Thursday, February 21, 2019

MIAMI BLUES – Charles Willeford

Dolphins, Daytona, Glades, and Gators notwithstanding, Florida has never held much attraction for me. Not sure why. Been down there a few times, to the races, to visit friends. No bad memories—I actually kind of liked the place. I've enjoyed reading about it—MacDonald, Hiaasen, Holland come to mind—but when I'm not actually there I feel no chemistry, no pheromones pulling me south. Not like Callifornia, which I visited once long ago and still carry in my heart.


Maybe it has something to do with my mother and the oranges. She complained that Florida oranges were more acidic than California oranges. I never noticed any difference, but I'm learning more and more Gert's influence went deep. Not that I look at the labels. She didn't go that deep. I can't help but wonder, tho, if maybe her orange bias didn't somehow affect my nonchalance toward Charles Willeford. It's a stretch, I know, especially considering all of the positives.

Despite enthusiastic endorsements from a couple of crime authors whose blogs I followed—Ed Gorman and Bill Crider—I never had quite enuf itch to read Willeford. It took another crime author, Ben Boulden of Gravetapping, to lead me into Willeford's world. Boulden posted a link on Facebook that took me to the gate, a long Daily Beast piece on Willeford, with this headline: The Train-Hopping, Nazi-Fighting Literary Hero You’ve Never Heard Of.

Resist a pitch like that? Hell, I read a few paragraphs and suddenly my fingers dashed off to the Kindle library and with no more thought than it takes to breathe downloaded Willeford's first novel, Miami Blues, which is also the first in his four-book series featuring Detective Hoke Moseley. I will read the rest, if my doctor allows me to do that much laughing and experience that much suspense. I shook my apartment's flimsy walls laughing at the opening scene, perhaps echoing Willeford's own laughter when he described it to friends (see Marshall Jon Fisher's piece in The Atlantic if you think I exaggerate). In fact, I'll let Fisher, whose parents knew Willeford, describe it himself: "I remember him roaring with laughter while telling my parents about the opening scene of his novel-in-progress, which would become Miami Blues. In it Freddy Frenger, a haiku-writing psychopath, brutally breaks the finger of a Hare Krishna in the Miami airport. Frenger goes on his merry way, and the Krishna collapses in shock--and dies."


Miami Blues doesn't have much of a plot, and it includes the kind of coincidences critics sniff at writers for, calling the unrealistic events deus ex machina. Well, bon golly molly! Willeford, who won the Silver Star in WWII, gave a couple of nostrils full of industrial grade ammonia to any critics who wished to sniff at the big fat deus ex machina he stuck right in chapter one: The 19-year-old hooker Freddy Frenger hooks up with at the hotel, where he’s staying under a fake name is, unbeknownst to him, the dead Hare Krishna’s sister.

And Willeford follows this up with another, an even more outrageous deus ex machina, giving sniffing critics a one-two punch combo (he did some boxing, too), when he brings series star Moseley together with the doomed (we know) young couple driving them to the morgue so the hooker can identify her brother. In the car Moseley’s cop instincts immediately pick up that Frenger’s hinky, but as he’s only investigating the Hare Krishna’s death he merely files this away for possible future reference. Neither Moseley nor Susie Waggoner, the hooker, know Frenger’s the one who broke the finger. You must believe me that altho this sounds like a blazing satire, Willeford delivers the humor so slyly, so nonchalantly, you’re apt to ease along with it, laughing to yourself while seriously hooked on wondering what the hell the next page will reveal. I did, anyway.

One more laugh and then I’ll move along to something else. Susie’s an inexperienced, barely competent hooker who came to Miami from Okeechobee with her brother to abort the baby he’d impregnated her with. They decided to stay in Miami—brother hustling Hare Krishna at the airport, Susie hooking at the hotel, to earn enuf money to buy a Burger King franchise. Frenger “rescues” Susie from her job and takes her to another hotel. He tells her they’re married “platonically,” which she seems to understand, altho what Frenger really means is that they’re shacking up, which she accepts without question. He’s the nicest man she’s ever known, she tells him, and evidently means it.

