Michael Haskins

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Declan Burke's "The Big O" is coming to America!

Personally, I believe it is a good thing that Ireland’s biggest export is no longer its citizens. It has taken more than 100 years for the exodus to stop. What is the world to do without the Irish to be its police officers, politicians, publicans, and rogues? Don’t panic, the Irish are falling back on one of their oldest talents and traditions, the written word.

What I’ve heard from one Irish writer and journalist, Declan Burke, is that his second book, The Big O, has been bought by Harcourt and will be available in America by the fall of ’09.

I am so sorry for you, because it is a long wait for a fantastic read, especially for mystery fans. I can say that, because I’ve read both Burke’s books. All right, you want to know what you’re missing; I’ll give you a little hint.

Think of the ironic humor of Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder novels, and throw in the black humor of a Carl Hiaasen Florida-misadventure novel. Mix up the humorous, determined, demented heroes and anti-heroes of these two fantastic authors and (I’m not done yet!) toss in some hardboiled writing, a lot like Elmore Leonard’s, and you have Declan Burke’s writing. Think of it as an Irish Stew of writing.

Carl Hiaasen should not read The Big O, because, while laughing himself silly, he will be banging his head against the proverbial wall because someone else created the anti-hero Rossi; a character that makes you laugh and then scares the bejesus out of you after the lights go off.

If you accept the premise that Dortmunder is not a good guy, but he ain’t bad either, you will agree with me that Karen and Ray, from The Big O, while not two of the most law-abiding citizens of the world, they’re not bad, just a little desperate and determined. After all, Ray wants to go straight and stop kidnapping for a shylock and Karen is only a stickup artist to help make ends meet, temporally. And the divorce of Dr. Dolan’s and the involvement of the female detective, Doyle, only complicate Ray’s criminal life.

I don’t really want to do a review of the plot and so forth, but I do want to say you will enjoy this book, if you like the writers mentioned above.

Ireland (home of my great-grandparents), is producing some terrific mystery writers these days and many of their books, sadly, are unavailable in the States. Though, some of their books can be ordered online, via Amazon’s European site. You can go to Burke’s http://www.crimealwayspays.blogspot.com/, where you will find some great reviews and discover how to order his book. Check his list of Irish writers, too. You will discover some great writers. Their websites are linked on his blog and worth checking out, if you are a mystery fan. You can also order The Big O on the site, but only I can say, “I was the first to read it!” It is okay with me, if you claim second place.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Who Reads Today?

It occurred to me, while I was preparing to send ARCs of “Chasin’ the Wind” to newspapers and other media outlets for reviews, that I am not sure people read much anymore.

As an example, Monroe County, where I live, is considering closing one or two libraries in the Middle Keys. I’ve read in the newspaper that other libraries are closing too. I also read, or hear from friends, about bookstores that are closing. I read a feature, recently, that indicated many newspapers have downsized their book review sections or have completely done away with them. Why? Because advertising revenues in those sections are down.

So, who reads today? Teenagers seem to do everything on computers and that includes reading. One teen I know, 16-year-old Alex Fierro, got through middle school with good grades in reading, but he read stories on the computer and tested about them on the computer. His summer reading required finishing two books and it was something he held off doing until a week before school. Do you suppose he received any pleasure from the books?

I don’t know about you, but to me, books and newspapers were meant to be held. I have always taken care of my books. When Hurricane Georges, 1998, blew through the Keys, it took my floating home, and about 1,000 books (mostly first editions) with it. I had spent most of my life collecting them.

I remember loaning my sister a book and watching in horror as she opened it and bent the spine! I yelled, I screamed, probably cried, while she told me that the book stayed open better after she did that.

Hands were made for many things, holding a drink, chopsticks, a sailing sheet, but mostly for holding newspapers and books. Maybe sitting in your favorite chair, a cup of café con leche, and the morning paper. Do you remember when there were afternoon editions of newspapers?

Obviously, I read blogs online and find myself squinting to read many of them. Some things can be read online, like directions from MAPQUEST or a blog, but never a book review! Blogs are like essays that once filled magazine pages. They are short and usually present one opinion, maybe defending it or just presenting it.

But books, a couple of hundred pages long, need to be held. Hell, EQMM and AHMM need to be held and they’re small magazines filled with marvelous short stories! I don’t think I know anyone who enjoys reading and buys books, who can read them on the Internet. Lord knows, there are some very good webzines that are filled with short stories, but reading a story on one, is not the same as holding it in your hands.

I spent weekends haunting used bookstores when I lived in Southern California. In Key West, I am a frequent visitor to Key West Island Books; owner Marshall Smith and I have formed an unusual friendship. Book people tend to be friendly and Marshall and I often discuss books. Notice I said “discussed,” because we don’t always agree on what is good or bad. We are entitled to our opinions, because we read the books we argue about.

Are books and bookstores a thing of the past? Obviously, there is a market for books, but is it declining and on the way to extinction? Will my home library, that I continue to rebuild since 1998, fall into the hands of grandchildren who will bend the spine of the books or taken them to Goodwill for resale?

What do you think?

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