Saturday, August 13, 2011

I Say This As A Friend

If you review fiction, as a professional or as a hobbyist, and the word "implausible" turns up frequently in your might consider finding a more worthwhile use of your time, please.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Been Away. Back Now.

Spent most of March in Florida, Costa Rica and Panama.

Very little non-guidebook/phrasebook/magazine reading, but here's the box scores:

Djibouti, Elmore Leonard

Pagan Babies, Elmore Leonard

Zeitoun, Dave Eggers

Gringos, Charles Portis

The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell
The Buck Passes Flynn, Gregory McDonald


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mosley Again

The Long Fall, Walter Mosley

This is the first book in a new series by Walter Mosley. His Easy Rawlins is a complex character; Leonid McGill, the new guy here, leads a complex life—too complex: I kept expecting his back story or his unsettled domestic arrangement or even the story threads involving his children to double back into the case he was working on. Nope; he just leads a very complex life.

There’s already a second book in this series. Maybe Mosley settles in a little there…


Friday, February 18, 2011

Last Car

Last Car To Elysian Fields, James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke’s admirable Dave Robicheaux series, set in and around New Orleans, always does a convincing job with those moments when Southern charm reaches its limit and the natural temperament of crooked folk living in extreme humidity comes to the fore.

As with many genre series, though, the impact has been lessened, I think, as publishers have insisted on higher word counts. Read an early book in any long-running series of the past couple decades and you will find a tighter, tenser piece of work than a more-recent entry.

There’s often an almost-Biblical quality to the violence threatened in a Robicheaux story, but as altercation after altercation ends in a draw (because we have hundreds of pages to go!), a reader can begin to feel like an onlooker at a schoolyard fight -- one of the jerks (speaking for myself) egging on the combatants when it looks like both are, sensibly, going to back down.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Time Out

He left the hotel and walked to a cinema where She Wore A Yellow Ribbon was playing. He had already seen it but that made no difference – he had probably seen every Western ever made. The afternoon was the worst part of the day and a movie swallowed up a good part of it in one gulp. At the same time he didn’t want to spend the afternoon in the dark watching movies set at night, gangster movies or horror films. In Westerns it was always afternoon, so he was able to avoid the afternoon and get a nice helping of it at the same time. He liked to get high and let the images float before his eyes like the nonsense they were…He couldn’t have made it through the day without Westerns but all the time he was watching them he was eager for them to end, impatient for the whole charade of settled scores to be over with so that he could emerge into the fading daylight.

(from But Beautiful: a book about jazz, by Geoff Dyer)


Monday, February 14, 2011

The Heckler

The Heckler, Ed McBain

I’ve enjoyed a couple 87th Precinct novels, but more often I don’t finish them.

This entry in the series, which introduces the arch-nemesis The Deaf Man, purported criminal genius, felt like one of the odder books I’ve read lately, with a couple of very diffuse storylines and way too much badly-aged (Borscht Belt?) humor. Both these elements are pretty standard in the series, and largely the reason I seldom finish one of the books.

I have a banker’s box filled with 87th Precinct novels, though, so odds are I’ll keep trying ‘em....


Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Night Gardener

I read all my George Pelecanos a decade ago, in one binge, from The Big Blowdown through Hell To Pay. In recent years, I tried his earliest books, the Nick Stefanos series, but couldn’t get into them: All the weaknesses of the later books I had read -- the cataloguing of music played and substances abused; character revealed through preference for this or that vintage soul tune (which the reader might or might not have knowledge of/access to); the strain to be hip, I think, when what he was really writing, urban westerns, could not help but be, at heart, pretty square -- were too much out in front of any story he had to tell in his youth.

He’s all grown up in The Night Gardener, and if I confess to missing a certain energy that may have come from the same place as the worries over hipness, he has nevertheless embraced his own squareness, which makes for a better novel.

Still, when I want to turn a friend on to his stuff, I’ve got to admit: I’ll hand over a copy of The Sweet Forever, or Right As Rain.


Thursday, February 10, 2011


E Is For Evidence, Sue Grafton

I’ve meant to try a female private eye novel for a long time now, and I decided far in advance that when I did I’d try Sue Grafton first, because I’ve read such good notices for her work all these years.

(I have no solid reasoning for passing on the female private eye novel all this time-- I’ve often been attracted, in life, to women who were hard-bitten, hard-drinking loners – but I suspect the last decade-plus of Janet Evanovich might have caused me some additional hesitation, even though I would not mistake those novels for the work of Grafton or any other of the female PI originators of the ‘80s.)

I enjoyed E Is For Evidence. Kinsey Millhone works in the oceanside southern California hamlet where she grew up, not one of the rich inhabitants, before becoming a cop for a time. Well-acquainted with local mores and local family histories, she has something of the small-town sheriff about her, and leverages her life-long knowledge of the people in the course of her investigation.

This is the type of mystery novel where milieu and character dominate, and Grafton does a very good job on both counts; I’ll have to try another book in the series….


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Life's Work

Life’s Work, Jonathan Valin

I read one or two of Valin’s mysteries featuring Cincinnati PI Harry Stoner back in the eighties. Stoner wasn’t enough of a wiseass for me, at the time, and I settled on Amos Walker and Thomas Kyd for my contemporary-PI fix (and on Travis McGee, for escape from the Michigan winters.)

I’m glad I second-guessed myself decades later and picked up Life’s Work. The only thing wrong with Valin was this twenty-something reader.

