Women and Dicks
I get a fair number of letters from readers who have read Chris's Picks and said, "Hey Chris, how come you don't have any women authors here?"
First, I don't have any set prejudice against women writers, and I do read many of the recommendations made to me by readers, but I have to tell you kids, the girls are just not ringing my bell, and therefore I haven't been putting them in Chris's Picks. And it's not talent --don't get me wrong, there's plenty of talent -- it's subject matter. In case you hadn't noticed, different things are important to women than are to men. It's the details.
I had several readers recommend Michael Lee West's She Flew the Coop and I tried, I really tried to read it, but I just lost interest somewhere between the corn bread and the hush puppies. (Which is not to say the book isn't good.) I know that being a Southern Woman is a complex task, that growing up a girl in the South is an experience fraught with charm and complexity and creepiness, but I have a hard time caring. My mother's family is all from Georgia, many of them are women (so I have credentials), but frankly, I can't stand even listening to my own aunts wax nostalgic about driving a tractor up a tree or putting too much whisky in the fruitcake ‘til "Momma liked to die with embarrassment". I love ‘em, I just can't relate to ‘em. I once was on a panel with Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle stop Café, and she is one of the sweetest, warmest people on the planet - her books are charming and funny, and I can't get through them. I just don't give a shit about what it's like to grow up a little girl in the South. As far as I can tell, you make some cornbread, sew some calico, have sex with some close relatives, marry an abusive redneck who you are forced to kill with your Momma's iron skillet , then you're done. Move on Oprah. So my apologies to all of the Steel Magnolias in the Ya Ya Sisterhood - you can quilt me up a mess of complaints at the next church social. It's not you, it's me. And you know what? If enough people tell me I should read something, I'm going to recommend it to you, my faithful readers, whether I like it or not. Because I'm giving you credit for being smarter and more open minded than I am. Me, I'm going to reread To Kill a Mockingbird any time I need my fix of Southern Girlhood. "Hey Boo."
Here's some other women writers of great talent that fellow readers have recommended:
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
Shipping News by Annie Proulx
But that's not what I wanted to talk about in this selection. I wanted to talk about dicks. Private dicks. Gumshoes, peepers, snoops, moles. They are a mainstay of literature, and I've been hooked on detective stories since I read the Sherlock Holmes collections when I was a kid. Today you have dwarf detectives, paraplegic detectives, postal detectives, detectives of every ethnic and social background working in every region of the U.S. just detecting the bejeezus out of anything that bleeds. And that, as Martha says, (and what spaceship from the planet Xanax Lace Doily 7 crashed and left that woman with us?) is a good thing. I read the guys and I read the girls, and here's my conclusion:
Women detectives spend entirely too much time thinking about and describing what they are going to wear, and guy detectives spend entirely too much time thinking about and describing what they are going to eat. Which brings me to what I actually wanted to talk about here:
Elvis Cole can eat. This slim bad boy can wolf down a pastrami on rye with hot Chinese mustard for breakfast, chase it with a couple of beers, and that will barely hold him long enough to drive to Little Tokyo where he will wolf down a half-dozen sushi items drenched in wasabe. (You might find a female detective talking about food in the detail that Elvis Cole does, but you can bet that it's either going to be the murder weapon or something she's feeling guilty about. There's no hard and fast rule here; Lawrence Sander's male detective, Archie McNally talks about clothes all the time - it happens, but it's not the norm. I'm waiting for the book when Archie's closet will be so full he'll finally be forced to come out of it. But this is about Elvis.)
Elvis Cole is the creation of Robert Crais, whose books I'm currently devouring at the rate of one a day. Elvis looks a lot like a young John Cassavettes, has a taciturn homicidal partner named Joe Pike, a beer-drinking cat named "the cat", lives in an A-frame house perched on a canyon overlooking Hollywood, drives a yellow '66 Vette (yeah, that he is able to ever tail anyone inconspicuously sorta stretches credibility, but hell, I had a sea monster turn into a house trailer in my last book, so who am I to judge?) But most important for our purposes, Elvis Cole is a stone smartass, and even if Crais weren't great with plot, suspense, character and description, the dialog would be worth the ride. Most of the books are set in the Los Angeles area, with Elvis taking a sojourn into Cajun country in Voodoo River. If you like hard-boiled detective books with an edge of wit, you won't be disappointed in Crais' books.
The Elvis Cole Books include
The Monkey's Raincoat
Stalking the Angel
Elvis's partner, Joe Pike gets his own book in
And Crais steps out for a go-round with a woman who works for the L.A. Bomb Squad in
Check ‘em out. Meanwhile, I think we should have a discussion on the BBS of "favorite detective foods I have read." I want to start the conversation with James Lee Burke's shrimp Po Boy sandwiches with plenty of Cajun spiced mayo. Mmmmmmm.
Look for upcoming Chris's Picks discussing: Southern Convict Gothic, Neo-Anarchistic Cross-dressing Cult Members, and The best thing to come out of Wyoming since, since, since, uh, something good came out of Wyoming if there was something.
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