Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Books for stay-at-home sickos

I've grown tired of the world of contemporary novels. So, during my last trip to the Laramie County Public Library, I picked up a batch of anthologies. A good thing, too, as I finally fell victim to one of the many viruses floating around Cheyenne. I'm home, and I desperately need new reading material, lest I be lured into watching political news on the tube all day.

"Bronx Noir," edited by S.J. Rozan, got my attention because it features work by one of my favorite writers, Jerome Charyn. There are no Charyn books in the library or in our local bookstores. That could be due to the fact that the writer sets most of his work New York City. He's best known for his Isaac Slidel police novels. Before he turned to mysteries, Charyn was a "literary writer," which is usually the kiss of death when it comes to book sales. He also won an NEA creative writing fellowship way back when.

But he's not the only good writer in this anthology by Akashic Books. Hard-boiled Lawrence Block is in here, as well as Terrence Cheng with his great noirish story, "Gold Mountain," about a young Chinese man who jumps ship in New York Harbor with a suitcase full of his boss's cash.

"Wolf Woman Bay" (Carroll & Graf) boasts retro cartoon-like cover art and features 10 of "the finest crime and mystery novellas of the year." I skipped Ed McBain and Joyce Carol Oates and jumped into a story by Steve Hockensmith, who's a mystery to me. The title of his novella, "Gustav Amlingmeyer, Holmes of the Range," caught my attention. It features Miles City, Montana, cowboy detectives Big Red and Old Red. Big Red has been reading Sherlock Holmes to his illiterate brother, Old Red, and it exerts a big influence when there's a murder in town. Hockensmith writes in an easy-going style that flirts with folksiness. The novella is also epistolary (told in letter form), which you don't see much these days.

I don't know how steamy all the stories get in "Killing Me Softly: Erotic Tales of Unearthly Love," but the one I read -- "Jaguar Hunter" by Lucius Shepard -- barely scratches the surface of an "R" rating. The story is great, though, by one of the best contemporary sci-fi (or maybe speculative fiction) writers around. Shepard sets this in an unnamed Central American country, a setting for much of his work. Esteban is an Indian who only wants to give back a TV his wife bought from an unscrupulous store owner in town. But the owner talks him into killing a jaguar. It turns out to be harder that he thought. And much more mysterious. "Killing Me Softly" is a HarperPrism paperback.

Now, back to my reading...

No comments: