Archive for Raymond Chandler

Berlin [and Vienna] noir [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2017 by xi'an

While in Cambridge last month, I picked a few books from a local bookstore as fodder for my incoming vacations. Including this omnibus volume made of the first three books by Philip Kerr featuring Bernie Gunther, a private and Reich detective in Nazi Germany, namely, March Violets (1989), The Pale Criminal (1990), and A German Requiem (1991). (Book that I actually read before the vacations!) The stories take place before the war, in 1938, and right after, in 1946, in Berlin and Vienna. The books centre on a German version of Philip Marlowe, wise cracks included, with various degrees of success. (There actually is a silly comparison with Chandler on the back of the book! And I found somewhere else a similarly inappropriate comparison with Graham Greene‘s The Third Man…) Although I read the whole three books in a single week, which clearly shows some undeniable addictive quality in the plots, I find those plots somewhat shallow and contrived, especially the second one revolving around a serial killer of young girls that aims at blaming Jews for those crimes and at justifying further Nazi persecutions. Or the time spent in Dachau by Bernie Gunther as undercover agent for Heydrich. If anything, the third volume taking place in post-war Berlin and Wien is much better at recreating the murky atmosphere of those cities under Allied occupations. But overall there is much too much info-dump passages in those novels to make them a good read. The author has clearly done his documentation job correctly, from the early homosexual persecutions to Kristallnacht, to the fights for control between the occupying forces, but the information about the historical context is not always delivered in the most fluent way. And having the main character working under Heydrich, then joining the SS, does make relating to him rather unlikely, to say the least. It is hence unclear to me why those books are so popular, apart from the easy marketing line that stories involving Nazis are more likely to sell… Nothing to be compared with the fantastic Alone in Berlin, depicting the somewhat senseless resistance of a Berliner during the Nazi years, dropping hand-written messages against the regime under strangers’ doors.

Dance Dance Dance

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , on November 25, 2012 by xi'an

In the (rather nice) bookstore in Changi Aiport, I came across this book by Murakami, “Dance Dance Dance”, and got hooked by the cover catchphrase: “If Raymond Chandler had lived long enough to see Blade Runner, he might have written something like Dance Dance Dance“. And the (UK) cover looked great too. (This was also a good opportunity to get rid of my remaining Aussie coins!)

I am not a major fan of Murakami as I find his stories rather uneven and his semi-fantastic undertone sometimes completely alien: e.g., I loved the short stories in after the quake and Kafka on the Shore was a great novel. On the other hand, the first volume of 1Q84 convinced me not to look any further in the series. This novel alas belongs to the second category of books I do not like so much: for one thing, the catchphrase above is just completely inappropriate! This is not a hard-boiled detective story: there are murders, for sure, but the main character is not hard in any sense and the murders are possibly solved by psychics and ghosts. There is no dark technocratic future à la Blade Runner either, only a lingering past that remains hidden behind the daily normality as an harmless ghost. (I do not know the author of the catchphrase but I hope (s)he gets fired from The Observer) The characters in Dance Dance Dance are caricaturesque, even when they have some real depth, like the main character (whose name is never given), and it is difficult to fathom what his motivations are, as he gets carried like flotsam along the various currents of the novel. There is no conclusion to the story: some characters vanish and the main character finds some (short-term) love achievement with an hotel clerk he has been wooing the whole time. The book is not altogether unpleasant, it is well-written with a kind of counter-pace, however the psychological quandary of the main character is simply too complete to stand!

the Dewey decimal system

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 13, 2012 by xi'an

I bought this book in Princeton bookstore mostly because it was a such beautiful object! I had never heard of Nathan Larson nor of the Dewey Decimal System when I grabbed the book and felt the compulsion to buy it!

The book published by Akashic Books is indeed a beautiful book: the paper is high quality, a warm crème colour, the cover has inside flaps, the printing makes reading very enjoyable, the pages are cut in such a way that looking at the book from the fore edge makes it look like a Manhattan skyline… Truly a beautiful thing!!!

Once I had opened the book, I also got trapped by the story, an unusual style along with a great post-apocalyptic plot (not The Road, of course!, but what can compare with The Road?!) and a love of New York City that permeates the pages for sure! A magistral début for a new author. While the action takes place in an unpleasant future New York City, with disease and ruin on ever street corner, slowly recovering from a mega 9/11 style attack, the central character relates very much to Chandler‘s private detectives, but also, as mentioned in another review, to Jerome Charyn’s Isaac Seidel! The main character, only known as Dewey Decimal for his maniac idée fixe of ordering the books in the New York Library where he lives, is bordering on the insane and his moral code is rather heavily warped, witness several rather gratuitous murders in the book,  but the whole city seems to have fallen very low in terms of this same moral code… As well as being under the rule of Eastern European thugs (to the point of the hero speaking Russian and Ukrainian). The blonde fatale found in every roman noir is slightly carituresque (“plastic surgery in any amount just makes me want to puke. Call me judgmental, but it indicates a certain set of accompanying goals, fashion choices and behaviors. It’s trashy and it means you don’t like yourself.“), with whiffs of ethnic cleansing activities in Serbia and she remains a mystery till the end of the novel. As are most other characters, in fact. This may be the low tide part of the book, that everything is perceived from Dewey’s eyes to the point of making others one-D and hard to fathom… But the overall scheme of following this partly insane detective throughout New York City makes the Dewey Decimal System quite an unconventional pleasure to read and I am looking forward the next story in the series.