Tuesday, April 23, 2019

MONKEY JUSTICE – Patricia Abbott

It takes me a lot longer to read a collection of good short stories than it does a good novel of the same length—even if the chapters are longer than each of the stories. With chapters I can come back after a break, and the story's still in my head. I might be surprised by what happens in the new chapter, but, unless the novel is reaching for literary cachet, the characters and the voice and narrative thread are still the same. Not ordinarily so with individual stories. Despite the ominous aura hovering over the pages of Monkey Justice, Patricia Abbott's twenty-three tales of people treading in moral shadows, each story took me to a different place, with new characters, different narrators, and no sure expectation of where we were going.
This can be a problem for me with fiction, as I tend to identify with the most prominent characters. Whether I like them or find them repugnant. Although occasionally in these kinds of stories—known as noir in the milieu—I find myself caught up in a character who ends badly, most of them manage to elude the disaster that another character deserves, and gets. Abbott’s sorcery keeps me in suspense this way, masterfully misdirecting right up to the surprise twist that can come anywhere in the narrative. So even though I have a general notion of what I’m getting into, Abbott pulls the rug out from under me more times than not. Each story is like a different Whitman’s Sampler chocolate without the guide. Is the round one the good one, the caramel? Oops, nope, that’s the cherry cordial...ptui.
Monkey Justice has all of the different shapes, but not a one is a ptui. Do I have a favorite? This has yet to be determined. The swiftness of a short-story experience can continue to play out in a reader’s sensibility long after the reading. The subtler ones take longer as various nagging nuances refuse to desist. Stories that give me the most trouble this way usually feature a character who gives off hints of being a little too close to the dark side.
I call these characters “Lucifers,” although the best ones are too ambiguous for me to be certain. Characters like Flannery O’Connor’s “Misfit,” James Lee Burke’s “Legion,” or Walker Percy’s “Art Immelmann.” They have enough charm to keep me unsure if they are truly Mephistophelean. Are they just plain bad or is there something deeper, something...well, other? They often have an odd odor and a knack for insinuating themselves into my trust. They pop up when least expected and coincidentally most convenient for them.
I won’t spoil your surprise by giving you the title of the Monkey Justice story from which Abbott’s Lucifer character keeps popping into my head, making me wonder if it (no gender hint) is in fact an evil entity or so much like real people I’ve known that I shiver at the remembrance.
Another story that lingers, this one continuing to arouse giddy chortles in my throat, also features a sinister character. But this one I’ll not only share the gender but the name, albeit Abbott gives her a fig leaf of anonymity while ensuring we’d not mistake this former New York Times book reviewer as anyone other than the woman Norman Mailer publicly dissed in a Rolling Stone interview as a “one-woman kamikaze,” and by Susan Sonntag, who said, “Her criticisms of my books are stupid and shallow and not to the point.” Abbott tugs the fig leaf back for a flash of identity when she assigns to her “fictional” reviewer a quote delivered by the living, breathing Michiko Kakutani in a review dissing Jonathan Franzen’s memoir The Discomfort Zone as “An odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass,” whereupon Franzen shot back with the ultra literary equivalent of yo mama, calling Kakutani: “the stupidest person in New York City.” Oy veh (Oibikuru in Japanese).

In Abbott’s story the fig-leafed Kakutani is called Madam X, and it’s told by a former gangland bodyguard now fallen to guarding spoiled celebrities. “She told me stories about getting egged by a guy who wrote books about bears,” he tells us, and I can feel his sneer. “Another melee happened with a female writer dressed like a chambermaid. She’d let herself into Madame X’s room in a Boston hotel, and hidden under her bed...”
The story ends with a twist, of course, making me laugh. And I still have no use for Jonathan Franzen!
These are only two of the twenty-three. I shan’t mention any of the titles, for fear of giving something away that might spoil any of the myriad gotcha moments sprinkled throughout Monkey Justice. Well, you can have one: Monkey Justice, which also gives the book its title. In an interview, Abbott attributes inspiration for the story to an incident on a bus ride in Detroit. She overheard a fellow passenger telling a story to someone else:
Who could resist using a story about a man's wife and mistress giving birth to his daughters on the same day? The guy on the bus becomes Gene, the beta male, in my story. I even watched him de-bus at the [Michigan] Science Center.

He will never know that his story became my story and the title of this collection.




