June 2010

Clayton Moore

mystery strumpet

Mystery Strumpet's Nifty-Keen Beach Books Round-Up

All right, you animals, itís time to do this dance again. Itís time for the damned round-up of beach books. †

Öhe chuckled, with an evil grin. My round-up of beach books, that is.†

When we did this last time, I gave you a few rules for picking your beach books. But I was feeling a little more inspired back then, as I was actually on my way to a decent beach. Iím going to spend this particular holiday weekend hoisting one for HST at the Woody Creek Tavern and generally trying to kill those brain cells that are currently juggling about 20 different work-and-writing related assignments.†

But because Iím awfully fond of you, my three or four readers, letís see if we can dig you up something interesting to read. Iím even going to stretch the boundaries of my responsibilities here as chief of the Mystery Strumpet department. According to the Bookslut policies and procedures manual and my newly revised job description, Iím supposed to be writing about mysteries. †

But Iíll let you in on a little secret. Thereís usually no mystery involved. The books we love, whether they fit into the genre or not, are all about crime. Crime is one of the constants of the human condition, and itís the only mirror for society that really matters. So instead of busting out a bunch of artificial ideas for spending your hard-earned book dollars, letís look at each book in terms of the crime its characters have committed, and you can choose your poison. †

Hereís the line-up, by month of release, to get you through the long hot summer.

The Crime? Cold-Blooded, World-Shaking Murder, 1968: Me, I donít know how they do it. I love crime novels and all the broken bones, malicious plots, and arcane methods of execution they employ. But the guys who write about real-life crimes have one on me, because I just donít know if I would have the fortitude to spend years writing about a single moment that ended a great manís life. Fortunately, Hampton Sides has it in him. The longtime journalist has crafted one of the best procedural histories of crime in the twentieth century since Bryan Burrough's Public Enemies blew me away a year ago. For his subject, Sides has chosen the infamous assassin James Earl Ray, who famously murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, for Hellhound on His Trail.†

Hampton does a terrific job with his portrait of Dr. King and the tremendous pressure he was under at the end of his too-short life. But where Sides tells the story we havenít heard before is in his meticulous account of Rayís path to Memphis, and the international manhunt that followed the event. Even with a fairly good knowledge of the event, I never realized just how crazy the man was, but Sides paints a chilling portrait of the killer, a chameleonic hard-luck redneck who portrayed himself at various times as a pornographer, a photographer, a supporter of statesí rights and a man of the people, inspired by oh-so-loveable George Wallace. Itís a breathless account of what is quite possibly the most profound blow to the American psyche in the twentieth century, and a tribute to the agents that nailed the killer at Heathrow Airport, just as he was about to get away clean. On shelves now, if you can take it.

The Crime? Wartime Espionage, 1943: Easily the most fascinating history book Iíve read recently is Operation Mincemeat by writer-at-large Ben Macintyre of the Times of London. Although the story at hand has been told before, mostly notably in the 1956 film The Man Who Never Was, Macintyre really has resurrected a nearly-forgotten story of wartime intrigue, brilliant tactics and a trick that cost Hitler southern Europe.

Hereís the story in a nutshell. In 1943, the Allied Forces were in absolute need to control Sicily in order to launch their men into Southern Europe. The trouble was, everyone knew it, including the Nazis. No less than Winston Churchill commented, ďEveryone but a bloody fool would know that itís Sicily.Ē But one talented MI5 officer (aided, weirdly enough, by another intelligence operative who would later put his experience on paper, Ian Fleming) came up with a beautifully sneaky plot. The team took the body of a poisoned, homeless Welshman named Glyndwr Michael, dressed the poor bastard up as a British officer, and planted documents on him that would indicate the invasion of Greece instead.†

For his part, Macintyre did a hell of a lot of legwork to get the story right, finally. He visited Jeremy Montagu, the son of the Naval Intelligence officer who masterminded the plot, who revealed that he was in possession of a cache of papers related to the operation. He also gained access to previously classified files and even tracked down three people who played direct roles in the operation. More than anything else, Macintyre managed to capture the personalities of the men involved, as he told me recently by e-mail.†

ďThere were two characters who caught my imagination above all others,Ē Macintyre wrote. ďGlyndwr Michael, the homeless Welshman who poisoned himself and whose body was used in the operation had been erased from history. Finding the few remnants of his sad life, and restoring him as an individual rather than some faceless corpse, was one of the most fascinating and challenging parts of the book. I also found myself deeply intrigued by Charles Cholmondeley, the MI5 officer who dreamed up the plot in the first place. He was very eccentric, quite brilliant, and tremendously English in his reserve and secretiveness. He never told anyone what he had done in the war, took up locust-hunting as a second career, and ended up selling lawnmowers in Somerset. Even his wife had no idea what he had done.Ē†

Nice to know some men can still keep secrets, even to the grave. For your eyes only, in May, from Harmony Books.

The Crime? Saying Seven Dirty Words, 1972: Itís no secret around here that I love good stand-up comedy (and by that, I mean less than a dozen people who can do it at a profanely intellectual level, among them Hicks, Pryor, Izzard and Patton Oswalt, to name a few). But one I love as much as any of the others was George Carlin. The problem being that Carlin worked for so long that itís hard to get a good feel for him unless you have, like I have, unearthed his entire recorded history and really watched the man blossom, evolve, and slowly become the mean-spirited but brilliant comic that he was in the end. There are a few good books about the comedy counterculture in general, not least among them Richard Zoglinís Comedy at the Edge, which covers Carlin and the Heavy Seven pretty extensively. †

But journalist James Sullivan takes it further in his new chronicle, Seven Dirty Words, due out in June from Da Capo Press. Although Carlinís own autobiography, Last Words, written with Tony Hendra, is an interesting personal take (and eerily read by Patrick Carlin, who has much the same gruff tenor), itís by no means a complete picture of the man and his work. It came as a relief to Sullivan, who started his own book before Carlin passed away in 2008.

