Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 17, 2014

(From the archives)

R. Narvaez was born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His work has been published in A Thousand Faces, Indian Country Noir, Murdaland, Plots with Guns, and Spinetingler. He is co-editor of The Lineup crime poetry chapbook series

I Am Thinking of My Darling,
 Vincent McHugh
A virus. The City. Civic chaos. Government collapse. The stuff of zombie flicks and terrorist scenarios in 2010. But back in the ’40s, such a plot could still be light-hearted. In Vincent McHugh’s 1943 novel I Am Thinking of My Darling, a virus infects New York City—but it's a happy virus! The infected follow their bliss, feverishly losing their inhibitions (for you Trekkies, think "The Naked Time" episode). The problem is that no one wants to work. Honestly, who would?

Acting planning commissioner Jim Rowan returns home from a trip to DC to find cheerful chaos quickly spreading across town—and his actress wife Niobe missing. She’s infected and on the lam, looking to live out a succession of character roles in a kind of Method fervor. Meanwhile, in an emergency management meeting (consider what that term evokes today), the mayor announces he has the virus—and would rather play with model trains than lead the City. To avoid panic, Rowan is secretly made acting mayor.

The plots riffs genially from there, with Rowan hot on the trail of his slippery wife, cabbing from City Hall to Harlem across a Cityscape in Mardi Gras mode—all the while consulting with civil services to keep things running and with scientists to find a cure. (The fact that the virus apparently originated in the tropics, implying that people there are inhibition-less, may be another artifact of the past.) A polymath (when being a polymath was simpler), Rowan narrates in sensual, informed detail about now-bygone architectural wonders, regional accents, lab science, and jazz music.

This book, with its glad-rag view of a long-lost era, has been a favorite of mine since it was recommended to me decades ago. (I still have my first copy, bought in the now-bygone Tower Books in the Village). McHugh, a poet and a staff writer for The New Yorker in the ’30s, employs a prose style that winks slyly at Chandler and pulp. (Once Rowan is inevitably infected, he’s like Marlowe on E.) Darling also features a nice amount of sexual frankness that may surprise modern readers who forget that people in the ’40s had sex. The novel was made into the very '60s movie What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, but by then the times had already been a-changed enough that the conceit no longer had the right kind of jazz.

 Black Friday by David Goodis: 

Ed Gorman is the author of the Sam McCain and Dev Conrad series of books.  

"In fact, the craftsmanship (David Goodis) mastered in all those years of turning out fiction for the pulps was sometimes all that salvaged his books from a morass of aberrant psychology and obsession." --James Sallis

Black Friday is proof absolute of Sallis' comment. It's a crime novel only by default. Here we have the typical Goodis loser loner protagonist, this time named Hart who is on the run from a murder charge. Through a cosmic coincidence he is taken in by a murderous big time burglar named Charley. And his gang.

The story arc deals with a pending huge burglary of fine art and jewelry that Hart will be allowed to join in if he can prove to Charley that he is a "professional"--i.e. a man who never kills for passion but only for money. Loopy at this measure is Goodis makes it go.

But please don't confuse this heist with the book's real import. I remember reading a lot of August Strindberg in my college days as a wanna-be playwright. Goodis has pulled a Strindberg. What a feckless loveless hopeless cast of oddballs and freaks he offers us.

The gang doesn't like Hart so we have scenes of frequent intimidation except for the gangster who starts to like Hart because Hart finds the man's artistic skills impressive (or claims he does), Then there's Freida the obese sad crazed dangerous vamp of Goodisworld. Repellent as he finds her he has to sleep with her because she needs the kind of sex her man Charley can't deliver. He's impotent most of the time. Hart is using her--he literally grimaces when he touches her--but she falls in love with him and Charley figures it out. Charley is not happy.

Then there's Myrna the forlorn faded woman whose brother Paul Hart killed because he seemingly had no choice. She despises Hart at first but eventually they come together. The interplay of all these relationships accounts for seventy-five, maybe eighty per cent of the novel. I couldn't stop flipping the pages though several times I wanted to. This is the only book I've ever read that makes Orwell's Down and Out In Paris and London read like a B'way musical. It's past grim. It's a violent ward of wanton treachery and despair.

It's as close to Grand Guignol as crime fiction gets.

Sergio Angelini, THE SNATCH, Bill Pronzini
Yvette Banek, THE VERGE PRACTICE, Barry Maitland
Joe Barone, THE DEATH OF LUCY KYTE, Nicola Upson
Brian Busby, SOFT TO THE TOUCH, Clark W. Dailey
Bill Crider, STRANGE DOINGS, R.A. Lafferty
Martin Edwards, NIGHTMARE, Arthur La Bern
Curt Evans, GOLDEN ANTHOLOGIES 2, ed. Tim Heald
Rick Horton, NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS, Thorne Smith

Jerry House, AS IT IS WRITTENDe Lysle Ferree Cass
Randy Johnson, AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE, Robert Bausch
Nick Jones, SPLIT IMAGES, Elmore Leonard
George Kelley, HEAVY PLANET, Hal Clement
Margot Kinberg, BITTER RIVER, Julia Keller
Rob Kitchin, ALL GOD'S CHILDREN, Arthur Lyons
Evan Lewis, THE SHADOW OF THE TOMAHAWK, Hugh Pendexter
Steve Lewis/Ellen Nehr, EXIT ACTORS, DYING, Margot Arnold 
Todd Mason, BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1978. 
Juri Nummelin (with Moore and Mazberg), THE GETAWAY CAR, Donald Westlake 
James Reasoner, BLONDES DIE YOUNG, Bill Peters
Richard Robinson, OUR JUBILEE IS DEATH, Leo Bruce
Gerard SaylorGALLOW'S VIEW, Peter Robinson
Ron Scheer, UNBRIDLED SPIRITS, ed. Judy Alter and T Row
Kevin Tipple, A PAINTED HOUSE, John Grisham
TracyK. THE SAINT V. SCOTLAND YARD, Leslie Charteris
Prashant Trikannad, THE WRECK OF THE GOLDEN MARY, Charles Dickins


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Thanks very much, Patti.

Joe Barone said...

Patti, THE DEATH OF LUCY KYTE IS a 2014 book. I don't always post "forgotten" books. I read whatever I'm reading and if it happens to be an older book for forgotten Friday, I am always happy to have it posted. I appreciate Forgotten Friday books. I've found some good reading in them. Thanks.

Charles Gramlich said...

I well remember the Naked Time and Naked Now episodes of Trek. Good stuff.

Kelly Robinson said...

Wow, I thought I knew all the virus novels. I'll be checking this one out.

K. A. Laity said...

I don't know as it counts as 'forgotten' as it's not come out in the States yet, though it's been out for a while in the UK, but I wrote up Viv Albertine's memoir.

J F Norris said...

Your weekly straggler is done proofreading and tinkering. ;^) Mine's posted now. Thanks, Patti.

Detective novels of Charles Forsyte

Rick Robinson said...

My link is missing. My blog is found at

Todd Mason said...

Jerry's is apparently by one De Lysle Ferree Cass.

Todd Mason said...

Yet another post in progress, with a few bits actually up and ready, now:

FFB: the best short stories of 1978 (the year I started reading new short fiction in earnest) as judged by the annual editors...

Rick Robinson said...

Thanks for fixing that, Patti.

Anonymous said...

Patti - I know exactly what you mean about books you've loved for a long time, and enjoy re-reading. I've got a treasure trove of them too...