Thursday, 4 February 2016

ED MC BAIN'S CUT ME IN

When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't matter if he didn't like him, he's supposed to do something. That was the kind of thing Sam Spade said when Miles Archer got bumped off, and it's sort of what Josh Blake feels when his partner Del Gilbert is murdered in their office, leaving an open safe behind him, and a missing contract that could be the reason why there's a corpse.

Because Gilbert and Blake aren't detectives; they're literary agents specialising in selling bulk to the pulp magazine market. And the missing contract is with a top western novelist who'd catapult them into a whole different territory. But first, Blake has to figure out who bumped off his partner.

Cut Me In was originally published more than 60 years ago, with Ed McBain writing under a different alias, Hunt Collins. And at times it's very funny about the world of publishing, because like many of the last generation of crank-it-out pulpsters in New York, McBain himself worked at the Scott Meredith literary agency, who specialised in just the sort of stuff Josh Blake is peddling. The sort of stuff this novel is.

It's fast-paced and superficial, and it's hard to tell the dishy dames apart: there's the secretary who was having an affair with Gilbert; there's his new widow who seems to find Blake the answer to her problems; there's a woman who comes as a big surprise; and there's a woman Blake wakes up with and has no idea who she is. All very Hefner-esque, just about the time Hef was getting the idea for the Playboy philosophy. There's also a frustrated pulp writer who needs an agent, and a dogged cop who really does remind me of one of the 87 Precinct cops, as if McBain already had the prototypes in mind.
It's all a lot of fun, even though you'll be sure you've spotted a few holes in the plot big enough to drag a corpse through.

There's also a bonus short story featuring the disgraced detective Matt Cordell, who has a lot in common with Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder (and Block was part of that Scott Meredith crowd)

. Although it's a slight story, and McBain's drawing character in with a broad brush, I was wishing that he'd given this more serious theme more time--it would play better today--and it reminded me that McBain got better the darker and deeper he got.

Cut Me In by Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime/Titan Books, £7.99 ISBN 9781783294459

Sunday, 31 January 2016

CRIME VAULT LIVE EPISODE 5: A GRAND FINALE

The fifth and final episode of our podcast The Crime Vault Live is now up. You can download or listen to it (and the previous four editions) at The Crime Vault website here or at ITunes here. It's a great listen, our guest is Alex Marwood, who's a fascinating interview; it helps that her novel The Darkest Secret is a definite winner. The reviews include new novels by Robert Crais, Chris Brookmyre and Gerry Seymour; discussion of lots of film and TV; the genre's game-changers; the passing of one of those game-changers, William McIlvanney, and the year's best-seller list and its domination by women crime writers. All killer, as it were, and no filler.

Sadly, this will be the last in this series of Crime Vault Live podcasts, as Little Brown's Crime Vault website hasn't renewed our commission. They have been great to work with, from the moment Harry da Producer and I first discussed the idea with Mark Billingham; as Mark's publishers they were very supportive and we owe them a lot of thanks, especially the energetic Alexandra Cooper who was our point person at LB. I'm sure LB will continue to offer audio at the Crime Vault, so keep your eyes on the website. Meanwhile Harry and I will look to take the format elsewhere, because the response from many of you has been great, and the magazine-style format is one I hope we can continue, so keep your ears to the ground.

In the meantime, the upside will be more reviews up here on Irresistible Targets; in fact I may have to revisit some of the things we talked about in the five episodes of the podcast, just for those of you who didn't listen.

In case you haven't looked yet, our special guests in each episode were (1) Martyn Waites aka Tania Carver (2) Val McDermid (3) Ian Rankin (4) John Harvey (5) Alex Marwood. A pretty impressive group...enjoy!


SIGNE TOLY ANDERSON: THE BLINK OF AN EYE, IN MEMORIAM

Signe Toly Anderson, the original 'girl singer' (see below) from the Jefferson Airplane, died Thursday, the same day as her bandmate Paul Kantner, though inevitably her death received less attention. Anderson (Toly was her maiden name) sang on the Airplane's first record Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, which is a remarkably good album. It's not quite the same sound as Surrealistic Pillow, which followed with Grace Slick on vocals. Slick's lead vocals were a big part of what made the Airplane, and especially 'Somebody To Love', so much of a hit, but with Anderson the Airplane did more intricate harmonies and her voice blended in beautifully with Marty Balin's and Kantner's and Skip Spence's (in the early days). There was still more blues and folk in that album, and it was as much a foundation of the San Francisco sound as the record which followed, less psychedelic but I loved that record when it first came out, and it's worth a listen now.If you find the version with extra songs not included, and a couple of 'uncut' versions, you'll hear more and better Signe.

