Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jason Pinter's The Mark and John Rector's The Cold Kiss

As this is a literary blog and not really about my personal life and what I've been doing lately (it used to be, but as I've grown older and wiser [hah!], I've decided to go for an alternative), it has to suffice that I write about the books that I read during our 1½-week trip through Finland. Well, let me say this: we went first to Mänttä to visit my relatives, swam in the lake nearly all the time and visited the Mänttä Kuvataideviikot art thing, and then we went to Nokia to visit my dad and went to the Särkänniemi amusement park and Ottilia made me go to the new Motogee thing and I have to say I almost started to cry when it finally - after 28 seconds - ended. And then we went to Pori to visit my mother and just tried to chill out - which is near impossible in this temperature. (Over 25 Celsius all the time and no rain.)

Okay, the books. Jason Pinter is one of the newer thriller writers who hark back to the older traditions of the genre and don't write high tech thrillers à la Tom Clancy or don't go for the huge historical conspiracies like Dan Brown and his followers. The Mark, his first novel from 2007, is very reminiscent of the wrong man thrillers of the 1930's and 1940's. In fact, the novel could be labelled "noir", unless one wants grimness and an unhappy ending from one's noir. In The Mark Pinter creates his series character, journalist Henry Parker, who's involved accidentally in killing a police officer and becomes a most wanted criminal. Parker decides to solve the case before the police catch him, just like many heroes of the films from the thirties and fourties.

There's much to like in the book: the narrative is catchy, the pace is good, the description about journalism and journalists is good (Pinter is a journalist himself) and there's not much padding. I thought however that there were some implausibilities that nagged me from the halfway on, and the romance felt a bit forced and clichéd. I notice now - after having finished the book over a week ago - that I don't remember much about the book. But I guess that's one of the criteria of entertainment: you don't want to think too much about it. Me, I could've wished for more.

John Rector's debut novel, The Cold Kiss (out now from Forge in hardcover), was more to my taste: a noir novel that has the grimness that's required in noir. Rector's minimalistic style and the plot reminded me very much of the classic noir paperbacks of the fifties and writers like Day Keene, Gil Brewer and Richard Deming. Of course Rector, writing in the 2000's, is more open about sex, drugs and violence than his predecessors, but the picture he paints about human evil is no less chilling than with Keene or the other writers. The Cold Kiss is essentially a thriller set in a snowbound roadside motel where there are only a few people, one of them seemingly dead.

One of the best things about The Cold Kiss is how Rector reveals facts about his characters little by little. You get to know them and feel for them and even when they are not the best of people, you have to sympathize for them and hope the best for them. Even though they seem pretty stupid and do unnecessarily nasty things.

I can't much say about the plot, since there are lots of twists early on. I can say, though, that mentioning Scott Smith in the back cover copy gives too much about what will happen in the book. These things said, I must admit that the book is just a bit too long, maybe by 20 or 30 pages. I also guessed who the bad guy in the book is - there are too few characters in the novel. And the ending could've also been just a bit grimmer. There's a hint of ambivalence in the end, but I could've wished for more. Let's make it clear, though: an excellent debut.

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