Sunday, March 1, 2020

That Left Turn at Albuquerque

The first time I met Scott Phillips was at a screening for The Ice Harvest in 2005. The film's director Harold Ramis had ties to St. Louis and Phillips (upon whose book the film was based) was a recent transplant from Los Angeles. I was a bookseller at the time and really early into recognizing my hunger for and interest in crime as a film and literary subject. I'd noticed the movie cover on the reissued paperback of Scott's book and was interested in the film for Ramis and also its stars John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, but when I read that Richard Russo and Robert Benton had written the screenplay I was fascinated.

I enjoyed Benton's Nobody's Fool with Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis and had in turn adored Russo's source novel. Russo then won the Pulitzer for Empire Falls and it seemed to me (as a naive bookseller) that he could do anything he wanted to. The fact that he wanted to adapt somebody else's novel seemed like a huge endorsement that I should pay attention to. Looking back it's easy to see why the author of Mohawk and former Southern Illinois University Carbondale professor would be attracted to The Ice Harvest, a period novel of Midwestern specificity (the book is set in 1979 Wichita, Kansas) about deluded nowhere men hanging out in bars between relational, professional and moral failings of every stripe.

After seeing the film I thought I too might enjoy the books of Scott Phillips. Maybe they were for me.

I had no idea.

I blew through The Ice Harvest, The Walkaway and Cottonwood plus every short story I could find. I reached out to Scott as a fan and bookseller hoping to set up an author event in 2007 and we bonded quickly over crime fiction, movies and our shared Kansas roots. Over the years we became friends, writing partners and co-hosts of a reading series we smashed and grabbed from Peter Rozovsky (fuck that guy).

We started hosting Noir at the Bar in St. Louis in 2009. We've enjoyed many rowdy and wrong-headed readings for more than a decade now and we're having another one this week in honor of Scott's new novel That Left Turn at Albuquerque. You should be there with us. We hope you are.

For readers who didn't grow up with any proper education the book's title comes from Bugs Bunny, a cartoon character of such casual confidence who creates chaos out of order wherever he goes, but always seems to be arriving in the wrong place, popping up from subterranean tunneling to consult a map then realizing where he went wrong (that left-turn at Albuquerque). And, if you're familiar with any of Scott's works you know that it's a pretty perfect title for any of his books about once-ordinary people so far gone they can't even see they're lost and who find themselves in terrible situations of their own design, but, blessed with a preternatural ability not to second-guess their instincts, continue to meander hilariously further down ruinous roads for our amusement.

That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available now wherever you get books and this month at HBW we'll be promoting it and celebrating Scott Phillips in general, my good friend and as casual an agent of literary chaos you're ever likely to have the good fortune to encounter.

Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble


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