Wednesday, March 14, 2012
On The Book Beat
I have written "Book Beat" for Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, the magazine of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference, for a number of years. Here's my latest entry:
The Drop by Michael Connelly
Harry Bosch works two crimes at once in Michael Connelly's The Drop; first, a cold case about the long-ago murder of a young woman and second, a politically-charged case featuring the death of the son of one of Bosch's old foes.
The Drop refers to the possible murder or suicide of the young man, who went out the window of a hotel; but it also refers to a slang term about Bosch, Connelly's world-weary and only slightly tarnished L.A. cop, nearing retirement.
After a bit of a lull, I think Connelly's books have been consistently strong over the last few years. He is a former reporter, evident in his clipped prose and hard-nosed style, which I enjoy.
I think the Harry Bosch novels will stand as one of the great contemporary mystery series when Michael Connelly finally closes the last chapter. Recommended for mystery fans.
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
A Copenhagen cop is wounded in a shootout, while another partner is wounded and a third killed; in the aftermath, the burned-out cop is content to be assigned to the cold case files deep in a windowless basement. However, he meets a janitor/driver named Assad (with mysterious skills far above his station in life) and is gradually coaxed back to life in The Keeper of Lost Causes.
This is the first of Jussi Adler-Olsen's crime novels translated into English, and it is quite a tale. Our cop and his assistant become interested in a female politician who went missing five years before and is presumed dead. They rather quickly find out there may be more to the disappearance and take off on a winding mystery, leavened by surprising bits of humor in the relationship between the two lead characters, somewhat rare in the typically gloomy Scandinavian mystery.
Meanwhile, a parallel story is a particularly gruesome one as the missing woman deals with being imprisoned and tortured in a small chamber for years on end, a grim counterpart to the main plot and more in line with the typically downbeat offerings from these authors. The burned-out cop's intent to keep his feet up and drink coffee often acts as an agonizing contrast to these scenes.
I found this to be one of my favorite reads in the Scandinavian mystery genre and would recommend this to fans of Stieg Larsson and others.
Dead Money by Ray Banks
A pair of British salesmen spend their evenings drinking and gambling and get in trouble slowly, then quickly, in Ray Banks' noir Dead Money.
Banks gives his protagonist that Jim Thompson spin that I always appreciate, where his actions make sense to him even as the repercussions for those actions grown in intensity; a classic "unreliable narrator" story often favored in crime novels.
Banks writes in a clean style, looped with inky black humor, and the plot goes at a lightning pace, heaping dread upon dread. My only complaint is that I felt that the novel probably needed one or two more chapters to fully realize all of the plotlines set forth.
I was pleasantly surprised when I was emailed a copy of this novel for my beloved Kindle from Blasted Heath, an e-publishing outfit. I have become a fan of these U.K. crime writers, quietly supplanting their Scandinavian brethren who have gotten a toehold on U.S. shores in recent years.
I will definitely look for more from Ray Banks and would recommend this to fans of the genre.
Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver
James Bond is back in action against a recycling magnate with a death fetish in Jeffrey Deaver's low-stakes initial outing with 007, Carte Blanche.
Despite some globe-trotting through Eastern Europe, England, and South Africa, overall this is a bit of a banal spy story, whether the name of James Bond is attached or not. And yet it is hard to identify this retooled Bond, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who still likes fast cars but has more politely contemporary views on drinking and women. The main character really could have been any protagonist of this type of story.
Although I have enjoyed Deaver's crime fiction from time to time, I was a bit put out by a mechanic in this story that kept cheating the reader by holding back key plot elements until later reveals, almost as one might see in a screenplay. That being said, if Deaver does another Bond novel I will probably check it out to see where he goes with it next.
It might be unfair to critique Deaver's take on Bond so quickly on the heels of Sebastian Faulks' superior Bond novel Devil May Care, which fits directly into Fleming's original series where he left off in the 60s. I would have loved to see Faulks do another one that fit directly into the canon.
Plugged by Eoin Colfer
An ex-soldier leaves Ireland for what he thinks is the relative peace and solitude of suburban New Jersey, only to get wrapped up in a few riotous days of kidnapping and murder in Eoin Colfer's Plugged.
Colfer is probably best know as the author of the Artemis Fowl young adult novels, and seems to have made a concerted effort to reach the other end of the spectrum with this foul-mouthed, raunchy action-oriented comedy. The "Plugged" of the title refers to not only the euphemism for killing but also two characters' obsession with hair transplants done by a shady doctor (whose ghost speaks to the protagonist throughout).
Although I felt the humor seemed strained at times, I enjoyed the action and plotting of this brisk little story and would look for more of Colfer's adult work. It is definitely not for young adults, however, and woe be to the parent that buys it for a young person.
The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson by Douglas Lindsay
A dour barber with delusions of grandeur working in a second-tier shop dreams of murder and retribution; meanwhile, a squad of bored, weary, bickering cops hunt a serial killer terrorizing Glasgow. Where these two storylines intersect, in a maelstrom of violence, is at the heart of Douglas Lindsay's The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson.
The description makes it sound like pretty grim fare, but Lindsay's novel is full of surprising humor, and is almost surreal in spots. If Thomas Harris and Nick Hornby opened a barber shop, and Douglas Adams was the first customer, the three of them together might brainstorm up something like this.
I was caught unawares at first, but once I got into the rhythm of the storytelling I found myself wrapped up in Barney Thomson's misfortunes. Lindsay writes in more of a cinematic style and probably owes more to post-modern directors like Quentin Tarantino than the noir traditions of authors like Cornell Woolrich.
The downside of having an unlikable schlub as a protagonist is offset by some humorous writing and interesting ideas. There has apparently been enough interest that Barney Thomson returns at least twice more, and I'm sure I will look for these as well.