There are so many twists, turns, starts and stops in Lemons Never Lie by Donald E. Westlake as Richard Stark that the novel becomes a kind of a crime picaresque filled with mugs, thugs, killers, victims and Parker's redoutable thespian friend, Alan Grofiled. There's also a lot of notably brutal violence.
The book begins with Grofield visiting Vegas to partake of a robbery that will give him the money to survive one more season in his summer theater. Grofield, in case you didn't know, is a "purist" when it comes to acting, his chosen profession. No movies or television for him. Stage only. But it takes his other profession, robbery, to support his theater. Only his long-supportive wife understands how hard he works at both careers.
A man named Myers has set up a robbery plan and has called in amateurs to help him. With the exception of a man named Caithcart and a dangerous man named Dan Leach, the group is a zero. As is Myers. Now Myers, who speaks with a boarding school accent, is one of the great villains in Westlake's world. He is a true sociopathic murderer; a serial killer of a kind. Grofield and Leach decide against working with him.
This is the set-up. There's an early twist that lets us know just how nasty Myers is. And then the various adventures start. Grofield resembles his friend (and fellow robber) Parker only occasionally. For instance, he loves chit-chat, feels sorry even for a guy who tries to kill him and lets another live that (as reader) you know should be killed on the spot, slowly and joyously.
There's also a lot of witty humor. Grofield gets into the damnedest conversations with people. Once in a while you may even forget you're reading a crime novel. Westlake has a great time riffing on all the cliche exchanges you read in most crime fiction. At a couple of point Grofield starts sounding like a TV shrink.
Lemons Never Lie is Westlake at his very best. While there's a screwball comedy-feel to some of the misadventures, the unrelenting violence reminds readers that the Richard Stark is the master of the hardboiled. The masterful plotting, the wry way the genre cliches are turned inside out, and the earnestness and humanity of Alan Grofield make this a pleasure from page one to the unexpected ending
Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series of mysteries. The newest one FLASHPOINT.
A Lost Lady, Willa Cather
I love all of Willa Cather's books, but this is my favorite. It is short enough to read in an hour or two but deep enough to stay with you forever. Like Wharton's HOUSE OF MIRTH, this is a story of a woman who is simply unable to survive on her own in the world and makes poor decisions because of that.
When our protagonist meets Marion Forrester, she is years younger than her prominent husband. They live in Sweet Water, a town expected to thrive due to the railway. A young neighbor, Niel Herbert, become infatuated with her and she allows his infatuation. But before very long, the fate of Mrs. Forrester turns sour and young Niel is simply too inexperienced to see her clearly and believes the worst of her. Because he never understood her situation, he is unsypathetic to her fall from grace. Years later, he is finally able to understand her.
A beautifully written book and portrait of a complex character.
Bill Crider, Hell's Cartographers, Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldis
Martin Edwards, CICELY DISAPPEARS, A Monmouth Platts
Curt Evans, HIDE MY EYES, Marjorie Allingham
Randy Johnson, HIDDEN BLOOD, W.C. Tuttle
Nick Jones, RED STORM RISING, Tom Clancey
George Kelley, STACKED DECK: THE GREATEST JOKER STORIES EVER TOLD
Margot Kinberg, OUT OF THE SILENCE, Wendy James
B.F. Lawson, THE NOTTIING HILL MYSTERY, ?
Evan Lewis, DARK HEART OF TIME, Philip Jose Farmer
Steve Lewis/Frances Nevins, EIGHT FACES AT THREE, Craig Rice
Ed Lynskey, DR.NO,, Ian Fleming
Neer, STAR TREK: PRIME DIRECTIVE, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
J.F. Norris, THE DETECTIVE NOVELS OF HARRIETTE ASHBROOK
J. Kingston Pierce, ALISTAIR MACLEAN
Graham Powell, RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY, John Mortimer
James Reasoner, SIN IN THEIR BLOOD, Ed Lacy
Ron Scheer, GUNSIGHTS, Elmore Leonard
Kerrie Smith, MISS MARPLE SHORT STORIES, Agatha Christie; MASTER OF THE MOOR, Ruth Rendell
Kevin Tipple, PARIAH, Dave Zeltersman
TomCat, SHE DIED A LADY, Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)
Prashant Trikannad, SOMEONE IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE, Nan and Ivan Lyons
James Winter, ROSE MADDER, Stephen King
Zybahn, A SEPARATE PEACE, John Knowles