Saturday, February 19, 2022

What Are the Famous Books of the 1990s?


Scott D. Parker

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman. I’d never heard of him but the book’s cover caught my attention. Couple that with my son’s musical tastes currently residing in the 1990s and I thought why not take a chance with the new book.

It’s a fascinating read and I thoroughly enjoyed. I annotated my audible file with interesting clips and I’ve got the ebook on hold via my library to potentially re-read some passages.

Klosterman focuses on pop culture, politics, TV, music, movies as a means to explain that last decade of the century. It was only by the end that I realized something: I don’t think he mentioned any books. Which got me to thinking about an obvious question:

What are the famous books of the 1990s?

Okay, do something with me. Think about that decade and see if you can recall any titles or authors but do not use the internet. Heck, don’t even look at your bookshelves. Just see if you can come up with any famous books strictly from your memory. I’ll wait.

Okay, so how many did you remember? Truth be told, as I’m writing this, I have not yet turned to Google. I’ve not even turned my eyes to my various bookshelves. In real time, I’ve been thinking about this question, off and on, for about a day, and only in the last few minutes did I remember an author and book that emerged in the 1990s: John Grisham’s The Firm.

I struggled to even remember many books. I went through my mental Stephen King list but could only remember Bag of Bones from 1998. Grisham’s status as the premier writer of the legal thriller instantly brought his other books to my mind. And I think Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a 1990s book. But those were all I can remember.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Google now. I suspect I’ll have more than a few “Oh, right! That book!” forehead slaps but such is my memory.

And I’m back, and I’ve slapped my forehead more than once in the category of “How could I have forgotten that book.” Among the titles that slipped my mind are Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990), The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum (1990), Truman by David McCullough (1992; my historian cred just went down the tubes), The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller (1993), Men Are from Mars, Women are From Venus by John Gray (1993), Primary Colors by Anonymous [AKA Joe Klein] (1996), and many books by Danielle Steel and Mary Higgins Clark. I used this site to get the Top 10 books per year and not what someone thinks are the important books.

How many did you remember? More than me? That’s good. Heck, I couldn’t even remember all the Stephen King books of that decade. And how many mystery/thrillers did you recall? The presence of Clark and Ludlum tells me that our genres was at least at the table—as was Tom Clancy (more than once) and James Patterson.

Here’s a larger question: how many of those books were influential? How many changed things? I’ll come back to the Truman biography. I was in grad school and in 1992, many of my professors grumbled at McCullough’s book because it was too popular. Like the study of history had to be impenetrable to be good. I, for one, appreciate it when a historian writes a popular enough book that it becomes a bestseller (or a Broadway musical). I saw more history books written in McCullough’s style after 1992 than before.

What is the Nevermind of Books?

What about fiction? Is there a Nirvana moment (there was a Before Nevermind and then there was an After Nevermind) or a Matrix moment (same concept) for books? Historically, I’m guessing something like Agatha Christie or Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) or Raymond Chandler’s work (The Big Sleep?) or Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer’s first book) or Ian Fleming (was he the first huge spy writer?) or Tom Clancy (techno-thriller) or Grisham (legal thriller). I guess Grisham in the 1990s can count as the guy who put legal thrillers back on the map (Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason was king but I can’t think of any other ones other that Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent in the interim).

Now, I also admit that I also did a more specific search for mysteries and thrillers in the 1990s. Here is that link. This is likely not an end-all, be-all list, but something is obviously apparent if you scan the list: the large majority of top mystery books in the 1990s involve series characters. I counted twelve out of 100 that were not series related. My guess is that a respective list for the 2000s, the 2010s, the 1980s, will reveal the same thing. Series sell. It’s a testament to a certain type of writer who can publish different stories within a genre and not do a series.

This essay is a thought exercise but also a real question. Were there any truly game-changing books published in the 1990s? Did they influence pop culture? If not, when was the last time a book sat in the middle of pop culture and dominated the national conversation or, at least added to the greater conversation? (I’m mainly talking about fiction because there are certainly non-fiction books that have made their mark on society.)

