Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Book Review

Watch Scriptshadow on Sundays for book reviews by contributors Michael Stark and Matt Bird. We try to find books that haven't been purchased or developed yet that producers might find interesting. It's been a few Sundays since we've had our last one, and that's mainly my fault, but Stark is back, and he's doing something a little different - a look at the best characters in crime fiction. Check it out!

“She's filing her nails while they're dragging the lake” – Elvis Costello

Welcome back to another edition of Scriptshadow’s Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy Book Club. While we hardly wield an ounce of Oprah’s mighty literary clout, we do hope a few trolling producers and story editors listen to our glowing endorsements. May there be little rest for their reading department as they write massive tons of coverage over this holiday weekend.

Today, we’re gonna talk about some of our favorite crime fiction characters and wonder aloud (Insert dirigible-sized thought balloon here) why the hell they haven’t been brought to the big screen yet. Now, all but one of ‘em are from best-selling novelists. All have had their rights quickly snapped up. And, mysteriously, all seem to be languishing in some dreaded level of development hell.

But, at Scriptshadow, we don’t fear the reaper. Let’s pay the damned boatman, throw Cerberus off our scent with some strategically placed Omaha steaks and try to free a few of the damned good reads held captive here.

1. Harry Bosch by Michael Connelly

“Everybody counts or nobody counts." – Harry Bosch

I am indebted to Michael Connelly not only for nearly 20 years of excellent reading pleasure, but for introducing me to the classic, Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section, one of his character’s favorite albums and now one of mine. The recording session of that historic slab of wax is pretty damned worthy of a movie in itself -- Pepper, a smack-addict, played through all of it with a broken reed and it’s still bloody brilliant -- But, as usual, I digress…

Connolly went from cub crime beat reporter to one of America’s most respected novelists with over 23 bestsellers to his name. So far, there’s only been one film adaptation of his work, Clint Eastwood’s Blood Work. We have yet to see his most famous and beloved character, Harry Bosch, hit either the big or small screens.

And, that’s a crying shame!

Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch was named after the 15th Century Dutch painter known for his surreal landscapes of sin, punishment and hellfire. This pretty much mirrors this LA cop’s beat -- and life. His mother was a prostitute who got murdered (shades of the Black Dahlia) when he was 11. He bounced around various orphanages and foster families till he finally ran away and joined the army, serving a still-soul-scarring-stint in Vietnam as a sewer rat, navigating the enemy’s deadly mazes of underground tunnels.

Even above ground, and in the light, Bosch still works the same way through LA’s toughest cases, meticulously and stubbornly, with little regard that it all might suddenly blow up in his face.

Bosch’s mission is to speak for the dead. He is a relentless case closer, even if it means defying authority. Following his career and character arc for the past 14 books, we’ve watched him age, find and lose love, become a father, make new enemies and rise through the ranks to Homicide Detective.

He’s even been thrown off the force, working unsolved cases as a P.I.
In The Last Coyote, he’ll solve the 30-year-old murder of his mother, the motivation for his profession and his dogged persistence. He’s worked many of the city’s politically sensitive cases, still hounded by the schmucks from internal Affairs and still getting in the face of his higher ups.

Much of his life is a something of a mess. His romances with both cops and civilians are strained and complicated. Even the house he bought working as a cop show’s technical advisor is condemned after the Northride quake. Confrontational to the end, he ignores the yellow tape and keeps sneaking back inside.

Where to start? From the beginning. His first book, The Black Echo, won Connolly an Edgar award. Follow Bosch through to the most recent, Nine Dragons, where he’s way out of his element, rescuing his daughter from Triad leaders in Hong Kong. To watch the author segue from journalist to novelist, I recommend Crime Beat, a collection of his articles from the Sun Sentinel and The LA Times.

Connelly is case and point that Hollywood purchasing your novel can be a mixed blessing. He is currently suing Paramount, trying to get the rights back to his first three Bosch books. After 15 years of non-action, he should be able to buy his babies back. But, beware of studio accountants and their evil abacuses. His bill got padded by years of “Out of pocket” development costs and pricey producer fees.

2. Jack Reacher by Lee Child

“Lee Child's tough but humane Jack Reacher is the coolest continuing series character now on offer.” – Stephen King

Highly prolific, Lee Child has written 14 bestsellers in 13 years. So, why is his vastly popular creation, Jack Reacher, taking so much damned time getting to the silver screen?

We’re talking international best sellers here!!! Published in 51 countries and 36 languages!!! Uh, I thought foreign markets were supposed to be a good thing?!! Where are those studio accountants with the evil abacuses when you actually need them?

