Tag Archives: novels

Readin’ the Classics: The Vicar of Wakefield

Oliver, O Oliver!Oliver Goldsmith wrote The Vicar of Wakefield, his only novel, way back when English was just starting to make some kind of sense. And so the book which Goldsmith hands across the centuries to us Men of the Future is an easy read, with familiar vocabulary and straight-forward syntax, unlike, say, the plays of Shakespeare who puzzles his descendants with stuff like this:

You had not four such swinge-bucklers in all the inns o’ court again: and I may say to you, we knew where the bona-robas were and had the best of them all at commandment.

No, Goldsmith resides on the near side of some kind of language line. He gives us more manageable utterances like:

I can’t say whether we had more wit amongst us now than usual; but I am certain we had more laughing, which answered the end as well.

The Vicar of Wakefield describes, in his well-modulated preacher’s voice, the woes of an 18th century English vicar, Dr. Primrose, a kind, uxorious country clergyman who weathers a Job’s blitz of catastrophes with grace and humor. Despite all Dr. Primrose’s vexations — and they are many — it’s a happy book that will make you happy, especially when you reach the happy ending in which the happy resolutions come stumbling over each other all at once.

There’s a happy story about the publication of this novel. It involves Goldsmith’s good friend Doctor Samuel Johnson. I don’t remember it, but if I did I wouldn’t tell you anyhow because I don’t want to and you can’t make me.


Book Review: Burn, Tampa, Burn!

When I finished reading this adventuretainment novel, this Tampa Burn by Randy “Wayne” White, I was at once filled with a crazy, crackling energy. But it was an undirected energy. Useless to me; dangerous to others.

To channel that raw power — zapping like a Tesla coil — I tore the cover off the paperback and, snipping away with snub-nosed scissors, fashioned it into a Faraday Cage Cat Mask.

See it? That’s it up there, recorded photographically: a Faraday Cage Cat Mask. From behind this mask one can observe the world without being observed by the world. Peering blandly through its eye-holes even the most frenetic soul begins to simmer down. Of course, it helps to have the proper headgear.

If you want to feel what I felt on the day I turned the last page of Tampa Burn, why not float out and obtain your very own copy? Here’s the ISBN: 0-425-20228-3.

Twelve Mile Limit

I read this thriller action adventure motorboat spysneak book called Twelve Mile Limit. It’s another in a series of books by some Florida guy name Randy and Wayne and White. The series is narrated by a marine biologist with a secret past: HE’S A NINJA ASSASSIN. His name is Doc Ford. Doc Ford doesn’t like to kill. He’s really quite ashamed of all the killing (of people) he’s had to do. Still, when duty calls he kills some more people. He even helps a headhunter cannibal girl perform an abortion. He is multicultural.

The little paperback costs $7.99 USD, $8.99 Canadian.

It’s a Free Country

Charles Bukowski wrote one final novel, Pulp, in nineteen-ninety-something, then died.

Last week, or maybe last month, I read it. Nobody made me read it. Nobody tried to stop me from reading it. I live in the USA, not in Canada or Iran.

You want to read it? Be my guest. You want to pan fry it and eat it with asparagus? Have at it.

Pulp, a pastiche of detective fiction, is the least gross obscene of all Bukowski’s novels. Or maybe Hollywood is. Tough call.

Did it make me laugh? Well, yeah, sure; Bukowski was a funny guy before he died. Now his books are funny. But what difference does it make to you whether I laughed at Pulp or not? You don’t know me. For all you know I laugh at damage to squirrels. Maybe you laugh at damage to squirrels. I don’t care one way or the other.

Roo Morgue

It's Robin Meade!Is there such a thing as Couvade Syndrome for travelling? Madame NiceWork did the globetrotting, not me, and yet I’m the one whose internal clock needs to be set back nine hours. Had it been me and not her who endured the long flight from Berlin (A highly classified mission. Don’t ask.) I could hardly feel woozier or more whacked in the Circadians than I do at the moment. The wooz puts the kibosh on any chance of writing a coherent post for NiceWork, and yet…

…and yet, I must post something, anything, if only to push that montage of thriller authors — the collaborators on The Copper Bracelet — down a couple of screens. I can no longer bear to look at them. Especially I can longer bear the baleful stare of Jeffrey Deaver. You know, I’ve seen Mr Deaver at a book signing in Naperville, IL. He’s a jolly, happy, jokey guy, full of stories and amiable chat. But you wouldn’t know it from that evil photo: There he glares malevolently like one of the psychoperps who keep his fictional detectives employed.

