David Corbett is the author of five novels: The Devil’s Redhead, Done for a Dime, Blood of Paradise, Do They Know I’m Running?, and the just-released The Mercy of the Night. His short fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, with pieces twice selected for Best American Mystery Stories, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Narrative, Zyzzyva, MovieMaker, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and numerous other venues. He has taught through the UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program, Book Passage, LitReactor, 826 Valencia, The Grotto in San Francisco, Delve Writers, and at numerous writing conferences across the US, and in January 2013 Penguin published his textbook on the craft of characterization, The Art of Character.
Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright (2011, Grand Central Publishing, re-issue of a novel originally published in 1993) — The most gripping, unusual, elegantly written fiction I’ve read in some time. (Sadly the author, a former lit professor at the University of Cincinnati, died before the recent re-issue of this previously overlooked novel could gain for him and the work the audience and respect it deserves.) Though “postmodern mysteries” too often trend toward the over-precious and self-absorbed, this one delivers in a very fundamental, even insidious way. Ex-husband Edward, after twenty years of separation, sends remarried ex-wife his manuscript about a man whose wife and daughter are abducted, raped, and murdered along an empty stretch of Pennsylvania freeway. The book-within-a-book is riveting, but it’s Susan’s response to what she didn’t know about Edward, and thus herself, that lifts an otherwise excellent read to the level of the unforgettable.
World Gone By, by Dennis Lehane (2015, William Morrow) — Although this book is the third in a trilogy, I read it first, and now intend to go back and read the others. Lehane referred to this effort as “The Gangster in Autumn,” and that’s apt, for it plays in a minor key, elegantly so. I was prepared to enjoy the story but not be quite so blown away. A few sections are so expertly crafted I went back and re-read them before going on. No one with his roots as firmly planted in realism as Lehane writes as imaginatively, with the seemingly fantastic conveyed so gracefully, so credibly, that you can’t help but tell Mr. Disbelief to take the night off. Lehane’s confidence as a story-teller has never felt more assured, and the scenes between father and son convey an emotional impact so heartbreaking that it lifts this novel high above its would-be counterparts in crime fiction.
Gods and Fighting Men, by Lady Augusta Gregory (with an introduction by William Butler Yeats (public domain) — Blame Game of Thrones for this selection and the next. I downloaded this book off the Internet and have been having a grand old time just paging through it slowly. The stories, which range from the account of how the Tuatha de Danaan came to inhabit Ireland to the classic tales of Finn McCumhal and the Fianna, are rowdy, blustering, bawdy, mysterious, tragic accounts of how the old magic served and betrayed the fabled folk who once inhabited the Emerald Isle. Utterly addictive.
Selections from Ancient Greek Historians in English, by Royal Case Nemiah (1939, Charles Scribners & Sons) — I’ve had this book since I picked up a used copy for fifty cents at Long’s Bookstore, where I worked while attending Ohio State, but I only started reading Herodotus recently, at the suggestion of Stuart Archer Cohen, a writer friend whose most recent novel, This is How It Really Sounds, is also on this list (see below). Again, blame Game of Thrones for getting me into offbeat history, and if “The Mythical Causes for the Wars Between Greece and Persia” doesn’t apply, nothing does. “And thus commenced, according to their authors, the series of outrages, ” i.e., the abductions of Io and Europé and Medea and Helen. “Now, as for the carrying off of women, it is the deed, they say, of a rogue; but to make a stir about such as are carried off, argues a man a fool.”
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy (2015, Spiegel & Grau). A gripping, maddening, heartbreaking look at the two worlds of justice – black and white – in present-day Los Angeles. The author, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, argued to her editors that every murder in the City of Angels should be noted in its flagship paper. This launched her on a journey of discovery into the largely forgotten and routinely unsolved killings of young black men in South Central. If not for the dogged, heroic efforts of one man, a (white, Republican) detective named John Skaggs, those murders would slip beneath the surface forever – especially the murder of Bryant Tennelle, whose death forms the centerpiece of this sad, brave book.
Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt Our Finances, Freedom, and Security, by Janine Wedel (2014, Pegasus) — A bit of a slog, and there are times the outrage doesn’t quite feel commensurate with the alleged crimes, but gradually I’ve come to realize that’s the point. The complete transformation of power in the US into a system of elite insiders beyond the reach of voter accountability has been such a sly, seemingly reasonable shift that no one seems to have noticed. It makes the old cash-for-favors corruption look almost quaint, and its largely meritocratic veneer shields it from the condemnation it deserves. This book is too careful and meticulous to present a cry for the ramparts, and the interconnections of influence can often seem just like the old buddy system – what’s the great sin? But as I’ve been reading it I’ve wondered why we haven’t been more outraged by the conspicuous disappearance of decision-making beyond closed doors, beyond any real responsibility for consequences.
This Is How it Really Sounds, by Stuart Archer Cohen (2015, St. Martin’s Press) — The author is a friend, and this is the one book I’ve not yet actually read, but which is the next book of fiction I intend to get to. Stuart’s always believed in breaking down walls, and he refuses to be tamed by reader expectations – and yet he’s an utter gas to read. Here he follows the stories of three powerful men all named Peter Harrington – one an extreme sports hero, another an aging rock star, another a pirate financier. Each has severe regrets, each finds his life in miserable disorder, each seeks that ever-elusive reason for being. I can’t wait.
How eclectic is your stash? Do you tend to read books that are similar to each other? From one or two favorite genres? Or all over the map? Any suggestions for David, based on what you see here?