Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Con Lehane

Con Lehane is a mystery writer who lives outside Washington, DC. He's published three crime novels featuring New York City bartender Brian McNulty. Over the years, he has worked as a college professor, a union organizer, a labor journalist, and has tended bar at two dozen or so drinking establishments.

Lehane's latest book is Murder at the 42nd Street Library, the first novel in a new series featuring Raymond Ambler, curator of the 42nd Street Library’s (fictional) crime fiction collection.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
At the moment, I’m reading Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan. Suzanne Marrs is a biographer of Eudora Welty and Tom Nolan a biographer of Ross MacDonald, whose actual name was Kenneth Millar (pronounced Miller). I come to this book by way of Tom Nolan’s biography. Ross Macdonald was a major influence on me as a writer. He was a man with a great deal of tragedy in his life, from which he developed a tremendous sympathy for his fellow suffering humans. I was mostly interested in the letters as a love story that I first learned about in the biography. I’d also spent some time with Ken Millar’s notebooks and papers, which are in the special collections at the University of California Irvine. I’d met Tom Nolan at the Virginia Festival of the Book some years before. He told me about the collection and gave me an introduction so that I was given access. For personal reasons, I became interested in the correspondence before I knew about the book. I intended to go back to Irvine to look for some of the letters and made vague plans to find Ms. Welty’s letters to Millar, which I discovered were at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson where she had lived. Instead, I discovered Tom Nolan and Suzanne Marrs were putting together a book of that correspondence. The idea of a kind of love affair based on their appreciation of each other's writing and the works of a number of other writers appeals to me. I’m enjoying the exchange quite a bit, though as Louis Bayard pointed out in his review of the book, perhaps a little too much about birds and not enough about politics. Sadly, as one gets to the later letters toward the end of the 1970s, the onset of Ken Millar’s Alzheimers disease becomes apparent.

Prior to this, or really simultaneously because I stopped reading it to read the letters book, I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s Autobiography. I’ve been reading it for a while. It’s the kind of book you can start and stop, even jump around in, It’s written episodically, not chronologically, so he can be in France as an old man one moment, on a stage giving a speech in mid-career the next, and in Hannibal, Missouri as a boy on the next page. The book is heartwarming and terribly sad and laugh out loud funny. I’m a good way through the first volume and will read all three volumes—taking a break here and there to read other things—and when I’m finished, I’ll most likely start over again.

The other book I took a break from The Autobiography to read was Donna Leon’s first book, Death at La Fenice: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery. I don’t know why it took me so long to read her. I’ve known about her books for a long time. They take place in Venice. Though she’s American, the book has, to me, a European sensibility, in the sense that Brunetti thinks and feels more like Simenon’s Maigret or Nicholas Freeling’s, Inspector Van Der Valk than American police detectives I’ve run across. Brunetti’s a family man, not a hard guy, sympathetic more than revengeful, not adverse to bending the law to serve a higher purpose. I really liked the book, so I’ve found a series I’ll read a bunch more of. I’m also about to read, or not so much read as sort of look around in, Learning a Trade, Reynolds Price’s notebooks, in preparation for a class I’m teaching this summer. And my copy of Clues: A Journal of Detection just came in the mail. This issue is chock full of scholarly articles about Agatha Christie.
Visit Con Lehane's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Con Lehane & Lola.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at the 42nd Street Library.

--Marshal Zeringue