RARA-AVIS: REVIEW: Eight-Ball Boogie by Declan Burke

From: Maddy Van ( maddyvh@comcast.net)
Date: 25 Nov 2004

Just finished Eight-Ball Boogie which is a first book by an Irish author, Declan Burke. It's right on the border of hardboiled and noir--see review below for what I mean by that.

It seems to me that there's a new crop of young noir writers in the UK putting out some really terrific stuff these days. Charlie Williams, David Bowker, Keith McCarthy, Chris Haslam, and now Declan Burke, and I'm sure others who I have not yet read.

EIGHT-BALL BOOGIE by Declan Burke Sitric/Lilliput Press/Dufour Editions November 20, 2004

Harry Rigby works as an investigator, the kind who looks for the bad stuff that's happening so that he can sell the story to a tabloid, or documents the naughty for a divorce case or searches for lost objects-definitely not a Sam Spade sort of PI. His newest client, David Conway, has an easy task for Harry to perform, which is to observe his wife, Helen, to see if she is having an affair. From this simple situation, a tangled web is woven involving both sides of the law in drug dealing, murder and political tomfoolery. The common element is that Harry is the convenient fall guy for almost everything that happens.

Harry's life has been teetering on the brink of disaster for quite some time, anyway. He's living with a woman who doesn't love him; they haven't had sex in 14 months and the future looks just as barren. His black-hearted brother, Gonzo, has just been released from jail. It's likely that Gonzo will slip a shank between his ribs when they have their welcome hug; he's just that kind of guy. The only bright light in Harry's world is his 4-year-old son, Ben; his love for Ben is the one thing that keeps him functioning in a world that gets uglier by the moment.

EIGHT-BALL BOOGIE is right on the line between hardboiled and noir. Gonzo is an irredeemable sociopath; he screwed the woman who was Harry's true love just because he knew it would hurt him. In spite of the gritty world at the center of this book and the fact that Harry manages to bring some new trade to the local funeral parlor, there is an air of nobility about him. The motivation for everything that he does is protection of his son. He has no self interest in mind; he is not after money, drugs or fame. He only wants to provide a secure place for Ben, and that leavens the darkness of the book with a sense of optimism.

The plot of the book was overly complicated and a bit hard to follow. At times, I found what was happening to the protagonist to be rather implausible, particularly the number of physical injuries he incurred almost without pause. Bullet in the guts? Ooch, ouch, off to the next adventure. But despite these weaknesses, this is a book I highly recommend, a very special book indeed. And that is because of the Burke's writing ability. He has a way of phrasing things that is unusual, sometimes humorous, sometimes touching, but always unique. For example:

"I ghosted back across the street, ducked into the alleyway. The snow had finally stopped falling, the frosty air causing the snow to harden, crunch underfoot. It was nearly as cold as the marble slab in my chest, the one someone was chiseling my name into, or maybe that was just my heart thumping. The ache in my side was a blunt knife grinding on stone. My stomach was churning eggs, and the ulcer was emitting the kind of high-pitched scream only musically inclined dogs can hear."

There were segments like this scattered throughout the book, and I found that although I was engaged by the plot and characters, I was more anticipating the next wonderful passage than anything else.

EIGHT-BALL BOOGIE is Declan Burke's first book. As time goes on, he'll achieve mastery around plot and characterization. But what he has already in spades is a great gift, the ability to use language in wonderful and innovative ways.

Maddy Van Hertbruggen Crime fiction reviewer for:
    - I Love a Mystery Newsletter: http://www.iloveamysterynewsletter.com/
    - Reviewing the Evidence: http://reviewingtheevidence.com/

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