Thursday, September 29, 2016

A MOMENT ON THE EDGE: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women – ed. Elizabeth George

I committed a crime a year ago paying a mere 50¢ at my public library’s used-book sale for an excellent copy of A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women. I take some comfort knowing my crime was shared by the library itself for letting this sterling anthology of exemplary fiction go for what would be called in the ironically apt vernacular “a steal.”

The book, one of hundreds piled on long tables stretching across the library’s community room and arranged in no recognizable order, caught my attention with the name of its editor, Elizabeth George, a top-tier crime fiction author. Aha, I might actually have muttered aloud, as crime fiction is quite definitely an area of particular interest to me. Closer scrutiny of the cover revealed some of the contributors’ names scrolled around the perimeter. A few were already favorites of mine, and others I recognized as long overdue to feed my insatiable appetite for good crime stories. Clockwise from the top: Antonia Fraser, Nadine Gordimer, Shirley Jackson, J.A. Jance, Ngaio Marsh, Joyce Carol Oates, Sara Peretsky, Ruth Rendell, and Dorothy L. Sayers.

With these august names reaching out for me I could not afford to dawdle long enough to open the cover for the other 17 contributors and risk missing out on other treasures among the other volumes tempting the mob of other insatiable bibliophilic appetites stalking the narrow aisles I’d not yet attempted to navigate. I therefore thrust the intriguing volume into my voluminous Friends of the Library canvas bag, eventually making my way to the cashier who relieved me of five bucks and change for a bagful of books the combined weight of which came near to dislocating my shoulder by the time I’d toted it out to my pickup and thence from pickup to apartment where they’re yet stacked on the floor, those anyway that did not find room in the three nearby bookcases.

A Moment on the Edge remains in a special stack next to my descendent of the favorite-of-Anthony-Boucher Morris Chair (which I had to Google after seeing its ubiquitous mention in The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars and to my delight learned of its ancestry to the recliner I’ve just this second named “Morris” in Mr. Boucher’s honor.) Ensconced thus in the privileged pile, A Moment on the Edge has served me faithfully female contrived crime fiction over the past year as the occasional cerebral aperitif, dessert, or nightcap. I should suggest a precaution regarding my most recent sampling of the anthology’s piquant offerings: Ms. Oates’s Murder-Two likely is not the most tranquilizing bedtime reading one might choose. But then anyone who knows Ms. Oates’s work knows she does dark so dark it can leave one wondering if light ever really exists (we’re speaking metaphorically here, as one might wish to leave the bedside lamp lit after inadvisedly reading Murder-Two while nestled between the sheets). I read it this morning, and might well leave my bedroom light burning throughout this night as a ward against awakening in the dark, sweat-soaked from a dream of coming home to find my beloved mother dead at the foot of the stairs, her head in a pool of black fluid.

Squid ink”, teenage Derek Peck says is what it seemed like to him when he came home and found his mother in said circumstance. He’s horrified, in retrospect anyway. We’ve little doubt his horror is less for his loss than for the murder he’s suppressing. We strongly suspect this for two reasons. The first is that Ms. Oates loves to build suspense in the manner of a boa constrictor strangling its prey, wrapping muscular coil upon muscular coil upon muscular coil, squeezing and, the reader. She doesn’t do surprises. You see everything coming. Coming incrementally into focus, gathering definition in a maddeningly glacial pace.

The second reason we suspect Derek Peck smashed the back of his mother’s skull in with one of her golf clubs is that the story’s very first sentence tells us to: This, he swore. Yeah, right, son, the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God uh huh. Oh, we know the little punk did it, and we know Oates will string it out as she loves to do, building building building. And this is no police procedural. In fact I don’t recall a police presence in the form of a character appearing at all. Everything takes place, as is Oates’s genius, in the characters’ heads. Essentially there are only two characters besides the mother-murdering punk: his brilliant defense attorney, who’d gone to school with the mother, and, we gradually see, hated her, and, we quickly see, is helplessly in lust with her client.

The other character? The mother, of course.

