Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pufferfish's attitude

I've just spent another pleasant 260 or so pages with David Owen's Detective Inspector Franz Heineken, who proudly calls himself Pufferfish. This time it was Pig's Head, the first of the four Pufferfish novels Owen wrote in the mid-1990s. The scene was again (mainly) Tasmania and, as in The Devil Taker, the fourth in the series, the plot is complex yet plausible.

Pufferfish's personality vies with a compelling tale of police corruption and a grisly killing for the reader's attention. Here's Heineken, the story's first-person narrator as well as its protagonist, on an out-of-state police chief whose first goal, Heineken suspects, is to protect his own rear end:

"(H)e's a class-A manipulator, a wielder of power, an enjoyer of authority. ... He looks inordinately clever -- based on a very quick brain -- and violently incapable of being wrong."

Owen's unusual word combinations -- "enjoyer of authority", "violently incapable of being wrong" -- lend a menacing edge to what in a less gifted writer's hands might be a stock character: the scheming boss. The character is a bit player, but those few short words make him memorable.

I said Heineken's personality vies with the corruption plot for the reader's attention. In fact, they complement one another nicely. Sure, Heineken's clashes with authority are a nice character quirk, but they also add an edge. Each shifty-eyed suit upon whom Pufferfish vents his contempt could be a dangerous man, a drug trafficker, a killer.

© Peter Rozovsky 2006

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

For Peter :
Yes, it is the Li River between Guilin and Yangshuo. I spent a few times, last year in South China.
Evanthia the Amazon

December 13, 2006  
Blogger colman said...

I have to say PIGS HEAD was one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year..........I enjoyed it more than STIFF by MALONEY,but that's not to say that it wasn't enjoyable in its own right.........reminded me a bit of some of Robert Campbell's Jimmy Whistler books ( I hope that is right been a few years since I read them!)

Dont really want to read another OWEN book too soon as once the're read,the're read and I wont have them left to look forward to.

Currently reading DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI's SECRET DEAD MEN.......incidentally his second book THE WHEELMAN has been likened to PARKER/STARR in style/content,who has been compared to WYATT/DISHER.
(A bit of detectives within US borders )

December 13, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Evanthia, I took that same boat cruise along the Li River 16 years ago. I remember those strange limestone rock formations that are so famous from so many Chinese paintings.

December 13, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Colman: It’s an odd coincidence that you should mention Stiff. That’s the book I started reading as soon as I finished Pig’s Head. It’s off to a fine start, but I’m not sure whether to continue with it, or whether to go ahead with A Second Hand – or with Jean-Claude Izzo’s Chourmo. That’s a good dilemma to have. And I’ll take the Jimmy Whistler books as yet another recommendation.

I feel the same regret about coming to the end of the Pufferfish series; I’ve read three of the four now. But these books are good enough to read again.

Duane Swierczynski is not just a fellow resident of Philadelphia, but he’s in the same business as I am, the editor of one of the local weekly newspapers. I’ve never met him, and I don’t drink enough to have had a statistically significant chance of having drunk with him. Your comparisons are intriguing, though. You’ll know from my blog that I like the Parker novels as well as the one Wyatt book that I’ve read. I think STARR was a typographical error for STARK in your note, but no matter. I like Jason Starr, too, at least the hilarious novel Bust that he wrote with Ken Bruen. From a typo comes a recommendation.

December 13, 2006  
Anonymous Hamish said...

Peter, The enthusiasm for David Owen's books is interesting. Someone in publishing told me that the series stopped at four because sales were poor. Are you reading Australian editions?

December 13, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Your publishing friend's comment would support one line of speculation about why Owen stopped writing Pufferfish novels. Australia and New Zealand seem to have flourishing crime-fiction scenes, at least to judge from the number of writers in the various Aus. and N.Z. crime-fiction databases. Given that, it's a mystery to me why such an exciting series would not succeed.

Owen's last Pufferfish novel, The Devil Taker, deals in great detail with illegal trade in wildlife. I notice, too, that Owen has written non-fiction books about Tasmanian wildlife. Maybe he just lost interest in crime-fiction writing and got interested in wildlife instead. Or maybe that loss of interest was a function of insufficient sales.

My editions are Australian. I ordered them used through ABEbooks.com, two from a bookstore in Australia and two from a shop in New Zealand.

December 13, 2006  
Blogger colman said...

yes STARK not STARR....though I would recommend STARR also,not yet read BUST,

My Pufferfish books are all Mandarin Australia editions

December 14, 2006  
Blogger Peter said...

Then recommend some Starr. I'd just assumed that the violently funny parts of Bust were due to Ken Bruen, but I read an interview with Jason Starr in which he said that he and Bruen worked so well together that each often wrote parts that would seem more typical of the other. I've never read anyone else who could combine violence and humor the way Bruen can. If Jason Starr can do it, then he's worth reading.

I was pleased to learn that Bruen and Starr were working on a sequel to Bust. I don't know the title or the publication date, though.

December 14, 2006  

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