Friday, June 08, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 8, 2012

Ed Gorman is the author of the Sam McCain and Dev Conrad series of mysteries. He also writes westerns short stories and edits anthologies. You can find him here

Evan Hunter, Ed McBain and Learning to Kill.

A year or so before he was diagnosed with cancer, Evan Hunter seemed intrigued by my idea of doing a massive collection of some of his earliest tales. Intrigued enough, anyway, to have somebody make copies of sixty-some stories and send them to me.

The stories covered virtually every pulp genre – crime, western, adventure, science fiction, horror – done under seven or eight pen-names.

We had everything ready to go when Evan had second thoughts. There were just too many of these stories he didn’t want to resurrect.

In Learning to Kill (Harcourt, $25) Evan and Otto Penzler have brought together the very best of those early stories in a stunner of a hardback package. This shows you how early Hunter was a master of both form and character.

The stories are divided into categories: Kids, Women in Jeopardy, Private Eyes, Cops and Robbers, Innocent Bystanders, Loose Cannons, Gangs.

He wrote well across the entire spectrum of crime and suspense stories, so well in fact that several of these stories are true classics that will be reprinted for decades to come – “First Offense,” “Runaway,” “The Merry Merry Christmas,” “On The Sidewalk Bleeding” and “The Last Spin” aren’t just for readers. They’re also for writers. These particular stories yield great insights into use of voice, plot, character and milieu. I could teach a full semester of writing using just those stories I mentioned.

Hunter/McBain was one of the two or three best and most influential crime writers of his generation. Otto Penzler has paid tribute to that fact with this hefty and important contribution that belongs in every mystery collection.

Plainsong, Kent Haruf-
Patti Abbott

I have read this before but with Will Patton reading it was a perfect audiobook for a good housecleaning. This story, which takes place in Colorado, is the intersecting tales of a number of characters in a small town. A teacher at the high school is left by his wife with two small boys to care for; a pregnant teenager is taken in by some kindly town folks when her mother tosses her out, the boys themselves try to navigate life without a mother. It's a gentle book, well told but with a major flaw I am not sure I picked up the first time.

All of the "evil" characters eventually disappear instead of being dealt with or even explained in any depth. The mother that throws her daughter out never appears again, the family of the town bully just goes away, the father of the baby slinks off after making a fuss.

I am not sure if Haruf was aware of this or if he was making a statement that good can outlast evil, but it began to tear at the delicate framework of the book. Even the mother who left her husband and boys just seems to wander off with little explanation of her exact problem.

One unresolved conflict could be overlooked, but all of the conflict here was shed without resolution.

Still the writing is so good and the main characters so fully realized, it doesn't ruin a very fine book.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Elisabeth Grace Foley
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
Terrie Moran
J.F. Norris
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Prashant Triffand
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Bill Selnes
Michael Slind
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple


Dana King said...

I bought a copy of LEARNING TO KILL when it first came out and agree with Ed completely. The introductions provided for each story, describing its origin or path to publication, were also well worth the read.

Anonymous said...

"On the Sidewalk Bleeding" and "The Last Spin" are two of the most memorable short stories I can remember. Great stuff indeed.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Patti, don't know if you know it but PLAINSONG was made into a tv movie that ran on Hallmark Hall of Fame in 2004, starring Aidan Quinn, Rachel Griffiths, America Ferrara (as the pregnant teen), Geoffrey Lewis, and Marian Seldes among others. I thought they did a pretty good job.

Jeff M.

John said...

I've always wanted to read PLAINSONG. Will Patton has a kind of hypnotic soothing voice, I think. I'd listen to anything he narrated. He tends to play too many creepy villain roles on screen, but he'd be a superb radio actor in *any* role.

Yvette said...

I'm up and running, Patti. Well before my usual time. :)

pattinase (abbott) said...

He is my favorite reader and does a great job with this one.

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Here's mine: The Sleuth of St. James's Square by Melville Davisson Post

Charles Gramlich said...

I've heard many good things about Plain song. Gonna try to order it today.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, thanks very much for including my FFB post.

Ron Scheer said...

Patti, I felt similarly about PLAINSONG. Interesting characters and situations, but a little tepid.