Tag Archives: Andrew Klavan

Re-review: ‘The Uncanny,’ by Andrew Klavan

The Uncanny
While reading Andrew Klavan’s autobiographical The Great Good Thing (which I reviewed a couple weeks ago) I was reminded of his novel The Uncanny, which I had enjoyed a great deal, though I understand that opinion isn’t universal. I thought I’d read and review it again, even though I’ve already reviewed it here.

The story is of Richard Storm, a Jewish American movie producer who has made a fortune doing horror films. After hearing shocking medical news, he has traveled to England to see the locations that inspired his love of the horror genre. There, while reading a story called “Black Annie” out loud at a Christmas party, he beholds – and falls in love with – an Englishwoman named Sophia Endering. Then she walks out of the house and out, apparently, of his life. But he will meet her again, as he assists an elderly English woman friend, Harper Albright, in chasing down the origins of the Black Annie story. That story shares elements with other legends and ballads, and inspired Richard’s own movies. The truth of the legend carries a threat with it, that of a monomaniacal cult leader with a macabre plan for the future of humanity.

On a second reading, I can see how some critics might find fault with The Uncanny. When I first read this book, I marveled at how the various story elements clicked together to set up an inexorable climax. But some might find that plot choreography implausible, as depending too much on coincidence. I think the coincidences are just the point. “The Uncanny” of the title is more than a feeling or a setting – it’s a force operating in the world. Klavan wrote the book as he was beginning to recognize the real existence of the supernatural. It may be that people resistant to that idea might find The Uncanny unpalatable.

Anyway, I liked it a lot. Cautions for language and sexual situations.

(As an added note, information Klavan has provided in his blog posts indicates that the Harper Albright character was based on a real woman he knew, who was an aunt of the actress Olivia Wilde.)

‘The Great Good Thing,’ by Andew Klavan

For years, maybe most of my life, I had languished in that typical young intellectual’s delusion that gloom and despair are the romantic lot of the brilliant and the wise. But now I saw: it wasn’t so…. The hungry can’t eat your tears. The poor can’t spend them. They’re no comfort to the afflicted and they don’t bring the wicked to justice. Everything useful that can be done in the world can be done in joy.

Has Andrew Klavan written Surprised by Joy for the 21st Century? I’m not qualified to say. But I will say The Great Good Thing is a wonderful book, a book in the great tradition of spiritual autobiographies like those of Lewis and St. Augustine – but with a modern edge.

You already know I’m wholly sold out to Andrew Klavan as a writer. He may be the best author of mystery/thrillers alive. You probably also know that he converted to Christianity from secular Judaism a few years back. In Klavan’s view these two facts aren’t unconnected. As he internalized the elements of storytelling, he reports, he was drawn ever closer to eternal truths.

Klavan tells us of his youth – economically comfortable – in a Jewish neighborhood in Great Neck, Long Island. His family seemed normal – he himself believed it was normal – but in fact it was deeply dysfunctional. His father was angry and a bully. His mother was a disengaged, frustrated social climber. The first real motherly love he experienced was from a Christian Ukrainian nanny, and her influence lingered. A smart but lazy kid, Drew Klavan faked his way through school and then college, buying the assigned books but never reading them, bluffing in classroom discussions and on tests. Continue reading ‘The Great Good Thing,’ by Andew Klavan

Klavan on ‘The Great Good Thing’

Andrew Klavan’s spiritual memoir, The Great Good Thing, will be released later this month. Here he describes his journey to faith for Christianity Today.

But perhaps most important for a novelist who insisted that ideas should make sense, Christ came to me in stories. Slowly, I came to understand that his life, words, sacrifice, and resurrection formed the hidden logic behind every novel, movie, or play that touched my deepest mind.

