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Voodoo Karma, and A Book

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Every once in a while, I wonder if this thing about being born on Friday the Thirteenth isn’t having more effect on my life than I’d like to think.

And this week was one of those times.

At the bottom of this post, I intend to talk about a book, which is much more interesting than my whining–so just bear with me for a bit.  I’ll get past the week as soon as I can.

But–to start.

First, I have, for the last SEVEN years–emphasis deliberate–been renting a car from a local car rental place.  That’s renting, not leasing.

Lots of people have told me I’ve been insane to do t his, but my rationale was quite simple. 

Although leasing is much cheaper on the surface, it comes with costs.  The lessee is expected to get the car serviced every three thousand miles and to pay for any repairs the car needs like brakes that need brake jobs and transmissions that go wonky, as well as paying for things like conveyance fees and taxes and a lot of other stuff.

With the rental, I got the car, and if anything went wrong with it it wasn’t my problem.  I dropped it off, they gave me a substitute, I was good to go in a second and then I picked it up when the repairs were done.  I paid my rental and nothing else.  They handled the endless fees Connecticut puts on cars.  I brought the car in for service and never paid a dime for it.

When my brother was alive, he did my car repairs for me, and if there was something he couldn’t do, he took it into somebody he could trust and who wouldn’t dare rip him off.

But my brother had moved to Kansas at about the time I totaled the Escort in a freak snowstorm, and a few months after that he was dead.  This was not a bad arrangement.

The only serious drawback came in the form of the guy I had to rent it from, who was, in the words of my sons, “a douche.”

What he was was one of these people who had a hard time admitting he was wrong, and who responded to situations where it was obvious he was wrong by going on the offensive about something else.

At one point, he started to harrass me on a nearly daily basis to bring in the car for service, and when I told him I’d been there less than three weeks before, he gave me a lecture on  how it had actually been months and it needed to come in right now.

So I brought it in, and of course there was the sticker.  But he didn’t acknowledge that, and he didn’t apologize. Instead, he started harranguing me about how there was a little tear in front bumper and I needed to get that done right away and he needed to see an estimate immediately and…

There certainly was a tear in the front bumper, obviously something that had happened in a snow bank–but it was small, and the estimates were in the range of $250.  There was no need for anything to be done about it immediately, and since at that point it looked like I was going to drive that car until it died, there might not have been any need to do anything about it at all.

But, you know, at least we weren’t talking about the fact that the car not only had not gone 3000 miles from its last service, but it hadn’t gone 600 miles.

It was that kind of thing.

This man was, as far as I could see over the years, nasty and unpleasant to virtually everybody who walked through his door.  His most common conversational style was accusatory, whether he had something to accuse you of or not. 

I used to wonder how he’d managed to stay in business, considering the way he treated customers.

And then I found out—he didn’t.

I got the phone call, out of the blue and with no warning whatsover, that I had to return the car by this past Friday, because he was going out of business.

I could go on at some length about the experience of turning the car back in–the insistance that I was at least a month behind in the car rental payments (I have bank records, and he knew it, and he finally backed down), that my initial deposit was “absorbed in the rental” (whatever that means), and that he didn’t owe me for the week I’d paid for that I wasn’t going to get since I had to return the car then.

It was as nasty and unpleasant as it had been all along, and it resulted in my coming home without a car.  I’d been given such a short time to fix something up, I haven’t yet been able to arrange for something new in the way of a ride, and I am stuck here this week-end without one.  And maybe for longer. 

I will eventually get it done, but the inconvenience is severe, and the whole damned thing is going to end up being expensive and inconvenient, especially since I live in something less than a bustling metropolis, and truly local options are few and far between.

But that didn’t end the week-end.

I got home Friday night with enough supplies to last me for a while, did some e-mail, checked a few web sites, and then headed off to make dinner.

Dinner being made, I realized that I had never shut down the computer and all the lights in my office were on.

I sent my younger son in to sign off–and  he came back to tell me the monitor was now entirely dark puce and even darker blue, and that it wasn’t possible to read anything on it.

He was right.  I couldn’t read my mail.  I couldn’t read my manuscript.  It was all just–messed up.

