Happy Birthday, Archie!

My annual tribute to one of my favorite fictional characters (if not my all-time favorite). I’ve got to do an overhaul to this soon, but it is slightly updated and tweaed from last year.

On Oct 23 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Archie Goodwin entered this world—no doubt with a smile for the pretty nurses—and American detective literature was never the same.

I’m toasting him in one of the ways I think he’d appreciate most—by raising a glass of milk in his honor.

Who was Archie? Archie summed up his life thusly:

Born in Ohio. Public high school, pretty good at geometry and football, graduated with honor but no honors. Went to college two weeks, decided it was childish, came to New York and got a job guarding a pier, shot and killed two men and was fired, was recommended to Nero Wolfe for a chore he wanted done, did it, was offered a full-time job by Mr. Wolfe, took it, still have it.” (Fourth of July Picnic)

Long may he keep it. Just what was he employed by Wolfe to do? In The Black Mountain he answers the statement, “I thought you was a private eye” with:

I don’t like the way you say it, but I am. Also I am an accountant, an amanuensis, and a cocklebur. Eight to five you never heard the word amanuensis and you never saw a cocklebur.

In The Red Box, he says

I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe’s chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I’m chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.

In Black Orchids, he reacts to an insult:

…her cheap crack about me being a ten-cent Clark Gable, which was ridiculous. He simpers, to begin with, and to end with no one can say I resemble a movie actor, and if they did it would be more apt to be Gary Cooper than Clark Gable.

I’m not the only Archie fan out there:

  • A few months back, someone pointed me at this post, The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Goodwin. There’s some really good stuff here that I was tempted to steal, instead, I’ll just point you at it.
  • Robert Crais himself when writing an introduction to a Before Midnight reprint, devoted it to paying tribute to Archie—one of the few pieces of anything written that I can say I agree with jot and tittle.

In case you’re wondering if this post was simply an excuse to go through some collections of Archie Goodwin quotations, you wouldn’t be totally wrong…he’s one of the fictional characters I like spending time with most in this world–he’s the literary equivalent of comfort food. So just a couple more great lines I’ve quoted here before:

I would appreciate it if they would call a halt on all their devoted efforts to find a way to abolish war or eliminate disease or run trains with atoms or extend the span of human life to a couple of centuries, and everybody concentrate for a while on how to wake me up in the morning without my resenting it. It may be that a bevy of beautiful maidens in pure silk yellow very sheer gowns, barefooted, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and scattering rose petals over me would do the trick, but I’d have to try it.

I looked at the wall clock. It said two minutes to four. I looked at my wrist watch. It said one minute to four. In spite of the discrepancy it seemed safe to conclude that it would soon be four o’clock.

Description:I shook my head. “You’re flattering me, Inspector. I don’t arouse passions like that. It’s my intellect women like. I inspire them to read good books, but I doubt if I could inspire even Lizzie Borden to murder.”

She turned back to me, graceful as a big cat, and stood there straight and proud, not quite smiling, her warm dark eyes as curious as if she had never seen a man before. I knew damn well I ought to say something, but what? The only thing to say was ‘Will you marry me?’ but that wouldn’t do because the idea of her washing dishes or darning socks was preposterous.

“Indeed,” I said. That was Nero Wolfe’s word, and I never used it except in moments of stress, and it severely annoyed me when I caught myself using it, because when I look in a mirror I prefer to see me as is, with no skin grafted from anybody else’s hide, even Nero Wolfe’s.

If you like Anglo-Saxon, I belched. If you fancy Latin, I eructed. No matter which, I had known that Wolfe and Inspector Cramer would have to put up with it that evening, because that is always a part of my reaction to sauerkraut. I don’t glory in it or go for a record, but neither do I fight it back. I want to be liked just for myself.

When a hippopotamus is peevish it’s a lot of peeve.

It was nothing new for Wolfe to take steps, either on his own, or with one or more of the operatives we used, without burdening my mind with it. His stated reason was that I worked better if I thought it all depended on me. His actual reason was that he loved to have a curtain go up revealing him balancing a live seal on his nose.

