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