Tuesday, September 14, 2021
Friday, September 10, 2021
Kirkus Review of HOTWALKER: “A delightful whodunit with a remarkable hero and sublime Southern setting”
TITLE INFORMATION HOTWALKER A JIM GUTHRIE MYSTERY Rick Neumayer Literary Wanderlust (274 pp.) $14.99 paperback, $3.99 e-book ISBN: 978-1-942856-87-0 October 1, 2021
In this mystery, a private eye braves Kentucky’s hectic Derby week to investigate a murder at Churchill Downs. Sleuth Jim Guthrie anticipates his business will take a hit with the Derby festivities starting. But he finds a client in Guatemalan immigrant Carlos Rojas, a Churchill Downs “hotwalker” who cools down horses with quiet strolls following a workout or race.
At last year’s Derby, someone fatally bludgeoned Carlos’ father, Felipe, who worked as a groom. Since then, the police investigation has turned up nothing, so Jim looks into the homicide on his own. Sadly, he quickly realizes that questioning employees at the Churchill Downs backside is a largely fruitless endeavor. As many are immigrants like Carlos, they stay tight-lipped, understandably wary of recent United States laws. But there is a bevy of suspects that Jim can whittle down. Robbery may have been a motive, as Felipe, who won at poker on the night of his murder, had no money on him. He also got in a fight with a man claiming Felipe cheated at that poker game.
In the course of his investigation, Jim forms an unexpected alliance with Wyatt Whitlow, who publishes The Late Mail, a tip newsletter. Whitlow’s exposés may help draw out the killer; he’s already incensed people with accusations of cheating via buzzers (devices that electrically shock horses during races) or performance-enhancing drugs. When Jim learns some of those accusations have merit, he connects Felipe’s death with other Churchill Downs crimes, which soon include a second murder.
Neumayer delivers an often lighthearted mystery. For example, scenes unfold at the backside like a soap opera; there’s the perpetually drunk groom, the horse trainer who scuffles with Whitlow over cheating allegations, and infidelity among married folks. Even Jim has a part in all this, having provoked a wealthy thoroughbred owner whose foolish son the private investigator humiliated (with good reason). The story likewise treats the detective genre playfully. In one of his articles, Whitlow mocks Jim for not donning a fedora or trench coat, and the PI later initiates a pursuit on a bicycle at moderate speed.
The protagonist is good-natured and sympathetic; he takes Carlos’ case pro bono, despite a pile of bills, and suffers the authorities’ ire as they despise Jim, a former cop–turned–private eye. At the same time, he’s caught up in an effectively understated romance with veterinarian Dr. Freya Hall. She’s one of the cast’s myriad characters, many of whom make viable murder suspects and bolster the ongoing mystery. The author aptly develops each one against a vibrant Churchill Downs backdrop.
Along with that comes abundant racing lingo, like the titular job, that the author subtly defines for novices without boring readers already familiar with it. Descriptions of Derby races, though disappointingly brief, are animated and memorable: “Right out of the gate, it was a mad scramble with five mounts no more than two lengths apart…. All other sounds were quickly muffled by crowd noise. Manes and tails streamed behind like battle flags as the horses charged into the backstretch.”
A delightful whodunit with a remarkable hero and sublime Southern setting.
Thursday, July 29, 2021
I Recently I blogged about the new Dune movie coming out soon, which the NYT’s Paul Krugman wrote about enthusiastically. Krugman also commented about Apple TV’s upcoming SF film version of Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation trilogy. He’s a bit concerned that the original “gripping tale” will not be cinematic enough—i.e., lack action—which trailers suggest will be supplied by other writers.
Be that as it may, Foundation has a story line with contemporary relevance we can ill afford to ignore. It’s “about the collapse of a galactic civilization, but nobody knows it except a handful of mathematical social scientists—the psychohistorians.
Led by a guy named Hari Seldon, they devise a plan to limit the damage. Civilization, their math tells them, can’t be saved, but they can limit the duration of the dark age that will follow. The “Foundation” novels trace the progress of their plan across the centuries.”
As the writer of a literary novel (Journeyman, 2020) myself, I am keenly aware that characterization is the foundation of all literary and dramatic art. However, as the author of a murder mystery novel (Hotwalker, out Oct. 1), I am equally aware of the value of plot, which provides the chain of cause-and-effect holding a story together and making sense of it.
I love well-crafted stories that concern themselves with big ideas, especially if they have current meaning. This is where SF has made such a lasting contribution from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park, cautionary tales with huge popularity.
Another example of Asimov’s genius is “I, Robot,” his linked short story collection published in 1950 long before linked story collection were in vogue. The nine stories in the book are generally acknowledged as having forever changed the world's perception of artificial intelligence.
Three of the short stories from I, Robot have been adapted for television. And the film I, Robot, starring Will Smith, was released in 2004. While incorporating some elements of Asimov's creation, the movie’s screenplay radically changes the storyline. (Another writerly pitfall: your original source material may be changed to the point of unrecognizability. But that's a blog for another day.)
To me, the most important feature of the I, Robot stories is the “Three Laws of Robotics.” First Law: A robot may not harm a human being or through inaction allow a human being to be harmed. Second Law: A robot must obey commands of human beings unless doing so violates the first law. Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence except when doing so would conflict with the first two laws.
This is brilliant not only for the collection, which dramatizes conflicts between the three laws as robots grow more complex, but for real life, as well. Think of drones, for example. If they were programmed with the three laws, we wouldn’t be threatened by them, as we most assuredly are today.
Been having fun talking with others about Lee Childs and Jack Reacher online lately. I initiated the discussion by posting “Bad and Good News About Reacher.”
The discussion branched out in a more general but still satisfying way. Someone mentioned being dissatisfied with a mystery novel written by Jonathan Kellerman in collaboration with his son. Why couldn’t these writers exit with grace and dignity, my correspondent wondered?
M-O-N-E-Y, I suspect, is the answer, though I didn’t say that.
What I did say was that I totally get the disappointment when this happens. I had high hopes for daughter successors to Tony Hillerman and James Lee Burke, too, but so far had been disappointed by their books. I said I was reminded of what happened to Doyle when he tried to kill off Holmes. Fortunately, HE was the one picking up where the stories had previously left off.
Someone else brought the discussion back around to the new Reacher book. They, too, were disappointed with it. They also worried that the upcoming TV series would ruin the franchise. And here is where we disagreed because this respondent felt that the Bosch TV series was not even close to be as good as the books.
To which I replied that while I agreed that the TV Bosch is different than in the novels in some ways, I still think it's great stuff. So does Connelly, who has had quite a hand in writing it. I never would have envisioned Titus Welliver as Bosch but after watching the show I can't think of Harry any other way.
The great thing about writing a blog about writing is that you can always have the last word, which I just did.
Sunday, July 4, 2021
I very much enjoyed a recent piece on George Smiley and the character’s influence on another writer’s work. I’m a big Le Carre fan and have read all his espionage novels, beginning with dThe Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I especially loved his trilogy: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People.
Let me call your attention to another great spy novelist, Len Deighton, whose character Bernard Samson—a tough, cynical and disrespectful MI6 intelligence officer—resembles Smiley in important ways.
Deighton's successful first novel, The Ipcress File, was about the same central character as others which followed: a working class intelligence officer, cynical and tough. My favorite Deighton novels are his three trilogies: Berlin Game (1983), Mexico Set (1984) and London Match (1985); Spy Hook (1988), Spy Line (1989) and Spy Sinker (1990); and Faith (1994), Hope (1995) and Charity (1996). Winter was a companion novel. I recommend all of them without reservation.
Deighton also was a book and magazine illustrator who designed the cover for first UK edition of Kerouac's On the Road.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021