May 28, 2012

He's all Hart

John Hart's Iron House is his fourth novel and seems to be a culmination of the stylistic tics he developed in the previous three.

Hart specializes in people under pressure, at the limits of their ability to cope with the rough stuff life has thrown at them. The stories usually play out in a sub-Tennessee Williams environment, where close family relationships are fundamental and nothing must be allowed to cast them asunder. In his first best-seller, The King of Lies the lead character has to discover who murdered his father and to protect his sister from accusations or murdering him. Similarly in Down River and The Last Child, the heroes struggle to protect their families or to find out 'The Truth' about what happened in the past. We're in the same territory in Iron House, with all kinds of family secrets being hidden and exposed, hidden and exposed, hidden and ... well, you get the picture.

May 23, 2012

Elmore Leonard on writing

The Great Elmore Leonard describes how he developed his writing style. With extracts from Get Shorty, with John Travolta. It's a shortened version of his famous 10 Rules, but it's good to see him talking about the origins of some of his methods. I think it dates from 2006. Sorry the video is a bit choppy.

May 22, 2012

A sweet mystery - Sandford's Stolen Prey

Stolen Prey is John Sandford's 22nd book about Lucas Davenport, an investigator with Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. All of the books have 'Prey' in the title, which distinguishes them from his other series about Kidd, a software expert and thief, and about Virgil Flowers, an investigator who actually works for Lucas Davenport but largely operates on his own.

The Prey books are masterly expositions of how crimes get solved through police procedure. Davenport is extremely bright and intuitive, but Sandford shows time and again how he uses police resources to find the bad guys. He has a researcher, he has street-level snitches, he has friends in High Places. And he uses all of these to provide him with information that he synthesizes to arrive at his deductions and leaps of imagination. What's more, Sandford shows how cops talk to each other - exchanging information, building up their view of the case, sniping at each other or just bantering.

May 17, 2012

A plot with a Hole in it

Jo Nesbo's Phantom continues the adventures of rogue Norwegian policeman Harry Hole.

Returning from Bangkok to Norway, Hole is intent on proving that Oleg, the son of his former girlfriend, Rakel, is not guilty of the murder with which he's being charged. As usual, the plot involves corrupt policemen, underworld Mr Bigs, and a twisty, turny plot that Nesbo uses to manipulate our sympathies.

Translated from Norwegian by the author's usual translator, the prose has its typical clunky effect. The problem with translating - I speak from a little experience - is that when you come across a phrase in the original that, when translated into English, seems a little odd, it's often difficult to know whether that was the author's intention or not. So for example:
But when he went back to the front door the boy had hopped it.
The phrase 'hopped it' reeks of the 1950s, and is given to us as representing the thought of a policeman in 2011. Does Nesbo want this slightly dated turn of phrase to represent this policeman? Or is it an attempt by the translator to be a bit casual and different, rather than using a simple expression like 'run off' or even 'legged it'? If nothing else, if I were Nesbo, I'd wonder whether my American readers would understand the usage ...

May 08, 2012

In it for the long Hole ...

Long time since I posted ... trying to get through Jo Nesbo's latest, Phantom.

I think the word to describe Nesbo is 'dogged' - he tells you all there is to know about his hero, Harry Hole, and the numerous bad guys, too. In fact, more than you need to know.

What's striking me about this book - and in retrospect, the previous Harry Hole books - is that it's the structure of his plots that build the suspense. He has several sub-plots going on at once and you need to keep reading in order to see how they all come together. He's very detailed about giving you facts - what music is playing in a bar, for instance - but his prose is a bit leaden. Of course it's translated into English from the original Norwegian, so that probably doesn't help, but even so ...

On another topic, how good is Justified, the US TV series based on an Elmore Leonard short story?
Very good, is the answer you were looking for. Witty dialogue, fast-moving plot, dispensing with characters at will (usually with a gunshot blast) - the show gets better and better. And in Raylan Givens, it has a hero who is smart, funny, good with a gun and brave. But like all good heroes, he has a flaw ... for him, the job takes over his life to the extent that his relationships suffer.

And let's not forget the great Walton Goggins, so good in The Shield, who is now excelling as Boyd Crowder - charismatic, cunning, violent when necessary and inspirational to his troops (when he's not shooting them, that is ... ) If you're not already watching it, do so!