Hidden Treasures

May 17, 2010

When I listen in on one of our Booklist webinars, it’s hard for me to concentrate on what’s being said—not because there isn’t always something interesting to hear but because, as a Booklister, I’m mainly just hoping that nothing goes wrong (sound problems, panelists dropping the baton as they pass controls to one another, etc.). What I’m really worried about, though, is bad Karma. I was one of those junior-high kids who liked to make fun of “AV nerds,” especially when the film broke in mid-screening. Whenever we do a webinar, I fear that my callous treatment of those hard-working AV types (who are probably Microsoft millionaires today) will come back to haunt both me and Booklist.

So far that hasn’t happened, and in fact, when I listened to our recent webinar on “Crime Fiction: Past and Present,” I almost forgot to worry about karmic disturbances, so involved was I in the presentation. The “present” part of the program—in which three publishers, Macmillan, Severn House, and Poisoned Pen, presented upcoming titles—was plenty interesting for a mystery buff like me (can’t wait to get my hands on Louise Penny’s new Armand Gamache novel), but what really had me salivating was the section on “Crime Fiction Past,” presented by the inimitable David Wright, readers’ advisor par excellence, from Seattle Public Library.

David and I seem to have remarkably similar taste in many things (crime fiction and beer being only two), so when he set out to take me and my fellow “webinarians” on a virtual tour of the hidden treasures lurking on the crime-fiction shelves in his library, I knew I was in for something special. A few of the authors David discussed—Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Dorothy Hughes (whose creepy In a Lonely Place is so much darker and richer than the Humphrey Bogart movie that was made from it)—have long been favorites of mine, but there were many others whom I didn’t know and hadn’t read. How, for example, have I managed to miss That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, by Carlo Emilio Gadda? I’ve read a lot of Italian fiction, yet here is a book considered by Italo Calvino and Alberto Moravia to be the “great modern Italian novel.” It’s about two crimes that take place in one Roman apartment building during the Fascist era. David mentioned the richness of the language and the complexity of the plot. Apparently, it’s one of those mysteries where the truth is not only elusive but sometimes makes things worse: “It’s Chinatown, Jake.” My Amazon order has already been placed.

It’s funny how one hidden treasure leads you to another. When I placing that Amazon order, I noticed that my shopping cart had Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain in the “to buy later” category. I’d put it there because the lead character in Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseilles trilogy is a big Davis fan (the third novel in the trilogy, Solea, is named after a tune on the album). That reminded me that I still haven’t read the last novel from the late and very great Izzo, A Sun for the Dying, which was reviewed in Booklist by David Wright.