Joyce Carol Oates

Oates’s sleight of voice moves with the slippery grace of a psychic viper through the living characters’ heads. Starting from an omniscient viewpoint, soon, quick as a wink, she has slithered into the head of the character she’s describing, becoming that character, and then back out again, and in and out, floating in through one eye and out the other. The way Robin Williams did with personae in his stand-up routines, only in writing—and there’s no laughter in Murder-Two.

But the writing. As girls of Derek Peck’s milieu would say: Oh. My. God. Snake-slick. Deathly deep. Super savvy. Astonishing. Sample? Here you go:

When Marina Dyer was introduced to Derek Peck the boy stared at her hungrily. Yet he didn’t get to his feet like the other men in the room. He leaned forward in his chair, the tendons standing out in his neck and the strain of seeing, thinking visible in his young face. His handshake was fumbling at first then suddenly strong, assured as an adult man’s, hurtful. Unsmiling, the boy shook hair out of his eyes like a horse rearing its beautiful brute head and a painful sensation ran through Marina Dyer like an electric shock. She had not experienced such a sensation in a long time.

In her soft contralto voice that gave nothing away, Marina said, “Derek, hi.”

Her? The mother-murdering punk’s lawyer. 

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


When I was in high school my dad ran in the Democratic primary for a state senate seat. I was his campaign manager. We didn't have any money and I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and we got the crap kicked out of us. If we'd had money we could have hired someone like Dev Conrad. I would have been out of a job but my dad might have had a fighting chance--even if someone had tried to murder him.

Dev Conrad's the kind of consultant you want running your campaign especially if the race is so hot people try to kill your candidate. He's an ex-Army investigator and a second-generation political op and, unfortunately, only a fictional character. But his creator, novelist Ed Gorman, himself a former political speechwriter and TV producer, knows the game and the milieu so well his main character could step straight out of the novel’s pages and take a seat opposite Hardball interviewer Chris Matthews.
Dev's also a political operative of the sort that would take some of the stigma from politics in a day when sleaze, suspicion and scandal have become the norm. Don’t get me wrong, he's tough enough, and wily to boot. Talking about the ops working for his candidate's opponent, he says, "They’d be telling the same kind of lies I usually did. Just earning their paychecks."
His self-effacing humor is a welcome grace. There's this: "God had personally given me a daily allotment of one hundred and twenty-three lies. I was, after all, in politics."
At the same time, he allows his pragmatism to take him only so far. He’s a decent sort. The filthy political arena is where he makes his living, and he is good at it, but there are lines he will not cross. It's his honoring these limits that ultimately makes Dev Conrad a man worth honoring. And it helps that he prefers to work for candidates of a liberal bent.
In Elimination, he's signed on to run the campaign of a congresswoman in a tight race for reelection. Her opponent is a yahoo with a stinking rich uncle who is pouring a fortune into the campaign to send the incumbent home. She's being bombarded with all of the standard right-wing accusations and threats, and this assault is shrinking her lead in the polls the way big money always buys the minds of the shallowest voters, who always also tend to be the loudest. And the most dangerous.

Ed Gorman
Two wingnuts even show up at a crucial debate carrying AK-47 military rifles. Dev's candidate kicks the pus out of her moron opponent in the debate, but someone takes a couple of shots at her afterward. She's uninjured, and the resulting public sympathy shoots her lead back up to a margin of safety that virtually guarantees victory. Then the local police chief holds a surprise news conference and claims a rifle has been found in the trunk of a volunteer worker for Dev's candidate.
Faster than you can say “turnaround” the poll gap quickly narrows amid widespread talk that the “assassination” attempt was staged, presumably by the candidate herself.
Dev Conrad's job now is to find out what really happened. Calling upon his old training as an Army investigator, he soon learns the police chief and a small group of his officers are dedicated supporters of the right-wing candidate, and have some secrets of their own.
Complicating things is the candidate's husband, a vainglorious womanizer who thinks he knows more about running a campaign than the professional his wife has hired to do it.
The action is taut, fast-paced and fraught with surprises.
Elimination is the fourth in Gorman's Dev Conrad series, which promises to enjoy a run at least as long as his ten-book Sam McCain lawyer/detective series. Then there's his Jack Dwyer detective series. Yes, it is safe to say Gorman is prolific. Award-winning, too. He's copped the Shamus, Anthony, Ellery Queen, Spur and international fiction awards, and has been on the short list twice for an Edgar and once for the Silver Dagger.
Am I a fan? Well, let's just say I sure could have used me some Dev Conrad advice when I tried to manage my dad's disastrous run for a state senate nomination back in the day.

