Been a while since we had one of these, hasn’t it? Couple people on the previous thread were talking about the Travis McGee novels, all of which I read & mostly enjoyed during my misspent youth, although I still prefer John D. MacDonald’s other books — All These Condemned, Cancel All Our Vows, Please Write for Details, Contrary Pleasures, Condominium, One More Sunday. I started reading them when I was very young, because he was one of my dad’s favorite non-sf writers and so the paperbacks were right at hand. MacDonald’s style was very much “of his time” — I think he’s being rediscovered as an expert guide to the Mad Men era — but it was his frequent digressions on proper conduct and his Roman stoicism at the decline of all good things in our tawdy modern world that kept me reading.
And his various “damaged knights in battered armor” characters are an ever-popular stereotype of modern fiction, some of it pulp (Elliot Spencer in LEVERAGE could be McGee’s grandson — illegitimate, of course.) Castle Freeman doesn’t put out nearly enough books for my appetite, but I recommend him wholeheartedly.
I just finished Craig Johnson’s Junkyard Dogs, sixth in his Walt Longmire series, and it may be my favorite so far. If you read the Amazon reviews of Johnson’s books, the readers who give him five stars say he never writes the same book twice, and the readers who give him one star say the same thing. (In my opinion this is a good thing; the writers of serial characters, going back to at least Arthur Conan Doyle and certainly not excepting Travis McGee’s inventor, have tended to treat their literary offspring with increasing brutality as they grow bored with & resentful of the ‘celebrity’ that their voracious readers relentlessly demand. Giving MacDonald the National Book Award for The Green Ripper seemed like one of those Oscars that go to a long-respected aging actor for a third-rate film; part consolation prize, part hint that he should consider retiring.)
Craig Johnson’s lead character/narrator Sheriff Walt Longmire is not a glamorous Loner/Drifter/Man of Mystery, like McGee; Longmire has a dead wife and a much-loved grown daughter and a 523-person Wyoming town (including a handful of deputies) to anchor him firmly. But he also has a history behind him — as do his citizen charges and deputies — and it’s those histories and their grinding intersections that power Johnson’s novels.
What I’m reading right now is Tawni O’Dell’s Coal Run, which features another deputy-sheriff narrator caught at a particular tectonic intersection of bad old history and new potential violence. But the main character of all O’Dell’s novels is the Appalachian coal country of southern Pennsylvania, and the voices of the people who love and hate and can’t escape the beautiful countryside and the ugly violent things mining corporations have done to it and to them. I don’t know that county, but I grew up with people of similar background and with the same shared habits (good and bad) and O’Dell has a fine ear for their talk.
So… what have you been reading lately? Anything to recommend?