Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Books That Changed My Life with Rick Van Etten #guestblog #lifechangingbooks

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley. As close to perfection as any private eye novel could be.

Shibumi by Trevanian. I was a big fan of all of Trevanian’s work, but Shibumi tops the list. The character of Nicholai Hel is the gold standard by which all other fictional assassins should be measured, and my only regret is that Trevanian never wrote a book in which his other brilliant assassin, Jonathan Hemlock, crossed paths with Nicholai. 

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke. Hard to pick a single favorite from Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series but this is certainly one of the best, with a nice touch of the supernatural that Burke pulls off without becoming ridiculous. Burke is a superb stylist and he gets extra points for this book’s super-cool title.

Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. The first “big book” (i.e., chapter book) I read as a youngster, and the first of many more by Terhune I would read and re-read over the years. Kick-started my lifelong love affair with dogs.

Big Red, Irish Red and Outlaw Red by Jim Kjelgaard. Young adult novels that set me on the course of becoming an upland bird hunter and an Irish setter owner—to date I’ve owned seven Irish setters, spanning more than 50 years. Also led to my becoming the editor of Gun Dog magazine for a total of 20 years.

The Upland Shooting Life by George Bird Evans. For many years I re-read this book just before the beginning of each hunting season. Evans was a master stylist and his work contributed to my desire to become a writer, especially in the outdoors field.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Agree with Hemingway’s statement that this is the great American novel. The chapter titled “You Can’t Pray a Lie” includes what I believe is the one of the most poignant passages in all literature, capped by Huck’s agonizing decision (spoiler alert): “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Far more than a dog story; a classic of literature that I taught in some of my English composition classes. Many passages are almost lyrical and the ending is breathtaking…at least I think so.

Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse. Recommended by a dear friend to whom I’m forever indebted. Another book I re-read every few years.

Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore. A fun, delightful, sometimes silly romp with a powerful underlying message about what truly matters and what doesn’t.

A Time to Stand by Walter Lord. I’m an Alamo nut (thanks no doubt to the Disney-inspired Davy Crockett craze of the 1950s) and have read every book I can find on the subject. Lord’s book is the definitive work, in my opinion, poignantly capturing the courage and glory of a group of men making the ultimate sacrifice in the face of hopeless odds.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming. Again, hard to pick a single favorite from Fleming’s James Bond novels—I’ve re-read all of them many times—but the bittersweet quality of OHMSS makes it stand apart. That said, the next one in the series, You Only Live Twice, runs a close second.

Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour. This one doesn’t really qualify as life-changing, but it’s one of those books that was worth reading just to get to the last line, which had me doing a fist-pump and proclaiming, “Yes!”

The Killer in the Woods
A Robert Vance Novel
Book One
Rick Van Etten

Genre:  Crime Fiction/Mystery

Publisher:  Proud Point Press
Date of Publication:  June 1, 2020
ISBN:  978-1-7348269-0-6
Number of pages:  254
Word Count:  78,000
Cover Artist:  Eric Labacz

Book Description: 


Robert Vance is a magazine editor who works from home and lives in a house full of books. His neighbors think of him as a quiet, unassuming man. His passion for pheasant hunting with Preacher, his German wirehaired pointer, is typical of sportsmen living in the Midwest. But what isn’t so typical—and what his neighbors don’t know—is that occasionally Robert hunts something besides pheasants.

Robert hates bullies and injustice. When someone has a problem with either, he or she can hire Robert to make the situation right.

But Robert isn’t—in his own mind—just a contract killer. He lives by a set of rules that dictate who, where, and why he can kill. So when a well-meaning citizen discovers Robert’s latest target and winds up being charged with the killing, Robert must take steps to ensure the man’s freedom.