While Susie keeps house Frenger’s at the mall mugging drug dealers and pickpockets, and Detective Moseley returns to his daily life, which amounts to paying half his sergeant’s salary to his ex, and living free in a Miami Beach fleabag hotel where he earns his keep doing minimal security work. Things heat up when Frenger, who somehow gets Moseley’s address, mugs him in his hotel room, beating him badly and stealing his gun, his badge, and his blackjack.

Moseley wakes up in a hospital with no idea who attacked him. The narrative here becomes so realistic--focusing on the injuries, the treatments, the hospital expenses, the problems his department has muting the embarrassment of a cop losing his badge and gun, the fact that he’s been living illegally out of his jurisdiction—that, even tho I hadn’t thought I’d gotten to know Hoke much yet, I cared about all of this, as if he were a friend or relative. 


When the narrative shifts to Frenger’s problems, his viewpoints, his predicaments, I feel as as if he’s the brother who went bad, but is still a brother. Willeford’s writing incrementally creeps into your sensibility (mine, anyway), making it hard not to identify with which ever viewpoint is at bat. And there are believable parallels—each is even struggling to quit smoking. We know they’ll inevitably meet again, and it won’t be friendly.

As the showdown approaches, we’re in Moseley’s head, filled with the need to avenge himself as well as bring a criminal to justice. He’s ambivalent about the meeting. “The more he thought about [Frenger], the more afraid he was,” he tells himself. “This was not paranoia. When a man has beaten you badly and you know that he can do it to you again, a wholesome fear is a sign of intelligence...his only chance was to spot him in the street, and that seemed damned unlikely. Deep down, way down there in the pit of his stomach, he hoped he wouldn’t find him”

He’s still musing when he finally does: “Freddy Frenger, Jr., AKA Ramon Mendez, had played out the game to the end and didn’t really mind losing his life in a last-ditch attempt to win. Junior would have been good at checkers or chess, thought Hoke, where sometimes a poor player can beat a much better one if he is aggressive and stays boldly on the attack. That was Junior, all right, and if you turned your head away from the board for an instant, to light a cigarette or to take a sip of coffee, he would steal one of your pieces. Junior didn’t have to play by the rules, but Hoke did.”

Well. We know who won, else there wouldn’t be three more published Hoke Moseley novels and another one available in typescript available for reading only in the Charles Willeford Archive at the Broward County Library.

Oh, I must not omit the last laugh, on the last page, an item in The Okeechobee Bi-Weekly News:

OCALA—Mrs. Frank Mansfield, formerly Ms. Susan Waggoner, of Okeechobee, won the Tri-County Bake-Off in Ocala yesterday with her vinegar pie entry. The recipe for her winning entry is as follows:

I thought it was a joke, as I’d never heard of nor could imagine vinegar pie. I Googled it. It’s real, it’s Southern, and it sounds right tasty.The recipe's the last thing in the book!




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



Sunday, February 17, 2019

IT IS THE APEX OF OUR CULTURE: "Have you read Gravity’s Rainbow?" -- Smiley McGrouchpants

Wanna get lit hip quick? Don't look to me to get you there. You gotta have a New York City connection, and I've been there only twice: once spending a night on a friend's sailboat, and the other in a friend's 4th floor Manhattan apartment after being trapped in an elevator for a millennium and next morning finding my car, parked on the street below, had been broken into. Something evidently frightened the thief off, as he or she left his or her tire iron under the hood. It was my only souvenir from that trip—the rusty tire iron—and I kept it for years under the front seat of every vehicle I've owned since then. Probly somewhere in my Ford Ranger Sport model pickup as I type this guide to the guide to getting lit hip quick, It is the Apex of Our Culture: "Have you read Gravity’s Rainbow?"

