IN A TIME LONG, LONG AGO...
I’m in the garage the other day. Moving some box boxes. I opened one. Inside are paperback books and a couple decades worth of dust and dead bugs. Oh, yeah, testosterone is seeping out of the box, too.
I was a good kid. A-B student in school, usually A. Received Good Student of the Month awards. Played baseball and traded baseball cards. (Still have some including a Nolan Ryan rookie card). Wrote for the school paper. My folks were proud of me. Except when I tortured my little brother but that’s what big brothers are supposed to do. It’s in the Big Brother rulebook.
Anyway, I also read constantly. I devoured books like candy. Our family was comfortable but money wasn’t plentiful. I picked up most of my reading material at garage sales, flea markets, and swap meets spending a dime or a quarter on each book. I wish I could say that I read classics like Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick and Treasure Island. I didn’t. And in this box in the garage was the proof.
The quiet student, the good son read Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee tales, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer stories, and Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer adventures. I read novels by Richard Stark (a Donald Westlake pseudonym), Harold Robbins, Ed McBain, Robert Parker, Ross Thomas, Carter Brown, and Elmore Leonard. (I still read Leonard. In fact I have eight hardback copies of his novels in my library. I’ll have to look and see if any are First Editions.)
Most of these books have long faded from my memory. For the life of I can’t remember anything about Carter Brown’s novels. When I “googled” his name, I saw that he’d written a couple hundred books turning out about eight-to-ten a year. His books were all just over a hundred pages each. Fast reads but unmemorable. My guess is I bought them for their lurid, sexy covers. Hey, I was a kid. I remember Ed McBain’s books were about the cops in the 86th Precinct but beyond that they’re in the gone file. So are Richard Stark’s stories about career criminal Parker. I remember that Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers was the “first” book I ever read that had sex scenes. But not much else. Spillane’s novels were page-turners but his politics would make today’s hardcore conservative-types blush and stammer. (And rightly so.) It would be interesting to read Robert Parker’s novels in order and see how Spenser and his buddy, Hawk, have changed over the years.
On the other hand, I may pull out a couple books by Hamilton and John D and reread them. I recall Matt Helm and Travis McGee being cool and written in a solid lean styles. Plus Helm and McGee were “manly men”. That’s not PC today but …
From Hamilton’s The Terminators (1975):
"You've got to shoot the thing to accomplish anything significant," I said. "Just waving it around chanting ancient incantations like ‘Put your hands up,' or ‘Drop that gun,' or ‘Don't come any closer or I'll pull the trigger,' won't buy you a thing. Yank it out and fire it or leave it alone. And if you shoot it, do a good job. Use both hands like I showed you, hold steady, keep firing, and really perforate that target. Never mind the Cossacks attacking from the left flank and the Apaches galloping in from the right, whooping and hollering. Get that guy in front of you and get him good. You'll be surprised how discouraging one thoroughly dead gent can be to a lot of people."