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016


My lawyer dad loved Shakespeare. So far as I know his Bard thing extended only to the beauty and wisdom in Shakespeare’s poetry. I grew so accustomed to his dropping quotes here and there that years later in a college Shakespeare course certain passages I’d heard countless times growing up would leap out of some vaguely familiar context in a play I was reading and bring me to tears. They were tears of reunion and of discovery. I’ve found it to be one of the many wonders of Shakespeare that his brilliance, his intuitive depth and his sheer artistry teach me something new with every reading of virtually every line.

And I’m no Shakespeare scholar. Not by a long shot, not even a short shot. Never had the patience to learn the language much beyond those familiar passages I absorbed long ago. I learned a few more passages in the college course, along with some helpful interpretation and sense of story, of narrative architecture. But until I read A Thousand Times More Fair, I understand now, to pun a Joni Mitchell paraphrase, it was Shakespeare’s allusions I recalled; I really didn’t know Shakespeare at all.
I still don’t know him as well as I should, but a farside better now than before, thanks to Kenji Yoshino, a law professor at New York University, whose book, subtitled What Shakespeare’s Plays Teach Us About Justice, would have been the perfect gift for my dad, or would be for any lawyer no matter the extent of his or her wiliness or ruthlessness. Shakespeare shows us again and again with exquisite clarity just how effective wiles and a cold eye can be in the practice of law, as well as how a judicious capacity for mercy is needed to keep its application from being unreasonable. In his introduction to A Thousand Times More Fair, Yoshino disputes Mark Twain's argument that Shakespeare was a lawyer: “I believe Shakespeare knew a lot about the law, but only as a by-product of knowing a lot about everything.”
Yoshino chose law school after majoring in English as an undergraduate with an eye toward pursuing a career as a writer or a professor of literature, “because I wanted to acquire the language of power, for myself and for my causes.” But, finding his law books drier and more limiting in scope than he’d expected, he carried his regard for literature with him despite the advice of one of his law professors to put such “childish pastimes” away while learning to “think like a lawyer.” Yoshino contends that literature is a more valuable resource than cold theory, saying he “would rather deal with the messy, fine-grained, gloriously idiosyncratic lives of human beings than with vaulting abstractions.” Yet, he points out, the law contains timeless principles intended to serve as fair measures for determining and administering justice in a society of these real human beings.
Prof. Yoshino
As a professor he created what has become his most popular course—Justice in Shakespeare—because Shakespeare’s plays “contain practically every word I know, practically every character type I have ever met, and practically every idea I have ever had.” Not surprisingly the plays in his course, and in the book, raise issues that address timeless principles in the law. To illustrate this timelessness, Yoshino matches issues raised in the plays with comparable issues of today:
  • The handkerchief that fooled Othello and the glove that persuaded O.J. Simpson’s jury to acquit both suggest the fallibility of visual evidence.
  • Titus Andronicus shows how a society without laws can spawn cycles of vengeance that jeopardize the society itself. A stretch, perhaps, but Yoshino uses the U.S.’s attacking Iraq and Afghanistan in response to 9-11 as an example of “revenge cycles [escalating] when no credible central authority exists,” considering that these wars had the effect of recruiting more terrorists to avenge their cause.
  • Most interesting to me is the question of legal trickery raised in The Merchant of Venice and compared with President Bill Clinton’s defense on impeachment charges in the Monica Lewinsky episode. Yoshino explains that while laws are necessary for a stable society, their interpretation and manipulation by shyster lawyers arouses mistrust of lawyers in general. In his words:

We submit to the rule of law to quiet private vengeance, giving the state a monopoly over all violence. Yet this means we must protect ourselves against governmental abuses of power. We do so by requiring that laws be written down and applied in standardized ways—that is what it means to live under “a government of laws and not of men.” But in every society, some individuals will be unusually adept at manipulating those words for their own interest. The fear and mistrust of lawyers is at heart a fear and mistrust of skillful rhetoricians.

