Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Great news, Adrian McKinty fans.  The second Sean Duffy is out (on sale May 14th), and it is very good.  I read it as soon as I could get a copy, and like The Cold, Cold Ground, this one held me in its spell until the very end.  I hate underlining in books, but the understated humor in here had me marking sections to reread after I'd finished it.

The author grew up in Northern Ireland and lived there during the Troubles, but he is widely traveled, widely educated, and widely read. Although this novel is a police procedural with lots of witty dialogue, McKinty also gives us a narrative voice which synthesizes his worldly intellectual depth.
Protagonist Sean Duffy is a rather secular Catholic policeman who determinedly seeks justice, a maverick in the old sense of that much abused term, existentially threading his way toward the truth among different bureaucracies with inherent vice in their entirely different agendas. Institutional bigotry all around.

And, as anyone who has ever worked for a bureaucracy knows, you often have to circumvent the rules of the very bureaucracy you work for in order to get anything done. And so Duffy does, sometimes against his own best material interests, in order to do his job while maintaining his integrity and his sense of decency.
The crimes in this stellar novel occur during the regime of Margaret Thatcher and put the violence of that era in perspective. Many Americans, fuzzy on the history of Northern Ireland, can now easily identify with those who recoiled against such historical terrorism. Nobody loves Big Brother, but the mongering of fear by the killing of innocents in protest was and will always be wrong.

McKinty's humor is sometimes light comic-relief, but more often it is dark and straight-faced absurdist, reminding me of Tom Robbins in this regard. For instance:

"We turned off the Shore Road onto the Ballyharry Road. A bump chewed the New Order tape so I flipped through the radio stations. All the English ones were talking about the Falklands but Irish radio wasn't interested in Britain's colonial wars and instead were interviewing a woman who had seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary who had told her that the sale of contraceptive devices in Dublin would bring a terrible vengeance from God and his host of Angels."

This author's entertaining blog is one I check often, and his books are frequently mentioned here on my own bookblog, Little Known Gems. I suppose I should mention that I have never met the man, nor do I have any kind of a financial connection with his publishers. I simply discovered his books one day and, while awaiting his next gem, have been reading my way through his significant backlist of novels.

Adrian McKinty has yet to break out in these United States, but I look for that to happen any day now.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Dude's Detective Novel Now A Movie: INHERENT VICE by Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon’s INHERENT VICE is of course being made into a movie–a Cheech and Chong movie, the director says.
Seems like a fit to me. I can’t wait to hear the music on the soundtrack.
Jeff Bridges: We miss the cheerful, peaceful counter-culture.

Of course, the main reason for reading INHERENT VICE is the wordplay:

They’ve had a change of lead actors--we now have Joaquin Phoenix instead of Robert Downy--but the natural choice would have been the dude himself, Jeff Bridges, who plays himself so well in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Watching a recent Charlie Rose interview with Bridges made that crystal-clear.
Pynchon picked out the dustjacket art for the first edition hardcover, and a good selection it is, I’d say.

You can see the story behind the dustjacket art at this link:

I like the idea that the counter-culture back in 1969-70 was an island in which there was a certain sense of freedom not seen since. Perhaps it is true that, like Pynchon’s novel itself, it was only a pipe dream, something mythical and mystical from where we now stand, like the running argument about Lemuria and Atlantis in the novel, but there was a certain sense of freedom in the anti-establishment stance that seems timeless.

With character names like Puck and Bigfoot, it is bound to have a certain Midsummer Night’s Dream ambiance. A detective novel in an alternate state of consciousness, some say, but it seems like much more than that to me. It is timeless not because it is aimless but because it is absurdist, and there is a distinct difference between the concepts.

We have gotten beyond the pipe dream and the beach boy music, but the world continues to be as absurdist as ever.

New Books on The Searchers and Davy Crockett

The new book on The Searchers is worth reading. Alan LeMay made his novel a composite of the events in several historical western narratives–not to the nth degree of Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian (as documented by John Sepich’s Notes On Blood Meridian) but still LeMay went to a surprising amount of research, with solid results.

Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend is 400 pages or so, counting the endnotes, a nice bibliography, and an index. The author goes over the Texas history behind the novel, then discusses the history of the novel, then the making of the movie and its wide legacy. Even though I knew much of it already, it was a solid read. Recommended.

Also recommended is the new book by Bob Thompson:
Born On A Mountain Top: On The Road With Davy Crockett And The Ghosts Of The Wild Frontier. Among other things, Thompson details the controversy over the evidence of whether Crockett went down fighting at the Alamo or surrendered before he was shot.

It amazes me that it took so long to decide to authenticate the de la Pena manuscript and then so little time to do it. It reminds me of the delay in authenticating Samuel Chamberlain’s My Confession, which would be so easy to do, but which now probably will not be accomplished during my lifetime. Or so it seems.

Thompson throws the evidence in the de la Pena manuscript out anyway in his assessment, not on the basis of historical authenticity, but because he is cynical about the then contemporary hype surrounding Davy Crockett and the Alamo.
And of course, if the Chamberlain manuscript is proven authentic, it doesn’t mean that the man always told the truth, nor does it prove the existence of Judge Holden by that name. Still, enquiring minds want to know.

Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett was an amazing work. It featured a very unconventional opening, especially for the 1950s. Crockett is not seen until he is thrown out of the bush by an angry bear, who, he says, he had been trying to grin to death. We know right then that this is the history of the legend that we are seeing, not the actual history of the man, and we also know then that there will be comic relief along the way.

But what is most impressive is that Crockett resists Andrew Jackson’s toady bureaucrat, and that he goes home to see about his family even when Andrew Jackson tries to extend the service of Crockett’s company for the duration of the war. Here we have a striking civil disobedience lesson, and a lesson in the evils of bureaucracy that no doubt lingered in many of the minds of those who first saw it way back when.