Thursday, February 23, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Honest Dealer by Frank Gruber

The Honest Dealer

Dick Lochte wrote a guest piece for the Rap Sheet awhile back that I found mighty pleasing in my dotage. Here are some quotes from his choice for a Forgotten Book.

"OK, I’m not sure you have to read The Honest Dealer. If Frank Gruber were still alive, I doubt that even he would consider his 1947 book a necessity. But every now and then, after working my way through a couple of dozen contemporary crime novels, with their elaborate back stories and casts of thousands and plots that call attention to social and/or political ills, I like to treat myself to the kind of mystery that initially lured me to this genre--a yarn written for the sole purpose of providing sheer, unpretentious reading pleasure.

"The Honest Dealer does that in spades. The literary equivalent of a classic B-movie of the 1940s, it immediately draws you in, moves at a breathless pace, has the requisite moments of suspense and humor, and ends with a surprise villain, neatly thwarted. There are a lot of books from the ’30s and ’40s that meet those requirements, but, for my money, Dealer is one that does it best.


"I wonder what Gruber would think of some of today’s most popular series heroes--sociopaths, alcoholics, whiners, bitter loners, paranoiacs, and worse. Would he go with the market flow and come up with his version of the depressed detective? I’d like to think he’d pawn his typewriter and buy a horse."

Ed here: The horse reference is to a plot element.

I happened to read this book awhile back myself and I think Dick does a fine job of ennumerating its many fine if slight virtues, the biggest of which being that it's just a hell of a lot of fun to read.

As somebody who receives a moderate share of review copies I know what Dick means by the all-too-modern novel. I not only read them, I also write them. But there is so much hype attendant on the Serious ones--publicists and reviewers vying for the grandest superilative--that I often pick up a simple well-told story for a respite from all the Seriousness.

Thank God there are among the younger writers people who are serious about their writing but are a true unpretentious pleasure to read. To name a few Megan Abbott, Jason Starr, Duane Swierczynski, Tom Piccirilli, Allan Guthrie. They speak in their own voices, share their observations of our sometimes forlorn luckless species and yet never forget to amuse, bemuse, shock, outrage and comfort while demanding that we keep flipping those pages.

Damned good storytellers.

As was, in a less ambitious way, Frank Gruber.


Anonymous said...

I'd add Wallace Stroby to your list of younger guns who are pleasures to read, Ed.

John Litweiler said...

Jack Clark is another younger (I think), or at least lesser known, writer who has a lot of energy as well as a feeling for big city streets. Hard Case Crime published the two of his novels that I read a few years ago.