Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Underworld Overload

Last week, The Rap Sheet announced its latest book-giveaway competition, with the prizes being one free copy each of Too Many Blows to the Head and Borrowed Trouble, by J.B. Kohl and Eric Beetner. Today we have our two victors. They are Kevin P. Mannix of Westwood, Massachusetts, and Vince Keenan of Seattle, Washington.

Congratulations to both winners! Your books should soon be winging their way to your respective mailboxes.

In addition to sending in their names and mailing addresses, people entering this contest were encouraged to identify their favorite novel or film set in America’s criminal underworld. Since Too Many Blows to the Head is backdropped by the seedy underworld of crooked boxing and Borrowed Trouble is set amidst the no-less-seedy underworld of the movies, this request seemed entirely appropriate. And it brought some interesting responses, a few of which can be enjoyed below:

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is my favorite crime movie of all time. Maybe it was the period, maybe it was the dialogue, the look of the whole thing, or the killer book it was based on. Hell, everything.” John Stickney, Fairview Park, Ohio

• “For ‘underworld’ novels I was thinking about the Parker novels by Richard Stark/Donald E. Westlake. The author gives you a unique perspective of a con man/robber who has a code of behavior he strictly adheres to. Specifically, in Butcher’s Moon, he exacts revenge in a relentless but matter-of-fact way. He calls in numerous associates to help him; they all understand perfectly what he is trying to accomplish and go about their part of the plan without questioning his ethics or morals.” Harvey Dinerstein, Winthrop, Maine

• “As for underworld stories, it’s hard to go against the classics. I love both The Public Enemy and Little Caesar, because of their stars. [James] Cagney and [Edward G.] Robinson seem to be acting in different (and better) movies than their co-stars. Both show how dangerous and exciting the underworld was, a far cry from the usual heroes who can be redeemed.” Louis Burklow, Los Angeles, California

• “It is surprisingly difficult to choose only one novel or film. That said, I would have to pick Hoodtown, by Christa Faust. Understandably, it is a fictional underworld of untouchables and outcasts, but the characters come alive and the world is so well structured that images of Hoodtown remain far longer than most books set in Boston, New York, or L.A.

“As far as a second would go? Well, that is easy, Bust, by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr. Their characters are so despicable that they caused me to chuckle just as much as gasp. A great read that got me hooked on the work of Jason Starr.” Erik Carlson, North Kingstown, Rhode Island

• “My favorite novel set in the underworld is still Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key. What I like most is it is a tale of one man’s devotion to a friend, even when that friendship is challenged. The political maneuverings and gangland intrigues are very realistic and this book is very insightful, even today. The scenes he wrote here are still some of the best in the genre.” Robert Carraher, Tigard, Oregon

• “Best novel: For feeling of aimlessness and despair, it’s a Sue Grafton novel featuring Kinsey Milhone. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the title (or the letter) of the novel, but in it Kinsey is abducted by a group of scammers who fake injuries in rigged car accidents. The narrative about the crummy apartment in a crummy L.A. neighborhood, and the scumbags (with a little humanity thrown in) who inhabit it is depressing, but compelling.” Andy McClung, Riohardson, Texas

• “ It is really difficult to choose my favorite crime novel, I love the genre so much! But to narrow it down even further to ‘underworld’-themed [books] ... Wow, that’s a tough one. The easy choice would be The Godfather. But I never like easy. I’ve read lots of newer writers over the last few years, as well as delving back into the golden age of pulp noir to authors like Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Gardner. But, for my favorite ‘underworld’ novel, I’m going to go with a more recent author. I loved Stephen Hunter’s Hot Springs!

Hot Springs is set in, of course, Hot Springs, Arkansas, right after World War II amid the corruption and corpulence of the mob’s stronghold in the South. WWII veteran and Medal of Honor winner Earl Swagger is asked by the FBI to help smash the illegal mob activity and run the gangsters out of Arkansas. The story is dotted with real-life figures like Bugsy Siegel, Mickey Rooney, and President Dwight Eisenhower. Hunter captures the raw, sweaty essence of this particular place and time with a clever story and great characters. A solid read from page one to the final period!” Scott Harbison, Covington, Louisiana

• “My favorite film set in America’s criminal underworld coincides with my favorite novel set there: The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Peter Yates’ pitch-perfect adaptation of George V. Higgins’ novel blew me away when I first saw it in 1973. [Robert] Mitchum was great, [Peter] Boyle was great, [Richard] Jordan was great. The viewer has a sense of dropping into a series of private conversations between ordinary men who just happen to be engaged in crime--either committing it or solving it. It doesn’t seem to matter which side of the law any of these individuals is on; they all come off as seedy. Poor Eddie, though, gets caught in the middle.” Jerry Jerman, Norman, Oklahoma

White Heat. Loved Cagney’s characterization!” Richard Berger, Mattawan, Michigan

• “My favorite film is probably On the Waterfront. Nothing since has bettered it, as far as I am concerned.” Deanna Stillings, Carlisle, Massachusetts

And from our two winners ...

The Godfather II, because I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.” Kevin P. Mannix

The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor, and John Huston’s adaptation of W.R Burnett’s novel shows it functioning like a business. Almost.” Vince Keenan

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