Monday, November 30, 2009

Being unemployed leaves a lot of time for reading. I've been stuck in the 70s:

1. The Dog of the South: Charles Portis' hilarious tale of a cuckolded husband who sets out to find his wife (and more importantly his Ford Torino). She's run off with her ex-husband and our hapless protagonist tracks "the lovebirds" through their use of his credit cards. The journey takes him across the southern United States, Mexico, Belize and ultimately Honduras. Along the way he picks up a charlatan physician, Dr. Reo Symes, with an insatiable appetite for pills and numerous hair-brained schemes for an island in Louisiana owned by his missionary mother (including a Jefferson Davis theme park). The narrative ultimately runs a bit off the rails, but the journey to no place in particular is highly entertaining.

2. King Suckerman: For some reason I'd never gotten around to reading this early crime work by George Pelecanos. As the title suggests, it's his tribute to mid-70s culture, blaxploitation films in particular. The main protagonists are a familiar duo, Dimitri Karras and Marcus Clay, who also feature in The Sweet Forever and Shame the Devil. The childhood friends share a love of basketball, an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture arcana and a penchant for ending up at extremely bloody crime scenes. This time they cross wires with a pair of southern sociopaths visiting Chocolate City to complete a drug deal and kill a bunch of hillbilly bikers. Given that The Sweet Forever takes place a decade later, it's not difficult to figure out which duo is going to wind up dead.

3. Restless, Willian Boyd: I don't understand why William Boyd isn't more broadly recognized as a literary genius. The breadth and quality of his work will make your socks roll up and down. Restless is a crackling good spy thriller. The unlikely protagonist, Sally Gilmartin, is a widow living in the countryside outside of Oxford in the mid-70s. One day she reveals to her grown daughter that her real name is Eva Delectorskaya and that she worked as a British spy during World War Two. She was at the center of a propaganda campaign aimed at drawing the U.S. into the war. But her espionage days came to a sudden end in a delightfully grisly encounter involving the improvised use of a sharpened pencil in rural New Mexico. Even three decades later the entire truth of what happened that fateful evening continues to confound Delectorskaya. And ultimately it draws her (and her bewildered daughter) back into the espionage game.

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