The Fall Guy by James Lasdun, a fun short read

A fun thriller to read in an evening

I like good short books that you can read in afternoon or evening. And I also like psychological thrillers. The Fall Guy falls into both those categories. I highly recommend it.

But that’s not what this post is about. I wanted to talk a little bit about the reviews for The Fall Guy. In general, the professional reviewers liked it. And although I often find that reviewers over praise a lot of mediocre stuff, especially mediocre, literary-wannabe stuff, I’m totally on board with them in this case. (For the record, here’s one example of egregious over praising in the thriller category.)

For all their flaws, Average Joe reader reviewers at places like Amazon and Goodreads almost always call the critics out for over praising albeit often for what I find to be the wrong reasons.

Average Jane, for example, frequently gets shirty if a book isn’t the type of thing she likes. Such was largely the case for The Fall Guy, which has lower-than-deserved reader reviews.

No, it wouldn’t

Average Jillian provides a classic example. She wants another book from the one that was written. She doesn’t appreciate that The Fall Guy is all about its unreliable narrator and his perspective. The reader has to do the rest of the work and imagine what the two main characters are really like. That’s the whole point. We don’t get to see them from any other perspective than the narrator’s.

This idea that you can and should know everything is one I encounter in the real world. People believe they can know the unknowable and get frustrated when they can’t.

In the case of the The Fall Guy, it’s the mystery and unknowing that makes it so good. And it’s a fun, quick read. Have at it.

Dark Ambition chronicles the Tim Bosma murder investigation and trial

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-2-37-55-pmDark Ambition: The Shocking Crime of Dellen Millard and Mark Smich went on sale November 8. (Yes, that day.) In between the wall-to-wall Trump election coverage, I did a number of radio and TV interviews about the book, two of which have been posted online.

If you’re curious, my talk with John Gormley can be found here, the last item on the November 9th list. I also spoke to Scott Radley of CHML in Hamilton, who wondered what more there was for the public to know about the Tim Bosma case after the very extensive trial coverage. You can hear my response by going the station’s audio vault and filling in the date (Nov. 9) and time (7:00 p.m.) of the interview and then fast forwarding to 7:42 p.m.

Radley is not the first person to ask me if they will learn something new from the book. Here’s what some readers said:

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Comments like this are extremely gratifying. One of my goals with this book was to take people inside the courtroom and help them understand in detail what it’s like for the police to investigate a murder, and then for the prosecutors to bring the case to trial. Another thing I try to do is give readers a feel for how this tragic and extremely high-profile murder  was discussed in social media and occupied armchair detectives at sites like Websleuths, which not everyone is familiar with.

You can buy Dark Ambition in most bookstores and order it online at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon although the hardcover version is temporarily out of stock until Nov. 17th at Amazon Canada. A few copies are still available at Amazon.com.

I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about the book in the comments section. Or you could come out and talk to me in person at a special literary evening on Thursday November 17th in Burlington. Writers Stephen Brunt and Brent van Staalduinen will also be there discussing their new books. There’s a $20 admission fee with all proceeds to the East Plains United Church.

Come hear about ‘Dark Ambition’

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Pre-order at Amazon or Chapters/Indigo

I’ll be speaking about my new book, Dark Ambition: The Shocking Crime of Dellen Millard and Mark Smich on Thursday November 3 at the Barbara Frum library.

Although Dark Ambition won’t be officially released until November 8, there will be special copies for sale on Thursday.

Also speaking will be Jeremy Grimaldi, author of A Daughter’s Deadly Deception, the story of the fascinating Jennifer Pan case.

Here are the details.

Hope you can make it if you’re in the GTA.

Jonathan Franzen’s Purity deserves to be fodder for the feminist outrage machine

Jonathan Franzen’s Purity is a novel about sex and power and horrible people in which even the the least horrible of the characters behave horribly. The book’s both surprising and disappointing because Franzen —  in The Corrections (2001) and Freedom (2010) –created such vivid and believable characters that, in spite of all their flaws, you could sympathize with them or, at the very least understand their motivations. They reflected the world we live in all their hapless, comical, pathetic glory .

