16 November 2006

The cop who came in from the cold

[this is an overview
of some more-or-less-recent thrillers
with special attention to
Michael Connelly
Colin Harrison
and Charles McCarry]

the very best novels
immediately establish themselves
as '10's
on a new scale
with no 9s or 8s in sight
and where even a 7
is cause for celebration

eg Pynchon's Lot 49
finds an unexpected 7 in
Alan Furst's silly "Paris Drop"

but Robert Stone's "Dog Soldiers"
arguably The Great American Novel
had barely found its first 6
(Lynn Kostoff's "Choice of Nightmares")
until Colin Harrison's "Afterburn"

Stone's special gift
is to sink his teeth, deep
into the heart of american darkness
so we desperately need
more like him

Harrison's first three works
are all admirable
but Afterburn is a quantum leap
out-Spiking Elmore Leonard

(Leonard has pwned
a scale of his own
in the shadow of
early George V Higgins

Ed McBain sometimes
hits an 8 there
despite generally disgraceful padding)

Harrison's plotting
has quickly caught up
to his always poetic prose

("Manhattan Nocturne"
was a perverse anti-noir
with less plot in the first 150 pages
than in Chandler's average chapter)

Harrison also has a weird obsession
with porn-star sexual athletics
where pounding your genitals raw
is supposed to equate to transcendence

this idiosyncracy is interestingly mirrored
in McCarry's extraordinary "Lucky Bastard"

effectively the backstory to Klein's "Primary Colors"
told from the point of view
of the Clintons' KGB handlers

the best part is a KGB school
called 'Swallows'
where agents are trained in
sex as a martial art

like Harrison
McCarry argues unconvincingly
that technique can always trump emotion

but his re-invention of Hillary
as deadly sex goddess
is priceless

if leCarre's "Smiley's People"
establishes the 10
McCarry never gets past 6
in the other works i've read
often bogging down
in gag-me-with-a-silver-spoon
aristocratic luxury-porn

the NYT blurb for Michael Connelly's
recent "The Closers"
claims he's reinvented the police procedural

and i'm inclined to agree

the dominant, exhausted cliche
has been the taunting genius serial killer
and more recently
the triple-twist ending
where the villain is revealed
as one of the investigative team
(Jeffery Deaver
i'm pointing at you)

Connelly has emerged from these traps
in his latest Harry Bosch episode
where this classic noir outsider cop
finally comes in from the cold

hammering us
from the first chapter
with the sort of
tenderness normally quarantined
in the next-to-last-chapter
then reburied
in the last

and instead of jumpstarting
tired emotions with exotic crimes
Connelly turns things inside out
building a tiny forgotten murder
into a cosmic ethical battleground

compacted into a single week
of minute-by-minute minutia
(Connelly is
master craftsman
for capturing character in the way
one holds a coffee cup)

there are enough spoilers
in each Bosch episode
that serious thriller-fans
should try to read them in order

but each stands fine alone

Connelly's recent "The Lincoln Lawyer"
is a non-Bosch legal procedural
full of topnotch tradecraft
but almost too realistic
in its anticlimactic ending

and i must't omit Michael Gruber
aka Robert K Tanenbaum
whose Butch Karp series
hits consistent literary highs

(my addams family post
unconsciously plagiarised his early
"Immoral Certainties")