One Bite at a Time




Sunday, October 28, 2012

Slaughter’s Hound, by Declan Burke

Slaughter’s Hound, Declan Burke’s follow-up to 2004’s Eightball Boogie, picks up after Harry Rigby has been released from detention for killing his brother. Not prison, exactly. Much of Harry’s time was spent in mental institutions, which seems like easy time to many of his new associates, who wonder what he did to cop such a sweet deal.

No longer a PI, Harry drives a cab and does assorted semi-legal errands. While delivering a few bags of grass to his friend Finn Hamilton, Harry is shocked to see…

That’s as far as I go. Burke doesn’t tease. The inciting incident of the story is right there in the opening scene. You’d hate me later for spoiling it now. Anything I’d write telling you what happened would deny you some of the pleasure of reading the book’s superior description.

Burke is a literary chameleon, moving between types of stories and styles with apparent ease. In Eightball Boogie, he sometimes tried too hard and often for the clever simile, creating a somewhat uneven effect, given the darkness of the story at heart. Since then he’s published an Elmore Leonard-esque free-for-all (The Big O) and a daring bit of meta-fiction (the award-winning Absolute Zero Cool), both of which showed different aspects of the sureness his writing displays in Slaughter’s Hound. (Much of his “free” time between novels was taken up with editing two essential additions to the critical literature about crime fiction, 2011’s Down These Green Streets, and the recently released Books To Die For.)

The writing in Slaughter’s Hound is dead-on and perfect for the situation. Burke is able to capture the occasional absurdity of Rigby’s early situation and inexorably ratchet up the tension to the darkness that captures the end of the book. It’s done so transparently you’ll not quite notice the darkening of the prose until a key incident halfway through tells you there won’t be much fun from here on. (I’m not going to tell you what that is, either. Deal.)

Burke’s style is a seamless blend of Raymond Chandler and Ray Banks, filtered through the sensibilities of the author. Rigby has a little of the knight errant qualities of Philip Marlowe—updated to the 21st Century—blended with any number of Banks’s tragic anti-heroes, creating a character you’ll root for to the end, even though his means will make you want to turn away at times.

Slaughter’s Hound is not for everyone. Rigby’s actions become progressively more violent until gruesome is not too strong a word. It’s a risk worth taking for those who like their crime fiction to look at the effects of a story’s events on both the doer and those who have been done. Slaughter’s Hound is Burke’s most viscerally affecting book, and makes one look forward to see in which direction he’ll go next.

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