Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Guess Who

How about this for a great starred review from Publisher's Weekly:
Let's take this out on a limb. Let's say [this author's] third novel ... set in urban Japan in the 1990s is one of the best hardboiled detective novels ever written. Let's say [the author] himself is one of the smartest writers in the genre: book smart, in the remarkable lyrical quality of his prose or the frequent brilliance of his imagery; street-smart, like Elmore Leonard, in that his streets and the often terrible people that walk them are so mundanely real; socio-economic smart, in that his dark, almost heartbreaking, depiction of Japanese society is so believable.
But who is the author and what is the book?I first read Peter Tasker after picking up Samurai Boogie at a bookstore in the San Francisco airport before a long flight. I finished the book well before I landed and wished I wasn't stuck on a plane so I could get the others in the series featuring his private eye, Kazuo Mori: Silent Thunder and Buddha Kiss.

The Thrilling Detective web site has a good write-up on Mori and Tasker as does Authors on the Web.

But even with all the ink and the great reviews, I think he is one of the most unappreciated PI writers out there. If you haven't read him, you should. Samurai Boogie is put out by UK publisher Orion, but they have distribution in the US, so that will probably be the easiest book to find. I found the other two books in libraries, but there are definitely used copies out there, too.

If it took a little detective work on my part to find Peter Tasker's books, it took even more to get in touch with the man himself, but I did and was very gratified when he agreed to give me a blurb for my upcoming book, Runoff. Here it is:
Classic noir, brought bang up to date. August Riordan is a hero with a heart. You're with him every inch of the way as he stalks the mean streets of San Francisco's Chinatown, confronting crooked pols, anarchist squatters, psychopathic software engineers, and cleaver-wielding gangsters, with betrayal lurking around every corner. A wild ride.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Coggins, Kerouac and Crawford

In the early 90s, I lived in this apartment house:

on Russian Hill in San Francisco, near the corner of Leavenworth and Greenwich. During the composition of my latest novel, Runoff, I needed a place for the well-heeled client of my PI protagonist August Riordan to live, and I decided to put her in the building because I always liked the place and I knew that it had originally been a single family residence.

At the time I lived there, I thought the only thing of particular interest in the vicinity was the stretch of Lombard Street called the "crookedest street in world," which is a block north.

Turns out I was completely wrong because a few blocks south and west, on Russell:


an alley I walked by hundreds of times, is 29 Russell Street:

A house rented in the early 50s by Neal and Carolyn Cassady. Neal, of course, is famous as the inspiration for a number of characters in novels by Jack Kerouac, as well as being a member of the Merry Pranksters.

During the first few months of 1952, Keroauc roomed with the Cassadys in a cramped attic space above their bedroom. There were no facilities, and rather than wake the Cassadys in the night to pass through their bedroom on the way to the bathroom, he would often pee out the attic window!

But Kerouac did more than pee while he was there. He worked on three books: On the Road, Doctor Sax and Visions of Cody.

Okay, you may be saying, we've had the Coggins and Kerouac advertised in the title of the post, but where is the Crawford? Turns out Kerouac was out walking one evening and ran across a movie being filmed at the nearby Tamalpais Apartments on Hyde:


The movie was Sudden Fear and the star, Joan Crawford, was filming a scene where she unlocks the door to the apartment building:

Never one to waste a real life experience, Kerouac incorporated it into a segment of Visions of Cody entitled "Joan Rawshanks in the Fog:"

"I had never imagined [a camera crew] going through these great Alexandrian strategies just for the sake of photographing Joan Rawshanks fumbling with her keys at a goggyfoddy door while all traffic halts in real world life only half a block away and everything waits on a whistle blown by a hysterical fool in uniform who suddenly decided the importance of what's going on by some convulsive phenomena in the lower regions of his twitching hips, all manifesting itself in a sudden freezing grimace of idiotic wonder just exactly like the look of the favorite ninny in every B-movie you and I and Cody ever saw..."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apparently did not wholly agree with Kerouac's assessment of the film and Crawford's performance since they nominated her for best actress in a leading role ...

Runoff Blurb from James Crumley

As you might guess from this picture of my collection of the first editions of James Crumley's first four novels:


And this scan of his inscription on the fly leaf of my copy of One to Count Cadence:


I'm a tremendous fan of his.

I'm not alone in this. Writers such as Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos have all been influenced by his writing, particularly the seminal Last Good Kiss and its famous opening line:

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonora, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.
I am more partial to the Milo Milodragovitch books, The Wrong Case and Dancing Bear among them, but that is a personal quirk and in no way lessens my admiration for the C.W. Sughrue books (including The Last Good Kiss) and the writing within them.

With all this as a preamble, it won't come as any surprise that I was thrilled to bits when I got an e-mail from Crumley with the first blurb I've received for my forthcoming novel Runoff:
Runoff by Mark Coggins is a smart, funny, spooky ... often touching, always entertaining romp through ... San Francisco's highways, byways, and alleys of corruption. (Hammett eat your hat and laugh.) It's great fun and a must read.