The character Portia, in The Merchant of Venice, “represents a lawyer so verbally proficient that no law can bind her. There are three major legal instruments in the play—the will of Portia’s father, the notarized bond signed by Shylock and Antonio, and the marriage contract entered into by Portia and Bassanio. Yet Portia is able to manipulate each of these instruments to secure her own ends.”
I initially admire Portia because only she can stop Shylock,” Yoshino says, but adds that ultimately “I wonder who can stop her.”

He points out that “This concern about the rhetorical skill of lawyers both predates and postdates Portia. It stretches back to the original lawyers, the Sophists of antiquity, who took pride in using rhetoric to make ‘the weaker argument appear the stronger.’ And it reaches forward to speak in our times, when lawyers are feared and hated for our sophistry.”
His description of the Clinton-Lewinsky example of modern lawyerly sophistry enabled me at long last to understand the president’s seemingly absurd statement during a deposition in which he questioned the meaning of “is.” This came after a grueling series of attempts to pin Clinton down to an admission that he and Lewinsky had had sexual relations—attempts Clinton sidestepped with an agility astounding presumably to anyone who doesn’t “think like a lawyer.” Here’s how things got down to the “is” question:

Clinton still had some explaining to do. He had sat by in silence as his 1attorney in the Paula Jones deposition maintained that Lewinsky had filed an affidavit in which she said “there is absolutely no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form, with President Clinton.” This statement would seem to be framed broadly enough to be irrefutably false, whether one took a layperson’s or a lawyer’s view.
Asked whether the statement was false, Clinton produced his coup de grâce: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the—if he—if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement.” Clinton was relying on the tense of the verb “to be.” As he elaborated: “Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

But of course!
With this in mind, is it redundant to suggest that A Thousand Times More Fair is a great read for lovers of Shakespeare as well as for anyone studying law and society?

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

Thursday, September 8, 2016

THE MAN IN THE QUEUE -- Josephine Tey

The look of horror on Albert Sorrell's face finally got to me. I'd been avoiding it for months since downloading The Man in the Queue on my laptop's Kindle app. Bulging out from features torqued into a grotesque, frozen mask of agony and terror, Sorrell's eyes stare at what can only be the portal to a hellish eternity. His lips are twisted into the contortion lips make when releasing the vocal accompaniment to unholy pain.

The Man in the Queue was the first of Josephine Tey's six "Inspector Alan Grant" mystery novels, and last remaining for me to read. I'd so enjoyed my introduction to the series, The Daughter of Time, I went ahead and read the others--except for The Man in the Queue. I started it, but abandoned it not far into the first chapter. I'd either had my fill of the Scottish author's verbose classical British style by then or else there was something different about this one, something that kept it from grabbing and holding me the way the others had.
Had I read a little further Tey's insults to my feminist sensibility might have put me off, with such observations as: "Let every female from here to Land's End have hysterics at once—he wouldn't care," and "He was waiting for the inevitable feminine outburst of `I don't believe it! He wouldn't do such a thing!' but it did not come." and, of course, ""Oh, if she doesn't like it," said Grant, "she can just fib and say she does, and we'll never be a bit the wiser. All women are expert fibbers."
Grant does run into a bit of opposition with that last comment:

"' Ark at 'im!" said Miss Lethbridge. "Poor disillusioned creature!"
"Well, isn't it true? Your social-life is one long series of fibs. You are very sorry—You are not at home—you would have come, but—you wish some one would stay longer. If you aren't fibbing to your friends, you are fibbing to your maids."
"I may fib to my friends," said Mrs. Ratcliffe, "but I most certainly do not fib to my maids!"

It might mitigate the affront to know The Man in the Queue was first published in 1929 and that Tey (whose real name was Elizabeth MacKintosh) used another of her pseudonyms, Gordon Daviot, and perhaps wished to convey a masculine tone to the narrative.

