For FFB today on this first Friday of September, Barry Ergang shares something different with a number of very short reviews of various books. After you check out what Barry said below, head on over to Patti Abbott’s blog for more reading suggestions. Also, make sure to check out the post from yesterday over at The Rap Sheet where J.Kingston Pierce took the time to link all the FFB reviews from his blog. The count is 150 books according to the post, though I would argue that anything ever mention on The Rap Sheet is worth reading, watching, or listening to as is the blog.
A BUNCHA BOOKS
Capsule Reviews by Barry Ergang
Although I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, various chores, errands, other necessities, and plain laziness have kept me from writing full-blown reviews. I therefore offer some capsule commentaries about recent reads.
Malice In Maggody (1987) is the first in a series of screwball comedy mystery novels by Joan Hess starring Ariel “Arly” Hanks, sheriff. Her homicide investigations pit her pit her against the mayor, town council, Sergeant Plover of the State Police, her own contentious mother, and a considerable number of other residents of Maggody, Arkansas, “population seven hundred fifty-five.” A fast-moving entertainment, I’m certain I’ll be visiting Maggody again. If you like your murders leavened with humor this is one you’ll want to consider.
I’ve met the Chicago-based private eye known only as Mac twice before, those encounters occurring quite a while ago, but I was impressed with the quality of the stories and their telling. I feel the same about Every Bet’s a Sure Thing (1953) by Thomas B. Dewey, an author who has received some reviewer/critical acclaim but not nearly enough reader recognition. In this one, Mac is hired to trail Harriet Mitchell and her children from Chicago to Los Angeles. Forced at gunpoint off a moving train, and subsequently finding Harriet dead, he becomes obsessed with locating and making sure her six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter are safe while he enters into local familial and criminal issues. If you’re a fan of hardboiled private eye fiction but haven’t discovered Dewey, I urge you to give him a try. Apart from its prose quality, the Mac series is distinguished by its toughness, action, characterization, and—above all—humanity. (See J. Kingston Pierce’s article: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/dewey-does-it-hailing-one-crime-fictions-underrate/)
It’s probably only of marginal relevance to a book review, but I’ve been a fan of Jon Stewart’s ever since I discovered him and The Daily Show years ago. His replacement, Trevor Noah is an equally likable, highly intelligent, and very skilled comedian, but methinks that, however many future Daily Show hosts may come and go, Stewart will be remembered as Johnny Carson was with respect to The Tonight Show and other late-night talk and variety show hosts: the best there has ever has been and/or will be. So when I came upon Stewart’s book of parodies, Naked Pictures of Famous People (1998), it became an immediate must-read. Despite its provocative title, it does not deal with or display any nudity. It is, in fact, the kind of book—and a short one, at that—which one can dip into here and there as a break from other reading matter because there is no continuity from one chapter to the next. Its Wikipedia page provides the best overview: http://tinyurl.com/yaksrd76. Reaction to humor is very subjective, but I personally found this one laugh-out-loud funny in several places.
If you’ve seen Colin Mochrie on Whose Line Is It Anyway? (one of my favorite programs) you know just how funny this improvisational comic can be. He has put on paper (and in e-book form) Not Quite the Classics (2013), a collection of tales and verses in which he begins each with the opening sentence of a classic work of literature and ends it with the work’s final sentence—although the punctuation might vary to convey a different meaning. Thus, The Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Fourth begins with “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” and concludes with “He loved, Big Brother.” The fantasy story in between, though it includes characters Big Brother and Little Brother, has nothing whatever to do with George Orwell’s novel, despite containing a rather prescient description of a tyrannical head of state: “The King was a preening, officious, egomaniacal idiot, thought Tyro as he munched his wanbuck deluxe, and Tyro’s opinion of the reigning monarch was one of the nicer ones in the kingdom.” (Sound like any real person you’re familiar with?) Among the other not quite classics are Moby, A Tale of Two Critters, ’Twas Not Right Before Christmas, Franken’s Time, The Grateful Gatsby, and the one that had me laughing out loud in places harder than any of the others—to the point where I had to put the book down to wipe tears from my eyes—Waterhouse Five.
Shallow Graves (1992) by Jeremiah Healy is the seventh book in the John Cuddy series, but the third that I’ve read—and thoroughly enjoyed. In this one, former insurance company investigator turned private detective Cuddy is hired by his former employer to look into the death of a fashion model who turns out to be the granddaughter and husband of a powerful mob boss and his son. As I pointed out in my reviews of Swan Dive and Blunt Darts, I was taken once again with the author’s skill at moving the novel along at an irresistible pace via dialogue which also serves to delineate and differentiate its principal characters. Like Dewey’s Mac series, this one deserves much greater reader recognition.
Finally, there’s Acid Rock (1973) by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy. The thirteenth book in “The Destroyer” series, this one has Remo Williams and Master of Sinanju Chiun assigned to prevent the aptly named Vickie Stoner from being assassinated. There’s an open contract out on her, and she’s worth a million dollars dead to someone, so Remo and Chiun have their hands full contending with a variety of would-be killers. Vickie, meanwhile, is trailing the rock group Maggot and the Dead Meat Lice hither and yon, determined to have sex with Maggot. If you like quick reads in the form of wryly humorous action novels that contain more than a little satire, you’ll get a kick out of this one.
I can heartily recommend all of these, but with the caveat that all except Every Bet’s a Sure Thing contain raw street language that might offend some readers.
© 2017 Barry Ergang