I was reading a story when that logic finally kicked in. I was in my 40s, lying in bed with one of Patrick O’Brian’s great seafaring adventure novels. One of the characters, whom I admired, said a prayer before going to sleep, and I thought to myself, Well, if he can pray, so can I. I laid the book aside and whispered a three-word prayer in gratitude for the contentment I’d found, and for the work and people I loved: “Thank you, God.”

Klavan, Provocateur

“But Klavan is not only a provocateur—he’s also, Stephen King says, ‘the most original American novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich.’ And Werewolf Cop (so I say) is his best book yet, one that starts with a rush and never lets up, dark and funny, with the bittersweet taste of the knowledge of good and evil.” John Wilson of Books and Culture praises Andrew Klavan and his latest novel–naturally.

See Lars’ review of Werewolf Cop, if you haven’t already.

‘Werewolf Cop,’ by Andrew Klavan

He parked in a little neighborhood near the service road. He sat behind the wheel with his eyes shut, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. He told himself that this would pass. He’d track Abend down. He’d “confront” the dagger, whatever that meant. After that, he’d be free to turn himself in or die or… do something to make this stop. Meanwhile, though…. The guilt and horror were like thrashing, ravenous animals in him. Guilt and horror – and grief too. Because he’d lost something precious, something he’d barely known he had: he’d lost his sense of himself as a good person. Even death wouldn’t restore that. Nothing word.

As you know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’m a confirmed fanboy when it comes to Andrew Klavan. I discovered him after he’d become a conservative, but before he became a Christian. I consider him one of the foremost thriller writers – and one of the best prose stylists – of our time.

Still, although I’ve praised all the books he’s written since then (specifically since the Weiss-Bishop novels, which I consider unparalleled) I’ve honestly thought he’s been kind of treading water, not quite sure where to go with his art.

Who’d have thought he’d hit his next home run with a horror-fantasy book? But Werewolf Cop, in spite of its William Castle title, is an amazing reading experience. Klavan has moved in on Dean Koontz’s turf, and done the genre proud.

Zach Adams is the hero of the book and the titular werewolf cop. He’s a Texas native relocated to New York City, where he works for a shadowy government police agency called “Extraordinary Crimes.” Along with his partner, “Broadway Joe” Goulart, he’s become a legend and a sort of a celebrity. He has a beautiful wife and a family he loves. But his life isn’t as great as people think it is. He’s worried about his partner, who has come under suspicion for corruption. He’s afraid of being blackmailed by a woman over a mistake he made. And he’s got the murder of a gangster by a mysterious, almost legendary European criminal to solve.

And that’s before he gets mauled by a werewolf.

I could quibble a little about the fantasy element in this story – werewolves here are pure Universal Pictures, rather than the genuine folklore article. But Klavan mines that old movie scenario for amazing psychological – and spiritual – insights. I was riveted from the first page to the last, and deeply moved at the same time.

You should be cautioned – there’s rough language, as in all Klavan’s books, and the gore element is what you’d expect in a werewolf story.

But if you can handle that, and wish to see old material raised to new levels, Werewolf Cop has my highest recommendation.

Andrew Klavan To Write Kermit Gosnell Movie Script

The movie project about America’s worst serial killer is moving forward with the announcement that Andrew Klavan will write the script. He says the challenge will be writing a movie that people will want to see, because the base story is almost too repulsive. He tells NRO what’s most important about the Gosnell story:

I’m a crime writer. It’s a great crime story. But you know, I notice I’ve gone through this whole interview without saying the words “abortion” or “abortionist.” But that’s a part of it too, a central part. I’m in a sort of — I won’t say “unique” but certainly strange position on this. I’m a natural-born libertarian. With every fiber of my being, I want people to live the lives they want to live, whether it suits me or not. You want to be gay? Have a good time. You want to condemn gays? Knock yourself out. You want to dress up as Beyonce and get a tattoo of Louisiana on your forehead? I’m the guy who’ll buy you a drink and say, “Nice tat, Yonce.” I know a lot of women who’ve had abortions — people I like and love. I know a lot of people who are pro-abortion, likewise. But moral logic has convinced me that this is wrong — more than wrong – as wrong as a thing can be. It’s not about your feelings versus mine. It’s not about social conservatism. It’s not about libertarianism. And it’s not about feminism either or “women’s health care.” What nonsense that is. It’s an actual question of good versus evil. And listen, in the end, that’s what all great stories are about.

(via ISI)

R.I.P. The Rockford Files (James Garner)

The death of James Garner this weekend has affected me more than is reasonable. I certainly didn’t know the man, and we very likely wouldn’t have gotten along if we’d met. He was a lifelong lefty, and by all accounts a pacifist. His favorite movie of his own was “The Americanization of Emily,” an anti-war film whose message (as I recall it) was that anybody who fought in World War II was a chump.

I read Andrew Klavan’s laudatory post today, along with our friend S. T. Karnick’s more equivocal one. Klavan sees Garner’s Maverick and Rockford characters as laudable examples of American individualism, lost today in a flood of cop shows. Karnick finds the anti-heroism of those same characters a sign of cultural decline.

For me, although I like Maverick, The Rockford Files is a personal touchstone. I consider it the best network detective show ever produced in America. Over a six year run the characters remained lively (often very funny), the acting excellent, and the scripts only slipped a little at the end.

I read a critique once that described the Jim Rockford character as “pusillanimous.” I don’t agree. What he was, in my view, was a believable good guy. Unlike the standard American TV hero, he had no illusions of invincibility (you could sometimes detect the limp that came from Garner’s real life bad knees). Like any sensible man in the real world, he didn’t fight if he could talk his way out, and he’d run away if he had a chance. Because fights with other guys are rarely a good idea. But when he had no choice, or when a principle, or a friend or client, was threatened, Jim stood up and gave as good as he got.

The relationships made the show work. Jim’s father (the great Noah Beery, Jr.) loved him dearly and worried about him, and Jim clearly reciprocated. Nevertheless they nagged and teased each other all the time, and did not hesitate to trick each other out of a free meal or a tank of gas. Jim’s old prison buddy Angel (Stuart Margolin) was a brilliant addition – a man with no redeeming qualities whatever, but Jim remained loyal to him. We never knew why, but we loved him for his grace. His lawyer, the lovely Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) admitted she was in love with him, but had accepted the fact that the guy couldn’t be domesticated. And Sgt. Dennis Becker of the LAPD (Joe Santos) put up with a lot of flack from the department in order to maintain a sometimes stormy friendship with the low-rent PI. It was an ensemble effort, and a thing of beauty (by the way, I pulled all those actors’ names out of my memory without consulting Wikipedia, which will give you an idea how many times I’ve watched the credits).

The rusty trailer on the beach at Malibu. The copper-brown Pontiac Firebird. The wide-lapelled 1970s sport coats. The gun in the cookie jar. The answering machine. It all felt, if not like home, like a friend’s home to which we were welcome once a week. It meant a lot to me. Still does. I watch it every Sunday on the MeTV broadcast channel.

Jim Rockford made me want to be a better man. And it didn’t seem impossible to do it his way.

I’m not sure I want to live in an America without James Garner in it. We take ourselves too seriously already.

Klavan and the Imp of the Perverse

Today, Andrew Klavan announced the release of his new young adult thriller, Nightmare City. In an interesting post on his approach to writing for that market, he makes some cogent points:

Criticize the selling of self-destructive behavior to the young and you’re “puritanical,” or “slut-shaming,” or being “unrealistic about the modern world.” But in fact, this effort to normalize the degraded is itself perverse in the extreme. It’s the incarnation of that imp within who urges us to do ill to what we love the best: ourselves and our children. The people who peddle this trash curse those who dare to criticize them so loudly precisely because they know they are doing wrong and can’t stop themselves. Believe me: the person who accuses you of “slut-shaming,” is herself deeply ashamed.