To answer the Apex question, yes, I've read Gravity's Rainbow, but only after two or three false starts, always giving up at the advent of the giant walking adenoid, thinking at that point I might be losing my mind. I finally decided I had to read the damned thing all the way through if I ever wanted to at least be able to talk lit hip, so I did (and, in doing so, very possibly did lose at least part of my mind—but also gained a new respect, bordering on awe, for adenoids, mine, and, in fact, everyone's). It was the same year I finally read Moby Dick after two or three false starts, spaced about a decade apart. Reading Moby Dick did nothing to advance me toward lit hipness, but I do know a lot more now about whales, presented in vaguely King Jamesian biblical dialect that occasionally soared so majestically I could almost hear Gregory Peck's maddened voice wailing over the waves, and the stomping around on his God damned peg leg.
Kinmonth

I should note—by God I do note!—I was given entré to the coveted lit status by prominent New York City photographer Rob Kinmonth, who’d recommended Gravity’s Rainbow to me when we were colleagues in Newport News, Va. at his hometown newspaper. Or maybe it was V he recommended. I started that, too, and pooped out before the end for fear of losing my mind without even the goading of a superhuman adenoid. Or maybe it was just Pynchon Rob recommended. Both V and GR are giant novels, which might also have played a deniable role in my half-hearted early attempts (I never have gotten to the end of V, altho I’ve started it several times.). The one I finished first was the novella, The Crying of Lot 49, which, finally, blew my mind all over the seat on the train from Newport News to Philadelphia and back reading the thing and learning therein to live equanimically with my latent paranoia and propensity to explode with laughter at word combinations plumbing nuances I never could have explained to anyone—not even a lit hipster—nor could I now. Problem is, McGrouchpants, in his guide to lit hip in one stoned sitting, pays so little notice to Crying I’d be begging for ridicule trying to claim points toward a lit hip degree for having read it, and maybe’d even lose points for admitting how cataclysmically it affected me. But, as McGrouchpants or Pynchon might put it, so f**king be it (the asterisks are in deference to Prudence, Amazon’s language sensory/censoring bot, which would reject without dispensation the entire review were it to spot certain verboten letter combinations from its tight-assed data base--even if contained in an excerpt from the work being reviewed!). As Hemingway or some other pre-hip lit lion once said, the asterisk is the dirtiest word in fiction (we presume with hope the bot does not know this).
Grouchy

If it's slipped my mind to point out that McGrouchpants’s quicky guide to Lit Hip (I’m upper casing it as by now we should know this is something important and should be treated as such) is brief, it is. So brief it’s considered in the academic sense a “monograph,” meaning, I’m guessing, it’s shorter than a thesis, and this, mainly, because it omits voluminous footnoting, tedious repetition, ass-kissing acknowledgments, and, of course, the mandatory, drawn-out passive voice. In the spirit, thus, of brevity I forthwith am adopting a shortened version of the author’s presumed pseudonym. I’ve known him nearly a decade now as a fellow contributor to Fictionaut.com, where I initially eoncountered him as “Smiley McGrouchpants.” Somewhere along the way, I’m thinking possibly around the end of 2016, the “Smiley” morphed into “Crabby.” But in keeping with the conceit of this “monograph,” I am reluctant to stray too far from formality. Yet, in deference to my fingers’ beseechment of me to ease up on the upper-case-lower-case pseudo-surname rhumba, I’m reducing the combination of letters to simply “Grouchy,” the identical appellation redaction I’ve adopted for our primary venue.
Grouchy's self-perception

Lest any readers of this review think for so much as a blink I am trying by this ridiculous-seeming syntax to pass myself off as a graduate of the New York Amalgamated Academy of Lit Hip Research Ltd., please perish the notion! Not exactly sure just what it is that’s come over me, altho those readers with an understanding of the expression “contact high” might find a clue in the following paragraph, lifted verbatim in its entirety from the aforementioned monograph:

