Archive for the ‘Fiction Fortune Hunter’ Category

A Fish Story Unlike Any Other

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

The following post appeared over a year ago. I’m re-posting it because time got away from me recently and I haven’t done a new one. Plus, I really like this novel and I hope more people are exposed to it because of this new post.

If you’re looking for a book somewhere in the metaphysical realm of Robinson Crusoe & Alice In Wonderland Meet The Count of Monte Cristo (which of course doesn’t exist), you might try Gould’s Book of Fish, which fortunately does exist. It’s a bit like the aforementioned heroes and heroines on both steroids and acid.

Tasmanian born author, Richard Flanagan, has taken a wee bit of history, added large dollops of imagination and mixed both liberally with C4 explosive to take you on a journey quite unlike anything you’ve ever experienced (thankfully).

It’s quite easy to fall in love with this book without ever actually reading it. The jacket cover and the design of the book (attributed to Mary Callahan) almost assure you’ll leave it on your coffee table and not in your bookshelf. The subtitle of Gould’s Book of Fish is A Novel in 12 Fish, and each of the twelve is beautifully illustrated throughout. Plus, each of the twelve sections are printed in a different color. No, it doesn’t make the text harder to read (as one might assume), it simply adds to the morphing nature of the tale, and the teller, presented throughout the narrative.

Gould’s Book of Fish is the story of Billy Gould, an artist himself, who does a bit of dabbling in forgery and thievery. The majority of the richly expressed yarn takes place in the 19th century and follows the enterprising and exploited lad on his travels in and around England, Tasmania and Australia. Most of the time Gould is a resident of a penal colony doing his dead level best to survive. It’s not easy telling your story when you’re in a cage submerged under water. Obviously, you do most of your talking at low tide. Oh yes, and there is this. Aside from being a thief and a forger, Billy is also a liar. So, you have to take what he says with a grain of salt about the size of Mount Rushmore. But if you’re into high adventure, low morals, brutality, filth, spirituality, fantasy, love, unforgettable imagery and people occasionally turning into fish, you’re in for the sail of your life with Gould’s Book of Fish.

Flanagan’s novel was the overall winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for best book in 2002. It’s a magical story lavishly told and you’ll be a decidely happier person (or sawtooth shark) if you choose to swim in its waters.

The Fiction Fortune Hunter suggests you dive in.

Where There’s Smoke

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Admit it. Like me, you’ve probably rummaged through the bargain boxes that some bookstores put at their entrances to entice readers with incredibly low prices. It’s a smart move by retailers, as people usually have to exit the same way they entered, thereby affording the bookstore two opportunities to cash in on reader’s insatiable curiosity as well as their desire for saving money.

Well, I’m a committed dumpster (book) diver. And I got not only a great deal, but also a great read recently. I paid two dollars and twenty-five cents for a book that started life at $29.95, then went to paperback at a price of $14. I figured at two bucks and a quarter…how could I lose. And I didn’t. I won. And you will too (even if you have to pay a higher price) to read Andrew Pyper’s novel, The Wildfire Season .

Set in the great northwest woods of Canada, The Wildfire Season is a bit of a cross between a thriller, an adventure novel, a heartfelt examination of loneliness, abandonment, psychological as well as physical scarring, and reconnection. It is sometimes gripping, frequently compelling, and thoroughly entertaining. As the best novels are.

The protagonist, Miles, is a man who has walked away (make that skulked away) from the woman he loved just after she’s informed him she’s pregnant with his child. Why? That’s always the question, isn’t it? Is it because he’s cowardly? It it because he truly believes they’ll be better off without him? Or is it because he’s simply become a physical and emotional wreck who is trying to escape virtually all forms of life and its accompanying entanglements?

Miles is a firefighter. The kind who actually goes out and confronts those wildfires that we see popping up on the evening news in the late summer and early fall. He’s recently survived a near death experience in one, and been horribly burned on one side of his face and neck. Plus, he’s lost a friend to the fire. A young man he might have saved if he had done things differently. Or at least he thinks he might have. So, overcome with both guilt and self-pity, he turns to drink and withdrawal. But neither proves to be a healing balm and he simply flees.

Five years later, he is thoroughly cocooned in his isolation in a tiny town in the northwest. As the hamlet’s fire chief, his main responsibilities are overseeing a motley crew, putting out the occasional smoker, living with his dog in a ramshackle cabin, and regularly drinking to excess at the local pub. All is as well as such a monastic life can be, until one day, into the pub walks his ex-lover and his daughter.

Many novelists would be satisfied with simply exploring what happens next when Miles’s old life collides with his new one. But, to his credit, Andrew Pyper, stirs into this emotional stew, a very real impending conflagration, a wild grizzly bear hunt gone terribly wrong, and a revengeful cuckold who seems to have lost all control. You see Miles hasn’t exactly been a celibate monk since retreating to his own form of exile.

In the middle of this mix of pathos, pain and peril, we’re also treated to the point of view of the hunted bear as well as its hunters, detailed descriptions of the tactics and strategies of forest firefighting, ruminations on ghosts and the afterlife, and even a measure of mystery. Who started the fire that is the raging culmination of the novel’s exciting climax?

If, like The Fiction Fortune Hunter, you’re prone to thumbing through the titles of books-that-are-priced-to-move, keep one eye open for The Wildfire Season by Andrew Pyper. Between its covers, there’s definitely fire among the smoke.

Raising Hell And Getting Paid For It

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Most of the time, when you think of gangsters, molls, high rollers and flappers, you think of Chicago or New York. Books and movies have concentrated on those midwestern and eastern cities as bastions of criminality,
hoods, bootleggers and bad guys. Luckily, for lovers of fiction grounded in the 1920s and 30s, some novelists have ventured into the less charted waters of New Orleans, Galveston, even Midland and Odessa. One author who brings that time and those places back to life with the force of a runaway freight train is James Carlos Blake. Texas Monthly has called him “the hottest Texas writer you’ve never heard of.” Some have referred to him as “the next Cormac McCarthy.” He might just be a little, or a lot, of both.

While Blake has ventured into a number of different timeframes and locales in his novels, the one that’s the subject of this particular post is his depression era ode to small time crooks, A World of Thieves. Set in the southeast and southwest of that memorable time in the nation’s history, it tells the story of a trio of outlaws for whom knocking over filling stations, sticking up banks, and executing the old badger game is not just a living, its a way of life. Yes, the narrator of the story confesses, there are simply some folks who feel a lot more alive when stealing their money from banks, grocery stores, illegal poker games and cathouses, than from stealing it while working for insurance companies, law firms, or the government. You see the essence of Blake’s novel is that “everybody’s a thief.” Some just do their thieving within the confines of the law, others outside of it.

A World of Thieves begins with a bank heist gone bad. The wheelman, Sonny, a nineteen year old working with his two uncles, Russell and Buck, winds up killing a man and getting sent to prison. The prison isn’t the big house you see in all those James Cagney movies, it’s a chain gang in the middle of the Louisiana swamps. You’re not likely to find a more compelling reason for wanting to avoid a similar fate, than reading Blake’s tale of Sonny’s time spent wearing leg irons, being whipped, spending time in the sweatbox, and digging ditches in muck up to his privates. Odd then, you might think, when Sunny finally manages to escape, that the thing he wants to do most, is reconnect with those uncles and get back in the outlaw life. But, as Blake makes clear, neither Sonny (who’s actually quite literate and really smart) or his uncles (who definitely aren’t) have much to say about it. Thieving is simply in their nature, and one’s character (or the lack of it) is a harbinger of one’s fate.

We follow these lads, and the women that accompany them, from Louisiana into Texas, where they pick up traveling money in the gambling city of Galveston and head out for the wide open spaces and well heeled oil towns of West Texas. There, they set up a safe house in one small hamlet, and proceed to do crimes in a number of the surrounding boom towns. Such is the talent of the author, that you can’t fail to like these joke-telling, booze-swilling, women-carousing miscreants. None of them long for the good life. They believe they’re living it.

But James Carlos Blake is nothing if not a realist. And soon the reader learns that the father of the man who was killed in the initial bank job is on their trail. He is one bad dude. And in the tradition of every murderous tale from Caine and Able to Bonnie and Clyde, there’s going to be hell to pay.

If you like great fiction that rips, snorts, jolts you with violence, and foregoes the sentiment, then jump on the running board of Sonny’s Model A Ford and beat a hasty getaway to A World Of Thieves. It’s a fun-packed way to lose yourself between the pages of America’s shady past. The Fiction Fortune Hunter did. And he’s the better for it.

