Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, July 12, 2013


I was preparing to write a review of WHITE CROSSES when I saw Ron Scheer did one a few years back. Here it is again. Truly one of the great books. I also am a great fan of MONTANA 1948.

 WHITE CROSSES by Larry Watson(by Ron Scheer)

Not sure if this novel from 1998 counts as "forgotten." Not even sure if it was ever much known. Anyway, I found this story of mid-century small-town life and its fascinating character study hard to put down. 

The novel begins with a car accident and the deaths of two people - thus the "white crosses" of the title, those roadside markers where lives have abruptly ended.  Written with elements of crime fiction, it's an ironic account of how a well-meaning county sheriff's cover-up attempt leads to a series of worrisome complications and finally to fatal consequences.

Everyone has their secrets and is guilty of something, the sheriff has come to believe, and he is no exception. As author Watson probes deeper into his character, we find the weaknesses and moral ambiguities hidden within an otherwise likable man who happens to represent law and order. The author's frequent digressions help us to know him inside and out, which turns out to be important.

Watson is a fine writer with a gift for illuminating the inner worlds of what seem to be predictable and ordinary people. They seem to fill him with a sense of wonder. Like the pair of bachelors, identical twins, drinking at a bar, or a cantankerous rancher who believes, with scant evidence, that his cattle are being rustled, or the widow who reports that her S&H Green Stamps have been stolen. There is much to be known about them that will never be known - and will go with them to the grave.

Watson has a couple other books written with sheriffs as central characters in this same western town of Bentrock, Montana: Justice and Montana 1948. I've read all three and liked them. I believe they are all still in print.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad and Sam McCain series of crime novels. You can find him right here 

 The Jugger By Richard Stark


How this for an opener? I'm about to review the worst book Donald E. Westlake ever wrote. Don't take my word for it. Here's Westlake himself speaking.

"I spoiled a book by having him do something he wouldn’t do. The sixth book in the series is called The Jugger, and that book is one of the worst failures I’ve ever had. The problem with it is, in the beginning of the book this guy calls him and says “I’m in trouble out here and these guys are leaning on me and I need help,” and Parker goes to help him. I mean, he wouldn’t do that, and in fact, the guy wouldn’t even think to call him! (laughs)"

I found this quote on The Violent World of Parker website, a goodie. "Westlake has more than once cited The Jugger as a failure, and although I’ve never seen it straight from the horse’s mouth, I’ve heard he considers it the worst book he’s ever written. Well, Mr. Westlake, if this is the worst you can do after cranking out more books than I can count, I am in great envy of your abilities.

"Mr. Westlake is wrong about Parker acting out of character in The Jugger. He seems to have forgotten the details, which is perfectly understandable, as the book was written in 1965 and he probably has not had much reason to revisit it if he doesn’t care for it that much."

Me again: I frequently find myself liking books most other people don't and vice-versa. The Jugger's a good example. No it's not a great Parker adventure but it's got a lot of early Sixties atmosphere, a cast of truly despicable characters and a constantly shifting plot.

What we have here is a kind of psychodrama. We have a dumb but crafty Sheriff, a smart but unlucky FBI man, a dumb but uncrafty lady friend of a pathetic dead guy who'd been trying to find an imaginary sum of money hidden by Joe Sheer.

It goes like this. Parker and Sheer worked together sometimes and then Sheer got old and all he did was serve as a way station for Parker. If you wanted to talk to the big man you had to call Sheer who'd screen you. But when Parter got a nervous communication from Sheer he got concerned that maybe the old man was coming apart and would blow Parker's cover. He had to go to the small Midwestern city and make sure that didn't happen.

But when he got there Sheer was dead. And the (imaginary) enormous amount of stolen money was nowhere to be found--yes there;s money but it's modest compared to what others think. So Parker proceeds to deal with both problems. Under the name of Willis.

The Psychodrama: The Sheriff is a dope but a brutal one and Parker has to string him along in order to learn what he needs to. Watching Parter mislead him is a game worth watching. The Sheriff is a human pit bull. He's capable of killing Parker at any moment. But then Parker is more than willing to strike first. On the other hand the FBI man is slick and political. Mitt Romney could play him. Quoting Norman Mailer on a writer he didn't like: "He's as full of shit as a Thanksgiving turkey." But he suspects that this guy Willis is really a big catch under another name. He's already signing a book contract and learning to wave in parades.

So The Jugger ain't perfect and ain't gonna win none of them NYC awards but I don't care. I just enjoyed this particular take on Parker's world. I read it in two dazzled sittings.

Sergio Angelini, A CASE OF NEED, Michael Crichton
Joe Barone, AUGUST HEAT, Andrea Camilleri
Brian Busby, FLEE THE NIGHT IN ANGER, Brian Keller 
Bill Crider, A CUP FULL OF SPACE, Mildred Clingerman
Scott Cupp, SUPERMAN, George Lowther
Martin Edwards, MURDER IN THE BASEMENT, Anthony Berkeley
Curt Evans, THE FAR CRY, Fredric Brown
Roy Garraty, THE MAN WHO DIED LAUGHING, David Handler
Jerry House, LET'S TALK, Evan Hunter
Randy Johnson, THE SPIDER, R.T.M. Scott
Nick Jones, OUT OF SIGHT, Elmore Leonard
Keishon, THE WHITE TRILOGY, Ken Bruen
George Kelley, THE LIGHTER SIDE, Keith Laumer
Margot Kinberg, LETTER FROM A DEAD MAN, Dawn Harris
Kate Laity, A DOG'S RANSOM, Patricia Highsmith
B.V. Lawson, MURDER IS FOR KEEPS, Peter Chambers
Barry Malzburg, THE NEW AMERICAN REVIEW, Theodore Solotaroff
Todd Mason, WHAT IF, edited by Richard Lupoff
J.F. Norris, DREADFUL HOLLOW, Irina Karlova
Juri Nummelin,SHATTERED, Dean Koontz
James Reasoner, THE NAKED LIAR, Harold Adams
Gerard Saylor, OUTLAW PLATOON, Sean Parnell (neglected if not forgotten)
Michael Slind, THE CHINESE PARROT, Earl Derr Biggers
Kerrie Smith, TBA
Kevin Tipple/Patrick Ohl, HEIR PRESUMPTIVE Henry Wade


Anonymous said...

On your recommendation I read MONTANA 1948 last year and liked it so will check out this one.

You can't go wrong with Richard Stark.

Jeff M.

Charles Gramlich said...

I completely forgot about the jugger but I do want to read this one. I looked for it once upon a time years ago and then completely forgot about it.

w said...

I bought the Larry Watson book. Sounds good! Thanks for linking to my post. Will make sure to read my one Jack Vance book for the August 8th post.

Gerard Saylor said...

Watson does good work but he is much more a literary novelist than a crime novelist.

He spoke at my library a few months ago but I cannot recall anything he said.