Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book #27

David Peace's seminal Red Riding Quartet is one of the most incredible examples of the potential for noir. His books are historical, crime ridden, corruption dense, conspiracy laden, thematic and contain enough literary juice to satisfy the bravest of Jane Austen scholars. The novels - Nineteen Seventy-Four, Nineteen Seventy-Seven, Nineteen Eighty, Nineteen Eighty-Three- are compellingly dark, gritty and ultimately perfect. However, you cannot read one of the novels but rather must make your tangled way through each book before they can be viewed as one complete masterpiece. I thought about reviewing them separately but wanted to see how well it hangs together. The short answer: unbelievably well.
The series starts off with something amiss in Yorkshire in 1974, a little girl named Clare Kempley has gone missing. One crusading journalist discovers the disappearence may tie to many more. In 1977 two characters, one a decorated police officer and the other a drunk journalist investigate the gruesome Yorkshire Ripper killings. The murderer has a particular hate on for street workers and brutally mutilates his victims. In 1980 an IA officer named Peter Hunter tangles with the Ripper and the deepening murk surrounding Yorkshire. The brilliant 1983 ties the entire series together in an unexpected but beautiful way.
A warning - this is not bedtime reading, it is dark material and often disturbing. However, it is worthwhile to get through. Also, at times the book itself does not tie up all the loose ends but there is a payoff at the end so make sure to read them all!
Take my favourite moment from the entire series, (SPOILER ALERT) in 1980 (as in real life which Peace takes as his grounding) the Yorkshire Ripper is caught and confesses to thirteen murders. The one problem - several "ripper" killings remain unaccounted for. The police ask him if he did it, his response is so utterly perfect and chilling that it has become one of my all-time book moments:
"Claire Strachen?"
Yorkshire Ripper:"No."
Yorkshire Ripper: "It was him."
Yorkshire Ripper: "Other guy".
With that line, Peace transcends the genre and comes as close to Ellroy (while maintaining a distinct style) as anyone yet.
Highly recommended but make sure to keep your night light handy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Radical Departure - A Different Perspective on Miami Thrice

Now, for something completely different: since reading Bill Simmon's excellent Book of Basketball I have become quite the fan of the sport. I sweated through the finals and then eagerly anticipated LBJ's "decision".
However, I feel different from most out there: I love it.
Here we have three guys at the peak of their earning power taking less money than they could get to go to a team together in order to win championships. For one thing, I think we are all so stunned by the fact these guys turned down max contracts with other teams to realize what we are witnessing: the success of our current educational philosophy.
No one can believe that three of the ten best guys in the league would not want to beat each other instead of playing together but that is not how they were brought up. We have forgotten that MJ, Bird, Magic and even Kobe came up in a radically different time. Winning was allowed, competition was awesome - now? Not so much. Everything children are taught is about acceptance, equality and working together for a greater common good. LBJ, Wade and Bosh are just the first major step in what I believe will be a domino effect of "superteams".
Yes, none of them are Jordan, and they are not going to be creating the same legacy. My argument is they are ushering in a completely new era and will be the trendsetters, the first and always the best.
A few other arguments: Had Bird, Jordan, or Magic come up in this era would they have done the same thing? Hell yes. (Well, maybe not Jordan because there will never be another player like him in history) Plus, while we are busy roasting the Miami Thrice over the fire for wanting to play on a good team let's remember the teams the other guys had. Lebron has never had a great team (he made them great). Jordan played with one of the top 50 guys all-time, Magic won all his championships with a little known center named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (arguably the 2nd best player ever) and James Worthy (top 50 all-time). Bird had MacHale and Parrish and Walton who dominated at one point or another. Kobe won three titles as a number two to Shaq, then could not even make it out of round one of the playoffs until Pau Gasol joined the Lakers. He has never, it could be argued done it by himself.
Now that Lebron wants to be Magic Johnson we are raking him over the coals? I don't buy it. We just hate the way he left Cleveland.
I love this team because they are being unselfish and have inspired other stars to join the team unselfishly (Mike Miller, Haslem) and they are primed for a title run.
Longtime readers (ha!) of this blog know of my dislike for Kobe Bryant, and the reason I love the Heat most of all is that they will take titles from Kobe in his prime. No longer will he walk over the Eastern conference. I love it. Maybe he never wins another, if so, I could not be happier.
Go Heat, might be time to plan that parade route out now.

Book #26

Longtime readers know how much I like James Ellroy - his book American Tabloid hit number one on my best of the year last year - and I really, really loved LA Confidential. I had seen and liked the movie but was completely unprepared for being sucked into the book. It devoured me. Reaching into this book is like putting your hand into a spider's web - you are instantly entrapped. Absolutely fantastic.
The book kicks off with a bang and does not stop for four hundred pages. Ellroy uses his three character format to radically redefine crime fiction; everything in this book makes what you have read before inconsequential. It is so complex and fascinating that you cannot put it down. Ellroy's Bosh / Wade / Lebron combo is Ed Exley, Jack Vincennes and Bud White. Each is struggling to expel their own demons and are so lifelike they jump off the page. Ellroy also used other excepts such as newspaper articles to fill in the pieces (yet hands nothing to the reader). The characters come together around the "Night Owl" shootings, a brutal crime in which six people are shotgunned to death. While the crime is brutal, the repeated solvings and fitting together of puzzle pieces is a breathless race to the last page.
When the final twist was revealed I literally dropped the book in complete shock.
It was that good. This is not a book for the faint of heart and fits in chronologically with Ellroy's LA Quartet trilogy. The story is so twisted and complex you will have spun clean circles when all is said and done. Do yourself a favour and read the one of the best crime writers at his peak, you will not be disappointed even if you have seen the movie.