“Black Wings Has My Angel” by Elliott Chaze. New York Review Books. 224 pages.
This reissued classic will satisfy your cravings for a good hard-boiled retro noir. Because it was resurrected from the 1950s, I could switch off my anachronism filter and read knowing that the price of breakfast, the idioms, the car models were all the real deal. Watching for anachronisms is so distracting, but when I know it’s a modern imitation, I can’t help myself.
The prose is nearly poetry and the story is pure noir. A bad man and a bad woman meet. “You can say what you want, but really money-hungry people, ravenously money-hungry ones, are a society all to themselves.” They road-trip through 1950s America, they camp for a while in Colorado, they pull a job the man brought with him from his time in Parchman prison in Mississippi. Early on we become aware that the man is telling us the story from a cell, so after that we read watching for what went wrong with the job.
Even if you aren’t craving a hard-boiled noir, this one is a gem worth mining.
“Time and Time Again” by Ben Elton. Thomas Dunne Books. 400 pages.
Go back in time, prevent the Great War. Been there, read that, right? About halfway through, you realize with a jolt that this is not the time travel novel you thought you were reading. From there it goes gloriously off the rails.
The action alternates between 2024 Britain, where a shadowy society recruits ex-military adventurer Hugh Stanton for the time travel mission, and 1914 Europe, where he carries out his mission but creates new ripples with dire consequences. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Ben Elton bases his time travel theory on an actual nervous breakdown that Sir Isaac Newton suffered in the 1690s, which adds an interesting historical layer to the story. And check out the book jacket blurbs from Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kenneth Branagh. Not the usual gang of suspects.
“River Road” by Carol Goodman. Touchstone. 288 pages
A college professor tortured by grief is suspected in the hit-and-run death of one of her brightest students.
Nan Lewis is an alcoholic just going through the motions of her job as the story opens, still emotionally paralyzed over the death of her young daughter. She leaves a faculty party where she has just learned she was denied tenure, and hits a deer on the drive home. Next day she learns a rising star in her writing class was killed in a hit and run at the same spot. Her confused recollection of the evening doesn’t help her credibility, but she’s not arrested and suspicion (and campus gossip) eventually veers to other faculty and students.
There’s a romance and – since Nan teaches in upstate New York – a lot of snow, which will be diverting for my readers in the balmy South who wore shorts for way too long into the winter of 2015.