Happy Short-Review Tuesday!
The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay
The premise behind Tremblay’s debut novel, The Little Sleep, held much promise and potential for edgy hilarity – a hard-boiled narcoleptic detective from South Boston – that it seemed destined to either rival Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn in brilliance & originality or just tank phenomenally. The tanking isn’t necessarily phenomenal, but tank it does. Tremblay never really exploits the narcolepsy to it’s full potential – stumbling over it as a narrative device – resulting in an almost complete lack of sympathy for his sleepy private detective, Mark Genevich. Hinting at Mark’s tendency to hallucinate full conversations, but never exploring the element much beyond the novel’s opening sequence and a hastily constructed conclusion, results in a lack-luster, dime-store detective novel. Without the narcolepsy, there’s absolutely nothing interesting about Mark – and he’s a terrible investigator. Really, why would he choose such a profession if he falls asleep all the time? In light of Mark’s lack of any sort of detection ability, the back-story feels sloppy and pasted together – not because of Mark’s lapses in consciousness, but because of poor plot construction. I know it sounds tempting with the narcolepsy, but avoid this one – it will just disappoint.
Sucker Punch by Ray Banks
Banks’ debut novel from 2007, Saturday’s Child, introduced another hard boiled detective character poured from the mold of Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor. Manchester resident Cal Innes is not officially…well, anything, but manages to drive the novel with his own brand of face-punching investigation. In Sucker Punch, Banks delivers flashes of brilliance, but fails to cobble together enough of an interesting overall plotline and instead populates the book with empty shells of characters from other people’s novels. (Anyone not living in England is stiff, wooden, and way too one-dimensional.) Innes is out of prison (a result of events from Saturday’s Child) and is tasked with chaperoning a young boxer to Los Angeles for a friend. The opening scenes in Manchester, England are quite good and would fit easily into a Bruen-type canon, but the mid-section of the book just cannot absorb the punches and falls flat. Innes (and Banks, for that matter) is at home in England, not SoCal. The drizzling rain, the smoky pubs, and the thick accents of Manchester suit Innes so well that it seems too early in this blossoming series to take him away from that. This could have been Banks’ breakthrough novel with this character, except that he removed him from his comfort zone, thus rendering him ineffective and lost. Upon the novel’s conclusion, Innes returns to Manchester and lands in a much more interesting grit-fest – only to have the novel wrap up soon thereafter. I’d rather that had Cal stayed home for all the fun, rather than ending up in the sloppy story he wound up mired in while Stateside. I’m drawn to Cal because of his faults – bad decisions and pain pill addiction mostly – but this is a generally frustrating book. Read it if you enjoyed Banks’ first book, as it’s good to see Cal again, but skip it if you’ve haven’t. You’ll just end up frustrated either way, actually, but there’s still hope for further novels.
Nemesis by Jo Nesbo
Jo Nesbo has supplanted Henning Mankell as my favorite Scandinavian mystery author – scandalous, I know. His poorly named protagonist, detective Harry Hole, is much less whiny and plenty edgier than Mankell’s Wallander – drinking & smoking when he shouldn’t, rockin’ the Doc Marten’s, & being generally morally ambiguous under the guise of solving crime. When he wakes up to find himself implicated in the murder of an old friend, it’s fun to see how far he’ll go in the name of justice – making deals with gypsy criminals, flying to the Caribbean following “leads”, generally upsetting all his superiors. Amidst the complex, racially charged atmosphere of modern Norway, Nesbo expertly brings Harry to life as the next in the long line of great crime noir detectives. Nesbo is a very talented genre writer who throws in enough intelligence and cultural atmosphere to his narrative to put him head and shoulders above the rest. I’m not drawn to Harry like I am to Cal Innes, but he’s intelligent and independent enough to drive the story along solo. And he could definitely beat Wallander in a fight.