And if you’re not quite sure about the morality of the whole thing…well just think of it as the author did in the quote he used (from Cormac McCarthy’s Child Of God) to open his book. “All the trouble I ever was in was caused by getting caught.”

A Story We Can All Learn From

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Grand themes are often found in simple stories. Such is the case with the weighty issues confronted in the relatively compact novel, A Lesson Before Dying. The essence of the story is this; a wrongly accused man is sentenced to die in the electric chair. He does. End of story? No. Just the beginning of a monumental confrontation that still goes on in different ways today.

The place in Ernest J.Gaines’s novel, is Louisiana in the late 1940’s. The remnants of a plantation still remain. And while two world wars have come and gone, things haven’t changed very much at all in St. Raphael Parish. Blacks still go to school in the makeshift plantation church during the month’s when they aren’t picking cotton or cutting sugar cane. They live in the black section of town called the quarters. And of course, they aren’t called blacks, and certainly not African Americans. If you’re too young to have actually lived through that time, or that part of the country, it may be hard for you to accept the reality of the lives lived there by people of color. But fortunately Gaines is able to bring it back to life on each and every page.

The protagonist of the novel, Grant Wiggins, is not the man sentenced to death. He is a young black school teacher who is coerced into helping the convicted man come to grips with what is going to happen to him, and prepare himself for it. It’s not an easy preparation. Made more difficult by the fact that the young man is mentally challenged. He understands things though. He certainly understands during the trial when his defense attorney, in an attempt to avoid the death penalty, likens him to a hog. Telling the jury, you wouldn’t send a hog to the electric chair…well that’s what this boy is…a hog…you shouldn’t send him to the chair either.

Wiggins is coerced by his aunt, whom he lives with, and her best friend, the mother of the prisoner. The mother is adamant that her son go to his death like a man, not an animal. Wiggins is most reluctant because he has absolutely no idea how to help. And because, even though he’s returned to the plantation to teach after getting his university education, he longs to be somewhere else, living his own life, rather than recirculating all the humiliations and pain he grew up with. What follows is the unlikely friendship that develops between the two men, and what each comes to understand along the way.

Ernest J. Gaines perfectly portrays the way people spoke, thought and behaved in the South at that time. He tackles not just the obvious insults suffered by blacks; the segregation, the less-than-second-class citizenship, the way they always had to come to the back door of a white man’s house, the overt and frequently covert hostility that hid beneath genteel manners and soft words. He also takes a hard look at how black men often added to their own people’s plight, through irresponsibility, acceptance of victimization, even abandonment.

In the end, as in all important novels, big questions get asked. Do we want others to behave certain ways to benefit them, or ourselves? Should life be lived totally honestly? Or should honesty be sacrificed if it brings pain to others we care about? What constitutes a life well lived, freedom or service? And like all good novelists, Gaines leaves the answers to the reader.

If you want a bigger, more all encompassing look at the trials blacks have faced in America over the years, check out Gaines other renowned novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

And by the way, a first-rate film was made of A Lesson Before Dying. It starred Don Cheadle in the role of Grant Wiggins. It’s definitely worth seeing, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for reading the novel.

The Fiction Fortune Hunter says, take a stroll through the magnolia trees and the sugar cane fields and the linoleum-floored kitchens of Ernest J. Gaines simple, stirring tale. It’s a journey you won’t soon forget.

Read It And Reap

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Want to know how many ways there are to unravel a mystery? Solve a crime? Catch a murderer? Crack a case? Piece together a puzzle? Well, if you do, you’ll find most all of them in one novel that’s a rocking good read. Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan.

What makes this mystery more fun than other mysteries, is that the author has constructed not just a series of crimes that may or may not lead to to other crimes, but also a series of theoretical ways the crimes may have gone down resulting in even more theories about motives, suspects, and more. The icing on the potentially, but actually not, convoluted cake is that the whole meal is cooked in a mystery writer’s oven.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. Without revealing anything an unsuspecting reader wouldn’t want revealed. The publisher of a mystery magazine hires a mysterious individual to be one of his editors. The publisher winds up dead. Was it suicide or murder? The mysterious individual just happened to be having an affair with the publisher’s wife. The publisher, prior to his death, asked the mysterious editor to help him bury a body. Whose body was it? Other people start to die. People connected with the mystery magazine. Some publicly. Some not so publicly. Are their deaths connected to the publisher’s death? How many of those deaths are murder or suicide? Who’s killing who? And for what reason? Or reasons.

