Herbert D. Kastle wrote a number of science fiction stories in magazines of the 1950s. That's where I first read him. Later in the 1960s he was writing those fat sexy bestseller-type novels that owed more to marketing and Harold Robbins than his presumed muse. Then in 1974 he wrote CROSS COUNTRY. Here's a quote from one of the reviews: "This novel seems to occupy the same dark and twisted territory as the works of Jim Thompson. Characters interact in a dance of barely suppressed psychopathological urges and desires that is as grotesquely fascinating as a multi-car pileup on the freeway. It may leave you feeling unclean afterwards, but chances are you will not forget it."
Damn straight. It really is a sewer of sex and terror and blood-soaked suspense. I read it in one long sitting. If it's trash, as some called it at the time, it is spellbinding trash.
IMDB sums up the story line succintly: "After a woman is found butchered in her New York apartment, suspicion falls on her estranged husband, an ad executive who has suddenly left town on a cross-country road trip. He takes along a beautiful girl he met in a bar and a drifter he picked up along the way. A cop sets out after the husband, but he's more interested in shaking him down than bringing him back."
Kastle masterfully controls his long nightmare journey and you buy into his paranoia. He shows you an American wasteland of truck stops, motels, convenience stores connected by interstate highway and darkness. By book's end everyone will betray everyone else. This is survival of the fittest enacted by a Yuppie businessman, sociopathic hippies and a crooked cop. The sheer nastiness of Kastle's existential vision make this book impossible to forget. Thirty-some years after I first read it I still think of it from time to time when hundreds of other novels have fled from memory.
It's a vision of hell that fascinates you as it troubles your conscience.
-------------------------------Book Biz: It gets worse
I owe Dave Zeltserman a thanks for steering me to a two-part Huffington Post piece William Petrocelli (Huff has started a publishing segment I keep forgetting to check). I'm not wise enough to agree or disagree with its major points but it is certainly an incisive look at the pitfalls publishing faces today. In Part Two Petrocelli offers some very interesting ideas for improving the lot of publishers--and writers.
This is on the day when it was announced that bestselling business writer will write a book directly for Amazon/Kindle, bypassing traditional publishers (though Covey says he wiil also continue to write for them). Now that a bestseller has opened that door, won't others follow?
"There are many people inside the major publishing houses -- those, at least, who have survived the industry lay-offs of the last few years -- who may be wondering the same thing. The best-seller price war that is being waged by the mass merchandisers is the latest symptom of a problem that has been growing larger and larger. The major publishers are in a difficult position: they are service companies that function like manufacturing companies -- 20th century businesses in a 21st century economy. The control of the book business is gradually slipping out of their hands.
"Thirty years ago, publishers dominated the book business. Thousands of retailers carried their books, but even the biggest among them -- the regional chain stores and the department stores -- were not large enough to impose their will on the publishers. Publishers -- mostly family-owned businesses -- could do what it took to develop new authors and promote a full line of books.
"All of that has changed. Walmart, Target, Costco, and other mass merchandisers now control about 30% of the book market; Barnes & Noble and Borders have another 30%; Amazon.com claims another 15%. The publishers have long since lost the upper hand in dealing with this group. The mass merchandisers return books to publishers at a rate of 40% or more, and the rate of returns from the chains is often considerably higher. The demands of each of these players for sweet-heart price terms and additional promotional money are incessant..."