RARA-AVIS: Bill's Definition, last of Helm, F Brown, Ellroy show

Sun, 28 Feb 1999 22:50:40 EST Bill's definition looks pretty good to me. Taxonomy can only go so far, I

Today is the last on Helm books, so here goes (semi spoiler at end of
paragraph). Helm grew on me a lot as I progressed. I started with Silencers
and nearly didn't continue. I then went to Death of a Citizen--probably the
best of the ones, I read--then Wrecking Crew, then Murderers' Row. I like the
stark southwest settings the best. I kept thinking that the Sweden of
Wrecking Crew should seem more exotic. Helm is a compelling fantasy; we all
have a secret agent inside us who might be our real self. Helm's down-to-
earthness makes this possible (as compared to the movie Bond, who, for
instance, "took two firsts in Oriental languages at Cambridge"); on the other
hand, Helm's colloquial stance occasionally interrupts the novels. For
instance, in several books, he reaches for a description, then says "or
whatever it's called" (in reference to clothing or physics); in these moments,
Hamilton's quick composition seems to call intrusive attention to itself.
Another point: for cold war novels, there seems to be little politics. The
bad guys we get close to are motivated by revenge, Swedish nationalism, and so
forth--no talk about the working class. I found myself attracted to Helm's
unsentimental brutality (as dictated by the job)--thus he kills when it's
easier than restraining, shoots the injured and unarmed, tortures to death,
and so forth. However, if Helm were hard-boiled to the core, he would've
killed the Dr. and his daughter (in Murderers' Row) without hesitation--that
would've been some book, but then maybe readers wouldn't've come back for
number 6.

I also just read Fredric Brown's His Name was Death. Clever, but a little
unsatisfying in the end. Readers often note that books have gotten padded and
they should be short. This short Brown novel from the 1950s reads like it
should've been a long short story. Long descriptions help build tension, but
they often seem nearly tedious.

I caught the James Ellroy show, which came to town Friday night. He read from
Crime Wave. He was all I expected--no more or less, based on what others have
reported on this list. What was interesting was how much of what he had to
say was verbatim to what was reported here--he is very energetic, but "on
message," and not too spontaneous. For instance, of blurbs, he said to the
word what was said here, that he owes a lot of editors favors, and his blurbs
should be taken with a grain of salt. It was interesting to hear him savage
Clinton (think of Clinton as a character on Buzz Meeks' radar). As things
veered into politics, and because of Ellroy's large, moustached presence, I
couldn't help thinking of Minnesota's new governor.

Thunder comes. I'm off.

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