Tag: Pelecanos

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

Posted May 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 0 Comments

The Last Good Kiss by James CrumleyTitle: The Last Good Kiss (Goodreads)
Author: James Crumley
Series: C.W. Sughrue #1
Published: Vintage, 1978
Pages: 244
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

James Crumley’s private investigator CW Sughrue finds himself searching for a runaway young woman, missing for ten years. But this is not how it started out; he was hired by a woman to find her ex-husband, Abraham Trahearne before he drinks himself to death. A confrontation in the bar that results in Trahearne being injured in hospital puts Sughrue in a position to look for this missing woman.

This hard-boiled novel is told in a way I don’t think has been done enough in a pulp crime novel. A parallel narrative exploring the problematic relationship between Sughrue and the wandering alcoholic novelist, and the three femme fatales in Trahearne’s life, just to make things more complex. Apart from that, you have the usual elements that make up a hard-boiled novel; alcohol, money, love, sex, power and violence.

Somehow James Crumley has a refreshing voice for this genre; I’m not sure if it is just that I’ve not read enough hard-boiled novels set in the seventies or there is something else there. I would put Crumley somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson; he doesn’t have the plotting skills and wit that Chandler has but he isn’t as violent and philosophical as Thompson. The narrative, while in a first person point of view, manages to switch between making the reader feel like they are in the same room trying to piece this mystery together, and then all of a sudden you are inside CW Sughrue head reading all his thoughts, emotions and memories. This isn’t easy to do but Crumley does this so seamlessly that you don’t really notice it happening. This narrative, mixed with the cynicism and low regard to society is what I think makes this book so refreshing.

This novel deals a lot with sex; Sughrue’s personal integrity and professional ethics are corrupted by the sexual desire towards Catherine; a desire she uses to manipulate him. Trahearne hasn’t been able to be creative because of his sexual desire with Melinda and his attraction towards his mother. Then there is Betty Sue, who just has a sexual desire towards everyone in the book. It’s important to know at the core of this books portrayal of sexual desire is the cynical belief that such corruption is unavoidable and even inevitable.

The Last Good Kiss also deals with the idea of identity and trying to escape your past, but ultimately realising you can’t run. Betty Sue hides her true self between layers of masks and other identities; she is running from her sexually exploitative time in San Francisco but it all comes back in the end. Trahearne can’t escape his infidelities, alcoholism and his ex-wife’s fury. All of them fail to realise that the past defines the present. Their mistakes in the past do not have to define their future but helps them grow; this book just ends up being a twisted celebration of life’s obstacles shaping our personality.

Admittedly I found myself being bored in parts of this book and wanting to skim read, but I persevered and found some interesting elements that stopped this from being a generic crime novel. CW Sughrue, is an alcoholic ex-army officer turned private investigator and that dark past is what makes me want to keep reading the series, just to discover what he is running from.  The Last Good Kiss has been described as the most influential crime novel of the last 50 years, influencing people like Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and even Neal Stephenson; that alone is an impressive reason to check this book out. While I think I prefer Jim Thompson for style and message, James Crumley is an author I plan to explore more of.


What it Was by George Pelecanos

Posted April 17, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 0 Comments

What it Was by George PelecanosTitle: What it Was (Goodreads)
Author: George Pelecanos
Series: Derek Strange and Terry Quinn #5
Published: Back Bay Books, 2012
Pages: 243
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Derek Strange left the police department to set up shop as a private investigator while his old partner Frank “Hound Dog” Vaughn remained. When a young woman comes to Strange to help find a costume ring, it leads him right to Vaughn’s active homicide case. Now both of them are working together trying to find a ruthless killer known as Red Fury.

George Pelecanos is best known as a writer for The Wire; I will admit I’ve not watched the show in its entirety but I thought I will try one of his books. I picked up this book because it was accessible but soon found out it was book five in a series about Derek Strange & Frank Vaughn. Luckily enough this read like a standalone and still felt like I learnt enough about the two to enjoy this book.

This book reminds me of those 1970’s pulp movies, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel with that same feel. You have the typical cool, badass African American who goes around kicking ass and then you have his former partner who is as hard-boiled as they come but since he is a cop he does things by the book. This is almost like a buddy cop situation but because they are not working together it doesn’t turn into anything formulaic.

Pelecanos packs a lot of detail into this novel; the cars, the clothes and the action packed plot but most of all the music. I cannot help but wonder if George Pelecanos was obsessed with music at the time of writing this book, because it really came through. Not only does he mention songs, albums and artists but who was playing what instrument and a little review of the song according to the character. Never have I read such an obsession with music since American Psycho.

