Charlie Stella is the author of Mafiya: A Novel of Crime (January, 2008) Pegasus Shakedown: A Novel of Crime (June, 2006) Pegasus
Cheapskates: A Novel of Crime (March, 2005) Carroll & Graf
Charlie Opera: A Novel of Crime (December, 2003) Carroll & Graf
Jimmy Bench-Press: A Novel of Crime (December, 2002) Carroll & Graf Eddie's World: A Novel of Crime (December, 2001) Carroll Graf
THE BOY WHO FOLLOWED RIPLEY, Patricia Highsmith
Hedonism or Good Deed Doing?
Dark without gratuitous violence and as existential as it gets, The Boy Who Followed Ripley was (and remains) a wonderful Patricia Highsmith psychological thriller that makes the reader wonder yet again just what it is that motivates her wonderfully dark creation, Tom Ripley. If he’s supposed to be just another hedonist, it doesn’t show in this brilliant offering. Tom shows signs of genuine humanity when dealing with a runaway young man (Frank Pierson, age 16) who has crossed the ocean in flight from patricide (after shoving his wheelchair bound, very wealthy, dear old dad off a cliff).
Never mind the spoilers here, amici; this book is too good not to read (although I’ll do my best to leave you somewhat hanging). This Ripley installment takes place during the Carter (here) Chirac (there) years when Tom is married to a wealthy young French woman (Heloise) and living in France in Ripley’s estate (Belle Ombre). Tom still deals in the world of high end art (frauds and otherwise) and hasn’t lost his sense of survival (at any cost). Whether or not he’s a sociopath is a good question since he thinks/discusses his past murders (yeah, plural) as if he were thinking/talking about cars he’s owned. Although his first and most famous murder, that of Dickie Greenleaf, can at times still haunt Tom, it’s not like he regrets clubbing the rich S.O.B. to death (although let me point out that he does, in fact, regret clubbing a Mafioso, one of his later murders, to the same end).
Ripley is the ultimate survivor who once had nothing more than a suitcase and some clothes, but by book four, through a combination of cold blooded murder(s), an ability to adapt and learn, connections earned through his reputation and (no doubt) a ton of luck, now has everything.
So why take up with this kid who has sought him out from across the Atlantic? Ah, there’s the rub. Has he suddenly become, as the man behind the curtain once put it, a “good deed doer”? Or does Tom see some of himself in young Frank Pierson, a boy who wasn’t exactly crazy about his father but didn’t hate him either; a boy who just might have spotted a golden opportunity when dear old dad was taking his usual gander at a sunset from his favorite spot a few feet from a deadly drop to the rocks way down below.
Tom decides to help the boy evade his family for a few days and puts him up until a pair of suspicious characters he thinks might be kidnappers appear on the scene. Tom then takes Frank to Berlin in an attempt to evade the pursuit of those potential bad guys and the detective the Pierson family has hired to find young Frank. One can only assume it’s a temporary game Tom is involved in; perhaps he misses the intrigue of a life on the run or maybe it’s the potential danger of having his name splashed across the headlines once more in his controversial life, but help Frank Mr. Ripley does (with the caveat that the boy will return to America and his family and the girlfriend Frank is not quite sure really likes him).
A few days on the seamier side of Berlin with some wild nights in a few gay bars, some dealings with people living on the fringe and then a kidnapping and what to do about it makes The Boy Who Followed Ripley a thoroughly entertaining read which will probably find you returning to book one in the series in an attempt to understand this wonderfully complex character who seems to know how to get things done (whatever the cost) and barely flinches in doing so.
There’s more to the story following the kidnapping. The world of Ripley doesn’t portend many happy endings and I’m not about to let you in on the secret(s), but at least in this adventure we can sense Tom’s heart does in fact beat almost, not quite, like the rest of ours.
I never would have thought I could so thoroughly enjoy a crime novel where I had to search for curse words and/or graphic violence, but it’s back to book one in the series for this reader. Highsmith’s Ripley is a mesmerizing character fully deserving of our attention (in whatever order we read him).
M*A*S*H, Richard Hooker
As a teenager I was a fan of the M*A*S*H TV series and the original 1970 Robert Altman movie and I first read the novel in 1989. I was a first year undergraduate and someone I was sharing a student house with had been collecting all the books in the series (of which there are 15). I also made my way through most of them (I seem to remember he was missing 4 of them). I picked up the first in series in Enniskillen a couple of weeks ago for the princely sum of 99p for a brand new copy. Rarely has so little money delivered such value – a few hours of highly enjoyable reading and several belly laughs.
