Riders on the Storm -- Ed Gorman from Bill Crider's Popular Culture
Ed here: I paid a lot of money for this review so please read it.
If you want to read about what life was like in the late 1950s to the early '70s, you could go to books written during that time (you need search no further than John D. MacDonald). Or you could read Ed Gorman's Sam McCain series. Gorman has something that that MacDonald didn't: perspective. Gorman's had time to think about what happened and to reflect on it for a good many years. And that's just one thing that makes this series so interesting. There are plenty of other things, too.
Riders on the Storm (all the books except the first in the series take their titles from songs popular at the time) is set in 1971. At the end of the previous book (Bad Moon Rising), McCain has been drafted and appears likely to be shipped off to Vietnam. That doesn't happen. He's in a terrible car crash in boot camp and then is hospitalized for a long time. He's mostly recovered now, and sure enough, he gets involved in another murder investigation. His friend Will Cullen, a returned vet, is accused of the murder of a political candidate, Steve Donovan, another vet. Donovan's a war hawk; Cullen's a member of an anti-war veteran's group and has been severely beaten by Donovan for that reason. It's no surprise that Cullen is the primary suspect. He's just about catatonic, however, and isn't any help in the investigation that McCain undertakes.
Pretty much the whole city of Black River Falls believes that Cullen is guilty. The police chief surely seems to. Not many people want McCain to find out if Cullen is innocent. They'd be happy to see him convicted.
As usual in Gorman's books, the characters are a lot more complex than they first appear. As soon as you think you know them, you find out that you don't. People are never simple black-or-white creations. They're complex mixtures who will leave you thinking about them when you lay the book aside. Also as usual, the writing is clear and clean and sharp with astute observations about the times, the politics of the era, and human nature. It's enough to make you envious if you're a writer and prone to that sort of thing. Not that I am, of course.
When I read Bad Moon Rising, I thought it would be the last book in the series. I was really glad to discover that it wasn't, and I hope there will be many more to come. This as an excellent series, and I highly recommend all the books in it, including this one.
Ed here: This is Paul Schrader at his best. I thank Bill for reminding me how good it is.
You've heard this story before: "It was a wandering daughter job." This is an excellent version of that story. This time the wandering daughter is Kristin VanDorn (Ilah Davis, in what might have been her only movie role), who's been brought up n the rigid Calvinst home of her father, Jake (George C. Scott). When she goes missing on a church-sponsored trip to California, Jake hires a sleazy P.I. named Mast (Peter Doyle) to find her.
What Mast finds is a hardcore porn film starring Kristen. Was there ever anybody better at playing a tightly wound guy than Scott? The scene where Mast shows Jake the film is just one of several in the movie that prove Scott was a masterful actor. The scene is so famous that it's become part of an Internet meme, as in George C. Scott watches Star Wars on Blu-Ray or George C. Scott watches the Modern Warfare 3 trailer.
Naturally Jake doesn't consider that his daughter might be appearing in a hardcore film of her own volition. He believes she's been kidnapped and forced into the role, so he goes to Calfifornia to find her. He travels through the belly of the beast in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Along the way he enlists the help of a woman named Niki (Season Hubley), who's in the porn game herself. There are some fine scenes between the two of them, complete opposites that they are, that really bring out their characters.
The rest of the plot and its unfolding, I'll leave it to you to find out. This movie was a real shocker to me when I saw it long ago, 1979 or '80. I'm sure it's lost a lot of the shock value by now, but parts of it would still be tough to watch. Scott is really good. So are Boyle and Hubley.
The movie was written and directed by Paul Schrader, whose brother, Leonard, wrote the novelization. I read that one when it came out, and I'm sure I still have a copy of it somewhere. If I ever run across it, I'm going to read it again.