Archive for the 'Friday ‘s Forgotten Books'

Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, November 22, 2013

Chris Knopf, Dead Anyway (2012), Jeff Meyerson

People always ask (I know, I ask too) how you decide what to read next.  Might as well ask, how do you decide what to read, period?  I have a list of favorite authors whose books I read when they come out but for newer writers or ones I don't know I tend to lean on recommendations from friends, reviews here or on other blogs, plus newspaper and magazine reviews.  If they sound interesting to me, I'll check them out.
Chris Knopf had two earlier series set in the Hamptons but this is the first in a new series.  Apparently Bill Crider reviewed it when it came out last year but somehow his review did not make enough of an impression on my brain until I read his review of the sequel a few weeks ago, linking back to his Dead Anyway review.  Then I thought, this sounds good. And it is.
How's this for starting with a bang?  Arthur Cathcart, an overweight 40ish guy working at home doing market research and other high end computer research, married to a gorgeous woman who owns a real estate firm near their home in Connecticut, comes home from a walk to find his wife sitting on the couch and a man holding a gun on her.  The man insists she answers five questions written on a paper, and to emphasize his seriousness, he shoots her husband in the thigh.  She answers the questions only to have the man, clearly a hired killer, shoot her in the head and kill her.  Then he shoots Cathcart, who somehow doesn't die.
Now you may be able to resist seeing what happens next, but I sure couldn't.  Cathcart is gravely injured and decides (with the help of his physician sister) to stay dead and use his computer skills to discover who killed his wife and why, not easy in the post-9/11 world.  But first he has to recover enough physically and mentally to be able to act.  Along the way he gets some help from a woman named Natsumi Fitzgerald, who throws her lot in with his.
I really enjoyed this one and will be reading the sequel as soon as it comes in to the library.  Definitely recommended.

THE FIFTH CHILD, Doris Lessing, Patti Abbott
Doris Lessing was one of the writer's whose works have meant a lot to me. Staring with THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK (for me), she captured the experiences of women of our time. She wrote difficult feminist novels, science fiction novels, and horror with THE FIFTH CHILD.
THE FIFTH CHILD has pretty much haunted and influenced me since I read it. The idea here is a family with four lovely children decide to have a fifth. And the fifth pretty much  destroys all the equanimity they have enjoyed--all the smug self-satisfaction. 
 Ben looks rather horrid, eats insatiably, and acts even worse: he is abnormally strong and violent.  Neither his mother or father are able to bond with him. They are afraid of him and afraid of the feelings he has aroused in them because they regarded themselves as natural parents. His four sibling are also afraid. Age only exacerbates his tendencies. 
This is a terrific idea to me. To take a family that prides itself on being supportive and loving and throw something into the mix that will make them doubt what they believed themselves to be. This is not a novel for everyone. But it is one that makes you think. 

Can a child be evil from birth? Can a genetic mishap cause such a thing?

Sergio Angellini, A MAGNUM FOR SCHNEIDER, James Mitchell
Brian Busby, A STRANGER AND AFRAID, Marika Robert
Bill Crider, SKYLAR, Gregory Macdonald
Scott Cupp, DARK TANGOES, Lewis Shiner
Martin Edwards, THE GREEN-EYED MONSTER, Hugh Wheeler
Curt Evans, BANNER DEADLINES, Joseph Commings
Jerry House, GREAT DETECTIVE STORIES ABOUT DOCTORS, Ed. by Gross Conklin and Noah D. Fabricant
Randy Johnson, VENGEANCE VALLEY, Luke Short
Nick Jones, COUNT NOT THE COST, Ian Mackintosh
George Kelley, THE DOOMSTERS, Ross Macdonald
Margot Kinberg, LINE OF SIGHT, David Whish-Wilson
B.V. Lawson, A GENTLEMAN CALLED, Dorothy Salisbury Davis
Steve Lewis/Allen J. Hubbins, WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING, John Riggs
Todd Mason, HORRORSTORY, Volume Three, edited by Gerald W. Page and Karl Edward Wagner.
Neer, HEADS YOU LOSE, Christiana Brand
THE Novelettes Blog, BURY ME DEEP, Megan Abbott
Juri Nummelin, MURDER'S SO UNPLEASANT, Frank Struan
James Reasoner, THE THIRD SEDUCTION, Jack Lynn
RIchard Robinson, THE UNCOMPLAINING CORPSES, Brett Halliday
Gerard Saylor, A PAINTED BIRD, Jerzy Kosinski
Ron Scheer, TEXAS GOLD, John Reese 
Michael Slind, THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE, Barbara Cleverly
Kerrie Smith, PIETR THE LATVIAN, Georges Simenon
Kevin Tipple, ON DANGEROUS GROUND: STORIES OF WESTERN NOIR edited by Ed Gorman, Dave Zeltserman and Martin Greenberg
TomCat. DEATH POINTS A FINGER, Will Levinrew
Prashant Trikannad, A GENTLEMAN FROM MISSISSIPPI, Thomas Wise
James Winter, DESPERATION, Stephen King 

Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, November 15, 2014

Ed Gorman, THE GARNER FILES, James Garner with Jon Winikur

I wish I hadn't read this book.
   I first saw James Garner the night "Maverick" appeared on a Sunday night way back in 1956. I've been a fan of his acting ever since.
   To repeat I wish I hadn't read this book; even more I wish he hadn't WRITTEN it.
   I don't know who Jon Winokur is but he has served Garner poorly. I'm not naive enough to believe that the Garner of movie and TV fame is the Garner of reality. But Winokur (or Garner who did after all have the last word) should have given us an impression beyond that of an inexplicably angry man who carries so many grudges it's amazing he can stand upright.
   The most irritating issue in the entire (and frequently irritating book) is Garner's treatment of Roy Huggins.  Now I have mixed feelings about Huggins as a man. He named names to House UnAmerican Activities so he could keep his own enviable career going. I've written before that I don't know what I would've done in the same circumstances. Fifty-fifty I would've named names.
   That said Roy Huggins is one of the giants of television. He created among other shows "Maverick," "The Fugitive" and "The Rockford Files." Note that "Maverick"created Garner's stardom and "Rockford" helped sustain it.  He quotes  Huggins' line: "I love Jim Garner and he hates me." Garner agrees and then bitterly brushes Huggins off.
   Garner is nice to film and tv crews, supports liberal causes, loves his wife and daughter, appreciates what some writers, directors and actors have done for him. I believe all this. I don't think he's this terrible guy.
   But all the people he's punched or wishes he'd punched (we get it he's a macho man), all the people he thinks have ripped him off or let him down, all the people he mocks or know some of this would add texture and spice to the average Hollywood autobiography. But here the tone of these incidents and opinions quickly begin to make you wonder why, after all his success, he's still so troubled by a life he's clearly earned and deserves...but a life that leaves him singularly unsatisfied.
   The other negative is that Winokur speeds through numerous moments that could easily have been expanded and developed. If they had been there wouldn't have been so much room left for all the bitching and misery.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series of political crime novels. You can find him here. 

DIRTY WORK is the debut novel from Mississippi writer, Larry Brown, and it seemed appropriate to read it around Veteran's Day since that's its subject matter. I picked it up in Mississippi last month and just wish I had picked up more of them. I have RABBIT FACTORY around somewhere and will dig it out now.

Walter James and Braiden Chaney are two Vietnam Vets lying side by side in a Vet hospital 20 years after the war. Chaney has basically spent the entire time in a hospital since the war left him with no arms or legs. James is newly admitted with some sort of brain trauma from a bullet lodge in his head. He has also been badly scarred from his years in Vietnam. 
The two men eventually trade war stories, but this book does much more than that. It painted the lives of the sort of men who couldn't dodge the war--the down and dirty life they led in northern Mississippi. Much of Chaney's thoughts are dream-induced and almost biblical in theme. Who could spend 20 years in a bed and not retreat to such a place?

The two men do a lot of drinking with the beer Chaney's sister smuggles in.  They also smoke a lot of pot. Their stories are different and the same. It was men like these two who served in Vietnam and never recovered from it. They either died in body or died in spirit. An amazing and thought-provoking book.

