Friday, February 6, 2009

Catching Up #21: Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover

First off, yeah, I know. I'm late to the party with this one. All the cool kids got their mitts on this bitch eons ago. But I, the Nerd of Noir, am not a cool kid. I wasn't even invited to the party, didn't even know there was a party to be late to. Okay, that's a lie. I've been hearing about Sean Chercover's debut for a long time. The Great Richard Katz at Mystery One in Milwaukee tried to stuff the fucker in my hands before it was even for sale, but I opted for the other Chicago-centered novel making its glorious debut at that time, Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself.

You see, PI novels don'y usually turn my crank.

At least that's what I always said, anyway.

You see, I had long been of the belief that the PI novel was dead, and that Lehane's Kenzie/Gennaro books and Pelecanos' Strange/Quinn books had put the corpse in the ground. I would smugly say to myself, "What more can be done with the form that those two titans of crime haven't already covered?" and then I would retire to my study and smoke a pipe in front of the fire.

But then Bruen started doing the Jack Taylor novels, fucking with everything you've ever known about private dicks. Then Michael Koryta's Lincoln Perry books just did the form so goddamn well - so much so that I didn't even balk at the lack of effenheimers (and the Nerd likes him some "swears," in case you couldn't tell). Then Dave White's Jackson Donne books just kicked so much fucking ass and Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt books rocked my shit. Then Ray Banks punched me in the balls with his extremely intelligent Callum Innes series...

So basically, I've come back around on the tried-and-true old bitch.

But why-oh-fucking-why did I shit on the PI novel for so goddamn long? Well, let's investigate that little question, dear reader. Let's investigate like...a fucking private eye, I suppose. Shit.

My aversion to the PI novel is primarily because so many of the fuckers are just rehashes of the same thing. Plenty of writers do it plenty-well, but it's just the same old story over and over. Even dudes who are - no doubt - good writers and bona-fide noir badasses like Andrew Vachss (and the villain exploiter of children. Yet again. Oh.), they get pretty old pretty quick.

What Pelecanos and Lehane did was yeah, they had a series and certain familiar things would happen in each novel and whatnot, but the SERIES had a beginning, middle and end, not just one after another of the same old shit like a Lawrence Sanders book (oh, he fucks a hot chick and acts suave. Sweet.). The characters changed, the novels had an arc and the SERIES had an arc as well. It's kind of like how on The Shield those just tuning in can enjoy Dutch and Claudette getting some sort of case that'll probably be wrapped up by the end of the episode, but for the long-time fans you have the more serialized elements of the Strike Team's shady doings. It's THAT SHIT that floats my boat.

And all those dudes I mentioned above GET that and do it right. I don't feel like any of them - though none are done with their series yet - are gonna stretch this shit out to Grafton-like lengths.

I've only read the first of Sean Chercover's series, but I already feel like he'll be one of the good guys too.

From the first pages of Big City, Bad Blood, we learn toot-fucking-sweet that Chicago private dick Ray Dudgeon is a fucking badass to beat the band (though speaking of bands, Dudgeon does love jazz, the genre of beret-wearing-finger-snapping-prentention-oozing-hep-cats, which knocks him down a few pegs in the Nerd's book). We meet Dudgeon as he is arranging a meeting with Outfit boss Johnny Greico on behalf of his client, Hollywood locations manager Bob Loniski.

Loniski is in town working for a studio called Continental Pictures, and his job took a turn for the worst when he rented a location from an Outfit hood running a scam where he rents to people month-to-month, no lease, to cover up the fact that he doesn't actually own the place he's renting out. Now Loniski is set to testify against the hood but needs protection to survive the ordeal. Dudgeon tentatively agrees to the job. But first, he's gotta check something with Greico.

You see, what's so awesome about this opening meeting is Dudgeon straight-up tells the reader that if the gangster in question is protected by Greico, he'll back off. He'll just say fuck it, let poor old Bob get whacked. That is ridiculously awesome. It sets Dudgeon up as a flat-out badass, a realist, jaded as all hell. You can't help but get a hard-boiled boner (that sounds painful) right from the start with this one.

Thankfully, Greico says the dude is of no concern to him so that, you know, we can have a story.

And from there Dudgeon only proves himself more awesome with every page. He is a hard man, with no qualms about killing a guy in cold-blood - not self-defense - if it's for the good of a case. The guy is stone-cold cool.

I could go on and on about Dudgeon but what I also like about this book is that it isn't really a mystery. We know who all the bad guys are and there are little turns here and there but no big reveals, no crazy-ass twists (it was Dudgeon's best friend all along! Noooo!!!). We just follow Dudgeon as he tries to keep his client alive and fuck over enough of the higher-ups so that he can save his client's skin, not to mention his own. It's a nifty plot (I'm a 1930's paperboy) and it honestly never feels too big, too over-the-top. Also, we get to see all kinds of PI tricks that Chercover himself, a former PI, has most-likely used in the past. There are techniques and devices in this book that I have never heard of and it made it all the more refreshing (whenever I write that word a picture of a can of Sprite appears in my head. I don't even like Sprite that much. Dammmmn youse ad-ver-tis-ingggg!!!).

But the capper, the icing on the proverbial-fucking-cake, is Chicago itself. I can't say I've been to Chicago a billion times, but I recognized a lot of places as I read this book and Chercover's perspective is similar to my own. He paints Chicago as a place of corruption, history, and working-class badassery that is being coated in Disney safety plastic every day. We get to see the town warts-and-all, the only way it should be seen, and damn if it doesn't just feel so fucking right.

So yeah, this bitch turned out to be more of a journey of self-discovery (the most boring journeys to be had) than a review but I think you can tell that I dug the shit out of Big City, Bad Blood. Will I read Trigger City?

In the words of Omar Little, "Oh in-deed."

1 comment:

Sean Chercover said...

Thanks for that awesome review, man. Glad you dug it.