Other Voices, Other Rooms – Truman Capote

Other Voices Other Rooms – Truman Capote originally published by Random House in 1948, I’ve read the First Vintage International edition 1994, 231 pages.
 

This book comes to me from the other side of my library, the literary tomes on my reading’s ‘to do’ list. One of Truman Capote’s earliest published works and somewhat autobiographical story. The powerful use of voice, each character whole and distinct, Truman has this palette of language the words he uses to convey his  story… they are impactful, they hit with a punch that many other authors lack.

The first half in broad brushstrokes really sets the stage. The landscape into which Joel has been transplanted to is described both physical terms in its decaying opulence and excess; and emotionally in its separation and isolation. The second half of this book highlights the pinpoint of little brushstrokes paced where each scene seems crafted for maximum effect… the second half of this book brings a tear to your eye…

Reading Randolph’s story as he recites it to Joel, of how he, Amy  (Joel’s stepmother) and Ed Sansom came to live in the house sinking into the bayou and being overtaken by the garden growing uncontrollable is its self a short story wonderfully woven into this fish out of water boy meets world story of coming of age inside a house reminiscent of the manor in the Fall Of The House Of Usher. Published in 1946, I don’t know if Truman Capote is writing of an earlier time, the twenties or the thirties… there is no indoor plumbing nor electricity in the house, though it seems these are in use back in New Orleans where Joel was living with his mother.

Though not specifically a mystery in the traditional sense, there are elements that do stand out. Initially, where is Joel’s father? Since he was the one who sent for Joel, why does he not make himself known? And who is the mysterious woman that Joel sees in a window of the old house? Where is she hiding now? will Joel escape his confinement of solitude or will he wind up making a room of his own within this asylum…

Joel let his face reveal neither relief nor gratitude: to obscure emotion was becoming for him a natural reflex; it helped him sometimes not to feel at all. Still there was one thing he could not do, for there is no known way of making the mind clear-blank, and whatever he obliterated in daytime rose up at night in dreams to sleep beside him with an iron embrace. As for reading to his father, he’d made an odd discovery: Mr Sansom never really listened: a list of prices recited from a Sears Roebuck interested him, Joel had found by experiment, as much as any wild-west story.

A Bullet For Cinderella – John D. MacDonald

A Bullet for Cinderella – John D. MacDonald, published in 1955 I read the PlanetMonk Pulps Book  (#12) Kindle Edition published in 2013, 192 pages.

Tal Howard returns home from the Korean war having been held captive in a POW camp. He finds himself somewhat changed by his war experience. His ‘old life’ doesn’t seem to fit him any more. He’s dissatisfied with both his clerical work at an insurance company, and his domesticated married life. He doesn’t know exactly what he wants… he’s just certain that what he has, isn’t it.

About this time Tal remembers a friend of his who died in the camp. This friend of his confessed to him an embezzlement he did before being drafted. The ill gotten gains where stashed back in his home town. Another prisoner in the camp “a Texan and a Marine”, known for his strength and his callousness, evidently overhead this confession because when Tal goes in search of this nest egg, private Fitzmartin is already in town.

The friend who left this stolen loot never lived long enough to tell Tal exactly where it was stashed. But what Tal does have, that Fitzmartin doesn’t, is a clue… a clue that can only be deciphered by ‘Cinderella’. As Tal works to solve this mystery he is quite aware that Fitzmartin will be stalking him… and will stop at nothing to seize the spoils!

It was quite a good story. Its a stand alone pulp written before John D. MacDonald would create the Travis McGee series of adventure stories.  I found it very interesting that issues like gentrification of cities and towns, as well as cultural stagnification from mass media were issues brought up within the story. Issues we are still addressing today. But at the heart of it, the story is really about man’s search for meaning… and what constitutes ‘treasure’.

I drove back out to the motel. It no longer seemed important about meeting Antoinette in the morning. It didn’t matter any more. I had come here to Hillston to find treasure. I had thought I would find it buried in the ground. I had found it walking around, with dark red hair, with gray eyes, with a look of pride. And I hadn’t recognized it. I had acted like a fool. I had tried to play the role of thief. But it didn’t fit. It never would fit. The money meant nothing. Ruth meant everything. I had had a chance and I had lost it. They don’t give you two chances.

Murder On The Left Bank – Cara Black

Murder On The Left Bank – Cara Black published by Soho Press 2018 – 276 pages… I checked this out of the library. It appears to be the eighteenth book in this Aimee Leduc Investigation series. A location mystery set in the city of lights, Paris.

How much detail is too much detail? It’s a personal question that can only be answered personally.  And since I am here to off my own opinionated review… I think this has too much detail. In just a couple of quick paragraphs (see quoted below) where a suspect, Danlin, is being tailed by our detective Aimee, our attention is drawn to four landmarks. Each gets its own quick tourist blurb. Now don’t get me wrong, I love location mysteries. But i like to really feel a part of the setting I like to take it in on a tactile level. .. the sights, the smells, the tastes, an immersion. .. but I feel that this book is more of a whirlwind group tour rather than a slower self-directed excursion.

There is an such an abundance of unconnected landmarks… this local flavor of detail is like a seasoning… meant to add a bit to the story, but here, it’s used almost to the point that of being the main ingredient!  Like, with you touch up a piece with a little glitter.. it serves as a highlight, but then you get these objects that are so encrusted with glitter you can hardly tell what the hell object is.

Well, as far as the plot goes, an attorney Bisson, whose a relation of a friend of Aimee’s seeks her help to locate a notebook that his nephew, who has been murdered, was suppose to deliver. It’s just another ball to juggle in the multitasking universe that is her life. Between working with her agency’s partner Rene on a proposal for a security system for the Bibliotheque Francois-Mitterrand Library and spending time with her bebe Chloé she agrees to look into the matter, low key.

As she starts probing around, she finds that a notorious shadow group called The Hand is also looking for this notebook behind. Where agents of the Hand responsible for the murder, or was it drug related as the police would have us believe?

It seems that this organization has been present in prior books in this series.

Aimee needs to track down a girlfriend of Bisson’s nephew to help she’d light on the notebooks hiding place. In tracking this girl down we accompany Aimee as she treks about Paris. Will she find this mysterious Katrine before the Hand can strike? Once you can weave your way around the landmarks littering your path, you have a real mystery to follow.

I think that I will try to read the first in this series and see if I can get the satisfaction I seek in it.

   He followed the steep rue Renault in the direction of Maison-Blanch. Nearby lay the decrepit Panhard and Levassor car engine factory, commandeered by the Germans during the war to manufacture airplane engines for the luftwaffe.  On the other side, the cavernous la Petite Ceinture, the abandoned nineteenth century rail line that had once belted Paris.  Now overgrown, a deserted place where disoriented  cataphiles emerge from the catacombs to find themselves with junkies and foxes. Parts of the Left Bank were wilderness,  green where nature had rooted in the cracked stones. She loved the wild flowers sprouting on the tracks and the neighborhood groups that planted allotments of vegetables and kept rabbits.

   Danlin woven through the small tress to Jardin du Moulin de la Pointe, a park where mills once harnessed the power of la Bievre. Here the Petit Ceinture tracks led into a tunnel. He got off his bike. She parked, grabbed her jacket, and picked her way down to the tracks in her ballet flats along the winding path lined by bushes and trees.

Cold Blood – Robert Bryndza

Cold Blood – Robert Bryndza Bookouture (September 20, 2017) 357 pages.

The fifth DCI Erika Foster novel is another great read. This time out, as DC Peterson recovers from his wounds, two bodies are recovered from the banks of the Themes. Dismembered and stuffed into suitcases… who could do such a horrible thing… and how does someone become a person capable of doing that? This is the story that answers those questions. As DCI Erika Foster and her team track down those responsible for these murders, the split narration shows how an ordinary person can become a person with the capacity to commit murder.

During the course of this investigation Erika continues to check on Peterson while he’s recovering. But, in a sudden twist Erika is betrayed by one close to her and she’s attacked while delivering evidence to the forensics unit. We follow Erika as she recovers from her wounds. The physical one she received during the attack, and the other… well… she is still coming to terms with the death of her husband years ago. She returns to Slovenia to stay with her sister and enjoy her niece and nephew.

During Erika’s recovery, the case is assigned to a drug investigation unit within the department where it becomes ‘lost in the tall grass’ until Erika returns. With new evidence, new perspective and renewed engagement Erika takes charge of the investigation again and her dogged pursuit of these ruthless killers brings about another tense and trilling conclusion.

Erika looked down at Nina’s body and felt an overwhelming sadness. How could a young girl with so much promise stumble down such a dark path? She looked back to the cave, and could just make out Max Kirkham’s feet through the gap in the rocks. It was quiet, and the light was fading, and she shivered. With her free hand, she closed Nina’s eyes.
   The wind whistled across the heather and the air was bitterly cold, and Erika paced up and down to keep warm. She thought how long she had hunted for these two people, and of the trail of destruction they had left in their wake. And now she was alone, guarding their bodies.

