Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 28, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Ed Gorman)

Losers have always interested me more than winners. There's a line from a Leonard Cohen poem "The simple life of heroes/The twisted lives of saints." I'll take the saints (though Cohen isn't talking about folks the Vatican bestows sainthood on that's for sure).

My formative years were the Fifties. The films that influenced me the most were the noirs my father took me to and such fare as The Sweet Smell of Success and A Face in the Crowd. No heroes there. The same for my preferred reading (in additon to the Gold Medals and sf)--Hemingway, James Jones, Irwin Shaw (short stories), Graham Greene and Richard Wright among others. No heroes there either. Same for theater (I was writing terrible plays early on). O'Neill, Miller, Williams. Not a hero in sight.

We call a good deal of crime fiction dark. But is it? Cops replaced cowboys and now we have Cops (or investigators of any kind) with Personal Problems and reviewers think this is some kind of dangerous fiction. Not to me.

The constraints of commercial fiction are such that you risk losing a sale if your protagoist is an outright loser. The Brits were way ahead of us Yanks. Derek Raymond has spawned two generations of daring writers. The first time I read him I was struck by how much the texture of his prose reminded me of one of my five favorite books of all time, Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. I read fifty pages of it the other day. What with globalization the world is once again as Orwell described it in the Thirties.

The literary writer Brian Moore (who started out writing Gold Medals and Dell originals under three different names) made a brief early career out of losers. The Lucky Of Ginger Coffee, for only one example, is about a daydreamer most people love but who is ultimately a selfish man whose daydreams are destroying his wife and children. He can't accept that he's an average guy--a loserbyhis lights. And that turns him into a dark loser indeed.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's work is filled with losers. Handsome, poetic ones, yes, but losers nonetheless. Winter Dreams, as one of his best stories is called, describes the near lifelong love of a man for woman he can never have. He has great business success but he is a loser because he can never have her. The last few pages will give you chills.

Here we have The Pat Hobby Stories. They are set in the Hollywood the late Thirties and feature a once prominent screeenwriter who is reduced to virtually begging for work at the various studios that once wined and dined him. The Fitzgerald myth is so tied to the notion of Romantic Loss that we forget that he was also funnier than hell. And causitc.

As Arnold Gingrich said shortly after Fitzgerald's death, "These stories were the last word from his last home, for much of what he felt about Hollywood and about himself permeated these stories."

And damned good stories they are, too. Not major Fitzgerald but cunning and crafty tales of bars, studios, whores of both genders, unhappy winners and drunken losers.

My favorite here is "Pat Hobby and Orson Welles." The luckless Hobby is hanging around the writer's building trying to cadge anything he can get--even a B-western--when somebody mentions Orson Welles. And Hobby almost loses it. Everywere he turns he hears about Orson Welles--newspaper, magazines, radio, movies. Orson Welles Orson Welles.

Fitzgerald uses Welles as a symbol of generational turn. Hobby and other men his age were major players in their time but now their time is gone. One studio head admits (reluctantly) to Hobby that he doesn't know what the hell all the fuss about Welles is either but dammit the young people on his staff swoon every time his name is mentioned. So this studio head and others push enormous sums of money on Welles. Hobby bitterly wonders why Welles doesn't stay in the East where he belongs---with the snobs. The West, dammit, is for common folk. (Well, except for the mansions and Rodeo Drive.)

This is a book filled with boozy grief, hilarious bitterness and a fascinating look from the inside as to what writers went through under the old studio management.

As Fitzgerald himself said, "This was not art, this was industry. (Who) you sat with at lunch was more important than what you (wrote) in your office."

A fine little collection.


George mentioned Nick Hornby's books last week so when I went into a used bookstore and found two, I bought them. This one collects Horby's column from BELIEVER MAGAZINE from 2005-2006. Hornby has one of those voices you can't resist. And he is so skilled at talking about books while also talking about his life it's a double whammy. He is everything you expect from a British writer: witty, charming, smart. In this collection he discusses books by  Marilyn Robinson, Sarah Vowell, Amanda Eyre Ward, Jesse Walter, Michael Frayn, Anthony Burgess, etc. He is never less than interesting. Never stuffy or dry. Quite an art, he's mastered. If the trick is getting you to want to read the books, he is a master. I even want to reread the ones I've read like Frayn's SPIES and Robinson's HOUSEKEEPING.

