Monday, June 06, 2011

New Books: Cold Shot to the Heart by Wallace Stroby

"This guy can write ... The beauty of this tightly plotted little book is that nothing is as it appears. COLD SHOT TO THE HEART is a riveting page turner." - The New York Times News Service

"Just when you think that you can't be surprised anymore, a writer like Wallace Stroby ups the ante."
- Laura Lippman

"Stroby evokes memories of the best of Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) Parker series ... The characterizations are strong and convincing, and the pace is swift and assured... Stroby has shot right to the top of dark-tinged crime authors worth noting and following." - Bookgasm

New Books: Cold Shot to the Heart by Wallace Stroby

It’s tough to make it simple.

When I began my fourth novel, COLD SHOT TO THE HEART, I consciously strove for a specific tone and voice: lean and mean, no wasted words, direct, and to the point. In a way, it was my homage to some of the writers I’d read and admired most in my formative years, skilled craftsmen such as Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block, Brian Garfield and Dan J. Marlowe, among others.

The plot itself was a bit of a throwback – professional thief pursued by psychotic mob hitman after robbery goes awry. But in my case, the thief was a woman – Crissa Stone – and the hitman had his own agenda beyond that of his gangster bosses. Still, I realized it was a story that needed that voice I’d long admired in others. I wanted it to be terse, precise, economical, and mindful of the reader’s time commitment and attention span.

At the same time, it needed something new. My previous novel, GONE ‘TIL NOVEMBER, was about a female sheriff’s deputy and single mom in a rural Florida town, the only woman on an otherwise all-male force. I was still intrigued by the idea of a smart, self-sufficient woman making her way in a man’s world. The irony, of course, was that, just to be treated as an equal, she had to be twice as smart, twice as tough and twice as efficient as the men around her.

There’s a Buddhist saying that advises, “Don’t follow the masters. Follow what the masters followed.” I wanted COLD SHOT to have echoes of those novels I’d loved so much, but at the same time I needed to steer clear of pastiche. It had to be something that felt true, even as it aspired to those qualities I most admired – straightforward narrative drive, emotional realism and a seamless blend of character and action. I owe a lot to Block, Westlake and those others, for both the content of their stories and the clarity of their prose. By listening to their voices, I found my own.

So, in no particular order – of either era or level of influence – here are some of the books I went back to while writing COLD SHOT.

1.) EVERYBODY DIES by Lawrence Block. A Matt Scudder novel from 1999. A simple story, but absolutely perfect in terms of tone and style. Every telling detail in place, and not a one more than necessary. Actually, that can be said of most of his Scudder books, including the new one, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF. Reading Block is like a master class in crime fiction. The frustrating thing is he makes it all seem effortless.

2.) THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins. Straightforward street dialogue, a blue-collar workaday environment and a creeping anxiety as the dominoes start to fall. *This* is the real underworld. And about as glamorous as having your hand slammed shut in a desk drawer.

3.) THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH by Dan J. Marlowe. A wolf howl in the night. This Gold Medal paperback original, about a nameless career criminal, is disguised as a standard early-’60s, first-person, tough-guy crime thriller. It’s really a molotov cocktail of alienation and rage. Marlowe’s anti-hero goes undercover in small-town America and finds it rotten to the core.

4.) THE SOUR LEMON SCORE by Donald E. Westlake (writing as “Richard Stark”). Another simple story. A heĎ€ist goes wrong and Parker, Westlake’s professional thief, tries to pick up the pieces, recover some of the money and stay alive in the process. No extravagant plot, no over-the-top villains. Just a deadly game being played out by professionals (with some collateral damage to civilians), and all the action taking place in nondescript suburban tract homes, garages, farmhouses and cars. Like Block, Westlake made it all look easy.

5.) THE HUNTERS by James Salter. Not a crime novel, but a fictionalized memoir of the author’s days as a fighter pilot during the Korean War. Terse-yet-eloquent prose, with the repressed emotions all the stronger as they emerge in the narrative. A powerful and beautifully crafted book.

1 comment:

Cullen Gallagher said...

I don't know The Hunters, but it sounds terrific! Thanks for the recommendations, Wallace, and for writing a great book.