Saturday, July 19, 2008

Zest

Zest has always been one of my favorite words, long before I knew it also meant the peel, esp. the thin outer peel, of a citrus fruit used for flavoring. I love the word because it sounds like the qualities it embodies: Gusto. Flavor. Hearty enjoyment. And that's the opening chapter of Adrian McKinty's Dead I Well May Be, as life-embracing a piece of literary zest as I can remember since I started reading about murder, cheating, robbery, squalor, despair and violent death in my spare time.

Here's the start of Chapter One. Pay special attention to the first four words:
"I open my eyes. The train tracks. The river. A wall of heat. Unbearable white sunlight smacking off the railings, the street and the godawfulness of the buildings. Steam from the permanent Con Ed hole at the corner. Gum and graffiti tags on the sidewalk. People on the platform – Jesus Christ, are they really in sweaters and wool hats? ... I'm smoking. I'm standing here on the elevated subway platform looking down at all this enormous nightmare and I'm smoking. My skin can barely breathe. I'm panting. The back of my T-shirt is thick with sweat, 100 degrees, 90 percent relative humidity. I'm complaining about the pollution you can see in the sky above New Jersey, and I'm smoking Camels. What an idiot."
Just one bit more, because I want to keep the post shorter than the chapter:

"Here I should point out that every time you hear Scotchy speak you must remember that each time I put in the word fuck there are at least three or four that I've left out."
Is that great, or what?

A short prologue, more effective than most examples of its kind, begins "No one was dead." How's that for a grabber?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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28 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Thank you for your kind words.

Michael sounds disconcerted and unhappy to be living in Harlem there, but funnily enough I LOVED that part of New York, or at least I did until it was colonized by Starbucks, Magic Johnson and Columbia University.

Anyway I'm really glad that you're enjoying the book ...

so far.

adrian.

July 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're quite welcome.

I figured you liked that part of New York even before Michael talked about Harlem taking him in. I'd say he sounds disconcerted, but more amazed than unhappy.

You hate something, you shut yourself off from it and think of something else. You describe it with such zest and in such detail, you love it, whether you know it or not.

I once stayed with some friends in Spanish Harlem. Sure, the day before there had been shots fired between a group of Puerto Ricans and another of Dominicans, but there were also lots of colorful non-Starbucks storefronts, and music everywhere.

July 19, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

It definitely sounds interesting. Usually, when I'm trying to work on a story (novel), I read books within that genre. This one is fantasy, but as I mainly would like to pursue mystery, I shall look into some of these books. Like this one.

July 19, 2008  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Yes, quite the attention grabber in 4 simple words! I'm wondering if the protagonist lives in New York. From the South Street Seaport one can see Jersey City's skyline; a small one, but it's there. Well you've gotten your wish! Donald Sutherland and Judi Dench are the winners in "Happy Grooming." Thank you for voting, Peter! Petra :)) p.s. I hope you enjoy "Wayworn Home." What do you think?

July 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

PM, the protagonist is a Northern Irishman relatively newly arrived in New York. The author is a Northern Irishman who lived in New York for a while. I suspect this accounts for the amusing, acute and active observation in the opening chapter.

I shall look in, then perhaps cast another vote.

July 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not aure how much mystery there will be in this crime story. It may be more a thriller or even an adventure. I shall know more soon.

July 19, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Perhaps the "No one was dead" is an unconscious memory of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol?"

"Marley was dead to begin with."

July 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe not so unconscious. A minor character in the novel is named Marley.

July 19, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Oh yes (minor spoiler alert) its definitely more of a thriller than a mystery.

I lived in Harlem, 123 and Amsterdam, for six years but Michael has only just got there.

There's a reason Christmas Carol has lasted so long: its great. I think that and Turn of the Screw are the two best ghost stories we've got. (If Turn really is a ghost story.)

July 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's pretty minor as far as spoilers go. I figured the thriller element might come to the fore because if the protagonist and his circle are killers and thieves, and if the story involves dangerous love affairs and struggles between gangs, there might not be room for much investigation. Maybe it's more, what, leg-breaking picaresque? But then, I think picaresque came up in some zesty discussions here a while back about critical clichés, so never mind.

If Turn of the Screw is a ghost story, it transcends its genre.

July 19, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On its way to trascending the genre,The Haunting of Hill House slaps both A Christmas Carol and Turn of the Screw down cold...

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wow, I remember Shirley Jackson from "The Lottery," which I read for class in high school, as so many people did. Upon reflection, that story may have been my earliest exposure to noir.

