Saturday, November 9, 2019

#15--Second Half Wrap-up for 2019- new Sallis, Krueger and other really good stuff to read

In addition to selling, moving from our house of 26 years into another Loveland patio home this summer which involved a lot of recycling, selling stuff, and getting rid of unnecessaries as well as packing Longs Peak Book Company into 105 banker's boxes weighing 40 to 60 pounds each and moving all of that up 10 steps and down 16 into the new house, I've been reading. And what's worthy of your and my time and effort?

As I've said before, any year that brings a new book from James Sallis is, by definition, a good year. Sallis, author of the cult novel Drive and many other books of mystery, translation, poetry and essay brought two into 2019. Difficult Lives, originally published in 1993 and now republished with Hitching Rides are Sallis' seminal essays celebrating and explaining the earlier giants of noir fiction Chester Himes, David Goodis and Jim Thompson who,it could be said were Sallis' creative "fathers." These giants of fiction are joined with contemporary noir writers,some well-known, some unknown in the second half of the book, Hitching Rides. Sallis wrote introductory essays for novels by James Lee Burke, Patricia Highsmith, Paco Taibo, George Pelecanos, Charles Willeford and Shirley Jackson as well as Gerald Kersh, Boris Vian, and Jean-Patrick Manchette. Read this and better understand Noir.

Sallis' new novel for 2019 Sarah Jane is a tour-de-force as told through the eyes and voice of a young woman who lives in the rural South, had a tough childhood and made some bad choices that led to a court-ordered military stint. Then she's back waitressing, recovering from a bad marriage, and learning about law enforcement when she's thrust into the role of sheriff when her boss disappears. As she goes through her daily business she investigates the mystery of this and the impact on the community and her.

An Advanced Review Copy(ARC) I received and read will be published 02/04/2020 and is entitled A Good Neighborhood by best-selling novelist Therese Anne Fowler. An ecology professor at a North Carolina university lives with her bi-racial son in the title neighborhood and all is good as her son finishes his high school career and prepares to go as a scholarship student to California to continue his study as a classical guitarist. New neighbors move in to a scrape-off, mcmansion next door with a in-ground swimming pool that threatens the roots and life of the professor's beloved, historic oak tree. Then the teenage daughter of the new neighbors begins a relationship with the boy next door and modern life and culture intercede.

William Kent Krueger offers another winning stand-alone novel apart from his Cork O'Connell police-procedural series and his previous award winner, Ordinary Grace. This Tender Land is set in 1932 south-central Minnesota as two white brothers, 8 year old Odie, the book's narrator, and 12 year old Albert are orphaned and sent to the Lincoln Indian Training School, which is equal parts concentration and labor camp for area farmers. Their horrible experience with the woman who runs the school and a sadistic teacher forces the boys to escape with a Sioux boy and a 4 year old girl whose mother was killed in a tornado. The plan is to take a stolen canoe down the Gilead and Minnesota Rivers into the Mississippi and get to St. Louis where the brothers have a relative who might care for them. If this sounds like Huck Finn, it is intentional but carried off brilliantly by Krueger who peoples the book with fascinating characters and detail about life during the Depression.

My final book under consideration is The Push:A Climber's Journey of Endurance, Risk, and Going Beyond Limits written by world-class mountain climber, Tommy Caldwell. Having seen the multi-award winning movie Dawn Wall several times and met the climber-author Caldwell, I felt compelled to read his memoir about his life before, during preparation and the actual climb and afterwards.And I'm very glad I did! This book goes so much beyond the film to explore his life, psyche, training, challenges, triumphs and failures. Actually, the movie, first and the book,second make a great package as Caldwell and some assistant writers and editors really lay out the challenge of attacking something no one ever thought was possible and working for 7 long years to plan, attempt, fail and eventually succeed. This book is THE REAL DEAL!!!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

#14-- So, what's good in 2019?

During the past 5 months I've had opportunity to read about 10 books, some read about 50 pages and closed and seven read to conclusion. Life's too short to read more than 50 pages if it's a struggle and since no one's paying you to complete the book, close it and move on. You've got my permission.

The 7 that I read start to finish are a mix of fiction and non-fiction so let's get cracking...covers. Two by novelist Lou Berney are definite keepers. November Road won a bunch of awards and was included on many Best of 2018 lists as Berney introduces Frank Guidry, a lieutenant and fixer for New Orleans crime boss, Carlos Marcello. Guidry is sent to Dallas in October 1963 to take care of a small task, but after November 22 and the Crime of the Century-- the murder of JFK, Guidry sees that members of Marcello's gang are turning up dead and he will be next. He takes off for Vegas and an acquaintance who hates Marcello and might protect him, but he runs across a young woman with a broken down car, two daughters and a dog alongside the road. Guidry plots how he can use this situation to mask himself as a "family man" from his hunters by promising to get her a new car in Vegas so she can continue her escape to California from a bad marriage in Oklahoma. Love intercedes but the inevitable does as well.

An earlier novel of Berney's, The Long and Faraway Gone, another award winner including an EDGAR, introduces Wyatt, a private investigator in Vegas, who returns to his hometown, Oklahoma City, where 25 years earlier in 1986, he was the lone survivor of a movie house massacre in which six of his co-workers were shot by robbers. The case he's sent to investigate keeps pulling him back into the movie house murders while his path crosses a woman who lost her older sister to a kidnapper at the state fair that same year. Can their two investigations help them heal or is this another disaster about to happen.

Bruce Berger, a concert pianist and essayist in the style of John McPhee, Mark Twain and Joan Didion, offers his best in a collection titled A Desert Harvest: New and Selected Essays. These are some very short, a page or two, while others are 28-30 pages long. What unites them are Berger's writing style which is excellent and the location of them-- the American Southwest and the Mexican Baja region. These are not current, they are set 20 to 40 years ago and capture a place in time that was not as currently glitzy and tourist obsessed.

One of the best novels I've read in a long time is a debut effort and another EDGAR winner  James A McLaughlin called Bearskin. Rice Moore has re-located from the Arizona deserts to Appalachia of western Virginia as he has escaped Mexican prison and the drug cartel that put him there. He now has a new name and a job as caretaker of a wilderness preserve repairing fences, cabins and counting species in the old growth forest. But bear carcasses in his forest introduce him to local law,poachers and local toughs, motorcycle gangs and some very bad people from his past as well as a university professor who was his predecessor at the reserve..

Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth is his story set in 1968 when he was hired as the first African American police officer in a very segregated Colorado Springs. He served his rookie time in records and property but came into his own when he was asked to go undercover into the Black Power community. He expanded his role in police work when he became involved with the Ku Klux Klan that was seeking to expand in Colorado Springs and especially at the military bases in the area. The book reads very matter-of-factly about his work which was sensationalized in the Spike Lee film last year. When asked about his role in creating the film, author Stallworth rolled his eyes, smiled and said nothing, since his book stands on its own.

If you ever read James Grady's debut novel Six Days of the Condor(1974) or saw the Pollack/Redford movie, you might have wondered what happened next to Malcolm aka Condor. Grady has answered your question with the recently published Condor: The Short Takes which collects 5 Condor stories previously published in fairly obscure journals and adds a lengthy novella about Russian entanglements with Condor.

And the final book I enjoyed in my five months of reading is the final book by author Philip Kerr, Metropolis, the 14th in his great Bernie Gunther series. The book also is the introduction to Bernie Gunther as he is taken from regular police work onto the Murder Wagon as a serial killer is murdering prostitutes and scalping them. The police are befuddled as killings of World War l veterans and amputees begins to spread in 1928 Berlin as well and Hitler is moving into the political scene and Berlin is wide open to all deviant behavior. Kerr will be missed.