So, look: Here’s a novel that had me in stitches during my foot-soaking downtime between sightseeing bouts in NYC recently. It’s the first novel by Jonatham Lethem, from fifteen fraught years ago: Gun, with Occasional Music.

Now, understand, I normally look with cold disdain on the private eye pastiche — into which catergory Gun, with Occasional Music falls in a loopy sci-fi, Neal Stephensonish sort of way — and certainly a blurb from the wretched Newsweek, if not exactly a deal-killer, is no recommendation for this reader — and if that blurb compares Lethem favorably to Philip K. Dick with whose drug-soaked deleriums I am out of sympathy, well, then you may reasonably ask why I didn’t hurriedly put the volume back on the shelf and continue to rummage through the Flatiron District Barnes and Noble?

I’ll tell you why: the epigraph. The epigraph reads thus:

There was nothing to it. The Super Chief was on time, as it almost always is, and the subject was as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket.
—Raymond Chandler

But not just the epigraph qua epigraph. I delved a bit and saw that Lethem had written a book in which Chandler’s metaphor was taken literally. There really is a kangaroo, maybe not in a dinner jacket, but cast in the part of the tough-guy wannabee gunsel, like Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon (the part played by Elisha Cook, Jr.). Other key characters are also animals, “evolved animals,” in this alternate reality novel, or dystopic future, or satire, or spoof, or jape or whatever it is. Anyhow, I was hooked, and the novel did not disappoint. Far from it. Many laughs, as when our “private inquisitor” (i.e. detective) hero answers the doorbell and…

A neatly dressed woman in her late twenties or early thirties stood in the doorway, and behind her a young guy in a suit and tie was walking up the steps. “Hello,” she said.

I said hello back.

“We’re students of psychology. If you’re not too busy, we’d like to read you a few selections from Freud’s Civilization and it Its Discontents.

They’re “Freud nuts.” It’s that kind of book, except in addition to all the absurd invention there actually is a murder mystery to solve and the private inquisitor solves it using clues peculiar to the world Lethem has created.

I would tell you all about that world — the government supplied “forgetol” drugs, the evolved “babyheads,” the musical news reports (no words, just mood music) — but as I said, I’m too woozy and I’ve just remembered the tuna salad in the fridge so I’ll answer the only question pertinent when recommending a novel. Will you enjoy Gun, with Occasional Music? Yes, absolutely. No doubt. Guaranteed. You will thank me.

Oh, and there really is a gun that, when brandished, plays appropriately ominous background music.

Gun, with Occasional Music
by Jonathan Lethem
(Harvest Books, Paperback, 269pp.)

Assassins R Us

The Tiger Milk logo covers a nasty glare on the foil cover

It's Robin Meade!

The assassination business has come a long way since John Wilkes Booth. It would be going too far to call it respectable — the practitioners themselves would blench at the praise — but the field is getting crowded. Mark Greaney in his authorial debut, The Gray Man, gives us yet another relentless wet-work professional.

His name is… I forget. Chambers, I think. Or “Rooms.” The book is over there, but it’s out of reach. It doesn’t matter anyhow, since this guy, this one-man-army, is known mostly by his nickname, “Gray Man,” a nom-de-guerre he earned by… I don’t remember. Perhaps he is gray.

Gray Man kills people, but only bad people. An American, given a burn notice by the CIA (whose agents have standing orders to kill him on sight), he now plies his lonely trade for a British security firm catering to multinational companies, which, though themselves inherently evil, still sometimes require the assassination of people — African warlords, say — who are even more evil. Gray Man is merciless to his foes, we are told (and in those very words), but also ethical somehow, we vaguely understand. He is so secret he is known only to his snooty British boss, Sir Nigel Eliott Faw-faw Fotheringale (or something like that; I don’t remember exactly), yet nonetheless has an international reputation. He is spoken about in whispers, but thousands whisper.

He is so well-known, in fact, that when the workings of the plot require him to travel from Turkey to Normandy to rescue the eight-year-old grandchildren of his snooty employer (the twin girls having been kidnapped by an evil multinational), hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of professional assassins and “street experts” (experts in streets) are arrayed between him and his goal. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but he kills every single one of them. His technique is pretty much to run at his target really fast and kill him. Gray, though unstoppable, is not invincible: he is shot, stabbed, rolled down an Alp and dropped in a cistern. He falls into the Seine. I think he’s blown up, too, but I can’t remember.

The Gray Man is the sort of book where the manufacturer of every weapon is mentioned along with its caliber and magazine capacity. I enjoyed it immensely and read all 450 pages of its Bobbsey Twins prose with perfect pleasure.