July 20, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

Late with the comments again, but better that than never, right?

Yeah, it was the descriptions of Harlem that hooked me right in to DIWMB and quickly made me a McKinty fan. In fact, the fourth paragraph of my (spoiler free) review says exactly that.

gb

July 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment.

Nothing that builds up one's traffic ever too late. One of the advantages of blogging, in fact, is that the past and the present are compressed. Posts stay around for ever and are always available for comment.

I read a good chunk of Dead I Well May Be last night, enough to get me past what would have been a spoiler had I read about in a review. I refer, of course, to the section where Michael, Scotchy, Fergal and Andy -- but that would be a spoiler. I should be done with the book soon, and then I may read some reviews.

July 21, 2008  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

An additional late post, if I may ...

This intro reminds me a bit of William Gibson's early work -- punchy, visual, grab-you-by-the-throat prose. I might have to check Dead I Well My Be out.

Plus, the cover's great.

July 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Late comments are, as always, welcome.

The novel turns a good deal darker in its second two-thirds or so, which may also be somewhat similar to William Gibson.

July 21, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I read Gibson in high school. I dont remember a lot of his stuff, but one of his books has this opening line: "The Sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

Brilliant.

Peter you should do best opening lines sometime, if you havent done so already. My vote would be Orwell's "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking Thirteen."

July 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've made a few posts about opening lines in crime fictin in general. Find them here, and weigh in. I always liked James Thurber's "I suppose that the high-water mark of my youth on Columbus, Ohio, was the night the bed fell on my father," or Hamlet: "Who's there?"

July 21, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter,

I linked, I saw. Good stuff esp the R Rendell, didnt know about that one. She can be dark cant she?

My other fav has got to be Anthony Burgess's "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

July 21, 2008  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Adrian,

It's Neuromancer and it's a read that I try to revisit often. Your opening lines that Peter posted are reminiscent of it -- a very good thing, in my humble opinion.

July 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read just one novel by Ruth Rendell, The Veiled One, and I am forever praising the opening chapter for its audacity. After a passing mention of the discovery of a body, the chapter goes on at length about the suburban shopping-mall garage where it was found. She sets aside the story, and in doing so, infuses the dull surroundings with more menace than she could have by preceeding with a straightforward relation of events. I should read that chapter again.

To which Burgess is that line the opening? it might have been funnier if he had been in bed with the archibishop when the catamite came to see him.

July 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

I guess Neuromancer remains Gibson's best-known novel. For some reason, the first part of that opening sentence works better for me than the rest.

"The sky above the port was the color of television" is such a surprising image that I want time to enjoy and digest it before moving on to the next sentence.

Of course, I have not read the book. In context, the sentence may work perfectly.

July 21, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Earthly Powers is the Burgess. Its a funny book.

Neuromancer of course thank you, Loren. I've read the first 4 or 5Gibsons, but that one is still the most resonant. For all its high concept wizardy, it was written on a manual type writer one finger style, or so WG told us to howls of laughter from the assembled techies.

I love that the sky is above a "port" Many people might have said city, but port makes it a wee bit sleazier and cooler.

July 21, 2008  
Anonymous loren (a different one) said...

Mr. Rozovsky

Thank you for posting this excerpt. I have not "read" Adrian's books but I have listened to all three of the Dead books. He is well known on audible.com but I have never seen any of his books in any book store, even in mystery book stores.

I hope you are not offended by that, Adrian. All I meant to say is that they are great books to listen to as well as read.

Loren (in San Diego, California)

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren (a.d.o.): Who read the audio versions of the "Dead" books that you listened to?

July 22, 2008  
Anonymous Loren in San Diego said...

Dear Peter,

They are not read by the author but by an Irish actor called Gerard Doyle. He reads all the parts but does it very well. The books are not abridged either which is also very good.


Loren in San Diego.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, thanks for information on Burgess and Gibson. I agree that port has overtones (undertones, too) that city lacks. Ports resonate of an earlier time, of ships rather than airplanes. Gibson's wonderful use of the word is a clue that he had the inevitable roots in the present and the past that future-worshippers, techies and Gibson cultists might not suspect. The clue is not quite as blunt as the novel's mode of composition, but it's a clue nonetheless.

There may be more to this Gibson than I'd suspected. Thanks, guys.

July 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Loren. I like the idea of one actor reading all the characters. I recently attended a reading by an author who did a nice, subtle job of varying his voice for certain prominent characters. The result made the reading especially compelling.

July 22, 2008  

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