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Posts Tagged ‘Lawrence Block’

commonGenerally, I enjoy reading and/or  watching year-in-review stories and programs. This year –with Santa harnessing flying pigs to his sleigh — not so much. The last 12 months were studded with improbabilities, loss and disappointment. November was especially dismal, and I kept quoting Wordsworth: “The world is too much with us; late and soon.” These are anxious times.

Thank goodness for books. As I’ve disconnected from cable news and social media, reading has provided escape and comfort. Mysteries, fantasies, literary fiction, memoirs, new releases, old favorites. One after another, chain reading, a books binge. I just finished Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (HarperCollins, digital galley) for the second time, finding this story of a blended family over five decades even more moving and wise. It’s the book I’m giving myself in hardcover and is one of my three favorites of 2016, joining Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow and Paulette Jiles’ News of the World.

fannieOther books I’ve bought as keepers this past year include Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale (Candlewick), about a girl who enters the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Contest in a bid to get her absentee father’s attention; Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical Another Brooklyn; Genevieve Cogman’s fabulous fantasy The Invisible Library and its sequels The Masked City and The Burning Page (ROC, digital galley); and Lee Smith’s lovely memoir Dimestore (Algonquin, digital galley). I gave the latter to Cousin Meg for her birthday, and for Christmas, she and Cousin Gail are getting Fannie Flagg’s new chatty charmer The Whole Town’s Talking (Random House), about the founding of the small Missouri town of Elmwood Springs, the setting for previous Flagg stories. This time, the town cemetery has a starring role. I’m sending a copy to Cousin Paulette, too.

insunlightI’ve given away multiple copies of Anne Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” Vinegar Girl, and managed to pick up my own copy a long the way. I tend to buy books for friends that I want myself, so I put Lawrence Block’s In Sunlight or In Shadow (Pegasus) at the top of my Dear Santa list. An anthology of stories inspired by the works of Edward Hopper, it showcases writers such as Lee Child, Megan Abbott, Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King with full-color reproductions of the Hopper works they chose as muses. As both a fan of Hopper — I have a framed “Sunday Morning” above a bookcase — and crime fiction, this book was pure catnip for me. Another treasure is the late Pat Conroy’s  A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life (Doubleday, digital galley). Oh, I miss Pat, who died in March, one of many losses I hold against 2016.

cruelI’ve read some good fiction recently — Colson Whitehead’s harrowing The Underground Railroad (Doubleday, digital galley), Brit Bennett’s first novel The Mothers (Riverhead, digital galley), Alice Hoffman’s poignant Faithful (Simon and Schuster). Still, the striking title, cover and contents of Caroline Leavitt’s novel about two sisters following their hearts in the late 1960s/early 1970s really hit home for me this fall: Cruel Beautiful World (Algonquin, digital galley). When high school student Lucy Gold runs off with her English teacher, she has no idea how her impulsive decision will play out for her, her sensible older sister Charlotte, and for elderly Iris, who raised the girls. Leavitt’s writing is tender, tough and incisive as she spins a tale of love and loss, loyalty and second chances. It’s not always a happy book, but it is a hopeful one. So let’s end this year on that note.

 

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When writer Robert B. Parker died in January of 2010, I was still a couple of weeks from launching this blog. Otherwise, I’d have been one of the many remembering Parker, who created tough-but-tender Boston P.I. Spenser in 1971’sThe Godwulf Manuscript. It was the beginning of a long-running series that revived detective fiction, linking the classic to the contemporary.

Many of the affectionate tributes were from writers whom he’d influenced or journalists who had interviewed him over the years; everyone it seemed had a “Bob” story to share.  I had one as well — he was the first big-name mystery writer I ever interviewed, back in 1983, at the annual book/publishing  covention known then as the ABA for American Booksellers Association. Now it’s BEA — BookExpo America — and it’s going on this week in New York City, and yes, I kind of miss it because it was an opportunity to meet writers whose books I admired and enjoyed.

The 1983 ABA in Dallas was my first, and I couldn’t understand why there were only a couple of other reporters at Parker’s late afternoon press conference. For that matter, I was the only one asking real questions. Didn’t other people know who this guy was? They did, but unlike me, they knew to to arrange ahead of time for one-on-one interviews.

Actually, mine turned into just that, because when the allotted 15-20 minutes were up, Parker and I left the press room still in deep conversation about hard-boiled crime fiction, Raymond Chandler, Boston (my parents had just moved back to S.C. after seven years in the area), the Red Sox, English lit, and, of course, Spenser. He could tell I was a fan, and we ended up in a couple of comfy chairs and continued talking until his publicist found us and carried him off to some party or dinner in his honor. He said he looked forward to our next meeting. I said, “me too — and the next Spenser.”

There were a few more meetings and a lot more Spensers, as well as two more detective series (Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall), several westerns and historical novels –60 or so books in all. I just finished what I think is the last one, No. 39 in the Spenser series, Sixkill.

It’s not great Spenser, but it’s pretty good, and much better than the few in the late middle that read as if Parker phoned them in. Hawk, Spenser’s laconic, violent sidekick, is in Singapore, alas, but Spenser still has long-time love Susan Silverman to cook for and banter with. And when police pal Quirk asks for help on a case, Spencer also begins training a new squire to his white knight.

Zebulon Sixkill, “Z,” is the Cree Indian bodyguard to badass actor Jumbo Fisher, on location in Boston and the No.1 suspect in a girl’s death in his hotel room. Jumbo sics Z on nosy Spenser, who easily takes out the former football player/bouncer without real fighting skills. Jumbo fires Z, and Spenser steps in as his new mentor. Maybe Z will eventually tell him what really went down with the girl, but Spenser also sees the potential coil of controlled violence. Before long Z’s becoming a toughened warrior, and he’s got Spenser’s back when the mob comes calling.

It’s too bad we won’t see more adventures with the new wingman, and way sad no more Spenser. Going to miss the snap-crackle-pop dialogue, the bullet-paced narratives, the moral compass that Spenser lived by.

Parker died at his desk at age 77.  Really miss him. I’ll probaby go back and reread some of the Spensers from time to time, and I saw the new Jesse Stone TV movie with Tom Selleck last night. Also, I’ve settled in with another old friend, Lawrence Block. His new Matthew Scudder — No. 17 — finds the ex-cop-turned P.I., recovering alcoholic looking back to his days on the job in the early ’70s and one case in particular. Equal parts loss and redemption, it’s aptly titled A Drop of the Hard Stuff. Recommended.

Open Book: I downloaded the e-book version of Robert B. Parker’s Sixkill (Penguin Group) to my nook. I’m reading a digital galley edition through NetGalley of Lawrence Block’s A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Little, Brown).

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