Friday, June 22, 2007

Declan Burke's funny and compassionate caper

Declan Burke's second novel comes with a testimonial from that indefatigable blurbster Ken Bruen, and the remarks are noteworthy both for their source and their content.

The pace of events in this kidnap caper may remind readers of Bust, that hilarious novel that Bruen wrote with Jason Starr. As in that book, a plot rapidly spins beyond the control of its plotters. But, in contrast to Bruen and Starr's book, which reads like a joyous, riotous, caffeine-, booze- and speed-fueled all-nighter, there is something sweet and gently introspective about most of this novel.

Burke divides the book into seven days and each day into a series of very short chapters, each bearing the name of one character and written from that character's point of view. Short, choppy chapters are a fine way to build suspense; one wonders what will happen when these personalities finally, inevitably, collide. But each character takes time for some humorous introspection, which makes the story a fast-moving caper built up of leisurely episodes. Perhaps Bruen had this in mind when he called Burke's writing "a joy, so seamless you nearly miss the sheer artistry of the style and the terrific, wry humour."

I have two quibbles with plot devices that crop up late in the book, and I suspect Burke felt more confident of his ability to sustain the story than to end it (no spoilers here; you'll have to read the novel yourself). The quibbles detracted from my enjoyment only briefly, though. The deliciously complicated plotting, the wry dialogue and the sympathy Burke engenders for his cast of characters made this one of the most fun and purely pleasurable reads I've had in a while. And what better way to convey some of that fun than with the novel's opening words:

In the bar, Karen drinking vodka-tonic, Ray on brandy to calm his nerves, she told him how people react to death and a stick-up in pretty much the same way: shock, disbelief, anger, acceptance.

"The trick being," Karen said, "to skip them past the anger straight into acceptance."

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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