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.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Back in the Saddle Again

Work on the next book finally began in earnest over the weekend. The working title is Resurrection Mall. It’s the third in the series that began last spring with Worst Enemies (available for Kindle and Nook), and will continue with Grind Joint (available from Stark House in the spring of 2014).

I drafted the first page Thursday, slept on it, then threw it all away and re-wrote it from scratch on Friday. The voice was wrong, but nothing a quick reading of the first four chapters of Grind Joint couldn’t fix. Two pages each day over the weekend got me back on my normal drafting schedule. (One page on work days, two pages on non-work days, Thanksgiving and Christmas off.)

Resurrection Mall picks up shortly after Grind Joint leaves off. A rising televangelist takes over an abandoned strip mall in the worst part of Penns River to convert it into his new tabernacle and studio, with small, religiously-themed business filling the rest of the space. “Not Razed, But Raised” is his catchphrase. Of course, things go terribly wrong. (Wouldn’t be much of a book if they didn’t, would it?)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Misteak by the Lkae

You didn’t really think a Pittsburgh boy could spend four days in Cleveland and not have anything to complain about, did you?

The first issue is partly my fault. I had driving directions from Google maps, but figured the hotel knows where it is, let’s use the directions on the web site. We got to a street where we thought we might need to turn, but street signs are rare as fat tweakers. The Beloved Spouse grabbed the attention of a passer by, who said, sure, this is the street she asked about. Within five minutes we were completely off the map I printed up that covered the area a mile in every direction from the hotel. No mean feat, since we realized on the way out we hadn’t been five blocks from the hotel when we got directed.

This directional thing was highlighted when we arrived at the hotel and learned there is no concierge; the Renaissance Hotel has a Navigator. Most hotels have a person who asks what you want; the Renaissance has someone to tell you where to go.

In the room, we opened the curtains to the anti-lake vista of an alley. Not just any alley, but the alley where the hotel parks its Dumpsters, as I learned at 5:45 Thursday morning. Beep-beep-beep-beep as the truck backs up to the Dumpster and I’m thinking, “Okay, I know how long this takes. There will be a crash and he’ll be gone in a minute.” Beep-beep-beep-beep. 5:50. Beep-beep. 6:00. Beep-beep-beep-beep. Now I’m up, looking out the window. The Dumpster is immediately below the window—which is why I didn’t notice it last night—and it appears to be stuck half way up the truck bed. Beep-beep-beep until 6:05 when it finally gets sorted out.

Friday morning, the Beloved Spouse turns on the TV for her Morning Joe fix, but the channels won’t change. The TV screen shows the remote signal gets through—the channel number appears on the screen—it just doesn’t go there. Even better, we can’t turn it off; there’s not even a button on the TV, it’s remote only. I should have unplugged the bastard, because that’s what the guy from maintenance did when he showed up almost an hour later. We spent more time watching ads for Ted than we did watching the movie when we saw it in the theater. I now her, “I should have asked for Teddy Ruxpin” in my sleep.

I’ll give the hotel credit for one thing: no one getting any swelled heads there. I’m sitting at the table in my first Bouchercon panel, feeling pretty good about myself, over a hundred people in the room, things are going well, and a roach the length of a quarter runs across the tablecloth in front of me. Kudos to moderator Sandra Parshall, who shooed the little vermin away without drawing much attention or flicking it into the first row. A female panelist a few hours later lacked Sandra’s aplomb, squealing like a mouse had crawled down her blouse when the little critter—or a cousin—crashed her panel.

So, no, I’ll not be detouring to Cleveland to stay at the Renaissance. (Though it does have the world’s greatest bartended, the only barkeep I’ve met in 56 years who knew what I wanted as soon as I nodded to him on entry.) The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Meh, but I’ve never been a rock and roll guy. (It doesn’t help that Dick Dale—King of the Surf Guitar—Tower of Power, and Tom Waits are not enshrined.) The row of restaurants of 6th Street was pretty cool.

What was very cool were the people. I’ve traveled quite a bit, to just about every corner of the country, to many places that pride themselves on their hospitality. I have never been treated nicer than I was by the people of Cleveland. From Eddie—waiter extraordinaire at the Hard Rock CafĂ©—to the hotel staff and the people at the Tower Deli, everyone we met was charming, good-natured, and genuinely helpful. (My favorite story was of a cop who gave a panelist a ride to a liquor store and offered to wait for her.) It took me a few days to figure out the deal. We were all wearing our conference badges, clearly from out of town.

They wanted us to take them with us.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Bouchercon Dance Card

Bouchercon is much more than three-and-a-half days of panels. It’s also three-and-a half days and nights in close proximity to sixteen hundred people who care passionately about something I care passionately about. I didn’t get to see everyone I’d hoped to, but those I saw made the trip memorable and have me looking forward to Albany next year. (Even though there is no host hotel. Whose idea was that?) I took notes to remember key elements of the panels; no artificial mnemonics were necessary for the people.

