I feel like a potpourri post. For those who have never watched Jeopardy much, that means a few segments on whatever I feel like writing about.
Say there was a medieval village.
Say there was a medieval village in Germany, and in it a village where lived a little girl who grew up to be the beloved elected Magistra of the convent she had lived in since her childhood and she founded other convents. After her death, she was revered as a Saint. I know, that sounds like it could be many medieval villages. But, . . .
say in this same village lived a famous healer.
And say in this same village lived a writer on herbology.
And say in this same village lived a writer of texts on medicine and the human body deemed by some scholars to be the founding of natural history in Germany.
And say in this same village lived a composer, whose music is still being recorded in this century, some 800+ years later.
And say in this same village lived a famed lyricist who wrote what is perhaps the first morality play.
And say in this same village lived a linguist who created a new language.
And say in this same village lived another linguist who created a beautiful alphabet to write that language.
And say in this same village lived an artist.
And say in this same village lived a theologian respected by Popes.
And say in this same village lived a great correspondent who wrote one of the largest still extent collections of letters.
And say in this same village lived a renowned preacher.
Now imagine they were all the same woman, whose name was Hildegard von Bingen.
I will leave you to research her further if you like, but she was a remarkable woman who lived in the 12th century, and though in some ways a women of her times, as all of us are to some degree or another, she was creative, brilliant and industrious beyond that which us mere mortals can manage. Even for one person at that time to write both the music and lyrics to a work was unusual itself, not to mention all the different things she wrote about or created. Keep in mind this is the 1100s. She died more than 250 years before there was even such a thing as a printing press. There was no fiction or anything like opera or theatre in Germany (or most anywhere on earth). But she wrote a musical drama, a morality play – the next one was over a century thereafter.
Actually, her followers screwed up her Sainthood, and technically she has only been beatified, if that makes a difference to you, but even Popes have referred to her as a Saint and she is usually classified with them. I sometimes listen to her beautiful liturgical music, which most people probably wouldn’t like anymore. I do. It even helps me sleep.
Oh, c’mon Justice Roberts
Imagine you are Chief Justice John Roberts. You are really smart, so smart that many people think your performance in your confirmation hearing in congress was the most magnificent performance ever by a Supreme Court nominee since C-Span started rolling tape (I love C-Span. I have watched all or most of each one). You danced rings around the Senators who liked to pretend they knew a little something about constitutional law and smiled that angelic smile while promising to just apply the law, call balls and strikes, as you said (because I began with – imagine you are Roberts). And because you do that, in your mind, everybody hates you sometimes and grudgingly likes you a little too other times. Depends really on the last vote. Clearly, you are a conservative and most of the time you rule like Rehnquist, but when cases are really, really controversial, you rule more like RGB. Why? I think you like stability and don’t mind not calling balls and strikes when you think it is important.
There was a time I defended you, thought you were just applying your own brand of jurisprudence. I think I even kept up the self-deception for a while after the first ACA case, where you ruled, you know, it’s a tax except it’s not a tax, and I struggled, as did others, to make some sense of it. This year it got harder, and I have a feeling it has something to do with our evalovin’ president who seems determined to piss off as many people as possible before he is done, not that he isn’t maligned daily by a media who loathes him more than Iago loathed Othello (Was that pretentious? I was going for pretentious in lieu of a cliché.) You joined the left side of the court on the census case, where it was decided that the Trump administration could not have a question about citizenship on the form, which seems so related to a census as to be almost inseparable (well, you could have the question here, but not there). And then, you ruled from high above the senate floor that Senator Paul could not utter the “whistleblower’s” name, even though there seems to be no law anyone has ever mentioned where he actually qualifies as a whistleblower, no law where if he qualified, his name was kept anonymous, and no reason that death threats against him should be taken more seriously than death threat which every politician regularly gets and probably every witness in the impeachment hearings probably got, not to mention most well-known journalists and, why not, everyone in the public eye. I bet Tom Hanks gets death threats. I can only gather that you did that because you were buying what the media and politicians were saying, not what the law stated at all.
