As much as I like hardboiled I like equally fiction that deals realistically with the everyday most of us face. Realistically is a loaded word of course. One person's realism may sound like fantasy to someone else. But it seems to me that the traditional mystery novel in the right hands is ideally equipped to give us snapshots of life in our time.
One of my favorite traditional series is Bill Crider's novels about Sheriff Dan Rhodes and his travails in Blacklin County, Texas. The latest, and one of the best in the series, is Of All Sad Words. It's a perfect illustration of what I mean by realism. The main storyline is a gripping puzzle about a trailer blowing up following suspicions that it was a meth lab. What was really going on there?
Bill makes the town itself a character with a history, running resentments and large cast of folks who range from the innocent to the murderous.
Bill is a fine writer and an excellent plotter and the investigation keeps you turning the pages. But as always the charm of the series can be found in the very real minutia that real life sheriffs face. In this case one of the problems Rhodes must confront is the commisioners' decision to make him oversee the county website. Wry, sly, pointed these scenes show us my generation at the mercy of computers they can't begin to comprehend. I laughed out loud several times. I recognized myself in Rhodes.
Bill has long deserved major attention. Both in short form and long, he's one of the best storytellers working today. This is novel you'll enjpy and remember. Then read your way back through the entire series. Not a bad book in the bunch.
The Los Angeles Times has an article on Richard Matheson that is well worth reading.
Every once in awhile I feel the need to be directly political. I'm prompted to do this tonight because of two Sunday morning talks shows I caught today.
To dismiss the most easily dismissable figure, Tim Russert, when is he going to start using his "gotcha" tactics on John McCain? I saw them together last week and I had the sense they were holding hands under the table. Today he bully-boyed Governors Rendell and Casey about Hillary and Obama respectively. How dare they take all this money? And how dare the Clintons make so much money?
When he "interviewed" McCain he didn't point out that the senator is one of the biggest lobbyist whores in DC. All eight of his major advisors are full-time lobbyists.. Or how about the speeches McCain gave citing Chalalibi as a great patriot and friend of the US (he was likely an Iranian spy). And remember all those twinky uniforms central casting designed for Chalabili and his soldiers (read looters and child killers). Where were the questions about those topics?
The only show I like much is George Stephanopolous' on ABC. He's a good and even-handed interviewer. The problem I have is some of the pople he invites. If there's a lamer observer of DC than Cokie Roberts I don't know who that would be. She grew up in DC and is political royalty herself. Her fondness for herself is troubling to watch. God knows what she does in front of a mirror.
Today one of the guests was Dan Senor. A very sleazy guy. Senor, who comes off like an excitable college computer nerd, was Paul Bremer's best boy in Iraq for a few years. You remember Bremer. Disbanded the Iraqui army and strangely can't account for NINE FUCKING BILLION DOLLARS that accompanied him to Iraq. He dismissed responsibility for this by sneering "We didn't have time for American accounting." Henry Kissinger recommended Bremer to Bush as the Iraqui due and need I say more?
This morning Senor was even more slimy than usual (not an easy trick). He said that when withdrawls came "the adults had to be in charge" he meant McCain. He claimed that Obama doesn't know anything about "the realities." Then he told us how well the surge is working and what a swell guy Bush is.
One of my real heroes Katrina Vanden Heuvel sat next to him. I was surprised she didn't bitch slap him when he made some of his more outrageous comments. She settled for a lot of sighing and pursuing of lips.
The same with Pat Buchanan. I don't know how many of you read his truly sickening piece about Obama and race last week but it is one of the most racist tracts I've ever read. I was stunned by it.
Buchanan is an anti-Semite and racist of long-standing. Yet there he blithley sits day after day offering his elitist opinions. A writer friend of mine e mailed me after he got particularly ugly with one of my favorite people Rachael Maddow. She said that with Buchanan Rachael lost three different ways--she's a woman, she's Jewish and she's gay. That's exactly right. When he talks to her his contempt is obvious.
"First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.
"Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.
"Second, no people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the ’60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream."
Why are people like Buchanan and Senor on TV?
There's an excellent piece on Salon about a new book that discusses the effect of comedians on our politics:
"Topical comedians," says Peterson, "keep finding new ways to tell us what we already 'know' about politicians." And because they harp so remorselessly on candidates' individual quirks -- ignoring the hard, complex, often maddening substance of policy -- they declare, in effect, that every choice is equally bad and that the system itself is "an irredeemable sham." "Election after election," Peterson writes, "night after night, joke after joke, they have reinforced the notion that political participation is pointless, parties and candidates are interchangeable, and democracy is futile."
"There are good and sound economic reasons for this, of course. Someone as focused on numbers as Jay Leno is not about to sacrifice half his viewers for the sake of bringing down George W. Bush's immigration policy. Johnny Carson never even mentioned the Vietnam War. True satire can take root only in the exurbs of cable, where comic pioneers smoke out the vipers in democracy's den. Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert -- in Peterson's cosmology, these are the true heroes of late-night, because they ground even their harshest commentary in "a faith in the political process." And on that score, nobody has ascended higher than the "Lincolnish" Colbert, whose Gettysburg Address coincided with the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association dinner, a normally inane and self-congratulatory affair prodded into fretful life by Colbert's assault. Afterward, the dragoons of the press corps (Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer, Richard Cohen) fell over themselves declaring that Colbert had bombed. In fact, he'd been throwing bombs. Right into their laps.
"Here's how it works," Colbert explained. "The president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home ... Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know -- fiction!"
Ed here: I remember the reaction to Colbert's address. He had told the press the truth about themselves and they weren't about to stand for it. But he's right. Most national TV correspondents are way too close to the people they cover. Watch NBC"s Kelly O'Donnell get the vapors when she's interviewing McCain. It's a good thing Mrs. MccCain and her expensive designer suits are along with him otherwise Kelly Might Find Love.
We're about to face one of the most important elections in our history and the mainstream media, for all sorts of reasons, isn't up to guiding us through it. I get my information from people like Josh Marshall and David Kurtz and their staff at Talking Points.com. I recommend you do likewise.