Monday, February 25, 2008

Blog on Life Support... and No Country for Old Men

The lifelessness of this blog will soon render it the blog equivalent of those dead, fly-bothered bodies near the start of No Country for Old Men.

Anyway, nearly three weeks ago, I was going to write about No Country, and now that it's won all those Academy Awards (so I read), I'll finally offer a few words. My initial response was that No Country felt like a secular Flannery O'Connor on steroids (which is what I also said about Harry Crews' great novel, A Feast of Sneaks -- which is probably more like O'Connor on steroids, booze, meanness, and PCP, or something). I didn't, however, read the novel No Country, though my dictionary and I have read a couple other books by Cormac McCarthy. Back to my O'Connor statement: the villain with the wacky haircut in No Country is interested in fate and balance, in meanness as a sort of fulfillment (a la O'Connor's Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find.") and justification for this life on earth. He is ostensibly after money, but that seems like a secondary concern. Unlike, O'Connor -- and unlike traditional crime fare -- No Country does not move toward a clean or at least generically expected end. I don't want to spoil that ending, so I won't say anything more specific, but I would add that its narrative line makes it admirable and troubling, but it will make the film less fulfilling for some viewers. It's worth noting that the film looks great, and there are some fine scenes and great Coen brothers' dialogue. No Country may not be warrant the highest praise it received, but it shouldn't be missed by those who like their crime and violence served neat.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

No Country for... Bill Crider

This week, I enjoyed two criminal experiences from Texas. One featured West Texas, the other East Texas. One was cheery -- or at least good-hearted -- and the other was uber-bleak. I'll start in East Texas with Bill Crider's Too Late to Die, which won the Anthony in 1987 for best first novel. Bill Crider wrote some kind words about my story, "Wilson's Man" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine January 2008), on a blog dedicated to short crime fiction (Nasty. Brutish. Short.), and I thought, well, I should read one of his books (and it was embarrassing that I hadn't already). (I used to be a regular on a listserv dedicated to hard-boiled crime fiction called "Rara-Avis," and Bill was a constant fount of knowledge there; he also writes the "Blog Bytes" column for EQMM and is a tireless blogger himself; Bill and I also share academic backgrounds, though he voluntarily retired from academe, whereas I was summarily neglected out of it; and now Bill is going to think I'm stalking him.)

Too Late to Die is the first in what has become a long series featuring Bracklin County sheriff, Dan Rhodes. It is a gently humorous, colorful procedural/whodunit that also includes a few good doses of action (I would say it is medium-boiled). The plot revolves around a few strangely connected (or disconnected) murders and some other crimes and shenanigans. Sheriff Rhodes pursues his investigation, his re-election, and a new girlfriend, all at the same time. Rhodes is likable, and he is supported by a cast of quirky figures, some rustic, some smooth, some loony, and some deadly. The book moves at a fast clip, and like the often great Gold Medals paperbacks of yore, it's all wrapped up in under 200 pages. I only mention length because I have become increasingly fond of tight books and increasingly impatient with the bloat that creeps into many books today. Just now, February 2008, the fifteenth Sheriff Dan Rhodes book is coming out; it's called, "Of All Sad Words," and I'm guessing this new one is worth reading, too.

My recent West Texas experience came via the movie, No Country for Old Men. Incredibly brutal, unpredictable, and highly recommended, but I've run out of steam. I'll write about it next time.