Saturday, May 9, 2009

Got Male?


There’s an interesting progression to the release of books written by Craig McDonald. The first, Art in the Blood (PointBlank 2006), was an enthusiastic collection of well researched and executed interviews of crime writers that achieved some real moments of insight to our favorite hacks. Then, skipping second base all together, Hector Lassiter had his fictional fingers under the panty line of pulp fans everywhere before we could play coy, and Head Games (Bleak House 2007) scored much deserved Edgar, Anthony and Gumshoe noms. In the excitement that followed the nominations, Craig’s next collection of interviews was pushed back to make way for a second date with Lassiter. We thought we were up for another roll with Hec, but having our virtue secure in his trophy case, Toros and Torsos, (Bleak House 2008) turned down the lights. It was a more measured pace, darker and moodier than its predecessor. Hector made us a bit nervous when he smiled, sadder when he cried and the author who “lives what he writes and writes what he lives” gave us a good dose of tragedy too. Rogue Males, like T&T is weightier than the first and, especially when read after the other books, leaves between its pages, an after-image of the author himself. This time around, McDonald is a presence, not just a prompt, and his subjects respond to him as a peer. We feel we’re hanging out backstage with the bands while they compare notes on clubs, groupies and record companies. His return subjects, James Ellroy, Ken Bruen and Lee Child, go even deeper and more candid than the first time around and the late James Crumley reminds us what we lost when he passed last year. The chapters are duets, the subjects placed beneath a title, (Kith & Kin, Duty & Honor) and beside a counterpart (Daniel Woodrell and Alistair MacLeod, Max Allan Collins and Stephen J. Cannell). A few trivial things even a casual read will reveal about Craig: he likes Deadwood, Ernest Hemingway and Tom Russell, the musician whose tunes are often, “noir set to music.” In the section titled Troubadours, Russell talks about Charles Bukowski, the internet and the overlap of fiction, film, painting and music, and Kinky Friedman, amidst the hoopla of his Texas gubernatorial bid comes down to earth, far, far closer to the ground than John Williams could coax him in Back to the Badlands, (Serpent’s Tail 2007). For the last section of the book, McDonald narrates a trip he took to Arizona to meet with and bring together two of his heroes, Bruen and James Sallis, (two of the four authors he claims had him on page one – Ellroy and Woodrell completing the quartet). During the summit they pick up Patrick Millikin and Dennis McMillan for a late night in a Mexican restaurant that sounds like a cross between the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs and My Dinner with Andre, except nobody ends up shot or bored to death. Of course the drawback for some readers with a collection like this is the stronger attraction to some subjects than others, but you would be short-changing yourself to skip it for those reasons, or to read it selectively or out of chronology, because McDonald pulls off a neat trick here. The subjects are hand picked and arranged with precision to produce that after-image of the author, that silhouette that becomes more discernable with each successive chapter and book. With their areas of overlap and the emerging themes of the conversations, it’s more confessional than biographical, revealing a portrait of the artist as a young fan and offering a mirror dimly for others who respond to the work and the words to recognize something of themselves. We get the feeling from his stated intentions to retire from these interviews, that come face to face with the writers that have inspired his own craft and having achieved a peer relationship, McDonald turns now to his own fiction and the daunting benchmarks left by this collective. He quotes Ernest Hemingway in the introduction. “As you get older, it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.”

7 comments:

Frank Bill said...

Bravo Mother Fucker, Bravo. Now, I'll wipe the spittle from my lips. Great post as always.Have not read Craig's work,one day my friend, one day...

Paul Brazill said...

Great post, indeed. Look forward to the Rogue Male

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am loving this too. Inteviewing Ellroy must be like stopping a cat from jumping into your paper shredder though.

jedidiah ayres said...

Patti - the question begs - if the cat wants to jump in, at what point do you relent and let him?

Interesting analogy.

Keith Rawson said...

the Lassiter novels is one of the few series I actually follow and look forward to and Rogue Males has been an incredible read. I've been stretching it out and reading an interview every couple of days. I've been saying time and again, but the Woodrell interview is simply amazing, same with Ellroy. Great piece, Jed

Corey Wilde said...

I don't have Keith's discipline. When I got my copy of 'Rogue Males,' I devoured it before bedtime. Mr. Ayres, you said everything about the book that I would have liked to say, had I any talent for articulation at all.

Gordon Harries said...

Keith: it's in 'Art In The Blood', but I really dig on the David Corbett Interview in there.