Abbott is the author of the Anthony and Macavity-nominated novel Concrete Angel, the Edgar and Anthony-nominated Shot in Detroit and 2018’ s story collection I Bring Sorrow and Other Stories of Transgression. She won a Derringer for her flash fiction story “My Hero.” The author of nearly 200 stories, she lives in Detroit. You can find her on pattinase.blogspot.com.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

SMOKE DETECTOR – Eric Wriight

Ordinarily I identify with prominent characters when I'm reading fiction. This happened with the first book in Eric Wright's crime series featuring Toronto Police Inspector Charlie Salter. I'd bought the omnibus, with the first three books. Smoke Detector is the second. I found myself drifting from my identification with Charlie Salter in this one, despite liking him and respecting his diligence in finding who set the fire in the second-hand store in which the unlikable owner died of smoke inhalation. It was Charlie’s second big case after spending a year on trivial desk duty for backing the wrong man in department politics. The arson squad had decided the fire was deliberately set, and the homicide squad was tied up on other cases. I was pulling for Charlie once again. But before long, without sensing what was happening I suddenly realized I was identifying with Eric Wright’s editor. I was trying to persuade Wright to set his sights a little higher, that this second novel should shoot for the market beyond Toronto.
Eric,” I might have said, dictating one of my informal notes to the author I was hoping to develop into a world-class writer, “nobody outside Toronto will give a shit that Bloor Street, which once marked the northern boundary of the city, is now a continuous shopping district running through the heart of Toronto, or that in the centre, where it intersects with Yonge Street, the stores are fashionable and expensive, but within a few blocks in either direction the character changes as the street becomes the ‘Main Street’ of the local district, changing continuously with the economic and racial character of the area.
Does all that map talk help advance the story? It doesn’t, does it. That was not a question. We’ve got to move this story along, my friend. People in Bumfuck, Oregon? They don’t give two shits and a cough what lies on which side of Yonge Street or Bloor Street or whatever. They don’t care now, and they won’t care when they read Smoke Detector. Capiche? Crappy name, by the way, but I know it means a lot to you to be able to do the titling yourself. I understand that, and I...we here at Dundurn Press, we’re your family, Eric. We want only the best for you. For us, too, of course heh heh heh heh.
Now then, we—you—need to think about picking up the pace a little with Smoke Detector (God, I hate that title, but...it’s okay! it’s okay!)...where was I? Oh, yeah, the pace. This thing drags along like an airdale scratching its hemorrhoids across your living room rug. Know what I mean? I like the stuff between Charlie and his boss and Frank, his sergeant, and I like the interplay between Charlie and his family members. That’s good stuff. Gives us depth of character. But (always a but, right? hey, hear me out, podner) we don’t need to dwell too much on that. Too long. Know what I mean? We need to step it up. A little quick repartee, an inside joke or two for the reader’s pleasure, and then move on! We’re trying to solve a dastardly crime here. Of course we never see the body. We never get descriptions, you know, something like ‘His face was contorted into a hideous death mask, lips parted in a choked-off scream,’ that sort of thing. Give our readers a little vicarious thrill here and there. 
 
