Saturday, February 17, 2007

E Howard Hunt; The Triumph of The Thriller

Ed here: when Howard Hunt died a few weeks ago, I mentioned that he begn his writing life as an accaimed literary novelist. Here from the NY Times is an expansion on that part of his career.

Published: February 18, 2007

When E. Howard Hunt died last month at 88, he was remembered as the longtime Central Intelligence Agency officer who helped organize the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and served jail time for orchestrating the Watergate break-in. Less well known is that Hunt was once a promising literary writer.

E. Howard Hunt
Like so many in the first wave of C.I.A. men, Hunt, a Brown graduate, worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, then headed to Europe in 1948, where he traveled in the Paris-Vienna orbit of other literary-minded Ivy Leaguers working in government jobs, some covertly. He spent much of the ’50s in Latin America, and left the agency in 1970, having been sidelined in the ’60s after the Bay of Pigs mission went awry. But before all that, while still in his 20s, Hunt published short stories in The New Yorker and Cosmopolitan, then a showcase for serious fiction.

Not exactly on a par with Nabokov and Cheever, whose work was appearing in The New Yorker at the same time, Hunt instead imitated the hard-boiled Hemingwayesque style in vogue in those years. “I thought of the North Atlantic, where I’d rolled around on a tin can for almost a year,” he wrote in “Departure,” a story about soldiers waiting to be sent home from the South Pacific, published in December 1943. “That had been tough, too, but there was always Boston or New York or Norfolk at one end of the line and Reykjavik or Londonderry at the other. At least they were places. Towns, cities, villages with people and pubs and stores and shops and girls who looked like girls you’d seen before.”

Hunt’s first novel, “East of Farewell,” published in 1942, when he was 23, was also a fictionalized account of his time on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. Hunt recalled his surprise when the prestigious publisher Knopf agreed to take it on. “Amazingly to me, the work was quickly accepted,” Hunt wrote in his memoir, “American Spy,” which is scheduled to appear in March. “Reviews were all I could have hoped for, but I couldn’t compete with the real-life war blaring in the newspaper headlines and newsreels. Sales were not good enough to escalate me to full-time author.”

The New York Times reviewer called “East of Farewell” a “crashing start for a new writer.” Critics weren’t so fond of Hunt’s fourth novel, “Bimini Run” (1949), a love triangle set in the Caribbean. The Times found it “lifeless and unexciting,” but it sold 150,000 copies and Warner Brothers bought it for $35,000, a fortune at the time. In 1946, Hunt had been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and had gone to Mexico to write a novel, “Stranger in Town,” which sold well in paperback. That year, two other up-and-coming writers were denied the same fellowship. “The only thing Truman Capote and I have in common was Howard Hunt beat us out for a Guggenheim,” Gore Vidal recalled in an interview. “That sort of summed up my view of prizes and foundation work; they would instinctively go to the one who was least deserving.”

In 1948, Hunt went to Paris to work for the Marsh

(Thanks to Richard Wheeler for the tip and link)

From Powell's bookstore reviews

Today's Review From

The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction
by Patrick Anderson

Guilt-Free Pleasures
A review by Chris Bolton

There are readers who simply can't get enough of novels with unreliable
narrators, beautiful sentences packed with vivid, poetic prose,
and lofty themes about the power of language and society's collective

And there are other readers who prefer a nice, juicy murder.

For the latter, it can be a strange and lonely journey. Sure,
the books they prefer often reside at the top of the bestseller
lists, but they rarely merit a mention in the New York Times Book
Review, let alone on shortlists for prestigious awards. More often
than not, when they're even mentioned in literary circles, it's
in a scornful tone or referenced as a "guilty pleasure."

I think that's a crime. So does Washington Post book critic Patrick
Anderson, a one-time novelist who believes some of today's strongest,
freshest, and most vital writing is being hidden in plain sight,
in the much-maligned category of genre fiction.

The Triumph of the Thriller is Anderson's impassioned chronicle
of the emergence of the thriller novel -- which, in his estimation,
encompasses detective fiction, espionage books, police procedurals,
and, well, almost anything that's more fun than work to read.
Anderson writes:

It annoys me to see fine writers dismissed as genre
those who salivate over the latest incomprehensible postmodern
gimmickry. A book is a book is a book. Labels are necessary to
organize bookstores, but serious readers should pay them no mind.

While award-winning literary novels occupy themselves with such
white-knuckled matters as "what separates art from reality" (as
if that could be an issue of genuine concern anywhere but in literary
fiction), Anderson believes that the social novel has gone underground
in recent years and resurfaced in the guise of genre books.

He notes that the crime novels of George Pelecanos (including
Hard Revolution and The Night Gardener) offer scathing insight
into the current, tenuous state of race relations in the shadow
of our nation's capital -- and, in a larger sense, the entire

[Pelecanos] and Richard Price and others are writing in the Steinbeck
tradition of those who care about dispossessed Americans. The
question is whether the people who write about fiction understand
the power and importance of his uncompromising bulletins from
the front.

He calls Dennis Lehane's Mystic River "an American tragedy" on
a par with the work of Graham Greene and Theodore Dreiser: "Insofar
as Mystic River is a crime novel, it is one that transcends and
transforms the genre, as Hamlet transcended and transformed the
revenge plays that inspired it."

To its credit, The Triumph of the Thriller never sinks to the
level of apologia. Instead, Anderson argues that the first-rate
writing that occupies so many genre shelves exists on its own
merits, and that enjoying these books needn't involve the word
"guilty" outside the context of a courtroom thriller.

Anderson opens with a brief history of crime fiction, touching
on early contributions by Poe, Conan Doyle, and Christie, before
expanding on the evolution of the detective novel through Chandler
and Hammett up to present-day luminaries like Michael Connelly.

In my review of City of Bones, I said that the [Harry] Bosch
novels were "the best American crime series now in progress."
Several novels later, I'll go further and say that if we consider
the depth and seriousness that Connelly has brought to Harry's
characterization, the excellence of his plotting, the precision
of his writing, his unsurpassed grasp of the police culture, and
the moral gravity of his work, the Bosch novels are the finest
crime series anyone has written.

Anderson acknowledges there is much bad writing alongside the
good -- often to better sales. He devotes an entire chapter to
a handful of writers whose work he considers deplorable, singling
out one-man industry James Patterson for particular scorn.

James Patterson is possibly the best-selling writer of fiction
in America today. He is also, in my view, the absolute pits, the
lowest common denominator of cynical, scuzzy, assembly-line writing.
If, on the bullshit scale, people like Pelecanos and Leonard rate
a perfect 0, Patterson is the other extreme, a bloated, odiferous

Well, he certainly doesn't mince words -- but at least he provides
ample, cringeworthy evidence to support his assertion.

I have a friend who is constitutionally incapable of reading
any novel that isn't written in the most poetic of language; she
simply loses interest in "plain" prose and couldn't get involved
in a genre novel if she tried to force herself. On the other hand,
I revere Elmore Leonard's tenth rule of writing: "Leave out the
part that readers tend to skip." When it comes to many literary
novels, I tend to feel that the rule encompasses nearly everything
between the first and last pages. (I wish all ten of his rules
were taught in creative writing workshops.)

However, Anderson is a lover of all good writing, and doesn't
intend The Triumph of the Thriller as an argument for the irrelevance
of literary fiction. "I don't expect everyone to agree with my
views," he writes. "We all have different tastes, often amazingly
so." Readers who dismiss thrillers as a waste of paper aren't
likely to have their minds changed by Anderson's book, though
I suspect several might reconsider their positions.

The Triumph of the Thriller is full of interesting trivia and
analyses for genre fans -- who may find new titles they'd never
heard of (while, perhaps, bristling at certain omissions) -- and
it also works as a terrific primer for those who haven't glanced
at crime fiction since their brief, preadolescent Agatha Christie
phase. It doesn't exactly break new ground in its assertions,
but it provides absolution to thriller fans who no longer want
to feel guilty for their reading pleasures.

Hardcover (New) $24.95
Adobe Reader Ebooks (Adobe Reader Ebooks, Microsoft Reader Ebooks and Palm Reader Ebooks) starting at $14.36 (List price $17.95)

*Please note that copies are limited to on-hand quantity; used copies, in particular, may be available in extremely limited supply.

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