In Purity, in contrast, no one’s motivations or actions are fathomable despite the long and windy explanations for why they supposedly act the way they do. The two main male characters Andreas Wolf, a Wikileaks style activist, and Tom Aberant, a successful crusading journalist, both hate their German mothers and treat them with palpable cruelty. In contrast, the main female character, the eponymous Purity or Pip for short, should hate her unredeemably awful mother, but for some reason gives her the pass she grants to no one else.

Pip eventually meets up with Andreas, but I can’t tell you too much about why or how because spoiler alert. What I can say is we readers get east Germany before and after the fall of the wall, Stasi secret police, internet activism, Bolivia, Belize, bad artists, righteous journalists, drunken novelists, crazy wives, multiple jealous girlfriends, and way too much information about Andreas’s and Tom’s hard-ons.

The tenor of the dick talk makes me bet that it’s only a matter of time before this novel gets denounced as misogynist porn and its author along with it. While I’ve always been Team Franzen in his various pop culture clashes, including the one with Jennifer Weiner about coverage of women authors, I don’t think I can defend him this time around.

There’s something that makes me deeply uncomfortable about the women in this book despite the fact I’ve never had a problem with Franzen’s female characters before. In Purity, the women are all hyper-controlling, manipulative, jealous and looks obsessed. Super stud Andreas has a harem in his thrall. Female solidarity is MIA.

If there’s a sub-text here or satire going on, then count me as missing that too. I’ll be shocked if the outrage machine doesn’t end up in high gear over Purity. And I expect to see a lot of critics pulped as a result. Even if this isn’t Franzen at his best, I suggest you speed read Purity to prepare.

 

 

Relax, dog lovers, Popper cheats death in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

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If you are, like me, a dog, book and movie lover, you will feel a sense of dread when reading Donna Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch. This is because it features a small white fluffster of a Maltese dog — called variously Popper, Popchik and Popchyk — who appears doomed from the moment he makes his entry into the novel, greeting with desperate shrieks the evil owner who has left him home all alone for almost two weeks.

Luckily for Popper, things change for the better thanks to Theo, the new teenage addition to his household,  and Theo’s bad-guy buddy, Boris. These two drug and booze-addled dudes let the little dog hang out with them, ending his life of isolation. The downside  is that their activities don’t exactly provide a safe and secure environment for the family pet, provoking many anxieties that he will go missing forever in a deserted Las Vegas subdivision.

Worse yet, when Theo and Boris encounter a mobster, it seems predestined that Popper will get what happens to so many movie dogs and end up lifeless on the front door stoop or kitchen counter with a threatening note attached to his collar.

Any half-serious movie goer knows just how often the loyal family dog meets a gruesome death, enough that there exists an entire website — www.DoesTheDogDie.com — devoted to answering this “most important movie question” and mentally preparing dog-loving movie goers for what’s to come.

That there is no literary equivalent to  www.DoesTheDogDie.com can be seen as a good thing  in as much as it  shows that tear-jerking pet death  has never been as big an issue for books as it is for movies. On the other hand, it also means there’s no quick reference guide to turn to if a reader does start to worry about a fictional dog’s future.

Therefore in the interests of calming the nerves of dog and literary fiction lovers reading The Goldfinch, I am hereby informing you that Popper survives this almost 800-page novel unharmed despite his many brushes with danger and long absences from the narrative.

And no, I did not forget the spoiler warning. The only thing this knowledge will spoil is a sadistic ride on the roller coaster of fear for an innocent little Maltese dog. Knowing Popper’s fate does not in any way affect the outcome of the rest of The Goldfinch.

Rest reassured dear Reader, Popper lives to a ripe old age.