This is the first promotional picture I have seen for the upcoming movie "Alatriste", starring the most wonderful actor in the world, Viggo Mortensen.

"A History of Violence" is almost, almost out on DVD, too. A combination of Cronenberg and Mortensen: how cool is that? The wait for Alatriste will continue awhile, sadly.

Mortensen’s excellent website, Perceval Press, is linked to on the right. You can buy his books (and other people’s) on this site, and also read a great selection of poetry and (mainly US) left-wing environmental journalism — if you live in the UK, it is a good source for Maureen Dowd, whose latest book "Are Men Necessary?" (love the title!) is not yet available here. There are also links to lots of liberal-cultural websites. No rss feed, though, sadly.

Damning unfaint praise

I have been left cold by the Frey and J T Leroy affairs — what’s the fuss? But I did laugh at a small brief in the Times today about how Frey’s blurb endorsements have become unwelcome. "Nic Kelman", reads the brief, "achieved a double whammy: endorsements from Frey and Leroy…..Kelman said ‘At this point, I still feel honoured to have my work praised by writers who have that kind of talent.’ "

Don’t you just love that "At this point" ? So when Kelman, whoever he is, gets rich and famous and can afford to no longer feel honoured, he’ll dump the endorsers, presumably? With friends like Kelman…….

Crime of the Saturday Times

No new crime-fiction novels reviewed in this week’s Times review, though there is a shorter version of the discussion between P D James and Ruth Rendell published originally in the Royal Society of Literature Review and linked on Connotea Detective — a rather stilted and cliched debate about why crime fiction is popular. One weird bit when James describes being on a plane to give a talk about her books and re-reading them to refresh her memory, and in one of them "getting entirely the wrong murderer". Bizarre. I imagine it was one of her later books, after she went off, post "An unsuitable job for a woman" which was the last one of hers I really enjoyed. I have read more but I find it odd the way she seems to drop central characters between books, and Adam Dalgleish never gets old enough compared with the world (Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone does not get older, but the author has slowed time down accordingly, which is fine). Also I find her books less and less convincing, though I do have her latest in one of my "wait piles". Rendell I do like, usually, also when she writes as Barbara Vine. I like her detective duo Inspectors Wexford and Burden, though thought the TV series utterly feeble in comparison to the books.

The Times also has a short article by Val McDermid about her latest book "The Grave Tattoo" which I have been waiting for a while. It is, she says, about an imaginary meeting or relationship between Wordsworth and Fletcher Christian, the latter having escaped from Pitcairn. She says that these two were schoolmates, which seems amazing. Definitely a book to read!

The final crime ration is a review of Captoe’s "In Cold Blood", to tie in with the movie which is just opening in the UK to mainly positive reviews. I did enjoy ICB but don’t have any wish to read it again or to see a movie about Capote who I find rather disgusting. A thriller, "The Spanish Game" is reviewed but is a spy story so does not tempt me, as well as being third in a series. Got a good write-up, though.

Jay McInereny’s latest is reviewed by Douglas Kennedy, who should know. I liked JMcI’s first couple of books but, like most people, have not read more. I was mildly tempted by the 9/11 theme of the latest, and I do like books set in New York, but the review put me off — all those restaurants and designer handbags to keep up with.

Plenty of other diversions, as usual, in the issue.

Waterstone’s and history of chains

The Times Saturday book review today covered the "Waterstone’s question" — literally, with a cover picture of a Macdonald’s chip container (inverted logo — "W" — geddit?). Inside the container are three books, one by Marian Keyes, one by Jordan and a Dan Brown. The article itself is pretty good compared with what I’ve read on blogs and in the trade press, as the Times does not make "industry insider" assumptions. I think the main point of the article is to put the case against the Ottakar’s buyout attempt.

I was interested in the sidebar about the history of chain bookstores in the UK. I had always thought that WH Smith originated as a railway station newsagent, but apparently not, it was the first chain bookstore and opened in 1792, with its first station bookstall opening in 1848. Until "the last few years of the 20th century" WHS was the only nationwide bookseller, until Waterstone’s was founded in 1982, although there were small, family-owned chains. Not mentioned in this context is Blackwell’s, where I worked as a student in university vacations.

A lovely vignette: Hatchards opened on Piccadilly in 1797, bookseller by royal appointment. "It used to be visited each January by Princess Margaret, to return the unwanted books she had received as Christmas presents. One year, her reject pile included "The ITN Book of the Royal Wedding".

Lovely. Wonder if she ever read any of them?

Family life

Malcolm took this shot when he came home from work the other night. Fairly typical evening’s activity at our house.

The Forgotten Man

Last night I finished reading Robert Crais’ latest book, The Forgotten Man, just out in paperback in the UK (though I got it in hardback a couple of weeks before the paperback release from Amazon UK, where it was heavily discounted to below the p/b price to clear out stocks in anticipation, presumably).

Crais is, if nothing else, an object-lesson in writing series. About 3 chapters in, after drawing you in to the current plot, he writes a short (paragraph) recap of where we were at in the last book. Thanks!

The latest of the Elvis Cole novels is focused mainly on Cole (not much of Pike in this one) and his will-they-won’t-they relationships with Lucy and (nascently) with Starkey. I much prefer the character of Starkey to that of Lucy, so I know which way I hope it comes out.

As usual with Crais, the plot is pacy, prose spare and the whole an absorbing read. The author has a talent for conveying the emotions hidden by the laconic exterior of Cole’s character. The search for his unknown father is poignant, both in the flashbacks to Cole’s life as a boy and in the present-day. This area of emotion, which Cole thought he had long-since packaged away ("forgotten"), is gradually shown to be unrepressed — and the resultant clouding of his judgement in the case he’s involved in is brought into focus by the solution to the mystery.

I look forward to the next in the series.