Anderson left the band because she had a young daughter, and wanted to quit the road. She tells a great story about a trip to Chicago with the Airplane, you can link to that interview here, it's a great listen. The airplane were the house band at the Matrix, where he husband was the bartender, and the first night they played word of mouth reached Ralph Gleason of the San Francisco Chronicle. Gleason came the very next night, wrote about them, and the rest was history. Gleason would go on to the same thing nationwide in his Rolling Stone column for many musicians. It's a shame that era of cross-generational fertilization via newspapers doesn't really exist any more.

Anderson arranged her leaving with time enough for the Airplane to hire Slick, and for Bill Graham, who was also their manager, to make arrangements; they did their last concert with her on October 15, 1966 at the Fillmore; Slick took over the very next night. Apparently a tape of that concert surfaced and became a CD in 2010, it includes Balin announcing that 'the girl singer' was leaving the band. I found her signature song 'Chauffeur Blues' from that concert on You Tube, you can link to that here. The sound's not great, but her voice rises above that, and you can hear Jorma and Jack clearly around that voice.

She survived cancer in the 1970s, but it had returned well before the time she did the interview. I was still listening as wrote this, and she's incredibly positive. You can see why her bandmates loved her so much. She ends by telling the interviewer 'Hey, just be happy. Remember...everything you say there's someone listening. Make sure it's nice...it's gentle. And love the people you love because, you know, it might just be the blink of an eye'. The blink of a very teary eye now.

Friday, 29 January 2016

BASIC TRAINING: A POEM FROM ARTS COUNCIL of GB NEW POETRY 4, 1978

I came to Britain 39 years ago, in January 1977. Over the period of a week in May that year I wrote the poem below. In December I sent it to the Arts Council of Great Britain, for their New Poetry anthology. It was accepted and published in New Poetry 4, in November 1978. The anthology was edited by Anthony Thwaite and Fleur Adcock; from their response to me at the launch cocktail party, I suspected it was Fleur, who asked me about my (non-existent) military career, who had selected my poem. She was the first New Zealander I had ever met. She was also very encouraging, and I left the event feeling I'd turned a writing corner.

Being me, I was never able to parlay that feeling, and an appearance in a major anthology (other contributors included John Mole, Gavin Ewart, Anne Stevenson, Roy Fuller, CH Sisson, Peter Redgrove, George Mackay Brown, TV's Tom Paulin and many other established names) into anything bigger. The networking was likely going on around me. And I was very happy with the £15 fee and copy of the book published by Hutchinson, which I rediscovered in a file cabinet while moving this year.

The poem eventually found its way into a small collection called Neutron Bomb, published in an American magazine called Tel Let, in Illinois. Looking at it now, it's very much atypical of what I was writing at the time, in fact it's kind of a coda to my first-ever published poem, which appeared in the New Haven Register when I was 17. I've made a couple of small changes; 40 years on I suppose I'm allowed to try that. One of them is adding the formality of capitalizing the start of each line.

BASIC TRAINING

Thus we innocents, who had never before
Seen so close a war, found ourselves
In trees, dangling upside-down to test

If our helmets would hold to our heads,
If we too could hang on. And in our eyes
The trees angled down from a ceiling

Of earth, not falling, but threatening
The sky, busy pouring itself out of
The picture. Only the pressure of our

Insteps on bark alerted us to
The presence of fantasy. And only
The chin straps sliding down to our throats

Cued gravity to drop us, one by one; leaves
Somersaulting to ground, where we stood
Exultant, dizzy, in strange erect forms,

Gravity realigning the world in our eyes,
The proper sight of those fallen men
Unharmed by a distant vision of war.


