THE BIG O by Declan Burke (Hag’s Head) 288 pagesMmmm, lovely. Just goes to show what can be achieved with a little gentle persuasion via a length of rubber hose …
Irish wordsmith Burke took a huge gamble on his second crime novel (after EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, 2003), splitting the costs of publishing it with Dublin indie house Hag’s Head Press -- “a 50-50 costs and profits deal,” as the author describes the negotiation. Fortunately, that gamble appears to have paid off, with American house Harcourt agreeing to release Burke’s book in the States next fall and THE BIG O being shortlisted for one of the inaugural Spinetingler Awards. Although Burke has done a yeoman’s job of publicizing his work, it takes more than self-promotion to make a success -- and unquestionably, THE BIG O is a big ol’ success, a tale fuelled by the mischievous spirits of Donald E. Westlake, Elmore Leonard and even Carl Hiaasen, but not slavishly imitating any of their works. The premise is simple: Frank is an incompetent plastic surgeon who wants to make a few extra bucks off his ex-wife, Madge, while she’s still covered by his insurance policy. The idea is to have her professionally kidnapped, then collect the insurance payoff and live a little happier ever after than he had expected to before, with a younger girlfriend. But as with most comic capers, when things go wrong, they go wrong in a fucked-up-royal way. Turns out that the guy tapped to snatch the aforementioned Madge is Ray Brogan, a painter who baby-sits people for kidnap gangs. Coincidentally, Ray has fallen recently for Karen, a motorcycle-riding bank robber in her spare time, who also happens -- get this -- to be the aforementioned Frank’s office assistant. Further contributing to the delightful confusion in THE BIG O is that the lovely Karen’s former partner, the style-challenged Rossi Francis Assisi Callaghan, has just been released from prison and is determined to get his money, gun and motorbike back from Karen. Naturally, every fool inhabiting these pages decides that he or she can get a larger piece of the action by scamming the scammers at their own game. So, do I have to point out the screeching, smoking wheels to make it clear that a train wreck is in the offing? Author Burke must keep a lot of balls in the air for this tale to work, but he makes it look easy, switching points of view frequently and maintaining a high level of tension that should have been harder to pull off than it seems. I’m not usually a fan of comic crime fiction, preferring the darker variety. But THE BIG O kept me reading at speed -- and laughing the whole damn time. -- J. Kingston Pierce
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The Embiggened O # 948: January No Longer The Cruellest Month – Official!
Lawksamussy! It’s been a roller-coaster year for our humble offering THE BIG O and no mistake, with all sorts of nice people being all sorts of nice about us. The latest hup-ya comes courtesy of the wunnerful folks at January Magazine, who’ve been kind enough to include us in their ‘Best Books of 2007: Crime Fiction’ round-up. To wit: