Needing to deal with pre-election agita, I’ve been self-medicating with a lot of mysteries and thrillers (along with pinot noir, Tim’s black pepper potato chips and prayer). The books have been uniformly good, and some have been outstanding, like THE BIG O by Irish writer Declan Burke. If you are a Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard fan, don’t miss this dark, wacky story of bad people plotting bad things.The Big Question: Should I cop myself on, grow a beard and stop posting these reviews? Hit me where it hurts, people …
THE BIG O begins with a bang: Karen hits up a convenience store and nearly shoots Ray, who’s there just to get a strawberry Cornetto from the freezer case. Naturally this leads to drinks, followed by lust and a wary meeting of minds. Rounding out the cast is Frank, an almost-disbarred plastic surgeon (his lawyer, explaining to Frank the spot of trouble he’s in: “That malpractice suit isn’t going away ... even if you had it in writing, how that poor woman explicitly asked to look like Bob Mitchum, the jury’d take one look at the eyelids and--”); Frank’s ex-wife Madge, who’s also Karen’s best friend; his current amour Genevieve, a shopaholic, withholding bimbo; and Karen’s ex, Rossi, freshly out of prison, working on a con (a charity for ex-cons) and looking for his $60,000 from a previous job and the Ducati he thinks Karen has. Rossi styles himself after Cagney and starts his first week of freedom by ripping off an Oxfam store for a pinstripe suit with pink stripes, a red shirt, striped suspenders and a bottle-green tie (“Never in fashion, always in style,” he says). Then there is Doyle, the cop who has a tough day trying to decide how to file her case-load—“alphabetically, chronologically or by stench”; and Anna, Karen’s beloved one-eyed Siberian wolf. As for the plot, Ray happens to be a professional kidnapper, and Frank happens to want his ex-wife kidnapped to collect insurance money.
Burke’s dialogue is spot on, as are his characters, even minor players like the Chinese storeowner in the initial hold-up who checks the time as he hands over the money, muttering he’s just about to close, get on with it. Nobody can whimper like Frank (MASH’s Maj. Burns comes to mind), especially after he hits the bourbon five or six times. Rossi is a nasty scumbag--why did Karen take up with him?--but he’s hilarious in his attempts to articulate his world view. This is a biting, wickedly funny noir farce that builds to a knock-out ending. – Marilyn Dahl
Shelf Talker: A dark and crazy noir thriller about bad people plotting bad things, usually ineptly, often hilariously.
“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.
Friday, September 26, 2008
The Embiggened O # 31,709: In Which Modesty Suffers The Latest Of Its Death By A Thousand Cuts
Given the week that’s in it, with our humble tome THE BIG O touching down on the North American landmass, I hope you’ll forgive me if I foist yet another review onto your tender sensibilities. This one comes courtesy of Marilyn Dahl at Shelf Awareness, and runs thusly: