RARA-AVIS: recently read

From: Doug Bassett ( dj_bassett@yahoo.com)
Date: 23 Aug 2003

Charles Willeford -- The Machine in Ward Eleven

Somewhat hard to find collection, a bit slight in content but quite good. The title story is as effective a portrayal of psychopathology as anything he ever wrote, and the second story (don't remember the title, don't have it in front of me) seems like a dry run for THE WOMAN CHASER. Not a necessary purchase but worth it for hardcore fans; I'd very much like to get my hands on SOMETHING ABOUT A SOLDIER.

Willeford -- The Woman Chaser

Another one of Willeford's merry psychotics tries his hand at art. I think the connections between creativity and insanity were handled a bit better in THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY, but this is still quite nice. I've always liked Willeford's protagonists, as unsympathetic as they usually are -- maybe because Willeford himself doesn't make any excuses for them, or romanticize their situation (as Thompson, for example, tended to do.)

Dennis Lehane -- Prayers for Rain

Our heroes go up against a guy who destroys people's lives, and start wondering what it all means. I've liked the earlier volumes in this series, although I always thought they were flawed in one way or the other, often just by being overly drawn out (GONE BABY, GONE in particular suffered from that). In this one, though, Lehane seems to have caught the lightning just so: for once the size seems just right, the drama not at all contrived. Highly recommended.

James Crumley -- The Final Country

I disliked this one, which is a damn shame, because I bow to no one in my love of Crumley. THE MEXICAN TREE DUCK and BORDERSNAKES were in my opinion both rather underrated; this one, though, is rather overrated. Milo tries to help a drug dealer for no real good reason and finds himself in the usual trouble.

The whole thing's too casual and lazy, I think -- that tone worked fine for DUCK and BORDER, since they were intended to be essentially light-hearted macho romps
(BORDERSNAKES is basically a Western), but here there's the presumption or implication that something more serious is being attempted here. Motivations and even plot points are shrugged off with a rather irritating casualness; by the end you can feel that he was getting tired of the whole thing himself, and simply rushed the climax to get it done.

Still has some nice writing, and Crumley at his worst is still better than most at their bests. This doesn't deserve the plaudits it seems to have gotten, though.

John D. Macdonald -- One Monday We Killed Them All

Pyscho ex-con moves in with his sister and brother-in-law, who's the local cop. And the usual stuff happens. Preachy and requires both the hero and his wife to behave completely unrealistically for the plot to move forward. JDM, as usual, is good with the bad guys -- the book comes alive when the brother-in-law on stage.
(It would be interesting to read this book from *his* point of view. ) Overrated, as sadly a lot of JDM's non-McGee books are.

Jason Starr -- Cold Caller

Just finished this. Sort of a darker variant of Douglas Kennedy's THE BIG PICTURE or THE JOB; a guy in a shitty telemarketing job finds himself doing
*anything* to get ahead. Very nice, acerbic portrayal of the lead psycho; a bit spun out toward the end (I have feeling this would work better at novella length)but mostly excellent and on point. I've worked enough crappy jobs to know how dead-on Starr's portrayal is.

and I'm almost done with Howard Browne's HALO FOR SATAN. Better than HALO IN BRASS (the only one of the Paul Pine books I've read previously, not bad but unfortunately very dated in plot), nothing exactly earthshaking but a very competent pi of the Chandler school.


===== Doug Bassett dj_bassett@yahoo.com

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