Sunday, April 03, 2011

Books: What I’ve Been Reading

California, by Ray Banks (2011). Brother Banks, the Saturday Boy hisownself and creator of the peerless Cal Innes series, returns with a book that’s short and none too sweet. Shuggie Boyle is out of prison after a four year bid and telling himself he’s a changed man. And maybe he is. He’s trying to keep his impulses in check, because if he learned anything in therapy it’s that anger is a deluded mind. And for the first time in his life, he has a goal: he’s going to hie himself from Scotland to the title state, where all dreams come true (unless they’re publicly funded). He just needs to recover his stash from his girlfriend and he’ll be winging his way west. But his old life keeps intruding on his new one.

I’ve sounded this note about Ray’s work before, and here I go again: his work is bruising, moving, and above all funny. Some writers who work the darker side of the street fall prey to self-seriousness. Others have a sense of humor that reeks of superiority; the phrase “laughing like drains” comes to mind. Banks’ punch lines are charged with both surprise and humanity. In other words, life. If you’re not reading him, kids, you’re missing out.

Kill Me Again, by Terence Faherty (1996). Scott Elliott thinks that making a sequel to the wartime classic Passage to Lisbon (think Casablanca, and think it real hard) is a terrible idea. But he’s a former actor turned shamus, not a film critic or a studio executive. His job is to find out who is accusing the follow-up film’s writer of being a Communist. Faherty ably recreates the mood of 1947 Hollywood, in particular the way returning veterans like Elliott used their wartime experience to size each other up. His faux Bogart, here named Tory Beaumont, is a genuine piece of work. Most impressive of all is his carefully wrought quasi-Casablanca sequel Love Me Again, which might have actually worked. The Elliott series is being brought back in eBook form, and I’ll certainly seek out the others. Here’s Faherty at Ed Gorman’s blog on a new collection of Elliott stories.