Thursday, January 26, 2012

More on Mike Knowles' literary caffeine jolts

I'm making my way through Mike Knowles' Wilson novels at a good clip. I read Darwin's Nightmare and Grinder earlier this week, and I thought I'd post a few thoughts before going back and finishing In Plain Sight, the third in the series (A fourth book, Never Play Another Man's Game, is due in the spring.)

  • Readers who like Richard Stark's Parker might like these books. Same with readers of Andrew Vachss' Burke novels or Mickey Spillane. The books might also appeal to fans of The Fugitive or Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai.
  • The books demonstrate that the tried-and-true hardboiled gambit of describing urban change and decay has life left in it. Knowles' descriptions -- of Hamilton, Ontario -- work better than many because Wilson, a tough, free-lance fixer and investigator who works for criminals, gets behind the faded doors and shabby facades and meets the people urban exodus has left behind.
  • Wilson inhabits a violent world, but Knowles can write cold, cruel, heart-rending scenes without having his characters resort to physical violence.
  • Knowles is good on the psychological and temperamental flaws and strengths of his characters.  Igor, a violent, unhinged, impotent Russian gangster, is not nearly as funny as that description makes him sound.
A final thought: the three books have Wilson on the run from a series of nemeses, sticking to the outsider's role that appeals both to him and to the criminals (or cops) who put him to work. He plays off one set of dangerous characters against another. He reflects on the harsh but vital lessons he learned from his criminal uncle.  The books so far are like caffeine jolts, but how long will Knowles be able to keep up the energy?     What will he do to keep the series fresh?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Anonymous solo said...

Is Wilson one of those Man With No First Name characters? Gee, I wonder where he got that idea from. It seems, first names are for wimps.

Ever thought of dropping Peter and trading under the name of Rozovsky? You'd probably go up a couple of notches in the alpha male category.

Ever read James Sallis, Peter? Hollywood made a crappy movie out of his novel Drive last year. Sallis goes one better than Knowles or maybe I should say one worse by calling his main character Driver. The man has no name at all. He's simply named after his occupation. How cool is that? Damn cool if you're a six year old.

Despite that, and some other faults, I think Sallis is worth reading. Drive and The Killer Is Dying are worthy albeit slightly pretentious efforts. In Drive he namechecks Richard Stark, George Pelecanos, John Shannon and Gary Phillips. Impeccable taste, eh, Peter?

He also has Driver reading a book that he describes thus:

This was one of those Irish novels where people have horrible knockdowndragouts with their fathers. ride around on bicycles a lot, and occasionally blow something up.

You read a lot of Irish crime novels, Peter. Does that ring any bells? It's not one of McKinty's, is it?

January 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, I'm sure Knowles would acknowledge Wilson's debt to Parker. All the one-name tough guys have two-syllable names with empahtic accent on the first syllable: Parker. Wilson. Wyatt. Rozovsky has too many syllables; the guns would have long since come out and finished blasting away by the time anyone could finish saying the name.

Of course, I could shorten it to Rozov, but that's Russian, and everyone knows that Russians are unambiguously bad.

I have not read Sallis, though he's has often been recommended to me. I had heard mixed but generally good things about the movie version of Drive. "How cool is that? Damn cool if you're a six year old." is a great putdown.

Hey, wouldn't it be fun to say that McKinty's novels sound like the book Driver was reading?

January 27, 2012  

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