Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Akashic Noir Event!

This Friday Afternoon in Ann Arbor, on the University of Michigan Campus:

Hirsh Sawhney
A Reading and Conversation
Friday, April 2, 4:00pm
1636 School of Social Work Building
Free and Open to the Public

Hirsh Sawhney is an editor and contributor to Delhi Noir, a critically-acclaimed anthology of brand-new fiction published by Akashic Books and HarperCollins India.
While based in Delhi, Sawhney wrote for publications such as the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, the Financial Times, Outlook, the Indian Express, and Helsinki's Vihrea Lanka. Sawhney currently lives in New York, where he is working on his first novel. He is an Associate Editor at Wasafiri Magazine, a Contributing Editor for The Brooklyn Rail, and an adjunct professor at the City University of New York.

Praise for Delhi Noir:
"For those whose view of India is shaped by The Jewel in the Crown, conversations with a call-in center or even Slumdog Millionaire, this anthology in Akashic's noir series will register simultaneously as a shock, an education and entertainment. All 14 stories are briskly paced, beautifully written and populated by vivid, original characters... Few books can alter one's perception about the state of society, but this does, while delivering noir that's first class in any light." -- Publishers Weekly

Kitabmandal (South Asia Reading Group) is an interdisciplinary group open to faculty, students, and members of the public that meets for critical discussions of work that furthers our understanding of South Asian cultures and societies in the past and present. Please visit our website at for more information.


Thursday, March 25, 2010


Favorite scene in the premier of Justified: a lowlife halfwit in short pants, sporting the worst mullet to ever appear on television, walks through the front door of the house of a woman he means to kidnap: he calls out her name, then notices U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, excellent) standing in the front hall. You don’t walk into a person’s house uninvited, Raylan tells him. Now go back out on the porch and knock. If Ava wants to see you, I’ll let you in.

I’ll go out, the halfwit says. But I’m comin’ back in.

He runs the length of the long front walk to his car. Raylan follows, watches him fumble a pistol-grip shotgun out of the car and start pushing in shells. Raylan continues to walk straight at him.

What are you doin? I got a scattergun pointed straight at you!

Think you can rack it before I put a hole in you? Raylan asks.

And we see the halfwit try to think about it. He’s still frozen there when Raylan grabs the barrel of the shotgun and pushes, popping him in the nose with the stock. Bloodied and thrown up against the car, the halfwit protests, his voice breaking and betraying a lifetime worth of frustration and humiliation: “I don’t git you!”


Friday, March 19, 2010

Long Island Sound, 1962

Hard Case Crime publishes Memory, a trunk novel from Donald E.Westlake, in a few short days. It’s likely the last “new” Westlake book we’ll see in a bookstore.

Much as I enjoy and admire the Parker books, I wish he had published more hardboiled stuff under the Westlake name. I’m re-reading 361, first published in 1962; here’s a place and a time, in a few short sentences:

The last mile and a half was private road, blacktop. McArdle shared it with two other millionaires, and his place was last of the three, where the road made a hangman’s knot. There was a birdbath inside the loop, and a Negro with a power mower....He never quite looked at us, and he never quite looked away.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Last One In

Michael Connelly’s books were first recommended to me in 1996, when The Poet was published, but I didn’t read him for years because a) in 1996 I was a bookseller, and the recommendations all came from customers, and I’d decided by that point that customers were always wrong about everything; b) I couldn’t even keep up with recommendations from my co-workers, and they knew what they were talking about when they recommended a book; c) no co-worker ever recommended Michael Connelly to me; d) The Poet was about a serial killer, and I didn’t care if I never read another serial killer novel; e) the rest of his books were about some cop, and I tended to agree with Hitchcock’s dismissal of policemen as “dull”; and f) there was something off-putting about several customer’s insistence that this guy was the only mystery writer worth reading at the moment -- an understandable sentiment, in a way, what with Patricia Cornwell and Tom Clancy dominating the bestseller lists, but still: Pronouncements like that grabbed me when I was sixteen, and The Clash was The Only Band That Matters, but I was older now, and more than a little embarrassed to hear middle-aged men (the customer was always a middle-aged man) carrying on so.

It only took me, um, fourteen years to overcome this poor first impression, but I finally read one of the Harry Bosch series, Angels Flight. It’s a terrific book.

I started Angels Flight just after finishing The Watchman, by Robert Crais. It was a great relief to open the Connelly book and see paragraphs longer than one sentence.

(I haven’t read much Robert Crais, either; I read The Two-Minute Rule a couple years ago and found it to be just about everything I could ask for from what I think of as a commercial thriller. I don’t know what happened between that book and The Watchman, but Crais seems to have fallen under the spell of Business Management English, never using a plain-old verb when he can stretch for (or invent) one that sounds more Action-y --- a practice that perhaps reaches its nadir with this sentence, during an interrogation scene: “Cole worked to relax the young man.” Um, what’s wrong with “tried”?)

Connelly’s prose has a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other quality that’s pleasing, comforting, and eventually thrilling, and that only rarely coughs up a sentence like this one: “It was locked and he knocked.” The reader is sometimes tempted to skip ahead; the reader won’t, because the writer won’t. That’s called suspense.

Or the reader might: It’s a reader’s right to barnstorm. When the writer barnstorms, it just seems lazy. Excite me -- or work to excite me, if you must. Don’t get excited on my behalf.

I've owned the first dozen or so of Michael Connelly's books for six or seven years now, and I think it might be a little while before I read anything by anyone else. My apologies to my customers of 1996.