Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Howard Andrew Jones

Howard Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, made the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Release of 2013 and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He is the author of four Pathfinder novels, an e-collection of short stories featuring the heroes from his historical fantasy novels, The Waters of Eternity, and the new novel from St. Martin’s, the second in a new fantasy series, Upon the Flight of the Queen, the followup to For the Killing of Kings, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Recently I asked Jones about what he was reading. His reply:
While my screen media intake has pretty much dwindled to documentaries and Bob’s Burgers, the kinds of material I consume via the written word changed and grew in the last decade. Lately I’ve spent less and less time reading in the genres where I usually write.

A recent discovery for me has been the work of Marvin Albert, who was writing from the 1950s until his death in the 1990s. Almost from the start his books were regularly adapted for the cinema, and he’s apparently revered in France, where he spent the last few decades of his life. I’ve seen some critics dismiss him because he’s never as good as the very best, and yet I find that he always delivers, whether it be with hardboiled westerns or detective yarns. As a matter of fact, I use his work as a kind of “safe base” to which I can return. I explore other mystery and western writers unknown to me with some regularity, and when I find that work wanting and desire a palate cleanser, I head back to my storehouse of Marvin Albert books. Just last week I finished off his three detective novels written under his Anthony Rome alias, featuring Miami private eye and boat owner Tony Rome. They are, in order, Miami Mayhem, The Lady in Cement, and My Kind of Game. The first two were made into Sinatra films I’ve never seen. I found all three to be taut, well-paced, surprising, and atmospheric. Albert always delivers enjoyable work. Maybe he doesn’t compare to Raymond Chandler’s best work, but neither did Chandler a lot of the time, and while Albert might not quite hit the supreme highs of the very best, after reading dozens of his book I’ve yet to see him hit any lows, or middles. There’s something to be said for a writer who is dependably good, and I think Albert may be overdue for a re-evaluation here in the states.

I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction, but haven’t kept close watch on the genre for the last few decades. Having heard great things about the award-winning work of Martha Wells, who has been kind enough to write beautiful things about my novels, I thought it high time to check into her Murderbot work. It happens that her acclaim was rightly deserved. Immediately upon finishing the first, All Systems Red, I began the second, and sheer willpower and a writing deadline held me back from immediately ordering the next two. They’re now on my Christmas list. Suffice to say that the self-labeled Murderbot is an engaging character who finds itself (Murderbot is a genderless biological entity with lots of mechanical parts) thrust into the middle of mysteries chock full of action and interesting characters, as well as a search for meaning and self-identity. It’s rousing, high quality fiction, and one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the holidays this year is so I can see what happens next with Murderbot.

Before starting Murderbot I had just polished off a Gold Medal western. To those in the know, Gold Medal in the ‘50s and into the ‘60s remains a safe landing place to go for hardboiled mysteries and noir. As it happens, it’s also one of the best places to turn for well-paced, hardboiled westerns. Unfortunately, it can be hard to get much of a line on what westerns are good and what westerns aren’t, and there were a whole lot of westerns being printed in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Gold Medal, though, seems to have had a smart and talented editorial team. I’ve found most of the westerns I’ve tried by them are at least decent, and some from their stable have sent me scrambling for other work from the same authors, previously unknown to me. I should preface by saying that I’m not a big fan of slow, rambling pieces – I want the plot to get into motion, and my characters to be acting rather than to sit around being acted upon. Apparently Gold Medal editors had similar preferences.

A case in point is Sabadilla, by Richard Jessup, published in 1960. Jessup also wrote under the Richard Telfair alias and later had success with many juvenile novels. This book is the third by him I’ve read, and the best so far. The titular Sabadilla is a former Mexican revolutionary exiled from his country who wanders into a small town feud. The town wants to lynch a murderous rich man’s son without a trial, and the scheming rich man will stop at nothing to free his son. It sounds like a familiar setup, but Jessup dropped in so many surprises I honestly had no idea where this one would go or how it would shake out. Sabadilla himself is incredibly competent both with his gun and his razor-tipped riding quirt, with which he slays a number of villains. He’s cool and sad and honorable and honestly such a cool character I’m hoping Jessup wrote more novels about him, but I’m pretty sure most of the rest of his are standalone. I see that he has three westerns about a character named Wyoming Jones, and I’ll probably be trying those soon.

I read to be entertained, naturally, but as a writer myself I’m always reading at two levels, the other being watching how the author achieves different effects, seeing how character and pacing are handled, etcetera. All three of these authors were incredibly entertaining and educational. Wells is one of the best modern genre writers I’ve read, and like these older writers she draws the readers relentlessly forward, doling out little bits of world building and character information rather than dumping it in your lap in a boring mass that you have to digest. Story is paramount, and part of what makes the characters compelling is the gradual reveal of who they really are, a process I greatly prefer to the often prevalent modern one of providing the reader with an entire back history of a character before the story can truly get started.
Visit Howard Andrew Jones's website.

View the animated book trailer for Upon the Flight of the Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue