Fading Fast

Connoisseur
9781771963176.jpg

The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier originally published in 1952

This long short story is billed as a ghost story, but you have to decide as the surface story is more of a psychological thriller than traditional spirit tale.

A middle-aged man loses his wife and, through third-person narrative, we learn that their marriage was an unhappy one in a very British way of surface politeness, quiet suffering and some vicious passive aggressiveness. Who's at fault? Probably both as he's a generally inactive guy who likes things done for him, but also just likes to be left alone; whereas, she's a doer who resents if her every action isn't acknowledged with applause.

Overtime, they had settled into an unpleasant armistice of living together for practical reasons, but apart emotionally. He would escape from her to his study; she would escape from him by going to committee meetings or seeing friends.

The story opens a few months after her passing where he's content to have the house to himself as we are sure she would be had he passed first. But then he notices an ugly, craggy apple tree in his yard - amidst all the healthy apple trees - whose existence begins to irritate him in an eerily similar way to how his wife irritated him.

From here the story becomes one of man versus tree, at least in his head. The view from his bedroom window is spoiled for him because of the tree's ugliness. The gardener objects to his suggestion to cut it down arguing that it's still alive and bearing fruit. The fruit it does bear is, only to him, inedible. When a dead branch of the tree is cut up for firewood, he finds the smell it makes in the fireplace intolerable; whereas, others enjoy it.

On it goes in this tale of man versus tree with him getting more and more desperate to get rid of the tree. As his antipathy increases, we begin to wonder how much of this is in his head or if the tree really is haunted with the ghost of his bitter dead wife. The ending is effective if not a complete surprise leaving you to decide if it was a ghost or mental anguish at work.

It's a quick one- or two-sittings read that's enjoyable enough for what it is. I bought the Biblioasis edition, which is part of a ghost-story series. The book, while paperback, had a nice hand feel to it with thick pages and a few wonderful sketches, similar to the cover one above, spaced throughout. For seven bucks on Amazon, if you enjoy the look and feel of physical books, this is a fun one to get.
 

Big T

Senior Member
"The Old Man's Boy Grows Older", by Robert Ruark. The is the sequel to his earlier "The Old Man and the Boy". Both are collections of short stories, loosely centered on Ruark's early life, in Southport, NC. Many of the stories were published in the 1950's in "Field & Stream", and maybe even a few in "Esquire".

I've read each book multiple times through the years, and usually re-read at least one of them, during hunting season. For those who enjoy outdoor sports, such as hunting and fishing, along with the tales of a youth mentored by his grandfather, these are worth a peek. Ruark also has written a number of other books, with tales of African safaris, also worthwhile, but some of his other work, not so much.
 
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Fading Fast

Connoisseur
12976072.jpg

The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand originally published in 1938

This novel is a 1930s' version of a progressive look-back at a Boston Brahmin born just after the Civil War who tried to embody all that being an upper-class, protestant, proper-Bostonian of his day, 1870s - 1930s, entailed.

Today, it's easy to mock, even denounce, that culture and conduct, but as always, using simple shorthands and only a modern perspective to judge a different time and place misses the context and circumstances that created that man, moment and way of life.

And it is a way of life that clearly was already on the way out when this Pulitzer Prize winning novel was penned. Written in the form of a memoir, we learn about George Apley mainly through his copious correspondence with family and friends. It takes some adjustment reading a novel composed mainly of the lead character's letters, but once you settle in, the different personalities come to life and the family reveals are powerful.

Apley was born on third base, but breaking the metaphor, he understood that his entire life, and tried to live up to the responsibilities the role and fates demanded of him. It meant following a prescribed path and belief system where one's individual wants and passions are suppressed because the good of the family, the social structure and Boston comes first.

And that makes it, despite his, for the most part, unearned wealth and position, an odd and, oftentimes, difficult life as one rarely does what one wants to, but what one is supposed to do as George Apley's father, wider family and circle of older friends makes very clear to George from an early age. College-age George painfully learns this lesson when an affair with a local Irish girl (the horror!) turns serious and the family steps in, not to force - almost nothing is forced on George - but to explain why a marriage to this admittedly nice girl would damage, not just George, but all those directly and indirectly relying on him to carry on the responsibility of being an Apley.