Friday, February 18, 2022

Killing Malmon - The Panda Heist

 By Jay Stringer

Back in 2017 Kate and Dan Malmon put together a fun anthology Killing Malmon in which a whole bunch of crime writers lived out our deepest, happiest, fantasy of killing Dan. For a good cause, obviously. All proceeds go to the the MS Society. 

This was my story. Read it. LOVE IT. And if you want to see more, you can order the book here.  


A Long Time Ago, In A Glasgow far, far Away....


Mackie woke up with one hand in his pocket and another in a plastic bag.

Neither of them were his.

This was shaping up to be one of those mornings.

Scratch that. He checked the time on his phone. It was shaping up to be one of those afternoons.

His head was killing him. Pain pulsed from his temple. He felt a lump beneath his hairline. It was tender, and sent sharp rods into his brain when he touched it.

The sun streamed in through vertical blinds. Mackie was on the sofa. It had been a nice cream colour, but now was stained brown and red. His clothes were covered in blood.


Mackie climbed to his feet, patting himself down for wounds. There were a few odd scratches. Like he’d climbed through barbed wire in one of they old war movies. A hero. An adventurer. A leader of men.

Private Mackie.


Captain Mackie.

That was better.

Captain Mackie and his ragtag band of rebels, on the run from the Germans. Maybe it was a future-type movie, and he’d been running from zombies. How cool would that be?

Cool, but unlikely.

So, if this blood wasnae his, then whose was it?

More importantly, whose clothes was he wearing?

Mackie was strictly a trackies and trainers man. Occasionally he might wear an Asda suit if he was going to a wedding. 

There was that one time, when he was six, that he wore a tuxedo. He still didn’t like to talk about that.

But these clothes were proper, like. Shirt and tie. Trousers.

With a severed hand in the pocket.

Hang on.


Severed hand?

He could feel something else, in the other pocket. A wallet? Mackie pulled it out and looked at the driver’s licence.


There was a note on the floor.

Mackie saw Cal’s scrawled handwriting.

“Gone for supplies. Call me before you go in the bathroom.”

Well, now.

That was a challenge.

Mackie climbed the stairs. The bathroom door was directly ahead of him. A strange noise was coming from inside. Mackie gripped the handle and slowly inched the door open.

There was a panda in the bath, staring at him.


He looked back down at the wallet.

“Who the hell is Dan Malmon?”


Cal set the two pint glasses down on the table. Amber liquid splashed over the sides, running down to form a pool. Mackie picked up a beer mat and mopped at the spilled drink. He crossed himself and said a prayer for the wasted alcohol.

Cal raised a toast, garbled an Irish word, then got back to the conversation they’d been having.


“Anyway, aye,” Mackie said. “What you need to do, I’ve been thinking on it, and what you need to do is apologise.”

“You think I haven’t tried that? It’s the first thing I did. Then I tried buying him a present.”

“I don’t suppose they make ‘sorry I killed your fish’ cards.”

“No, they don’t. Or if they do, the shop didnae have any.”

“Tell me you asked.”

“’Course I did. They says, ‘can I help you’ and I says, ‘I accidentally killed my dad’s Koi Karp, do you have anything I can give him?’ You know what the little fud did? He pointed to a balloon. One of they floaty helium ones, shaped like a fish.”

“Was it a koi?”

“How should I know?”

“I thought you were the expert,” Mackie paused to sip his beer. It was pish. Chilled pish. But it was a warm day, and he never turned down a cold drink. “So you didn’t buy the balloon, I’m guessing?”

“Naw. I asked him to keep it back for me, just in case.”

Mackie rubbed the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger. He could feel the buzz building. This beer wasn’t the problem. The ten he’d had before, they were the real issue.

Plus the eckies he’d been popping last night. And maybe the Feminax he’d used that morning. He’d never taken it before, but would try anything once.


Five times.

