Guilty Pleasures Week: Books
I have pretty respectable taste in books. (Personally, I think my taste is brilliant, but I would since I’m the one selecting and reading them, right?) I can hold my own against most lit-snobs. In fact, I have to admit I’m a bit of a lit-snob myself, more so after working in a bookstore for two years. I’d rather read Tim Sandlin than John Grisham, Flannery O’Connor before Danielle Steel, T. Coraghessan Boyle over Stephen King. I love language as much as story, and it sends a little shiver down my spine when the two come together on the page.
But sometimes I don’t want to read a great novel. My head’s too tired, too fried to fully enjoy a great sentence, to absorb and get lost in a wonderful story. And that’s when I turn to my literary guilty pleasure: mysteries. They’re quick, and reading them relaxes me when I’m in the midst of a heavy workload, when I don’t have the energy for literature. OM also read mysteries, and I always enjoyed swapping books with him and talking about what we’d read.
Following are some of my favorite mystery and crime novelists.
The Four Noirs
Maybe you haven’t read anything by the quartet who rules the noir shelves — Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, and Raymond Chandler — but you’ve probably seen the movies based on their novels and short stories — The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man (Hammett), Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Mildred Pierce (Cain), The Getaway and The Grifters (Thompson), The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely (Chandler). Even if you’ve seen the movies a dozen times, you should read the books. They’re great. I have most everything these four wrote, and I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed.
Lawrence Block: Matthew Scudder series
My favorite boy French turned me onto the mystery genre in December 1992, when I was home for a week with a nasty flu (originally self-diagnosed as my stomach’s rebellion over a dinner of nachos, salsa, and a well-bourboned tumbler of eggnog, but that’s another tale for another day). He brought me a stack of Lawrence Block paperbacks, the first six Matthew Scudders, I believe. I read all six in two days. And was instantly hooked. I’ve enjoyed Scudder’s character development throughout the twenty-some odd years of books, and I’m still reading the Scudder series. I haven’t read much from his other series, except for his new Hitman series. French likes the Burglar Who series. Block’s a good read.
Robert Crais: Elvis Cole series
This Robert Crais series was the second one to hook me, a few months after I started reading Block. Elvis Cole is my kind of man: tall with dark hair and one helluva smart-ass mouth. (God, I love smart-ass men.) He’s good to his one-eyed cat, the women he loves, and his partner — the cool, cold Joe Pike. He’s smart, he’s wily, he’s a PI in L.A. A lot of humor is mixed in with the terrible deeds and body piles. One of the better written series in the mystery section. Crais' standalone books are good, too. Hostage, recently starring Bruce Willis, was based on a Crais novel (he may have written the screenplay, too).
You gotta love Elmore Leonard. He brings crime novels to a new level. He’s been at it for fifty years, and he just gets better. Leonard’s oeuvre is another one mined by Hollywood, some of which have made great films (Soderbergh’s Out of Sight is my favorite Leonard book-cum-movie). Jackie Brown, The Big Bounce, and Get Shorty are just some of the movies made from Leonard's novels. Last year’s The Hot Kid may be my favorite Leonard novel; I loved his tale of gangsters in Oklahoma and Kansas City during the 1930s, and couldn’t wait to talk to OM about it. Damn, I miss OM.
And my true guilty reading pleasure
Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. These I feel guilty reading. I think French first introduced me to this series. Light, silly, fluffy, and very formulaic. But I have a soft spot for klutzes, so I stayed interested for a while. These books are about the length of a good plane ride, and I’ve read many crammed in a Delta coach seat. OM and I used to share this series and talk about them, but we both started getting bored by the sixth or seventh book. We kept plowing through, though. I haven’t read a Stephanie Plum since OM passed away last summer. Don’t think I will again; they remind me of him too much and the writing isn’t good enough to read through that.
Wonder what guilty literary confessions Haahnster's Hallucinations will have for us today …?
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