We first meet Norwood Pratt, a red-haired twenty-three-year-old from Ralph, Texas, as he’s being discharged from the Marines on account of family hardship. His father has just passed away, leaving his sister Vernell with no one to care for her. Vernell “was a heavy, sleepy girl with bad posture. She was old enough to look after herself and quite large enough, but in many ways she was a great big baby.
The unnamed narrator of Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold pieces together a picture of events that unfolded on an infamous day twenty three years prior. In a small town at the mouth of a river on the Caribbean coast of Columbia, in what appears to be the second decade of the nineteen hundreds, a wealthy young man with no apparent enemies was murdered in broad daylight, in front of a crowd that included most of the town’s citizens.
Meursault, the main character of Albert Camus' The Stranger, is so passive and indifferent, he simply lets life happen to him, and what happens isn’t good. He tells his story as if he’s an uninterested and slightly befuddled spectator watching things happen to someone else. Meursault lives in Algiers. The year is around 1942, though the events of the war in Europe don’t impinge on the story. Meursault lives in a simple apartment and, working as a clerk in a shipping company, earns just enough to get by.
Ordo, a novella of just 73 pages, is the second work in Hard Case Crime’s Double Feature. Ordo Tupikos, a sailor in the US Navy in the early 1970s, is enjoying some down time with friends during a work break. One of them asks him why he never told them he had been married to movie star Dawn Devayne. Ordo thinks his friend, a practical joker, is kidding, so he brushes him off.
The Plains of Cement is the third and final book in Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky collection, which follows three down-and-out characters through the streets of London in the fall and early winter of 1929. Book one, The Midnight Bell, follows the waiter, Bob, as he falls in love with prostitute Jenny Maples. Book two, The Siege of Pleasure, picks up with Jennie’s story just days after book one leaves off.
The Siege of Pleasure, the second book in Patrick Hamilton’s 1930’s London trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, picks up just days after the end of book one. Jenny Maple is walking the streets around the London Pavilion looking for a trick while trying to avoid a plainclothes cop who has recently arrested one of her friends. A seedy-looking middle-aged man has his eye on her, but can’t quite pluck up the courage to approach.
Bob, a waiter at a London saloon called The Midnight Bell, leads a relatively simple life. He works the lunch shift from 11 to 3 and the evening shift from 5 till 10. In between, he reads in his room, wanders the streets, goes to movies. The son of an American man and an Irish woman, he has no living family, no clear path ahead, and only the vaguest of dreams.
Ben Fox from Shepherd.com recently asked me to write about five of my favorite books in any genre. You can check out my list of the best books from the golden age of American crime and noir and perhaps discover something new. Hundreds of authors have contributed similar lists to Shepherd, which has become a discovery engine for excellent works that may have flown under the radar. When I shared my list with a fellow author, he said with surprise that he had never heard of any of the titles on my list.
Paul Bradley Carr’s 1414° is a satirical thriller that reads like Carl Hiaasen’s take on Silicon Valley, “An industry built on the promise of limitless memory, by people who can’t remember what happened last week.” The book opens with former tech titan Joe Christian counting out his final hours in a filthy flophouse in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Someone, he is sure, has deliberately ruined his life. Someone he calls “Fate” has orchestrated his long descent from wealth and power to this sad, sordid end.
[Note: This book’s preface claims it’s based on a true story. It’s not. If you read this novel as an accurate account of Aboriginal culture, you’ll be misled. It should be categorized as New Age Fantasy. The end of this review contains a link to a story in which the author retracts her claims to the book’s authenticity. As fantasy, though, it’s a pretty good read.] Marlo Morgan, an American living in Australia, is invited by an Aboriginal group to what she thinks is an awards banquet.
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