Sunday, August 23, 2015

(No.293) Part 2 of "Two Macdonalds & several other crime novelists"

Part 2 of "Two Macdonalds (Ross and John D) and
several other crime novelists' series"

by Alastair Rickard

In my previous column (No.292) I began some comments about new or republished novels I have enjoyed by a number of current writers as well as the accumulated works of novelists Ross Macdonald and John D. MacDonald.

This column continues those comments.


Randy Wayne White is, like C.J. Box, an American writer I regard as a professional novelist. Like most novelists who earn their livings from writing so-called genre fiction they are unlikely to receive the critical literary applause their writing deserves.

Years ago White created a character named Doc Ford, a former CIA operative who now appears to spend his time as a marine biologist while involving himself with various often dangerous matters having nothing to do with biology, marine or otherwise.

Ford lives on Sanibel Island off Florida's gulf coast. In "Cuba Straits"(2015) the latest (the 22nd) in the Doc Ford series has an interesting plot premise. Doc becomes involved in an infiltration of Communist Cuba and a search for items and persons involving the Castro brothers and the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

"The Man From Berlin" (2013) and "The Pale House"(2014) are the first two novels in a series by the English writer Luke McCallin. Both are set in Yugoslavia towards the end of World War II during the last stages of the German military effort there. The central and continuing character is an army intelligence officer Captain Gregor Reinhardt.

As a character Reinhardt reminds me of Philip Kerr's sometime Berlin detective and army officer Bernie Gunther. There are distinct parallels involving Reinhardt and Gunther. Not the least of the similarities is the fact that they are more sympathetic characters to readers because they neither embrace belief in Nazi ideology nor voluntary participation in its military-related crimes.

McCallin's first two Reinhardt novels are absorbing reading and while I look forward to reading future novels in the series they are not yet at the same standard as the ten volumes (thus far) in  Kerr's Gunther series (especially the initial three novels republished in 1993 as the "Berlin Noir" trilogy).

David Downing is another English writer of non-fiction (history, politics, biography) as well as fiction but whose career began decades ago. His fiction was for years of no particular note until he began what turned into a six novel series set in Germany -- mainly Berlin -- before, during and at the end of World War II. Each of the six in the series has as its title the name of a different Berlin station.

The first of the "Station" series in 2007 was "Zoo Station", the last in 2013 "Masaryk Station". The "Station" novels follow the life and espionage activities of Jack Russell, an Anglo-American journalist reporting from Berlin for American newspapers until the U.S. entered the war at the end of 1941 after which he continued his involvement in Germany but no longer as a reporter.

The "Station" series is well done. The novels are informed by a sound understanding of the history, locale and contemporary atmosphere of Hitler's Berlin, the Third Reich and life before, during and at war's end.

Downing's fiction has come a considerable distance from what he describes as "my first real novel" in 1987: the recently republished Second World War spy novel "The Red Eagles". While an interesting plot it was clearly the harbinger of better work to come.

I have recently read the first novel in what seems destined to be a series of what could be labelled as 'desert noir' detective/crime fiction: "Bad Country"(2014). It is actually what its writer, C.B. McKenzie, says is his tenth novel but the first to find a publisher.

It is set in remote southwest Arizona 'indian country' as well as Tucson.. It follows a former rodeo cowboy, a native American named Rodeo Grace Garnet. Retired from the rodeo circuit he is a private investigator of sorts who lives in the desert. He makes a living -- but just -- from piecework as a bounty hunter, warrant server and divorce snoop.

This novel involves Garnet in a couple of tough cases and several nasty situations. It is a dark but promising beginning for this character operating in a different setting, both geographical and cultural. A detective series with a difference.

Correction to previous column (no.292):
In the final sentence of my comments on John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series I inadvertently referred to it as the Lew Archer series (i.e., the series of novels written by Ross Macdonald, also reviewed in the same column).  




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