And Charlie himself. He’s a cop, right? (that’s a rhetorical question, don’t get your shorts in a knot) He’s a cop. That’s a dangerous job. Even here in Toronto. Bad guys do bad things. Is Charlie ever in danger, though? He ever find himself in a tight jam? Gun pointed at him? Big guy attacking him so we get to see Charlie putting some moves on the dude? You know, martial arts, good old fashioned punch in the face, wrestling, for chrissakes? No! No! The only sweat he breaks is when he’s playing squash, or climbing a couple flights of stairs. Pussy stuff. Old man stuff. He’s only, what, 44? 45? We need to identify with him, tense up when things get hairy, duck when some asshole swings a hammer at his head. We don’t get anything like that. Where’s the suspense? Huh? C’mon, Eric! We need a little excitement here for our boy.
Jeez, man, the only time I...and I presume at least our older male readers can really empathize with Charlie is when he’s at the hospital getting his prostate checked. I squeezed my knees together when I read this: ‘Very soon he felt something sliding through his vitals on its way over the membrane. After that nothing happened for a few minutes while the doctor searched in Salter’s innards.’ Good lord, Eric, I had to put the manuscript down for minute. Pour myself a stiff one. Know what I mean? Jeezuz, did you hafta put that in there? And then him having to go pee every half hour or so? Everybody laughing at him? Worrying about if he’ll ever be able to get it up again? Does this hafta be in the damned story? I mean, Jeeeeezuz, Eric!
And then half the goddam book he’s worrying about replacing a fucking roller on his screen door. Half the goddam novel! Are you with me here? Okay, I did get a good laugh when that asshole with the stupid accent—Northern England, or somewhere?--tells him about the goddam roller thing. We can leave that in. A little stupid dialect—just a little!--can be fun. Where is that part...oh yeah. Here: ‘Aye. Well, nobbut a smell of one at Tunney’s, lad, and if Tunney’s havena’ one, no booger ‘as. But I found out t’bloke ‘oo makes ‘em. ‘Appen you’ve got a bit o’ pencil or summat?’ Aye! Bwaaahahaha. That’s some good writing, Eric, me boy. We’ll leave that in. Aye! Oh, that’s rich!
Anyway, fix this goddam thing, Eric. Probly need a complete rewrite. Know what I mean? I mean complete, capital c. Start over, and leave all that shit out I was talking about. All of it. Except that goddam ‘aye’ shit. That’s too rich to leave out. Aye! Bwaaaahahaha... 
Eric Wright
 Okay, Mildred, type this up. Clean it up a little, you know. I kinda got carried away there. You know, the goddams and shits and stuff? Just take them out. Eric’s kinda sensitive. You know? This could be a helluva good novel, once he gets off his ass and perks it up a little. Know what I mean? Aye! Bwaaaahahahaha.”
Me again. Not sure I’m gonna read the third installment in this omnibus. But I paid for it, so...hell, I dunno. It’s called Death in the Old Country. Might give it a try.


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



Thursday, April 11, 2019

THE NIGHT THE GODS SMILED – Eric Wright

Can't help but wonder if Eric Wright was having fun with one or more of his colleagues when he wrote The Night the Gods Smiled. It was the first of his eleven-book Charlie Salter series of crime novels. And if Wright was parodying any of the other professors who taught English with him at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, Ontario, either deliberately or unconsciously, I might have become a tad jittery were I one of them. And, had I remained at Ryerson until Wright retired in 1989 after having published five more Charlie Salter novels, that jitteryness easily could have led to psychotic collapse and early retirement. Or I might have tried my hand writing my own novels, making fun of Wright and leading ultimately to a big-word duel segueing into bad words, face slapping, scratching, fisticuffs, biting, and finally to one of us lying dead on the floor.
Something like this evidently happened to Toronto English Prof. David Summers, whose head-bashed corpse was found on the floor in a Montreal hotel room. Summers and several other Douglas College English professors were in Montreal attending a conference.
Montreal police asked Toronto police for help, which they received in the person of Inspector Charlie Salter, whose career was on hold because he’d backed the wrong man for a major promotion. The man, who had been Salter’s mentor, retired soon thereafter, leaving his erstwhile protege at the mercy of a grudge-holding new superior. Consigned to a desk in a shabby little office, shuffling papers and running errands, with fifteen more years before he can retire, Salter’s spirits soar when his superiors, occupied with more important matters, dump the Montreal case on his desk. All he has to do is meet the detective from Montreal, Sgt. Henri O’Brien, when he arrives in Toronto. Can’t be that hard, he figures, but it’s a murder case. Nonetheless, their meeting is inauspicious. Their initial formal cordiality begins to break down when discussing the case, theorizing Summers might have been killed by a prostitute or a lover. O’Brien asks if English professors are known for fighting with their lovers. This is when things get snippy:
“What difference does it make what he teaches?”
“I meant English-Canadian professors, Inspector. Though, as a matter of fact, he did teach English.”
I see.” Salter paused. O’Brien had introduced East/ West relations into the discussion. You Anglos are a mystery to us Québécois. “I guess professors are the same everywhere, Sergeant. Give them three drinks and they smash each other’s heads in.” Screw you, froggie, he thought.


Soon over the provincial sparring, they cooperate as professionals and are calling each other by their first names. O’Brien even hosts Salter for a couple of days in Montreal, taking him around to strip clubs the male professors were known to have visited the night Summers was killed. Back in Toronto, Salter focuses on the professors, one of whom is an attractive female and another who had been feuding with Summers for years, neither speaking to the other. No one seems to know what had estranged them, although it soon becomes clear the survivor, Prof. Dunkley, is an arrogant twit. We see the other two male professors and the department chair in an unflattering light, as well.
I could almost hear Eric Wright snickering, and maybe even guffawing, as he presented his colleagues in the guise of these comically flawed characters. Were that the case. Whether or not they represented real people, they came across as real to me, and I found myself snickering, too. And I actually guffawed at one point, so boisterously the wasp that had been flitting around my study the past two days fled in horror to the door and allowed me to escort him (her) back outdoors into the sunny day.
What I enjoyed most about The Night the Gods Smiled was the portrayal of Salter. He’s a likable guy (I almost said for a cop) despite the curves life’s been throwing at him. He soldiers on, doing his job with no chip on his shoulder. He has a stable home life--loving wife and two teenage sons. As a cop we get inside his head as he struggles to figure out who’s lying to him and why, and how to finesse the truth out of his cast of suspects. “Once again the hair prickled on [his] scalp as he felt [Marika Tils] withholding something,” we learn. “What’s going on, he wondered.”
His investigative tools include bluff and body language, although the only onstage violence is in his office between two of the suspects, fighting over the female professor. Talking to one of the males, he “stared hard” at him, “wishing he knew more about interrogation techniques.” I snickered at that, stifling a guffaw for fear perhaps a less timid wasp might emerge from behind my chair.
Another good, revealing line:Salter felt as if he was on stage, playing the policeman to Pollock’s professor.”
Here he surprises himself, questioning a college administrator: “‘There could have been no brief fling in Montreal with one of his colleagues, perhaps?’ I don’t usually talk like this, thought Salter wonderingly.”
A college dropout, he even learns a few lines of poetry by Wordsworth and Keats to use while interviewing suspects. When someone asks him why he’s spending so much time interviewing people when it’s beginning to look as if O’Brien’s initial suspicion that the murder was committed by a prostitute or her pimp, or a mysterious lover, Salter says, I suspect with a straight face, “I’m trying to find out what kind of person he was, just in case we have one of those clever murders, complete with motive and everything.”
Eric Wright
Did I say I like the guy, Salter? I do. Bitter Tea & Mystery’s Tracy K recommended the series to me, persuading me with her reviews. I always like to start a series at the beginning, but am limited sometimes because I read only ebooks these days. I could find only an omnibus of the first three Salter books in Kindle format. I am eager to read the other two, and might well go on to read the rest, assuming Salter’s professional situation picks up. A significant question: Will he still be on the wrong side of his boss, pushing paper and running errands, or did he please his masters with his handling of Prof. Summers’s demise? I view his situation optimistically, based on this evidence:
Salter, the Old Man is happy,” a superior tells him. “Your pal in Montreal has written us a letter saying how great you are—brilliant, co-operative—all that kind of stuff. The Old Man is so happy he’s wondering if we can find a better spot for you, better than you’ve had for a year.”
 
[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Monday, April 8, 2019

GETTING EVEN – Gary Powell

Stories by Gary Powell have the uncanny effect of pulling you into a total-immersion experience. Thus did his first collection, Beyond Redemption, and now, three years later with Getting Even, comes the same dunking into a milieu so familiar, its essence so masterfully engaging you feel like grabbing your younger brother Pete, riding your bicycles to the nearest abandoned warehouse, and hurling rocks through the building's windows. I did, anyway, and I've never had a younger brother named Pete or anything else. But I was right there with Pete and his older brother Billy smashing pane after pane in "Home Free," the first story in the book's first section, City with a Heart.
"When the glass shatters," says Billy, who's narrating the story, "I feel the sound in my heart like those Fourth of July fireworks that burst with a dull thud but leave no streamers." He adds, "I can’t wait to hear and feel what it’s like when a full can of beer busts out a window."
Eventually sirens approach but we...I mean the boys, dilly dally a while, continuing their fun, until we know they're definitely coming for us...them. Whether they get home free, as the title suggests, or what, you'll have to find out for yourself. But a photo of their window-shattered target graces Getting Even's startling cover design.
One of the facets of these gems...I mean stories, that bring us into the action as silent witnesses, is the feel of an ensemble cast that appears in various guises throughout the collection. Some appear to be just names—Billy, Pete, Rusty, Dick...we don't always get last names—but others we see as boys and later as adults. All of the tales take place in the Midwest, where the characters live most of their lives. Dick Griewank is one we look in on several times. In "Fast Trains" he's just been laid off from his job at the local recreational vehicle plant. Down in the dumps, he reflects on his life after losing his wife, Brenda, to cancer. All he really cared about anymore after that, he whispers to us, was his cherry red Camaro.
He reminisces about the car, in his mind and with friends, the adventures they had with it. One, he'd do by himself, racing a train to a crossing and getting past it across the tracks in the nick of time. Out of work now, he'd had to sell the Camaro, and had bought a used Ford pickup. I held my breath as we raced that truck beside the train to the same crossing… I’m breathing again, and just so you know, we join Dick once more, in “Shave Head and Baldwin.” He’s still down on his luck. It’s a short, suspenseful story with a noose, made “from a five-strand hemp rope purchased at Menard’s,” dangling in a cabin. It’s the story’s focal center. Please do not jump to any conclusion about this, but we don’t see Dick anymore after that.
Norman Mailer, in one of his earliest stories, “The Language of Men,” illustrates how it’s not so much the words themselves that matter to men, but how and when they are spoken. Gary Powell understands this well. His lead characters are men, and they know what to say, what tone of voice to use, when to speak and when to remain silent. They’re so authentic, even as boys, I believe I knew many of them personally. The females in Getting Even are supporting characters, and they strike me as genuine as the men. But the stories are mostly about the men.
Gary V, Powell