Sergio Angelini, THE WINTER MURDER CASE, SS Van Dine
Yvette Banek, FOR OLD TIME'S SAKE, Delano Ames
Brian Busby, THE CROOKED GOLFERS, Frank L. Packard
Bill Crider, HIS BROTHER'S WIFE, Clay Stuart (Harry Whittington)
Scott Cupp, BLOOD OF THE LAMB, Sam Cabot
J. Escribano, BLACK ICE, Michael Connelly
Curt Evans, NO LOVE LOST, Margery Allingham
Ray Garraty, A HOUSE IN NAPLES, Peter Rabe
Jerry House, BATTLE ON MERCURY, Lester Del Rey
Nick Jones, THE SANDBAGGERS, Ian Macintosh
Geroge Kelley, BLACK MONEY, Ross Macdonald
Margot Kinberg, ONCE UPON A LIE, Jill Patterson
B.V. Lawson, MRS. KNOX'S PROFESSION, Jessica Mann
Evan Lewis, DONT'T CRY FOR ME, William Campbell Gault
Steve Lewis, MY LOVELY EXECUTIONER, Peter Rabe
Todd Mason,FACES OF FEAR: Interviews by Douglas Winter; DARK DREAMERS: Interviews by Stanley Wiater; CUT! HORROR WRITERS ON HORROR FILM, edited by Christopher Golden
J.F. Norris, DESERT TOWN, Ramona Stewart
Juri Nummelin, THE POWER OF THE DOG, Don Winslow
James Reasoner, SADDLES, SIXGUNS, SHOOTOUTS, Charles Beckman, Jr (Charles Boekman)
Kelly Robinson, WILLIAM TELL TOLD AGAIN, P.G. Wodehouse
Richard Robinson, BENCHMARKS, GALAXY BOOKSHELF, Algis Budrys
Ron Scheer, ADIOS, HEMINGWAY, Leonardo Padura Fuentes
Michael Slind, THE ORIGIN OF EVIL, Ellery Queen
Kerrie Smith, THE CAVALIER CASE, Antonia Fraser
Prashant Trikkannad, PERJURY, Stan Latreille
Kevin Tipple, WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES, Lawrence Block
James Winter, HENRY VI, PART 3, William Shakespeare
Zybahn, ROOM, Emma Donaghue

Friday’s Forgotten Books: Ross Macdonald Day

Ross Macdonald was born Kenneth Millar in Canada in 1915. He was abandoned by his father at an early age, perhaps setting into motion the themes he would pursue in his stories. 

He completed a Ph.D at the University of Michigan but ended up using his talents as a crime fiction writer rather than a scholar. His wife, Margaret Millar, a great talent in her own right, shares something with her husband beside a genre: both write psychologically attuned mysteries that examine the family in all its complexity. Few of their books do not delve into family secrets, grievances, ill-treatment. Macdonald's first novel was published in 1944. 

He died in 1983, suffering from Alzheimers. The Millars had one daughter who they lost early on. A grandson died prematurely too.

Most critics regard Macdonald as one of the greatest practitioners of the craft and his hero,  Lew Archer as one of the great detectives. Perhaps few characters have inhabited so many books and revealed so little of a personal nature. But he is the prism through which some of the most complex crime stories of the time passed. And he could sure solve a crime. 

Strangers in Town: Three Newly-discovered Mysteries by Ross Macdonald, edited by Tom Nolan
(Review by Deb)

Containing three short stories (only one of which was published in Macdonald’s lifetime), written in 1945, 1950, and 1955 respectively, Strangers in Towndisplays some of the earliest themes, characterizations, plot twists, and motifs that are found in Macdonald’s longer works.  In each one of these stories, we see elements emerge that will be explored more fully in future mysteries, including the development of Macdonald’s series private investigator, Lew Archer.
The first story, Death by Water, was published in 1945 in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine under Macdonald’s real name, Kenneth Millar.  Written while Millar was serving on a naval vessel in the Pacific Theater of WWII, the story features Lew Archer prototype, p.i. Joe Rogers, who is investigating the drowning death of a wealthy man.  Was it just an unfortunate accident or was he deliberately killed?  And, if the latter, who is the killer?  The man’s younger, wheelchair-bound wife has only a few months to live herself.  The man’s stepson is on a navy ship (much like Millar himself when he wrote this story) and therefore unable to have committed the crime.  How about the dead man’s brother, who struggles to live on a limited income?  And where was the wife’s personal nurse when the death occurred?  Millar manages to pack a lot of suspects and motives into a few pages, but what I found most interesting about the story was the reference to ALS (aka, Lou Gehrig’s disease) just a few years after Gehrig himself succumbed to the condition.
Lew Archer appears in the next story, 1950’s Strangers in Town, where he is hired by a woman to prove that her son did not kill a pretty, secretive young woman who was renting a room in her house.  Archer has to travel to a dusty town in the California desert to investigate this one.  As in much of Macdonald’s longer fiction, the small California community in which the story is set is a character in itself.  What I liked most about the story was the sympathetic and dignified treatment of African-American and Hispanic characters (the victim and the alleged killer are both black; the attorney defending the young man is Mexican-American)—they are depicted neither as caricatures nor noble stoics, but as fully-realized characters with the standard human mix of decency, faults, and failings.
The final story in the collection is 1955’s The Angry Man which features several frequent Macdonald themes:  The mentally-ill and the often callous treatment they receive from law enforcement and society as a whole; wealthy but dysfunctional families; the lengths to which people who have no money will go in order to get it; and the juxtaposition of a character’s surface persona with their inward self.  You can also see Macdonald working on the technical problem of how to have a first-person, non-omniscient narrator receive and communicate information without the story devolving into one long piece of exposition (I think Macdonald handles this type of narrative extremely well in both his short and long fiction).  Neither this story nor Strangers in Town was published in Macdonald’s lifetime.  He decision not to publish these works was not because they did not measure up to his standards but for quite the opposite reason:  He liked what he had written so much that he wanted to expand upon it and develop the material into longer works.
As entertaining as these short stories are, I found the most interesting thing about the book to be its long, informative introduction written by Tom Nolan which quotes extensively from letters Millar/Macdonald wrote to his wife (fellow novelist, Margaret Millar—herself an FFB honoree some time ago) while he was serving in the Navy.  During long, occasionally dangerous, deployments, Millar was able to read extensively from the ship’s library and continue to write fiction and develop his ideas for writing first-person murder-mysteries narrated by the hard-boiled but moral private investigator who ultimately became Lew Archer.

