Friday, February 11, 2011

Review of The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips (Picador, 2000)

Christmas Eve in Wichita, Kansas, and Charlie Arglist is tying up loose ends and silently saying goodbye to people before he skips town with his accomplice, Vic Cavanaugh, and a couple of million dollars of the Mob’s money. His journey starts in the Midtown Tap Bar before heading to the Sweet Cage and a rendezvous with femme fatale, Renata. What Renata wants for Christmas is for guys to slip out of their family homes and head for her strip joint and Arglist to steal a photo from a rival for her. On the promise of seeing Renata minus business suit, Arglist promises to retrieve the snap. Generosity is not usually in Charlie’s character, and it’s his first such act of an evening that sees him travelling round Wichita’s underbelly, cloaked in nostalgia, and sliding from one incident to another as his treachery threatens to catch up with him and prevent him leaving.

Donna Moore over at Big Beat from Badsville defines noir thus: “Noir fiction has our protagonist spiralling down into the pit of despair, thrown there by a mocking Fate, who then stands at the edge of the pit shovelling dirt onto the head of the protagonist until he is half-buried. Fate then throws the shovel down into the pit and the hapless protag reaches out for that glimmer of hope, only for it to whack him on the head.” The Ice Harvest is noir writ large as Charlie Arglist wanders round Wichita in nostalgic mood for a life and place he has little fondness for. Reluctant to leave, Arglist can’t help finding excuses to delay, becoming ever more drawn into a complex web of double crosses. As the night wears on, it becomes a case of whether he’ll get out town at all, let alone with the money. The Ice Harvest is an entertaining read, threaded through with dark humour. The plotting is nicely worked, though there’s one or two slight wobbles, and the characterization is solid. For my money the end seemed a little rushed, and the story needed a little fleshing out in places, but all-in-all a fine slice of noir writing.

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