I’ve been mining some of the old veins lately — Elmore Leonard and Salman Rushdie in particular. 

Elmore Leonard has long been one of my favorites and Hollywood’s too: several times I’ve been astounded to be watching a movie and realize that I know where the plot is going because I’ve already read the book. “Hombre” and “Get Shorty” are two of his to show you just how successful he has become moving over to the movie genre. (BTW, I can’t get the underlining to work here so I’ll just use quotes for titles).

I’ve read three books by him this year: “Killshot”, “Pagan Babies” and “Riding the Rap”. “Killshot” became my all-time favorite and it’s because of his two fortes: character and dialogue/monologue. There are two crooks/killers in the book, one white and one Native American and the white guy’s thought monologues made me laugh outloud several times. It’s amazing how a good writer can make you laugh at a guy who has no idea how funny he sounds. The man and wife characters are the real protagonists and they are both excellent renditions.

“Pagan Babies” had a good plot but I didn’t find myself liking any of the characters, a major drawback. I also found myself skipping over a good part of the background recitations the characters made: what they did with their friends in grade school had little to do with the rest of the story and I was more interested in how the whole complicated plot would come to an end. There were a few gangsters and some conmen circling around some money, and Leonard has a great touch with those situations. It could have been a tighter edit but still entertaining. (He’s a very quick read).

“Riding the Rap” was a sequel to another of his books with Raylan Givins as the major force. Raylan is a modern-day marshal and has the boots and the hat and the gun and the calm attitude. He also has a trademark phrase, something along the lines of “If you draw your gun I’ll have to kill you.” He’s very proud of that phrase because he thinks it’s cool, effective and he worked on it a long time.  I like the character a lot and just knew he’d surface again in a Leonard novel and he has — “Raylan” is coming out early next month. If you’ve encountered Raylan leave a comment as to how you feel about him.

Turning to the Rushdie novel I’m afraid I couldn’t finish it. It’s “Midnight’s Children” and I couldn’t get interested in the characters enough — not that they aren’t characters in every meaning of the word. I managed about 200 pages out of the 550 and it’s a tribute to Rushdie because he is such a devilish, sneaky-good writer. The style in this book was first person narrative by a male family member going through the happenings in his clan and their homes in India starting with his grandfather under British subjugation. No two characters are even remotely alike and as the narrator tells his tale to one of his nieces (I think — it could be his daughter)  he interrupts himself constantly and in these interruptions lies both the beauty and the irritation of Rushdie’s writing. He strings together long lists; he strings together four or five adjectives; he compares whatever he speaking of to something else in a wonderful metaphor or simile — the writing is always good but it makes the story longer and longer and longer. He’s so good that you can’t help but want to keep reading, but he keeps you waiting much too long (on purpose of course, suspense you know) to get to whatever pivotal plot point he’s been heading towards. I loved “The Empress of Florence” and some of “East and West” but the last two books I just haven’t been able to get through.

Thanks to my friend Debbie for recommending Norah Roberts’ “Black Hills”. She read the next to last animal blog here and wrote that the book had endangered animals in it and might be worth a read. Personally, I didn’t like it much, but it was interesting to read a book by an author that takes up so much shelf space in the library. At the risk of being labeled something or other I see her as an author who writes for women. She’s very long on lots of very long dialogues where characters share their feelings; there’s more than a few matched-up and several more in-the-process-of-matching-up couples; there’s a strong female co-lead role. All in all a good experience but I won’t be going back to that well.

Finally, for this blog, there’s a book I read a while back called “Charlie Chan” by Yunte Huang, a naturalized US citizen born in China. Huang came over to the US for college, worked odd jobs to pay his way, and stumbled upon the persona of Charlie Chan. Huang’s journeys across the country lead to his “discovering” Chan and Chan’s creator and make for an entertaining spin. Once he gets into Chan and his predecessorFu Manchu as image of the Chinaman in the US,  the reading gets drier, but still interesting, especially when he goes into the history of Honolulu and an ace Chinese/Hawaiian detective who worked there in the early 20th century.  After I’d read the book I checked out a few Chan novels from the library. They were written around 1925 and as detective books go not too bad, but certainly not Hammett or Chandler.  Earl Derr, the writer, relies on some hilarious cliches — I counted five times in the book that someone “leaped out of his chair” upon hearing some surprising bit of information. Even funnier, in the last chapter someone comes halfway up out of his chair — the information not being all that surprising but maybe just a little.

Coincidentally, after I read Huang’s book I noticed that he was teaching at UC Santa Barbara, the same school where my brother Dan graduated and where my friend Chuck now teaches. Chuck emailed me a photo of Huang on the cover of one of the campus magazines.

That’s it for this blog. I’m currently including a lot of this book info at goodreads.com and if you like books this is a pretty good website.

Don’t forget to check out my own website   


and if you know any high school or junior high school boys tell ’em about it, the book there’s right up their alley(s).

Bye for now, Steve