07 January 2013

from the sublime to the ridiculous

The Tin Roof Blowdown *****
James Lee Burke (2007)

Set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Burke shows a different side to his beloved Southern Louisiana where now in New Orleans the majestic avenues of live oaks can only be navigated by boat; sanitation is crippled; and policing is sorely tested in a wave of lawlessness.

The plot sensitively handles rape, murder and deceit all spun into Burke’s customary and intricately woven web. The characters are rich and credible and as ever, the audio book is beautifully voiced by star narrator Will Patton. Larger than life Private Eye and bail bond agent Clete Purcel threatens to overshadow the more contemplative protagonist, Detective Dave Robicheaux but this unique pairing and their good-natured sparring are beacons of hope amid the flooding. Burke’s descriptions of the apocalyptic devastation are both tender and brutal. He manages to find natural beauty even in the face of catastrophe.

Action switches between Robicheaux’s home town of New Iberia to the west and New Orleans to the east. New Iberia was spared the wrath of Katrina and scenes there provide much needed respite from the horror. Burke tackles the tense issue of a white girl gang raped by a group of black youths. The shocking effect on the girl and her family exposes grim relationships and echoes the physical and emotional damage caused by the storm.

In an additional layer of tension, Robicheaux’s adopted daughter is stalked by an eerie character and the case becomes personal, culminating in one of Burke’s most gripping finales.

Bones Are Forever **
Kathy Reichs (2012)

An unappetising plot in which people who get in the way of a proposed new diamond mine and the ongoing rights to its profits mysteriously turn up dead. Apart from the vaguely interesting setting of Yellowknife and points even further north, there is nothing refreshing in this instalment.

Here are the perennial problems. Reichs’ disdain for the conventions of written English is intrusive: improper grammar, incomplete sentences, bullet points, seemingly random punctuation and made-up words. She probably thinks these come off as chic and trendy, and used sparingly they can convey a mood but when the book is drenched in examples it becomes tiresome.

The characters are stereotypes, each with a predictable flaw; the cliff-hangers are juvenile and the pace breathless; the dialogue is quite contrived North American slang; the heroine ludicrously takes over Police investigations. But it’s the made-up language that turns me off most. The following are routinely used as verbs (and I’ve added their objects where it might help): pocket-jammed (hands), palm-slapped (gear stick), palm-smacked (forehead), foot-hooked (chair leg), thumb-hooked (belt), finger-hooked (air quotes), chin-cocked, arm-wrapped, finger-wrapped, chest-crossed, eye-rolled, and numerous others.

I’ve listened to eight audio books in Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan series. All have come free from the library. I wouldn’t pay for one. I know what makes me listen to another even though I clearly find the experience mostly frustrating. Firstly it’s the choice of Linda Emond for narrator. Although she must feel queasy at giving voice to certain phrases, her exquisite diction and mastery of accents go some way towards saving the day. Secondly, it’s the compelling nature of the forensic details, the chilling work of the Pathologist. Doubtless Kathy Reichs is a world class Forensic Pathologist and her skills will always be in great demand. As to writing, she should stick to screenplays and an advisory role on Bones.


Russell Duffy said...

This being the second ‘book review’ you have posted, I take it that you are using your blog as a platform to promote both yourself as a writer whilst at the same time adding your credentials as a critic? If so I think it is an excellent move. If you are able raise your profile at the same time this will serve you well.
I like your critiques. You have the sort of clinical eye for detail that is suited to criticism. I like many of the short stories you have posted here. I also am excited by the thought of your book. What I am not sure of is, are you still going to blog your book reviews and shelfari them too?

Sadly neither of these books is the sort I would buy even though I have heard very good things about Burke. More Danny Wallace please! However, I am fascinated by the southern states of the USA. I am also keen to buy some William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connell as I enjoy the old southern gothic genre.

Good reviews.

Perfect Virgo said...

Forget Reichs but I would certainly recommend Burke to you. The detective genre may not be your thing but it's merely a vehicle for his achingly beautiful and eocative prose, and his dense and realistic chracters. I don't buy any myself but luckily the library has it all.

I do intend to keep my reviews on Shelfari but decided I will add selected ones to BCC. It shakes up the content on the blog and as you say gives me more strings to my bow.

I ground to a halt with my novel a few weeks ago but have started to find direction again and hope to maintain it. I'm glad you like my reviews. I know I am sharply critical in some but I hope that balances the ones I admire.

I read Wallace's Big Fish but felt it was a letdown after the dazzling Mr. Sebastian. He isn't very prolific but does have a couple of others which I intend to check out.

Russell Duffy said...

Please don't mistake me, I love hte detective novel and I am sure Burke is superb. What I am fed up with is pale imitators.

Your book is at the early stages. Like you it is taking its own time.

I will try Mister Burke on your recomendation as they are normally sopt on.

Perfect Virgo said...

I don't think you'll be disappointed with Burke. The Robicheaux series is the cream and there's enough background in each for them to be read as stand alones. For me the revelation has come from Will Patton's convincing narration of each one. The sympathetic voicing is mesmerising. I will include tThe Tin Roof Blowdown (Katrina) on the next Music Man instalment. Too late for the latest I'm afraid as he's already flown.