Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Roger Zelazny; Ross Thomas

From Ron Hogan at galleycat (reporting on a book party he'd attended):

"Which reminds me how I was chatting with Juliet Ulman of Bantam about a recent acquisition that was described as "a science-fiction Cormac McCarthy," which prompted me to joke about how The Road is a fancypants version of Damnation Alley. (Maybe three readers aren't cocking their head at the screen after that line...and that's okay. I have a quota for the number of sheer geek references I'm allowed to make each month.*)"

Ed here: remember when Roger Zelazny was king of the known universe? Back when I went cold turkey on both booze and drugs, I spent a lot of time going alone to movies. On occasion I'd go to a multi-plex and see three of the flicks. I had great memories of the novella version of Damnation Alley. And I was really up for the movie. My hopes were destroyed within the first five minutes of the film. How you could screw up a simple linear storyline the way they did is baffling even by Hollywood standards. In a sense it was a forerunner of The A-Team and just about as stupid. I hadn't written for a fanzine for years (this was 1974) but when I got home that night I wrote a very angry review of the film and sent it off in the morning. I remember getting some angry letters attacking me for not understanding the "subtext" of the film. Yeah, right.


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Ross Thomas, The Procane Chronicle

One of life’s true pleasures is reading a Ross Thomas novel. He never lets you down when you re-read him, either.

I’ve now read The Procane Chronicle for the third or fourth time, and even though I now know all the amazing surprises Thomas blesses his readers with, the prose alone is as much fun as the story. The only writer living today who can even come close to the grace and nimbleness of Thomas is Lawrence Block. Block knows from sentences.

In this one, Phillip St. Ives is dragooned by poverty as usual to act as a go-between when a blackmailer sets a price. St. Ives is hired to make sure that both sides keep their promise. The stake this time is a possible Mafia war.

As always, Thomas gives us a radiantly cynical take on Washington, D. C. and all who do business there. Though thirty years have past since original publication, Procane depicts a nation’s capitol no different from the one we know today. St. Ives is lied to and betrayed by everything on two legs, even – or especially – those fine looking female legs.

For me, Thomas was one of the two or three best crime writers of the last century. He brought to each book a witty and brutal intelligence that exposed all of us as less than we’d want to be.

You’ll have to get on to ABE or one of the other web sites to buy it, but it’ll be well worth the trouble. If you’ve never read Ross Thomas, this is good place to start.

4 comments:

Bill said...

I couldn't agree more with you about Ross Thomas, and I never get tired of telling people how good he is.

Same thing for the movie version of Damnation Alley. I was really excited about seeing it, and what a piece of crap it turned out to be. Zelazny's early work, by the way, is just as re-readable as the work of Ross Thomas. Both of those guys left us way too soon.

Anonymous said...

Ed, today I picked up 6 Ross Thomas books at a used store. I got: THE FOOLS IN TOWN ARE ON OUR SIDE, THE MONEY HARVEST, THE SEERSUCKER WHIPSAW, THE SINGAPORE WINK, THE TWILIGHT AT MAC'S PLACE, and VOODOO, LTD.

I've never read Thomas, but your recommendations have rarely steered me wrong. I hope those six are a good representation of Thomas's scope as a writer.

Bye the way, Ed. I'm glad your back to blogging.

-A.J.

Anonymous said...

Of course I meant "by the way." Ugh, too much wine, and I'm up too damn late. Sorry. ;)

-A.J.

Brendan DuBois said...

Once I met Ross Thomas at a book-signing at Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge... a true gentleman who listened to a budding novelist with polite interest... and a heck of a writer.

And I remember seeing Damnation Alley... and my jaw dropping after about the first five minutes of the movie. Ick. Probably best known for the "killer cockroaches" line uttered by George Peppard...

Brendan DuBois