Writers, editors, secretaries, interns, wives, lovers, ex-cons, ghost-writers– everyone’s a suspect. The police, particularly an appealing single-mom detective with a spunky (but not cloyingly cute) teenage daughter, do their best to try to untangle the tangled web of deceit, danger and death. More scenarios abound than a cop can shake a nightstick at, but which ones are possible, plausible, even probable? Within the confines of the narrative, the author shows us an infinite variety of things that might have happened or could have happened. But which ones really did? And of course, the big question…who’s responsible for whatever the hell happened?

Rather than creating confusion, Harry Dolan, the author, has actually created an intricate Rubik’s Cube of possibilities that reminds the reader that nothing is as simple as it might seem. Simultaneously, he’s also brought to life an appealing cadre of characters to enliven the pages of this most appealing whodunit. There are bitchy authors, beautiful babes, good men gone bad, bad men gone straight, hoods, hangers-on and a very mysterious protagonist. The entire book is fun to read, hard to put down, and easy to come back to.

I will admit, that at least for me, I found the ultimate conclusion (make that conclusions) something less than credible. Not impossible. Just not particularly believable. But it’s easy to forego credibility when a reader is having so much fun getting caught up in all the real and potential goings-on. And, to be honest, I found the very last sequence of the book a bit unnecessary, added perhaps for literary effect or ultimate closing of the loop. But still, it didn’t add anything other than a few more pages. These are mere minor offenses however when compared to the entertainment you will experience when you decide to let Bad Things Happen in your reading room.

Trust The Fiction Fortune Hunter. Read this one and you’ll reap lots of rewards.

Time Neither Forgets Nor Forgives

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The cliche is that “time heals all wounds.” I’ve just read a novel that hangs that hoary phrase out to dry like an animal skin tacked to the side of a barn. In a perversely meandering psychological tale entitled The Insult, the passage of time does little more than continually circle back on itself to avenge wrongs. And it’s not just the wrong doers who suffer. Anyone foolish or unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is just as likely to incur the wrath of this particular cosmic conscience. No one is totally immune.

The novel, by Rupert Thomson, begins realistically enough–a man walking through a supermarket parking lot is shot in the head. Would that such random hideousness never occurred. But we all know too well such things happen. In this instance, the man, Martin Blom, recovers, but finds himself totally blind. His doctor informs him his sight will never return. And Martin believes him. Until strangely enough, Martin develops an ability to see at night. A fact he hides from his doctor, who has told him he may experience hallucinations that make him believe he is really seeing when in fact he isn’t. So, does he see or doesn’t he? That’s for the reader to find out. And that’s just one of the questions raised in this evocative narrative.

Alienation is a theme that runs throughout The Insult. Even though his doctor and the hospital staff are kind, competent, and caring, Martin separates himself from them as quickly as he can. Even though his mother and father and fiancee are sympathetic, loving and willing to help in every way they can, Martin leaves them too. Isolating himself in a run down hotel, he is determined to be alone, independent, and self-sustaining. He looks upon his injury as a chance to start a new life. It may not be what his former life offered him, but it will be something of his own making.

In this new life, Martin meets a girl, Nina. A girl unlike he has ever met before. Nina is in no way put off by his blindness. In fact, she seems to be attracted to it. As their relationship builds, Martin maintains his secret of nocturnal sight. Savoring the edge it seems to give him. An edge not only on Nina, but on all who see him as just another blind man.

As Martin works with the police who are trying to find out who fired the shot that cost him his sight, Nina vanishes. Was she kidnapped? Killed? Did she just leave? All of a sudden the police investigation into Martin’s injury becomes an investigation into Nina’s disappearance–with Martin as a prime suspect.

Physical and psychological questions abound. Can Martin really see or is he just imagining it? Does Martin want to find out what happened to Nina because he loves her, or did he himself have something to do with her disappearance? He doesn’t think he did. At least not on a conscious level. Which is why he leaves the city and seeks out the people in Nina’s past she told him about. A mother from whom she’s estranged. A father who may not be her father at all. A friend who’s told her he will do anything for her–even kill.

Two-thirds into the novel, the focus which has been on Martin, seems to change to the checkered history of Nina’s lineage. A virtual book within a book emerges to detail Nina’s familial past. Some readers may be annoyed at the fact that the tome has seemed to leave one story in mid-air and switch to another. But is that truly the case, or are they intertwined? And can the present mystery be solved without unearthing the tragic events that occurred so many years before, but now lead inexorably to both Nina and Martin.

