Tuesday, August 08, 2006

So Many Books, So Little Time...

From Paul

It’s impossible to read all the books on my personal “to-do” list, so I’ve developed a bad habit. I start ten books and finish three. I get a taste of the style, a flavor of the plot...and move on.

But not always.

I’ve just finished Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman, a savvy, hilarious satire of deep-carpet law firms. It’s written as a series of blogs to and from an avaricious partner (redundant, no?) in a big-city firm that grinds up associates and spits them out. The cruel yet self-aware protagonist gives nicknames to the summer associates (“The Suck Up,” “The Girl Who Dresses Like a Slut,” etc) who are young, nasty careerists themselves. I was once a partner in a national law firm and Blachman, a young lawyer, is dead on.

I’m halfway through The King of Lies by John Hart, and I’m not stopping. It’s a knockout first novel reminiscent of Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent. Lies tells the story of a self-loathing lawyer suspected of killing his tyrannical father. The flawed protagonist (and that’s an understatement) is a coward, a drunk, and an unfaithful husband who has enough angst to fill all the creeks and rivers of North Carolina, where the story is set. Hart is a poetic wordsmith who digs deep and creates a memorable character in Jackson Workman (“Work”) Pickens. This tale of a family torn asunder is literate and very Southern, but without all that Spanish moss on the oak trees. Highly recommended.

I’m re-reading The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, edited by Tony Hillerman and Otto Penzler. As the title suggests, the book contains many classics that have been anthologized over the years. James Thurber’s “The Catbird Seat” is a sly story of revenge. Cornell Rich’s tale of dangerous voyeurism, “Rear Window,” is the well-known source material for the famous Hitchcock film. Stephen King’s “Quitters, Inc.” tells the story of a company that will help you quit smoking...for a steep price. Lawrence Block’s “By Dawn’s Early Light,” a Matthew Scudder story, starts in a saloon (and who writes taprooms and taverns better?) and unravels a murder mystery.

NOT included in this collection is one of my favorites, James Gould Cozzens’ “Clerical Error,” about a bookstore owner’s aggressive tactics to collect a bill. (You can find the story in The Fifty Greatest Mystery Stories of All Time, also edited by Otto Penzler...making me ask why it’s not also included in best of the century).

Now that we’re going all literary today, here are some personal favorites:

FAVORITE FIRST LINE: “He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini.

SECOND FAVORITE FIRST LINE: “All nights should be so dark, all winters so warm, all headlights so dazzling.” Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith.

: “There are no one hundred per cent heroes.” Cinnamon Skin, by John D. MacDonald.

FIRST LINE OF MY LAST BOOK: “Forget it Steve. I’m not having sex in the ocean.” The Deep Blue Alibi.

FIRST LINE (okay, first paragraph) OF MY NEXT BOOK: “Wearing boxers and nothing else, eyes still crusty with sleep, Steve Solomon smacked the front door with his shoulder. Stuck.

Another smack, another shove, and the door creaked open. Which is when Steve noticed the three-hundred pound fish, its razored bill jammed through the peephole. A blue marlin. Dangling there, as if frozen in mid-leap.” Kill All the Lawyers (pub date, Sept. 1).

MOJITO ADDENDUM: A helpful reader suggests a modification of my mojito recipe (August 1). If you dislike adding sugar to your drinks, substitute Diet Sprite for the club soda/sugar combo. Haven’t tried it, so you’re on your own. One more thing. If you can, make your ice from distilled water. I know. I know. You have an ice maker in the fridge and it’s a royal pain to fill ice trays from a bottle...but it’s worth it.



  1. What a coincidence, Paul! I just referenced "The Catbird Seat" the other day on DL. The spirit of James Thurber walks among us . . .
    And coincidence two: I just read the first two stories in Cornell Woolrich's book Night and Fear. The classics, I guess, will never be lost. And thanks for the book recommendations. :)

  2. I'm suddenly quite interested in The Deep Blue Alibi...

    My favourite first lines:

    "Rico Amato makes a great woman." - Cue the Dead Guy, by H. Mel Malton

    and the intro to Simon Kernick's The Murder Exchange:

    "There is no feeling in the world more hopeless, more desperate, more frightening, than when you are standing looking at the end of a gun that's held steadily and calmly by someone you know is going to kill you."

    Also the opening to Ian Rankin's short story, Herbert in motion. "My choices that day were twofold: kill myself before or after the Prime Minister's cocktail party?"

  3. Ah, the great thing about Paul's books--and I can vouch for this, because I'm on vacation with my family reading "Kill All The Lawyers," is that you can annoy your spouse by constantly laughing out loud and saying, "You've got to hear this..." and reading a funny passage to them. They might laugh or they may look blankly at you, nod and go back to their own book, probably thinking, "Why did we bring him along, anyway?"

  4. Ah well. Best laid plans and another newspaper cuts back on book reviews. For my comments on this topic and my review--despite them--of KILL ALL THE LAWYERS, visit my blog at:


    Mark Terry