Wednesday, 27 January 2016

STEPHEN HUNTER'S SNIPER'S HONOR

At their best Stephen Hunter's novels of Earl Swagger, and then Bob Lee Swagger, have been grounded in a sort of historical realism, with the Swaggers playing hard-jawed stoic heroes. Sometimes, less successfully, they've borrowed tropes that reminded us of Hunter's other career as a film critic, specialising in violence. Occasionally, Hunter can seem like a small-calibre Tom Clancy, with his obsessive detail about ballistics.

Sniper's Honor combines elements of all three facets of Hunter's work, for better or worse. Much of it tells the story of a Russian woman sniper, called the White Witch by the German soldiers she torments. A reporter friend of Swagger's has discovered her in an old Russian picture magazine, and he gets involved with her in trying to find out what became of her, as she simply disappears in the middle of the war. The story moves to the Ukraine, to battling partisans and the Nazi SS, and out of that grows a connection to a more modern story, of plutonium making its way around the world.

Hunter evokes The Terminator in his epigraph, and sees the story as Swagger reaching out to the White Witch across time, but truthfully that is the least convincing part of the story.
Our aging hero has picked himself up out of his country retreat enough times; his family has been understanding beyond the call; his endurance is remarkable. And when it's done over a crush, or a feeling of professional respect across genders, somehow it falls short as motivation. But the story moves well, Hunter does manage to ratchet the suspense in both time lines, and there is a twist which works on a sentimental level, though it seems almost as unlikely as a similar one in Steig Larsson. You'll see, because if you like Hunter's work you will read it. Bill Clinton arrived in London once carrying one of Hunter's novels as he got off the plane; I sold a review to the Telegraph based on the photos of that arrival. I was already hooked on the writer, it should need less than a president to hook you too.

Sniper's Honor by Stephen Hunter
Simon & Schuster, $9.99, ISBN 9781451640236


Sunday, 24 January 2016

DAVID BOWIE: CELEBRATING THE DISPLACED SELF

The outpouring of reaction to David Bowie's death surprised me, though it probably should not have. The papers gave it somewhat less space than George Harrison received (front page stories, full page obits), but if anything far more columnists and feature writets tripped over each other to give their own versions of his universal importance to them. I discussed this briefly on the Americarnage podcast (show 203 at americarnage.co.uk) but it's worth a deeper examination.

It's in the adolescent/teen years that music has its deepest hold on most people, and that music stays with them all their lives. The columnists and other opinion makers now are of a generation that grew up with Bowie, in the Seventies, rather than the Fifties and Sixties music I reference so often, which was the music of the columnists and editors when Harrison died.

But that didn't explain the emotional impact, beyond the media. One friend of mine, who hit her teens in the early seventies, told me yesterday she burst into tears when she heard the news and was crying all through the day-- and this chimed with the response that inspired my first reaction, as I said on Americarnage, which was to consider what made Bowie so meaningful to them, while it was nothing of import to me.

The music I grew up with was directed outward. It was aimed at trying to navigate and solve and fight through the problems kids encountered growing up. Originally much of it was being written by adults aimed at kids. But even as the younger generation took over the production, even at its rebellious peak, it was music aimed at coping with the world outside, and maybe changing it, of coping with the ways it would come down on you.

David Bowie's music was doing something different: it was dealing with equipping the vulnerable self to cope with the vicissitudes of that world. Bowie's music encompassed the showmanship of adopting new identities, many of them extra-terrestrial, showing there were ways of creating a new you with whom you might feel more comfortable regardless of what was going on outside your room. It was a way of protecting yourself against the ways the world came down on you. It also suggested freedoms to be different from the world well beyond those of the generation before.

It wasn't the music per se. Many commentators wanted to cast Bowie as a revolutionary or innovator musically, but that wasn't where his influence lay. My friend Cynthia Rose, for whom I wrote at City Limits some 30 years ago, dug up an interview with Bowie she did in 1983, and she said in its introduction that 'when he achieved profundity it almost always occurred by accident or as a result of his long, usually misunderstood, relationships with three major sources: Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Robert Fripp.' This is not to minimise his talent (though I'd add Brian Eno to that list of his influences): he made pop songs with catchy hooks and often fantastical themes; he gave Mott the Hoople their best song (the only one I paid any attention to) as an example, and he had a distinct flair for the dramatic tied to a moment in time. Even his final, darkest record was timed to his own passing. When he did the words for Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays's 'This Is Not America', a song I listen to often, given that I live in Britain, he sung them with his voice that was actually most effective in the lower registers, and gave the song an uncertainty and depth that the lyrics don't immediately suggest, and which Pat Metheny Group's own versions, while often more attractive instrumentally, often lack.

