March 27, 2008

The Holland Suggestions **

** The Holland Suggestions, John Dunning, 1975

It all started when I moved to Denver in 2000. We packed a 26-foot diesel UHaul in Scottsdale and dragged our pitiful car behind it. The one we bought in Phoenix after the previous car died in El Paso on a Sunday evening and we abandoned it and rented a car to get to my new job by Monday morning.

Engaging backstory ensues

On the trip from AZ to CO, we stopped in Winslow, Arizona to take pictures of the statue of Jackson Browne standing on the corner by a mural of a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford. Then, because of my ridiculous insistence on seeing sights from Tony Hillerman novels, we eschewed the easy route across 40 and up 25. Instead, we left 40 at Gallup, slipped over to Window Rock and looked at the window rock and bought some souvenirs, then back over to 491 and up to Shiprock, an amazing sight, over to Four Corners (Stand with each heel and toe in a different state!), and up through Moab to 70.

The hell of this particular route was that instead of a nice easy ride through Albuquerque and Colorado Springs, we drove right through the Rockies, through Vail and Frisco and Silverthorne. With a 26-foot truck that drove like a semi. Pulling a car. It was an education.

The nice part came when H flew in to help me unload the UHaul. We did it in record time, which gave us some time for exploring. H had heard of a place called Edward's Pipe and Tobacco Shop and wanted to check it out. We found it on Broadway and wandered into a time warp. Woodwork everywhere, an excellent bar with stools where a few gents were smoking cigars. H and I bought a few cigars and pulled up a stool to the bar. The owner offered us a free beer. (Couldn't sell them without a liquor license, but it didn't break any laws to give them away.)

Long after the UHaul was unpacked and H had flown away and the house was in working order, I continued to frequent Edward's, especially on Friday afternoons when a BYOB party brought a few dozen aficionados out of the woodwork to sip and smoke and schmooze. Where I met an editor at the Denver Post, who regaled me with many tales of growing up in a Catholic monastery or some such out in the arid high-desert of southwest Colorado.

Somewhere along the way during one of these confabs, I asked the editor if he knew of any authors who write about the Denver area with the same sense of place as Tony Hillerman does about the Four Corners area. He turned me onto Booked to Die and John Dunning. I devoured that novel and the sequel, The Bookman's Wake, and loved every word. They are three star books, at least. And Google informs me that there are other Bookman sequels that I will have to track down. If you are a lover of whodunits, I strongly advise you to check out these books.

Actual book review occurs

However, this review is about The Holland Suggestions, which turns out to be Dunning's first novel. As a first novel, it's a decent bit of work, much better than my early, pre-publication attempts, but far from riveting. As a confirmed reader of dead, white guys, I concede that this novel has much in common with the writings of dead, white guys, only without the good parts. As a bonus (or not) it adds the mid-life crisis introspection, the arm-chair psychoanalysis, and the obligatory casual sex scenes of a 1970s novel.

It seems that after Dunning experienced success with the Bookman series, Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster) republished his earlier stuff, which accounts for the versions of The Holland Suggestions (1975) and Deadline (1981) on my shelf. They include an introduction in which Dunning talks about the circumstances under which the books were written and the writing process, which is very different between the two books. The average reader may find this introduction boring and skip over it, but for me it was the most fascinating part of The Holland Suggestions, and pretty engaging for Deadline, too.

As the rating system indicates, it's not a bad book, but hardly something I would suggest. If you're stranded in a vacation cottage and find it on the shelf, you might give it a whirl. If you like that sort of thing.

No comments: