Thursday, July 9, 2015

Reading Slump Solution: Hard-Boiled Detectives

It took Sherry at Semicolon to put a name to my recent reading problem. She talked about nothing appealing to her and said she was in a reading slump.

Yes! It's funny how having a label often brings focus to life.

I'd been drifting lately, with plenty of good books to read for upcoming podcasts but with nothing that really grabbed me, nothing that made it hard to turn out the light because I had to read just one more paragraph. I must have had this happen before but well into the third week I felt life had lost its savor. I never realized just how much I depend on books to invigorate me.

It was so bad that I went through several days without really reading for more than a few minutes at a time.

I know, right? I can't express how startled I was when I realized this.

The Long Goodbye - Raymond Chandler

The solution came from an unlikely combination. It went down like this:

They laid it out right up front. "Two days to do the layout for a 400 page book. Over 4th of July weekend," they said.

I drained the coffee cup. There were grounds in the bottom. The staff was getting sloppy. Maybe there was too much overtime all around. Or maybe they were just sloppy.

I crushed my cigarette in the ashtray.

"I can handle it."

"And revisions," they said, eyes glinting in the car light reflected from the big front window. "That'll be another couple of tough days."

"I said I can handle it!"
When basically tied to the computer for two to four days, what do you do? Load up an audiobook that packs maximum enjoyment and lets your brain glide over the action without having to pay too much attention. Luckily Audible recently put The Long Goodbye on sale and I'd bitten.

Ray Porter is a bit too straight-forward and forceful as Philip Marlowe. I always felt there was more of a laid-back sophistication underlying the dialogue. And I'm used to Porter laying it on thick when he reads Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger novels. But you can't beat him for doing the secondary characters. And, who knows? Maybe Marlowe was more of a straight-forward simple guy than I'm giving him credit for.

I'm about a third of the way into it and surprised at how modern the action, attitudes, and dialogue seem. This must have been like dynamite back in the days when it was brand-spanking new.

This began to wake me up but it wasn't something for the eyes, something to pick up and dive into when you couldn't devote time to listening. I needed more.

It was when looking over the Philip Marlowe books that I remembered Raymond Chandler's unfinished novel Poodle Springs was completed by Robert B. Parker. (Did you know there were seven? I had no idea.)

And I remembered it had been a heckuva long time since I'd read a Spenser novel. Even better, the library had the ebook available to download directly to my Kindle. (Sometimes I love living in the future with instant books.) I began instantly and found myself reading every spare moment right up to the time I was falling asleep with the book in my hand.

The Godwulf Manuscript - Robert B. Parker

"A pig is a pig," she said. "Whether he's public or private, he works for the same people."

"Next time you're in trouble," I said, "call a hippie."
Oh yeah, that's the stuff.

I encountered the Spenser novels in the early 1980s and became enamored. I'd never read anything like them.

Of course, I'd never read Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. I knew of them from movies but hard-boiled didn't appeal as reading material or even, at the time, as viewing material. It took a smart mouth like Robert B. Parker's detective, Spenser, to delight me and pull me into that world.

Now, decades later, I realize the legacy Parker was carrying on. Rereading this book while listening to The Long Goodbye, I really appreciate just how well Parker pulled it off.

For this particular book, the first of the series, it's interesting to me that I recall the solution to the big problem but I have absolutely no memory at all of most of the book. Terry Orchard and her string of problems are completely new to me.

So I am in the unique position of reconnecting with a well-loved literary friend and of reading a "new" book by him. What slump wouldn't that cure?

Next Rediscovery - Lieutenant Luis Mendoza mysteries by Dell Shannon

All these trips down memory lane made me remember a series that my parents loved. It was long running string of police procedurals set in Los Angeles featuring Lieutenant Luis Mendoza.

It has to have been unusual for a Hispanic homicide lieutenant to be the main character of these books but it never struck me at the time. I also never realized that Dell Shannon as a nom de plum.

Amazon says:
Debonair LAPD Lieutenant Luis Mendoza, broke new ground in being one of the first Latino police officers in the procedural genre, and Linington herself was a pioneer in a male-dominated industry, earning the moniker "Queen of the Procedurals."
The Kindle sample made me go right to the library to request the first in the series. No one really remembers them any more but they were really good.

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