Friday, January 26, 2007

Back down under

I finished Paul Thomas’ Guerilla Season this afternoon, then hopped out of bed and went to fetch the mail, which included Diamond Dove in a sturdily wrapped package from Judith Eardley Books in Healesville, Victoria. So nobody should accuse me of parochialism in my Australasian crime reading; I’m breaking out of Melbourne and Tasmania and experiencing a bit of New Zealand and the Northern Territory.

Actually, I’m not sure how much I learned about New Zealand from Thomas’ book, other than a few wonderfully musical place names. A cover blurb on my edition, published in the United Kingdom, calls Thomas the “Down Under Carl Hiaasen,” and the comparison seems apt. The novel includes some of the features that can make Hiaasen so annoying. Everything is whacky and rapid-fire. The gruesome killings are farcical. Everybody is a quirky quipster, and the novel is peopled less with characters than with pasted-together sets of wry or blunt remarks, so much so that the occasional moments of drama or personal conflict seem contrived. The pacing is unrelieved rat-tat-tat, complete with sentence-fragment transitions to convey the frenzied zaniness of it all.

I’ve never been able to make it past the first chapter of any Hiaasen novel, and for a while there, I thought the same would be the case with Guerilla Season. Then the action began. Police chase down a shadowy group that claims responsibility for killings. Spies, blackmailers and shady businessmen materialize, and sex is hinted at. The scope grows from alleged Maori terrorism to international espionage, and slowly I began to realize that damn, this man knows how to tell a story. I’ll be reading more of this guy and, without knowing anything about his body of work, I’d bet Paul Thomas could write a first-rate, not necessarily comic thriller if he set his mind to it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Karen C said...

Not having yet excavated down the mountain of to be read books yet to Guerilla Season, I can't comment specifically. I started with Dirty Laundry which was set partially in NZ and mostly in Sydney - it's very much a comic thriller style, which I liked (for what it's worth I don't like Hiaasen / love Brookmyre).

The Empty Bed on the other hand was totally and utterly different from Dirty Laundry - reflective, almost poignant.

January 29, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

By odd coincidence, I had just read your comments about One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, and that got me thinking about "comic" and "crime." The two can go together in so many ways. Donald Westlake is not a hell of a lot like Ken Bruen, and neither of the two is much like Charlie Williams, Janet Evanovich, Norbert Davis or Jonathan Latimer. And, of course, Adrian Hyland, about whom I've just posted, is a different matter altogether

Guerilla Season is like a Henny Youngman routine: that unvarying rat-tat-tat can be wearying, but some of the stuff is terrific. I would like to read more of Paul Thomas's comic writing, but also some of his other stuff, just to see if my hunch is right: that his real strength is plotting and that he could write an excellently plotted non-comic story.

January 29, 2007  
Anonymous Karen C said...

I hope you can track down a copy of The Empty Bed if that's the case - a few of us read it after Dirty Laundry and were rather surprised, almost put off - I guess we were expecting another Dirty Laundry. Upon more mature reflection, I really liked The Empty Bed very much.

And your comments on Diamond Dove were fantastic - I'm glad you liked that book - it was really a joy for me to read :)

January 29, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I just read an intriguing description of The Empty Bed. That seems non-comic, all right. I'll add it to my list.

Your comment also highlights what must be a problem for some writers, that of going against expectations. Donald Westlake, for one, chose a pen name for his Parker novels because their tone was so different from some of his other writing.

And thanks for your kind words about my comments on Diamond Dove. Hyland has written a novel that offers eager readers much that is worth discussing!

January 29, 2007  

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