Some divorced women move to New Hampshire and open bookstores. Tricia is a picky, possessive, mulish melancholic who stumbles into murder and mayhem in the most pastoral and unexciting of New England towns, re-invented as “Booktown” for its a sweet new row of shops, including the Haven’t Got a Clue Bookstore, the Happy Domestic, the By Hook or By Book, and other simulacra of quaintness. It is not surprising that a population of displaced, overeducated crybabies inhabiting an imitation of a old English village should have its criminals. Or that its criminals should have the same tired motives, the same drab archive of excuses, the same greedy and disingenuine personalities as their urban derivation. Or that its murders should be solved by the overcurious spinsterish busybody that runs the vintage mystery bookstore.
Journalists must either eat or be eaten by more and more information. How to eat? Well, there’s Excel. And if Excel can’t make sense of “the new types of data” that Wikileaks was producing, then maybe a “data visualization expert” could make a pretty picture out of bomb explosion statistics. One might ask: what kind of journalism is being produced when data visualization takes the place of knowing how to read? Leaked, yes; but also wet.
Sad are the chronicled confessional ramblings of the intelligence officer who delivered reams of classified info on Afghanistan and Iraq to Julian Assange. Interview after interview reveals a lost boy, who would have been happy to board a ship with Peter Pan or fight Captain Hook but had no fealty to a real institution.
More annoying is the amount of print a gawkish, horny and supercilious press devotes to a base and baseless rape accusation motivated by a very small soul, albeit female. The “rape” consists of Assange not wanting to put on a condom, then putting on a purportedly ripped condom, all by invitation of a stultifyingly immoral Swedish member of some academically “green” cause. Miss Condom invites Assange to use her one-bedroom Stockholm apartment while she is away. Then Miss Condom shows up “early”, photographs Assange in her bed, and spends the night having “bad sex” (she tells a girlfriend the next day).
“Don’t make any major changes in the first year” … they say at AA. Matt Scudder has five or six weeks not to decide what he’s going to do about Jan, a girl he sees Saturday night and Sunday morning …
“Some people say not to make any major changes for the first five years… or even ten,” Jim, a fellow AA member, tells him.
After a meeting at St. Claire’s Hospital they walk home and Jim says:
“Something Buddha said as it happens: it is your dissatisfaction with what is that is the source of all your unhappiness..”
I said: “Buddha said that?”
“So I’m told, though I have to admit I wasn’t there to hear him. You seem surprised.”
“Well,” I said, “I never thought he had that much depth to him.”
“That’s what everybody calls him, and what he calls himself as far as that goes. Big guy. Must stand 6′ 6 . Shaves his head. Belly out to here. He’s a regular at the midnight meeting at the Moravian Church but he turns up other places as well. I think he’s a former outlaw biker and my guess is he’s done time but…”
The look on his face stopped me.
He said: “the Buddha. Sitting under the Bodhi tree, waiting for enlightenment.”
“Listen, it was a natural mistake. The only Buddha I know works at the Moravian Church.”
Making amends is step 8 of the 12 step program, and Jack Ellery is making amends when he ends up dead. His gay, persnickety, over-responsible sponsor has Jack’s list of amendees. He tells Matt Scudder that maybe he should “look into” whether somebody on the list is a killer. Matt Scudder does.
Dry, sidewalk humor full of alcohol and hotel rooms and pre-digital middle aged uncoupled city men. But also, that wry twist of fate that takes Order and Organization and runs over it.
This time, the Order is the Big Book and its steps: specifically step 8. How rules make themselves flesh, and how that flesh moves it’s rules around life and institutes life in their image.
Here’s the recipe: a youngish, pretty-ish, orphaned wife in or near Manhattan; a deceptive, felonious, or sleepwalking husband; a repressed or forgotten family scene, and wealth. Large, plush estates in tony suburbs, classic co-ops on exclusive avenues, perfectly cut clothes and lawns, professionally designed apartments, luxurious offices, always seen as if by a dazzled outsider, a maid, a secretary, a clerk, a tradesman to a privileged class.
Somewhere, somehow, somebody is murdered, kidnapped, arrested, accused.
A crime develops by pulling at and pulling out the pins of identity: what happens if a person forgets what she has done? What happens when a person has no memories of a mother, a father? What happens when a person believes that she is married to a man who is not who he pretends to be? What happens when a person does not tell her husband about her past? What happens when a friend, a neighbor, a son, a sister, a priest, a doctor, a lawyer is untrustworthy? What happens when a child is removed from a mother, and a mother is removed from her child? What happens to a classy woman when she is removed from her class?
