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« Fun with Line and Stanza Breaks (by Jerry Williams) | Main | "Among My Souvenirs" [by David Lehman] »

October 08, 2010


I misread it the first time as "the defective hero."

Your eye found its own truth. I admire the writer from whom you get your pseudonym.

Thank you for this most enjoyable post, Larry. I am among the few who respond with almost equal ardor to the best of the hard-boiled guys (Chandler, Hammett, et al) and the puzzlers that Dame Agatha and Mr John Dickson Carr were so expert at contriving. Are you in the same category? Who are your favorites?

I am eclectic in my tastes as well, David. I liked all the usual suspects, especially Hammett. At one point, I liked Dorothy Sayers the best, but time has altered my view. There are so many I could name, such as James M. Cain and Ross Thomas. Among contemporaries, I've just begun reading Michael Connelly's new book, and I always enjoy Robert Crais. I have a sentimental attraction to Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout, primarily because they provided much comfort to my father in his last years. I had never seen him read a book and was surprised when he asked me for one. We had watched the Perry Mason tv show, so I started with Gardner. Mysteries, I suspect, mean a lot to a lot of people.

Larry, I'd like to start reading Parker. Do you have two or three titles you'd recommend to get into his world? Thanks.

Thanks for asking, Jim. There are several possible approaches. As with many series, there is a benefit to reading the Spenser books chronologically. "The Godwulf Manuscript" was the first one, but I don't think it's the best. For a fair sampler of Spenser you might try "Looking for Rachel Wallace" or "A Catskill Eagle" or "Early Autumn." And, although I'm not particularly attracted to westerns as a genre, Parker's entries beginning with "Appaloosa" are great.


Thanks, Larry. Will start there.

Yes, Parker, Kellerman and Corbin all write above standard prose. What makes the first two readable is the ethical foils - in Kellerman it is both his girfriend and Hawk's minority counterpart, Miles, the gay Jewish detective. Corbin's humor gets him a pass. But they are necessarily formulaic. They are storytelers and are not novelists in the sense of a Philip Roth, Richard Powers, E.L. Doctorow or other modern masters of the American novel. There is a lack of substance.

Thanks for the comment, Lee. Let me start by noting that I like Roth, Powers, and Doctorow. But I think your distinction is too sharp. There are good storytellers and bad ones, just like there are good novelists and bad ones. For me, the novel's unique contribution to literature rests on its storytelling foundation. The "modern masters" you cite start by being wonderful storytellers. That is, I would put the great storytellers and great novelists together in the center of literature with poor storytellers at one fringe and novelists who eschew story at the other. This is not a strictly literary judgment but a personal one.


I wonder how the detective as a hero differs from say the gangster as tragic hero in Warshow's essay.

Sincere friendship (a poem):

The sky befriends earth
the clouds are sympathetic
night befriends the stars

Spike Jones shook Jim's hand
Jim Cummins is my good friend
Therefore Spike's my pal

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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