Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Singing Detective

Dope was great fun. It was written as a 1950s noir/pulp novel - the search for a missing girl caught up in New York's heroin underworld. But it was so much better written than those old 50s pulp novels that I think we have a definite case of the imitation being better than the original. Sara Gran is a really good writer and the guys who wrote the pulps often weren't (or didn't put the same time and effort into the work). I then read an old pulp from 1952 called Thin Air by Howard Brown. Its about a woman who disappears on her husband after they return from vacation. Nowhere near as good as Dope.

I've been reading a hefty biography of Dennis Potter, the man who wrote the TV mini-series The Singing Detective. And I've been re-watching The Singing Detective, which I now own, on DVD. It is, without doubt, the greatest thing ever shown on television (even though I don't think it has ever been shown in its entirety in the US). Who knew that a musical set in a hospital about a writer of detective stories and who is suffering from a debilitating skin disease and simultaneously writing a detective story in his head, hallucinating, reliving his childhood, reluctantly undergoing psychotherapy, and feuding with his ex-wife could be so compelling and entertaining? And since Potter himself suffered from the same skin disease, fact and fiction is blurred in amazing ways. (Michael Gambon plays the Singing Detective. He also played Inspector Maigret, Georges Simenon's famous detective, on PBS. I have about 150 Simenon novels and I was always amazed at how on some of the books, the drawing of Maigret looked so similar to Michael Gambon and what I imagined Maigret to look like - until I found out that some of these books were republished when PBS first broadcast adaptations of them for the first time. I think I'll be getting them from Netflix soon.) I can't remember how I found out about it but I knew of it for years before I ever saw it. Dennis Potter did a famous interview as he was dying and I had heard snippets of it on Morning Edition and I guess it stuck with me. The DVD has the full interview but I haven't watched it yet. (Sometime in the last week or two I heard a profile of Neko Case and her new album on Morning Edition and then I somehow found myself in a record store buying her new album - and I barely know anything about her. But as it turns out, the new album is pretty cool.)

I also caught up with two Michael Connelly novels that I bought last year but didn't get around to reading. Both The Closers and The Lincoln Lawyer were fantastic. Next up is the new Sarah Waters novel The Night Watch.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Tap, Tap, Tap

I was in New York over the weekend and I went to the Strand to look for some books. I couldn’t find my top two choices – The Night Watch by Sarah Waters and a new biography of the British scientist J.D. Bernal by Andrew Brown. I did find three books that I had previously been unable to get anywhere else (library included) and bought them. They were Kiss It Goodbye by John Wessel, The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes and Come Closer by Sarah Gran.

I wanted to get the Declan Hughes book when I was in Ireland but it has yet to be published there. It hasn’t been officially released here either – I got a reviewer’s copy. The John Wessel book is the third in what had been a series of crime novels set on the south side of Chicago. I thought the first two were okay and I liked the Chicago stuff. He seems to have disappeared after the third book – which was nearly impossible to find.

The coolest book I got was Come Closer by Sara Gran. I scored a copy of her new book, Dope, from the library last week. I’d heard some great things about Come Closer but had never seen a copy before. The book is about an architect who may or may not be possessed. While I generally hate anything to do with the supernatural, this book rocks. She’s a brilliant writer. Uncluttered prose that flows smoothly. Very economical yet nothing important gets left out. Tremendously entertaining.

The book is also a great primer on what to do if you or a loved one is suffering from demonic possession. Here’s a simple 10 point diagnostic tool from the book:

Are YOU Possessed by a Demon?

1. I hear strange noises in my home, especially at night, which family members tell me only occur when I am present.

2. I have new activities and pastimes that seem "out of character," and I do things that I did not intend and do not understand.

3. I'm short and ill-tempered with my friends and loved ones.

4. I can understand languages I've never studied, and have the ability to know things I couldn't know through ordinary means.

