TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (1954) proves that it’s just as hard for French gangsters to retire after One Last Job as Americans. Jean Gabin plays the aging, urbane mobster whose spectacular final robbery has him set for life until a younger rival starts moving in to get the loot. More subdued than an American gangster film would have been, and I doubt Grabin would have walked away in the US. Good, and would double-bill well with Appointment With Crime for William Hartnell’s role as an equally tough aging hood. With Jeanne Moreau as one mobster’s girlfriend. “At my age, you don’t get a second chance.”
DIGGER Vol.3, by Ursula Vernon, continues the eponymous wombat’s adventures as she meets a shrew working as a professional bridge-troll, the metal monsters of the previous volume show up in Ganesh’s temple and Digger gets more involved in Hyena internal politics than she wants. The weakest of the three I’ve read so far, but still very good—the first two just set the bar high.
THE BLACK COUNT: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss is the spectacular story of Alexander Dumas’ father, a mulatto born to a titled planter and a slave woman in the West Indies who eventually joined the military and showed a real flair for military adventure. As Reiss shows, Dumas Sr. performed spectacularly in the Revolution against adversaries both foreign and domestic (the Committee for Public Safety had him in its sights a few times), only to run afoul of Bonaparte and end up languishing in a Naples prison for two years (arriving there just as the Old Regime had overthrown the French-installed government) which Reiss believes inspired The Count of Monte Cristo. A great biography of a very impressive figure and a good portrait both of the global scope of the era’s wars (I was quite unfamiliar with Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign) and the shifting rules of race. The Revolution formally abolished slavery for instance, and proclaimed racial equality only to have Napoleon do a take-back to build support from wealthy planters.
Much as I’ve criticized Lin Carter’s Year’s Best Fantasy series, his work for Ballantine Books’ Adult Fantasy line shows he can pick great work when he’s inclined. Case in point, GOLDEN CITIES, FAR, a collection of myth and legend include Voltaire’s “The White Bull” (very reminiscent of James Branch Cabell, as Carter notes), tales of Egypt and the Arabian nights, and excerpts from Huon of Bordeaux, Orlando Furioso and Amadis of Gaul (the latter didn’t impress me despite its reputation as a great saga). Very good.
DISCORD’S APPLE by Carrie Vaughn is a near future fantasy set in a world collapsing and approaching nuclear Armageddon. A young writer discovers her family has for centuries guarded the great mystical talismans such as Excalibur, Pandora’s Box and Cinderella’s shoes, and that Hera, the last survivor of Olympus, wants them to further the collapse of the world so she can start rebuilding. This didn’t work for me at all, and I don’t find “let’s wipe out the world and start over” a good ending either.