The Difference is a Charles Willeford crime novel wearing a cowboy hat instead of a fedora, riding on a horse instead of in a Plymouth, and set in the Sonoran desert rather than San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Johnny Shaw, the first-person narrator, is as unscrupulous as the hero of Willeford's The Woman Chaser or, for that matter Thompson's The Killer Inside Me or Williams's The Hot Spot. Shaw has a noble quest---to regain control of the land left to him by his father---but, as he pursues it, he takes whatever he needs and kills whoever is in his way.
It was normal for "paperback writers" of the 1950s and 1960s to write more than one genre: crime, western, sci-fi, or romance. In this book, Willeford seems to know horsemanship and the Sonoran desert as well as he knows the used-car business and Los Angeles in The Woman Chaser. I'm not sure this will make me a fan of westerns, but I enjoyed this one.
This book shows how the thriller (using that term loosely) became more popular than "mainstream fiction" and "literary fiction" and, in the hands of some writers became as sophisticated.
Anderson's short list of "modern masters" includes Thomas Harris, George Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane and a few others, but he discusses many writers in several categories. I've added some new names to my to-be-read list. I also enjoyed his discussions of writers I've read such as Lawrence Sanders. It's nice to be reminded what is good about those books.
Throughout the book I found answers to questions I have long pondered. For instance, he says Sue Grafton's first book is about 200 pages, but a book from later in her Kinsey Milhone series runs to 337 pages. Anderson says this is not because the plot has more twists and turns, but rather because Grafton includes more description.
For me this was similar to another book about books I like, Books to Die For. The Triumph of the Thriller was published in 2007, so it ends before the rise of ebooks and print-on-demand, which uprooted many of the assumptions of book publishing.
Charles Willeford is mentioned along with Jim Thompson and Charles Williams as among the best writers of paperback originals, a publishing phenomenon that started in 1950.
The Woman Chaser was published in 1960, the sixth of his eighteen novels. Its hero is devoid of empathy. He interacts with others only to entertain or enrich himself. This recalls the heroes of Williams' The Hot Spot and Thompson's The Killer inside Me.
The Woman Chaser is the story of a used-car salesman who moves from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and takes a break from making money to write and direct a film. On this level, he is a spoof of every guy who has "a great idea for a movie" and thinks that's all he needs.
Along the way the salesman has an Oedipal relationship with his mother and uncaring sexual encounters with two other women. These characters are barely tethered to the plot. They are included so the author can check off requirements of the genre.
Willeford has a lot of fun experimenting with form. Instead of chapter breaks, he uses movie scene headings such as "Dissolve To:" The flow of action seems at times as arbitrary as the hero's brainstorming.
The Woman Chaser may not be a lesson in how to construct a narrative, but it successfully brings a sociopathic narrator to life.
San Francisco is famous for fog. Tony Bennett sang about it: "the morning fog may chill the air, I don't care." Lots of black-and-white suspense films, mostly film noir, have used it to great effect.
I took this photo in Tiburon, not far from the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. If it weren't for Angel Island and fog we'd be looking at the city of San Francisco across the bay. This small town has turned its waterside into a walkable park. I was mighty impressed by the way someone used that natural rock as the base for a fishing pedestal at the end of that pier.
Decades ago, when I was reading Popular Photography magazine, I saw an article which said not to wait for sunny days to take pictures; some of your best opportunities are in "bad" weather.