They note the clubs he wouldn't be admitted to (important for connections in that day), the leading businessmen that would turn away from the family's firm, the social circles and other informal seats of power that would shun him and how even his children would carry a stigma. And as the male heir of the main Apley branch, he would be undermining the entire family and its history. Even with a modern perspective of how ridiculous all this sounds, you can feel the intense pressure on Apley to part company with his Irish girlfriend and marry only within his class - which he sadly does.

That sets the pattern for George's life as choice after choice - work, clubs, committees, how to raise his children, even where to bury the family's dead - is made for the greater good of the family, the Brahmins and the city of Boston. He does all this even though, in Boston, his class's leading influence is already, if not admittedly, in decline. At some point, George the individual almost ceases to exist as his fealty to his role, to its value to the family and wider society becomes who he is. Decisions aren't made based on individual desire but a holistic-group perspective, which (theme alert) diminishes and damages the individual.

Harder still, all this attempted molding and grooming to lead the Apley family is repeated in George's son John. (Spoiler alert) However, after seeing up close what this soul-crushing responsibility did to his father - a polite but passionless marriage and public and private behaviour dictated by expectations not personal choice - son John walks away from it all. However, he did it not in a 1960s style "I hate you" rebellion, but by graduating Harvard Law (as expected) and then taking a job and building a career and life in New York (Sodom and Gomorrah to a Boston Brahmin).

In some of the most heartbreaking moments in the book, George tries to cajole and induce, but never force or threaten, John back to Boston as he sees all that his life has stood for implicitly renounced by his son. But the son and daughter, who refuses to marry "in her class," want no part of the Apley legacy as they see, not only the personal damage the Brahmin life causes, but that its entire belief system is dated and failing.

The Late George Apley is not only a eulogy for George Apley the man, but also for the Brahmin way of life, especially as social and civic leaders of Boston. Today we see that former leadership as prejudiced, classist and elitist. It was all those things and it was wrong. But those inside the system were no more all evil than the oppressed are ever all angelic. Apley was a man of his times; times we can denounce today, but a man who lived a life within that construct with integrity and fortitude that can't so easily be dismissed. The value in Marquand's Pulitzer Prize winner is its perceptive capture of George Apply as a representative of a ruling class in its twilight.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
This past week I finished reading Stephen King's "The Institute."

What would a present day derivative think tank of Adolph Hitler's Third Reich, be doing with telekinetic and telepathic children they kidnap and imprison in 11 Institutes (their terms, not mine) located throughout the world. Whatever it is, it has been ongoing for the past 70 or so years, since the final days of WWII. The average child may seem cherubic, harmless and incapable of great harm, even when they may indeed be capable of performing parlor tricks showcasing their abilities to read minds and/or move small objects around on tables. Delightful, harmless and yes, even cherubic may be appropriate assessments of the little darlings, but beware of the terrible psychic tsunami of destructive/life threatening capabilities that appear when the psychic abilities of the little darlings are 'daisy chained' to combine the abilities of hundreds! Alas, life is not good for the little children who are taken, abused, killed and then disposed of in ways reminiscent of the Holocaust .

Should you wish to know more, read the book...just like I did. As always seems to be the case, Stephen Kings, The Institute, is a real page turner! ;)
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
As a follow up to his Book Camino Island, author John Grisham, wrote Camino Winds. In this more recent yarn, our idyllic island is struck by a devastating hurricane, suffering massive storm damage and the inevitable loss of life. However, at least one death (a best selling author who lived the good life on the island) was the result of a well disguised murder. It seems one of the books written by our celebrity victim focused on massive financial fraud committed by the nursing home industry against the Federal Government. Insurance company executives less than appreciative of their moment under the microscope hired professionals to travel to the island, under cover of a major storm, to scratch/eliminate the itch that tormented them.

Do they get caught and if so, who does the catching? If you want to know all the 'gory' details, read the book. It is a page turner and probably a two sitting read for most folks! Enjoy. ;)
 

Mike Petrik

Honors Member
I always keep a book on each level of my home. Right now I'm reading:
  • From People Into Nations -- A History of Eastern Europe, by John Connelly;
  • The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin, by Jonathan Phillips;
  • The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton.
I recommend all of them.
 

Mike Petrik

Honors Member
View attachment 52095
The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand originally published in 1938

This novel is a 1930s' version of a progressive look-back at a Boston Brahmin born just after the Civil War who tried to embody all that being an upper-class, protestant, proper-Bostonian of his day, 1870s - 1930s, entailed.

Today, it's easy to mock, even denounce, that culture and conduct, but as always, using simple shorthands and only a modern perspective to judge a different time and place misses the context and circumstances that created that man, moment and way of life.

And it is a way of life that clearly was already on the way out when this Pulitzer Prize winning novel was penned. Written in the form of a memoir, we learn about George Apley mainly through his copious correspondence with family and friends. It takes some adjustment reading a novel composed mainly of the lead character's letters, but once you settle in, the different personalities come to life and the family reveals are powerful.

Apley was born on third base, but breaking the metaphor, he understood that his entire life, and tried to live up to the responsibilities the role and fates demanded of him. It meant following a prescribed path and belief system where one's individual wants and passions are suppressed because the good of the family, the social structure and Boston comes first.

And that makes it, despite his, for the most part, unearned wealth and position, an odd and, oftentimes, difficult life as one rarely does what one wants to, but what one is supposed to do as George Apley's father, wider family and circle of older friends makes very clear to George from an early age. College-age George painfully learns this lesson when an affair with a local Irish girl (the horror!) turns serious and the family steps in, not to force - almost nothing is forced on George - but to explain why a marriage to this admittedly nice girl would damage, not just George, but all those directly and indirectly relying on him to carry on the responsibility of being an Apley.

They note the clubs he wouldn't be admitted to (important for connections in that day), the leading businessmen that would turn away from the family's firm, the social circles and other informal seats of power that would shun him and how even his children would carry a stigma. And as the male heir of the main Apley branch, he would be undermining the entire family and its history. Even with a modern perspective of how ridiculous all this sounds, you can feel the intense pressure on Apley to part company with his Irish girlfriend and marry only within his class - which he sadly does.

That sets the pattern for George's life as choice after choice - work, clubs, committees, how to raise his children, even where to bury the family's dead - is made for the greater good of the family, the Brahmins and the city of Boston. He does all this even though, in Boston, his class's leading influence is already, if not admittedly, in decline. At some point, George the individual almost ceases to exist as his fealty to his role, to its value to the family and wider society becomes who he is. Decisions aren't made based on individual desire but a holistic-group perspective, which (theme alert) diminishes and damages the individual.

Harder still, all this attempted molding and grooming to lead the Apley family is repeated in George's son John. (Spoiler alert) However, after seeing up close what this soul-crushing responsibility did to his father - a polite but passionless marriage and public and private behaviour dictated by expectations not personal choice - son John walks away from it all. However, he did it not in a 1960s style "I hate you" rebellion, but by graduating Harvard Law (as expected) and then taking a job and building a career and life in New York (Sodom and Gomorrah to a Boston Brahmin).

In some of the most heartbreaking moments in the book, George tries to cajole and induce, but never force or threaten, John back to Boston as he sees all that his life has stood for implicitly renounced by his son. But the son and daughter, who refuses to marry "in her class," want no part of the Apley legacy as they see, not only the personal damage the Brahmin life causes, but that its entire belief system is dated and failing.

The Late George Apley is not only a eulogy for George Apley the man, but also for the Brahmin way of life, especially as social and civic leaders of Boston. Today we see that former leadership as prejudiced, classist and elitist. It was all those things and it was wrong. But those inside the system were no more all evil than the oppressed are ever all angelic. Apley was a man of his times; times we can denounce today, but a man who lived a life within that construct with integrity and fortitude that can't so easily be dismissed. The value in Marquand's Pulitzer Prize winner is its perceptive capture of George Apply as a representative of a ruling class in its twilight.
Congratulations on such a perceptive and well-written review.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
I always keep a book on each level of my home. Right now I'm reading:
  • From People Into Nations -- A History of Eastern Europe, by John Connelly;
  • The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin, by Jonathan Phillips;
  • The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton.
I recommend all of them.
Edith Wharton is, probably, my favorite author - definitely in the top three. I love "Age of Innocence," but would say "House of Mirth" is my all-time favorite of hers.
 

Dhaller

Advanced Member
My daughter, now 8, has become an avid reader. Fortunately for me, her favorite genre is "tales of adventure".

I am now introducing her to my version of "the classics" - Wells, Verne, etc.

The current line-up is "The Island of Doctor Moreau" (Wells), "Treasure Island" (Stevenson), "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" (Verne), and "The Story Doctor Doolittle" (Lofting).

Some I read to her, and some we read in parallel (she's a fan of "lit group" at school, so we replicate literary discussion at home).

It's actually nice to have a chance to read books I "missed" as a kid (for example, I never read Verne's "The Mysterious Island").

As for *me*, I seem to be catching up on periodicals lately... I have an oppressive stack of "MIT Technology Report" issues to work through.

DH
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
My daughter, now 8, has become an avid reader. Fortunately for me, her favorite genre is "tales of adventure".

I am now introducing her to my version of "the classics" - Wells, Verne, etc.

The current line-up is "The Island of Doctor Moreau" (Wells), "Treasure Island" (Stevenson), "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" (Verne), and "The Story Doctor Doolittle" (Lofting).

Some I read to her, and some we read in parallel (she's a fan of "lit group" at school, so we replicate literary discussion at home).

It's actually nice to have a chance to read books I "missed" as a kid (for example, I never read Verne's "The Mysterious Island").

As for *me*, I seem to be catching up on periodicals lately... I have an oppressive stack of "MIT Technology Report" issues to work through.

DH
That sounds like so much fun you're having with your daughter. And great to see her reading in this age of social media / technology / etc. I was a kid who read, but I grew up in the '70s with a B&W TV that got six or seven channels - reading was my escape / the library was my sanctuary.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
1333812.jpg

Oh Murderer Mine by Norbert Davis originally published in 1946

This is another in the Doan and Carstairs series (see other review here: #835 ). It's an even shorter (120 not-dense pages) effort of hard-boiled-detective fun driven forward by short, chubby, affable but whip-smart private investigator Doan and his equally smart, if sometimes lazy except when truly needed, huge Great Dane, Carstairs.

Taking place at a small university in Los Angeles, Doan and Carstairs have been hired by a self-promoting cosmetics company owner to look after her much younger professor husband, Eliot Trent, now employed at the university. Ostensibly, Doan is there to protect him as she's very wealthy, but he's really there to make sure her young, handsome husband doesn't cheat on her.

From here, a lot of stuff happens in a hurry: the apartment of a young, cute female teacher, Melissa, who lives just above Trent's apartment is broken into, she's roughed up, Doan is shot at and Trent's laboratory experiments are wrecked.

Things then amp up from there, as Melissa's boyfriend is killed, a odd foriegn professor, who escaped Nazi Germany, keeps popping up in surprising places and a teacher friend of Melissa is killed when she visits Trent's wife's beauty "institute." Meanwhile, the police investigator of all this, Humphrey, is just itching to blame it all on Doan, who is always two steps and three quips ahead of Humphrey. And, finally, a Mexican detective shows up, bringing an international element to all of this.

As noted, it's a short book, but it packs a lot of story, twists and turns in, too many for this reader to figure it out ahead of time. But in truth, the book is not about its confusing plot, it is about, one, the atmosphere of post-war Los Angeles trying to restart civilian life, two, the banter driven by Doan's retorts providing continuous sparks and, three, Carstairs, a dog that clearly thinks he's smarter than humans and usually is. All those things make the books in this series quick, smart and fun reads.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
Pulling some 'already read novels' together to pass on to others, I noticed author John Grisham's novel, The Guardians in the stack. Having read this book several months back, I don't recall ever sharing it with the Brotherhood...so here it comes. The Guardians is a story about a young public defense attorney who quickly becomes convinced that our criminal justice system serves only select groups well and badly serves so many others, resulting in far too many (and just one is really too many) wrongful convictions.. Our disillusioned public defender leaves the law and becomes a minister, after which he combines his ongoing zeal for real justice with the efforts of two other attorneys and a paroled felon to form The Guardian.s, a firm focused on righting the wrongs of past wrongful convictions. Throw in a drug cartel employing contract killers, a crooked sheriff running cover for the drug cartel, vengeful ex-spouses looking for some payback, a young black man, convicted of a murder he didn't commit who has spent the past 20+ years in prison. The book chronicals the 3+ year quest to right that wrong. It's a good book and well worth the time you will spend reading it! ;)
 

Mike Petrik

Honors Member
I recently started "Tough Luck" by Richard D Rosen. Rosen does a fine job of sharing the remarkable story of the last great Chicago Bears quarterback, Sid Luckman, paying special attention to the Luckman family's association with organized crime in Brooklyn, especially the scandal of his father's murder conviction.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
1168081.jpg

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby published in 1995

Some books are good because they accurately capture a moment, a place and a group of people, as Bright Lights Big City did for just-out-of-college kids in NYC in the '80s. I was a kid just out of college living in NYC in the '80s and, while I didn't live the drug culture of that book (I still agonize over taking one aspirin), I still saw its people and culture all around me back then. Was it well written, I don't know, but it was real.

High Fidelity feels like it did the same thing for mid-thirty-year-olds in London in the '90s, capturing that time in life when an ennui sets in as many have to accept, for the first time, that they are in no way young anymore and that all their dreams aren't going to come true. But there's enough humor about bad decisions and life stuck in first gear to keep the book from being a downer. Instead, it's a pretty fast, light read.

College-drop-out Rob is a struggling record-store owner who dwells on every failed relationship that he's had back to the early teen playground stuff that most of us breeze past in reflection if we remember it at all. But it was getting dumped in college that led to his dropping out and, eventually, a DJ gig and record store that turned a passion into, what has presently become, a failing business.

Now in his mid thirties, he still makes lists of his favorite songs and movies - and looks down on anyone with less-nuanced taste with disdain (like in high school) - with his equally directionless friends / store employees. Yet he can't help noticing that his other friends, especially the college grads, have moved on with their careers and relationships. This includes his lawyer girlfriend who has just left him for another guy, thus, sparking an early mid-life crisis.

Rob is so self absorbed that he can remember twenty-year-old conversations with a girl he went out with for a week, but can't see that his obsessing has left his life in a cul-de-sac. With that set up, the rest of the book is Rob half trying to get both his lawyer girlfriend back and his life in order, while also sabotaging both of those efforts with his obsessing, his inability to stop making the same mistakes and his ego that he knows is his enemy, but still can't help.

If you have a friend like Rob in your life - kinda self destructive, but also charming in his or her enthusiasm and silliness - you can feel the authenticity in High Fidelity. Plus it's pretty darn funny at capturing the small craziness that goes on in everyone's life, loves, jobs and family.

And it's equally good at capturing the cultural zeitgeist of that final pre-internet moment when making mixed tapes to impress a girl was still a thing or when stapling paper flyers to telephone poles was how people promoted everything from garage bands to new magazines. It's a good, fun and fast read to breeze through while you're deciding what you really want to read next.


N.B. The book was made into a movie that I think I enjoyed, but my only real memory of it is that Rob's girlfriend in the film was insanely pretty. I'm sure the book is better, but I'll be looking out for the movie to see it again just to compare.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
51pWZvzFuuL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Inside Warner Brothers (1935-1951) by Rudy Behlmer originally published in 1985

The majority of Inside Warner Brothers is an incredible treasure of business memos and letters sent to and from the Warner Brothers themselves, top executives, producers, directors, agents and the studio's famous stars from the titular years of 1935-1951 (with a few from the pre-code era of '30-'34).

