Saturday, September 15, 2012

Book Review: Home is the Sailor by Day Keene

(I had a lot of home stuff and day job stuff get in the way this week, so I present another book review, from 22 May 2008, when I was in a self-education program on pulp fiction.)

Since I am a sucker for cool cover art, Day Keene’s Home is the Sailor (Hard Case Crime) was on my to-read list from the get-go. Not many of their covers simultaneously have a car going over a cliff with a hot babe in a too-tight dress. Then I learned a little about him and how much stuff he actually wrote. Couple that with more recent comments about him (Christa Faust mentions she’s reading Keene in this video from her Money Shot premiere), I was quite excited to crack the book.

I had to chuckle when I read the first two sentences: “It was night. It was hot.” (So, basically it was a dark and not-so-stormy night? Aren’t we writers cautioned not to start a book with the weather?) Nonetheless, I read on.

Pulp fiction is known for its pace. Old movies—film noir and others—are also known for their pace. It’s fast. Nowhere but in pulp fiction and old movies do men and women fall in love on sight. It happens to Swen Nelson, a sailor with $12,000 in hand and dreams of a life on land on a farm in Minnesota. But before he can get there, he meets Corliss Mason, the owner of the Purple Parrot bar-and-hotel establishment. He falls for her, she for him. They are all set to get married and move to the heartland when one thing leads to another and they have to get rid of a body. 

Keene’s Nelson drives the story and faces plenty of questions. One character keeps imploring Nelson to go away while he still can. A man threatens Nelson to stay away from his wife. And, through it all, Nelson puts away an astonishing amount of rum. The book takes place over four days and he’s drunk most of the time, a fact that almost every other character comments on. How does Nelson function with so much booze in him? Must be the sailor DNA.

In my review for The Guns of Heaven, I commented on some of the asides written out and how they really didn’t serve the story like I expected them to do. Well, the opposite is true for Home is the Sailor. There’s an aside, just some conversation between two characters, that comes back around like a boomerang and hits you between the eyes. An astute reader will put two-and-two together before the characters do (I did, at least) but it still makes the story fun.

One sad thing I noticed is the paltry number of Keene books available. Other than this one by Hard Case Crime, there are only two modern reprintings of Keene’s books at Amazon. Guess I’ll have to start the hunt in used bookstores. I found a great site with a good bibliography of Keene’s works and I’ll try to find some more. 

Oh, about the ending: Just like Angel Dare in Money Shot, Swen Nelson gets a chance to really examine himself and ask the question “Who am I?” And we get the answer in a brilliant last line. Don’t flip to the end; it’ll ruin it for you. Just go with it. You’ll enjoy the ride.

What I Learned As A Writer: The aside I mentioned earlier is important. And, I realized, that it’s a great way to throw red herrings at the reader, assuming you have more than one. There was only one but its importance was revealed in layers. Granted, I was ahead of Nelson for most of the book but that didn’t disappoint me. Heck, I could’ve been wrong. In my future books, I’ll try to incorporate some extra asides, some extra little stories the characters learn, and leave it to the reader to decide which one is important.

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