Saturday, August 31, 2013

Reading Habits #2: Do you have a plan?

I'd like to think I do, but I don't. I read all kinds of books. There is no proper system or pattern. I read almost everyday though the number of pages may vary. There are times when I don't read anything at all. This lack of discipline in my reading habit is responsible for the fewer books I read every month. Where others read as many as eight to 10 books, sometimes more, a month and even review them, I'm unreasonably ecstatic if I read more than five books. So far that has happened only once this year.

A major drawback in this attitude towards reading is half-read books. On last count I'd three unfinished books. However, I'm confident that I'll get them out of the way by Diwali in November.

The reason I didn't complete these books is because I probably got tired of them and picked up something more fast paced. In recent memory, two books I read over a long period of time were Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy and Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I quite forgot that I was reading them. They are some of the finest books I've read.

One of my biggest challenges is which books to read and from which category. I can never decide. I vacillate between mystery, western, espionage, war, thriller, humour, classic, and general fiction, like one giant pendulum. The moment my left hand picks up a mystery, my right is already edging towards a western. I want to read them the same time. And I'm not even talking about non-fiction.

There's an even bigger dilemma: will I ever read the books I want to read before I die? Not without a plan.

Perhaps, I can make my task easier by looking up 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, a literary reference book compiled by more than 100 literary critics worldwide and edited by Peter Boxall, Professor of English at Sussex University. I discovered this book online yesterday. I think it covers fiction in all the important genres. 50, 100 or 1,001... whatever the listings I still have to read the books and the sooner I start the better for my  book reading score.

What about you? Do you have a reading plan?

July 16, 2013: Reading Habits #1

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Kurt Russell in Executive Decision (1996)

I offer this film for Tuesday's Overlooked Film, Audio & Video meme over at Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom.

The movies I do, if we make them well, will be fun to watch. They may not be the best movie of the year, and I may not be your favourite actor, but people come up to me all the time and say, “I like the movies you do”.
— From Personal Quotes, IMDb

Kurt Russell has played a law enforcer in several films. He has been a cop, a detective, a sheriff, an intelligence analyst, and an army officer in a film and television career spanning nearly five decades. He acts well and his films are entertaining. In spite of the success of many of his films, he is largely forgotten as a cinematic hero. I don't hear much about him nowadays.

I like Russell as an actor because he has a strong, yet unassuming, presence on screen and I'm tempted to compare him with the likes of Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, and Russell Crowe, each of whom have made more blockbusters than he has, with the exception of Tombstone (1993). 

Kurt Russell doesn't have many cult favourites though he thinks otherwise.

For some reason, I remember the 62-year old actor most for his films of the 1990s which, aside from Tombstone, include Soldier, Escape from L.A., Executive Decision, Stargate, Unlawful Entry, and Backdraft.

I don't recall seeing any of his 1980's films, barring Tequila Sunrise and Tango & Cash, and I have always wanted to see Escape from New York, a futuristic film he shares with veterans Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, and Donald Pleasence.

Last week, I saw Executive Decision again because I love action movies. Only the possibility of a headache and a prolonged bout of inertia prevent me from watching, back to back, films like Air Force One, Commando, Terminator 2, Predator, and Independence Day. I have already seen them more than once.

Directed by Stuart Baird, a film editor of considerable repute, Executive Decision is the story of an Athens-Washington 747 airliner hijacked by Middle Eastern terrorists led by Nagi Hassan, played by the redoubtable David Suchet.

Dr. David Grant (Kurt Russell), an intelligence officer in the Pentagon, accompanies a commando unit headed by Lt. Colonel Austin Travis (Steven Seagal) who dies as the military crew is transferred to the airliner in a daring mid-air operation. No longer in the reckoning, Seagal’s cameo is understandable.

Rat (John Leguizamo) takes charge of the unit which, apart from Grant, includes a seriously injured military bomb expert, two commandos, and Dennis Cahill (Oliver Platt), who, as a timid computer engineer, livens up the proceedings. In her nominal role, Flight Attendant Jean (Halle Berry) nearly risks her life doing an inside job for the commando unit.

Together, they must find the bomb, defuse it, and eliminate the terrorists before the airliner is blown out of the sky by American fighter planes, to prevent it from entering US air space. The title of the film refers to a presidential order to that effect.

Nagi Hassan has hijacked the plane to seek the release of terrorist mastermind El Sayed Jaffa (Andreas Katsulas). Grant, however, suspects that Hassan has a more sinister and terrifying motive behind the hijacking. He is convinced that Hassan plans to detonate the bomb over the United States and wipe out the eastern seaboard.

Nagi Hassan (David Suchet) to his men: Allah has chosen us for a task far greater than Jaffa's freedom. We are the true soldiers of Islam. Our destiny is to deliver the vengeance of Allah into the belly of the infidel.

Rat and his men are initially sceptical of Grant, of his relative inexperience in matters of the military, and his contribution to the secret operation. Once on board the hijacked airliner, however, they soon realise that they couldn't have known about the bomb or overpowered the terrorists without intelligence inputs from the tuxedo-clad Pentagon officer.

Dr. David Grant (Kurt Russell) to the unit: Look, I'm not telling you how to do your job, but if that DZ5 is on board, there's gonna be a bomb attached to it, and you GODDAMN well better find it!

This is what Kurt Russell said about the movie: “When I read 'Executive Decision', it was a real page-turner. I read scripts for the movies more than I do for the characters. I've read lots of characters I'd like to play, but I didn't enjoy the movie itself that much. I liked the fun of 'Executive Decision', you know.”

If Executive Decision was a novel, it would have been a page-turner, right down to the last scene when (the mascara-eyed) Kurt Russell is forced to land the badly-damaged 747 at Dallas International Airport, with some ill-timed humour which takes the pressure off both Kurt Russell and Halle Berry inside the cockpit, as well as the viewers. The film lacks suspense but on the whole it is a good entertainer.

Recommended, both for the underrated Kurt Russell and some decent action.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Robert De Niro as Hosni Mubarak

I couldn't resist this rather silly post but I like conjuring up separated-at-birth scenarios. If ever a film was made on the life of Hosni Mubarak, the actor most suited to play the deposed Egyptian president, I think, would be Robert De Niro. Just make sure they have their sunglasses on. Not that I'd want to watch a biopic on Mubarak but then they made more than one film on Idi Amin who was a more colourful, barbaric, and cruel dictator.

Who's next? James Earl Jones as Robert Mugabe? They're both in their 80s. It's worth a shot.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A visit to a book fair on Independence Day

On holidays, the best place to visit in Mumbai is the once bustling central business district in south Mumbai. The offices are closed, there’re fewer cars on the road, still fewer pedestrians on the footpaths, and plenty of room on the wide and sweeping promenade fronting the Arabian Sea at Marine Drive, popularly known as Queen’s Necklace because of its shape. It stretches from land’s end at Nariman Point, once the hub of banking and commercial activity, to Chowpatty, a flat beach located about 3 km (4.8 miles) away. This is VIP territory as the offices and homes of government ministers and secretaries, police and municipal commissioners, influential businessmen and industrialists, and assorted celebrities are located in the area. As a result it is the cleanest and most well-maintained part of the city.

The Queen’s Necklace at Marine Drive.

In the suburb where I live, 22 km (35 miles) north of the city, the only places a family can visit on holidays are swanky malls, supermarkets, multiplexes, food courts, and restaurants, and all these are crowded and noisy. But there is only so much you can do in these places: buy stuff you don’t really need, watch a film you know you'll soon catch on cable, frantically look for a seat in a food court, await your turn outside a restaurant, or loiter about the mall and get in someone's way. People do this for fun every weekend.

Visiting relatives is a grim option. I don’t fancy it on a holiday and, I’m sure, neither do they. In Mumbai, you treasure your holidays and your privacy and the last thing you want is to be with people.

On Thursday, August 15, India’s 66th Independence Day, the family took the ‘local’ train to south Mumbai. Train because it is the fastest, quietest, and surest way to get to anywhere in the city. It took us half an hour by a fast train to reach Churchgate, the last station on the western line and a stone’s throw from the picturesque Queen’s Necklace. It would have taken close to an hour by road, much longer on a working day.

You’ll find the places we visited at the bottom of the map. 

We first went to a popular book fair at the nearby Sunderbhai Hall at New Marine Lines, not far from my office. Ashish Book Centre, organisers of the book exhibition, had on sale over a million books in nearly all genres. Most of these books were selling at 50 to 85 per cent discount. People thronged the fiction, cookery, management, children and young adult, interior and architecture, and reference sections the most.

The only problem was finding a title you had in mind. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. While books were lined up or stacked in categories, the spines facing towards you, there was no method or pattern to it. They were all mixed up. I'm not sure the organisers know their books well.

The fiction category was impressive but in a disarray. I ran my fingers through row after row of books and saw many familiar names, some I’d read, some I hadn't, like Patricia Cornwell, Stuart Woods, Anne Perry, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, David Baldacci, Deborah Crombie, Danielle Steel, Stieg Larsson, Jeffrey Deaver and hundreds of others, both old and new authors.

Most novels were selling for Rs.50 or Rs.100 ($1 = Rs.62) and they were all in brand new condition. I picked up five books, put away four, and bought one—Me Tanner, You Jane, an Evan Tanner paperback by Lawrence Block, for Rs.50. I don’t come across his novels often. The others can wait another holiday, another book fair.

From Sunderbhai Hall, we took a taxi to Colaba Causeway, the famous shopping boulevard, where we ate at a small continental restaurant called Café Churchill. The wartime British prime minister glared at us from one of the walls. We had a meal of fish and chicken fingers with chips, burgers with chips, country style chicken and mixed grill, with grilled sauce and garnished with boiled egg, lemon and peach iced tea, and chocolate cake. On the way back to Churchgate station, we stopped at an old ice cream parlour called K. Rustom’s which serves slabs of ice cream tucked between thin biscuit slices. I spoiled it all by ordering a lime and lemon ice cream for myself. It tasted like orange peel.

Here I must mention that the places we went to were less than a kilometre from the places that were attacked by seaborne terrorists in November 2008. These were CST (Victoria Terminus), a major railway station, two 5-star hotels, a café frequented mostly by foreigners (a few buildings from Café Churchill), and a Jewish outreach centre.

Before I wind up our I-Day celebration, I’ll tell you what the Lawrence Block novel is about. I haven’t read it yet but here’s what it says on the back cover…

“It’s a jungle out there. Literally. At least for Evan Tanner, eternally sleepless sometime superspy, who finds himself in Africa on the trail of the AWOL ruler of tiny Modonoland. It seems the petty despot’s gone missing, and he’s taken the state treasury along with him. No stranger to impossible missions and international peril, Tanner’s been in over his head before. This time, however, he’s in imminent danger of being buried alive.”

I loved the first line of the book. In typical fashion, Lawrence Block writes, “I have never liked funerals. I can appreciate the advantages of conventionalizing one’s relationship with Death, but this appreciation has never advanced beyond the level of pure theory.”

I think I’m going to get to the book faster than I’d planned.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

For SCREAMing out loud

The purpose of this magazine is to reintroduce you to horror...long LOST horror...long BURIED horror...HORROR that OUR era has never really KNOWN...
— From Prologue to a Scream

Vol.1, No.1, August 1973

I have absolutely no clue about this horror magazine I discovered on Archive and promptly downloaded and read in one go. Known as Skywald Horror-Mood Magazine, the 68 pages are edited and written by Alan Hewetson and published by Israel Waldman and Herschel Waldman. Wiki says, "Skywald Publications was a 1970s publisher of black-and-white comics magazines, primarily the horror anthologies Nightmare, Psycho, and Scream. It also published a small line of comic books and other magazines."

The contents page

I liked everything about the first issue of Scream from the imaginative cover and contents page and the black-and-white illustrations that narrate short disjointed macabre tales to the humour behind the horror and the description of Alan Hewetson as "the insane founder of the lunatic Mood-Team and corrupt editor-writer for Scream magazine."

If you know more about this magazine, SCREAM in comments.

Meanwhile, you can download it right here. You'll find other issues too.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A balcony with a view...

The tree on the right with the long trunk is the Papaya tree (papaw or pawpaw). The one on the left is the Ashoka tree which is steeped in Indian culture and history. Ashoka means “without sorrow” in Sanskrit. The large tree behind the Papaya and Ashoka trees is the Jackfruit tree and eating its abundant fruit are the inmates of the Home for the Aged, which holds an annual charity sale of books and other items. I live on this side of the wall. Jackfruits are heavy. In the olden days men aspiring to build their bodies lifted jackfruits and grinding stones to develop their biceps. This was before gyms and weights became affordable.  

...and a blanket of greenery

The thick foliage you see in this picture is actually trees growing in the sprawling courtyards of two convent schools opposite my house. They have been there long before I moved into the area.

The annual rains bring these trees alive, even in the urban jungle called Mumbai.

Photos: © Prashant C. Trikannad

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Vulture is a Patient Bird by James Hadley Chase (1969)

He married because he wanted a son to carry on his name. He got his son: Max Kahlenberg. There was a real mystery about the birth. No one except the doctor and the nurse saw the baby. There was a rumour it was a freak...some even said it was a monster.

A replica of my copy of the book
The vulture is a patient bird. It does not kill its prey. It waits for another predator to kill and then swoops down on what is left of the carcass.

Max Kahlenberg is the vulture in Chase’s forty-sixth thriller. He is rich, reclusive, unscrupulous, crazy, and a compulsive art thief. He has a network of thieves who steal the finest art works from the world’s greatest museums including the Vatican. His ill-gotten treasures are stored in his secret underground museum in the hostile Drakensberg mountains in South Africa. He lives above the museum, in a sprawling mansion surrounded by 100 square miles of jungle and guarded by Zulu warriors.

The wheelchair-bound Kahlenberg has another secret that no one knows: a grotesque deformity below the waist that compels him to live by the remote from the time he wakes up in the morning.

The human vulture waits patiently for the three men and a woman who are on a secret mission to his house to retrieve a famous poison ring he stole from a rival collector.

The only thing common between the three men is that they have served a number of years in prison.

Garry Edwards is clearly the main hero. He is a tall and powerfully-built 29-year old helicopter pilot and car expert, currently out of work.

Kennedy Jones is a safari and wildlife expert from Johannesburg. Like Garry, he is a rather nice fellow with straggly moustache, long sideboards, and a pleasing smile.

Lew Fennel is the most vicious of all. He is short and heavily built like Rod Steiger with white hair, grey shifty eyes, and thin lips. An expert safe-breaker, Fennel is notorious for robbery, violence and unpremeditated murder, currently on the run from an underworld leader he betrayed.

The woman is Gaye Desmond, a sensuous and beautiful American freelance model employed by Armo Shalik to carry out secret operations. She is the Trojan horse.

The four ‘agents’ have been hired by Shalik to steal the ring from Kahlenberg. Of Armenian or Egyptian descent, he is a small, fat man with chubby hands and beady eyes, who undertakes difficult assignments for the high and mighty—from corporate barons to Arabian princes, art collectors to Texas oil millionaires, and shipping tycoons to powerful industrialists.

James Hadley Chase
The secret ‘operatives’ don’t know that Kahlenberg is expecting them with Hindenberg, his fully-grown cheetah, and the fierce Zulu warriors by his side. Nor do they know that he has a distorted sense of humour and has planned a little game for the thieving quartet.

The Vulture is a Patient Bird is not exactly a crime story that most Chase novels are famous for. Rather, the plot is a red herring in the mould of a Frederick Forsyth story. However, the story is unconvincing as the experienced combine of Garry, Jones, Fennel, and Gaye walk into a trap they ought to have suspected from the start. The suspense is tame and the style not as absorbing as some of Chase’s other novels.

There is a fair amount of humour, mainly due to the lighthearted Jones, and some tense moments as the wicked Fennel lusts after Gaye who in turn lusts after Garry, handsome in a rugged way. But that’s about as much sex as you’ll find in a Chase book notwithstanding the semi-nude women on the covers in particular editions of his novels.

Chase’s characters are usually not as intense or powerful as you might find in, say, a Mickey Spillane or Dashiell Hammett hardboiled novel. They’re often ordinary people leading ordinary lives, the kind you might find in a Harold Robbins pulp novel. The narrative is simple and the plot unsophisticated. A Chase novel is entertaining and can be read in less than two hours.

Born René Lodge Brabazon Raymond, English writer James Hadley Chase was a bestselling author, especially in Third World countries like India, from the 1960s through 1980s. In fact, he was the son of a colonel, a veterinary surgeon, in the colonial Indian Army. I read all his novels in college. Many of these had cops as main characters and the line “I gave him my cop look” was made famous by Chase. He was a prolific writer churning out a novel a year, sometimes two in a year.

You might want to read this book only if you’re a James Hadley Chase fan.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Happy Birthday!

I’m going to blow the four candles, my own trumpet, and cut the cake right away. 