It helps a lot, with two people as much together as he and I were, if they understand each other. He understood that I was too strong-minded to add another word unless he told me to, and I understood that he was too pigheaded to tell me to.

I always belong wherever I am.

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WWW Wednesday, 23-October-2019

Welcome to WWW Wednesday!

This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived on Taking on a World of Words — and shown to me by Aurore-Anne-Chehoke at Diary-of-a-black-city-girl.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Easy enough, right?

What are you currently reading?

Today I started the audiobook of Side Jobs by Jim Butcher and James Marsters (Narrator) and I’m a little over half finished with Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is in Trouble.

What did you recently finish reading?

Yesterday I finished Open Season by C. J. Box, David Chandler (Narrator) on audio and Monday I finished Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch.

What do you think you’ll read next?

My next book will be the eARC of Shattered Bonds by Faith Hunter—I’ve been wanting to dive into this for weeks, but my Book Tour stop is next week, and I would’ve had a hard time putting off talking about it after I read it.

Hit me with your Three W’s in the comments! (no, really, do it!)

In Medias Res: Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

As the title implies, I’m in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through.

—–

Fleishman Is in TroubleFleishman Is in Trouble

by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

This is going to be a tough one to write about when I finish, unless the last half is significantly different than the first (a possibility I’m open to).

It’s not the writing. The prose is delightful, there are turns of phrase that I’ve stopped to re-read. Brodesser-Akner has a sharp wit and an equally sharp eye for observation/social commentary.

But man, I’m just not enjoying this book at all. I don’t like the protagonist (I admire the lessons he gives his residents at the hospital)—and he’s easily the most likable character in the book. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve almost DNF’d this.

Here’s why I’m sticking with it—I’m curious. Partially to see what the fuss is about (if I can). But more than that, I’m curious about the ending—I’ve heard it’s a killer. And there are two things I want to see where Brodesser-Akner is going with (we might get the answers to all 3 simultaneously). I may not enjoy the book but she’s doing everything right to get me to keep reading. Still, I’m afraid this is going to end up being in The Best of Adam Sharp or The Heart of Henry Quantum territory, however–well-written books that I only remember suffering through.

Has anyone out there read this thing? Any encouragement for me?

Pub Day Post: Famous in Cedarville by Erica Wright: Small Town Life and Hollywood Glamour Collide in this Mystery

Famous in Cedarville

Famous in Cedarville

by Erica Wright

eARC, 320 pg.
Polis Books, 2019

Read: October 16, 2019


Reading this book made me think of that overused 90’s-era sitcom line: Who are you, and what have you done with Erica Wright? Famous in Cedarville and its protagonist, Samson Delaware are so far removed from Kat Stone and her world, it’s hard to believe they come from the same mind. That said, as much as I want to see more of Kat Stone, if Wright’s going to give us more like this? I won’t complain too loudly.

I’m getting ahead of myself, we should start with the beginning when Samson Delaware joins some fellow citizens of Cedarville, TN to carry the body of Barbara Lace from her home. Lace left her small town home at a young age to pursue fame and fortune in Hollywood. She found it, too—she wasn’t a superstar, she didn’t reach the heights of fame or craft; but she was someone that people all over the country knew. And the only person from Cedarville that anyone not from the area knew was alive. After decades in California, she retired from film and television and basically became a recluse.

Delaware is a carpenter and probably the area’s antiques expert. He appraises pieces, advises buyers, in addition to buying and restoring pieces to sell. While in Lace’s home, he can’t help himself from looking around more than he ought. While it’s nowhere near his expertise, something doesn’t seem right about the scene to him, and he starts to think that Lace didn’t die peacefully in her sleep.

A few days later, Lace’s personal assistant is murdered (no ambiguity about that one), leading Delaware to step up his unofficial investigation—which soon becomes official, as the local authority (note the singular, Cedarville is just that small) and State investigators are both stymied. The sheriff is desperate enough to grant official status to anyone who can help.

Looking into Lace’s murder takes Delaware on a journey through time and space—the key to it has to be in Lace’s past (she saw so few people recently, it has to be in the past). And Lace’s past is in Los Angeles, so Delaware heads out to L.A. to do some footwork and talk to those who knew the actress during her heyday (and after it, too).