Once I moved past the first few pages and found myself grabbed and tugged along with the narrative, as in the others, I found the misogyny not as offensive as I surely would have were the novel more recent (I'm wondering now if it also appeared as obviously in the other Alan Grant mysteries and I wasn't paying close enough attention--if so, shame on me!). None of which explains what put me off The Man in the Queue so soon into the story. Maybe something so simple as this being Tey's debut novel and she hadn't gotten her style down quite right yet. In retrospect, The Man in the Queue did seem wordier and slower paced than the others. The next, A Shilling for Candles, came out in 1936, with the third, The Franchise Affair, in 1948, and the last three respectively in 1950, '51, and '52. My favorite of them all is The Daughter of Time (link to my review), in which Inspector Grant, hospitalized with a broken leg, attempts to solve the infamously mysterious murder of the "Princes in the Tower," blamed through the centuries on King Richard III. The British Crime Writers Association in 1990 voted it "The greatest mystery novel of all time." The Man in the Queue deserves to be honored if only for launching the career that gave us The Daughter of Time. But I did enjoy it, for itself and for having no longer to feel nagged by the hideous face of Albert Sorrell on the cover (I almost wrote gracing the cover).

And The Man in the Queue does exhibit most of Tey's strengths. Most immediately noticeable is her command of language. Some readers have complained her style required them to look up too many words. I had to look up a few; others I knew were unlikely to appear in an American dictionary, but I found the frequency of distinctly English vernacular, usage and idioms to be far less annoying than amusing. This, for example: "Well, it very nearly did for me," to mean, in my tongue, "very nearly did me in." Then there are the occasional British ideas of American customs, e.g. this exchange regarding the treatment of a murder suspect by the authorities:

"Is there any chance of their badgering him? Because I warn you he won't stand any badgering as he is now.
"Oh, no," Grant said; "this isn't America."

Then again, maybe the Brits did have a leg up on us regarding arrestees' rights: "You realize that what you say may be used against you?" Grant said. "Your lawyer would probably want you to say nothing. You see, it's putting your line of defence [sic] into our hands." We did not encode our "Miranda rights" until a Supreme Court decision in 1966.
Tey's descriptive powers were, to me, breathtaking. Immersed in the following description of a relatively minor character, I completely forgot I was reading a debut novel:

Ray Marcable trailed her loveliness over a nearly empty stage with that half-reluctant lightness of a leaf in the wind. She was always, when she danced, a mere fraction of a beat behind the music, so that it seemed as if, instead of being an accompaniment, the music was the motive power, as if it was the music that lifted and spun and whirled her, floated her sideways, and relinquished her gently as it died. Again and again at their vociferous demands the music lifted her into motion, held her laughing and sparkling and quivering, like a crystal ball held poised on a jet of water, and dropped her in a quick descending run to a fast-breathing stillness broken by the crash of the applause. They would not let her go, and when at last some one held her forcibly in the wings, and an effort was made to get on with the story, there was unconcealed impatience. No one wanted a plot tonight. No one had ever wanted one. Quite a large number of the most enthusiastic habitués were unaware that there was such a thing, and few, if any, would have been able to give a lucid account of it. And tonight to insist on wasting time with such irrelevance was folly.

Speaking of plots, I won't say much about the plotting in The Man in the Queue. It starts with an odd, unrealistic murder--unidentified man waiting in long line at a theater collapses dead with knife in back, no witnesses, no known motive, no suspect. Inspector Grant, using intuition and an incremental accumulation of apparent evidence, gradually builds a case against a suspect whom he eventually captures. Then hearing the suspect's story, begins to doubt he has the right man. The ending is less a surprise than those in most mysteries of this "classical" period, but one I found acceptable and even satisfying. All in all, it was the elegant writing and the vividly, unusually described characters I shall remember from The Man in the Queue, as I do from the other Inspector Grant novels I've read.
Classical whodunnits are not ordinarily my cup of tea, but Tey's I've found to be a delightful exception. I wanted to try a pun of some sort in the previous sentence, but was simply not up to the challenge. Were I Tey, I've no doubt 'twould've been a piece of shortbread. Cheerio, then...

