Saturday, June 25, 2011

A look at Declan Hughes' second novel

I've gone back to read The Color of Blood, second of Declan Hughes' novels about Dublin investigator Ed Loy, after having read the first, third, fourth and fifth in the series.

I like to think that this book offers early examples of a tendency Hughes exploited more fully later : that of dealing with Raymond Chandler's themes, only more explicitly than Chandler ever did. This applies to sex, pornography, drugs, and family secrets, but also to issues of class, especially the class divide between investigator and clients. This almost always works, though in one instance the explicitness leads to the grave sin of telling rather than showing. (I could be wrong about the path from Chandler to Hughes, though, since I'm unfamiliar with one of the stops Hughes made along the way: Ross Macdonald.)

In the meantime, some lines from the book's first quarter or so, all but one of them good:
"Tommy being sober wasn't easy for me either, since he'd asked me to act informally as his sponsor. I explained that, since I had no intention of stopping drinking, this mightn't be the wisest idea."

"I'm not sure if there are ideal conditions to watch porn, but sober before midday doesn't even come close."

"I looked at Tommy, who was lying about at least some of it, of course, but who had worked himself into believing that he had told the whole truth and nothing but."

"Mr. Loy, mathematics scholars are not exactly coming down with offers of twosomes, let alone, ah, exponentials thereof."

"His Trinity manner had become grander, his voice a fluted drawl. I could feel the class boundary rising to divide us."
Hughes also quotes almost directly at least one line from The Big Sleep and has some self-referential fun doing so:
"`I make many mistakes,'" he said in an arch, ironic tone, as if he was quoting a line from a movie."
(Read my discussions of Hughes' novels City of Lost GirlsAll the Dead Voices,  The Price of Blood, and The Wrong Kind of Blood)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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35 Comments:

Anonymous Liz V. said...

Haven't read much Chandler but enjoyed MacDonald--until he became overly explicit. Not sure where that leaves Hughes.

June 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Someone called Chandler a knight and Macdonald a social worker. (I forget what that same person called Dashiell Hammett.) I think Hughes' earlier novels play up the social work a bit more, the one I'm reading now especially so.

In any case, Hughes really hits his stride with the fourth and fifth books, All the Dead Voices and City of Lost Girls. If you know Macdonald, you might especially appreciate the earlier books, as did a friend of mine who's also a Ross Macdonald fan.

June 25, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

The class divide, always portrayed to make the upper class appear villainous and insensitive, is a commonplace in crime novels. It gets a bit old. One wonders what makes authors of crime novels so resentful.

June 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., the "class boundary" line was the one among the ones I quoted that I didn't like much, the one that tells rather than shows. Would anyone except a doctrinaire academic use the term "class boundary" when complaining about a class boundary?

June 25, 2011  
Blogger Dana King said...

Hughes is the good, to me the best descendant of Chandler working today, and the most eloquent spokesman for detective fiction.

He blends Chandler's and Macdonald's themes beautifully. The crimes Ed Loy investigates always have their roots well in the past, now bubbling up to disturb people who may have no knowledge of the original transgressions. Class enters into them as much as it does because many of the fortunes gained through the original actions may be imperiled by the current revelations, and those who may be most affected now have the means to do whatever they deem necessary to hold on.

Authors of crime novels aren't as resentful as they may seem; they're just honest.

(Word verification: cymjlwon. A Welsh village.)

June 25, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Dana, that assumes that all wealth/power was created illegally and the crimes of the past come back to haunt the fat-cat descendants. Actually, I don't much care for the greedy folks who got us into our financial woes and now use their wealth and corrupt politicians to keep the stolen goodies. But I'm not sure that this sort of thing is at the bottom of so much crime that all of our murder mysteries must pit the lower-class detective against the super powers of greed and corruption. It makes a better story, but it isn't necessarily more honest than domestic or ghetto crime, or even an ordinary serial killer.

June 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The protagonist's sensitivity to class division in this book's case is more homage than anything else. Hughes even quotes almost exactly a line from The Big Sleep in case anyone doesn't get the point. That makes Hughes a less than ideal subject for analysis of class issues in crime novels.

Hughes' other lodestar is Ross Macdonald. I recently read an amusing remark about a hallmark of Macdonald's fiction. This remark expressed impatience with crime whose consequences lay buried in the past for years, even decades, rearing its head only when the author had a new book to write.

Why is class alienation a popular theme in crime writing? Possibly because the progtaonist in most hard-boiled writing is an outsider. In America, we don't have titles, castes, clubs, clans or religions, exclusion from which would make one outside. Wealth is the only real tool of exclusion.

June 25, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

But wealth is precisely America's way of structuring its classes. No difference there.And some American writers also focus on wealth as a sign of criminal tendencies.

As I said, it may well be, but most murders are plain, ordinary, grubby backstreet events committed by the poor.

Bezsides, please remember, I'm dealing in generalities here from the writer's point of view. How many times can I make my villain the local overlord before it looks like I have an axe to grind or lack imagination?

I'm not really referring to Declan Hughes (I've only tried one of his books) or Chandler and MacDonald (don't remember any of theirs).

June 25, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I'm venturing into dangerously cliched territory, but doesn't an aristorcracy of wealth hold out possibilities of advancement that an aristocracy of birth does not? That theoretical possibility of advancement into the aristrocracy might create especially great resentment among those who fail to advance.

For what it's worth, though the birth of the hard-boiled detective is generally dated to the early 1920s, the first great hard-boiled novels, Dashiell Hammett's, were published or first serialized in -- you guessed it -- 1929.

June 25, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Oh, certainly. The self-made man is the American idol. He's no flawless hero, though.
I'm not sure that the homeless and unemployed really believe that they can become millionaires unless they win the lottery.

Sorry. I'm very cynical.

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, most lone-wolf private eyes are not flawless, either. As it happens, Declan Hughes' protagonist makes the point, perhaps too often in this book, that he is not flawless.

No, the homeless, the unemployed, the homed,and the tenuously working (and grateful to be so!) are too busy sending text messages and watching Dancing With the Stars.

Sorry, I'm even more cynical.

My verification word conjures up images of Dion ("The Wanderer," "Runaround Sue," et al.) collaborating with Raymond Burr on a project about a swaggering rock-and-roll singer in a wheelchair:

dionside

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As far as bottom-of-the-economic-heapers giving up dreams of wealth, I read a few years ago that Americans used to dream of being Bill Gates, but now they dream of founding companies and selling them to Bill Gates. This has to mark a shift of some kind in the American psyche.

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Dana King said...

It's hard to be more cynical than to subscribe (as I do) to Balzac's aphorism, "Behind every great fortune there is a crime."

Maybe not a gun and violence crime, but there aren't too many people who became immensely wealthy without being ruthless sons of bitches, no matter how philanthropic they (or their descendants) became down the road.

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Recently a fellow Montreal crime fan and I were discussing that eminently respectable, benevolent, and philanthropic Montreal family the Bronfmans, who built their fortune on boolegging.

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

Chandler wasn't always sneering at the rich (upper class). In Big Sleep he simultaneously sneers at the females and sympathizes with their father, The General. I've heard MacDonald called a hack by some pretty respectable reviewers but I found him enjoyable, at least in small doses. Chandler on the other hand I piratically worship. I'll have to delve into Hughes, I've been meaning to for awhile but somehow other Irish crime writers came first.

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Robert, Hughes at various times in The Color of Blood gives Ed Loy sympathy with one or another member of the Howard family. Naturally I was occasionally reminded of General Sternwood and The Big Sleep. (In addition to the direct allusion I mentioned in my post, another scene in The Color of Blood reminds me of the scene in which Eddie Mars' wife unties Marlowe. But, since I haven't read Macdonald, I can't be sure how much any of this borrowing is filtered through him, and how much is directly from Chandler.)

The Howard family differs from the Sternwoods in one respect. In Chandler's book, one daughter is irresponsible, and the other has real problems. In Hughes', the whole family is a mess.

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

Lets not forget the Kennedy's. Joseph Kennedy's dad was a saloon keeper, but successful enough to send Joe to college. Joe went to work in a bank and built his fortune pretty much thru insider trading and predatory financial practices. Practises that soon became illegal but weren't covered by any laws at the time. Course, he got out of banking and bought movie studios and diversified until he/they were rich

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I certainly had the Kennedys in mind when I made the post.

Maybe it's just that Canadians don't look as hard at the past as Americans do, or maybe it's that we worship violence less or are just more naive about some things, but the Bronfmans lack the violent or dangerous edge that, say, the Kennedys have. That's not to say that founders of the family fortune were benevolent souls, only that any violent, predatory sides to the founding of that fortune are not a part of popular mythology. That in itself is interesting.

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

I've met and had Christmas dinner once with Edgar Bronfman. His then wife was the daughter of a English Friend of mine. Certainly nothing violent on the surface, but old man Sam I have heard some stories about. He'd have made an excellent hardboi;led character in a book, and one of the Bronfman cousins was reportedly killed in a shoot out with Elliot Ness trying to bring booze in over a frozen part of a lake or something, from Canada. Course, Canada didn't have prohibition so I am sure they didn't feel they were doing anything illegal.

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if they were breaking any Canadian laws by exporting liquor into the United States. I also don't know if they brought back anything other than money with them as part of the trade. Smuggling between Canada and the U.S., to the extent that it figures in crime fiction, tends to have guns going one way and drugs another, or cigarettes figuring in the transaction somehow.

And, on the subjects of such transactions, here's another crime writer you might look into if you haven't already: John McFetridge.

Ross Macdonald was raised in Canada. What, if anything, this has to do with current discussion, I don't know,

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

John McFetridge sounds real interesting! Thanks, once again for the tip. I had forgot that Macdonald was raised there. Don't know how pertinent it is, but what they hey, It's Sunday evening, we can wander and since we are Raymond Chandler was in the Canadian army...