These letters and memos provide such a direct view into the workings of the studio that you feel like you're a Warner Brothers' exec getting cc'd on the major movie and business events happening at the company. Helpfully augmented by author Rudy Behlmer's periodic commentary that provides context or follow up, it's hard to imagine a better way to see how a major studio operated during the peak years of the studio system, which also overlaps with Hollywood's putative Golden Era.

You quickly learn how much of a business making movies really is as budgets, personalities, power struggles, egos and worrying about what the customer (the ticket-buying audience) wants dominates the memo flow. While artist considerations pop up, the real drive is to create, at the lowest cost possible, movie after movie that the public wants to see.

Inside Warner Bros. shows why "the studio system" is a good description for how the company operated. It broke the business of making movies down into its component parts and tried to standardize each one while maximizing efficiency by doing things like utilizing the same sets and props across many movies, limiting location shots and reusing the heck out of stories it had already paid for.

While that's neat stuff, the real fun of the book comes from the window into how some of your favorite movies got made or its reveals of the stars' personalities and foibles. Yes, the silliness is here, like Errol Flynn, who comes across as a pretty nice guy, hating the part in his long-hair wig in The Adventures of Robin Hood enough to write a wordy but thoughtful letter to Hal Wallis, the number two man at Warner Brothers (the wig got changed).

But you also see that actresses such as Bette Davis wrote intelligent and nuanced letters directly to studio head Jack Warner (stardom does have its privileges) on serious subjects ranging from whether a part was right for her to why she is willing to be "suspended" (not paid her salary because she refused to do a movie) owing to the unfairness of her contract.

However, star Humphrey Bogart comes across as an insecure cry baby who's vain and emotional. And while studio-head Jack Warner was, oftentimes, brutal, manipulative and dishonest, you wonder if you wouldn't start to pick up some of those traits if you had his insanely demanding job to do with many loudly complaining stars, directors, producers, censors and others firing missiles at you every single day.

Most enjoyably, we see those memo missiles flying around the making of classics like Jezebel, where there was much worry at the studio that it was too similar to Gone With the Wind. Now Voyager pops up, where it seems every actress was considered before Bette Davis (who killed it in the role). Even the noir classic The Big Sleep's confusing story was fretted over, but those concerns were put aside as Warner's movie-makers understood that good scenes and actor chemistry matter more to movie-going audiences than the story itself (see Hitchcock films for the apotheosis of this view).

Finally, when reading all the memos about the uber-classic Casablanca, you almost get nervous that they are going to screw it up as they consider other actors for the roles: George Raft for Rick, Hedy Lamar for Ilsa, Dean Jagger for Lazlo. They are all fine actors, but you don't change one brushstroke in the Mona Lisa.

The Casablanca angst ramps up more when you learn that executive producer Hal Wallis wasn't in love with Dooley Wilson for the part of Sam as all you want to do is scream "shut up Wallis, no one asked you." He also wanted the role of Sam changed to a woman, again, "shut up, Wallis."

While some of the memos can be tedious, overall, it's a heck of a trip through Golden Era Hollywood. It's not the book for a newbie, but for those reasonably familiar with the movies and stars of the period, it's an incredible insider's view of one of the defining studios of the day.
 

Fading Fast

Connoisseur
119031.jpg

The Asphalt Jungle by W.R. Burnett originally published in 1949

I enjoyed the movie (comments here: #26609 - I wasn't posting movie comments on AAAC yet back then), so much so, that I bought the book. And the book did not disappoint.

Noir, hard-boil, heist story, crime drama: The Asphalt Jungle fits in all of those categories as it walks you, step by step, through the planing, execution and denouement of a professional jewelry store robbery in a large, seedy and corrupt Midwest city in post-war America.

