By Tim Smith
I began reading for pleasure again after my most recent gig as a newspaper editor ended when the publication I worked for folded without notice. Suddenly I had time on my hands since I had no stories to write or edit. It was time to dust off the books on my reading table and catch up on things.
My first choice was a thriller by one of my favorite authors, James W. Hall. I had purchased “Dead Last” a couple of years ago but never got around to reading it. I savored the opportunity to lose myself in another of his adventures set in The Florida Keys. This time, his hero, Thorn, the man with no first name, gets involved in the world of made-for-cable TV crime shows. The plot has him looking into some mysterious deaths that are eerily similar to the fictitious ones portrayed in the series. As always, the action moves along at a steady pace and the atmosphere is vivid.
Another book I’m currently reading is one I received while still working at the newspaper, a review copy of a debut novel titled “Ohio” by Stephen Markley. The story brings four former high school classmates back to the small Ohio town where they grew up before leaving for greener pastures. Something sinister is afoot, though, having to do with a long-buried secret none of them wants to see revealed.
I’m also enjoying a guilty pleasure in the form of “Dirty Money” by Richard Stark. That’s the pseudonym used by the late Donald E. Westlake when he wrote stories about a career criminal named Parker (again, no first name). The Parker stories are always fun because you get to root for the bad guy without feeling guilty about it. In this one, like most of Stark’s books, Parker is out to get his share of the loot from a caper after his partners in crime ripped him off and left him for dead. The action is fast, the dialogue is snappy, and the characters and atmosphere are well drawn.
While we’re on the subject of pulp fiction, I found a collection of “lost” short stories by Mickey Spillane called “Tomorrow I Die.” Spillane penned most of these for men’s magazines and literary publications while he was at the height of his popularity in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They show that he could pack as much action and character into a short piece as he did in his novels. Bonus material includes an extensive profile by crime writer Max Allan Collins, and a short script Spillane wrote as a screen test for his Mike Hammer character. There are also photos from the short film, but no copy of it is known to exist.
Since I didn’t have much time for beach reads this summer, I’ll make up for it now that the weather is cooling down in preparation for another long dreary winter.