Thursday, December 6, 2018

DEATH OF A DISSIDENT – Stuart Kaminsky

My initial brainstorm was to copy Stuart Kaminsky's complete introduction to the Mysterious Press edition of his Death of a Dissident with maybe a highlight here and there and an occasional comment of my own to break it up. But I quickly realized copyright restrictions would undoubtedly toss a greasy wrench into the plan, so I knew I'd have to get off my lazy metaphoric butt and write an actual review. Rest assured, however, Kaminsky's introduction is so good I still intend to use great chunks of it, either in paraphrase or as direct quotes. It's (as I would argue to the judge in a copyright infringement lawsuit) unavoidable!

For one, Kaminsky relieved some of my reluctance to read his crime novel about a Moscow cop, concerned that maybe he wouldn't measure up well with Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko. I'd just finished re-reading the Renko series and enjoying it even more than I had the first go-round. Kaminsky addresses that concern head-on. By coincidence, Death of a Dissident came out about a month after Gorky Park, the first Renko episode. "Though I had enjoyed Martin Cruz Smith’s novels— and still do," Kaminsky tells us, "I couldn’t read Gorky Park. The reviews made it clear that our books bore only a superficial resemblance to each other."

I agree. Neither the plots nor the styles are comparable much beyond their Soviet Russian milieu. The Arkady Renko novels remind me more of the complex stories and characterizations John le Carré employs in his novels, whereas Death of a Dissident has an Ed McBain feel, à la his 87th Precinct crime series. Oh, alright, I cheated on that one. Kaminsky makes the McBain resemblance abundantly clear in his aforementioned intro: “I love Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels,” he says, and mentions specific McBain influences throughout. But wait. “I also love Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels, and John Creasy’s Gideon novels were favorites of mine in high school. Above all, I love ‘classical’ Russian literature, particularly Dostoevsky and, even more specifically, Crime and Punishment.

And they all, as well as Russian writers Chekhov and Gogol, come into play in Death of a Dissident. His lead character, Chief Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, he frankly admits, “bears more than a passing resemblance to Jules Maigret. His methods are similar, but his milieu is much different. Rostnikov is, like George Gideon, a man of action. And it is no coincidence that Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov bears the name of the magistrate who drives [Dostoevsky’s] Raskolnikov to a confession of murder. Rostnikov, finally is my fantasy of my Russian grandfather, my father’s father, who died when I was about six.”
Stuart Kaminsky

Another ensemble character, one of Rostnikov’s assistants in Death of a Dissident, he tells us, has a quasi-role model from the Star Trek TV series. “Emil a tall, gaunt, loyal, humorless traditionalist who bears some resemblance to Mr...Spock. Karpo is a haunted man who had devoted his life and loyalty to the religion of Communism which, as practiced in the Soviet Union, keeps letting him down. Karpo wished to deny his emotions, the needs of his body and the human loyalties which, ultimately, are more immediate than his devotion to duty.”

Rostnikov’s other assistant, Sasha Tkach (no help with the pronunciation) is, in some ways, what Burt Kling might have become in the 87th Precinct novels, had life not dealt him a monstrous love life and had he been plunked down in contemporary Russia rather than in Isola. Sasha’s concerns are domestic. Life, the complications of a changing Russia, a growing family, and his inability to cope with women threaten to overwhelm him.”

So there you have the three lead characters, explained in a way I suspect most English teachers—high school presumably and most certainly undergraduate if we’re talking college—would accept as analyses in a homework composition or surprise quiz. And there’s even more in Kaminsky’s intro for the serious pseudo-scholastic plagiarist.

As for the plot, it’s classic McBain/Simenon/Creasy police procedural. A famous Soviet dissident is murdered with a sickle in his apartment a day before his scheduled trial, despite being under constant KGB surveillance. Hmmm. The Soviets appear to be torn between rejoicing and fearful the dissident’s death will reflect badly on them in the West, as though due process was denied. So Rostnikov and his sidekicks are encouraged to find the murderer so it appears justice has been done. Any murderer will suffice so long as the government can claim deniability. Rostnikov answers to the Cbief Procurator in his precinct (or district or whatever the hell the Moscow political division is called) is a good party member, but respects Rostnikov, who is a good cop, and superficially a good party member. They get along, unlike Renko and his bosses (called “prosecutors” in those novels), where barely concealed corruption makes a mockery of party ideals with every blink of every eye.

