Potted book reviews – part 1

Whilst in Thailand recently I did quite a lot of reading. Here are a few reviews of books that I hadn’t read previously.

Bordersnakes – James Crumley
Crumley’s novel brings together his two great private eyes, Milo Milodragovitch and CW Sughrue, in a complicated plot that marries two separate stories that see the detectives working together (Milodragovitch is pursuing a banker who has stolen his inheritance and Sughrue is trying to find out who shot him and why). However, most of their work seems to involve drinking heroic quantities of alcohol followed by chasers of almost industrial quantities of cocaine with a bit of sleuthing intermixed with the driving. The plot is almost secondary to the interplay of the characters and the beautifully textured layers of the writing. Crumley’s ability to evoke a sense of place is on a par with Chandler and Ross MacDonald and his dialogue is profane and razor-sharp. The plot is a bit scruffy, but when you can write as well as Crumley can and can sketch characters as finely wrought as Milodragovitch and Sughrue then that’s a minor concern. If you can hunt this one down (I think it’s out-of-print in the UK) then I heartily recommend it.

The Black Angel – Cornell Woolrich
Cornell Woolrich is an author who is considered one of the major exponents of the noir genre. Experts of the genre certainly consider him as important as Jim Thompson and David Goodis. Unlike these two authors, Woolrich seems to have fallen out of favour with the reading public. Much of his work is now out-of-print, so if you want one of his novels you’ll need to scour secondhand bookstores or an online bookstore. The Black Angel is one of those you’ll need to pick up secondhand. The plot involves a spurned wife discovering the corpse of her husband’s lover, whom she had planned to confront. She leaves the scene of the crime without telling the police and awaits the return of her husband. When her husband is charged with the woman’s murder she vows to find the murderer and clear his name, assisted by a list of names and a scrap of a matchbook she finds at the scene of the crime. She plunges into the seedier side of New York, amongst drunks, drug dealers and other criminal types, and leaves destruction in her wake. Woolrich is considered the master of suspense by his acolytes, but I honestly didn’t get him. He uses thirty words when only a few would suffice and some of his sentences are purple beyond belief. His plot has some logic holes that I could drive an 18-wheel truck through. Woolrich’s ability to get into the narrator’s head is well done and it’s certainly not without moments of incredible tension but, on the whole, I have to say that The Black Angel was not for me. I certainly won’t discount reading more Woolrich, but I have put his other books at the bottom of my current To Read pile.

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