THE MAN ON THE TRAIN (2002) is an aging gangster who accepts a retired schoolteacher’s offer of a bed for the night, swaps stories and leaves the schoolteacher fascinated by the prospect of a life outside the law. The gangster, in turn, comes to appreciate the charm of a life of the mind. Low-key, but winning. “Forever ends on Sunday.”
SAGEBRUSH TROUBADOUR (1935) is probably a better representation of typical Gene Autry than Sioux City Sue (certainly closer to the kind of film Peter Stanfield wrote about) Autry plays a U.S. ranger (disguised alongside partner Smiley Burnette as a traveling singing duo) investigating a murder and helping ensure the man’s granddaughter get her inheritance, even though she and Autry find each other obnoxious and irritating. This is a B-movie mystery with a Western setting, but not too bad. “I didn’t know I had a reputation as a fingerprint expert.”
Moving to graphic novels, IT’S A GOOD LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN by Seth is the story of a grumpy, somewhat depressed cartooning buff who becomes fascinated by the obscure cartoonist Kalo and attempts to unearth what he can about the man. Even conceding that Serious Literature Graphic Novels aren’t quite my thing, I think this is pretty poor—I honestly can’t imagine why anyone would be interested in the rather boring protagonist and he’s the center of the story.
STARLING by Sage Stossel, on the other hand, worked better than I expected: marketing professional by day, super-hero by night, Amy/Starling is feeling burned out in both lives, and events (her brother’s in trouble, someone at work is trying to take her big gig) aren’t relieving the stress. Can a good looking gambler and a lot of Xanax help? I expected to write this off as cliched, but it won me over.
And finally, WRITING THE NOVEL: From Plot to Print, a how-to guide by Lawrence Block on everything from picking a genre to sticking with your first draft even when you’re convinced it sucked. Block’s columns in Writer’s Digest were a big help to me when I started out—this book is geared to beginners, but I still found some useful thoughts about starting the novel with a bang and getting past sticking points.
(cover by Sage Stossel, all rights to current holder)