Excerpt Chapter 1

The money is good, but that’s not why I do it.
Kill people, I mean. That’s what I do, and I’m very good at it. And yes, the compensation is usually more than adequate.
But don’t start jumping to conclusions. I’m not a spook. I’m not some ex-Agency, ultra-ultra-deep-cover, government-trained assassin who got my start in the military and, having discovered a unique talent, couldn’t let it go. Nor was I ever encouraged by my “Uncle” to put my special skills to use for the common good, in which capacity I might still have the occasional brush-up with colleagues who might or might not be among the so-called good guys and might or might not be people I should trust.
No. I don’t play at espionage. I don’t call secret phone numbers and get my orders from people who use lots of acronyms and won’t allow their names to be spoken aloud on an open line, and I don’t have hidden files tucked away somewhere that I can use as leverage if I find myself running afoul of a power player. I never served in the military, and the extent of my contact with the government consists of filing my income taxes every year, renewing the registration on my SUV and voting in the occasional election. The few times I’ve been called for jury duty I’ve managed to get myself excused.
Sounds pretty dull, doesn’t it? You’re right; it is. And that’s by design.
If you saw me on the street or in a restaurant or a shopping mall or an airport—and there’s a reasonable chance you have seen me in some of those places—you’d most likely give me no more than a passing glance. There’s quite a bit about me that’s just plain average—size, looks, clothing. I wear glasses, and my hair is getting thin on top.
I dress comfortably and rather conservatively. I recently became eligible for Social Security—I’m old enough to have served in Vietnam, but I was in college at the time and my number in the draft lottery was high enough to keep me there.
I don’t go out of my way to attract attention, but neither do I live an introverted, reclusive life. I’m not married, but I date casually, and I occasionally get invited to parties and cookouts and can hold my own in a conversation on a variety of subjects. People usually laugh at my jokes, and I keep myself reasonably well informed about most current events. I read extensively, and my house is full of books.
I also have a Browning gun vault full of shotguns, but those are primarily related to my regular job—I’m the editor of an outdoor sporting magazine, a “hook and bullet rag,” as such publications are irreverently referred to within the publishing industry. I’m a bird hunter by avocation, and a six-year-old German wirehaired pointer named Preacher—for Clint Eastwood’s grizzled character in the movie Pale Rider—shares my home.
Sometimes I use one of my shotguns for something besides upland game or waterfowl. That’s a safe enough practice, as I’ll explain later. When a shotgun is too large for the job at hand—when it’s necessary to get up close and personal to the target, in other words—I’ll occasionally use a handgun. But I never keep these after the job is finished. That’s Rule Number 3.
I travel a good bit for my job—I get quite a few invitations from advertisers throughout the hunting season, and by taking advantage of these invitations I’ve hunted in many locations and at many top-drawer facilities around the world. Sometimes—not frequently, but once in a while—my two jobs overlap. The advertiser picks up the tab for my hunt (in exchange for some editorial ink), and by staying an extra day or two—usually on the pretext of visiting an old childhood friend or a seldom-seen relative and always at my own expense—I manage to take care of the other assignment while I’m at it. It doesn’t happen that way very often, but it’s convenient when it does.
OK, so if I really don’t do it for the money, why do I do it?
There are two things I can’t abide in this world—a bully, and injustice.
The two often go hand in hand, and when I encounter either, I bristle. When someone else has a problem with either, he or she will sometimes seek me out to make the situation right.
Over the years, I’ve become very good at this. And that’s my real motivation—the feeling of satisfaction that comes from having done a job well, righted a wrong, balanced the scales or eliminated an oppressive threat.
It’s my way of leaving the world a little better place than I found it.

About the Author:

Rick Van Etten is a former college English instructor, corporate communications professional and retired magazine editor whose numerous articles and features have appeared in Gun Dog, Wing and Shot, Sports Afield, Ducks Unlimited, Game and Fish, Petersen’s Hunting, Farm and Ranch Living and Reader’s Digest. An Illinois native and lifelong upland bird hunter, Rick now lives in Iowa with a middle-aged Irish setter and an elderly tortoiseshell cat. The Killer in the Woods is his first novel.