This Year?

Well, it’s not asking about New Jersey or fast food. That rules out Dave. It’s not asking me to write a love letter to Mel Gibson, so I’m also assuming I can rule out Mr McLean. I seem to have eliminated two suspects. That means –and I’ve always wanted to say this- the game is afoot!

Okay. What else can we tell from the question? Let’s see. Think, Stringer, think. Right, get into the role, try and understand the quarry…I mean…the DSD’er. Picture the scene.

Eyes closed.

I’m picturing a desk and a computer. I’m picturing a cup of coffee. Holy shit this is working. I’m picturing fingers typing on the keyboard….they look just like mine….oh my eyes are open again.

That didn’t work.

What kind of a person would ask this question? It’s probing, it’s straight to the point. It wants to know what the script is. It doesn’t say, “what did I learn this year before stuffing the bodies in the trunk,” so I don’t think it’s Knowles.

Who does that leave?

The Weddle.



Now, Scott may be called Parker, but he’s not THE Parker. He’s not Richard Stark’s consummate professional and plotter. He's also not Peter Parker or Parker Lewis. If he were any of those, then obviously he would be my main suspect. But he isn’t, and so by that watertight logic, he’s not.

Confused? Good, because I’d hate to be alone.

Right. Two left.

It’s the type of question that you might want to stop and consider after writing. You might want to pause and stroke a beard thoughtfully, the same beard that you stroke after plotting world domination. They both have full beards, dammit.

However, the question doesn’t allude to a realisation that Wolves are better than Arsenal. That would make me lean toward ruling out the Weddle. Also, he made the classic blunder of giving away his secret on the site yesterday. Thats, like, third on the list of all time blunders. Right behind 'never get involved in a land war in Asia,' and, 'never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line.' You showed your hand, Weddle, and for that i'm afraid you don't make the cut.

So McFet it is.

But why is John McFetridge asking me what he’s learned this year? Has he forgotten? Did he write everything down on a bit of paper and then lose it? Maybe I have the bit of paper lying round here, hang on a minute…yes, right, let’s see. This year, McFet has learned;

3 red onions.

1 clove of garlic.



Toilet Roll.

Hmmm. I’m thinking that must be the wrong piece of paper. Shit, I’m going to have to wing this one.

This year John McFetridge has learned that the cult of Carl Robinson spreads far and wide. He’s learned that the American spelling for the word “Swap” is “Let It Ride.” He learned that the internet crime fiction community is becoming something special, and he learned that it’s still possible to ignore the twitters.

Above all, and this I know without question, he learned that Jay Stringer is probably the greatest Stringer. Far better than that one on The Wire and certainly better than that one who was the lead singer in the 90's band Reef.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Histories, Mysteries: The True Story of How Stark Made Noir

By Steve Weddle

"I know a hawk from a handsaw."
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2.2

"How and why did crime fiction diverge from mystery fiction? That is, how did the whodunit and the joy of the puzzle degenerate into crime fiction, dealing primarily with social issues and the aftermath of crime/violence?"

So that’s my set-up for this here Secret Santa idea of Jay’s. I’m kinda thinking someone is using this as an opportunity to write a research paper that he can sell, so I’m going to be very careful and helpful and be sure to get all of my facts straight.

We can hop in the Wayback Machine and watch some Greek tragedies, if you want. I don’t mean the current historical fiction books about how Socrates’ cousin solves mysteries and keeps the streets safe in ancient Parmanatheusopolis or whatever. I haven’t read those books. They could be great or not so great. I dunno. Let’s stick to stuff I’ve read, until I need to seem bright and talk about stuff I haven’t read, kinda like at every party I’ve ever attended.)

Let’s look at those old dudes. Sophocles wrote plays involving mysteries. The Roman Cicero, kinda. Bah, let’s don’t. Long time ago. Mysteries. Murder. Incest. If it comes up at a party, just say, “Dude, it’s all Deus ex Machina, ain’t it?” and then go get another drink. That’s old stuff. Let’s hop up to HAMLET, a mystery of sorts written by the Earl of Oxford on a drunken mead binge between March 14 and March 21, 1601. Who killed the king? Why? Was the wife in on it? Was Ophelia really played by a dude? Wasn’t calling the stage the “Globe” theater kinda pretentious? I mean, geez, talk about your arrogance.

But the so-called “modern mystery” and first detective came to us thanks to newspaperman Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s Auguste C. Dupin turned into Arthur Conan O’Brien’s great detective, Iron Man, who solved mysteries with his half-brother James “Rhodey” Watson. Iron Man, also called Tony Stark, had serious substance abuse problems, snorting up the cocaine and smoking the hash on the way to solving mysteries. This was the first “flawed detective.” (We don’t count Prince Hamlet as flawed, because dressing in all-black used to be cool.)

So Iron Man and Rhodey along with The Scarlet Witch (a detective created by Nathaniel Hawthorne) and Emma Peel formed a group called The Avengers and began to solve crimes in deserted English towns. In the fourth season of their TV show, Rhodey married Emma. The Watsons moved to Birmingham into a house with 18 other family members in which all of the Watsons spent the evening saying goodnight to “John Boy.” Emma Peel Watson, who absorbed the powers of The Scarlet Witch in the ninth season called “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” left Rhodey to join other witches at a pork-processing plant called “Hogwarts.” Stark continued to abuse drugs, solving a few crimes along the way. A notorious criminal called Charles Sheen had stolen his career. Stark defeated Sheen in a loser-leave-town cage match, then joined with John Cryer (a super-hero who attacked villains by locking himself in their bathrooms and flooding their homes) and a Canadian hero called “Puck” in a comic called “Two and Half Men.”

Eventually Stark traded his super-powered suit for a bag of grass, some beads, and a copy of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.” Stark then used his knowledge of crime-fighting to write novels under the name “Robert Ben Parker.” Nearly sued to oblivion by a writer called “Robert B. Parker,” he then changed his name to David Bowie.

Stark, now Bowie, then began working at a McDonald’s in Westlake, Kansas. There he honed his skills writing movie reviews for "Gentleman's Magazine." The queen of Ellery, a tiny island nation in the Pacific, was also working at the restaurant, though she and a man named Arsenio Hall were incognito because her island was under the military rule of Gordon Pym, the Tara King. Seeing Bowie’s talent, the Queen hired him to write commentaries on her island nation’s politics, leading to the Tara King’s overthrow.

Bowie used his social commentary and his own experience fighting crime to write “A Study in Scarlet,” a story of love, betrayal and murder, based on his unrequited longing for The Scarlet Witch. (The third Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey, who had switched back to her red witch outfit after the grey one had gone berserk and killed Eddie Brock.) In the story, mad scientist Aragog Reilly travels to the Hogwarts plant, steals DNA from The Scarlet Witch, then clones her to make a villain called The Scarlet Spider, a being whose creation nearly destroyed the entire multiverse. He is defeated by Smokestack Lightning and Carlos Jackal, two of the first “anti-heroes” who trap The Scarlet Spider in a music store and use violins to get the answers they need by shoving splinters under his fingernails.

The combination of personal, up-close violence and socio-political commentary on the world in which this could take place, led to a new form of the mystery novel – crime fiction. His follow-up to that story was the novel, “Murder at La Roche-Noire,” featuring a character loosely based on his former teammate Puck and a convoluted plot involving the torture and death of teenager Virginia Clemm at a commune in central France. This novel, which is narrated by the girl’s cousin-husband, Henri Le Rennet, led to a run on the torture and killing of people in crime fiction, now called “Noir” fiction. (The final “e” was dropped as publishers were attempting to cut back on expenses.)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Noir Fiction is now the most popular and greatest form of writing.

I hope that this essay is of use to whoever handed me the secret Santa topic. If you are turning this in to a class or selling it to someone, as I suspect, you may also want to examine Poe’s story “The Gold Bug Variations,” in which Richard and Stefanie Powers examine a lost Bach manuscript, discovering that it had actually been written by John Shakespeare, an Avon salesman and butcher near Hogwarts.

It’s no surprise, I suppose, that Poe started the modern mystery. Newspaper folks such as me, Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke, Rufus Griswold, and others always love a good story.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"No good ever comes from turning a crime novel into a movie."

By Mike Knowles

I’m sure you’re aware that we Do Some Damagers decided to take part in one of the most celebrated, and hated, Christmas time activities—the Secret Santa. Instead of a low budget gift, we all screwed each other with difficult blog topics.

