“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.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Embiggened O # 12,309: In Which A Harper Tugs At Our Heart-Strings

It’s going to look like it was planned this way, but you’ll just have to take my word for it that it wasn’t. I thought I’d love-bombed Glenn Harper at International Noir into submission with my mini-Crime Carnival post, but the guy’s tougher than I thought – not only does he go and republish his original review of THE BIG O without so much as a by-your-leave, he also gives the cover a bejaysus big-up, to wit:
“I don’t know if the new cover is an image photographed specially for this book or came from stock photography (increasingly the source for book covers, as has been noted on several blogs with reference to different books using the same imagery), but the new cover is quite striking—congratulations to all concerned, on the cover as well as the release next week.”
  Incidentally, and while we’re on the subject – Gerard Brennan brings news of an upcoming Elmore Leonard flick based on KILLSHOT, which is news to us …
  Anyhoos, cue the review. Maestro? Trumpets, please …
THE BIG O moves out of the classic pulp-noir territory of Declan Burke’s first novel, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, into a kidnap caper with style and plotting more like Elmore Leonard (or maybe Donald Westlake) than Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. The narrative is actually mostly dialogue: even the non-dialogue sections, if you look closely, are internal monologues by the various characters. The voices are snappy, and the novel is divided into short sections, each from the point of view of one of the characters. The result is a kaleidoscopic narrative that moves forward at a rapid pace--and the result is also quite funny, in the way that Leonard’s novels are frequently funny: expectations are overturned, characters move inexorably toward an unforeseen climax, and we glide past unbelievable coincidences without hesitation. None of these characters are master criminals, and the attraction of some of them for others is that of ordinary men and women. THE BIG O is, ultimately, a crime farce of the first order. The violence is postponed, riding along with the converging characters and plot lines until the ending that, though impossible to entirely foresee, seems inevitable once you’ve gotten to it. The plotting seems casual, unplanned, with the random pattern of life--but looking back, the story is as tightly structured as a jigsaw puzzle. I may not be making myself perfectly clear, here, but THE BIG O is a lot of fun, hence the earlier mention of Westlake--the elements of the plot lock together as the story moves forward with an increasingly comic effect (as, for example, the plot of Pulp Fiction moves forward), and the “blackout” quality of the short sections and alternating voices adds an additional liveliness. I frequently talk about the settings of crime novels, and this one has a carefully ambiguous setting--sometimes it seems like Ireland, but not clearly or overtly so. Sometimes THE BIG O’s story could be happening in the U.S., except that some idioms are clearly not U.S. English (“chemist” for what would be “drug store” here, among other examples). The ambiguity works effectively with the technique of the novel, though, focusing our attention on the progressively complicated story rather than on a definite setting.
  Y’know, if I was any kind of decent human being, I’d be too modest to write this kind of post. But who can afford to be a decent human being at a time like this?
  Oh, and by the way – Marsha Swan’s book launch for THE PUNCHING MAN / BOYS ARE ELASTIC, GIRLS ARE FANTASTIC happens today at Toner’s of Baggot Street, Dublin, Ireland, at 6.30pm. All are welcome …

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