Sunday, September 27, 2015

The McBain Curse (with The Last Best Hope and Widows)

I'm onto something, I think. I think I'm onto why a certain number of the Amazon “customer reviews” for Ed McBain's novels are so negative. There are always a few negative ones posted by readers so disenchanted by whichever McBain novel they've just tried to enjoy they must go on record. One star, two, maybe even three. This is always the case. Always. It's always the case.

The rest, the great majority of the customer reviewers, award five stars, with a smattering of fours. The fours I think are by readers intending to appear smart and discriminating. They simply will not be stampeded by emotion into awarding five stars for a genre novel even if they secretly loved it to death. Four stars is as high as they'll go--ever--unless to oblige the author, or the book is so obscure they're really awarding the five stars to themselves, for coolness.
Aside from the tiny faction of cranks who can always be found at the bottom of a review list in the one-or-two-star strata trashing whatever the book, because it's what they do, the negative reviewers I'm talking about, the ones I think I'm onto, I think were genuinely nonplussed by the book they're damning with scant stars. They were dismayed and disappointed, they felt cheated, condescended to, culled and excluded. They chose an Ed McBain novel expecting a good, methodical cop story by a world-recognized master of the form.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Forgotten Books: Sylvia by Leonard Michaels

Quite possibly the most underappreciated American writer of the second half of the 20th century.”
Thus proclaimed the subject line of the Fictionaut forum discussion last month that introduced me to the late Leonard Michaels. Embarrassed to admit I'd not heard of him, and admiring Chris Okum, the writer who opened the subject, I downloaded Michaels's Collected Essays. I read them almost as fast as I read crime novels.
This surprised me. Michaels was a brilliant man. His essays challenged my mind in a way that ordinarily requires deliberation at the plodding tempo of a dirge. What made the difference, what kept me clipping along through the subtleties of his thinking, enabling me to absorb intuitively the more difficult abstractions, was, simply, his storytelling genius.
And maybe coming up with the right title is part of that genius. The lead-off essay in this collection, for example, the title of which won my devotion at first glance, is What's a Story? His essays are not long. They're not argumentative, dry, tightassed theses aimed at academic review. Humor leavens them. They entice in a voice that reaches with simplicity. They seduce with analysis dressed in narrative.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Book Report: Lucky Bastard by Gary V. Powell

Wracking my brain here to come up with an opening likely to interest you in Lucky Bastard. Trying not to use the common clichés like “page turner” and “unforgettable characters” and “compelling story” and...feel free to add more, surely you've seen them. They multiply on Internet book sites like fruit flies on spoiled bananas. This time they happen to be right, the clichés, but why take my word for it. Let Lucky Bastard show you:

I was watching the Discovery Channel when I heard the explosion from her trailer. I recognized it for a gunshot, and fearing the worst, headed over. None of the other neighbors seemed to notice, but then we got more than our share of gunshots at Catawba Estates.
Jolene was in her underwear. She stood in the middle of her living room, a beer in one hand, Carlisle's .50 caliber Desert Eagle in the other. Her TV lay in pieces across the room. She claimed she'd hit Larry King right between the eyes.
Nice shot,” I said.