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Posts tagged ‘Chester Himes’

Fun Finds

I love hunting for old books when I’m on the road. In Yangon, the outdoor bookstalls on Pansodan Road can sometimes yield little treasures, and in Phnom Penh I always seem to find a gem or two at Bohr’s Books. While in Kuala Lumpur last week, I visited some several secondhand bookshops and also the BookXcess outlet in Petaling Jaya’s Amcorp Mall for some good cheap remainder titles.

One of the goodies I found at the Junk Bookstore in KL (and yes, that’s really the name of this shop) was Every Little Crook and Nanny a 1972 novel by Evan Hunter, the author also known as Ed McBain. Every Little Crook and Nanny is a bit different than McBain’s popular 87th Precinct series of novels, ones that have been dubbed “Police Procedurals.” This one is more of a comic caper, reminiscent of Donald Westlake’s delightful Dortmunder books. The Hunter novel features a cast of (almost) lovable Mafia goons, a hapless kidnapper, and a bizarre police officer or two. Good fun.

 

I also found a battered copy of Hot Day, Hot Night by Chester Himes, which is the sixth novel in the classic Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones series. First published in 1969, this is a 1975 edition, big afros on the cover and all. A review in the San Francisco Chronicle called Himes “the best writer of mayhem yarns since Raymond Chandler.” Mayhem yarns? Whatever you want to call this style of crime fiction, it’s the addictive kind, and I look forward to reading this old Chester Himes novel very soon.

 

Yet another goodie I was thrilled to find was William Kotzwinkle’s Jack in the Box, one of the more warped coming-of-age tales that you are likely to read. Comic books, teenage hormones, and a wacky cast of characters make for a very humorous novel. Kotzwinkle is a brilliant writer who has written some of the funniest books around, The Bear Went Over the Mountain being one of most hilarious novels of all time, in my opinion. Really, that book was one of those laugh-out-loud tales that you’ll think about reading again a few years later, just to see if it’s still as funny as it was the first time. Jack in the Box isn’t nearly as guffaw-able, but it’s still an entertaining read. Kotzwinkle, by the way, wrote the screenplay for a movie you might have heard of: E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.

In addition to that lot, I found old paperbacks from authors such as Kingsley Amis, J.D. Donleavy, John D. MacDonald, Charles McCarry, Trevanian, Jonathan Raban, Arthur C. Clarke, E.L. Doctorow, Erle Stanley Gardner, M.C. Beaton, and two old “Quiller” novels by Adam Hall. Definitely not the latest best sellers, but this delightful mish-mash of books was just what I was looking for.

Recent Reading

On the road, at home, and occasionally at work, here are some of the books that I’ve read in the past month or so. All real books with stained pages and no digital versions.

 

Graham Greene – Our Man in Havana

I went on a Greene spree about 20 years ago and read five or six novels, then didn’t read anything again until last year when I belatedly finished The Quiet American. I found a copy of Our Man in Havana while browsing the street book stalls in Yangon recently. This is a very gripping tale, and probably the funniest thing I’ve ever read by Greene.

 

T. Jefferson Parker – Renegades

Parker continues his run of strong mystery novels, this one featuring the ingratiating Charlie Hood character once again. Parker’s vividly real characters, sharp dialogue, and deft plotting have elevated him to the top tier of those currently purveying the crime fiction genre.

 

John Sandford – Buried Prey

The latest in Sandford’s addictive “Prey” series of mystery novels, featuring sharp-dressed crime-stopper Lucas Davenport, is another winner. Some truly hilarious moments amidst all the violence and suspense.

 

Norman Lewis – Naples ‘44

Lewis is best known as a travel writer, but this book is more of a memoir of the time he spent in Naples, Italy as a soldier during World War II. As always, Lewis graces the pages with descriptive prose, giving the reader a real feel for the place and time. And his fondness for the kind but beleaguered Italians he meets during his time in the city comes pouring off the pages.

 

Chester Himes – The Heat’s On

This is one of the novels in Himes’s acclaimed “Harlem Cycle” featuring police detectives Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones. In addition to being a highly entertaining work of crime fiction, this novel, like others that Himes wrote in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, sheds light on racial relations and tensions in the United States. It’s akin to exploring an entirely different world, far from that of mainstream white America. Realistic dialogue and absurd scenarios make this an entertaining read. For some bizarre reason, the novels of Himes remain more popular in France than in his native US. Himes died in 1984.

 

Jo Nesbo – The Leopard

Nesbo is the hottest new writer on the mystery circuit — hailed as the “next Stieg Larsson” due to his Scandinavian roots no doubt, although Nesbo is Norwegian and Larsson was Swedish. This is the newest of five novels that Nesbo has penned so far, and I liked it a lot. Much better writing than Larsson (or, at least, better translating) and an endearingly complex character in detective Harry Hole (yes, that’s his unfortunate name). I’ve already started reading The Snowman, figuring I’ll just go in reverse order until I get to the first one in the series.

 

David W. Moore – The Superpollsters

This is a fascinating insider’s tale about the history and “business” of opinion polls, particularly those involving politics in the USA. It’s a bit dated, having been written and published in the mid-1990s, but it’s still an important book and offers an illuminating look at polling and the mistakes that are often made by these “experts”. After Thailand’s recent polling debacle — in which all of the major opinion polls made huge miscalculations in their projections — this is a must read for anyone who has doubts and reservations about the accuracy and ramifications of polling.

 

Bill Pronzini – Boobytrap

Pronzini is one of America’s better, yet more unheralded mystery novelists. This novel, published in the late 1990s, is one in his “Nameless Detective” series set in San Francisco. Absolutely stellar stuff; sharp dialogue, memorable characters, and lots of tension.

 

Joseph Hansen – Early Graves

Hansen wrote many mystery novels featuring the Dave Brandstetter character, a whiskey-drinking insurance investigator who is also gay. Inevitably, Brandstetter ends up solving crimes that the police cannot. Early Graves is one of the better books in the series. A few troubled, if not screwed-up characters, along with Brandstetter’s sexuality and a turbulent relationship make for an absorbing novel.

 

Ed McBain – Lullaby

I can’t get enough of McBain’s wonderful 87th Precinct “police procedural” novels, and this ranks as one of the best of the bunch. And it’s certainly one of the longest in that series. Between the frenzied action, and colorful characters at the precinct, McBain shows that he is also a skilled writer who can move the reader.

 

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