Sergio Angelini, POSTERN OF FATE, Agatha Christie
Yvette Banek, MURDER GONE MAD, Philip MacDonald
Brian Busby, TORONTO LIFE and two other entries
Bill Crider, CLEA'S MOON, Edward Wright
Scott Cupp, SPACE FOR HIRE, William F. Nolan
Martin Edwards, SEND FOR PAUL TEMPLE, Francis Durbridge
John Hegenberger, NO HARD FEELINGS, Mark Coggins
Rick Horton, Two Books by Margaret St. Clair
Jerry House, TAKEOFF, C.M. Kornbluth
Nick Jones, GOD SAVE THE MARK, Donald Westlake
George Kelle, MCBAIN'S LADIES 2, Ed McBain
Margot Kinberg, BITTER WASH ROAD, Gary Disher
Rob Kitchin, LEHRTER STATION, David Downing
B.V. Lawson, THORNE IN THE FLESH, Rhona Petrie
Steve Lewis, BY EVIL MEANS, Sandra West Prowell
Todd Mason, I CANNOT TELL A LIE EXACTLY, Mary Ladd Gavell
James Reasoner, THE PERSIAN CAT, John Flagg
Richard Robinson, DEATH AND THE DUTCH UNCLE, Patricia Moyes
Gerard Saylor, COMPLEX 90. Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE JULIUS CAESAR MURDER CASE, Wallace Irwin
TracyK, HOPSCOTCH, Brian Garfield
Prashant Trikannad, THE MASTER EXECUTIONER, Loren Estleman
Westlake Review, HOPSCOTCH, Brian Garfield (not a typo)
A. J. Wright, Book Covers of O.R. Cohen

Thursday, August 27, 2015

J. Kingston Pierce's Book Shelf

What books are currently on your nightstand?

There are a couple of soon-forthcoming releases -- Art Taylor’s On the Road with Del & Louise and Mark Coggins’ No Hard Feelings -- along with several books that are currently available: Kill Me, Darling, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins; Orient, by Christopher Bollen; Rubbernecker, by Belinda Bauer; A Pleasure and a Calling, by Phil Hogan; and Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. But since I tend to read books in a variety of places, I should note that there’s a copy of Robert Kyle’s first P.I. Ben Gates novel, Blackmail, Inc. (1958), in my car and one of Peter Lovesey’s latest Peter Diamond mystery, Down Among the Dead Men, calling to me from my downstairs bathroom drawer.

Who is your all-time favorite novelist?

That’s an impossible call. But I can say that the authors I go back most often to reread--which means they speak to something inside me that most writers don’t--are Ross Macdonald, Larry McMurtry, Gore Vidal, Raymond Chandler, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, and E.L. Doctorow.

What book might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Life of Christopher Wren, by Lisa Jardine. Actually, I have two long shelves filled with books about modern and historical architecture. My father was an architect, so I developed an interest in the subject early in life. At one point I even considered becoming an architect myself … until I discovered how much algebra was involved (algebra being my least favorite subject of all time).

Who is your favorite fictional character?

This is certainly your most challenging question. I’m going to go with Nate Heller, Max Allan Collins’ Chicago-based private eye. Much of the reason has to do with Heller’s proximity to the famous and infamous characters of the 20th century. I’d love to have met Al Capone, Sally Rand, Bugsy Siegel, Bobby Kennedy, and Amelia Earhart, as Heller has over the years.

What book do you return to?

There are three novels that I’ve reread more than any others: Ross Macdonald’s Moving Target, his first Lew Archer adventure; Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, which I first bought as a teenager; and Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, a slim paperback that stunned me as a boy, and still feeds my imagination. The books I most want to reread sometime in the future are Lonesome Dove and Larry McMurtry’s sequel and prequels to that work. This time, however, I plan to enjoy those books in chronological order of their story, rather than in the order they were first published.

J. Kingston Pierce is a longtime journalist in Seattle, Washington, and editor of The Rap Sheet, a crime-fiction blog that has won the Spinetingler Award and been nominated twice for Anthony Awards. He also writes the book-design blog Killer Covers, holds forth as the lead crime-fiction blogger for Kirkus Reviews, serves as the senior editor of January Magazine, and has published more than half a dozen non-fiction books.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What actor does everyone like--except you?

 I have to shut my mouth coming out of a theater in a film with Paul Giamatti in it. The first think someone will say is, "I loved Giamatti's performance."

I have seen Paul Giamatti in two movies this summer and in both he played the same sort of character. He's also played that part in almost every movie I have seen him in. I don't get why so many people love his acting. The only film of his I enjoyed was SIDEWAYS and that on a second viewing lost its luster. I know, I know. John Adams. Well, maybe so but what about the rest.

Who is your Paul Giamatti?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Forgotten Movies: Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin

Long marriages are the best. And these two have a 50 year marriage. Both starred on HE AND SHE, one of the great TV series.

Speaking on Love.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Elizabeth White's Book Shelf

What books are currently on your nightstand? 

 Doing battle with my TBR skyscraper is a never-ending process, so there’s always something interesting lurking around vying for attention. I just finished Bite Harder by Anonymous-9 (aka Elaine Ash), and the next few I have earmarked are Rumrunners by Eric Beetner, Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn (aka Todd Ritter), and The Killing Kind by Chris Holm. 

Who is your all-time favorite novelist? 

 That’s a tough one, because there are so many authors who’ve written books that have stuck with me for one reason or another. I suppose if I go by a combination of who I both own the most books by and find endlessly re-readable, I’d have to go with Robert Crais. Really looking forward to his new one, The Promise, later this year. 

What book might we be surprised to find on your shelves? 