The author, Rupert Thomson, is interested in more than simply constructing a mysterious maze. He wants to explore issues like fate, sin and its consequences. Not just for the sinners, but for those who come after them as well. It’s disconcerting to think that something someone else did long ago, might have a direct effect on our own lives. But it’s certainly possible. And actually quite credible. The Fiction Fortune Hunter finds it also compelling and unforgettable as delivered via The Insult.

Call A Cab, Get a Mystery

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

The novel is set in big city America. Chicago, to be specific. Where, like most cities, people, places, and things have changed. Some for the better. A lot for the worse. The hero, protagonist, and narrator of the story is Eddie Miles, a cab driver who knows the city just about as well as any city can be known. He’s addicted to it like some men are addicted to booze or bad women. And he’s addicted to driving his hack. A job he bitches about, but can’t seem to quit.

The plot of Nobody’s Angel is rather straightforward. Hookers are getting killed. More frequently than usual. Cabbies are becoming casualties too. The mean streets of Chicago have gotten a lot meaner. And one cabbie, Eddie, isn’t content to count on the cops to bring it all under control. Not when he’s likely to find himself looking up from the wrong end of a cold slab in the morgue.

Luckily though, this is not a novel about the Taxi Driver as avenger. There are too many avenger novels anyway. Eddie’s the kind of guy who wants to set things right, but he’s not the kind to go on a Death Wish mission to take out all the low-lifes who might be possible suspects. Rather he watches, and waits, and listens. And as he does, we learn a lot about the Midwest’s biggest city. We learn that cab drivers never go South. That they never go West when they can avoid it. And they don’t go East because there’s nothing there except Lake Michigan. They ply their trade in the North part of the city. Back and forth to O’Hare airport. The streets and roads that intertwine through the Loop, Downtown and Uptown, River North, Old Town, Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast, Lake Shore Drive to Sheridan or Evanston, maybe even Skokie. But never toward Cicero. That’s south and cabbies don’t go South.

To those who know Chicago, as does The Fiction Fortune Hunter, having been a resident for ten years, you quickly realize all of the cabbie creed is really about race. The South Side of Chicago is predominantly black. Poor black. You avoid it simply because that’s where the trouble is. Shootings. Stabbings. Gang assault. Armed robbery. That’s what you’re avoiding, just as any war zone would be. Do the good, descent people of the South Side get a bad deal because of that? Absolutely. But that’s just the way it is. Nobody wants to drop off a cleaning lady in the middle of the night and have to deadhead back through neighborhoods even the cops stay away from unless they get a call. Nobody’s Angel was written in the mid nineties. But things hadn’t changed that much when I was there from 2000 to 2010.

A cabbie’s life is fraught with peril. There’s always the risk of robbery or worse. There’s mean, or sick drunks in the back of the cab. There’s the tricksters who con you into taking them where they want to go, then bolt when it’s time to pay the fare. There’s long hours, low pay, and lots and lots of restrictions. The author, ,Jack Clark, uses those “do’s and don’ts” from the City of Chicago, Department of Consumer Services, Public Vehicles Operations Division to start each chapter. Often juxtaposing the good intent of the directive with the unintended consequence of actually following it. He’s very familiar with both. Still being a taxi driver as well as a novelist.

The Angel of the title is actually Eddie himself. You have to determine, once you’ve come to the end of the ride, whether it’s a proper label or not.

Tight. Fast. Hard-hitting, Nobody’s Angel delivers an urban mystery cold as its icy streets and cutting as Chicago’s raw wind. There’s little to no sympathy in this tale. But there is humanity. And that’s something you take wherever you can find it.

Man and Novel Go Haywire

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

A college professor, with a lovely wife and fine young son, begins an affair with a mysterious woman. Particularly mysterious for a bucolic Midwestern university. Virtually half of the book tells this story from his point of view (albeit in the third person). Then all of a sudden, it’s the mysterious woman’s story. A story that leaps from snow covered hills and dew frosted fields to sun splashed beaches, political unrest, and voodoo. It then returns to being the teacher’s story and reaches a rather abrupt end, which to me, seemed as if the publisher ran out of paper. But one of the nice things about novels is that they don’t have to follow convention to be engrossing. And that’s exactly what Bay of Souls is.

