Friday, December 13, 2013

The Blackbird

Richard Stark
The Blackbird

Macmillan, 1969

A part of Friday Forgotten Books

After heist gone awry Grofield (Parker’s partner and hero of four novels, of which this is the third) ends up on a hospital bed surrounded by secret government agents. Thief and part-time actor is offered a chance to atone for his sins against the state. Charges of robbery will be lifted if Grofield helps the Secret Service to find out the secrets of the Third World countries. Somewhere in Canada a secret meeting of top officials of nine developing countries is planned and Grofield must ingratiate himself and find out what caused the meeting. Grofield is selected only because he is familiar with the leaders of the two countries - General Pozos and a politician Onum Marba (see The Damsel and The Dame). Grofield prefers intelligence job to prison term but plans to escape from the agents. He fails to escape and Grofield is delivered to Canada.

The premise of The Blackbird is very similar with the premise of another Stark novel The Handle. There FBI agents forced Parker to work on them and rob the casino. The Blackbird is more slowly than The Handle: almost half of the novel Grofield jokes and plays the fool, the sense of danger is not in sight, as if Grofield came to Canada at a ski resort. When Stark adds in his novels international intrigue, it is not very good. But the novel is good in that each Grofield’s choice is accompanied by the question "What would Parker have done in the Grofield place?".

Closer to the finale the book gains speed and Grofield has to make a difficult moral choice. The Blackbird, perhaps, is on the same level with The Damsel: entertaining, but far from ideal.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tenth of December

George Saunders
Tenth of December

Bloomsbury, 2013

George Saunders obviously does not like plots. Of the ten stories in the collection, only one has a standard narrative structure with progressive storyline. In all others only a few pages in you star to realize what's going on, plodding through the so-called "mind games." But this is not to say that Saunders’ prose is plotless. Not at all, there is a distinct plot in each story of the collection, although in the case of Saunders it is sometimes impossible to divide his prose into individual components. In his case, the style is a plot, and a plot is the style.

The most straightforward story in Tenth of December is called «Home». In it a war veteran (whether in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever else Americans are still fighting), a young man, returns to his hometown, to his mother. She works in the church, does not pay for her house, causing her and her new boyfriend evicted. The former wife of a soldier ran away from him, apparently, already pregnant, and now remarried to the son of wealthy parents. With her new husband she has a son of the war veteran. His ex-wife does not allow to see the child, the sister is afraid to let her brother into the house, his mother is evicted, and the soldier is quite lost in this life in the civilian world. He becomes aggressive, beats the landlord, almost ignites his mother’s house and wants to beat new husband of his ex-wife up.

The story seems to be sad, but actually it is quite comical, perhaps it is the funniest story in the book. Mother of the protagonist swears in every sentence, but right with self-censorship, in the truest sense beeping her curses. Everyone says "Thank you for your service" to the protagonist, at the wrong time, and in general all behave nervously.

Starting and closing stories of the collection looped book. «Victory Lap» and «Tenth of December» have similar plot and the problem of moral choice. But the action in both of them takes place in fact not so much in "reality", but in the minds of the characters.

«My Chivalric Night» is most similar to previous Saunders’ works. Here, too, people play a certain role in the organization that reminds amusement parks of the stories from Pastoralia times.
Saunders is a superb stylist. Fascinated by the author's own words, the reader may not notice the plot. Most often the characters in his stories are people that unhappy and lonely. They can not communicate normally with the outside world, which is why so much time Saunders spends in the minds of his characters. It is much easier and more pleasant to talk to and live within yourself.
To someone Saunders’ stories may seem bleak, but gloominess should not set off the fact that Saunders is still an optimist. Most often there still is a way out of the abyss, you just need to find it. And also specific humor will cheer you up.

Stories’ main characters here are mostly dreamers. It is interesting to be in their heads, for Saunders and for the reader. Saunders does not oppress his characters, giving them the freedom and opportunity to talk. But sometimes he loses a step. For example, in «Tenth of December» a boy named Rob says that a dying man Eber “looked sort of mental. Like an Auschwitz dude or sad confused grandpa.” But it is too little likelihood that a young boy would choose precisely this comparison to an Auschwitz prisoner. An adult would have thought of that, more likely.

It is worth noting - and someone will put to fault - that Saunders repeats himself in this collection. I do not remember much of his early books, but there is a feeling that part of the story techniques migrated here from the previous books, the style remained the same, of course. You will not find new themes here, but degree of grotesque and fantasy decreased.

Perhaps someone instead of Tenth of December will prefer to reread Pastoralia.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Over Tumbled Graves

Jess Walter
Over Tumbled Graves

Harper, 2001

Spokane, Wash., early 2000s. Serial killer kills young prostitutes one after another, getting rid of potential evidence, and places them on the southern bank of the river, for which he eventually gets the name Southbank Killer. A characteristic feature of these murders are twenty dollars, invariably squeezed in a victim’s hand. Police take away body from the scene of murder, and in some time the killer allocates a new corpse in the same place.

When the murders are not yet linked as the work of a serial killer, Sergeant Alan Dupree, old school cop, a mocker and a hater of bureaucracy, handles the cases. Bosses barely tolerate him, but he is the best detective there is in the city. He is helped by a young detective Spivey, humorless and lacking street skills academy graduate and a relative of someone in authority.

The novel begins though not with a serial killer, but with a seemingly ordinary bust of a drug dealer, which leads to unexpected consequences. Detective Caroline Mabry in a group of other undercover detectives in the park watch the dealer nicknamed Burn when he meets with the client. Because of Caroline the dealer and the client disappear, and the whole group of detectives, except Caroline, goes back to the department. But Caroline spots suspects hiding and begins to pursue them to the bridge over the waterfall. The buyer suddenly pushes Burn off a bridge and the dealer is falling. Caroline chooses between two options: pursue the buyer or rescue the dealer from the river – and she selects the second. She does not save Burn, and he is washed away and goes to the waterfall. His body will not be found for a few more months.

Good books about serial killers are such a rare thing as the elusive serial killers - sooner or later they get caught. The debut novel by journalist Walter though has at its center serial-killer plot, it is not a pure serial killer novel. Successful novel about a maniac never confined to the cat and mouse game, it always has something else to it.

Over Tumbled Graves offers a realistic portrait of the police work and the gallery of live characters. In the center of the story is a middle-aged detective Caroline Marby, intelligent and courageous woman. In addition to a degree in criminology she also understands poetry. Marby is complex character. She cares about the investigation, but does not get obsessed. She does not roll into banality, which is already used too much: Detective loses sleep and mind because of one case. Caroline can use her head, but she is not some eccentric supersleuth. This is a woman with a pile of problems on her mind, and she has no one to rely on. Male staff worries about her, although she does not need to be cared of. Her relationship with Dupree is too far from the clichéd. It is not banal "left one, came to another", but a maze of complex emotions.

The harsh reality is emphasized with humor and satire. Responsible for humor is Dupree, spitting jokes in the dialogues and reports, and for satire are two FBI profilers. They are even the subject of a storyline where both veteran FBI agents compete who is greater. Both are concerned not with the victims, but with the opportunity to get a contract for a book or TV show. The dialogue between one of the profilers and Caroline:
«She looked down at her drink. “He told me that you were an arrogant prick who said not to even call back until we got to double digits.”

He smiled and nodded at the better translation. “That’s right. That’s what I said. Double digits.»

Serial-killer center plot is used by Walter rationally and intriguingly. The author avoids the clichés: chapters written in italics from the POV of the killer, inaccurate timing, descriptions of cruelty, illogical actions of the police. Walter knowingly specialized in true-crime: you won’t find mistakes in detailes.

Even those for whom plot may seem secondary (and it is so, any novel about a serial killer is secondary) will be captivated by the level of writing: Walter writes lyrically, but at the same time down to earth. As a stylist, Walter is a cut above the average mystery writer.

Over Tumbled Graves is an intelligent and entertaining novel; best serial-killer novel after The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Independence Day

Richard Ford
Independence Day

Knopf, 1995

Frank Bascombe, the hero of the first book of the trilogy, returns in «Independence Day». Once a sports columnist and writer, he is now a realty agent, owner of three houses in Haddam, New Jersey, divorced and wants his eldest son Paul to live with him.

Paul is 15, he has some mental problems: he still has not recovered from the death of his brother. Paul barks like a dog, not sociable and tried to steal three packs of condoms from the shop, was arrested, had resisted arrest, and now awaits trial. Independence Day is approaching, and Frank plans to take his son with him on a trip to the basketball and baseball halls of fame and on the way to talk with his son and sort out his problems.

But before the start of the weekend, Frank has to solve several problems in Haddam, sell the house to an elderly couple from Vermont and check on hot dog stand, of which he is co-owner.

Frank Bascombe is a storyteller with a truly bloated ego. He is not part of the world, and in fact he’s the creator. For each topic, the narrator has his own opinion that he sees no reason to not share with you. Largely of of such considerations, and this vast novel consists. Frank Bascombe, as one can say, sits on the reader’s ear, you can not break away from his monologue. Ordinary things in the mouth of the narrator becomes extraordinary. Parade in honor of the holiday becomes a reason to speculate about the independence, car ride with the breeze through the state leads to thoughts about the state of small cities and residential areas, his own book, found on the shelf in café, will remind of the old days as a writer.

Ford gave his protagonist a perofession of a realty agent as a symbol of truly American profession. Bascombe sees in this kind of activity nothing distinctive: he in fact does not sell the houses, but only drives people around. People buy houses themselves. This almost freelance profession can free up time for the protagonist: he is free, communicates with people, hears and sees, keeps his nose to the wind - what he has to do, if not comment on life, his own and in general?

Of course, Ford doesn’t deprive us from sneacking into realtor’s kitchen. Although the details are not quite relevant (the action takes place in 1988).

The narrative here is floating aimlessly, geared for small events, usually quite humorous. Black old woman calls the police; Frank and the seller of the hot dog stand discuss the purchase of weapons; Frank flirts with a female chef; robbery and murder at a motel where Frank stops at night; Paul and even injury is described not so much as a tragedy as ironically - now ex-wife for sure will not let my son to live with me. The novel, like life, does not offer a coherent plot.

Ford’s skills of working at the macro and micro levels should be admired. He can talk about the state of real estate in the U.S., but at the same time, with interest can build a whole philosophy around a menu in cafe. One of Ford’s qualities is he knows how to say with the words that, in general, has no verbal equivalent.

Dialogues here also are deep and live, from jokes with his son to tough negotiations with former wife.

The novel is certainly not perfect: after the incident with Paul it loses some tension. The narrative becomes more viscous, the more that all the main points has been said, but you need to listent till the end.

Several plot points, in turn, are not justified. The murder of Bascombe’s colleague and former lover remains unsolved. Shooting at the motel also remains only the reason for conversation with the protagonist witness. But it can also be attributed to the unpredictability of life, something fires, and something don’t.

But it is always interesting to hear a great writer.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

Malcolm Mackay
The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

Pan Macmillan, 2013

Calum MacLean is a freelancer hitman. He kills people for money, loves his job, but he tries not to work much. There is enough money, that you don’t know where to spend, and to attract attention is not necessary. Calum takes the order, makes a hit, lays low. He works for himself and not for the organization, and he himself makes his schedule.

When a permanent hitman for one of crime syndicates of Glasgow replaces his hip, he must be replaced immediately by someone. This substitution becomes Calum. He is hired to kill the small time dealer Lewis Winter. He is planning to make a move against the organization and now heneeds to be removed, and quickly. Calum does not ask too many questions, takes an order, watch the victim for a few days and makes the hit.

In the entire history of literature writers not too often made figure of assassin a protagonist, but if they did, it usually turned out well (it is not so for TV). Nobody outtopped Thomas Perry with his The Butcher's Boy (government assasins is a separate sub-genre). Nor did Malcolm Mackay and his decent debut.

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter grabs you not with twists and tickling of the nerves, but with the description of everyday life of a talented young killer. Chapter by chapter we deeps into the routine: how order is received, how the victim is being followed, how to select the killing method, how to buy a weapon, how to proceed after the hit. Mackay, like his protagonist, never missteps. Chronicle of life of a hitman turned out pretty convincing (as far as we, not related to the criminal world, can judge). The author does not misstep, does not allow children's errors, and it can even be assumed that Mackay spent some time in the company of a hitman.

The book presents no surprises, and the constant change of point of view slows the novel. In one sentence the author may be in the mind of one character and in the next in somebody’s else. It's only evidence of inexperience.

Second person narration also can not be explained. What did the author wanted to accomplished with these calls to his characters? Because of the second person the overall effect is reduced: in the book it’s not like real people live and act, but dolls, which Mackay talks to.

The novel is preceeded by the character list, with brief descriptions. Does the author so underestimate the reader believing that he, poor sod, will get lost in broad daylight? There is a limited number of characters her , and to get lost in them is not easy.

Good debut, with tasty detailes, but without a drive.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Good Lord Bird

James McBride
The Good Lord Bird

Riverhead, 2013

The novel is written as a memoir of Henry Shackleford which was found in the middle of the XX century. It told the story of the only Negro survivor of the Battle of Harpers Ferry in 1859.
The story begins four years before the battle, when Henry and his devout father lived in a small town in Kansas. In the barber shop, where the father of 12 -year-old Henry worked, comes abolitionist John Brown. There he clashes with local slaveholder, after which Henry’s father is killed, and Brown takes the boy with him. Because of baggy clothes, more like rags, Brown takes Henry for a girl, because all colored look the same for a white man. Kidnapped Henry decided not to cross Brown, and so the next four years of his life he will impersonate a girl, wearing women's clothes and responding to the name Henrietta. «But the Old Man heard Pa say “Henry ain’t a,” and took it to be “Henrietta,” which is how the Old Man’s mind worked. Whatever he believed, he believed. It didn’t matter to him whether it was really true or not. He just changed the truth till it fit him. He was a real white man.» Henry gets the nickname Little Onion after him eating lucky mascot in the form of dried onion, belonging to Brown.

Brown and his army of 12 people have been known throughout America, although they are nothing special. They are starving, stealing from Pro Slavers food, weapons and horses, freeing chaoticly blacks from slavery against the will of the blacks. Brown's army includes his sons and a few sorry-looking farmers.

Brown himself is very devout man, and has a habit to to pray to God at the wrong time. He eats almost nothing, literally eating the holy spirit, can not sleep for days and naps right on the horse, but prays countless times a day, even when «using the privy». But Brown is willing to tolerate infidelity, if a person opposes slavery. But if someone says to the Old Man's face that he is pro slavery, the Old Man could kill him right on the spot.

Starting reading this novel, I was afraid that I would not understand it. American history, though short, has its key moments and niceties. My fears were vain: the book, albeit based on real historical events, leaves room for fiction, and in the course of reading the overall picture becomes clear.

Despite the seriousness of these events and their impact on American history, the novel is largely farcical, almost without a single positive character. Historical figures appear in a burlesque manner, and fictional protagonists stand out with stupidity, ignorance, greed, cowardice and duplicity. The narrator Onion spares no one, himself included, with his mordant comments. Douglas here is a womanizer and a lush, Tubman is Generale, Brown is a crazy preacher, con man, arrogant rogue. Americans certainly imagined their heroes not like this.

Since the book is a memoir written by already a mature man, Henry had time to think about everything that it happened, evaluate the actions and deeds of the Old Man and his army. Narrative voice here are both naive (12 -year-old child) and cynical (older man).

Largely because of Henry’s voice this is such a funny book. There are enough monets to laugh out loud, from Onion’s comments to dialogues between simple uneducated blacks. One of the funniest scenes is about a federal agent when Onion warns Old Man about a possible approximation of an agent: "Captain! I smell bear!" All because Brown told the boy that an agent smells of bear, because «uses bear grease to oil his hair».

Mocking everyone, Henry is not building no illusions about himself and the entire Negro race. For several years Henry wore dresses because he was afraid to be a man. Like any other black person he was taught to lie and cheat, being smarter than white masters for a few positions, and Henry lied and cheated.

History is devoid of logic, this book teaches us. In the history there are no straight lines, on the contrary, history is full of curves. Disappointing truth about the Negro race is expressed in the words of the narrator: if not whites, Negroes would never fight for their freedom. Blacks would rather run than go with a weapon on their master. «Everybody got to make a speech about the Negro but the Negro.»

The Good Lord Bird is written on «black» English, but not in its extreme form when you not so much reading as decrypting the written. Memoirs are written by semi-literate man who never learned to speak and write by all the rules.

The novel can be characterized with its slightly distorted title , - good lord novel.

Friday, November 22, 2013

River Girl

Charles Williams
River Girl

Gold Medal, 1951

A part of Forgotten Friday Books

Jack Marshall is a deputy sheriff in a small town. The judge's son, the young Jack is in good standing with the citizens, especially those who run the dens and brothels. Sheriff and Jack allow homes of sins exist and prosper, but for taking a bribe that Jack accurately collects every month. An active member of the Christian organization wants to close all brothels, at the same time sending crooked cops to jail.

But the problems with the grand jury for the deputy sheriff go to the background when the meets a beautiful woman with a funny haircut, living in a small house on the river bank with a suspicious husband. Jack and "river girl" by the name of Doris fall in love, and Jack starts to come in the evening to the river to see Doris. Lovers are going to run away together when her Doris’ husband, Shevlin, finds them in his house. In the struggle Jack kills Shevlin and comes up with a plan to cover up the murder and escape with Doris away.

It is not hard to guess that everything goes completely wrong, not as Jack has planned. In noir a perfect murder does not happen. River Girl is one of those noirs, which are written in the first person, and where the reader's own throat starts to feel a noose on his neck, tightening.

Williams treats the reader gently. The reader sympathizes with the protagonist, despite the fact that the protagonist is a real bastard. Sympathy for Jack covers the fact that he was cheating on his wife, without batting an eye, kills an unarmed man, takes bribes and has no qualms.

The novel, however, is not without drawbacks. It suffers from a large volume, and the motives of the characters are sometimes not clear. If the reader is willing to forgive the author the plot holes, he will receive a tense novel.

I had problems with a few episodes. When Jack kills Shevlin, who is an escaped convict, living in the swamp, he could not have any plans to cover up. The disappearance of practically an unknown man from the backwoods would have noticed no one, especially since Shevlin is constantly on the run, changing the place of residence. And the representative of the law Marshall would had to think about it before he acted rashly.

Later in the book for Jack another woman falls, Dinah, the sheriff's mistress, which saw in Jack «excitement». But at that time Jack was exhausted with problems, always worried because of the murder and the grand jury, and at first sight to have seen something exciting in him would be doubtful.

But it is my grumbling. In fact, River Girl is a classic of noir.

Soon to be reprinted by Stark House Press

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Inside Straight

Ray Banks
Inside Straight

Blasted Heath, 2013

Graham Ellis for a certain offense is transferred from one Manchester’s casino to another one. It is filled with incompetent dealers and lousy managers. Ellis, one might say, is sent to rescue the wretched casino, because he is a responsible, experienced, focused, or at least he thinks so of himself. On day shifts Ellis nearly dies of boredom, until the night manager is attacked and badly beaten. Ellis then is transferred to work at night, where the activity is larger and responsibility too. But for Ellis the show isn’t over. Local crime boss, which is accountable for several casino robberies (though the police can not hang any of them on to him), speaks with Ellis, praising his skills, and then makes an offer he can not refuse.

Ray Banks himself once worked in a casino, so don’t doubt the authenticity of casino detail here. Was Banks the best pit boss at the time, now is not important, but much more important how the author controls his character. Ellis says several times – to himself and out aloud, that he is a professional and master of his craft:

«If I was best pit boss at the Palace - and I was, without question - then I was certainly the best pit boss at the Riverside.»

«I was a good pit boss. I was the best they had.»

«I'm the best pit boss they've got.»

But with the small details we make a true image of the narrator, who, perhaps, is the best in the casino, but as a person he is still an asshole. Banks is an asshole, too, because he forces the reader to root for the main character, despite - with each chapter more and more - the deformity of Ellis’ soul.

Inside Straight is a remarkably old-fashioned by today's standards thing. If the background is "updated" up to the present, then the rest - from the protagonist’s squeamishness to the ending – is vintage, but not covered in dust.

Those familiar with the works of Banks invariably will recognize the essence of the main character, which is almost the same in all the books of this writer. This is a short-tempered, somewhat naive, lad, faint-hearted, but good in the heart. Ellis of this novel in addition is a geek, recording TV shows on the VCR and collecting the figurines and posters.

Only in one scene Banks loses control of his character: a teetotal Ellis gets drunk and calls a colleague, and it is likely that Ellis would have felt that he was drunk, but Banks misses it.

Thrilling novel without a single superfluous word.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A House in Naples

Peter Rabe
A House in Naples

Gold Medal, 1956

Charley and Joe are two American deserters that during World War II escaped from the army. They remained in Italy, have engaged in the transportation of goods from the black market and generally well settled there. Only Joe, though stupid one, made homself new documents, and Charley didn’t. So when the police stopped his truck, Charlie fled, but with a wound and the face now known to all carabinieri. Now, if he is caught, he will go staright to prison (or noose), and Charley urgently needs to get new documents.

Rabe with each novel increasingly shows his passion for travel. In his first novel, the action took place in the United States, in the second Italy flashed somewhere in the background, the half of the action of the third has been placed in Germany, and the fourth is purely Italian. The protagonist is always a crook, smart and savvy to a degree, but again, short-tempered and jealous. Rabe gave his character an unusual habit: he does not drink, but all the time sucks aspirin.

All elements of the previous work of the writer are again present, but A House in Naples is a more private story. This novel is a kind of rural noir, as Rabe understands it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Drowning Pool

John Ross Macdonald
The Drowning Pool

Knopf, 1950

In the second Lew Archer novel LA private detective is hired by a mysterious woman from a small town. She is married to an actor, a mama's boy, who lives with his family in his mother's house and is dependent on monthly handouts from her. The woman asks Archer to find the author of the blackmailing letter. Blackmailer gently hinted that he was aware of the woman’s affair. The woman is afraid that the letters, originally addressed to her husband, will continue and will get into the hands of either the husband or her mother-in-law. Archer takes two hundred dollars from the client and begins to investigate. Very quickly in the case of blackmail the first corpse appears.

The Drowning Pool is a short entertaining book, in which Archer cracks jokes, wealthy families do not have peace and friendship, and young girls hang on the detective one ager another. This novel can serve as an excellent textbook on the topic «Noir vs PI novel». Closer to the finale one femme fatale kills her husband and asks Archer to destroy the evidence and run with her to Mexico. Whether this book was noir, Archer would have done it without a doubt. But thinking over in his head the possible consequences (including the most unpleasant, the electric chair), the PI refuses this dubious future, and that is what makes the book a PI novel.

Among the curious moments worth mentioning here is Archer’s literary knowledge. He does not know who Dylan Thomas is («... father likes his poetry and I tried to read some of it but I couldn't understand it. It's awfully difficult and symbolic, like Dylan Thomas." The name rang no bell.») , but calls a gambler loser Dostoevsky - «"Stick around, "I told the young Dostoevsky.» Apparently, Archer is more fond of Russian literature than of British.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

All the Birds, Singing

Evie Wyld
All the Birds, Singing

Jonathan Cape, 2013

Jake Whyte, a fit young woman, lives alone with her dog Dog on a farm on one of the British Isles and breeds the sheep. Jake finds the first lamb torn to pieces, and then the second. Who mercilessly kills animals is not clear. Jake suspects foxes, violent adolescents, although it is also possible that behind the killings is some mysterious beast.

Jake lives on her farm as a recluse, not socializing with the locals: does not go to the pub, does not make friends easily, rarely asking for help from Don, a neighbor, who sold her the farm. Therefore, when the sheep begin to disappear, the woman has no one to turn to for help. She goes to the police station, but a policeman does not take her complaint seriously and instead of searching for sheepkillers offers Jake start dating.

This story line that takes place in the present, is developing quite quickly and in a straight chronology. But of Jake’s past we learn gradually, from the chapters of the narrator’s past in Australia, and these chapters are arranged in reverse order, from the adult years before moving to the island to the children's age.

From the chapters of the past, we learn why Jake has scars on her body, why she is sleeping next to a shotgun, why she avoids men at the pub, and why she ran away from her life on the green continent.

All the Birds, Singing is as if in the film «Memento» the main character was replaced by a woman and added some mystique. It’s a very poignant book, which uniquely blends brutality with kind-heartedness. The main character finds a wounded pigeon with a label and calls the owner, but in the excitement she turns kills a pigeon. Jake takes care of sheep and ensures that shearing sheep is not hurt, but she shoots the sheep, when it seems that this is creature in the bushes. She loves her dog, but during the escape she accidentally runs over her kidnapper’s dog.

Jake herself is an unusually fragile person, but with a crack inside. She swears, knows how to shoot a gun, able to fight men back, but blushes when she suddenly blurts out his feelings to Lloyd.
On these joints the entire novel is built. If we take the structure of the book, it can be seen more clearly. The present plot line goes from terrible to more humane, the past plot line - from innocence and simplicity to the horror and deception. In this case, it seems that violence accompanies Jake always and everywhere, wherever it may be, in Australia or Britain.

In this violence lies uncompromising attitude of Evie Wyld. Her novel is an honest portrait of a flawed heroine trying to survive in the tough world. But salvation does not come. Though something strange and inexplicable is coming. You can not escape from the demons, if these demons are inside you.

The novel is written in the first person and in present tense. Chapters about the past are not flashbacks. The heroine does not recall anything, she doesn’t tell her story: the past itself erupts into the present. With every return to the past the narrator experiences physical violence, and the reader simply can not remain indifferent to this terrifying story .

The appearance of a man in the life of the main character makes this book more optimistic, no matter how it may seem. You can exorcize the ghosts of the past, you just can not do it alone. Then the birds will sing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Lower River

Paul Theroux
The Lower River

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

62-year-old owner of a menswear store in a small town in Massachusetts Ellis Hock's wife gives him a new phone. Gadget unexpectedly for a new owner restores old deleted emails, and among them are plenty off different kinds of love letters to ladies with whom Hock acquainted in the store and then exchanged e-mails. The wife and the husband have a scandal, go to the family counsellor but that leads nowhere, on the contrary, only worsens the situation, and the couple has a divorce. The only daughter asks for her share, and the shop owner is forced to sell his business.

Thinking over all his years of marriage, Hock finds that he hasn’t seen happiness in his life, not experienced love, doesn’t like vacations. The only time he was happy in his life was before marriage. More than forty years ago, young Hock for the four years lived in Africa as a part of Peace Corps, in a small village in Malawi. There, he was helpful and happy. He built a school, taught children English, helped local residents organize a clinic, has become a sort of mythical figure among locals, because he was the only white, mzungu, and the only one who was not afraid of snakes and could tame them. After the divorce, Hock helps a woman with python, which she has found, and feels that he has not lost his ability. This episode with the snake becomes a push to ensure the return to Malawi for a few weeks, to help local people, remember the past, recover from the stressful divorce.

Theroux, who wrote more than one guide, this time has turned to fiction about the harsh Africa. At the beginning of the novel Africa is a paradise that can bring back the past, to give strength, to help find yourself. But more and more it becomes obvious – to the protagonist and to the reader - there is no paradise on earth. Hock himself comes to the conclusion that we doesn’t need to go to Mars to find than different than usual earthly life – «Malabo was more distant than Mars».

Hopes and dreams of the protagonist rapidly break down, but he still has some time living a mirage. It's not easy to break the ideal of the past. The same mirage clouded his vision, only by this carelessness and irresponsibility of Hock can be explained. He could prepare for the trip, learn more about the state of affairs in Africa, to ensure himself, but he did not - he was blinded by the chance to feel happy again.

Life in the village of Malabo in The Lower River appears in all its ugliness. Theroux masterfully conveys the sounds, smells, customs, traditions, motifs of locals. The novel is essentially written in three languages: pure English, pidgin English and the language of Sena, the local dialect. Theroux in detail paints a loss of Hock’s strength, his exhaustion. The heat, the mosquitoes, malaria, dehydration, poor diet, lack of sleep, the most important - stress - Hock in one scene thinks he would be able to recover his health, but food and rest would not be enough, it would take a break from thinking about survival and escape. This novel is not about a Rambo, surviving in the jungle, who breaks a palm with his hand, but about the old confused man.

And yet, for all the time of his captivity Hock never dreams of quick and easy death as a deliverance. It is only a few times he thinks that now they would kill him or he will die in an accident, but with each failed attempt his will to live doesn’t reduce. He wants to live - but in freedom.

«I don't exist, Hock thought. No one knows I'm here, no one knows me, no one cares, and were this flimsy canoe to turn over, or be flipped by a hippo, no one would ever find me; no one would know I died. The world would continue to turn without me, my death would be unnoticed, would make no difference, because I am no one, no more than meat.»

Africa in the novel is a very strange place. Laziness, greed, stupidity destroyed the continent. Even more frightening is that at home the protagonist faced with the same. The difference is that in the U.S. he was home, but a stranger there.

This Theroux novel is an addictive thing. It is not that it is a page-turner, but the book is literally mesmerizing - its style, the atmosphere, the characters, the sense of impending doom. Not that I had read a lot of novels about Africa, but this one is probably the best.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Charles Palliser

W. W. Norton, 2013

Rustication is written in the form of a diary that a seventeen year old protagonist of the novel Richard Shenstone had written for a several weeks. He was expelled from the university and forced to return home to his mother and sister. However, not much left of home: in the four months that Richard was studying, his father died of a heart attack, and Richard had not even been invited to the funeral, his mother and sister Effie had lost their means of livelihood and moved to a dilapidated house in the south of England.

Richard arrives before Christmas of 1863, alone, without a cart that will come later, but his mother and sister do not welcome the return of the young man. In the novel, with each diary entry the amount of mysteries and oddities is growing exponentially and they are all important elements of the puzzle, and it is not possible to mention them all.

Richard hides the events that occurred to him at the university, and his mother and sister hide the events that took place during his absence. Richard notes that Effie, a little older than him, goes somewhere by nights, and his mother turns a blind eye to it. The mother is holding a secret of her husband's death: why now is the family forced to live in poverty, without any support? Richard gradually reveals secrets about himself to his family and learns the secrets of his relatives.

What a puzzling story this Rustication - and a first-class mystery, and a disturbing neo-Victorian novel. From the first chapter and almost to the very end Palliser throws and throws the puzzles to the reader. Avalanche of oddities rushes at you without stopping. Everyone has something to hide, and the farther the worse. Small sins overshadow the big sins, and that’s what almost all the characters are trying to hide.

Palliser's novel has combined the classic mystery and neo-noir. There are mysterious letters, maniac, murder, family secrets: something will be false clues, but something will work in the final. In any case, the author has played a fair game. At the same time, Palliser significantly updated the classic detective story. Sex, violence, cruelty – that is all here. Noose is tightening around the narrator’s throat, and we sympathize with him, despite his weaknesses and sins. Respectable ladies, earles, teachers, young brides and students - the author turns the established images upside down. Every character is a fallen creature.

Palliser updated the language of Victorian prose as well. There are almost no tedious passages, but the dirty letters are here in full. In addition to that, there are also fragments of the diary, that Richard encrypted (they are written in Greek), where he describes his sexual fantasies. These letters do not shock.

It is an exciting novel, with an amicable confusing plot, presenting a new look at the XIX century England.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Circle

Dave Eggers
The Circle

Knopf/McSweeneys, 2013

Mae Holland, a naive 24-year-old girl, with the help from her friend and fellow student Annie, is hired by The Circle, conquering the whole world company, some kind of corporation that combines Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, engaged in the implementation of social networks in everyday life. Mae grew up in a small unnamed town, and after graduation from thr university got a job at the factory to pay her student loans. But after two years Mae escapes from the factory and is happy to accept the job offer to work on the campus of The Circle.

The company was founded by the three Wise Men, as they call themselves, Stenton, Bailey and Gospodinov, the latter rarely appears in public. In The Circle transparency, openness and communication are valued. Working on The Circle a person must not only perform their duties, but also to actively socialize, preferably on the Web. All information from Mae’s gadgets is transfered into her account in The Circle, later to be synchronized - all the new gadgets are linked to her Circle account.

The Circle’s campus is a vast field, with numerous buildings, including dormitories for workers, hospitals, entertainment venues, shopping centres - in fact employees even don’t have to leave the campus, they can live and work here.

Mae’s girlfriend Annie works at the top of the company, developing new projects, and Mae is to work in Customer Experience. May should help clients with the emerging issues, and for this they rate her help from one to one hundred in special survey.

Eggers’ new novel had been called techno-thriller which is not true, of course. It's more tehnosatire, techno - because it’s technically accomplished, and because of new technologies. And the first quarter of the text reads as it is a serious thing , but after one scene where the main character gets punished by the boss and diligently corrects her own mistakes in the social network with the zeal of a madman - that's when you start to laugh, and at the same time realize that Eggers still show us his satirical talent.

In The Circle the author made his protagonist not a fighter with the system, and not an intellectual, on the contrary - too sweet girl, who sees paradise anywhere after that factory. The desire to please, hold on, do not let her friend down, help parents with money – Mae’s motives are not bad, but they blurred her vision of the world. With every new page it’s more difficult for us to empathize with Mae, but the situation becomes clearer with The Circle.

Eggers who does not use social media with striking accuracy caught in this novel our possession of pseudosocialization when activity in the social media substitutes activity in reality. The scenes of the novel, when Mae is brainwashed with a corporate culture are the strongest and most stunning.

«Denise smiled. “Fantastic. Now let’s talk about the rest of the weekend. On Friday, you find out that your dad’s okay. But the rest of the weekend, you basically go blank. It’s like you disappeared!” Her eyes grew wide. “This is when someone like you, with a low Participation Rank, might be able to improve that, if she wanted to. But yours actually dropped—two thousand points. Not to get all number-geeky, but you were on 8,625 on Friday and by late Sunday you were at 10,288.”

“I didn’t know it was that bad,” Mae said, hating herself, this self who couldn’t seem to get out of her own way. “I guess I was just recovering from the stress of my dad’s episode.”

“Can you talk about what you did on Saturday?”

“It’s embarrassing,” Mae said. “Nothing.”

“Nothing meaning what?”

“Well, most of the day I stayed at my parents’ house and just watched TV.”

Josiah brightened. “Anything good?”

“Just some women’s basketball.”

“There’s nothing wrong with women’s basketball!” Josiah gushed. “I love women’s basketball. Have you followed my WNBA zings?”

“No, do you have a Zing feed about the WNBA?”

Josiah nodded, looking hurt, even bewildered.»

The figures of the three founders of The Circle can not be taken into account without laughing - their monologues, their concepts , their management companies. The more painful to see that Mae does not understand all that. Even when faced with obvious absurd situations, Mae can not see the absurdity of some aspect of The Circle and is trying to find a way within the corporate culture.

The corporate part of the novel is succesful. But the general concept of warning is not quite complete. Eggers is trying to convince us about the global spread of The Circle, but the development of global social networks outside the United States are not well developed. It’s hardly possible to believe that people in third world countries or American vagrants would rush to buy electronic gadgets, cameras, and bracelets. Eggers also suffers crudity of some of his inventions: he tells about another novelty of The Circle, but then throws it away, forgetting to describe how it will work in the world and what changes it will bring.

Another drawback of the book is that the point of view of the author, expressed through novel’s antagonists Mercer and Kalden, is too roughly woven into the text. Mae’s position is presented to us in the form of a narrative, whereas the position of the author in the form of not too convincing lectures and sermons. If the author's purpose - to show, not to tell, then Eggers tells in antagonists’ monologues.

The Circle has turned out an uneven novel, but funny and entertaining. The author warns us about the danger of the influence of social media, but where will readers rush to share the warnings if not on Facebook and Twitter ? The Circle is completed?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Shroud for Jesso

Peter Rabe
A Shroud for Jesso

Gold Medal, 1955

A part of Friday Forgotten Books

Jack Jesso is doing work for the syndicate alone and fast. Jesso does not realize that such arbitrariness could cost him his job, and even his life. After another "business trip" to Vegas, where Jesso works out the situation with his fists, his boss Gluck gives Jesso a chance to improve – to do a job for a mysterious German Kator. Because of his obstinacy Jesso alone finds for Kator his escaped associate, but violates several Kator’s requirements. So Jesso signed his own death ticket.

As in the two previous novels, the main character of Peter Rabe books is self-confident mid-level hood, tough and overestimating his own strength. This hood invariably goes against the rules and against the bosses, but such attempts to protest rarely lead to targeted results.

In A Shroud for Jesso Rabe wanders into the territory of a spy novel, and one can not say that it turns out well. It seems that Rabe does not quite know about matters he writes. There are several memorable scenes, but the plot is largely based on coincidences.

This novel is interesting in how it shows where Donald Westlake as a writer came from. A hood on the instructions of the boss looking for an another missing hood - Westlake later used this scheme in his several earlier novels, in The Cutie and Busy Body. The scenes in the house of Kator resemble similar scenes from 361. Jesso, of course, is not Richard Stark's Parker, but in the dialogues, in my opinion, you can hear the Parker notes.

Compared to the previous two Rabe novels this is less successful, but you still can find a lot of fun here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Mushroom Hunters

Langdon Cook
The Mushroom Hunters

Ballantine Books, 2013

This Langdon Cook book is not without reason called The Mushroom Hunters. It devoted largely to those who pick mushrooms and buys from pickers rather than the actual fungi. And this makes the book incredibly fascinating.

Commercial picking is prohibited in almost all the states of America. To pick mushrooms, you need a permission, and this leads to bureaucracy, payments and fees, and then the taxes. Professional mushroom pickers who live from mushrooms, substantially are illegals. They avoid strangers in the woods, hiding from the rangers and game wardens, and often share the forest areas between themselves. Cook compares mushroom pickers with drug dealers: the level a little bit different, but the activity of pickers remains illegal, and the habits of many pickers are quite like criminal’s. Cook spends time in the company of pickers, buyers, chefs, painting a complex picture of the fungus movement from the edge of the forest to the stomach of a restaurant visitor.

In conversations with Cook the heroes of the book do not hide any secrets of searching and picking mushrooms, on the contrary, Cook generously shares his advices describing in detail the entire process. The abundance of information will not harm the professionals: even after reading several encyclopedias, you still do not learn how to navigate in the woods, you can not determine the presence of the fungus by almost non-existent crack in the ground.

Cook divides his book into chapters by type of fungi and territories where the mushrooms grow. The main characters in the book move from chapter to chapter. Among them are Doug, a former logger and crabber, Jeremy, a former chef, now a businessman trying to create a network of mushroom delivery, and Matt, the chef cook. Cook until writing the book was not new to picking mushrooms, but after a few years spent in the company of professionals, he learned subculture up and down. In addition to contemporary stories, descriptions of life of pickers and buyers, the author makes historical digressions.

The Mushroom Hunters is the history of capitalism and the history of criminals, an amazing tour in the mysterious industry. This book is almost a novel, with the characters, suspense, lively dialogues, lacking only the plot, and you would not exactly distinguish it from fiction. Perhaps the most surprising of all described in the book is how The Mushroom Hunters found a publisher. And the theme seems to be not the most attractive, but the book is an obvious surprise.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Big City Girl

A part of Friday Forgotten Books

Charles Williams
Big City Girl

Gold Medal, 1951
(Open Road Media eBook, 2013)

On a dilapidated farm to her husband's family comes a big city girl from the title of the novel. Her name is Joy, she has no money, and the farm becomes her last refuge. Joy’s husband - Sewell Neely, the eldest son of the owner of the farm Cass Neely – was convicted for a series of armed robberies and murder, and while in jail laughed in the face of his wife, who had time to cheat on him. Relatives of the outlaw son take Joy in different ways: the father and youngest daughter kindly, but Sewell’s brother despises city girl. The situation on the farm gets darker and darker, and at this time Sewell, who was being escorted to prison, escapes, killing two policemen. Coincidentally, he escapes just in those places where their family farm is.

If in his debut Williams depicted family tragedy with a country background, then in his second novel, he adds to the country theme "escaped convict" type of noir. Fortunately for the reader, the convict is a psychopath, in fact even violent psychopath, and the story rushes ahead without a stop (especially in the second half ).

The book's title may be somewhat misleading: city girl Joy is not the central character here. Williams switches from one character to another in a single chapter, the point of view is constantly changing, and you can watch the family drama from all sides.

Noir story isspiced with black humor here - in the face of nutty Cass Neely: the old man has been led to madness, who would have thought, by the radio. A rarity in the village at the time, indeed.

One of the best Gold Medal books that I have read.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Lowland

Jhumpa Lahiri
The Lowland

Knopf, 2013

Two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, were born and raised in one of the districts of Calcutta near the lowland (the same one from the novel’s title). With the age difference in one year, the brothers were inseparable and very similar to each other. Both brothers were savvy and smart, but their characters eventually became different. Protest, disobedience, and challenge started growing in Udayan, but Subhash remained calm, considerate, obedient to his parents. In the early '60s, in the period of world revolutions and uprisings, Udayan joined the Naxalite movement, a terrorist organization operating illegally in India and advocating for equality and justice for all. While one brother rebels, the second one goes to the United States, Rhode Island in particular, where he studies the marine chemistry at the university. Studying is going steady, as is introduction to American life, even an affair with a married American woman and the first sex happen. After the break-up with an American woman Subhash suddenly receives a telegram about his brother's death.

Subhash rushes off to India, attends funeral and finds his brother's widow, eating food from the floor in the kitchen. It turns out that Udayan married secretly an intellectual without consent of parents, and now brother’ parents barely tolerate the presence in the house Gauri, a pregnant widow. Subhash can not find out anything about the death of his brother, and only Gauri tells how Udayan has been shot in the lowlands by the police in front of the family. His body was never given to the family.

Seeing that Gauri can not stay at parents’ home, Subhash asks her to marry him and be the father of the unborn child. Gauri obediently agrees, and the couple fly to the U.S. (of course, this marriage was also made without the approval of the parents).

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri in fact is low: there are only a few high points here, but plenty of low points. The beginning of the book promises much, though melodrama already is noticeable. The two brothers, who had gone separate ways and are split by the ocean, is not really original premise. The book is written in the third person, and the point of view changes from chapter to chapter. But the brother-revolutionary dies quickly, Lahiri does not have time to tell about his motives, and Udayan will remain a mystery to the reader until the very end. But the chapters written about another brother from his point of view in the novel are plenty. And that feel kind of unfair: one brother was given enough space to speak out, but the other died in silence.