Instead, Hollywood fast tracks a comic book which sold a grand total of half a baker’s dozen copies, a board game that no one has played in over thirty years and a 3-D animated feature based on a breakfast cereal no sane parent would ever feed to their kids.

Do we really need Cookie Crunch – The Movie? Probably not. Do we really need a Jack Reacher series? Yeah, you’re darn tooting we do!

Lee Childs a British television director. has created the ultimate, iconic, American action hero. Reacher is James Bond with just a toothbrush and the shirt on his back. He’s Jason Bourne but with memory (of stuff he’d rather forget). He’s Bill Bixby’s Incredible Hulk, a knight-errant, wandering the countryside helping out fair damsels and regular joes who coincidentally just happen to be in distress. Guess Reacher has some serious when-shit-is-gonna-come-down radar going on.

He doesn’t look for bad luck and trouble. It just kinda finds him.

Reacher is a former Army MP Major who grew disenchanted with all the bureaucratic military bullshit and retires to an uncomplicated life of aimless drifting.
Raised as a military brat, the dude comes with some major assets – premium fighting skills, lighting fast reflexes and near bionic powers of observation. He relies every now again on some of the brass he knew back in the day for a little intel.

He also doesn’t come with much baggage. Worrying that actually washing his clothes might lead to needing more possessions like a suitcase or a house, he keeps his life zen-monk simple. The guy travels the country either by bus or by thumb, buys new clothes when the ones on him get too ripe and resorts to manual labor (or ripping off a bad guy’s stash) when his wallet gets empty.

Many of the Reacher books have the same MO. He ambles into a small town, smells trouble, takes care of trouble, leaves a lonely, local beauty quite satisfied and unceremoniously drifts away. Nothing wrong with a little familiarity. It’s a damned good MO.

According to Child’s website, all of the Reacher books have been optioned. Yet, there’s only one currently in any form of pre-production -- One Shot, with Josh Oslon (A History of Violence) as the hired scribe.

Note to Paramount. Listen to the fans on this one. Hell, I think if you’d give Josh Holloway a shave and a haircut, you’ll have yourself a nice franchise. With MGM’s James Bond on hold, we need Jack Reacher more than ever.

3. Gabriel Allon by Daniel Silva

“He is the prince of fire and the guardian of Israel. And, perhaps most important, Gabriel is the angel of revenge. “ Daniel Silva on naming his protagonist.

We asked for a thriller. We asked for political intrigue. We asked for an awesome Mossad agent that comes out of the cold.

What we got was You Don’t Mess With The Zohan.


There are nine books in this series Silva launched back in 2000. Universal acquired the rights to the entire catalogue in 2007. But, again, there’s only one in any stage of pre-production, The Messenger with Pierre Morel (Taken) tapped to direct.

Daniel Silva was the Middle East correspondent for United Press International – the perfect background for one about to embark on a career of writing spy thrillers.

His creation, Gabriel Allon, comes with much of the same skill sets as Reacher, but with a truckload of more baggage. His cover is also damned fascinating. The spy happens to be one of the world’s most renowned art restorers. Thus, we know the man is patient, deft and has a keen eye for detail. Guess it takes some of the same talents to kill a well-hid terrorist as it does to touch up an aging Caravaggio.

He’s the son of two Holocaust survivors and grew up in the Jezreel Valley of Israel. German was his first language. Languages would be one of his many giftings. The other is art. It’s in his blood -- his mother being one the country’s most famous painters. Recruited back in art school, Allon becomes an assassin for the Israeli Secret Service, killing six of the twelve Black September members responsible for the 72 Munich Olympic murders.

But, payback can be a bitch. Exacting a few eyes for an eye, the PLO retaliates years later in Venice, killing Allon’s son and disabling his wife with a car bomb meant for him.

Allon is a spy that would rather stay out in the cold. He is an able killer but conflicted with a conscious and the ghosts of his past. His wife has been confined to a mental hospital all these years. He’s rather concentrate on saving the great works of art decaying in the old, damp cathedrals of Venice. Yet, current events keep bringing him out of retirement. The world keeps needing saving as well.

One of my favorite recurring characters is the spymaster who recruited him, Ari “the Old Man” Shamron, a legendary operative himself who captured Adolf Eichmann back in the day. He basically created Allon and pretty much won’t allow the unhappy spy to ever retire and live in peace.

Allon’s missions have dealt both with both “unfinished” Nazi business (looted art, the Vatican’s involvement and war criminals) and terrorism (the PLO, Saudi Arabia’s role in al-Qaeda and the rise of militant Islam in Europe). These thrillers are timely, taunt, globe trotting and nearly impossible to put down. They’re everything you want for a good summer read and -- ahem -- a summer blockbuster.

With a new book, The Rembrandt Affair, coming out later this month, Allon will be – luckily for us -- laying down his brushes and picking up a Beretta one more time.

4. Angela Gennaro by Dennis Lehane

"Now, would you like to eat first, or would you like a drink before the war?" – John Cleese in Faulty Towers

Okay, technically, the low rent, south Boston PI team of Kenzie and Gennaro have already made it to the big screen in Ben Affleck’s Gone, Baby, Gone. And, although the movie had some awesome, Oscar-worthy performances, Gennaro’s character was pretty much sidelined for almost all of it. And, how did this spunky, Italian fireball become so damned Monaghan cute, quiet and Irish all of a sudden?

Gone, baby, were their sexual tension, their wisecracking, her mobbed up family members and all the psychic damage from her abusive marriage.

I’d love to see these guys a bit truer to the books in an HBO series. Think of it as Southie Moonlighting with the infamous, gritty Lehane edge.

Growing up together on the blue-collar streets of Dorchester, Patrick and Angie have always been friends, sometimes been lovers and seem to work pretty well together in cracking a case. They run their agency out of the belfry of a church where “all manners of unholiness cross their threshold".

At times, they rely on a little help from their old friend, Bubba Rugowski, an arms-dealing ultra-violent psycho -- A dude even Spenser and Hawk wouldn’t tangle with.

Lehane seems to experiment a bit with each of the books in the series. Darkness, Take My Hand is a search for a serial killer. Sacred is a bit of a surreal, screwball updating of Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Gone, Baby, Gone, as you know, gets pretty dark and grim. Not all of their cases end up with Dave and Maddie popping open champagne bottles and speaking in iambic pentameter.

Fans of the six Kenzie-Gennaro novels will be relieved to hear that after an 11 year hiatus, they’ll be back sleuthing this November in Lehane’s latest, Moonlight Mile.

5. Allen Choice by Leonard Chang

“The key is character. Chang works like a painter, carefully brushing strokes of truth and depth on all of his characters.” – Michael Connelly

So, our past four have all sprouted from the Underwoods of best selling authors. Here’s the one character you probably don’t know about, but should. So, buy the books now and thank me later.

Choice is a Korean-American, Kierkegaard-reading executive protection expert, who by the third installment of the series, becomes a full fledged, hard-boiled, private investigator.

Unlike most PIs, he doesn’t crack wise too often. Unlike Spencer (My gumshoe standard), who passes the time during stakeouts making mental lists of his favorite baseball players and ranking the gals he’s seen naked, Choice seems to worry a lot, brood and doubt almost every decision. I like that. I identify with that. It sets him apart from most of crime fiction’s overconfident detectives, making him and thus the stakes that much more real.

He also deftly dispels the stereotypical baggage of the inscrutable Asian sleuths of yore like Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto. Choice doesn’t know any karate and he can’t fix your fucking computer. He also doesn’t speak a word of Korean and knows very little about his heritage, which is a huge stumbling block when meeting his girlfriend’s extremely traditional parents.

At one point he calls himself “an ethnic dunce”.

He’s both assimilated and alienated at the same time. Everything about Choice seems in conflict. Orphaned at a young age, he doesn’t have much of a compass when it comes to family or relationships. He tries to compensate by reading the great philosophers. I think it just mixes him up more. Imagine the soul of 60s stand-up era Woody Allen sucked out and transferred into the body of a former linebacker.

The third book of the series, Fade To Clear, would make a pretty neat, little flick. The plot, in some ways a distant relative to Gone, Baby, Gone, involves a bitter custody battle with the abusive father abducting his daughter. Choice is hired to find the girl. The case is far more complicated than it appears.

First off, the mother is something of a bitch. Her ex-husband is involved with some rather shady shit. The ex-husband’s brother is a professional psychopath. And, the worried mother’s sister happens to be Choice’s old (but not completely burned out) flame.

Treating it like a routine skip tracing case turns out to be a big mistake when we learn that he wasn’t the first PI they’ve hired. Seems the sisters neglected to tell him that his predecessor ended up quite dead.

Like Lehane, these streets (These Streets of San Francisco this time) get dark and gritty and noir to the bone. It’s good work. I hope Chang returns to this character real soon.

Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) has optioned the first two Allen Choice novels. But, like all the books we’ve mentioned here, this project needs a Get Out of Limbo card stat!

So, my case is finally drawing to a close. I’m optimistic though. Warner Brothers has just recently resurrected one of my favorite books, Carter Beats the Devil. Hopefully, other studios will follow suit and go back to their libraries, refocusing on some of the books that they’ve already paid damn good money for.

More of Stark’s naughty kvetchings can be found on his blog --