RARA-AVIS: The Big Bite

From: Jeff Vorzimmer ( jvorzimmer@austin.rr.com)
Date: 11 Oct 2006

I'll have to call this my Indian Summer of Charles Williams. After taking some time off to read some Donald Hamilton and Jason's new book, I fell off the wagon and back on Charles Williams like a bad habit. I know the day is coming soon when I won't have any more Charles Williams to read and I hope to God I'll find another writer I like as well (I've read almost all of Thompson and Goodis).

The good news is that I couldn't have picked a better book of his to read. I would say The Big Bite is Williams' best novel and I've now read the majority of them. I was hooked from the very beginning. Good harboiled wise-cracking dialogue, the femme fatale--it's all there. If you read and liked Hell Hath No Fury, A Touch of Death and Nothing in Her Way, this one is a must.

I would go so far as to say it's the best hardboiled crime book I've ever read. It's perfect in every way, not a single misstep. You might even call it the definitive hardboiled book. I liked it so much that I spent some time thinking about the elements that went into the making of the perfect book in this genre. This is what I came up with:

1. Tough wise-cracking dialogue 2. An unsympathetic protagonist (who you none-the-less identify with) 3. A femme fatale 4. Sexual tension 5. Ironic plot twists 6. A tough brutal thug (the nemesis of the main character) 7. A sense though out that all the characters are doomed

The Big Bite has all these elements in spades. It's what has made Williams my favorite author. In Hardboiled America Geoffrey O'Brien said it was his best novel and I know many of you concur or think that it's at least one of his best novels (it's hard to choose among the many great novels he wrote). It was Jason Starr's suggestion for a Hard Case Crime title. I agree with everything that's been said about the novel. Here are some samples of the dialogue:

"Say a hundred grand." Split seventy-five, twenty-five."
"Seventy-five for me?" He shook his head with a kind of pained expression on his face.
"Seventy-five for me, chum."
"Back off and look again," I said. "The wind's whistling through your head."
"How's that?"
"Who got run over that night? You, or me?"

"Is blackmail a new field for you?
"Maiden voyage."
"I must say you have a masterly grasp of its intricacies, for a beginner."
"Thank you. I like your legs."
"You don't have any trouble with the moral aspects?"
"Why should I? I'm just a press agent in reverse. You're paying me to keep you off the front page." The brown eyes met mine probingly. "Never mind the comic rationalization. It doesn't bother you in the slightest, does it?
"No. I'm a bastard. I admit it."
"Frank, to say the least."
"Look it's a jungle. They throw you into it naked, and sixty years later they carry you off in a box. You just do the best you can." She smiled a little mockingly. "Ah. The beginnings of thought. You're a nihilist."
"That's out of style," I said. "Nobody's been one for years."
"You are surprising. I didn't think you knew what it meant."
"Duh," I said. "I saw it in a comic book."

I guess that's enough to say about one book. Jeff

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 12 Oct 2006 EDT