And, since the problem with my account being hacked last month, I also can’t get mail from my main e-mail account on my phone. 


Well, I have good friends who Do Things with computers, and they had a spare lying around the house, and they came over yesterday to bring it to me.

I only lost one day of work and I’m back today–but the monitor I’m borrowing is, according to my friends, a little wonky.  It’s probably about to die, and every once in a while the image on the screen shudder as if it’s about to die, and it probably will.

So now I’m sitting here with no transportation and a monitor that gives me heart failure a couple of times an hour.

And it’s Sunday.  And I’m going to make something nice for dinner and not think until tomorrow morning, because if I think, I’ll explode.

And that brings me to the book.

It’s called The Night Men, and it was written by Keith Snyder, a nice man who once sent me very interesting tea.

It was, I think, the last book he published, and it came out in 1996.  He published it with Walker, and I think Walker went out of business.  He wasn’t able to pick up another contract and he went on to other things, including becoming something of a powerhouse in the field of the design and publication of e-book editions of mystery novels.

But here’s the thing–this is a great book.  It’s a remarkable book.  It is everything I’ve ever tried to do in the writing of crime fiction, and everything I’ve failed at.

The writing is beautiful, the construction of the thing is like Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, and I’m not sure I could explain it to you. 

But what got me is this:  this is a good book.  It’s well written in the sense of being absolutely beautiful prose, and it’s well constructed in the sense of having all its parts fit together–and that’s a high wire act in this thing.

And Keith Snyder doesn’t have a contract.

But the woman I didn’t name who wrote that thing I didn’t name about two months ago, the one that was a hashy mess–well, she’s not only got a contract, she’s got a multiple book one.

And it makes me ashamed of the American reader that this is where we’re at.

Go read Keith Snyder’s The Night Men.  It’s not exactly a mystery story, and it’s not exactly a “crime novel,” and I don’t know how to tell you what it is.

It’s just an amazing book.

Written by janeh

April 1st, 2012 at 10:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

11 Responses to 'Voodoo Karma, and A Book'

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  1. I downloaded Snyder last night, and I’m about 8% in–which is not bad considering he frontloaded the kindle edition with every favorable review he ever received. (Note to Mr. Snyder: the people reading those reviews on kindle have already bought your book. All you’re doing is keeping them from the story.)

    I am prepared to be ashamed of the American reader over Kreb’s EL CID, Hambly’s BRIDE OF THE RAT GOD and Garrett’s “Final Fighting of Fionn Mac Cumhail”–even Poyntz Tyler’s GARDEN OF CUCUMBERS or Kaye’s THE OATH AND THE SWORD–but not over this. If I’d picked it up and read in the blurb that Our Hero is protecting his gay friend following a hate crime, and that a third of the book is excerpts from a non-existent novel, then found no reference to plot, it could have been everything Jane says, but I’d not have opened it up to find out. What would have registered with me would have been Message Book, Using Up Discarded Text, and Plotless in that order. Opening it up and finding that a third was set in high school might have been a killer right there. Not much I wouldn’t rather do than revisit high school.

    Which brings us to taste. With all due respect to structure and prose, there is nothing to be ashamed up in prefering story, dialogue and character. This book is not a civic duty, nor some penance I’ve undertaken for Lent. Reading for pleasure ought to be pleasureable, which the professionals sometimes forget.

    All of which said, it’s workable so far, and I could name some that aren’t. I’ll wait and see whether the pieces fit together. Watch this space.


    2 Apr 12 at 7:32 am

  2. My mistake. Graham Shelby’s THE OATH AND THE SWORD, of course. Maybe if more people had purchased it, he wouldn’t have given up on his medievals.


    2 Apr 12 at 8:16 am

  3. I have the book on my Kindle and noticed the pages of self promotion but haven’t started reading.

    I’m reading “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt. Its a discussion of the evolution of morality and is trying to understand the difference between conservatives and liberals (in the US). Republicans would like it, Democrats will hate it, and the author is a liberal Democrat!


    2 Apr 12 at 7:01 pm

  4. Thank you very much for this, Jane. It would have meant a lot to me at any time, but it came at a moment of personal failure, so it meant double.

    I have not yet mastered the knack of writing a book that turns into whatever each reader feels like reading that day. When I do, I hope Mr. Piepenbrink enjoys it, but he should probably just return this one and get his money back.

    As for those promotional pages, I forgot I even added them–they were an experiment–but I’d like to correct a misapprehension: Unlike iBooks, Amazon does not allow the publisher to upload a separate teaser sample; it simply truncates the book and serves up a small percentage of it.


    3 Apr 12 at 2:17 pm

  5. Oops, I hit SUBMIT before I meant to:

    Anyway, I’m sorry if the promotional stuff bothers anybody. When Amazon follows iBooks’ lead, it’ll be easier to make everybody happy. Until then…if memory serves, I added links to the review section that say something like “Forget this, take me to the story!”

    Best I could do.

    Thank you again, Jane. Very much.


    3 Apr 12 at 2:19 pm

  6. Finished The Night Men. Very good and intricate structure. VERY good dialogue. I’m quite happy to have read it. I recommend it on that basis.

    But if Walker marketed it as a crime novel–let alone a mystery–they ought to be ashamed of themselves. There are no clues. There’s really not much by way of rational thinking and detection. It’s just a pleasing mainstream novel with a little light lawbreaking. It seems to have been the last in a series, and while I’m sure the series readers would get more out of it than I did, I suspect the author was a little tired of writing mysteries.

    Salt has many excellent properties–but it shouldn’t be sold as sugar.


    3 Apr 12 at 3:15 pm

  7. Ouch! It was a fun read. I recommended it as such. I felt I got my $2.99 out of it. I was, in fact, checking out other available books by the author this afternoon.

    To call a piece of fiction a “pleasing mainstream novel” is not to denigrate it–merely to observe that calling it a crime novel raises, I think, different legitimate expectations. If anyone’s counting, I have the same problem with THE LIGHTS IN THE SKY ARE STARS–a very good novel, but not really science fiction. It happens. And the good stuff will be with us long after our present marketing categories have gone away.

    Mr Snyder, please write more. But if there is no mystery to unravel, the book ought not to be called a mystery. And if crime is peripheral to the novel, it ought not to be called a crime novel. That’s not criticism in the negative sense, but taxonomy.


    3 Apr 12 at 5:59 pm

  8. Stop digging, Robert! :-)

    Great to see you here, Keith. Long time.

    As Robert says, write more.


    3 Apr 12 at 8:02 pm

  9. And for those of us who want MORE MORE MORE of a good thing, THE NIGHT MEN was the fourth book published. First was SHOW CONTROL, then COFFIN’S GOT THE DEAD GUY ON THE INSIDE, then TROUBLE COMES BACK, and then NIGHT MEN. I love love loved these books when they came out, and am glad to be reminded of them. For me, they were all very satisfying. I think I remember that Keith (who for a while was on the Bouchercon circuit when I was, too) said that he later felt squirmy (my translation) about his beginner’s mistakes in SHOW CONTROL. Maybe if Jane read it, she’d be irked by them, too, and would see a progression of skill and mastery from book 1 to book 4. Me, I enjoyed them all and anticipate rereading them with pleasure.


    3 Apr 12 at 9:56 pm

  10. Nice to see you too. Sorry it took me so long to get back and respond–parenthood and time have no extradition treaty.

    Walker’s opinion about crime fiction was pretty much John W. Campbell’s definition of science fiction: “Science fiction is what science fiction editors publish.” I didn’t care much about genre at the time (and still don’t, as a writer), but it fell within Michael Seidman’s boundaries–which were loose; he didn’t have much patience for The Mystery–and he wanted to give me money, so it became crime fiction.

    I might muse, though, that a love letter to crime fiction–to Robert B. Parker’s “Early Autumn,” in particular–isn’t entirely out of place on a mystery shelf. Let it visit its parents once in a while…


    16 Apr 12 at 3:16 pm

  11. Oh, and Kate—I’m trying to get Dell to return my calls about the second in the series. If I can get the rights reverted, the first two books will be up on Amazon along with the second two.

    Thanks, all. It’s nice to see something like this pop up.


    16 Apr 12 at 3:19 pm

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