Sunday, October 09, 2005

I have just lost

a long post titled "Sunday-evening spleen," a rant that I cannot now be bothered to reconstruct (especially as I am now more annoyed than ever; I have hardly had any blogger-related problems, but when something does go wrong, of course it's quite maddening). The long amplified-and-cleaned-up version vanished and I was left with only the bare links and a few relatively calm sentences.

Suffice it to say that I just finished reading The Enemy of God by Robert Daley. Not bad, rather humorless (and the last bits of plot at the end COMPLETELY implausible), but by the last hundred pages I was going crazy with irritation and swearing that never again would I read a novel about manliness and choices and male friendship. Of course there are lots of good crime novels in this vein, I am thinking for instance of ones by Pete Dexter and S. J. Rozan and more broadly it could describe some particular favorite books of mine like David Copperfield or Baldwin's Just Above My Head or Lethem's Fortress of Solitude. But I actually hated Lehane's Mystic River (heresy in crime fiction circles) and generally respond badly to this kind of book when it takes itself too seriously.

It's published in Otto Penzler's new Harcourt imprint, and I think I just have to mark a huge difference of taste here. Here's Penzler's picks, a list of his favorites for 2004 (I won't link to each book, partly because I'm lazy but more because I wouldn't recommend most of these myself):

Night Fall - Nelson DeMille
At Hell's Gate - Ethan Black
The Bookman's Promise - John Dunning
Best American Mystery Stories 2004 - Nelson DeMille
Take Me, Take Me With You - Lauren Kelly
Double Play - Robert B. Parker
Hark! - Ed McBain
Wolves Eat Dogs - Martin Cruz Smith
The Road to Ruin - Donald E. Westlake
Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality (reissues) - John le Carre

I actively dislike the novels of Nelson DeMille and John Dunning; I've read 2-3 by each and find them wanting in terms of character and voice, my two top criteria for all fiction. Ethan Black is entertaining but lightweight (the sheer implausibility and wish-fulfillment-ness of the Voort books just gets to me). Robert B. Parker and Ed McBain are classics but these particular ones are far from great books (actually I haven't read the Parker, so this is prejudice rather than the authority of first-hand experience--it has been several decades in my opinion since he wrote a really good book). Haven't read the Martin Cruz Smith, liked his earlier ones, same for Donald E. Westlake, but taken with these other names it all starts sounding incredibly unimaginative in terms of choices. Particularly you sense that these are books written by people reproducing old successes & not really writing at the top of their game.

John le Carre is highly overrated; I reread a few of his early novels several years ago (including A Murder of Quality) and don't think they're great, and his more recent ones are marred by incredible pretentiousness (I think The Night Manager was the worst, but The Constant Gardener was pretty dreadful too; he is second only to P.D. James on my list of most embarrassing writers, a few of her earlier ones are classics & amazingly good--esp. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman--but the last few Dalgliesh novels are almost unreadably stiff and pretentious, not helped by the fact that Dalgliesh should really be in his 70s by now). Haven't read the Lauren Kelly but very much want to, as I only recently read an article in which I learned that this is a new pseudonym for Joyce Carol Oates, whose Rosamond Smith books I adore.

But the feel of the whole list is backward-looking, cautious, inattentive even to the great popular/mainstream names I expected to see here--Lee Child, Laura Lippman--let alone to the demented and brilliant writers who make me so excited about the genre (James Sallis, Charlie Williams, Ken Bruen--yes, I don't really expect to see a list like this one representing the demented writers I love most, but still...).

Now I must go and see if I can find something to read that will either make me happy by being completely delightful or make me even angrier by stoking the flames of my taste-disapproval. (The latter is more what I'm in the mood to do, and also more immediately attainable--another Penzler-edited book is sitting right here next to me!--only then I will never be able to go to sleep, I will be so consumed with aesthetic self-righteousness.)

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