Then you said, and I quote, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” Leave aside the awkwardness of the phrase “do equal right,” which might be technically okay, but which kind of surprises me given your usual mellifluousness (long my favorite word), most people just had to laugh at the idea that judges weren’t ruling according to their political biases in political or controversial cases. I’m not even going to try too hard to show it, as pretty much everyone else who does not have a reason to pretend that it doesn’t exist, knows it exists, and they regularly curse out the judges who do exactly what they predictably don’t want them to do. I’m not saying every judge, but, or that every Obama or Trump judge (or liberal or conservative, if you prefer) is going to cleave to their side of the political line on every case, but, generally speaking, tell me the controversial case and I will tell you how most everyone is going to vote, with some success. It helps if you also understand their jurisprudence, which can explain why they cross the line sometimes. We all can do that, and that’s why partisans get so disturbed when one of them crosses the line and votes with the other side. Their president nominated them to be on their side, and they were betraying them – that’s the view.
Sonia Sotomayor believes there are sides. In fact, she believes that Roberts and the other conservatives are Trump judges. She wrote in Wolf v. Cook County, Illinois: “Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others.” Hmmm. Kagan came pretty close to saying the same thing in Rucho v. Common Cause last year. RGB called Trump a “faker” publicly before walking it back. The Ds are in the minority on the high court right now, so you expect that they will be complaining more often. But, Mr. Conservative, Justice Scalia, believed it, often bemoaning the fact that Roe v. Wade had politicized the court even more than it ever had, and explained why confirmation hearings had become increasingly political. And the five conservative judges and four liberal ones continue, as they have for a long time, to split the vote in a very predictable way. If there weren’t political sides, why did Roosevelt try to pack the court, why the recent calls to do the same from D candidates, who are in the minority?
Likely, as with a lot of Rs, Roberts finds Trump too . . . (name any of many Trump qualities) and that was the basis of his own unusual comment. I say that because Justices usually remain silent when publicly accused of partisanship. They mostly remained so when Obama called them out in front of their faces in a State of the Union address, although I seem to recall Alito muttered something under his breath (Obama was correct in his analysis with respect to a legal point, in my view, whether it was the right time and place).
In any event, Roberts is just wrong. Judges may not always be extra loyal to that president, but they reflect the biases of the president who nominated them. Naturally, by the way. Of course, every nominated judge, during their hearing, has to say they will follow the law wherever it leads, and not their own feelings, which would be great if that were possible. I’ve written here before that Sonia Sotomayor got it right in her Wise Latina speech, which she herself had to throw under the bus when nominated, in order to get confirmed. Her points, in her discredited speech, was that the only way to try to avoid bias is to admit it first to yourself, and that it is true that different life experiences lead to different perspectives.
I still think Roberts is a very smart man. And I don’t think he’s delusional. But, either like everyone who can recognize faults in others, does so much easier than he can see it within himself, or he is being deceptive and claiming something he knows doesn’t exist, because he, not surprisingly, he is a court legacy guy.
I could be wrong. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on his part, but, yes, there are Trump judges, Obama judges, etc., or left wing and right wing judges, if you prefer, although everyone occasionally votes with the other side. You know who else knows it? Trump. And that’s why he gave a list of conservative judges before the election, to secure the right-wing support. If he wins again, and there’s an opening, he’s not going to appoint Lawrence Tribe, is he? He’s going to appoint someone who he thinks is a Trump judge.I love dealing with companies
I can’t give you all of the content of the four phone calls I was on with a nationwide retailer, but I can summarize. We’ve all been on calls like this.
1st Call: [20 minutes on hold]
David: Hi, my name is David Eisenberg. I have an order in and you sent me an email today saying you can’t go any further on it until I call in. Do you want the order number?
Store: No, we can go by your phone number, that’s better.
D: Okay, here’s my phone number. XXX-XXX-XXXX.
S: Thank you. Hold on a minute please while I retrieve your information.
[Hold for 15 minutes]
S: Sorry that took so long. We don’t have anything under your phone number.
D: Well, that’s interesting. Because I gave them a memory card and they said they would probably be able to retrieve the information on it. And they took my $50. You sent me the email saying you needed me to call. If they lost the memory card, I’d kind of at least like my $50 back. You sure you wouldn’t like the order number?
S: No, that’s not necessary. Do you mind if I put you on hold again?
D: No, go ahead.
[20 minutes into the hold I am disconnected]
2nd call: [20 minutes of hold]
S: Hi, how can I help you?
D: Well, first you can write down my phone number and call me back if we get disconnected. Because it just happened to me and I spent close to an hour on the phone first.
S: [Chuckling] Don’t worry, Sir. I will call you back. What can I help you with?
D: [I explain the problem again]
S: I don’t see anything under your phone number.
D: Oh, c’mon. Do you want me to read the email to you?
S: No, I see your information. But, Sir, in my experience, once those cards are deleted, that’s it, it is gone.
D: [Now irritated] Well, that’s great to hear. They took $50 from me at the store and said they probably could. If you can’t, I’d sure like my $50 back.
S: Well, let me check and see if they have instruments I don’t know about.
[I don’t know how much time passed on hold]
S: Sir, good news. They are able to recover pictures. But, you can have this done at the store.
D: What do you mean? They told me they couldn’t help me at the store and I had to pay $50 so they could mail it somewhere it would be processed. You know what, why don’t you just give me your $50 back?
S: Well, you should take it to the store to retrieve the information.
D: YOU HAVE THE MEMORY CARD! Look, I’m not mad at you, but I am getting irritated with your company. The local store are the ones who sent it to you and which you acknowledged having in emails to me. Do you have it or not?
S: Yes, Sir, we have it.
S: And it looks like they have restored your pictures.
D: Really? That’s good, at least.
S: Yes, but you have to call the restoration department.
D: A different department. I have to call up again?
S: No problem. They will know who you are. Here is the telephone number? XXX-XXX-XXXX
D: Okay, thanks.
3rd call: [No hold!]
S: Hi. How can I help you?
D: [I explain the whole thing again]
S: Well, I don’t see anything under your telephone number.
D: [Sigh] It’s there. I promise.
S: Can I put you on hold?
D: Sure, why not?
S: [Short time later] Okay, I do have your order information here.
D: So, I understand they recovered my photos, right?
S: Well, we recovered some. About 40% was corrupted.
D: I’m guessing I took about 500 pictures at my grandson’s baptism.
S: Can we make sure you are you first. They say one of the pictures has the name John David and a cross in it and another has a skier under a suspension bridge (actually it was a banner, but . . . .)
D: Well, John David is my grandson and that would be a baptism photo. I also went to a ski resort so that would be me too, but from months ago. They got those pictures too?
S: There are 3358 pictures.
D: Well, I only want the 500 or so recent baptism pictures. Do they have those?
S: I don’t know. I only know what those two I described are because they told me.
D: So, I’m going to have to pay a lot of money to get them but you can’t even tell me if the pictures I want are actually there.
S: Well, hold on. Let me see. [Hold, not interminable, but at least 5 more minutes]
S: Okay, they do say they have a few baptism pictures.
D: A few?
S: I don’t know if that means 3 or 500.
D: Great. So how much do I have to pay to find out if I’m getting more than 3 of the 500 pictures I want?
S: $217.50. If you want them and confirm it.
D: You know, what am I going to do? Go ahead. I have no choice. Take my money. I’m screwed either way.
S; Awww. I’m sorry.
D: Not as much as me.
S: Should I put you through to the cashier?
D: Yeah, but can you do me one favor? Can you give me the number of the cashier first so if I get disconnected I can call them?
S: Sure. And you have a good day.
[Naturally, she puts me through without giving me the phone number.]