I said on Americarnage that Bowie's influence lay in the adoption of identities, and Cynthia made an interesting point, comparing him to dandies and pointing out how the original dandies, who confronted society, mutated into the Noel Coward or Cole Porter versions, 'men who sought to sell the world placebos for its deepest needs...demonstrating that the displaced self could celebrate, rather than solve, its losses.' She pointed out how he was 'merchandising other people's 'explorations of the isolated heart and mind', offering 'conceits of style' because he was, at heart, 'conventional'. And remember, Cynthia wrote that more than 30 years ago.

It chimes with what I said on Americarnage, and the range of Bowie's work, particularly outside the music world, reinforces that. He did telling, though not transcendent, work outside music, in a way moving with the times but also moving on from image-oriented music into fields where he could play with that image and often work against it.

Where Bowie's influence might well have been greatest is in the people who followed and borrowed from him. What is Madonna, after all, if not a David Bowie for the next generation, and there is a major essay to be written on the way she provided girls with a female equivalent of the androgynous male with whom they could identify their angst.  I think of George Clinton, Parliament and Funkadelic, as a sort of ironic parody of this, all Mothership and Garry Shider in diapers, with more than a hint of suggestion to the audience to question the placebo they're being handed. Maybe they were the way my generation could interpret Bowie.

Perhaps it's all just generation gapping in the end, perhaps it's just being a curmudgeon not getting what the next generation gets instinctively. It's an almost inevitable progression, though, from the adoption of a new form of music to the adoption of new identities on stage, to the acting out of science fiction and the emperor's new clothes on stage. But that's not what he was being mourned for. Maybe combining Iggy Pop and Robert Heinlein was an innovation, but it was the understanding of alienation that lay behind that was covered up by the glitter that was Bowie's real achievement, and what brought so many people to honest tears when he died.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

KEVIN JACKSON'S CONSTELLATION OF GENIUS

My favourite book of 2015 was Kevin Jackson's Constellation Of Genius, which was published in 2012 but being me I only caught up to it this summer. It's subtitled 1922: Modernism And All That Jazz and it is basically a diary of a year which Jackson says was the start of a new age. Or rather, Ezra Pound said it, calling it year one 'post scriptum Ulixi' or after the writing of Ulysses. Of course, Pound's new epoch soon was subsumed in his enthusiasm for Mussolini, but that's a different constellation. In his introduction Jackson acknowledges that what we think of as modernism actually arises over a period of time that begins nearly two decades earlier, but his view is predominantly literary, and predominantly Anglo-centric, and 1922 therefore makes sense, bracketed as it were by James Joyce Ulysses and T.S. Eliot's Waste Land.

But the book is not designed as an argument, it is an unfolding of a year presented as an outflowing of ideas, and as such becomes a joy to follow. It created a dilemma for me as a reader: did I keep it handy to simply dip into bit by bit, entranced by its surprises and welcoming its invitations to make connections and consider our perceptions of art, or should I just surrender to the momentum of the calendar, and read along in a flurry of excitement? And how many books do you read these days that create excitement? The same sort that reading Ulysses for the first time did, or Hemingway's In Our Time, which remains to me his finest work (along with some of the other early stories).


Not that these were being read widely in 1922. Having grown up studying them, seen them as if displayed behind perspex, we forget the nature of the world they started to overturn. And that is why I said Anglo-centric, even though Joyce is Irish and Eliot and Pound American. Here's a home-grown English modernist, Virginia Woolf, as quoted by Jackson, about Ulysses: 

and Tom [Eliot} great Tom, thinks it on a par with War And Peace! An illiterate, underbred book, it seems to me: the book of a self-taught working man, and we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking and ultimately nauseating. When one can have the cooked flesh, why have the raw? But I think if you are anaemic, as Tom is, there is a glory in blood”

