Ed Gorman, whose latest novel, Ticket to Ride, I recently devoured, is a man of many accomplishments. His blog is required reading for me. It’s full of interest, and has introduced me to such good and diverse things as the novels of Elizabeth Sanxay Holding and a terrific CD tribute to Dusty Springfield by Shelby Lynne. As a book editor, he was kind enough to include ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice’ in a ‘best of year’ anthology, and I first came across him many years ago, when he phoned me to ask if an article I’d written for a magazine called ‘Million’ (sadly long defunct) could be reprinted in ‘Mystery Scene’, a wonderfully resilient publication whose success owes much to his hard work. Although we exchange emails from time to time, we’ve never met. However, through his splendid writing, somehow I feel that I have the privilege of knowing him quite well.
Above all, he is a masterly crime writer. If you haven’t come across his short stories, check out Famous Blue Raincoat, a collection published by Crippen & Landru, or his collected stories, in two gorgeously produced volumes, The Moving Coffin and Out There in the Darkness. Of his novels that I’ve read, I might previously have said that The Night Remembers is my favourite. But Ticket to Ride is perhaps even better.
It’s the latest instalment in the Sam McCain series. The books take their titles from songs of the period in which they are set – so now we are up to the mid-Sixties, and a time when the US was in the throes of war in a distant land. The book’s first scene involves an anti-Vietnam protest, but although Gorman’s heart is with the protesters, it is a mark of his sensitivity as a novelist that he portrays the people on the other side of the argument with a very human touch. When a murder occurs, Sam (a lawyer in his Iowa home town) has the unenviable task of defending an unattractive client. But he believes in the man’s innocence, and sets about discovering the truth behind the crime.
Despite Sam’s legal background, this book is more akin to a private eye novel than a legal thriller. It is short and snappy, with some wonderfully witty lines. The plot reaches back into the murky dealings of the town’s past, but the greatest appeal of the novel is the depiction of small town America at a time, well within living memory yet in some ways remarkably different from today, when the Beatles were perceived as a threat to moral order by much the same people who supported an unwinnable war.
This particular book hasn’t been published as yet in the UK, and I’m puzzled that, so far, no British crime publisher has really got behind Ed Gorman on a long term basis in the way that the quality of his writing deserves. Perhaps Ticket to Ride will make the breakthrough. Certainly, it is a smoothly accomplished piece of entertainment from a very skilled practitioner.