Samuel Clemens and his friend John T. Lewis in 1903 (Library of Congress)

While showing a picture of Lewis and himself, Twain remarked:

“The colored man. . . is John T. Lewis, a friend of mine. These many years – thirty-four in fact. He was my father-in-law’s coachman forty years ago; was many years a farmer of Quarry Farm, and is still my neighbor. I have not known an honester man nor a more respect-worthy one. Twenty-seven years ago, by the prompt and intelligent exercise of his courage, presence of mind and extraordinary strength, he saved the lives of three relatives of mine, whom a runaway horse was hurrying to destruction. Naturally I hold him in high and grateful regard.”

John T. Lewis was born a “back freeman” in 1835, Carroll County, Maryland, where he lived the first twenty-five years of his life. At the age of 18 he joined the Church of the Brethren, becoming a lifelong member. In 1860 he moved north to Adams County, Pennsylvania, then settled in Elmira, New York. There he married Mary Stover, who was born in slavery.

Author Rating: A

Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, or Anthony Hope as he was known to his readers, was born February 9, 1863, a young contemporary of Thomas Hardy. While Hardy is remembered and celebrated today, Hope is largely forgotten as a writer. I only discovered him by chance while looking through Andy Minter‘s Librivox catalog. I am delighted to have discovered Hope. His writing is quick and engaging.

His tenth novel, published in 1893, The Prisoner of Zenda put Hope firmly on his contemporaneous public’s map and then further popularized when it was made into a movie in 1913, again in 1922 and 1937. Even though he’s forgotten as a writer, his storytelling has influenced movies and TV shows well into the late 20th century. Hope published 32 novels by 1925 and died July 8, 1933.

The Prisoner of Zenda: being the history of three months in the life of an English gentleman (Listened 09/2016) Recommended

Rupert of Hentzau: being the sequel to a story by the same writer entitled the Prisoner of Zenda (Listened 11/2016) Recommended

I listened to both of these as audio recordings, read by the wonderful Andy Minter who brings the stories alive with his deft chracterizations.

The two novels are set in the imaginary central European country of Ruritania, where adventure and true love and heartbreak await.

Author Rating: A+

The Ferryman Institute (Read 11/15/2016) Highly recommended

I absolutely love this book. It is perfect. (Well, there was one typo toward the end but hey).

It’s the story of Charlie Dawson who has labored for 250 years helping people cross over after their death, never failing at his task but heartbroken by the effort. It is well paced, hilarious at times, and utterly convincing in the universe revealed. I won’t give away any more than that because you want to discover it for yourself.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to read this lovely book and look forward patiently to whatever Colin Gigl comes up with next.

Anne Waldron reading a book, 1912

Anne Waldron reading a book, 1912

Donald E. Westlake wrote under his own name as well as a variety of pseudonyms, one being Richard Stark. As Richard Stark, Westlake wrote a large number of hard crime stories about a professional criminal named Parker:

You’ve heard of the hero and the anti-hero…how about the non-hero? That’s how Parker, the main character in a series of novels by Richard Stark (AKA Donald E. Westlake) has been described. Parker is a thief, but he’s no charming cat burglar who playfully eludes the silly authorities. He’s a ruthless thug who does whatever it takes to get what he wants (usually money), and he doesn’t care about a living soul other than himself. Some of the things he does will be repellent (I hope) to readers.

So why read the stuff? Because Stark is an excellent writer and the Parker books are exciting and thought-provoking. Like all great crime fiction, the Parker novels give readers not just the story of a crime, but also a detailed look at the inner workings of a fascinating and original character.

Whether you are already a fan of Westlake or just like good crime fiction, go pay a visit to The Violent World of Parker.

The newly revamped site offers:

Blog: Musings on Parker, Stark, and Westlake, with occasional forays into other crime fiction. The latest news can be found here, along with whatever else I find interesting.

The Parker Novels: A list of the novels in order of publication, with links to a page for each novel. The page for each novel contains links to other goodies, such as cover galleries, detailed synopses, and introductions to out-of-print editions.

The “Parker” Movies: Movies based the Parker novels. There is a page for each movie, which includes a trailer if available, and a link to a gallery of pictures related to the film, including posters and stills.

The Grofield Novels: Spun off from the Parker series, these detail the adventures of Alan Grofield, the actor and thief first seen in The Score. The pages for each novel contain links to other goodies, such as cover galleries and detailed synopses.

Not Quite Parker (Print and Screen): References, pastiches, homages, ripoffs, inspirations, and remarkable similarities.

Extras: Great stuff that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Small now but growing.

R.I.P.: Obituaries for and tributes to the great Donald E. Westlake (AKA Richard Stark). We miss you.