Friday, 5 August 2011

Maigret Has Doubts - Georges Simenon

The great thing about Maigret is that whilst they are crime novels, they are not just crime novels. Yes, they are about a policeman and they recount his cases in a quiet, existentialist way, but they are also about the world in which the crimes occur. From small to large, Simenon never loses the sense that we are witness to actual events.

This is amply illustrated in the book. It is about a murder and its investigation. Yet all the time, Maigret has doubts as to the guilt of the perpetrator, who himself proclaims his innocence. Yet events and the people involved conspire blindly in such a way that the probably innocent man is executed.

This happens not out of the crime, but out of the social attitudes of those on the fringe, the ones called upon to fill in background detail for the investigators. Their snobbery, their desire to keep their own secrets hidden, their desire not appear foolish, their inability to express themselves, all add up to the damnation of a man who hadn’t the strength to stand against the wind.

As such this is an exercise in subtle character study. In fact, it is a master class. Simenon doesn’t tax us. He writes entertaining books. But neither does he assume that entertain need be simplistic. Rather, he opens the real world to us in a way we might not otherwise see.

His books are generally short, but I would much rather have this essence of good writing and superb observation than the bloated, so-called psychological gore-fests that pass for some aspects of crime fiction today.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Century: 1969 - Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill

I am reserving judgement on this latest outing of the League. I realise that Moore writes long story arcs and that you have to read the whole thing to appreciate the parts, but... Well, as I said, I’m reserving judgement on that. For this instalment, however, I have to say I was disappointed. The story is thin and the artwork lazy. I know O’Neill style is spars and sketchy, but there are panels in this book where it looked he couldn’t be arsed and the overall layout was, to be honest, dull.

On the plus side, for anyone who grew up in the ‘60s there is a great deal of fun to be had spotting the popular icons of the period in the background (and sometimes foreground) of the panels.

Jury out, until the series is complete, but for this instalment? I’ll give it three.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Nirvana Bites - Debi Alper

It is difficult to write a comic novel that deals with serious issues. Debi Alper succeeds magnificently. This is because the comedy grows naturally from the characters and the situation.

At heart this is a thriller, with Jen, desperate for a job, drawn into finding out just who has it in for Stan. Stan is a BBC executive and spouse of a Tory MP. He also has a secret life. And someone is determined to expose that and cause as much pain along the way to anyway who tries to thwart them.

As such, this is about people who live on the fringe - those who choose to be there and those who have no choice; all trying their best to get by. But those on the fringes are often prey to the psychopaths and morally righteous (the ones who preach decency with a big stick in their hand).

But whilst this is a moral story, it is not a moralising story. This world is expertly explored through the medium of the story. We meet interesting and thoroughly believable characters along the way. And, something of a rarity these days, it is well written - lively, intelligent, emotionally engaging, well constructed, with a satisfying conclusion that nonetheless left me wanting more.