Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 25, 2009

(Any mistakes will be corrected on Sunday as will The Summing Up. I'm without a computer for two days while I see Cyrano and Three Sisters at Stratford Shakespeare Festival).

I removed all links not up at 9:30 AM to save frustration. Thanks.

Ed Gorman is the author of THE MIDNIGHT ROOM, SLEEPING DOGS and many other fine works. You can catch up with him at

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes.

The other night on his fine blog British novelist Martin Edwards wrote a piece about The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes. Among the book's admirers was Ernest Hemingway. The book was the basis for the the first "true Hitchcock" film as Hitch himself called it. I guess he looked at the previous ones as warm-up acts.

The set-up for the Lodger is standard stuff by now. In Victorian London a serial killer is loose. An impoverished couple takes in a lodger. Soon enough the wife begins to wonder if the lodger is the killer. Here's what I wrote Martin:

"The Lodger still works for me. The atmospherics are as compelling as the characters, this impoverished world of eternal and foggy night while an unknown killer stalks the London streets. I haven't read anything else by her but your mention of her letters containing few references to mystery writing doesn't surprise me. For all the chiller-diller stuff--as Ruth Rendell would call it--the book escapes the familiar by giving us a rich look at the lives of the husband and wife and their sad lives in poverty. This, to me, drives the book as much as The Lodger himself."

The Lodger gives the readers a visceral sense of Victorian London. The homely details of everyday life make the cunning and cruelty of the killer all the more real. In a few places the horror of the streets remind me of Jack London's mental collapse while spending time in and around Whitechapel (he later wrote about his time there). And yet this is played off beautifully against the placid, quietly desperate home lives of the married couple. It is rich true portraiture.

As Martin and a few of his respondents pointed out, Lowndes is frequently overlooked in histories of mystery fiction. I've never been sure why. She was certainly a far better writer, as someone pointed out, than Mary Roberts Rinehart and her imitators. In fact, though I claim no expertise, she was to me the most exciting chiller-diller writer until the great Elizabeth Sanxay Holding came along a quarter century later. And I'm sure that Holding, with her unnerving mixture of the homely and the phantasmagoric, doubtless read and studied Lowndes.

For me The Lodger is timeless, a true classic.

Tim Davis: About Me "After making my escape at an early age from a seemingly predestined future that would have almost certainly put me to work in either the coal mines or steel mills in western Pennsylvania, I spent the better part of the next three decades traveling the world as an enlisted man (and later an officer) in the United States Navy. Then, when I finally pulled into port for the last time, I returned to college and prepared myself for my second career as a university-level teacher of literature and English composition. I've written articles and reviews for BookPage, Mystery News, America Magazine, The American Spectator, ForeWord Magazine, Southern Humanities Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Antipodes Journal, The Explicator, Secondary English, KLIATT, MultiCultural Review, BookLoons, and a few other print and online outlets. My research interests include Flannery O'Connor and William Blake, though my reading interests are eclectic (with a special fondness for mystery-and-detective fiction)."

Neglected Book: Double Cross Blind by Joel Ross
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Anchor (July 25, 2006)

Travel back in time to the early days of December in 1941. Tom Wall is a combat wounded American citizen who had been serving with the Canadian forces in Greece and Crete, and he is now recovering in a hospital in London. Without understanding why, Wall is suddenly approached by someone from Britain's MI6, the agency responsible for the United Kingdom's espionage activities overseas. ? Inexplicably, the British have a special job for the American.
Agents promise Wall that the first part of his job will be rather easy. Wall, for reasons he cannot yet imagine, must simply pretend to be his brother Earl Wall and meet with a ruthless Nazi agent named Dietrich Sondegger, a German defector who has recently arrived in London and is now in British custody. ?
The second part of the job, according to MI6 officials, is also not too difficult: Wall, posing as his brother, must successfully and persuasively obtain some very important information from Sondegger, a fascinating and frightening man who will only talk to Earl Wall. And—if Sondegger's promised information is reliable—MI6, with Tom Wall's assistance, may finally be able to mitigate Britain's lonely and desperate wartime struggles against the overpowering forces of Germany.
MI6, in an attempt to keep the pressure on Wall, also tells their somewhat unwilling espionage apprentice of the downside to his mission: If he fails to obtain the information accurately from Sondegger, or even if he fails to obtain the information in a timely manner, dozens of espionage agents will lose their lives in Europe, and—perhaps more horribly—thousands of other unsuspecting people may soon lose their lives on a small island in the Pacific Ocean. ? So, young Tom Walls becomes a very reluctant recruit in the high-stakes world of international spying, and he meets with the repulsively self-centered Sondegger. And soon, because of Walls' involvement, the first week in December promises to become one of the most important weeks in modern history. ?
First-time novelist Joel Ross, in creating Double Cross Blind, has given hardcore fans of spy novels a fascinating and complicated tale of patriots and traitors, truth and deception, and honor and villainy. Teeming with action and overflowing with surprises, Double Cross Blind is one of those powerful, hard-to-put-down spy novels of intense believability and continuing relevance that readers will favorably compare to the canonical espionage adventures written by masters like Graham Greene and John LeCarre.

John Weagly is the author of THE UNDERTOW OF SMALL TOWN DREAMS (Twilight Books) and various other short stories and plays.

HARD-BOILED: An Anthology of American Crime Stories edited by Bill Pronzini & Jack Adrian, from Oxford University Press (1995) This[Photo] was, for me, the right book at the right time. I first stumbled across HARD-BOILED on a shelf in Borders in 1997. On impulse more than anything else, I bought it. I liked mystery novels, but didn’t think very far outside of the “body-on-the-first-page-killer-on-the-last-page” box. The variety of stories in HARD-BOILED opened my eyes to so much more. The stories, arranged chronologically from 1925 to 1992, give an incredible sampling of gritty tales of “disorder, disaffection and dissatisfaction.” I’d read Dashiell Hammett and Jim Thompson before, but this book introduced me to many of the other authors I love today: David Goodis, Lawrence Block and Elmore Leonard to name a few. As if the selection of stories wasn’t enough, the introduction gives a fascinating and concise history of hard-boiled literature. There are also informative biographies of each contributor. These reference sections, along, of course, with the stories, make this anthology required reading for anyone interested in the form. HARD-BOILED, along with a Film Noir Festival on Turner Classic Movies at around the same time, had untold influences on the writer I am today.

Bill Crider
Craig Clarke
Martin Edwards
Kerrie Smith
George Kelley
Eric Peters
Randy Johnson
Stephanie Pintoff
Todd Mason


Charles Gramlich said...

Pronzini has edited some good anthologies hasn't he?

Todd Mason said...

For those desperate for more web-reading, mine is up, too.

Todd Mason said...

Charles, Pronizini, often with Barry Malzberg or Jack Adrian or Marcia Muller or Martin H. Greenberg, has edited perhaps more good anthologies than any other living editor.