Travels of a Time Tripper

This week I’ve been editing a Sax Rohmer book called The Golden Scorpion. And by editing, I mean that after scanning a book and turning it into a Word document, I then go through the whole book and make sure all the original folios and page numbers are removed, all the italics and accent marks are accounted for, and that no weird misspellings are left over from the scanning software remain. I miss a few, and that’s why I have a proofreader go over the book one more time.

I only mention this process because in reading through the book as I just did with the Rohmer thriller, I find myself immersed in the world of early 20th century London, traipsing about the Limehouse area with master detective Gaston Max in pursuit of an criminal Asian mastermind. But in addition to the book I’m currently editing, I usually have two or three other books going.

In this case, I am also reading Tall Dark and Dead by Kermit Jaediker, a marvelously dry-witted murder mystery published by Lion Books in 1951. A gossip columnist receives a knife in the back. Suspects abound. Could a reprint be in the offing? Perhaps. I love the author’s voice for this one. The feel of old New York is a bonus as the detective dashes all over the city, from warehouse to penthouse to flophouse, to solve the crime.

But that’s not all. I am also enjoying a new novel by an author I would rather not name at the moment, but which is very intriguing. A psychological drama set in modern day Philadelphia, an area that is almost totally foreign to me. Might become a Stark House book, might not. Doesn’t read like one, but then, what is a Stark House book but that which I call a Stark House book? Anyway, that’s not all.

I am also in the midst of Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend by Casey Tefertiller, which is totally fascinating to anyone who has any interest in the history of the Old West. The author has done his homework in trying to separate fact from colorful fiction, referencing new source material to give us a very even-handed version of Earp, Doc Holliday, Tombstone, the OK Corral and its aftermath. I love this stuff. This I read just for fun.

So, in one week, I have skipped from fog-bound London of 1920 to late 40s New York to modern day Philly to late 1800s Arizona. Quite a bit of mental leaping about. I’m sure a lot of you out there read multiple books. It’s what makes reading so enjoyable, the moving about between different worlds, different points of view. I usually top this off by watching a film in the evening. The other night I sat through Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner, just to compare it with the book. The movie seemed even more formulaic than it did when I first watched it. I’ll stick to the book.

Last night my wife and I viewed an early 70s crime drama, Cisco Pike, with Gene Hackman, Karen Black, Harry Dean Stanton, Viva, Antonio Fargas and, in his big debut, Kris Kristofferson. This took my head in a completely different direction than The Golden Scorpion—from 1940s New York back to L.A. of 45 years ago, when the big score involved keys of weed (at $200 per, and how’s that for inflation) instead of bags of coke or heroin. Back to a time when new-Hollywood began introducing the concept of the crooked cop—the Man!–who puts the screws to an innocent guy who just wants to go straight. Also, back to a Harry Dean Stanton who still looked old and worn even when he was young. I thought this was such an IMPORTANT FILM when I first watched it back in 1971. It still gets a thumbs up, but now more for the nostalgia than the message.

And today, I’m in L.A. again as I begin to edit my scan of Gary Phillips’ Only the Wicked. Only this time we’ve moved up to the late 1990s. Detective Ivan Monk is trying to tie some seemingly natural deaths to the machinations of a powerful white supremacist against a background of baseball and vintage jazz. Oh yeah, I can’t wait to wrap my head around this one.

–Greg Shepard

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