Friday, December 22, 2017

Forgotten Books: DEAD SOLDIERS by Bill Crider (2004)

The best thing about the Carl Burns series is that the hero is really Bill Crider himself. 

In "Professor Carl Burns" (note that the initials CB are the inverse of BC), we see Bill in an alternate universe, in which he remained in academia instead of seeking fame and fortune as a wordsmith. 

In this 2004 novel, the fourth and  latest in the series, Bill and Burns read the same books (Ross Thomas’s Yellow Dog Contract and Charles Willeford's The High Priest of California & Wild Wives) have the same interests (Old Time Radio, and The Shadow in particular), listen to the same music (Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” Kerry Newcomb and Buddy Holly), and drink the same soda (Dr. Pepper). And I'd be willing to bet that Bill once drove the same dark green '67 Plymouth with a black top, and the same Toyota Camry "of a nondescript sandy color" owned by Burns. But the sameness goes much deeper, into character and attitude and the way the two of them view life with a whimsical and appreciative eye.

More autobiographical moments:

Burns’ idea of philosophy is “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”

Burns wears a T-shirt with “a picture of a sickly green alligator on it.”

“Burns didn’t like country music that sounded like pop tunes, he didn’t understand the appeal of rap, and thought most of the R&B music sounded like people moaning in pain.”

“Burns got in his Camry and dug a pen and a piece of paper out of the console. He never liked to be far from writing materials.”

References to Pop Culture: a Rifleman cap gun, Lash LaRue, Elvira the Mistress of the Night, Al Capp, Bruce Willis, a Mickey Mouse watch, a 3-D Three Stooges comic, Starsky and Hutch, Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Cagney, Dragnet, Alan Arkin in “The In-Laws,” Dirty Harry, Lincoln Logs, Georgia O’Keeffe, baseball cards, Malibu Barbie, Star Wars figures and Elvis’s Christmas Album.

Literary allusions: Francis Macomber, Natty Bumppo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, The Scarlet Letter and Othello.

The Ten Best Western Movies of All Time: The Searchers, Red River, Rio Bravo, Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, Fort Apache, The Magnificent Seven, Shane, Unforgiven and Ride the High Country (that’s eleven, but who’s counting?), with an honorable mention to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

The murder victim is Matthew Hart. (Matthew S. Hart was the house name author of the Cody’s Law western series. Four books in that series were collaborations between Bill and James Reasoner).

Other private jokes no doubt abound, most of which I ain’t privy to. But it’s easy to see that Hartley Gorman College is named after Bill's friend Ed. And one of the murder suspects is an accurately described Steve Stillwell, another alumnus of DAPA-EM, whose fictional dead son was named “Taylor,” after a friend. That friend, we can be pretty dang sure, is West Coast mystery man Bruce Taylor.

And then we come to Chief of Police Boss Napier. This, of course, is a true-to-life portrayal of Cap'n Bob Napier, complete with snappy repartee, devil-may-care grin, lady-killing ways, Pepsi drinking habit and toy soldier collection. Bill, you see, has been exposed to Napieriana for close to forty years, in the pages of DAPA-EM, at uncounted Bouchercons, and more recently in the western apa OWLHOOT, and such close association has clearly taken its toll on his psyche.

Cap'n Bob will tell you this is actually the Boss Napier series, but that just ain't so. Burns/Bill is present on every page, while Boss/Bob pops in and out like the Trickster character he is. 

A few Boss Napier highlights: 

“If I catch you meddling around in this murder case,” he tells Burns, “I’m going to take you out to a quiet little spot that I know and work you over with my bullwhip.”

“Napier was a manly man whose idea of political correctness was tithing to the National Rifle Association.”

He wears low-cut black cowboy boots, a western-cut gray suit and a ten-gallon hat.

Burns calls him as “Mr. Sensitivity.”

At Napier’s house, Burns sees a David & Goliath playset. One of the few (if it exists) that Cap’n Bob probably doesn’t have. Later, we get to see a Civil War playset, one of the Cap’n’s favorites.

In Dead Soldiers, you get all that, plus a murder mystery and a whole lot of slow-pitch softball. Is that a great deal, or what?


George said...

As a former college professor, I loved the Carl Burns series. Bill Crider captured the academic environment perfectly.

Charles Gramlich said...

Gotta pick this one up

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I feel like an idiot. I never picked up on all this when I read and reviewed it.

Cap'n Bob said...

Naturally, the Boss Napier books are favorites of mine. BTW, there is a David and Goliath playset of sorts. It was sold in Christian bookstores but is mostly figures. I have one.

Barry Ergang said...

Like Charles, I have to find a copy of this one.

TracyK said...

Me, too. I have only read some of the Dan Rhodes series, and especially want to try this one and the Truman Smith series set in Galveston.