“But what if . . . ” (taking another toke here), “the mind, the imagination properly speaking, couldn’t, like a—” (toooke) “— hot air balloon, be reigned in, and—” (tooohhke) “— started floating, helpless, into the ‘murder’ regions of the mind, irretrievably ‘corrupted’ by the cre-ah—” (toohke) “— tive parts of the mind—” (grabs pen, attempts to pull of cap, gets it on the second try, starts scribbling furiously . . . )”

Are you with me here? Don’t worry if you’re not. Not sure I’m here myself. But I’d like to be, which is why I read Grouchy’s monograph thinking I was on the cusp of Lit Hip for having read several works by Pynchon but soon realizing I’d have to read it again, and perhaps again after that, and so forth, as Grouchy says he did with all 780 pages of the 26-year-old Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. At least three times, maybe four, depending on which of his paragraphs you believe. Grouchy’s monograph alone was beginning to stagger me until I got to the paragraph where he notes that Gravity’s Rainbow has a similar effect, possibly intimidating many as esoteric gibberish “rather than a rollicking, improv.-based Warner Brothers cartoon that makes WWII look like it was run by people who at least thought they should try to intimidate Cary Grant’s élan . . . crossed with Dr. Strangelove . . .”
Grouchy with anonymous celebrity

I get that, but I’ll be damned if I read Gravity’s Rainbow another two or three times just to make sure. I have the diligence only to re-read parts of this monograph for the review, certainly not to master its hip-lit/film maze as presented without footnotes by Grouchy McCrabpants, who obviously gets it with enough confidence to put his assertions right out there in the Kindle universe for dilettantes like me to fumble around with as if we get it, too. Some of the names he drops I recognize and some I’ve read or seen their work on a screen. Only one grabbed me by the throat with such shocking tenacity I actually rushed back to the Kindle library and downloaded his most recent (I think) book: Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow, whom I’d not known of. Here’s the quote that snagged me: “The universe hates us. We are temporary violations of the second law of thermodynamics. We push entropy off to the edges, but it’s patient, and it builds, and when we take our eyes off of it, kerbloom, it’s back with a vengeance.”

Walkaway’s a long book, too, so I figure I'll read it a couple three times and have met the requirements for at least an associate degree in Lit Hip. I know you’re pulling for me! 
Pynchon
 Oh, this: Pynchon, remember, was 26 when he “scribbled” Gravity’s Rainbow out on engineers’ quadrille paper (the kind with little squares on it--this fact alone nudges me fearfully close to clinical insanity). Today, Wiki says, the dude is 81.

I’ve nothing more to add. 

Except this:   Except this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-NBPpM--pY
 

 


 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

IN SEARCH OF MURDER – Roderic Jeffries

Now that I’ve just read In Search of Murder--the thirty-seventh and final episode in the Inspector Alvarez series--I’m pretty sure that if author Roderic Jeffries were asked which if any contemporary novelists influenced his writing he’d be lying if he didn’t include Joseph Heller. In fact he’d be lying outrageously if he didn’t admit to channeling great gobs of Heller’s best-known work, Catch-22. The prosecution hereby presents exhibit A.
From Catch-22:
Metcalf, is that your foot I’m stepping on?”
No, sir. It must be Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s foot.”
It isn’t my foot,” said Lieutenant Scheisskopf.
Then maybe it is my foot after all,” said Major Metcalf.
Move it.”
Yes, sir. You’ll have to move your foot first, colonel. It’s on top of mine.”
Are you telling me to move my foot?”
No, sir. Oh, no, sir.”
From In Search of Murder:
You have questioned the cook to confirm Señora Metcalfe’s evidence?’
No, señor, because—’
The need to do so has not occurred to you?’
If Señor Metcalfe was physically incapable of dragging Picare under the water sufficiently quickly and forcefully—’
Was he?’
Obviously.’
You readily and without question accept the obvious? You will get into a swimming pool and, with help, determine whether with only one arm, a man can be dragged under water with force and speed.
Even the name Metcalf(e) appears in both excerpts. The one from Jeffries’s novel is an example of Inspector Alvarez’s constant telephone conversations with his superior, Superior Chief Salas, who, although never leaving his office in Palma, micromanages every step of Alvarez’s attempts to investigate murder cases in his remote jurisdiction. These ridiculous exchanges are amusing at first, but soon become so tiresome I find myself speeding past them with barely a glance. It was the same in the first four episodes, and seems exaggerated in this final outing. And in this one similar sarcastic exchanges take place with virtually everyone Alvarez comes in contact with—almost as if Heller wrote the scenes and simply changed the names.
Here’s one more exchange between Alvarez and Salas, who had been out when Alvarez tried to reach him as requested:
He identified himself.
Your reason for calling now?’
Because you weren’t there, señor.’
Where?’
Where you are.’
Are you drunk?’
I would never consider touching liquor when on duty, señor.’
Then you are unaware that the purpose of speech is to communicate.’
I thought you would understand that when I said where you are, that meant where you would have been, had you been there.’
You will not pursue the matter into total chaos. You will explain in the simplest possible manner why you are phoning me now.’