4th call: Big surprise, they took my money FAST and without a hitch.
Top ten movie dance scenes
I haven’t done top ten lists (actually 20) in a while, I think since last September. I suppose that it gets harder in time as I’ve given them already for many topics that interest me. Still, believe it or not, I loved Hollywood musicals. Back in the early Netflix days, when you got CDs to load on your VCR, I watched a lot of them I hadn’t seen. You can find any of these on youtube and they are worth watching, though some of the movies, in entirety, might not be your (or my) cup of tea.
10. Let’s Misbehave (music or scene) – Christopher Walken (dancer(s)– Pennies from Heaven (movie). I know some of you are thinking - Christopher Walken? But, other than being one of the most entertaining actors of his generation, and a genuinely fun guy (who, incidentally, also was on the boat when Natalie Woods drowned as a guest, so ten points right there), he is also a great dancer and shows it off in a number of movies. This particular scene, where he tries to seduce an innocent Bernadette Peters into prostitution, is by far my favorite.
9. Scarecrow dance deleted from The Wizard of Oz – Ray Bolger – Wizard of Oz. Why was this cut from the Wizard of Oz? I don’t know. But, I think it is the best dance of the film and really shows off Bolger’s unique style.
8. Barn building dance – cast – 7 Brides for 7 brothers. Just watch it.
7. Chain of Fools - John Travolta – Michael. Yes, so he’s not Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, but he’s still very good and lots of fun, the way Harpo Marx was not a really great classical harp player, but was lots of fun, even when acting serious. This scene is just fun. And, if Travolta wasn’t one of the elite dancers, he has more scenes listed here than some of those who were.
6. You are all the world to me – Fred Astaire – Royal Wedding. Sometimes you recognize an artist’s talent, but it is not for you. So, I am actually not a huge Astaire fan, though I recognize that other than Gene Kelly, he is generally considered at the pinnacle of the trade, at least popularly (see who Astaire says deserves the title below – back in the day, blacks who outperformed whites had a long way to go before they got recognition). This one is the iconic dancing on the ceiling scene. I could have used Sunday Jumps, another song/dance from the same movie where, waiting for his sister, he starts dancing with a coat rack and whatever else he can find in the gym.
5. You’re the One that I Want - Travolta, Olivia Newton John, cast – Grease. This is another Travolta classic, although it is more about the infectious choreography than him and Newton-John.
4. Gambling in the sewer dance – Cast – Guys and Dolls. Guys and Dolls, some of which was written by the great Frank Loesser, is my favorite musical. Though every song is memorable, the gambling scene in the sewer is probably the most impressive dance number. It is also the cleanest sewer I’ve ever seen.
3. Make ‘em Laugh – Donald O’Connor – Singing in the Rain. Donald O’Connor was probably right up there with Kelly, Astaire and Charisse.
2. Jumpin’ Jive – The Nicholas Bros. – Stormy Weather. Who were the Nicholas Brothers, you ask? I hate that people don’t know them, although I didn’t until I saw MGM’s That’s Entertainment (or was it That’s Entertainment II?) In any event, I could go on and on about them, but let’s just say that Fred Astaire said this was the greatest dance scene ever filmed and Mikhail Baryshnikov said they were the greatest dancers, period. They danced and taught a long time, one of their many famous students being none other than Michael Jackson, who I thought the greatest theatrical dancer of his generation (not in movies; I’m not counting videos).
1. Gotta Dance – Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse – Singing in the Rain. Why do I pick this over the Nicholas Brothers’ Jumpin’ Jive, if that was the greatest dance scene ever filmed? Because it wasn’t. This was. It’s the most creative, fun, and even sexiest dance scene ever filmed, starred in and choreographed by Kelly too, and co-starred in by Cyd Charisse, the greatest female dancer in movies of all time, bar none (do not even begin to compare Eleanor Powell, Ann Miller or Vera Allen; all great, but none of them her).
