Monday, September 08, 2008

Neither Tarnished Nor Afraid

I have always said to be a good writer you have to read a lot. To prove that point, I write a column called Book Beat for the Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence magazine, associated with the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference. Here is my latest installment:

Excellent genre-bender from Michael Chabon (whose The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay remains one of my modern-era favorites), about a washed-up cop who takes umbrage at a junkie's murder in the very flophouse he resides in. With his reluctant partner, and his ex-wife/commanding officer breathing down his neck, he unearths a wider conspiracy.Against this background, with its noir conventions tracing a direct line back to Raymond Chandler, is an alternate future based on a real WWII-era plan to create a Jewish homeland in Sitka, Alaska. Chabon does some intricate and compelling world-building that again recalls Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.
An excellent read, whether one is a fan of mystery, sci-fi, or contemporary lit.

THE WHEAT FIELD by Steve Thayer
A small-town deputy in rural Wisconsin finds himself the main suspect in a double homicide that leads him to become an unwilling accomplice to a larger conspiracy in Steve Thayer's riveting thriller The Wheat Field.I picked this up on a whim found myself an instant fan of Thayer, an author I had not heard of before. Deputy Pliny Pennington is a resonant character, a dark angel with sexual hang-ups and killing urges but his own moral code. The early 60s locale is strongly rendered as well. There are plenty of shocks in the storytelling, both pleasant and unpleasant. I enjoyed Thayer's writing style, probably most reminding me of Jim Thompson or James M. Cain.I would strongly recommend The Wheat Field to thriller fans and will be nosing around for more of Thayer's writing.

LIMITATIONS by Scott Turow
Drowsy legal thriller from Scott Turow, whose Presumed Innocent was an early, and perhaps best-known, work. Turow has been hammering out solid mysteries featuring lawyer protagonists ever since, including this one, which was serialized for a magazine and then expanded into a novel.A judge is hearing arguments in a brutal gang rape, and soon begins to recall some repressed memories of an incident he was involved with himself in college. Meanwhile, his wife is fighting cancer and a mysterious stalker is sending the judge threatening emails.Despite the description, the storytelling doesn't retain a lot of dramatic tension, though is certainly interesting (and, for fans, features characters and situations from earlier Turow novels). Probably more for followers of Turow (which I have been one, more or less) and of passing interest to others.

BANGKOK 8 by John Burdett
An incorruptible Thai cop, following his own rather bent Buddhist code, goes on a quest for vengeance through the ultra-seedy underbelly of Bangkok after the death of his partner.John Burdett's edgy police thriller Bangkok 8 is an uneasy mix of philosophy and cold-hearted violence, veined with dark whimsy (if there is such a thing) and brought to an absolutely chilling denouement. I found the milieu Burdett created fascinating and his lead character's outlook unique. Although obviously not Thai, Burdett has spent time there and I felt (having traveled some in Asia myself) that he seemed to have a good eye for the details. I will look for more in this series.

MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust
A former porn star stumbles into a secret, illegal side of the sex trade and winds up--after a murder attempt--seeking revenge against those responsible.
Christa Faust's Money Shot is a contemporary tale in the Hard Case Crime series, a pulpy paperback line which, for the most part, features lost noir classics with retro covers. Faust's storytelling stands up well alongside her peers and is even more hard-nosed than some; and in the Hard Case Crime line, that's saying something. Like most of the line, Money Shot is not for the faint-hearted, but is well worth reading.

ZERO COOL by John Lange
A doctor at a European conference is forced to perform a mysterious autopsy, then spends the rest of his trip outrunning a bevy of bloodthirsty pursuers in John Lange's Zero Cool, part of the superior Hard Case Crime series of pulp reprints.John Lange is Michael Crichton’s pseudonym from the late 60s. Zero Cool is a surprising departure, not nearly as dense or intense as his later, more well-known work.
Our physician protagonist is as quippy as any PI of the time, is accompanied by several mysterious women and a strange, colorful supporting cast of baddies, and jetsets around several exotic locales. The combination reminds me of the James Bond movies of the era more than any sort of medical thriller. A pretty fun read overall.


Tom said...

Off-topic, but I just saw one of your recent twitter postings and it warmed my heart when you mentioned cable access awards. One of the earliest TFI episodes dealt with the Waffleville Public Access awards (aka "The Pubbies") and it's nice to know a similiar event exists in Richmond. Yowza!

John Oak Dalton said...


We help judge the Philos (named after Ft. Wayne native Philo T. Farnsworth) which is a midwest cable access competition that includes Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan. It can be a long day, but is fun in the end.