The serendipity of discovering a book never ceases to amaze me. All my life I have been networked to fans of crime fiction, but recently a man walked into my library who knew I had written Read ‘Em Their Writes. He handed me this title and told me he thought it was one of the best crime novels he had ever read.
I have to agree. Even more remarkable, it is Don Carpenter’s first novel.
Hard Rain Falling is told in five parts. The first exposition, a very short prologue, details the birth of Jack Levitt in Eastern Oregon. Jack is born to people with limited parenting skills, ending up an orphan. In the second part, Jack has moved to Portland and it is 1949. He is struggling to exist, spending time with small hustles and living out of a pool hall. When an African-American pool hustler named Billy Lancing comes to Portland, Billy’s story takes over the narrative. By part three, Jack is in San Francisco, where through a series of unfortunate incidents, he ends up in San Quentin, only to find Billy as his cellmate. While the two develop their relationship in prison, the novel takes time to show Billy’s path to his incarceration. Part four is devoted to Jack’s life outside of San Quentin, when he decides to raise a family. Part five is the coda on the story.
To say more about the plot is pointless as what carries this book is a relentless debate on the merits of an unimaginable number of human scenarios. Mostly told through reminiscences, the book allows characters to tell their stories while revealing the conditions that created the conflicts that plague them and the belief systems that led the character to make the choices that they made. These remarkable revelations reveal the true nature of love, the relationship between men and women, the need for homosexuality, the purpose of incarceration, the yearning for parents and the desire to be one, the causes behind crime and the hopelessness of growing up disenfranchised in America.
Don Carpenter was born in 1931 in Berkeley, California. His family moved to Portland where he graduated from high school. After service in the Air Force during the Korean War, he earned a B.S. from Portland State College. After earning a M.A. from San Francisco State College, he taught English. For awhile, he was happily married and raised two daughters. After the publication of his first novel, he moved to Mill Valley, California, and became a full time writer. But divorce separated him from his family. He also spent years contributing to various projects in Hollywood with his greatest success being the cult film Payday (1973) starring Rip Torn. In addition to Hard Rain Falling, he wrote, Blade of Light (1967), The Murder of the Frogs and Other Stories (1969), Getting Off (1971), The True Life Story of Jody McKeegan (1975), A Couple of Comedians (1979), Turnaround (1981), The Class of '49 (1985), The Dispossessed (1986), and From A Distant Place (1988). Ill, but still writing, he committed suicide by gunshot in 1995. More can be learned about this remarkable writer at http://www.doncarpenterpage.com.
The words tour de force comes to mind. It certainly will fit any critic’s definition of noir.
Here is The Big Disappointment: Currently, none of Don Carpenter’s novels are in print. A search of WorldCat reveals only 231 copies available and the American Book Exchange lists only 28 used copies for sale. Sadly, just like the character of Jack Levitt, this novel has no future, unless someone gets this work back in print.