Wednesday, July 30, 2008

John Burdett, Bangkok Haunts; Robert B. Parker , Now and Then; James Lee Burke, Tin Roof Blow Down; J. Lantingua, Lady from Buenos Aires

John Burdett’s Bangkok Haunts captures the seamy underbelly of Thailand – an underbelly apparently as big as Sidney Greenstreet playing the corrupt Signor Ferrari in Casablanca or the vaguely homosexual seducer and rapacious Kaspar Gutman, The Fat Man, in The Maltese Falcon.

I mention these classic tales of human depravity, because they weave complex stories of human vice and virtues, although the later are practiced equivocally. Burdett ploughs new ground with this well-crafted page-turner. It had appeared that the James Bond novels and subsequent thrillers have covered every possible means of cruel torture and unnatural death. John Burdett proves it’s not so.

This tightly crafted novel offers finely drawn character portraits, a taut and surprising plot, and insight into Thai culture and consciousness. Burdett, who now lives in Thailand, has two previous novels with Bangkok in the title.

In Robert B. Parker’s novel, Now and Then, the gang is gathered together – Spenser, Susan, Hawk and Chollo – and up to their usual pranks of setting the world right with bullets. That these shoot-outs never seem to bear any consequences such as murder charges and the like is one of the enduring peculiarities of the series. The type is large, the story is brief. Now and Then, it appears, the author phones one in.

James Lee Burke is a word stylist worth reading even when plots curl over themselves in labyrinthine twists that – upon reflection – make little sense. The Tin Roof Blow Down is better than some (In The Electric Mist with Confederate Dead comes to mind) for plot. It is a Burke’s eye view of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 hurricane from which the beloved city, New Orleans, has not yet recovered. Having spent a short time living there and most of my life wishing that I could, I was glued to my TV during those awful days following the storm. Burke presents a version of the events as deeply and darkly human as those of Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.

Clete Purcel continues to self-destruct with dialectical carefree intensity, and Dave Robicheaux continues to tilt at windmills. Dave is on his fourth wife, by my count. Like Travis McGee in the John D. MacDonald color-coded mysteries, Robicheaux is one dangerous dude to fall in love with, if you’d like to live a long, happy life.

It’s probably not fair for me to comment on my brief tango with John Lantingua’s Lady from Buenos Aires. Willie Cuesta is a Miami detective. I picked up this one because the locale interested me. By chapter two, the pedestrian prose had me flipping to the end. My hat’s off to any author who gets a book published, but this one was not for me.

1 comment:

Sylvia K said...

I love James Lee Burke and have read everything he's written except this last one which I have on hold at the library. And I always enjoy Robert Parker. Great summer reading. I do enjoy your blog.