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Doggone Justice

Apr 15, 2013 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

PunchDid you know today is Joe R. Lansdale Appreciation Day? To tie in with Horror Novel Reviews‘ day-long celebration, we’ll be reposting our greatest-of posts about Joe’s work and a few from the legend himself.

Things have changed. The world has evolved. A punch in the mouth ain’t what it used to be.

Once you were more apt to settle your own problems, or have them settled for you, by an angry party. Teeth could be lost, and bones could be broken, but mostly you just got  black eye, a bloody nose, or you might be found temporarily unconscious, face down in a small pool of blood out back of a bar with a shoe missing.

These days, even defending yourself can be tricky. It seems to me a butt-whipping in the name of justice has mutated to three shots from an automatic weapon at close quarters and three frames of bowling with your dead head. There are too many nuts with guns these days, and most of them just think the other guy is nuts. An armed society is a polite society only if those armed are polite. Otherwise, it just makes a fellow nervous.

Still, not wishing back the past. Not exactly. But there are elements of the past I do miss. There are times when I like the idea of settling your own hash—without gunfire. Sometimes the other guy has it coming.

When I was a kid in East Texas, we lived in a home that sat on a hill overlooking what was called a beer joint or honky-tonk. Beyond the tonk was a highway, and beyond that a drive-in theater standing as tall and white as a monstrous slice of Wonder Bread.
Continue reading ›

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On Joe Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water

Apr 15, 2013 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

Did you know today is Joe R. Lansdale Appreciation Day? To tie in with Horror Novel Reviews‘ day-long celebration, we’ll be reposting our greatest-of posts about Joe’s work and a few from the legend himself.

When we passed along  Joe R. Lansdale’s EDGE OF DARK WATER to Dan Simmons, we had high hopes he would like the novel as much as we did. Dan loved the novel so much he provided us with not just a nice quote, but an inspired, insightful essay which is included in the paperback edition of Joe’s novel, and which we’re delighted to share with you below.

Go pick yourself up a copy of EDGE OF DARK WATER if you haven’t already! And be on the lookout for Joe’s next novel THE THICKET, in bookstores everywhere this September.

Since Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in America in 1885, there have been hundreds — if not thousands – of favorable comparisons to Twain’s masterpiece by publishers, blurbers, and/or reviewers of “contemporary” novels. Almost all of these comparisons have been inappropriate or just plain silly since – a) Huckleberry Finn was an unmatched novel of male adolescence, moral awakening, and an entire dark era of American history told in perfect regional and temporal vernacular   b) as Ernest Hemingway said, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called  Huckleberry Finn . . . It’s the best book we’ve had” and c) Mark Twain was a genius.

The river voyages and brilliant narratives in both Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are cries from the heart of the heart of America’s darkness. Both books are the result of real genius at work.Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water is worthy of being compared to Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nor are the rafts or the marvelous and terrifying river voyages in both books the primary reasons for Lansdale — and what may be his masterpiece – earning the right to this comparison to Twain’s masterpiece. “Sue Ellen’s” voice throughout Lansdale’s novel is almost certainly the strongest, truest, and most pitch-perfect regional-temporal vernacular narration since Huck Finn’s. The young protagonist’s moral decisions in Edge of Dark Water are among the most complex (yet clearest) since Huck decided to “steal” Jim and go to Hell forever for doing so. Edge of Dark Water evokes a time and place – East Texas, Depression era – as powerfully as Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn preserved and illuminated the Mississippi River region in pre-Civil-War America. Continue reading ›

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An Author’s Inspiration: On The Fate of Mercy Alban

Apr 02, 2013 in Guest Posts, Writing

doors1I’m lucky enough to spend my days writing novels of gothic suspense in which family secrets and scandals bubble to the surface in big, old, haunted mansions. Ever since my first book hit the shelves a few years back, I’ll oftentimes find myself on panels with other authors at various book festivals and conferences, and one question we’re always asked is: “What inspired you to write your story?” Believe me, when you’re asking mystery, crime, thriller or suspense novelists this question, you’re going to get some strange, eerie and, let’s be honest, borderline psychotic answers. Mine included.

