The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

September 25, 2008

Ketchup! Soup and puree, don't get left behind!* (Review)

Catch-up time now that the power is on, the cable is on, and I have Internet again. Starting with a quick review of recent reads:

Richard Price's Lush Life: It's books like this that makes me wonder why we have to defend reading crime fiction as opposed to 'literary' fiction. This is both, easily and unobtrusively. Price isn't easy reading, his dialogue is too natural for it to scan quickly, and he likes to drop a lot of characters on the reader at once and let you sort them all out later. Nevermind, he's a brilliant artist with a unique voice and a capacity for understanding the human condition in all of its cultures, subcultures, flaws, frailties, vices, weaknesses, and even some of its virtues.

Craig Johnson's The Cold Dish was recommended by Jen over at Jen's Book Thoughts. I'll just say that I echo every positive comment Jen made about Johnson's work. I disremember the last time I read a debut work whose characters were so rich and warm that I wanted to pack up and move somewhere closer to them. I am going to get my own copies of all of Johnson's books because based on 'The Cold Dish,' I believe these are books I will want to re-read and want to share with friends. And thanks to Jen for pointing out Johnson's recent article about being interviewed in West Virginia. Now I know to pick up some Iron City beer to read with these books. And if you'd like to see/hear Craig Johnson talk about his work, click here.

The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III: I was a trifle disappointed in this book, possibly because my expectations were absurdly high for a book by the man who gave us the basis for the film, House of Sand and Fog, and who happens to share the writing DNA of James Lee Burke (see the resemblance?) and Alafair Burke. This is in fact a pretty good book, well written without question, but lacking the magical spark that makes characters three-dimensional and situations, no matter how painful, impossible to turn away from. A book that leads to the horror of 9/11 should, I think, leave me emotionally wrung out but this one left me going, 'Huh. That's all?' But I suspect that I happened upon this author's work at less than his finest; I still have his Bluesman in the TBR stack, and I look forward to reading it.

Burglars Can't Be Choosers is the first of Lawrence Block's comic mystery series featuring burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. A slight but entertaining tale; fun but not memorable. But as first books in a series are often among the weakest, I have hopes that the Burglar series strengthened and became more layered and complex. I'll find out one of these days.

I re-read Head Games by Craig McDonald as a prelude to reading his newest, Toros and Torsos. Mini-rant: McDonald wuz robbed of the Edgar for Best First. 'Head Games' is a one-of-a-kind read, somewhere between Spillane-tough and Hemingway-macho and Chandler-mean but with a voice that's all Craig McDonald. His style is muy masculine and will not go down well with the squeamish. Short synop: Senator Prescott Bush (pappy of George Herbert Walker and grandpappy of Dubya) is a member of Yale's Skull & Bones club, and he is willing to pay $25K for the head of Pancho Villa. How novelist Hector Lassiter and his erstwhile biographer end up with Villa's head, how events go from bad to worse to I can't believe that just happened, how Orson Welles and Marlene Dietrich and Ernest Hemingway get roped into the story, all make for a rockin' good time. The prose is pinpoint perfect, not lavish but every word counts (Hemingway would approve) so that when McDonald barely even mentions Lassiter remembering running at Pamplona with Papa it's still enough to make you smell the dust and look over your shoulder for those damned bulls. And I'm happy to say that the Bleak House edition I have is of much higher quality than the edition they produced of Reed Farrel Coleman's 'Soul Patch,' which is rife with errors. Or maybe, being a journalist, McDonald knows better how to proof and edit his work. I get my copy of Toros and Torsos tomorrow. If I can also pick up one or two of Craig Johnson's books my friends won't see me for days. And some tequila to drink while Hector goes adventuring. Definitely tequila.

What can I say that has not already been said, and said better, about Dash Hammett's The Maltese Falcon? I've only seen the movie about 20-30 times, but this is my first read of the book. Hammett's writing lends itself to the screen because unlike almost every novelist everywhere and anywhere, Hammett allows no introspection. Never never never do you, the reader, get inside Sam Spade's head. Never do you get a glimpse of what Brigid O'Shaughnessy thinks about Sam. Hammet gives you the action and the dialogue and once in a while he'll describe a facial expression. It's a very lean style of writing. And addictive, too.

*Thanks to Sir Macca for that original lyric.


  1. Corey:
    Thanks so much for the great write up on HEAD GAMES. Hope you enjoy T&T at least as much.

    When you read the opening of TOROS & TORSOS, given what Ike did to us a few days back, well, it's an ironic instance of life imitating art: never expected to weather a hurricane in the landlocked Midwest.

    Again, thanks so much for the too-kind words.
    All best,

  2. Lush Life is in my TBR pile. I'll have to move it up now. I'm still thrilled you liked Johnson, too. I feel like he's my "great discovery" of this year - he and Thomas Holland! Happy Reading!!

  3. I got my copy of Toros and Torsos today. At last. [doing the happy dance]

    Jen, your note from Alafair was a hoot! You are such a hard worker and have done so right by her that I think she's now as much a fan of you as you are of her.