Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Few Good Books

By Pat Browning

From my personal blog, Morning’s At Noon, March 26, 2009, and an update:
Jean Henry Mead tagged me for one of her blogs, asking me to name 25 authors who influence(d) my writing. It was tough, and either I can't count or some names floated off into the ether.
I ended up with 22, many of them golden oldies. Here they are, good writers and good books all.
My list of 25, give or take a couple:
1. Writers of the Bible, King James Version – for spellbinding stories and beautiful language, imagery and cadence, this is … well… er, um …the Bible.
2. William Shakespeare, all plays – everything I said about the KJV, plus humor. Shakespeare relieved tension with levity, which nevertheless had meaning.
3. Charles Dickens, all novels –master of characterization. He reportedly said he got his villains from himself because there’s a little bit of every man in each man.
4. Edna Ferber (CIMARRON)– master of the sweeping saga, celebrating the early days of this country.
5. John Steinbeck – (THE MOON IS DOWN, THE PEARL) simplicity of writing in novellas, beautiful beyond words.
6. Phyllis A. Whitney (DAUGHTER OF THE STARS) – amazing writing. In five pages the story spans 100 years, from three points of view.
Pages 1-2,omniscient POV: two Union soldiers fight a duel at Harper’s Ferry.Pages3-4, present time, third person POV: an old woman writes a letter to her niece. Page 5, first person POV: niece picks up letter at the post office and is drawn into a web of family secrets.
7. Helen MacInnis (THE SALZBURG CONNECTION) – timeless thriller, turning the screw from paragraph one right up to the end.
8. M. C. Beaton (LOVE, LIES AND LIQUOR) – through many Agatha Raisin novels, Beaton’s theme never varies: Agatha wants the elusive James.
9. John M. Daniel (PLAY MELANCHOLY BABY) – place and time preserved in a story of a lounge pianist whose past catches up with him, with song titles as chapter heads.
10. Thomas B. Sawyer (THE SIXTEENTH MAN) – provocative story told from two viewpoints in alternating chapters, without ever using a signature tag.
11. Rebecca Rothenberg/Taffy Cannon (THE TUMBLEWEED MURDERS) – begun by Rothenberg before her death, completed to perfection by Cannon. Haunting story of an old murder and a reclusive country singer known as The Cherokee Rose.
12. Richard Barre (BLACKHEART HIGHWAY) – California’s Central Valley comes to life on a business trip that turns deadly, complicated by a country singer who went to prison for murders he didn’t commit. Barre wrote the lyrics for the title song.
13. Craig Johnson (THE COLD DISH) – deft use of back story and history in a rugged Wyoming setting, with one of contemporary fiction’s great sidekicks, Henry Standing Bear.
14. Robert Fate (BABY SHARK) -- unforgettable characters, likeable in spite of a high body count, in a story of revenge or die trying.
15. Lonnie Cruse (MURDER IN METROPOLIS) -- great examples of introducing a character or dropping in a bit of back story in a sentence or two.
16. Diana Killian (SONNET OF THE SPHINX) – graceful writing, intriguing plot and a prologue that dazzles.
17. Austin Davis (SHOVELING SMOKE) – pie-eyed look at a small town law office, one of the funniest books I ever read.
18. Brad Smith (BUSTED FLUSH) – another funny look at human nature, this one of a man besieged by collectors, history buffs and media types because he may have found a recording of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
19. Fred Harris (COYOTE REVENGE) – pitch-perfect story of an accidental sheriff in small-town Oklahoma in the 1930s.
20. Vicki Lane (SIGNS IN THE BLOOD) – beautifully written story of a widow coming to terms with life in Appalachia, her chapters interspersed with an old legend about a child bride who disappeared.
21. Beth Anderson (NIGHT SOUNDS) – memorable characters in a story of obsessive love set against a backdrop of Chicago's Gold Coast and the jazz scene.
22. Peggy Fielding (SCOUNDRELS’ BARGAIN) – echoes of Cinderella in this story of a hard-working woman, a rich old villain and a handsome stranger in Oklahoma Territory, 1889.

I’ll update my list to add:
23. Hank Phillippi Ryan (PRIME TIME) – creates a protagonist I can identify with – Charlie McNalley, veteran newscaster staring down middle age. I felt right at home in Charlie’s fictional newsroom at Boston’s Channel 3, beginning with the opening lines: “Between the hot flashes, the hangover and all the spam on my computer, there’s no way I’ll get anything done before eight o’clock this morning. I came in early to get ahead, and already I’m behind.”
24. James R. Benn (BILLY BOYLE) – puts a human face on World War II in a tale of a cop who joins the army expecting a desk job and ends up facing down a spy in the middle of top-secret invasion plans.
25. Timothy Hallinan (SKIN DEEP) – resurrects a PI named Simeon Grist from out-of-print oblivion by putting him on Kindle at $2.99, making him accessible to a whole new group of readers. Simeon is cynical, with a built-in BS detector but a soft spot for women and children. What I like about him is his wicked sense of humor, a wry way of looking at himself and the rest of the world.

And for lagniappe (for good measure) –

26. Chester D. Campbell (A SPORTING MURDER) – features a woman, Jill McKenzie, who’s an equal partner with her husband Greg in McKenzie Investigations. They have matching desks in the office as part of the agency’s “equal opportunity policy.” Greg is a retired air force officer; Jill pilots her own Cessna. Together they do “basic gumshoe work” to solve a murder involving NBA basketball and NHL hockey.
27. Lillian Stewart Carl (THE BLUE HACKLE) – a magical ending to a series, if that’s the case. Carl’s dedication reads: “For Anjali Ravi Carl, The last but far from least book of the series for the last but far from least member of the next generation.” The two principals – journalist Jean Fairbairn and Scottish detective inspector Alasdair Cameron, retired – plan a wedding on the historic Isle of Skye, but murder, ghosts and assorted hanky-panky at moldering Dunasheen Castle could derail their plans.


Vicki Lane said...

Well, don't I feel special to be included on your list! I too love the KJV of the Bible for the beauty of the language. Shakespeare too, of course. And one can safely quote at length from either since both are well out of copyright!

Timothy Hallinan said...

I'll never be in company this good again until I go to heaven. (If.) Thank you so much, Pat -- to be between The King James and Chester Campbell is paradise enow.

Anonymous said...

Vickie, I don't know why people like the "new" versions of the bible. They have none of the beauty of the old KJV. Good point about copyright -- lol.

Anonymous said...

Tim, you are definitely in good company -- a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, King James and Chester Campbell -- hard to beat!

Chester Campbell said...

If one is known by the company he keeps, I should be well known.

Robert Fate said...

You sure know how to give a great shout out, Ms. Browning. Thanks for including me.

Anonymous said...


Your BABY SHARK books are on my list of all-time favorites, you know. Love the settings and time frame. Your 1950s Oklahoma and Texas make me nostalgic for the good ol' days. Love the characters, especially Henry. He's a stand-up guy. (:

Pat B.

C. David said...

I love reading books ever since I was a little kid. Now that I am a father myself, I encourage my kids to read good books. There are a lot of good books to read like the Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter or those which are written by Stephen King.