Saturday, August 15, 2009

A review; Shamus; jack Vance

Back in the eighties when I was editing Mystery Scene and the world was young, I received in a two week period reviews of three different books. What this trio had in common was that they each "transcended genre." Then I noticed a couple of mainstream magazines recommending two other novels that "transcended genre." Finally (and I'm not making this up) a cheery fellow called one wintry afternoon and said that he was a literary agent and that he was representing a crime novel that "Transcended genre." I asked him what made him so sure of that and he said (honest) "I only handle novels that transcend genre." Ah. Simple enough.

The reviewing world goes through periods when it seems to find a fair share of novels that transcend. I've always thought this phrase was used to impress the hi lit people who think that genre fiction is something you find in unflushed toilets. Still and all I've never a) known exactly it means and b) given the number of books that get tagged with it--well, that's one hell of a lot of transcending over the years.


Even though I don't know exactly what the phrase means and even though I swore I'd never use it myself, I'm going to say that I think Megan Abbott's Bury Me Deep transcends genre. Let me say quickly that I'm putting my own meaning on those words. By any definition of good and lasting fiction, Bury Me Deep is a startling and stunning achievement.

Abbott writes her version of a famous 1930s crime that involved a woman named Winnie Judd (here Marion Seely) who secures a job at a medical clinic where she meets some nurses who befriend her. Her husband (a strange figure) is abroad and Marion welcomes the friendship of these women. But when Marion meets and becomes comfortable with a man named Joe Lanigan the nurses insist that Marion leave him alone. There is an argument, there is a murder.

The brief outline can give you no sense of the drama, the historical era and the sheer beauty of the writing. In this age of stripped-down books, Abbott dares give us long stretches of backstory, reminding me, at various times stretching back to Dreiser and Dorothy Parker's "Big Blonde" and early John O'Hara. But the voice is pure--and pure is the proper word--Megan Abbott.

Real lives are lived in this book. Suspenseful as the story itself is it is the shifting motives of the women--motives that even they don't seem to understand--that give the book its urgency and beauty. All played against a backdrop of bittersweet Americana.

A masterpiece of true and lasting fiction.


Shamus Awards at Bouchercon

The PWA Shamus Award Banquet will be held Friday, Oct. 16, from 6:30-9:00 at The Slippery Noodle, the most popular blues bar in Indianapolis. Good food, great music, and the Shamus Awards. Tickets are $50 and are available now. Reserve your place asap as seating is limited. Email Bob Randisi at with your home address and an invitation will be sent to you.


I got a copy of superstar science fiction writer Jack Vance's autobiography today and as I was leafing through it I saw that in the final chapter he talks about the writers he likes to read. When he gets to mystery writer he cites Bill Crider's work. Now that's a compliment.

1 comment:

mybillcrider said...

Vance has been one of my heroes for more than 50 years. I was stunned and thrilled to find that sentence.