It's difficult to remember, thirty years on, New York in the seventies, The City was facing bankruptcy, the streets were dangerous, frequent strikes left unattended garbage for the rodents, buildings crumbled. Paula Fox's novel Desperate Characters perfectly captures that time along with the similarly disintegrating marriage of Sophie and Otto Bentwood. The story begins with an unexpected cat bite. "Because it's savage," Otto answers Sophie's puzzled, "why?" It was a cat she was trying to feed that bit her. This well-intentioned act, this McGuffin, sends the couple off on a weekend odyssey, where ominous events continue to haunt the childless couple. They find little solace in each other and there is no easy resolution at the end. The quiet desperation that suffuses their story is heart-breaking. The writing is haunting, lucid, and succinct.
Fox has also written two books about her life (Borrowed Finery and The Coldest Winter), a few other novels (The Widow's Children) and many children's books. But nothing is finer than this one for me.
Ed Gorman is home again. Yippee!
TEXAS WIND, James Reasoner
We all have books we go back to several times over the years. For me one of the finest private eye novels I've ever read is Texas Wind by James Reasoner. It is a virtually perfect utterance, a story of a man, an era and a place.
While the set-up is familiar, "a missing daughter job" as Hammett once began a story of his, the op here, named Cody, gives us a Texas I'd never seen before and a private eye who might be the guy you have coffee with at the donut shop counter a couple days a week. The reality is what makes the dark surprises of the book stay real. A real person is telling you the story.
Texas is too often writ so large it becomes comic without meaning to be. James' social observations are worth the price alone. My favorite is a scene where Cody, a Southerner, wonders about a man because he's a Northerner. I've seen this written so many times by Yankees that it was a jolt realizing that it cuts both ways. I loved it.
Filled with exciting incident and humane observation, Texas Wind is one of those books that should be read by everyone who wants to write a mystery novel. This will show you how.
Livia Washburn, James' talented and lovely writer wife, is also a talented and lovely artist. Who knew? Here's her new cover for Texas Wind.
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