Friday, April 18, 2008

Wit In Action

I did see The Bank Job – terrific movie; 111 minutes of story, story, story – and a few nights earlier (as it happened) I saw Crank, another film starring Jason Statham. In the former, he folds seamlessly into an ensemble of pretty decent actors; in the latter, he defies all of God’s laws without ever losing the facial expression of a man out for the morning paper. But the man knows what he’s doing: watch Crank and then suffer through as much as you can handle of Shoot ‘Em Up, two movies after exactly the same heart, and then tell me that wit doesn’t matter in action.

Here’s a prose example: Ross Thomas, in Missionary Stew, tackles a scene we all know by heart, saw nightly on television in the 1970s:

Replogle never finished the secondhand story because the big blue Dodge pickup honked and pulled up on the left. Haere looked over. There were two persons in the pickup. Both wore ski masks. The pickup and the station wagon had reached a sharp curve in the deep canyon. On the station wagon’s right, some fifty or sixty feet below, was a frozen creek.
The pickup swerved, and its right front fender slammed into the station wagon, which went into a skid on a patch of ice. Haere later thought they must have been counting on that – the ice. Replogle did everything he was supposed to do. He kept his foot off the brake. He steered into the skid. He swore.
The station wagon plunged over the side. On either the first or second roll the right-hand door popped open and Draper Haere popped out. He landed in a snowbank. The station wagon somersaulted two more times, end over end, and smashed against some immense boulders at the creek’s edge. Two seconds later the gas tank exploded.
Haere got up and made himself stumble through the snow down to the burning car. He tried to open its front left door, but it was either jammed or locked. Haere burned his hands trying to get the door open. He finally could stand neither the heat nor the pain, so he moved backward, tripped over something, and sat back down in a snowbank. He jammed his scorched hands down deep into the snow and sat there watching Jack Replogle burn to death if, indeed, he wasn’t already dead. In either event, there was nothing Draper Haere could do about it.

I love the thin joke of “everything he was supposed to do…He swore” and the intrusive reality of “made himself stumble…to the burning car” and the rueful “In either event”.

It’s unfair to stand most writers next to Thomas, and especially the sophomore effort of a writer whose first book was pretty damn good, but here’s Marcus Sakey, in At The City’s Edge, with another familiar scene: a couple of heavies are trying to take our man for a ride:

Then, for the first time, Soul Patch made a mistake. He stood still.
It was as much of a window as Jason could hope for. Continuing his forward motion, he stepped into Soul Patch like they were dancing, right hand closing on the guy’s wrist to lock the gun in place. But instead of grappling for the weapon, he spun, planting his back against the man’s chest, the gun arm now in front of both of them. The wrestler startled awake with a snort. Soul Patch gave a surprised yelp, struggled to free his hand. Jason continued his spin, remembering this fucker talking about Michael, threatening his brother. He yanked, and as he felt the man come off balance, he kept turning, transforming the fall into a throw that hurled the gangbanger against the half-closed car door. It flew open and slammed into the wrestler, the frame catching him square in the face with a meaty thump. The double impact knocked the wind out of Soul Patch, and the gun clattered from his hand.
The moment it did, Jason shoved away. Two awkward steps and he had his balance. His heart screamed to run, but his head was cool. They were enemy combatants. He didn’t want to leave them armed. The grip of the pistol was warm and slightly sweaty as he snatched it from the concrete.
Then he took off in a sprint, knowing that he hadn’t incapacitated either man. His legs pumped clean and strong. He crossed the open asphalt to the next row, then planted his left foot and lunged behind a car. A window exploded with a sharp crack. All the old energy came back. He jerked to the side again and broke from the row, then poured it on in a straightaway to the boundary of the lot. Leapt for the concrete abutment, planted one foot, and sprang off the second-story parking deck.
In the endless instant he floated through the air, Jason Palmer realized he was smiling.

