Friday, October 26, 2012

Act of Fear

Michael Collins
Act of Fear

Open Road Media/Mysterious Press e-book, 2012
(originally published in 1967)

«It began with the mugging of the cop.
Person or persons unknown jumped the patrolman in broad daylight on Water Street near the river, dragged him into an alley, and cleaned him out. No witnesses. This is the lower west side, the Chelsea district, where alley windows are boarded up and people do not see what they’re not sure they should see.
We all knew the cop: Patrolman Stettin. He’s a young cop, Stettin, not long on the force and still eager. We all heard that he felt so bad about being taken that he offered to quit. That shows how young he is. Sooner or later everyone is taken in this world. This time the mugger took it all: billy club, pistol, cuffs, summons book, watch, billfold, tie clip, shoes, and loose change. The mugger was good. Stettin never even saw a shadow, according to the report I heard.»

What a beginning! Everything really began with the mugging of a cop, and in a few days private detective Dan Fortune is hired by a young client. Pete Vitanza, college boy practicing as a mechanic, can’t find his best friend, Jo-Jo Olsen, also a mechanic who is obsessed with motors and interested in Vikings. The boy did not come for work, and parents say that he had gone somewhere, but Pete feels something’s wrong and pays detective fifty dollars (big money for a boy), that he’d find Jo-Jo. Fortune thinks Olsen certainly has gone with some girl and will soon appear, but to appease the conscience, decides to fulfill the received fifty dollars and ask around here and there. Fortune guesses that either the Olsen mugged the patrolman or saw who did it, that's why he went into running. Detective looks for a fugitive for three days and have already decided to quit the case, did not find any clues, as in the alley Fortune is attacked by a burly man who threatens that Fortune should forget about Jo-Jo and mind hos own business. The big man is the father of a runaway boy, and it finally convinces detective, that something is wrong with the Jo-Jo case. Later the local mafia is mixed in the case, the blood will spill, and apart from the search for Olsen Fortune will have to save his own life.

«Act of Fear» is the first book in the series about one-armed private detective Dan Fortune, and this book will knock you down. Friends, whom Fortune has got not much, called the PI Pirate: nickname stuck after Fortune in his youth had lost an arm. He does not like to tell the real story, which is nothing to be proud of, often inventing new and new stories about losing his arm. Detective though does not feel flawed: in the text, he never calls himself disabled, and others do not attach much importance to the one-armed (in the novel, there is one scene where a dumb girl begins to laugh at one hand). Despite the absence of the left hand, the detective did not allow himself to be an insult.

Fortune is a loner, a soul who cares for all the downtrodden. He walks down the mean streets of New York’s Chelsea, and his way is hard. He himself is a child of slums and musty apartment buildings, he traveled around the world, but now he feels in Chelsea at home. He wants people to strive for the best and go out of this troubled place, but he had already passed this stage, finally settling.

The plot of «Act of Fear» is replete with surprises, twists and revelations to the extent that would be enough for two dozen contemporary novels. For nearly 50 years the book is not outdated at all: people are still driven by greed, fear, self-interest and stupidity, honest and conscientious among them are one in a thousand.

Certainly one of the best PI novels of all time.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Benny Muscles In

Peter Rabe
Benny Muscles In

Prologue Books, 2012 (e-book)
(originally published in 1955)

Petty crook Benny with a funny last name Tapkow is tired of being a valet for his boss Pendleton. For seven years Benny was a driver for Pendleton, and now Benny wants to climb the criminal ladder. Only Pendleton does not want that, and when Benny shows independence, boss puts Benny into his place. Angered, Benny wants to get even with the boss, knowing his weakness, his daughter Pam, a wild thing, accustomed that her father in no way denies her wishes. Benny comes up with a plan of the kidnapping of Pam, enlisting the help of another crime boss, Big Al Alverato. But the kidnapping plan goes awry, and Benny plunges into the sea of problems.

The title «Benny Muscles In» was coined not by Rabe but his publisher. Initially the book was called «The Hook», and it is more appropriate to that history. On the surface this is a gangster novel, but in fact it is only the outer casing. «Benny Muscles In» is the story of a man who is struggling with his own emotions. To become a gangster, you need to disable feelings, and feelings are a drug, which is hard to get off. Emotions have ruined more than one gangster, Benny knows it. Hate, love, fear, and uncertainty – you need to get rid of it all. There must be only business. Struggle with feelings and emotions, that is at the heart of the book. Resort for dopers, bad kidnapping, escape from a former boss, inflating drug boss' daughter are all just Benny’s bad dream, his nightmare.

In this book there is so much sweat and dry tears, lick it, and you will feel the salt.

