Monday, June 4, 2007

J. Kingston Pierce

J. Kingston Pierce is the author most recently of Eccentric Seattle, about the troubled, tragic, and often bawdy history of the Pacific Northwest’s most publicized city. His previous books include America’s Historic Trails with Tom Bodett (companion to the 1996 PBS-TV series) and San Francisco, You’re History! (a celebration of the crooks, madams, politicians, and performers who created California’s favorite town). He’s currently working on his first novel, a historical mystery.

However, Pierce may be better known as senior editor of the popular online literary journal January Magazine and as editor of The Rap Sheet, a blog specializing in news and short features about crime fiction, in print and other media.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve never been very good at limiting my field of reading interest. So, although I generally write about crime fiction, my bookshelves are also stuffed full of mainstream fiction, western historicals, non-fiction history texts, biographies, and works about modern politics, architecture, and the media. I just never know when I might have a sudden craving for one of Alistair MacLean’s classic thrillers, or want to learn more about the abundant saloons of the Old West or Africa’s 19th-century Zulu War. In any case, I have a book about it.

To satisfy my craving for crime, I am in the midst of enjoying several recent or forthcoming novels. Right on top of that stack is Martin Cruz Smith’s new Arkady Renko adventure, Stalin’s Ghost, in which the Moscow detective (who we first met in 1981’s Gorky Park) investigates a formerly heralded fellow cop’s alleged corruption, while simultaneously dealing with his girlfriend’s decision to go back to her former lover, and looking into reports that the late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin is haunting a metro train platform. Below that, I find works by a couple of Irishmen — John Connolly’s The Unquiet, his sixth novel featuring private eye Charlie Parker; and Declan Hughes’ second P.I. Ed Loy novel, The Color of Blood — followed by Eternal, my introduction to Craig Russell’s half-Scottish, half-German detective, Jan Fabel of the Hamburg murder squad. (Earlier this year, Russell’s work won the Hamburg Polizeistern Award, or annual Police Star Award, so I’m expecting great things.)

In addition to these hardcover crime and thriller works, I have lately been winding my way through a trio of paperbacks: William Boyd’s World War II-era spy novel, Restless (rich in character); the Hard Case Crime edition of David Goodis’ 1955 novel, The Wounded and the Slain (ribald and suspenseful); and Kent Anderson’s Night Dogs (1996), which earned considerable attention in The Rap Sheet’s recent survey of novelists and critics, asking them to name the crime or thriller novel that has been “most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years.” And I have a fourth — Europa Editions’ translation of Spanish writer Alicia Giménez-Bartlett’s Prime Time Suspect — begging for my attention.

Fortunately, I am one of those people who can consume half a dozen or more books at a time, without losing track of individual plot lines. Which explains why, on top of my fiction-reading, I have several more volumes at hand for those moments when my taste runs to non-fiction. Former Vice President Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason — his powerful indictment of George W. Bush’s campaign to embroil the United States in a seemingly endless war with Iraq, and simultaneously undermine the nation’s economy and international ties — is consuming most of my non-crime-fiction attention right now. (See excerpts from Gore’s book here and here.) However, I have also just begun Lance Morrow’s The Best Year of Their Lives: Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in 1948, a fascinating account of that pivotal year in the careers of three future chief executives.

Perhaps it’s because the 2008 U.S. presidential election seems already to have commenced in earnest, but most of my non-fiction reading these days is related to White House residents or aspirants. Before his death at the end of February, historian and former Kennedy advisor Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. was editing a series of short presidential bios for Times Books/Henry Holt. These are penned primarily by political historians or former pols, and, in my opinion, have demonstrated uneven quality. (So far, I’ve enjoyed Ted Widmer’s Martin Van Buren and Jean H. Baker’s James Buchanan the most.) Still, they’re wonderful for brushing up on chief execs who seem either too boring (like Benjamin Harrison) or too reprehensible (like Warren G. Harding) to justify your putting in the time to read full-length biographies. Those labels are certainly appropriate to the subjects of my most recent acquisitions from this series: Calvin Coolidge (brought back to at least some life by Slate columnist David Greenberg) and the much-scandalized Richard M. Nixon (who is dissected for Times Books by The New Yorker’s longtime Washington, D.C., correspondent, Elizabeth Drew).

Wow! No wonder I haven’t found time enough to finish my novel. I’ve been reading like a madman.
In addition to blogging and writing non-fiction books, Pierce has also hosted a cable-TV series based on Eccentric Seattle. Episodes of that series can be viewed here.

--Marshal Zeringue