Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 24, 2010

Next week I'm taking a break while I visit my New York friends/family. See you on the following Friday.

Nigel Bird is a Support For Learning teacher in a primary school near Edinburgh. Co-Producer of the Rue Bella magazine between 1998 and 2003, he has recently published in ‘The Reader’, ‘Crimespree’ and 'Needle'. He won the ‘Watery Grave Invitational 2010’ contest over at ‘The Drowning Machine’, has
stories at ‘A Twist Of Noir’, 'Pulp Metal Magazine and ‘Dark Valentine Magazine’. His story ‘An Arm And A Leg’ will appear in the ‘Best Of British Crime’ anthology (edited by Maxim Jakubowski) in 2011 and ‘No Pain No Gain’ has just been accepted by Crimefactory. His blog ‘Sea Minor’ is currently running the ‘Dancing With Myself’ series of interviews. He hopes to complete a draft of his novel by the end of 2010.

Nigel Bird

Stuart Kaminsky: Murder On The Yellow Brick Road

I’ve just come to the end of a rather good book. ‘City Of Dragons’ is set in the 1940s and centres upon the work of private eye Miranda Corbie. She’s a tough, hard-drinking, attractive lady with a history as colourful as a butterfly and she’s a wonderful addition to the world of detective fiction.
The good news for me is that I’ve heard from the author, Kelli Stanley, that Miranda is to make a reappearance or two, which gives me something to look forward to and a couple of easier choices when I’m facing the bookstore shelves at some point in the future.

I love to be able to watch characters as their lives unfold from one book to the next, to see them age alongside the people around them as their worlds change. It’s like forming any relationship – the more time you spend in someone else’s company, the better you get to know them (for better or worse). I’ve spent many happy hours with Maigret, Van Der Valk, Harry Bosch, Matt Scudder, Nick Stefanos, Hap Collins/Leonard Pine, and I’m always delighted to discover someone new and interesting to befriend.

One such character has been Toby Peters. I was surprised recently to see that he wasn’t even in contention on a site looking for a favourite detective – didn’t even make the first hundred. I have no idea why. He’s a fabulous character. Powerful and tough on the exterior, soft yet cynical, clever and determined and with a real code of discretion and loyalty that goes further than any sane person would take it. He’s not a son of Chandler or Hammett, but can’t be much further away than being one of their nephews.

He’s no derivative character, either. There’s a difference between homage and imitation and Kaminsky seems to understand that well.
In ‘Murder On The Yellow Brick Road’ we see Kaminsky (and Peters) at his finest. It’s not the first in the series so things are well developed and it’s not further on in the series when Kaminsky hadn’t quite found the confidence needed to leave out elements of the back-story.

“SOMEBODY HAD MURDERED a Munchkin,” is the opening line. Coming on the back of a wonderful title, I was hooked from that point on.
Toby Peters is called in to investigate. Employed over at Warner Brothers until he broke the arm of a B movie cowboy-actor, his services are enlisted by MGM to keep Judy Garland’s name out of the dirt.
It’s his discretion and his integrity that land him a job; that and an interview with Louis B Mayer. Judy is in a difficult position and it’s not looking good for either the star or the star-machine.
In steps Peters. He defends a Swiss midget seen arguing with his fellow Munchkin and victim on a number of occasions and follows up on leads that take him to interview Clark Gable. Later, while working the case, he bumps into Raymond Chandler who’s hoping to get some tips, meets some rough and dangerous characters and he even gets to see Randolph Hearst.
There’s a reel of film involved, blackmail plots and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing all the way. When the villain of the piece is revealed, you’re only a few steps ahead of the game, which keeps it tense and interesting to the end.

Looking at the cast of characters, it would be easy to dismiss this book as a gimmick. I choose to see it in a different way. Kaminsky is playing to his strengths, marrying together his passion and knowledge of film and fiction to create a tale that is worthy of the best.
By mixing in real characters into his plots he was taking a big chance given that many people have strong feelings about all those involved. I’m no expert, but the way Garland and Gable come across it feels entirely as I might have imagined.

At times, the humour and the theatrical nature of the plot and scenes are used to paper over any cracks and the result is a real gem. It’s not only Peters who we come to love. There are a number of other characters in his life who have been beautifully constructed.
There’s Sheldon Mink, lunatic dentist with whom Peters shares an office. Anyone visiting him for treatment should really be seeing a shrink.
Jeremy Butler is the man who owns the building where Mink and Peters hang out. He’s an ex-wrestler, new-father and ageing poet rolled into one package, as well as being someone that’s useful to have around when the going gets tough.
There’s his landlady, a deaf old bird who seems to have selective hearing and a desire to have her memoirs published.
And there’s his brother, a big wig in the police force. When it comes to sibling rivalry we’re talking Cain and Abel. Unlike Toby, Lieutenant Phil Pevsner hasn’t changed his name to mask his heritage. Phil also happens to have the temper of a Berserker and the strength of a team of oxen and he uses both pretty much every time they have a reunion.
These characters play key roles in this and the following books.
When I came to finish ‘Yellow Brick Road’ I really needed to get straight into another. And another after that. And how’s this for a title of a later book - Mildred Pierced; it takes a hell of a mind to come up with jewels like that on such a regular basis.
Light, intriguing and rooted in the early days of detective fiction, pick up this book and you’re sure to return to mine the rich vein that lays waiting for you.

