Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Our other regular book columnist also returns today, and I’m just as pleased to see him as Adam. I love that we actually have more than one guy doing regular book reviews. That’s exciting because it suggests at least two people who regularly visit this website actually read books. Haven’t heard of either of these, but I’m always interested to see what Bascombe’s up to:
I can’t begin to tell you how nice it is to be sent books from publishers who are eager to get their titles reviewed in this column. I remember a time when I had to beg to get review copies, now it seems fairly commonplace when I ask for something, publishers know about the site and are excited to see their books reviewed here. Some publishers promise books, then never send, never follow up, but that’s okay, there are more than enough titles to go around. Sadly, there have been a few film titles, and certain fiction debuts that never make it my way, but I’ll live. Any way, I’m glad you like the column, who ever you are. As usual; It’s Not A Secret Until I Tell Someone. Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson Knopf I feel like I missed the boat on this author. He’s been kicking around for years, his books wandering in and out of my life, sometimes taking purchase in my book collection. I have a signed American first edition of ‘Soft’, which means I’ve even had the luxury of meeting Mr. Thomson. One thing that has always struck me about his books is the brilliant cover designs. For instance; ‘Divided Kingdom’, ‘Soft’, ‘The Insult’, to name a few and of course this new novel that’s coming out next month, ‘Death of a Murderer’, which has a cover design by the always fantastic Chip Kidd. The cover for Thomson’s latest is a brilliant visualization of the story itself, shreds of paper that make up a photograph of a young boy on a beach somewhere, or maybe a photograph taken on a roadside. Imagine taking a picture of yourself, or loved one and running it through a shredder and then trying to put it back together. I’m not surprised by this cover, only impressed. Maybe I skipped Thomson or took him for granted because, well, I don’t have a good excuse for not reading him, it is what it is. Billy, our main character, seems out of sorts, lost in life, confused that this is how it all turned out. A career cop and a father of a child with Down’s Syndrome he’s married to a woman he somehow wishes he weren’t married to. He’s not overwhelmed with regret, but he’s not thrilled by the prospect of being married, not in general, but to her, in a way that makes me wonder about his mental stability, he seems weak and unable to emotionally respond to life’s demands. He’s emotionally disengaged. Billy draws the short straw on an assignment to guard the body of notorious real life murderer Myra Hindley at the local morgue. He’s relieved that she’s dead, as his childhood was haunted by her crimes. Ms. Hindley story and her presence are very daunting, not only to Billy but also to the reader who must sit and witness her horrid acts. Myra is dead throughout the story but in the twelve hours her body shares the morgue with Billy she manages to visit his dreams and witness his own recounting of his life. In the mid-sixties in Manchester, England Ms. Hindley and her pal abducted, tortured and murderer five children. In the story she doesn’t haunt Billy with her past that much as he is intimately aware of it, since growing up in the area she’s a detail that doesn’t go unnoticed. She does witness his remembrance of his own life, girl friends, childhood pals and their antics which he recalls with great regret, anger and ambivalence. He finds her past sickening, her defense of it, and the judgments she passes on his own past, girlfriends, father in law, wife, child and various friends and neighbors. There is an icky scene at a lake with a childhood pal that Billy can’t seem to shake; it haunts as bad memories tend to. Then there’s the ex-girlfriend that he did a nasty favor for and it turns out he’s stricken with a lifetime full of guilt for his troubles. I liked how Billy uneasily recalled his past, it happens to us all, we have regretful memories that continually haunt us. Thomson captures all this with an appealing narrative style that’s both inviting and mysterious. Throughout this fast-paced tightly-woven gem, I noticed that Billy was highly likeable and the details of his life and Myra’s were, of course, diametrically opposed, but in some ways very much the same. Billy does the things we all do and that is to sit around from time to time and wonder what would have happened if we’d zigged when we should have zagged. What happened to those friends you used to have growing up, those crimes you think you committed, and what you really got away with when you were a little kid. Myra is a smoky presence in this story, hard to look at and difficult to get away from. The only thing this novel lacks is another hundred pages. I was just starting to enjoy it when Mr. Thomson slammed the door in my face, one of the best compliments I can pay any novel. I Just Want My Pants Back by David J. Rosen Broadway Funny thing about first novels, sometimes you come across one that deserves praise, heaps of it, other times, well…you have to chalk it up as something that has no business being published. ‘I Just Want My Pants Back’ is a novel that deserves all the praise it’s going to get. Mr. Rosen reminds me a of a young Richard Price, this book is so much like ‘Ladies Man’ and ‘The Breaks’ that I felt like I was reading a new Richard Price novel. But this story goes deeper than that comparison; it’s very reminiscent of ‘Searching For Intruders’ an overlooked gem of the last few years. Men in low places relying on their wits sometimes are the engine that gets characters through their nightmares and fills them with hope. Jason, our hero, is filled with a burning need to get high, get laid, and as the title of the novel informs us; get his pants back. He’s living in the bucolic West Village of Manhattan, circa right now. Told in a fast-paced, slick as deer guts narrative, Jason is a man who knows he’s underachieving, shooting only for the next libidinous satisfaction, but is comfortable with his plot in life. Right away you admire him for his ability to get the girl, get away with doing next to nothing at the casting agency where he works and go out every night to get wasted. I was continually amazed as how right on Mr. Rosen nails New York City, from the stuffed subways, the lingering smell of shit, the crush of humans and the fact that you’re just one in a zillion at a dead end job. Jason and his close group of friends are either getting married or getting famous and populate his free time with advice and expensive drinks. I was warned that this book was a touch raunchy and I’d be lying if I didn’t warn you that Jason gets into more sexual situations than a single man in New York City has a right to, but the way he goes about it is quite comical. When you have sex with a woman while she examines the inside of you refrigerator, and then find a way to lend her your best pair of pants, well, you’ve impressed me. After the first few chapters show how wildly carefree his life in the city is, we settle down for a whip smart journey through the mundane struggles of life, paying the rent, going to work, enjoying life and being asked to officiate a wedding between two of his friends who happen to be Jewish. In New York City you’ll find a lot of people who’ve almost made it and become successful, but you’ll have to look pretty hard to find them. Jason isn’t one of them, his best friend hits it big and Jason doesn’t show enough jealously to satisfy me, but he does continue to procrastinate attaining a better spot on the food chain by getting high, eating take out and taking a job as a piece of cake. This story never really slows down even when it takes a turn for the worse. I really enjoyed how Mr. Rosen kept the pace of Jason’s life break neck even when Jason the character had nothing to do. That’s good writing. Jason is a funny character, funny ha-ha, and funny sad but the most important thing: I’d follow him anywhere. Got something you want me to read?