Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sharp, on target and to the point, or Peter Temple and darts

Peter Temple's Jack Irish plays the horses and makes fine furniture. In Black Tide, he also plays darts. He shoots a game with a police officer friend as they chat about the case at hand, the dialogue punctuated by the players calling out the score. (From the shot-by-shot narration, it's obvious they're playing one of the double-out games, probably 301.)

This was a kick for me, as I've recently resumed my darts career, and I know what darts sound like; I mentally supplied the thwack! thwack! thwack! of the darts hitting the board. The scene also contains a nice piece of descriptive writing: "Barry drank some beer, sighted, threw, just a little explosion of fingers." I've seen darts shooters who lurched, bounced, or lunged, and, for all the spectacle they created, they sucked at darts. Temple's crisp prose matches the no-nonsense approach that makes for a proficient darts player and a pleasant darts game.

The particular game Irish and his friend play is a nice touch, too. In the double-out games, the players start with a given score, usually 301, 501, or 701, and have to work their way down to zero, with the final shot being a double. That is, if a player is down to two points, he wins by hitting a double one. Hitting the two does no good. A game in which players must work their way down to zero (subtle echoes of time running out?), then end the game with a shot of special precision seems nicely suited to a thriller.

***

It had been a while between my reading of Bad Debts, the first Irish novel, and Black Tide, and memory can play tricks. It seems to me, though, that in the later book, Temple did a better job of integrating plot elements of staggering complexity into the story. (In Bad Debts, the crooked deal involved land. In Black Tide, it involves laundered money.) I seem to recall occasionally losing interest in the baroque details of the land-development scheme (without ever enjoying the fine novel the less because of it).

I recall no similar reaction to the even more complicated deals in Black Tide, perhaps because Temple has Irish himself express befuddlement. I don't remember his having done so in Bad Debts, though I'd have to check to be sure. If I'm right, that's another nice touch on Temple's part in Black Tide, a clever way of humanizing the protagonist and making the complicated plot easier for the reader to accept.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Hamish said...

The aptness of the darts game in Black Tide hadn't occurred to me. Games like 301 closely resemble the structure of a good thriller: the problem of getting started, the long middle passage, the run to the finish, and then the need to close before your opponent beats you to it. Perceptive as ever, Peter.

February 14, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for your note, Hamish. That's the beauty of Temple's use of the darts game: the scene does not depend at all on the reader's familiarity with darts. A reader who knows nothing about that fine sport can enjoy the scene as a nicely paced piece of exposition.

Other darts games could fit with other types of crime stories. Cutthroat cricket might make a suitable motif in stories about sadistic killers or corporate warfare, for example.

February 14, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

" ... the problem of getting started ... "

I'd forgotten the double-in aspect of the game. Not much matches the frustration of narrowly missing that opening double while one's opponent is off and away, knocking his own score down.

February 14, 2007  

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