Everyone month, because of the clout of this fine family publication, I receive a ton of books. I pore over this endless smorgasbord because I love you dear reader, and want to be able to recommend enthralling grit-lit, not because I am a reading addict; I do this only for you… After reviewing thousands of books I am constantly amazed that books don’t get better every year.
Computers get better every year. iPhones get better every year. Spouses get better every year. Yes, I meant that. If you think younger spouses are better spouses in the words of the Three Stooges, “Youse need to get your head examined.”
But new authors? Sometimes worse, not better. Even establish perennial New York Times bestselling authors can’t be counted on to get better every year. Like Android phones they fall into the MORE trap. More WORDS. More COMPLEX . More WIERD.
In the grit-lit world, we subscribe to the Apple dictum that MORE is not necessarily better. Unless you can use it and enjoy it.
Last month a regular grit-lit reader, Steven Gore, www.stevengore.com, author of two excellent, hit thriller series—one featuring Harlan Donnally and the other Graham Gage— introduced me to Dan Simmons.
“Hardcase,” by Dan Simmons. (St. Martin’s Minotaur $6.99, 291 pages, paper back. www.minotaurbooks.com. Like a $5 cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard and lettuce can be better than the latest $25 burger with gourmet bacon, artisanal blue, Black Trumpet mushrooms and organic lettuce with beurre blanc on a minimalist, barely toasted English muffin like roll, Simmon’s terse prose and tight plotting can be better than the latest 600 page tome.
If you like what writing critics refer to as minimalist prose —meaning not a lot of description about the flowers in the lobby or the color of the bad guy’s socks—Simmons grit-lit thrillers are for you.
“Kurtz kicked the door in, ripping the chain lock out of the wood, and kept moving, shoving Eddie Falco deeper into the room. Eddie was several inches taller and at least thirty pounds heavier than Kurtz, but Kurtz had momentum on his side.”
Enough words for a picture. But notice what is missing. No description of the wood grain in the door, or Kurtz sadistic smile or the fear in Falco’s eyes. Details that detract from the action.
The story line is engaging without being so complex that you can’t remember what is going on if you put the book down between your inbound and outbound commutes.
Here’s the plot, without spoiling the ending. In 48 hours, Kurtz has two minor league killers and a legendary Danish hit man on his tail , plus a gorgeous woman in his bed and … ah, heck. Do you really need to know anything more?
Simmons has been described as “A Hardcore Full-Tilt Rocket Ride” by the Rocky Mountain News. Dean Koontz— who knows just a little about telling a story— says, “Dan Simmons is brilliant.”
Another author who never fell into the MORE trap was the legendary Robert Parker. Ace Atkins has picked up Parker’s Spenser series and Grit-Lit reports an Ace Atkin’s Spenser is so good you’ll think Parker is still swilling coffee and punching the keys on his old Underwood manual typewriter.
“Lullaby” a Robert B. Parker Spenser Novel by Ace Atkins. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons $26.95, 310 pages, hard cover.) www.aceatkins.com.
Fourteen-year-old Mattie Sullivan gets Spenser to help her find out who murdered her mother. Spenser and Hawk look into it. No one’s keen on Spenser dredging up the past. But that’s what he does.
If you want a book where the plot twists don’t leave you more frustrated than Santa surrounded by a thousand chimney free homes give Atkins and Simmons a look.