Erin Hart’s imagination shifts into high gear when she reads news stories about ancient bodies being pulled out of the peat bogs in Ireland, perfectly preserved. In her four novels, the most recent of which is The Book of Killowen, her lead character investigates these archaeological sites and usually unearths a present-day murder in the bargain. David Housewright revealed that, while attending a crowded music festival, he looked around at the sea of faces and began to marvel at how easy it might be to kill someone and simply slip away unnoticed… and thus began his novel Highway 61, in which an unfortunate fellow wakes up next to a dead body after attending a similar music festival, and thinks he has made a clean getaway until the blackmail threats start arriving.

Now that I’ve got two novels on the shelves, one in the pipeline set for release in January 2014 and a fourth rattling around in my brain, I think it’s safe for me to say that I’m most inspired by place. I need to create the setting where my characters are going to do whatever it is that they do, and then the story flows from there.

My current novel, The Fate of Mercy Alban (2013, Hyperion), bubbled to the surface during a tour I took of Glensheen Mansion, a stately, old home on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota. Once a private home and now a museum, Glensheen has its own haunted history — matriarch Elizabeth Congdon and her maid were murdered in the house by Elizabeth’s daughter and her husband, no less, and reportedly both of the slain ladies remain — but I wasn’t interested in writing their story. I wasn’t looking for story inspiration at all. I was just taking the tour.

It was a gorgeous summer day on Lake Superior, and after wandering from room to glorious room inside, I walked out onto the patio that spans the whole length of the house. I stood there gazing at the meticulously-manicured lawn that flows out to the lake, which was glittering in the summer sun.

I thought: “What a great place to host a party!” And I started imagining it — men in their summer suits, women in long, cotton dresses, servers in black circulating with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. I could almost see the ghostly images of the revelers there in the yard, talking, laughing, listening to music wafting through the air.

And then, being the type of writer I am, I thought: “Ooo. What if somebody wound up dead at that party?”

I could clearly imagine that, too. A gunshot, a scream piercing the night air, the confusion that would follow — stunned onlookers, too traumatized to move, others running for the door, a police siren, faint at first and then growing louder. The anguished cry of grief as a love is lost forever.

I don’t know how long I stood there, caught up in the scene playing out in my own mind. The thought of it just wouldn’t let me go. And so began The Fate of Mercy Alban, a novel centered around a long-ago summer party at a stately old mansion much like Glensheen, where one of the party guests, a world-famous writer, winds up dead, and the daughter of the host and hostess disappears without a trace.

Now I’m looking for inspiration for my fourth novel. Know of any haunted mansions to tour?

Wendy Webb is the author of the Heartland Indie bestselling novel, The Fate of Mercy Alban (2013, Hyperion), and The Tale of Halcyon Crane, (2010, Holt), which won the Minnesota Book Award for genre fiction. Her newest book, The Vanishing, will be released in January, 2014. Visit her online at www.wendykwebb.com.

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Songs from The Shining Girls

Apr 01, 2013 in Guest Posts, Music

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Reading The Shining Girls sends us careening through the twentieth century as we chase Harper, a time-traveling killer, from one era of Chicago to the next. Whenever we land, Lauren Beukes crafts a richly atmospheric scene, accurate right down to the music. Below, Beukes walks us through some of the songs mentioned in The Shining Girls. You can listen to all the songs above in the Spotify player.

“Somebody from Somewhere” by George and Ira Gershwin (1931)
It’s the sweet Gershwin showtune the violent drifter Harper hears as he staggers through the city streets, led by the flickering street lights to the House which will change everything. The lyrics are particularly resonant to the shining girls he will track down and kill “somebody from somewhere, for nobody but me.”

“Pistol Packing Momma” by Al Dexter (1943)
Along with Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, Al Dexter is one of the albums on heavy rotation playing over the speakers at the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company as welder Zora Ellis Jordan heads home for the day in 1943, thinking about troublesome young Blanche who says she’s in love with her.

“Get It While You Can” by Janis Joplin (1971)
Off the album Pearl, which pioneering music pirate and abortionist Margo Cooper recorded onto an early tape deck in Jane’s living room in 1972. It becomes the theme song for Julia Madrigal’s boyfriend after she’s murdered in 1984. He sees it as a provocation to seize the day, but he grabs on to all the wrong things.

“A Sunday Kind of Love” by Ella Fitzgerald (1947)
Alice Templeton has never recovered from the shock of love-at-first-sight with the intense stranger with the limp at the State Fair in 1940. She’s spent the last ten years daydreaming about being reunited with him in scenarios influenced by the movies. She wants to find the kind of love that lasts past Saturday night. But when Harper does come for her, finally, it’s not what she expected at all.

“All That She Wants (Is Another Baby)” by Ace of Bace (1993)
It’s the song biologist Mysha Pathan is rocking out to late one night in her lab at Milkwood Pharmaceuticals, singing along so loud that she doesn’t hear the man in the dark sports coat come in behind her.

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Rogue Review: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

Mar 25, 2013 in Guest Posts

Today we welcome Ro Cuzon, a contributor for The Rogue Reader, as he reviews Ian Rankin’s bestselling new novel, Standing in Another Man’s Grave.Standing in Another Man's Grave

Ian Rankin may be an acclaimed master of plot but it’s his prose that always hooks me first.  It happened again last week within the very first sentences of his new book, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, in which his protagonist John Rebus comes back from retirement.

Forced to leave the Edinburgh police force several years earlier due to the age limit, Rankin’s moody, rogue detective is now a civilian working for a Scottish cold case squad known as the Serious Crime Review Unit. After Nina Hazlitt, the mother of a teenaged girl missing since 1999, convinces him that her daughter’s vanishing may be linked to other cases, Rebus muscles his way into the active investigation of the most recent disappearance, headed by none other than his longtime colleague Siobhan Clarke. There, the aging and cantankerous ex-inspector is confronted with new police technology and a younger generation of squeaky-clean, by-the-book cops who frown upon his drinking, smoking, and unorthodox methods, like his cozying-up to known criminal underworld figures.

Unlike the other novels in the series (at least the ones I’ve read), Standing in Another Man’s Grave gets Rankin’s hero out of Edinburgh and his comfort zone. Rebus does quite a bit of traveling up and down northern Scotland, its coast and the Highlands, musing in the process about the country and its people, “a nation of five million huddled together as if cowed by the elements and the immensity of the landscape surrounding them.” All along the way, Rankin expertly spins a suspenseful tale and around the halfway mark, as the stakes rise, the book becomes impossible to put down. Continue reading ›

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Update: Denise Mina Will Be Writing the Remaining Two Graphic Novels in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy

Mar 20, 2013 in Graphic Novels

When we last checked in with Denise Mina, she had just finished working on Vertigo’s graphic novel adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In a recent conversation, she revealed that she’s already working on the next two books featuring Lisbeth Salander:

Will you be working on the rest of the Millennium Trilogy graphic novels?

Denise Mina: Yes! I’m writing the rest of them too! I’m halfway through the script for The Girl Who Played With Fire and moving on to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I’m loving it. It’s great to be writing comics again and with an adaptation I can worry more about the visuals and less about the narrative arc. The books are so dense it’s a matter of cutting back and cutting back. The second part of Dragon Tattoo will be out soon.

Hooray for us! And while you’re waiting for those volumes to drop from Vertigo, we can’t recommend Mina’s Gods and Beasts enough. Check out the opening pages for yourself.

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What Is a Mystery?

Mar 18, 2013 in Guest Posts, Writing

fascination*Every once in awhile, when my (ahem) amazing job comes up in conversation, someone will ask me, if not: “What is a mystery?” outright, another question along similar lines. Could be someone curious how the category has evolved in the years since Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Dupin and Hercule Poirot. Or it could be an avid reader just discovering a love of suspense, yet finding themselves somewhat flummoxed by all the subcategorization—with police procedurals, cozies, psychological thrillers, and so many more, the permutations can at times seem endless.

So what is a mystery? I’m sure for Mulholland Books readers, the answer comes easy. A mystery involves a crime, and centers around the investigations of a protagonist who endeavors to bring justice to its perpetrators. We often refer to this as the “solution” to the mystery, despite the fact that the crime most commonly depicted—murder—is irrevocable and, thus, unsolvable. (See: Detective Ramone’s penultimate speech in Pelecanos’s The Night Gardener.)

The other, slightly more slippery version of this prompt: What’s the difference between a mystery and a thriller?

Conversationally, readers often use the terms interchangeably to discuss any novel that engages the tropes of the crime fiction genre, or operates within the suspense paradigm. But the terms aren’t actually as exchangeable as we make them out to be. The answer has a lot to do with Hitchcock’s famous speech on the art of creating suspense—the bomb under the table, a very neat example from a master storyteller and a useful example for also highlighting the differences in the genres:

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

Hitchcock’s version of events is a classic thriller premise—a crime is about to be committed, one which readers have been alerted to. But begin this story fifteen minutes later, just as the bomb explodes, and you have yourself a crime and mystery—the identity of the perpetrator—in need of a solving.  It’s all in the timing—start in one place, and you have a novel centered around anticipation, a thriller. Start later and you’ll find yourself in classic mystery territory.

Does this mean a mystery can’t be suspenseful? Certainly not—the path to each mystery’s solution is often littered with mid-novel scenes just like the thriller premise that Hitchcock describes, in which our protagonist’s life has been placed in danger and the survival, or successful unveiling of the truth itself, has been placed in suspense. Which is where the term mystery/thriller comes in handy, and why the two categories have become more and more confused in the past few years. Many of our most successful crime novelists have become masters at blending the categories so that suspense is as much the name of the game as the investigation at hand.

Take, say, Lee Child’s Reacher series. Most if not all of his novels are actually mysteries, despite Child’s reputation as one of our best thriller writers around. The Affair finds Reacher wrapped up in an unsolved murder case that will change the course of his life—and readers don’t discover the identity of the murderer until the novel’s climactic scenes. The Hard Way finds Reacher in New York City, investigating the kidnapping of a wealthy paramilitary figure’s wife–and we as readers won’t find out why or how she was taken until very late in the game. We often talk about these stories as thrillers, and quite understandably—they both certainly thrill—but given the unsolved crimes at their center, both are actually mysteries, strictly speaking. If Reacher were just a six-and-a-half-foot-tall, gorilla-faced guy who happens to be an ace in a fight, would readers really care for him in quite the same way? I doubt it—he’d still be in Carter Crossing, Mississippi, interviewing murder suspects, having never quite resolved the events of The Affair in the first place!

All of which begs the question, Mulholland Books reader: How do you prefer your bombs? Still ticking? Or already gone off?

Wes Miller is Mulholland Books’ Associate Editor and Marketing Associate. If Mulholland were a crime novel instead of an imprint that publishes them, Wes would be its PI—the stalwart presence resolving its issues, making sure at the end of the day, justice gets served and good prevails—at least until tomorrow comes. Reach him through the Mulholland Books twitter account (@mulhollandbooks), on Tumblr (mulhollandbooks.tumblr.com) or right here on the Mulholland Books website.

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Start Reading Beauty by Brian D’Amato

Mar 13, 2013 in Excerpts, Mulholland Authors

This year’s Mulholland Classic, BEAUTY by Brian D’Amato, was hailed by Dean Koontz as “absolutely irresistible,” proclaimed by Peter Straub a “breathtaking” novel “bristling and humming with intelligence,” and acclaimed in the Chicago Sun-Times as “superb” when first published nearly twenty years ago.

Read on for a sneak peek at the novel’s first chapters–and don’t miss the D’Amato-penned illustrations and reading group guide exclusive to our edition, now back in bookstores everywhere!

1

An egg floated in the void. It rotated on its vertical axis as the blackness behind it gradated toward a dark ultramarine purple. It moved closer, in microscopic increments. Its surface was absolutely pure, smoother than any real egg and scaleless in its non-space. Rose-colored light fell on it from a source apparently somewhere between the egg and the implied observer, and the light pooled one-third of the way down the surface in a spot that suggested its texture was, perhaps, slightly more glossy than that of a real egg.

Then an irregularity seemed to appear in the lower center of the oval. At first it was so slight, it might have been imaginary: a faint depression, with perhaps a slight bunching-out above and below. The depression and swellings grew, becoming more distinct with agonizing slowness. It was an order of motion that animals or machines never approach, the slowness of plants, or of crystals forming in solutions. Above the irregularity, two more slight indentations, identical round concavities in the pristine surface, manifested themselves with the same intense deliberation. They were symmetrically aligned along the vertical axis. As they worked their way into the surface of the egg, the light highlighted over and under them and shadows began to form, first soft like airbrush marks, then soft only on top and hard-edged on their lower sides.

Suddenly the egg passed over the threshold of abstraction, the invisible barrier that separates a geometric form from the most basic figurative paradigm.

It was a face.

The eyes and mouth became more distinct. The outlines of cheekbones and the hollows under them began to alter the silhouette of the egg itself. A nose began to protrude ever so slightly, and tiny indentations under it developed into near-nostrils. Buds sprouted that would eventually be ears. A peach color began to spread beneath the surface like an Icelandic dawn. Now the eyes had a hairless eyebrow ridge and closed lids not quite separated from the flesh beneath them. The lips were still fused, but they were lips, complete with hollows at the corners and the depression beneath the nose. The wings of the nostrils extruded slightly. The forehead broadened. It was a face, but not a human face. It was a face from some idealized realm beyond death and life, ageless and silent and beautiful. It was still embryonic, and more like mathematics than flesh. But it was becoming an entity.

I typed out halt f9 on the keyboard. There was no perceptible change, but somehow you could tell the growth had stopped. And I’d stopped it before it had left the land of the undead for the land of the (at least in appearance) living.

I punched in a few coordinates and moved the mouse-cursor over the face, up to the command line at the top of the screen. I clicked it on wire frame, and instantly a small screen appeared on the lower left of the image, blocking out part of the face but showing it again, schematically, with triangular facets etched in orange lines against dark blue. I moved the cursor down to the region of the eyes and began to program.

After eighteen minutes, I clicked off the wire-frame screen and typed resume image generate on the command line. The egg disintegrated itself, then reappeared a few seconds later, slightly closer. Very, very slowly, the eyelids began to rise. A mirrorlike surface appeared under them, a strange, cold, wet-looking lavender substance. Then the circle of the iris came into view, emerald green against the lavender, with magenta and golden facets shifting under the green like the spicules in Mexican fire opals. And then, as the lids passed the halfway point, the pupils should have come into view. But there were no pupils. The eyes were fully open and the face looked straight at me with the blind, soulless, malevolent blank stare of a demon.

I looked back for what seemed like a long time. I heard a scratching sound at my left wrist and recoiled from the desk, hitting my head against the wall. A coil of paper was extruding itself from my fax machine. I peeled it off and read it:

have you turned your ringer off?

don’t forget, penny penn appointment 2:00

I’ll be there in 45 mins. david.

I allowed myself to look back at the screen for a few minutes. I rotated the head through 360 degrees, thinking about the profile and the three-quarter views. The Face was becoming a thing of awesome beauty, I thought, unless I was just flattering myself. I didn’t think I was, though. I wondered whether I’d ever really get the chance to implement it. I typed save and shut down the computer and got up. My back cracked a bit. I’d been sitting down for quite a while.

Somewhere in the microscopic binary code of sixty-four megabytes of memory, the demon slept with open eyes. The ghost in my machine. Continue reading ›

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Sample Our List with These Discounted eBooks

Mar 12, 2013 in Books

We try to keep our readers posted whenever our books go on sale, because we know you all are voracious readers, and everyone likes to save a few dollars. This week offers such a bonanza of discounted eBooks that we’re pulling all of them together into a single post. Here is your shopping list:

Slip & Fall by Nick Santora
Faced with a struggling practice, a pregnant wife, and a sister in trouble, Robert Principe realizes the white-collar world isn’t as easy as he thought. He needs money. Fast.

“A gripping thriller….Santora’s characters will ensnare readers.” —Vince Flynn

Buy the eBook for $2.99: iBookstore | Kindle | Kobo | Nook | Sony

SEAL Team Six: Hunt the Wolf by Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo

Navy SEAL Team Six commando Don Mann infuses his debut military thriller with the real-life details only a true insider can reveal. And when you’re done with Hunt the Wolf, dive straight into the sequel, Hunt the Scorpion, which is just on sale.

Buy the eBook for $2.99: iBookstore | Kindle | Kobo | Nook | Sony

The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen
Zed is an agent from the future. A time when the world’s problems have been solved. No hunger. No war. No despair…

The Revisionists is a fast-paced literary thriller that recalls dystopian classics such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, from the award-winning author of The Last Town on Earth.

Buy the eBook for $2.99: iBookstore | Kindle | Kobo | Nook | Sony

Triple Crossing by Sebastian Rotella
Valentine Pescatore, a volatile rookie Border Patrol agent, is trying to survive the trenches of The Line in San Diego. He gets in trouble and finds himself recruited as an informant by Isabel Puente, a beautiful U.S. agent investigating a powerful Mexican crime family.

Buy the eBook for $3.99: iBookstore | Kindle | Kobo | Nook | Sony

Guilt by Degrees by Marcia Clark


Harrowing, smart, and riotously entertaining, Guilt by Degrees is a thrilling ride through the world of LA courts with the unforgettable Rachel Knight. And who better to pilot that ride than Marcia Clark, the former prosecutor for the State of California, County of Los Angeles?

Buy the eBook for $5.99: iBookstore | Kindle | Kobo | Nook | Sony

The Assassin Trilogy by Derek Haas

A collection of three suspense novels by Derek Haas, the novelist and co-screenwriter of Wanted, 3:10 to Yuma and The Double. The Assassin Trilogy includes The Silver Bear, Columbus, and Dark Men, which all feature a hit man who quickly made a name for himself as one of the best in his profession.

Buy them all for $2.99! This is probably the best deal going: iBookstore | Kindle | Kobo | Nook | Sony

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Ar-Go Accept Your Oscar

Mar 07, 2013 in Film

Take a look at the contenders for the 2012 Oscar race and it’s clear fans of suspense had much to be thankful for in 2012. With ZERO DARK THIRTY, DJANGO UNCHAINED and ARGO all serious contenders for the top honor, and with DJANGO UNCHAINED and ARGO taking home many of the top awards, the accolades have been anything but scarce this year for high-quality thrillers.

I saw all three of the above, enjoyed them all immensely, and so found myself wondering: what precisely made ARGO the best film of the year, in the face of such fierce competition?

It bears pointing out here the absurdity of even trying to pick a single top film, given that every movie ever made attempts a singular endeavor—to tell a fresh story, as efficiently as possible, one that appeals to the film’s unique target viewership. (You could hardly expect the fans of DJANGO UNCHAINED overlap significantly with, say, everyone who went to see Pixar’s BRAVE.) If each film is unique, and uniquely attempts to thrill, delight, edify, and move a different group of theatergoers, what is the Academy even crowning with Best Picture?

You might argue that limiting the scope to the suspense fiction narrows things down enough to make singling out a single film more feasible. And yet. The three films nominated are each standouts in their particular subgenre, and their goals could hardly be considered the same. Each shows a different selection of the range of work suspense films perform. From the pleasure of witnessing the documentation of thrilling real(ish) events in ZERO DARK THIRTY, to being bombarded by tongue-in-cheek violence until your jaw pops open in DJANGO UNCHAINED, to the appreciation of faithfully reconstructed period details and quality performances in ARGO—even calling these films a variation on a unifying theme is a stretch.

So then, what does ARGO manage that ZERO DARK THIRTY and DJANGO UNCHAINED do not? If anything (and this can be considered both a good and bad thing, depending on your preference), ARGO seems the most conventional of the three nominees. Its heroes seem unremittingly good. Though the subject matter is fresh, the telling relies on a few tried-and-tested tricks. If (spoiler alert) an airport escape plot depends on someone picking up when the phone rings, we all know they won’t be there until the very last second—and the bad guys will end up chasing the plane down the tarmac.

And that may be the answer in a nutshell. Despite its plethora of double-dealing and deep cover, there’s very little truly subversive about ARGO—no rich ambiguity to divide politicians and inspire multiple, competing interpretations as ZERO DARK THIRTY has, or outsized version of our uncomfortable past that Tarantino forces his audience to confront in DJANGO UNCHAINED. Don’t get me wrong—ARGO is a great film. I ate it up like popcorn. But it may also be a case study in the way least controversy conquers all.

All that said, though, I will confess to being an avid Tarantino fan who’s still bitter about Pulp Fiction’s many snubs at the 1994 Oscars. Maybe I should just Argo f&*$ myself.

Wes Miller is Mulholland Books’ Associate Editor and Marketing Associate. If Mulholland were a crime novel instead of an imprint that publishes them, Wes would be its PI—the stalwart presence resolving its issues, making sure at the end of the day, justice gets served and good prevails—at least until tomorrow comes. Reach him through the Mulholland Books twitter account (@mulhollandbooks), on Tumblr (mulhollandbooks.tumblr.com) or right here on the Mulholland Books website.

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