On My Desk
Ross Macdonald: The Galton Case, The Ferguson Affair, The Blue Hammer, The Underground Man, Black Money
Cornell Woolrich, Waltz Into Darkness
Last summer, when I was working away on the book version of *fait accompli* I happened to drop by the local used bookstore, Tim's, in Provincetown, and we got to talking about mysteries. I wanted to read something that was unusual for me, and easy, and as I never in my life read one of those, outside of Sherlock Holmes (which I loved), I thought I would try one. He recommended Raymond Chandler, I also found a Sue Grafton, and I was on my way. Grafton has written a series of easy to read mysteries, that are named according to the alphabet, (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse, etc; the latest is S is for Silence). I also read all the Raymond Chandlers I could find. I know I don't have to tell you about those.
I might have read a couple of Ross Macdonald novels last summer, I don't remember; I have my list of about 20 novels I read then. Since I ride a subway to work, one train, I usually read a novel, at least I did up until I started using my Ipod, damn thing. This summer I've been reading Ross Macdonald quite a lot and Joseph Kanon, who I mentioned a few weeks ago - don't miss Alibi!- it's great (that one was a gift from Ray DiPalma, as well as The Good German). My recent interest in postwar Germany dates from my early childhood when I lived in Nurnberg and that amazing Weimar show at the Met last year.
But Ross Macdonald! The more I read him, the more I like him. Macdonald is not only psychologically acute- almost all his plots have to do with family dynamics- but his descriptions are superb, and often poetic to boot. Looking at the page as you read it, you feel like you are watching a movie screen as every sentence jumps out at you whole and transforms itself into a moment in the scene that is taking place. And somehow, the descriptions usually add to the suspense. ("The university had been built on an elevated spur of land that jutted into the sea and was narrowed at its base by a tidal slough. Almost surrounded by water and softened by blue haze, it looked from the distance like a medieval fortress town....Close-up, the buildings shed this romatic aspect. They were half-heartedly modern, cubes and oblongs and slabs that looked as if their architect had spent his life designing business buildings." [The Blue Hammer].
A recent visit to Tim's brought me Cornell Woolrich's great *Waltz into Darkness*- the author was suggested by an acquaintance who is up here, the artist Mira Schor. Waltz into Darkness takes place in the late 19th century in New Orleans and thereabouts. Woolrich is credited, for good reason, for inventing along with Hammett and Chandler, the noir genre. He wrote the story that the film Rear Window was based on. He had a tough life and ended up a recluse. This book is full of plot twists and turns, and is the kind of book I find myself at times exclaiming out loud, as if to the character I am reading about, "Don't do it!"
Great writing: "A vanishing point was bound to be reached eventually. It had been imminent for some time, if he'd only taken the trouble to make inventory. But he hadn't; perhaps he'd been afraid to, afraid in his own mind of the too-exact knowledge that that he would have derived from such a summing-up; the certainty of termination. Afraid of the chill that would have been cast upon their feasting, the shadow that would have dimmed their wine. There was always tomorrow, tomorrow, to make a reckoning. And tomorrow, there was always tomorrow still. And meanwhile the music swelled, and the waltz whirled ever faster, giving no pause for breath."
Anyway, time to go back to Ross Macdonald's *The Underground Man* See you later..."It was late on a Saturday afternoon, and the beach was littered with bodies. It was like a warning vision of the future, when every square foot of the world would be populated. I found a place to sit in the sand beside a youth with a guitar who lay propped against a girl's stomach. I could smell her sun-tan oil, and I felt as if everybody but me was paired off like animals in the dark....I got up and looked around me. Under the stratum of smoke which lay over the city, the air was harshly clear. The low sun was like a spinning yellow frisbee which I could almost reach out and catch..."