Inspiration From The Distant Past

Inspiration From The Distant Past
Found note in an old book... warms the cockles of my bookish heart...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Not my finest moment: The Black Russian by Lenny Bartulin

Driving home at night is one of the highlights of my week. It's so quiet and dark: my headlights cut the night and no one asks me questions or whinges about my choice of radio. I feel cocooned and in control, knowing I could just keep driving if I liked, and go wherever I wanted. Of course I always end up at home, but I know there're possibilities when I'm alone and behind the wheel.

One night a few weeks ago I was listening to Mary Lou Stephens and her show Coast Nights. I love the blues, alternative and world music she plays, and usually I find her guests interesting. This particular night I heard her interview a poet turned author who was spuriking his latest book, a suspense novel. Like, I suspect, so many avid readers I harbor a secret, burning desire to earn a living writing, so I listened with interest. I let my thoughts wander and imagined being a poet these days. In between writing poems I'd go about my quotidian life, paying bills and running errands and supporting myself writing couplets and free verse. The mind boggles. I was excited by the interview and wanted to get his book. The problems started the next day.

Rocking up to the desk in my school library, I briefly described to my friend behind the counter what I was looking for. A book called The White Russian by a Sydney author named Luke B-something. She tapped into Google Books (I never knew such a thing existed, she's so smart!) and found nothing. We tried a couple of different permutations, but, again, nothing. I felt I was blazing new territory, looking for an author so new he wasn't even on Google. Concern set in, however, when I realized I wouldn't be able to read a book I couldn't find. I tried searching the radio station's site, but oddly found nothing. Other interviews were written up for that night, but not my mysterious author. I got no help from my book-y friends. Funny music from Twilight Zone began doodling in my head.

The exact route I took to find the book on the net is lost in my browser's history, but find it I did, eventually. It's a book called The Black Russian by a Sydney author named Lenny Bartulin. Take a moment to compare this with my original request at the library. Out of all the information I had to go on, only the city of the author's residence was correct. Since Sydney's current population hovers at about 4.4 million I hadn't narrowed the parameters by much. There are only about 22 million Australians, so I had eliminated roughly four fifths of the nation. Clearly research and short-term memory are not my strengths.

It took a while, but the search was worth it. Finally, I used my gift certificate to buy Bartulin's second book, The Black Russian, and was so pleased I did. The main character, Jack Susko, owns a second-hand book store in Sydney, and just got himself mixed up in a tricky situation involving guns, theft, a rare book, double crossing women and a $3.4 million Bible. This situation could never happen to me, of course, but I can imagine myself being confused or duped or struggling to pay the bills or browsing in Jack's little shop, dust motes in the sunshine. This book was a pleasure to read.

Bartulin punctuates the book with allusions and references to books great and obscure. It is the perfect read for bibliophiles. His characters are a bit like Evanovich's, only more literary. Jack is trying to give up smoking, blindly points to passages in randomly opened books, loves old vinyl records, is barely earning enough to keep his cat fed, and even considers getting in his car and driving away. He is trying to find his way through adulthood issues like career choices and romantic relationships.

I love Bartulin's turn of phrase, and his poetry background shows in his writing. There's a one liner here for everyone:

For the physiotherapist; 'The way he stood. Kind of oily-hipped.'

For the struggling small business owner; 'He was suddenly thinking about his financial situation. Zimbabwe had nothing on him.'

For the car mechanic; 'The black plastic side mirror hung limply from the door by a thin wire, like a small, gutted marsupial.'

For the gullible; 'He stepped out of the frame for a moment and looked. Yep, there he was. Piggy in the goddamn middle.'

For the fashionista; 'Nice shoes. Not sure if they go with the bloody ear, though. Everything goes with Manolo Blahnik.'

For the confused; 'He tried to read between the lines, but it was all Cyrillic.'

I loved the book: I loved the writing and the characters, and I can't wait to find the first Jack Susko book. Since my intellectual powers are well below his, it may take me a while.


  1. Now that was one of the funniest reviews I've read in a long time! I love "for the fashionista" that's too classic!!!!!!
    I hate to say it though, but have you ever read any of Steve Berry's books? your jack character sounds kind of similar to robert langdon (i think that's his name - i'm going from memory and I may be getting them all mixed up or is he from dan brown's?, hmmm? i should go look)

  2. steve berry's guy is cotton malone...robert langdon is dan brown's...i need me a roster!

  3. Stacy, Thanks for the compliment! I have read Dan Brown, but MUST meet the character named Cotton Malone. I will follow that up asap.

  4. Strangely enough, I have a book called The White Russian by Tom Bradby...2003. Takes place in St. Petersburg.
    Wanna trade? Yours sounds better!

  5. Amy, not a ringing endorsement for your book swap! Is the White Russian available in the US?

  6. Not sure, but I'll look!



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