- Barry Eisler: Winner Take All
Well, I said I was hooked on Eisler's John Rain series. This one was good too, with Macau and Rio de Janiero added along with increasing complexity in the assassin's character. A quality thriller.
Barry Eisler: A Lonely Resurrection (previously published as Hard Rain and Blood from Blood) (John Rain series) (Volume 2)
This is the second I've read in Barry Eisler's series about assassin John Rain, and I'm afraid I'm hooked. They're well written, his evocation of Tokyo rings true, and his protagonist is interesting. It seems odd to suggest that the actions of a character who is a cold-blooded assassin could be morally ambiguous, and in most novels like this he would not be; he would be either a good guy--his assassinations were somehow justified--or a bad guy--defined as such because of his assassinations. Rain moves back and forth between those camps: sometimes he's only in in for the money, but thinks he's at least not in the pay of absolute evil. Other times the people he kills are absolutely evil, so the killings could possibly be defined as heroic. Other times somebody irritates him, and ends up with a broken neck. In keeping his protagonist wondering about whether he's doing the right thing, whether he could choose to do otherwise, and whether he could atone for what he's done, he keeps us, his readers, guessing about how we should feel. This places the book a rung up from the run-of-the-mill.
Theodora Keogh: The Double Door
Though not quite as coldly elegant as The Tattooed Heart, Theodora Keogh's The Double Door is another excellent short novel that belongs on your "we forget how weird the '40s and '50s in the USA were" shelf. The double door of the title is between two buildings in New York City. The first is occupied by a family made up of a neurotic and unlovable mother, a girl with a heart of ice who is her 12-year-old daughter, and the girl's father, a South American gigolo who passes himself off as European nobility. The other is where the nobleman indulges in debauchery with a select circle of friends augmented by young men picked up off the street. That one of this gang is a monk on leave from the monastery only adds to the gothic tone of the book. It's not surprising that one of the few positive reviews Patricia Highsmith ever wrote was of one of Keogh's novels. Fans of Highsmith's cold eye will certainly enjoy her work.
Roz Kaveney: Rituals - Rhapsody of Blood, Volume One
This is a well-written fantasy—largely urban—about two heroines who, mostly independent of each other, set about removing evil-doers from the world. Both of the heroines are, perhaps, a bit too heroic—they hardly seem challenged by encounters even with monumental evil—but Kaveney's intelligence saves the book. She manages to weave together lots of the world's mythologies (she writes hilariously about Judeo-Christian mythology in particular) and augment them with her knowledge of music, opera, history and literature to produce a fantasy more than usually engaging.
Dr. Kenjiro Setoue: Doctor Stories from the Island Journals of the Legendary Dr. Koto
Dr. Setoue, a successful surgeon, took a temporary job at a clinic on a remote Japanese island in the South China Sea. He intended to stay six months, but has ended up spending his life in that remote place and caring for the people there. Setoue's Island Journals are unexciting, and that is as it should be. He does what needs to be done, and writes about it simply, but in a way that helps us to understand why he remains with the aging islanders, and why they have come to trust and depend on him. He is, it is clear, a good man.
- Theodora Keogh: The Tattooed Heart
Readers of Dawn Powell must be grateful to Gore Vidal for bringing that, for a time, forgotten writer to our attention. Unfortunately, although she surfaces now and then on the Internet, Theodora Keogh has yet to find such a high-profile champion. That's a shame, because The Tattooed Heart alone demonstrates that she is worthy of our attention. It is the story of a chaste, though always simmering, first love between a twelve-year-old boy and a fifteen-year-old girl, a summer romance destroyed by adults and adulthood. Most of the story takes place on a New England estate with lots of woods for the young people to roam in, and the atmosphere is almost gothic: accompanying the young lovers one sinks into Keogh's world as into a dream. Published in 1954, the novel remains compelling. Surely it, and the rest of Keogh's work, are worthy of reissue? NYRB, are you listening?
Tristan Garcia: Hate: A Romance: A Novel
Tristan Garcia's Hate: A Romance is about the cultural, political, and intellectual life of France—which is to say Paris—in the last two or three decades. Since that life can be seen as a series of conversations (also arguments, shouting matches, and hissy fits) this is appropriate: we never quite know what Garcia thinks about AIDS, Israel and Palestine, head scarves on Moslem women, Internet culture, or any of the rest of the issues that he, or rather his characters, are on about. We do see them loving each other, and thanks in large part to a sort of man without qualities from the provinces, hating each other, and doing their best to destroy each other, before the novel's end. The book is compelling, though thanks to the odiousness of this interloper, at times it is hard to read. Hate is the 27-year-old author's first novel (he's also published a book of philosophy), a fact that makes it all the more impressive.
Nicholson Baker: The Anthologist: A Novel
Nicholson Baker is in top-form in this novel. He combines two of his modes: avuncular observer of the minute and often missed and ranter at a society that seems to want to discard everything old. In this case Baker, or rather his protagonist, Paul Chowder (Baker noted in a recent Paris Review interview that his writing is eighty percent autobiographical) rants at what he feels was a wrong turn taken by poetry in the Pound era: the rejection of rhyme. One may not agree with Baker/Chowder's conservative take on what poetry should be, but one will learn a lot about poetry, and, as with all Baker's books, about life from this book.
Martin Solares: The Black Minutes
I remember how exciting it was, back in the '70s, to discover Gabriel Garcia Márquez and other Latin American writers who seemed to offer a whole new way of writing fiction. Sure, magical realism, as Márquez's style came to be called, was overdone in the years to follow by the master's epigones, and sure it's a style that's easy to parody, but at the time it was pure gold.
Martín Solares is no magical realist, but in The Black Minutes he gives us a narrative that is, in its fecundity, reminiscent of the Latin American Boom . He grafts his tale—a detective story within a detective story—onto a police procedural, and gives us something that transcends the genre to such an extent that it has to be considered something else: literature at its most rip-roaring.
Sara Gran: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead
A private eye novel set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is, with its odd mix of the occult with the mean streets we've come to expect, entirely original. This is the first in what will surely be a series, and I, for one, am eager to follow the further adventures of Ms. DeWitt.