The Contra Costa Times is a fine family newspaper and as such, Grit-Lit concentrates on new books. If this was an oldpaper, which it is not, then we would concentrate on old stuff. And we would likely be called the Contra Costa Daily Encyclopedia.
Sometimes this emphasis on new stuff creates issues. Do we cover the re-release of an old, but good book or do we cover a brand new, but less good book instead?
This month we are doing both. And more.
First a brand new book from a brand new author.
“Body Copy” by Michael Craven. (Harper Collins, $13.95, 304 pages) www.harpercollins.com.
Nothing makes Grit-Lit happier than pizza, beer and the chance to introduce a cool new detective book. “Body Copy” gets extra points because it is set in sunny SoCal which might involve the three Holy B’s –babes, bikinis and beer.
Our new hero, Donald Tremaine was once the world’s best surfer. That’s gotta mean surfing and surfer chicks doesn’t it? But he dropped out, moved into a Malibu trailer and became a detective. Hey, how smart is this guy anyway? What kinda fool trades a world class surfing career for Rockford’s house?
Fortunately, Tremaine is not as stupid as he sounds. Sure, when he dropped out women stopped asking for his autograph. Now they pay for his help. Not a bad trade. Along with his bulldog, Lyle and kooky neighbor Marvin, Tremaine does everything you’d expect a surfing detective to do.
The press blurb says, “A kindred spirit to both Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and MacDonald’s Travis McGee… Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen should be proud, there’s finally a writer to carry on their tradition.” To which Grit-Lit says, “Hold on there Mr. PR Flack – Barry Bond’s without steroids ain’t no Hank Aaron and Craven’s not yet John D. Macdonald.” Not quite up to the world class standard set by that other SoCal trailer dweller Jim Rockford, but a darn fine read.
“Another Life” a Burke Novel, by Andrew Vachss (Pantheon Books, $24.95, 272 pages) www.vachss.com.
For years Burke has been a Grit-Lit favorite. Unique, twisted, a thief and a conman, Burke uses his skills to steal and to protect children from the sickest people on the planet. His battles against child molesters are some of the most memorable stories in detective fiction. And in real life, Vachss uses the money he makes writing Burke to battle pedophilia and child slavery.
Vachss works hard to realistically age Burke as the years pass. This is a fascinating process. When a pro athlete slows down he loses a career or fades away. When a professional crook slows down he moves on to a new career or he gets shot and dies.
To say Vachss’ dialog is unique would be one of the world’s all time understatements. Unfortunately, Vachss real world street talk can be extremely confusing. While reading, “Another” I often wished for a dictionary or a translator. Unfortunately, there is no Funk & Wagnalls for Vachss.
Perfect for the most extreme Vachss fans, but not a great starting point for anyone who’s not read Burke before.
“Fidel’s Last Days” by Roland Merullo (Shaye Areheart, $23.00, 268 pages.) www.rolandmerullo.com
Boy I wanted to like this book. Cuba. Castro. Sand, sun, maybe the 3 Holy B’s. How could it go wrong? “Fidel” accurately captures the anxiety, paranoia and fear that anyone in Castro’s sphere must have felt. Torture, mindless violence and paranoia rule the day and the night. Imagine going to work every day and believing that there was an excellent chance you’d be tortured, murdered or just disappear!
Professional written and giving all appearances of realism, the characters and the plot were simply unable to capture my imagination.
“White Cargo” and “Santa Fe Rules” by Stuart Woods (Harper Collins) www.stuartwoods.com
Recently Harper Collins has elected to re-release several of Woods older books. “Cargo” and “Rules” are just two of several books available in the new bigger-than-a-paperback, smaller-than-a-hardback size with big, easier to read type. At $9.99 anything by Woods represents good value and a reliable, entertaining read.
As we say in the newspaper biz, everything old is new again.