Jeff Meyerson

Robert Barnard, Out of the Blackout (1984)
Robert Barnard has been writing high quality mysteries since the mid-1970's. He's created long-running (and often interacting) series characters like Charlie Peace and Mike Oddie, Perry Trethowan and Iqbal Meredith. But for my money his best work is in his non-series work, of which this is one of his finest examples in the two dozen of his books I've read. (His short stories are also excellent.)
During the Blitz many British families sent their young children from London to the countryside to keep them safe. On one such train there is an extra child, Simon Thorn, not on any list and unable to tell anyone where he came from or where he lives. He is taken in by a nice couple who worry about his screaming nightmares.
Years later, as an adult and back in London, Simon gets certain flashes of recognition and tries to solve the mystery of his childhood. I won't say more about what he finds because you should read it for yourself to find out. Barnard does a wonderful job with the world of 1941 and the small village where Simon ends up, in this fast moving and engrossing mystery that, once started, I wasn't able to put down (as much of a cliche as that may be).
Highly recommended.

Ed Gorman is the author of STRANGlEHOLD. You can find him here.

PEEPER by Loren D. Estleman
I've probably read this books five or six times and reviewed it two or three. It always gives me an instant high because Estleman has created a character so despicable you keep wishing somebody would shoot/stab/strangle/burn him. And he's the protagonist. Even though I know a fair share of the book by heart I still laugh outloud through a good share of it. Dirt-bag Detroit private eye Ralph Poteet is so sleazy you just got to laugh at him. And the big problem is for all the laws he breaks his renumeration wouldn't buy him a good meal at Olive Garden (if there is such a thing). PEEPER is a witty take on many private-eye clich├ęs. It's filled with people you wouldn’t want to meet without wearing a biohazard suit, including a monsignor who dies in a whorehouse. Poteet is asked to help secret the man’s enormous body to a more discreet location. And he decides while he’s at it … to snap a few pics of the corpse. Never know what kind of money they’ll bring on the open market. This gives Estleman the opportunity to put the big time nasty on Catholic Church politics. The prelates are even scuzzier than Poteet, no easy accomplishment. What makes this work is Estleman’s enormous skill. Nobody writes a classical private-eye story better than Loren, even when he’s having fun with the tropes. This book is a triumph of bad taste and hilarity in equal parts. I'm serious here--this would also make a great TV series. Trust me. You’ll like this one a lot. And you'll re-read it as many times as I have.

Paul Bishop

Paul Brazill
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Glenn Harper
Randy Johnson
Alex Jurek
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Allen J. Hubbin
Todd Mason
Terrie Moran
Juri Nummelin
Eric Peterson
J. Kingston Pierce
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple


Charles Gramlich said...

Enjoy your trip and break!

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Thanks, as always, for this wonderful feature. Enjoy your well-deserved break.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Have a good one. Keep away from the yellow brick road!

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to seeing you next weekend!

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We, too. 5:45 on Saturday.
I just got an email from a friend who said Brief Encounters was really good, imaginative so you should have a great time.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Enjoy the trip and the break. Have fun!

This week I selected "Cruel Cuts" by J. R. Lindermuth.


Richard R. said...

I'll be taking the week off next week as well. Maybe we should all take October 1 off, call it the "Autumn Break" or something.

Meanwhile, enjoy your trip, and Jeff, I need to pull a Barnard off the shelf and have a read - oops, the A,B,C,D authors are already packed! My catalog shows I have 14 titles, and the only one marked "read" is DEATH OF AN OLD GOAT.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read many Barnards over the years. Always enjoyed him.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I think Richard has a heck of an idea about next Friday.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I thought I was saying that-that we would take off October 1st and November 5th. I will post it on the summing up.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

It was clear to me that you were off--not that the rest of us were.

Thank you for the clarification.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Of course, I hate to tell other writers they can't write a review should they want to. If they do, I will pick up the link the next week.

Richard R. said...

Just a note about November 5th - that's the Friday before the packers come, and my Mac may well already be boxed. Certainly it will be unavailable (and I have no laptop or gadget phone with which to get online) so I'll be OFF THE NET November 8 through 17 (depending on when I get a new ISP operational).

You have all been warned. ;-)

nigel p bird said...

enjoy the family and friends. and thanks.