ďI finished the manuscript before I read Carlinís autobiography,Ē Sullivan explained. ďI was pleased to find that his book was exceptionally self-aware, but that he didnít go to great lengths to put his own work in the context of comedy history. Iíd like to think that the two books can coexist nicely. Itís a look at how the counterculture came to invade the American mainstream, as a survey of American comedy in the electronic era, as witness through the life of the one guy who linked the Golden Age of radio to the gritty early years of the Internet.Ē†

As Iíve said before, there were many iterations of Carlinís public personality, and Sullivan captures both ends of his life well in his cultural treatise. †

ďI think there are two distinct parts to Carlinís legacy -- the gentle counterculture ambassador, the guy who hosted The Tonight Show in a ponytail and psychedelic t-shirt, and the cranky graybeard who loved to call himself Ďan old fuck,í a guy who couldnít have cared less what anyone thought of him or his twisted comic ideas -- or at least made it seem that way when he was onstage. As comic archetypes go, heíll always own both of those.Ē†

The Crime? Being Stoned Immaculate in Hollywood, Present Day: Tired of playing William Tell with bad Bill Burroughs? Think Iggy Pop is a bit too much of a mamaís boy for your taste? Lou Reed a little too straight-laced for you? Then delve deep once more with the modern master of heroin capers, Tony OíNeill, who drops another dose on us with his latest dope-fueled crime novel, Sick City.†

Bear in mind, this is a dude who knows that of which he speaks. As related in his bio, the musician and budding novelist is a ďsurvivor of heroin addiction, crack abuse, rehab, fatherhood, and stints in the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Kenickie, and Marc Almondís band.Ē I used to think heíd be most famous for writing the addiction fiction Digging The Vein, but then he went and co-authored the recent memoir by Cherie Currie, the lead singer of The Runaways, on which the recent artsy-fartsy movie version of the rocker chicks story was based.†

But the man can get down on a crime novel, too, as it turns out. While his last novel, Down and Out on Murder Mile, was really another grim survival novel, Sick City is actually a comedic caper novel starring a brand new cast of blown-pupil vagabonds. I canít relate how funny and genuinely farcical the book is, but it stars a star-crossed pair of dope fiends who meet in rehab, only to find theyíre worse for each other than crack. Jeffrey has bailed on his own place when his ex-cop sugar daddy finally runs out of steam and dies. Randal is the Drew Barrymore of his legendary movie clan, assuming Drew started out like herself and wound up as Lindsey Lohan crossed with David Bowie instead. Together, they set out to make their big score by selling -- in truly disrespectful fashion to the late icons -- a porn movie starring, among many others, Sharon Tate, Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin and Mamma Cass. Yes, my eyes burn now, too. If this isnít a crime, I donít know what is. Crack your skull on the cheap in August with this paperback from Harper Perennial.†

The Crime? Being a Famous Actorís Relative and Actually Having Talent Anyway, 2010: So last year, we got a slam-bang, dialogue-sparkling, genuine old-school throwback in a clever little novel called Loserís Town. I was expecting to hate the damned thing, because it came with a ton of marketing information revealing that the author was Johnny Deppís virtually unknown stepbrother, whoís done a lot of creative work over the years but we didnít know from Adam. †

And Iíll be damned if it wasnít pretty good. Itís not groundbreaking or anything, just the story of a laconic ex-stuntman whoís resting his bruised bones and tattered soul by padding around L.A. as a private eye. Now we get the sequel, Babylon Nights, and the elder Depp is starting to really get his feel under him. The new book finds its hero, David Spandau, still moving warily among the crooks, hucksters and slime of Hollywood. His new client is Anna Mayhew, a famous but aging actress whoís prone to fits of fury and contemplating suicide as a way to stay famous forever. Meanwhile, thereís a creep named Vincent Perec building himself a little shrine to his beloved Anna, while at the same time sharpening his knives to show his love for her in his own special way.†

What throws a monkey wrench into the mix is that the insane but deadly quick Vincent decides to nab a hundred large from Special, a vicious little pimp with atypical tastes for things like opera. And when Anna is chosen as a judge for the Cannes film festival, they all end up in France where the inevitable conflagration is coming.†

Best part? Danielís authorís note, which includes this little ounce of truth: ďWhile there are bound to be some accuracies in this book in spite of how hard the Author worked against it, the Author still asks the international film community to quit seeing themselves in every character and stop irritating the hell out of him at parties. Once again, You are not You. They are not They, etc., etc. On the other hand, Cocteau says somewhere that all art is a lie that tells the truth. In that case, the book you hold is, hopefully, a big fat lie.Ē†

Now go. Have fun. Feel the sun on your back. Read something good. It may not impress the bikini-clad youngsters at your local beach, but youíll be a better person for it.†

And if anyone kicks sand in your face, you have my permission to shoot them.†

Clayton Moore is biding his time this summer. You will never see his vacation pictures posted at claywriting.blogspot.com.