Friday, June 18, 2010
Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, June 18, 2010
Patricia Highsmith reading.
I'm going to have to take a week off on Friday, July 2. You can all probably use a week off for the holiday weekend, too.
Also-starting today Glenn Harper at International Noir will be posting forgotten foreign reading. It is so much in the news right now I thought we needed an expert to help us out. You can find his first review here.
Also I have a movie review at Crimespree Cinema. Check it out when you finish with the great book recommended today.
Mark Terry is the author of the Derek Stillwater thriller series, which includes THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK, THE SERPENT’S KISS, and his most recent novel, THE FALLEN. In addition, he is the author of the bestselling Kindle novel, DANCING IN THE DARK, as well as several
standalones, DIRTY DEEDS and CATFISH GURU. Visit his website at http://www.markterrybooks.com.on/
OUT ON THE RIM by Ross Thomas
When Patricia asked me if I would be interested in writing a review of
a “forgotten book,” the very first book that popped into my head was
“Out On The Rim” by Ross Thomas. Thomas died in 1995 and while he was
alive published numerous crime and caper novels with truly memorable
titles like “Voodoo, Ltd.,” “The Fools in Town Are On Our Side,” “Ah,
Treachery!” and “The Eighth Dwarf.”
Ross was a master at what I would probably call the caper novel, although his capers often had an element of the political thriller and/or the crime or espionage novel. It’s not clear to me if he was abestselling author, although I think he was fairly well known withinthe mystery-reading community while he was alive, and certainly he wasa compadre of authors like Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block. I do know that outside the sometimes claustrophobic world of mystery
fandom, whenever I mentioned Ross Thomas I got baffled looks. Their loss, because Ross Thomas wrote extraordinarily entertaining novelswith memorable characters, dazzlingly elegant prose and plots filled with effortless twists and turns.
Although Ross did not exactly have a recurring main character, heoccasionally returned to several. I’ve always thought of “Chinaman’s Chance”, “Out On The Rim” and “Voodoo, Ltd.” as a trilogy in that they primarily have the same characters, although really only three characters are in all three books: con men Artie Wu, Quincy Durant,and Maurice Overby. Artie is known for being something like 40th inline to the Emperor of China; Quincy, who is his partner, is typically referred to as “that fucking Durant” by everyone who has encountered him before, which tells you a lot about crossing Durant; Maurice Overby is typically called “Otherguy” because when arrested, it invariably turns out that the “other guy” did it.
In “Out On The Rim,” Booth Stallings, a 60-year-old expert on terrorism, is fired from his job at a Washington think tank and on thesame day, offered $500,000 to head to the Philippines and offer $5 million to a terrorist leader Booth was acquainted with, in hopes of persuading the man to retire. (Or perhaps to funnel $5 million to the terrorist in hopes of funding his attacks on the Aquino government).
Booth, skeptical, nonetheless thinks it would be an interesting adventure to not only walk away with half a million dollars, but to scam the client out of the entire $5 million. He hooks up with Wu, Durant, Overby, and the client’s overseer, former Secret Service agent Georgia Blue, and off they go to the Philippines. But it quickly becomes clear that not only is there more going on with the client than an attempt to buy off a terrorist, but that everybody on this team has plans of their own to get hold of the entire $5 million. The fun of it is, you can’t always tell who and how.
“Out On The Rim” gives new meaning to the term “plot twists” and Thomas also does the reader the wonderful service of having a major plot twist at the end that not only surprises, but gives the entire story an entirely different meaning. A wonderfully satisfying caper by
a master writer working at the top of his craft.
Ed Gorman is the author of THE END OF THE WORLD AND OTHER STORIES, THE MIDNIGHT ROOM and A TICKET TO RIDE. You can find him here.
The So-Blue Marble, Dorothy B. Hughes
I'm not sure exactly when Freud became an influence on popular culture but certainly in the Thirties and Forties his beliefs could be found in crime fiction and crime movies. Hitchcock sanctified him in Spellbound and many lesser directors followed suit.
One of the most prominent of Freudian tropes was phantasmagoria, the sense that the protagonist is lost in a chaos that may or may not be real. A nightmare or is he really about to die?
Dorothy B. Hughes certainly plays with this trope in her famous novel The So-Blue Marble (1940). Her lovely protagonist, saddled with the unlovely name Griselda, decides to visit New York and stay in her ex-husband's apartment, at his request. They haven't seen each other for four years during which he's become a major reporter for NBC worldwide and she's become both a writer and an unlikely (and unhappy) movie actress.
This is the Vogue magazine world just before the war. Everything is ridiculously expensive, everything ridiculously elegant, people, clothes, cars, apartments alike. There are always limos standing by and champagne to be drunk.
Griselda is accosted in chapter one by a pair of diabolocially handsome twin brothers, one blond one dark haired, called the Montefierrow Twins by everybody who knows them. They most frequently are seen in tops hats, tails and carrying gold-handled canes, one of which has a dagger on its tip. In any kind of company other than their international che-che world these two would be dead in under five minutes.
The lads want a blue marble that they believe Griselda has. This is the McGuffin. A lot of people want the marble. Only the twins are willing to kill for it, something they do frequently. The marble isn't just a marble of course and there are hints that spies from three different countries have been searching for it, too.
The phantasmagoric aspect comes in when you realize that at times the story teeters on the brink of being unbelievable. It really does have the quality of a nightmare. The writing and social observation are so well done--Hughes, a Yale Young Poet in those days, obviously knew this turf well--you're swept up in all the calamity without worrying about some of the stranger twists and turns.
The most interesting character in the book is Missy, Grisedla's seductive sixteen year old sister. A true psychopath and the lover of one of the those god awful twins. Humbert Humbert would find her enchanting no doubt.
This is the novel that set Dorothy B. Hughes on a career that would include two of her novels becoming Bogart pictures, the best of which, In A Lonely Place, is a noir icon. This is a swift, tart, dark novel set in the months before Pearl Harbor. The coming war is felt on every page.
Steve Lewis and Art Scott