The 3Cs completes four years this month. I’m not sure of the exact launch date because I deleted my first post some months ago. But I think it was August 24, 2009. It was a Monday, probably a rainy day. Since then I have removed numerous posts that didn’t quite fit in with the blog’s new identity, not that it has one. I narrowed down my interests to a few like books, films, and music, in the hope that a refined and redefined blog will have focus and garner more votes, honours, awards, laurels, and medals. It did more than that. It brought me in contact with a blog’s most important asset—other bloggers—most of whom are established writers or experts in literature, cinema, and music, and who have been gracious enough to visit this blog and comment with unerring regularity. Today, they're my blog friends and I’m richer for knowing them.

Over the past four years the 3Cs has accumulated 404 posts not counting the deletions, 2,066 comments that include my replies, and 176,306 visitors, hopefully, minus my own pageviews.

It has been a fun journey so far and I intend to go on for as long as there are books to be read, films to be watched, and music to be listened to.

I will leave you with that first post I wrote forty-eight months ago.

The beginning of a journey

Welcome to Chess, Comics & Crosswords! This blog is not going to be just about the 3Cs. It's going to go far beyond these happy pursuits. To give you a fair idea, it will traverse the spiritual and the mundane, in unequal measure, and everything else in between. It will convey news and views, stories and histories, verses and rhymes on topics that inspire, enliven, and even provoke. Hopefully, what you read will touch you, make you smile, even laugh, make you sad and angry, and exult... Maybe it will do nothing. Never mind, so long as you come here often—to read, reflect, and react.

From the Word file

Monday, August 05, 2013

All the Lonely People by Martin Edwards (1991)

Your mind’s playing tricks, Harry Devlin said to himself.
As he reached for the front door key, he could hear a woman laughing inside his flat.

A woman he can hear laughing inside him long after she is stabbed to death in a deserted alley and long after he begins a desperate hunt for her killer.

Lawyer Harry Devlin is the prime suspect in the murder of his beautiful wife, Liz, but it does not discourage him from going after Liverpool mobster Mick Coghlan whom he suspects of killing the woman he still loved.

Liz had left Harry for Mick. One day she leaves Mick and returns to Harry’s flat where she seeks temporary shelter from Mick.

Harry is bitter but not unforgiving. He welcomes Liz “back into his life” as he is still crazy about her and dreams of a new life together. The next day she is found dead.

The lawyer for “small time crooks, desperadoes and drunken losers,” as British lawyer and crime writer Frances Fyfield describes Harry Devlin in her introduction, drops everything and scours the lower side of Liverpool for the man who killed Liz.

Harry is not a professional sleuth but his dogged pursuit of the truth behind her mysterious death marks him out as a seasoned detective. His inquiries, often polite and respectful, and his investigations, fearless if reckless at times, reveal to him a side of Liz he’d never suspected.

Wouldn’t it have been better if you’d left it alone and moved on, Harry? You can't help asking as you read and experience his turmoil.

Martin Edwards is an award 
winning writer
British crime writer Martin Edwards has characterised Harry Devlin as a decent man, a people’s lawyer, and a caring, if estranged, husband, perhaps even as the victim in the story. On the other hand, Edwards has taken care not to paint Liz in poor light, regarding her as one misguided in her quest for the good life.

A bunch of oddball characters including friends and felons move in and out of Harry’s investigative path, none more appealing than his next door neighbour Brenda Rixton, an attractive woman with an unhappy past. She recognises Harry’s worth and lends more than a shoulder, helping him cope with the crisis without getting in his way.

All the Lonely People is Martin Edwards’ debut novel and the first in his acclaimed Harry Devlin series. It was nominated for the John Creasey Dagger for best first crime novel of the year. I liked his style of writing, which is devoid of complexity, and construction of the plot, where we move with Harry in every chapter. There are no sub-plots. Everything revolves around the Liverpool attorney. Edwards is simply saying, "This is Harry Devlin. He has a story to tell you," and it's riveting.

I hope to read some of the other novels in the series and find out how Harry Devlin’s widowed character develops.

Martin Edwards is also the author of another series, Lake District Mysteries, featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind. He has also written standalone novels, short stories, and non-fiction, and edited several anthologies. While he blogs on crime fiction at Do You Write Under Your Own Name? you can learn more about his books at his Website.