Friday, February 26, 2010


I went through the banker’s boxes that hold most of my personal library, these past few years, picked out a few books that caught my eye, and stacked them on an end table. A few days later, I looked through them, deciding what to read next.

I re-read Francine Prose’s forward to the NYRB edition of A High Wind in Jamaica, then set the book aside, without re-reading it, in favor of Ross MacDonald’s The Instant Enemy -- and A High Wind in Jamaica shows up in the early pages of that book, when Archer notices a copy in the bedroom of a missing teenage girl.

I finished The Instant Enemy a few days later, and picked up the next book in the stack: The Watchman by Robert Crais -- and the author note identifies Crais as a winner of the Ross MacDonald Literary Award.

Signs and portents everywhere. I was beginning to feel like the protagonist of a Paul Auster novel -- and the next book in the stack?
The Brooklyn Follies.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Criminal Paradise

A blurb from Ken Bruen cites Elmore Leonard, but I think Steven M. Thomas’s Criminal Paradise has a greater resemblance to, and many of the virtues of, John D. MacDonald’s writing, particularly in the way the action is fixed to its setting: in this case, the sunny, palmy, moneyed neighborhoods along the coast of southern California.

The narrator is one of the rats that live in the palms -- a smart, but hardly ruthless, career criminal. As the story commences, he sees his careful existence quickly unravel, thanks, in equal measures, to his own basic decency and his impulsive lust for swag.

More of the old virtues: the book starts with a robbery in progress -- you have to start in the middle of the action these days; that’s the rule -- but the real menace builds slowly, at the periphery, in a manner similar to what John D. used to do: fix the scoundrel Travis McGee was chasing in the reader’s mind as the Devil in Flesh, before he even made an appearance.

It’s a real pleasure to choose a book off the bookstore shelf, with no knowledge of it beforehand, and find you’ve chosen a solid, immersive read. I’m glad to know, at the start of a new decade, that it’s still possible.