Yes, I know. There are other great dance scenes, some in the same movies, and I am not a Busby Berkeley fan or a fan of movies where the entire film is dedicated to dance scenes. But, it’s my list, and there is a runner’s up list just below. I’m too lazy to convert it into a top 20:
Staircase dance - Shirley Temple, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson – The Littlest Colonel – Bojangles (who Fred Astaire called the greatest dancer) and Shirley had many great dance scenes. His incredible grace and her precociousness were a great combination. This one not only showcased Bill’s famous staircase dance (which he had long ago created), but this was also probably the first bi-racial hand-holding in movies (1935), although, obviously, not in a romantic way. They are not athletic, just adorable. I could have chosen others, like the one from The Littlest Rebel, which has as much of Shirley's dancing as Bill’s, but I chose this one as the most iconic.
What a feeling – Irena Cara (and doubles) – Flashdance. I am sure many will say, how is that not top ten? I enjoyed it a lot, but I just don’t think it belongs in the top group. Perhaps knowing that she didn’t do it alone, but with stunt dancers, makes it less appealing.
Begin the Beguine – Fred Astaire/Eleanor Powell – Broadway Melody. If Charisse was the greatest of female dancers, then Eleanor Powell may have been the greatest female tap dancer (Charisse could tap dance, but rarely did so; it didn’t accent her gracefulness enough, is my guess). And I don’t think Powell was any less gifted at it than Astaire; if anything, she was more athletic. By the way, for fun, look up on youtube the great comedian, Grace Allen, dance with Eleanor in Honolulu (I think it was Burns and Allen’s last movie together, although they were always a happily married couple). Like many actors and actresses, Grace (and her sisters) was a dancer before she was a comedian. And Eleanor’s hula dance isn’t bad either.
Swing Scene – Cast – Hellzapoppin’ – Lindy dancing is so active and natually wild that I tried to avoid too much of it here, but, these guys were great. If you watch a youtube of it, stick with it, as it is a little bit before it really takes off. But when it does . . . boom.
High School Dance – Jimmy Stewart/Donna Reed - It’s a Wonderful Life. Not a musical, and not great dancing (not supposed to be) but this is one of my all-time favorite dance scenes, because of the little drama with the swimming pool. By the way, if you do, the jealous suitor who stirs up trouble was none other was Carl Switzer aka Alfalfa.
You should be dancing - John Travolta – Saturday Night Fever. John Travolta’s iconic solo dance performance in the iconic disco movie. I’m just not real impressed with disco dancing, so it's not higher.
The Time Warp –– cast – Rocky Horror Picture Show. Again, it’s not really great dancing. But, it’s a great and very wacky scene.
You can never tell (Chuck Berry) – Travolta/Thurman – Pulp Fiction. Another Travolta? This is the classic dance scene. Again, it’s not the dancing, it’s the scene.
Footloose –cast – Footloose. Same as above. Great ending to one of the best modern dance movies.
Thriller – Jennifer Garner/Mark Ruffalo/Andy Serkis, cast – 13 Going on 30. A romantic comedy I never get tired of, it featured, out-of-the-blue, a great dance scene from an otherwise dying party. Again, it’s not so much the dancing as the dance scene.
Sunday Jumps – Fred Astaire – Royal Wedding. See no. 6 in the main list.
And for two runner-ups to the runner-ups, I thought about the ravishing Audrey Hepburn’s Bohemian Dance in Funny Face. I thought about almost every Cyd Charisse dance. She was that good, in my opinion, better than Kelly and Astaire, both of whom she danced with and outperformed. You can youtube The Girl Chase Ballet with Charisse and Astaire, or about five dances Charisse did with Ricardo Montalban (yes, the old guy from Fantasy Island), or Red Blues from Silk Stockings. I could have done a two-word segment just by writing Cyd Charisse, and that’s too easy.
I’m going with comedy. First, Tequila – Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Ruben - I’m guessing a body double for part of it) – Pee-Wee Herman’s Big Adventure. It’s basically one move over and over, but it’s impossible for many people to think of Tequila without seeing this in our heads. And second, At the Ball, That’s All – Laurel and Hardy – Way out West. Simple, silly, completely non-professional dancing. But it was genius.
Top Twenty Detective Novels Ever
Some rules here. It has to be a crime novel, that is, the primary aspect of the book is a crime and it’s solving. There is a hero/heroine who is a detective or a lawyer or investigator, or the like. It cannot be predominately a spy novel, an action novel, a war novel, etc. E.g., John Le Carre’s greatest works were spy novels, not crime novels, though he makes the well-known top 100 lists for some reason. Not mine. Another example, Reacher is basically an action hero, even if he is solving crimes. Admittedly, these are very gray lines and subjective, but I feel pretty good about leaving out great books that do not quite fit the pattern first p. ioneered in English by Poe (Dupin) and Wilkie Collins (Moonstone was 1868. I read it, but it didn’t do it for me) and made ubiquitous by Sherlock Holmes’ novels.
1. The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey. This is my no. 1 pick because it was simply wonderful, though unorthodox because the detective is laid up in bed the whole time. I had always thought it was just my personal favorite and not read by many others. I did a little search online after I wrote most of my list to see if I missed any really great book, to find, to my surprise that in 1990 the UK Crime Writers Association picked TDOT no. 1 on their top 100 list and in 1995 it topped the American Mystery Writers list. Guess it wasn’t just me. The truth is, my artistic tastes are eclectic, but pretty generic at the same time.
2. The Hounds of Baskerville – Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle’s best in my view. It’s all there, the greatness and British-style creepiness of Holmes, the solidity of Watson, the romantic and terrifying moors, a villain, a beast, murder and so on.
3. The Glass Key – Dashiell Hammet. You could fill this list with Hammet books. He was not the nicest man, but his writing is that good. I thought this was his best. In fact, it is my favorite, lthough not the most famous, of all the Hammett and Chandler novels, and that is saying a lot.
4 4. The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler. You could fill the same list with Chandler books. The two (with a few others) basically created hard-boiled detective writing.
5. Anatomy of a Murder – Robert Traver (John D. Voelker). This was the first (and for a long time the only) book of a Michigan judge. Magnificent.
6. The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco. At his best, Eco was one of the world’s best writers, at his worst, tedious. This is a medieval crime novel, and it was brilliant. I’m sure he had Sean Connery in mind for the movie verison when he wrote it.
7. Presumed Innocent – Scott Turow. He turned the crime novel world upside down with great writing.
8. Burden of Proof – Scott Turow. This may have been better than the first, but I will keep them in this order because the first was iconic.
9. The Doorbell Rang – Rex Stout. Stout wrote basically the same novel over and over about Archie Goodwin (the narrator) and Nero Wolfe (the brilliant but quirky and rich detective), each a little different. But, you loved being in their home and following Archie around flirting, sleuthing and occasionally fighting. But, of all Stout’s great novels, two stand out for me, and I won’t tell you why for spoiler reasons. The Doorbell Rang and A Family Affair (also the last Wolfe novel, as Stout passed some months later).
10. Rumpole of the Bailey – John Mortimer. These were humorus lawyer/detective novels, but all about crime. Though very funny, they were also great novels. And he is one of the greatest literary creations. The first is really representative of all his Rumpole books, as I don’t remember a weak sentence. And, it is one of the few times the television series, also named after the first book, was the equal of the books, and kept Mortimer writing them just to see them televised.
11. A Time to Kill – John Grisham. I am not a Grisham fan. But his first one was great.
12. The Detective – Roderick Thorp. What a great and too little read book. By the way, he also wrote the novel that became the movie Die Hard.
13. The Seven Percent Solution: Nicholas Meyer. Sigmund Freud meets Sherlock Holmes. Seriously. It was a great idea and wonderfully carried out.
