Longtime readers of this blog may know that I’m an enthusiast of HBO’s serial dramas… which these days is about as unique as being a Springsteen fan. (Which I also am, but nevermind). Still, I don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about The Sopranos or Deadwood as I do thinking about books. And so it was only this week that I discovered that a “dream team” of crime novelists has taken over the writing of my new favorite show, The Wire.My wife had popped in the second disc of Season Three, and I heard myself say, “Wow, this is really well-written.” Plot, character, and setting have always been The Wire’s strong suits, but in this particular episode, the dialogue and symbolism attained a nearly Milchean richness. I jogged back to see who was credited with the teleplay, and found that it was… Dennis Lehane, of Mystic River fame.Turns out Richard Price, author of Blood Brothers and George Pelecanos, author of The Night Gardener are also sharing writing duties. I have a lot of respect for these three, for whom crime fiction is art, as well as entertainment. Price’s Clockers may not be Faulkner, but the depth of its reportage on the drug trade elevate it far above the kind of by-the-numbers pulp that fills the airport racks. “I really admired that book,” David Simon, creator of The Wire, told an interviewer. “It unearthed an entire world that had never been contemplated by the literary world. ‘Clockers’ paved the way for a lot of the split point of view that The Wire relies upon.”And given the solitary nature of the novelist’s art, the idea of these three, bound by geography and class sympathies as well as by trade, trading ideas over pizza and beer… well, it’s enough to make a fellow writer jealous. Simon joked with a co-producer, “I got Pelecanos, Price and Lehane. Who do you want next year, Philip Roth?”Stranger things have happened. Quick – someone call Elmore Leonard’s agent.
Patric (who’s got a pretty cool website) wrote in with this question, which tested my research skills.What was Entertainment Weekly’s #1 Fiction Title for 2003?Before I set to figuring this one out, I guessed what it might be just to see if I would be right. Knowing Entertainment Weekly’s tastes, I figured that Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a pretty good candidate, but, no it turns out to be EW’s number two book. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger seemed like a good pick because, while a book club favorite, it broke new ground, Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude for its genre-bending hipness, and maybe Monica Ali’s Brick Lane for its multicultural bent. But: no, no, and no. It turns out that the EW editors decided that 2003’s best novel was Samaritan by Richard Price. It’s actually a pretty good choice; Samaritan was well-reviewed, and sold well, but was not considered one of the “hot” books of the year. In the book, Price (who also wrote Clockers) weaves a mystery of sorts about a man who returns to his roots in a hard-edged New Jersey town and is brutally assaulted, but refuses to implicate his attacker. It’s a bold and interesting pick by EW for best book of the year. (My pick, by the way, is The Known World by Edward P. Jones, hands down.)