He’d read up on noir and called it Nora.
Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me hard boils the story from the start: London as the small bad city with its own 87th precinct: Brant, who cuts a bit off the top of every drug bust, makes himself loved by women, plays laid back surfer dude cop but functions as the magus and manipulates everybody’s fate; Macdonald: the aged bully with the mean little soul and the overblown self-estimate; Porter Nash: the gay cop; W.P.C. Falls the bitch black psychopathic girlcop with the knuckle dusters in her purse; P.C. Lane: tall and lanky nerd cop who carries an umbrella and wears an “expression of friendliness, the very worst thing for a cop,”; Chief Inspector Roberts & more.
A silly accountant whose whore lives across the street decides to play Miss Manners with an edge, and finds he enjoys killing people who behave badly in public.
Slick with references that both emulate and parody the grittiest American fiction (Robert B. Parker, Karin Fossom, Ed McBain, Andrew Vachss, Elmore Leonard, Newton Thornberg, Mankell, Willeford, Joe Lansdale); this text is black with humor (“He’d read up on noir and called it Nora.”) and gorgeous with distemporal language (The drinks came and he hoped she wouldn’t say Bottoms Up. “Bottoms up” she said.”) Read it and smirk.
Jackson slugs a bully and saves a small dog. Hence Jackson, ex military man, ex husband (twice), having been familiar with violence his whole life has now finally found a good use for it. Now on the other side of the law, but otherwise non-localizable: “when he stayed at a hotel, he knew who he was. A guest.”
Tracy is big, post-menopausal, plain, and so indistinct that qualifiers float over the surface of her identity, like flat swabs of paint on a blank canvas.
At school Tracy had always been wary of the domestic science crowd – methodical girls with neat handwriting and neither flaws nor eccentricities. For some reason they were usually good at netball as well, as if the gene that enabled them to jump for the hoop contained the information necessary for turning out a cheese-and-onion flan or creaming a Victoria sponge-sandwich mix.
After she pays $3000 for a small child being dragged around by a street-mother, Tracy buys the kid cotton clothes and uses thought to re-organize her life from the point of view of a small girl.
Two characters in an England out of time, make a decision that makes no sense, and thereby changes the sense of life and everything in it. Two characters that grip us by the throat, and leave us breathless, waiting for the real inside the fiction.
Some Hard-Boiled Characters of 20th C
(by the Members of Rara-Avis, compliled by Joe Dante and Mark Blumenthal, 2002)
(numerical order does not denote value)
Philip Marlowe (from the series by Raymond Chandler)
Sam Spade (from the novel, The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett)
3. The Continental Op (from the series by Dashiell Hammett)
4. Lew Archer (from the series by Ross Macdonald)
5. Matt Scudder (from the series by Lawrence Block)
6. Parker (from the series by Richard Stark)
7. Travis McGee (from the series by John D. MacDonald)
8. Easy Rawlins (from the series by Walter Mosley)
9. Harry aka Hieronymus Bosch (from the series by Michael Connelly)
10. Hoke Moseley (from the series by Charles Willeford)
11. Lou Ford (from the novels The Killer Inside Me and Wild Town by Jim Thompson)
12. Mike Hammer (from the series by Mickey Spillane)
13. Matt Helm (from the series by Donald Hamilton)
14. Dave Robicheaux (from the series by James Lee Burke)
15. Nick Stefanos (from the series by George Pelecanos)
14. Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson (from the series by Chester Himes)
14. C.W. Sughrue (from the series by James Crumley)
14. Hap Collins & Leonard Pine (from the series by Joe R. Lansdale)
14. Nameless (from the series by Bill Pronzini)
14. John Rebus (from the series by Ian Rankin)
14. Mouse (from the Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley)
22. Spenser (from the series by Robert B. Parker)
23. Eddie Coyle (from the novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins)
24. Brigid O’Shaughnessy (from the novel, The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett)
25. V.I. Warshawski (from the series by Sara Paretsky)
26. Dudley Smith (from the novels by James Ellroy)
26. Paul Pine (from the series by Howard Browne)
26. Dimitri Karras (from the series by George Pelecanos)
26. Arkady Renko (from the series by Martin Cruz Smith)
30. Hanson (from the novels by Kent Anderson)
30. Burke (from the series by Andrew Vachss)