The police work is credible and interestingly revealed, providing opportunities to develop the characters in both their official and domestic roles. Investigation is methodical, and when the routine seems to be getting a tad tedious, some plausible action occurs to break up the pace. One irritant broke up the mood for me, disrupting my identification with the lead characters: changing points of view. It’s one of the things I don’t like about McBain’s novels. Too many heads to be inside, especially if they’re villains. I did get to like the three main cops and their procurator, a devout, workaholic Communist woman with an ailing heart.

Thinking the series was going to end after a second outing, Kaminsky says he considered killing off Karpo, the Spock character. “In the first of several drafts of Black Knight in Red Square, Emil Karpo is killed. My editor and agent liked the character so much that they persuaded me to let him live.” He notes that McBain considered killing Steve Carella, his central character at the start of the 87th Precinct series. Fortunately for both series, the authors changed their minds.

Kaminsky tells of the trouble he had getting his Porfiry Rostnikov series off the ground at all. “I liked what I had done. My agent liked what I had done. However, no hardcover publisher liked what had been done so the book came out as a paperback original. Death of a Dissident was submitted to the publisher and accepted almost a year before it was published. [It] suffered the fate of most paperback originals: no reviews.” Well, here’s one—better late than never, no?

Before his death in 2009, he’d published fifteen more Rostnikov novels, several other crime series, short stories and non-fiction works. His fifth Rostnikov novel, A Cold Red Sunrise received the 1989 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

TROUBLED DEATHS – Roderic Jeffries

Because of neighbors who've become hypersensitized to my sonorous emoting while engrossed in crime novels, I nearly choked trying to stifle cheers when Geoffrey Freeman dies a slow, extremely agonizing death. But it was Sunday and my nearest neighbors—the next-door beauty parlor folks—were not in, so my yays disturbed no one enough to bang on the pasteboard-thin partition or call 911.
But then, as it so often seems, complications appear. The chief suspect, homely, awkward spinster Mabel Cannon, whose affections for Geoffrey had been cruelly spurned, soon thereafter also dies a slow, extremely agonizing death. Autopsies indicate the two had been poisoned by a lethal mushroom known as llargsomi, which closely resembles the delectably edible esclatasang. They grow wild in proximity to one another on Spain’s Balearic island of Mallorca, but no Mallorquin would ever mistake the one for the other—or so all likely suspects assure Inspector Enrique Alvarez, himself a Mallorquin, assigned to investigate the presumed murders of the two transplanted English residents.
Whereas the pulse of other fictional detectives predictably would quicken as a plot such as this thickens, Geoffrey’s autopsy, disproving the initial theory he’d died of cholera, drives Alvarez to drink. The game afoot for him leads straight to the nearest cafe for a brandy or three. And the brandies continue as each Mallorquin he questions welcomes him with spirits and bonhomie, and more spirits. Neither he nor any of those he interviews expresses any love for the English. “I’ll tell you one thing,” he confides over a glass of brandy to Ramez, his cousin’s husband, “if I had the chance I’d bump off all the English for nothing.”
