Forgotten Book: The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald (1964)

The Deep Blue Good-By is a fast-paced 144 pages.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 201st in my series of Forgotten Books.

Recently, on a trip, I was getting tired of no music on the radio from Alpine to the rest of the world and my USB stick was wearing a little thin. I pulled into a truck stop, and sitting on as shelf was a CD version of this novel, The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald. For five discs and six hours, I was back in a world that I had not been to for a long time.

OK, before anyone says anything, John D. MacDonald, is not a Forgotten Writer. At least not to many who follow this blog. But to many of the readers out in the world, he is. MacDonald has been dead since 1986, more than 30 years. Travis McGee, the hero of this novel, somehow never made it into a profitable film franchise, and MacDonald is not being carried in the bookstores anymore.

But there was a wonderful time — a time when you could find a new book by John D. and the prose would sparkle and dazzle and race through your eyes and your brain. I came to John D. later in life thanks to the insistence of Joe R. Lansdale. He thrust a copy of The Executioners into my hands on a vacation. I read for two hours straight. I’m not sure I was breathing when I finished it. I had not seen Cape Fear at that point — the original one — the remake was still four years in the future. I deeply hooked into that prose and pacing. When I returned to Dallas, I started looking for every book of his I could find. And there were lots of them. There were the mysteries, the wonderful science fiction, the fantasy of The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything (I reviewed the film version last year), the suspense novels, the non-fiction, his letter exchanges with Dan Rowan and the short stories. I read a lot of John D. during those days.

Unlike many other writers, he only had one series character. The formidable Travis McGee, fixer of problems, salvage consultant, beach bum, and chief resident of the house boat The Busted Flush, generally moored at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

The Deep Blue Good-By introduces Travis McGee, and he would be with us for 21 novels, each with a color in the title. Chook McCall is an old friend of McGee’s. She has a dance troupe at one of the clubs. One of her dancers, Cathy Kerr, has a problem. An old boyfriend, one Junior Allen, up and left her one day after destroying a mailbox. He returned about a month later with a fancy houseboat and lots of money. He ignored Cathy and took up with a Mrs. Lois Atkinson, a divorced woman. But Junior soon deserts her. Cathy believes Junior has found some cache that her father brought back from World War II. On his return, Cathy’s dad struck an officer in a bar fight and got sent to a military prison. He told his family that he would be taking care of them when he got out. But he never got out.

Cathy wants McGee to locate whatever junior has found and recover it for her. His fee is half plus expenses. Cathy seems like a nice person, so he agrees, even though he has reservations.

He soon finds out that Junior is a full-on psychopath with deep issues and great personal strength. He enjoys finding a certain kind of woman and destroying her self worth and personal pride.

It’s a good, quick read — the perfect lead in to the series. The second book Nightmare in Pink was published the month after The Deep Blue Goodbye, giving 1964 readers two quick bites of a very complex apple.

It had been a long time since I read a MacDonald novel. I no longer have all of them, but I have still own quite a few. I’ll be delving back into that world again soon. If you are a MacDonald fan, what’s your favorite JDM book and favorite McGee mystery? If you’ve never read him (and you know who you are!), that needs to change this week. Just go to the bookstore, find a couple of his books (you will want another as soon as you finish the first), call in sick to work, and luxuriate in the sparse prose and lightning action. You can thank me next week. None of the early tales are bloated 300-page tales. The Deep Blue Good-By clocks in at a trim 144 pages in the Gold Medal first edition. No wasted or excess words here. Check it out.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: The Chinese Agent by Michael Moorcock (1970)

The Chinese Agent traffics in spies not swords and sorcery, but it’s an entertaining read.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 200th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Finally, we reach review number 200. Seems odd to be there. But I have been doing this since 2010, so there have been several significant breaks in the time frame. And what to look at? I was thinking the other day about a friend I made in 1967 when I was still in high school and I had just moved to San Antonio. I knew no one and it was still a little bit until school started. One of the first guys I met was Ken B. Ken lived a couple of blocks away on Ft. Sam Houston. And, like me, he was a science fiction fan.

One day Ken gave me a book that changed my life. It was the Lancer edition of The Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock. The blue Jack Gaughan cover caught my fancy and the stories brought me into the fantasy worlds that were starting to take America by storm. He followed Stealer up with Stormbringer and one of Robert E. Howard’s Conan adventures. I was hooked on this type of literature. Moorcock and Howard moved to the top of my favorite reads. How was I to ever guess that one day I would know Mike Moorcock and would buy a story from him for a book I got to co-edit called Cross Plains Universe? I got to meet Mike! I got to edit a book! I got to buy an original story from a hero! Who would ever guess such a development?

So, it has been 50 years! Yet, somehow in 200 book reviews I have not done a Moorcock title! Elric books cannot be considered a forgotten title no matter what criteria I use. And that’s true of a large portion of Mike’s work. But as I was looking over the shelves the other day, The Chinese Agent leapt off the shelf and into my hands.