31. Ned Beaumont (from the novel, The Glass Key, by Dashiell Hammett)
32. Artie Wu & Quincy Durant (from the series by Ross Thomas)
33. Tom Ripley (from the series by Patricia Highsmith)
34. Hawk (from the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker)
35. Amos Walker (from the series by Loren D. Estleman)
36. Kinsey Millhone (from the series by Sue Grafton)
37. Steve Carella (from the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain)
38. George Smiley (from the series by John Le Carre)
39. James Bond (from the series by Ian Fleming)
40. Jack Reacher (from the series by Lee Child)
41. Earl Drake (from The Operation series by Dan J. Marlowe)
42. Bill Crane (from the series by Jonathan Latimer)
43. Keller (from the Hit Man series by Lawrence Block)
44. Frank Chambers (from the novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain)
45. Frederick J. Frenger Jr. (from the novel, Miami Blues, by Charles Willeford)
46. Dan Kearney (from the DKA series by Joe Gores)
47. Hannibal Lecter (from the series by Thomas Harris)
48. Batman (from the comics/novels series by various authors)
49. Chili Palmer (from the novels Get Shorty and Be Cool by Elmore Leonard)
50. Martin Beck (from the series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo)
51. Lucas Davenport (from the series by John Sandford)
52. Doc McCoy (from the novel, The Getaway, by Jim Thompson)
53. Peter Bondurant (from the trilogy by James Ellroy)
54. Harry Lime (from the novel, The Third Man, by Graham Greene)
55. Buzz Meeks (from the novel, The Big Nowhere, by James Ellroy)
56. Dan Turner (from the series by Robert Leslie Bellem)
57. Milo Milodragovitch (from the series by James Crumley)
58. Lew Griffin (from the series by James Sallis)
59. Mario Balzic (from the series by K.C. Constantine)
60. Charlie Resnick (from the series by John Harvey)
61. Jack Carter (from the series by Ted Lewis)
62. Clete Purcell (from the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke)
63. Max Latin (from the short stories by Norbert Davis)
64. Lloyd Hopkins (from the series by James Ellroy)
65. Joe Friday (from the Dragnet series by various authors)
66. Shell Scott (from the series by Richard S. Prather)
67. Nate Heller (from the series by Max Allan Collins)
68. Nick Corey (from the novel, Pop. 1280, by Jim Thompson)
69. Nick and Nora Charles (from the novel, The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett)
70. Marcus Clay (from the series by George Pelecanos)
71. Socrates Fortlow (from the series by Walter Mosley)
72. Richard Bone (from the novel, Cutter and Bone, by Newton Thornburg)
73. Detective Sergeant Department of Unexplained Deaths (from the Factory series by Derek Raymond)
74. Elvis Cole (from the series by Robert Crais)
75. Walter Huff (from the novel, Double Indemnity, by James M Cain)
76. James Figueras (from the novel, The Burnt Orange Heresy, by Charles Willeford)
77. Casper Gutman (from the novel, The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett)
78. Mike Shayne (from the series by Brett Halliday)
79. Frank Clemons (from the trilogy by Thomas Cook)
80. Sharon McCone (from the series by Marcia Muller)
81. Race Williams/Three Gun Mack (from the series by Carroll John Daly)
82. John Shaft (from the series by Ernest Tidyman)
83. David Brandstetter (from the series by Joseph Hansen)
84 Jack Liffey (from the series by John Shannon)
85. Perry Mason (from the series by Erle Stanley Gardner)
86. Bernie Gunther (from the Berlin Trilogy by Philip Kerr)
87. Joe Gall (from the series by Philip Atlee)
88. Jonathan Hemlock (from the from the novels The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction by Trevanian)
89. Kells (from the novel, Fast One, by Paul Cain)
90. Joe Pike (from the Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais)
91. Fast Eddie Felson (from the novels The Hustler and The Color of Money, by Walter Tevis)
92. Bob Lee Swagger (from the series by Steven Hunter)
93. Cora Papadakis (from the novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain)
94. Roy Dillon (from the novel, The Grifters, by Jim Thompson)
95. Eva Wylie (from the from the series by Liza Cody)
96. Ed and Am Hunter (from the series by Fredric Brown)
97. Skink a.k.a. The Governor (from the a recurring character in the novels by Carl Hiassen)
98. Derek Strange (from the series by George Pelecanos)
99. Lionel Essrog (from the novel, Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem)
100. Charlie Arglist (from the novel, The Ice Harvest, by Scott Phillips)
101. Richard Hudson (from the novel, The Woman Chaser, by Charles Willeford)