The term “The Imp of the Perverse” is a reference to story by Poe.

The war over the Game

The controversy over Andrew Klavan’s praise for Game of Thrones rumbles on, and I follow it with the fascination of a reality show fan, except for wishing both sides well.

A few days back I linked to Klavan’s column at PJ Media, “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art.” In the course of an argument – with which I generally agree – that Christians need to produce art that seriously addresses the real world, rather than some PG world we’d like to believe in, he mentions his own fondness for the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” seeing it, apparently, as the sort of thing we ought to be trying to produce ourselves (though I’m sure he wouldn’t insist on including all the skin). In my own response, I expressed my own deep disillusionment with “Game” author George R. R. Martin’s books, a disillusionment which has prevented me from watching a single episode.

On Monday Dave Swindle, another PJ Media writer, responded to Klavan’s article in a similar vein:

You’ve known me since not long after I started editing full time. I was 25 and was only a defense hawk and fiscal conservative but still “socially liberal.” Since then, for a variety of reasons (particularly my return to belief in God), I’ve come further in my ideological shift. I’m genuinely embarrassed by some of the socially conservative positions I find myself now arguing. Never in a million years did I foresee myself as the type that would ever side with those cautioning against pornography’s downsides and the “shocking” content in art. You’ve talked in the past about how you disagree with our mutual friend Ben Shapiro about his Orthodox Judaism-inspired approach to culture and sex. I used to also — and I still disagree with Ben from time to time on issues and tactics (particularly on gay marriage. This is a theological difference deriving from an interpretation of scripture. He and I will just have to keep arguing about it). But on the fundamental issue, the social conservatism he explicates from his traditional reading of the Torah is correct: sex is sacred. It’s impossible to have “casual sex” with someone — every sexual act is transformative. I came to this understanding differently than him, though, through first-hand experience and painful mistakes.

Continue reading The war over the Game

Sticky questions on Christian art

Andrew Klavan posted a thoughtful article today called “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art” which ought to spark some discussion. Klavan is rare among Christian fiction writers in that he learned his craft first, and then embraced the Faith. That places him in what must be at times an awkward position – he knows what makes for a good story, and sometimes that’s something that his fellow believers don’t like.

An artist’s job — even if he’s a Christian artist — is not to sell Jesus, it’s to depict life truly. A Christian’s faith is that Christ lives in real life, not only in pastel greeting cards with Easter bunnies on them. Thus any honest and good work of art should be capable of strengthening a believer in his belief — even if it strengthens him by challenging him, by making him doubt and then address those doubts.

Art only goes wrong when it lies. Pornography is so deadening (and so addictive to some!) because it depicts human intercourse without humanity — something that never occurs in real life, not ever. Most bad art does something similar — and some good art includes dishonest moments that need to be confronted and rebuked.

But good art can be about absolutely anything and still lift us heavenward….

I can’t, frankly, share his approval of the Game of Thrones series, but I do so with fear and trembling, fully aware that Klavan understands stories at a much deeper level than I do. Still, after reading the first four GOT books, I grew wholly disillusioned with George R. R. Martin’s (to me) cynical and nihilistic approach. If I were to watch the Game of Thrones series (I haven’t), my only motivation would have to be seeing the female nudity, because I can’t work up any other.

Klavan might be comforted somewhat – though the example is an old one – to read the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America’s current Bulletin, which includes what may be the last “Resnick & Malzberg Dialogue.” (See my Wednesday post.) Barry Malzberg reminisces, in view of recent attempts to muzzle the two of them: Continue reading Sticky questions on Christian art

Killer in the Wind, by Andrew Klavan

See, I’d seen that look before. That wrinkled nose, that laughing sparkle in the eyes. In the movies, evil guys laugh out loud. Bwa-ha-ha. Or they chuckle suavely, swirling their drinks in their glasses. But this is the real deal, the real look most monsters have. A sort of cute, dainty, delicate recoil from speaking the thing out loud. The forbidden joke of it.

Are we being naughty now?

I know you’re used to seeing me review Andrew Klavan’s books, and I know you’ve come to expect me to praise each one to the skies. Nevertheless, I want you to believe me when I say that it’s been a long time since I actually stayed up late in bed with a book, unable to put it down except by a strong effort of the will.

Killer in the Wind is one of the most compelling thrillers I’ve ever read.

The hero, Dan Champion, is a former commando, a former New York City police detective, and a certified hero. Now he’s part of the police force in a small town in downstate New York. He’s dating a local waitress, a nice woman whose love he’d like to return. But he can’t commit. He can’t commit for a reason he himself knows is crazy. Three years ago, in the course of an undercover investigation, he had a hallucination under the influence of drugs. In the hallucination he encountered a woman named Samantha, whom he can’t get over. Even though he knows for a fact that she doesn’t exist.

Except that one day Samantha shows up in the flesh. She says one thing to him – “They’re coming after us” – before disappearing again.

Is this a real-world mystery, or a supernatural thriller? The borderline seems vague sometimes, and that’s no accident. Klavan likes to explore those boundaries. Some of the reviews on Amazon suggest that certain readers don’t get this. They take the uncertainty as over-the-top storytelling. But it’s not. It’s the author’s way of exploring the wonder of life itself – that all of us are living in an improbable world, a world impossible to explain by purely rational methods. For good and evil.

My own reaction to Killer in the Wind may not be yours. I’m pretty sure I was emotionally affected by the way it dealt with areas of human evil of which I have some personal experience.

But even if that’s the case, I can still recommend Killer in the Wind without reservation. It’s a tight, tense, deeply moving thriller with characters as real as your own family.

Cautions for rough language, sex, and violence.

The Scarred Man, by Andrew Klavan

I’ve actually reviewed Andrew Klavan’s novel The Scarred Man (written under the pseudonym Keith Peterson, and recently released as an e-book by Mysterious Press) before on this blog. But I want to direct your attention to these books, and I re-read it recently, so it can’t hurt to discuss it again.

Mike North, the hero and narrator, is a young news reporter in New York City, and a very good one (this was written back before the internet holed the newspapers at the waterline). He is assistant to a legendary newsman named McGill, who asks Mike to come along upstate with him to spend Christmas at his home, since he (Mike) has no family. Mike agrees, and while there he meets McGill’s daughter Susannah, and falls so deeply and suddenly in love that everyone in the room can read it on his face. Susanna returns his feelings and they get along very well (including a sexual encounter under the Christmas tree while everybody else is sleeping) until somebody suggests telling ghost stories. Mike, on an impulse, makes up a story off the top of his head—about a sinister man with a scarred face, who dogs another man’s steps.

Suddenly Susannah is screaming, “Stop it! What are you doing to me?” She flees to her room, and the next morning she’s gone back to school.

It takes a few weeks before Mike realizes he has to go up to Susannah’s college and talk to her.

And as he pulls into the entrance to her college, he sees the scarred man from his story in his headlights.

I think this is one of the best set-ups for a thriller I’ve ever read. What’s especially great is that The Scarred Man is not a supernatural story. Everything that happens has a rational explanation. And it’s up to Mike and Susannah to figure it out, because the mystery involves the upcoming execution of a man who may not deserve to die. And the Scarred Man is still out there, dogging their steps, carrying the answers to their personal mysteries – which they may or may not want to learn.

On my second reading, I didn’t think the balance of the book was quite as great as the set-up, but it would be very hard for any story to meet that standard. Klavan fans who know him best from his current books should be warned that this is the early, liberal Klavan. He doesn’t slander conservatives, but the cultural insularity of his background shows through, especially in the addition of a character whom we are supposed to believe is a Christian fundamentalist preacher, even though his speech is peppered with obscenities. This is a fundamentalist preacher as imagined by a New Yorker who’s never actually met one. Attitudes toward sex may also offend some readers.

