Potted reviews: Street 8 by Douglas Fairbairn and City Primeval by Elmore Leonard

Douglas Fairbairn wrote, in the form of Shoot, one of my all-time favourite crime novels (although it is ultimately much more than just a crime novel), so I had high hopes for Street 8, a noir set on the sun-bathed streets of Miami.

Bobby Mead, who runs an ailing used-car lot on Eighth Street, or as the latinos call it Calle Ocho, is given an offer he can’t refuse by Cuban gangsters/terrorists. They will give him a sum of money every month for the use of his garage, no questions asked, or they will kill him and his sixteen-year-old delinquent daughter. Mead takes the offer but realises that dealing with the devil comes with a price.

I wish I could say I enjoyed Street 8 but I didn’t. It has massive gaping flaws of logic. During the novel Mead has zero ambition or a particular will to live (something noted by several characters during the course of the novel) and mopes around for much of the narrative, only for him to quickly transmorph into a gringo Che Guevara by the end of the novel. Mead also has sex with his under-age daughter, which, whilst consensual, hardly endears him as a protagonist, and his proclamation of love for her towards the end of the book leaves a sour taste. I’m not a prude, and can deal with stuff like this in a narrative, but it’s hard to find enthusiasm for a protagonist who has sex with his own daughter, even if he does feel remorse. Also, Fairbairn’s prose, so concise and clear in Shoot, comes off here like a poor Hemingway pastiche. It’s a short novel, but its badly balanced pacing means that nothing happens for long stretches only for it to sputter into life occasionally. Disappointing.

In Elmore Leonard’s City Primeval, an unpleasant and unorthodox Detroit judge is killed by a remorseless killer and thief, Clement Mansell, over a driving incident. Taciturn detective, Raymond Cruz, quickly works out that it may be Mansell’s finger on the trigger but proving it is somewhat more difficult – more so, considering that Mansell walked on a murder charge a couple of years before because of a technicality. Killer and cop circle each other constantly, trying to outwit each other until the noirish climax.

Leonard is always a pleasure to read, probably because he does all the little things well. He’s never been spectacular, in the way that James Ellroy or James Lee Burke sometimes can be, but his 70s/80s work rarely misses its mark. He knows how to pace a narrative, knows how to write killer dialogue, knows how to write detail without it overshadowing the story, and knows how to write characters who, though dark, though unpleasant, don’t tip over into caricature or leave an unpleasant aftertaste. Recommended.

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