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.