The Chill, Patti Abbott

I found reviewing this book exceedingly difficult. The plot is very complicated and stopping at a point where not too many reveals have been mentioned is nearly impossible. So I will err here on the side of telling too little rather than too much.

Archer is hired by the callow youth, Alex Kincaid, to find his new wife Dolly, who has suddenly disappeared. Archer takes the case when it is clear the police are uninterested and finds Dolly quickly, but of course complications arise. 

A man from her past has shown up at their hotel. This and the death of her college advisor, Helen Haggerty, has sent her into flight. She claims, in fact, that she's caused Helen’s death. Archer puts Dolly into a rest home with a man who has treated her in the past for similar incidents. Kincaid hangs around to keep an eye on her.

It seems that Dolly is linked to a number of mysterious deaths over a long period. The dean of the college Dolly attends also figures into the story at multiple points. He is dominated by his mother although puts up less of a fuss than you might expect.
This is very much a story about family relationships and how children can be manipulated by adults. The past has the present in a stranglehold in this book. Try as they might, the characters in THE CHILL are helpless but to follow a path they sometimes had no hand in making. Although many characters in THE CHILL only appear on the page for a minute or two, they are each given the traits to be memorable. Archer himself is the least memorable and I think Macdonald planned it thusly. 
My favorite line, and one that sums up much of the plot, is "I'm beginning to hate old women."

Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar), The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Investigator, Including Newly Discovered Case Notes (Crippen & Landru, 2007)

In 2001 Crippen & Landru had a major coup by publishing three newly discovered Ross Macdonald stories (two featuring Lew Archer) in Stranger in Town.  Millar’s biographer Tom Nolan wrote a long introduction and put the stories in context.  It was a must have book for fans.

In 2007 Crippen & Landru topped that with the volume at hand, which contains not only the stories from the previous book but those from the earlier Archer collections, The Name is Archer (1955) and Lew Archer, Private Investigator (1977), as well as 11 “case notes” that were ideas for possible future stories, written between 1953 and 1965.  This time Nolan’s introduction is about the character, Lew Archer. 

Whether you are a long time fan or a neophyte to Macdonald’s work, reading him for the first time, this is a book you need to get, whether you regularly read short stories or not.  It is great having all of them together in one place and the book is highly recommended.  I don’t know if it is still in print but you should definitely check It out.  It is 350 pages of terrific reading. 

One final bonus.  The book has been designed to look like a Bantam paperback of the 1960s by “Jeff Wong (after Mitch Hooks)” with a portrait of the author.


 The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
This is mid-period Archer, originally published just over 50 years ago, in between two of his most memorable books, The Galton Case and The Chill. The plot seems as old as humanity and still timeless today.  A somewhat immature 24 year old woman, anxious to get out from under her domineering father's influence, falls in love and plans to run off with artist Burke Damis after a very short acquaintance.  But when Lew Archer is hired by (retired) Colonel Blackwell to break up the romance he finds disturbing indications that Damis is not who he says he is.  Indeed, is he really a con man and is he in fact connected to two earlier murders?
Archer runs all over Southern California and travels as far south as Mexico and north to Lake Tahoe and the complicated plot takes many turns until you realize things are not nearly as simple as they first seem.  The titular hearse of the title is not metaphoric, by the way, but an actual vehicle that plays a part in the solution.  Macdonald fans probably read this one years ago but I didn't and I'm glad I corrected that oversight now.
both the above by Jeff Meyerson

