Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reading Into the Past: Week of 7/29

I've been slacking off on new posts here, but I hope to remedy that. So I'll start doing "Reading Into the Past" yet again...and this week, I rolled a lucky 13, so these are the books I was reading this time of year back in 1994:
  • Lawrence Block, The Girl With the Long Green Heart (7/22)
    We start in the middle of a batch of mysteries (I'd read Caleb Carr's The Alienist and books by Jim Thompson and Robert B. Parker in the days immediately preceding), with a minor early Larry Block novel. In those days, Carroll & Graf was in the middle of a Block revival -- they published six or eight of his very early '60s books as slim mass-market paperbacks (which is exactly what those books originally were, and thus was very appropriate). And I grabbed them all as soon as I found them and read them quickly. Block was writing his way out of the sex-book industry at that point, and his standalone thrillers (like Long Green Heart) were very Jim Thompson-inspired, with femmes fatale all over the place. As you can guess from the title, Girl With the Long Green Heart was very much in that vein. I don't remember a whole lot of any of those books specifically, but they were all fun to read, and Block's always a keeper. (And I see that Hard Case Crime has recently brought this book back into print again -- can't keep a good noir down, I guess.)
  • Terry Goodkind, Wizard's First Rule (7/23)
    What I remember most about this book -- besides that S&M section that everyone still talks about -- is that I was reading it in the middle of a huge heat wave. It was so hot that I just holed up in the bedroom (the only place in my then-apartment with air conditioning) for a day or so and read straight through it. I won't say it's my very favorite epic fantasy series, but it kept me reading, and I didn't want to leave it to go do anything else in the hot parts of the apartment.
  • Terry Pratchett, Soul Music (7/24)
    I think I was still catching up on the Discworld books at this point -- and I know that his publisher certainly was behind -- which may be why I didn't like Soul Music all that much at the time. It was enjoyable, but I got the feeling that it was made up primarily of in-jokes and references rather than a plot of its own. Though I should admit that it's a book I should re-read one of these days, because I expect I'll catch more of the references this time around. (I suspect I tried to read it more-or-less straight, which you can't do.)
  • Marcia Muller, Till the Butchers Cut Him Down (7/25)
    I guess the weekend was over, so I got back into pleasure reading -- and I was in the middle of a big stack of mysteries right then. This was the then-new book in the Sharon McCone series, which I liked a lot then (though I think it floundered a bit under the weight of its own backstory in the later '90s, and so I dropped it). This is the book where Sharon sets up her own detective agency, so, in hindsight, this is the beginning of the ever-increasing cute supporting cast (which is what eventually drove me away). I don't require that PI viewpoint characters be completely aloof loners, but I'd prefer if their books aren't entirely about inter-personal relationships with their interns, spouses, and sisters. Don't start the series here -- get the first book, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, and work forward from there. McCone isn't quite as tough as Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone or Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, but she plays in the same league, and she was actually there first.
  • Peter Rabe, Kill the Boss GoodBye (7/25)
    I don't remember this book at all; according to the reviewers on Amazon, it's a slim crime novel about the (psychiatric) downfall of a gambling boss. From the descriptions, I can see why I was interested in it -- it reminds me a bit of J.G. Ballard writing with Jim Thompson's pen -- but I do have to admit, again, that I can't actually remember it, and I didn't keep it, so I probably didn't like it all that much.
  • Robert B. Parker, Paper Doll (7/26)
    The then-new Spencer novel. Not the place to begin by any means; the first book in the series is The Godwulf Manuscript, and anyone who reads PI novels more than slightly should probably read the first half-dozen or so of the Spencer books at least. (This one, on the other hand, is #20, so it's for people who've made it all the way up, one book at a time, and are still interested.) Again, I don't have much of a memory of any specific Spencer book at this point; Parker has written more than thirty, and I think I've read them all.
  • Michael Z. Lewin, Ask the Right Question (7/26)
    The Lewin book I can remember is Called By a Panther, and, even there, it's mostly just that I can put the title together with his name. But I did enjoy reading his books in the early '90s, and he had a decent detective (Albert Samson) in a different location (Indianapolis). I haven't seen anything from him in a while, which means either I haven't been paying attention, or he was unlucky to be part of the big chunk of writers who can publish a few novels, but not sustain a career much longer than a decade.
  • Arthur Lyons, Dead Ringer (7/27)
    Yet another PI series I used to read, and haven't seen in a while; Lyon's detective is Jacob Asch, and I think he was based in LA. Actually, it might have died even before I started reading it, since it looks like it was mostly an '80s series. No idea what this one was, specifically.
  • Vonda N. McIntyre, Star Wars: The Crystal Star (7/28)
    One of the middle-rank Star Wars books of the Bantam era; not as good as Barbara Hambly's Children of the Jedi, but it wasn't The Courtship of Princess Leia, either. As I remember, the Solo twins are kidnapped by nefarious sorts (into a black hole or something like that), and they get some little-kid personalities that I don't think had anything to do with their later characterization. (Not to say that their characterization in the YA books is all that similar to "The New Jedi Order," of course.) This is the era of Star Wars books I preferred: plots were resolved in one book, and the villains were always defeated. That's the way I like my escapism...
  • Jim Thompson, Heed the Thunder (7/28)
    This was later in Vintage Crime/Black Lizard's reprinting of all of Thompson's books, so they'd run past his obvious classics and well-known books long ago at this point, and were down to the obscurities and the oddballs. Heed the Thunder was Thompson's second novel, a noirish historical set just before World War I in a small Nebraska town. Don't read this instead of The Killer Inside Me, but it's decent Thompson for those who have already read the obvious books.
  • Timothy Zahn, Conquerors' Heritage (7/30)
    Second in an inventive SF trilogy that I don't think I've seen anyone ever talk about: the first book, Conquerors' Pride, was from the POV of humans, whose star-faring society is attacked, suddenly and viciously, by previously unknown aliens. This book covers many of the same events from the alien's point of view -- and, to them, it was the humans who attacked without warning. (The third book, in which both sides make peace, is OK, but not quite as good as the set-up.)
A typically busy reading week back then; I need to remind myself that I didn't have the Internet (or kids) in those days...but I was also reading about three times as many magazines as I am now, too. What a slacker I've become!


Unknown said...

Seriously, the Zahn buildup was much better than the conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Lewin is still publishing or was as of 2004.


Unknown said...

It's McCone,not McHone-otherwise,you're quite right.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Nadine: You are so right I hit my own head when I read your comment. I even looked up the books to refresh my memory, so I'm not sure how I got the name wrong. Thanks for the correction; I've fixed it in the post.

Andrew Wheeler said...

James: The link got cut off, but I think you're referring to The Way We Die Now, which I read in 1994 and was originally published in 1973.

But, pondering your question, I found Lewin's website, which says that Five Star published the most recent Albert Samson novel, Eye Opener, in 2004. So maybe you already said that, and a lot more got cut off than I thought.

Bookhorde said...

What did you think of The Alienist? I have a copy from a library sale that I stopped reading after the first few chapters; maybe I stopped too soon.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Voter Mom: I liked The Alienist, as I recall, though it did start pretty slowly. I don't know if I'd have as much patience for it these days as I did then.

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