The Cocktail Waitress was the last book James M. Cain wrote before he died in 1977. Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai pieced it together from a number of manuscripts and published it in 2002. The book, as Ardai says, “is a classic Cain femme fatale story that’s told for once from the femme fatale’s point of view.” And what a point of view it is. The book opens with twenty-one year old widow Joan Medford standing at her husband’s grave.
Archivists preserve cultural artifacts and do their best to make them accessible to future generations. These artifacts traditionally included books, articles, images, music, legal documents, letters, and just about any other item that contains important or meaningful information. Until a few decades ago, these artifacts were primarily physical. Preserving them required good storage conditions and good handling practices. Making them available meant providing an index, such as a card catalog, to tell people where they were stored, and a physical space, such as a library or museum where people could physically access the items.
In The Hiding Girl, Dorian Box’s tough and resourceful young protagonist, Emily Calby, flees a horrific murder and spends months on the streets and on the run. Her survival depends on toughness and determination, and the help of a former gang member who recognizes in her shades of his own youth. In this sequel, she finds herself in trouble again right from the get-go, but it’s trouble of a different kind.
Edward Viljoen’s Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God Retold in Simplified English is sort of a CliffsNotes retelling of the Hindu classic. Viljoen paraphrases the story’s eighteen chapters in twenty-six pages of simple, straightforward English. The remaining seventy or so pages of the book are devoted to backstory about the main characters and definitions of some of Hinduism’s core concepts. Viljoen understands that no simplified paraphrasing can do justice to the poetry of the original work.
Alan C. Logan’s The Greatest Hoax on Earth is a journalistic examination of the life of Frank Abagnale, the infamous con man immortalized in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 file Catch Me if You Can. That film, based on Abagnale’s autobiography of the same name, portrays a smooth charmer living a life of glamour and adventure. The young Abegnale cons his way onto free flights around the world with beautiful women in tow.
The Troubled Man is the final installment in Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series, and the only one of the series I’ve read. I found the book in a Little Free Libraryin a park in Virginia. I picked it up, because I felt quite troubled at the time. I saw the title and thought, “That’s me.” In this book, Wallander, a police officer in a small coastal town in Sweden, is sixty years old and spends a lot of time reflecting on his life.
Dr. Eger gives a powerful and harrowing account of her youth, of being taken from her home in Hungary, herded into the cattle cars, separated from her parents at Auschwitz. She and her sister survived more than a year in the death camp, and for months more on the death marches that followed before an American GI lifted her from a pile of corpses. Hope and remembrance of the good in life sustained her through unspeakable horrors.
Jean-Patrick Manchette’s No Room at the Morgue is the first book I’ve read from NYRB Classics that’s just flat out bad. The back cover includes a blurb from Kirkus Reviews that says, “If Marx, Freud, and Jim Thompson collaborated on a noir, this might be the result.” Actually, if Marx, Freud, and Jim Thompson had had an editor, this book would never have been published. A good crime novel raises questions in the reader’s mind to keep them hooked.
I wanted to like George Pelecanos' The Cut, but it left me a little cold. I’m a huge fan of Elmore Leonard, and Pelecanos has a lot in common with the master. Both rely heavily on dialog to convey character, and both have a good ear for the language. Leonard’s characters come off a little sharper, at least compared to this book, in which the testosterone-drenched wise guys on both sides of law do too much posturing and smart-mouthing.
In the opening of Day Keene’s Bring Him Back Dead, sheriff’s deputy Andy Latour seems to be stuck in the wrong job and the wrong marriage. His wife, Olga, a descendant of the faded Russian aristocracy, barely speaks to him. He had promised her a life of wealth and ease as the oil boom struck southern Louisiana and the Delta Oil Company had opened a test well on his land.
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