RARA-AVIS: Recent reads (5)

From: Karin Montin (kmontin@sympatico.ca)
Date: 06 Jun 2009

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    I don't think I've posted about The Follower, Jason Starr's almost latest. I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy from him, but that did not prejudice me in favour--I've been predisposed to like anything he's written ever since the first one I read about five years ago. Once again, he gives us an inside look at a seriously deluded character, a guy stalking a girl he knew from high school. Some chapters are from her point of view, and just as convincing. It's got a trademark Starr ending--terrible, in the best way.

    I also read The Max, the third in the Starr-Bruen trilogy about crazy businessman Max Fisher and looking-out-for-number one Angela Petrakos. Max is doing time in Attica and Angela is in Greece, but don't worry, their stories converge. In this picaresque tale of murder and greed, Angela gets taken for a ride by a con man and the delusional Max has all the tough guys in prison at his beck and call. Not your nitty-gritty realism. The writing is lean and funny and the whole thing keeps running at a breakneck pace until the explosive ending. Could this be a trilogy in four parts? Minor quibble: It really bothered me that the British scammer, supposedly an Oxbridge man, used "Lordy" as his favourite expression. That just didn't ring true.

    I read The Wrong Kind of Blood, by Declan Hughes, which was mentioned here recently, by Brian T, I think. I liked it, but it took me a few weeks to get to the point where I didn't want to put it down--quite unusual for me. Maybe it was because real estate deals are not one of my interests. Ed Loy, who's been living in LA for years, returns home to Dublin for his mother's funeral. An old friend asks him to look for her missing husband, and other bodies old and new are discovered. Most of the key characters are involved one way or another in a golf course development and, rather in the tradition of Ross Macdonald, the threads of their stories go back to the housing estate where they grew up. Hughes reveals Loy's background and character gradually. I like his writing style and Loy very much. This is the first of three, possibly four so far in the Ed Loy series.

    Moving away from Ireland, I picked up The Russian Passenger, by GŁnter Ohnemus (trans. by John Brownjohn). It's from Bitter Lemon, which really seems to have a great list. I'd never heard of this author or title, but I liked it a lot. It's narrated by a Munich taxi driver (Harry) who picks up a Russian woman (Sonia) who wants to go to the airport. She's kind of nervous and seems to be afraid of being followed. She eventually tells him that she's making her escape from her mafioso husband. Instead of taking Sonia to the airport, Harry says he'll drive her to Luxembourg, where she has money in the bank. From then on, you know he's in the soup with her. Within hours he's had to kill someone. Then they're both on the run from one country to another. Along the way, they rely on Harry's old friends to help them, and they all come through. It's very interesting from a relationship point of view. Harry's separated from his wife and his daughter is dead. What is the connection between those two facts? What is the relationship now between Harry and his exwife and why? Some questions remain fuzzy but one thing that is certain is that old ties can bind tight--and that can mean salvation. This one was a real page-turner. The tone is very engaging and the English reads beautifully. I'd definitely read more by Ohnemus if I could get it. Oh, and the ending is definitely noir in my opinion.

    Now to the U.S.A. and Daniel Woodrell's Give Us a Kiss, subtitled A Country Noir. People on this list have been talking about this book for years, most recently without much enthusiasm, but formerly with a lot. I thought it was a great read. It moves right along and the narrator's language is a comfortable mix of "hillbilly" (his word) and literary. The narrator's background seems to match Woodrell's: born in the Ozarks, English degree, Iowa Writers' Workshop. The crime plot is obviously fictional. It's got a little bit in common with Chapter and Verse or The Hook, in that one of the themes is the lengths writers can go to in pursuing commercial success. The narrator feels it depends on his getting a "hook." It's humorous and the characters, although not terribly deep, are not just stereotypes. Overall, though, I wouldn't say it was noir. The ending is ironic, perhaps, but much more positive than you might guess. A lot of things that could go wrong don't. Incidentally, there is a scene near the beginning where our hero's father makes him go noodling in a creek. Noodling is catching fish
    (catfish, mainly) with your bare hands by getting in the water and feeling around in holes under the bank. (Something to do with being successful without a hook?) It's a funny scene, especially when the property owners call the police and he is almost arrested, naked and dripping wet. Strangely enough, about a week after that, I stumbled on a TV program devoted to--you guessed it--noodling competitions, "Okie noodling" to be precise.

    Karin Montin

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