A Tip of the Fedora

taste of ashesI finished  more noir books the other day despite the fact I said I needed to get back to reading some  modern fantasy. All three of these books were short, which was a huge lure, seeing as how most modern fantasy weighs in decidedly on the other end of the spectrum. Also, one of them doubled as research. I suppose in a way ALL of these double as research. Hand picked as these noir books are by John Chris Hocking, who’s very well read in noir, I’m getting a real education in great writing.

First up was the poorly titled but well-written Swamp Sister, by Robert Edmond Alter, chiefly concerned with how a lost plane carrying a huge bankroll transforms the behaviour of the folk living in and around the area. Immersive descriptions, great character arcs and plenty of surprises. Also a big leg up for me as I begin contemplation of describing some swamp land myself in an upcoming Paizo Pathfinder book. Surprisingly good.

Next up was Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, which was pretty fascinating, but hardly left a good taste in my mouth, seeing as how it was from the viewpoint of a sociopath. Apparently it was a favorite of Stanley Kubrick’s and has been made into a motion picture. Well-written, but I don’t know that I found it my kind of thing. Maybe it’s all those years watching Star Trek or reading fantasy, but I generally prefer my protagonists to have some kind of moral code. (I guess Parker and Quarry are the lone exceptions, but then they do what they do for professional reasons, not for kicks.)

Which leads me to the third book, which I just finished last night, and it was just a lovely and somber and powerful a detective story as Hocking promised. This was The Taste of Ashes, by Howard Browne, which was so finely written it could almost give Chandler a run for his money. Not only was it loaded with the soaring language and action I found in Chandler, the plot was tight as a drum. Great stuff. If you’ve read Chandler but never read THIS book, run, don’t walk, to get thyself a copy. I understand Haffner Press is going to print a complete hardback  of Browne’s detective novels, and I’ll be first in line.

John Chris Hocking, here’s a tip of my fedora in thanks.

4 Comments on “A Tip of the Fedora

  1. And here’s where Hocking gets all woebegone and moans about how he told you to finish the last couple Chandlers before you read Taste of Ashes because Taste of Ashes is the best Chandler imitation/pastiche/tribute ever written and you really need to know Chandler to appreciate it fully and blah-blah-blah.
    There are three other novels Browne wrote leading up to Taste of Ashes, and they are all very good, but Taste is in a league of its own. I like it so much that, if you pour a couple drinks in me, I might even try arguing that it beats Chandler at his own game.

    Swamp Sister is cruelly under-rated, and an all but perfect example of the many startlingly well-crafted hardboiled novels that appeared as paperback originals in the 50’s and 60’s, most of which have been lost to all but the obsessed aficianado.

    Killer Inside Me is a visceral experience and not a book most would read for ‘enjoyment’ in the strictest sense. It shakes you up and makes you see things differently, through the eyes of an unforgettable disturbing/disturbed character.
    The eerie, desolate prayer of its last lines is burned into my brain permanently. Chilling, beautiful, tragic and horrifying.

  2. ASHES was most definitely a great read. Up there with the best of Chandler, certainly.

    Hocking, I had ASHES, and I didn’t think I should read more Chandler, as there’s actually so little of it… but I also forgot your admonition not to read ASHES until I had finished Chandler.

    On the plus side, it was good enough I’m sure to read it again, probably in that coming hardback from Haffner Press. Stephen Haffner himself said it would probably be ready in late summer.

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