The only fictional police detective I know of whose drinking legs are in league with Alvarez’s is Arkady Renko, Martin Cruz Smith’s vodka-swilling Moscow cop who at least has an excuse, being beaten, frozen, irradiated, stabbed, and shot in the line of duty. Obese and physically unfit to play any TV cop other than Chief Ironside, Alvarez does catch some verbal abuse, but it’s from his superior, a Spaniard from Madrid, who first orders Alvarez to root out and destroy all llargsomi on the island, then, when told how impossible that would be, orders him to arrest somebody—anybody, it would seem. “That popinjay!” Alvarez’s cousin tells him. “What does he know about anything? If he isn’t satisfied with the way things are done on this island, why doesn’t he go back to Madrid?”
For all that, even though Alvarez does solve the murders, he hasn’t made any arrests in the three books of the series I’ve read thus far. Mallorquin justice, perhaps, or Roderic Jeffries’s clever plotting...or maybe the boss from Madrid has a point.
Roderic Jeffries
One thing is beyond speculation: Alvarez is an almost hopeless romantic. We learn more in Troubled Deaths about Juana-Maria, the love of his life he lost in an as yet unexplained fatal encounter with a motor vehicle. We’ve gotten incremental bits of the story in each episode, just enough to lure one further into the series. His fantasy surrogate Juana-Maria in this story is poor Mabel Cannon’s only friend, Caroline Durrel, whom Alvarez presumably would exempt from his bumping-off-Mallorca’s-English-inhabitants fantasy.
It wasn’t her looks, thought Alvarez with bewilderment, although she was as beautiful as an orange grove at blossom time. It wasn’t that she promised that ripe, earthy experience which twisted a man’s soul–she didn’t. It was because there was an air of simple goodness about her which reminded him with aching intensity of Juana-Maria.”
Not that Alvarez turned up his nose--“broad enough to make a landing space for a squadron of flies”--at the idea of earthy experience. He muses that “these days most young women whether standing or walking struck him as erotic...The tragedy of middle age was that a man still dreamed, but the volcano in his belly had died down to just a little camp fire.”
Staring into a bar mirror at one of his ubiquitous haunts, he sees “a middle-aged man with lined, coarsely featured face, whose eyes were bloodshot and whose hair was beginning to thin. You simple fool, he [says] to his reflection. You, a failure, a peasant without a single cuarterada of land to call his own, old enough to be her father...But her golden image continued to dance in his mind...When he had looked at her he had seen the quiet moon in the star-studded sky, the sparkling of still seas, the distant mountains framed against a sunset sky. And when she had looked at him, what had she seen? An ugly, time-scarred peasant.”
A man who knows his limitations, as Harry Callahan, another fictional cop once said, but, as yet another, Colombo, knew, who uses humility to his advantage. When he comes upon an English murder suspect in Caroline’s company, the suspect insults Alvarez, presuming the detective doesn’t speak English. I easily imagined Peter Falk’s New York accent and humble dissembling in the Mallorquin’s response: “ ‘I speak a very little, señor, but that little not very well,’ said Alvarez, with the self-deprecating politeness which in Spain sometimes took the place of rudeness. ‘I fear I make many mistakes.’ ”
Caroline comes to his rescue. “ ‘Well,’ she says, ‘it sounds to me as if you speak it wonderfully well...I only wish I could speak Spanish half as well.’ Her eyes were deep blue where Juana-Maria’s had been dark brown, yet to look into them was to look at what had lain in Juana-Maria’s.”
It’s a long series, friends--some three dozen episodes, and not all are on Kindle. Woe is the curious romantic in me. 

