Friday, March 23, 2012

Blood On The Mink; Texas Wind

Excuse me while I back into this review.

By my strictly scientific calculation I first read Robert Silverberg in late 1955 or early 1956. In those days I was eagerly buying all four of the science fiction magazines aimed at deranged adolescents who preferred Bug Eye Monsters and Brass Bra'd Beauties to reality.

Amazing and Fantastic from Ziff-Davis and Imagination and Imaginative Tales from Bill Hamling, these were my mainstays. The latter, especially its short lead "novels," were, as I recall slightly more sophisticated than the stories in the Ziff-Davis books. But probably not by much.

Silverberg and his sometime collaborator Randall Garrett were everywhere in sf under various names. From the slam-bang action of the aforementioned mags to the more sophisticated Astounding and (to me the best of them all) the wry prescient Galaxy. And as we now know Silverberg was also writing for men's magazines and numerous Manhunt imitators. Plus many other markets even Silverberg may not remember. In 1959 or so he began writing one or two or three soft core novels a month. You know in his spare time.

Even in his action adventure mode his sf often showed an intelligence and a humanity not found in the work of his competitors. He was fascinated by political systems and their effects on people and used his tales to extrapolate and demonstrate where some our of contemporary systems were headed.

As early as 1959 his work started to foreshadow the genius (yes, genius) that was to appear full born in the Sixties. The genius that survives today.

I mention all this to salute one of the great writers of our time and to give you a sense of how excited I was to get my hands on a copy of Blood On The MInk, Silverberg's magazine novel written for TRAPPED, another faux Manhunt mag that went out of business just before it was to publish Mink.

It was well worth the wait. The short novel plus the two short stories round out a collection that has the energy of an assault. The two main tropes in Mink very much reflect the times--stories about undercover agents were popular as were agents who posed as other people. (Harry Whittington must have done four or five of them.) Both tropes were frequently seen on TV. But Silverberg's storytelling powers make both of them his own.

I've always imagined that Silverberg was a quick study when surveying a given market. Mink has everything--va-voom blondes, sadistic thugs, plot twists every ten pages and ample supplies of sex and violence--plus actual suspense. You really do wonder where our undercover Federal Agent is taking us. He's trying to to break up a counterfeit ring by locating not only the exquisite plates but also the man who made them.

As with his action sf there is a hard intelligence working here. His contrast of bad queer money and good queer money is fascinating as is the means through which such money is put into the system. His knowledge lends the story a realism it wouldn't have otherwise.

You'll have a great time with this. For duffers it'll bring back the real Fifties perfectly. And for readers of every age it'll be a great good time.

-----------------------------TEXAS WIND

We all have books we go back to several times over the years. For me one of the finest private eye novels I've ever read is Texas Wind by James Reasoner. It is a virtually perfect utterance, a story of a man, an era and a place.

While the set-up is familiar, "a missing daughter job" as Hammett once began a story of his, the op here, named Cody, gives us a Texas I'd never seen before and a private eye who might be the guy you have coffee with at the donut shop counter a couple days a week. The reality is what makes the dark surprises of the book stay real. A real person is telling you the story.

Texas is too often writ so large it becomes comic without meaning to be. James' social observations are worth the price alone. My favorite is a scene where Cody, a Southerner, wonders about a man because he's a Northerner. I've seen this written so many times by Yankees that it was a jolt realizing that it cuts both ways. I loved it.

Filled with exciting incident and humane observation, Texas Wind is one of those books that should be read by everyone who wants to write a mystery novel. This will show you how.

Livia Washburn, James' talented and lovely writer wife, is also a talented and lovely artist. Who knew? Here's her new cover for Texas Wind.

New Cover for Texas Wind


James Reasoner said...

I agree with you completely about BLOOD ON THE MINK, Ed. It's great stuff. And I appreciate the kind words regarding TEXAS WIND. I was too young and dumb back then to really know what I was doing, which may have been a good thing. The triumph of the uncluttered mind, so to speak.

Ed Gorman said...

You knew what you were doing right out of the chute, James. My early stuff set the English language back two centuries.

Cullen Gallagher said...

TEXAS WIND is one of my favorites -- beautifully written, some real sorrowful moments.

I also had a blast with BLOOD ON THE MINK. I'm glad to see the early Silverberg, like this and the Don Elliott stuff, is coming back into print.

Bill Pronzini said...

I don't suppose anyone but me cares, but for the record: Hard Case Crime's claim that BLOOD ON THE MINK was never previously published is false. It appears complete in the November 1962 Trapped, the mag's next to last issue, under the title TOO MUCH BLOOD ON THE MINK and Silverberg's pseudonym Ray McKensie.