#11 Some New Old Books- May 2018
What's not to like when a reader discovers a new author who has been writing, maybe somewhat under the radar, for decades but deserves better. Four such authors that I have been reading the past 8 months are Brad Smith, a Canadian, and American authors Fred Zackel and Willy Vlautin. Smith, from the Great Lakes region of Ontario has had a considerable career as an author following stints as a railroad signal man, a rancher, carpenter, roofer- all honorable jobs that fill in when the writing is slow. His first three books showed great development in skill as his debut "One-Eyed Jacks" introduced a washed up boxer returning to the 1950s Toronto area. Tommy Cochrane wants to try to buy back his family's rural farm by fighting one, last match against a ranked heavyweight.Gals, gangsters, gamblers, Brylcream are everywhere as this easy plot smoothly unwinds.
Smith's second novel "All Hat" is a step up in smooth but entertaining plotting as 40 year old Ray Doaks returns to his small Ontario town after a two year jolt in prison for assaulting Sonny, the wealthy, thug son of an industrial billionaire who raped Ray's sister. Ray wants to be a roofer in his town but his path keeps crossing Sonny's who is trying to buy up all the farmland to build a racetrack-resort. Various race track figures are integral in a plot to steal a thoroughbred and race it in a super-grudge match. Smith's third novel, "Busted Flush" is a caper-fantasy as Dock Bass, a carpenter-realtor decides to chuck his profession and cheating wife to move to a ramshackle farmhouse in Gettysburg PA inherited from a previously unknown relative. His renovation project breaks through a wall to reveal a treasure trove of Civil War photography, previously unknown recording equipment, and maybe even the voice of A. Lincoln. Unscrupulous antique dealers and collectors test Dock's resolve to keep and use these priceless items.
Fred Zackel, something of a mystery man in the noir, crime writing field, is still productive after a stellar kickoff in 1978 with "Cocaine and Blue Eyes"."Fred Zackel's first novel reminds me of the young Dashiell Hammett's work, not because it is an imitation, but because it is not. It is a powerful and original book made from the lives and language of the people who live in San Francisco today." -- Mystery novelist Ross Macdonald, author of SLEEPING BEAUTY and THE UNDERGROUND MAN. Now, that's a pretty hard and heavy endorsement to live up to.But Zackel does as he introduces Michael Brennan, a private eye based in San Francisco who is hired for $1,000 to find the title girl who lives on a boat in the harbor but has gone missing. Brennan's search takes him from mid-winter cold and damp of the harbor into the mansions of the SF elite as a family saga leads into corruption and murder.
His second novel "Cinderella After Midnight" is equally noir, compelling and maybe even a bit better written as Brennen gets a straight-forward case to find a missing 15 year old girl who her mother suspects may have run from SF to LA to meet up with or been kidnapped by her ex-husband in a custody battle. But after visiting LA-- Brennan's casing and breaking into the father's condo occupies 5 pages and is masterful writing-- and deciding this is not where the girl is, Brennan spends the next 4 days in the depths of SF's Tenderloin, various corporate offices and the presence of a US Senator being lied to, blackmailed,shot at, and dynamited in search of this girl. Zackel has numerous newer novels to his name, but the two I have on my book stack for future reading are another SF novel, "Tough Town, Cold City" and a Las Vegas novel, "Johnny Casino."
The final author in today's review is not Unknown, but maybe is less widely known than he should be. Willy Vlautin has had 20 successful years as songwriter and vocalist with the Oregon-based band Richmond Fontaine and five published novels, 2 of which have been made into movies- The Motel Life and Lean on Pete. Vlautin's latest book, "Don't Skip Out on Me" is especially poignant. Horace Hooper, half Paiute, half Irish, lives with the Reeses in rural Nevada, helping Mr. Reese with his sheep ranch up in the mountains, but he wants more. Horace wants to be a boxer which the novel recounts as he moves from Golden Gloves matches in Arizona to training and working in Tucson to his professional career fighting in Mexico. The writing is beautiful and as a successful author can do, the reader becomes very connected to this young man and his struggle. ENJOY!