Monday, March 26, 2012

J. A. Konrath's Whiskey Sour

Not a book critic, but a critic of the entire traditional publishing industry, Joe Konrath spearheaded, and continues to be a leading blogger for, the mushrooming ereader industry. (Note the symbolism of "mushrooming", however.) He started out the usual way, with contacts and contracts from the New York houses, but soured on them when he saw the potential for, and realization of, greenbacks from slapping his work on Amazon and other ebook facilitators. Other factors for his switch are important, as well, but for the purposes of this review, I'll shelve outlining them, and focus (eventually) on his first book, Whiskey Sour, published by Hyperion in 2004.

Books? I'm a snob. An elitist. As to hybrid forms, literary crime fiction is useless if the "literary" side of the procedure lets up or is insufficient, whereas it can be just fine if the writing is excellent but the crime devices are shaky or missing. I guess you could call Graham Greene's Brighton Rock literary crime fiction, but it didn't need the cloak-and-dagger, though it would be nothing without the wonderful writing and incisive characterisation.

Before Whiskey Sour, I hadn't read a single book of crime fiction. Oh, I've tried. But when encountering books for the first time that I have deep scepticism about, I like to give it the John Metcalf test: read the first sentence or paragraph and see if I need to waste any more time. In my adaptation, I'll often open a book at random and read a sentence. Performing this daring feat on one of Clive Cussler's books, I chanced upon, " "Get out!", she hissed furiously. "Get out now!" ". Three seconds of that is much preferable to twelve or fifteen hours. And last I saw, Cussler's books filled a row of a library, the author name on each resembling the type on blazing billboards decorating Highway One. But Cussler's got nothing on the omniprevalence of James Patterson's writing corporation. I didn't even need to make the one sentence test with Patterson Inc. Here's a cut-out on the inside jacket of his Cradle and All: "And in cities all around the world, medical authorities are overwhelmed by epidemics, droughts, famines, floods, and worse. It all feels like a sign that something awful is coming." (Bolding mine.) Unfair, I know. So let's open the book. P 71: "The sprawling festival of people stared upward with open mouths and widening eyes." Need another? P. 219: " "Believe me, Kathleen, evil is all around us right now. I know this to be true."//"You're scaring me badly," she said, "and I'm already so scared. I can't bear it. I can't listen anymore." ".

So you can imagine my trepidation when picking up Whiskey Sour. The first sentence: "There were four black and whites at the 7-eleven when I arrived." Short. To the point. A decent hook. Gathering action. All good. In fact, much of the book is economical yet propulsive, what I would take to be the perfect style for crime fiction in general. Characterisation is sacrificed to plot, as it must be, but Konrath's characters, while lacking many dimensions, nevertheless are believable as types. There is much humour in the book! And it fits pretty seamlessly. In any genre, and especially in the often portentous lit world, this is welcome. The only quibbles I had were the choice of police Lieutenant Daniels as woman (I kept picturing the ballsy heroine as a man with maxi dress in block heels), and the ridiculously implausible climax. But it ain't supposed to be Zola, and doesn't pretend to be.

If I can get by the one sentence test again, I might even read more crime fiction.

No comments: