Newgate C.'s Calendar

Karin Fossum, Bad Intentions.  When in European airports, I always pick up a Scandinavian thriller by an author new to me.  Bad Intentions is a great title and blurbed by Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter.  Rendell is a cue,  Intentions reminded me a little bit of some Rendell's creepy psychological novels like the magnificent Judgement in Stone.

Fossum’s prose is clean and evocative.  The setting, the crime, and the solution are humble yet unforgettable.  I’ll be reading more of Fossum.

John Sanford, Bad Blood.   Anybody with ties to Minnesota will enjoy Sandford’s pitch-perfect descriptions Midwestern farming, hunting, and dating.  He’s a bit over-blown and pulpy at times (a dose of Fossum is recommended) but I always keep turning the pages.  Even though his books are guaranteed best-sellers, Sanford has fun with the form and works hard for genuine surprises.

The central conceit recalls Lee Child’s Worth Dying For and Thomas Perry’s Death Benefits. Perhaps all three books would be more exciting if the crimes weren't super-sized.

James Ellroy, The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women.  The four Ellroys I can’t do without came in heart-stopping succession: The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, White Jazz, and American Tabloid define 1990's operatic noir.  While Ellroy has a big career these immortal books are too scary for anything but a rabidly devoted cult audience.

Hilliker Curse is his second tell-all memoir. I was disappointed in the first, My Dark Places, which also established the staccato style of The Cold Six Thousand. More recently Blood’s A Rover thankfully relaxed the extremity of style, although the second time through I felt that the emotional arc was too sentimental.  Earlier Ellroy heroes broke legs and lives before dying just as casually.  Now the leg-breaker’s hard-won redemptions hold the narrative focus for too long.

Hilliker Curse is also a bit overblown for my taste.  Still, he’ll always be the demon dog, and for Ellroy fans this latest installment of mixed-media insanity is essential.  True to his tell-all form, Ellroy recounts in detail how his main lovers have repeatedly called him on his epic, egomaniacal faults.  And some of his antics while courting the latest conquest are hilarious. The last (and, according to the book, final) woman was wooed when Ellroy grumpily acceded to his publisher’s demand to join Facebook.   Ellroy hated the network at first but then a long-standing crush friended him.  James Ellroy flirting on Facebook!  The world is indeed coming to an end.

Dennis Lehane, The Given Day.  The Boston Police Strike, The Molasses Disaster, the Flu Epidemic:  Such a panoply should inspire a great book, but Lehane's lead characters are standard issue and the twists predictable.  The only character that surprises is Babe Ruth, and Lehane's unflinching but loving examination of the slugger provides the book’s most memorable scenes.  If Babe had been placed on central stage (instead of being the sideshow) this book could have been a winner.

The Given Day is obviously indebted to E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, but Doctorow is stylized and “modern.”  More recently Iain Pears’ Stone’s Fall covered similar territory (albeit in England) but Pears' voice is consciously retro.  Either approach would work better for Lehane than this middle-of-the-road stuff.

I do admire Lehane’s politics, though, especially his framing of anti-terrorist law enforcement.  Just like now, back then "fighting terror" had less to do with safety than helping business interests protect their money.

10/27/2011

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