Writers I Admire: Daniel Woodrell

This guy is right up there with Ace Atkins and Dennis LeHane for greatest American crime novelist. His work has been labeled country noir because his books usually feature violence and very flawed, hardscrabble Ozarks folks. Woodrell portrays his characters honestly, starkly, but also with compassion, which is one of the main reasons his work is so compelling: he obviously knows these characters.  How they talk, how they think, how they interact with the world: everything is always spot-on.  Too, Woodrell obviously cares about his characters, and that comes across especially in Tomato Red and Winter’s Bone. Another element of his work that sucks the reader right in is the voice. I challenge ANYONE to read the opening three pages of Tomato Red and stop reading. Ditto Under the Bright Lights, which is the only novel of his I know of that isn’t set in the Ozarks; this one is set in New Orleans and is straight up hard-boiled, page-turning fun.

The Maid’s Version is his latest novel, which is high on my holiday reading list. Below are links to excellent reviews of his various books.

 

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/09/207392723/after-tragedy-lost-live-on-in-maids-version-of-the-story

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/157608137

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/17/books/review/Bowman.t.html?_r=0

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Book Review of American Crow by Jack Lacey

To paraphrase the late great Elmore Leonard: a novelist should cut out the parts that readers skip over.  This is excellent advice, advice which Jack Lacey, author of American Crow, seems to have taken to heart.  The pacing of this novel is frenetic, the scenes chock full of action.

American Crow begins with our hero Sibelius Blake vacationing on a beach in France with his seventeen year old daughter. A freak accident occurs, and the daughter dies, rendering Blake unfit to continue his line of work: finding people who no other bounty hunter or private investigator can (or will) find.  But after a brief fallow period, Blake, a tattooed, rough-around-the-edges Londoner, takes a case in America. His mission: locate an eighteen year old girl named Olivia.  Sounds easy enough, but there are, of course, a multitude of complications. For starters, Blake is wanted by the authorities in the U.S., so he has to sneak into the border via Canada to get to Minnesota, where Olivia was last seen. Once Blake makes it to Minnesota, he follows up some leads and soon discovers that Olivia has joined a local activist group.  This group has gone down to the Cumberland Mountains in Kentucky to protest a very large and very powerful mining company, the head of which is a dangerous man named Corrigan.  That, as they say, is when the fun starts. No spoilers, but Blake runs into trouble at practically every turn, and his troubles keep the reader entertained (and suspended) until the last page.

I did have one or two criticisms of the book, however. One, the author repeatedly uses. . . (dot, dot, dot)  This becomes noticeable almost after the first chapter, and every time it takes the reader out of the story a little. Two, the dialogue of the Southern characters does not, in many places, ring true. Born and raised in North Carolina, perhaps I’m just hyper-aware of Southern speech patterns, and how different they can be from one state to the next, one town to the next.  That said, I found not just some of the dialogue but some of the portrayals of Southern characters, well, caricature-esque.

Bottom line though, Sibelius Blake is an interesting lead character, and there is a cinematic quality to Lacey’s narrative that is addictive.  Too, I think the author’s background as a journalist is a real asset as the writing is taut, the level of detail spot-on.  I recommend American Crow, especially to those hooked on the Jack Reacher series, or those who can’t pass up a lightening-fast plot with solid prose.

http://www.jacklacey.co.uk

american crow

This book, featuring Blake, a rough-around-the-edges, tattooed man who specializes in finding people who cannot be found,

Writers I Admire: Steve Ulfelder

I’m a sucker for a good series, and the Conway Sax books are not good, they’re great.  Sax, a part-time mechanic, part-time PI, specializes in doing “favors” for fellow Barn Burners, or recovering alcoholics. As a former drunk, Sax has a checkered past, which, in a variety of interesting ways, both haunts and motivates him to assist other former alcoholics, even when they are ungrateful or downright despicable. But what I dig most about Sax is this: he is a decent guy, an American hero in the same vein as the Colson Quinn character in Ace Atkins’s novels.

In “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler says this about the detective: “He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it…He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job.” To me, it’s almost as if Chandler were writing about Conway Sax. 

Aside from the main character, however, there are many other excellent reasons to read Ulfelder’s books. The wonderful clipped prose. The fast-paced narratives typically centered around loyalty and redemption. I could go on, but I’ll let the writing speak for itself. Click on the link below, and read the opening chapter of Ulfelder’s latest novel Shotgun Lullaby.  

http://www.ulfelder.com/books/shotgun-lullaby/

Writers I Admire: Video with Ace Atkins

This is Ace Atkins talking about his latest Quinn Colson novel The Broken Places. Atkins, a former Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, is, in my humble opinion, the best crime novelist in America. In this video, I love what he has to say about American heroes, Mississippi, and, best of all, the craft of researching and writing. If you haven’t read any of the Colson books, you should. They go in this order: The Ranger, The Lost Ones, and The Broken Places. 

http://www.aceatkins.com