Thursday, February 23, 2012

JJ DeCeglie's downward spiral from Down Under

I don't know if Australia's JJ DeCeglie has been anywhere near Oklahoma, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or any of the other psychic nowheres of American noir, but he sure can channel their spirit well.

Drawing Dead is about a P.I. in Western Australia, a busted gambler and self-proclaimed asshole who goes drunkenly, lustfully, and violently to his own destruction, narrating his demise with amused detachment.  Jim Thompson might have produced something similar if he'd infused his stories with a bit more humor and his protagonists with a bit more violent action-hero flair.

Thompson is a presence in Drawing Dead, an object of the book's dedication and the source of its epigraph. Charles Willeford makes the scene both as dedicatee and as one of the authors the protagonist, Jack, thinks about reading on his doomed wanderings. John Fante makes that list, as do Louis-Ferdinand Céline and — no surprise — Charles Bukowski. And that, friends, ought to give you an idea of the ride you're in for in DeCeglie's book.
***
What makes some of our darker noir writers cite their literary idols so explicitly? Maybe it's just literary preciousness. But maybe writing about characters who embrace doom is so psychologically perilous that authors need to reach out for predecessors who lived close to the edge but still managed to hold themselves together long enough to write a few books.

DeCeglie pays looser homage to the hard-boiled but non-noir tradition. Though Drawing Dead is more a doomed road novel than a P.I. story, Jack is, nominally, a hard-luck private investigator. And the case that quickly degenates into his downward journey is — naturally — a wandering-daughter job.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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32 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

I just found out today that we are selling Charles Bukowski Tshirts.

Go figure.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

"What makes some of our darker noir writers cite their literary idols so explicitly?"

I think it is because many of the noir predecessors/influences still aren't that well known outside of certain circles.

So you wind up having to over explain things. We were at a book event last week that Sandra was a part of. One of the writers on the panel name dropped Kem Nunn's Tapping the Source and the panelists were all nodding their heads in agreement but the audience was blank stares.

Also, I think noir fans still regard it as an "our thing" so we pass out noir titles and authors as passwords. If someone picks up on it then you know you are talking to another member of the tribe.

February 23, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Horrid cover!

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that;s no shock to me; he's a cult figure. You might display the shirts in the crime-fiction as well as the general literature/fiction section.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian that sounds a bit like what Christa Faust said about Noircon: the "gay-bar" effect; everyone knows what everyone else is there for.

But people reading Drawing Dead will likely recognize the passwords. Hmm, and if they don't, they might get curious and investigate.

I suspect that Ken Bruen occasionally throws a bone to a friend or to an author he wants to help out. But DeCeglie's references are all dead, so beyond caring about readership figures and book sales.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., it's not the world's most attractive cover, but that matters less if the book is available only electronically. Designers will probably gnash their teeth at the preceding sentence.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, I should add that it's sometimes hard for me to maintain that perspective, to remember that these writers might not be that well-known outside certain circles. To me Bukowski's a legend and Willeford a guy who, weil before I ever read him, I knew was regarded highly.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

What's odd about that shirt is that I believe it's the only author one we carry. I just wonder how it found it's way in.

I am not really a member of the noir tribe, so I surprised that years ago I read Kem Nunn and some of the less gritty Willeford and even some Jim Thompson.

No Bukowski, though. I'm scared of him.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I'd think that author T-shirts would be a big item. That Bukowski is the only you one you stock says lends your store a certain rough bohemian distinction.

Some of DeCeglie's literary ancestors are not customarily listed among noir precursors, so I'm not surprised that the boundaries between what is normally called noir and what is normally called literature can break down. Celine was pretty noir, though I'd bet no one has called him that.

I have not read Kem Nunn, and I'd only rarely heard the name.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Tapping the Source was excellent. I didn't go on from there, though.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll look for it when I can, though the setting in the surfing world is not in the least enticing. I read and enjoyed DOn WInslow's "The Death and Life of Bobby Z" then tried his "Dawn Patrol" and found the surfer-speak unbearable.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Peter, you have to know that I wouldn't have been drawn in if it was just another surfer book.

February 23, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

To me Bukowski's a legend

I thought he was an icon.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, can we compromise and call him a seminal figure?

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I do know that. But Winslow's surfer schtick was so overbearing has to at least bring back flashbacks when I think of any other surfing books.