5. I have blackouts not caused by drugs, alcohol, or a preexisting health condition.

6. I have unusual new thoughts, or hear voices in my head.

7. I've had visions or dreams of personalities who may be demons.

8. A psychic, minister, or other spiritualist has told me I'm possessed.

9. I have urges to hurt or kill animals and other people.

10. I have hurt or killed animals or people.


0-3: You are probably not possessed. See a doctor or mental health professional for an evaluation.

3-6: You may be haunted, or in the early stages of possession. Do not be alarmed. Seek a spiritual counselor for assisstance.

6-10: You are possessed. Consult with your spiritual counselor immediately. You may be a threat to the safety of yourself and your family.

Possession usually begins with a preliminary stage called "obsession"- the obsession of the demon with the victim. In this stage the victim is still alone in his body but all five senses, and in addition the memory and mind, can be manipulated and disturbed by the Entity. The victim may feel lust, envy, greed, or urges towards any of the sins with stronger force than ever before. It is common for the victim to hear the demon in the form of rapping, tapping, or scratching that seems to follow them around; also common is for the victim to have their dreams infiltrated by the Possessing Entity.

I gave the test to my traveling companion on the bus ride back to Washington. To protect that person’s privacy, I won’t reveal the outcome of the test – but let’s just say it explains a few things. Especially the tapping.


I got Dope from the library. I didn't think I'd be able to score my Dope there - I figured I'd have to buy it on the street. Let me tell you, this is some good stuff.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

O, the Jury

I had jury duty on Valentine's Day. I thought I would be able to get a lot of reading time throughtout the day but events conspired against me. I had to be there way too early and I'm a wreck if I don't get my eight hours a night - which I didn't. And it was too warm inside. And crowded. All of which meant I was too drowsy to read much. I did manage to finish Jim Kelly's The Fire Baby. Which I enjoyed.

I was worried about what to take to read. I saw a lot of James Patterson at the courthouse. The guy in front of me was reading a biography of John Paul Jones. A girl next to me was reading Off Ramp by Hank Stuever. Some weird, bearded guy had When God Weeps. I almost brought a brand new copy of The Science of False Memory - thinking they wouldn't want me on a jury if they saw me with it. Which got me to thinking about what books would lead to an automatic dismissal. Mein Kampf or The Turner Diaries - but quite frankly I don't have the balls for a stunt like that. Verso, I think, just published the collected works of Osama bin Laden. That would do. But then I'd have to buy a copy and then never be able to fly on an airplane ever again. Children's pop-up books - no one would pick me for a jury if they saw me reading pop-up books. I suppose I could let them see me reading Kafka's The Trial and they'd think I was more trouble than I was worth. I wound up taking a nice copy of the Story of O but the only one who noticed was a little old lady who told me that she, too, was a big fan of Oprah and read all the books as well.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Field of Blood

I just finished reading my first library book (Ash & Bone by John Harvey) and it was wonderful. I've moved on to my second, Field of Blood by Denise Mina and so far, so good. And I did a little cross-referencing between Amazon, and the library, and it turns out that they have most of the books I'm going to want this spring and summer(John Harvey, Denise Mina, Declan Hughes, and Sarah Waters). Even the American editions of books that come out first in the UK are showing up here fast. And one Irish novel will be published here before it comes out there. My favorite bank teller told me today that I can get library cards from some of the neighboring suburban library systems, too. I know this must sound silly but this library thing is fantastic. I've spent the past decade and a half buying books and now I'm just borrowing them. This reminds me of when I first got glasses, how I was amazed at how much there was to see that I had been missing.

Its also been very liberating to read books in hard cover without worrying about soiling them. Not that I am reckless with the library copies but if I happen to be reading a crisp, new first edition of something, I have to be very careful to keep it in the best condition possible. Which means I can't read it with lunch or sometimes can't take it out of the house or carry it in my bag. I can do those things with library books. I have a friend who sometimes passes along hard covers and I get them same thrill reading them. Sometimes I'll find traces of a meal splashed on the corner of a page and be bowled over by the sight of it. For the record, I at sushi and a sandwich while reading my first library book and didn't soil it at all.

