Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, May 22, 2015

I will never stop missing typing Ron Scheer's name in here.

The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell
(Review by Deb)

Published in late 2014, just a few months prior to her recent death, Ruth Rendell’s The Girl Next Door was the last Rendell book released while she was still alive.  (Apparently, there is at least one additional book slated for posthumous publication.)  Whether Rendell intended it to be her swan song or not, The Girl Next Door is a fitting coda to her fifty-year writing career.  It is a meditation on life, love, aging, loss, and the inevitable compromises that a living a long life brings.  There is a murder-mystery of sorts, but it is virtually irrelevant to the central plot and is a mystery only to the characters in the book; the reader already knows the full story.  The murder functions primarily as a catalyst for bringing a group of seventy-something characters together rather than as a neatly-plotted puzzle.

The book begins in 1944, toward the end of WWII, on the outskirts of London.  Neighborhood youngsters (none yet in their teens) discover the foundations for a house that was never built.  The friends term these foundations the “tunnels” and spend their days playing in them.  This group will meet again, many years in the future.

As the children play, John “Woody” Winwood, a working-class laborer who has managed to improve himself socially by marrying a wealthy woman, kills his wife and her lover, deciding to remove their hands as a macabre trophy.  He places the hands in an empty container and then hides the container in the tunnels.  This is not a spoiler, it occurs within the first few pages of the book. Woody abruptly (and menacingly) warns the children to stay away from the tunnels.  Woody then sends his son Michael to live with a distant relative.  For the rest of their lives, father and son will rarely see each other.

The discovery of the skeletal hands some six decades after they were hidden starts a string of events—some positive, some not so much—as the former friends, many of whom have been out of touch since the end of the war, reconvene to share their memories of those days with the investigating police.  Now the youngsters who played in the tunnels are in their sixties and seventies, long-married or, in some cases, divorced or widowed, with children, grandchildren, and even a few great-grandchildren.  Although the story threads through the lives of a number of friends from the tunnels, primary focus is on Alan and Rosemary Norris and Michael Winwood.

Friends from the tunnel days, Alan and Rosemary have been married to each other for over 50 years.  To the outward eye, their marriage appears happy and placid, but Alan’s contempt for his wife (manifested by his irritation at almost everything she does, particularly sewing her own clothing) is clear to the reader.  When the old tunnel friends reunite, Alan is pulled back into the orbit of the glamorous and alluring Daphne Jones (the titular girl next door from his childhood and his first romantic love), now a wealthy widow with a gorgeous home in a very upscale London district.  (As usual, Rendell excels in descriptions of stately homes and architecture.) 

Within a few weeks, Alan and Daphne are having an affair—a cataclysmic event for the Norris’s marriage, their family, and their circle of friends.  This is not a book that shies away from the sexual side of being a senior citizen; nor does Rendell condescend to her characters or imply that there is something inherently comical about older people enjoying the physical element of romance.  I have not read a book that is so matter-of-fact about sexual attraction amongst older people since Mary Wesley’s Not That Sort of Girl.

Michael Winwood, the other major focus of the story, is now himself a widower.  He mourns his long-dead wife, has a rather casual connection with his adult children, and continues to be haunted by the toxic shadow of his still-living father.  Yes, Woody is still alive at almost 100 years old.  He is very sharp mentally, living in an upscale retirement home (neatly satirized by Rendell).  During most of Michael’s life, he has managed to avoid seeing his father; but, in light of the discovery of the hands, he now must confront him.  This is one of the book’s interesting themes:  Many of us are part of the first generation in history where people in their seventies still have living parents.  How do we relate to those who are our elders when we ourselves are elderly?  Do we ever escape that parent-child dynamic?  The children of the main characters, themselves in their forties and fifties, find themselves asking the same questions.

As might be expected in a book where a number of the characters are well into their golden years, there are a few deaths, but the book is neither depressing nor sorrowful.  Those who survive mourn, but eventually continue with their lives, even if their hearts are broken and things will never be the same.  The murder-mystery (such as it is) is wrapped up in a rather pat fashion, but this book was obviously not intended to be a traditional whodunit.  Admittedly, this is not a forgotten book, but I hope it is one that will be remembered.  If it does not rank up at the top of the great Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine oeuvre, it is still a book worth reading—thoughtful, challenging, and surely a book that Rendell would have been pleased to know would be one of her last.

Sergio Angelini, DEAD MAN'S BAY, Catherine Arley
Michael Carlson, SOMETHING IN THE SHADOWS, Vin Packer
Bill Crider, EARTH'S LAST CITADEL, C.L. Moore and Henry Kutner
Martin Edwards, THE JUDAS WINDOW, Carter Dickson
Curt Evans, DEATH COMES TO TEA, Theodora Dubois
Ed Gorman, STRANGER AT HOME, Leigh Brackett
John Hegenberger, THE SAINT AND MR. TEAL, Leslie Charteris
Rich Horton, THE LION'S SHARE, Octave Thanet
Jerry House, MURDER WILL OUT, Murray Leinster
Nick Jones THE HOLMS OAK, P.M Hubbard, 
George Kelley, THE MARKSMAN AND OTHER STORIES, William Campbell Gault
Margot Kinberg, THE DEVIL'S MAKING, Sean Haldane
Rob Kitchin, HANGING VALLEY, Peter Robinson
B.V. Lawson, THE SPOILT KILL, Mary Kelly
Evan Lewis, LADY IN PERIL, Lester Dent
Steve Lewis, TIME TO PREY, Frank Kane
Todd Mason,  Walter M. Miller, Jr.: "Command Performance" (GALAXY, November 1952); "Conditionally Human" (GALAXY February 1952); "MacDoughal's Wife" (THE AMERICAN MERCURY March 1950)
Patrick Murtha. LOST COSMONAUT, Dan Halder
J.F. Norris, THE BLACK STAMP, Will Scott
James Reasoner, PIRATE'S GOLD, H. Bedford Jones
Richard Robinson,  Night Ferry to Death by Patricia Moyes
Gerard Saylor, REDEPLOYMENT,  Phil Klay
Kerrie Smith, CROSS FINGERS, Paddy Richardson
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, OUTRAGE AT BLANCO, Bill Crider
Tomcat, SONG OF A DARK ANGEL Paul Doherty
Prashant Trikannad, THE SPIDER, Hanns Heinz Ewers

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mike Dennis' Books Shelves

What books are currently on your nightstand?

I just finished Prohibition, a 1930s crime tale by Terrence McCauley. Next up is James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss. Then there's The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy, followed by Get Carter and Jack Carter's Law by Ted Lewis.

Who is your favorite novelist of all times?

Hard to choose just one. Jim Thompson would be right up there, along with James Ellroy, Douglas Fairbairn, and VS Naipaul.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Monty Hall's biography might surprise you, because it certainly surprises me every time I see it. I bought it over 30 years ago, because somehow he insinuated his way into my life.
Who is your favorite fictional hero?

Since I've just narrated the audiobook of I, The Jury, I'd have to say Mike Hammer.

What book do you return to?

Jim Thompson's The Grifters. From the first sentence to the last, it washes over me like baptismal waters. I could also easily reread any of Vicki Hendricks' books.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You Are Ten Years Old

so what's the most likely book to be resting on your bedside table?

For me, it might be one of the BETSY-TACY  series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Or a book from the LITTLE HOUSE series. My reading was and is pretty conventional.

And you?

Oh, and a few pieces of business. GOOD READS is giving away three copies of CONCRETE ANGEL. 
If you can put it on your books to read, that would be swell.

Also if I have not sent you whatever piece of writing I promised for my blog tour, let me know. Things got misplaced during the move and I might have missed you. Or if you want to host me and didn't answer my first cry for help, let me know. I still might have something to say about the book or the state of the world.

From our friend, John Hegenberger

Back in 1988, I thought I could write. HA!
Sure, I had a couple of non-fiction books and a half-dozen short stories published, but I always wanted to write a book of fiction.  Flash forward trough almost 30 years of -- father of three, tennis enthusiast, Francophile, ex-marketing exec at Exxon, AT&T, and IBM, happily married for 45 years-- and we come full circle to AAA, Author Again At last.

Meet Eliot Cross, Columbus-based P.I. in 1988.

A series of serious crimes:  Kidnapping. Murder. Art Thief. Blackmail. Comic Books.

Private Investigator Eliot Cross faces heartache, headache, backache, and a royal pain in the neck in these rollicking noir stories from the heart of the Heartland.

Cross Examinations, Inc. established in 1988.

Crime in Columbus. HA!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Forgotten Movies: TO EACH HIS OWN

If I had to choose a movie that made me cry as a kid, this would top the list. Olivia plays a woman who must give her illegitimate child up during war time. She follows him from afar and near, trying time and again to figure out a way to let him know their real relationship. None of it works. And it is not until another war that a friend finds the way to tell her son that she is is real mother. This one practically bust my gut. DeHavilland won an Oscar for this part.Was there ever a better actress at playing suffering in silence parts?

What is your favorite tear jerker?

Monday, May 18, 2015


William Boyle's BookShelves

 What books are currently on your nightstand? 


Who is your all-time favorite novelist?
Richard Yates

What book might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Who is your favorite fictional character?
Alison Johnson from Will Vlautin's NORTHLINE

What book do you return to?

William Boyle is the author of GRAVESEND and the short story collection, DEATH DON'T HAVE NO MERCY. He teaches writing at University of Mississippi and is from Brooklyn.