I’ve written flash fiction in less time than it has taken me to write this blog post; you’re reading Draft Four. Each story that comes to mind conjures up half a dozen more. Previous drafts read more like testimonials than appreciations of renewing acquaintances and making new friends. So, before I wrap myself any more tightly around the axle, I’d like to thank all of the following for making Cleveland a pleasure, even for a Pittsburgh boy:

Mike Dennis, Tim O’Mara. Anne Emery, Karen Dionne, Cindy Phillips, Jack Bludis, the sartorially indescribable Dan O’Shea (the sparkly window treatment he wore almost deserves its own mention), Chris Holm, and Robin and Keith Spano made each day a little more fun than the last.

Special thanks to Peter Rozovsky, Tim Hallinan, and John McFetridge for being so generous with their time and good company, proving there are no better, or more entertaining, people to spend time than those in the crime fiction community.

And, no offense to the others, the greatest thank you goes to The Beloved Spouse. She won’t be able to go every year, but having her there and seeing her joy at getting to meet people she’s only heard me talk about took my week to another level.

Here’s hoping everyone can get to Albany next year. Wherever we stay.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bouchercon 2013: The Panels

I intended to blog about Bouchercon as soon as I got back, but that whole “life is what happens while you’re making other plans” thing bit me in the ass and I’ve done no writing at all since returning on Monday. We spent an extra day visiting the ancestral home, things have been a zoo at work, I brought back a bad case of the Crud that has kept me less than fully ambulatory; really, it’s not my fault: 

The original plan was to spice up the comments with some pithy interjections, but the window has closed for that kind of frolic. Below are the main takeaways from the panels I attended. (Apologies in advance for unattributed comments. Most notes were hastily written, and I couldn’t always see who said what.)

Several Canadian authors had their books turned back at the border and were left with nothing to sign. Most likely due to sympathetic descriptions of socialized medicine and short prison sentences. (A later panel indicated the Canadian government has stopped shipments of maple syrup and back bacon in retaliation.)

Dana Haynes sometimes casts an actor as a character, then posts a picture of said actor where he can see it while he writes and will look at it when he’s stuck for what that character would do or say next.

The difference between “blond” and “blonde” is not adjective vs. noun, as I had thought; it’s gender. It’s just that men are rarely referred to as “blonds.” (Thanks to Peter Rozovsky, a beacon for the diminishing number of people who still care about such things.)

Everyone on the “What Would Rockford Do?” panel has their PIs to do things they’d like to do, but don’t. Such as throw an unruly rider off a bus. (This put my mind at ease, as that’s pretty much all my PI does.)

What makes PI stories work: “Everyone is corrupt. They have done something they don’t want to see in the papers.”

The panel spoke of the allure and danger of falling into Self-Destructive Guy Syndrome, where the hero is unable to sustain relationships with women and sometimes even routine friendships with men. None of them use particularly damaged heroes, but essentially normal guys with the same issues anyone might have, who are routinely faced with extraordinary circumstances.

Cops don’t always make the best PIs because they aren’t always sure how to react when someone tells them to take a hike and they don’t have a badge to back them up. Actors and accountants might be preferable, depending on the circumstances.
When writing a morally challenged hero, find the line he will not cross and see what it will take to get him to cross it.

A morally challenged hero has to have some redeeming feature the reader can hang his empathy on.

If the main character is a bad guy, there have to be worse guys in the story to make him at least relatively sympathetic.

Some morally challenged heroes see the situation with a clarity that allows them to cut through the BS. This is something a reader can admire at some level.

The weakness in the psycho ex machina sidekick (Reed Farrell Coleman’s term) is he removes the difficult moral choice from the protagonist.

The difference between noir and crime fiction: in noir, everyone is dirty. (Attributed to Dennis Lehane.)

“Bollocks” signifies something bad, but “the dog’s bollocks” is high praise, similar to “the bee’s knees.”

“Wanker” is an insult, but “right wanker” is not.

There were only a few hundred other things deserving of mention; time and space prohibit describing them all in the detail they deserve.

No discussion of the panels I attended would be complete without mention of moderator Sandra Parshall,  and co-panelists Erika Chase and Brenda Chapman, who made my first experience facing the audience not just a pleasure, but damned easy on my blood pressure. Many thanks, ladies.

In our next exciting installment, we’ll discuss the social elements of this year’s conference.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wild Bill and Worst Enemies on Sale for $0.99 Through October 10!

I am leaving for Bouchercon Tuesday around noon, with an overnight stopover at the ancestral home. To commemorate almost an entire week without bitching, whining, harping, carping, moaning, groaning, self-congratulatory, self-promoting, self-pleasuring blog posts—and to celebrate lucking into a panel (Friday at 11:30, be there to see living proof donkeys do, indeed, fly from time to time) both Wild Bill and Worst Enemies will be available for the discounted price of $0.99 through October 10 for both Kindle and Nook.

“How can he afford these prices?” you may wonder. “Is he the Crazy Eddie of e-books?” Maybe I am. Hustle on over to your favorite purveyor of e-books before I come to my senses. Remember, owning a $2.99 version of either book doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the hell out of a $0.99 cent copy.

See you next week with a full report.