Delaware’s own investigation pulls double duty—not only will it hopefully bring the community some answers about their favorite daughter, but it also distracts him from the all-consuming grief following his wife’s death. More than once, he has to wrestle with the question of whether he’s pursuing justice for justice’s sake or if it’s because it helps him not deal with his wife’s death.

As its protagonist looks into a by-gone era of film, the novel takes on the feel and atmosphere of that era while retaining a feeling of fresh and contemporary. Don’t ask me how Wright does that, but it’s great to see it done. Beyond that, there’s a depth to the emotion and characters that you don’t see every day. It’d be easy to argue that Delaware coming to grips (in whatever way he does) to his current state, how he got there and where he’s going is more important to the novel than showing what happened to Lace and her assistant (it’d be easy to argue against it, too, but that’s my point).

I’m not doing a good job describing how different this book comes across—not just from Wright’s previous work, but from most of what’s out there in the genre at the moment. Hopefully, others can articulate it—I’m confident any reader will feel what I’m getting at.

There were two distinct “What the —!?!” moments (there are a few more surprises, but two that you won’t forget soon). One of which, technically, is the result of Wright cheating. But it’s such a cool development and Wright reveals it so deftly that I couldn’t complain. The other one was completely honest and caught me completely flat-footed. Far from clearing everything up, both of these added layers and complexity to this already intricate plot.

A complex mystery, rich characters (I don’t have time to talk about Lace’s long-time agent or the people of Cedarville), a nostalgic yet timely feeling novel that looks to Hollywood’s glamorous past and the very human, very real present. Wright knocks this one out of the park and will earn herself some new fans with this one.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Polis Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.


4 Stars

Answer Me This (A Quick Poll)

I’ve been wondering lately, assuming you follow this blog on a semi-regular basis, how do you find out about new posts? If you see this post, and don’t follow this blog, what would you find the most useful?

Hope you participate!

Well, pfui. I guess the poll didn’t get embeded like I thought it would….back to the drawing board.

The Mail I Get. . .An Unexpected Blast from the Past

Imagine my surprise last week when I received this submission from my “You Want Me to Read Your Book?” form (slightly redacted to protect the sender):

I’m not sure this is the wisest thing I’ve ever done. In fact, it seems somewhat irrational, considering you found my last book a bit like chewing on glass [HCN: That’s an exaggeration. Possibly not much of one, but it’s an exaggeration. It was maybe like chewing on kale. Or stale Grape Nuts (which is more glass-like)] Maybe worse, because nothing is as bad as a bad book. But here I am again. Back for more.

Now, I’m not a sadist. I’m actually fairly thinned-skin. I realize, however, that of all my reviews, yours was the one that taught me the most. Getting five, four, or even three-star reviews feels great—but it does little in making me a better writer. Difficult as it was to swallow, your two-star review helped me immensely as a writer. You put your finger on why my book didn’t work and revealed many of the flaws in my writing. It eventually prompted me to go back and release a second edition of the book, one that is hopefully less overwrought and far more accessible than the version you read.

And so, I’m back for more. Because I’m hoping in having you review another book I might continue my growth towards being a better writer. Who knows, maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, I have a second book out… It is much more accessible… I would love to have you read it. Anyway, I hope you’re well. Happy reading,

Now, I have a habit of ignoring emails from authors I don’t give positive reviews to. It’s a habit I forced on myself after one horrible experience with someone I gave a positive review to, but he objected to one point; and an insult-filled rant from another author who didn’t appreciate me calling his pile of trash a pile of trash. If this author’s name had done more than ring a faint bell, I probably would’ve skipped it, too. But I’m very glad I didn’t. This is great to read — not because of what he said about me, but because he found a way to take something he didn’t like said about his work and turn it into a positive. Would that we all could do that.

Of course, I’m going to say yes to this. How can I do otherwise?