First thing about Stoner: He’s on the job from Page One, meaning there’s no time for any nonsense about his office locale, or his wacky uncle, or his colorful friends. Whatever the reader will divine about the character will come from Stoner’s interactions with the people he meets on the case.

Second thing about Stoner, and this is one I really like: He’s in it for the trouble. He likes trouble. In Life’s Work he binge drinks with professional football players and sleeps with a prostitute and drives a Pinto.

Trouble diverts the mind from thoughts of failure, and failure haunts this story and its characters.(The plot involves steroid abuse in professional sports…in 1986, the year the book was published. Nothing has changed.)


Monday, January 31, 2011

A Little Yellow Dog

Walter Mosley came to the bookstore where I worked for a reading and signing in the mid-‘90s. It was an unusual event, beginning with the scheduling: It took place, as best I can remember, at one o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. There’ll be no one here, I remember thinking, but I was wrong.

Mosley is always dressed to the nines in photographs, and, on that Wednesday afternoon, dozens and dozens of fans arrived at the bookstore, every black man and woman and child among them also dressed to the nines. Mosley at the time was the favorite writer of record of our country’s President, and as they waited for his appearance, everyone’s pride in his work and accomplishment was plain.

It was quite an unusual sight and an impressive showing in the middle of a weekday afternoon, on a midwestern college campus, where casual and ironic was the typical style.

Then Mosley took the podium and read the raunchiest pages of his current hardcover with great relish, while the crowd sucked in its breath and giggled and shouted approval.


I'm not positive now, but I think he may have read the first chapter of A Little Yellow Dog -- the material fits the bill, and the pub date (1996) sounds about right.

I'm embarassed to admit that this is only my second Easy Rawlins novel (after Devil in a Blue Dress)and only my third Walter Mosley (afterFearless Jones)but I plan to make up for lost time.

My two small complaints remain the same. First, there's that Mouse; every series character of the last couple decades has a "Mouse" (or "Hawk" or "Bubba")to handle the real dirty work. These characters feel(to me) more like a work-around for the writer -- so that their protagonist can remain sympathetic to the (apparently) increasingly-genteel readers out there -- than full-fledged characters.

Second, Mosley has a tendency to barnstorm -- once the end of the novel is in sight, his prose can sometimes read more like itinerary, as Easy crisscrosses L.A. wrapping up plot points while the period detail and sociohistorical insight that inform the earlier portion of the tale drops from sight.

These amount to only small complaints, though, because the writing on a whole is rich and textured and extremely enjoyable. I'm eager now to try out his newest, contemporary series as well, but the Easy Rawlins books are a singular take on the private eye genre; after reading one, the next private eye you read, when he complains of being behind the eight ball and unable to trust the police, may just strike you as a crybaby.


Reading 2011

Previously, I’ve posted lists of books I’ve purchased and/or read, with little or no comment; this year, I’ll try to write something about most of the books I read.

But first – a list! 2011, joined in-progress:

A Little Yellow Dog, Walter Mosley
Life’s Work, Jonathan Valin
E Is For Evidence, Sue Grafton
The Night Gardener, George Pelecanos
The Heckler, Ed McBain
Last Car To Elysian Fields, James Lee Burke

…and the stack of mass markets on-deck:

Little Scarlet, Walter Mosley
Hollywood Nocturnes, James Ellroy
A Shoot in Cleveland, Les Roberts
Darkness, Take My Hand, Dennis Lehane
Think Fast, Mr. Peters, Stuart Kaminsky
The Murderer Vine, Shepard Rifkin
The Case of the Borrowed Brunette, Erle Stanley Gardner
The Trail To Buddha’s Mirror, Don Winslow
The Deceived, Brett Battles


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reading, 2010, Part 1

I was given an entire shelf of Michael Connelly novels back around 2003. I'd never read anything by him. I chose to try Chasing The Dime. I judged it a bad book by a good writer, and boxed all his books up until this past year, when I decided to finally try the Harry Bosch novels, beginning (arbitrarily) with Angels Flight.
Is anyone reading this still awake?
I found Angels Flight ridiculously well-made and exciting, and went on to read another 7 or 8 Michael Connelly novels in 2010. Void Moon, a standalone thriller like Chasing The Dime, is marginally better than that book. The earliest books in the Bosch series are a bit clumsy; Trunk Music, of the ones I've read so far, comes closest to replicating the quality of Angels Flight.
I haven't been able to bring myself to try one of the books narrated in the first-person by Bosch, nor any of the books wherein Bosch meets up with the heroes of other Connelly novels: That last gambit never lived up to the front-cover hype in my Marvel Comics years, and I distrust it and resent it a little, even now.


Another writer I've meant to read for years, and finally read in 2010, is Alan Furst, who has already produced a shelf of WWII-era espionage novels. As with Connelly, I felt compelled to break a usual rule, and read a handful of his books nearly back-to-back.
I'm reminded of Ross McDonald's Lew Archer novels, in that McDonald and Furst both seem to be writing the same novel over and over again -- not so much working to a formula (although they are) as trying to perfect a single work, to get that perfect version of the novel in their head down on the page.
I'm also reminded again, by comparison, of how little feels at stake in most thrillers....


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nice Paragraph

Granville Oliver sat at the defense table, wearing an expensive blue suit. He wore non-prescription eyeglasses, a nice touch suggested by (his attorney) Ives, to give him a look of thoughtfulness and intelligence. Underneath the suit he wore a stun-belt, by decree of the court.

---George Pelecanos, Soul Circus