Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 22, 2008

Kent Gowran talks about crime fiction on sites such as Big Adios and Crimespace.

NIGHT DOGS by Kent Anderson

Back in January 0f 1999, on our first or second date, the woman who would be my bride asked me if I'd read Night Dogs by Kent Anderson. I told her I'd never even heard if it. She told me I had to read it and sent her copy home with me that same night. I read it and, to put it simply, I was floored.

Set in Portland, Oregon in 1975, the novel follows Vietnam veteran Hanson, now a cop, as he works the streets of the North Precinct. The world Hanson navigates is dark and murky, and the line between good and evil is hopelessly blurred. Hanson, a man capable of being both savage and kind, is a character you live with as you read the novel. Some portions of this novel might turn the stomachs of the queasy, might knock over those with "politically correct" leanings, but, really, that's how life is. There's no criminal mastermind, no charming rogue cops, no cute kid to offset the horror (well, there is this dog, Truman...), just hard, blunt reality.

Although this book is tagged as a novel of the mystery and/or thriller genre, Night Dogs has more of a kinship to the novels of James Crumley or Richard Price where character, rather than plot, is the real driving force of the story. It's the kind of novel that I, as a reader, not only enjoy, but also respect, and that's a rare combination

Patrick Lennon is author of the Corn Dolls (2006) and Steel Witches (2008).

Jack's Return Home by Ted Lewis

It might seem perverse to say that this book has been forgotten - it formed the basis of `Get Carter`, one of the best British crime films of all time, and has been published under the film`s title since the 1990`s, its cover featuring the iconic mug of Michael Caine plus shotgun.
But oddly, it has been forgotten as a book - in that almost all readers (including myself) have come to it through the film, and the cinema version is so powerful that it can be hard to let the pages live in the mind.
This is a pity, because the book is a complete and convincing portrait of Northern England at the weird end of the 1960`s - a mix of derelict industry, a collapsing small-town hierarchy, and that Southern, big-city sexual revolution manifesting itself in incest and debasement. In some ways, it is closer to the `kitchen sink`tradition of 10 to 15 years earlier, showing a white working class ill at ease with itself, but its crime positioning allows an almost psychedelic kaleidoscope of betrayal and retribution until its final scene, which almost resembes a pagan, water-borne sacrifice allowing Jack Carter the peace he craves.
If you haven`t seen the film, try the book first.

Kelli Stanley is the author of Nox Dormienda

The Blank Wall and The Innocent Mrs. Duff
by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Raymond Chandler called Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1889-1955) “the top suspense writer of them all.” And he should know … his reading intake was far more prodigious than his writing output, and Chandler made a point of keeping up to date with the genre.

She began as a writer of romance in the Twenties, but ventured into the more (at least then) lucrative arena of detective and suspense fiction when the Great Depression sunk the economy.

Of the eighteen novels she completed before her death, the most famous is probably The Blank Wall. Filmed as The Reckless Moment in ’49, an atmospheric noir starring James Mason and Joan Bennett (and directed by the legendary Max Ophuls), it was remade with a great deal less style and talent (in my opinion) as The Deep End (2001).

Chandler actually persuaded Paramount to purchase another Sanxay novel, The Innocent Mrs. Duff, and worked on its film adaptation in the spring of ’46 before parting ways over its handling … one of those great lost scripts I’d love to unearth from a vault someday.

Now, Chandler is my favorite writer, and I take his recommendations seriously. So I purchased a first edition of The Innocent Mrs. Duff (1946), and found myself wondering why Patricia Highsmith is justly venerated and Sanxay Holding is largely forgotten.

A psychological suspense thriller built on a taut, perfectly structured character study, the novel ticks away like a metronome, building up an unbearable tension. One of Holding’s earlier titles was Miasma (1929), and that eponymous sense of death and decay also informs the later story.

Narrated in the first person by a middle-aged, middle-class alcoholic snob – ambitious, deluded, and utterly narcissistic – the plot and tension are driven by his growing paranoia and suspicions of the title character … his beautiful, newly-married, twenty-one year old second wife.

The book simply grabs you by the throat and won’t let go. Holding can write dread as well or better than any writer … and like Shirley Jackson, her quiet moments and what Chandler calls her “inner calm” fuel a palpable sense of horror.

I’m happy to report that Academy Chicago Publishers has packaged The Blank Wall and The Innocent Mrs. Duff together in an affordable paperback. Stark House Press also offers new editions of several of her titles.

Anthony Boucher, in a New York Times review, wrote: “For subtlety, realistic conviction, incredible economy, she’s in a class by herself.” Sixty years later, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding still is.

Here are some more forgotten books to peruse:
(Thanks, Clair, I finally got what you meant)

Nathan Cain

Glenn Harper

Bill Crider

Lesa Holstine

Mary Reed

Jim Winter

August West

Randy Johnson

David Cranmer

Patrick Shawn Bagley

Joe Boland

Susan Smith

Juri Nummelin

Kerrie Smith


David Cranmer said...

I've heard of Holding but have never read any of her work, and after reading the review, this is going in my Amazon cart!

Juri said...

I thought Deep End was an excellent movie. Holding's novel certainly is excellent, but I've never seen the 1947 movie.

Word up: Wauntzbo was the name of the chief of the village the adventurers next winded up at.

nbsp; said...

I just wanted to mention that there's a whole website devoted to the subject of forgotten and neglected books: The Neglected Books Page. Definitely a place to sink a few hours of your life.

Kerrie said...

My suggestion for today of Nicholas Freeling's Van der Valk series is posted here

Kelli Stanley said...

Sorry for commenting late (I was traveling), but am thrilled, David, that you're going to check out Holding. :)

A biography of her is long overdue.

Take care!

Kelli Stanley said...

Hi, Juri! I'm just a sucker for classic noir, and most of the neo-stuff doesn't hold as much interest for me ... that said, I thought Tilda Swinton was very good in The Deep End. :)

I adored Swimming Pool (with Charlotte Rampling) ... not a Holding film, but I highly recommend it. :)