Friday, December 04, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, December 4, 2015

 I will not be posting FFB on 12/25, 1/1 or 1/8. We can all take some time off unless someone wants to do it. 

SPREE by Max Allan Collins, reviewed by Ed Gorman.

Ed here: I'm such an Al Collins fan that it's impossible for me to choose a favorite. But this may be it or at least is very close. Character, plot and writing impeccable. Read it to enjoy and writers read it to learn. It's a hardboiled masterpiece.

This is my favorite of Collins' Nolan series. Formerly a man associated with the mob, though reluctantly, now trying to go straight with a restaurant in the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River. Things are going along nicely until Cole Comfort and his dim son catch up with him. They hold him responsible for some of their serious bad luck.

To fully appreciate Cole you have reach back to William Falkner and Erskine Caldwell. Outwardly he's something of a hayseed, right down to his flannel shirts and bib overalls. But he's hard to peg, as one of his early victims learns. She wonders about a man who says "ain't" then a few sentences later uses the word "conduit." Go figure.

Cole Comfort is one of the great bad guys of hardboiled fiction. A man who has used his family to help him run every kind of scam, con and robbery you see on those WANTED posters in the post office. And not a sentimentalist. Oh, no. If he has to lose a loved one in the process of getting what he wants so be it.

Son Lyle is a twenty-three year old pretty boy who is in effect his father's robot. He doesn't want to kill anybody but just as the book opens he's about to off his sixth victim. He has flashes of remorse but they don't last longer than any of his other thoughts, around thirty seconds.

In broad-stroke the story is a confrontation between Nolan and the Comforts. They are nasty sumbitches and make some of the mob men who tried to kill Nolan years earlier seem like nice guys.

What makes the book memorable is its successful balance of hard boiled suspense and wit. No easy task. Nolan is just detached enough to function as a mercenary when he goes after the Comforts for kidnapping his woman (Collins partially modeled him after Lee Van Cleef) but believable enough to really care about her. Collins' description of their relationship is winning and unique.

But the Comforts take the book. Loathsome as they are--Cole is a combination of Bubba and Richard Speck--you can't look away no matter how grotesque they become. Most of the Comfort scenes have me smiling all the way through. Several have me laughing out loud.

Spree is pure twisty pleasure and a major book in Collins' career.

 (from the archives) 
from Richard Godwin, HUNGER, Knut Hamsum 

KNUT HAMSUN’S HUNGER. I remember talking about ‘Hunger’ by Knut Hamsun many years ago with a friend in a smoke-filled London pub. It’s a great novel. You can stick whatever label you want on it, it fits existentialism, post modernism, noir, surrealism and the point is it’s a story that is totally compelling. Labels are for soup tins.

Pan published it in the UK, among a treasure trove of great authors when writing still made sense in Britain. It yawned into a golden gap filled with brilliant old and new novelists before the door was shut by some politically correct agenda. Hamsun, a Norwegian novelist, August 4th, 1859 – February 19, 1952, won the Nobel Prize for literature. He stepped over the edge and kept on walking. He is iconoclastic, irreverent, and utterly inspired by whatever dark gods trespass on our soul in the midnight hour.

The protagonist of ‘Hunger’, which is told in the first person, is an unnamed vagrant with intellectual le
anings. It is the intense story of a starving writer living in Christiana. We’re in the great Scandinavian tradition of relentless exposure It was written after Hamsun made an ill-fated tour of America, and based on his own impoverished life before his breakthrough in 1890. It takes place in the late nineteenth century and narrates the delusionary existence of a starving young man on the dark side of a modern metropolis. It has tones of Dostoyevsky and Kafka, Genet and Zola.

The protagonist tries to maintain a veneer of respectability while he decays. He refuses to pursue a professional career,
seeing it as unfit for his abilities and descends into starvation. I remember reading the opening lines: ‘’It was during the time I wandered about and starved in Christiania: Christiania, this singular city, from which no man departs without carrying away the traces of his sojourn the re.’’ Hamsun’s themes are alienation and the inescapability of the physical condition. As the protagonist’s hunger intensifies his hallucinations become more intense. ‘’I raise myself up in bed and fling out my arms. My nervous condition has got the upper hand of me, and nothing availed, no matter how much I tried to work against it. There I sat, a prey to the most singular fantasies, listening to myself crooning lullabies, sweating with the exertion of striving to hush myself to rest. I peered into the gloom, and I never in all the days of my life felt such darkness.

