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Howard Chaykin’s Guide To Crime Fiction: Addendum

Forgive an old man for a slipping memory.

Here’s an addendum, and not necessarily the last such, to the lists that preceded it…




I don’t have any recollection of who it was who recommended I try Ross Thomas, but whoever it was, described him as the Elmore Leonard of espionage fiction. This is both flattering, and reductive. Thomas is definitely a singular voice—a voice that resonates with a deep-seated skepticism about human nature.

I’ve read everything, and love it all, but THE FOOLS IN TOWN ARE ON OUR SIDE is a favorite. For those of us steeped in this sort of thing, I happen to believe that this novel is Thomas’ rewrite of/tribute to Dashiell Hammett’s RED HARVEST.

The WU/DURANT novels are probably a better starting point, but be warned—if you’re one of those people who need protagonists to be likeable, don’t bother with Thomas.

His leads are often difficult and deeply troubled characters—which is a big plus for me.




Like a lot of people, I was introduced to Richard Condon’s work, world and world view in John Frankenheimer’s film version of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

I was far too young to see the picture when it opened, but I saw it anyway—my mother had little or no interest in me after the summer of 1960, so I was on my own, and saw, read and experienced a lot of stuff that was inappropriate for a kid my age.

I loved the movie, and developed a brief but heartfelt crush on Leslie Parrish, who played Laurence Harvey’s doomed girlfriend…and read the book within the year. It was a revelation, and it made me a fan of most of his novels.

All three of the novels I’ve mentioned above have been made into terrific movies. Avoid the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE remake, though. For the record, the film version of WINTER KILLS is the movie that confirmed my belief that Jeff Bridges was possibly the best American actor in film working in my time.

I’ve posted recently to the effect that “…if Richard Condon were alive today, reality would sue him for plagiarism.” In his time, he was viewed as a pulpy political satirist, with an over the top and near comical perspective on society in general, and politics in particular.

Needless to say, recent history has confirmed that he was actually, whether he knew it or not, a deeply skeptical and prescient social realist.




I was first introduced to Carl Hiaasen’s work in February of 1992. I remember this specifically, as I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life. It was an interview with Bryant Gumbel on the TODAY show. Now, I gather from reliable sources that Gumbel was and remains an awful human being, but I regarded him as a terrific interviewer–and, apropos of nothing, we shared a similar fashion sense, back when I gave a fuck about such things.

That said, Gumbel soft-balled the fuck out of this guy Hiaasen, a writer I’d never heard of, and I bought NATIVE TONGUE that afternoon. It is not an overstatement to say that this incredibly funny book was a big help in getting me through that rough patch, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

The two books I’ve mentioned above are far and away my favorites, both of which feature, for the record, a character being taken out of the narrative by a wild animal…in both cases, described in some of the most hysterically funny prose I’ve read.

That seems to me a major reason why his work has never found traction in film, writing, as he does, some of the most violent crime fiction I’ve ever read, in a breezily nutty comic narrative voice that owes as much, to my mind, to P.G. Wodehouse as it does to any one of the hardboiled traditionals.


As ever, I remain,

Howard Victor Chaykin – a prince


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