Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Honey of a Diehl

Title: Up In Honey's Room
Author: Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard loves Detroit. When modern Detroit doesn't have the flair that he wants, he apparently goes historic.

Carl Webster comes to town looking for escaped German POWs. One of them frequently escaped the camp in Oklahoma City to visit his girlfriend in town, but this time has gone further afield. Carl's a big deal Marshall--the "hot kid" of the Marshalls' service, with a book written about his many exploits and heroic deeds, though he remains very likable and down-to-earth. Of the two Germans, one of them disappears, running off with an American Jewish girl who needs his help smuggling goods out of Europe. They are never heard form again. (That really bothered me--it's played like a major character and plot point until the third or fourth chapter, when he disappears forever)

To find the other, Carl connects with Honey Deal (no, really. That's her name. Honey Deal), the ex-wife of Walter Schoen, who is a dead ringer for Heinrich Himmler and believes himself to be his long-lost twin, with his own great destiny to fulfill in the service of the Fatherland. Carl thinks Walter is connected with a spy ring in Detroit and that he works on an underground railroad for German spies and POWs. He becomes more convinced when his car is shot up.

It's a good read, but I feel like Leonard is trying to channel James Patterson. Too much is ridiculous, and it doesn't feel like it was meant to be ridiculous. Honey is an even bigger tramp than I expected her to be, and while Walter provides some intentional comic relief, some of the otehr characters are just befuddling. The head of the spy ring, whose name eludes me, seems more like a Major Houlihan-Miss Haversham mix than Mata Hari, and her lover/houseboy, who is supposed to be a calculating killer, is more a slutty, bisexual, low-grade hitman. It feels like Leonard tried to give his secondary characters more depth and just muddied the puddles.

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posted by reyn at 4:58 PM


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

pacing problem pattern

Title: Pattern Recognition
Author: William Gibson

I took four years of Spanish in high school, and have since had only fleeting encounters with the language, limited usually to crossword clues and menus in Mexican restaurants (though I'm still not clear on what "pico de gallo" is). Reading the first 50 pages of Pattern Recognition is for me like reading a book in Spanish. Many words are familiar, and I can often translate an entire sentence, though it still doesn't make much sense, but the first few chapters, taken as a whole, don't make any sense at all. It doesn't even get interesting until after the first 50 pages.

Cayce Pollard is a "cool hunter," which seems more like the apex of high school castes than a real profession, and Gibson chooses to illustrate her knowledge by filling the book with cultural references both pop and sub- so obscure and numerous that only Dennis Miller or Gibson himself could make any sense of them. When he does explain, it's pointless. An entire paragraph defines emoticons, but names of brands, stores, celebrities, and fashion icons bristle past so quickly that I couldn't tell how many were complete fabrications, much less what they might mean. And he actually invented the (word) "Internet."

The first 50 pages are wasted explaining Cayce's peculiar sensitivity to what will and will not succeed in brand imaging, her allergy to trademarks (that never made any sense to me, but she nearly has a nervous breakdown when somebody leaves a Michelin Man doll on her doorstep), and her wardrobe of Cayce Pollard Units (CPUs, a term coined by a man-friend of hers to describe the solid black, gray, and white clothing items she wears exclusively, after painstakingly removing all trademarks and insignia). Rather than impressing me with how very good Cayce was at her job, and suffusing me with sympathy for the loss of her father on September 11, 2001, Gibson instead turned me against his heroine by giving the distinct impression that she was a stuffy, fussy, neurotic hipster.

Which should probably make it more impressive that I liked the rest of the book.

Once the plot finally thickened (ok, once it happened at all), I got interested. Cayce is a regular on message boards devoted to mysterious pieces of footage that appear on the internet, and a founding member of the online community that seeks to discern some meaning or order from the brief clips. Then her boss, a media-marketing guru and possible sleazeball, hires her to find out who makes them. She does some globe-trotting, bribing, sneaking about, nearly has a thing with the handsome Japanese man who was hired to work with her, discovers all sorts of subterfuge, back-stabbing, mob connections, etc., and finally (naturally) succeeds. Oh, and there's a Russian prison run by gangsters.

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posted by reyn at 4:46 PM