But it’s a great story, and one that will stick with you. Highly recommended.

Praise from Caesar

I had the pleasure of getting my review of Andrew Klavan’s novel Crazy Dangerous (not here, but in its The American Culture incarnation) linked today by Klavan himself. In the course of the linkage he refers to me as “my colleague.”

That’s kind of the apotheosis of the concept of generosity, right there.

I’m Klavan’s colleague in more or less the same way I was Sir Anthony Hopkins’s colleague when I was doing community theater down in Florida. Or in the same way I was Christopher Nolan’s colleague when I cobbled together my West Oversea trailer. Or in the same way that guy in the subway station who plays with his instrument case open for spare change is Yo Yo Ma’s colleague.

But the fantasy is appreciated.

Yesterday was Svenskarnasdag (Swedish Day) at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. As usual, the Viking Age Club & Society was there for the entertainment, enlightenment, and moral uplift of the community. I fought a few fights, and never did better than a mutual kill. I’ve come to accept the fact that that’s more or less my calling.

Talked to a fellow who asked me about the Vikings in Scotland, and I was able to unload a lot of the stuff I learned in The Viking Highlands.

The subject didn’t stray as far as the Battle of Kringen, in 1612, whose 400th anniversary is today. Information here. (Thanks to Tim Eischen for bringing this to my attention.)

In brief, King Gustav Adolf II of Sweden wanted to attack Denmark by way of Norway. He hired a group of Scottish mercenaries under the command of George Sinclair (ironically, the Sinclairs are one of those Highland clans with Norse roots. But I doubt if that bothered them much) to march across Norway. An irregular force of Norwegian farmers ambushed them in a narrow mountain pass at Kringen, killed most of them by causing an avalanche, and slaughtered most of the rest. A few survived, and numerous Norwegians in Romsdal take pride in being their descendents.

We Norwegians have relatively few military victories to celebrate in our history, so this event looms large in our cultural tradition.

Crazy Dangerous, by Andrew Klavan

Andrew Klavan has taken a small (but worthwhile) detour in his writing career over the last few years, producing top-notch thrillers aimed at the Young Adult audience, published by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. His previous four books, The Homelanders series, brought the Christian YA field to a whole new level. All in all, I think the stand-alone novel Crazy Dangerous is even better.

One improvement is the narrator/hero of Crazy Dangerous, Sam Hopkins. Unlike Charlie West, the hero of the Homelanders books, Sam is not an adolescent James Bond, outstanding at everything he does and equipped with a black belt. Sam will be far easier for most kids to identify with. He’s a smallish, not very popular, not academically outstanding, not very athletic teenager, struggling with the challenges of being a preacher’s kid in a small town in upstate New York. When he receives an odd offer of “friendship” from three of the shadiest kids in his school, he gets involved with them, just to escape the public expectations that face every PK.

But the situation changes when his new “friends” make an attack on Jennifer, a vulnerable classmate with mental problems. Rescuing Jennifer, and paying the price for it, seems to be the end of Sam’s adventure, but it’s only the beginning. Because Jennifer’s mysterious, oddly articulated visions of impending death and disaster have more truth in them than anyone guesses, and everyone in Sam’s world is not what they seem. But the lesson Sam is learning—“Do right. Fear nothing”—steers him through a variety of strange paths to the right decisions in a big, explosive story climax.

Great story. Great values. I found it interesting that Sam’s pastor father, though a good dad and a wise man, seems to be a liberal Christian, and therefore blind to some truths that might have helped his son. That was an intriguing—and narratively useful—nuance.

The plot was weak at one point, I thought, where Sam made a braver choice than I thought consistent with his character. But that might be just a coward’s reaction to reading about a better person than himself. It certainly won’t bother young readers, who will consume this book like nacho chips and shake the bag for more.

Highly recommended for teens and up. Great for adults too. Intense situations, but no foul language.