Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grab Bag: Westerns, Welles & Whiskey

I haven’t been posting as frequently as I once did. Lots going on. But sometimes that hectic pace is a boon for the blog. A little distance allows you to see what’s truly worthy of comment.

Like Death Ground, by my friend Ed Gorman. I’ve got a copy of Ed’s latest book Stranglehold, already winning raves, but the urge to read a western came on me like a fever so I picked up this 1988 novel. Bounty hunter Leo Guild is marking a joyless 54th birthday when he hears that his current boss has been murdered. The prime suspect is mountain man Kriker, and Guild joins two deputies in tracking him down. Their journey takes them to Kriker’s settlement, full of misfits determined to make their own way but woefully ignorant of how vulnerable they really are.

There’s a great feel for landscape and the elements. None of the characters is what you expect, Kriker in particular. I loved the cardsharp priest, the twisted dynamic between the deputy brothers, Guild’s bone-deep weariness. Ed later said, “westerns are where I do my noir,” and that’s what Death Ground is. A dark, glittering gem.

Also worth recommending is the coming of age tale Me and Orson Welles (U.S. 2009). Zac Efron is the aspiring actor who finds himself cast in a small role in the Mercury Theater’s 1937 production of Julius Caesar. It’s always fun to see actors playing other actors like Joseph Cotten and George Coulouris, but Christian McKay’s Welles is pure wizardry. The offhand smiles, the cock of the head, the bravado. It’s as if Orson is among us again.

Then there are the constants in life. The Zig Zag Café, where everybody knows my name, has again been crowned the finest cocktail bar in America, this time by GQ Magazine. Congratulations to Murray and the entire ZZ team. It’s also nice to see Needle & Thread, the upstairs bar at Tavern Law, rate a mention. I’ve been to a few of the New York and San Francisco outposts on this roster, and intend to hit more during Bouchercon next month. Who’s with me?