There was no doubt that I found myself here, in face of a peculiar kind of darkness; a desperate element to which no one had hitherto paid attention. The most ludicrous thoughts busied me, and everything made me afraid. A little hole in the wall at the head of my bed occupies me greatly--a nail hole. I find the marks in the wall--I feel it, blow into it, and try to guess its depth. That was no innocent hole--not at all. It was a downright intricate and mysterious hole, which I must guard against! Possessed by the thought of this hole, entirely beside myself with curiosity and fear, I get out of bed and seize hold of my penknife in order to gauge its depth, and convince myself that it does not reach right into the next wall.’’ This really does deserv
ed to be read

Sergio Angelini, WHO IS SIMON WARWICK? Patricia Moyes
Yvette Banek, FOUR BY HARE, Cyril Hare
Les Blatt, A BOOK OF THE DEAD, Elizabeth Daly
Brian Busby, THE ADVENTURES OF JIMMY DALE, Frank Packard
Bill Crider, THE SIXPENNY DAME, Eaton K. Goldthwaite
Martin Edwards, DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE, Robertson Halkett
Curt Evans, GRINDLE NIGHTMARE, Q. Patrick
Ed Gorman, THE KILLER, Wade Miller
Rick Horton, THE DAMNATION OF THERON WARE, Harold Frederic
Jerry House. THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ. L. Frank Baum
George Kelley, ELLISON WONDERLAND, Harlan Ellison
Margot Kinberg, A DEATH IN BRESLAU, Marek Krajewski
Rob Kitchin, INSTANT ENEMY, Ross Macdonald
B.V. Lawson, HABIT OF FEAR, Dorothy Salisbury Davis
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard, A THOUSAND FALLING CROWS, Larry Sweazy
Todd Mason, FFB redux: Ed Gorman guest post: LEARNING TO KILL by Evan Hunter as Ed McBain; Mason on HRF Keating: CRIME & MYSTERY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS; Lupoff & Thompson, eds.: ALL IN COLOR FOR A DIME; Peter Nicholls, ed. SCIENCE FICTION AT LARGE
J.F. Norris, BLEEDING HOOKS, Harriet Rutland
Matt Paust, SOME CAME RUNNING, James Jones
James Reasoner, A HAVEN FOR THE DAMNED, Harry Whittington
Richard Robinson,MURDER ON ICE, Ted Wood
Gerard Saylor, GHOST ROAD BLUES, Jonathan Mayberry
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE FALA FACTOR, Stuart M. Kaminsky
TomCat, ENVIOUS CASCA, Georgett Heyer
TracyK, THE ICE HARVEST, Scott Phillips


J F Norris said...

I've posted a rerun from 2011: Bleeding Hooks by Harriet Rutland
Enjoy your Christmas, Patti! Thanks for all you do and for your kind wishes these past few months.

Todd Mason said...

I will, in my tardy, compulsive way, almost certainly gather links as they arise! My tardy, compulsive post forthcoming shortly.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Todd.
Glad to see you back, John.

Charles Gramlich said...

I need to read some more Max Alan Collins

SteveHL said...

I haven't read Hunger but there is an excellent movie version of it, made in 1966, directed by Henning Carlsen, and starring Per Oscarson. There is also an English-language film version from 2011 that I haven't seen.

A movie Hamsun about the author, Knut Hamsun, came out in 1996, directed by Jan Troell, with Max Von Sydow in the lead. I haven't seen this either, but I know it is supposed to be very good.

Mathew Paust said...

Oops, I forgot to send you the email, Patti. Here's mine for today: SOME CAME RUNNING (revisited) - James Jones

George said...

Patti, I'm proud to have been a part of Friday's Forgotten Books for 350 posts. Your wonderful FFB is compulsive reading for book lovers everywhere! Thank you for providing a forum for such great reviews!

Rick Robinson said...

I'll be skipping those FFB days too, Patti.

Todd Mason said...

Ed Gorman, LEARNING TO KILL Ed McBain; Todd Mason, CRIME & MYSTERY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS, HRF Keating; ALL IN COLOR FOR A DIME, ed. Richard Lupoff & Don Thompson; SCIENCE FICTION AT LARGE, ed. Peter Nicholls

Anonymous said...

This is the second time now that I've read things about Spree. Perhaps I ought to think about reading it... And thanks for including my own post, Patti.