Sure, I had read it in the Seventies, but that was a long, long time ago, and I have read many, many books in that time, so it might just as well have been new to me. I did not read the original version of this novel, which was called Somewhere in the Night by Bill Barclay, from a smaller British paperback publisher in 1966. Mike rewrote it and made it into a humorous spy novel starring Jeremiah “Jerry” Cornell, a lower-level British spy.

The novel begins with half-Chinese American jewel thief Arthur Hodgkiss surveying the British Crown Jewels. He is known internationally as Jewelry Jules. While casing the Tower, another man approaches him and utters a phrase that is meant to identify a spy. Hodgkiss inadvertently gives the proper countersign and receives the plans to a secret project.

The main Chinese spy in London, Kung Fu Tzu, wants those plans. British Intelligence wants the plans. A comedy of errors ensues with Kung mistaking Jerry for a master spy with the skills of a Bond or Flint. Unfortunately, Jerry is just amazingly inept or lucky or both.

Cornell became a spy because he had skills which were needed and he did not want to go to prison. He tries to find the plans, only to be led into the paths of his relations on Portobello Road. His relations would make white trash hillbillies look good, especially his Uncle Edmond, who lives in a hovel with no electricity or water. He does have a pile of stuff that may be trash or treasure — and which may be alive.

Cornell does have extraordinary luck with the ladies, who include Shirley Withers, a secretary for his company; Miss Mavis Ming, who appears in later Jerry Cornelius adventures by Moorcock; and the legendary femme fatale Lilli von Bern, who may be a little long in the tooth but can still use sex as a weapon to obtain any information needed.

I had a lot of fun with this book. I will eventually try to find Somewhere in the Night to see what changes Moorcock made. It’s not Elric or Hawkmoon or Corum, but it kept me entertained, pretty much like every Michael Moorcock book I have ever picked up. It would have made a great movie in the day of the spy thrillers. Might still make a good one. Check it out.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Iroshi by Cary Osborne (1995)

Cary Osborne's Iroshi transports the ronin story to space.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 185th in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week’s selection is certainly a Forgotten Book. I have had a copy for about 20 years, except for a brief period after I sold my library, after which I acquired another copy. Cary Osborne has been a friend for more than 20 years and she is one of the nicest people I know. That said, I am ashamed to say I did not actually sit down and read Iroshi until last week. I had it and it was around, but I didn’t get the compulsion to read it versus some other books.

So, confessions aside, I read Iroshi the other day and really enjoyed it. It is not a perfect novel. It is a first novel, and it has some of the regular problems associated with those books. But, it was enjoyable.

Laicy Campbell is a young woman on Siebeling, one of the many inhabited mining planets around the galaxy. Her father took off one day and left Laicy’s mom and family flat. They took in wash and did other chores to get by. At 12, Laicy started in on martial arts. Her instructor, Robert Crowell, taught her for five years in the various fighting styles. Where she excelled was in kendo, working with swords. After the five years, Crowell sent her to Earth to train with his old master, Mushimo. The training was long and arduous and involved reading and understanding the zen of what she was doing, in addition to the forms. One of the things she was trying to master with Mr. Mushimo was achieving the void.

While at Mushimo’s there is an attack of ninja warriors. Ninjas were supposedly long gone from Earth. Laicy and Mushimo defeat them with the aid of another helper/student Akiro. Mushimo sends Laicy into a room filled with swords and tells her to pick one. She hears the voices of the swords, and one in particular calls to her, drowning out the others. It is Mushimo’s ancestral sword going back many generations. He gives it to her, saying he has no heirs to pass the tradition on. Soon he dismisses her and gives her a credit disk with more money than she can imagine. She decides to wander, using the name Iroshi. She hears that Mushimo has died and left his entire estate to Crowell, her former teacher.

She soon acquires a reputation as a badass who picks fight and rarely loses. She finds herself on the planet Rune, another arid mining world. She senses a call to the desert and finds an abandoned town with a hidden water source and other secrets. Those secrets include the bodiless souls of the former inhabitants who are able to guide her. Chief among these spirits is one called Ensi who is particularly bonded to her. Her old master Mushimo is also among these spirits. Together they want Iroshi to establish the Glaive, a kind of warrior guild that she will administer, and to see that others are trained in the proper ways of the masters. She is again attacked by nameless assassins who fail to stop her.

This ends Section 1 of the book. Section 2 takes place eight years later. The glaive is becoming a political force throughout the galaxy and Iroshi, as its leader, has become a powerful person. Her facility on Rune is attracting attention, which includes that of Mushimo’s two sons, whom he disowned earlier. They want to stop her and seize the property that their father has given to Iroshi and Crowell.

The fight for Earth and control of the fortune takes the second half of the book. I didn’t find it as compelling as the first half, but I did not dislike it either. The break seemed a little forced to me, but I wasn’t the one writing it.

