Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

William Goldman RIP

Very sad news late last week, when I heard of the death of William Goldman. I’ve been a fan of William Goldman since the age of 15, when I first read MARATHON MAN, at which point everything changed. I didn’t realise it at the time, but if there is such a thing as the Top Five Thriller Twists, at least two, and maybe three, are to be found in MARATHON MAN.
  Goldman, of course, was a novelist and screenwriter, winning two Oscars. His finest work included the scripts for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, as well as the novel (and screenplay) THE PRINCESS BRIDE.
  I watched The Princess Bride last Friday night, and read MARATHON MAN over the weekend, and both are as fresh as the day they were released (“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”).
  It was probably my fifth or sixth reading of MARATHON MAN, and maybe it’s because of my age now, but I’d never realised how truly brutal and cynical it is, especially as it nears its climax, when its reluctant hero, college student Babe Levy, addresses his nemesis, the former Nazi Szell:
‘I don’t know if you’ll understand this, but once upon a time, long ago, I was a scholar and a marathon man, but that fella’s gone now, dead I suppose, but I remember something he thought, which was that if you don’t learn the mistakes of the past, you’ll be doomed to repeat them. Well, we’ve been making mistakes with people like you, because public trials are bullshit and executions are games for winners – all this time we should have been giving you back pain. That’s the real lesson. That’s the loser’s share, just pain, pure and simple, pain and torture, no hotshot lawyers running around trying to see that justice is done. I think we’d have a nice peaceful place here if all you war-makers knew you better not start something because if you lost, agony was just around the bend. That’s what I’d like to give you. Agony.’
  All of which is a longer, and rather more vengeful, version of Orestes’ address to his father’s murderer, Aegisthus, at the conclusion of Sophocles’ Electra:
Orestes: You must go before me.
Aegisthus: That I may not escape you?
Orestes: That you may not be killed where you would choose. You shall taste all the bitterness of death. If retribution were swift and certain, and the lawless man paid with his life, there would be fewer villains.
  So there you have it – justice as swift and savage retribution, and only a couple millennia or so between them. If you’re an aspiring thriller writer, and you haven’t read MARATHON MAN, I’d suggest buying it immediately and then leaving it to one side until you’ve finished your first draft, lest you discover yourself, as I did, sorely tempted to steal all its best bits.

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