And damn well, too. This is the best appreciation/analysis of Leonard’s work I’ve read.
Thanks to Jack Getze for pointing it out.
What’s the best part about “publishing” a book? (I use the term advisedly, as putting one’s own work out as an e-book may strain some people’s definition.) Sure, the money’s nice. I’ve made over $80 from Wild Bill so far (that’s eight-oh, with a zero) and could crack triple digits. The fame is nice; this blog alone has nine followers. No book tour, so, alas, no groupies, though I do have a little something going on with the lady of the house.
Any of the above would have made Wild Bill a success for me. (Especially that last one.) What made it an unqualified success here at The Home Office was the attention the book received from writers whose work and opinions I had come to respect. Some I knew reasonably well, mostly online. Some I had only a nodding acquaintance with. There were even a couple I hadn’t known before who heard of the book one way or another and took the time to write enthusiastically about it.
I discovered Tim Hallinan when I was asked to review A Nail Through the Heart, his first Poke Rafferty novel. I’ve read everything he’s written since. Adrian McKinty became known to me when I reviewed The Dead Yard; I then kept up, and reached back to read Dead I Well May Be. (I’ve fallen a book behind, solely because no US publisher saw fit to print Falling Glass, which I believe won awards in more enlightened parts of the world. My copy is on its way as we speak.) I’d read a couple of Charlie Stella’s short stories and got my first exposure to his novels with I reviewed Shakedown. I’m about halfway through his complete oeuvre now. Tim Hallinan put Leighton Gage in touch with me; I’m working my way through the Inspector Silva series.
All of the above are writers I was but a fan boy of when I wrote Wild Bill. (Mike Dennis, Pat Browning, and Karen Treanor came to my attention after the fact, though their support is no less appreciated.) They were established writers who had achieved what I barely aspired to. Their compliments and willingness to extend themselves means, to me, that I’m not just jerking off when I lock myself in my office every day or evening and hammer out another page or two. Their comments have made my writing easier on those days when I feel stuck and go through the stage every writers has with every book, when he is convinced it’s a piece of shit and months have been wasted working on something no one will ever want to read, including the author. I can do this. I may not become rich—though $80 is nothing to sneeze at—but I have the satisfaction of knowing I can hold my own and not have people think, “He’s a nice guy, but a shitty writer.” (In truth, that never worries me much. I’m not that nice a guy.)
So, thanks to everyone who reviewed, commented on, or read Wild Bill. (For those who have not, it’s still available for $2.99 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.) And, in the name of being careful what you ask for, my next book, Worst Enemies, will be available March 1. Details and more shameless self-promotion to come.
It’s not as though Pat Browning hadn’t done enough for Wild Bill and me; now she’s got us hooked up with herself and Tim Hallinan over at Kaye Barley’s fine blog, Meanderings and Muses. Stop on over to see what Pat, Tim, and I have to say about promotion, writing, small towns, and organized crime.
Many thanks to Kaye for the opportunity, to Pat for pulling everything together, and to both Pat and Tim for providing the erudite questions and responses that kept me on my toes. The experience was a pleasure from start to finish.
By the way, for those who are looking for good review sites, New Mystery Reader is an excellent resource. There are monthly author interviews, and the list of reviewed books is substantial and covers a broad range of crime interests. Well worth a look.
I took a little time one night last week to solve the world’s problems with a friend. When I got home, The Beloved Spouse was curled up on the couch watching Criminal Minds on A&E or some other indistinguishable cable channel. I had nothing better to do at that hour, I like Joe Mantegna, so I plopped myself in a chair to see what I’ve been missing on commercial television.
Jesus Christ, is this show bad.
Where to start? The dialog. Half the show consists of FBI profilers telling each other about profiling, like they don’t already know. Expend a few ounces of effort and at least bring in an ignorant guest star if you’re going to explain things to us.
The cast. Once the credits were over, they might as well have run a screen insert in one corner with a head shot for all the more Mantegna does. Thomas Gibson, late of Dharma and Greg, walks around with a furrowed brow looking brooding and tormented. (TBS says she thinks his wife died. I think he’s constantly reminded he used to spend his work days with Jenna Elfman and is now stuck in this piece of shit. He doesn’t even have to act to look brooding and tormented.)
Deirdre Lovejoy (Rhonda Pearlman in The Wire) may be a fed; I’m not sure. TBS said she didn’t think so, which made it okay for them to explain Profiling 101 to her, but later I saw her with an official FBI windbreaker, so I’m not sure.
The rest of the team consists of the obligatory ice bitch female lead profiler/detective, a younger hunky guy, a younger chick who dresses just professionally enough to show how hot she’d be if she wasn’t dressed so professionally, and a black guy. There’s also the goofy-looking chick back at the office who can click a mouse three times and find sealed juvenile and foster home records, complete employment and substance abuse histories (including which meetings an individual attended last week), dental records, shoe size, rings size, and preferred alcoholic beverage. She solves the case for them in a couple of two-minute segments; the rest is padding.
Then there’s the plot. My episode showed a young husband and wife team travelling the northwest killing people for kicks and sexual gratification. When they turn to killing the man’s father because he abused him as a child—which is strictly a he said/he said situation—the master profilers deduce they’re going after the woman’s father next. They’re in Idaho; Dad is in Spokane, Washington. The killers are in a car, so the feds grab the ubiquitous government plane. Do they call the guy to warn him? Do they call local police to warn them? Hell, no. They fly the two youngest members of the team there, who then drive to the guy’s house to hear his wife tell them he’s at work—Duh!—which is where our kill crazed couple thought to go first. Do they call the police , or Dad, then? Fuck no. They hotfoot it over there to arrive—damn!—too late to save Dad, but just in time to create a hostage situation when the bloodthirsty wife’s young half-sister walks into the gas station just before they kill Dad in the back room.