The Gray Man
by Mark Greaney
(Jove Books, Mass Market Paperback, 464pp.)
Publication Date: September 2009

Allah Ka-Bar

Hashish not incl.

I accompanied Mlle. NiceWork to our new dentist in beautiful downtown Burbank. Her appointment, not mine. First visits to medicine men entail lots of form-filling, as you know, and if the medicine man specializes in those little skull bones we “dudes” are so pleased to see flashing at us from the mouths of pretty women, then the visit also means the scrubbing of those bones and the zapping of those bones with x-rays.

Which is to say: I had ample time to inspect the little waiting room in which I was obliged to remain. A tiny room: 45 seconds would have done for me to eyeball it thoroughly. But did I fret as the minutes shuffled by, chained at the ankles, their tools on their shoulders, singing a low, bluesy moan? No. Nor did I need to take cold comfort in the printed diversions spread out on a corner table, as seen in the photo above. No ESPN magazine for my idle hours; no Reader’s Digest to cheer me with its “Humor in Uniform” drolleries; no tell-all dissection of touchy Christian Bale in GQ to sour my mind; and, God help us, absolutely no eye-popping pamphlet on Gum Disease. I waved these distractions away, for I had foreseen the downtime and prudently carried a book with me: Heart of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno.

What sort of book is Heart of the Assassin, you ask? Well, it’s a novel, you will be relieved to learn. Right-thinking individuals will be even more delighted to learn it is an action-thriller-stabalot novel. Even wiser individuals will already be in the know about Ferrigno’s near-future trilogy of which Heart makes the third volume. They will already have studied Prayers for the Assassin and Sins of the Assassin. They will know the story of Rakkim Epps, the titular fedayeen; that his tale is set in a nasty near future, only decades away, in which the former United States has broken into pieces, the largest being the “Islamic Republic.” These wise readers will know of the assorted independent nation-states like “Nueva Florida” and the “Mormon Territories,” and my favorite, “New Fallujah” (formerly San Francisco). They will already have ventured with our hero into the “Bible Belt” (formerly the Bible Belt), a Christian nation — and an inveterate enemy of Rakkim’s Islamic Republic.

All these balkanized USA bits do not lie alongside each other peaceably, as you might imagine. Religious feelings run a little hot and come equipped with cool futuristic weapons. That’s why Rakkim: Assassination is just another part of the price of doing business in this admittedly brave, but way way bellicose, new world. To make bad things worse, the pot is being stirred behind the scenes by an arch-villain, the “Old One.” He’s a Methusalah-aged imam who has been messing with geo-poliitcs — to hasten a worldwide caliphate — since the 19th century. Vastly wealthy, he prolongs his life with every known organ replacement and youth enhancer petrodollars can buy, and when he’s not having his blood renewed he’s contriving intricate plots to keep Rakkim fully employed by his Islamic Republic masters.

What’s the novel like? Here’s what it’s like:

Rakkim, at one point in the story, must search through the ruins of Washington D.C. for… well, something vital; read the book. The old capitol is still lethally radioactive from the “Old One’s” dirty bomb that wiped out all life there decades earlier. To wander through the place and come out with his old, familiar DNA intact, Rakkim requires the help of the proud, but cancerously short-lived natives who live outside the radioactive zone, but who continuously enter it in “rad-suits” (i.e. radiation suits) to plunder it for saleable items. They’re hill-people who refuse to leave their beloved land despite the murderous roentgen count of nearby D.C.. Besides, the dirty bomb left most of the buildings intact — although the Washington Monument is now aslant like the Leaning Tower of Pisa — and filled with pricey collectibles available to the first taker.

So. Rakkim is a guest in the shabby house of some of these ornery “Zombies” — that is, Appalachian salvagers — whom he happens to like a great deal; he admires their grit and patriotism. While drinking a valuable Coca Cola given him in the spirit of hospitality…

Rakkim walked over to the family photographs that lined one whole wall. Photographs, not holograms, some of them ancient black-and-whites too. Poor folk in their Sunday best, kids behind the wheels of trucks, hard-eyed men and suspicious women, two young men in homemade rad-suits pretending to hold up the Washington Monument.

Isn’t that a perfect detail: the joke snapshot of the guys holding up the building? That‘s what the book is like.

Heart of the Assassin
by Robert Ferrigno
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 368pp.)

Prayers for the Assassin 1st Volume
by Robert Ferrigno
(Pocket Books, Mass Market Paperback, 496pp.)

Sins of the Assassin 2nd Volume
by Robert Ferrigno
(Pocket Star Books, Mass Market Paperback, 447pp.)

The book at home, resting peacefully.