Detectives, Shamus’s, Curious Amateurs


A long-ago “friend” spent all of her free time reading mysteries: murder mysteries, procedurals, hard boiled detectives, cozies, thrillers, suspense, espionage, true crime, legal, noir, capers, and dogs named Pommes-frites. At this time I joined the club and read mystery series’s such as Travis McGee, Spenser, and all of the Ludlum books available at the time. It was a good experience (the books, not the friend) and through the years I have continued to toss a juicy detective novel in with all the classics and contemporaries that filled out my reading lists.

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Zoot-Suit Murders

images-1.jpgIt’s war time and the City of the Angels is experiencing a great deal of influence and intrigue from religious, communist, fascist, and government operatives seeking to control the population or to overthrown the government or to find loose women to satisfy a sailor on shore leave or just to make a fashion statement in the Barrio.

The history of the Barrio, the pachuco, and the zoot-suiters  make for fascinating reading. Add to that some rioting, espionage, combat, and baseball (not to mention a love story) and Thomas Sanchez’s novel is a fast mover with just enough nostalgia for the Los Angeles of the forties to make it really interesting.

Zoot-Suit Murders reminded me of two similar stories: The Day of the Locust and the movie Chinatown (not to mention all those wonderful Philip Marlowe adventures).

Thomas Sanchez writes novels that eschew arcane literary values and instead provide a good, entertaining story with fine attention to the visual detail of his subject. Sanchez is also in the movie business, so it makes sense.

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The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

fishThose in the business—the literature business—often get excited over a complex and challenging narrative structure which manipulates voice and character and time in often confusing ways. There are excellent examples from Joyce to Nabokov to Faulkner, so many that there was a bit of a backlash against the overly manipulated novel and various forms of minimalism have become popular (have you read Peter Markus: Good, BrotherThe Singing Fish; Bob, or Man on Boat?).

But there are categories of fiction that rely on complexity, details, and very twisty plot structures; yet, those in the realm of literature often miss out on these novels because the stories are less concerned with understanding man’s place in the world than with telling a good and possibly exciting story that will leave the reader gasping for more. Most novels in this category tend to be filed under Genre Fiction in the bookstore: some of it is pretty bad, but a great deal of it is fascinating reading.

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