Over My Dead Body – Rex Stout

Over My Dead Body: A Nero Wolfe Mystery – Rex Stout I read the Kindle Edition. This is the seventh Nero Wolfe novel and was published in 1940. This book stands out in the Wolfe cannon as stating that Nero was born in America but this is not the case. In a subsequent interview Rex Stout says that Nero was not being completely forthright with the G man intruding in his personal affairs. This story is a classic mystery but with much fewer clues that the usual Rex Stout story imbedded within making this a relative difficult whodunnit… basically it comes down to guesswork after multiple suspects are interrogated and eliminated.

As it is, the plot begins as a young Montenegrin woman arrives at Wolfe’s office to plead for his help in a case involving a friend of hers, also Montenegrin, whose been accused of stealing diamonds. After a brief discussion, the young lady accused may be Wolfe’s adopted daughter. Archie is dispatched to look into the matter.

While looking into this at the fencing studio where both women are employed. Wolfe’s daughter has an apparent alibi corroborated by an English customer. As the situation is being resolved, the Englishman is found murdered in one of the training rooms of the studio. While the police are summoned to investigate this, Archie finds that the murder weapon is wrapped in a fencing glove and nestled in the pocket of his overcoat hanging in the office where all the customers and staff of the studio where congregated.

As this fencing glove and its item, may implicate Wolfe’s daughter, Archie returns to Wolfe’s with it while the police are investigating back at the Studio. At this point, Inspector Cramer arrives at Wolfe’s suspecting that with all the foreign intrigues and suspects, he came solve the case quicker by camping out at Wolfe’s. Wolfe, in a unusual manner agrees to let him stay and oversee the operations.

Most of the cast of suspects are brought before Nero at his office in what is to be his customary trademark. They are questioned vigorously with Cramer observing… after some time, deductions are made and Wolfe reveals the murder and the motive… in classic, customary style.

Ps. This is a really good episode in Nero Wolfe Mysteries from A&E Network!

“Have you registered?”
“No. I am not an agent of a foreign principal.”
The G-man threw one knee over the other. “The law applies to agents of foreign firms, individuals or organizations, as well as to foreign governments.”
“So I understand.”
“It also applies, here, both to aliens and to citizens. Are you a citizen of the United States?”
“I am. I was born in this country.”
“You were at one time an agent of the Austrian government?”
“Briefly, as a boy. Not here, abroad. I quit.”
“And joined the Montenegrin army?”
“Later, but still a boy. I then believed that all misguided or cruel people should be shot, and I shot some. I starved to death in 1916.”
The G-man looked startled. “I beg your pardon?”
“I said I starved to death. When the Austrians came and we fought machine guns with fingernails. Logically I was dead; a man can’t live on dry grass. Actually I went on breathing. When the United States entered the war and I walked six hundred miles to join the A. E. F., I ate again. When it ended I returned to the Balkans, shed another illusion, and came back to America.”
“Hvala Bogu,” I put in brightly.
Stahl, startled again, shot me a glance. “I beg your pardon? Are you a Montenegrin?”
“Nope. Pure Ohio. The ejaculation was involuntary.”

Crusader’s Cross – James Lee Burke

Crusader’s Cross – James Lee Burke Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (July 12, 2005) 337 pages.

The story starts out in a flashback with Dave and his brother Jimmy spending the summer of 58 in Galveston where they were rescued from the surf by a girl… who is eventually taken and subsequently disappears. Later, in the current time frame,  a former classmate of Dave’s, who’s path in life is to run into trouble inevitably finds it and on his deathbed has a confession he gives to Dave,  his uncle, formerly a sheriff’s deputy, had been involved in the girl’s disappearance back in 58.

Dave is reluctant to visit ghosts of the past until an incident where two corrupt sheriff’s deputies take a forceful interest in what might have been said to Dave by an old school chum. Meanwhile,  a series of killings has taken place in the suburbs surrounding New Orleans with one of the bodies discovered in New Iberia parish where Dave has just been rehired by the sheriff’s department.

So, while Dave is officially looking into  the current homicide he’s conducting a reluctant parallel, personal investigation into the past. Which is not something that a wealthy powerful old family wants to have happen. And Dave does not react well to the intimidation tactics of people in power.

In this novel Dave is constantly making bad choices that have serious repercussions for those around him. His reckless encounter with a genteel belle whom he used to know inadvertently corrupts a crime scene. He meets openly, in public, with a witness willing to talk and she subsequently turns up dead. And a verbal confrontation he orchestrates in a posh restraunt turns into an assault and leads to Cletus offering to help his perjured witnesses.

Its not only incredible how Dave turns this around… its miraculous!

