Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 22, 2012

Next week is an off week for FFB unless someone else can pick up the links. Maybe we all need a rest anyway.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad and Sam McCain series of books. You can find him
here, blogging about just about everything.

Forgotten Books:Home Town by Georges Simenon

Home Town is one of two short novels that appear in the book On The Danger Line. When the two stories first appeared (1944) The Green Thermos, the second of the pieces, was thought to be the superior of the duo. But time has changed some minds.

deRitter has lived on the edges of the underworld for many years. He is basically a small-time con artist who needs particularly gullible victims to be successful. For a reason even he can't understand, he returns to his home town with Leah, a prostitute, in tow. He has a fake emerald he hopes to make serious money with.

The story moves up and down the timeline. The reader sees deRitter as a boy growing up in a small, dull town--very much like the one that Madame Bovary despised--filled with trouble. Off to war he went in his later teen years and after that he discovered how to beat the monotony of regular employment by working minor cons short and long.

In town again he sees old friends and old relatives; his strange relationship with his mother being the most disturbing. He also runs his con with the emerald and here the reader comes to see that he is not good at his work at all. And even when he scores he's unhappy. Which is where Leah the prostitute comes in.

She is plump--as he never forgets or forgives--she is ignorant in many ways and she is eager to get out of the town and back to what she consider civilization. But she also understands deRitter in ways he never understands himself.

He does not seem to know, for example, that he is afraid to let go of her. They have sex occasionally but their real bond is a version of the familial. More than girl friend she is mother/sister/consoler. And forgiver. She even manages to be amused about the occasional shame he feels for traveling with a prostitute. And she knows that the con he's running will lead to the tragedy that ends the short novel.

deRitter is a familiar figure in hardboiled crime fiction. The nickel-dime grifter that the real players use and toss away. Simenon turns the stereotype into a real human being. And his story into a bleak snapshot of self-unawareness and despair.

THE ICE HOUSE, Minette Walters

When a copy of the soon-to-be released INNOCENT VICTIMS by Minette Walters fell into my hands, it reminded me of two favorites by her from some years back. I had a difficult time deciding which one to to because THE SCULPTRESS is such a powerful story. But eventually I decided on THE ICE HOUSE.

Winner of the John Creasey Award, THE ICE HOUSE was a terrific debut novel.

Three women live in seclusion in English country house and have served as a topic of gossip for their neighbors for years: witches, lesbians, murderers. Or all of the above since one of their husbands disappeared years before. Did he walk out as she suggests or was it murder? So when a faceless corpse turns up in Streech Grange ice house, Chief Inspector Walsh can't wait to make a case of it. While Walsh attempts to arrest Phoebe for murder, his colleague takes an interest in one of her roommates.

Walters is a terrific writer and I have enjoyed all of her books. This one was made into an excellent TV movie. THE SCULPTRESS is brilliant too.

Joe Barone

Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Juri Nummelin
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Bill Selnes
Michael Slind
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang
Prashant Trikannad


Anonymous said...

I agree with you that the first couple of Minette Walters books were great. THE ICE HOUSE and THE SCULPTRESS blew me away. THE SCOLD'S BRIDLE was good too. But eventually her writing and themes seemed to get darker and darker and after ACID ROW I'd had enough and gave up on her.

I don't think I've read either of the Simenon books mentioned in Ed's review. I may try one for the Simenon FFB.

Jeff M.

John said...

Walters' first three are her best books - they're ingenious and subversive. I give honorobale mention to THE DARK ROOM. I think in some respects she was not only a rule breaker but a groundbreaker. I dislike that Minette Walters gave up writing genuinely suspenseful crime novels in favor of writing novels of social criticism that used crime incidentally. THE SHAPE OF SNAKES, her indictment of poor parenting, poverty and council housing was the last book of hers I read from start to finish, but it was a chore.

David Cranmer said...

Its about time I read some more Georges Simenon.

Richard R. said...

I've already read the Simenon for FFB, but enjoyed it so much I'll read another soon.

Next week is probably a good week for me to take off from FFB too. See you in two!

Todd Mason said...

I will certainly gather what links I see next week. It'll be A/V and music week, anyway, after all...

Charles Gramlich said...

Don't know Minette Walters. I'll have to have a look.

Deb said...

I too loved Minette Walters's first few books and loved the way she played with our expectations and the whole appearance-versus-reality conundrum. Then she got a case of Elizabeth George-itis and started making social statements in every book (Ruth Rendell's later Wexford novels do that too) and I haven't read much by her recently, which is a shame because a book like THE DARK ROOM shows she can really put a mystery together.

Re Simenon: I already had an Inspector Maigret (MAIGRET'S BOYHOOD FRIEND) lined up for the Simenon FFB in a couple of weeks, then I noticed a few non-Maigrets at the library and started reading those--getting hooked immediately. Like the Maigrets, most of them are quite short and can be read in a few hours. My favorite non-Maigrets (so far) are ACROSS THE STREET (like Rear Window, with a French accent) and THE RULES OF THE GAME (set in America in the 1950s, it could easily have been written by John O'Hara). Now I'm spoiled for choice and don't know which one to write up for FFB. If only all my dilemmas were of such a nature!