RARA-AVIS: Recent reads: Higgins/JDM/Williams

From: Doug Bassett ( dj_bassett@yahoo.com)
Date: 08 Apr 2006


I reread COYLE recently and I think that is a legitimate masterpiece, one of the true classics of the hb genre. I'm not that enthusiastic about the other two, though. COYLE is very literary and structurally/formalistically severe: Higgins is often compared to Leonard, and there's some truth in that, but I think a far better comparison here is Robert Stone, whose DOG SOLDIERS also self-consciously used genre tropes for 'high literary' ends.

Read more Higgins and this becomes clearer, I think. DIGGER'S is sort of a more naturalistic take, more of an attempt to tell a straightforward crime story using his approach. (I would argue COYLE really isn't a straightforward crime story.) I found a lot of it pretty dull, actually: Higgins monologs work best when they're part of an overarching vision. By themselves they tend to drone. RAT is somewhat better, but feels a little tired to me, too -- it doesn't have the freshness of COYLE.


Well, DECEIVERS is the usual soap opera, I'd avoid it myself. BORDER is much more interesting: it's two novellas. The first one, the title story, has some of JDM's very real strengths (a fine villain and a real primal sense of evil) along with some of his weaknesses (relatively less good at portraying 'good', with a bunch of interchangeable cops). With all of it's flaws it's still worth a look. The second one,
"Linda", is I think one of the best things JDM ever wrote, and one of his few really good non-Travis Mcgee works. It helps that the protagonist isn't the usual philosophical middle class drone (he's much more limited): there's a distance here that I think helped. It's also a lot firmer structurally than a lot of his stories, with more of a willingness to accept the downbeat ending that many of his writings signal, but end up avoiding. I think the ending should be even darker, and I'll never really be enthusiastic about this mileau (man in the grey flannel suit stuff), but it is a very good piece.

Charles Williams -- I've currently been reading/rereading whatever I can find from this guy, which is very limited. Outside of the recent Hard Case reprint, there's THE HOT SPOT, SCORPION REEF, DEAD CALM, and THE SAILCLOTH SHROUD. Fantastic writer, shamefully neglected.


Doug Bassett dj_bassett@yahoo.com

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