Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books 1, November 19, 2010

Quinn Cummings is the author of Notes from the Underwire: Adventures From My Awkward and Lovely Life. She can be found blogging at quinncummings.com and she can be found on Twitter as Quinncy. Mostly, she can be found driving her daughter to extracurricular activities while also drinking tea.

The Portable Dorothy Parker

I don't know why short stories have withered as an art form. Really, they couldn't be more modern. All the pleasure of eavesdropping on the table behind you, only with a good editor. In the modern arena where we're all gladiators competing to see who has the shortest attention span and the most to do, what could be better than a beginning,a middle and an end in the time it takes the plumber to snake the bathroom drain?

And if you're going to read short stories, you're going to want to read Dorothy Parker. Even if you don't think you know Dorothy Parker, I'll bet you do. Men don't make passes...

If you just thought, ...at girls who wear glasses, you know a little Dorothy Parker. If you're a bookish type (And we know you are; you're reading this) you probably know she wrote for The New Yorker and the Constant Reader, was the Clever Girl in Manhattan in the 20's and 30's, was the Hermione Granger at the Algonquin Round Table.

Some of her stories are funny. Some are snorting-into-your-sleeve funny; my mother gave me "The Waltz" to read when I was eleven and I can't think of a better gateway drug to Ms. Parker. "From the Diary of a New York Lady" gleefully exposes the stupidity and lack of self-awareness of a society dame, some primordial Paris Hilton. But while I've never turned down Dorothy in high humor, the stories which have stayed with me were her more serious stories, which inevitably circle around how people, knowingly and unknowingly, hurt one another. Her serious short stories have the precision of Flaubert and the scrupulous attention to detail of an autopsy. I don't wish people pain, so I'm not pleased Ms. Parker had a well-documented difficult romantic life. Having said that, there have been times in my dating life where I thought back to some moment or sentence from a story of hers and thought, "Oh. That's what she was talking about" and felt oddly mollified if not exactly happy. Her stories are clear and bright, very much of their era but also timeless. They are excellent company which fits in your purse.
And here is my copy of her book, which I've had since I was twelve years old. If use=love, this is a most-loved book.

Yvette is an illustrator, a great reader, a new grandma, a cancer survivor and a blogger at: http://yvettecandraw.blogspot.com She grew up in NYC in the 1950's when Manhattan was a giant playground - or so it seemed.

The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders by Marshall Browne

Marshall Browne (1935 - ) is one of those Australian authors whom, it appears, very few have ever heard of possibly because some of his books are so hard to come by in this country. But I recommended Browne to an Australian blogger asking for Australian author recommendations recently and even she had never heard of him. Go figure.

Born in Melbourne, Browne is a sixth generation Australian, an international banker by trade (the family business), an author of crime and historical novels by choice.

I first discovered Browne when struck in the fancy by the title of his novel: The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders. You have to admit, this is a great title, never mind if

the book is good or not. I’m rarely swayed by something so tenuous as an interest in a clever title, but this time out I couldn’t resist. The book was published in 1999 by St. Martins and is still available, though I can’t say the same for the third Inspector Anders book, Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta, which I have yet to read though it was published in 2006. If I sound disgruntled, it’s because I am. (And don’t get me started on Browne’s second Franz Schmidt novel, The Iron Heart, which doesn’t seem to have been published here at all.) This guy is just too good a writer for this kind of hide and seek.

Inspector Anders is a police inspector of northern Italian roots considered, with some irony, a hero in his Italian homeland for action in the fight against the Red Brigades –terrorists of the 80’s – in which he lost a leg. He is on the edge of retirement when called upon to take up one last job. Limping slightly on his artificial leg (government provided) and carrying a spare in his luggage, he is sent south by train from Rome to a city which is never identified. Anders is meant merely to make a few perfunctory interviews and publish a glossy final report – nothing too daunting. In the south, he finds a city polluted with corruption, a city in which the murders of a judge and an investigative magistrate – the crimes he’s theoretically come to investigate - are greeted with a shrug by everyone he talks to. A city in which the mafia stranglehold is unbreakable and to speak the truth is to earn a death sentence – a city which works as another character in the book, its evil corruption a living, breathing, foul thing.

