Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Round-Up#48

Book Review: From The Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz: Dean Koontz can be a hell of a frustrating author sometimes. Some of his books are superb, filled with imagination and storytelling prowess, driven by inventive central concepts and an irresistible atmosphere of menace. On the other hand, some of his books, especially ones published later in his career (from the mid-90's, onwards), are so repetitive, preachy, and thinly plotted, that one wonders how they could have been written by the same man. From The Corner of His Eye is one of the good ones. In fact, it's one of the very good ones. It combines Koontz's masterful ability to keep the reader intrigued, turning the pages effortlessly, with a plethora of imagination and likeable characters and a plot that defies categorization.

The plot: Junior Cain, a handsome young man with a twisted mind, throws his wife off a cliff to inherit her money. After her husband dies in a car accident, Agnes Lampion gives birth to a young boy who grows up to be a prodigy with a strange and magical ability to glimpse other realities that exist parallel to ours. After getting raped by a white man, Phimie White, an African-American young woman, gives birth to a baby girl, Angel, and dies in the process. Detective Tom Vanadium, an enigmatic man with a penchant for unnerving murder suspects with his mind-boggling coin tricks, doesn't believe that Junior Cain's wife's death was accidental, and so embarks on a journey to harass the prime suspect, her husband, till he breaks and confesses. Together, all those people's live are about to intertwine, with consequences that might change the face of the world we live in.

I know the synopsis is murky. But to tell any more of the plot would be unfair to you and to the book's wonders. As part of the thrill of reading this lengthy novel (it's over 700 pages long) is unravelling the layers of the plot one by one, discovering surprises, some pleasant, some disturbing, along the way.

Although Koontz gets on his soapbox one time too many, and the novel is about 100 pages too long, these flaws don't detract from the fact that this is a wonder of a novel; a book filled with stories within stories and memorable characters. The novel is also one of Koontz's most tightly plotted in a long time, with one delicious twist leading to another. And despite Koontz's genre-hopping (the book is part Sci-Fi, part mystery, part ghost story, part love story, and part historical novel!), he pulls it off, delivering a book that has a satisfying ending and is never confusing.

So who is this book for? Fans of Koontz, of course, are the primary audience here, as, by now, they are used to his style and his penchant for juggling genres. But it's also a good introduction to Koontz, a good choice for people who like long, multi-layered novels, and readers who like their novels atmospheric, fast-paced, and well-plotted. No matter what your preferred genre is, this is must-read book, that's entertaining, humane, suspenseful, and immensely rewarding. One of Koontz's best.

Film Review: Fright Night (2011): Being a die-hard fan of the original Fright Night, I went to watch this remake with a ton of expectations on my shoulders. I was primed to be very harsh on it, and, frankly, hate it. But I just couldn't do it.

The remake of the perennial 80's classic is, for the most part, a most successful venture, with appealing characters, kinetic direction, and a good script.

The story: Charlie Brewster, a teenage boy on the verge of manhood, is at a crossroads. He is trying to decide which direction his life should take - he doesn't know whether he wants to continue being the loveable geek and friend of fellow geek Ed, his once best friend, or become a "cool" guy who shuns geekhood and dates "hot babes" who have a social life seeking "hot guys" who have a social life, too. But that all changes when a mysterious stranger named Jerry moves in next door to Charlie's house, wooing his single-mom and his girlfriend Amy with his good looks and charming banter. But Jerry is a vampire, feeds on human blood, and doesn't want anyone to know about his true nature. But the problem is, Ed, Charlie's once-best friend already knows the truth about Jerry, and he shares it with Charlie, endangering both their lives and the lives of the ones they love. Now Charlie has to fight or die at the hands of the monster who lives next door.

The story is more or less the same as the original's, with a few changes here and there, some of them brilliant, some of them just plain fun. But the clever concept is what drove the original, and is what drives this version, as well. And Marti Noxon's screenplay fleshes out most of the characters and grounds the film in reality, making the plot twists more effective and the suspense more taut. Fine performances by the whole cast, especially Anton Yelchin as Charlie, ensure that we come to care about the characters and what happens to them. Add to that Craig Gillespie's stylish and assured direction, which is thankfully old-school, with long takes (including a memorable car chase filmed in one take and from inside one car) and smooth editing, and you get a rare animal: a horror film that's fun, clever, and scary when it wants to be.

Although Colin Farrell's vampire villain pales in comparison to Chris Sarandon's charismatic portrayal of the same character in the original - and so does David Tennant's Peter Vincent when compared to Roddy McDowell's, for that matter - and the ending doesn't pack the punch it should, Fright Night is an entertaining, energetic horror film, that succeeds both as a fresh take on a classic and as an endearing homage. It is also the best vampire film to come out of Hollywood since John Carpenter's Vampires, and that came out in 1998. Enough said. Go see it!

Extra! Whiskey Sour by J.A Konrath: This edition's Extra! selection is the novel Whiskey Sour by J.A Konrath. This is a fun, fast-paced mystery/thriller with a wicked sense of humour and one hell of a central character in Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, an insomniac, middle-age detective, with a troubled life. Also, the novel is strangely touching considering the subject matter. A must read.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves!

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