Fine crime: Luther and Creole Belle

luther the calling by neil crossInfluenced by both the superb television mini-series and a review by Karen Brooks, I picked up the novel Luther the Calling by Neil Cross. It’s the prelude to the TV show, ending where the show begins. And it’s brilliant.

Cross wrote the screenplay for the show, then, influenced by the performance of Idris Elba in the titular role, wrote this novel with that performance in mind. He nails Elba and his co-stars to a tee.

But that replication of the screen isn’t the winning element of the novel. No, it’s the writing, and the characterisation, the insight; it’s the use of small details to paint a big picture, of crafted prose. Much of the book is told one point of view to a scene. I like that: it’s clean, I can ride along with the character. And then, there’s this one violent moment. We are led up to it knowing what’s about to happen, following each character, four or more, walking and driving and living, and then they intersect and — bam! One par each, bang-bang-bang. It’s the stuff of adrenalin and chaos and works perfectly, guided no doubt by that screenwriter’s eye for cut scenes.

I knew how this book would end, that final scene, and it didn’t matter one jot. The characters carry me through their sublimely drawn landscape toward the inevitable moment with the clock ticking ever faster. Superb.

creole belle by james lee burke

And then there’s Creole Belle, number 19 in a series about detect Dave Robicheaux in Louisiana, from the pen of James Lee Burke. He writes in the first person from Dave’s point of view, tired and insightful and often bemused and confused, an author and a character who show their age on the page. He also writes about other characters in the third person, but from Dave’s omniscient view. It’s problematic, but I went with it, because the voice is as compelling as the flow of the Mississippi, and I love that part of the world and Burke brings it alive. He uses landscape, lushly drawn, and history to backdrop his story and to mirror his character’s state of being. With the weariness of the veteran solider and cop, he offers commentary on the state of the world and how it got where it is, bad or good, and where he thinks it might be heading. He’s a cool guy to hang around with as he tries to solve an apparent kidnapping that leads to far much worse, a state of corruption that harks back to Nazi Germany and reaches into the Gulf oil spill. With Dave and the force-of-nature Clete on the trail, there’s hints of superstition and religion, southern style, and plenty of friction; there’s a real-world sweat to this yarn that makes it hard to put down.

It’s narration, so you know that Dave’s gonna make it, but the collateral damage brings in the suspense. And the fact that this is Dave’s 19th adventure doesn’t matter at all; I picked up the novel and didn’t feel I’d missed a thing not having read the preceding titles, even though this begins directly in the aftermath of the previous, essentially part two of that arc.

Rich back story and the relationship between Dave and Clete is the key, anchored in time and place that makes me wish once more for a beignet and cafe au lait and a deeper understanding of this fascinating part of the world.

GenreCon for Sydney in November

From the Queensland Writers Centre bulletin, a great event for genre writers:

The Australian Writer’s Marketplace is proud to announce GenreCon!

Rydges Paramatta, November 2-4th 2012

GenreCon is a three-day convention for Australian fans and professionals working within the fields of romance, mystery, science fiction, crime, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and more. One part party, one part celebration, one part professional development: GenreCon is the place to be if you’re an aspiring or established writer with a penchant for the types of fiction that get relegated to their own corner of the bookstore. Featuring international guests Joe Abercrombie (Writer, The First Law Trilogy, Best Served Cold, The Heroes), Sarah Wendell (co-founder, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), and Ginger Clark (Literary Agent, Curtis Brown).

For more information, visit Early bird rates available to the first 50 registrations.

The event looks to have a strong industry and networking focus, and the ticketing system includes mention of pitching opportunities.

AWWNYRC Review #1: Frantic, by Katherine Howell

I joined up with the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge and have started on my list of 10 books by, you guessed it, Australian women writers to read this year, the national year of reading. Here’s the first review:


Katherine Howell
Pan Macmillan, 2007, ISBN: 978 1 4050 3797 6

frantic by katherine howell

FRANTIC by name, frantic by nature. And intriguing, too.

This is the debut novel from Katherine Howell, who drew on her experience as a paramedic in telling the story of heroine Sophie, a Sydney paramedic. Sophie’s husband, Chris, is shot at the door of their house and their baby, Lachlan, is kidnapped. Every parent’s nightmare, right?

Add in a vicious bunch of bank robbers who might be coppers and a relationship going through a rough patch, and you’ve got a compelling thriller anchored in the world of the emergency services.

Also starring is police detective Ella Marconi, whose career has stalled due to her run-in with a boss.

It’s not hard to see why the novel has brought Howell kudos, a series and a following. The medical and police procedural rings true, without the bells and whistles of a Hollywood performance. The law is not so much an ass as a mule that we trust to plod its way across the legal terrain, getting there in the end. But of course, Lachlan doesn’t have time for plodding: Sophie is prepared to do anything to get him back. Howell’s portrayal of the mother’s anxiety is spot-on. Frantic, indeed.

australian women writers challenge 2012The story puts the reader in an interesting seat. Certain medical emergencies attended by Sophie have varying degrees of import with the core storyline, and the reader must decide which are relevant, and how. The event that triggers the story — the shooting of Sophie’s policeman husband Chris — is clearly not what the police, a little mysteriously, seem to believe it is. Why isn’t Chris dead? Why is Lachlan missing? Why the note? It just doesn’t add up.

And then Chris gets his own point of view, so his role, while murky, is largely understood. And then, perhaps halfway through the book, the villain is revealed, and the reader is no longer left in the position of a whodunit but, rather, the position of an observer watching the web being woven, and why, and wondering who will be ultimately trapped.

It’s a methodical tale, competently told, with attention to detail — leaves in drains, the smell of food — and no grandstanding. Marconi is neither Sherlock Holmes nor Dirty Harry. Sophie is not an action hero. Chris is not Chuck Norris. No one gets out unscathed or unaffected, not even Marconi.

That down-to-earth approach is perhaps the novel’s most endearing feature. The resolution leaves the questions satisfactorily answered. It’s no surprise that Marconi is still going strong, five books later.

life on mars, take 2-WTF?

life on mars uk version

life on mars uk version

life on mars, US version

life on mars, US version

Life on Mars is an awesome police drama out of the UK, in which the main character is essentially sent back in time from the present day to the 1970s. The conceit is, is the trip real? Or is he in a coma dreaming he’s in the 70s? Or is he simply insane? It is, for the most part, compelling viewing; even if the story goes a little wonky here and there, the acting is uniformly superb.

In the most recent Rolling Stone magazine, there’s a copy of episode 1 of Life on Mars. Life on Mars, US-style. Yup, the cousins across the Atlantic couldn’t quite cope with England in the 70s, so they had to go make the show all over again, set in New York. Which is, based on the first ep, where the only interest lies. But even then, the atmosphere is pretty similar: hippies, a growing drug culture, racial tension, women’s rights, thuggery in the cop shop, the boy’s club at the boozer. The US show is an echo that seems pale by comparison, even with Harvey Keitel in the cast. (The effects are pretty cheesy, too.) It feels as if the actors are just repeating others’ lines, which in some respects they are.

My question is: why? Is imitation really the most sincere form of flattery or just a travesty?

At least the US soundtrack is rockin’, though I’m mildly surprised they didn’t use a cover of David Bowie’s theme song, rather than the real thing 😉