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


Thursday, September 1, 2016

THE RUM DIARY -- Hunter S. Thompson

I was engaging another quirk of Nature's madness last week, daring coastal Virginia's hellish August humidity to throw its full weight against my chilled window panes, when a woman's voice rode in over the A/C's diligent thrum to startle me with something I'd never dreamed plausible about the man who invented the shock and awe style of print journalism known as Gonzo. It was the second day of my Hunter S. Thompson marathon, and I was playing a video biopic of the late batshit crazy "Raoul Duke" on my laptop. My eyes had drifted up from the screen to glare cruelly at the watery corpses of vapor smeared against the glass in my front door. The woman's voice jerked me back to sanity as I heard her telling me her late former husband had wanted so desperately to become a great writer he typed out F. Scott Fitzgerald's greatest novel "again and again so he could learn the music in it."

Talk about your shock and awe. I mean, music in Thompson's fear and loathings and rants and ravings? I'd never thought to look for it, but maybe something by Johnny Rotten or Ozzy Osbourne? They had yet to be born when Fitzgerald was writing. Did I need to go back and reread the fear and loathings and rants and ravings, shocking and awesome as I remember they were and maybe still are, a little, looking for glimmers of Gatsby? Was Thompson's first wife, Sandy, pulling my leg?

I'd celebrated the first day of my Gonzo marathon watching The Rum Diary, the movie based on a novel Thompson wrote pre-Gonzo, when he was 22, fresh out of the Air Force and working as a sportswriter in Puerto Rico. I enjoyed the movie, despite never quite buying Johnny Depp in the lead role (the one Bill Murray nails in Where the Buffalo Roam). Reading the novel The Rum Diary took up my third marathon day. And at last, there was music:

Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right. I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles—a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other—that kept me going.

The narrator, Paul Kemp, has taken a reporting job at a crummy upstart newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Instead of a fresh-eyed 22 like his creator, however, Kemp is 31 and already feeling the toll age is taking on his vitality and his confidence. Thompson later admitted he'd started out believing he was writing a novel that would stand up to anything Hemingway or Fitzgerald had done. His confidence carried him and his manuscript to New York City where he landed a publishing contract from Random House. "It was unbelievable. I was a successful author," he said many years later in a taped interview, grinning with vestiges of the long ago thrill now mixed with the self-conscious irony of all that came after that euphoric moment in a tangential career that made him a different sort of writing celebrity.

Problem was, he went on to explain, Random House wanted revisions. He began the rewriting, evidently without the same enthusiasm he'd had for the original. Some five years later he abandoned the project when he hit pay dirt with his reporting on the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. This resulted in a book, Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga and a career road trip down which he never looked back--until the late '90s when Douglas Brinkley, his biographer, found the Rum Diary manuscript on a basement shelf with other Thompson archival materials. Brinkley says he and Thompson began reading the old work, both liked it, and soon plans were underway to finally have it published. It needed some cutting, which was done in marathon sessions with the author and editors at Thompson's Owl Farm in Woody Creek, Colorado.

Simon & Schuster published The Rum Diary in 1998. It's subtitle: The Long Lost Novel.

While the writing is more lyrical and reflective than Thompson's later adrenalin-whipped hyperbolic brand, Rum Diary's people are recognizable Gonzo characters: alcohol-fueled, violence-prone, lusty daredevils on the make and frequently on the run. The narrative moves through a series of maturely drawn scenes that can swerve from hilarity to horror at the drop of a bra or the thud of a boot to the gut. It may not be The Sun Also Rises or The Great Gatsby, but Thompson had no need to feel embarrassed for believing at 22 he had a shot at literary distinction. Had the Hell's Angels shut him out back then, freeing him to publish The Rum Diary instead of joining their "strange and terrible saga," he might well have reached that mark. Here's some more music from the almost lost Puerto Rican saga:

I grinned and leaned back in the seat as we drove on. There was a strange and unreal air about the whole world I’d come into. It was amusing and vaguely depressing at the same time. Here I was, living in a luxury hotel, racing around a half-Latin city in a toy car that looked like a cockroach and sounded like a jet fighter, sneaking down alleys and humping on the beach, scavenging for food in shark-infested waters, hounded by mobs yelling in a foreign tongue— and the whole thing was taking place in quaint old Spanish Puerto Rico, where everybody spent American dollars and drove American cars and sat around roulette wheels pretending they were in Casablanca. One part of the city looked like Tampa and the other part looked like a medieval asylum.

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