Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg

Cutter and Bone, a novel from 1976, was the basis for the excellent movie Cutter’s Way. The story is set in Santa Barbara, California. An especially disturbing murder is committed. Bone (Jeff Bridges in the movie) is a witness but doesn’t get a good look at the killer. His friend Cutter (played by the recently-deceased John Heard) becomes convinced that the killer is a wealthy businessman. 

The characters of Cutter, Bone and Cutter’s common-law wife Mo make the story stand out. Cutter was severely wounded in Viet Nam and is now a fast-talking maniac. Bone is a good-looking deadbeat. Mo has her own problems. None of them are happy, but they’re interesting, somewhat in the way a car crash can be if you’re not in the car. 

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The Black Ice by Michael Connelly

This is the second book in Michael Connelly’s series of novels about semi-disgraced Los Angeles Police Department Detective Harry Bosch. It wasn’t bad. Bosch becomes involved in the apparent suicide of a fellow officer. He isn’t supposed to work on the case but one thing (or one murder) leads to another. Besides, somebody has to figure everything out. The ice referred to in the title is a heavy-duty drug that’s being imported from Mexico. Being the kind of cop he is, Bosch ignores his bosses and takes his investigation south of the border. He even ends up in a tunnel again, as you would expect in another story about an ex-Viet Nam tunnel rat.

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Perhaps Sherlock Holmes could explain why this is the first of Dr. Watson’s writings I’ve ever read. This is the novel that introduces Holmes and Watson. The doctor wants to share a flat. The detective solves two murders. But I sure didn’t expect several chapters about Mormons in America’s Wild West. Next up: The Sign of (the) Four.

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly has written twenty novels featuring Los Angeles homicide detective Harry Bosch, almost one per year since 1992. This was the first. It’s an entertaining story, but there is a lot that’s familiar about it. He’s a loner. He’s got issues. The brass don’t like his methods, but he gets the job done. The surprises at the end are the usual kind. In fact, the biggest surprise I got was when my Kindle revealed that the book is 500 pages long. It could have been shorter, as his later novels are. But I enjoyed it enough to read the next one in the series, partly because the setting made me nostalgic for Southern California.

The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward

This is the third or fourth time I started reading The Stranger and the first time I finished it. I’m glad I made it through Part 1 because Part 2 is actually interesting.

In his introduction, the translator says Camus adopted an “American” style in Part 1: “the short, precise sentences; the depiction of a character ostensibly without consciousness; and, in places, the ‘tough guy’ tone”. In Part 2, however, “Camus gives freer rein to a lyricism which is his alone”. 

I found most of Part 1 to be oppressive. Meursault, the “stranger”, narrates the story as if he’s an alien or a robot. He hardly reacts to anything except the heat and the sunshine. In Part 2, he expresses some emotions in addition to annoyance and becomes almost sympathetic, even though I was never convinced by his repeated claims that life is absurd and nothing matters.

There are absurdities in life, but death doesn’t make life absurd. It only makes it finite. And some things do matter if only because they matter to us.

Plunder Squad by Richard Stark

Parker needs money and agrees to an art heist, but backs out when he loses confidence in his fellow crooks. Then the chance to pull another art heist comes along. It’s mostly successful until it’s time to exchange the paintings for cash. The middleman is extremely unreliable and things deteriorate from there.

Slayground by Richard Stark

Parker and associates knock over an armored car, but the driver of the getaway car screws up. Parker grabs the loot and runs into an amusement park that’s closed for the season. He stashes the money and then tries to avoid being caught by a gang of local criminals and two crooked cops who know he’s in there with all that cash. Parker escapes but has to leave the money behind (for now).