The author is Robert Stone, a contemporary of what’s often referred to as the “beat generation” of writers and poets; Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassidy. Writers who defined the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with prose often fueled by drugs, alcohol, and whatever else happened to be available. Bay of Souls is one of Stone’s latter works, having been published in 2003.

There are both similarities and differences to earlier novels Stone hemmed. A couple of which were made into movies. The film WUSA with Paul Newman, was a political potboiler Stone hated. Who’ll Stop The Rain, based on the author’s novel Dog Soldiers, was a riveting tale of post Viet Nam drug smuggling and West Coast waywardness. It starred Nick Nolte and the author felt it was much truer to his original. Though he loathed the movie’s title which he said “some moron must have come up with.”

Bay of Souls lulls you into a false sense of familiarity. As the tale of Michael Ahearn, the professor, unspools slowly, you feel you are reading another story of middle-aged angst. A story well told. We totally believe his love for his wife and family, his sedate acceptance of his cloistered university life, and his eventual attraction to the darkly intriguing Lara Purcell. Infidelity, it’s allure and it’s recriminations, are rendered with painful honesty. But we’re jolted out of our preconceptions when the narrative jumps to an island in the Caribbean where a junta is being overthrown, cashes of cocaine are being sought, and ritualistic voodoo is being employed to save some souls and recover others. Ahearn, possessed by his lust (and perhaps love) for Lara, leads him into a world so foreign to his own as to risk not just his sanity, but his life itself. The requisite amount of adventure, danger and precarious situations are delivered compellingly.

Up to a point, we believe we know how the story is going to end. How all such stories should end. But surprise, this one doesn’t end that way. And even though the ending is a bit like falling off a cliff, you take its truth with you long after you’ve closed the cover for the final time.

Robert Stone was a great lover, as are so many, of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. He admits to having read it at least three times. Perhaps somewhere in that immortal novel were the seeds of Stone’s protagonist, Michael Ahearn, in Bay of Souls. Stone says that his life would have “probably been lousy” had he not become a writer Certainly the lives of readers like The Fiction Fortune Hunter have been made far less lousy by the talents of Robert Stone’s storytelling.

Letter To A Uniquely American Novelist

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

I recently ran across a letter I once wrote, to the writer I enjoy reading the most. I decided to post it here, in the hope it will spur anyone who reads it, to seek out his work. Believe me, you’ll be the better for it. I did a post back in November of 2009 on one of his novels. Not sure how many folks read it. Maybe more will read this and look for his novels wherever they buy their books.

Letter to Pete Dexter

Dear Pete,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you Pete. Having read all your novels as well as Paper Trails, I certainly feel like we’re on a first-name basis. Which can only be attributed to your skill as a writer. A scribe who turns readers into friends. That’s not an easy thing to do.

I also hope this letter makes its way to you. I assume that some unknown person, in a place far removed from your home, goes through your mail to make sure the envelopes aren’t filled with anthrax, court summons or screaming diatribes about how politically incorrect you can often be.

This letter is none of the above. It’s more in the form of what (centuries ago) used to be called a mash note. Don’t worry. I’m no groupie or stalker or smitten convict writing from a jail cell in Huntsville. I’m just a real fan of yours. And I thought it might be nice to hear from someone who reads your books and is better for it.

You may or may not care what readers actually think of your work as long as they plunk down the twenty-plus bucks or so for a hardback edition. But your writing makes me believe you probably are a person who is not totally opposed to a compliment now and then. And that’s certainly what I intend this letter to be.

I’ll do my best not to ramble too much, though having just finished Spooner, I have to believe you’re not completely put off by a bit of meandering now and then. It was, in a word, wonderful. You made me feel as if your were in the same room with me, spinning a yarn I was eager to hear more and more of. I had not read reviews of the novel prior to getting into it, but being familiar with all your other work, I soon began to see a pattern of Spooner’s trek through life as being rather similar to your own. Frankly, it put me off a bit at first. Simply because I had the feeling that I knew what the ending would be. Spooner can’t die because Pete isn’t dead. I assumed Calmer would pass on as life is like that. And I was both tickled and moved by the way you brought his story full circle.