14. Mercy – David Lindsey. I really don’t like sex in novels or movies. It usually bores me. But, David Lindsey, one of the best crime writers of his generation (I do not know why he stopped writing them – maybe it didn’t pay) could do it and not make it boring. It is riveting. Every one of his novels is fantastic, but this is the best.
15. Devil in a Blue Dress – Walter Mosley. Mosley’s Easy Rawlins’ books, were great explorations of the African-American culture post-WWII. I did not really like any other books of Mosley’s I tried. This was the first of his books and the best (I find I usually like the first one best), but all of them were wonderful. Easy’s friend Mouse is one of the great characters in all fiction writing.
16. The Day of the Jackal – Frederick Forsyth. Forsyth’s novels are all great, though more recent ones, not quite as good as his earlier ones. He’s old, so . . . .
17. Demolition Angel - Robert Crais. I enjoy Crais’s somewhat light-hearted detective novels. But, I loved this one, which was just a little grimmer. It was not about one of Crais’ two main heroes, but someone spun off from their world.
18. Valediction - Robert Parker. Parker was a great writer. Who doesn’t like Spenser novels? But, this one is literature. When Spenser’s heart broke, mine did too. And thorny or icy as you think your heart is, so will yours.
19. Too Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. I only read this a few years ago, but I see what all the fuss was about.
20. In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead – James Lee Burke. James Lee Burke is simply an amazing writer, introduced to me by my friend Bear, who used to comment here to great effect before Google made it too hard to comment (or I am a digital moron, and can’t figure it out). This is not the first of the series, but the first I read at his recommendation, and I still think the best. His sustained lyricism in what is essentially a hard-boiled detective novel is hard to believe. But many great writers have one book in them or only one the publishers or public will permit. I read many of these before they became too similar for me and I felt had become self-parody.
Okay, I’m done. It hurt to leave out so many great novelists. First, a tribute to Lawrence Block, one of the greatest, original, and varied of all crime writers. He might be the best of the last half of the 20th century. He had multiple heroes (his educated burglar, Bernie Rhodenbarr, the hard-boiled Matt Scudder, the greatest spy who ever lived (says me), Evan Michael Tanner, his ever-lovable hit man, Keller, and lesser series heroes such young Chip Harrison and the ethically challenged lawyer, Martin Ehrengraf. Each hero is different from one another more so than most writers can manage even twice. He also wrote many stand-alone novels and short stories, often under pseudonyms (he started his career by writing softcore porn). I only remember one book of his that I didn’t like much, A Small Town, which was, interesting, but just too sexual for my tastes. He also, long before fame, wrote the funniest book I have ever read other than Without Feathers, called Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man, set as a series of letters.
I also have loved Tony Hillerman’s great Navajo novels featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. I had to leave out Agatha Christie – AGATHA CHRISTIE! Arguably the greatest detective novelist of all time. In particular, I loved the Poirot novels, though Christie came to detest her character, but no one of her books made my list, although at least a couple would have made a top 50. Jim Thompson wrote one brilliant pulp fiction novel after another (The Getaway, After Dark, my Sweet, etc.), and some think he was the best. But, his books didn’t crack my top twenty.
Now that I made my list, I can’t stop grieving for those left behind, but, that is the nature of such lists. I never read a Dick Francis or Elmore Leonard novel I didn’t like. That doesn’t mean they aren’t great books too and others would prefer them or have them on their list. I was happy to see that of the American and British crime writers’ lists of best crime books (although I would not agree they were all crime books), I had read a large majority of them, because it means I likely have time in my life to read at least some of the rest (a few I’ve tried and they didn’t grab me like Ellis Peters, Ruth Rendell and John Dickson Carr). But, I am delinquent in trying Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham and probably most of all, Patricia Highsmith. And others. Hope to get to them someday. Admittedly, the pandemic is helping free up time to read, but, I’ve been doing more re-reading old favorites, which is not a bad idea either.
In any event, as they say in Italy (where, sadly, I’m probably not going to get to go this year), arrivederci.