RARA-AVIS: My Summer Reading List: BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD by Sean Chercover

From: Brian Thornton ( tieresias@worldnet.att.net)
Date: 19 Jul 2007

(I originally posted these sentiments over at DetecToday, so for those of you reading this here as well, please forgive the cross-post, although I did re-write portions of the post for Rara Avis)

I'd like to add my voice to those busy lavishing praise on BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD (awful title, foisted on him by his publisher), Sean Chercover's debut novel. Like Al Guthrie, Sean's a friend of mine, but I refuse to admit any bias whatsoever in praising his work. I've read plenty of stuff by people I like a lot that I wouldn't praise, because it doesn't merit it.

I hear a lot of windy disquisitions being bounced around lately about how this or that author is "changing the way we think about the PI novel", and I would like to point out that Ray Dudgeon reminds me of no one so much as Hammett's Continental Op. Not because he's short and pudgy, or because he's particularly smart, but because I read about Dudgeon and I think, "gritty, hardboiled, and achingly realistic." No psycho side-kicks. No arsenal of weapons (unless you count the wine bottle he uses in the book's first fight scene to brain an assailant who jumps him on his way to see his girl). No ninja skills. No extended, orchestrated, lovingly choregraphed ballets of violence, and when Dudgeon gets the crap kicked out of him, it *hurts* for longer than the length of the current chapter. This, folks, is a modern (or if you prefer, a truly "post-modern") turn on hard-boiled writing, right down to the core of its black, black heart.

So is Dudgeon 'revolutionary'? I think so, in that you can't spell 'counter-revolutionary' without 'revolutionary.' In his hang-dog fatalism, his individualism, his easy mixing (without truly "mixing") with mob guys, the cynical, sardonic, wise-cracking first person narrative, and his adherence to a personal code, Ray Dudgeon is as old school as Chuck Taylors and short shorts on a basketball court. In his ability to honor these conventions of the genre while presenting them to us as something believable, something credible, and not just so much by-the-numbers cliche, Sean Chercover combines the ability of a craftsman with the world weary lyricism of a Yeats.

You might not have heard it here first, but you did hear it: Sean Chercover is a comer.

All the Best-

Brian Thornton

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