“The problem isn’t just the beef at Clementine’s. Its you Dave. You don’t like rules and you hate authority. You wage a personal war against guys like Val Chalons and take the rest of us down with you. No amount of pleading with you works. People are tired of following you around with a dustpan and broom.”
“I’ll clean out my desk,” I said.
“You force your friends to hurt you, Dave. I think that’s a sickness. But you act like it’s funny,” she said.

Red-headed Sinners – Jonathan Craig

Red-Headed Sinners – Jonathan Craig (1953) (PlanetMonk Pulps Book 6) . PlanetMonk Books. Kindle Edition.

What can I say about this work of pulp prose… it’s like a 1950s men’s graphic novel without the pictures. It’s not meant to be funny, at least I don’t think that this story is to be farcical,  though it might be tongue in cheek. It’s a story of a disturbed alcoholic who’s underlying trigger happens to fire… for reasons revealed rather late in the story, about childhood trauma and sexual abuse… I would offer a spoiler alert, but seriously, if you can’t see the end of this train wreck straight from the gate, then brother you’ve got to read more pulp…

Well as it happens the story starts with, a senior police lieutenant gets kicked off the force for roughing up and nearly choking to death a fugitive jewel thief’s moll… as it happens, the lieutenant probably had a few drinks in him and the moll in question was a flaming redhead. Now disgraced Jeff stoner seeks redemption, by finished the jewel thief and recovering the jewels… but to do that, he has to find out where he’s hiding… so he goes to talk to that redhead… but he should probably have a few drinks the settle his nerves, and a couple more to take the edge off, and just go and … talk to her…

And thus begins the tale and trail of bodies leading to the demise of Jeff Stoner… a cautionary tale tis true, a story ripped from the headlines of yesteryear. .. dangerously damaged people should not be given badges and bourbon.

What had happened to the three hours? He tried, painfully, to think back over his actions. He’d stopped at the liquor store, he remembered. He’d had a couple of healthy ones in the car … maybe more than a couple. He bent and lifted the fifth of whiskey. Almost half gone. It didn’t seem possible. He stared at the bottle for a moment. One more couldn’t hurt. He had to pull himself together, didn’t he? He unscrewed the cap and tilted the bottle and shuddered as the whiskey scalded down his throat. There! That was more like it!

The Double Take – Roy Huggins

The Double Take – Roy Huggins – originally published in 1946, I read the kindle edition (2015) from NightHawk Books (188 pages).

Set in the mid nineteen thirties Los Angeles where shamus Stuart Bailey gets a job to investigate a news wife’s past for a city planning commissioner. The case itself seems somewhat suspicious,  but he agrees to take. And sets off for Portland, where she’s from as far as her college transcript says. I had to look us ‘shamus’ on a blog of slang terms. I thought it might be a term for a generic irishman, but nope, it’s an old slang term given to private detectives like gum-shoe or dick.

Well, the case takes Bailey from Portland back to LA and seems he’s picked up a couple of tails along the way. Well, mobsters and along casino, a marine biologist and him luscious young Brazilian wife and her chauffeur,  a vaudeville performer or two and this case gets a bit crowded round the middle.

But it’s all sorted out in the end… what’s a dead body or two along the way. Huggins didn’t write too many books but rather went on to fame and fortune in producing! Shows like 77 sunset strip… and … draw upon the images you can see in this book…

  The mouth stayed hard and drew apart into a tight smile, a smile to carve diamonds with. She made a sharp noise in her throat and turned suddenly and ran down the four steps to the sidewalk. She looked back at me.
“You cheap gumshoe,” she rasped quietly. “I finally figured you out. You’re yellow.” Cold laughter. “You’re too yellow to even live up to your own manhood.” She turned and jumped into the car. The motor ground and roared, and then she leaned out the open window and screamed, “I’ll send my houseboy around to see you. He’s just your type.” The car jerked and jumped away from the curb and raced toward Wilshire in an agony of grinding gears.

  

South of Evil – Brian Dunford

South of Evil – Brian Dunford 234 pages – Murder Thriller

So, I downloaded this to my kindle as the author had contacted me through goodreads and suggested it to me. I read the blurb and found the story an interesting one and since I had a little time here, I figured why not take a break for those pulps of the 40’s and 50’s and read something set in a more contemporary timeframe. A story of a Federal Agent, a drug dealer, and a stash of cash just waiting south of the border in a winner take all tale. Well… this review is a story of timeframes, the benefits of finishing well and a reviewer ‘read all’ tale.