My topic, probably from McFetridge, is a tough one because I’m not a movie guy. I’ve seen a lot of stuff, but movies aren’t something I’m into at the moment. In the last few years, I’ve found a lot of television that is as strong, if not stronger, than movies and I have devoted a lot of time to the little box as opposed to the big screen. But Secret Santa rules are rules so let’s give the devious title provider, McFetridge, his due.

Most crime movies that were once books suck hard. There are exceptions. Dennis Lehane seems somewhat immune. Mystic River was good, Gone Baby Gone was better. Shutter Island has Scorsese at the helm so I figure that will be good too. Another crime novel turned movie I liked was Out of Sight (one of the only really good Elmore Leonard adaptations). What all three of these movies have in common, if I remember them correctly, is that they worked hard to stay true to the source material. There weren’t a lot of add-on characters, change in time or locales, and the events stayed the same.

It’s when filmmakers start making changes that the train goes off the tracks. I’ll give an example, Payback. As a loyal Stark devotee, I was pumped about the idea of The Hunter again coming to the big screen. It wasn’t the book’s first trip to the silver screen—it showed up as 1967’s Point Blank starring the always cool Lee Marvin. Payback didn’t stay true to the book in a lot of ways. First and foremost, Parker changed. The character suddenly had feelings and connections. He liked people. Right away, the movie and the book separated. The main character, and everything that made him who he was, had divorced. Parker is one of the greatest crime fiction anti-heroes. He likes no one, and cares about nothing but his own self-preservation. In the movie, Parker has a girlfriend, and a sort of puppy love thing going on—it could not have sucked more.

The movie did keep a lot of the Stark written material in terms of events and cool scenes, but there were a lot of add-on’s. Some were to deal with the movie’s current setting, other’s seemed to be added on to create more action. The other most significant change was the end of the movie. Parker winds up being tortured and he somehow manages to endure the pain long enough to pull off a one in a million solution that belonged more in a Rambo movie (not the first one, the third Rambo where he fights with the Afghans and blows up helicopters with a bow and arrow) than in a Stark adaptation. Stark never wrote ridiculous scenarios. Parker was a methodical planner. Stark often compared him to a contractor who did a job with no feelings about it. As such, there were never Ramboesque scenes, just Parker getting the job done with ruthless efficiency. The end of the book was way better than the movie, because at the end of the book Parker walks away without the money. The reader learns a mean truth—life is harder and more cruel than Parker. In the movie, Parker and his lady drive off into the night with the money and each other—happy ending (never saw one of those in a movie before). The movie versus the book was like Gary Cherone Van Halen compared to David Lee Roth Van Halen. You gave the former a chance because the latter already proved itself time and time again.

I think the fault of a lot of crime novels that turn into movies lies in the fact that often no one knows how to adapt them. Think of it in terms of space. The physical universe is modeled on three dimensions—length, width, and height. Movies are a universe presented in two dimensions—sight and sound. Novels, however, aren’t constricted to this concept. They introduce a third dimension of thought that cannot be depicted on film as well as it can on the page. Often in movies, a lot of extra dialogue has to be written by a third party to compensate for the inability to convey the numerous thoughts and feelings expressed by a character on each page.

Crime novels are more complex than most people give them credit for. There are a lot of thoughts and emotions at play and these elements are crucial because they are the motivation for how characters act and react. Often when screenplay writers are confronted with a character like Parker, they are stumped. Without access to the third dimension, screenplay writers feel compelled to recreate the character as something else. Maybe there were countless meetings that went long into the night and the consensus was that the real Parker couldn’t transfer to the screen well. Maybe they thought the movie would never work if it strictly adhered to the book. I doubt that’s true. I think, given a better shot by someone more in touch with Stark and Parker, he could have made a much better character than Mel Gibson’s Porter. Example, No Country For Old Men was a book which involved numerous characters who were not long on talking. But the Cohen Brothers found a way to make everything work in the two dimensions they had. They didn’t screw with the source material, they instead used the two dimensions of flim creatively and they weren’t afraid of a little less talking and action.

I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that what happened with Payback has happened to a lot of other crime novel adaptations. A lot of them were good books that just ended up in the wrong hands. So I guess the person who gave me this topic, McFetridge, was pretty much right "No good ever comes from turning a crime novel into a movie."