Ross Macdonald Reviews

Books to the Ceiling, THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE
Brian Busby, I DIE SLOWLY
Bruce Grossman, THE BLUE HAMMER 
Laura Langer, THE IVORY GRIN
Evan Lewis, BLUE CITY
Richard Pangburn, THE THREE ROADS
James Reasoner, THE ARCHER FILES
Michael Slind, FIND A VICTIM
Kerrie Smith, THE CHILL
Kevin Tipple/Patrick Ohl, THE DROWNING POOL
Prashant Trikannad,THE NAME IS LEW ARCHER

And elsewhere in blogdom
Yvette Banek, MURDER ON THE BLACKBOARD, Stuart Palmer
Joe Barone, A VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS, Nancy Pickard
Martin Edwards, DEATH HAS A PAST, Anita Boutell
Curt Evans, THE MARK OF CAIN, Carolyn Wells
Ed Gorman, EYE IN THE RING, Robert Randisi
Margot Kinberg, A CARRION'S DEATH, Michael Stanley 
J.F. Norris, MASTERS OF THE MACABRE, Rusell Thorndyke
Ron Scheer, THE CABIN BOOK, Charles Sealsfield
Prashant Trikannad, THREE YOUNG RANCH MEN, Captain Ralph Bonehill

Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, October 25, 2013

Next week, B.V. Lawson will be our host. And two weeks from day, we will celebrate the work of Ross MacDonald

Crossroad Blues, Ace Atkins

Nick Travers, a former football player, is now employed by Tulane University in New Orleans teaching the history of the blues. In his spare time, he is a "tracker" and scholar, seeking gap-filling information about blues singers in the last century. His particular interest is in Guitar Slim. Travers also plays blues at JoJos Blues Bar.
A Tulane colleague, who was following leads about some missing Robert Johnson music, goes missing himself, and Travers, knowing the area and the people, agrees to look into it. Along the way, he tangles with a tantalizing redhead, a wily albino with more information than is good for him, a lethal Elvis lookalike and other dangerous types following the same path, looking to score from supposedly missing records Johnson made before his death.
Atkins is so highly skilled at evoking atmosphere-you feel like you're traveling down through the Delta with him, stopping at jukes, having a po boy on the road or a beignet in New Orleans, listening to some great music. He creates a believable protagonist, who wrestles with some dangerous adversaries as well as the question of how to keep the blues alive without exploiting it. This is fine crime fiction, but it is these other elements that makes the novel zing. 
It's hard to believe a 25-year old had the nerve and talent to write this exciting and evocative book. You can feel the excitement and enthusiasm of its young author in every sentence.

Sergio Angelini, DEATH IN CAPTIVITY, Michael Gilbert
Bill Crider, SCRATCH ONE, John Lange (Michael Crichton)
Curt Evans, RASPBERRY JAM, Carolyn Wells
Ray Garraty, A SHROUD FOR JESSO, Peter Rabe
Ed Gorman, NIGHTMARE ALLEY and GRINDSHOW, William Lindsay Gresham
Jerry House, HARLAN ELLISON'S MOVIE, Harlan Ellison
Randy Johnson, THE OUTFIT, Richard Stark
Nick Jones, A MAGNUM FOR SCHNEIDER, James Mitchell
George Kelley, RAYGUNS OVER TEXAS, edited by Richard Klaw
Margot Kinberg, THE BIG SLEEP, Raymond Chandler
Rob Kitchin, JADE LADY BURNING, Martin Limon
B.V. Lawson, THIS ROUGH MAGIC, Mary Stewart
Evan Lewis, CONAN, THE ROGUE, John Maddox Roberts
Steve Lewis/William Deeck, DEATH IN HIGH HEELS, Chrisitana Brand
Todd Mason LEARNING TO DRIVE, Katha Pollitt; SEDUCING THE DEMON, Erica Jong 
 Neer, THE MUSICAL COMEDY CRIME, Anthony Gilbert
J.F. Norris, THE COOK, Harry Kressing
Juri Nummelin, THE BATTLE, Brian McDermont
James Reasoner, LADY, Thomas Tryon
Richard Robinson, The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus ed. by Brian W. Aldiss
Gerard Saylor, JITTERBUG, Loren Estleman
Ron Scheer. RED HAWK TRAIL, Max Brand
Kerrie Smith, NO MAN'S LAND, Reginald Hill
Kevin Tipple. Patrick Ohl, THE WEST END HORROR, Nicholas Meyer
Prashant Trikkanad, ACTION COMICS #1
James Winter, HENRY FOUR, PART TWO, William Shakespeare, THE GREEN MILE, Stephen King
Yvette. CIRCLE OF SHADOWS, Imogen Robertson

Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, October 18, 2013

And Happy Birthday, Phil.

George Kelley has kindly offered to host this week while Phil and I celebrate his birthday.