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Backlist - A load of stuff reproduced without the author's written consent

 Being somewhat silly, I began my discovery of Jeff Lindsay by reading the fourth novel first (publisher freebie) and then watching the first episode of the TV series. As it transpires, that's the wrong way to do it. So, keen to make amends I picked up this three volume omnibus edition to motor through the first three books before I remembered what has happened to Sergeant Doakes, Dexter's arch nemesis (at least, his arch nemesis in the Miami PD) by book four.
The appeal lies not just in the pacing, the fact that our protagonist is a merciless killing machine, and that he's doing what most people have occasionally dreamed of doing - taking out the trash! - but in the oddly affecting and twisted humour of the novels. Whether he's ruminating on why his "dark passenger" guffaws at a particularly amateurish crime scene (amateurish from the point of view of the killer that is), or balancing the training and development requirements of his protégés (seriously) against the code his "father" Harry instilled in him, Dexter never fails to bring a bleakly humorous quality to the narrative. Take for example, the time he finds himself alone in his head without the dark fluttering of evil wings to keep him comfort - "I was alone in a dark, mean world full of terrible things like me." That's a good line right there.
The only problem with this omnibus is the third novel - Dexter in the Dark - which loses some of the forensic and psychological analysis of the killer's mind in favour of a John Connolly-esque supernatural solution which just doesn't gel, which feels flimsy, and which diverts the narrative flow by inserting a third party perspective on things. It's still good, just not as good as it should be. But at the risk of a feedback sandwich, I still really love this stuff. And I'm sure if you've stuck with me this far, you will too.

It's a trepidatious feeling, to have read a work variously described as a masterpiece. With the weight of so much opinion on the readers' shoulders (whether they realise or not), to attempt a review such as this is daunting. This is partly to blame for the length of time between finishing this novel and starting this review (the other reasons being laziness and lack of energy / internet access). For it was some time in spring when I read this on the commute between Cardiff and Swansea, and the memories I have of it are suitably dulled with the passing time. This isn't exactly a glowing reference for the prospective reader, but then Mihaly exists in some kind of dream world, and there were definitely parts of this book where I was almost asleep. Again, not such a great recommendation. However, it wasn't sleep; rather more like a trance. Szerb's story starts from a moment of crisis, where Mihaly gets his trains confused and, on his own honeymoon, realises with a rush the sudden freedom he has, and how addictive it is to live outside expectations. Of course, being the fool he is his idyll is soon shattered. He reeks of desperation. It is a curious experience, the reading of Journey by Moonlight, and whilst I'm sure my attempts at a review fall far short of the relative quality of the book, just look at the star rating [at www.waterstones.com] and be comforted by such simplicity. The book will not leave you so at ease with life.

For some reason, a reason that I can't fathom but that makes me slightly angry, frustrated and not a little melancholic, I can't get anyone to be interested in this really great book. I've tried comparing the story to Stefan Zweig's The Royal Game / Chess (depending on which edition you have), with Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union (because there's a chess puzzle at its heart), and with the only other English translation of his work, Night Work, a novel which with its unanswered questions polarizes opinion, and yet not one person who has read the blurb has decided to press on. Admittedly, it's based on a real-life chess player, the little known Austrian Grandmaster Karl Schlechter, and at its core is the game of chess. But the game does not overwhelm the story. It is necessary, serving to illustrate the fabulous characterisation of Carl Haffner, and the joyful creation of the Vienna school and of his opponent Emanuel Lasker, without ever threatening to bore those whose appreciations lie elsewhere. Haffner's very existence is geared to wrench an emotional reaction from the reader, steeped in pathos and so endearing that throughout the legendary duel one's heart is in one's mouth with every move of the pieces. It is uplifting and devastating, and despite the rather bland cover is a revealing portrait of what it is to be human. I loved it, and I hope someday to convert at least one person to Glavinic's brilliance.

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Apochryphal Tales by Karel Čapek

Many (many) years ago, when I first read War With The Newts, after scouring the Waterstones' internal database (whimsically named Ibid, and from which one could print the details of books onto the till roll in light- and so it seems, time-sensitive purple ink which, on the inches thick ream of leaves I printed for future perusal, faded within a few months rendering my catalogued wish list so much locker mulch) for authors with a suitably Czech-sounding name, having put away an entrée of my first slim Hrabal, a palate-cleansing Kundera and in need of a meaty Moravian main course, I think I might have completely and totally missed just how funny it was, bloated as I was by the doughy and Victorian-sounding translation and the rather unlikely ideation of the future political terroir of mankind and their unusual amphibian slaves and, latterly, sappers, the newts.

How's that for a sentence David Foster Wallace? INTERROBANG.

Well, there's no chance that Čapek's typically Czech…

Free Fall In Crimson by John D. MacDonald

Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end. 

You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …