Monday, February 04, 2008

John Farris

One of the great thrills of my teen years was reading Harrison High written by a guy who was barely out of his teens himself. Mr. John Farris. Loved the damned thing. It was wisely observed, well written and as real and important in its way as Peyton Place a few years earlier (high praise from me). My admiration for Farris has never lapsed. He's written so many good books it's difficult to believe he's not as popular as some of the cheeseheads grabbing the headlines today. He's a fine craftsman and a true artist.

I mention Farris because tonight the Mystery-File blog's Steve Lewis takes a long and incisive look at numerous Farris novels:

"It has just occurred to me that John Farris has one of the longest careers of any mystery writer still active. His first novel, The Corpse Next Door, was published by Graphic Books, a small but solid line of mostly paperback originals, in 1956. Farris was born in 1936, so if the book wasn’t published until he was 20, the odds are the most of it was written when he was still nineteen.

"He switched to the pen name of Steve Brackeen for his next few books, typical Gold Medal thrillers, except that Gold Medal didn’t do them. One of them, Baby Moll (Crest, 1958), will be reprinted by Hard Case Crime later this year under his own name, a mere 50 years later.

" Farris eventually became the author of the “Harrison High” books, which sold in the millions, and he became an even bigger seller once he started writing horror fiction that was invariably tinged with the supernatural. Books like The Fury (1976) and All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes (1977) are as close to classics in the field as you’re going to get, and yet … even though Farris has averaged close to a book a year since those two books, unlike Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz and mystery-wise, Ed McBain, who came along about the same time he did, it is as if no one’s ever heard of him. Nobody knows his name."

for the full piece go here

Steve also recommends an equally fine piece on Farris by Bill Crider which you can link to from Steve's piece.

"Harrison High wasn’t a Gold Medal novel, but it was a huge influence on me. I read it in 1959 in a Dell paperback edition, and I was consumed with unseemly envy. I wanted to be John Farris. I mean, here was a guy not much older than I was, and he was already a wildly successful writer. But I didn’t know the half of it. Here’s the some more of the story: Farris sold his first novel the summer he graduated from high school, and it was published the next year. It’s a mystery called The Corpse Next Door, and it was a paperback original from Graphic Books. It’s not bad at all. Just don’t look at the cover when you read it, because the cover gives away the killer.

"Farris must have been all of nineteen or twenty when he wrote Baby Moll. I don’t think anybody would have known that by reading the book. There’s a maturity here way beyond Farris’ years. The kid could write: “The Neptune Court occupied two blocks of beach land on a narrow peninsula known as Fontaine Beach. It was a mushrooming resort center. Ornate motels and hotels done in bold lines sprawled along the strip of highway in a growing chain. Every day bulldozers scraped at the raw land while sun-reddened men with fat stacks of blueprints watched and planned. The street crumbled away under the impact of the ready-mix trucks.” Remind you of any other Gold Medal writers you know? I think John D. MacDonald and Mickey Spillane were two big influences on “Steve Brackeen.” "

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just this morning I picked up a copy of Harrison High at a local thrift shop. Boy, did that bring back memories. When I was in high school, I read my sister's copy -- the one she had to hide from pour parents. I was blown away. Farris can still have that effect on me. Around the same time I read The Blackboard Jungle and The Jungle Kids, as well as Irving Shulman's novelization of Platinum High School. I realized my high school was pretty darned tame. Not even any Amboy Dukes in my small New England farming community.