Friday Afternoon Potpourri: On the Rebound Edition

Last Sunday brought a relapse of the grippe that had afflicted me a week earlier, but once again, I hope to find myself on the mend. In the meantime…

***

Once again, I consider myself fortunate to be teaching online this month, and since I’ve taught this course online in past terms, I’ve been able to get my work done even given my current lack of strength/stamina. I’ve also been able to get a little reading done, revisiting Jerry Healy’s Cuddy novel Swan Dive and finally beginning Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder series with its initial novel, The Hot Rock.

I met Mr. Healy at an academic conference about crime fiction at my doctoral institution, and started reading the Cuddy series almost immediately thereafter — fortunately, the public library in Muncie had several installments, which convinced me to find the others at a local used paperback store. Swan Dive is the fourth in the series about the Boston-based PI, and it’s one that I guess I last read in Muncie while the Spawn played with plastic dinosaurs in the children’s section of the Kennedy Library, a building that was exactly as mid-1960s as the name would indicate. I certainly didn’t remember much of the plot, but there were enough echoes that I recognized having read the book before.

I’ve said before that while the Cuddy series is overshadowed by Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, they work in different ways. Parker’s novels are the stuff of capital-R Romance, the “parfit, gentil knight” Spenser and his Lady Susan, where “forever wilt thou love and she be fair.” That’s not a knock — Parker knew he was working a mythopoeic side of the street (after all, his own dissertation was a Frygean study of the hard-boiled PI), and while it got a bit labored by the time he left us after forty Spenser novels, each book brings us a share of appropriately vanquished dragons in Parker’s astonishingly engaging voice. And when that’s all said and done, a hell of a lot of people (including Your Genial Host) dig it.

But Cuddy lives in a darker world. When we meet him, he is a widower, his wife Beth having died of cancer some time before. Many of the books include the hero having imaginary conversations with Beth at her gravesite, which he tends regularly. While Spenser has his core group of allies and supporters (most notably Susan and Hawk, but eventually expanding into a veritable Rainbow Coalition of tough guys), Cuddy is a much more isolated character in what seems to me to be a more realistic, or at least more dangerous milieu. Certainly Cuddy seems to suffer a great deal more than Spenser; while Spenser does have some near-death experiences (at the hands of April Kyle and The Gray Man), I don’t recall his getting pummeled to the extent that Cuddy does on several occasions. In Frygean terms, the Spenser books are largely summery in nature, while Cuddy’s stories have a distinctly autumnal tone.

Image by Robert D. Denham. Source.

(Side note: At this point it’s tempting to try to draw a parallel between these mythoi and the lives and deaths of Parker and Healy respectively, but that feels too easy to me. End of side note.)

In Swan Dive, Cuddy is hired to bodyguard a woman in the midst of a divorce. The client’s estranged husband (and principal threat, and generally nasty piece of business) turns up dead along with a prostitute. Cuddy is a suspect and has to solve the case in order to clear himself, and along the way finds himself facing drug dealers, an eccentric pimp, coked-out attorneys, and policemen who range from uncommitted to actively hostile. While kinds of justice are done (there were five more books in the series, after all), they aren’t especially tidy. But the book is genuinely satisfying, or at least I found it that way, and maybe you will as well.

Westlake’s Dortmunder adventures are caper comedies, and have a devoted following. The protagonist, John Dortmunder, is a gifted criminal mastermind who just can’t seem to catch a break. The first novel involves his assembling an elite team of criminal oddballs to steal an emerald from one African nation for the benefit of a neighboring nation. So they do. But then they have to steal it again, this time from where it was hidden. And again. And again, under progressively difficult circumstances each time. The fun is in watching the exasperated criminals operating professionally in increasingly absurd circumstances. The Hot Rock is a quick read — I read it last night after dinner. Tonight I’ll take a look at Bank Shot, the second in the series. Both Swan Dive and Hot Rock are recommended.

***

Speaking of writing, the contents of Jack Calverley’s Death of a Bad Neighbour (Jack’s British, hence the U in Neighbour) antho have been announced, and you’ll find at least one familiar name at the book’s website. The website is a work in progress, but does include that contents list, along with a chance to sign up for updates, so why not swing by?

Meanwhile, Black Is the Night, the Cornell Woolrich-themed anthology that contains my story “The Jacket” is available for order through the usual suspects. In addition to my own story, you’ll find the work of James Sallis, Joe R, Lansdale, and others, as well as an introduction and Woolrich appreciation by Neil Gaiman. That one comes out in early October, making me a fine belated birthday gift. And as ever, thanks to everyone who shows interest in that part of my life.

***

The music news today is largely focused on the COVID-related death of Michael (ne Marvin) Aday, much better known under his stage name of Meat Loaf. His frequent collaborator Jim Steinman left us last year, and between Steinman’s teenaged Wagnerian epics and Meat Loaf’s rock and roll heidentenor (his range allegedly running from F2 to Bb6), we have perhaps the most genuine example of rock opera, “Bohemian Rhapsody” notwithstanding.

But Meat Loaf was not the only rocker with a taste for high drama that we’ve lost of late. R. Dean Taylor, the first white artist signed to a Motown label, died on 7 January at the age of 82. He co-wrote the Supremes’ hit “Love Child”, but may be best remembered for his own big hit “Indiana Wants Me“, which hit #1 in the Cashbox charts in 1970. “Indiana”, complete with sound effects that would have made Shadow Morton flinch, is considered to be a first-order slab of ’70s cheese, in the class of Clint Holmes’s “Playground In My Mind” and Terry Jacks’s version of “Seasons in the Sun“, both of which are doubtless on Satan’s iPod (Indeed, not even Link Wray’s guitar could redeem “Seasons.”). As the kids say, “Cringe.”

However, the song I associate with Taylor is one I bought at a garage sale when I was about nine or ten, chiefly because the 45 was on translucent red vinyl, and I thought the label (from Motown subsidiary Rare Earth) looked equally trippy. “Gotta See Jane” was originally released in 1968, and made the top 20 in Canada and the UK as a 1970 single. A subsequent release in 1974 made #41 in the US. Like “Indiana”, the track has gratuitous sound effects and a high-bombast production approach by Taylor himself. This put it right in the wheelhouse of the pre-teen Prof, and in those years before I discovered the Beatles, I spun the heck out of this one. In retrospect, I’m surprised my parents didn’t hide it, but in the words of the Widow Loman, attention must be paid.

See you soon!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Music. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s