Apathy and Other Small Victories (Paul Neilan, bought online May 2010)
A Firing Offense (George P. Pelecanos, bought at The Bookseller Crow, Dec 2011)
All The Flowers Are Dying (Lawrence Block, bought in Toronto, sometime in 2008)
Ed McBain, James Ellroy, Raymond Chandler, Charles Willaford: if you’re going to write a crime novel, it had better be as good as these guys. Good luck with that.
Neilan’s debut novel Apathy is more of a comic romp than a mystery. It’s in intentional bad taste from the outset and has moments when it’s extremely funny. The narrator, Shane, is a reluctant insurance temp and Neilan’s descriptions of futile office life are sharp. The central crime, the death of a deaf woman, unfolds lethargically (which is completely in line with the overall theme of apathy). Maybe there’s an excess of grotesquery and an over-reliance on movie and pop culture references but overall, it’s a decent read, good fun.
Even more pop culture references in A Firing Offense. How much you like this novel depends on how much you enjoy hanging out in Washington DC with Pelecanos’ characters listening to them riff on new wave and punk music. I enjoyed it greatly. Nick Stefanos is an advertising director for a hi-fi superstore chainstore/private investigator (stay with me here) who agrees to look into the whereabouts of a missing warehouse worker. Like Apathy, the story takes a while to get going but Pelecanos’ detours are really engaging (the mundane subterfuge of shop-floor salesmen, for instance, and tales of combat drinking in skinhead moshpits). When the mystery comes together, eventually, there’s a breathless action climax. A Firing Offense was Pelecanos’s debut and it’s not bad at all. Not as good as his later work on The Wire – what could be? – but good enough to encourage me to pick up his other Stefanos novels at some point too.
But this is more like it. Block’s Eight Million Ways To Die is one of my favourite crime novels, and Matthew Scudder one of my favourite PIs. In All The Flowers Are Dying, there’s much more murder, carnage, gore and ghastliness here than in Apathy and A Firing Offense put together. In New York, an aging Scudder and his wife are being hunted by a serial killer, a maniac, a right piece-of-work. “Serial killers are always a bore in my book” said Mark E Smith in A Past Gone Mad, and normally I’d agree but this is so horrible, so vastly over the top, that I couldn’t help but keep turning the pages. Actually, in its more elegiac and less hysteric moments, All The Flowers… is quite charming, moving even.