Here he’s trying to interview a woman who might know something about the murder of a wealthy, womanizing Englishman found drowned in his swimming pool:
What d’you want?’ she asked.
I’ll tell you if no one else is listening.’
You’re full of hopeless optimism for a man who won’t see fifty again.’
I’m still in my early thirties.’
And you believe in fairies.’ …
I should like to talk to Marta …’ he began.
She cannot speak to you,’ she replied sharply.
I know she’s very unhappy.’
And yet you think to disturb her further?’
I fear I have to.’
You consider yourself of greater authority than her mother?’
Yes. Tedious. I fully expected, this being the series finale, that Alvarez would throw up his hands at the end and take early retirement. I’ll refrain from any hint of a spoiler other than to say there will be no more episodes. At least not written by Jeffries, who is listed as 92 in his Wikipedia bio. And I doubt I would read any by any other writer who might pick up the Alvarez baton. For one, only someone who lives on the quaint Balearic island of Mallorca could do justice to its culture and atmosphere, as has Jeffries, who apparently has lived there most of his adult life. Plus, by now so many of the English transplants there have either been murdered or fled to avoid prosecution for murder that the pickings for new plots must be petering out.
If I haven’t mentioned it, all of the victims in the five episodes I’ve read have been English transplants, and much of the novels’ dialogue is spiteful gossip among them. Alvarez, while baffled by the English arrogance and loose morals, by Mallorquin standards, is always polite and good humored, a sort of rustic Hispanic Lt. Colombo, who never passes up a glass of cognac or wine unless to make a point—which is rare—and loves Mallorquin cuisine and, although middle aged, overweight, and out of shape, enjoys ogling women and describyng their charms to us in delighted detail.
Just had a thought here. I would read a sequel to the series, no matter who wrote it, if I had even the tiniest hint Superior Chief Salas would finally get his comeuppance. If only because no matter how seemingly indifferent his subordinate seems to be to investigating any crime in his jurisdiction he always eventually gets his murderer. He’s a one-man Spanish equivalent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Until then, Adios and vaya con dios, Inspector, it’s been a hoot!