Sugar Ray on the Precipice” is the last nerve-wracking piece I’ll mention here, but it’s so well crafted, with incremental suspense and character development that I felt I’d read a novel when I finally reached the end. Filled with laughs along the way as we see Ray at a party of colleagues from the insurance company employing them coming slowly unglued as the conversation reveals indictments coming down that most likely will end up with Ray going to prison for engineering a fraudulent insurance “product” that was supposed to make them all rich. The story’s narrator keeps changing Ray’s name the way the boat in the comic strip Pogo changed slightly in each panel. “Slick” Ray, “Famous” Ray, “Lucky” Ray, the adjectives tighten with increasing irony as Ray, an alcoholic who’s fallen off the wagon at this party, struggles to appear unrattled. He finally smokes some pot, climbs to the roof, and ends up teetering at its edge…

 

I got the most laughs out of a droll piece called “So Over You” about four guys who meet each month at a different bar to talk about women. Eddie’s usually missing, but he’s included in the endlessly repetitious chitchat. Here’s a sampling:

Blake says Michelle is special and, seriously, what hole?
I say Dave didn’t mean anything.
Dave says he’s sorry, he didn’t mean anything about the hole in Blake’s heart and wishes he could take back what he said.
If Eddie’s there, he says the kinkiest thing he’s ever done was sumo wrestle a woman. This girl Lynn, a graduate student at Drake, dressed them both in thongs, and they wrestled, belly to belly on the floor.
If Eddie isn’t there, Dave says he can see how the age difference might have been an obstacle for Cheryl but not for me.
Blake says fuckinay.

My favorite of them all is a bittersweet little story, “Rusty Love Suzie,” featuring Jake Blosser, whom we first meet as a high school athlete hanging out with his less disciplined buddies in “Super Nova.” Now he’s the town’s police chief trying to protect the water tower from former schoolmates who paint their names on it. The mayor’s worried about liability if someone falls off doing the mischief, and Chief Jake’s hoping to talk some sense into the perps. But Rusty Weaver, whom we meet in “Thunder Snow” making out in the back seat of Dean’s Jeep with Suzie while Dean and Rhonda are doing the same in the front. Anyway, fast-forwarding, Rusty and Suzie marry and divorce, and Suzie dies, so Rusty, on what would have been their fortieth anniversary, climbs the tower and, with a paintbrush. honors her memory.
So, what kind of man arrested another for honoring his ex-wife’s memory on the damn water tower? Not Jake Blosser that was for sure. They didn’t pay me enough for that, especially with retirement on the horizon,” the chief reflects. When another of their friends’ wives dies of cancer, Blosser’s wife Kim starts worrying. She finds a lump in one of her breasts, goes to the doctor for tests. Meanwhile other husbands and lovers are climbing the tower to honor their women, and Blosser finally figures to hell with it. When Kim gets the good news her lump is benign, it’s time to celebrate. You already know how this is going to end, so I hope you won’t mind my laying it right out for you. Like I said, it’s my favorite of the collection. I’ve read it several times now, and I daresay you will, too. Here’s Chief Jake:

After I got hold of myself, I stopped by the Ace Hardware for spray paint, then cruised the water tower. I parked and considered the prayers, declarations, and remembrances, all heartfelt and honest, placed there by my neighbors. I climbed in broad daylight, uniform and badge in plain sight, and found the one remaining vacant corner. Like I said, they didn’t pay me enough, and retirement was just around the corner.
I made my contribution.
Jake and Kimmie Forever
Not to be outdone by Rusty Weaver, I used pink and purple paint, drew curly-cues and such.
Wondered what Fosner and the mayor would think about that.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