Tomorrow I will return my first book to the library and look around for a bit. I will have to go to a branch library (in West End) because the Mayor is having a meeting in the main public library and that sounds like too much of a hassle.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Long Overdue

I went to the public library today. I had to return two overdue books - they were due back in August of 1991. One was a terrible novel called Mercy by David Lindsey. Never finished it - gave up after 30 pages or so. I saw a bit of the movie years later and it was crap, too. The other book was The Borderless World by Kenichi Ohmae. Can't say it left much of an impression on me. Even though these books were 15 years overdue, I didn't have to pay any fines. And I got a new library card.

I used my new library card to check out three books. I got the new John Harvey novel Ash & Bone, Jim Kelly's The Fire Baby, and Denise Mina's The Field of Blood. I tried to buy the Jim Kelly book in Ireland but couldn't find a copy. And I couldn't find any cheap American copies. It never occured to me that I could find it at the library - but there it was. On the whole, I was kind of surprised by all the books I found. I thought our library was strapped for cash but they had a lot of new books.

I'm reading the John Harvey book now. He's a great writer, one of my favorite crime writers of all time. He wrote a series of police procedurals set in Nottingham and stopped after ten books. After a bit of a break he's back with what seems to be a new series featuring a retired English cop. Ash & Bone is the second book. Flesh & Blood, the first, was pretty good. A new one is due to be published in the UK in April. (I have the English editions of most of his books and now that I'm seeing the American editions, I am shocked by how bad the American dust jackets are.)(Same for the Denise Mina book. What were they thinking?)

Both Harvey and Mina are very concerned with why crimes happen, especially the larger social forces that tend to produce crime. Its a very smart approach. And when well done, crime novels can tell us just as much (or more) about our world than literary/straight novels.

I don't know how much I'll use the library. I have a ton of stuff I really want to read already at hand. And the few things that are coming out that I want won't be out in the US for at least a year. But I may try and get Dope by Sara Gran when it comes out. And if they get a copy of her previous book, Come Closer, I'll get it. And maybe in March the new Sarah Waters. And I want to read more Paul Auster and I know they have his books.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Visa and the Damage Done

I just got back from Ireland. I went to Galway for about a week with my dad. We made a pilgrimage to Kenny's Bookshop in Galway City before it closed its doors for good. (They'll continue with their internet store. And I heard rumors - which have not been independently confirmed - that they will open a new retail space in a new development in the docklands area of the city.) It was a great bookstore and I am glad I got the chance to go before it closed. (I was there when I was 10 years old but don't remember it.)

I also went into Charlie Byrne's Bookshop. And a place called Dubray Books, Eason Books, and Hughes & Hughes.

Kenny's was great. They had rooms and rooms of books. The place looks small from the photo but there were dozens of rooms in the place. In fact, on my third trip to the store I was still finding new rooms of books. We were there on their last day of business and the place was mobbed.

Charlie Byrne's has to be one of the best bookstore I've ever been to in my life. Really fantastic stock. It kills me that I can't go in there every week.

This is what I brought back with me:

Sleepyhead - Mark Billingham
Lazy Bones - MB
The Burning Girl - MB
Scaredy Cat - MB
Lifeless - MB
State of the Union - Douglas Kennedy
Imagination of the Heart - Vincent McDonnell
Always the Sun - Neil Cross
The Necropolis Railway - Andrew Martin
The Dark - John McGahern
Memoir - JMcG
The Swing of Things - Sean O'Reilly
An Accident Waiting to Happen - Adrian White
Beyond Black - Hilary Mantel
Juggling - Barbara Trapido
The Photograph - Eamonn Sweeney
Call the Dying - Andrew Taylor
The Brooklyn Follies - Paul Auster
Arthur & George - Julian Barnes
Missing - Mary Stanley
A Game with Sharpened Knives - Neil Belton
The Moon Tunnel - Jim Kelly
Priest - Ken Bruen
City of Tiny Lights - Patrick Neate
Single Obsession - Des Ekin
Tokyo - Mo Hayder
Desire Lines - Annie McCartney
A Kind of Homecoming - Eugene McEldowney