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Back to the Badlands: Crime Writing in the USA [Paperback]

John Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Oct 2006
In the summer of 1989 John Williams donned a baseball cap and took off for the States to search out the mythical America of modern crime fiction ? to find James Ellroy?s LA, Elmore Leonard?s sleazy South Beach of Miami, Sara Paretsky?s Chicago, and many others on an unnerving tour of the American underbelly. The result was Into the Badlands, a riveting collection of interviews that introduced a generation of crime fans to now legendary writers. In 2005 Williams returned to discover that much had changed in the intervening years, both in crime writing and in America as a whole. As Williams crosses America in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he finds himself in a profoundly uneasy country. Whether their territory is inner-city DC, like George Pelecanos, or the rural white poverty of the Ozark Hills, like Daniel Woodrell, the best crime writers today are sending despatches from the edge. John Williams brings their visions together to construct a powerful, personal portrait of America today.


Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail; 2nd Ed edition (16 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1852429216
  • ISBN-13: 978-1852429218
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 13.3 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 281,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"'A vital mixture of literary criticism, personality profiles and imaginary geography' New Statesman 'An acute journey, alive with the stark and the surreal' GQ 'A gazetteer of American noir' Daily Telegraph"

About the Author

John Williams was born in Cardiff in 1961.He wrote a punk fanzine and played in bands before moving to London and becoming a journalist , writing for everyone for The Face to the Financial Times. He wrote his first book, an American crime fiction travelogue called Into The Badlands (Paladin) in 1991. His next book, Bloody Valentine (HarperCollins), written around the Lynette White murder case in the Cardiff docks, came out in 1994. Following a subsequent libel action from the police, he turned to fiction. His first novel the London-set Faithless (Serpent's Tail) came out in 1997. Shortly afterward he moved back to Cardiff, with his family, and has now written four novels set in his hometown - Five Pubs, Two Bars And A Nightclub (Bloomsbury 1999); Cardiff Dead (Bloomsbury 2000); The Prince Of Wales (Bloomsbury 2003) and Temperance Town (Bloomsbury 2004). He has edited an anthology of new Welsh fiction, Wales Half Welsh (Bloomsbury 2004). He also writes screenplays (his ninety-minute drama, A Light In The City, was shown by BBC Wales in 2001). An omnibus edition of his Cardiff novels, The Cardiff Trilogy, is to be published by Bloomsbury in summer 2006.

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THE CAB DRIVER didn't want to go to South Beach. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars two halves 13 Sep 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The first part of this book is an abridged version of Williams' first exploration of parts of the u.s. through crime writing and writers; the second part is an account of another round of interviews and explorations 15 years later.
I found the first section more interesting and sharper than the second; the writers interviewed more interesting too: although the chapter on Daniel Woodrell in part 2 is good - maybe because Woodrell is a better, deeper writer than the others.
The blurb on the book cover is completely misleading. It says that Williams crosses the united states in the wake of hurricane katrina - which hardly gets a mention, finding himself in a "profoundly uneasy country." Maybe it is, but what comes over in the book is a country become blander as time passes.
I like many of the writers discussed in this book, but in the end found its coverage of them unsatisfying. I don't think the blend of writers with the author's own travelogue quite works, and the book becomes neither one thing nor the other. Interesting though.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Crime Travelogue 18 Mar 2007
By A. Ross TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This excellent literary travelogue is a little bit of an odd beast in that it is essentially an updated version of William's 1989 book "Into the Badlands" (which I read about five years ago). Back then, Williams visited the U.S., interviewing various crime writers about their hometowns and their writing process. He then repeated the process in 2005, leading to this book. Williams' M.O. is to stay in a cheaper (i.e. seedier) parts of town and either walk around on his own in search of interesting bars or music stores, or get the writer he's meeting to give him an insider's tour. He's clearly a believer in crime fiction as social portraiture and commentary, and also has a bit of a music industry background. These perspectives combine to make him an interesting external chronicler of contemporary America.

The first hundred pages reprint portions from the 1989 edition on Miami (Carl Hiassen), New Orleans (James Lee Burke), Los Angeles (James Ellroy and Gar Anthony Haywood), Missoula (James Crumley), and Detroit (Elmore Leonard). These are interesting to read today not only for a perspective on how these various places have changed in the intervening 18 years, but for their insight on writers whose careers have since blossomed (the notable exception being Gar Anthony Haywood). A postscript gives a brief, and not always flattering, update on the career trajectories of these six writers.

