September hit the ground running with some personal business that could not wait, so here are my best reads for both August and September. (Because I know, deep down, you were disappointed when I skipped the August recounting.)
Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell. As good as I’d hoped. Woodrell has the gift of underplaying everything in such a manner it increases the effect. His writing has a backwoods poetry that distills the personalities of the characters and defines the good and bad of the clannishness found in this part of the Ozarks. (“working in the hot fields from can to can’t;” “nobody thought he’d live to see noon until he did.” Both of those are on the same page.) Writes female characters as well or better than any male writer I’ve read, and better than a lot of women. The ending is perfect, and leaves an opening for what could be a wonderful sequel, should Woodrell feel so inclined. The kind of book I wished was longer. Not because it seemed to be in any way incomplete, but because I didn’t want to stop reading.
Difficult Men, Brett Martin. This one got its own review several weeks ago. It’s worth a second mention.
The Way of the Warrior 1, Bernard Schaffer. A brief, quasi-memoir from a retired Philadelphia area cop that is not what one might expect. Schaffer is not an advocate of the increasing police “us versus them” mindset, and makes some compelling arguments for how policing and community relations can be improved. A quick and worthy read.
The Right Madness, James Crumley. I almost took this off the list because I read it a month ago and didn’t remember the story. I read a review and remembered what it was that moved me to put it on the list in the first place. Crumley’s books aren’t really about the plot, as he tends to get carried away and lets things circle back onto each other until the reader is left scratching his head. Doesn’t matter. Crumley’s plots are primarily scaffolds on which to hang the characters, dialog, and writing, all three of which are in fine fettle here.
Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler. Chandler’s masterpiece, at least until I re-read The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye. My favorite of the three is almost always the one freshest in my mind.
Crime Always Pays, Declan Burke. A more detailed review is coming. For now, imagine Elmore Leonard telling a story devised by Donald Westlake, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much fun this is. Burke has as much or more range as anyone currently writing in the genre.