Michael Chabon reading.
Check out all twelve month's worth of reviews here. And yes, that's correct. We've managed to keep this baby flying for a year. Thanks to all of those people who have poured through their bookcases and memories. Thanks to THE RAP SHEET for flying beside me. Enough airborne metaphors now, just go read.
Next week, I'll be away, so if there are any changes in the usual lineup, let me know by Monday when I will post it-- to go up Friday, the 24th. The firewalls on my laptop will not let me access the Internet in most hotels.
Ed Gorman is the author of many westerns and crime fiction novels. He is the editor of the forthcoming BETWEEN THE DARK AND THE DAYLIGHT, 28 of the Year's Best Crime Stories (Bleak House Books).
The Long Saturday Night by Charles Williams
Over what was essentially a quarter century career Charles Williams worked in various sub-genres of the suspense field. He came to prominence writing the small-town Southern crime novel and I always had the feeling that that was his favorite form. But he did adventure novels, sea novels, comic novels and his version of caper novels as well.
The Long Saturday Night rarely gets mentioned when the discussion turns to Williams and I've never understood why. This is a sleek and fevered man on the run novel that also incorporates another Williams acidic take on small town society.
John Warren is typical of the Williams Man. He is angry, even sullen much of the time in this case because of a wandering wife he loves far too much. Also like the typical Williams protagonist when he thinks of better days he looks back on his days as a college football player whose career was stopped by an accident. He's atypical in that he is a successful businessman, not a car salesman bored with life and up for anything if the sex is good.
Warren is a hunter. As the book opens he is returning to his office from an early morning session in a duck blind. A useless session. Though he heard two shots coming from another blind, he just assumed somebody had had better luck than his own. Turns out though that the shots were cover for a murder--and the dead man was a guy who would soon be identified as a man who rented office space from Warren--and who also had an affair with Warren's wife.
Couple problems. Warren is an outsider and people don't like outsiders so when the sheriff and especially his deputy start questioning Warren it's clear that he's in a lot of trouble. And when his wife finally wanders home he's even in more trouble.
This could almost be considered a companion novel to another Williams Gold Medal, that one called, conveniently enough, Man on The Run. What sets them apart from the usual chase novel is the intelligence of the narrator. He doesn't just run, he fights back. In this case he hires a private detective of note to help him find the real killer. And he keeps company with one of those bruised tentative women Williams likes so much--in this case his thirtyish secretary who is smart and decent without being treacly. Finding a sentimental note in Williams is tough unless it's buried in a revery about a woman who has betrayed him.
Triffault filmed this. I saw it a few years ago and didn't like it. Maybe it was my mood. There's a sadness at the heart of the best Williams novels and Triffault, at least for me, didn't get to it. He relied more on the cleverness of the story than the disappointing lives led by Warren and the secretary he comes to love.
This is a short book, a one sitting read, two at most, and an intense, brooding folk tale (as John D. MacDonald described the kind of book he and Williams wrote) that will stay with you for awhile.
Eric Beetner is an editor, writer/director in Hollywood. His crime writing has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Crooked, Powder Burn Flash and he is currently shopping two crime novels, one co-written with noir author JB Kohl. More info at ericbeetner.blogspot.com and ericbeetner.com
ATTA by Francis Rufus Bellamy
I should start off by saying that I am not a big Sci-fi reader. I find them silly in most cases. I hate super heroes and have no romantic notions of either long ago or long from now. But Atta has stayed with me since I read it as a boy.
Much of the credibility comes from the narrator and the skepticism he shows in his own story. It starts off with an admission that the story is fantastic and is not likely to be believed and it is that kind of self deprecation that cuts through the hubris of most science fiction.
It is the story of a man who, while in his garden, goes to smash an ant with a rock and finds that act of brutality to a life he gives no regards for is a portal into the world crawling beneath his feet. He is shrunk to half an inch high in the best pulp fiction tradition and he enters the world of ants, infiltrating the ant hill and befriending an ant named Atta. It is innocent is a way that reflects it’s 1953 publishing date but forward looking in the subtle environmental message that we should be aware of even the smallest of creatures around us and puts the narrator into quite a unique journey of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
The adventure is robust and all told with a first person incredulity at it all that is really, for lack of a better word, believable even in an unbelievable story.
The prose is thick and satisfying as the narrator tries to describe in vivid detail the amazing things he has seen and done. It all starts with that declaration that it is all too incredible and so he must make it credible with exacting renditions of the sights, smells and feelings of living among an alien world that is all around us but too tiny to see.
Atta remains out of print as far as I can tell but used copies are easily obtainable. Maybe this book is best read by a 12 year old, as I was when I first encountered it, but I think not.
Dozens of Fleur Bradley's short stories have appeared in publications such as The Thrilling Detective, Shred of Evidence and Mysterical-E. She also writes novel-length YA; check out her website www.fleurbradley.com. Fleur lives in Colorado with her husband, two daughters and too many pets.
RAT LIFE by Tedd Arnold
The book I picked is probably not the most forgotten book out there.It's Rat Life by Tedd Arnold; the book won an Edgar
last year--like I said, not the wallflower of books. But I picked Rat Life because it's one of the best books I've ever
read, and because it might be off the beaten path a little for some readers (more on this later).
Rat Life is set in the seventies, in a NY town along the (fictional) Chemenga river, where a dead body washes up.
Not that Todd is too concerned about that at first. He's too busy making up stories to make his friend Leaky laugh, and
helping his parents run their motel and take care of his grandma. But then something happens to a puppy, and Todd
meets Rat, a Vietnam vet not much older than him. The two become unlikely friends while working at a local drive-in.
Todd quickly gets tangled up in Rat's complicated life, making him wonder about that dead body, and how Rat might be
connected to it. I loved this book. It had a good mystery in it, but Tedd Arnold didn't sacrifice character, setting or depth for it--a really hard thing to pull of, I know.
The Mystery Writers of America people got it right when awarding Rat Life an Edgar.
Sounds like a book you'd want to read, right? But would you still read it if I told you it was written
Really, you should read it anyway, whether you're 16 or 90, or somewhere in between.
And check out the rest the teen section at your bookstore or library
while you're picking up Rat Life. Some of the most exciting, sharp and witty
writing happens in Young Adult books.
Don't dismiss a book because of the label. Check RAT LIFE out, you won't regret it.
Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Agatha Award Finalist for
Best First Novel, PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH. She's also the author of
eleven non-fiction books. Visit her at www.joannaslan.com
THE UGLY AMERICAN-by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick
(Too important to be forgotten)
The Ugly American is a collection of stories written in 1958 by William J.
Lederer and Eugene Burdick (published by W. W. Norton & Company). The book
became a bestseller and gained fame as an indictment of American policy
abroad. Not everything in The Ugly American translates to our post-9/11
world, but you'll discover enough truth to make you wonder why this isn't
required reading for all high school students. The authors show you-through
skillful use of vignettes--why it's critically important to our nation's
security that American citizens brush up on a foreign language (even if only
a few rudimentary phrases!), renew their passports, pack their suitcases,
Most ordinary citizens of other countries have limited personal contact with
our nation. They experience "America" when they purchase brands like Coca
Cola, or eat at McDonalds. They get an idea of who we are, and how we live,
when they see us on television and in the movies. The entertainment industry
supplies a huge portion of our exports. In the December 31, 2008, issue of
Newsweek, Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association said,
"Among all the sectors of the U.S. economy, our industry is the only one
that generates a positive balance of trade in every country in which it does
That's good for our economy, but not necessarily a boon to our foreign
affairs. In the absence of "real" human contact, cultural icons loom large.
So McDonalds "is" America to some foreigners. By the same reckoning, what's
seen on television and in the movies can be misinterpreted as examples of
"real" American lifestyles. When we pass a law that has an impact on foreign
wage earners, such as when we taxed coffee in 1999, that too "is" America.
In the battle for hearts and minds, people tend to believe what they see,
hear and experience first-hand over rhetoric.
Fortunately, the remedy is simple. It comes in the form of ordinary
Americans who travel abroad. We are the "real deal," the chance for foreign
citizens to actually have a close encounter that can re-shape and correct
their ideas of who we are as a people and a nation.
I know this to be true, because I've seen it happen. I've traveled to China,
Korea, Japan, and Egypt, as well as countries that share a more common
Westernized history. Once folks get past their initial shyness, they love
asking questions about our lifestyle.and our motives. A driver in Cairo
wanted to know why we didn't kill Saddam Hussein during the first Iraqi war.
Our young guides in China wondered if it was true that Americans adopt
Chinese babies to turn them into servants. They also asked if all our teens
had sex and did drugs. A boy in Korea told me how afraid he was of North
Korea's nuclear capability-and how he hoped he could rely on our country to
keep him safe.
In each situation, for the brief length of my encounter, I found myself
acting as an unofficial representative of my country. The realization was
both thrilling and daunting.
This is exactly the point of The Ugly American. As one character in the book
explains: "Average Americans, in their natural state.are the best
ambassadors a country can have.They are not suspicious, they are eager to
share their skills, they are generous."
With the election of our new president, we have sent a strong signal.
There's been a changing of the guard at Ellis Island. Once again, we step
out into the world with an open hand, a hand offering friendship, even as we
are mindful there are still those who hate us and all we stand for.
But if each of us would read the essays in The Ugly American, perhaps we'd
take travel abroad as our patriotic duty, our personal opportunity to
influence the way the world sees our country. As the book says, "When
Americans do what is right and necessary, they are also doing what is
And a good first step toward being more effective is to read this book.
More forgotten books:
Scott D. Parker
THE RAP SHEET
PK, The BookeeMonster