Sunday, June 28, 2020

The rare DNF

You never want to see the initials "DNF" after your name, especially if you're a racer, be it running, automobile, horses, skiing or bicyclist. It stands for Did Not Finish.

Throughout my road racing years I am proud to say I never had a DNF. I had race results that could've said: Haugen, Mark, sucked. But never: Haugen, Mark, DNF.

Unfortunately, when I went to file my index card for Chris Bohjalian's book "The Night Strangers" it won't get a numerical rating on the Haugenometer. It will get a DNF and maybe even a "sucked."

I rarely start a book and don't finish. I can only think of one other and that was Jennifer Eagan's "A Visit from the Goon Squad." Oddly enough, both were highly-touted books. They just weren't for me.

"The Night Strangers" was a New York Times best-seller - not that that holds a lot of oomph for me. I picked it up because Bohjalian wrote "The Flight Attendant" and I really enjoyed that so thought I'd check out some of his other books.

I don't really even know what I didn't like about it. I guess it just dragged and droned. The main character kept having flashbacks to an airplane crash in which he was pilot of the plane. It got old.

Early on I was intrigued because of a unique writing method the author used which I haven't encountered before. He wrote in the second-person, which is rare. When referring to the main character the author would write "you." As in: "You are the pilot ... you see the flock of geese ... you feel them hit the engines ... you hear the engines sputter ... you see the lake ahead ..."

Then he would go back to third-person when talking about the pilot's wife or children.

It was interesting early on, but apparently not interesting enough. I might go back to the book someday, as it will sit on one of my bookshelves taunting me; but I probably won't.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

An author with 19 names

Donald Westlake is one of my favorite authors. He died in 2008 after writing over 100 novels. I've read 32 of them.

The craziest thing about his career is that he also wrote under 18 pseudonyms. 18! He used different names for different genres, in the 1960s some soft-core stuff. Some short stories. Some for science fiction. His best known fake name was Richard Stark under which he wrote the Parker novels.

Recently I read about a four-book series he wrote in the 1980s under the name of Samuel Holt, who was also the name of the main character in the books. I found them on Ebay, as I've pretty much given up on Amazon and their 45-day delivery.

In the fourth book, Westlake wrote an author's note about why he used the fake name. Basically it was because, as he'd become successful and famous as Donald Westlake, times had changed, the business had changed, and he wanted to see if he could have success as an unknown writer. His agent and publisher were sworn to secrecy, and then just when the first book came out the publisher apparently chickened out and announced it was Westlake who wrote the books. So his entire purpose/experiment was blown up. He was pretty peeved about it.

The books are: "One of Us Is Wrong," "I Know a Trick Worth Two of That," "What I Tell You Three Times is False," and "The Fourth Dimension is Death." The first two were pretty good, the third I didn't care for, and the fourth was excellent. He was contracted for the four books, and wrote two more, but was mad at his publisher and didn't release the final two.

In the books, Holt is an actor who hit it big in a television series for five years, got rich, but then was type-cast as a private investigator and never really managed to get any more acting jobs. So of course he ends up getting thrown into situations where he has to basically play the part he played in the television series and be a private detective to solve crimes as they popped up in his life.

It's a good premise, clever, and I'm glad I read them.

For Pete's sake, read some Westlake, or any of his other names. Start with the Dortmunder series of books. You won't be disappointed.