Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, December 07, 2014
      ( 12/07/2014 09:28:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“SIXTY SECONDS BEFORE THE BABY SHOT ITS FATHER. . . ” The last novel to be published by writer and filmmaker Samuel Fuller, Brainquake (Hard Case Crime) first saw print in France where the maverick movie man was living at the time. Twenty-plus years later, the book is receiving its first English language edition, and it’s about damn time. The noir-y novel is as aggressively creative as classic Fuller movie works like Shock Corridor and The Big Red One.

Set in the early nineties, the book revolves around Paul Pope, a bagman who has been carrying illicit cash for the mob over ten years. Paul, a solitary figure who lives in a shack by the industrial part of the city, finds his life turned around when he witnesses the brutal murder of a mobster in the park. Smitten by the murdered man’s widow, an ivory-faced beauty named Michelle, Paul is also susceptible to periodic seizures characterized by pink-hued hallucinations. They occur during times of extreme duress, which he’ll experience repeatedly throughout the course of this ruthlessly violent book

As a trusted bagman, Paul is seasoned enough to keep the illegal moneys he’s carrying out of the hands of urban pirates known to try and hijack this criminal cache. But he’s also dangerously naïve when it comes to relationships, which makes him an easy patsy for the duplicitous mob widow Michelle. Once the two go on the run, leaving the country with ten million of the mob’s money in the bag, we know things aren’t going to end well.

Fuller populates his densely plotted novel with a variety of distinct characters, most of which don’t make it alive to the end of the book. Reading Brainquake, you can see why moviemakers like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorcese admired Fuller: he creates a fully realized criminal universe (bagmen, bookies, bosses, corrupt politicos, hit men) and makes you care even about its most pathological inhabitants. Foremost among these is a psychopathic mob hit man who specializes in impersonating a priest and is charged with tracking and dispatching our ill-starred duo. The faux Father Flanagan (note that he’s going after a man named “Pope”) is a marvelously disquieting creation: implacable and relentless, he pursues Paul and Michelle to France (where Fuller spent his last years as an expatriate) to the inevitable showdown.

Some “lost novels,” arguably, deserve to stay lost, but Samuel Fuller’s Brainquake isn’t one of them. This is a great find for publisher Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime line.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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