Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday Forgotten Book: Jonathan Valin's Day of Wrath

I'm one day behind in Patti Abbott's blog post series (which would make for a nice book, don't you think, with Patti picking up her favourites along the way), but Jonathan Valin's series about P.I. Harry Stoner was called "lost" already years ago, so it's only fitting to keep you waiting for one more day.

Day of Wrath came out in 1982 and Harry Stoner was already well established, since this was the fourth book in the eleven-book series. Jonathan Valin is one of those writers who followed in the footsteps of Ross Macdonald: the hero feels wounded, but is sympathetic towards losers of the life. The plots are also somewhat similar and there's not much - if any - pulp feel to these books, as there are in Raymond Chandler or the many fifties' paperback private eye books. Valin touches quite a lot of themes: the power of money, the trauma that bad childhood leaves you with, suffering in the end chain of the society, the burden of one's own history and bad choices one has made throughout the life. Valin's plots are complex and the storylines touch lots of different people in the many areas of the American society.

So, what have these Scandinavian crime writers done that Valin and other serious American hardboiled writers of his ilk (Arthur Lyons, Marcia Muller, Stephen Greenleaf, Michael Collins etc.) didn't already do in the eighties and early nineties? The Americans just did it with fewer pages.

There's just something that bugs me about Valin. He writes with great passion, he can move the story along with a great speed and grabs you and makes you keep flipping the pages, but I don't like the way he treats sexuality. In all of his books I have read (which makes three) the bad guys are sexually frustrated or perverted, and in Valin the so-called perversion always means "evil". In Day of Wrath (which has a great shocking scene early on that stays with you for a long time) the baddie is sexually active to the point of being promiscuous and bisexual, and Harry Stoner is always describing the baddie as being cold-eyed, cunning, scary. In one of the other books, Extenuating Circumstances from 1999, Stoner's customer is a man who's into homosexual sadomasochism, but only because he's suffered very bad traumas, and there seems to be no way that he could actually, based on his free will, enjoy what he's doing or what's being done to him. All in all, it feels like it's Valin who has these problems with his sexuality.

But I can understand this is a concern that many are not interested in, and it certainly doesn't get in the way of enjoyment I get out of reading Valin.

And what's Valin doing now? Here's The Rap Sheet.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I adored Harry Stoner.

grandpaboy said...

Interesting point, and one that I think Valin was aware of when he described Stoner's puritanical streak, one that often caused him to misjudge women in his life. Missing was an interesting bookend to Extenuating Circumstances; Stoner showed the imperfect and glacial evolution of tolerance in a city like Cincinnati.