Loosely based on Richard Hooker’s own experiences with the M*A*S*H 8055th (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) in Korean War during the early 1950s, the novel details the tour of duty of Captains Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forrest, two young surgeons drafted to perform ‘meatball surgery’ on the unfortunate soldiers wounded on the frontline, and how they raise hell and havoc to blow off steam, trying to remain sane after hours and days at the operating table and the periods of boredom in between. Along for the journey are fellow swamp (tent) residents, Trapper John (chief surgeon) and Spearchucker Jones (neurologist), and a gang of colourful characters all in the same boat including Radar O’Reilly (clerk), Hot Lips Houlihan (chief nurse), the Painless Pole (dentist), Knocko McCarthy (nurse), Ugly John (anaesthetist), Father ‘Dago Red’ Mulcahy (chaplain), Mother Devine (cook), Frank Burns (surgeon) and Henry Blake (chief officer).
‘Talk to me anyhow, Captain. Just talk about anything that comes into your head.’
‘Death is an elephant, torch-eyed and horrible, foam-flanked and terrible,’ Hawkeye commented.
Major Haskell lit a cigarette.
‘You nervous or something?’ asked Hawkeye.
‘Not at all,’ the Major replied nervously.
‘Hey, Dad, I’ll give you a nice buy on an elephant. Velly clean. Penicillim. Finest kind.’
‘Captain Pierce, what are you up to? Frankly I can’t decide if you’re crazy or just some kind of a screwball.’
‘Well, why don’t you mull it over for a while. You got anything to trade in.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean you want a clean deal on an elephant, or you got some kind of used up elephant you wanta stick me with in return for my best elephant?’
Blending pathos with dark humour, and getting the balance just right, Hooker effectively uses a series of interlinked short stories to unfold the plot. The characterization is superb, as well as the set pieces, and the dialogue is first class. I felt myself smiling often and laughing out loud on a good number of occasions. Unlike the television series, the book lacks an overt political message; it is a book about how people survive and get by in a terrible situation not of their choosing, implicitly an anti-war novel, but not explicitly so. In that sense it lacks the bite of other darkly humorous and satirical books about war such as Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and does little to explore the morality of war or the industries that surround them such as prostitution and black marketeering. Clearly that wasn't Hooker's aim and so the criticism is moot, but for me it would have transformed a very good book into a minor masterpiece.
The other books follow Hawkeye and Trapper John on their return to the United States and has them jetting all over the world on various escapades. The original book was the high point that spawned a media franchise.
Kent Morgan took early retirement from his "real world" job in educational communications in Winnipeg, MB to freelance in sports journalism and public relations, play oldtimers hockey, and, most importantly, get his bibliomania under control. He co-writes a sports column for the Prime Times newspaper and his work has appeared in The Cooperstown Review, Deadball Stars of the American League, Senior Softball USA, Face-Off and the Winnipeg Sun. His goal is to downsize his book collection that includes mystery and sports fiction, but it continues to grow.Paul Hemphill's Novels
Paul Hemphill, who passed away on July 11, is best known for his non-fiction books that total 11. The subject matter of the onetime Atlanta Journal columnist and magazine journalist included good old boys, country music, minor league baseball, race relations and NASCAR.
His first non-fiction book, The Nashville Sound (Simon and Shuster 1970), was a critical success, made the best-seller lists and sold 75,000 copies in hardback. Leaving Birmingham: Notes of a Native Son (Viking 1993) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His most recent books were Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams (Viking 2005) and A Tiger Walk Through
History (Pebble Hill 2008) about Auburn football.
Topping my personal list is Me and the Boy (Macmillan 1986) about the author and his 19-year-old son David learning about each other while they walked the Appalachian Trail.
Hemphill also wrote four novels with his first, Long Gone (Viking Press 1979), probably the best known. This story about a Class D baseball team in Florida was made into a TV movie in 1987 starring William L Peterson (CSI) as hard-living and womanizing player-manager Stud Cantrell.
His next novel, The Sixkiller Chronicles (Macmillan 1985), is my personal favorite. Over four decades, the reader follows three generations of Clay men from Sixkiller Gap in North Carolina to Harvard Medical School. Writer Pat Conroy called it "a love song to a disappearing America." Another Southern author, William Price Fox, called Hemphill's novel "an absolutely brilliant book that will be around forever."
Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Note: Fox's own book titled Satchel Paige's America (Fine Ant 2005) deserves that same kind of praise. Hemphill's next foray into fiction was King of the Road (Houghton Mifflin 1989), a story about a 70-year-old long haul truck driver who is determined to make a final run from Alabama to Nevada. This is another father and son book as Jake Hawkins takes his college English instructor son along for the ride and some lessons on
life. Hemphill's own father spent weekdays on the open road when the writer was growing up in Birmingham.
Despite searching for it in new and used bookstores in Florida and Minnesota as well as Canada, I've never found a copy of Nobody's Hero (River City 2002), the author's last novel about a former football player and his relationship with a young black man. In an interview, Hemphill said his agent at the time had no idea how to promote the book so it only sold 800 copies.
You may have noted that four different publishers published his fiction. The few copies of Nobody's Hero available on Internet bookseller sites before his death were expensive. But as always seems to happen right after an author dies, more copies showed up so you now can
pick one up at a reasonable price. My order already has been placed.