November 2009

Clayton Moore

mystery strumpet

Things That Are Good

I swear that Iím trying to work on my positive inner-speak, as so often encouraged by friends and loved ones. But sometimes I have to wonder if this is the moment weíll look back on and say, ďYep, thatís when it all went to hell.Ē †

Right there, thatís when the economy that all those overeducated analysts said was coming back to life fell over like a ton of bricks and the ďdouble dipĒ that only a few predicted bankrupted the remaining assets of an insolvent system. That week, the one where the CDC said one in five children had the H1N1 virus, we now know was when the flu started to mutate into a more virulent strain so by Christmas, we were all down with the sickness. That moment, that split second in November, was the last time I didnít know I was going to lose my job, my house, my spouse, my breath.†

Now, this is all totally futile conjecture at the moment, even though it often seems like things are going from bad to worse. The point, after all, is this: no one knows whatís going to happen to them. The guy at the liquor store reminds you to buy a lottery ticket and you win. The light turns red when it should have been green and you lose. Right now just might be all you get, buddy.†

Not that Iím not ready to stick a fork in this year and be done with it, too. Some rotten things have happened to me and mine these past years, so the possibility of some psychic shift towards the better, even an imaginary one, is all it takes to keep me going some days.†

In the spirit of living in the moment, I took a few days off last month to go to the ocean so I could sit on the edge of a cliff and stare into the abyss for a few peaceful hours. It happened to be one of those rare trips when I took just the right book with me. I make it a point not to take any of the hundreds of books I read for work each year with me on vacations, so the books I do take tend to be either deeply unusual or wildly entertaining. This time, I took Don Winslowís The Dawn Patrol, a book I praised a lot last year. The series opener, about a busted-flush P.I. named Boone Daniels and his surf-minded cohorts, laid just the right balance between violence and stillness for my mood.†

You can read all about that particular title elsewhere but one of my favorite parts of the book involves the unceasing deliberation and good-natured disputes over the rankings on ďThe List of Things That Are Good.Ē Itís specific to the needs and desires of the fictional group, of course, so among the things on their list are Fish Tacos, Big Wednesday, All-Female Outrigger Canoe Teams, and Free Stuff.†

Anyway, The List reminded me -- not only then, but right now, when the days are both actually and metaphorically getting a lot darker -- that there are things that are good. Sometimes, to quiet my spinning head down, I walk and think about these things, ranging from my motherís continuing recovery from Something Serious to the way my friendsí little girl mimics everything she hears these days. Yes, I know that anybody who knows me just a little might think I have a much different list. But Iím trying to live closer to the more persistent reminders in The Dawn Patrol: that all of the best things in life are free. And that everything tastes better on a tortilla.†

You can always find things to look forward to if you look hard enough, so in the spirit of Zen serenity and positive inner-speak (two things that are totally against my native disposition), I started looking around for next yearís books we can all eagerly await. †

Naturally, the first book that came to mind for this little exercise is now driving me up a wall. This is how things work around here most of the time.†

I thought to myself about what to read next. Self, I says, we know that Don Winslowís pretty crafty and heís only getting better with time. Sure, Hollywood completely screwed up the movie adaptation of The Life and Death of Bobby Z by casting it with the star of Into the Blue and Cowboy Curtis, but as a novelist, Winslow has serious chops. The Dawn Patrol got rave reviews and has the potential to become a real hot-ticket property after Martin Scorsese gets around to filming The Winter of Frankie Machine with Robert De Niro later this year. My bet was that Winslow already had a sequel lined up for Boone Daniels and company. So I dug in to find out.†

The good news is that I was right. Itís called The Gentlemenís Hour, and itís supposed to be great. In it, Boone is out of work yet again so he starts sticking around for the titular ďgentlemenís hourĒ when the grizzled vets and the self-made men get their time in the surf. Since I donít have a copy in front of me, Iíll have to borrow an explanation of the phenomenon from Winslowís equally cool The Winter of Frankie Machine, as voiced by the growling, retired hit man who centers the book.†

ďThe Gentlemenís Hour is an institution on every California surf spot,Ē Winslow writes. ďIt starts around 8:30 or 9:00, when the young guns have hustled off to their day jobs, leaving the water to guys with more flexible schedules. So the lineup consists of your doctors, your lawyers, your real estate investors, your federal worker early buyouts, some retired schoolteachers -- in short, gentlemen.Ē†

Back in the new book, Boone is hired mid-wave to take on a matrimonial case that turns out to be more than it first appears, and his girlfriend (question mark) and attorney Petra Hall asks him to step into a dispute between a local and the local gangs that are starting to sour parts of Pacific Beach. Uncut Magazine says, ďWhen Boone starts linking the narrative strands together and realizes how heís been set up from the start, the action gets even hotter. Terrific stuff.Ē†

Cool, right? Right on, thereís a sequel to The Dawn Patrol. Hot damn. Yes, please.†

