Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Books. December 12, 2008

Charles Willeford reading

Deborah (Debby) Atkinson, author of the Storm Kayama/ Hawaii mystery series. Primitive Secrets, 2002; The Green Room, 2005; Fire Prayer, 2007; Pleasing the Dead, Feb, 2009

Years ago, I was browsing a San Francisco bookstore when someone recommended a book that looked pretty quirky to my unfamiliar eye. It was Gun, with Occasional Music, published in 1994, and I'd never heard of Jonathan Lethem. After I read Gun, I started paying attention.

I write crime fiction, so about 75% of what I read is in that genre, and I use that term inclusively: mystery, thriller, suspense, and so on. Every now and then, I read sci-fi, which if it's good, is beyond good—it's fantastic. These finds seem rarer than the fantastic mystery/suspense novel, though maybe I'm just inexperienced, and someone here can point me in the right direction.

With Gun, with Occasional Music, Lethem did it all. He captured Raymond Chandler's noir setting and injected the futuristic pessimism of Philip K. Dick, with a dash here and there of Frank Herbert's Dune (mind altering, government-issued drugs), and compelling animal protagonists à la Eric Garcia. Gun has sheep, apes, rabbits, and other species, all "evolved" to speak English and make protagonist Conrad Metcalf's life more difficult. Wait until you meet Joey Castle, the enforcer kangaroo.

Best of all, though, are characters that are original, appealing, and sympathetic. The dialogue crackles, the scenes are intense, and you'll love Metcalf despite his foibles.

I also loved Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn (1999), but this one made more of a splash in the mystery community, so I probably don't have to sing its praises quite as loudly. Lionel Essrog, the protagonist of Motherless, has Tourette's syndrome. Yet Essrog's outbursts ring with not only profanity, but brilliance, heart, and desperation. The dialogue and characters are outstanding. The writing is inspirational, poetic at times. And the mystery ain't bad, either.

I hope you enjoy Lethem's work as much as I do. Have a wonderful holiday season, and buy lots of books from independent booksellers!

Paul D. Brazill-I was born in Hartlepool, England, forty-six years ago and have lived in London and Warsaw. I left school at sixteen and have worked as an office clerk, a housing adviser and a shop assistant in a toy shop. I currently teach Business English. I’ve written songs which didn’t sell and a screenplay which was lost . I now live in Bydgoszcz, Poland and have recently had two stories accepted by Six Sentences. I blog in an ad hoc, slapdash fashion at

BLUE HEAVEN by Joe Keenan

Gilbert Selwyn is selfish,feckless, greedy and, more pointedly, openly gay,
so it comes as a bit of a surprise to all and sundry when he decides to get married and especially when the person he is going to marry is Moira Finch, a person who, to all intents and purposes, he had previously loathed. What their friends don’t know, however, is that the marriage of inconvenience is a plot hatched by the money grabbing ‘couple’ in order to score a payday on the wedding gifts. Although you may not find anything as hum drum as a kitchen sink in this romp, written by comedy writer Joe Keenan , you will stumble across the Mafia, cross dressing, blackmail and even a John Woo style shoot out. Like a mixture of P.G.Wodehouse, Some Like it Hot and Howard Hawks, Keenan's television work record –Frasier, Desperate Housewives-
shines through as he effortlessly peppers the story with bon mots and pratfalls.

Eric Stone is a recovering journalist who lived and worked in Asia for many years, covering subjects such as politics, economics, the arts, drugs, sex and rock and roll. He is currently the author of the Ray Sharp series of detective thrillers, set in Asia and based on true stories he covered. The first three books in the series are: THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD, GRAVE IMPORTS and FLIGHT OF THE HORNBILL, the fourth, SHANGHAIED will be out in June 2009.

Published by Grand Central Publishing, February 1995

This is an astounding first novel. The protagonist, Romulus Ledbetter, is a homeless, paranoid schizophrenic man who lives in a cave in New York’s Central Park. He is highly educated and has a family, but has gone off the rails a long time
ago. He comes across a body near his cave. The police are convinced the dead person simply froze to death, but Romulus is convinced it’s murder. He both battles and utilizes his delusions and mania to get to the bottom of the matter. His own craziness helps him to navigate the real world craziness he embroils himself in. Romulus is a remarkably fully realized, totally unusual character. He’s sympathetic, but only to a point. You can admire him, but you wouldn’t want to spend any time around him. He is truly one of the great, complex literary creations. A movie, with Samuel L. Jackson, was made of THE CAVEMAN’S VALENTINE, but it doesn’t even begin to convey the same sort of power and complexity as the book.

Martin Edwards
Kerrie Smith
Bill Crider
Paul Bishop
Scott D. Parker
James Reasoner

Lesa Holstine
August West

Cathy Skye
John Peyton Cooke
Ali Karim
Gary Dobbs

Randy Johnson


Sepiru Chris said...

Oooh... I want to read Gun, with Occasional Music. Great service, this posting column.

Charles Gramlich said...

"Gun, with Occassional music" sounds right down my line. Putting it on my list. why is my list so long?

pattinase (abbott) said...

You should see my list. It would be a challenge if I were 20.

Randy Johnson said...

Gun, With Occasional Music is one of my favorites. I read and loved it years ago, Lethem being one of those writers I return to now and again.

Kerrie said...

What I like about the contributors to Forgotten Books is that we encapsulate such a wide range of reading tastes!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Good point, Kerrie. I never know what books are going to turn up each week. And that is what makes it fun.

Vince said...

Blue Heaven by Joe Keenan (no relation) is absolutely hysterical. A terrific comic novel.

Barbara Martin said...

Gun, With Occasional Music is going on my TBR list. Thanks, Patti.

Cathy said...

You've been given an award. Check in here to pick it up!