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What We've Been Reading

Glen Erik Hamilton - Past Crimes

Fran Recommends:

Last week, JB told you about Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut, Past Crimes, and let me tell you, he’s absolutely right.

To recap, Van Shaw grew up under the rough and criminal tutelage of his grandfather, the respected but feared Dono Shaw. Van knew the tricks of heists, scams and crimes large and small but at the end of high school, he broke with Dono and ran away to join the army. Now an Army Ranger, Van has added a new raft of talents to his arsenal but believes he’s left his past in Seattle well behind him.

Then he receives a cryptic message from Dono, the first communication between them in years and sent in a way that lets Van know he is needed back in Seattle. So home he goes.

Past Crimes is action packed, that’s true, but it’s more than a heist novel. Van has to come to terms with who he really is, and he finds himself walking a very thin line between the folks he knows from his criminal past with Dono and his desire to stay out of the criminal world in the life he’s now built. The people we meet along the way are also a mixture of good and bad, like any of us. Okay, some of these folks are more honestly criminal than anyone I know, but in a way, that makes them more interesting!

But I have to admit that I was enchanted by the way Hamilton uses Seattle as a character in Past Crimes. I know these places, a lot of them anyway, and he captures the feeling of being in Seattle beautifully. I was talking to a couple of folks here in the shop about it while I was reading it, and at one point, I said something about a crime in the book taking place on Capitol Hill, and the response was basically, “Break in of car? Or house?” Well, house, now that you mention it. Then I commented about a dive bar with a bad band, and someone else observed, “Well, THAT never happens here!” and we all laughed.

This is quite the promising debut, and one I honestly think is going to be a solid hit. Because it’s labeled a “Van Shaw novel”, I’m hoping we’re going to see more of the folks in Glen Erik Hamilton’s world, and I hope he stays close to Seattle for most of them.

Benjamin Black - The Black-Eyed Blonde
JB: Recommends:
Sorry to do this but the Best Book of the Year won’t be out for another four months.
The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black (aka John Banville) comes out in March of 2014 and is a spot-on Philip Marlowe novel. Black/Banville has captured it all – the beauty as well as the brutality of the Mean Streets of LA.

Some time has passed since Raymond Chandler’s last major Marlowe novel, The Long Goodbye. He’s still smarting from the rough departure of Terry Lenox and has mixed feelings about Linda Loring. Sitting in his office one day, watching the secretary across the street type away, he notices a tall blonde crossing the street who, of course, is heading his way like a lovely landslide. It may be a bit of a private eye cliché but blondes do open the outer door.

This one is the daughter of a very rich woman who owns a respected perfume company. The book’s rich with smells as befits this elegant woman, Clare Cavendish. She wants him to find a missing man whom she saw through the window of a taxi in San Francisco. The catch is, of course, that this man was killed in a hit-and-run some time before.

And Marlowe is off on the case.

Is it that simple? No, of course not – never is.

There are thugs and goons and nattily-dressed gangsters as well as subtle references to all things Chandler – Latimer Road (mystery writer Jonathan Latimer was a friend and neighbor of Chandler’s at one point), and Rusty Regan to name two, and most of the action takes place in Bay City. Bernie Ohls is back grousing and drinking gimlets with Marlowe.

But it is Marlowe’s voice that clinches it, the world-weariness that underpins his view and descriptions.

“This must be a private beach,” I said.

“Yes, it is. How did you know?”

I knew because if it had been public, a shelter like this would have been so fouled and littered we wouldnh’t have dreamed of sitting in it. Clare Cavendish, I told myself, was one of those people the world shields from its own awfulness.’”

It might be worth reading (or re-reading) The Long Goodbye before you have a crack at The Black-Eyed Blonde. You have plenty of time, after all. Hell, in four months you can re-read all of Chandler. That’s a Winter well-spent.

"I sat down again, though it felt more like a collapse. On the table stood her untouched drink, with a solitary olive submerged in it. Her crushed cigarette in the ashtray had a smear of lipstick. I looked at my own glass, half empty, at a crumpled paper napkin, at a flake or two of ash on the table that a breath would have blown away. These are the things that get left behind; these are the things we remember.”

I, for one, hope the Universe is wise enough to keep Benjamin Black / John Banville writing Philip Marlowe novels. We need more