As you might have guessed by now, these profilers are also gifted hostage negotiators. Having figured out wifey killed hubby’s old girlfriend so she could have him, they begin to tell him exactly what she’s going to do to keep him on the string while they make their escape. She then proceeds to do exactly what they predict within thirty seconds of each prediction. It was like watching an old Warner Brothers cartoon where Daffy Duck is thinks he’s been exposed to a germ and shows every possible symptom just as Bugs Bunny reads them to him.
Damn right I watched the whole show. It’s not every night I get to see a primer in how not to tell a story.
I didn’t read quite as much this year as I had in the past, for several reasons, all of which have been documented elsewhere. That doesn’t mean I didn’t find plenty of books worthy of recommendation. I meant to have a list of ten, then twelve, the fifteen, but I could draw a bright line until I was into the twenties.
So here you go with the books I read last year and would be willing to read again, time permitting. They’re listed in alphabetical order; no preference should be inferred.
Absolute Zero Cool, Declan Burke. Publishing is more farked up than even I thought if this doesn’t establish Burke as someone to keep an eye on. Meta-fiction at its best, as the author argues with a character and himself to spin a tale no one else could have thought of, let along written.
Big Money and Big Numbers, Jack Getze. Getze’s trick is to show you the climax at the beginning, then work back toward it, a la Michael Clayton. Not only does Getze pull it off both times, he’s a lot funnier.
City of Lost Girls, Declan Hughes. Not Hughes’s best Ed Loy novel, and I still couldn’t bear to leave it off the list. There’s no one better working today.
Crashed and Little Elvises, Timothy Hallinan. Hallinan took a break from his Poke Rafferty thrillers to start an e-book series about a master burglar who works as sort of a PI for the underworld. The plots are witty and Hallinan hits a perfect balance of humor and action both times.
The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide, John McNally. Does for how to be a writer what Stephen King’s On Writing does for how to write. Young writers in particular should pay attention to what McNally has to say.
Eddie’s World, Charlie Stella. Stella first. The influence of George V. Higgins is writ large, but this is no knock-off. No one captures peripheral mob figures as well as Stella.
Generation Kill, Evan Wright. The book on which David Simon based his HBO series. Things have more perspective in the book. Must reading for anyone who wants a first hand look of what war is like without actually having to go.
Gun, Ray Banks. A novella that describes one day in the life of a just-released convict. Unforgettable.
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James. Even more detailed than the original. Maybe too much to read straight through, though James’s writing wears better than a lot of people who are supposed to be writers.
In Defense of Flogging, Peter Moskos. Thoughtful and thought-provoking look into how criminals are punished in America.
Joe Puma, PI, William Campbell Gault. I honest to God don’t remember why I bought this collection of five stories from the Fifties, but I sure am glad I did. First rate PI writing.
Lawyers, Guns, and Money, J.D. Rhoades. Crime and corruption in a small southern town described in perfect balance and style for the setting and material.
Maximum Bob, Elmore Leonard. I’d read it before, and I suspect I’ll read it again.
Pocket 47, Jude Hardin. A deft combination of complexity and readability. Hardin keeps this up and he’ll be the obscure no longer.
Road Rules, Jim Winter. More fun than anyone has ever had in Cleveland. Either Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen would have been happy to write this.
Rut, Scott Phillips. Scariest post-apocalypse scenario yet: what happens if we keep doing what we’ve been doing. Phillips’s wit ensure nothing drags or becomes predictable.
Samaritan, Richard Price. Good intentions with questionable motivations. Not as gripping as Clockers, but a marvelous book.
Setup on Front Street, Mike Dennis. Don’t let the setting (Florida Keys) fool you. As hard-boiled as they come while still using the setting to maximum advantage. The first of a series; the second is already on my Kindle.
Shadow of the Dahlia, Jack Bludis. Maybe my favorite book of the year. Bludis has a reputation, but this was the first book of his I’d read. He captures the period perfectly with a riveting story.
Shit My Dad Says, Justin Halpern. Not just a compilation of tweets, Halpern provides some family history to place the quotes in perspective. He’s a good and funny writer himself, and the old man’s quotes are priceless, though some do seem a little prickish when you realize they were delivered to a twelve-year-old kid. (Sorry, I’m not going to go with the politically correct * when we all know it’s the I in shit.")
True Grit, Charles Portis. I’d seen both movies, finally got around to reading the book. Sometimes I wonder how the hell I can hold a job, waiting as long as I do for good stuff.
Two-Way Split, Allan Guthrie. Hard to say too much without giving away a key plot element. Pay close attention and you’ll not be disappointed.
A Vine in the Blood, Leighton Gage. This newest in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series may be the best.
Still a bit derelict about keeping up with this stuff. Things appear to be settling down, so I hope this year I can stay up on these posts.
A Vine in the Blood, Leighton Gage. Another in the Chief Inspector Silva series. This time’s Silva’s team of Brazilian federal police must find who kidnapped a star soccer player’s mother on the eve of the World Cup. Great story, well-developed characters, no weaknesses of craft. Maybe the best book in the Silva series.
Casino, Nicholas Pileggi. The book on which Martin Scorsese based the movie. Told primarily through interviews, which means everyone is an unreliable narrator. Pileggi edits artfully and allows the reader to make up his own mind about who’s worse than who. Lefty Rosenthal (DeNiro in the movie) does not come off nearly as well here.)
Eddie’s World, Charlie Stella. Stella’s first organized crime book, which is hard to believe. The writing is tight, the plot holds together, and the dialog is reminiscent of George V. Higgins. If you’re looking for a look into what it’s really like to be a connected—not made—guy, this is as good as place as any to start.