Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books, May 22, 2009

Nelson Mandella reading.

Next week: vacation--at least for me
June 5th-Forgotten Non-fiction book week.

A few may go up later--or never.

Alan Orloff's debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, is due out April 2010 from Midnight Ink. He blogs at A Million Blogging Monkeys ( and InkSpot ( You can learn more about him (and his books) at:


Can a book be "forgotten" if it was never really "remembered" in the first place?

Although most of the books I read are crime fiction, I enjoy a good book in just about any genre--science fiction, horror, mainstream, how-to-sneak-vegetables-into-your-kids'-meals. And every once in a while, I fall hard for a good coming-of-age novel. So I'll step out of my usual genre and talk about one of my favorite coming-of-agers, THE UNORIGINAL SINNER AND THE ICE-CREAM GOD, by John R. Powers.

I don't know where I found this book. Usually I'll pick a book based on a recommendation--from a friend, a relative, a guy on the bus, even a reviewer. Once in while, an intriguing cover will sway me. In this case, I suspect it was the unusual title. (Whenever I recommend this book to friends, I usually get a blank stare, followed by a "Huh?" when I repeat the title. Here, I'll just refer to it as SINNER.)

SINNER follows THE LAST CATHOLIC IN AMERICA and DO PATENT LEATHER SHOES REALLY REFLECT UP? in the Powers "trilogy." Both of those feature Eddie Ryan, boy Catholic, dealing with the obstacles a Catholic boy faces growing up in a colorful Chicago neighborhood. (You don't have to read the books in order. I devoured both after reading SINNER and enjoyed them, even though I'm not Catholic and I don't wear patent leather shoes).

SINNER tells the story of another Catholic Chicagoan, Tim Conroy, a student at commuter college Engrim University (a "paperback college: somewhat cheap, occasionally amusing, slightly educational, and totally disposable"). There he tries to make sense out of life, but winds up with more questions than answers--about friends, about God, about his purpose. Most of all, he struggles to make sense of his relationship with his girlfriend, Sarah.

In addition to a handful of quirky friends, Conroy keeps company with Caepan, a walking oracle who owns a gas station (natch). Caepan serves as Conroy's sounding board, dispensing often cryptic (and existential) advice to his young disciple. The way Powers adroitly describes his cast of characters leads you to believe you'd actually find friends like that in every neighborhood in America. He makes them human; moreover, he makes you care about them.

Bursting with humor, SINNER reads like a comedian's monologue, if the monologue had great characterization, spot-on description, and a plot--with an underlying tender spot. Powers heaps one wry observation upon another:

"In sixth grade, I read in a magazine that the chances of a kid eventually making it to the major leagues were one in ten thousand. At that age, I weighed less than the wind, had the complexion of a bedsheet, and possessed eyes that looked like they lived at the end of a tunnel. I wondered what the other 9,999 were going to do for a living."

To top it all off, I never anticipated the gnarly twist at the end of the book.

If you like 'em funny and if you like 'em poignant (and especially if you like 'em funny and poignant), give THE UNORIGINAL SINNER AND THE ICE-CREAM GOD a whirl. I think you'll be glad you did.

Ed Gorman is the author of the soon-to-be released, THE MIDNIGHT ROOM (Leisure)

"This is a thread that runs through all of my mystery/suspense fiction," Bloch has pointed out. "The terrible inability to understand the irrational behavior of certain human beings, what is it that impels that sometime senseless sadistic cruelty, and I tried to familiarize myself with it because I can recognize that, deep down within, there are certain of those aspects within myself which I probably manage to exorcise by way of the typewriter."
--Robert Bloch

Last night and this afternoon I read The Will To Kill by Robert Bloch. When you pair this one with his novel The Kidnapper you discover that in his own quiet way Bloch was writing horrorific noir fiction way back in the mid-Fifties, the same kind of fiction so much in vogue today. While I've seen both novels compared to Jim Thompson and Cornell Woolrich, Bloch told me once that he'd never read Thompson, though he readily acknowledged the Woolrich influence. But these two short books are unique in voice and storyline and are, in some respects, two sides of the same story--the man who fears he's a killer and the man who revels in being a killer. They're both claustrophobic as hell. You're completely inside the mind of the man narrating the stories. The Kidnapper should be easy to find. It was reprinted in the late eighties by Tor. Will is hard to come by but well worth the search.

Patti Abbott
The Clue: ARMCHAIR DETECTIVE: Can You Solve the Mysteries of the Tudor Close? (Lawrence Treat and George Hardie. (No cover allows downloading so imagine it)

I wonder where this little paperback came from. I found it cleaning out my attic. It's a graphic approach to the story-telling. Detectives/Suspects from the board game CLUE solve a number of mysteries. It dates from 1983. I'm guessing this was Megan's but my son also loved what were called mysteries at the time. Still does. Maybe Todd will enlighten us on its history.

Stephanie Padilla is Editor-New Mystery Reader

Resolution by Denise Mina
Maureen O’Donnell returns in Mina’s third outing featuring this most
appealing of characters. Maureen has hit hard times having spent most of an
inheritance, and now finds herself selling smuggled cigarettes to pay
back-taxes. When one of her fellow stallholders dies a suspicious death,
Maureen can’t help but become involved. All the while she must also deal
with her father’s return, and the birth of a new baby girl into her family.
Fearing her father will repeat his sexually abusive behavior, Maureen
teeters on decisions that could forever changer her life.
With more than enough surprises and twists, this literary achievement will
delight the most hardened mystery fan. But the true value comes from
Maureen herself. She is perhaps one of the most finely rendered and
sympathetic characters in mystery fiction. And although you might not
always agree with her methods, you will certainly appreciate her
motivations. Having never been to Glasgow, I feel I know it well as seen
through Mina’s eyes. Her Glasgow is a dark city, along with its
inhabitants, yet both exposing brilliant flashes of beauty that touches
deeply. And though some readers who have not read the first two in this
trilogy may find themselves a little lost at times, don’t let this stop you.
Quite the opposite, let it motivate you to go out and get the first two and
read them as quickly as you can, you won’t be sorry.

George Kelley
Bill Crider
James Reasoner
Martin Edwards
Cullen Gallagher
Scott Parker
Kerrie Smith
Jenn Jilks
Michael Walters
J. Kingston Pierce
Randy Johnson
Eric Peterson
Paul Bishop
Michael Carlson
Todd Mason
Ray Foster


Todd Mason said...

I have one, rather improvisational and which I'll be adding to over the course of the day (picked it up yesterday and it has Eudora Welty on Shirley Jackson, and implications for flash fiction's and others' twist endings, so how could I resist?)

Scott D. Parker said...

Patti - For Christmas, I was given Duane Swierczynski's Murder at Wayne Manor, one of those interactive books where the clues are things you have to pick up and read out of various pockets in the book. I was never really good at those but I'm looking forward to trying my hand at this one. Oh, and my book, Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos, is now up at my blog.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've never heard of that Powers book. sounds suitable weird.