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Thursday, November 22, 2018

TWO-FACED DEATH –Roderic Jeffries

I wish I could say I read somewhere recently an IT innovation would be available soon--some sort of software, I imagine--that would enable readers of genre fiction to select the components of a novel they're in a mood to read. Right now, for example, I fancy a crime mystery set in an unusual locale, featuring an unusual detective who allows me to accompany him/her in his reluctant-but-diligent struggle to solve a baffling murder amid a manageable number of likely suspects, some of them likable and some quite comically detestable. This novel would not be for everyone, I understand. Certainly not those who require a plot sufficiently complex to justify their years spent mastering ratiocination and the tortuous twists and narrative sleights of Golden Age-type who/howdunits and closed-door puzzles. Nope, albeit with a sincere nod of respect to the Grand Dame, the app-generated novel I’d choose might well use as its template Two-Faced Death, the second in Roderic Jeffries’s series of Inspector Alvarez Mallorca-based mysteries, which, by sheer coincidence, happens to be the one I’ve just read!
In a way it’s a somewhat ironic coincidence, as I nearly choked on the first in the Alvarez series halfway through when it seemed a couple of the template requisites were askew, leaving a plothole not even Clifford Irving could have patched. But my pig-headed nature goaded by nagging curiosity carried me through to the end, in the process setting the hook so firmly I’m afraid now I shall have to read the rest of them.
If I had to blame anything in particular for this infatuation it would be Lt. Columbo’s Mallorquin double, Inspector Enrique Alvarez. There are certain trivial differences. Alvarez doesn’t speak with a Brooklyn accent, and it’s been too hot in Mallorca to wear any sort of coat. The resemblance is more in attitude and style, even physical appearance, including sartorial nonchalance: “a squat, broad-shouldered man” who has trouble finding clothes that fit. “His shirt, even when unbuttoned at the neck, was tight across his chest: had he worn a tie, as regulations demanded, he would, in the July heat, have been exceedingly uncomfortable.”
He’s asleep at his desk as the novel opens, and is awakened by a phone call from his boss, Superior Chief Salas, who wants him to investigate rumors of cigarette smuggling. “He blinked rapidly and rubbed his eyes. What the hell was the time? He looked at his watch and saw it was four o’clock. Sweet Mary! he thought, with renewed irritation, hadn’t Salas ever heard of the siesta?”
Alvarez, while exhibiting no noticeable esprit for his job is nonetheless dutiful, and once aroused he plods into action. After musing to himself that his chief, being from Madrid, has no feel for Mallorquin customs, including common knowledge that petty smuggling has been an avocation of local fishermen for generations, he begins questioning local fishermen and bartenders about “rumors” of smuggling. These interviews are conducted cordially over generous glasses of brandy while smoking obviously smuggled American cigarettes. Everyone jokes about the Madrid chief’s ignorance, yet Alvarez methodically notes snippets of information until he identifies a local Englishman wheeler dealer who is most likely the banker who fronts money for the smuggling. Meanwhile a prissy investigator from the Bank of England is on the island looking into financial irregularities of English citizens who’ve taken money out of England without paying necessary fees. The British twit quickly homes in on John Calvin, the same wheeler dealer who’s aroused Alvarez’s suspicions. The plot quickens when Calvin disappears, leaving behind a sarcastic suicide note.
After a couple of weeks of dutiful searching, a body is found on a remote cliff top missing half its head and clutching Calvin’s expensive shotgun. Suspects abound for Alvarez, who is not convinced the death was suicide. In addition to being a money manipulator, Calvin was a notorious lothario who specialized in married English women. Author Jeffries, who lives on Mallorca, gives us sharply drawn caricatures of the island’s wealthy English society. Mediocre novelist Jim Meegan is my favorite. He might well reflect Jeffries’s own frustrations, at least providing us with some of the anxieties many fiction writers experience practicing their lonely craft:
Roderic Jeffries
"He stared at the page in the typewriter and reread the nine lines of type. They weren’t going to gain him immortality. Yet those nine lines represented two hours of work, two hours during which he had had to drag each word out, screaming, from the depths of his mind … The lion opened his mouth to roar and a mouse squeaked ...
"A drop of sweat trickled down from his neck. He watched it as soon as it came within his vision; apparently heading for the hairs on his chest, it suddenly and unaccountably swerved aside to slither down past his left nipple to his stomach. The sweat of Tolstoy and Dickens had probably run straight and true."
Compounding Meegan’s worries is the suspicion his overactive imagination embelllishes that his beautiful wife is one of Calvin’s conquests. He becomes a suspect once the death is determined to have been murder. An autopsy proves death resulted from asphyxia rather than the shooting. Alvarez already had ruled out the shooting as self-inflicted by examining the shotgun and discovering the fired shell had been ejected and then replaced in the breech. This told him someone had opened the gun after it was fired. It was one of various telling tidbits he collected in building his theory disproving suicide and pointing to murder.
Two-faced Death’s is not a complicated plot, yet it offers a couple of surprising twists. The main enjoyment for me was watching Alvarez and spending time inside his head as he methodically worked his way through the mysteries. Jeffries, himself a transplanted Englishman, has a comic touch that gives us an amusing glimpse of his countrymen in a culture that resents their presence while appreciating the wealth they bring to the locals. The English woman, especially, comes in for a drubbing in Alvarez’s eyes. “English women’s minds...were not only born to deceive others,” he tells us, “they were also born to deceive themselves.” He muses on his own domestic situation, feeling glad he never married. Then he chides himself. If he had married, he allows, he would have married his sweetheart, Juana-Maria,”and not in a thousand, thousand years would she have betrayed him, not even with a glance, let alone her body.
He mentions his relationship with Juana-Maria several times throughout the novel, alluding once to her death when a car crushed her against a wall, “killing her, so that all light, and even all terror, fled from her eyes.”
I must read further episodes, if only to learn more about Juana-Maria.

[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Thursday, November 15, 2018


I almost quit Mistakenly in Mallorca about the halfway point, which would have been a mistake. It was when the protagonist, John Tatham, whom I liked, made the kind of dicey choice in a dicey situation protagonists make in traditional noir stories. The kind with the gloomy tone that foreshadows a bad ending. Whether the choice is made with a motive of greed, adultery, or some other self interest, such as vengeance, doesn't matter so much as the knowledge I have that the character I identify with is on the road to perdition.