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






Thursday, February 7, 2019

ANATOMY OF A MURDER –Robert Traver

I didn't learn until two days ago, six decades after watching the movie adaptation of Anatomy of a Murder with my parents, that "Robert Traver" based his novel on a real murder case and that he had been the defense attorney in that case. I vaguely recall comments to that effect by my lawyer father. If so he'd have gotten it from newspaper accounts, as there's no mention of it in the movie or in the novel. My memory on this is cautious because I also believed my father had said the author, whose real name was John D. Voelker, a Michigan Supreme Court Justice when he wrote the novel, had played the judge in the movie.
'Tweren't so. The man playing the judge was vastly more important historically than a hundred Judge Voelkers or even a hundred Jimmy Stewarts, the actor who brilliantly portrayed Voelker's real-life trial role in the movie. I sit chagrined now by this flawed memory, as Dad, who spent the years I knew him deriding "McCarthyism" whenever he saw so much as a hair from its ugly head, would never have mistaken a mere state supreme court justice for Joseph N. Welch, the Boston attorney who five years earlier called the Wisconsin demagogue's bluff in the Army-McCarthy hearings with this single line, which I do remember hearing live on the radio at the time but without remotely comprehending its thunderous significance: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?"
Although I’ve thought of that movie often over the years, I never read the book—until last week. It’s a long’n at 437 pages, yet, despite length and wordiness, it pulled me through with a relentless force. As is often the case for me, voice has a lot to do with how I take to a novel. With Anatomy of a Murder I found myself astounded by the unmistakable, ingenuous, unashamedly corny voice of Jimmy Stewart! Want a sample? Here’s the novel’s narrator, Paul Biegler, lamenting the loss of his job as county prosecutor to a young Korean War veteran (Biegler was 4F), and wondering what he should do with the rest of his life:For a spell I even dabbled with the heady notion of organizing a sort of American legion of 4F’s. We’d have an annual convention and boyishly tip over buses and streetcars and get ourselves a national commander who could bray in high C and sound off on everything under the sun; we’d even get a lobby in Washington and wave the Flag and praise the Lord and damn the United Nations and periodically swarm out like locusts selling crepe-paper flowers or raffle tickets or some damned thing, just like all the other outfits.”
J-J-James Shtowert, no? Anyway, I heard him in there, all the way. It was Stewart I remembered most from movie, notwithstanding Lee Remick’s skintight slitherings and come hitherings and enrapturing smile and eyes and...things. And the scene I remembered most fondly, and which almost seduced me into taking up trout fishing and smoking Italian cheroots, was the opening scene: Duke Ellington’s saucy jazz riffs accompanying a tiny convertible in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula zipping along a winding road until the car’s in front of us and we see it’s Stewart driving and it’s early morning and he slows down through the little town and waves and speaks to a shopkeeper and finally arrives home and stashes his freshly caught trout in the fridge with several dozen other trout, each wrapped in newspaper, stows his fishing gear in a sort of hallway/closet and then…
I’ve played that scene in my mind over and over again over the decades, and it always faded out with me playing the Jimmy Stewart part. But I never studied law or learned to fish with a fly. But last week, for no particular reason save perhaps some sort of irresistible impulse, I bought the DVD and played the movie once again. Alas, to my heartsick disappointment the opening had shrunk over the years. The convertible now is already entering the town instead of winding along through the countryside—a scene I’m now thinking was in the theatrical version I saw but was cut in later editions to pare down the time of this still quite long—about two hours—fictional dramatization of a real trial that successfully tested a 19th century Michigan Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the concept of dissociative reaction, aka “irresistible impulse,” as a legitimate insanity defense. It established Michigan as one of only a few states to recognize this defense as valid, legally exonerating someone who, whether or not able to distinguish between right and wrong at the time, simply cannot resist committing the crime.
Both cases—the real and the fictitious—involved a military man shooting to death the proprietor of an inn after the proprietor raped the soldier’s wife. Both defendants were tried by jury, and both juries rendered the same verdict. The two main difficulties Anatomy’s defense face are to convince the jury that the victim did in fact rape the defendant’s wife and that her husband was in such a mental state after seeing what had happened to her that he marched straight from the couple’s trailer to the inn and emptied his war trophy German Lüger into the rapist. Complicating both requirements are the stunning beauty of the wife and the jealous nature of her soldier husband, both of which could be seen in the couple’s courtroom demeanor. In the movie, the wife, played by Lee Remick, made this more difficult for her husband by flaunting her flirtatiousness around the small town where the trial was being held. The wife is more restrained in the novel, but still comes across as strikingly attractive. Here’s Biegler, her husband’s, lawyer, describing his reaction to meeting her: 


