Robert Gregory Browne is the author of Kiss Her Goodbye
CONTROL by William Goldman
For those of you who have never heard of William Goldman, you might know him from his movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Princess Bride, and well as more recent work like his adaptations of Misery and The General's Daughter.
Before Goldman got into screenwriting, however, he was a novelist -- and a damn fine one at that. Marathon Man is probably one of the best thrillers ever written and I'll always consider it one of the novels that taught me how to write. Magic is another great one that was made into a thoroughly mediocre movie that flat out ruined the novel's excellent jump-out-of-your-chair twist.
But one of Goldman's very best books is all but forgotten, and that's CONTROL, which melds the thriller with other genres in ways that I can't describe because it would spoil the story for you. Let's just say that Goldman is the master of what he calls the "reversal" and this book has one of the biggest reversals you're bound to find.
Released in 1982, CONTROL is the story of an artist named Edith, a psychopath called Billy Boy, a couple of mismatched cops and so much more. And that's all I'm willing to tell you. I challenge anyone to read the first paragraph and put the book down. Unless your house is on fire, it will be pretty much impossible and you'll find yourself devoting very large chunks of your day to finishing CONTROL.
Al Guthrie is the author of Savage Night and
Portrait in Smoke by Bill Ballinger (1951)
A minor classic. A gem that shouldn't be. Reason I say that, character
motivation is weak throughout and that's usually a killer for me. But
Ballinger somehow manages to pull it off with a driven narrative and some
unusual characters. What's interesting is the character points-of-view used
throughout. It alternates between first person, in the shape of Dan April,
collection agent, and third person in the shape of Krassy Almaniski, psycho
femme fatale. A device used with increasing frequency these days, but I
don't know of too many examples from over 50 years ago. In the psycho
league, Krassy's right up there alongside Jim Thompson's Lou Ford and Horace
McCoy's protagonist in "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye". The story: well, Dan is
obsessed with tracing Krassy -- although the logic behind his obsession (he
saw her once as a kid and thought she was beautiful) is best simply accepted
and not analysed too closely. Dan tracks Krassy down, chapter by chapter,
from her youth to the present day. Every other chapter, we see (from
Krassy's viewpoint), what Dan doesn't know. When he finds her, eventually,
he's quickly and utterly smitten. Krassy behaves consistently, and the path
to ruin is complete. Or is it? If Goodis had written this the conclusion
would be inevitably bleak, but Ballinger serves up a clever ending.
Woody Haut is the author of Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War and Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood.
Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter
First published by Harcourt in 1966, Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter would make a brief appearance on the fringes of the best-seller list. Unfortunately, after a handful of reprintings- the last a Ballantine paperback edition in 1987- the book pretty much vanished from sight. I remember briefly meeting Carpenter- it was Richard Brautigan who introduced us- at a
It might have been published over forty years ago, but Hard Rain Falling reads like it could have been written yesterday. Built around the life of Jack Levitt, an orphan who grows up to be a drifter and constantly in trouble with the law, the book’s honesty, insight and lack of sentimentality make both the narrative and its protagonist heart-renderingly real: “He was buried inside his skin, bones, and nerves, and he would have to get out of there if he was to understand his pain. If it was pain. He knew people suffered agony, and he wondered if what he felt was agony. It did not seem like the descriptions of agony. He wondered if it wasn’t just self-pity again.” Moving from Portland pool halls to San Quentin, where Levitt falls in love with his cell-mate, to the mean streets of San Francisco, the novel, which takes place between 1929 and 1963, carries an intensity that perhaps only a young writer willing to pour out his soul can instill in their work.
In effect, Hard Rain Falling revises both the juvenile delinquent novel, so popular during the late 1940s, and the prison novel. In doing so Carpenter creates something unique, a coming of age street novel that unflinchingly examines race, class, male sexuality and the injustices perpetrated by the criminal justice system. In this way it can be classed alongside books by authors like Robert Tasker, Jack London, Clarence Cooper Jr, Chester Himes and Edward Bunker. Coming out of the Dreiser school of social realism, Hard Rain Falling is not only brutally honest, but also beautifully rendered. What’s more, no one, Walter Tevis and Richard Jessup included, writes more convincingly about the complex world of poker and pool-hustling. Though he would go on to publish some ten books, including at least three
Craig McDonald is the author of Head Games and Toros and Torsos.
I first heard of Craig Holden at a James Ellroy signing in
Four Corner’s exploration of the ramifications of a child’s abduction pushed the boundaries of crime fiction to the far four corners; Holden’s book expanded the reach and breadth of crime fiction and shows that in the right hands, a crime novel can be both a page-turner, and an atmosphere-rich and wrenching character study.