THAT OLD SCOUNDREL DEATH – Bill Crider

I prefer happy endings, which is why I approached That Old Scoundrel Death reluctantly. I knew it was the final Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery because I knew the East Texas cop's creator, Bill Crider, had met that old scoundrel himself a little over a year ago and that it wasn't until a little over a month ago that the book came out. So I knew there'd be no further murders for Sheriff Rhodes to solve, nor aggravations from Hack and Lawton, his Abbott and Costello impressionist tormenters/dispatcher and jailer respectively. And goodbye to the rest of the familiar cast in this Lone Star’s answer to Mayberry R.F. D.
I knew the show would end with Crider’s end. What I was reluctant to find out was whether Sheriff Rhodes was himself going to end in this final episode, bringing a fictional closure to the character along with his series. There were plenty of signs. The title, for one. And the epigraph, a quote from Gen. Douglas MacArthur: I’ve looked that old scoundrel death in the eye many times but this time I think he has me on the ropes. We know Bill Crider knew he was on the ropes. And he gives us pregnant hints throughout this story that Sheriff Rhodes is right there with him. Does Crider let him off the hook at novel’s end, let him simply fade away as MacArthur had said about “old soldiers” never dying?
You know I can’t tell you. I had a hard enough time wondering as I read along in That Old Scoundrel Death, and I’ve no intention of making it easier, or harder, for you. Same as I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the mystery of Sheriff Rhodes’s last mystery. But I’m not averse to giving you some clues. A question Rhodes toys with throughout is whether he will seek another term as sheriff. He’s getting old and slowing down, altho in the opening scene he acquits himself honorably when he takes a pistol away from a loser with a snake tattooed around his neck.
Nor is the story all downbeat. It’s a typical Rhodes adventure, with the usual antics of Hack and Lawton, and Seepy Benton (reputed lovelorn college professor, computer expert and, now, novice private eye), and occasional sly observations like this one, with Rhodes describing a suspect whose only noticeable skill is imaginative lying: “Rhodes nodded, admiring Kenny’s ability at tale telling. If he’d gone into politics before he went bad, he’d probably be at least a state senator by now.”

The grim roadsigns come sneaking in here and there, becoming more obvious in scenes with, Clyde Ballinger, Blacklin County’s undertaker/medical examiner:
I want to think that my end will be handled the way I’d like it to be handled” Ballinger tells Rhodes. “It would be a comfort to me to know that. But not you?”
I don’t think about it a lot,” Rhodes said. “Hardly at all, in fact.”
Well, you ought to. I could set you up with a prepaid plan that would guarantee you just what you wanted at a discount price.”
You’ve never given me a sales pitch before.”

In a conversation with a man who’s been beaten badly, along with with his dog, the man assures Rhodes that things are “going to be fine...it’ll all work out.” Rhodes tells us he thinks optimism is a good thing, so he answers the man, “I hope so.”
That’s what we friends of Bill Crider were saying in our blog messages when we knew Bill’s health was going downhill, and even after he told us he knew the end was near. Some of us prayed, and we all quietly hoped somehow things would work out and that he’d beat the cancer that had him cornered. I was thinking the same thoughts when Rhodes and Ruth, his deputy, were cornered in a woods by a couple of armed desperate killers, thinking, well, maybe this is it. At least he’s going down with his boots on, fighting to the end. Bill did, but maybe he’d leave some wiggle room for Dan. Maybe leave us with hope someone else could move into Blacklin County and keep the gang together, someone like Gravetapping’s Ben Boulden, whose Blaze western series has started a prairie fire of its own.
If so, maybe Bill’s successor could end the suspense Sheriff Rhodes left us with as whether the cotton balls on screen doors actually work. Here’s what we know about them:A cotton ball was attached to the middle of the screen with a bobby pin. Rhodes hadn’t seen that for a long time, but for a while when he was growing up, just about every screen door had a cotton ball attached because people believed it would keep flies out of the house when the door was opened. They believed the cotton ball looked like a clutch of spiders’ eggs and would fool the flies. Rhodes didn’t know if it worked or not.”

Thanks for leaving us hanging, Bill Crider. But I should talk, because I’m leaving hanging all who have yet to learn the fate of Sheriff Dan Rhodes in That Old Scoundrel Death.

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