But this is no regular "heist" story as the characters are so well developed that you feel as if you know them. And while you won't be proud to admit this, you are almost rooting for some, not all, of the bad guys to get away with it.

The brains behind this caper is a short, bald, nondescript, German immigrant who was just released from jail: "professional" criminal Erin Riedenschneider. He's respectfully known in his "field" as "Herr Doktor" or "The Professor" as he is a mastermind of heists. He is a thinking man's criminal who, one believes, could easily have been a real doctor, a professor or some other highly educated or intellectual man had his life taken a different path.

But he operates on the "other" side of the law and begins recruiting gang members and raising financing for a new heist immediately upon his release from prison. It's so thoughtfully done that his approach is like that of a start-up business looking to hire experienced employees while soliciting funds from established backers. But of course, it's all harder as it has to happen in the shadows and noir nooks of the city, especially with a new and driven police commissioner trying to crack down on crime.

And this is where the book shines as you see a smart man assemble a team and source funds with the focus and planning of any honest business, except he moves through the city's gambling parlors, back rooms, seedy corners and, occasionally, into the somewhat respectable houses of men who keep one foot in the legitimate world and one in the criminal one.

Along the way, he brings together a team comprised of an experienced safecracker who approaches his job as any legitimate technician would, a hump-backed getaway driver with an incredible knowledge of the illegal networks operating in the city and a big, strong, but maybe unstable, "thug" about to age-out of his "profession," who just wants to make enough money to "get home."

Eventually, "Herr Doktor" obtains financing from a slick, quasi-respectable lawyer with all the shiny accoutrements of a successful life - proper wife, big house, expensive cars, fancy clothes, imported cigars, flashy jewelry and a young girlfriend tucked away in a second big house - but unbeknownst to all, he's drowning in debt and looking for his take (or perhaps more than his take) of the heist to bail him out. He also offers to fence the stolen goods.

And each man in the team has his concerns and weaknesses. The safecracker has a wife and child he loves and worries deeply about (think of any good family man whose job happens to be safe cracking, not insurance sale); the financing lawyer has his mountain of debt; the "Doktor" has a weakness for young women (he's got a pimp on speed dial); the getaway driver has a blinding hatred of the police and the "thug" is dragging around "Doll," his stupid but fanatically loyal girlfriend that he wants to dump but he just can't bring himself to do it.

Building this team of well-regarded-in-their-field criminals is more than half the book and it's worth it as, by the time you get to the heist itself, you are vested in these men and, sadly, rooting for, at least, a few of them to get away with it. The honest business and insurance company that will pay for the crime are amorphous to us at this point, but we, against our better natures, now identify with several of the men. When an author can warp your morality like that, you know you are in the hands of a talented writer.

After that, it's the heist with the professionals proving their mettle as they overcome several unplanned obstacles, but as always, fate plays a hand as well. Then, it's on to the dual challenge of escaping the city and monetizing their "work" by selling the jewels through a fence. Neither is easy as the aforementioned police commissioner sets up an all-encompassing dragnet, while the fence, the "respectable" lawyer, tries a double-cross. At this point, you are patting yourself on the back for having chosen the apparently much-easy path in life of making an honest living.

The Asphalt Jungle deserves more attention in its genre than it seems to get. W.R. Burnett has penned a hard-boiled noir fiction that can stand up proudly next to the works of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain. You would think it would be better known today as it birthed, possibly, the best noir crime-drama movie of the post-war era. But despite its lack of present-day popularity, the book's trip through mid-century noirland is still a gripping and eye-opening read.
 

eagle2250

Connoisseur/Curmudgeon Emeritus - Moderator
View attachment 53849
The Asphalt Jungle by W.R. Burnett originally published in 1949

I enjoyed the movie (comments here: #26609 - I wasn't posting movie comments on AAAC yet back then), so much so, that I bought the book. And the book did not disappoint.

Noir, hard-boil, heist story, crime drama: The Asphalt Jungle fits in all of those categories as it walks you, step by step, through the planing, execution and denouement of a professional jewelry store robbery in a large, seedy and corrupt Midwest city in post-war America.

