Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reading Not Blogging: Bunker, van Gulik, Harrington

I blew through a few memorable works of crime fiction without commenting here, so a quick round-up. I read Kent Harrington's new novel, The Good Physician, and posted a review (scroll down) on Amazon. Harrington has this arresting, feverish style--his driven, often blunt prose reflects his protagonists' obsessions. His first two published books, Dark Ride and Dia De Los Muertos, are probably his best (I've missed reading at least one), but Physician has its moments.

Next, I read Edward Bunker's No Beast So Fierce (my copy, Dustin Hoffman on the cover, is titled Straight Time as a movie tie-in). Ex-con Max Dembo tries to go straight, but he falls back into the life, pulling off an escalating series of heists. Very gritty, this novel draws on Bunker's wide experience with the penal system. The brooding Dembo is also philosophical at times. No Beast (1973) is Bunker's first published novel; he died in 2005.

The real find in my summer round-up was Robert van Gulik's The Given Day. This book had been sitting on a shelf for about four years, and I finally plucked it down. A diplomat, scholar, and polymath, Van Gulik (1910-67) is best known for his Judge Dee mystery novels (which I haven't read), set in first millennium China. Written in the early 1960s, The Given Day is set in post-war Amsterdam. The lone and lonely Dutchman Hendriks, still suffering from his wartime experiences in Java, becomes involved in a violent and mysterious criminal plot after playing the role of a good samaritan. Van Gulik beautifully weaves Zen into the book: Hendriks is trying to cope with the past and mulls over the teachings of his Japanese torturer. To my mind, The Given Day is an exceptional novel of post-war angst and perhaps recovery.

1 comment:

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