Sunday, September 28, 2008

Kent Harrington

I love indie book stores, particularly ones that specialize. You have a staff that knows the subject, knows their customers, and more often than not, knows many of the authors. I might not have learned about Kent Harrington were not for Partners & Crime in Greenwich Village, New York City. One of the partners, Megan I think, observed the books I was selecting and steered me toward the $10 specials and Dia de los Muertos by Kent Harrington. She described Harrington as one of the best writers she has read and if I read and liked it I would also want to read The Good Physician. I bought it, read it, and called the shop and ordered The Good Physician as soon as I finished.

From Partners & Crime I also learned about Dennis McMillan Publications. They specialize in limited first editions of noir and hard-boiled fiction. I think they limit their runs to one to two thousand copies and place them mainly in independent book stores.

Dia de Los Muertos

Vincent Calhoun is a DEA agent stationed in Tijuana with a major gambling problem. Aided by his partner Castro, a corrupt Mexican judicale, he supplements his income as a coyote, smuggling very wealthy people across the border. On the Day of the Dead he is shocked when a woman gets off a prison bus and he recognizes her from his past, a past not very pleasant. His luck begins to leave him: debts he can't pay; a time limit rapidly running out; a smuggling commission he really doesn't want to carry out. Regarding the reluctant commission, Harrington came up with one of the most grotesque and repulsive characters I've encountered in a while.

The Good Physician

Colin Reeves is a doctor who has rejected the good life he could have if he went into practice with his father in the U.S. Instead, he studied at the London School of Tropical Diseases and works in third world countries. His is also a CIA officer, recruited after 9/11, now working out of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. The Head of Station at the embassy is alerted to a plot by Islamic extremists who may have smuggled something very dangerous into Mexico for use against U.S. interests. Colin finds himself in a situation and asked to do things that run counter to his idealistic nature. Colin's life is further complicated when he is asked to treat a female tourist with whom he falls in love.

Vince Calhoun is older, jaded and a cynic. Colin Reeves is young and and a romantic idealist but they have something in common. A woman comes into their lives bringing both hope and fear. The women are not used to represent the downfall of men but to bring out unexpected emotions. Both Calhoun and Reeves are well developed characters and the reader gets to know them intimately.

The story in ...Muertos is closer to a straight thriller than The Good Physician. There is a steady pace to it with episodes of violence. By contrast, The Good Physician takes its time. With a theme of the War on Terror, Harrington gives the reader a lot to think about and the time to do it.

Harrington is a real artist with language and there is a flow and elegance that makes him a joy to read.

I can't speak to all of Harrington's books but these two both have a gold colored image embossed on the flyleaf. In Dia de los Muertos there is a scarab (dung) beetle. With The Good Physician it is a scorpion. These images have meaning within the context of the story and are a nice and attractive touch.

Harrington is a terrific writer and I highly recommend him.