June 26, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Robert, here's an exchange I liked from McFetridge's novel Let It Ride:

"They walked into McVeigh's, Andre Price the only black guy in the place, thinking every black guy who ever came in was carrying a badge and gun.

"At least a gun.

"He said to McKeon, `Good thing I have my Irish escort.'

"She sat down with her back to the wall under two rows of black-and-white pictures of men's faces, looked like blown-up mug shots to Price, and said, `I'm the wrong kind of Irish.' "


And here's my interview with him from a couple of years ago.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

Oh, I am going to enjoy this guy. I have a love for the hardboiled. Have you seen my Crime Fiction Blog Crimeways? I review some new stuff but also books from the 30's thru the 50's and early 60's in the "style". I love the old hardboiled authors. Ed Lacy, David Goodis, Kenneth Fearing, Willeford, Edward Anderson, Fredric Brown...reading your interview with McFetridge now.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, clicking Crimeways on your profile takes me to a blank link.

No shock that you like since Kenneth Fearing, since I see you have or had a blog called The Big Clock. I recently bought but have but have not yet read The Shark-Infested Custard, which I think is the greatest title ever, and I like the Ed and Am Hunter novels, especially The Fabulous Clipjoint. And, by God, I have read from Goodis' work at a graveside memorial for him!

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

Try this http://crimeways.wordpress.com/
Crimeways is the magazine that George works for in the movie The Big Clock. Probably my favorite noir story.The Fabulous Clipjoint is on my TBR list, real near the top, exceot I have promised to do some review for some "soon-to-be-released" books. The tern'Noir' was created for Goodis, Thompson and a couple others. That is wonderful, you read at a memorial.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, I got it now. I can never find books when I look for them, but when I don't look, they turn up before my eyes. One such, immediately to my left, is an omnibus, with Fredric Brown's "Night of the Jabberwock," "The Screaming Mimi," "Knock Three-One-Two" and "The Fabulous Clipjoint."

If I remember correctly, Jonathan Latimer wrote the screenplay for the movie version of "The Big Clock." His novels are also worth reading.

Here's a post I made about the Goodis memorial two years ago. Goodis has much to do with my involvement with crime fiction. Philadelphia is his home town, of course, and a bunch of Goodis fans organized a convention devoted to him a few years ago. That Goodiscon turned into Noircon, the 2008 edition of which was my first convention, my first meeting with real live crime writers.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

I've got a few books by Latimer. Solomon's Vinyard, Lady in the Morgue and a couple other in the William Crane series. he did both The Big Clock and Hammett's The Glass Key, two of my favorite films from the era. I read all over the place, with history being a big interest (I also have a BA in history) but have always loved crime fiction. My grandmother had an extensive library of all the classics and my grandfather had a garage with all "those interesting covers". That was probably where I first came to love it.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

Nice post, Peter. On Goodis he was marvelous. Oh, I have to share this with you. I recently reviewed Frenzy by James O. Causey. Classic noir. Goodis would have been proud, and I love some of his other stuff I have dug up over the years. I wrote Ed Gorman and Bill Crider to see if they had any info on Causey but he is a bit of an enigma.Anyhow, I posted a photo of Causey I found on the internet. I like to throw in a short blurb/bio of the authors. So anyway, last week I get an email informing me that the photo is indeed James O Causey, but not the author. But his father! The lady that emailed me is Causeys neice, the daughter of Causeys brother Roland who she informs me was the model for Norman Sands in the book. Her father was a semi famous crook! She is sending me some photos of "Uncle Jimmy" and some stories on Roland, her other uncle Norman who was a lawyer in Long Beach, CA. Kind of neat to uncover this kind of stuff.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of Latimer's novels -- Sinners and Shrouds, I think -- has a plot very similar to The Big Clock's. I haven't seen The Glass Key, despite my Hammett binge over the past year or so. Like Hammett's Glass Key,some of Latimer's novels are surprisingly explicit for their time, especially in matters of violence. Since this is America, though, it was the sex that got Solomon's Vineyard censored.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know James O. Causey, but that's a good story. Does Frenzy have anything to do with Hitchcock's movie?

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

Hitchcocks Frenzy is another animal, although a couple of Causeys short stories were adapted for Hitchcock's TV show. Frenzy is a great read and I thin you can down load the eBook free, from Munsey's. A lot of Nir fans say it is the best they ever read.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I had never heard of the guy before.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

I think he only ever published three or four books, two of which are considered classics; Frenzy and The Baby Doll Murders. But he wrote a ton of short stories for numerous magazines, mostlu sci fi and horror.

June 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, why does The Baby Doll Murders seem vaguely familiar? I see there was a movie by that name, but I don't think I'd heard of it.

June 28, 2011  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

I see that there was a movie with that title in '93...Doesn't sound like the novel..but who knows.

June 28, 2011  

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