Monday, January 31, 2022

Finished: Block's 'Random Walk'

 This book, Random Walk, was way out of character from most Lawrence Block novels. Written in 1988, it grabs you mostly by making you want to see how he's going to draw it all together. You know he will, you're just not sure how. It was a bit of a struggle getting there, but satisfying. 

It begins in the Pacific Northwest. Guthrie decides to take a walk. He doesn't know how far he's going or where he's going. A journey of any length begins with a single step and Guthrie takes it, facing east.

Wonderful things happen as he walks. He begins to draw people to him. The group grows and walks and heals.

The random walk: It never ends, it just changes; it is not the destination which matters, but the journey.

What that Amazon synopsis leaves out is that interspersed throughout those chapters is a serial killer, a small dose of Block I was used to. The guy is in the real estate business and manages to kill over 100 women. The reader kind of figures the nut-job is at some point going to meet up with the group of walkers who find that their journey heals their ailments as they walk. What we don't know is what will happen when he does. For that, you'll have to read it.

This is another novel that Block draws on his several trips to South Dakota. The walkers start in Oregon and along their way drop down from North Dakota into Belle Fourche and several small communities in South Dakota before another stop in De Smet and then down through Sioux Falls. I've written about Block's references to South Dakota in several books and even talked to him about it. I find that pretty cool. 

Cool enough for a 6 rating on the 10-point Haugenometer. Amazonians gave it a 3.9 out of 5.

Saturday, January 22, 2022


 Almost forgot to say "thank you" to those of you who downloaded books at during their holiday season sale.

Dozens of my books were downloaded. Always a good feeling to see what I write getting read.

While I did it to schlep my newest e-book "Bags of Stone," it was fun seeing people downloading that plus "Runaway Trane" and even my first book, "Joshua's Ladder."

Sometimes I forget about those and only hope the new ones keep getting better so I can nail that one where I finally feel it's THE one and hit up some publishers. So far I like the way I'm doing it - my way. But I'd be lying if I didn't say it'd be nice to get struck by lightning someday by a big publisher. 

'Til then, look for another Bags story soon. I also finished a more "adult" crime novel, but the timing has to be right before I drop that. Some books you just don't want your boss or mother to read.

Finished: Block's 'Cinderella Sims'

 Finished one of Lawrence Block's earliest books "Cinderella Sims." It's actually a 2003 reprint of the novel he published in 1958. It was originally titled "$20 Lust."

It's a splendid look at how he progressed in his career. It's a bit amateurish. You can tell he was turning out several books a year at the time, most destined for the smut publishers at the time, but some for more mainstream press when he felt the novel was worthy. According to the forward written by a friend, this was kind of in between. But you see glimpses of what would become greatness.

It's a first edition I bought on E-Bay, but it's from a library. So it has all the stickers and library card holder. I try to clean those up and take all that stuff off but they apparently used glue back in those days that could hold automobiles together. Try as I might with my limited patience and a razor, and gunk remover, it just ends up looking like a depressed old library book that tried to slit its wrists.

But, the book was interesting, especially if you're into Block and his career. It featured a man's quest to become a weekly newspaper owner, so that was nice. I gave it a sympathetic 5 of 10 on the Haugenometer.

According to Amazon: "After Louisville Times reporter Ted Lindsay loses his wife--first to another man, then to a car accident--he relocates to New York, where he meets Cinderella Jones, who is on the run from a gang that she stole fifty thousand dollars from."

This is a better description from Publishers Weekly: "Originally titled $20 Lust and published under the pseudonym Andrew Shaw by Nightstand in 1961, this early Block novel has its quirky charms. As the MWA Grandmaster explains in the Lawrence Block Bibliography: 1958¤1993, "much of the work in question was bad, and categorically so... in the early sixties I wrote a soft core sex novel every month, designed to titillate but not to inflame, with a requisite sex scene in every chapter." Strip away the requisite sex scenes and one is left with a dark, clever crime story that shows Block's emerging strengths: good storytelling, a bright sense of humor and more than a few flashes of good writing. Ted Lindsay, a reporter for the Louisville Times, loses his wife to another man, then to a fatal accident. He relocates to New York in order to get a new start. He's unsuccessful until he sees "the girl." The girl turns Ted's life upside down, setting him on a path of treacherous lies, deceptions and dangers as they try to outwit the gang that's after her. The sex scenes, mild by today's more graphic standards, are more likely to amuse than titillate. Readers who have not yet discovered the joys of Block - bookseller/thief Bernie Rhodenbarr, PI Matthew Scudder, hitman John Keller, etc. - should skip this one. But established Block fans should enjoy this peek at the author's obscure apprentice work and be grateful that he moved on to create better books."

