Monday, February 21, 2011


Ron McLarty is an actor. The name may not strike a chord but his face almost certainly would, it did for me. As soon as I saw a picture of him, I said, "Oh, yeah, I know who that is." He's a well-cast character actor in Spenser: For Hire, Rescue Me, The Practice, Ed, all of the Law & Order spin-offs and even Cop Rock; on the big screen he's in Heartburn, The Postman, The Flamingo Kid and many others; and has narrated over 100 audiobooks.

McLarty has carved out a nice little niche for himself, it seems. He probably gets a nice paycheck, without too much stress and responsibility, for doing something he loves.

Oh, and he's also a novelist. I've just finished reading Traveler (2007) and I've previously read The Memory of Running (2004). I enjoyed them both.

Traveler is the story of Jono Riley, an off-off-Broadway actor with a few commercials and primetime television shows under his belt. He lives in New York, has a girlfriend who is a firefighter and spends much of his time tending the bar at Lamb's. The action begins when he's informed that a childhood friend has died in his hometown of East Providence, Rhode Island.

His late friend, Marie D'Agostino, is his first true love, the sister of one of his best friends and then there's the connection of Jono's presence when she was shot in the back as a young girl. She didn't die then, but the .22 caliber bullet would lodge too close to an artery to be removed and years later would "travel" to her heart and kill her. Jono returns home to pay respects and, in doing so, becomes caught up in the past, in his days with his buddies and family and of the rash of shootings. It becomes a mystery that Jono works at with all the gusto of the one-character plays he specializes in back in Manhattan.

The book is a trip through Jono's past and a sentimental portrait of the mid-sixties just the way those who came of age then like to remember it - wide-cuff blue jeans, t-shirts, crew cuts and smokes with doo-wop, girls in skirts, baseball and tough-love parents. It's all there and, though we've read and heard the stories thousands of times, manages to come off as genuine, we get the sense that McLarty is describing his own childhood, his own friends and the neighborhood in which they ran.

They mystery of the shootings is there and Jono manages to become embroiled - he never really actively figures it out, though it is revealed in the end - with the help of a retired cop from the neighborhood, a priest, old friends and his girlfriend. It's a thriller without the whodunit being overbearing. They question of who shot Marie and the others is there throughout, a subplot interwoven into chapters that flip-flop from the past to present.

Though my retention for most of what I read is embarrassingly nonexistent, I do remember enjoying The Memory of Running as one of those books you come upon and don't expect much from, but find yourself enthralled by what you're reading. It's like someone giving you a gift you didn't even know you wanted. So when I came across a first edition Traveler hardback on the bargain table at Davis-Kidd Booksellers, I couldn't resist. It only cost a dollar, but would have been worth the full price of $25 (there were a couple of others at this price and may still be there if you hurry).

I went to McLarty's website and found the story of his first being published:

Beginning with the early years of his career, McLarty’s passion for writing led him to completing 10 novels, in addition to his plays but his efforts to interest a publishing house were unsuccessful. Several years ago he was able to persuade Recorded Books into producing his 3rd novel, The Memory of Running, directly onto tape as an audiobook. It is believed to be the first recorded audiobook of an unpublished novel. Stephen King listened to it in 2002 and wrote his entire column “The Pop of King” about Memory calling it “the best book you can’t read”. This lead to the publication of The Memory of Running in the USA and fourteen other countries around the world.

I envy McLarty his niche, both in the worlds of acting and writing. He may not be setting either of those worlds on fire, but he's making a living and, obviously, loving what he's doing.