Sharp readers will also find other little nuggets that have aged well -- for example, in the section about L.A., one of the people who hosts Williams is scruffy young intellectual named Mike Davis, who has since risen to international prominence as an urbanist.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Crime Travelogue 18 Mar 2007
By A. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This excellent literary travelogue is a little bit of an odd beast in that it is essentially an updated version of William's 1989 book "Into the Badlands" (which I read about five years ago). Back then, Williams visited the U.S., interviewing various crime writers about their hometowns and their writing process. He then repeated the process in 2005, leading to this book. Williams' M.O. is to stay in a cheaper (i.e. seedier) parts of town and either walk around on his own in search of interesting bars or music stores, or get the writer he's meeting to give him an insider's tour. He's clearly a believer in crime fiction as social portraiture and commentary, and also has a bit of a music industry background. These perspectives combine to make him an interesting external chronicler of contemporary America.

The first hundred pages reprint portions from the 1989 edition on Miami (Carl Hiassen), New Orleans (James Lee Burke), Los Angeles (James Ellroy and Gar Anthony Haywood), Missoula (James Crumley), and Detroit (Elmore Leonard). These are interesting to read today not only for a perspective on how these various places have changed in the intervening 18 years, but for their insight on writers whose careers have since blossomed (the notable exception being Gar Anthony Haywood). A postscript gives a brief, and not always flattering, update on the career trajectories of these six writers.

Sharp readers will also find other little nuggets that have aged well -- for example, in the section about L.A., one of the people who hosts Williams is scruffy young intellectual named Mike Davis, who has since risen to international prominence as an urbanist. It's not clear why these particular sections were chosen for this edition, nor why the decision wasn't made to simply republish them all, but the "missing" chapters are available for free at Williams' web site. These include another section on Miami (James Hall), and chapters on New Mexico (Tony Hillerman), San Francisco (Joe Gores), Chicago (Sara Partesky, Eugene Izzi), Boston (George V. Higgins), and New York (Andrew Vachss).

Since his 1989 trip, Williams has gone on to write a series of excellent Cardiff-based crime novels himself (all of which are well worth seeking out). At the same time he's become more steeped in American crime writing, which gives the five newer chapters a touch more depth. Here, he visits Washington, D.C. (George Pelecanos), Hollywood Beach, FL (Vicki Hendricks), LA/San Diego (Ken Nunn), Austin (Jesse Sublett, Kinky Friedman), and the Ozarks (Daniel Woodrell). The only place in the whole book I'm particularly familiar with is D.C., and that chapter does a good job of giving the reader a taste of what the city is really like, and delivers a solid profile of Pelecanos (one of my favorite writers) as well.

The book concludes with a bittersweet epilogue in which Williams reflects on the change that's come about in the intervening 16 years between his trips. Of course the internet has made the enterprise of traveling to new places and discovering new authors much easier -- but he feels that something is lost in the process. In the literary world, he sees crime fiction emerging from its ghetto and standing with the mainstream. Most refreshingly, Williams isn't afraid to pull punches, noting that much of the best crime fiction now comes from other countries, and that several of the writers he originally interviewed in 1989 have spent the years cranking out commercial dross. The book is a must read for anyone interested in modern American crime writing, and will be of interest to anyone interested in an outsider's view of the U.S.
3.0 out of 5 stars A book in parts 3 Aug 2007
By Peter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the 1989 edition a lot as the writer was young and seemed more full of energy in his wanderings and the interviews were with a top group of authors.

The 2007 edition is still pretty good but there was no need to have reprinted half the first book and this time the author seems to have gone off the tracks with some authors who don't have the oompth that the 1989 edition had.

The George Pelecanos section was excellent though.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring Road Trip, Weak Interviews 26 Aug 2007
By B. Erisman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Williams sets out to visit American cities where crime novels are set and to meet some of the most noted crime writers around. Mission accomplished. Too bad he didn't add "writing a captivating story" about the experience to his mission.

Mostly William's roams from bar to pub to tavern and muses about bad beer and the music in the background. On the occasion when Williams does hook up with a writer, the "interview" barely travel beyond a recounting of the author's titles and information that could be gathered from reading the authors bio's on their book flaps or other readily available resources.

If you are a newbie to crime, Williams does pick some great writers and titles - but I'd rather the list be a list rather than a weak travelogue.

Just skip to the bibliography in the back of Badlands and find something better to read.
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