Archive for July, 2015

I’m not sure I want to read the newly released Harper Lee novel, Go Set A Watchman, but not because of the apparent racial overtones in the newly discovered book. Rather, I’m not sure I want to read anything that serves as a follow-up to what is arguably the best American novel ever written.

There’s a reason To Kill A Mockingbird go-set-a-watchmanhas sold 30 million copies, has been read by seemingly every American who entered the public school system in the last 50 years, and made millions of women (and probably some men, too) hold out for a husband until they found one like Atticus Finch. The reason(s): every word was pitch perfect, the characters were beautiful (yes, even Boo Radley), and the charm inescapable. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read the book — and loved it every time. I even wanted to name my daughter Scout (but Demi Moore beat me to it, I guess). And as idealized as it was for its time, its depiction of small-town Southern places rang true for me.

I always admired Harper Lee’s style. She wrote (it seemed) one book, won the Pulitzer and the adoration of the nation, then dropped the mic and left the stage. And annoyed the living hell out of Truman Capote in the process. Yeah, #winning.

So when rumors started flying that another Lee novel existed, I ignored the chatter, or maybe went into denial. Either way, now the rumors are true. But the joy, for me, isn’t there.

I think I’d just rather remember Scout, Jem, Dill and Atticus as they were, when Ms. Lee caught lightning in a bottle and captured our imagination for all time.

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There was a time, not all that long ago, when my nightstand stood loaded with a stack of books that seemed to grow and shrink on a regular basis.

Now, not so much.

It’s not from lack of trying or wanting to read, and I could make a thousand excuses why I don’t read with the same voracious appetite I used to have. Number one being I’m close (I think) to being halfway done with the follow-up to DEEP BLOOD, working title BLOOD BROTHERS. But instead of trotting out a bunch of lame excuses, I’m just going to put a stake in the ground and say these are the books I want to read, intend to read, and, one day, will read.

treeCurrently reading: Yes, I am actually reading a book at the moment. Steph Post’s A Tree Born Crooked: “James Hart, with a tough-as-nails exterior and an aching emptiness inside, does not want to go home. Yet when James receives a postcard from his mother, Birdie Mae, informing him of his father’s death, he bites the bullet and returns to the rural and stagnant town of Crystal Springs, Florida, a place where dreams are born to die.”

 

hashtagHASHTAG: Eryk Pruitt. I reviewed Pruitt’s debut novel, Dirtbags, for my other site, Pulpwood Fiction: A Southern Noir Journal, and I’ve had the pleasure of reading with him at a couple of Noir at the Bar events, as well as follow his exploits as a filmmaker in North Carolina. Pruitt put the dirt in Dirtbags, so I’m looking forward to this one: “A twisted and sinister crime story with characters and a world you’ll be clawing for more of from the author of DIRTBAGS. The repercussions are felt across the American South when a pizza joint in sleepy Lake Castor, Virginia is robbed and the manager, Odie Shanks, is kidnapped. The kidnapping is the talk of the town, but it’s what people don’t know that threatens to rip asunder societal norms. Odie chases dreams of Hollywood stardom and an explosive social media presence while his partner in crime, Jake Armstrong, pursues his own vengeful agenda. In the meantime, corrupt and lazy Deputy Roy Rains has a hard-luck time of covering up the crime in order to preserve his way of life. And college student Melinda Kendall has hit the highway in a stolen ride with nothing but a .22 and limited options, on the run from her drug dealer boyfriend, the Mississippi State Police and the media, trying to escape some bad choices by making even more bad choices. All three are on a collision course from hell in this crime story that reads like a blood-spattered road map of the American South.”

doneoneDONE IN ONE: Grant Jerkins. After reading his At the End of the Road, and spending an evening in Durham, N.C., at a Noir at the Bar where Grant held us captive with his reading, I’m all in when it comes to reading Jerkins’ work. At the End of the Road was among the best Southern fiction I’ve read in the last 10 years.

“One bullet equals one kill. For SWAT sniper Jake Denton, the bullet casings he saves as grim reminders of his “kills” are beginning to add up. His wife, his department-ordered psychiatrist, and even Jake himself are all beginning to question just how these sanctioned kills are affecting his mental health. Nobody wants him to end up like Lee Staley, his mentor and ex-partner—now out on permanent psych leave, drinking himself to death, and the prime suspect in a series of shootings that have paralyzed Northern California. Jake doesn’t believe that Staley’s guilty, but since their job has taught them to kill, how easy would it be for his friend to cross over to the other side? How easy would it be for him? On every police force in the country, there’s a SWAT sniper going about his daily life, acting like an average cop, until the moment when the call comes in. Then they become a hostage’s last hope and a criminal’s worst nightmare. To some, they are silent heroes—to others, silent killers. Grant Jerkins and Jan Thomas’s Done in One pulls back the curtain on their world.”

weightTHE WEIGHT OF BLOOD: Laura McHugh’s debut novel is set in the Ozarks, and seems to have the feel of the rural fiction I enjoy. I’ll know once I read it, I suppose: “The town of Henbane sits deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks there still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother, a bewitching stranger who appeared long enough to marry Carl Dane and then vanished when Lucy was just a child. Now on the brink of adulthood, Lucy experiences another loss when her friend Cheri disappears and is then found murdered, her body placed on display for all to see. Lucy’s family has deep roots in the Ozarks, part of a community that is fiercely protective of its own. Yet despite her close ties to the land, and despite her family’s influence, Lucy—darkly beautiful as her mother was—is always thought of by those around her as her mother’s daughter. When Cheri disappears, Lucy is haunted by the two lost girls—the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t save—and sets out with the help of a local boy, Daniel, to uncover the mystery behind Cheri’s death. What Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills, and beyond that horrific revelation is a more personal one concerning what happened to her mother more than a decade earlier.”

powerdogPOWER OF THE DOG: Man, I’m hearing tons of buzz about this one from Don Winslow, the author of Savages, which was a pretty damn good book that turned into a so-so Oliver Stone movie (right, like I couldn’t see that coming). From the book blurb:

“An explosive novel of the drug trade, The Power of the Dog, takes you deep inside a world riddled with corruption, betrayal, and bloody revenge. Art Montana is an obsessive DEA agent. The Barrera brothers are heirs to a drug empire. Nora Hayden is a jaded teenager who becomes a high-class hooker. Father Parada is a powerful and uncorruptable Catholic priest. Callan is an Irish kid from Hell’s kitchen who grows up to be a merciless hitman. And they are all trapped in the world of the Mexican drug Federación. From the streets of New York City to Mexico City and Tijuana to the jungles of Central America, this is the war on drugs like you’ve never seen it.”