Really? Well, we do live in a new century. (Each of these passages is the first blast of violence in the book. Thomas’s comes on page 44 or so, Sakey’s on page 6 or 7.) But with the author and the author’s sentences and the author’s hero all so jacked up, I feel like they’re getting excited for me, and there’s nothing left for me to do. I’ll just be sitting over here, with my hands in the snowbank.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Best Writing Advice

TODAY’S BEST WRITING ADVICE comes from yours truly:

Always write as well as you possibly can, and always go back and edit --even the lowly email, the humble blog entry – because you never know who is going to read it.

(That “ya” and the clumsy parentheses around Stick are going to haunt me for some time.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bought, Scored, Read, Reading


Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years, George V. Higgins
Voodoo, Ltd
Yellow-Dog Contract
The Fools In Town Are On Our Side
The Porkchoppers
The Backup Men
, Ross Thomas
The Procane Chronicle
Protocol For A Kidnapping
, Oliver Bleeck
The Park Is Mine, Stephen Peters
Legends, Robert Littell
Thinner, Richard Bachman
Dog Soldiers,
A Flag For Sunrise
, Robert Stone
The Boys From Brazil, Ira Levin
Vanishing Act, Thomas Perry
Bag Men, Mark Costello
The Hot Kid
, Elmore Leonard
The Grifters, Jim Thompson
Lucky Bastard, Charles McCarry
Bodies Electric, Colin Harrison
The Watchman, Robert Crais
Bleeders, Bill Pronzini


Havana Noir (Akashic Books)
Chain of Evidence
, Gary Disher
No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer


The House That Trane Built, Ashley Kahn
The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
At The City’s Edge, Marcus Sakey
The Narcissist’s Daughter, Craig Holden


Glitz, Elmore Leonard

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Bank Job

I haven't seen "The Bank Job" yet, but: Is this not a great poster?

Monday, April 7, 2008


April 30 - May 7, 2006
Laurel Park Place - Livonia

SOUTHFIELD, Mich., March 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Bookstock, the area's largest
used book and media sale where all proceeds benefit literacy and education
projects in metropolitan Detroit, will be held Sunday, April 30 through
Sunday, May 7 at Livonia's Laurel Park Place.

A true book lover's paradise, Bookstock has tens of thousands of donated
used books, DVDs, CDs, books on tape, magazines and records for sale at
bargain basement prices. Savvy shoppers and collectors can get first crack at
the Bookstock Pre-Sale on Sunday, April 30 from 8:45 - 11:45 a.m. The sale
will continue through Sunday May 7, running Sundays, noon-6:00 p.m. and Monday
- Saturday 10:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. There is a $10.00 admission charge for the
Bookstock Pre-Sale only. Books will be sold for half-price on Sunday, May 7,
the last day of the sale.

Now in its fourth year, Bookstock is presented by The Friends of Literacy,
a group of area literacy and educational organizations. Detroit Free Press
columnist Rochelle Riley is Bookstock's Honorary Chairperson. All of the books
and media items sold at Bookstock are donated at collection sites throughout
the year. These donations continue to provide reading enjoyment and promote
learning by funding education and literacy projects in Detroit and throughout
the metropolitan area. More than 700 volunteers work together throughout the
year to collect and sort donations and organize and staff the weeklong
Bookstock sale.

Bookstock is sponsored by the Detroit Jewish Coalition for Literacy, the
Oakland Literacy Council, the Detroit Jewish News, CBL & Associates
Properties, Inc., and a consortium of Jewish communal non-profit organizations
which support education and literacy throughout metro Detroit.
Laurel Park Place is located on 6 Mile Road, east of I-275 in Livonia

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Detroit Noir--The '08 Tour

Detroit Noir editors John and EJ are out of rehab, and ready to go back on the road.

The '08 Tour kicks off tomorrow night at seven at Borders in Grosse Pointe, and Saturday at noon (noon?) at the Borders in the Southland Mall in Taylor. There shall be readings, signings, Q&A, text messaging, and bowling challenges.

Click on the link for the Detroit Noir blog for store addresses, phone numbers, and all the other details we count on the newly-sober editing team to get right.

Hope to see you there.