102. Ernest Stickney (from the novels Stick and Swag by Elmore Leonard)
103. John Marshall Tanner (from the series by Stephen Greenleaf)
104. Doc Ford (from the series by Randy Wayne White)
105. Jay Gatsby (from the novel, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
106. Dick Tracy (from the newspaper strip by Chester Gould)
107. Mick Ballou (from the Matt Scudder series by Lawrence Block)
108. Quiller (from the series by Adam Hall)
109. Deputy Detective Carl Houseman (from the series by Donald Harstad)
110. Maigret (from the series by Georges Simenon)
The 21 runner-ups
(Joe Gar almost made it):
Doan and Carstairs (from the novels and short stories by Norbert Davis)
Alexander Cutter (from the novel, Cutter and Bone, by Newton Thornburg)
Patrick Kenzie (from the series by Dennis Lehane)
Harry Stoner (from the series by Jonathan Valin)
Satan Hall (from the series by Carroll John Daly)
Jane Whitefield (from the series by Thomas Perry)
Will Graham (from the novel, Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris)
Abraham Trahearne (from the novel, The Last Good Kiss, by James Crumley)
Dave “The Enforcer” Klein (from the novel, White Jazz, by James Ellroy)
Repairman Jack (from the series by F. Paul Wilson)
Fang Mulheisen (from the series by Jon A. Jackson)
Thorn (from the series by James W. Hall)
Neal Fargo (from the novel, Interface, plus short stories by Joe Gores)
Dan Fortune (from the series by Michael Collins)
Max Cady (from the novel, The Executioners, by John D. MacDonald)
John Francis Cuddy (from the series by Jeremiah Healy)
Mike Dolan (from the novel, No Pockets In a Shroud, by Horace McCoy)
Jo Gar (from the short stories by Raoul Whitfield)
Maximum Bob Gibbs (from the novel, Maximum Bob, by Elmore Leonard)
Bernie Ohls (from the novel, The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler)
Carmen Sternwood (from the novel, The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler)
Thanks to Joe Dante and Mark Blumenthal and, as always, William Denton, who manages the Rara-Avis list.
Does a low pitched male voice lend authenticity to a bodice ripper?
A rich Houston real estate agent calls on her ex-lover to help protect their daughter from a violent maniac.
Ever since Tracy Ullmann quipped that being in your early 50s was a wonderful time for most actresses, I’ve been watching for a script. Here it is. The next Meryl Streep movie: what better role for an over 50 actress than that of a politician’s wife? That’s right, one of those sad middle aged overcoiffed women whose husbands have been caught checking out of a hotel room with women half their age, or soliciting men in some public restroom, or writing love letters to someone in Argentina, or paying callgirls in the surburbs of D.C.
How fun to imagine Meryl Streep, a little prim and proper and overweight but well suited, with grown daughters and a chauffeur and 6 months worth of booked charity functions, standing in front of a public telly when the cameras unroll footage of her husband with his perky red headed tart .
Or Meryl Streep hysterical at the supermarket in Connecticut, after the separation, grabbing chocolate chips and coconut flakes, Crisco, corn syrup, sugar and rib roast and fat sweet potatoes and cheese puffs and real Coca Cola, answering the unasked questions of another shopper who is staring at her:
“Yes, that’s right I am…I’m Sylvie Woodruff, Richard Woodruff’s wife, and no, I didn’t know he was sleeping with that girl, and no, I haven’t decided if I’m divorcing him yet, and in case you were wondering we still had what I consider to be a perfectly acceptable sex life, and we loved each other… we have two beautiful girls…I guess what I have to figure out is can I ever forgive him? …”
And Meryl Streep, with a script by Nora Ephron, will pull it off and make Sylvie pretty and cozy and just confused enough to be lovable, and just rich enough to start all over again in a huge house in Connecticut, with no particular financial constraints, washing what needs to be washed, cooking what needs to be cooked, loving what needs to be loved.
At St. Alban’s Church there is a stained glass window picturing a Roman soldier with a halo dressed as a Priest. The Roman soldier was Alban. When the Priest who converted him was sentenced to death, Alban switched clothes with him and died in his place.
A soldier disguised as a priest describes in some sense the Rector herself, an ex-army helicopter pilot, who turns up at crime scenes, and helps the Chief of Police solves crimes in a small snowy parish about 2 hours drive from Albany.