This was to have been the routine recounting of the best books I read last month (and I read some good ones), but Declan Burke’s review of Grind Joint has me chuffed. An excerpt:
Rooted in the Slavic ethnic heritage of western Pennsylvania, Dana King’s style – this is his fourth novel – has been compared to the work of the late Elmore Leonard, and it’s easy to see why: Grind Joint is a compelling tale of small-town gangsters and cops rooted in vernacular dialogue and blackly comic in the way the bad guys’ ambitions easily exceed their abilities. Grind Joint reads more like a proto-Leonard story, one more reminiscent of George V Higgins, whose The Friends of Eddie Coyle exerted a major influence on Leonard’s style.
There is a chilly and occasionally unsettling quality of realism to King’s unflinching appraisal of the devastating impact of economic downturn on the small-town United States, which leads its protagonists to perform increasingly convoluted moral gymnastics.
The entire review can be read on the Irish Times web site. (No, Grind Joint is not the “affecting psychological thriller” referred to in the title, though that sounds like a hell of a book, too.)
Now we resume our regularly scheduled program.
January was spent reading the Christmas gelt, which was primarily non-fiction, but what great non-fiction it was.
Hooked, Les Edgerton. I’ve loved Les’s fiction since I first read The Bitch, and I spent three days at the Creatures, Crime, and Creativity conference last fall tripping over unsolicited raves for this book. They were right. It hits the right tone throughout and has a lot of things I hadn’t thought of, and—thankfully—confirmed some others. I liked this book so much I bought another copy to give to my writers group, for those who struggle with their beginnings.
Where Good Ideas Come From (The Natural History of Innovation), Steven Johnson. I became aware of Johnson by watching his excellent PBS mini-series How We Got to Now and adding that book to my Wish List; The Beloved Spouse doubled down on him, and I’m a better person for it. Johnson explores concepts such as the adjacent possible (in short, why some ideas can’t take off because they’re too far ahead of their time), wrapping up with a compelling argument that most advances aren’t generated for profit, but are done in the spirit of finding things out; then someone figures a way to make money from them. Highest recommendation, though the proofreader should be shot.
The Poisoner’s Handbook (Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York), Deborah Blum. Another book I became aware of via PBS, The Poisoner’s Handbook traces the origin of forensic toxicology in the United States, as begun by the first New York City medical Examiner (Charles Norris) and his master chemist (Alexander Gettler). Starting with the time of the wholly corrupt coroner system, the book traces the careers of Norris and Gettler through the heyday of death by poison, and their struggles to not only find out how poisons killed (and prove when they had, or had not, been used), but to get the powers that be to take them seriously. Highest recommendation, especially for the corollary value of learning firsthand where government regulation come from and what life—and, too often, death—was like without it.