Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, January 13, 2012

February 17 is going to be DONALD WESTLAKE DAY in honor of his last book, THE COMEDY IS FINISHED debuting from Hard Case Crime. If anyone who doesn't usually do a review on Fridays would like to join in, just let me know. It would be fun to have as many of his books reviewed as possible.

I do urge anyone who loves the short story to join us in trying to read 365 short stories this year. You can find the site here.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series and the Sam McCain series, both thoroughly enjoyable. You can find him here.

How Like an Angel by Margaret Millar

I've always held the opinion that some writers are just too good for the mass market. This is a true of a number of literary writers but it's also true of at least one writer of crime fiction, the late Margret Millar. For all her many deserved awards, she never became the enormous commercial success she deserved to be.

For me she's the single most elegant stylist who ever shaped a mystery story. You revel in her sentences. She used wit and dark humor in the direst of novels long before it was fashionable in the genre. And she was a better (and much fairer) bamboozler than Agatha Christie.

I recently reread her How Like and Angel and its richness, its darkness, its perverse wit make me repeat what I've said many times before--if this isn't the perfect mystery novel, it comes damned close.

The story, complex as it becomes, is simple in its set-up. Private eye Joe Quinn, having gambled away all his money, begins hitchiking from Reno to Caifornia. Along the way he sees the Tower, the symbol of a religious cult that eventually offers him not only shelter but a chance to put his skills to use. Sister Blessing asks him to find a man named Patrick O'Gorman. The man is dead. Which makes Quinn suspicious of why they want him located.

Among its many pleasures is the way this novel, published in the early sixties, anticipates some of the fringe cults that would grow out of the flower power days. There's more than a touch of ole Charlie Manson in the Tower.

I've always argued that the traditional mystery can be used for purposes other than simply whodunit. Here Millar gives us a great novel of character, a wry and not unkind look at people drawn to cults and a dark stunning story of forged lives.

Patti Abbott-DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, Walter Mosley

Sometimes I think we are too cavalier at FFB about remembering books that became classics of a sort but are still growing old. I am embarrassed to say that the first crime fiction book I read featuring a black detective was DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS by Walter Mosley. I have read several more of his books, but this one will stay with me because it introduced such a great character and his sidekick and also the novelty of bringing the story forward by leaps and bounds with each new book. He is also a terrific writer who deserves more acclaim.

Devil in a Blue Dress appeared in 1990. The story begins with Easy Rawlins, our future detective, out-of-work and unable to pay his mortgage. He's offered a job finding a young woman named Daphne Monet, a white woman known to frequent African-American bars.

Nothing is what it initially seems and with the help of his friend, Mouse, Easy navigates some dangerous terrain. He is the perfect character, easy to like but suitably flawed.

Although I know Chester Himes wrote well before Mosley, this was my first experience with a black detective and Mosley was, and is, so skilled at capturing the times, the people, and serving up a darn good plot.

Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
Terrie Moran
J.F. Norris
Eric Peterson
J. Kingston Pierce
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple
Tipping My Fedora


Joe Barone said...

Oh, I like the Mosely books. With Millar, for some reason I've never read one. I've intended to, but . . .
You have spurred me on. I've put this book on my list.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Millar is in my top five.

Charles Gramlich said...

"Devil in a blue dress" is on my list of books I want to read but as of yet don't even own a copy. I'm a sorry excuse for a bibliophile

Randy Johnson said...

DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS was the first Mosley book I read and it made me a fan of the series. Caught them all so far as well as a good selection of his other works.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I'm late and I am sorry.

My review for this week is a followup to the short story I reviewed yesterday also by Sylvia Dickey Smith. The book is the first of her Sidra Smart series titled "Dance on His Grave." It is at:

I guess I should also confess to in addition to never having read a Westlake novel, I have never read a Mosely book either.


le0pard13 said...


Katherine Tomlinson said...

Great choices both. Millar is so underrated and so good. A young intern I worked with introduced me to her out of the blue one day because she knew I liked to read. Any time someone does that, I figure it's worth checking out. And Mosley is great too, although his science fiction books are just meh.

Brian Busby said...

I just happened to start in on Margaret Millar's An Air that Kills last night. You're right, of course, she was an elegant stylist. She wrote such wonderful dialogue - witty and sometimes snippy, but never contrived. Canada's loss was America's gain.

Anonymous said...

Patti - No doubt about it at all! Margaret Millar was a rare talent - a rare talent. And I'm so glad you liked Devil in a Blue Dress, too. Isn't Walter Mosley a skilled writer!?

Anonymous said...

Whoops! Forgot to say thanks for including my post in this week's links. I very much appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

I've read all the Mosley Easy Rawlins books but the latest, as well as a few of his others. I thought they did a good job with the movie of DEVIL, especially with Don Cheadle playing Mouse.

Millar is a terrific writer. HOW LIKE AN ANGEL is a classic.

Kevin, never read Westlake? I'm shocked. He's #5 on my 'most read authors' list (behind Simenon, Hunter/McBain, Christie, and Pronzini) with 61 books read, including all the Richard Stark and Tucker Coe titles.

Jeff M.

Iren said...

count me in on the Westlake/ Richard Stark posts...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Let me know which one so we don't all do THE AX.

Yvette said...

I've read a couple of the Easy Rawlins books by Walter Mosley, but I have to say that my favorite books of his are the Fearless Jones series.

FEARLESS JONES is on my list of 100
Favorite Mysteries/Thrillers which I'm working on right now.

It's a terrific book and not a bad place to start if you want to try something a little different.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I will have to try them. So far just EASY and the one with the guy in the basement.

Anonymous said...

"RL's Dream" is another great, intense Walter Mosley book. It had me with the first sentence: "Pain moved up the old man's hipbone like a plow breaking through hard sod."

Anonymous said...

I've read Mosley's first two Socrates Fortlow collections, after watching the HBO movie version of the first (called ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED), starring Laurence Fishburne.

Jeff M.

Deb said...

Oh, I was going to volunteer to do an FFB on THE AX--and then I read your comment--ha-ha! Anyway, I'd be glad to do WHAT'S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? if no one else wants to do it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Deb-no one had claimed either. Just used that as an example since the spelling was easy.

Deb said...

OK, I'll take WTWTCH? for February 17's FFB.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great. Just ship it over a day or two ahead. Thanks!