Friday, March 02, 2007
If my posting seems more disjointed than usual, perhaps it will compensate by being more enthusiastic. I've had such a flood of superb books arriving in recent days, from Bill James, Friedrich Glauser, Peter Temple, Norbert Davis, and Richard Stark (Donald Westlake), among others, that I don't know what to read first. So I've decided to read all at the same time, or as close to it as possible.
First up is The Sixth Man and Other Stories, with its fine examples of Bill James' knack for dialogue whose meaning resides not just in what the characters say, but in how they say it. Here's an informant – a grass – in "For Information Only":
"What's known as sacrosanct, almost holy, is the relationship between a grass and his cop contact. This is totally private, one-on-one, what is sometimes also referred to as symbiotic, meaning they depend on each other."
And here are Mansel Shale and Ralph Ember conducting a joint meeting of their drug-pushing firms:
"Yes, Manse, Ralphy, you say that, but these people are – "
"We definitely got it in mind," Shale said. "Ralph and self, we note all factors, you can believe it."
"This goes without saying," Ralph told them.
"But Manse, Ralph, if we don't – "
"This is an area known in boardrooms and such as `executive action,' meaning leave it to Ralphy and me. You heard of executive action at all? A well known, corporation term you might of missed. The topics you mention are not for open talk at a meat and potatoes do."
Look at these criminals’ pride that they know the same words that educated people do: symbiotic, executive action. Look at their wonderfully comic self-consciousness: "What’s known as ... " "You heard of ... " These are pitch-prefect examples of upwardly mobile crooks who haven’t quite got the middle-class verbal mannerisms down. And that, in turn, is part of the delicious social comedy of the superlatively great Harpur and Iles series.