I didn’t read your books in the order in which you wrote them, having discovered you somewhat later in my particular span of years. I picked up Train in a London airport on my way back to the states. Read the whole thing in one eight-hour flight. Why did I pick it up? I was attracted to the Palm Tree on the cover. Having just suffered through London’s typically gloomy weather. Anyway, after reading it and really enjoying it (being a lifelong Raymond Chandler fan, I tend to read a lot of books that take place in L A), I was determined to learn more about this Dexter fellow and see if he had written anything else of substance. So, over the next few years, I wound up reading your books in this order:

Paris Trout
God’s Pocket
The Paperboy
Paper Trails
Brotherly Love

I guess if you held a gun to my head and made me pick a favorite (which is the only way I would), I would pick Paris Trout. No doubt because I too grew up in a small town in the South just after the war and could certainly relate (sometimes unfortunately) to many of the characters. But the thing I want you to know, and I guess the real reason I’m writing this letter is to tell you what they have all meant to me. The ones I’ve bought brand new and the one’s I’ve run across in used-book stores.

As they used to say in the old ads, I’ve laughed and I’ve cried. But more than that, I’ve shaken my head in agreement, I’ve seen my relatives, my friends, my enemies, and most of all people and places I’ll never forget. You have brightened my days, warmed my nights and increased my pleasure at just being alive by sharing the things you’ve written with me. And if I feel this way, think of all the thousands of others who feel similarly but who’ve never taken the time to let you know.

I hope you take some pleasure in knowing there are people all around the world– who have enjoyed being in it a little bit more– because of the time they were allowed to spend with your words.

Thanks for everything you’ve written and will write. Rest assured you’ll have at least one sure sale. I don’t know if you care to know anything about me beyond my love of your work. But if you do, you can find out more about me and read more about what I’ve said in regard to you and other authors in the blog on my website:

All the best to you and Mrs. Dexter.


Joe Kilgore

P S: I read aloud some of your columns from Paper Trails to my wife, Mrs. Kilgore.
We laughed so much we wept. And almost wet ourselves. You’re responsible.

More Fun Than Murder Ought To Be

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Mist dampens street lamps shrouded in fog. Horses’ hooves clack atop cobblestones. Gentlemen in top hats and capes emerge from the theatre and hail hansom cabs with their silver-tipped walking sticks. It’s London circa 1840, and you’re in for an articulate whodunit with a brilliant detective and his devoted companion. But the surprise is…it’s not Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s a new duo that inhabits this sterling homage to the pair, and begins a new series to delight readers hopefully for centuries to come. It’s the novel entitled Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas.

Before you can say “the game’s afoot” (which I’ve always wanted to say), you’re whisked into the utterly captivating world of intrepid inquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn. While historically, stylistically and intellectually sharing a literary allusion to Holmes and Watson, physically they counter them. Barker, the detective, is a large man, broad-shouldered and imposing with a prominent mustache. While Llewelyn, the assistant is thin-of-frame, and because of recent misfortune, somewhat frail. But though they lack a mirror image of the more famous sleuths, they share the same passion for uncovering clues, unmasking criminals, and discovering exactly who is behind foul and dastardly deeds.

The deed that sets things off in Some Danger Involved is particularly dastardly. It’s the crucifixion of a young Talmudic scholar in the Jewish ghetto. And it just might portend a coming pogrom. While interviewing the victim’s acquaintances, questioning the local anti-semites, and dining frequently at Barker’s favorite Chinese restaurant, the probative pair find themselves bouncing between the seamy underside and the beau monde of London society.

Thomas does an excellent job of interweaving the unfolding mystery with Barker’s on-the-job mentoring of his new assistant, Llewelyn. In fact, half the fun of this Victorian tale is the teacher-pupil interplay between the two protagonists. From shooting to sleuthing to interrogation, Llewelyn proves a quick learner. But he’s always a number of footfalls behind his wily employer.

The author also catches just the right tone in his use of style and language. Llewelyn is the narrator of the tale and though circumstances have conspired to place him firmly in the commoner’s que, his interrupted Oxford education provides the perfect platform for exhilaratingly articulate prose.

Like all truly good mysteries, cold trails, dead ends, and red herrings abound. But Will Thomas has interspersed his chapters with enough potential suspects, near-death experiences, and derring-do to keep you tuning page after page. Your reward is not only a ripping read, but a bonafide surprise ending that you definitely won’t see coming.

If, like The Fiction Fortune Hunter, you bemoan the lack of great old school writing that whisks you away to a time when the size of the hero’s intellect was far more important than the caliber of his gun, book passage on this most enjoyable voyage. But be warned. There’s some danger involved.