Monday, February 16, 2009

Crime: Three for Three?

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that it's my habit to go to the library or bookstore, borrow or buy a big pile of crime novels, then come home and be really disappointed. This time I worked at it, choosing one known element, one with a good hook (photography) and one that just looked weird. And go figure, they're all good.

T. Jefferson Parker, L.A. Outlaws. Parker's pretty much a conventional American crime novelist, but is among the best of that bunch. He doesn't get too arty or ambitious, but he has some interesting ideas, his writing is never awful and is sometimes excellent, and his characters are very memorable. This new book has three great characters--a wildly implausible girl bandit and folk hero who is an elementary school teacher by day; a contemplative, self-possessed cop and Iraq war vet; and a machete-wielding villain. They make a strange triangle: the cop alternately trying to catch the bandit and falling in love with her, the bandit and the cop trying to catch the villain, and the villain trying to kill everyone. The cop will be in Parker's next novel, too, which pleases me. I like the cut of his jib.

Elizabeth Hand, Generation Loss. This is a highly entertaining quasi-literaruy outing that turns into a semi-run-of-the-mill thriller by the end, with a firey conclusion you will roll your eyes at, and a killer who you knew it was all along. But the protagonist is a washed-up punk rock photographer who is sent to interview a washed-up reculsive art photographer, and photography is not merely window dressing here, but a vital and well-researched element that is integral to the plot and characters. Hand makes the usual accoutrements of noir, like alcoholism, drug abuse, and dark thoughts, seem fresh, as well. A blast.

Thomas Glavinic, Night Work. This translation (from German) is not a crime novel, and I'm not sure why The Bookery thought it was. But that's where I found it. The setup: Jonas, a man in his thirties, wakes up one morning and every human being and animal on earth is gone without a trace. I have to admit I'm only halfway through, but so far he's still alone, yet the book is not only fascinating, but one of the scariest fucking things I have ever read. Jonas's solitude drives him to enter a state that is half sleepwalking, half hyperaware, and minute details take on enormous weight. One scene, where he videotapes himself sleeping, then watches the tape to find "The Sleeper" staring at the camera, his eyes wide open, gave me nightmares. A bit reminiscent of my favorite book of last year, Tom McCarthy's Remainder. The writing is austere and serious without sacrificing its sense of ironic humor. If it loses me before the end, I'll let you know.

EDIT: OK, I finished this last night, and I must say, I think this novel is incredible, maybe a masterpiece. And it definitely doesn't belong in the crim section. It's absolutely unflinching, incredibly depressing, and yet I find it strangely life-affirming. Somebody quick translate the rest of his stuff...

3 comments:

Zachary Cole said...

Hmm. "Generation Loss" has been on my shelf for months now, but I've never gotten around to it. At first, I tried to justify my avoidance by using the "folks from 'away' writing about my state always muck it up" argument, but that doesn't hold up; I've read some of her stories, and dug her style. Maybe now's the time...

Matt said...

"Night Work" sounds interesting. I will keep my eye open for it next time I'm browsing the bookstores.

No Radio said...

This is probably a given, but if you haven't read it, Homeboy by Seth Morgan has always been one of my favorites and you can almost always find a used copy.