Hereís the bad news. I canít seem to lay one hand on the blasted thing -- even though itís in print. The book was published by Heinemann Books in the UK in July. (!) Meanwhile, Alfred A. Knopf and its mystery imprint, Vintage Crime, donít know a thing about it. The official response to my request was, ďIím afraid we donít publish that one. It looks like it might just be in the UK.Ē Say what now?†

So hereís my crossed-fingers wish: that the book really does exist and that somebody crafty is holding it back for a release next summer when the days are warmer and the waves are high. So thereís my first item on The List for next year. (And, if any readers happen to have a copy of the UK edition theyíd like to share with your hard-working columnist, Iím sure we could work out a swap for something else that Is Good).†

Luckily, there are other items on The List. Actually, the next book to come to mind was one that was scheduled to be released in October but got kicked back to January for reasons unknown. One of my favorite series authors for the past few years has consistently been John Burdett, ever since he unleashed Bangkok 8 on the crime-writing world and fried my little writerís brain with his first-person, present-tense story about a homicide detective in Thailand. Because the last book was a bit of a downer, I wondered for a long time if the story of Sonchai Jitpleecheep would be a trilogy but thankfully, I was wrong. †

Sonchai returns in January in The Godfather of Kathmandu, and like Winslow, Burdett is actually one of the few series writers whoís getting better over time. Like Bangkok 8, the book begins with a bang, as the loquacious detective brings us into the moment as he races towards yet another murder scene centered on one of the inconvenient foreigners who seem to plague Sonchaiís daily existence.†

Damn, I love these openers. One of these days, Iím going to write a column on great opening lines, starting with ďThat summer, they hanged a fat man at the Western gate, as a warning and example to all,Ē and work my way forward from ďAll nights should be so dark, all winters so warm, all headlights so dazzling.Ē But Iím wandering away from my subject again. You must forgive me my trespasses, too.†

Godfather is, to its betterment, less grim while being as gritty as the first three, without carrying the weight that dragged down the last volume just a little. Sukum, with his eagerness and ambitions to be promoted, makes for an interesting antagonist for Sonchai, who cares not, as we know, for worldly things -- even his own accomplishments. The riotous, corrupt and ruthless Colonel Vikorn, meanwhile, has been studying The Godfather on DVD, which is a great conceit unto itself. Newly named as the not-so-good Colonelís consigliere, Sonchai has to find a middle ground between his lord and master and Vikornís blood rival General Zinna, with forty million dollars in dope and a Tibetan lama standing between the two. Iím only a few chapters in, and Iím sold already.†

Also sitting on my shelf to be read is the latest vampire pulp-noir mashup by Charlie Huston, My Dead Body. Iím going to save this one to cover another day, especially since itís the last book in Charlieís long series and itís worth getting to the end all by yourself. But if you happen to be in a bookstore anytime soon, I completely encourage you to find a copy of My Dead Body, and skip to the back of the book. Not to ruin the ending of Joe Pittís continuing adventures, but because the book contains a very intriguing excerpt from Hustonís next book, Sleepless, a borderline psychedelic thriller -- rumored to arrive in January -- thatís been described as a role-playing game playing itself out in print. I donít get it yet either, but Iím damned curious.†

When I talked to Charlie last year about The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, he alluded to the various influences and impacts that moving to Los Angeles were having on him. Not to mention the fact that Hustonís burgeoning popularity with the general public meant his publishing schedule was going to get wacky. †

ďIt meant that I had to flip my schedule and accelerate to hit the new deadlines,Ē Huston said. ďPart of what made that problematic is that the new book is far more ambitious than anything Iíve previously written.Ē†

From what Iíve read about the new book so far, the writerís not kidding around about that last part. The novel is set in a dystopian near-future that finds L.A. ravaged by suicide bombers and a very peculiar disease. In its first moments, local LAPD cop Park Haas stands on his deck looking out over that eveningís destruction. The excerpt from Sleepless delivers the news in Hustonís characteristic prose, a deliberately hushed, brittle voice.

Fortunately for you and me, the world isnít ending, not today, and maybe tomorrow will be better still. Weíll get back to these titles and more, with lots to look forward to next year, too. Declan Hughes will visit The City of Lost Girls in the spring. Walter Mosley brings back Leonid McGill for another lap around New York in Known to Evil in March. That selfsame month will see Duane Swierczynski quit screwing around with mutants and caped crusaders and get back to blistering novels when he drops Expiration Date on the world. If weíre lucky, Dennis Lehane is still puttering along on the return of Kenzie and Gennaro, as has been widely rumored, so we should see that sequel to Gone Baby Gone in the days to come.†

These are all Good Things. I hope weíre still here to enjoy them together. If I make it through myself, Iíll save you a seat.†

Clayton Mooreís List is longer than you might think. He reorders it from time to time at