But this is no regular "heist" story as the characters are so well developed that you feel as if you know them. And while you won't be proud to admit this, you are almost rooting for some, not all, of the bad guys to get away with it.

The brains behind this caper is a short, bald, nondescript, German immigrant who was just released from jail: "professional" criminal Erin Riedenschneider. He's respectfully known in his "field" as "Herr Doktor" or "The Professor" as he is a mastermind of heists. He is a thinking man's criminal who, one believes, could easily have been a real doctor, a professor or some other highly educated or intellectual man had his life taken a different path.

But he operates on the "other" side of the law and begins recruiting gang members and raising financing for a new heist immediately upon his release from prison. It's so thoughtfully done that his approach is like that of a start-up business looking to hire experienced employees while soliciting funds from established backers. But of course, it's all harder as it has to happen in the shadows and noir nooks of the city, especially with a new and driven police commissioner trying to crack down on crime.

And this is where the book shines as you see a smart man assemble a team and source funds with the focus and planning of any honest business, except he moves through the city's gambling parlors, back rooms, seedy corners and, occasionally, into the somewhat respectable houses of men who keep one foot in the legitimate world and one in the criminal one.

Along the way, he brings together a team comprised of an experienced safecracker who approaches his job as any legitimate technician would, a hump-backed getaway driver with an incredible knowledge of the illegal networks operating in the city and a big, strong, but maybe unstable, "thug" about to age-out of his "profession," who just wants to make enough money to "get home."

Eventually, "Herr Doktor" obtains financing from a slick, quasi-respectable lawyer with all the shiny accoutrements of a successful life - proper wife, big house, expensive cars, fancy clothes, imported cigars, flashy jewelry and a young girlfriend tucked away in a second big house - but unbeknownst to all, he's drowning in debt and looking for his take (or perhaps more than his take) of the heist to bail him out. He also offers to fence the stolen goods.

And each man in the team has his concerns and weaknesses. The safecracker has a wife and child he loves and worries deeply about (think of any good family man whose job happens to be safe cracking, not insurance sale); the financing lawyer has his mountain of debt; the "Doktor" has a weakness for young women (he's got a pimp on speed dial); the getaway driver has a blinding hatred of the police and the "thug" is dragging around "Doll," his stupid but fanatically loyal girlfriend that he wants to dump but he just can't bring himself to do it.

Building this team of well-regarded-in-their-field criminals is more than half the book and it's worth it as, by the time you get to the heist itself, you are vested in these men and, sadly, rooting for, at least, a few of them to get away with it. The honest business and insurance company that will pay for the crime are amorphous to us at this point, but we, against our better natures, now identify with several of the men. When an author can warp your morality like that, you know you are in the hands of a talented writer.

After that, it's the heist with the professionals proving their mettle as they overcome several unplanned obstacles, but as always, fate plays a hand as well. Then, it's on to the dual challenge of escaping the city and monetizing their "work" by selling the jewels through a fence. Neither is easy as the aforementioned police commissioner sets up an all-encompassing dragnet, while the fence, the "respectable" lawyer, tries a double-cross. At this point, you are patting yourself on the back for having chosen the apparently much-easy path in life of making an honest living.

The Asphalt Jungle deserves more attention in its genre than it seems to get. W.R. Burnett has penned a hard-boiled noir fiction that can stand up proudly next to the works of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain. You would think it would be better known today as it birthed, possibly, the best noir crime-drama movie of the post-war era. But despite its lack of present-day popularity, the book's trip through mid-century noirland is still a gripping and eye-opening read.
Reading your review, I slowly realized that I had read this book, at some point in my past. I'm thinking it was assigned as required reading in some long past English/ Literature class...perhaps way back in high school? In any event, I must complement you on the depth of your observations. As I read the book, I don't recall rooting for the bad guys, but reading your review I seem to recall that I may have been doing just that. If my reading comprehension had been a s detailed as yours, I might have gotten a better grade in that class! LOL. ;)
 
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