Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ice Men

Greetings, my legion of fans. We're about an hour from kick-off of what is sure to be the most talked about NFL match-up of this season. Yes, I am of course talking about the Washington Redskins vs. the New Orleans Saints. Which team will survive to eventually win the next several Super Bowls*? The Redskins, of course. This is the beginning of a new dynasty.

In the meantime, won't you read a few half-assed comments about some relatively obscure crime novels I think you might want to check out, should you find the time?

Black Friday by David Goodis - This is one of the first truly hard-boiled crime novels I ever read. It's a slender, nasty little story about a two-bit crook, named Hart, who falls in with a family of criminals after stumbling across one of their victims. Early on, Hart has to fight his way out of a jam, and in the process kicks one of his assailants in the groin. He kicks him so hard that he shatter's the guy pelvis, and the guy later dies. As a young kid reading that, I realized that this book could go anywhere and do anything. And the point of view wasn't going to suddenly switch to a noble policeman. I like noble policemen, mind you, but sometimes they're just not around when you need them. Goodis -- who also wrote the novels Dark Passage and Down There, the latter of which was later filmed as Shoot the Piano Player** -- knew that as well as anybody. Chandler and MacDonald could keep their "knights errant"; Goodis was interested in the poor saps that Marlowe and McGee had to wade through to get to the end of their quest.

A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson - Thompson enjoyed a brief resurgance in popularity in the 1980s and 90s, due in large part, I believe, to Stephen Frears's film version of his novel The Grifters (with a screenplay by, not coincidentally, Donald E. Westlake). As a result, a lot of people seem to know Thompson's famous novel The Killer Inside Me. That's a fine book, but my favorite by Thompson is this one. The story is a typical one for this sort of thing: it involves a salesman/con-man, named Dillon, who is willing to take out a couple of people if it means a big payday. Okay, fine, but what I remember most about this novel is the last couple of pages, in which Thompson shows us Dillon's disintegrating psyche in one long, almost Joycean paragraph. We see what Dillon thinks he's thinking, and what's actually going on inside his head, almost at the same time. Also, at the end, does Dillon do what I think he does...?

The Shark-Infested Custard by Charles Willeford - This novel, Willeford's last, is a masterpiece of tone. In the same casual, disenterested pitch that Willeford uses to describe a character driving home from work, he will use to describe that man committing murder. Essentially a series of connected short-stories, The Shark-Infested Custard relates the day-to-day lives of a group of fun-loving, middle-aged businessmen who occasionally find themselves needing to commit crimes in order to get a bit of money, get out of a jam, get laid, whatever. None of it matters to any of them, and in stripping his prose of any description that might imply judgement, Willeford comes awfully close to writing a kind of existential horror novel. This one's really brilliant. Read it.

Told you this was going to be half-assed! Anyway, I gotta go help the wife with groceries. But seriously, read The Shark-Infested Custard.

*Or should it be "Supers Bowl"?

**And despite the fact that the film is considered a classic of world cinema and bears the stamp of Francois Truffaut, and despite the fact that Goodis's novel is now all but forgotten, the book is still better than the film. And I like the film.


Greg said...

The Shark-Infested Custard

The title alone sold me. I'll track it down.

Fox said...

Dammit, Bill! Your quarterback cost me some cash today when he chucked a prayer to Santana Moss! Thanks a lot!

My team, the hapless and helpless Houston Texans, didn't even get to play today.

How 'bout this, since neither of our teams are going to the Super Bowl, let's just see which one comes out of December with the better record.

bill r. said...

Jonathan - Willeford is worth tracking down just on general principle. He's "best known" (relatively speaking) for his Hoke Mosley novels. There were only four, and they're the damndest series detective novels I've ever read. The first one, Miami Blues was turned into a very good film by George Armitage, and, in the interest of full disclosue, I do actually prefer the film in that case. But Willeford is unique, to say the least.

Fox - I don't know that I'd call Campbell's pass to Moss a "prayer". Campbell had a very good game overall yesterday. No, I'd call that touchdown pass the dawning of a new era...

Fox said...


Brian Doan said...

Don't let Jonathan know about the Redskins Super Bowl plans-- after the way Cassel played yesterday, I'm sure he thinks the Pats are on the comeback trail.

I cheer for the Browns, which means I never even have to ponder how we might play in a Super Bowl.

Fox said...

I cheer for the Browns, which means I never even have to ponder how we might play in a Super Bowl.

See, Bill... now Brian gets it. He doesn't suffer from sports myopia like you do. Just take your 7-9 Redskins record and be happy that you aren't a Bengals, Rams, or Chiefs fan.

bill r. said...

7-9? Ha!! More like 34-1!!

No, but really, cut me some slack. The Redskins looked like a pile of poo against the Giants (except for Portis, Cartwright, and one or two others), but yesterday everyone was on fire. It was very exciting. I admit that it may not last, but let me be happy and ridiculously optimistic for at least a week.

Fox said...

Well... perhaps there is one thing we can all agree on:


Brian Doan said...

Oh, yeah-- totally. Even if the Cowboys hadn't beaten the Browns in week one, I would still hate the Cowboys because, well-- they're the Cowboys. It just seems like the right thing to do.

bill r. said...

You know who I hate more than the Cowboys? The Devil Himself. But he's it. I don't hate anyone more than the Cowboys except the Devil Himself.