Saturday, July 16, 2005

Just read

a rather fantastically good serial-killer thriller, Daniel Hecht's Puppets. I really loved it. The writing is elegant but unobtrusive, there's lots of interesting stuff to think about as well as a good story (brainwashing and Pavlovian conditioning, neurosurgery, US government conspiracies in the Vietnam era and beyond), settings (Westchester is particularly well-realized) and characters. The main character--state investigator Mo Ford--is particularly convincing. I get really sick of crime fiction where the author keeps on telling you that the investigator is a genius but does it in the clunkiest ways; you feel sometimes that the limits of the author's own intelligence make it impossible for him or her to make a really smart detective. This book is exactly the opposite. Mo Ford is super-smart but entirely unpretentious, and so is Daniel Hecht's novel. Great stuff. (Oh, and for clarification, it's not that I only like books that are super-intellectual or that all crime fiction must be written by and about geniuses! Good crime fiction can feature plodding or obstinate or daydreaming or self-destructive investigators and it's all fine with me. But it just doesn't do for a not-particularly-intellectual writer to characterize a main character as an intellectual without really feeling and understanding what that would be like. I actually get the same feeling of irritation with P. D. James's Adam Dalgleish, she just keeps telling you again and again that he's a poet, whereas you never see anything about him that makes it convincing and also who cares, given that in the chronology of the earlier books he published his one and only volume of poetry c. 1960 and would therefore by now be (a) well into his 70s if not 80s (b) completely unknown as a poet, particularly to his colleagues. I suppose there are some writers who are miraculously able to endow characters with emotional or intellectual properties that are quite foreign to them [i.e. the authors], but they are few and far between. This is why writers like Lee Child and Ken Bruen are so special--Lee Child's imaginative/inventive/TV producer of genius-type properties all go into making Jack Reacher the scenario inventor that he is, and Ken Bruen's insane genius reading/intellect/philosophy stuff/sensibility comes through amazingly directly in the persons of his self-destructive noir protagonists.)

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