Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Curious Eat Themselves (John Straley, 1993)

Yet another attempt on putting a new twist on the classical PI genre by having a bit unconventional protagonist in some exotic surroundings. We are in cold Alaska, and our hero's name is Cecil Younger. He was hired by some unfortunate girl to find the assholes who had raped her, but Cecil becomes client-less as early as on the first page when poor Louise is pulled from the ocean with her throat cut. Promising start, I like it when crime books follow the unwritten rule of having a corpse in the first act. And since we are in Alaska (and since the back cover also hints at this), we know that her death will just lead our white knight to some big corporate environmental fuckup.

Which, of course, it does. But things go rapidly from intriguing to slightly confusing to simply fucking boring. Cecil basically has no clue what to do or how to lead a proper investigation. True, he does solve the case of his dead dog, but apart from that, he's far from being a mover and shaker. Basically, anyone who has five minutes to spare, from corporate bastards to cops and even his ex-wife, gives him clues and instructions about what's happening and what's he supposed to do next.

So it soon becomes boring and repetitive. And for several reasons, I think. The plot just doesn't move anywhere. An occasional corpse does pop up here and there, but in general, there's no mystery to be solved. Narration simply goes from point A to point B without any twists, and characters are just stereotypical, one-dimensional black/white guys. Although it must be said that at least they are not presented as eccentric weirdos in a "Northern Exposure" type of simplified crap.

Interestingly, the thing that really kills the novel's pace is the language used. Very good, rich, at times even poetic but just not focused and tight. The author pays attention to every possible fucking detail, and there are pages and pages of some completely redundant descriptions. A good example would be the chapter before the last one. We are at the end, where things usually start to unfold, and tempo shifts typically a gear or two up. Not in this one: we need to follow three castaways about how they get their shit together by lighting a fire, hunting deer, preparing food, etc. Truly incredible anti-climax...

Reminded me a bit of Jean-Claude Izzo. John Straley, too, seems to have chosen the wrong genre for his writing (maybe that's why he's into writing poetry these days?). I did like the beginning, but then it all became too messy. Don't think I'll check out other books of the series.



Cecil Younger, pretty much an antipode of classical hard-boiled detective: doesn't drink, doesn't carry a gun, lives with a mentally handicapped friend.

All over Alaska. Cecil is based in a small town called Sitka, but he's flying around like man obsessed. Was impossible to track him because even he, at one point, realises that "I had been in three other airports but I didn't remember which ones."

Body count
5 + one dog

His ex-wife Hannah

He jumps off the plane that's about to take off and wakes up one day later. 

Tattoo that his ex has on her shoulder. Apparently from a poem "Straw for the Fire" written by Theodore Roethke

A bit wild and certainly unusual for crime novels. Kind of cool and definitely in the book's spirit, but I still prefer classical covers with blondes and guns.

Cool lines:  
I hate being on the wagon. It's like getting my life back but losing one of my senses.

He had a look of a tired day-care worker who wanted to slap the snot out of a kid but knew the parents were watching.

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