Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
And while I'm at it, let me note that Dick Adler has started blogging again, and he has a post in praise of small crime presses, which links to a longer post he wrote at The Knowledgeable Blogger about the same topic. All worth checking out.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Declan Burke’s second novel, The Big O (Hag’s Head Press, 2007), is a comic crime caper that is delivered in short bursts with an emphasis on snappy dialogue. It tells the story of Karen and Ray, who meet when Ray happens to walk into a store Karen is busy robbing. Ray’s more curious than put off, and he asks her out for a drink. He tells her up front that he works kidnapping people and painting murals, although not at the same time.
Burke goes on to introduce other characters, including Frank, a pathetic plastic surgeon and Karen’s boss, and Madge, Frank’s soon to be ex-wife and Karen’s best friend. There’s also Rossi, Karen’s ex and an ex-con, a cop named Doyle and a wolf. With the story told from many different points-of-view, there is the real potential for confusion. Burke handles it well, though. A reader can’t help but be a little confused at the beginning, but the feeling doesn’t last too long. Burke gets setup out of the way in short order.
The book’s plot hinges on a lot of coincidences, but it’s not too difficult to suspend disbelief. The characters are sharply drawn, and Burke keeps thing short, never letting any one scene drag out too long. The real treat in The Big O, is the dialogue, though. Burke has a knack for sharp banter, and it is a rare chapter that doesn’t have a witty exchange between characters.
The Big O has flaws, but Burke is an up and comer. He’s recently made the jump across the Atlantic, landing at Harcourt, the
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Amphetamine Logic-Nathan Cain
The Leap-Charles Ardai
Breaking in the New Guy-Stephen Blackmoore
The Switch-Lyman Feero
Seven Days of Rain-Chris Holm
Shared Losses-Gerri Leen
The Living Dead-Amra Pajalic
For a list of nominees in other categories, along with instructions on how to cast your vote, go here. The deadline is Dec. 30, so you've got 10 days. You can read one story a day and still take two days to make up your mind.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
" Pulps themselves may have vanished. But the underlying aesthetic of pulp, the moral assumptions they introduced and popularized, have endured. Those assumptions are not just shaping much of our popular culture: today, they are dictating how we understand our world."
Almond asserts that what he calls the "black and white moral universe of the pulps" has infiltrated our popular culture to such an extent that it even pervades out media coverage. With this statement, he shows he does not understand human nature or the nature of the media.
People, by nature, seek out patterns and look for evidence to back up their preexisting beliefs. One of the main ways we do this is by telling stories. Take The Old Testament. It's overarching narrative is that of the triumph of God's chosen people over those who would oppress them and keep them from the Holy Land. Now this is a good story. Large swaths of it are certainly questionable, but it served to unite a people who spent a lot of time wandering around in the desert and getting into fights with other kingdoms. Wandering around in the desert and getting into fights is not terribly inspiring, unless, of course, it's all part of some larger story that provides a "black and white" moral framework for dividing up the world into the Good and the Wicked.
I use the Old Testament as an example not to single out any particular religion, but because it's an example that everyone is familiar with to some extent, and because it makes it easier to make my point, which is that Almond is giving pulp fiction a little too much credit. Pulp fiction does not impact how we see the world, so much as reflect how we see the world. Everyone wants to identify with the good guy. Everyone wants to see justice triumph. Those moral assumptions were not, as Almond maintains, introduced and popularized by pulp fiction. They have existed since time immemorial, and they developed over and over in many cultures. Pulp fiction is just another manifestation of our deepest desire to see everything turn out all right in the end in a world where, no matter how hard you try, things are not going to turn out all right. Pulp fiction is a harmless manifestation of these desires when compared with religion. Unlike The Bible, no one has ever killed someone over differing interpretations of a story in Black Mask.
Almond also tries to tie pulp fiction to the state of the media today. While I tend to agree that news coverage today isn't what it ought to be, it's hard to blame that on Raymond Chandler. The news is a business, and the market dictates what you get. Again, people want to hear stories. Almond uses the Clinton impeachment as an example, calling it "a classic pulp fiction." Clinton, Almond states, is the corrupt pol and Ken Starr was the crusading hero. It's just as easy to cast Clinton as the hero and Starr as the tool of corrupt, jealous Republicans who were looking for something-anything-they could use to strike back at an immensely popular leader. Anyone who was paying attention to the Clinton story could have come away with either interpretation. So, the media did not package and sell a story. They packaged and sold a set of facts, which people were free to interpret as they saw fit. You can place the blame for the Clinton saga where it really belongs, either on Congress for trying to bring down a president out of spite, or with Clinton, for not keeping it in his pants. It all depends on what story you want to tell yourself.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Saturday, December 8, 2007
If you're like me, you loved Ken Bruen and Jason Starr's last collaboration, Slide. So you'll be thrilled to see thatThe Max, the third novel in their ongoing series, is up on Hard Case's Web site. It's slated for a September 2008 publication. Just check out the cover. You know the book is going to kick ass.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Sunday, December 2, 2007
One of the cardinal rules of storytelling is that the characters must do something. Having characters who sit around doing nothing worked out for Beckett in one instance, but it is not generally a good idea. Robin Llewellyn, the alcoholic, terminally ill, homeless, Welsh private detective at the center of Robert Lewis’ Swansea Terminal, (Serpent’s Tail, 2007) is hopelessly passive. He lives, if it can be called that, only for his next drink, and he doesn’t have any real desire to change. As such, he does not make a very interesting protagonist.
For the first three-quarters of the book, the story involves Llewellyn staying drunk, getting involved with some small time gangsters, and ending up with a job sitting in the dark babysitting a warehouse full of smuggled booze. Although this is clearly a setup of some sort, Llewellyn is more than content to sit in the dark, drink warm lager and wallow in self pity and degradation. It’s difficult to care about someone who does not care about themselves, and Llewellyn doesn’t give a damn. Even his pitch black observations about life don’t make him any more interesting or sympathetic. By the time he finally gets off his ass and decides to do something about his situation it is too late for him to fully engage the reader.
Lewis is a young, promising author, and unlike his protagonist, he has a future to worry about. He might want to consider creating a character with a little more to lose.