In the absence of any other likely topic, here’s what I’ve been reading over the last few days:
Tomato Red, Daniel Woodrell’s 1998 novel about a white-trash loser in the Ozarks, is right up there with the excellent Winter’s Bone, which I once strongly recommended to the wife’s book group. They demurred, perhaps because they think all I read are trashy crime novels. Too bad for them. Tomato Red may be nominally a crime novel, but the crimes are tangential to the memorable characters and dead-on dialog. It’s also pretty funny, in a rueful sort of way. Woodrell is one of the best in the business, and if you haven’t read any of his six or seven novels, you’re missing something.
In Havana Nocturne, T. J. English tells how the American Mob set out to control Cuba and came pretty close to succeeding — until a guy named Fidel Castro came along. The Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky comes across as the Steve Jobs of organized crime, a genius of the casino business who’d probably fit right in leading any Wall Street firm today. The U.S. government comes across as both arrogant and hapless. Lansky and the Feds had one thing in common: they both seriously misjudged the Cuban zeitgeist in the late ’50s. Reading Havana Nocturne, it’s hard not to feel a smattering of sympathy for Castro’s revolution.