Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books

Lauren Bacall reading.

The whole list from last April is here.

Ed Gorman is the author of many western, crime novels and anthologies. His most recent novel is SLEEPING DOGS. You can find him at

Donald E. Westlake's The Cutie, previously known as The Mercenaries, works very well as a both first novel and a glimpse into the Westlakian future. The new Hardcase edition is welcome indeed.

Clay is the bought-and-paid for fixer of mob boss Ed Ganolese. If he dresses better than the others who work for Ganolese and is a little cleverer with the patter and is attempting to woo a woman who has serious doubts about the state of his soul , he is nonetheles a pretty typical foot soldier at heart. He does what the boss says and that occasionally means killing somebody.

Billy-Billy is a sad junkie-dealer who gets framed for a murder he claims he didn't commit. He turns to Clay for help because he too is a member of the Ganolese family albeit not an important one. Clay would just as soon give him an "accident." But for some reason this nobody junkie is important to the boss and the police alike. The city is being torn apart by people searching for Billy. But why? The plot twists back on itself beautifully at several points and the mystery becomes all the more mysterious.

All this will become familiar to Westlake readers not to mention Stark readers. Mobsters, civic corruption, paid murder, merciless cops and a man like Clay who doesn't question the morality of what he's doing--he just does it. The only difference between The Cutie and later Westlake is the style. It's more garrulous than even the two novels that would soon follow it. But this isn't to suggest that it's weak in any way. It isn't. It's a strong, tough, original approach by a man who would soon make the crime novel all his own.

Jerry House has an eclectic taste in reading material and has things in his past that shouldn't be mentioned. Nonetheless, he fells that he is pretty boring. His most significant and proudest accomplishment was marrying the (still) beautiful Catherine 39 years ago.

CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT by John Blackburn.

From the Fifties on, British author John Blackburn had a reputation for fast-paced thrillers mixing mystery, science fiction and horror. When I was in high school, my French teacher raved about this great book he had just finished, A Scent of New-Mown Hay, which seems to be Blackburn's best known book.

Children of the Night (Putnam's, 1969; first printed in England in 1966) takes place in the small Yorkshire village of Dunstonholme, a place with a long history of tragedy, bloody death and supposedly supernatural occurances -- dating back to the 1300's. Now, whatever has cursed Dunstonholme appears to have come back. A ship explodes, an old man sails over a forty-foot cliff in his wheelchair, two young toughs are butchered in a stolen boat, a farmer is trampled by his pet bull, an elderly vicar is impaled on stalagmites...

All circumstances point to a centuries old cult, perhaps possessing the power of telepathy, and the possibility of Armageddon. The plot moves at break-neck speed. Blackburn must have had a great time writing this one. Characters are painted with a broad brush, some just this side of stereotype. Throughout the book is a sly, often biting, humor. Think the bastard offspring of Sidney Horler and John Wyndham. This is not even close to being great literature, but is competent writing that gave me a few hours of pure pleasure.

I know Patti Abbott has a one book-one author rule, but I'm going to be going back to Blackburn. Sorry, Patti.

Eric Mayer along with Mary Reed write John the Lord Chamberlain Mysteries. Visit his website at for further information.

A Case in Camera
By Oliver Onions
1920 The MacMillan Company

"The tale I am setting out to tell has to do with the killing, on a May morning in the year 1919, by one young man by another who claimed, and still claims, to have been his friend." So begins Oliver Onions' 1920 mystery A CASE IN CAMERA.

Onions is probably best known for his classic ghost story The Beckoning Fair One but the English writer produced more than 40 novels and short story collections in a variety of genres to considerable critical acclaim. His 1946 novel Poor Man's Tapestry won the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In fact, the New York Times reviewer of A CASE IN CAMERA opined that those familiar with Onions' earlier mysteries, such as In Accordance with the Evidence (1913) would be disappointed. He goes on to say, however, that the book is "...solely on its own merits ... a very ingenious mystery story, here and there somewhat carelessly written, but interesting, well worked out and baffling..."

The novel begins as painter Philip Esdaile is holding a breakfast party at his Chelsea studio to celebrate his election to the Royal Academy. The gathering of friends, many of whom had served in the recent war, proceeds in a normal manner until Esdaile goes down to the cellar for a bottle of orange curacao. While he is gone two aviators crash onto his studio roof tangled in a parachute.. One of the men -- who in what seems a wild coincidence, is an acquaintance of Esdailes's -- has survived. The other is dead, not from the fall but from a gunshot wound.

The story that unfolds presents a fascinating mystery while managing to transgress most of the rules of the genre, starting with the fact that the journalist narrator is conspiring with Esdaile and his friends to keep the facts of what they refer to amongst themselves as "the Case" from the police. A cast of well wrought characters, ranging from a wealthy newspaper owner, to war returnees and a local political agitator, allows Onions to examine topics seemingly far removed from murder -- the state of society, the role of the press, democracy.

No one who has read The Beckoning Fair One -- which may as easily
recount a psychotic delusion as a haunting -- will be surprised that A Case in Camera has a psychological bent. Crimes are committed by people, rather than by weapons or poisons. As the narrator puts it, "First one person acted as according to the laws of his individual being he had to act and another did the same, and then another did the same and so on until the phenomenon was complete."

Yet much of the novel's fascination lies in the manner the most peculiar crime was committed. As the facts are revealed, the method of the killing becomes increasingly inexplicable. And why was Esdaile in the basement for so long at just the moment of the murder? Why for that matter would the assumed killer have murdered his friend? And why are the friends trying to hush things up?

A Case in Camera manages to combine the psychological novel with an impossible crime. It is unruly, idiosyncratic, and well worth reading.

Paul A. Toth's first novel, "Fizz," and its successor, "Fishnet," are available now. His third novel, "Finale," will be published in 2009.
Look for him here.

An American Tragedy by Thomas Dreiser

They may still teach this novel in literature classes, but how many people read it by choice? Not many. And that won't change, unless Oprah recommends it. That's a shame because here's fiction not only steeped in the socioeconomic climate of the author's time but ours as well. The destructive ambitions, encouraged by the free market and all its glittery lures, remain unchanged. The worst result -- murder -- remains unchanged. The "magnetism" of the elite: unchanged. Better, it's the kind of "classic" that's no less a page turner. Whether or not Oprah recommends "An American Tragedy," Paul does.

P.S. My one author-one book rule didn't take effect until I passed sixty last year. You young'uns would be crazy to heed it.

More Forgotten Books:

Elizabeth Foxwell Steve-on-the-slow-train Eric Peterson Bill Crider
Martin Edwards Paul Bishop Scott D. Parker
Ray David Cranmer
Lesa Holstine Kerrie Smith
Cathy Cole R2 Cullen Gallagher
James Reasoner George Kelley Jason Starr Nathan Cain
Michael Carlson Gary Dobbs Randy Johnson


r2 said...

Patti, I did a forgotten book..I sent you my link on facebook, here it is again...

Charles Gramlich said...

That Blackburn books sounds a lot like some of the plots for the "Guardians" series by John Saxon (a house name.). I enjoyed most of the Saxon books.