The Dead Don’t Sleep by Steven Max Russo: No need to teach these old dogs any new tricks

The Dead Dont Sleep

The Dead Dont Sleep

by Steven Max Russo

eARC, 292 pg.
Down & Out Books, 2019

Read: October 11-14, 2019


This is one of those thrillers that within a chapter or three, you know pretty much how things are going to go for the rest of the book. That’s me being descriptive, not evaluating anything. There’s nothing wrong with this type of thriller—the fun is in seeing the author execute what you know (and think you know) is coming, and just what kind of surprise is in store for the ending. It’s like playing Mousetrap—everyone knows what’s going to happen when you start the machine going, it’s still fun to watch (see also almost every functional Rube Goldberg machine).

That said, there was one death/serious injury that I predicted at least three different times in my notes (one “he” was ambiguous, I really need to be more specific) that didn’t happen and another that I fully expected that didn’t materialize. So I’m not saying that Russo didn’t have any tricks up his sleeve—there were more than those, too. It’s just that on the whole, you know what this book is going to give you pretty soon (see also: just about every Jack Reacher novel).

So what is this set up?

Frank Thompson’s wife died pretty recently, and he’s not dealing well with the loss. After holing up by himself for a while, he visits a nephew (Bill) in New Jersey—really, his first social contact after her death. Frank’s getting up in years himself, but he’s doing pretty well, all things considered.

Frank and Bill go to the shooting range one day. While there, someone confronts Frank, claiming they know each other—Frank pleads ignorance (a white lie), but the stranger soon figures out who he is. They knew each other back in Vietnam while part of a special combat unit. The stranger (Jasper) and his friends are convinced that Frank did a bad thing to one of their own back in ‘Nam. Frank wouldn’t argue with them, but they all were involved in doing very bad things (as they were ordered to), he’d add. Besides, that was a lifetime ago, and he, Jasper and the rest of the unit have all moved on to civilian life and put those atrocities behind them.

If that were true, this would be a much shorter book. Thankfully for us readers, Jasper and his friends carry a grudge. Two of them—Birdie and Pogo (no, really)—are nearby and available. So after Frank goes home to his house on the outskirts of a small Maine town, the three of them head up to pay him a visit. And it ain’t a social call.

Frank knows that Jasper and others (no idea how many others) are coming, and takes steps to prepare. And then the fecal matter hits the rotary impeller.

That’s a little more long-winded than I’d intended, but I haven’t given too much away. So basically, you’ve got 4 septuagenarians carrying small arsenals in the Maine woods drawing on the training they all received decades ago (one or two of them may have been keeping those skills sharp, but that’s beside the point). None of these guys are in their prime anymore, and more than once I wondered if natural causes would beat an act of violence to the punch (I won’t say if I was right).

Don’t go thinking that this is any kind of comic novel—it’s not Grumpy Old Men III: Locked and Loaded, these are hard men doing violent things. After the trio arrives in Maine, the questions that need to be answered are: how many of these four are going to walk away from this showdown, and what kind of collateral damage will there be?

Not all the characters are as well-rounded as they could be, but they’re all close enough that no one’s going to complain—especially when the action kicks in. You can’t say there are really good guys or bad guys here. Well, that’s not true—there are bad guys and some less-bad guys. No one wears a white hat in this book (at least not those at the center of the action), the hats are all black or dark gray.

This next paragraph contains a spoiler—or something spoiler-adjacent. Feel free to skip it and move on.
There’s a [insert your own Latin-y word here] ex machina element to the last action scene of this novel. I don’t think it was necessary (they almost never are), and a resolution was still possible that would’ve satisfied novels without it. The more that I think about it, what that element means for Frank’s world is pretty disturbing—more than anything else that happened in the book, really. As I write this, it occurs to me that if there’s a sequel, this element is likely going to play a central role, and I’ll retract the last 97 words. Still, I’d have liked to have seen things play out without the             ex machina. But that could just be me.
Back to the no-spoiler zone:

This is the kind of thing that should appeal to fans of Gregg Hurwitz, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder or others in that vein. The pacing is tight, the action scenes are well-handled, and the tension is real. This is a great way to spend a couple of hours with some good escapist reading. It’s possible (probable?) for Russo to return to the survivors for a sequel—if he does, I’ll be at the front of the line for it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Down & Out Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this ride.


3.5 Stars