Overall, the melding of a female Ronin warrior and a space traveling society and zen religion was a little odd, but I thought it worked. There are currently three books in the Iroshi cycle – Iroshi (1995), The Glaive (1996) and Persea (1996). They are all back in print right now as ebooks. Cary Osborne’s website indicates that she is working on a fourth Iroshi book to be titled Beyond the Void.

After reading Iroshi, I know I will pick up the other volumes in the series, although I will possibly wait until the fourth one appears, so I can get the sense of closure that reading an incomplete series does not give you. Hopefully, it will not be 20 years before that happens.

If this sounds like your cup of sake, give Iroshi and the other titles a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed. But, fair warning, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Book: Blind Voices by Tom Reamy (1978)

Review by Scott A. Cupp

Here’s another rerun, this one from 2010.  I just got back from the Las Vegas trip and the Challenge Entertainment National Trivia. My team competed against 201 other teams from across the country. We managed to squeak out the win during the Final big question, rising from 4th place at half time and third place before the final question. I’m still on an adrenaline high and should be back to the normal review schedule next week. Until then, sit back and enjoy the stories on one of my favorite novels and writers.

This is the rerun of the 2nd in my series of Forgotten Books from 2010.

When I do the reviews of the Forgotten Books each week, you will learn a little of my past. Most will deal with Texas writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. So we move to a sad story.

I met Tom Reamy in 1974 at the second science fiction convention I ever attended, AggieCon 5. He was there promoting MidAmericon, the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention which was going to happen in Kansas City, just a few weeks after I graduated from college.  Tom was an affable guy, a Texan by birth and upbringing, and a beginning writer. At that convention I bought a membership to the WorldCon and a copy of Tom’s short story “Twilla” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction which I got him to sign.  He came back the next year where we discussed his award winning story “San Diego Lightfoot Sue.” I last saw him in 1977 when I got my copy of “The Detweiler Boy,” also in F&SF, signed.

I read those stories and saw an amazing talent, particularly in “Twilla.” We talked and he had great stories of Texas fandom from the ’50s and ’60s. He would not talk about Big D in ’73, the aborted WorldCon bid for Dallas. That was still a sore subject. I found other stories, and you could see that he was the real deal. And he was not a newcomer to the field. He had been nominated for a Hugo for his fanzine Trumpet and had won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

In 1976, I went to my first WorldCon and I looked up Tom there. He was associated with the film program and it had amazing content. I vaguely remember watching five films back to back in the hall. They included A Boy and His Dog, Dark Star, Tales of Hoffman and The Last Days of Man on Earth. My brain went into overload.

So, when he sold his first novel, I was excited. This was going to be the start of a truly amazing career. Then, at age 42 in 1977, he had a heart attack and slumped over his typewriter, where he was later found. We got one novel (which was in the revision stage) and a handful of stories. (There is still one story which has yet to be published, though it may theoretically appear if the anthology-which-is-not-to-be-named ever appears. At this point it is nearly 35 years past due).

BLIND VOICES is a quiet pastoral fantasy with hints of Clifford D. Simak and more than hints of Ray Bradbury and Jack Finney. It is not a flashy, pyrotechnic spectacle. Rather, it is a musing on life in the Depression in the Plains. Hawley, Kansas, was the setting for several stories in Reamy’s output, most notably “Twilla” (which was a Nebula finalist when it appeared). And some characters appear in multiple works.

It is the story of three girls, just out of high school, looking to the future and trying to enjoy a last summer before they enter the real world. Into this sleepy town comes Haverlock’s Traveling Curiosus and Wonder Show with its assortment of freaks and oddities. The freaks here include Tiny Tim who stands 12 inches tall, the Minotaur, Medusa, Electro the Electric Man, the Little Mermaid, the Snake Woman, and Angel the Magic Boy. The girls go to the show when the local cinema is invaded by a skunk with a temper. Together, they look for magic and adventure, they look for life and excitement, even danger. And they find it all.

Our primary viewpoint character is Evelyn Bradley, who attends the show with her friends Francine and Rose. Each girl finds love and adventure, each finds death and danger. None is ever the same after the brief two days covered in the telling of the tale.

I have said in a number of occasions that Tom Reamy was going to be my generation’s Ray Bradbury. I still stand behind that statement, though he may have been able to surpass him. His loss was a blow to me when I got the call about it, and it was also a loss to the field.

The novel is currently in print from Wildside Press with a truly hideous cover that has no immediate reference within the book. The written matter contained within, however, will grab you with the poetry of the prose and with the vividness of its setting.

As I did a little research on the web I found first that the book has a five star rating on Amazon. An amazing feat. There are a few reminisces of Tom out there. People who read the book remember it fondly, even fervently. That it is Forgotten is a shame.

I re-read it this last week and the power is still there. Now I need to go find the short stories or the short story collection San Diego Lightfoot Sue and Other Stories and remember.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of  participating blogs.