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Finished: Box's 'In Plain Sight'

 This one had a twist that wanted to make me shout.

"In Plain Sight" is the sixth of twenty-two in the Joe Pickett Series by C.J. Box. I'm reading them in order, as any sane person should do, and it's the best so far.

I pride myself in seeing the twists ahead of time. My pride took a beating in this one. I had to read the paragraph again to make sure I'd read it correctly. It was the kind that makes me question the mental stability of the author. Like "You crazy bastard. What kind of twisted mind comes up with that?"

I'm envious.

Ranch owner and matriarch Opal Scarlett has vanished under suspicious circumstances during a bitter struggle between her sons for control of her million-dollar empire. Joe Pickett is convinced one of them must have done her in. But when he becomes the victim of a series of wicked and increasingly violent pranks, Joe wonders if what's happening has less to do with Opal's disappearance than with the darkest chapters of his own past. Whoever is after him has a vicious debt to collect, and wants Joe to pay...and pay dearly.

Some of the reviews thought the ending was a bit much, but that's why they call it fiction. My only complaint, and it's not so much a complaint as it seems to be his style, is that the book moves along at a steady pace until the last few chapters when Box shortens them up James Patterson style. It's like he's anxious to get to the ending himself and gets in a rush. Maybe it's just his thing. It works, I guess. It's just something I notice in his style.

I gave it an 8 of 10 on the Haugenometer; Amazonians a 4.7 of 5; and Goodreaders a 4.2 of 5. 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

A 'Hitt' but not a 'hit' but worth the effort

 In case you hadn't figured it out by now, I have a thing for mid to late 20th century crime noir. That started with Donald Westlake and continued through Lawrence Block and others.

Those "others" are often referenced in those books, so I check them out. Also, Amazon has that thing where "If you like X, then you might like Y." That's how I stumbled across Orrie Hitt.

According to Wiki:

Orrie Hitt (October 27, 1916–December 8, 1975) was a prolific American author of over 150 books, mostly mid-century erotica, but including some crime novels early in his career. It's been said he wrote a book every two weeks at the prime of his career, sitting at his dining room table, fueled by large glasses of iced coffee and cigarettes. His first two books, I'll Call Every Monday and Love in the Arctic were hardcover books published by Red Lantern, but his career would ultimately be made writing paperback originals.

As a paperback writer, many of his books were written as "work for hire" and the copyright held by the publishing company who, anticipating a very short shelf life, never bothered to renew the copyright or return the rights to the author. The fact that all of his books, prior to 1964, are in the public domain has been beneficial to the legacy of Orrie Hitt, in that it has made them more readily available to contemporary readers.

Original Orrie Hitt paperbacks are collectible not only among aficionados of 1950s and 1960s cover art, but also among readers of mid-century erotica and crime novels, who find them superior to those of other "hack" writers of the time.

The one I just read was titled: "She Got What She Wanted." It wasn't good. With a 4 out of 10 on the Haugenometer it's one of the lowest ratings I've ever given a book besides a "DNF." But, Wiki says he's good so I might try one more.

What amazes about these guys is how prolific they were. As mentioned above, Hitt wrote over 150 books, at one time churning out a book every two weeks. It only figures there'd be some clunkers there.

Other authors of that era/genre I like include: Ed McBain/Evan Hunter, Gunard Hjertstedt/Day Keene, Gil Brewer and more contemporary Walter Mosley.

Guys like that often had pseudonyms, sometimes several, as they would have a different name for the different genres they dabbled in: crime, soft porn, sci-fi, etc. They were talented writers who are now largely forgotten but are starting to see a resurgence thanks to publishers like Hard Case Crime. 

Sure, Patterson, Child, Koontz, Sandford dominate the mystery/crime bookshelves now, but it's fun to read these guys who set the stage for them. I suspect the old-timers had more interesting lives too.

Here is the Goodreads synopsis of "She Got What She Wanted.

Della Banners was born into poverty. It had been a hard life up in the hills. But she discovered early that a girl with her figure could get things from men. So when she ran away to the city, she was ready to try anything. That's when she met Jack. Jack immediately sized up her assets and suggested that she belonged in sales. His line of business is selling roofs and siding, but to do it right, he needs someone to find the prospects. That's where Della comes in.

Pretty soon she finds she has a knack for finding new customers, and a better knack for conning them into buying jobs they don't really need. Della and Jack are on their way to success. The only trouble is, Jack is married, and his wife is less than understanding. Because Della wants it all--the money, the new car, the nice clothes--and Jack. And heaven help anyone who gets in her way.