Thursday, October 21, 2010

Simenon Discussed on Mulholland Books

Yesterday on the Mulholland Books website, there was a post focused on two of Georges Simenon non-Maigret novels, "When Businessmen Attack: A Pair of Simenon Hard Novels." I've been reading Simenon on-and-off for a few years, so I added this comment to the discussion...

The New York Review of Books has done a great job republishing some of Simenon’s romans durs. Of additional interest [beyond the two novels discussed in the original post, The Man Who Watched Trains Go By; and Monsieur Monde Vanishes], I’d note two of his books set in the U.S. (where he lived for a time): Three Bedrooms in Manhattan and Red Lights. Neither seems as compelling to me as his best works, but if the titles Mr. McMeel names are existential, then Red Lights is pretty damn noir — especially for a book whose entire plot revolves around a married couple going to pick up their kids at camp in Maine. Two other call-outs: (1) Dirty Snow, also known as The Snow Was Black, is a bleak post-War novel with echoes of Camus’s The Stranger; and (2) Tropic Moon has a great atmosphere and setting — colonial Africa.

Correction/clarification: Dirty Snow was published after the war, but is set in German-occupied France.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The New Centurions, 40 Years Later

I’d never read anything by Joseph Wambaugh, so I went ahead and read his first novel, The New Centurions (1970). Don’t be fooled by the original cheesy cover: Centurions is gritty, harrowing, occasionally sentimental, but ultimately really a pretty great book.

The novel shifts among the lives of three main L.A. policemen, from their academy days through their first five years of service. For the most part, Centurions is episodic -- vignettes from vice, juvenile, domestic, felony crime, etc. -- though it follows the men through personal and, to a lesser extent, professional relationships. Wambaugh also carefully charts a range of attitudes toward police work -- and captures fear, prejudice, maybe nihilism. The novel culminates -- semi-apocalyptically -- in the 1965 Watts riots.

More than other police procedurals (usually with a central case followed to the end), Centurions reminds me of the ensemble World War II books I’ve read lately: Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and Jones’s The Thin Red Line. So (and I say this without judgment), Centurions is more a novel about cops than a cop novel.

Because the novel has no single protagonist and no central plot line per se, as good as this book is, I don’t know that it would be published today as a first novel by an unknown writer. Who knows, but I can imagine someone along the way telling Wambaugh he should write either narrative non-fiction (or a memoir) -- or a more tightly plotted police procedural. Those alternatives seem less compelling (or compelling in a different way) than what Wambaugh delivered.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My New Story, "The Docile Shark," Excerpted on EQMM

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine just updated their website to feature the December 2010 issue (yeah, they get a jump on the calendar; cover illustration by Norman Saunders, originally from a 1949 issue of Black Mask). I didn't make the cover of the issue, but my story, "The Docile Shark," has a nice accompanying illustration (by Mark Evans) and it's excerpted on the site at this link. (Note: In a month, the same link will feature a different excerpt.)

If you want to read the harrowing conclusion to this spine-tingling tale, you'll have to go buy the magazine (e.g., at Barnes & Noble; also available in electronic editions, including Kindle), at least for now. I'd certainly like to hear any feedback anyone has on the story (just click "Comments" below). You can also "friend" me on Facebook at, though I'm still getting used to Facebook (and thus far, there's more everyday minutiae than writing and reading updates).