Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sunburnt noir

I had a lovely chat with noir author Peter Temple a couple of weeks ago, and parts of our conversation have surfaced in this week's Time Out New York. It's really hard to make procedurals feel fresh, but Temple does just that in his latest, The Broken Shore. I did not have the space to elaborate on that point in my piece, but one of the things I like best about Temple is his ability to write good dialogue—something that too often takes a backseat to plot convolutions in genre fiction. Whether it's blokes discussing footie in a pub or the sexually charged banter that precedes a kiss, Temple's lines crackle and pop like they're out of a Ben Hecht screenplay.

Stephen Booth's The Dead Place, on the other hand, is a striking example of how not to do it. I find it impossible not to finish a crime novel once I've started it so I had to get to the end of that book, getting increasingly annoyed by my own stubborness. A few pages in, I realized I had actually read another Booth novel, One Last Breath, and managed to completely purge it from my memory. No wonder: His leads, Detective Constable Ben Cooper and Detective Sergeant Diane Fry, are wafer-thin creations with no distinguishable characteristics whatsoever, save for the fact that Cooper is detail-oriented and Fry is both closed-minded and aggressive about it. This does not take us very far.

The Dead Place revolves around the type of killer who leaves pretentiously cryptic messages about the horrors he's up to. If we haven't seen his sad kind a thousand times… Watching Cooper and Fry (a name better suited to a comedian team from the ’50s) bumble their way around, deal with potential suspects, a profiler and other assorted archetypes of contemporary procedurals, you just want to scream at the suffocating mediocrity of it all.

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