I’m not sure if Strange had an afro but I can’t imagine him any other way with his bellbottom pants; it really was an image driven novel. I think with all the work George Pelecanos did with TV helped him world build and paint a picture. There were some clunky parts of the book but nothing really that would detract from the enjoyment of Pelecanos hard-boiled style.

I want to read more books in this series, as well as try out some of his other standalone novels. While this was book five, it was enough to convince me to explore more of this author’s catalogue, but I can’t help but wonder if reading this series out of order was one of my major problems with the book. I hear many people talking about The Night Gardener, so maybe that will be my next step into George Pelecanos style.


Monthly Review – March 2013

Posted March 31, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

Happy Easter everyone, hope you are all enjoying the long weekend. I hope everyone has had a wonderful month of reading and had time to fit Lolita into their busy schedule. I’ve noticed a lot of mixed reactions to this book which would mainly be a result of the controversial nature of this book but it really is one of those books that have helped shape twentieth century literature, so well worth checking out. Still a lot of action happening with the reading challenge as well; looks like two hundred books been added this month. For those who don’t know about the reading challenge, there is still time to join in the fun, so check out my introductory post here.

A reminder that next month’s book will Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami for our Japanese literature theme. I haven’t read much Murakami but expect some great discussion on this book, hopefully with some thoughts to the Magical Realism genre.

Highlights for my month’s reading included Infinite Jest which I’ve finally finished; the beautiful painting of Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding; Lolita; and In a Lonely Place. I would like to mention two other books that really blew me away. First, Pride and Prejudice which I finally got around to reading after putting it off for far too long (also have you seen the Lizzie Bennett Diaries?). Also Tenth of December; while I’m not much of a reader of short stories George Saunders showed me just enough to change my mind. What have you been reading this month and what were the highlights?

My Monthly Reading


Books Beside the Bed

Posted March 11, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

While I’ve noticed people write posts about what they plan to read during the week, I thought I might do something similar. I thought rather than make this a regular theme; it will just be something to help break up all the review posts. I like the idea of a post about the books by my bed because I have so many books I want to read, it could be fun to share what I’m currently reading and hope to read soon.

The Son by Philipp Meyer

I don’t know why I was excited to read this book, I’ve not even read American Rust but when I was offered a review copy I jumped at the chance. So far I’m finding this book to be compelling and can see why people hold Philipp Meyer in such high regard.

 

What it Was by George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos is best known as a writer for The Wire, I will admit I’ve not watched the show in its entirety but I thought I’ll try one of his books. This has a real 1970’s feel to it and so far I’m really enjoying the pulp style. Apparently this is book five in a series but it reads like a standalone novel.

 

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

I first heard about this book from The First Tuesday Book Club (now known as The Book Club) and thought it might be a short book for the Literary Exploration challenge’s Erotica pick. This is a library book so I will need to get to this book soon.

 

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs

Another library book, this book was talked about on the Books on the Nightstand podcast and they described the protagonist as a descendant of Lee Child‘s Jack Reacher and Richard Stark‘s Parker. Then the final nail in the coffin was when the blurb called it “Stunningly dark, hugely intelligent and thoroughly addictive”.

 

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

A friend of mine lent me these books; while I’m not really a fan of fantasy I did mention I have enjoyed the fantasy/pulp crossover novels. So now I’ve been told to read Guards! Guards! and if I like it, Men at Arms.  Not sure when I’ll get to these books, but they sit beside my bed waiting for me.

 

Mimi by Lucy Ellmann

I recently receive this book and I don’t know what it is but I feel drawn to it. Mimi does look intriguing but I’m still not sure what to expect. The novel is described as “Sparkling, polemical, irreverent, slippery, and sexy”.

While I have plenty of other books I plan to read these are the books sitting next to my bed hoping to take priority. This is not always the case, I might put some on my TBR bookshelf but they are all calling for some attention. Do you have a pile of books waiting beside your bed? and if so what are they.


Guest Post: Brief Overview of Pulp Fiction – Part 4 (1990’s & On)

Posted December 16, 2012 by Guest Post in Guest Posts, Literature, Pulp / 0 Comments

There are currently many prolific authors working in crime fiction, whose names will not be mentioned, that occasionally find themselves labelled as noir by fans and critics alike and quite simply are not. They write about cops who have problems with their superiors or former military men with vengeance on their mind, they pile up the bodies and solve dark cases but they border on fantasy and as we’ve seen in the previous three parts to this overview true noirs are realistic and bleak with very few happy endings.

After assessing fifty years of noir and hard-boiled writing it becomes quite obvious that the fourth generation, the contemporary American hard-boiled and noir writer are yet to truly find their own unique voice or societal change to rail against.

If you accept that 9/11 changed the world completely in the same way that WWII and the threat of nuclear war did to previous generations we should expect a dramatic increase in distinct creative output from the next wave of authors.

What is clear is that, as with the rise in popularity of dystopian fiction, contemporary hard-boiled and noir authors are looking to their genre heritage and their countries past for settings and places to escape to. They are almost a lost generation, dreaming of a time when things were friendlier, less scary, less connected and invasive, that time when there was still some hope for the American Dream.

I discovered the work of Megan Abbott this year, she’s approximately 3 feet tall and specialises in reworking dark noir stories with a female centred twist. If you saw her on the street she’d probably be the last person you would imagine writing such dark novels. Her debut, Die A Little (2005), is set in 1950s LA and steeped in atmospheric suspense and voyeuristic appeal. She wrote four of these excellent period re-workings and then along came The End of Everything (2011) in which she updated her noir styling’s to teenaged girls in 1980s suburbia to amazing effect. It is a tale of lust, revenge, guilt, and my favourite four noir words; secrets, lies, passions and repressions.

Walter Mosley created the iconic hard-boiled hero Easy Rawlins in Devil in a Blue Dress (1990) and went on to write ten more books about his black private detective in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, ending with Blonde Faith (2007). Utilising the style of Chandler and MacDonald Mosley manages to craft top quality hard-boiled mysteries and blend them with analysis of the social inequalities of the time.

George Pelecanos is one of the most famous names from this list, especially for his time writing for the HBO series The Wire. He came to prominence however for his D.C. Quartet, a series of four historical crime novels set in Washington D.C.. He also created two fantastic hard-boiled series featuring first Nick Stefanos in A Firing Offense (1991) and then the pairing of Derek Strange and Terry Quinn with Right as Rain (2001) which has built him a reputation for his gritty depiction of street life and a focus on hard-luck criminals.

James Ellroy, the King of Sinnuendo, the Demon Dog of American crime writing, knows how to write bleak noir filled with hard-boiled characters like nobody working today. His work is generally set in the 1950s and 1960s, featuring densely plotted criminal behaviour from all sides of the law with his tone relentlessly pessimistic. Perhaps his best work (or at the very least the best place to start) is L.A. Confidential (1990) and should be followed up with the first part of his Underworld USA trilogy American Tabloid (1995). But nobody can describe him better than he describes himself:

“Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I’m James Ellroy, the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey dick. I’m the author of 16 books, masterpieces all; they precede all my future masterpieces. These books will leave you reamed, steamed and drycleaned, tie-dyed, swept to the side, true-blued, tattooed and bah fongooed. These are books for the whole fuckin’ family, if the name of your family is Manson.”

Another black private investigator, Lew Griffin, got his start in The Long-Legged Fly (1992) by James Sallis, a novel that starts in the 60s and moves through to the 90s and would lead to five more outings. Sallis has his own way of writing these hard-boiled private detectives, they’re complex and often poetic in their structure. He would go on to create another great of modern noir, Drive (2005) about an unnamed stunt driver who also works as a getaway driver for criminals.

Don Winslow might be most widely known for his brilliant and brutal modern noir Savages (2010) but he also created the surfing private detective Boone Daniels in The Dawn Patrol (2008). Winslow is known for his adrenaline-fueled novels and unique prose style, his subject matter is nothing ground breaking but he entertains like nobody else in the genre.

That leaves us with only Dennis Lehane to draw part four to a close. Lehane might just be best known for his psychological thrillers turned in to Oscar bait movies but his six Boston based noir thrillers featuring male/female investigation team Kenzie & Gennaro are some of the best in modern hard-boiled crime writing. Their first outing A Drink Before The War (1994) set a high standard to live up to but he reached incredibly bleak heights with Gone Baby, Gone (1998).

I’ll reserve special mention for another Brit, Philip Kerr, the creator of the Bernie Gunther novels. These books are a fantastic throwback to classic hard-boiled novels. Bernie starts as a private detective in Berlin as Hitler is consolidating his power and witnesses some truly awful things. His first three adventures are collected as Berlin Noir (1989 to 1991) and are well worth your time.

This is a guest post by blahblahblahtobyYou can find him discussing books on Goodreads, discussing movies on Letterboxd, tweeting nonsense as blahblahblahtoby and on his blog blahblahblahgay, feel free to say hi.

There are literally dozens of great authors and great novels that could have been suggested as essential reading for this guide. The writer of the article went through agonising decisions over who to leave out and is more than aware that your favourite author probably hasn’t been mentioned but feel free to start a discussion in the comments.

This post is part of a four post series exploring the history of Hard-Boiled and Noir Fiction, for recommendations check out each post;

The 1930’s – 1940’s

The 1950’s

The 1960’s – 1980’s

The 1990’s – Onwards