But the surviving brother has very little to tell. That is one of the failures of the novel. Subhash’s life is empty, uneventful, a continuous lane of contrived sadness. About his marriage with Gauri it is clear from the very beginning that it won’t work out. The couple does not even quarrel (both of spouses are remarkably inert), and continue to live side by side. Their way of life does not hurt them and does not change them. Lahiri is forced almost a third of the novel to devote to this joyless coexistence. But you can not build a whole novel on sadness and decline of marital relationship. The author does not know how to write properly about everyday life, and the result is something like this: chapter begins, as spouses are sad, the next chapter also tells the story how the wife are sad, as if it were the only business that they can take themselves to - being sad.

Characters do not change throughout the book. It takes forty years, but Subhash and Gauri are still the same sad people, seemed to have not learned from life any single thing. Both had their degrees, but in reality they are at 20-year-olds level, however, severely depressed. Even Bela, their daughter, already adult, becomes something like her father: she lives like a ghost in the eventless world, and we do not really wonder what will happen to her.

But the final returns the tension of beginning of the book. Confrontation between the characters get even much tougher than expected. The Lowland reminds us that mercy is not only the good, but also to the detriment. Even the scene of the confrontation is written more furiously in style than most of the book.

Lahiri, apparently, wanted to broaden her audience and make her novel more accessible. Otherwise how do you explain the fact that the novel is written stylistically too straight. Lahiri "chews" everything here, so that the reader only is left to swallow, no secrets between the lines here. Those readers who love to think on the book will be disappointed.

As to the historical material which the book is based on, in particular, the Naxalite movement, there Lahiri failed. Into her lyrical prose Lahiri unceremoniously shoved pieces of historical material, not even bothering to edit them. Copy-paste does yet decorate no novel.

The author has the potential, but somehow it smeared – on the lowland.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dark Times in the City

Gene Kerrigan
Dark Times in the City

Vintage UK, 2010

Danny Callaghan is just drinking in the pub owned by his friend and employer Novak, when two thugs wearing helmets burst in there with the intention to shoot a stool pigeon. knew Danny in prison and asks him for help. Thugs loiter, Danny knocks one of them down and saves the squealer.

Prior to this incident, Danny led quite peaceful and regular life for seven months. After a 12-year sentence for a manslaughter Danny works as a driver for his friend Novak, driving for managers and businessmen.

Danny’s intervention jeopardized plans of a Dublin crime boss Lar Mackendrik. Now Danny regrets that he didn’t let this stool pigeon die.

The novel’s plot tells about those dark times from the title: in the course of reading we learn that a young gang plans to take over and take control of all the illegal ways of making money in Dublin. This plot holds out interest only until such time as Kerrigan feeds us omissions and scraps of plans of the Mackendrik gang to confront young and ruthless thugs. Once Kerrigan moves from theory to practice, interest in reading fades. The corpses fall to the pavement, guts spilled, people burying alive, but in the plot’s turmoil the characters in the story lose all their humanity. It is becoming apparent that Kerrigan is not so good a storyteller: the characters begin to behave against logic, and point of view changes too often.

The first half of the novel, mostly dedicated to Danny's life after prison, is leaner and stronger than the second half. In a realistic manner Kerrigan describes life of an ex-con who, being free, not especially struggle: Danny does not plan to return to prison, and the fate of a simple driver doesn’t burden him. The reader's sympathies are definitely on the side of Callaghan, especially after the author will tell about how Danny had killed a man, what kind of man he was.

Dark Times in the City, despite all its flaws, delivers a lot of fun - but only in the first half.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mrs. Poe

Lynn Cullen
Mrs. Poe

Gallery Books, 2013

New York, 1845. Frances Osgood is a known in narrow circles poetess and mother of two children. Her husband, Samuel, a portrait painter and a womanizer, left her with debts, and went to Europe to work on portraits of rich ladies, whom he invariably sleeps with. Just as he once seduced Frances, writing her portrait. Samuel had good money painting, but he squandered the money until his escape. His wife and children turned out on the street, and the Bartletts, family friends, let Franes live under their roof.

Now Frances, who wrote poems for children to make a living, is alone. Her cheerful poetry does not find a way into magazines, editors need darkness and hopelessness, something in the style of Edgar Allan Poe. "The Raven" at the time became the most discussed poem and received fame and money. His poems are reprinted in newspapers and magazines, editors ask for something new, and Poe gives lectures, criticizing other poets, as well as working in the magazine.

When Poe, who not so long ago moved with his wife to New York, appears on one of the readings, friends of the family invite Frances to a meeting with the poet. Never smiling and dark, Poe suddenly speaks highly of Frances’ poetry and makes it an enjoyable experience.

Frances wants to get to know Poe better to gain from him inspiration and efficiency. Poe sends his poems to Francis because he values her opinion of him as a poet. The protagonist finds his poetry disturbing, but pretends that she likes it. This is followed by an immediate invitation to the home of the Poes. The poet lives in the house with his sick wife Virginia, she is also his cousin, whom he married when she was only 13 years old, and her mother Mrs. Clemm. Gradually, Poe and Frances become friends, gradually friendship passing into flirtation. Friends of Frances warn her that she better not associate with the poet, it will not lead to no good.

Mrs. Poe, historical and mystical romance, is primarily interesting not because of its mysticism or melodrama, but because of history. The book reads like a fine fictionalized biography of an averge poet of XIX century. Had Lynn Cullen invented this literary world or she actually studied the subject, is not so important. Each chapter of the novel reveals new details of the lives of poets, writers, editors and publishers. The publication of "The Crow" has a great influence on the literary process in mid-nineteenth century. Fights between poets occured at that time, the tabloids were eager to publish scandals and rumors, and it was not easy to survive on literary work - almost nothing has changed. The changes are only that newspaper stopped publishing poetry, and poetry became a hobby, semi-professional activity that does not produce money, top.

The figure of Edgar Allan Poe in the novel is covered by fog: the novel is written from the point of view of Frances Osgood, and what happens in the mind and heart of the poet will remain a mystery. Mrs. Poe, the poet's wife, an uncreative person, is revealed better in the book. We see her in a relationship with her husband and with Frances.

Romance in the novel is quite sparse: Frances more than half of the book can not decide whether she wants to be with Poe or not, largely because she is highly moral person. She does not want to cause harm Mrs. Poe, and she does not want to plunge into trouble if her affair with Poe becomes known to her husband. Poems that poets write to each other is also quite innocent, it is hardly even love poems. Anyway Frances is a woman too cautious to ensure that it could erupt any passion.

The presence of Poe promises mysticism, but three separate episodes is hardly a mysticism. Cullen leads us to suspect Mrs. Poe to the atrocities against the protagonist, but by and large these attempts to break Frances away from Poe are quite commonplace, and certainly you can not believe in their otherworldly origins.

Despite the shortcomings, Mrs. Poe is good fiction, written with knowledge of the details. Cullen writes easily, with a touch of stylization in the language. In general, the novel can be described by a scene out of it when Osgood comes to the publisher and offers him her poems about flowers. Publisher says that he needs no literary tricks, and that catchy stuff is what is being sold. And Mrs. Poe is difficult to call the height of literature, but as a commercial fiction this book is above average.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

& Sons

David Gilbert
& Sons

Random House, 2013

The sons in the title of the novel are the children of the fictional writer A.N. Dyer, who has, in the novel, the status of Salinger. His debut «Ampersand», the same ampersand from the title, since its publication has sold more than 45 million copies, and Dyer for the rest of his life has been trying to write something that can outdo the success of the debut (tried but failed). Dyer has become a hermit, ceasing to talk to the media and even his own children.

The three children are two from his wife Isabella, and the third, the youngest, illegitimate, whose appearance destroyed the family of the writer. The eldest son, 45-year-old Richard, is a Hollywood screenwriter and former drug addict. The middle son - Jamie – is four years younger than Richard. He is more comfortable with the father. The youngest, 17-year-old Andy, is a consequence of a short affair between Dyer Sr. with the young Swede (Dyer was 62 at the time of birth of Andy). After the birth the mother died and the father had adopted his son. The wife almost immediately left the writer, later married a second time. Now, Andy attends to the same college, where his father and brothers did, and also writes fiction.

Father and sons get together for the first time after many years at the request of the father. The novel opens with the Dyer’s closest friend 's funeral - Charles Topping, a lawyer and a prototype of many heroes of Dyer’s novels. After speaking at the funeral of the friend (and the funeral gathered a lot of people just because of the fact that everyone knew that Dyer would be present). Having a feeling that the time has come to make peace with the whole family and make an important speech, Dyer invites the family come to New York.

Dyer invites to live with him a while the son of the dead friend (and Jamie’s college classmate) Philip Topping, the narrator of this story.

David Gilbert tried to write the Great American Novel. Theme of fathers and sons (a nod to Turgenev and Dostoevsky), a great reclusive writer, broken families, the power of literature - all the signs of a big novel are evident. This is a novel about writers, but is it for readers?

Gilbert writes baroque, with a flourish, sometimes rambling. No wonder I mentioned Dostoevsky: Gilbert simply can write a three-page sentence, just like the Russian classic did. Narrator Philip Topping, it seems, did not succeed as a writer because of that, he can’t say a word without overcomplications. One can cite as an example many scenes, when Gilbert begins some scene that branches and branches, as long as it becomes hard to remember what this was about. Emotional intensity of a scene disappears, and it remains only kind of praise Gilbert-stylist (“son of a gun can write!”) but chide Gilbert-narrator. Gilbert fills up his novel with fragments of Dyer’s novels, letters, drafts, but in all of this it is unlikely to see the talent of Dyer- writer. And these fragments obviously slow down the novel’s plot.

Gilbert tried to write a satire - on Hollywood, the literary scene, great writers, and & Sons does have a few funny scenes, but it will not make you laugh out loud. There are only two really funny and witty scenes here. The first scene is the interview of Richard in Hollywood with producer and actor, the second one is about Andy and his nephew Emmett search in a park for a seller of hot dogs, which for some reason is not on his usual place. These scenes have it all: originality, poignancy, subtle humor, lively dialogues - baroque style does them no harm.

But the key scene, the main twist of the novel, is frankly baffling. Dyer-writer gathered the whole family to make a confession, but the confession was nonsense, and the consequences of the confession is quite doubtful. Of course, the sci-fi twist can be attributed to the satirical device, narrator’s cruel joke, so be it. But why then so much noise, if this confession later led to nothing? Sons reacted poorly to the revelation of the father, and in the novel there was no shift, which could be hoped for. Even the final death has low impact.

& Sons looks smarter than it actually is. Too much to cram into it, and too much that leads nowhere. Gilbert had to either cut his novel 200 pages or to expand on the same 200 to complete all that was started and abandoned.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Shining Girls

Lauren Beukes
The Shining Girls

Mulholland Books, 2013

Summer of 1974. A serial killer who travels through time, Harper Curtis, gives an orange toy pony to a girl playing outside her house. Th girl's name is Kirby, and many years later, Harper will trt to kill Kirby, but she will survive.

Curtis has the opportunity to travel back and forth in time by accident. In 1929, he accidentally found the house of a gambler, Pole by birth. The Pole house was House - a place that bloodthirsty and making its inhabitants dependent. The House holds its owner as sort of hostage, making to kill and opening the door to the future and the past. Harper kills the Pole and makes House his refuge. There, in the House, Harper will keep his victims’ things, as well as record their names. The mechanism of movement over time is not explained, but Harper understands that he can not travel before 1929 and past 1993. In his victims the killer chooses the Shining girls from the title of the novel - a talented, capable, bright young women. Maniac acts on the round system: he always meets his future victim, when she is still a child , and then kills her as a grown woman, leaving at the victim’s body some artifact from the future.

The only surviving victim of the attacks is Kirby, who lives with her mother. Kirby attempted murder is committed when the girl walks her dog in the rain. Harper would have killed the girl if it were not the dog, which attacked the killer and received a knife in its neck. Wounded Kirby with the dead dog on her arms barely escapes from the forest to the road, where she was transported to the hospital.

After rehabilitation, Kirby chooses to study the journalism, and makes the purpose of her life the capture of a maniac. Lacking funds, Kirby can not hire a private detective, so she becomes an amateur sleuth herself. She takes an intern place in the Chicago newspaper Chicago Sun-Times, where her mentor is a sports columnist Dan, who worked for many years as a crime reporter and wrote about the attempt on Kirby.

In her third book Lauren Beukes mixes chrono SF with a detective story about a serial killer. The Shining Girls is named a thriller, only you barely find thrills here.

Science fiction amd mystery must work with each other and perform their functions. Time travel here is not explained. The House is a portal leading to a certain time period, one has only to select a particular time. The presence of House as certain accumulation of evil forces is intended to humanize the killer. Harper himself is not a cruel man, it is House that makes him kill. The serial killer’s past, too, is designed to alleviate the guilt from Harper: he is a veteran of the war, betrayed by his country, a gimp soldier. But a few strokes of the past is not enough to elicit sympathy for a ruthless killer. And because a good half of the book tells about the crimes of the murderer, the reader will have to spend half a book in the company of a disgusting character, cartoonish and flat.

Mystery element does not cause delight either. Chapters of the murders resemble each other, only the victim changes, but the essence is the same: the killer is playing with a child, and then in the future calmly killing the victim. Beukes forced to repeat herself after the third victim. Gradually it becomes clear that the chapters with the killings can be skipped, and nothing will be lost for the reader.

Against the background of faceless killer and his victims the heroine of the book, surviving victim Kirby is somewhat more deep character. Beukes made Kirby a punk girl, sarcastic person, with mutilated body and soul. But the scars on the soul and the body have not changed the life of the heroine too much. Kirby's body is fully functional, and if there was an emotional trauma, it is gone. Having survived the murderous attempt, barely survived, Kirby is surprisingly cheerful. The attempt does not seem to affect the life of the heroine, which is very unlikely. If you compare Kirby with the heroine of Gillian Flynn’s novel Dark Places Libby Day, which was the only surviving victim of the killer, who murdered the whole Libby’s family, it will seem like Kirby had not been stabbed by a maniac, but just fell off the bike.

Sometimes human features erupt in Kirby: in the very first scene of the novel she is a whimsical, rowdy child, and later, a sarcastic intern, Kirby takes her intern responsibilities lightly, slacking off work. But most of the time Kirby is just a type of the amateur detective, whom literature already has seen enough.

The whole team of researchers and assistants did not help revive Beukes time and place. Chicago from the novel is a set of stamps and names scattered through the text, so that the reader does not forget where things happen. And the time period 1930-1993 is a meaningless frame. The main part of the book takes place in the early nineties: the newspapers had not yet lost to the Internet, mobile phones have not replaced the landlines, DNA tests have not caught on to the police. But Byukes writes in language of the 90's, not 00s, and then slipping on the details. Kirby and Dan go to the concert of Naked Raygun in the middle of 1992. The band is called punk band, although at that time the band's style has changed from hardcore to power pop (and they did not play punk at all) , and in '92 the band broke up.

In the dialogue between Dan and Kirby, he says that a gangbanger killed one of the victims. But at that time the term "gangbanger" was rarely used, and when used, it’s definition was altogether different of today’s definition.

The Shining Girls is hardly a thriller. The novel is predictable from start to finish. What can the novel offer to chill the blood? Murders are similar to each other, and you know very well that they will happen and happen. Dan and Kirby will go to concerts, sports games, periodically review the dusty boxes of useless material. At the very least you'd expect a smart end. Alas, everything is based on the coincidence, and then completely reduced to the fist fight.

The Shining Girls neither shine nor warm.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Stephen King

Hard Case Crime, 2013

Student Devin Jones spends a summer working at an amusement park Joyland, located in North Carolina. In 1973, Disneyland has not yet gobble up all the other parks in America and become a monopolist, and organizers expect a steady flow of visitors. In addition to the old-timers are hired temporarily students – to do a dirty work. Devin will have to dance in the heat in a fur dog suit, scrape the vomit with seat rides, pick up trash, control a cart train, and he is ready for it all. Working in the park all day long helps the protagonist to forget his first love, who broke his heart. Description of the park everyday life is mixed with supernatural element: in the horror pavilion once a girl had been murdered. The killer was never found, although the police had even photos of the suspect taken by park workers. And some old-timers say that the ghost of the murdered girl sometimes shows up to children and adults in the horror pavilion.

Stephen King has written a short novel for the publishing house specializing in pulp classics. This novel is short only by King’s standards, it’s only 280 pages, but by the standards of paperbacks of 50s and 60s it’s 100 pages too long. Good two-thirds of the novel is devoted to the everyday life of the park, just in the spirit of King:

«I ride-jockeyed. I flashed the shys in the mornings-meaning I restocked them with prizes-and ran some of them in the afternoons. I untangled Devil Wagons by the dozen, learned how to fry dough without burning my fingers off, and worked on my pitch for the Carolina Spin. I danced and sang with the other greenies on the Wiggle-Waggle Village's Story Stage. Several times Fred Dean sent me to scratch the midway, a true sign of trust because it meant picking up the noon or five PM take from the various concessions. I made runs to Heaven's Bay or Wilmington when some piece of machinery broke down and stayed late on Wednesday nights-usually along with Tom, George Preston, and Ronnie Houston-to lube the Whirly Cups and a vicious, neck-snapping ride called the Zipper . Both of those babies drank oil the way camels drink water when they get to the next oasis. And, of course, I wore the fur.

In spite of all this, I wasn't sleeping for shit.»

