Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, May 29, 2015

He hangs around here.

Forgotten Books: A Hidden Place by Robert Charles Wilson

In the course of a year I usually read twenty or twenty five novels that impress me. Some for characterization, some for story, some for milieu. But I rarely read a novel that astonishes me.

When Robert Charles Wilson's first novel A Hidden Place appeared as a Bantam paperback original in 1986, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I received it along with three or four other science fiction Bantams. I think I put it on the bottom of the stack. The other novels were by writers I knew. Whatever reluctance I felt vanished when I read the first page.

The story here concerns a young man named Travis Fisher who is sent to live with his aunt because his mother, a troubled woman, has died. What he finds in his aunt's house is an intolerable uncle who demands that Travis lives by steely rules he himself frequently breaks. He also finds Anna, the strange beautiful woman who boards upstairs. Travis is so stunned by her he can barely form sentences. He also takes up Nancy Wilcox, a smart, witty girl who is bursting to escape the brutal social order of this small town.

Parallel to this story line is the one of the odd hobo Bone. Because the novel is set in the worst years of the Depression, Bone becomes our tour guide, showing us exactly how people of various kinds behaved during this time. Bone is a transfixing figure, as mysterious as Anna and perhaps linked to her in some way.

I don't want to start listing plot twists here. All I'll say is that each is cleverly set up and magnificently sprung on the reader. What I'd rather talk about is the writing. In the course of reading A Hidden Place, I heard many voices--among them Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner and the Theodore Dreiser who wrote An American Tragedy. The irony is that Wilson is a Canadian. He may or may not have read any of these writers. But except for John Steinbeck, I've never read place description to equal the power and poetry of Wilson's shantytowns or railroad goons; nor have I encountered a better picture of the small towns of that era.

But most of all the book is about people. Wilson's characters will take up permanent residence in your memory. So many of them ache for things they can't have, for things they don't even understand. Wilson writes with a razor.

Twenty years later we find that Robert Charles Wilson is a highly regarded science fiction writer, winner of many awards and several lengthy studies. I believe I've read every novel he's published. But much as I love them I always go back to this one. In its sorrows and its griefs and the beauties of its writing, we find a rare kind of truth, a statement about what it means to be human.

Sergio Angelini, CAROL, Patricia Highsmith
Joe Barone, TINOS, Jefferey Siger
Bernadette, CROOKED HOUSE, Agatha Christie
Martin Edwards, NIGHTMARE COTTAGE, G.M. Wilson
Curt Evans, CHILD'S PLAY, Reginald Hill
Ed Gorman, THE PLASTIC NIGHTMARE, Richard Neely
John Hegenberge, THE SPHINX EMERALD, H. Bedford Jones
Rock Horton, D-99, H.B. Fyfe
Nick Jones, THE TOWER, P.M. Hubbard
Jon Jordan, SO NUDE, SO DEAD, Ed McBain
Margot Kinberg, IN THE BLOOD, Lisa Unger
B.F. Lawson, DEATH OF A BUSYBODY, Elizabeth Linington
Steve Lewis, LASSITER, Paul Levine
Todd Mason, JOY IN OUR CAUSE, Carol Emshwiller
Neer, DEATH TAKES LIVING, Miles Burton
J. F. Norris, THE CASE OF THE ROLLING BONES, Erle Stanley Gardner
James Reasoner, HAUNTED MESA, Donald Bayne Hobart
Richard Robinson, CARDS ON THE TABLE, Agatha Christie
Gerard Saylor, A NECESSARY END, Peter Robinson
Kerrie Smith, FROZEN OUT, Quentin Bates
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, MR. MONK AND THE DIRTY COP, Lee Goldberg
TracyK. PARTNERS IN CRIME, Agatha Christie

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Brian Busby's Bookshelf

Brian Busby’s Shelves

What books are currently on your nightstand?

I count fourteen, among them books by Margaret Millar, Ross Macdonald, Howard Engel, Arthur Stringer, Roderick Haig-Brown and Douglas Sanderson. Right now I’m reading The Unreasoning Heart, for which Constance Beresford-Howe received the 1945 Intercollegiate Literary Fellowship Prize.

(I know. I’d never heard of it either.)

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

Brian Moore.

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

You’ll find seventeen books by Richard Rohmer, but only because I agreed to join two old friends in reading every one of his thirty-one books. Rohmer’s name doesn’t mean much today, but forty years ago he was Canada’s bestselling thriller writer. Some people still remember his first, Ultimatum (1973), in which an energy-starved United States invades Canada for its oil. Interestingly, his first flop was something called How to Write a Be$t $eller.

I’ve also been building a decent collection of nineteenth-century anti-Catholic propaganda – research material for a book I’m writing about the Maria Monk hoax. (

Who is your favorite fictional hero?

I don’t have one, though I do come across characters I admire from time to time. As a sad young man, I suppose I would have said Jay Gatsby.

What book do you return to?

Memoirs of Montparnasse, John Glassco’s remarkable, unreliable account of his adventures in the Paris of the ‘twenties. It left such an impression on me that I spent eight years writing a biography of the man, A Gentleman of Pleasure (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2011).


Born, raised and educated in Montreal, after university I gravitated toward jobs that had to do with the written word: library wholesaler, soap opera writer, radio dramatist (really) and textbook editor. My last salaried employment was as a national buyer for the country’s dominant bookstore chain. It was inevitable, I suppose, that I would end up struggling to make a living by writing books. Most have been published under pseudonym, written to pay the bills; those that have appeared under my own name were done for love at a loss. My next, The Dusty Bookcase, is drawn from my magazine column and blog (, both of which explore the suppressed, ignored and forgotten in Canadian literature.
 Still very much a Montrealer, I live with my wife and daughter in St Marys, Ontario, the most beautiful town between Stratford and London.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What constitutes a Mystery?

I was looking over amazon comments on THE BEST MYSTERY STORIES OF 2014 and repeatedly saw the comment, "These are not mysteries." Maybe at the beginning of this series, the term mystery was most often used when discussing stories with a whodunit aspect or PI or police procedural. But now crime fiction is a broader, more encompassing, term for stories that concern a crime, a criminal or sometimes  a  "mystery." Maybe this yearly collection should only include classic stories. That may be what the typical buyer expects.Or maybe it should be THE BEST CRIME FICTION STORIES. Hard to break with tradition though.

What do you expect when you pick up a book like this? Are you expecting the classic mystery story in every selection? How much leeway do you give a story that calls itself a mystery?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Thom Andersen made this nearly three hour movie, released briefly in 2004, which looks at almost every movie, good or bad, that took place in LA or used it as a setting, or used it as a character. For any movie lover, or noir lover, a real treat. It is available on Netflix Streaming and perhaps You Tube.
A bit of trimming probably would have given it more screen time. But I am surprised it didn't turn up until now. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

One of the nicest things I have even seen

(Megan and me on the same rack at McNally Jackson). If you click it you can almost make it out.

Scott Montgomery's Bookshelf

Scott Montgomery's Mystery People Bookstore is housed inside Book People Bookstore in Austin, Texas, one of the finest bookstores I have ever been inside.

What book(s) are currently on your nightstand?

The Cartel, Don Winslows amazing sequel to The Power Of The Dog, Dry
Bones, the next book in Craig Johnson's entertaining Walt Longmire
series, and Perish Twice, the Robert B Parker's second Sunny Randall
novel. I also have Concrete Angel sitting there ready to be read.

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

Dashiell Hammett with Elmore Leonard being a very close second. Both
had that direct style that changes the game of crime fiction and, in
there own way, they were champions of the working class.

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

I'm a pretty open book when it comes to my tastes. Maybe Janice
Hamrick's Jocelyne Shore series. They don't have the many of the noir
or hard boiled qualities of the books I normally champion, but Janice
has such a understanding of human nature and creates a such a
believable heroine you care about, I truly enjoy her work. Plus, for a
so-called "light" mystery writer she can get brutal and dark. She
killed a guy with a lion mauling. The first book is Death On Tour and
she gets better with each one.

 Who is your favorite fictional hero?

Lonesome Dove's Gus McCrae. I don't know why, but I always loved the
idea of not only saving a lady and showing her true humanity for the
first time, but telling her before he leaves "Someday, you're gonna'
learn other people will treat you kind." That to me is one of the most
gallant moments in literature.

What book do you return to?

Hammett's collection of Continental Op stories. The writing is tough,
sparse, believable, and even reading them today you feel the rules
being broken and more possibilities being set before all of us who
aspire to write in this genre. It's the punk rock album of crime