Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Catching Up #48: The Big O by Declan Burke

If you’re an Elmore Leonard or John McFetridge fan (which, let’s face it, if you’re not, what the hell are you doing here?), the Nerd has some shit to toss on the top of your TBR pile. Declan Burke’s The Big O is twisty, hilarious, sharp, dialogue-heavy, and a fucking breeze to read. The Nerd isn’t normally one to dip into romance novel review clichés, but there’s no getting around the fact that The Big O has a very real charm that is no-bullshit irresistible.

In the novel we follow a group of characters whose lives intersect in hilarious, highly improbable ways. There is disbarred plastic surgeon Frank, a desperate fellow going through a nasty divorce. With his shady lawyer, Frank works out that if he hires someone to kidnap his wife, he could collect half a million in insurance, then fake paying it off as long as he paid the kidnappers. Meanwhile, his secretary Karen (who is a part-time armed robber), unwittingly strikes up a romance with the kidnapper in question, a cool cat named Ray. Then Karen’s ex-boyfriend Rossi is released from prison, his aims being to get his Ducati, gun, dog, and sixty grand back from Karen.

And if you’ve lost your way already, dear reader, no fucking worries. There’re a billion twists and turns in The Big O but Burke keeps shit nothing less than fucking crystal, no doubt. Thing is, there’s a billion and a half coincidences in this beast, so much so that it’s like Burke is fucking daring you to call bullshit on him. It’s never overtly stated, but there’s clearly some sort of hilarious fate or destiny shit going on here, but it’s handled so straight and nonchalantly that you’ll forgive him at every gleefully implausible encounter and connection.

And even if the wild-ass plot bugs you, there’s no getting around how beautifully drawn the characters are or how absolutely hilarious the dialogue is. I don’t toss around Elmore Leonard references lightly, and this shit would make the Master proud. By the way, quick question, is “the painters are in” as a euphemism for “on your period” a common phrase in Ireland or is that just something within this world Burke has created? It’s my favorite euphemism since I read about “using the tradesman’s entrance” in Crooked Little Vein (which, for those whose minds aren’t consistently in the gutter, means to have anal sex).

One thing you should be aware of, my fellow noir addicts, is that this isn’t some big-body-count-ultra-violence extravaganza. There’s lots of crime shit and a crazy plot, but it’s not intense thrill ride you might expect from that plot description. That said, you’ll be carried along just fine by said dialogue and complex story regardless. Like I said, we’re in Elmore Leonard territory, and you never had trouble finishing his shit in a flash despite his lackadaisical style, did you? You did? You fucking lie. Well, unless you’re talking about Maximum Bob. Jesus, that one was a bit of a slog.

So get on board with this Declan Burke fella. He’s got some fucking chops, no doubt about it. I mean, what the fuck do I have to do to make you pick up this fucking book? Mention Elmore Leonard again? Cause I’ll do it, don’t you make me bust out that necessary cliché yet again, you bastard!

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