With nostalgia in his voice, an elderly narrator recalls this summer in "Joyland", and then a fall, for Devin decided to postpone his admission to college. The abundance of details does not seem excessive, you can feel the era with your skin. In «Author's Note» King writes that «much of what I call" the Talk "doesn't exist» - carnival slang used in the novel was half-invented. But all these greenies, gazoonies, rubes, points, etc are not only organically woven into the text (you never uknow what was invented and what was not), but also will make you laugh. And if King removed the mystery element Joyland would become a normal production coming-of-age novel.

But King did not remove the mystery, though took it to the side, making the novel crooked to one side. Pulp writer would never allow himself to write this book: the thrills here are one on hundred pages, not enough. Only in the last 50 pages King seems to recall, and mystery element breaks through the surface. Though whodunnit here is so-so and puzzle is rough. King, alas, failed with a serial killer plot.
I was confused also with the author’s use of the grammar. Italian «Capisce» suddenly becomes «kapish», and the characters with accents on paper suddenly lose all apostrophes:

«When a guy does that, I notify em that they're foulin the line. The points? Never.» If consider the scene where mentioned the driver who ran down the child to death because he was on the phone while driving (in 1970, it is unlikely that the driver worked at law enforcement agencies), the editor deserves a reprimand.

King has not lost the talent, but there is little joy for the reader in this Joyland.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Half of Paradise

James Lee Burke

Half of Paradise

Hyperion, 2011 (ebook)
(originally published in 1965)

A part of Forgotten Books Friday

Three young men in Louisiana of early 60s are experiencing the difficulties of life and trying to find their place in life. Avery Broussard returned to his father's farm after work on oil wells. Father soon for debt was evicted, the farm was sold by auction, the father then dies immediately, and Avery instead of agriculture switches to the moonshine whiskey trade.

J.P. Winfield comes from the countryside to the city and spends the last five dollars to participate in the talent competition. A talented blues singer, Winfield gets a job at the club, and then even goes on a tour. Success comes to Winfield with addiction: first pills "for pleasure", and then cocaine under the tongue.

Black Toussaint Boudreaux worked as a longshoreman, moonlighting as a part-time boxer. His last fight ends with a victory, but the price of victory is a broken arm. Injury leads to loss of work (and part-time work), wandering, and then to a prison.

The debut novel by James Lee Burke's written in the not too widespread genre of "hard life of hard men". Hardships and difficulties stick to the three characters of the novel, which brings together youth, lack of education and poverty. Despite the "paradise" title , the novel tells of the circles of hell, whose name is Louisiana. Even when one of the characters starts to climb, do not assure yourself - he will drop even lower than he had been.

All three heroes, definitely clean and decent people, eventually break down. Reasons for this are drugs and alcohol, but these are external causes, the same major weakness of all three characters is their assertiveness. They rush forward not seeing that the abyss is under their feet.

Plot-wise Burke tightly packed in his novel several sub-genres: prose of the South changes to the prison novel, then to out-of-prison novel, and then to the confession of cocaine user. The central part of the novel takes place in prison: in labor camp Broussard and Boudreaux will meet. I can quote prison dialogues for hours:

"This tastes like Evans washed his socks in it," he said.

"Drink it or go dry," the trusty said.

"Fuck you, ass kisser."

"Maybe you don't get no water the rest of the day," the trusty said.

"And maybe you'll get your fucking throat slit while you're asleep," Billy Jo said.

The trusty put the lid back on the barrel. "That's all your drinking water for today."

"Let me have a drink. I'm like cotton inside, "Daddy Claxton said. ...

"You'll have the runs for a week," Billy Jo said.

"His tongue won't be blistering by one o'clock," the trusty said.

"Screw you, punk."

The dipper was passed around the gang. The trusty replaced it and the lid when they had finished.

"There's a freshwater spring over in them trees," he said. "I'm going over directly and have a drink."

"You mean there's clean water over yonder?" Jeffry said.

"It's coming right out of some rocks."

"Go fill up the water barrel. We'll pay you for it, "he said.

"What with?"

"I got three bucks hid in the barracks."

"That ain't enough."

"The sonofabitch is riding you," Billy Jo said. "Don't pay him no mind."

"It's coming out of some rocks with moss on them. '

"I believe him," Jeffry said. "This is hill country There's always springs where there's hills."

"You're in barracks two, ain't you?" Billy Jo said to the trusty. "Well, I got buddies in there, so you better forget about sleeping for the next few nights unless you want to get operated on. It takes one swipe with a knife and your whoring days are over. Now get the fuck out of here, punk. "

"It's a long day without no water," the trusty said and lifted the barrel and moved down the ditch.

Half of Paradise makes us to remember of what used to be old school prison and novels about them: no gangbangers, no Mexican gangs, no Aryans.

Burke is a confident narrator for a debutant, and it is sad that he sometimes missteps. The novel is written in the third person, but such that almost the first. The reader knows only what the character knows. But Burke sometimes adds a few sentences of what the character can not know: dialogues of the secondary characters, when the main character is already out of the room, or the actions of the characters when the main character is blindfolded.

The title of the novel could be interpreted in the sense that for a novel as this you can give a half of paradise.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Salinger Contract

Adam Langer
The Salinger Contract

Open Road Media, 2013

The Salinger Contract is a novel within the novel, written by Adam Langer the character. Langer the character is the author of a book of memoirs in the form of a novel about the search for his father, whom Adam had never seen. Adam and his wife Sabina lived in New York, where Adam worked in a literary magazine. But with the arrive of hard times for literary magazines, publishing houses and the economy in general, Adam and his wife and their two daughters left New York City and moved to a small town of Bloomington, Indiana, where the wife of Adam gets a teaching position in the University, and Adam is staying home with the kids and thinking on his second book.

While working at the magazine, Adam wrote small essays on writers he met and interviewed. So Adam had once met the author of thrillers Conner Joyce. Joyce then was very popular with his series about a supercop. Joyce said to Langer in an interview that he was always attracted to the writers, hiding themselves from the public - Salinger, Dudek, Pynchon, and others. In his youth, he even wrote letters to all these hermits, but never received a response.

And six years after the interview Adam accidentally stumbles in a bookstore to an invitation to a meeting with the writer Joyce, who has a new book coming out. Adam comes to a meeting, where, in addition to him, only ten people come to see the writer. After reading Adam and Connor go to a bar where they drinks and discuss the old days. Conner complaines that his writing career, apparently, is coming to an end. His novels can no longer find a reader, and he does not know what to do in the future. Adam after meeting with Conner drives to the hotel and thinks that now he will not see Joyce a few more years. But the next evening, Conner calls Adam, which promises to call back, but doesn’t catch Joyce at the hotel. After a while, Conner again calls and asks for a meeting. They meet in a small hotel near Chicago.

Joyce promises Adam to tell every incredible thing that has happened since their last meeting. Joyce convinced that only Adam could believe his story.

If one calls The Salinger Contract a literary mystery, it will reveal the essence of the novel only for 15 percent. Langer’s novel is more complexed and does not fit into the genre framework. It is literaturocentric, yes, but it is a novel about writers, with accessible style, not opressing wih academicism or a meticulous analysis of, for example, a Chinese poem of VII century. It is not necessary to be an expert on Salinger and Mailer or be a collector of first editions to get an indescribable pleasure from reading this book.

About The Salinger Contract would be true to say that this is a novel-fiddle, nimble, equivocate, sham, and a novel-needle, sharp, piercing with its poignant satire on the world of writers, publishers and readers. The real Adam Langer through Adam Langer the narrator tells the amazing story, often giving the word to Conner Joyce. The book turns to the reader that side and this side and presents a fair amount of surprises that you never know what's what. It's no wonder, since the novel is, in fact, about the two liars – and what is a writer, if not a teller of lies? And this is the case when you let to feed yourself a line, because the writer so excitingly tells nonsense, which is incredibly hard to believe.

The book collector Dex says that he likes writers who are attentive to detail, making the book believable. Joyce, in Dex’s opinion, always tried to make his best novels believable. Langer is also from this category of writers. He fascinatingly tells about the publishing kitchen, about the literary life of the city (and small town’s as well), the pain of the writer, and everywhere Langer throws plausible details. The Salinger Contract is also pretty sharp satire on the current state of things in the literary world, so some places may be an exaggeration or distortion, but even in this case you won’t find anywhere fake notes.

The book is generally relevant, however, to a greater extent for the Americans. There is a full-time dad, blogs making fun of professors and HBO pilots, and the popularity of eBook devices, and a university scandal, and all this at the same time is real life and also a parody on a modern American life (largely because of this the book is pretty funny).

Langer in his book laughed at the writer and the reader, but also managed to ask serious questions - about the fate of writers, parental responsibility, the importance of literature.

I will finish this with one word: must-read.