At first, the careful Anders tries to look the other way and live to return to Rome, make his report and retire to write his magnum opus, the life of an ancestor, a poet named Anton Anders. But in the end, he is just too inherently noble. He simply cannot bring himself to go along to get along yet again and once the mafia begins flexing its muscles, he has no choice.

On another note, one of the more interesting things about Anders, is the attraction he still has for women. The stump that is his leg seems not to hinder his sexual conquests in the slightest. At age fifty he still has a good eye for a certain sort of older, voluptuous female and makes no effort to hide this interest as he conducts his investigation. When he meets two totally different women: the earthy bartender/owner of the small hotel in which he’s staying and the judge’s more sophisticated widow, both are quite willing to share their beds with Anders. Perhaps it’s his politeness and the unabashed gleam in his eye. A man who truly likes women is hard to resist.

Once Anders decides to do something about the mafia’s chokehold on the city, he sets about concocting an outrageous plan (with a surprise twist) which, if you stop to think about it, goes against anything anyone’s ever been taught about the niceties of law and the workings of justice.

With the help of Matucci, a loud-mouthed cop who appears to be more than the sum of

his parts, the slain judge’s widow, and his own basic guile and intelligence, Anders performs a miracle of retribution. This is a darkly violent novel with a fairly oppressive dystopian outlook of Italy which is unsettling to say the least.

The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders won the Ned Kelly literary prize for best first novel and was an L.A. Times Book Award nominee.

Jake Hinkson blogs at THE NIGHT EDITOR. He has the lead story in BEAT TO A PULP: ROUND ONE and you can find his stories in many fine publications. Check out his blog today for a review of the movie made from the book.

The Condemned Jo Pagano, 1947

To understand The Condemned, Jo Pagano’s strange hybrid of social commentary and gritty noir, a little background is in order. Born in 1906, Pagano was the youngest son of Italian immigrants who came to Colorado at the turn of the century so Pagano’s father could work as a miner. Jo quickly figured out that writing stories beat the hell out of swinging a pickax, and by the thirties he had started selling stories to magazines like The Atlantic, Scribners, Reader’s Digest, and Yale Review.

He moved to Hollywood, and by the late thirties, he was working at RKO Pictures. Around this time Pagano became friends with the novelist William Faulkner. The great writer was in Hollywood doing script rewrites for Howard Hawks, but he spent most of his days chasing girls and getting shitfaced with other scribblers. At the time, Faulkner’s work was little read outside highbrow literary circles, but Pagano was already a devoted fan. Because Pagano could match the Mississippian drink for drink, the two men became fast friends. Faulkner became Pagano’s literary mentor and took special care to warn him about the hazards of selling out to Hollywood. Talent, Faulkner believed, couldn’t survive the compromises one had to make with the studios. He told Pagano simply, “Jo, you have got to get out of this town.” In the midst of this tutelage with Faulkner, Pagano published his third book, The Condemned, in 1947.

The novel was based on the true story of Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes, who in 1933 had abducted and murdered a wealthy man named Brooke Hart. After the killers were apprehended and confessed to the crime, thousands of angry people descended on the Santa Clara County jail in San Jose, dragged the men from their cells, and hanged them from two trees across the street. Pagano changed the names and turned the story into a serious crime drama. The central conflict is that of Howard Tyler, an everyman living in postwar California. He can’t find work to support his family, so he takes a job as getaway driver for a small time crook, and big time psycho, named Jerry Slocum. This decision turns out to be a catastrophic mistake because soon Jerry has decided that he and Howard need to move up the criminal ladder to kidnapping.

Neither of Pagano’s previous books—both of which were affectionate evocations of family life among Italian Americans—would have prepared a reader for The Condemned. This novel is a serious literary attempt to deal with Hart’s murder and the subsequent lynching of Thurmond and Holmes. As such, it marks a sharp departure from his previous books in terms of both focus and tone. It is also something of a swing for the fences in terms of style. It bears unmistakable Faulknerian touches such as shifting perspectives, shocking violence, and buried psychosexual motivations, but it also owes a debt to Steinbeck’s social consciousness. It was Pagano’s attempt to write a great, important novel.

After its initial printing in hardback failed to bring literary glory, however, the book was radically abridged and repackaged as pulp (a process that would continue for years: Zenith Books re-released the book in 1958 under the title Die Screaming). The book isn’t entirely successful. Pagano’s weakness as a writer was preachiness. He gives us the character of Dr. Simone, an Italian professor who functions as the film’s moral and intellectual color commentator. This character mouths all of the appropriate leftist horror at the American financial and judicial systems. Moralizing in noir usually comes in the form of boring authoritarians espousing a right wing point of view, but Dr. Simone’s sermons prove that preaching doesn’t work any better when it comes from the left.

In many ways, the abridgment makes for a better read. It focuses more on the central story of the killers—in particular on Howard Tyler’s terrible guilt. After all, the key tension in the story is Howard’s gnawing sense of his own culpability, the tortured humanity of a normal man who fumbles into theft and murder and then watches in horror as his life falls apart. Soon, Pagano accepted the job of adapting the book into a screenplay for producer Robert Stillman. The resulting film that Pagano and director Cy Endfield delivered, The Sound Of Fury, was a masterpiece, a dark and serious look at American society in the post-war era. Endfield rightly seized on Pagano’s strongest material and brought it to the front of the film. He also kept Pagano’s strong supporting cast of characters: crazy homme fatale Jerry Slocum, the careless newspaperman Gil Stanton, and Hazel, the odd young woman who exposes Howard to the police.

The film met with great opposition, with theater managers across the country catching flack for running such an “anti-American” picture at the outset of the Korean War. The film was re-titled Try And Get Me! and peddled around as a genre piece (much as the book had been), but it quickly sank into obscurity. Stubbornly, the film lived on, and as film geeks rediscovered it, its reputation grew. It is now in line for a major restoration by the Film Noir Foundation. Pagano’s novel doesn’t have the same reputation that film the does, but this strange and beguiling work is well worth seeking out. Read Jake Hinkson’s review of Endfield’s movie adaption The Sound Of Fury at The Night Editor.

Ed Gorman is the author of several crimes series, many westerns, several collections of short stories, and edits many anthologies. You can find him here.

SCANDAL ON THE SAND by John Trinian

John Trinian was a working name of Zekial Marko. He was a formerconvicted criminal who started publishing when he got out of jail in the early sixties. His first novel was under his real name(Scratch a Thief, Fawcett Gold Medal 1961, also as Once a Thief), after which he started using the pseudonym. As Trinian, he published five or six novels with various paperback houses, such as Pyramid. Scratch a Thief is an excellent novel, you should try it. That's
the only book I've read by him, sadly, so I can't comment on the others. -- Juri Nummelin (on Rara-Avis)

Further information on Trinian has him writing for The Rockford Files and other TV shows. While I don't think he was as good as Malcolm Braly, another Gold Medal author who served hard time, I do think his novels had both a lyrical and sexual aspect that we don't find in most of Braly.

I just finished Trinian's SCANDAL ON THE SAND (1964) and I have to say that it offers just about everything I ask for from a novel. A unique story, a strong voice, a definite worldview and several compelling characters, most notably the rich young woman at the book's center, Karen Fornier.

A dying killer whale washes up on a stretch of deserted Southern California beach. Karen, hungover and dismal that she finally gave into the childish wanna-be macho man Hobart, the one her parents would like her to marry...she leaves their beach motel hoping to lose him. Wandering along the beach she finds the whale and for her its appearance is almost religious. The way she bonds with it is moving and is a credit to Trinian's skill.

Hobart insists that the whale is dead and should be cut up for cat food. He finds a sinister, arrogant young cop, Mulford, who agrees with him. Mulford orders a tow truck to come in and drag it away. He then orders Hobart and Karen to leave the area. Hobart sees in the harsh machismo of Mulford everything he's secretly wanted to be, that not even his considerable inheritance could buy him. He sides with Mulford and tries to drag Karen away. But she defies them both and stays. Not even when the whale proves to be alive will Mulford stop the tow truck. He says he'll shoot the whale.

All this is being observed from close-by a hood named Bonniano who is to meet a runner who will give him enough money to escape to Mexico. Bonniano is in the news for being a hit man who last night iced a prominent mob figure. Everybody's looking for him.

These and others play into the story of whale on the beach. The character sketches show the influences of Sherwood Anderson and John O'Hara and the cutaways to life on the beach bring the 1964 era alive. Boys wearing white clam digger pants--girls lying about in pink bikinis with transistor radios stuck to their ears--and just about everybody managing to grab themselves a little marijuana whenever the opportunity comes up...all this being the lull before the flower power storm that was less than two years away.

A cunning little book. Trinian was the real deal.

Joe Barone
Paul Bishop
Michael Carlson
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
Lois Karlin
George Kelley

Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Bill Pronzini, Marcia Muller
Steve Lewis/Jeff Meyerson
Todd Mason
Andrew Nette
Juri Nummelin
Eric Peterson
James Reasoner
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow - good stuff this week.

As a dedicated short story reader I've been meaning to get back to Dorothy Parker. Quinn's review prompted me to order the Complete Stories.

Jeff M.

Charles Gramlich said...

Scandal on the sand has a fascinating cover.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Great selections here. I love Dorothy Parker!

Lois Karlin has a FBF post up at Women of Mystery.

Terrie

Anonymous said...

Now that I've gone through the rest of the entries I find that I've read quite a few this week, including the Foxx/Pronzini, Stark/Westlake, Crider (of course) and the Sjowall/Wahloo, one of my favorite series and one I plan to reread. (I recently picked up the 10 books in anticipation of such an event.)

I've read several of Martin Limon's Korea-set short stories but haven't read any of the novels as yet. I ordered the first from the library just now.

Jeff M.

Milton T. Burton said...

"Sometimes I like a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table;
After four I'm under the host." --- Dorothy Parker

Kevin R. Tipple said...

My entry for this week is FEDORA III edited by Michael Bracken. It seemed fitting with all the current crime anthologies coming out and all the interest generated form that to cover a very good anthology from awhile back.

Also very cool to see Milton Burton, a fellow Texan, commenting here as his new book hits the store shelves on December 7th. I had the pleasure of reading an early draft of the book and it is mighty good.

Kevin

K. A. Laity said...

I love love love Dorothy Parker and have been imbibing her since childhood, so I can't really think of her as forgotten in any way, given the activities of the Dorothy Parker Society, but then I'm not a good test case.

On the plus side, ebooks seem to be supporting a resurgence of short stories. No longer constrained by publishing costs, it is possible to sell individual stories without a collection (at least it has been for my romance writings).

Paul D. Brazill said...

I used to have that Dorothy Parker collection, not that edition, mind you.I loved it. Lolita & You Were Perfectly Fine were two stories that have stayed in my mind. Tasty review.

Juri said...

Trinian AKA Zekial Marko died in 2008.

http://pulpetti.blogspot.com/2008/05/zekial-marko-aka-john-trinian-dead.html

R/T said...

Note:
Novels, Stories, and More is returning!

Deb said...

Is Quinn Cummings who reviewed the Dorothy Parker book the same Quinn Cummings who played Lucy, Marsha Mason's daughter, in the movie "The Goodbye Girl"?

Yes, I'm aging myself by even remembering the name of the actress, but she looked just like my sister at about that same age.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yep, I was wondering if anyone would notice. She's just as smart as she seemed as a child.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Deb, she is.

I ordered her book too.

Jeff M.

Iren said...

FYI all you Stark/Westlake fans the 1973 version of The Outfit is out on DVD. all the details are at Violent World of Parker