Apparently it will soon be republished in an e-book edition, but before looking into that, I could look for an old copy at Philadelphia's Whodunit.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

It's more a coming to California/coming of age sort of book. Well, and surf culture, but the on land part. I wouldn't say it's a paean to the lifestyle.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To clear things up, Tapping the Source is the book that I think will be reissued soon in e-book form.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mmm, it will be interesting to see how that squares with Brian Lindenmuth's placing it in the noir tradition. Brian knows what he's talking about.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

No I don't.

Nunn has only written five novels and I would only recommend three of them, his so called surf trilogy: Tapping the Source, The Dogs of Winter and Tijuana Straits.

If we're going to use meaningless terms :) then I would say that Tapping the Source is a literary crime novel. But I'm comfortable calling it a noir or a book with some noir seasoned in.

George Pelacanos grouped Tapping the Source with Cutter and Bone and The Last Good Kiss and I think it's a fair grouping and one I would have made without GP's prompting.

February 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, you do. I'll look for "Tapping the Source" first. I read a sample from it and was impressed. When I read "literary crime novel," I think, "Oh, that author can't write action scenes."

i like to think of say, Daniel Woodrell, not as a "literary crime novelist" but rather as an author whose work could well appeal to both crime readers and general readers who like good fiction.

February 24, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

Readers are always looking for another a-ha experience and will endure several mediocre or not-my-thing books in their search to find what they're looking for.

Donald Westlake's THE FUGITIVE PIGEON has homages and parodies to both Hemingway's THE KILLERS and Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND. I gobbled up his other books looking for a repeat experience but never found one. Not that he ever wrote a bad book.

John Dunning's BOOKED TO DIE coupled a tense thriller plot with all that rare book lore, but he never wrote another book that approached his first in novelty and quality, at least for this reader. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't.

I blogged about Winslow's DAWN PATROL and THE GENTLEMAN'S HOUR. I found them both lacking--not bad novels, just juvenile or YA in their sensibilities. There is some growth in the second novel but not enough for this reader.

As to why thriller writer's name-drop other thriller writer's in their epigraphs, dedications, etc., often it is homage, sometimes guilt for literary theft, sometimes self-promotion.

The late William Gay (who died today, by the way) took the style and a line or two from Cormac McCarthy, his idol, but compensated in this way. Gay was good enough (as he later proved) on his own hook and should have cited all of his other southern gothic antecedents instead.

There is some safety in such familial seeking, naturally. We imitate what we enjoy reading. When McCarthy's novels came out, Faulkner was then dead, so the publishers sought the next best thing, sending his books to be reviewed by Walker Percy and Robert Penn Warren. When SUTTREE came out, it was reviewed by Nelson Algren, whose A WALK ON THE WILDSIDE was then its nearest relative.

Critics who don't read much always compare new authors to either the giants of the genre (Chandler, McBain, etc.) or to contemporary best sellers (Patterson, Grisham, etc.) so it is better to let the author name his own--which he does by way of epigraph, dedication, etc.

February 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Richard, I'll look for your discussions of the two Don Winslow novels. I still suspect that I might like Kem Nunn better, though.

I've never tried to verify my suspicion that the darker the crime writer, the more copious the homage.

Maybe one reason you found nothing to equal "The Fugitive Pigeon" is that Westlake tried new things far more than one would expect of such a prolific writer.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Booked to Die was very good, and I agree that he didn't match it after. That may be because he killed off one of his most interesting characters in the first book.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not always a commercially wise thing to do.

I may have an old paperback copy of the book lying around. Perhaps I'll initiate excavations in search of it.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

It's not always even a storywise thing to do. In this case, I think it was pretty much unnecessary.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I should refrain from asking you to go into too much detail. If I read the book, I will get back to you.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

No, I'm not telling anyway. Besides, I would have to dredge up particulars, which are a bit hazy this far out.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm pleased to receive endorsements from the book. Is the protagonist a book dealer? Did the novel have to bridge a credibility gap?

February 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Homicide detective whose a book collector turned bookstore owner.

It might strain credibility a bit now, but not when it was written.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe not now either. Police officers have a reputation of retiring earlier than folks in other occupations, so why not open a bookstore?

February 25, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Just out of curiousity is my blurb on the book? JJ asked. I gave. But I'm not sure if it was needed or used.

February 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep:

"Drawing Dead is a brilliant noir from one of Australia’s most exciting new novelists.”

--Adrian McKinty, author of “Dead I Well May Be”, “Fifty Grand, “Falling Glass” and “The Cold, Cold Ground”

February 25, 2012  

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