This puts the problems of literary modernism into a nutshell. Growing up in the Sixties, in America, my perception of Eliot was coloured by his bastard offspring, the 'New Critics', and the coded interpretations of modern reference that entailed, their clinging on to the elitism of a sort of upper-middle class experimentation; things that were being overturned by the Beats, the Black Mountain Poets (though Charles Olson's personal mythology needed as many footnotes as Eliot's) and a new freedom of language and, yes, raw expression. Eliot seemed a Yank who had gone 'over there' and not come back, as Frost or Hemingway or Cummings had, and moreover had adapted the protective colouration of the old world. It was amazing to me, when I moved to Britain in the late Seventies, to discover how important Eliot was still to the older generation of artists, how liberating his work, which I considered constricted, actually was to them.

Here Ezra Pound, in many ways the central figure in Jackson's book, gets short shift. He was a mover and shaker in the literary world of London in many ways, but more important, what doesn't receive notice here is the way Pound absolutely transformed The Waste Land. His editing on it was immense and made it something it would not have been otherwise, a challenge to language and formal constraint. The line from Eliot through the Imagists to the poets I mentioned earlier, proceeds directly through Pound, and because of him.

But as I said, this is not a book of argument, it is one of connection. And as I followed its progress through the year, I thought of the photos of the great artistic experimenters of that era, the bohemians, the surrealists, the modernists, and how they are always poses formally, in their suits and collars, or at least neckties, how this was a world whose boundaries they were knocking down while still remaining at least on the surface tied to them. I wish Jackson might have included more about actual jazz, though I'm not convinced 1922 is a crucial year. I reviewed once, for the Spectator, Philip Larkin's writings on jazz; it occurred to me that his adulation of the early twenties and Louis Armstrong, and his ultimate disdain for almost everything that followed, was a form of fetishism for the liberating sense that music brought him in his youth, a freedom from the strictures of his upbringing.

And that was what I kept coming back to, how revealing this book is about the world that was being changed or at least challenged by modernism. Again, I call on Woolf, commenting on the death of Kitty Maxse, thought of as the model for Mrs. Dalloway, who fell down a flight of stairs. 'Still it seems a pity Kitty did kill herself: but of course she was an awful snob'. Ms. Pot does not seem very modernist at all. I may have connected with Constellation Of Genius because it took me back, as much to the England which I encountered in 1977 as 1922, and one that was in many ways far closer to 1922 than it was to 2015. The book sits by my bedside still, and I still dip into it. The best of both worlds. Again, how many books rate such a position?

Constellation Of Genius by Kevin Jackson
Windmill Books, £9.99, ISBN 9780099559023

Friday, 1 January 2016

START THE YEAR: A MOMENT OF WISDOM FROM MY SON

Cooking pancakes for Nate this New Year's morning, and right after giving me 'pinch, punch first of the month', he asks me 'when we die, the world won't remember us, will they?' So I explain to him about the few people who might be, at least in the short term, remembered, and the fewer who will be remembered longer, not necessarily for good, but that we have worlds we make around ourselves, where we will be remembered, even when the things, like books and show tapes and blogs, have disappeared and how someday he will tell his children about their grandad they may have never met, and maybe tell them how he learned to make pancakes from me. And he said 'never mind, dad'....

Thursday, 31 December 2015

MY FAVOURITE NEW YEAR'S EVE: 31 December 1968

It was New Year's Eve and I went into the City with my college roommate Winsor H. Watson III, and his girlfriend Suze, and their high school friend, then at Smith, Sarah McElhone, who had tried and failed to seduce me in her dorm room while introducing me to Judy Collins' wonderful album In My Life.

We ate in Chinatown, had pastries in Little Italy, and hit the Fillmore East to see Mother Earth, with the awesome Tracy Nelson, and the Chambers Bros, who played us up to midnight with 'Time Has Come Today'. The song always takes me back to that place; I was 17, away at college, and my world was a rapidly psychedelicizing oyster.

We got back to Win's house in New Canaan about 5 in the morning. I was up chopping wood with his father at 8. Life's possibilities were endless....Happy New Year everybody! Here's the song:


REMEMBERING DAVE HENDERSON, AND DONNIE MOORE

I was saddened immensely to learn that Dave Henderson had died aged 57, of a heart attack suffered while recovering from a kidney transplant. A heart attack seemed impossible: no one had a bigger heart than Hendu. I can't remember a Red Sox player who seemed to enjoy playing more; like a Fenway Park version of Wrigley's Ernie Banks. He never seemed to feel pressure, and it gave him an ability in the clutch that made him, briefly, the toast of Boston. But there was a dark side to Hendu's zenith, and the pitcher who surrendered Henderson's most famous hit never recovered from the loss.

It was October 12, 1986. The Red Sox were in Anaheim, down three games to one to the Angels in the best of seven American League Championship Series.  It was the top of the ninth inning,  and the Sox trailed 5-2. They'd led 2-1, but in the sixth inning Dave Henderson had played a long fly to the wall off his glove and over the fence for a home run, putting Anaheim in the lead. Henderson hadn't played much all season, batted only 54 times and hit a pathetic .196, but Tony Armas was out with an injured ankle, and I was thinking how much we'd regret that. California added two insurance runs in the seventh. Angels' starter Mike Witt had held Boston in check and was headed for his second complete-game win of the series; the Angels were three outs away from the World Series. But Bill Buckner led off the ninth with a single, and Dave Stapleton ran for him. Jim Rice struck out. Then Don Baylor, the former Angel, smacked Witt downtown for a home run, making it 5-4. Witt got Dewey Evans to pop up for the second out, but one out away from the win manager Gene Mauch pulled him. Rich Gedman, a lefty, was coming up and was 3 for 3, so Gary Lucas, a lefty came in, and promptly hit Gedman with his first pitch, putting the tying run on first. Mauch yanked Lucas, and brought in his closer, Donnie Moore, to face Henderson. His costly mistake in the field was the furthest thing from his mind, even though Moore seemed to be toying with him. Then, with the count 2-2, Henderson stretched for a high pitch and drove it over the fence for a home run. The Sox led 5-4.

Bob Stanley gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, so the game went to extra innings, and the Red Sox won it in the 11th with a sacrifice fly by Henderson after Moore had loaded the bases. Calvin Schiraldi closed out the Angels in the bottom of the 11th, and the Sox headed back to Boston where they won games six and seven easily, and advanced to play the Mets in the World Series, a team with 108 wins, and like the Reds in 1976 and Cardinals in 1967, the Sox opponents in those ill-fated World Series, arguably the best National League team of the decade.

You all know how that went. How in Game Six, October 25th at Shea,the Sox stood one out away from their first World Series win since 1918, when Schiraldi, the former Met, couldn't close the game out, and Stanley came in, threw a wild pitch past Gedman, and a ground ball then went through Buckner's legs.  The Sox went on to lose in ten innings, and lost game seven after leading 3-0; their third consecutive decade with a classic seven game world series loss. Hendu hit .400 in the series, with two home runs and seven rbis in 25 at bats.

The Sox traded him to the Giants late in the 1987 season. In 1988 he signed with Oakland and had a string of good seasons, including an excellent run from 88 to '91, when he was an All-Star. He won a World Series with Oakland in 1989, no one could have deserved his ring more.

But by then, Donnie Moore was gone. The once-feared closer had been shaken by Henderson's home run, and the loss of game five of the ALCS, and he was never again the same pitcher. He had pitched through injury that October, but the fans didn't care, and they booed Moore for the next two seasons. He was plagued with injuries, and after the 1988 season was released. He signed with Kansas City, but was sent to the minors. In July, after an argument with his wife, he shot her three times. As one of his kids rushed her to a hospital, Moore, in front of another of his children, turned the gun on himself.

Boston didn't win the 1986 World Series, so Henderson remained just a popular footnote to one of baseball's most famous might-have-beens. But the loss never seemed to affect Hendu. There was another season, another game, another day to play ball. For Donnie Moore, the loss was more personal, the failure more immediate, the shadow of it inescapable. I can't think of Hendu and his broad smile without seeing Moore and his tight-lipped visage. I loved Dave Henderson for reminding me that it was, in the end, only a game. A game he had so much fun playing, and made watching him play so much fun as well.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

T. JEFFERSON PARKER'S THE FAMOUS AND THE DEAD

Jeff Parker's Charlie Hood books can be frustrating: they posit the existence of devils and angels, engaged in a competition over us humans; more than once reading this novel I thought about John Stewart's song  'Strange Alliance', also known by the last line of its chorus, 'like heavyweight champs, after the fight, does Christ hang out with the Devil at night?' Reviewing earlier books in the series I didn't give away the gimmick, but now it is so much out in the forefront it has to be revealed, essentially because within the terms of something you might find supernatural, Parker makes this work as a hard-driving border noir that deals primarily in ambiguities, and in the power of love to overcome what we would have to call evil.

The local devil in these books is Mike Finnegan (no relation, I hope, to the great singer-organist of the Serfs, and then any number of records, not least Jimi Hendrix' and including his one fine solo album I know about) and he has his clutches deep into Bradley Jones, the son of Suzanne Jones, aka Alison Murietta, Hood's antagonist and love from LA Outlaws (see my review here). I mentioned Jones in my review of Border Lords, which you will find immediately after LA Outlaws from 2012 on this blog--where I mentioned it was criminal Parker wasn't in print--Sandstone Press deserves kudos for getting him back in print in this country. I now need to catch up with the previous Hood novel, The Jaguar, which is referenced in this one, but doesn't need to be read first (though it would likely help).


Reviewing Border Lords I mentioned, again without explaining, how the gimmick of devils created a problem, but as I implied above, Parker has sorted it out pretty deftly. The Famous And The Dead addresses it directly, making it the major obstacle Hood, in the end, has to overcome. It's complicated: Jones and Finnegan have tied Hood up in a corruption package which seems likely to end his career; Jones' wife Erin is expecting a baby but living with Hood and his girlfriend Beth, but Beth is starting to have doubts about what Hood is willing to do to win his fight with the devil. Meanwhile Finnegan wants Brad and Erin's child, but would prefer he be raised by Jones and his own squeeze, a woman named Owens. Throw in an assassination committed with a gun from a shipment Hood should have stopped, a gang of Missouri rednecks dealing stinger missiles, and Mary Beth, the girlfriend of one of them, who's come to LA to be an actress, as well as an angel trapped down a deep cave, and it's a complicated story that continually twists and turns. 

And the way it does resolve itself is interesting, not as you'd expect, though there is a more logical fate awaiting Finnegan, which will still be available in the next book in the series.  The deck reshuffles, and Hood winds up with a partner I would not have expected, and maybe not the most interesting of the possibilities. Call me sentimental. Also call me convinced Parker can pull off this mix of crime and deviltry: it's somewhere between light-hearted and chilling (Thorne Smith and John Connolly perhaps), but remember too, there are probably more Americans who believe in angels than in evolution.

The Famous And The Dead by T. Jefferson Parker
Sandstone Press £8.99 ISBN 9781908737366

CHRIS PAVONE'S ACCIDENT

I somehow missed The Accident first time round, but I'm glad I caught up with the paperback on the rebound. It's a clever novel built around an anonymous manuscript that outs a covered-up early crime by a media tycoon, and a history of criminal cooperation by elements (as they say) of the intelligence community in helping him to his position of power. Think of Henry Luce crossed with Rupert Murdoch, and a bit of Ted Turner or Sumner Redstone.

What makes the book so clever is that the story revolves around the world of publishing, and the way the efforts of the rogue intelligence agent who's out to stop the book's publication interweave with the efforts of those trying to publish it. Portraying the publishing business as every bit as ruthlessly backstabbing, if somewhat less lethal, than the spying world is a brilliant conceit which keeps the story moving even when the deus ex machina workings of Hayden Gray, the CIA officer with his personal profitable agenda.

Gray is a quintessential 'old boy', the kind of men recruited by the OSS and early CIA in slavish imitation of the British (and look where that got the Brits!) and this creates an added clash of cultures with both the publishing world and with Charlie Wolfe, the not-so-subtly named media tycoon. And what makes it work, in the end, is the twist, the unseen connection between the anonymous author (whose own abilities to outsmart the intelligence people have an element of deus ex machina about them) and the editor who starts out trying to publish the book. It's chilling and almost amusing at the same time, and just gripping enough to keep you going to an ending as clever as the set-up. That doesn't happen often.

The Accident by Chris Pavone
Faber & Faber, £7.99 ISBN 9780571298945