Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 30, 2011

Ed Gorman is the author of the new Bad Moon Rising. You can find him here.

Forgotten Books The Handle by Richard Stark

The Handle

Hard to know if a book was a fairly easy go for the writer or if it drove him to drugs and drink. I hope The Handle by Richard Stark was a pleasure for Donald Westlake to write because it sure is a pleasure to read.

The Organization has decided that it's tired of this German guy running his big casino on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. He's beyond the jurisdiction of the Feds and it's unlikely Cuba will do much about him. Thus Parker is hired to take the casino and its other buildings down--literally. To blow them up.

Now while The Handle is every bit as tough as Dick Cheney's heart, the hardboiled aspect is played off against the sorriest group of human beings Parker may ever have had to work with. And the sardonic way Westlake portrays them had me laughing out loud at several points.

Take your pick. There's the alcoholic hood who talks as if he's auditioning for a Noel Coward play; the mob gun dealer who had to quit drinking several months ago and has increased both his cigarette intake (four or five packs a day) while maintaining both his cancer cough and his enormous weight; the pedophile who turns out to be a ringer sent to spy in Parker and his friends; the Feds who are so inept both Parker and Grofield play games seeing who can lose their tails the fastest. And then there's the the married Grofield, Parker's professional acting buddy, who never passes up a chance to impose his charms on willing women. In this case he endeavors to put the whammy on the very sexy blonde Parker himself has been shacking up with. Isn't that called bird-dogging?

And then we have Baron Wolfgang Freidrich Kastelbern von Alstein, the man who owns the island and the casino and who, over the years, has managed to make The Third Man's Harry Lime look like a candidate for sainthood. Westlake spends a few pages on the Baron's history and it becomes one of the most fascinating parts of the book, especially his days in Europe during the big war.

The book is filled with the little touches that make the Stark books so memorable. My favorite description comes when Parker and the sexy blonde sit down to a dinner that Westlake describes as "viciously expensive."

A fine fine novel.

Patti Abbott, Savage Season, Joe R. Lansdale

This was the first of the Hap and Leonard books and I gather Lansdale didn't intend it to be a series until it proved so popular. And I can understand why. These two are just a match made in heaven even in this first installment. The dialogue is excellent, the setting winning, the atmosphere perfect, the plot--well serviceable because I think our interest in the sixties radicals might have faded in the years since its publication. They seem quaint, now don't they? Hardly any more relevant than the Algonquin Round Table or the Masons.

When Hap's former wife calls him for help, it leads to some bad sh*t for Hap and Leonard. She's got scruples, but not when it comes to using Hap. The book has not one but two femme fatales and Lansdale sure has some fun with both of them. And with the gang of buffoons they hangs out with. There is also a lot of violence, laughs and heart. It would have been a crying shame had the series ended here and it didn't.

I listened to this on audio and I have to say the reader Phil Gigante did a great job of pulling me into Hap's world. But I have yet to find a male that can do women's voices without having them seem creepy.

Steve Aldous
Yvette Banek
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Cullen Gallagher
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis/William Deeck
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Richard Pangburn
Eric Peterson
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple
John Wilson
Jim Winter


Kevin R. Tipple said...

Sorry I am late--again. Mine is GODS IN ALABAMA by Joshilyn Jackson.


Charles Gramlich said...

I much enjoy the Hap and Leonard books.

Jerry House said...

Mine is up.

Yvette said...

Mine is up now too, Patti. Sorry I was late.

Looks like another good week of forgotten winners.

Fred Blosser said...

As I recall from having last read THE HANDLE several years ago, Mr. Westlake wrung at least three meanings out of the titular "Handle." I picked up the original Pocket Books edition second-hand at a junk store in 1970, as part of a two-year spree to find the first 11 Parker novels after going nuts over THE SOUR LEMON SCORE.

Todd Mason said...

Joanna Russ's recommendation of the women characters in John Varley's fiction might not pass your "creepy" test, since all the characters are potentially creepy there.

Creepy in which ways, btw?

pattinase (abbott) said...

They all sound sinister to me. I don't know why they can't hire two people to do these things. Twice as much work for them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I felt the same way, Fred, after reading THE AXE.

Anonymous said...

The first Westlakes I read were BANK SHOT (from the Mystery Book Guild) and COPS AND ROBBERS in 1973, followed by the first few Parkers in 1974. I'm also a fan of the Hap & Leonard series, along with most of Lansdale's other writings.

Jeff M.

Gerard said...

I just listened to Lansdale's Vanilla Ride and agree that the narrator does great work. I think his women's voices are pretty decent, especially compared to the guy who narrates Lee Child's books.

Anonymous said...

Great review. I've only read one Hap and Leonard book - the one starting out with The Kentucky Headhunters on the player. I'd better get busy catching up.

Todd Mason said...

And I misread...I thought you meant Lansdale captured the women's voices creepily...but, yes, a multiplayer dramatic format for the readings wouldn't upset me a bit.

Todd Mason said...

And I'll suggest that some '60s radicals are rather less inconsequential than those pesky Masons, free or expensive...(this Mason might've only become radicalized in the earliest '70s).

TomCat said...

I have late, and this time a somewhat more recent, entry for FFB: Paul Doherty's The Slayers of Seth.

Andrew Nette said...

Next Butcher's Moon and The Sour Lemon Score, The Handle is my favourite Parker book. Nice review.