Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gun by Ray Banks

< Review by Tony Black >
< GUN by Ray Banks >
< Published by Crime Express >
< Price £4.99 >

< ISBN-10: 190551252X >

< ISBN-13: 978-1905512522 >

Gun is biting, bleak noir with a boot in the gutter and a shooter in the waistband. Banks, author of the outstanding No More Heroes and Beast of Burden has sharpened his already laser-edged storytelling in this novella about a bottom-feeder crim sent to collect a handgun.

British crime fiction doesn't get much grittier than this foray into the mean streets of petty crooks and knuckle-breaking thugs. Banks portrays the street trash and derros of the inner city with an acuity few of his peers can match. But it's his empathetic treatment of their woes that shines out in Gun. This is a tale that speaks up for the futility of those trapped in the slum, those seeking a better life when the only options point to prison or a needle.

For such a short, and seemingly prosaic, tale Banks crams in an incredible amount. Like Hemingway's iceberg principle, there's much more going on between the lines that the keen reader will ponder on. This is no mean writing feat, and one too rarely achieved these days.

Gun is a buy in the morning and devour by the afternoon mini-masterpiece that will whet the appetite for more from this talented writer.

Q & A with Sybille Barrasso

Q: What makes Macy Adams different from other (unofficial) PIs?
Macy unravels her cases through psychological insights into other people's motivations. She has empathy for human frailty. She is more sentimental than other PIs. Many PI novels are gritty, with the action taking place on those legendary mean streets. Macy's world is more refined; her clients tend to be wealthy, though her investigation in DARK WATERS takes her many places. She's a descendant of John Adams, the second American president. While other PIs may work up a sweat boxing or doing martial arts, Macy plays tennis; she wears jewelry and perfume, and she has a love interest.

Q: What is it about Boston that has generated so many good PI writers?
I think it all started with Robert B. Parker, who inspired so many local writers. There's a large community of authors here in Boston, with various associations providing fellowship and support. And Boston is such a beautiful setting, a pretty town overlooking the ocean with a history full of political scandals (Chappaquidic, Whitey Bulger), corruption at the state house, prominent murder cases (Charles Stuart, Neil Entwistle), and even a real serial killer (the Boston Strangler).

Q: What would a soundtrack to your novel sound like?
That's a tough question. Boston's "More than a Feeling" comes to mind, for the underlying energy--as well as the name of the band, of course. And in a way the song tells the story of the novel. Also K.D. Lang's "Constant Craving," which Macy actually plays in a scene in DARK WATERS. For the water scenes, maybe Chopin's Ballade #4?

Q: What's next for you and Macy?
In DARK THOUGHTS, Macy Adams goes undercover at a TV station to unmask the stalker of a beautiful news anchor. And the relationship between Macy and Jack gets more complicated.

Q: How do you promote your books?
My publisher does a lot, of course, but I do book signings, speak at book clubs and conferences, and do guest blogging. I write a monthly feature for the International Thriller Writers website, and I have a website www.sibyllebarrasso.com.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Yes, I do, and she's a Daughter of Spade. Sue Grafton is my idol. My favorite review came from Library Journal: "Barrasso's approach to the PI genre might be considered a softer version of Sue Grafton, but her touch is as deft."

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, MacDonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
It'll be interesting to find out. Maybe someone who uses CSI-type technology.

Q: Rusell McLean came up with the following question: What defines a private eye (or a son of spade) for you?
It can't be an amateur crime solver. A PI is someone who either has a professional background in solving crimes (i.e. a former detective or cop), or gets paid for investigating (for example, a lawyer could function as a PI).

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?

Water has a strong emotional pull for me. I used to sail and swim competitively, and I've always harbored a great fear of drowning. The summer I started writing DARK WATERS, I spent a lot of time at Harvard University. Harvard is located on the banks of the Charles River. Jogging along the Charles at dawn and seeing the river on a daily basis served as inspiration for DARK WATERS. I liked the idea of finding a dead body by the water's edge, and I wanted the novel's main victim to have drowned, making it ambiguous whether his death was accidental or a homicide.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Chicago Way (Michael Kelly) by Michael Harvey

This novel starts out like so many PI novels do. Michael Kelly is hired by his former partner to look into a cold case, a rape. Kelly’s got all the popular cliché attributes of a PI: the bottle in the drawer, the tragic past, he’s an ex-cop and used to be a boxer. He is intellectual enough to read Greek classics and has a best female friend who’s a forensic expert (like Leo Waterman, H.D. Denton and even Noah Milano have). So I was expecting a good ride but nothing special. I was wrong.
The prose is just fantastic. It’s witty, dry and stripped down to it’s basics, making it an easy but very enjoyable read.
The story has a lot of twists and turns and writer Michael Harvey uses his knowledge gained from working on the TV-show Cold Case Files to great effect, successfully marrying the PI genre with that of the forensic thriller. This marriage might be the way to go to keep the genre fresh and popular with a larger audience.