If you want a shining example of a noir novel (re-)marketed in a misleading way, look no further. Published in hardback as Round Trip (a much more appropriate title than Too Many Girls), Don Tracy's 1934 novel tells the up-and-down life story of Eddie Magruder, a newspaper photographer in Baltimore. The book's mode is episodic realism; its highest drama comes when Eddie stands trial for manslaughter. In a novel with a more conventional plot structure, Eddie's trial might have provided narrative arc for the whole affair. As presented, however, the trial is merely one in a string of events that define Eddie's life. The nature of the book's overall drama is indicated by this passing comment from Edith, Eddie's wife: "It would be nice if we could always be happy like this, wouldn't it, Eddie?" This line comes a bit more than one-quarter of the way through the book, and it leads readers to suspect (if they did not already) that Eddie and Edith will not always be so happy. As a whole, then, Round Trip's drama comes in waiting to see what will be their ultimate (and inevitable?) undoing. (And good luck finding all those pin-up models the paperback reprints promise you!) Grade: B
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
There are not many photographs of noir master Charles Williams on the net, so when I saw this picture on the back of Gulf Coast Girl (Dell 898), I thought I should give it a good scan.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I recently reread Ryu Murakami's In the Miso Soup, which I reviewed here in October 2008. Here is what I said in that review:
Monday, March 22, 2010
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
James Lee Burke's list of his choices for the best mysteries of all time has strangely disappeared from the Parade magazine website, so, as a public service, I am reproducing his list and annotations here. This list suggests, among other things, that (a) Burke may not have read very many mysteries and (b) he may be friends with Ron Hansen and Michael Connelly:
Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy is a masterful metaphysical story dealing with the stigmata. Ultimately, it's about a woman who represents courage and altruism in the midst of mediocrity.
James M. Cain once said his stories were about the ultimate human tragedy—people getting what they want. Double Indemnity, a 1930s murder mystery involving an insurance fraud scheme, exemplifies his best work.
Mr. Majestyk, by Elmore Leonard, features a farmer who runs afoul of the Mob. It's one of the best portrayals of professional criminals I have ever read and a beautiful accomplishment in terms of dialogue and style.
Selected Tales and Sketches is a collection of Nathaniel Hawthorne's stories, perhaps the best allegories ever written about the nature of good and evil.
The city of Los Angeles is a protagonist in The Black Echo, Michael Connelly's superb tale about Vietnam vets pulling off the score of scores. Connelly writes with the knowledge and experience of a hard-nosed police reporter, but he's also an artist.
Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men deals with evil that seems to have no origin. The writing is spartan, the imagery and dialogue as clean as razor cuts in leather. The story seems derived from the collective unconscious; it is frightening and unforgettable.
[Originally published in Parade on April 19, 2009.]
Monday, March 15, 2010
That's what they really
pay us for—the responsibility,
not for flying the plane.
If they only paid us—say—
six or seven thousand a year,
the passengers would lose
confidence in flying, I think.
It's like psychoanalysts.
They charge fifty bucks an hour
so you'll trust them.
The Shark-Infested Custard
Monday, March 8, 2010
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Fans of psycho noir will find much of interest in Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door. Research indicates that 1 in 25 Americans is a sociopath, which is to say that not every sociopath resembles Lou Ford or Tom Ripley, and psychologist Martha Stout gives a richer portrayal of the sociopathic mind than one can get from noir alone. Noir fans, however, will probably want to skim past Stout's optimistic cheerleading for the future of the human race.