Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sand's Game by Ennis Willie--Yeah, It's Good, But....

I'm almost done reading Sand's Game, the recent collection of stories from author Ennis Willie. Several of today's best writers have endorsed Willie via loving introductions, touting not only his influence on them but his powerful writing style as something to pay attention to. They talk about how he wrote like Mickey Spillane, but with his own personal twist. That's all true. Mr. Willie sure knew how to put a sentence together and tell a good story, but...

I'm sure Willie's work was hot stuff in the 1960s, and I know the writers who contributed notes love his work and want the whole world to know, but...

There have been so many imitators and so much slam-bang-kiss-kiss action novels (one of which I myself am guilty of spawning) that have covered this same ground over and over again that even one of the better masters can't quite rise above the junk. (Even the latter Spillane books paled compared to his original five.) Willie uses similar plot gimmicks as Mickey (with solutions hinging on the "it was right in front of me the whole time!" twist) as well as the "surprise, shocker endings" (which are repeated several times and quickly grow stale just as they did in Spillane's work). Sand easily solves the murders, they're usually the first person you susepct (even the title of one of the short stories gives away the killer's identity), and all you get in between the murder and solution is a lot of slam-bang-kiss-kiss.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Anthony Boucher once wrote that Mickey Spillane rose above his imitators because he actually beleived in what he wrote. Boucher intended that as a put-down, I think, but I see it as a compliment; a writer must beleive in what he's writing, otherwise he'll never touch the reader. You cannot go at a project with a "what the hell" attitude; maybe you'll fool me once but never again.

It is obvious that Ennis Willie beleived in what he was writing and had a good time going at it; why wouldn't he? He was young, selling well, had money in his pocket; who wouldn't want that gig? Derivitive and repetitive as the Sand material may be, these stories are turned up to eleven. You'll blast through it in a few days because there is so much action packed into the plots that you won't be able to put it down. You'll see the surprises coming but you'll have a great time getting there.

I really hope that Ramble House, who produced this collection, does another set of Willie's work; maybe some of his stand-alone books, or maybe some more Sand. That would be fun.


  1. Never heard of this guy - but you're tempting me to check him out.

  2. He's worth a read. Do a Google search to read some stuff about him; Max Collins and James Reasoner have posted about him so that's where I'd start.

  3. If one like to read fast-paced, ultra-hard boiled style then this is the book for them.