The first third of this novel was plagued by discontinuous timeframes, jumping back and forth, leaving me unsure where I was at times. Then there was an annoying issue with the names of characters, sometimes using a first name to identify a character but then jumping right in an using the character’s whole name and back again… when I really didn’t see it as necessary and I don’t recall any two characters having names that were in anyway similar. And, there are two characters which the author tells us are fond of calling people by nicknames. I love a good nickname, its can be very revealing and characters, but then I really got into the story, I find that only one or two characters are being referred to by nicknames… a little bit of an unfulfilled promises. As I finished the first third I figured I would rate it two stars and shelve it… but, instead, I decided to greatly increase my reading pace and move through the story at a much higher level sacrificing detail while maintaining a cohesive narrative.

As I finished the second third of this novel the timeframes had stabilized and I found myself following a more cohesive story. The characters were all well in place, their relations to one another were fleshed out a bit more, their sense of who and where they were has becoming more clear and the narrative came together and the author was able to pick up the story’s pace. As a result I decided to reduce my reading pace. I took a pause as I approached the two thirds mark and felt the story was really keeping me engaged and the characters were starting to grow on me here. Despite the fact that only ‘The Russian’ had a nickname. I was thinking that this would probably be a good, three-stars overall review if everything stayed stable.

But, every story has an ending… well, at least the ones I finish reading do! And this novel… it really had an ending. No spoilers here… I want you to read it for yourself. It really came together, well planned. The some main characters had really developed and changed in fundamental ways, others remained stubbornly, unapologetically unchanged, and climax was… climatic! It really ended well, a good four-star story once it got its feet under it. I would recommend it and see if there are more stories from Mr. Dunford.

   Strauss hadn’t heard it in a long time, but he had heard “You don’t look Mexican” enough times to know it was true. He looked European. His hair and skin were lighter, and he had the bearing and countenance of the old world.

A man went into the small café. He made eye contact for a second with Strauss, but quickly looked away.

Sometimes, he thought of them by name. Other times, he gave them nicknames: The old man, the sad man, the fat man, the man who should have known better, the man who should have stayed dead the first time.

Neon Rain – James Lee Burke

Neon Rain – James Lee Burke – I read the Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster) paperback version.

Right off the bat we get poignant social commentary and we meet New Orleans homicide detective Lieutenant Dave Robicheaux who may just be the target of a hitman… seems he’s investigating the suspicious drowning of a prostitute in a parish in south Louisiana that ties back to the New Orleans mob. But its deeper than just the mob… soon South American gun runners are setting him up to take a fall for a federal agent’s death. Then, suspended from the force he continues his own investigation following it wherever it leads stepping over bodies as he goes.

From a Calloused parish sheriff and a pair of his corrupt deputies, to biased and apathetic Internal Affairs investigators, the mantle of Noir fiction rest well on this first Robicheaux novel. His life, from serving in Viet Nam to facing down crime in the underworld of New Orleans while battling the bottle and other demons from his past make for a character that is surprisingly introspective and takes the time to see the beauty around him. Burke takes the time to paint a visually lush and fertile environment throughout the novel. It’s a treat for the senses and an immersive experience.

This is the third novel of Burke’s that I’ve read…. I suppose its about time that I got to read the book that started the whole series. This came out in 1987; over ten years from the first Spenser novel and five years before the first Bosch story… which is now on my list to read. There’s something about the narration of the Robicheaux stories that jumps to life… I just wish that they came out with scratch and sniff pages!

   She sat beside me, wiped ointment on my cuts with a piece of cotton, snipped adhesive tape into strips with the scissors, and taped down two big, folded squares of gauze on top of the ointment. Then she rubbed her hands over my skin, down my shoulders and back, across my chest, her eyes looking over my body without embarrassment, as though she were discovering me for the first time. I leaned her back on the bed and kissed her mouth, her neck, unbuttoned her flower-print blouse and placed my head against the red birthmark on her breast. I felt her body stretch out against mine, felt the confidence, the surrender that a woman gives in that moment when she no longer hides her hunger and instead blesses you with a caress that is always unexpected and heart-rushing and humbling in its generosity.

This time I wanted to give her more than she gave me, but I wasn’t able. In seconds I was lost inside her, her hands right against my back, her legs in mine in almost a material way, and when I tried to tense and stop because it was too soon, she held my face close to hers, kissed my cheek, ran her fingers through the back of my hair, saying, “It’s alright Dave. Go ahead. It’s alright.” Then I felt all the anger, the fear, and the heat of the last two days rise inside me like a dark bubble from a well, pause in its own gathered energy and momentum, and burst away into light, into the joy of her thighs, the squeeze of her arms, the blue tenderness of her eyes.