Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Resurrection Man

Adrian Mckinty listed a few of his favorite Irish crime writers in his blog, and I decided to give a few of them a try.  Corridors of Death was the first, and Eoin McNamee's Resurrection Man is the second.  But I almost hesitate to call it a "crime novel;" this isn't from any genre snootiness ("This book is good; it couldn't possibly be a crime novel."), but rather because it focuses less on the crimes than of the milieu of Belfast during the Troubles.  (Having said that, I'm actually a little over 2/3s of the way through, so any opinions are subject to change).

The novel focuses on Victor Kelly, a Protestant terrorist, and through him and the reactions of others to him, McNamee offers a glimpse of Belfast seen through the lens of Protestant/Catholic fighting.  McNamee's language is obviously carefully thought-out and well-crafted, so the number of similes and metaphors relating actions to the cinema are telling.  From Victor on down, just about all of the characters see themselves as part of a gangster movie.  The violence they take part in isn't real to them, and they see themselves as glamorous heroes of the silver screen rather than the terrorists they actually are.

I think that (in general) this is one of the great things about similes; the similes characters use can tell us what they think without the author having to come out and say "Victor didn't see any of this as real; he thought his life was like a movie."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Small Favor concluded, Corridors of Death

As I mentioned in my last post about Small Favor, one of Butcher's strengths is the large-scale architecture of his novels.  He tends to write good climactic scenes and to structure the lead-up to them well.  Unfortunately, in Small Favor, although the story as a whole is satisfying, the denouement is very weak; it essentially consists of Harry visiting a bunch of major characters and opening up plot points for the next novel.

Ruth Ann Dudley's Corridors of Death is the first in a series about Robert Aimiss, a civil servant,  and James Milton, a police detective.  In this novel, she gives us a mildly satiric view of the British Parliament (some of which resonates even with this American), some nicely rounded characters, but also a rather dull plot.  Amazon reviewers seem to indicate that the series gets much better, and I liked what I read enough to try the second at some point.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Small Favor

Small Favor is the 10th of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels.  I'm only half-way through, but I have to note that once again, Butcher combines some cringe-worthy sentence level writing with top-notch large-scale plotting.  One example of the former is that we when Thomas shows up about two chapters in, we're told that he now carries a krukri (hope I'm spelling that right).  About five chapters later, we're told that Thomas now carries a krukri and that it's a Ghurka knife.  It's hard to believe that the copy editor didn't switch the order of the two sentences (or kill the repetition altogether; it's not exactly a major plot point).

As usual, listening to these is the way to go.  Butcher writes as if Harry is telling us the story, and Marsters manages to make the infelicities sound as if Harry just slipped up a little in the telling.

Shooting Star

Peter Temple's Shooting Star is a stand-alone novel about a former soldier/former policeman turned mediator.  He's hired as a go-between when a girl is kidnapped.  The book is mostly standard hard-boiled detective stuff about wealth and corruption, and it's not really a big stand-out. 

One thread in the three Temple books I've read is the redemptive power of creation.  One of his protagonists is a wood-worker, one a blacksmith, and here a landscaper.  But it's the least developed here, and that's a pity, because I felt that his bits about the blacksmithing/carpentry set his other books apart from the run of the mill.

The Dead Hour

Denise Mina's The Dead Hour, follows Paddy Meehan's activities after Field of Blood, in which she was introduced.

Many of her fellow reporters are laid off near the beginning of the novel, as the newspaper tries to adjust to changing times and become more punchy and less serious.  (It's hard to believe the novel is set in 1984; this part feels very contemporary).  Paddy is still working the crime beat, still trying to be taken seriously in a men's world, still pulling in the only paycheck in her extended family.

She witnesses a killing, though she doesn't realize it at the time, and ends up running afoul of a small drug ring.  In a way, the whole novel is on a very small scale.  It's actually a bit of a relief to read a novel where the drug ring is still just a few people, the corruption is limited to a few cops, and so on.  In a lot of novels where the lone character breaks one of these drug rings, a part of me is saying, "yeah, right."  But here it feels pretty realistic, because, in the end, the guy is just a small-time operator.

On the down side, we spend a lot of time with one of the possible witnesses in the cases, Kate, and she's so irritating and egotistical that it's hard to work up any sympathy for her, and I was just waiting for those parts to end.  I'm not against irritating and egotistical characters (Pale Fire is one of my favorite books), but I think it takes a very special kind of skill to write them well, and, here at least, Mina's not quite up to the task.

On a totally different note, she manages to completely close off the plot and yet end on a cliffhanger anyway.  Not sure if I'm impressed or annoyed (especially since I have the next one in my to-read pile anyway).

Dark Hollow

I finally finished Dark Hollow.  On a sentence-by-sentence level, Connolly is a fantastic writer.  A couple of quotes I highlighted along the way:
Walter was a good man and, like many good men, his flaw was that he believed himself a better one.
Outside, the snow fell like years, blanketing the past with the unblemished whiteness of possibilities untold.
 Unfortunately, I felt like the plot level was weaker than it should've been.  The novel feels very crowded, with at least three groups of killers, none of them working together.  There's really only one conflict that matters in this novel, Charlie Parker and Caleb Kyle's, and the others just get in the way, and felt a bit like padding.  Abel and Stritch are the worst example; it feels like they could've been stripped from the novel with almost no editing needed.

For me, the balance tips in favor of Connolly's style, and I'll be reading more of these novels.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dark Hollow

Between one thing and another, my reading pace has slowed dramatically, so I'm not very far into John Connolly's Dark Hollow.  But so far I'm enjoying it tremendously.  Connolly does a good job at adding peripheral horror to the standard PI story, but he's also just a very solid writer, as he shows in lines like "he was so worried about becoming a mark that life swindled him without him even noticing".

Looking Glass Wars

I just finished listening to The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor (not to be confused with John LeCarre's much better The Looking Glass War).  Beddor has a lively imagination; his takes on Lewis Carrol are very original.  But, in the end, this novel is just another young adult novel about finding yourself/being true to your ideals.

There are two sequels, but I think it unlikely that I would tackle them.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Con-man

The Con-man is the 4th book in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series, and it was leaps and bounds better than the second, The Mugger.  (The selection available on kindle was pretty random, so I'm not reading every single one).  The ending is a very accomplished montage, jumping between locations every few paragraphs without being jarring.  McBain is also coming more into his own by this point, not just a second-rate Chandler.