The Tzer Island author blog is a forum for discussion of writers whose works have been reviewed in the Tzer Island book blog.  It may call attention to a new or relatively unknown author or to an established author's lesser known works.  Readers are invited and encouraged to comment on the writers featured on this blog, to discuss books that the author has written that aren't reviewed here, or to chat about anything else of relevance to the featured author.  As is true of the Tzer Island book blog, the author blog is an ongoing project, a work in progress that will forever be unfinished.

Friday
Aug242012

Joe Gores

Joe Gores (1931-2011) wrote sixteen novels and dozens of short stories.  Although his legacy as a crime writer is substantial, he is probably best known for his DKA (Dan Kearney and Associates) novels.  Kearney and his unforgettable collection of employees repossessed cars and did skip traces … the mundane, real-world work of private detectives.  Yet mundane is never an apt descriptor of Gores’ writing.  His fiction is tight, authentic, and memorable.

Educated at Notre Dame and Stanford (where he earned a master’s in English), Gores’ work experience included stints as a truck driver, a logger, and an assistant motel manager.  He also taught English in Kenya.  Yet it was the dozen years he spent working as a private detective (where he learned the art of repossessing cars) that most informs his crime fiction.  More information about Gores’ life and his work is available in this Thrilling Detective entry.

Gores began writing crime fiction in 1957 and continued until shortly before his death.  A multiple winner of the Edgar Award, Gores wrote television scripts in addition to books and stories.  His novel Hammett (inspired by his long devotion to the work of Dashiell Hammett) was adapted to film in 1982.  His love of Hammett’s writing led him to revive Sam Spade (after convincing Hammett’s family) in his last published work, a prequel to The Maltese Falcon titled Spade & Archer.  The story behind that novel, and another glimpse of Gores’ rich life, is found in this article from Stanford Magazine.

Gores wrote engagingly (and too briefly) about his life and career hereThe New York Times obituary also offers insight into the man and his work.  This remembrance of Gores was penned by his friend Mark Coggins.

The Thrilling Detective website provides this bibliography.

If he were still alive, Joe Gores could be teaching a workshop for aspiring authors of crime novels.  He did everything right.  He gave his characters full, quirky, and recognizable personalities, he wrote with a sharp eye for detail, he maintained a steady pace, and he told credible, interesting stories that maintain interest from beginning to end.  And he did all this with an amazing economy of language.  Not one word of a Joe Gores novel is superfluous.

The Joe Gores novels reviewed on the Tzer Island book blog are:

Dead Skip - the first DKA novel, published in 1972, sends Dan Kearney and Larry Ballard on a fast-paced mission to find the man who nearly killed Barton Heslip.

Final Notice - the second DKA novel, published in 1973, again begins with the beating of a DKA employee (Ed Dorsey), and again follows Kearney and his crew as they solve the mystery behind the beating.

Gone, No Forwarding - the third DKA novel, published in 1978, involves a conspiracy that may lead to the loss of Kearney’s license as a private detective.

Monday
Jun132011

Peter Cunningham

Peter Cunningham (b. 1947) is an Irish writer living in County Kildare whose novels (at least as measured by Amazon’s sales figures) seem to be overlooked by American readers.  That’s unfortunate.  Cunningham is a dynamic novelist who tells engaging stories in an elegant style.  His characters are fully developed, his plots are absorbing, and his themes are timeless.

Caveat:  I say all this having read only three of Cunningham’s novels.  Those three have nonetheless made me a fan.  My reviews (linked below) explain my admiration of his work.  Cunningham’s Monument novels, set in rural Ireland during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, bring life to richly detailed characters while capturing the essence of a time and place.  Although the two I most admire are “serious” novels of literary merit, Cunningham has also written several thrillers, one of which, The Snow Bees, I have read and reviewed.

Before he became a novelist, Cunningham gained writing experience as a journalist and newspaper columnist.  Cunningham also pursued careers as an accountant and as a commodities trader.  According to his website, Cunningham’s varied work experience has included laboring as a barge painter, a kitchen porter, a clerk on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and a sheep farmer.

Cunningham wrote his first novel in 1986 and began writing full-time in 1989.  In addition to the books he has published under his own name, he’s written thrillers under the pen names Peter Lauder and Peter Benjamin.

This is Peter Cunningham’s bibliography.

The Peter Cunningham novels reviewed on the Tzer Island book blog are:

The Snow Bees - first published in 1988, the novel is an entertaining (albeit typical) thriller involving drug dealers and Basque terrorists.

Consequences of the Heart - the second novel in the Monument series, first published in 1998, chronicles the loves and conflicts of two Irish families from the late nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century.

The Sea and the Silence - first published in 2008, the fourth and most recent installment of the Monument series follows the troubled life of an Irish woman from 1943 to 1963, focusing primarily on the World War II years.

Friday
Apr152011

Eva Figes

Often described as a feminist author, Eva Figes (b. 1932) has written at least fourteen works of fiction and six of nonfiction, including the "feminist classic" Patriarchal Attitudes:  Women in Society.  She spent her childhood in Berlin and, in 1939, traveled to England as a refugee.  Since then, she has lived in London.  She graduated with honors from London's Queen Mary's College in 1953.  Figes worked in the publishing industry until 1967 when she became a full-time writer and translator.  Her most recent novel, The Knot, was published in 1996.

Figes' novels are often characterized as "experimental," a counterpoint to the realistic tradition of mainstream British literature.  Her novels tend to focus on the inner turmoil experienced by female characters set adrift from conventional life.  Figes mastered the ability to create a sense of psychological dread, a fact that might make her work too downbeat for readers looking for a sunnier, more life-affirming view of the world.  Figes cites Kafka as a source of her inspiration and his influence on her work is evident, as are the writings of Virginia Woolf.

This is Eva Figes' bibliography.

The Eva Figes novels reviewed on the Tzer Island book blog are:

Nelly's Version - her excellent 1977 novel about a woman who finds herself at an inn, uncertain of her own identity, with no memory of how she arrived there.

The Tenancy - a 1993 angst-driven novel about a tenant battling forces beyond her control.

Thursday
Mar242011

Lionel Shriver

 

Lionel Shriver (b. 1957) was born in North Carolina, attended Columbia University in New York, traveled around Europe on a bicycle, lived in Israel for six months and in Belfast for twelve years, then spent a year in Nairobi and some months in Bangkok.  Shriver finally settled in London where she has lived since 1999.  Her travels and her acute sense of place clearly inform her novels:  Game Control, for instance, is set in Nairobi, Ordinary Decent Criminals in Ireland, and A Perfectly Good Family in North Carolina, the state in which she spent her childhood.  In addition to writing novels, Shriver has pursued a career as a jouralist and columnist, with work appearing in The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and The Guardian among many other publications.

Shriver has written ten novels, each exploring a different theme.  She identifies her themes in an "about the author" addendum she wrote for the Harper Perennial P.S. editions of her books: The Female of the Species is about anthropology, Ordinary Decent Criminals addresses the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, Game Control is centered on demography and AIDS in Africa, and We Need to Talk About Kevin concerns school violence and motherhood.  Her other novelistic themes include romance, career competition, and inheritance, while her most recent novel (So Much For That) takes on the issue of health care.

While her novels frequently touch upon political issues from a liberal perspective, Shriver claims to have "a viiolent, retrograde right-wing streak." Shriver's writing is often infused with wit and gentle humor that keeps her work from becoming strident regardless of the political views her characters express.  Shriver notes in the P.S. edition addendum that some people label her a feminist, a label she rejects because it implies an absent sense of humor.

This is Lionel Shriver's bibliography.

Shriver's best known work is We Need to Talk About Kevin,  a thoughtful exploration of the forces that might lead children to engage in Columbine-style violence and of parental reactions to a child's horrific behavior.  While that 2003 novel and Orange Prize winner is likely her best to date, her other work displays her range and showcases her talent as a humorist and as a sharp observer of people, places, and politics.  The Lionel Shriver novels reviewed on the Tzer Island book blog are:

A Perfectly Good Family - a 1996 novel about three siblings coming together after their parents' deaths to decide which of them should retain possession of the family house.

Game Control - a 1994 novel that addresses AIDS in Africa, population control, and the manipulation of statistics in the context of an unmarried woman's hapless search for love.

 

Wednesday
Mar232011

Nevil Shute

Nevil Shute (1899-1960) is the pen name used by Nevil Shute Norway, a British writer who published more than two dozen novels.  His experiences as a soldier during World War I, as a volunteer naval reserve officer during World War II, and as pilot and aeronautical engineer are reflected in his work.  War often has an impact on his characters and it isn't unusual to find ships sailing and airplanes soaring through his texts.  The books that are arguably Shute's best were written during and after World War II.

Shute and his family moved to Australia in 1950, where he lived until his death.  Most of the novels Shute wrote after 1948, when he first piloted an airplane to Australia, are set in that country.

Shute wrote quiet novels about decent people who meet adversity with dignity and courage.  His prose style was never flashy; it never got in the way of the stories he told.  Those stories are often deeply moving.  Shute mastered the ability to balance the character-driven sensibility of literary fiction with the plot-centered demand of genre fiction.  Although his novels have fallen out of fashion, they are just as vital and haunting today as they were when they were first published.

More information about Shute is available in this Wikipedia article and at the website of the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation.

This is Nevil Shute's bibliography.

Shute's best known novels are A Town Like Alice and On the Beach.  Although they are both excellent, some of Shute's lesser known books are just as good.  The Nevil Shute novels reviewed on the Tzer Island book blog are:

Most Secret - a 1945 novel about a secret project to attack German ships in a French harbor that incorporates the elements of a wartime thriller, a spy novel, and a love story.

The Chequer Board - a 1947 novel about a man who, knowing he has less than a year to live, finds a way to make his remaining life meaningful.

The Breaking Wave - a 1955 novel (Tzer Island's favorite Shute novel) about a partially disabled veteran who learns about his own life by reading the diary of a woman who committed suicide on his parents' farm.