Tuesday, July 5, 2016

June's Best Reads

Went back to some old reliable authors in June and they came through for me, as usual.

L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy. The weakest of the three LA Quartet novels I’ve read so far, but still wonderful stuff. Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson did yeomen’s work converting this sprawling magnificent mess of a book into a lean, satisfying, and damn near perfect movie. The book shows the continued evolution of Ellroy’s style: using snippets of police reports and newspaper articles to show the passage of time, increasingly percussive sentences, and three-dimensional plotting as everyone schemes around everyone else. That’s where the problem arises: it’s too much. Credulity is strained and the ending is so complicated Ellroy has no choice but to revert to the traditional mystery’s hoary convention of having characters standing around explaining what the hell just happened. And he has to have them do it twice. Read the book if you want to get off on the writing. See the movie for a better story.

The Whites, Richard Price. There’s nothing about Price’s writing that stands out, which is why I think he sometimes falls through the cracks in my reading. His style isn’t flashy like Ellroy’s. His characters aren’t as glib as Elmore Leonard’s. The dialog isn’t as transcript-ready as George Higgins’s. What Price does best is to do everything right. His books perfectly balance story and characterization, he knows exactly how much description to give, and you believe everything in them. The Whites isn’t as good as Clockers, but few books are.

Rain Dogs, Adrian McKinty. In his famous essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler wrote, “The fellow who can write you a vivid and colorful prose simply won’t be bothered with the coolie labor of breaking down unbreakable alibis.” Chandler never read Adrian McKinty. (Ray is excused. McKinty wasn’t born until nine years after Chandler died.) Volume Five of the Troubles Trilogy may be the best yet. Sean Duffy is still slogging away as the only Catholic cop in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland in the 80s and he continues to take his lumps. Not blessed with Sherlock Holmes’s brilliance, he’s a hard man in his own way, never afraid to push the buttons he thinks need pushing, but neither is he some Lethal Weapon renegade. Mostly he’s a guy in a consistently difficult position who is offended that people keep thinking they can put one over on him. Duffy plugs away until he gets at least some measure of satisfaction, if not always justice. 

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