Monday, October 22, 2012

my son, my son

Douglas Galbraith
my son, my son: how one generation hurts the next

Harvill Secker, 2012

Before us a memoir of forty-something-year-old Scottish writer Douglas Galbraith, father of two children, who once returned home from a trip out of London, where the writer was doing research for his next novel, and found that his wife, a Japanese-born, stole two their sons and they had gone to his home in Japan, leaving no information.

Galbraith wrote his memoirs five years after the event - a little drama, as he calls it. Over these five years, the writer has never seen his sons. At the time of the abduction Satomi, the eldest son, was six years old, and the youngest, Makoto, was four. Brought up in a multicultural family, children initially could equally speak the father tongue, English, and the mother tongue, Japanese. Mother gradually began to dominate in the family, and the children became less and less using English. Strangely enough, but the author did not immediately reveals the chronology of abduction, the chronology of events prior to the abduction, when gradually became clear that Tomoko, the writer's wife, and he could not live together.

Galbraith monitors how the children gradually became the prerogative of women, not men, and how the child is still something of a property of his parents, not a full human being. However the law changes, no matter what the international covenants to protect children and their rights were not concluded, children will still remain dependent on adults, not fully independent. They can not choose for themselves, they can not vote, even though many of the children are more conscious than adults.

«My son, my son» is thepiercing memoirs of enormous power. In today's world, where everything seems to be focused on the safety and protection of a person and a child in particular, children will still remain dependent on adults, and sometimes even a toy in the hands of parents. Feelings and desires of the adult can go counter to the wishes of a child, can be harmful to a child, but no one asks a child. So one generation can destroy the life of another, even without considering the consequences.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Yips

Nicola Barker
The Yips

Fourth Estate, 2012

«The Yips» is a strange book, which is hardly novel, but not a play either. Most of the text consists of dialogues, which actually describes the entire novel’s action. Between dialogs there isn’t any action, and the so-called space between the dialogues there is not too much. Heroes meet and discuss what happened to them in the past. Heroes are the main driving force of the novel, they are the clay from which the novel is built. The plot here rather is that adorns basis, minor detail.

At the heart of the book is a professional golfer Stuart Ransom. From his former glory remains a little, personal Ransom’s life tarnished his career. He has a wife and daughter, but he rarely sees them. In Scotland, Ransom is together with his manager Esther, a pregnant woman of Jamaican origin, which not very fluently speaks English. At the beginning of the novel Ransom is sitting at the bar in a provincial hotel, drinks and tells bartenders stories about golf and more. His mouth never closes. Bar is empty, and so he tells his stories only to girl-bartender Jen and her assistant Gene, who works in a bar part-time. Jen has recognized Ransom, and Gene has not.

Each of the characters in this book is so strange that the book is read not as something realistic, but rather as an urban fantasy. It is indeed a strange world, a wild story, overheard at the bar. And the whole story starts in the bar. Bar is a place to talk, and «The Yips» consists almost entirely of dialogue.

These dialogues are more than real, if that happens, but these are not bar or the market chatter, these are full, catchy in their reliability dialogues between living people. Once the book on 90 percent of the dialogue, faking the human speech would be fatal, the novel would have simply collapsed. From the speech of the characters we know who they are, know what they did. Silence is golden, but if nobody said anything, we would not have seen this wonderful novel.

«The Yips» does not spare the reader: Nicola Barker explains very little and certainly nothing brings on a platter. The first hundred pages, and even more, we have to read with eyes almost closed: from the situation is not clear on 70 percent. Gradually, from the subsequent dialog, we take out the information about the characters. This novel is complex but not overcomplex, requiring patience and the work of the mind.

The place of the novel is Scotland of 2006, but you feel like you are on Mars. Few can achieve the same effect.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ancient Light

John Banville
Ancient Light

Viking, 2012

Actor Alexander Cleave is at decline of his career. He lives with his wife, Lydia, with whom they still grieve for their lost daughter Cassandra, who died ten years ago in the Italian resort of all places.

To once again remember what love is, Cleave writes a story about the greatest love of his life. His memories start with the day when he saw a woman's underwear, who rode on bycicle. He was not sure was it the same woman that he knew closely for the next five months. Alex was 15 years old at the time, still a schoolboy, with a very limited knowledge of the opposite sex. His best friend was Billy Gray, with whom they often walked, went to school together, and Alex in the morning waited at Grays home while Billy would prepare himself to go to school. One morning, Alex was waiting for Billy and decided to walk through the corridors of the Gray’s house. Grays have had a big house: Billy's father, Mr. Gray, kept optics shop, and the family lived quite comfortably, compared to many others. Passing by one of the rooms, Alex accidentally had seen Mrs. Gray, naked, looking at herself in the mirror. The boy held in memory this remarkable moment, until one day Mrs. Gray had given him a lift home after tennis game, and during a stop asked to kiss her. After the kiss, Alex doesn’t sees the woman who is older than him by 18 years, she was 33, for a week, thinking it was a random incident. But a week later, Alex is again in the house of Grays, and then in the basement laundry room, Mrs. Gray puts him the mattress and makes love to him. Since then the regular meetings between the boy and the mother of his best friend begin.

From the beginning there was a suspicion that the actor Cleave was an unreliable narrator. There can not be a person of such a memory. From the way he seemed to deliberately missed the point, copying them to the gaps in memory, one could guess that something with the narrator was wrong.

And it was, although it was impossible to predict the final, it was possible only to assume that the twist would be, and that sort of twists there are in every Banville’s novel. It is, of course, right to say that you need to read this novel not for the unexpected finale. «Ancient Light» is a dust photo, which the writer has restored so that it had become even better than before. Banville weaves verbal lace, as a poet choosing the right words, often those that you can see only in poetry.

Banville always stands out because he fills his books with ravishing descriptions, accurate details, such as the nail on the head, but his prose has plot. It moves like a snake with tattoos: We consider drawings of unearthly beauty and watch the graceful snake-story. The author has possession of colors, the language, and the canvas, the story, so they’re mixing – and we see a picture.

The novel is daring at times, but not one that is asking for trouble. The book is not about the provocative love, but about the rebirth of love and revival of the memory of love. The central plot-line there is the five months of passion (love?) between Alex and Mrs. Gray, and the subplot about the film and the actress is clearly secondary. This plot-line connects the «Ancient Light» with two other novels by Banville, which I have not read. But the past and present intersect here just with the theme of revival of love.

This book offers an elegant and refined reading and is hugely enjoybale.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Million Dollar Baby

F.X. Toole
Million Dollar Baby

Open Road Media ebook, 2012
(originally published in 2000)

Toole was a trainer and cut man, and boxing was his passion and his profession. This book brings together flawlessly written stories about boxing, often interspersed with crime. If we reject all sports comparisons (Toole wins by knockout; Toole’s prose has more power than a right hook; this collection deserves the belt of the champion of all boxing organizations and associations; throw the towel - Toole is the best), you can gather up the hundreds of laudatory statements not related to boxing praising something about that masterful collection of stories. There is not a bad story there, and I have not read it perfect short story collections, where all the stories would be close to ideal, for maybe two years.

The characters in his stories, on whose behalf the story goes, as a rule, are aging men, devoted their lives to boxing. They've seen everything, they know even more about the game (and for professionals boxing is not a game, it’s business), and for them the boxing remains honest sport. Yeas, there are the corrupt players, cunning trainers, greedy promoters, but it is important to be honest, whatever happens around. Moral of many stories lays on the surface, but on the surface and the face of a fighter lays – hit and you get it.

Toole essentially writes production prose: he can for half a story analyze fighting techniques, or training heavyweight, or stop blood on dissection, but you read it and do not feel any fatigue. On the contrary – you feel delight, as if you are initiated into a secret that very few people see. When finished with the mechanics, Toole goes to biology - the fights, and around them mant plots are construdcted. And it should be said that the plots are perfected to the smallest detail.

What is more notable about this collection: most stories are written in first person. The story is told by semi-literate people, and therefore they’re written in the style of a street, as I hear so, I write so (it is possible to say the stories are written in so-called black people talk-style, but the narrator is usually white). Often when such a style device is selected, it's annoying. A writer’s trying to be closer to reality, but in fact he makes it difficult to read. Semiliterate speech does not bring together an author and a character, on the contrary, as if the writer is laughing at retarded character. Toole’s street language is seamlessly woven into the narrative that says only one simple thing: most of the boxers are really uneducated and illiterate people - but they have different skills and dignity.

«Million Dollar Baby» is a first-rate collection. Perhaps the best thing I've read about boxing. And yes, it guaranteed kicks a tear.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Ben Elton

Bantam Press, 2009

The economic crisis of 2008 has hit the six university friends hard. Jimmy, Robbo, Lizzie, Henry, David and Rupert graduated from university in 1993, then got wives and husbands, children and homes, the high statuses and high-paying jobs. Friends, swimming in cash, were in the chocolate until the crisis hit. Elton tells how they all came to the situation they had come.

In the center of the novel are financial trader Jimmy and his wife Monica. Jimmy wanted to be a director and make documentary films, but once tried to be a trader at a major office and realized that it is rock’n’roll! Jimmy himself made the reality, not the reality made him, and money poured in. He began at once to get more money than his friends; every day bought new clothes because there was no time to go shopping. Jimmy gradually began to spend all the money on booze and drugs, and would have been in rehab, if not married to Monica, who worked in the catering company and distribute sandwiches to offices in the same building where Jimmy worked. They married, celebrated their honeymoon in the United States, Jimmy gave up bad habits. They had three children, and the eldest, Toby, at the time of the crisis has already been in a private school. The family did not count the money, giving thousands of pounds for charity, buying a five-story building with an elevator and a few cars, hiring an Australian nanny who served the entire family. Jimmy has invested in a new project, buying an entire street, where a construction of expensive homes had begun. But then the crisis came.

Writer Elton is from the category of professionals, which do not write badly. They are not great prose writers or prominent novelists, but they know their craft. They rarely jump bar genius, but rarely fall low.

«Meltdown» is strong work, ephemeral novel, but surely written with refined drama, with lots of details, flavored with tasty little words and expressions. Obviously, the book has been written on the topic of the day in the wake of the headlines. The financial crisis is behind us (and if it ever was), and the situation described in the novel is a little bit dated. However, the book reads voraciously and cardboard heroes here look more authentic than in many novels. All university friends from the novel are character types, characters from jokes and anecdotes, stilted models, giving the author the opportunity to build his attack on the different strata of British society. Part of the jokes and understanding the problem will be lost, because you need to know some aspects of British life, to understand political structure, economic situation etc etc. But even if you do not know the half of it the book would still be funny and sometimes very funny. Elton writes brilliant dialogue and tries his hand at satire, and at the sitcom, and at economic analyst.

Evolution of university friends is prominently: ordinary young men and women come to a crossroads, try themselves, climbing gradually higher and higher, turning into pretty nasty characters. People are losing their human form until the collapse occurs.

The characters of the book are unpleasant, but Jimmy is a success. At least from the type he turns into an ordinary person, who sees life around, life that can be fun.

Elton adds action in the politicial/economic satire. Death of a friend, the inspector, illegal trading, the fire in the house - it all fit into the plot, making it more refined.

The novel is hardly the top of the British prose, but this is a strong work, worth reading.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Brown's Requiem

James Ellroy
Brown’s Requiem

Open Road Media\Mysterious Press eBook, 2011
(originally published in 1981)

Los Angeles licensed private investigator Fritz Brown works as a repoman since being kicked from LAPD. Having quitted the booze, Brown repos for a modest fee used cars, and in the evenings listens to classical music and talks to his alcoholic friend, Walter. When fat stinking caddy nicknamed Fat Dog for a considerable sum for a homeless asks Brown to dig something, the PI decides to postpone repobussiness and take a case. Younger sister of Fat Dog Jane Baker, cello player, lives with an elderly businessman Sol Kupferman. He is her sponsor and mentor, no sex, but the caddy thinks that the old man has secrets, and asks Brown to dig some dirt on Kupferman.

Brown knows his stuff and first checks Fat Dog Baker himself and discovers that he was a big pervert, born caddy and psycho. Brown, digging further, concludes that Kupferman and Baker had something to do with the old crime when one bar had been burned down. Brown understands that this is his breakthrough case that could bring him fame and money. Naturally, things are trickier than it seems, and the dead bodies will appear one after the other.

Ellroy admitted that his debut was written under the influence of Chandler, but only intersections with Chandler there is this is a PI novel, and in a few stylistic tricks that could be written by Chandler. Otherwise, it's Ellroy-0, a place for the early experiments with the themes that will continue to prevail in the writer’s books. There are also a long-time crime with conspiracy, and obsession with LAPD, and the mention of Black Dahlia, and psychopaths, and stunning descriptions of Los Angeles, and the lower circles of the criminal world.

You may think that «Brown's Requiem» is Ellroy-light, but it is not. Yes, there Ellroy is still warming up, looking for his style, but that's another Ellroy, Ellroy in the first person, Ellroy’s PI novel, his only novel PI. Brown is only nominally positive character of the book, and his motives are far from noble and ambitious. Only at the beginning of the novel, he is guided by good intentions, in the future he is a predator who violated the possible laws more than any novel’s villain. The fact that he is no better than the people he wants to punish, Brown certainly understands that, but his inflated ego does not allow to take this understanding. Brown is a tricky and quirky creature and still an LA cop inside, no wonder many of the characters of the book take Brown for the police, although he had long lost his badge.

Ellroy is meticulous and attentive to detail, which is why his novel works as a successful murder mystery, and as a social novel about America of the early 80's.

This novel was a requiem for Brown, for me it’s just the beginning of exploring Ellroy’s work.