Monday, June 14, 2010

Review of The Big O by Declan Burke (Harcourt, 2007)

Karen meets Ray when he accidentally intervenes in an armed robbery she’s committing. Her plan is to use the money she liberates to help buy a cottage in the mountains with three acres for her rescue pet, a barely tame Siberian wolf. Ray is no angel, painting bedroom murals between kidnapping rich folk for ransom, but he wants to leave the underworld and start a new life. Something clicks and they start dating. But the course to true love is not going to be easy. Karen used to date Rossi, a slightly psychotic, serial offender, who is getting out of prison after a five year stretch. Rossi wants his Ducati, his .44 and the sixty grand he had hidden in his lock-up. Karen’s day job is working as a receptionist for Frank, a plastic surgery consultant who can’t perform surgery any longer do to a malpractice suit. Frank is divorced from Madge, with whom he has twin daughters, who are bleeding him dry of cash. Frank wants Madge, who is also Karen’s best friend, kidnapped so he can collect the insurance money and start a new life in Haiti. Ray is the guy hired to snatch Madge. Doyle is a detective who wants as many scalps as she can get. All Karen and Ray have to do is trust each other enough to pull off the kidnap job, and avoid Rossi, Frank, Doyle or Ray’s new bosses from thwarting their plans.

The Big O is a comic crime caper – think of Carl Hiasson strained though a noir filter. The story is broken into a succession of short scenes each written from the perspective of one of the six principle characters. The structure works to provide a nice, quick pace and enables Burke to flesh out the characterisation, where each person is slightly larger than life with certain foibles. The plot is driven by multiple coincidences, each binding the actors into ever-more overlapping and mutually dependent or conflicting relationships. The prose is well honed and expressive, and there are plenty of comic asides and some astute observation. The only thing that grated after a while was the use of coincidence, which was clearly deliberate but edged towards excessive. I also couldn’t figure out Doyle, the detective, and her relationship with Ray, which seemed tenuous, or her motives. And there was one scene near the end that made little sense to me. But that probably says more about me than the novel. I’ve been saving The Big O for a little while so that it marks my 100th review since starting the blog last July. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. The Big O is a very enjoyable read and a comic crime caper that is genuinely comic. I now need to track down the sequel, Crime Always Pays. It’s available for download for Kindle, but I don’t possess a Kindle. A publisher needs to do the right thing and step in put it out in paperback!  For those looking for an excellent crime fiction blog, Burke's Crime Always Pays blog is excellent and always worth a read.

7 comments:

Vanda Symon said...

Great review, Rob. I've been staring at this book for a while. Might just have to go and get it.

Donna said...

One of my very favourite books. I absolutely love it and the characters are excellent. And you're right about the sequel - it needs to be in print!

Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

That was a pretty interesting review, Rob. Thanks for highlighting this book, since otherwise it might not have call my attention.

Bernadette in Australia said...

I've had this one on my wishlist for a while now, think I'd best push it over into my shopping cart as I love the idea of Carl Hiasson strained though a noir filter

Mack said...

Good review Rob. I enjoyed The Big O as well and Declan has a good touch for comic noir. I also liked Crime Always Pays (I have a Kindle). It is a road-trip with the characters from The Big O and I might even like it more, if that is possible. Doyle gets a much larger and more satisfying role in Crime Always Pays.

I was in the UK when CAP became available and was able to download it to my laptop then copy to my Kindle so I'm a great fan of e-books when traveling.

I'm with you that a publisher should put CAP out in paperback but there is always the Kindle for PC route. Not as satisfying a reading experience, I'll admit.

Naomi Johnson said...

I recently read Thomas Perry's STRIP and when I finished I realized he had attempted what Burke actually pulled off: a truly comic, free-wheeling crime novel. STRIP isn't bad, but THE BIG O is much better.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Great review of a comic crime classic.