Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
While reading Sara Gran’s Dope, I got to thinking about the variety of baggage that we bring to our reading experiences and how this baggage affects our responses to what we read. Three factors stood out to me:
(1) Our expectations for a particular book, which are a function of (a) any encouragement that we have received to read a book; (b) any knowledge that we have of the book and/or its author; and (c) the book’s packaging.
(2) Our personal likes and dislikes.
(3) What we have (and haven’t) read previously.
I purchased a copy of Dope based on the recommendation of an acquaintance whose opinion I have no particular reason to trust or distrust (1a). His recommendation was enough to prompt me to buy the book, but not enough to give me any sense of urgency about reading it. I have a few friends whose recommendations would have heightened my expectations considerably, but in this case I had identified Dope only as a novel that was probably worth reading.
I work hard to know as little as possible about books before I read them. Ideally, when I start a novel I want to know nothing about it other than its author and title, and in this case, I was successful (1b). When my acquaintance recommended Dope by Sara Gran, I stopped him right there (“Don’t tell me anything else!”), and I managed not to learn another thing about the book between that moment and reading it a year or so later. I could not, however, avoid having my expectations heightened a bit by the book’s front cover (1c). Four newspapers were quoted: “Thrilling,” says the Los Angeles Times. “Astonishing,” says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Twisted,” says the Chicago Sun-Times. “Totally shocking,” says the Times-Picayune.
But here’s where personal taste and reading experiences come in. I dislike art that makes me feel cozy, and I like art that makes me feel uncomfortable (2). I feel art’s power when it ruffles my psyche, and in choosing books to read, I try to have my psyche ruffled as much as I can, so I am probably a bit harder to thrill, astonish, or shock than the average reader (or the average book reviewer)—and this is doubly true as far as noir novels are concerned given that I have seen the genre’s techniques and tricks so many dozens of times (3). But then again, I read so much noir in part because I like the genre’s techniques and tricks.
On the whole, I suspect that my reaction to Dope was most affected by (3). The newspaper praise gave me hope, but the novel turned out to be surprisingly bland by noir standards. Dope is set in 1950 in the sleazier parts of New York; its heroine, Josephine Flannigan, is an ex-junkie-whore; and its plot involves Josephine searching for a young woman who has disappeared into the New York underworld. The setting and the characters never rise above the generic—indeed, they seem intentionally generic, a sort of homage to noir gone by. I suspect that the newspaper praise was sparked by the twists and turns of the plot, but these left me flat. I do not mean it as a brag when I say that I saw it all coming as easily as I can imagine a jack-in-the-box popping. The critic who was “thrilled” may be better off for having seen fewer noir jacks-in-the-box pop than I have. In any case, neither of us can avoid how it colors our reactions as readers. Grade: C
Monday, December 27, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Dora Macy’s Night Nurse may serve as an example of how times have changed. In 1930, the New York Times called this novel “sordidly realistic” and opined that “such cheap and unpleasant stuff . . . should never have been put forth at all.” Fast forward 80 years, and the most memorably unpleasant detail comes when we are told that a small child has “expelled the coffee given rectally.” A coffee enema? Seriously? I just hope, for the sake of the child, that it was iced coffee. And decaf, too. Grade: C-
Saturday, December 18, 2010
The noir novels of Allan Guthrie include Two-Way Split (2004), Kiss Her Goodbye (2005), Hard Man (2007), Kill Clock (2007), Savage Night (2008), Slammer (2009), and Killing Mum (2009).
1. What’s the first crime novel that you remember reading?
A Pocket Full of Rye, Agatha Christie. My primary five teacher introduced me to Christie and I read one or two before Rye but can't recall what they were.
2. Who’s your favorite Gold Medal novelist?
Ah, easy, there’s no competition: David Goodis. Gold Medal’s a really inappropriate name for his publisher, though. No Goodis character ever came close to the gold, not unless they rolled onto it by accident while they were lying semi-conscious in the gutter.
3. Block or Westlake?
Now that’s a tough one. I don’t think I can choose. I love the Scudder series, love the Parker series, and when I weigh up my favourite standalones from them both, they come out exactly even. So, sorry, it's a draw.
4. Your list of your top 200 noir novels ends in 1997. Name one great noir novel published since then.
Just one? There are so many. OK, the one I read most recently would be Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn.
5. What’s the best novel by Allan Guthrie?
I don’t know that it’s the best, but my prison novel, Slammer, is the one I’m most proud of.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Reprinted in Black Mask Detective: A Magazine of Gripping, Smashing Detective Stories [UK] 9.2 (January 1952): 36-41, 54.
Reprinted in My Favorite Crime Story (Derby, CT: Charlton Publications, Inc., n.d.), 44-48.
Reprinted in Pursuit—The Phantom Mystery Magazine 1.9 (1955): 13-25; Bad Girls, ed. Leo Margulies (New York: Crest, 1958), 80-94.
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 8 (1956?).
Reprinted in Young and Deadly, ed. Leo Margulies (New York: Crest, 1959), 44-58.
Reprinted as a stand-alone novel in both hardcover and paperback.
Reprinted in The Hardboiled Lineup, ed. Harry Widmer (New York: Lion Books, 1956), 84-103.
Reprinted in Bad Girls, ed. Leo Margulies (New York: Crest, 1958), 112-126.
Reprinted in The Saint Detective Magazine [U.K. version] 2.7 (May 1956): 91-96; The Saint Detective Magazine [U.K. version] 4.5 (March 1958): 108-112; 101 Mystery Stories, ed. Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (New York: Avenel, 1986), 37-41; A Century of Noir: Thirty-two Classic Crime Stories, ed. Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (New York: New American Library, 2002), 169-173.
Reprinted in Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, ed. Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian (New York: Oxford UP, 1995), 341-347.
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 9 (1956?).
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 10 (1957?).
Reprinted in The Horse Soliders, ed. Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (New York: Fawcett Gold Medal, 1987), 62-78.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel A Killer Is Loose (New York: Gold Medal, 1954).
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 10 (1957?). Also reprinted in The Young Punks, ed. Leo Margulies (New York: Pyramid Books, 1957), 98-114; abridged in Man’s Magazine 5.7 (July 1957): 14-15, 54-59; The Violent Ones, ed. Brant House (New York: Ace Books, 1958), 150-167; Man’s [Magazine] Annual 1968 (1968): 50-51, 97-101.
This issue of Manhunt is included in Giant Manhunt 11 (1957?). Also reprinted in Challenge for Men 5.6 (September 1959): 12-13, 74, 76; as “The Prowler” in Guy 5.5 (October 1967): 14-15, 66, 68.
Reprinted as “She Opened the Door to Murder” in Real Men 12.10 (February 1969): 34-35, 42, 44-46.
Reprinted in American Pulp, ed. Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini, and Martin H. Greenberg (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1997), 409-415.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel Angel (New York: Avon, 1960).
Condensed from Brewer’s novel 13 French Street (New York: Gold Medal, 1951).
Condensed from Brewer’s novel The Brat (New York: Gold Medal, 1957).
Reprinted in A Devil for O’Shaugnessy/The Three-Way Split (Eureka, CA: Stark House, 2008), 173-176.
Condensed from Brewer’s novel The Hungry One (New York: Gold Medal, 1966).
Condensed from Brewer’s novel Wild to Possess (Derby, CT: Monarch Books, 1959).
Condensed from Brewer’s novel The Tease (New York: Banner, 1967).
Reprinted in Get Me to the Wake on Time, ed. Alfred Hitchcock (New York: Dell, 1970), 11-19.
Reprinted in Caper 14.3 (July 1970): 51-53.
Reprinted in Coffin Break, ed. Alfred Hitchcock (1974; New York: Dell, 1985), 31-38.
Reprinted in Cavalier Yearbook (“1973 edition”), 66-68, 74; A Devil for O’Shaugnessy/The Three-Way Split (Eureka, CA: Stark House, 2008), 166-172.
Reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, ed. Maxim Jakubowski (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1996), 138-145. This collection was reprinted as Pulp Fiction by Castle Books in 2002.
Reprinted in Man’s Epic 7 (1978): 24-26, 66.