I caught my breath. Her eyes were large and a sort of luminous aquarium green. Looking into them was like peering into the depths of the sea. I had never seen anything quite like them before and I was beginning, however dimly, to understand a little what it was that might have driven Barney Quill off his rocker. The woman was breathtakingly attractive, disturbingly so, in a sort of vibrant electric way. Her femaleness was blatant to the point of flamboyance; there was something steamily tropical about her; she was, there was no other word for it, shockingly desirable.”
Yet, more engrossing than the drama these primal dynamics bring to Anatomy, the novel takes us into a world seldom seen in such depth and intimacy by the average citizen, that of trial by jury. Even Biegler is amazed to realize in the heat of this courtroom battle the contest’s ultimate vitality. “A grim thought suddenly assailed me,” he tells us. “Though I had never held many illusions to the contrary, I was now struck solidly in the gut with the notion of what a snarling jungle a trial really was; with the fact that despite all the obeisant “Your honors” and “may it please the courts,” despite all the rules and objections and soft illusion of decorum, a trial was after all a savage and primitive battle for survival itself.”
Of Biegler’s love for this high-stakes arena there is no doubt. He compares the practice of law with prostitution, “one of the last of the unpredictable professions—both employ the seductive arts, both try to display their wares to the best advantage, and both must pretend enthusiastically to woo total strangers.”
And of a murder trial? “A lawyer caught in the toils of a murder case is like a man newly fallen in love: his involvement is total. All he can think about, talk about, brood about, dream about, is his case, his lovely lousy goddam case. Whether fishing, shaving, even lying up with a dame, it is always there, the pulsing eternal insistent thump thump of his case. Alas, it is true: the lover in love and the lawyer in murder share equally one of the most exquisite, baffling, delightful, frustrating, exhilarating, fatiguing, intriguing experiences known to man.” A lot like writing a novel, author Voelker might have added.
As to the movie’s opening scene...the one I’d held in my memory since 1959 of the aerial view of the convertible flying along the winding road, and the saucy jazz, I began to wonder if maybe my imagination had gotten involved a tad too much in there. If so, I’d have to admit to being an unreliable witness, and would be wary of inflicting my memory on anyone who might find his or her life or freedom on trial by a jury. I figured if the scene had been cut in the DVD version I watched two days ago maybe I’d find it in the book. And were that so, I would be exonerated. Sadly, this was not to be. Here’s the opening, wonderful as it is, but not what I needed to restore my confidence. If you have a Duke Ellington CD handy, for Pete’s sake (as Jimmy might have put it) put it on:
Otto Preminger and John D. "Robert Traver" Voelker
The mine whistles were tooting midnight as I drove down Main Street hill. It was a warm moonlit Sunday night in mid-August and I was arriving home from a long weekend of trout fishing in the Oxbow Lake district with my old hermit friend Danny McGinnis, who lives there all year round. I swung over on Hematite Street to look at my mother’s house— the same gaunt white frame house on the corner where I was born. As my car turned the corner the headlights swept the rows of tall drooping elms planted by my father when he was a young man— much younger than I— and gleamed bluely on the darkened windows. My mother Belle was still away visiting my married sister and she had enjoined me to keep an eye on the place. Well, I had looked and lo! like the flag, the old house was still there.
I swung around downtown and slowed down to miss a solitary drunk emerging blindly from the Tripoli Bar and out upon the street, in a sort of gangling somnambulistic trot, pursued on his way by the hollow roar of a juke box from the garishly lit and empty bar. “Sunstroke,” I murmured absently. “Simply a crazed victim of the midnight sun.” As I parked my mud-spattered coupe alongside the Miners’ State Bank, across from my office over the dime store, I reflected that there were few more forlorn and lonely sounds in the world than the midnight wail of a juke box in a deserted small town, those raucous proclamations of joy and fun where, instead, there dwelt only fatigue and hangover and boredom. To me the wavering hoot of an owl sounds utterly gay by comparison.
I unlocked the car trunk and took out my packsack and two aluminum-cased fly rods and a handbag and rested them on the curb. I shouldered the packsack and grabbed up the other stuff and started across the echoing empty street.”

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