Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Moving Target - Ross Macdonald

As someone who much enjoys the work of Hammett and Chandler, it seemed only right that at some stage I would seek out Macdonald’s books. That it has taken so long is a bit of a mystery. I knew he was considered the heir to Hammett and Chandler, but somehow I had never got round to reading any of his work. It’s something I’ll be putting right in the near future.

Although not his first novel, this is the first of a series to feature his private eye Lew Archer. Archer is cast in the same mould as others of his ilk. He has been a policeman, served in Intelligence during the Second World War, has a broken marriage, is something of a tough guy, but is not as tough as he acts. Because his inner world is available to us through the use of first person narrative.

In the same West coast settings as Hammett and Chandler, Macdonald explores the same territory and uses the same settings, yet we have a view of the world that is from a slightly different perspective. This is partly due to the fact that Macdonald takes up the reins in the post-war era. I’m looking forward to his work written in the 60s to see how he observes the social changes of the time.

In The Moving Target, he notes how some men who flourished in a combat situation had trouble readjusting to civilian life and often fell into trouble or made a concerted move into a life of crime. This is introduced as a natural part of the story (a kidnap caper that goes wrong and exposes the ways in which upright citizens can be corrupted by the influence and presence of the corrupt).

By the time Macdonald wrote this book, he was had already proved himself as a writer. It is somewhat lacking in variations of pace. In part that is the race-against-time element of the story, but a few moments to draw breath would have produced greater contrast for the tension. Apart from that, this is a slick novel that pays great attention to detail, not just in terms of plot and character, but in the mechanics of writing as well.

It’s always a joy to find a ‘new’ author whose books one enjoys. I can see lots of pleasurable reading ahead.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Dance Your Way To Psychic Sex - Alice Turing

This book is something of a literary earthquake. From the very beginning you are aware of a fault line; you know that in the depths there are tensions building. And as with all earthquake zones, the eye moves from place to place assessing the safe spots, the danger points, the escape routes, all in the knowledge that when the earth moves, all bets are off. Because when and where an earthquake is triggered and with what ferocity is wholly unpredictable.

Here, the seismic rumblings are of a personal nature. As the book opens, we follow Henrietta into the epicentre. And already we can feel the coiled energy that will release and turn everybody’s life upside down and inside out, knowing they will have to cope with a world full of aftershocks as they survive in the ruins and start the long process of rebuilding.

Such a novel could be unremittingly gloomy. Happily for us, it is not. The themes of love, loss, betrayal, faith, and illusion are handled well. There is no moralising, no sense that the author has an axe to grind, merely that she has an insight she wishes to share and the talent to share it in such an interesting and entertaining way. It treats serious subjects with sensitivity, yet it manages also to be comic. There are no knockabout routines, no custard pies in the face. The humour and the comedy are integral to the characters and to the situation – and much of what happens grows out of the characters in an entirely natural way.

Indeed, the book put me in mind of Jack Trevor Story, for it is a somewhat surreal yet convincing tale populated by characters who, for all their oddities and intensities, are wholly believable and deftly drawn. These are characters not always in control of their fate, who view the world with a bewildered eye, but who manage to survive. Swept away by the craze of Psychic Dancing, we are offered glimpses into the world of stage magicians and mentalists, as well as the lives of those caught out by success.

The author also does the reader the honour of treating them as intelligent. No spoon feeding of pap on plastic spoons. Rather, we are fed morsels of the best quality with a spoon that… Well, maybe there is no spoon. The writing is smooth and clear, like a good whisky; because it is also intoxicating. The story is well constructed and complex without resorting to tricksiness. The resolution is satisfying even if, like real life, all the ends are not neatly tied in a bow.

There were a couple of times I found myself wondering why it had been written in the present tense. I normally find this difficult to cope with, but the pace and content soon made me forget about it. It did however put me in mind of a film script and made me realise what a great television series this would make.

If you like an intelligent read that is both thoughtful and entertaining; if you like a book that is well written; if you like something a little out of the ordinary; then I suggest you buy this book. You’ll be doing yourself a favour and you’ll be supporting a writer who deserves much greater recognition.