“I’ve just finished the Keller series. Any suggestions as to what to read next?”
A fellow tweeted this to me earlier today. The timing was interesting, in that I had just finished proofreading a fifth Keller book prior to submitting copies to my agent and editor. If all goes well, HIT ME should be forthcoming from Mulholland Books sometime in 2012.
But I’d hate for my tweep to go that long without something to read—or, even worse, to be reduced to reading books by other writers.
And the question he’s raised is interesting, and addressing it might be useful all around. I’ve written a daunting number of books over an equally daunting number of years. Many of them are in print, many are readily obtained from out-of-print booksellers—and now, mirabile dictu, a veritable slew of them are newly eVailable as eBooks. A glance at the Books page will show you more titles than you can shake a stick at, tempted though you well may be.
Owing to either a versatile imagination or a low boredom threshold, the books in my body of work vary considerably. While I might contrive to love them all impartially, some of you will like some of them more than others.
So how to choose? Especially among all the new old titles that have become available again. Well, let me offer some suggestions:
If you’re a fan of the Scudder series, you’ve got seventeen books to work your way through, from The Sins of the Fathers (1975) to A Drop of the Hard Stuff (2011). (And don’t forget the eighteenth, the collected Matthew Scudder stories, just published as The Night and the Music.
An early novel, After the First Death, can be seen as a precursor to the Scudder series, in that it examines alcoholism. (The lead character, Alex Penn, killed a Times Square streetwalker in a drunken blackout—unless he was framed for it.)
Scudder’s New York is the subject of Small Town, a big multiple-viewpoint novel set in the city during the aftermath of 9/11. While many of my books are set in New York, it’s a very different city in the Scudder books than in, say, the Bernie Rhodenbarr novels. The city in Small Town is one Scudder would recognize.
Scudder’s a private detective. A very early novel, Coward’s Kiss, stars a private detective named Ed London, who also appears in three novellas collected with other early work in One Night Stands & Lost Weekends. You Could Call It Murder, written as a TV tie-in novel, features private detective Roy Markham.
There have been ten books about Bernie Rhodenbarr, burglar and bookseller, and it’s not very likely there’ll ever be another. But fans of the books may have missed some of his appearances. Three short stories star Bernie (Like a Thief in the Night, The Burglar who Smelled Smoke, and The Burglar who Dropped in on Elvis), and another, A Bad Night for Burglars, features a hapless Bernie prototype.
Bernie’s fans might enjoy the four Chip Harrison books. They’re light and sexy, with an insouciant narrator. The first two, No Score and Chip Harrison Scores Again, are young-man-coming-of-age novels; then the series changes course when Chip goes to work for Leo Haig, a sort of road company Nero Wolfe, and books three and four (Make Out With Murder and The Topless Tulip Caper) are lighthearted puzzle mysteries in the Bernie mode.
Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man, a comic epistolary novel, is certainly closer in tone to Bernie than Scudder, and Bernie’s fans usually enjoy the book. Note, though, that it has a considerably higher erotic content.
There have been eight novels about Evan Tanner, permanent insomniac and free-lance spy. I doubt that there will ever be a ninth, but given that 28 years passed between Me Tanner, You Jane and Tanner on Ice, I’ve learned not to say never. (Well, hardly ever…)
Tanner’s pretty much one of a kind, but Tanner fans might enjoy Killing Castro, in which five Americans take on the job of assassinating the Cuban leader. Another book with a foreign locale and an espionage motif is Passport to Peril, which I published as Anne Campbell Clark; while no one would mistake Ellen Cameron for Tanner, the Irish setting and the folk music milieu might appeal to a Tanner enthusiast.
Such Men Are Dangerous and The Triumph of Evil both take place in America, but have an aspect of foreign intrigue about them. They’re darker and more hard-edged than Tanner. Both were originally published as by Paul Kavanagh; the third Kavanagh novel, Not Comin’ Home to You, is a similarly dark fictional interpretation of the Charles Starkweather murder spree.
This most recent novel is subtitled “a novel of sex and violence” and bylined “by Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson.” The online reviews have been sensational, as a look at Jill Emerson’s Page will show you; print media have largely shied away from the book, perhaps because of that aforementioned S & V.
I can’t recall enjoying the process of writing as much as I did with Getting Off, and readers seem to be enjoying it as well. If you’re one of them, and wonder what else I’ve written along those lines, well, let’s see…
Small Town, the post-9/11 New York novel mentioned above, includes as a central character an art gallery owner named Susan Pomerance, whose sex life is every bit as rich and vivid as Kit Tolliver’s. And several of Jill Emerson’s earlier novels (Thirty, Threesome, and A Madwoman’s Diary) tend to push the erotic envelope.
Jill Emerson’s first books, Warm & Willing and Enough of Sorrow, aren’t very erotic at all; along with Strange Are the Ways of Love (by Lesley Evans) they’re sensitive explorations of the lesbian subculture of the mid-twentieth century. (In a recent email exchange, the legendary Ann Bannon said that she and I and the similarly legendary Marijane Meaker are “the last survivors of the classic lesbian novelists.” Make of that what you will.)
Some other early erotic novels, originally published under pen names, are eVailable. Campus Tramp has a cult following at Antioch, where it does seem to be set. The three books I did in collaboration with Donald E. Westlake—A Girl Called Honey, So Willing, and Sin Hellcat—were enormous fun to write, and Subterranean Press’s handsome triple volume sold out in no time at all; you might sample one of them and see if it works for you.
I’m not sure anything’s like Keller, really, but here are some hardboiled crime novels that might work for those of you who are fond of the Urban Lonely Guy of hired killers.
Several have criminal protagonists. The Girl with the Long Green Heart features a pair of con artists, and the lead characters in Grifter’s Game, Cinderella Sims, and Lucky at Cards are cut from the same shoddy cloth. Deadly Honeymoon is a revenge story, a bridal couple evening the score with a brace of wedding-night rapists. The Specialists is a caper novel, a group of ex-Green Berets doing well by doing good. A Diet of Treacle is 1960s hippie noir. Candy‘s standard noir, with the title character ruining a man’s life. Ah well. These things happen…
AND DEFYING CATEGORIZATION…
Ariel gets shelved with horror, though I’m not sure it fits. There’s the suggestion of a supernatural element, but it’s mostly the story of a pubescent adopted girl in a troubled household. The book’s set in Charleston, and south of Broad.
Random Walk is another anomaly. A guy in Oregon starts walking east across the Cascades, and people are drawn to join him, and the group generates its own energy, and Remarkable Things Happen. Some people love this book, and swear it changed their lives. Others don’t get it at all.
Hey, I just write these things. After that it’s up to y’all.
I’ve written brief essays for virtually all of these books, and put them together in a piecemeal tell-all memoir called Afterthoughts, yours as an eBook for 99¢ or a paperback for $9.99. You might find it entertaining, or even instructive (if you’re a writer) but in any event it’ll help you decide which of these books to read next.
ABOUT THESE LINKS
Click on them and they’ll take you to Amazon. But virtually all of these titles are available as well for Nook, Kobo, Apple, and Sony Reader, and when print editions exist they’re pretty widely available as well. You shouldn’t have trouble finding them.