Monday, October 23, 2006

Obsession: These Books Stink of It

Three new books, all dealing, one way or another, with obsession.

Three new books I just couldn't put down.

Three new books I should have just left on my shelf, unopened, until I had a bit more free time.

When will I ever learn?

I feel especially bad getting sucked in by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr. Cos, like, I know these guys.

I mean, gee, like last spring's BUST, their recent co-written romp, wasn't bad enough?

I mean, don't get me wrong. BUST was fine, it was fun, a (relatively) harmless little diversion -- a fast, hard blast of noir chicanery and egoless literary tag-teaming that left me flipping pages back and forth and scratching my head, not just over the antics of a bunch of manipulative scam artists and other assorted losers all trying desperately to out-waltz each other, but by the burning question of who wrote what.

Was that Ken? Or Jason? Or Ken doing Jason doing Ken? Or Jason doing Ken doing Jason? Or had they gone off and had some diabolically conceived unholy lovechild/clone who could also write?

It didn't really matter in the end, because ultimately I just got so wrapped up in it that I didn't care.

But now they've really done it, going off to their separate corners and releasing new books almost simultaneously.

AMERICAN SKIN by Bruen is just staggering, a road trip so dark and skanky you just have to keep laughing because the alternative is assuming the fetal position and bawling like a baby -- or maybe just crawling into the grave and pulling the earth over yourself. (Ken, didn't anyone ever tell you that Springsteen's NEBRASKA is not a comedy album?)

The alleged hero (are there ever really heroes in Bruen's books?) is Stephen Blake, a more or less almost decent (but not particulalrly bright) Irish guy who finds himself on the run after a fucked-up bank heist, caught up in his own runaway American dream, hoping to start a new life with his way too-good-for-him girlfriend Siobhan (and a shitload of money) in Arizona. She's back home in Ireland laundering the money, waiting for the "all clear" signal. She'll have a long wait.

Meanwhile, Stephen figures all he has to do is learn to "pass" as an American and he and Siobhan -- when she finally arrives -- will have it made. He's wrong.

His partner in the failed bank job is Stapleton, a former IRA boyo who wants his cut -- and his pound of flesh. Stapleton's a shark -- a cold, relentless killer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. And he's not even the most dangerous character in this book -- that would be Dade, the Tammy Wynette-loving psycho who kills without thinking (or even blinking). Dade has decided that Stephen must die. Toss in a few more maladjusted carnivores, including a whacked out drug dealer and a seriously deranged femme fatale, and you've got one hell of a roadtrip -- with one nasty impending head-on collision lying in wait like a killer in the sun. You know it's going to be messy and bloody, but I defy you to look away.

(By the way, it's nice to know Canadians aren't the only ones obsessed with the U.S. -- although I suspect Ken wears his "American skin" a little more easily than I do).

Meanwhile, Jason's LIGHTS OUT is, is, is... WHAT? I'm still not sure if it's a tragedy or a comedy or both. Granted, it's decidedly more sedate than Bruen's book, but it's every bit as dark and disturbing. It also left me feeling extremely pissed off at the characters. I mean, shit, how could they be so stupid? So selfish? So oblivious? So cold? So callous? So hard? So soft? So weak? So fucked?

So human?

I wanted -- several times -- to just scream at these people. "What the hell's wrong with you?"

Jake "JT" Thomas is a superstar fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, an almost universally beloved sports hero -- and a prime asshole, a conceited, self-centered jerk who thinks with his dick -- when he thinks at all. Jake's obsessed all right -- with Jake.

His boyhood friend and rival, Ryan Rossettii, never quite made the majors. A career-ending injury in the minors took care of that. He coulda been a contender but now he's scraping by as a Brooklyn housepainter, still living for now with his parents, obsessed with the career he never had. And with Jake.

It doesn't help matters that Ryan's become romantically involved with Christina Mercado, JT's long-time "fiancée" -- or that JT's coming home to Brooklyn to announce -- finally -- his and Christina's much-delayed wedding date. Suffice it to say that things go bad -- very bad -- for all concerned, and we end up with a sort of noirish, pro-sports version of BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, complete with sex scandals, gangbangers, murders (both attenpted and otherwise) and batting statistics.

And then there's RIPPEROLOGY by Robin Odell, a prime ode to obsession if ever there was one. I'm not generally much of a true crime guy, but this one suckerpunched me.

Subtitled "A Study of the World's First Serial killer and a Literary Phenomenon," this is a truly fascinating glimpse into the world of those who study the crimes of Jack the Ripper. Author Odell, who won an Edgar for The Murderers' Who's Who, hauls out every "solution" that's been floated in the last 120 years or so, presents each as objectively as possible, and then proceeds to blow each one out of the water. Odell tries to take the high road, but sometimes he can't help but let a little bite into his bark (don't get him started on Patricia Cornwell's book on Jack a few years ago). And that's really what's so compelling, at least to me -- the surprising heat and animosity these "Ripperologists" occasionally display towards each other's pet "theories," and the depth of their obsessions. They're like the Trekkies of true crime, locked into their own world, speaking Klingon to each other.

The only difference? I've never wanted to learn Klingon, but damn if I could put this one down.


Post a Comment

<< Home