Well, I guess most people who know me probably associate my reviews and editing with crime fiction and noir, so I guess some would be surprised to learn I have a very healthy Young Adult collection, most of it in the fantasy genre such as Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl. 

Who is your favorite fictional character? 

That’d be a tossup between Snape from the Harry Potter series and Joe Pike from the Elvis Cole series—both bad boys with checkered pasts who desperately want to do the right thing…even if they sometimes go about it the wrong way. 

What book do you return to? 

There are a few I find myself rereading periodically: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, A Midnight Clear by William Wharton, LA Requiem by Robert Crais, and Watership Down by Richard Adams leap immediately to mind.

Elizabeth A. White is an editor and book reviewer who has been working with words in one fashion or another for over two decades, including obtaining a law degree. Her reviews have appeared in Spinetingler MagazineThe Savannah Morning News, The Florida Times-Union, St. Augustine Record, and Bluffton Today. When she’s not editing or reading, Elizabeth is the social media manager for musician Bruce Kulick (Grand Funk Railroad, KISS), a position she’s held since 1997. You can catch up with Elizabeth at her website:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 21, 2015

 Looking For Mr. Goodbar, Judith Rossner (Ed Gorman)

When Looking For Mrs. Goodbar was published in 1975 it was such a sensational hit that I put off reading because I assumed it would be not much more than trendy titillation. When I finally got to it I was stunned by how fine a writer Judith Rossner was and how truly her novel reflected the times.

Based on a particularly ugly murder in New York City, Rossner offers us the life of one Theresa Dunn, a lower class but good looking Irish Catholic teacher much respected by her colleagues and much pursued by the men she finds in the singles bars she haunts looking for sex and a release from her self-loathing and depression, the by-product (she has always thought) of polio that left her with a warped spine. Even though surgery corrected the spine, it did not correct her image of herself as as a freak, especially when she contrasts herself with her glamorous sister.

To me this is one of the most important novels of the 70s, the so-called "me" decade. Theresa has always sought out men she believes can rescue her in some way--from the bastard professor she had an affair with as a student to the numerous hot shots of various kinds (Madison Avenue, theater) she meets on her nightly excursions. Her illusion is the illusion of the decade, as Rossner suggests, that the freedom so many people enjoy is a spiritual prison. Waiting in the wings was AIDs of course.

Then comes the time when she meets the drifter who will kill her the very night he meets her. Rossner, both here and in all of her novels, demonstrates that serious literature can find mass appeal when the story is as powerful as this one. An overplayed movie version appeared soon after publication of the book but its ham-handedness destroyed the subtle and ironic truths of Rossner's brilliant novel.

ANYA, Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
I heard a story this week about a romance novel, which nearly won the top Romance Writers of America award for a story in which an inmate in a concentration camp has an affair with the commandant and goes on to live with him after the war. I find this shocking. You can't even compare this instance to prisoners who have relationships with prison guards because these were completely innocent people. Any relationship would have to be considered rape. So to give this guard redemption by having her forgive and marry him is deplorable.

So that gave me pause: what novel about the camps touched me? There was a period in my life where this period dominated my reading.

And that would be ANYA, written in the seventies, and republished in 2004 by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. Anya comes from a rich and privileged background and the book lays our her prewar experiences, her years in a camp, her survival and eventually her life in New York. The writing is sharp, unsentimental and poignant. Highly recommended.

Sergio Angelini, THE LAST POLICEMAN, Ben Winters
Mark Baker, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, Agatha Christie
Yvette Banek, THE DOORS OF SLEEP, Thurman Warriner
Bill Crider, BLONDES DIE YOUNG, Bill Peters
Scott Cupp, ANNIVERSARY DAY, Krysten Katheryn Rusch
Curt Evans, Pepik Books
John Hegenberger, BULLET FOR A STAR,  Suart Kaminsky
Rick Horton, THE VANISHING POINT, Coningsby Dawson
Jerry House, TEXAS GUNSLINGER, Murray Leinster
Nick Jones, A HIVE OF GLASS, P. M. Hubbard
George Kelley, THE SINISTER SHADOW, Kenneth Robeson
Margot Kinberg, SENECA FALLS INHERITANCE, Maria Grace Montfredo
Rob Kitchin, DEADLOCK, Sara Paretsky
B.V. Lawson, THE SAINT IN EUROPE, Leslie Charteris
Evan Lewis,  WESTERN TOY GUNS by Jim Schleyer -and- CAP GUNS by James L. Dundas
Steve Lewis, THE MYSTERY OF THE DEAD POLICE, Philip Macdonald
Todd Mason, NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS, Fritz Leiber
Graham Powell, THE CLAVERTON AFFAIR, John Rhode
James Reasoner, Three Television Books, Lee Goldberg
Richard Robinson, CRACKDOWN, Val McDermid
Gerard Saylor, ON DANGEROUS GROUND, ed. Ed Gorman et al.
Kevin Tipple, TEQUILLA SUNRISE, Michael Bracken
TracyK, CHARITY, Len Deighton
Westlake Review, GANGWAY, Donald Westlake