Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books, January 23, 2009

Kids reading Harry Potter.


With the exception of CATCH 22, I don't know of another book that knocked me out in quite the way this one did when I was young(er). Written in 1968, it overflows with creativity, humor and pathos. Maybe it's not forgotten, but I rarely hear it mentioned.

J. Henry Waugh is an unhappy accoutant who entertains himself by inventing a game that he can escape to at the end of the day. Every action in the game is ruled by the dice. Waugh does not get to intervene. He is, of course, no more in charge of what happens in the game then he is in what happens in his life. He finds this out when his star pitcher is killed by a pitched ball. (Yes, his game even allows for such events; it's that complex) This fictional event has impact on Waugh's real life in horrible ways.

Cleverly, Coover allows the players, managers and baseball executives to come to life, making the book much less static than this might sound. Is Waugh a God? If so he has little power over his invented world and even less over his real one. It is chance that rules Waugh's game and his world. Until....This is a great book.

Mark Combes is the author of RUNNING WRECKED. You can find him at WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE by Reed Farrel Coleman.

I suspect you might be like me. You find an author you like but for whatever reason, you find yourself either in the middle of his or her career – or in the middle of a series. For me, that happened with Reed Farrel Coleman. The first Moe Prager book I read was his 2007 release Soul Patch, as it was the only one I could readily get from my local bookstore. And I was hooked. But as I mentioned above, Soul Patch put me smack in the middle – well actually just slightly past the middle – of the Moe Prager series. But a guy does what he has to when it’s the only book in the series that is readily available.

Well not anymore.

The terrific little indie publisher from the great state of Texas, Busted Flush Press, has just re-released the first two titles in the Prager series and the third will be out later this year.

And a littl
e advice – read this series in order. It might not be necessary in all series, but I think it’s critical here because Walking the Perfect Square plants the bad seed that will haunt Moe in the subsequent books in the series. As an unlicensed, semi-pro PI, Moe is brought into a missing person investigation and in an ill-advised fit of goodwill, he makes a promise that will haunt him – forever. It’s this kind of emotion that Coleman excels at. These aren’t shoot-em-up books; Coleman writes a thinking person’s crime story. As SJ Rozen says, “Moe Prager is the thinking person's P.I. And what he thinks about—love, loyalty, faith, betrayal—are complex and vital issues, and beautifully handled.”

I can’t say it any better than that so I won’t try. So go down to your local bookstore, bring that ISBN for Walking the Perfect Square, and treat yourself to some truly fine writing.

Rosemary Harris is a former bookstore manager and video producer. She is the author of The Big Dirt Nap (Feb. 2009, St. Martin's Minotaur) and Pushing Up Daisies (Feb. 2008, Mystery Guild selection and IMBA Bestseller, coming soon in paperback.)

PROMISE NOT TO TELL by Jennifer McMahon.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I really did forget about Promise Not To Tell. I'd met the author, Jennifer McMahon, briefly, at New England Crimebake a year ago, and again at MidWinter ALA a few months later. I hadn't forgotten her - she was quite memorable - sweet, cerebral and perhaps a bit shy, unlike most of the mystery writers on the circuit, myself included. I remembered her, but unfortunately not the title of the book.

Then one day I was in a bookstore surfing the trade paperback
tables - as much as I love Amazon, you just can't do that online. It's not the same. I was drawn to a book with a haunting cover. It was the image of a young girl, 12 or 13, looking straight into the camera, straight at me. There's a quote on the cover. Not from a reviewer or fellow author - from the girl herself; "I killed someone tonight." What's inside is every bit as haunting as the cover.

Promise Not To Tell is the story of Kate Cypher who returns home after a long absence to look after her ailing mother. While sh
e's there a girl is murdered, in a manner reminiscent of another crime committed years before when Kate was a child - the unsolved murder of a young girl who'd been treated cruelly and was derisively known as The Potato Girl.

Is Kate a suspect, a witness, or an other victim? And does the current crime have anything to do with the death of the Potato Girl, now the subject of campfire stories and cautionary tales, who supposedly haunts the place where she was killed?

No mere whodunit, Promise Not To Tell is a remarkable debut - beautifully written, with deceptively straightforward prose that paints a telling picture of Kate's past, her present and maybe even her future, as well as an indelible portrait of The Potato Girl.

Four stars.

Kieran Shea's crime fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Pulp Pusher, Dogmatika,Muzzleflash, Plots with Guns, Demolition. He lives outside Annapolis, MD

LANCELOT by Walker Percy.

Often brushed aside as the least popular of Walker Percy’s novels, LANCELOT is a grenade tossed into the waiting room of modern moral complacency. Kierkegaardian madness and savage murder recounted by a patient being visited by his priest in an insane asylum, the book explores the moral challenges of the age with humor and grace. Frightening and funny. True, a little tinged with bourbon and “branch”…but, hey...the man was “the last gentleman." I miss him so.

Brian Thornton's m
ost recent work was the short story "Suicide Blonde, published in the November, 2008 edition of ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGZINE. His short story "Paper Son" is forthcming in the Akashic Books anthology SEATTLE NOIR,(June, 2009). THE DOOMSTERS by Ross MacDonald

So hey, I just read this terrific book by a major writer in the mystery canon. In it, a world weary private investigaor allows himself to get sucked into the domestic problems of a rich, prominent Southern California family. As the story plays out, the P.I. uncovers a number of old secrets, all of which point toward a long-covered up crime committed by a member of the prestigious family's eminently respectable older generation. The current family crisis is a direct result of that original crime (or, if you prefer, "sin"), and also involves a relatively blameless member of the family's younger generation.

The author, of course, is Ross MacDonald. And the paragraph above could describe most of the books he wrote from the mid-fifties onward. It's been said of MacDonald that for the second half of his career, he told one story over and over, but he told it so well, and varied the details enough that few readers cared. Titles such as THE DROWNING POOL, THE CHILL, THE WYCHERLY WOMAN, THE GALTON CASE and BLACK MONEY bear this out. In fact, beginning with THE CHILL in 1960, MacDonald had a decade-long run of acclaimed books utilizing variations of the above basic plot.

But what about his earlier work? MacDonald's series hero, Lew Archer started out a hard-boiled member of the Hammett/Chandler school but evolved into something completely different. Over the course of the series, Archer becomes a less and less obtrusive observer of the manifold ways in which families and their various pathologies can prey upon their children.

THE DOOMSTERS, published in 1959 (a year before the landmark THE CHILL) chronicles Archer's transition from hard-boiled, physical, wise-cracking P.I. to quasi-social worker, with terrific results. The vestiges of MacDonald's earlier penchant for action scenes are there (including Archer being attacked and placed in a sleeper hold in his own car by a client who then steals said car). So too, is MacDonald's evolving strong voice and trademark elegiac language.
Before the door closed, one of them broke into a storm of weeping. The noise of grief is impersonal, and I couldnt be sure which of them it was. But I thought is must have been Mildred. Her loss was the worst. It had been going on for a long time and was continuing."

With deft characterization, a strong, if familiar plot, and the words of one of the 20th century's great writers, THE DOOMSTERS is on a par with MacDonald's best work during the 1960s. Lost in the roar of critical acclaim that MacDonald received as a result of the publication of THE CHILL a year later, THE DOOMSTERS has been unfairly forgotten. This years marks the 50th anniversary of its publication and it is well worth a read.

Some more forgotten books.

Ed Gorman
Bill Crider
David Cranmer
Scott D. Parker
Jacob Weaver
George Kelley
Lesa Holstine
Gary Dobbs
Kerrie Smith
n Edwards
Cathy Cole
James Reasoner
Randy Johnson
Paul Bishop
Todd Mason


George said...

I agree with you that Robert Coover is an underrated writer who wrote some wonderful books. I've always liked Coover's WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GLOOMY GUS OF THE CHICAGO BEARS.

Charles Gramlich said...

Busted Flush Press! Makes me think right away of Travis McGee.

Mark Combes said...


And you would be correct!

Take a look at Busted Flush Press's site and you'll find some pretty cool limited editions too.

Todd Mason said...

In my bookstore days, I recommended Avram Davidson and Grania Davis's novel to a couple, who came back looking for more, and I gave them Coover's YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS as similar in spirit. Alas, they didn't agree.

Coover is still with us, George, just had a short story in HARPER'S the other month.

I'll have a book entry for you, Patti.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great, Todd.
Yes, how often did I climb aboard that boat with Travis. I remember wondering what color would adorn the next cover.
Busted Flush Press, one of the labors of love bringing back books that should never have gone out of print.

Kieran said...

Coover! Finally! I've always loved that book, and his collection YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS. Nice one, P!

bish8 said...

SOrry, I got a late start today. I just posted my forgotten book.

Bill Crider said...

Wow, I've read all but one of these. Couldn't agree more. Great stuff.

pattinase (abbott) said...

All but one of all of them? Yikes. I am ashamed.

Kent Morgan said...

I did a paper on The Universal Baseball Association while in college and still think it ranks with the best baseball novels. As for Coover, I've tried to read several of his other novels with little success. Gloomy Gus is one book that's still gathering dust in my football fiction section.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hi Kent- UBA is my only Coover too. I think it's his most linear narrative and I am a linear reader.