Staff Favorites for July 2012
Straub, Peter, Mrs. God, Pegasus. Because so much of this chiller is set in a magnificent Elizabethan mansion, it could easily have had as its first sentence: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” which is how Daphne du Maurier drew readers into Rebecca. Professor William Standish, struggling to get tenure at a mediocre Midwestern college, is told in no uncertain terms that he needs to publish a book for this to happen. As a bit of an expert on a largely unknown poet, he has determined that a collection of her poems with his lengthy analysis is the logical next step on the path to a successful academic career. The key to that work lies in the library of Esswood House, the home of the Seneschal family, which has been a patron of literary scholarship for more than a century. Of the more than 600 applicants for a fellowship to do research among its priceless books and manuscripts, William Standish was selected. Dark secrets of the Seneschal family have been hinted at and, as Standish spends more time with his work, the story of a murdered American that he’s heard at a pub on his way to the estate seems less strange than subsequent occurrences, such as the disappearance of the lovely woman who had greeted him, the scuttle of unseen figures in rooms and hallways of the great house, and the giggling laughter of unseen children. As reality seems to dissolve into horror, Standish finally sees himself as the monster he’s always been. Signed copies. $23.95
Rohmer, Sax, The Hand of Fu Manchu, Titan. Yes, fine, the books about the Devil Doctor are hugely politically incorrect. So are many thousands of books from earlier times, so can you just get over it? Rohmer created one of the greatest villains in the history of crime fiction in the insidious doctor, set in the gaslit London shortly after the end of the 19th century—the same time that Sherlock Holmes still flourished. In spite of a huge organization of cut-throats, the mind of a genius, and an utter lack of conscience that will allow him to stop at nothing in his quest for world domination, Fu Manchu is frustrated in book after book by Scotland Yard’s Nayland Smith and his sidekick, Dr. Petrie. Titan is reissuing the entire series of these exciting adventure tales in a handsome trade paperback (the first three are now available) and the noted Sherlockian scholar Leslie Klinger has written an afterword. $9.95
Connolly, John, The Reflecting Eye, Bad Dog Books. I’m late to recommend this. Having read it when it was part of Connolly’s Nocturnes, a superb collection of stories and novellas, it took me a while to go back and reread it and I’m glad I did. It’s a Charlie Parker story, so you know it’s good, but it also features the Collector, one of modern literature’s eeriest villains, referred to here as “an infected wound in the flesh of the night.” Mostly, however, this chilling story is about John Gray, a man who took children to his fetid old house and killed them, then killed himself when he was finally caught. When a picture of a lovely young girl turns up at the house, its current owner, the father of one of the victims, hires Charlie to learn who she is and to try to save her. Limited to 750 signed copies. $30.00
Hamilton, Steve, Die a Stranger, Minotaur. My earliest foray into mystery fiction involved the usual: Hammett, Chandler, Thompson—i.e. the progenitors of the hardboiled and noir. Although I still love this sub-genre, I find too many novels these days try and mimic the style instead of progressing it. Lucky for me Steve Hamilton is here to light the way. The Alex McKnight series has been one of my newest and best discoveries. Instead of the gritty urban settings of similar greats (Connelly, Estleman, Crais, etc.), McKnight operates in the cold reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Hamilton’s style is one of restrained lyricism and darker-than-average plotlines. He doesn’t stray into the slightly supernatural area of Connolly’s Charlie Parker, but it gets close. The beauty of the rural setting allows for a certain amount of creepiness to reside in the empty spaces and heighten the tension of each story. For those of you who have not read him, Die a Stranger is an excellent way to get started. It’s Alex McKnight at his best and reads more like a standalone novel than an entry in the series. Hamilton is a two-time Edgar Award Winner (for his first novel and first in the McKnight series, A Cold Day in Paradise, and for his 2009 standalone title, The Lock Artist) so his name should come as no surprise. But if you have yet to give him a shot, now is the time. Great hardboiled heroes don’t come along every day, you know. Signed. $25.99
Larson, Nathan, The Nervous System, Akashic. This follow-up to Larson’s 2011 debut novel, The Dewey Decimal System, takes us back to near-future NYC and the madcap life of the eponymous Dewey Decimal. With events from his past still spotty, Dewey operates as muscle for various politicians, stumbling through the ruins of the city and just barely surviving one event after the next. Another great installment in this young series, perfect for fans of Josh Bazell and Ken Bruen. Signed and numbered, limited to 72 copies. $50.00
Walter, Jess, Beautiful Ruins. I’m tempted to say that I’ve read every word ever written by Jess Walter, but that might be an exaggeration. However, I have read his books, including his non-fiction book telling of the events at Ruby Ridge, (which is the revised title of the book although the original was, I believe, called Every Knee Shall Bow). An Edgar Award winner (for Citizen Vince) and the author of a series which he seemed to start but did not continue (Over Tumbled Graves and Land of the Blind), this guy just doesn’t disappoint! Beautiful Ruins spans fifty years and travels from a small coastal town in Italy, to Rome, to Hollywood with a short stop-off at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The story begins in 1962 when a young actress arrives at Porto Vergogna, surely by mistake, and is taken under the wing of Pasquale, the young owner of the only hotel on the island. She’s an extra in the movie Cleopatra, being shot in Rome and why she is on Porto Vergogna drives the story to its conclusion in present day Hollywood. Richard Burton, the rogue, makes an appearance in this homage to our improbable dreams. $25.99
Walker, Karen Thompson, The Age of Miracles. The slowing of the rotation of the Earth seen through the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl could have been a misfire. But in the hands of first-time author Walker, it is riveting drama and surprisingly disturbing as the inhabitants of this planet have to deal with a world that is off the 24-hour clock. Imaginative and stunning story-telling. $26.00.
Randisi, Robert J., ed., Crime Square, Vantage Point. In this collection of twenty stories edited by Randisi (founder of the Private Eye Writers of America and creator of the Shamus Award), Times Square serves as the central character, with all its grit, charm, and gaudy ostentatious nature. Spanning a century, each time period here is tackled by a different author. Though every story realistically evokes the ambiance of its decade--from dirty and crowded 1910s New York to its modern "Disney-ized" tourist destination form--and all pay close attention to ever-changing American customs and colloquialisms, there are stories here which challenge, reinforce, and ultimately illuminate ways in which to think about the city and its history, as well as its seedy criminal underbelly. Highlights include Dreyer's "The Sailor in the Picture," which focuses on Times Square's most iconic photograph, as well as Kenneth Wishnia's "Dim Bulbs, Dead Roaches," Angela Zeman's "A Quarter Past Dead," and William E. Chambers "Frankie Light Fingers' Time Square Follies." $15.95.