Mackie figured the second and third doses were probably a mistake. He was choosing to forget them. Also, he couldn’t remember how he got to the pub. Had they walked? Stolen a car? It was a blank.

“Oh, hey,” Cal said. “There’s Dan.”



Cal turned up back at the house with three plastic bags full of supplies. Mackie was sitting on the stairs, waiting. Cal noticed Mackie had piled three chairs up against the bathroom door. 

It wouldn’t help. The door opened inwards. Still, Cal had to admire the work that had gone into it.

“So you’ve probably got some questions,” Cal said.

“One or two, aye.”

“Well,” Cal started lifting items out of the bags. “I didn’t go in for the meat, but this joint was in the reduced section for seventy-one pence, and you cannae say ‘no’ to that. Then, these biscuits were down to-”

“Haw now, bawheid.” Mackie threw a hand in the air and caught it. “I’m no’ interested in the shopping. I want to know why there’s a panda in the crapper.”

“Don’t worry, he’s sedated.”

“With what?

“Been using your heroin. He seems to like it.”

“How are you measuring the doses?”

Cal shrugged. “Just guessing, really.”

“Great, so we’re either gonnae kill him, or he’s going to get really into Lou Reed.”

They both paused as the sounds coming from the bathroom changed. The stoned bear’s low snuffling gave way to a long, drawn out, snore. Cal thought, no wonder these animals are dying out. None of them can find a mate, with snoring like that.

Mackie started singing Perfect Day.

“Okay,” Cal said. “So what do you remember?”

“We was in the pub, talking about your dead fish.”

“What else?”

“We was in the pub, talking about your dead fish.”

“Really? That’s all. Well, Dan Malmon walks in, and you’re all like, ‘never met this guy in my life,’ and I’m all ‘aye, you have, we went to his house for Hogmanay that time.’ Then you’re, ‘was that the one when I took a load of horse and slept on top of the cooker?’”

“Good times.”

Mackie offered Cal a high five. Cal pulled back when he saw it was one of the severed hands.

“So anyway,” Cal continued. “Dan’s been working in Edinburgh Zoo.”

“Oh, I know who you mean, now.” Mackie looked at the two severed hands. Turned them around a few times. “Yeah, I can see it. Recognise him. Okay.”

“Then we get to talking, and you’re cracking that joke about how there’s more Pandas in Scotland than Tories.”

“Doesnae sound like me.”

“I know, aye? That’s when I knew you were stoned. You never talk politics.”

“Never even voted.”

“How about that time your uncle Rab stood for the council?”

“Oh aye, well, yeah. I voted then. But that was with a bunch of other people’s voting slips. I meant I’ve never voted in my own name, like. You know?”

“Well, Dan said he’s sick of hearing the thing about pandas and Tories. And you were about to kick off with him, he looked all scared and shit. Then, you got this idea. And you said...”


“It’s obvious”.

Cal paused for breath. Looked down at the panda they’d bundled into the shopping trolley. “Are you sure?”

“Come on. Stealing a panda, it’s the best idea ever. You said you tried apologising to your ol’ Da’, you tried buying him presents. But you didn’t try stealing him a panda, did ye?”

“No. That’s true.”

“He’ll be pure made up, man. Best present ever.”

“And all the better, because it’s free.”

“A free panda is the best kind of panda.”

They crept through the grounds of the zoo in the darkness, stealthy as they could with a stoned panda in a shopping trolley. 

They were dressed in Dan’s spare security uniforms. Dan led the way, checking around corners like in an action movie. He would hold up his fist when he wanted them to stop. Occasionally he’d do that thing where he’d point two fingers at his own eyes, then at Cal and Mackie, before indicating something off to the right or left.

“Do you know what any of that means?” Cal said.

“Not a clue,” Mackie said. “Are they like dance moves?”

“Here we are, trying to break our new pal out of solitary, and Dan’s throwing shapes.” Cal leaned over to talk into the bear’s ear. “Howbout you, big man? Any idea what he’s up to?”

The panda made a snuffling noise. He’d been doing it on and off ever since they shot him up with heroin. It had all gone so easily. Dan provided the keys and access codes, and he’d been able to let them into the panda enclosure.

“Very dangerous,” Mackie said to Cal. “You go first.”

“Me very little, you cheat very big.”

The panda had been asleep. Mackie got in close and jabbed a needle full of heroin into the big fella’s arm. He wasn’t sure how you searched for a vein on a big furry beast, so he took a best guess.

“Lemme have a go,” Cal said.

He stepped in and injected the same arm.

They stood back and waited. Cal said, “How will we know?”

The panda rolled onto its back and made a low keening noise, almost like a human sigh, before letting out the longest, wettest, and foulest fart Mackie had ever known.

They nicked a shopping trolley from Tesco on their way to the zoo after googling the weight of a giant panda. Turned out, the bear wouldn’t be any heavier than Cal’s uncle Chris. Though, right enough, that was before Chris dropped a leg to diabetes.

So, with a panda in a shopping trolley and a dancing security guard, they were making their escape. Everything went smoothly until they passed the elephant enclosure. Dumbo had appointed himself neighbourhood watch. At first they heard him snort a couple times, like a large horse, then he raised his trunk and bellowed out into the night.

“We need to stop him,” Cal said.

“Oi, bawbag,” Mackie called out. “Shut it, ya fanny.”

That didn’t work.

The elephant sounded out again.

“I know a way,” Dan said, climbing over the enclosure wall. “He just wants some attention.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Cal said.

Dan waved him off. “What’s the worst that could happen?”


Cal stopped talking. He picked the bags back up and headed through to the kitchen. Mackie watched as Cal started to unload the shopping. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and turned to look blankly at Mackie.

After a few seconds, Cal seemed to realize Mackie was waiting for something and said, “You want one?”

Mackie took a deep breath.

He counted to five.

Cal had some kind of attention deficit thingy. Mackie knew about it. Dropped on his head as a baby, something like that. He had a scar across the back of his scalp, it showed up whenever he went grade one.

Mackie tried to be sensitive about it. He almost never called Cal ‘stupid.’ And he only called him a ‘fucking spanner’ when he really deserved it. Or when it was funny. Or when he felt like it.

“No I don’t want one, I want to know...actually, yeah, toss us a beer.”

Cal threw a can over. Mackie opened it. He took a belt and sighed. The cold beer had hit the spot. Whatever spot that was. Why do people say that? Is it always the same spot?


Where was he....

“Right. Now. What the fuck happened next?”

“Well.” Cal was hesitating. He had one of those tones, like he was scared of how Mackie would react. “You know how you can get a wee bit violent when you’re high?”


Mackie climbed over the wall of the elephant enclosure. He slipped down into the moat that ran around the edge, splashing through sludge and weeds. He could feel thorns scratching at his clothes and skin, but he didn’t care, he was too angry. Man on a mission.

Mackie the Enforcer.

Commando Mackie.

Dumbo was continuing to toot his fucking horn. Every few seconds. Like he’d just woken up and realised he had a trunk and, hey cool, now I’m going to use it. Mackie was having none of his pish.

Oi, big man, I said pipe doon, or I’ll fucking smash ye.”

Dan was next to Dumbo, patting his side and whispering small cooing noises, like he was talking to a pet. He put a hand out towards Mackie, waved him back, but that only annoyed Mackie more.

Dumbo trumpeted to the sky.

Mackie took a step forward and punched Dumbo right in the trunk.

The elephant blinked. He actually blinked. Like he was surprised. He snorted and sat down on his rear haunches.

“See,” Mackie said. “Not so loud now, are ye?”

Dumbo swatted Mackie with his trunk.

Everything went black.


Mackie rubbed the lump on the side of his head.

“So that explains...”


Mackie held up one of the severed hands. “What about…”


Everything came back. The sights. The sounds. The pain. Pain? Was that a new thing, or had he always been hurting?

“Whoa,” Mackie said to himself. “That’s deep.”

“What’s that?”

Cal was stood over him. He was coated in blood. Mackie panicked, thought it must be his, but he patted himself down and was bone dry. Except his trousers. They were damp. And why was he wearing trousers, again?

“Where are we?”

Cal held out a hand to help Mackie to his feet. “Elephant enclosure.”

“The what?”

“Edinburgh Zoo.”

“Why are we? What?”

Mackie could see Cal peering into his eyes. “He hit you hard.”

Mackie felt anger surge. Someone had hit him? Who? He’d give then a right pure doing. Then he noticed the elephant. Dumbo was standing a few yards away, eating straw from a metal box hung on a wall. He didn’t seem to mind that they were there. There was something all over his arse, like a red paste.

“We have a problem,” Cal said.

He pointed to something on the floor. It looked like a pile of sausages, baked beans, and white pudding. Except it was wearing clothes. Mackie realized he was looking at the insides of a person. But why weren’t they....inside?

“Who’s that?”

“Dan Malmon.”

“Who the hell is Dan Malmon?”

“The guy an elephant just sat on.”

“Why did-”

“You punched it.”

Mackie turned to look at Dumbo. Now he knew why the big lump was keeping so far away from them. “Aye,” he called out. “You better stay away.”

“So what do we do?” Cal said. “About Dan?”

Mackie took a step closer and looked down at the mess. He could see bones. A wallet. Some glasses. Two hands. Just sitting there. Not attached to anything. Dumbo had squashed them clean off. 

Mackie pocketed the wallet and turned to leave.

“We can’t just leave him,” Cal said.

Mackie turned back. “Aye, you’re right. Deserves a proper burial.”

He picked up the two hands.

It was tough climbing out of the enclosure. Much harder than getting in. The weeds and brambles of the moat cut through to their skin, and the wall on the other side was ten feet up. Cal was smaller than Mackie. He was a skinny wee thing who’d never boxed. Mackie planted his feet on the narrow ledge at the edge of the moat, then held himself straight while Cal climbed up onto his shoulders and reached up to the top of the wall. Cal pulled himself over and vanished from sight.

Mackie waited, but Cal didn’t reappear.

“Haw, you,” Mackie shouted. “Giz a hand.”

“I think you’ve already got enough,” Cal said.


“I don’t remember any of this,” Mackie said.

“Aye. I noticed. When you got back up out of the enclosure, you freaked out because there was a panda in the shopping trolley.”

“There was a panda in the shopping trolley?” Mackie left that hanging for a second. Just long enough for Cal to sigh, and start telling the story again. Then he said, “I’m kidding. So, how many times have you told me all of this?”

“Well, three times on the way home. Then once this morning. And again just before I went to the shop.”

Mackie rubbed the lump again. The pain shot down the side of his face, and his vision flashed with white dots.

“Do you want the good news,” Cal said. “Or the bad news?”

“Good news. Always good news. And another beer.”

Cal tossed him another can.

“So, I’m talking to my dad again. I called him up, told him the whole story. He laughed.”

“That’s awesome, man. I’m the king of plans.”

“But he says there’s no way he’s taking a panda. Wants nothing to do with it. Says we’re on our own.”

“It was a stupid plan, and I’m angry you talked me into it.”

They fell silent for a moment. They both realized that was a problem. It was too quiet. There was no snoring coming from upstairs. They heard a low moan that turned unto a growl. The frustrated call of a bear who had woken up craving his next hit of heroin. There was the padding of big feet on the stairs.

A black and white furry face appeared in the doorway, staring at them.

“Run?” Cal said.

Mackie nodded. “Run.”

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Bones with Beau

This week Beau looks at Road of Bones

Billy Boyle is sent to the heart of the USSR to solve a double-murder at a critical turning point in the war in this latest installment of critically acclaimed James R. Benn’s WWII mystery series.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Deadpan and Neurotic

Based on my previous week of film and limited series viewing, I suppose you could call Hitchcock's Vertigo and his Rear Window as influential as any movies ever made.  Which, as any film person knows, is hardly news to anyone.  Last week over several evenings, after work and while having dinner, I watched the eight-episode The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, and over the weekend, I watched the new Steven Soderbergh film, Kimi.  These are two entirely different type works, one an extended deadpan parody, the other an 89-minute thriller of sorts, but in each, crippling neuroses, acute phobias, are the order of the day, as Kristen Bell and Zoe Kravitz have to negotiate the dangers and deceptions they push themselves into once they leave the safety of their well-appointed living spaces.

With The Woman in the House I didn't have high hopes and wasn't even planning to watch it, since I figured it would be an over-the-top, exaggerated send-up of domestic thrillers and psychological mysteries, and that style of parody has been done to death over the years.  But no, as I read from a review or two, the series charts a very deadpan tone.  And I suppose it's this tone, which sometimes does veer into utter absurdity while the series still works in its way as an actual mystery/domestic thriller. that has led to the mixed reactions.  The standard central character for these type of similiarly-named thrillers is put through a ridiculous wringer, though without eye-rolling or winks at the viewer.  Ludacris would describe both the way the main character, Anna, lost her child and Anna's relationship, as it's ultimately revealed, with her husband.  The condition she suffers from, ombrophobia, fear of the rain, is, yes, somewhat played for laughs.  That a person with a serious drinking problem who does no exercise is in impeccable physical shape, that, of course, she lives in an immaculate and lovely house though we never see her or anyone else doing much work to maintain it, that she can't trust her own perceptions and nobody else does either -- all this is par for the course...and fun is had with all of it.  And why shouldn't it be?  Any time a form within a certain genre becomes ultra-popular, not to mention quite mannered in its execution, it is prime fodder for parody.  I remember laughing at Neil Simon's Murder by Death just as I did at Carl Reiner and Steve Martin's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, where Agatha Christie and hardboiled PI stories were put through the grinder.  One could make a long list of films and shows that have taken an irreverent attitude towards both classic whodunnits and noir.  Now it's the domestic thriller's turn.  The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window delivers its satire with a straight face (and it has a great climactic scene, a bit startling and very funny), with Kristen Bell and the rest of the cast carrying the tone off perfectly. I enjoyed the series and how they did it.  

Kimi's a more serious thriller (as in not a parody of one), but it maintains a lightness of tone throughout its running time as well.  It's Soderbergh working with his usual stylishness and energy and looseness.  And the script, it should be said, is yet another sharp and nifty one from David Koepp.  Here the main character, Angela, has a dread of leaving her apartment at all, and there is much staring through the windows at that forbidding place called the outside world.  Besides the Hitchcockian qualities, it taps into the paranoia vibe of The Conversation and Blow Out and films of that ilk.  It touches on Soderbergh's abiding preoccupation with the corrupting force of money and has a quick but pointed demonstration scene that can't help but make you think, "Yes, people power!"  

But what I loved also is how it's set in the here and now, with an actual acknowledgment of Covid and masks.  It's all recent, I know, the pandemic behaviors and adaptations, but to see so many shows and movies that are supposed to be contemporary just ignore the pandemic has gotten on my nerves a bit. How can you ignore two years and counting of a period that has affected nearly everyone's life?  Anyway, I assume that at some point, films and TV will get around to grappling with this period.  So far though, other than Bosch, which ends just as Covid is starting, and The Morning Show of all things, which in season two features the pandemic as a main part of its plot, I've seen virtually nothing fictional that touches on the last couple of years.  But Kimi does, in the natural course of its story, and makes the isolated life Angela leads due to her condition a life that is only slightly more sequestered than the life so many of us led during the height of the pandemic. 

Technology for company? Check.  Exercise at home on a machine? Check.  Countless virtual interactions and not much physical contact with people? Check. That, at least until she's compelled to leave the house, is Angela's life. Seems recognizable to me.