Friday, June 08, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 8, 2018

Pick-Up by Charles Willeford (from the archives)

When was the last time you read a book so compelling you couldn't put it down? What was it?
For me, it was this novel. It takes a long time in Pick-Up for the reader to understand the protagonist and what he's all about. Why he's in the fix he's in. Maybe you won't understand the full story until the last line. And yet, Willeford is able to tell his story lucidly, making even the most mundane details riveting.
This is basically a story about two drunks. Why does it work so well? Better for me even than Kennedy's drunks in Albany. Because the characters are interesting, the narrative pull inescapable, the writing excellent.
Even when the plot turns a bit unlikely in the last third--the characters remain true to themselves, so you go along with it.

Yvette Banek, THE BOX OFFICE MURDERS, Freeman Wills Crofts
Elgin Bleecker, THE SAINT, MILLION POUND DAY, Leslie Charteris
Brian Busby, FORD NATION, Rob and Doug Ford
CrossExaminingCrime,  NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO DIE, ELizabeth Tebberts-Taylor
Martin Edwards, THE MAN WHO LOVED LIONS, Ethel Lina White
Curt Evans, GRAVE MATTERS, Margaret Yorke
Charles Gramlich, THE SNAKE MAN'S BAN, Howie K. Bentley; STEPSONS OF TERRA, Robert Silverberg
Richard Horton,  The Duplicated Man, by James Blish and Robert Lowndes
Jerry House, EASY GO, Michael Crichton
Geroge Kelley,  YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS: 1952 Edited By Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty
Margot Kinberg, TENANT FOR DEATH, Cyril Hare
Rob Kitchin, WITHOUT THE MOON, Cathi Unsworth
B.V. Lawson, I'LL SING YOU TWO O, Anthea Frasier
Evan Lewis, THE LEGION OF THE LIVING DEAD, Carroll John Daly
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, MURDER ON HIGH, Stephanie Mattison
Todd Mason, 1951 Newstand Photos and Magazines on Display
J.F. Norris, AND TO MY BELOVED HUSBAND, Philip Loraine
Matt Paust, SHUTTER ISLAND, Dennis Lehane
James Reasoner, RICHARD BOLITHO, MIDSHIPMAN, Alexander Kent
Richard Robinson, WHAT I READ, Part 7
Gerard Saylor, EXIT STRATEGY, Steve Hamilton
Kevin Tipple. JADE'S PHOTOS, Randy Rawls
TomCat, THE BACK BAY MURDERS, Roger Scarlett
TracyK, TRAITOR'S PURSE, Margery Allingham


Nick Jones (Louis XIV, the Sun King) said...

Hey Patti – amazingly, I actually have a post up this week!

Jeff Meyerson said...

I actually have a copy of the Willeford (an older paperback edition) and keep meaning to pick it up and start it, but newer things get in the way. Plus, the edition I have is one of teeny tiny print.

Yvette said...

My post is now up, Patti. Thanks again. Yeah, lately, I'm a slow-poke.

J F Norris said...

Pick-Up is one of my favorite crime books from any period. I adapted a scene from the book for a stage work I did back in the late 1990s. I've said this numerous times whenever someone writes about Pick-Up. It's not often mentioned and it's probably the most remarkable part of the book so I'm going to say it again. The use of one word in the very last line changes the reader's (well, most readers) opinion of the protagonist and how you viewed him throughout the story. Pretty damn clever and rather powerful.

And... here's the link to my post for this week:

And to My Beloved Husband by Philip Loraine

K. A. Laity said...

Forgot to post here:

Charles Gramlich said...

Thumbs up!

TracyK said...

Thanks as always for putting this together on Fridays.

I have several books by Willeford but haven't read any of them yet.

Chris said...

Early Willeford--perhaps a bit influenced by Goodis. Even more by Hammett, I think. A little-known short story of Hammett's, in which he was experimenting with a different protagonist--I can't explain the influence without giving the twist away.

Be interesting to give Pick-Up to a bunch of people, and see who guesses the ending.

I didn't, but that's partly because I skipped ahead. Shame on me.

There is nobody else like Willeford in all of American literature. The supreme individualist, often to his own detriment, and well he knew it. He really did stand outside, looking in. This is perhaps his best love story--arguably his only love story.

I don't suppose you've read Cockfghter? That's a very different kind of love story. Hard for animal lovers to stomach. I happen to be one. But it's so truthful, I can't turn away from it. My feeling is, If you only like a writer when you're agreeing with him/her, you don't really like that writer.

Mathew Paust said...

Haven't read Willeford yet, but am intrigued. If nominations are still open for supreme individualist in literature, I proffer Breece D'J Pancake.

Denny Lien said...

The Evan Lewis book link isn't working for me -- I get a "this page does not exist."

Well, how many of us are *sure* we exist? But I didn't expect a URL to start a philosophical discussion with me. I guess it's been corrupted by reading too many mystery novels here.

Todd Mason said...

Evan's Daly review:

Chris said...

Matthew, the Pancake guy sounds interesting, but Willeford led a much more colorful life (than just about any writer you could name). Teenaged hobo during the Depression, served in the army during peacetime then was a decorated soldier in WWII who saw some of the thickest fighting (he fought in the Battle of the Bulge)--and yet, he wrote two autobiographical works, and neither of them covered the war years at all. His book about his time in the army is about the Depression years, when the army was tiny, and basically just a place for guys who couldn't get any other job.

He wrote some poetry about the war (he was not much of a poet, lyricism is not a Willeford thing)--one poem has him machine-gunning an old German woman by mistake, and nobody cares.

He routinely depicts his protagonists doing abominable things, and invites you to like them anyway--and to recognize their self-centeredness in yourself. He's always holding up a mirror, and he doesn't lie to us or himself about what he sees there.

He didn't kill himself at 27. Life was trying pretty hard to kill him, but he just hung in there. It's amazing he lived to 69.

After a lifetime in obscurity, he finally got himself a viable series character in Hoke Moseley, sold a lot of books, the publisher wanted a sequel. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. His books always sold like shit, and he'd never set out to write about the same character twice. He kind of resented Hoke for breaking the pattern he'd grown accustomed to.

So he wrote a sequel in which Hoke goes crazy, kills his two teenaged daughters who his ex has foisted upon him, and ends up on death row.

Yeah. They didn't publish that one.

He was convinced to write a different sequel (needed the money), and he wrote two more after that, and you can tell it stuck in his craw to make even this compromise, but they're all damn good books. Dark as hell, but no daughter-murders in them.

Everybody who knew him said he was a real good guy. Worked regular jobs most of his life, never made any kind of living with his writing until close to the end.

So maybe the Pancake guy was good, but no staying power. I'll stick with Willeford, because he stuck it out with us. And that's not easy, man. Not for anybody who can see.

Mathew Paust said...

Hard to argue with them facts, Chris, but I your recitation reminded me of Dostoevsky writing The Gambler in, as I recall, a week or two to beat a deadline to pay a gambling debt. Maybe not the most interesting, but perhaps the coolest literary tale.