Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cold In Hand

John Harvey

Cold In Hand

William Heinemann, 2008

Charlie Resnick, an aging cop and hero of numerous novels of John Harvey, lives with a young woman Lynn Kellogg, also a detective, and is preparing to retire. On Valentine's Day the youth gangs dispute, and Kellogg is trying to prevent it. As a result, one girl is killed, another wounded, and Kellogg, which used the body of a murdered girl as a shield, receives minor injuries. Resnick persuade the authorities to allow him to investigate this incident with a partner. The father of the killed girl makes explicit threats to Resnick and Kellogg, believing she’s guilty in his daughter's death. When Kellogg recovers from an injury, she returnes to the stalled case, involving the illegal gunrunning and human trafficking from Eastern Europe. Witnesses in this case, two women who worked as prostitutes, fear for their lives, and Kellogg begins to suspect the connection between a police officer from the department of serious crimes and the Eastern European mafia. Resnick is busy with his investigation and does not yet know what a nightmare his life will soon become to.

Crime novels in the genre of "police procedurals" can rarely boast of originality and freshness. Their structure itself is so well established that you do not need to invent anything, everything has already been invented, you need only one cliche replace by another. Most often, the inspector in years drinks heavily and walks on the women, while investigating for weeks one and the same thing as if the criminals in this period generally disappear from the face of the earth and do not commit crimes that are actually also need to investigate. And it’s good, if the author has come up with an original twist in the ending or can write well in his/her native language, then so a book can deserve some attention. So «Cold In Hand» by John Harvey is an outstanding police procedural for several reasons. For once, there are two detectives, but they do not work together. Resnick does not drink heavily or sleep with anyone, but listens to jazz and takes care of his partner. Here are a few crimes, and the inspectors have to cope with several things simultaneously.

Harvey also gives an idea of how the police work in Britain: how departments interplay between themselves, how internal investigations are conducted, how the security of important witnesses is provided. Yes, all of these are the technical details, the theory, but the author knows practice too. Knows how win over a reader, knows how to surprise with an unexpected clue in the end, knows how to deploy a novel half-way and return it in a different direction.

«Cold In Hand» definitely shows that it’s early to give up on police procedurals.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 8

The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 8
Edited by Maxim Jakubowski

Constable & Robinson, 2011

This thick volume includes more than 40 stories. I want to just say "wow!", but is it plus to a book with such a volume, when the title has the word «best»? On the one hand, ut’s a definite plus: the editor Jakubowski read a lot and carefully, selecting stories for publication, from anthologies and print magazines, as well as from online zines and chapbooks. Accordingly, there are masters of the genre, who have a few awards on the shelf, but there are newbies as well who have no published books. The variety is almost always good, but variety does not mean quality. Are all the forty stories the best? Or there are the best, those that are worse, and those one about which people usually say "read and forgot"? Yes, those there are here too. With this number of stories it’s impossible that all the stories were equally good. If the book will be of ten stories, it would be really best of the year, but it turned out the best and a lot of good. Read the best is necessary, 10-15 stories here are good, the rest are for another reader, maybe. I will look at the top ten only (in the order they appear in the book).

«Dolphin Junction» by Mick Herron is definitely one of the best stories in the book. The plot is that a husband finds a note from his wife stating that she was leaving and that he didn’t try to find her. The police treat him calmly: adults converge and diverge, anything can happen, - but the husband feels that his wife was not gone somewhere by herself, but she was kidnapped. He starts to find her. This story has everything that makes a story good story: an unexpected turn, tense plot, secrets of the past, and retribution for them in the present. «Affairs of the Heart» by Kate Atkinson seems at first a humorous story, but the end is dark as in the «Dolphin Junction». Feelings can not be trusted, especially when they associate with a family, where women are called Faith, Patience and Constance.

«And that was why, on a cold night in February, Duncan Milne was up to his neck in shite. Literally. » - thus begins the story of Stuart MacBride «The Ballad of Manky Milne ». And it really reads like a ballad about a loser who got involved in shit in the literal and figurative sense.

«The Circle» by David Hewson is the only story in the collection that develops the theme of terrorism. The author leads the reader by the nose until the very end. In «An Arm and a Leg» Nigel Bird presents to his hero an upbringing class (Bird himself is a teacher), so only punishment will be far more serious than a blow by ruler on the wrist. «Homework» by Phil Lovesey is a story in the form of composition by a girl named Judy Harris. A girl studying in the school "Hamlet" and finds many similarities between Shakespeare and the history of her own family. Children had never yet convicted criminals with such care and knowledge in the literature. («Homework» has won this year's "Dagger" for best short story.)

«Unhappy Endings» by Colin Bateman is a postmodern mystery about the writer. Very funny and very dark. As I hear in Bateman the echoes of John Barth. «Run, Rabbit, Run» by Ray Banks is a simple but catchy tale of cowardice, responsibility and high self-esteem.

«The Hard Sell» by Jay Stringer begins as a screenplay for a heist movie a la Ocean's 11. Resourceful crooks have come up with a good scam, just did not take into account that experience was sometimes more important than youth. The anthology ends, as well as begins with a story of Ian Rankin. «Driven» is an ingenious blend of crime storiy and sermon. Rankin, who has dozens of novels behind, has shown that he is in great shape.

After this collection, you can easily find who in British crime and mystery are worth reading in the first place, and enjoy the finest selection by Jakubowski.

Ganges #2

Kevin Huizenga
Ganges #2

Fantagraphics, 2008

Glen Ganges returnes in the second volume of «Ganges». This collection includes two short stories. The first is a computer game. The player himself, though, will not appear, before us only the screen with a strange toy on it (and indeed it is not clear, is there player at all). After the hieroglyphs we see a choice of players, and the hero is someone like a hedgehog, but with long human legs. This hedgehog-man begins to hit other obscure characters. The meaning of this story in general and its inclusion in this collection may well have remained a mystery if it were not for one thing. The thing is that you do not need to look for a meaning there, when you can see what figures Huizenga draws. The figures, which are built from computer characters, are similar to figures of the Aztecs, the structure of a human cell and a key to unraveling the mysteries of the universe, at the same time. You have never been under hypnosis? So Huizenga’s art proficiency hypnotize you, just try it.

The second story in the book, «Glenn Ganges in Pulverize», is an unexpected continuation of the first one. This computer game is the game that all the office staff, where Ganges works, plays. In the late 90's an Internet start-up begins, something like Yahoo, pre-doomed to failure, and Ganges and his colleagues tried to make money on the internet. And just a whole day (and staying at work past midnight) the entire office was playing a computer game on the network. There were not hedgehog-mans, it was something like a shooter where players only shooting at each other. "Pulverize" gradually began to replace reality for Ganges. About this comic a lot can be said like "our whole life is a game», and this will be true, but more true to saywill be that all good things must come to an end, you’ve played, and that's enough. And the moral is simple: not work joins people together, but fun.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Truth Lies Bleeding

Tony Black

Truth Lies Bleeding

Preface Publishing, 2011

Detective Inspector Rob Brennan after the murder of his brother spent six months in a psychiatric hospital, recovering from the shock. Returning to work, Brennan rips right from the chief right to investigate the brutal murder of a young girl whose body was brutally mutilated. The body can not yet be identified, but the Brennan suspects that the girl was a local, as the killer, trying to disguise with the cruelty ordinary murder after rape. At the same time, the local crime boss Deil McArdle (the Deil, as he is called) agrees to crank a small crime, working with German mobsters, and Barry Tierney, a small criminal, brings a baby into the apartment of his drug addict girlfriend. In addition to investigating the murder of a girl, Brennan also must deal with the murderers of his brother.

Tony Black, who has written four novels about Gus Dury, for a time abandoned his serial hero and launched a new series of police procedurals about Inspector Brennan. Of the two novels about Dury what I read, one was good, one was bad, and «Truth Lies Bleeding» did not become too successful start of the series. Black writes the same scathing prose, and Brennan is a worthy successor to Dury. He is sharp on the tongue; he is always displeased with something, with troubles in his personal life. The first half of the book is good because you can enjoy the leisurely development of events, savoring some moments: the dialogue between criminals, Brennan’s rudeness, insider’s police wars. The good thing about «Truth Lies Bleeding» is the way Black writes intrigue within the police department. It is interesting to watch how the inspectors are fighting for a particular investigation, how the inspectors are trying to curry favor with his superiors, how the authorities urge their subordinates. And Brennan, of course, is not the one who is easy to handle:

«Brennan hadn't wanted the leave; the Chief Super had insisted on it. She'd wanted to put him out because he wasn'ta yes-man. Galloway was a typical careerist: she surrounded herself with the types that were no challenge to her. People like the boy, Stevie McGuire. He was a no-hoper, perfect material for promotion in Galloway's ranks. More like McGuire beneath her and her ascent was assured, carried high on their shoulders. Providing she could keep the likes of Brennan in check, that is. She still needed to rely on someone providing the clear-up rates if she was to get the Chief Constable's job»

The second half of the book is disappointing in that Brennan does not think hard, and the killer himself finally comes into his hands. And the background of murder and all subsequent events seem ridiculous and absurdly false. Everything too easy comes to happy ending.

Let's hope in the next book in the series Tony Black makes Brennan sweat.