Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books, February, 24, 2012

Last week's tribute to the books of Donald Westlake seemed to have been enjoyed by writers and readers and several people have suggested we do it again. Here are some tentative choices for another round. Of course, the author must have quite a large number of books for it to work out. Whose books would you like to write/read about?

Agatha Christie
John D. MacDonald
Georges Simenon
Nicholas Freeling
Margaret Millar
Ruth Rendell (although she is still alive. Dead might be better for our purposes if not hers).
Ross Macdonald
Reginald Hill (also wrote under Patrick Ruell)
Patricia Highsmith (almost enough)

Who else? I think reviews from writers with only one character like Sue Grafton might be tedious to read. That might be true of a few here. I am thinking Simenon might work. He has many standalones as well as the Maigrets. Millar has about twenty some novels although some might be difficult to get your hands on. John D. has both Travis and standalones. Ross is mostly Archers. Parker, mostly Spenser. Rendell would be a good choice in many ways because she has a series and standalones written under two names. I am thinking of early April. What say you?

Ed Gorman is the author of the Sam McCain series and the Dev Conrad series as well as countless westerns, anthologies and other good stuff. You can find him here.

The Honest Dealer by Frank Gruber

The Honest Dealer

Dick Lochte wrote a guest piece for the Rap Sheet awhile back that I found mighty pleasing in my dotage. Here are some quotes from his choice for a Forgotten Book.

"OK, I’m not sure you have to read The Honest Dealer. If Frank Gruber were still alive, I doubt that even he would consider his 1947 book a necessity. But every now and then, after working my way through a couple of dozen contemporary crime novels, with their elaborate back stories and casts of thousands and plots that call attention to social and/or political ills, I like to treat myself to the kind of mystery that initially lured me to this genre--a yarn written for the sole purpose of providing sheer, unpretentious reading pleasure.

"The Honest Dealer does that in spades. The literary equivalent of a classic B-movie of the 1940s, it immediately draws you in, moves at a breathless pace, has the requisite moments of suspense and humor, and ends with a surprise villain, neatly thwarted. There are a lot of books from the ’30s and ’40s that meet those requirements, but, for my money, Dealer is one that does it best.


"I wonder what Gruber would think of some of today’s most popular series heroes--sociopaths, alcoholics, whiners, bitter loners, paranoiacs, and worse. Would he go with the market flow and come up with his version of the depressed detective? I’d like to think he’d pawn his typewriter and buy a horse."

Ed here: The horse reference is to a plot element.

I happened to read this book awhile back myself and I think Dick does a fine job of ennumerating its many fine if slight virtues, the biggest of which being that it's just a hell of a lot of fun to read.

As somebody who receives a moderate share of review copies I know what Dick means by the all-too-modern novel. I not only read them, I also write them. But there is so much hype attendant on the Serious ones--publicists and reviewers vying for the grandest superilative--that I often pick up a simple well-told story for a respite from all the Seriousness.

Thank God there are among the younger writers people who are serious about their writing but are a true unpretentious pleasure to read. To name a few Megan Abbott, Jason Starr, Duane Swierczynski, Tom Piccirilli, Allan Guthrie. They speak in their own voices, share their observations of our sometimes forlorn luckless species and yet never forget to amuse, bemuse, shock, outrage and comfort while demanding that we keep flipping those pages.

Damned good storytellers.

As was, in a less ambitious way, Frank Gruber.

Patti Abbott, THE SUMMING UP, W. Somerset Maugham.

Who could not like a book with the line, "Though I have loved a good many times, I have never experienced the bliss of requited love. I have most loved people who care little or nothing for me and when people have loved me, I have been embarrassed." (the last bit saves it from being too maudlin).

Or "In my twenties, the critics said I was brutal, in my thirties, they said I was flippant, in my forties they said I was cynical, in my fifties they said I was competent and now in my sixties they said I am superficial."

I loved all of Maugham's books way back when (especially CAKES AND ALE) but this is my favorite. Originally published in 1938, this is not quite a memoir, not quite a book on writing, this is in fact, a summing up. If you want to read an erudite book that looks at the writing (and reading) life more than the writing craft, this is an excellent one. In the self-deprecating way of the quotes above, you are introduced to a very wise man. Self-deprecation and modesty are such great traits. Too bad they are not valued on this side of the pond.

I hope you can find a copy with bigger print than mine.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Elizabeth Foxwell
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Ray O'Leary
Todd Mason
J.V. Norris
Richard Pangburn
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple


Kevin R. Tipple said...

I'm late but my review of HOUSTON HOMICIDE is now up.


Deb said...

My vote would be for Simenon.

One thing I suggested at another post was a FFB devoted to autobiographies or biographies of writers (most of whom, sadly, do seem forgotten within a few years of their deaths).

George said...

Maybe Ed McBain might be a consideration, Patti. He wrote more than the 87th Precinct books. Any writer on your list would be fine with me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

He is my choice too. And I think that is an excellent idea even if not everyone wants to read a bio of a writer. I have dozens on my shelves that I have not quite finished.

Charles Gramlich said...

John D. MacDonald is the one I know the most about for sure.

Todd Mason said...

Robert Bloch. Both he and Highsmith (and Meaker and Woolrich) have written more and more diversely than Ross Macdonald under that name. As Sergio suggested, LeCarre and Deighton are viable candidates in this compass, as well.

It would be interesting to me to find a genuinely good Hunter. But JDM is the most obvious candidate, by me, with Meaker and Bloch the most interesting potential choices.

Todd Mason said...

Deb's suggestion of memoirs is a good one, too.

Evan Lewis said...

Two votes: MacDonald & Macdonald.

Anonymous said...

Simenon would work for me. I just read one of his standalones from his U.S. period a week or two ago.

I agree about Grafton not being the best choice.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

McBain/Hunter is another good one, certainly one of my favorites and a man who wrote more than just his most famous procedural series.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

I am a fan of CAKES AND ALE too, as well as Maugham's short stories and plays, several of which we've seen in revival. He was a despicable human being (I've read books about him too) but a fascinating character.

I'll definitely put this on my list.

Jeff M.

Deb said...

There was a big bru-ha-ha when Maugham tried to adopt his adult male lover to protect his property from going to his ex-wife. That guy in Florida who killed someone while DUI and has now adopted his girlfriend in order to protect his assets must have got the idea from somewhere!

John said...

I'd go for Simenon or Highsmith. I'd prefer it if we picked a woman writer next time. Balance, you know. But I know that JDM or McBain will win out. I'll participate whoever is chosen. I think the bio book idea is an excellent one as I've already said the first time Deb brought it up.

Yvette said...

I'll always vote for Agatha Christie. But secondarily I've vote for Ross MacDonald and for Parker.

In the meantime, just wanted to let you know, Patti, that my Friday post is up and running.

Rob Kitchin said...

I don't mind which you go for. Have a book or two from a number of those authors listed sitting on the shelf. Also just got given a Chandler bio, so that would give an excuse to read it.

Richard R. said...

I like McBain, Simemion or any of those you listed, plus I like the bio/autobio idea.

Cap'n Bob said...

Rex Stout?

Richard S. Wheeler said...

The Summing Up was on my shelves for years, read and reread, and was probably the most important book that set me onto my writing life.

Kent Morgan said...

I've got several Margaret Millars sitting around so choosing her might get me to read one. As for John D, I've read most of the Travis McGees, but have a few of his early ones in the TBR category.