Review: Sunburn – Laura Lippman

I inhaled this book. What a great tag line: She has nothing to lose. And everything to hide. The cover is slathered with glowing reviews from big names, big papers (and the Daily Fail) but you know that Lippman’s got a career that has more than earned those plaudits.

This is neo-noir yet as fresh as summer rain (I say with relief that we’ve finally got some this morning — a hot Scotland is just unnatural). Sure it’s got a sexy woman with secrets, private investigators and all kinds of people out to get something and damn the consequences. Lippman takes these sometimes self-conscious tropes and plays with them. Polly actually discovers noir during a bad marriage and it’s literally a lifesaver for her. Adam is no Sam Spade and hurrah for that, but he’s no Walter Neff either.

It’s an irresistible joy to watch two people fall for each other when they’re not sure they can trust each other and everything is against them — but you’re not sure what’s true and neither are they. Lippman alternates between a variety of characters from chapter to chapter and you learn things you didn’t know as well as wrong assumptions they’re making about others. Sometimes you just want to shout at the characters (or maybe that’s just me).

Some quotes:

The problem is, when a man wants her, he usually won’t stop trying to get her. They wear her down, men. She starts off by taking pity on them, ends up feeling sorry for herself.

It’s a special art, asking people to do things, yet making it seem as if you never asked at all.

How had she even figured out what he was planning to do? A witch, that one. She’s a witch.

Sometimes he used to wake up in the middle of the night and find her looking at him. The light from the streetlamp threw a stripe across her eyes, and it was as if she were wearing a mask that allowed her to read his every thought.

Maybe she should write an advice book for men, one that tells them everything they want to hear, as opposed to all those books for women, which tell them to be the opposite of what they are, no matter what that is.

I could keep quoting but this gives you a great idea: lean, mean, addictive — up to the last pages you won’t be sure how things will go. What a pleasure.

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Song for a Saturday: Vaskresenje – Severija

Can’t let go of Babylon Berlin: the two-disc soundtrack is the bomb. The score is very drum and percussion heavy which you know suits me down to the ground. The songs by Bryan Ferry and the fabulous Severija, including this Russian version of Rezső Seress’ Szomorú vasárnap (Gloomy Sunday) with its alleged history (internet loves its myths) make for great decadent musings in this afternoons of this too-hot summer.

Yes, I’m aware of the irony of making ‘Gloomy Sunday’ a Song for a Saturday.

I’ve got the novel now, too. On the summer pile. Maybe I’ll take it to Edge-Lit. Always good to have something to read on the train.

Song for a Saturday: H.C. – Brix & the Extricated

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 10.46.23‘This is my happening and it freaks me out!’ Thank you, Vintage TV: Brix & the Extricated featuring new tune ‘H.C.’ (plus Pneumatic Violet, Valentino, L.A., Damned for Eternity, and Hollywood). Fun stuff.

FFB: The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith

9780140101171-uk-300I suppose it’s hard to make a case for it being ‘forgotten’ but considering the 2014 film likewise faded away without much fanfare, perhaps this novel has been overlooked as well. Yet it’s of a piece with all of Highsmith’s work, which of course means it sinks its hooks into you and you keep turning the pages to find out where it could possibly go.

I woke up with Cat Stevens’ ‘Father and Son’ in my head which was my subconscious at work as usual. The love/hate relations of parents and children often figure in her books (no surprise). It’s key to this one and the relationship between the two male characters: the conman Chester MacFarland and the wanna-be poet Rydal Keener. Colette MacFarland is sexual allure and all the problems it causes. She reminds Keener (what a name, eh?) of his adolescent love for his cousin Agnes — a situation that divided his family and set him on the path to reform school, shaming his Harvard professor father.

He notices MacFarland because he strikingly resembles his father, whose funeral he’s recently missed by staying in Athens. Keener helps the pair conceal a body and then they’re friends — maybe. Because maybe Keener’s really after Colette and maybe MacFarland isn’t the father figure he sometimes thinks. Of course Highsmith is delightful in detailing MacFarland’s elaborate Ponsi schemes and his habits to maintain the various faces he shows the world.

When violence comes, like a lot of Highsmith, it’s sudden, brutal and stunning. Things unravel and so quickly, so strangely — the paranoia of the characters is completely understandable. The POV shifts between chapters. Highsmith, as always, masterfully manages to give you all the information from very different slants. It’s genuinely surprising right up to the end when you think, well this is how it has to go. Good stuff.

Check out the other overlooked books at Patti’s blog.

Best Review So Far!

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Thanks, Matthew! See for yourself buy picking up Satan’s Sorority over at Fahrenheit Press — along with a wealth of other noir, crime and wild new classics.

Every Word is Progress

Graham Wynd author

Me yammering on all things noir and writing over at Write with Phil:

Why do you write?

‘It’s fun! There’s a Dylan line about needing a dump truck to unload his head. Writing is my dump truck.’

FFB: Rhode Island Red by Charlotte Carter

carter_3_collage_1527285657After reading this fabulous write up on Charlotte Carter by Michael Gonzales, I knew I had to give her a try. Rhode Island Red arrived promptly — one advantage of Carter having a greater following in the UK than in the US, I guess.

41p84k7b6wl-sx160-sy160From the get-go this a book that will drag you along. With chapter titles looted from Thelonius Monk and a voice that’s both knowing, mordant and a little too hopeful, Nanette will keep you reading. I’m one of those readers for whom voice will keep me engaged in a way that clever plotting and intricate detail will not. Carter has a great skill for making the story jump into action right from the start , of filling in the life of the characters without ever giving way to boring exposition. Every one is so vivid through Nanette’s eyes — and so is the NYC that no longer exists, one that was just starting to be gentrified and was still full of life and art.

Nanette is the kind of character that offers richness for crime writing. Insatiably curious, sexy and confident, she’s also smart without always being wise. She has the habit of many clever people of assuming they’ll know when things are getting bad and that they’re always ahead of the game — and suffer doubly when they’re wrong because they ought to have known better. It’s to Carter’s credit that she shows us all the clues but being on Nanette’s side, we might just as well misinterpret them.

The mystery is tied up in cops, criminals and of course music. Nanette is musician, though she doesn’t think much of her abilities it is what she lives for. The uncanny lure of a melody is something she can’t resist. And like a lot of imaginative people, she has a tendency to believe what she wants to believe. Yet there’s a frank evaluation of contemporary racism that permeates the city — especially the police. The matter-of-fact way Nanette negotiates it chills. It’s a simple matter of life and death that she faces daily.

Why no one has optioned this for a film I don’t know. Her pal Aubrey alone should be enough to get some execs in a lather. Nanette is a great character with such a distinctive voice — I’m going to be reading more. I’ll leave you with one quote that took me by surprise, late in the novel. So steeped in jazz is this book, that Nanette pulling out some Satie, told me something — connected to her love for Paris, but also the complexity and wide-ranging curiosity she has. Never assume.

I put on some Erik Satie, for a change of pace from the Billie songs to commit suicide by, a change from the junk-sick Parker ballads and the post desolation Bill Evans stuff. It’s funny how heartbreaking Satie can be, and at the same time soothing, focusing, And then he’ll go off on one of those surrealist tangents, where he sounds like a spoiled brat having a tantrum, or the inside of a mad trolley conductor’s head. He was one weird looking man, Satie. I think I probably would have had a lot of fun with him.

Check out all the overlooked books at Patti’s blog.