You know what’s even better than discovering a terrific new book? Discovering a terrific new author. All too often, I’ve come across books I’ve enjoyed only to be disappointed by subsequent works by the same author. Not so with Jeffrey Ford, one of the most imaginative and consistently entertaining writers out there. Several years ago, I was so impressed by The Empire of Ice Cream, a collection of some of his short fiction, that I decided to check out his other titles. Nine books later and I’m still in awe. His recent collection, Crackpot Palace, is another winner, taking readers on a wild, breathtaking, occasionally surreal, altogether marvelous narrative ride.
I don’t watch a lot of movies. Ever since I got the basement home theater, I’ve avoided movie theaters. And, ever since Blu-ray came out, I’ve avoided buying DVD’s. So where does that leave me? Filmically bereft. Still, I do manage to watch the occasional movie if I happen to catch it on satellite. Such was the case with Drive, a movie I honestly expected to underwhelm but which, surprisingly, impressed. Mightily. No, it’s not an action movie (in the Hollywood sense of the term) but the script is breathtaking in its conciseness, the direction gorgeous, and the performances outstanding. What more do you want?
It’s DC Comics’ version of Hill Street Blues, a series that focuses on the lives of the dedicated officers who are tasked with cleaning up after the likes of Catwoman, the Joker, and, yes, even Batman. Writers Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka deliver a gritty procedural that simultaneously grounds Gotham City and makes it come alive in a way I’ve never seen (or, quite frankly, believed) before. With the exception of one questionable beat in which someone just happens to overhear a secret – uttered by a character who just happens to be talking to herself (!), it’s a tight, noir masterpiece. The art, by Michael Lark and the others, is perfect.
So I picked up about a dozen titles on The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time list compiled by the Mystery Writers of America and have, thus far, read six. All fine reads but I suspect that much of the praise heaped on these books are the result of contextual consideration, an evaluation based on the books as a product of their time, their strengths and weaknesses weighed relative to their historical significance rather than standalone works judged by more contemporary standards. In five out of six reads, I found myself making excuses for some of the clunkier narrative elements. The Talented Mr. Ripley was the exception. Patricia Highsmith crafts a novel so engaging, so unnervingly suspenseful, that I skipped my bedtime and stayed up until 3:00 a.m. to finish it. And, unlike most of today’s books, movies, and t.v. shows – it kept me guessing at every turn.