Ordinarily I prefer uplifting stories to such downers, and even though Mistakenly in Mallorca starts out with Tatham's fiancée being murdered by a gangster the tone of doom-bound temptation was absent. Tatham seems a man of character, whose small rented farm is failing. He leaves England to stay with eccentric great-aunt Elvina on the Balearic island of Mallorca. There, amid the beautiful Mediterranean surroundings just off the Spanish coast, he succumbs to one of these temptations. Elvina is killed apparently falling from a balcony at her home. Most inopportune for her nephew, who stands to inherit a fortune via the aunt from her declining, ninety-one-year-old godfather in England who is expected to die at any moment. His sole beneficiary, Elvina, had promised to alter her will to pass the legacy to Tatham should the godfather die first. She’d said this would stake him to starting up a new farm, something Tatham had made obvious to her he dearly wanted to do.
So. The dilemma. With no way now to learn when the godfather might die, but believing his death was imminent, Tatham has to decide either to notify police immediately of Elvina’s death, thus presumably losing any claim to the inheritance, or else to hide the body until he knew for certain the old gent had died, and then report his aunt missing. He chooses door number two, leaving me stupefied.
As this was the first in a series of some three dozen crime novels featuring Inspector Alvarez, I knew the rest of Mistakenly in Mallorca would crawl tediously toward Tatham's shameful demise--unless Alvarez was the Mallorquin version of Inspector Clouseau, which I doubted, as the book thus far showed no signs of being a farce, or something else was going on here new in my admittedly limited exposure to genre crime novels. I waited until I was certain farce was not involved, although Alvarez gave me some farce-like clues when he entered the novel at the halfway point.
At first glance, in appearance and manner, he struck me as resembling more Peter Falk’s Columbo than Clouseau. He makes it clear to us he resented being assigned to investigate Elvina’s death when her body turns up at the base of a cliff ten days after her death. He actually feared a promotion that would take him away from Lueso, his beloved community.. “He’d reminded his superiors (in Palma) that he existed,” we are told. “If he went even farther and uncovered and solved a murder, he might, God knows, even at this late stage be given promotion and be moved from Llueso. The thought so distressed him that he bent down and opened the bottom drawer of the desk, brought out a litre bottle of Fundador, and poured himself out a large drink.”
But he plods along finding clue after clue left by Tatham’s carelessness, and finally sends the body, which Tatham had kept in the freezer until he learned of the godfather’s death, for an autopsy. Alvarez is crushed when the results are not consistent with the purported accidental fall from a cliff: “Now, there was no avoiding fate. People would be down from Palma, poking their noses into everything, looking everywhere, questioning everyone, and his previous privacy would be shattered once and for all. The English, he thought miserably, would destroy Heaven if, by some grave oversight, any of them were ever allowed to enter.”

After a couple of yawns and some disgusted grunts I decided not to abandon the novel, and plodded ahead along with Alvarez. I tried to distance identification with Tatham, yet found myself cringing whenever Alvarez’s plodding brought him closer to an undeniable conclusion Elvina had been murdered.
I’ll skirt the rest of the plot, because it surprised me some, and I don’t wish to spoil the surprise for anyone else. I will note one thing which might be taken as a clue: At some point Tatham reflects on what appears to be a distinction between the justice apparatus in England, which he blames for his fiancée’s death, and that on Mallorca. Watching this play out, combined with Jeffries’ insightful capture of the various components of Mallorquin society and the eye-friendly countryside they inhabit, kept me entertained as the narrative eked along.

I spent some time on that island and neighboring Ibiza in 1970, and this novel brought memories to the forefront. The book was published in 1974.
A subplot involves an English wheeler dealer trying to sell his mansion to a wealthy German. He baits the prospect with a forged Renoir painting he’d commissioned from someone who specializes in such forgeries. The unnamed forger may have been inspired by Hungarian art forger Elmyr de Hory, who had been a neighbor of literary forger Clifford Irving on Ibiza and became the subject of Irving's 1968 book Fake!, and who Irving credited as inspiring him to write the fake autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes in the early ‘70s. Irving, his wife, and his researcher spent some time behind bars for that world-famous caper.
Sad to say I didn’t run into either Hory or Irving during my brief stay on the island, which ended when I and about a dozen other young travelers were arrested sleeping in the several cliffside caves overlooking the sea. I later learned an international wire service reported our arrest (without our names, so I can’t prove my involvement—for better or worse) but I have not seen the story.
I do plan on reading more of the Alvarez series, to which I thank fellow crime fiction blogger Margot Kinberg for introducing me.

[For more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Monday, November 12, 2018


I've just finished reading Joe Kapitan's second fiction collection, Caves of the Rust Belt: Ohio Stories, and am virtually paralyzed with admiration. My reactions whirl at an unfathomable depth. Occasionally I have to remember to breathe. But my fingers still work, being less emotional, and are doing my thinking on the keyboard.

Kapitan is sneaky. A startlingly inventive wordsmith with a plain voice, innocent of the conventionally snarky tone so many young writers affect to advertise their cleverness presumably distinct from the herd. He seduces you to lay aside conditioned “smarter than thou” defenses, drawing you into a seemingly familiar narrative until of a sudden you’ve no idea just where in hell you are, where he’s taking you. This happened time and again when a story already was moving too fast for me to jump off with an oh, this is just too damned weird shrug, and find some Kafka or Lovecraft to calm the nerves.
His seduction starts at the get-go, with words like Ohio and Rust in the title. I heard earnestness there, the clang of labor, hard times, solid heartland humdrum. And then Caves gave me a peek at something unexpected beyond the abandoned factory’s dusty window. A hint of promise, teasing. Beckoning. Eyes wide, curiosity tugging my sleeve, I entered.
Well...Willie Wonka’s chocolate house Caves of the Rust Belt is not. Closer to a step through the looking glass with Wondering Alice. Moments of mystery appear in the commonplace and segue slyly from clever to profound. Involuntary chortles continue to burble from my throat with recalled abrupt comic ironies and turns of phrase, a particular the bawdy chanty gently redacted by dead mariners in deference to the boardinghouse landlady who summoned them from the depths hoping to find her lost son:
Hers is the reason we set out to sea,
And hers is the reason it burns when we pee,
And these are the three things we know to be sure:
A sailor needs tailwinds and whiskey and hers!”
Flashes of brilliance dance among steadier, darker reflections, challenging readers to accept life’s marriage of opposites with its attending happenstance and heartfelt yearnings. Though surprise is a constant in Caves, an occasional story’s title alone reveals enough for either laughter or gravity to cue up at the start. Most often each are in play by the end. Brothers of the Salvageable Crust is one of these. I had no idea what the title means (and still don’t), but somehow it suggested that I pee before reading and avoid sipping a hot beverage during the narrative. Trusting my intuition thus saved me from scalding pain and incontinent shame.
I’m not going to mention every one of the twenty-eight tales in this collection, despite how truly amazing each of them is. In the words of one of our most ludicrously quotable modern Presidents, it wouldn’t be prudent. I won’t be able to sleep tonite, however, if I don’t mention one of the most jaw-droppingly startling, sweetest little pieces I have ever come across. It is titled Mr. Foreclosure. And that is all I shall reveal. If you read nothing else in Caves of the Rust Belt, please please please...Mr. Foreclosure!
Oh, my, yes, and this one (do not be misled by the seemingly silly title—this piece is a definite contendah!): What We Were When We Drew What We Drew. Read it, or I’ll unfriend you forever!
You can skip How Cold Wars End. NO! WAIT! JUST KIDDING! (read it, but use the same precautions you do with Brothers of the Salvageable Crust).
Have tissues nearby when you get to Letter from a Welder’s Son, Unsent. Just in, salt gets in your eyes.
My favorite of them all? That is a really rotten question, but right up there among the top twenty-eight is The Basic Problem with Interior Decoration. I think it’s the longest, too, although the astoundingly brilliant Brothers of the Salvageable Crust stretches out a tad, as well.
I suppose it might aid my credibility were I to use some of the standard critical literary language in discussing this collection, but I’m so uncomfortable with linguistic sophistication I’d likely get some of the requisite terms and phrases ass backwards, doing more harm than good. Maybe Michiko Kakutani can be lured out of retirement to do the honors. I’d kiss her feet if I thought it would work. Caves of the Rust Belt deserves no less.
Joe Kapitan
Clicking over to Joe Kapitan’s page you’re apt to see references to Rust as his “debut” collection. That is a lie. His brief bio there tells us he published an award-winning short-fiction chapbook in 2013. “He began writing short fiction and creative non-fiction in 2009, and has had more than 60 pieces appear online and in print in such venues as The Cincinnati Review, PANK, Wigleaf, Midwestern Gothic, Smokelong Quarterly, Booth and Notre Dame Magazine.”
Ohio,” he tells us, “is like that weird uncle with the cheesy mustache and outdated clothes; the one who always has the best stories.”
And now we know where “weird uncle” gets those stories.