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The Big O by Declan Burke

The Big O

by Declan Burke

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I'll be wandering and babbling a bit before I actually get to the book so feel free to jump ahead.

The Big O by Declan Burke is an example of a book that I would not have known about were it not for blogs. The reason I mention this is because I'm tracking where I learn about books. This is prompted by a post on Declan's own blog, Crime Always Pays. In a September 15 post he wonders "about where crime fiction itself is going, and what blogs and sites can do to help it get there." I think blogs can do much.

I learned about The Big O from the flogging Declan himself gave it on his blog (is flogging a pejorative expression here? I don't mean it to be) and it sounded like a book I wanted to read. Unfortunately it was only available in the UK and unless I deprived the cats of their premium food it was out of reach. When I found it was going to be published in the U.S. and available for advanced order on Amazon I immediately ordered a copy. Bless Amazon, they shipped it well in advance of the September 22 U.S. release date so I've had a chance to read it.

The blurb on the book jacket describes Declan as "Elmore Leonard with a harsh Irish edge." I would also add a bit of Donald Westlake (think a Dortmunder caper) with profanity and violence and some Carl Hiassen with his talent for creating interesting characters and putting them in darkly humorous situations.

The Big O falls into the humorous caper category but there are also aspects of the hardboiled school of crime writing so it is covering several of the crime sub-genres.

We have:
* Karen who is a receptionist for a plastic surgeon who supplements her income with armed robbery.

* Karen's ex boyfriend Rossi is out on parole and looking for his motorcycle, .44 automatic, and his money, all of which he thinks Karen has.

* Ray wants to get out of the kidnapping business. His job is to mind the kidnapped until the insurance company pays the ransom. He is also falling in love with Karen

* Frank is a plastic surgeon with money trouble and also Karen's boss

* Frank's almost ex-wife, Madge who is also Karen's best friend.

* Anna who you need to meet in the book. I will say no more.

* Assorted other characters who contribute to the craziness.

Frank figures that the only way out of his money predicament is to have his ex-wife kidnapped before the insurance policy expires. Ray gets subcontracted to hold Madge until the ransom is paid. Ray and Karen team up and the caper moves into high gear.

The story is told in alternating sections from the viewpoint of the major characters. A character many have several pages or a few paragraphs. This is a nifty approach that I enjoy. You get bits of back story and unfolding plot elements as the path of the characters weave in an out, sometimes crossing, and finally intersecting. Burke does this skillfully. The only downside to this style for me is that I think I can stop reading any time because there are break points so close together. The reality is that I decide that I can read just one more bit since it isn't that long, not like a chapter. I stayed up much too late over two work nights.

You know how there are television shows where the cast is perfect and they complement each other - Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Shield, The Wire, shows like that. That's the way I felt about the characters in The Big O. I liked many of them but was interested in all of them.

Earlier I described this book as a humorous caper. Humorous doesn't mean comedy. It means that there is much sharp, witty, and snarky dialog and narration. There is nothing slow or ponderous here. Burke makes frequent use of short statement, rapid fire dialog/observations that propel the story along. Hmm, that isn't phrased well. I need to study reviewer lingo a bit more.

All in all it is a cracking good story told well and I don't regret springing for the hardcover.

I would like large numbers of people on this side of the Atlantic to purchase this book so the folks at Harcourt will be inclined to publish Declan's next book simultaneously in the US so I won't have to wait for months. ( )
  malundy | Oct 18, 2008 |
When Karen the armed robber runs into Ray the kidnapper in the midst of a hold-up, sparks start to fly. However, Karen comes with some rather serious baggage - an ex about to be released from prison and Anna.

Ray is not without his problems. It just so happens that he's been hired to kidnap Karen's best friend, Madge. It also isn't such a good thing when police detective Stephanie Doyle takes a shine to Ray and starts giving him more attention than he'd like. Stephanie Doyle is investigating Frank, Madge's soon-to-be ex-husband, for illegal distribution of prescription drugs. Frank just so happens to be the one who hired Ray to kidnap Madge so he could con the insurance company out of the ransom money.

And if that circle of "just so happens" isn't dizzying enough for you, Karen's ex - the one being released from prison - throws another ball into the air for Burke to juggle. And juggle them he does!

If someone had given me a summary of this novel as enticement to read it, I probably wouldn't have given it much thought. But once I picked it up, I was hooked! Characters who normally wouldn't interest me, had me turning pages to find out just what craziness was going to happen next. It was a constant comedy of errors.

Throughout the book I couldn't help but hear "It's a Small World" humming in my head. Everyone is intertwined to everyone else in some rather strange coincidences. But the coincidences simply add to the humor. If I was asked to describe this book, I might say, "if you crossed the land of the misfit toys with Desperate Housewives, you might come close to this crew!" Some people with far too much money and time on their hands crossed with the societal outcasts...all of them misfits in their own ways, and everyone wanting what they don't have. No one is happy with what they do have.

Burke's juggling act in this plot is really genius. How he makes everything somehow link together is amazing. I kept picturing the flow chart he had to have while he was writing to make sure there were no loose ends. But the genius is actually in the way he leads you by the nose right up to the end. I was following, following, following: "oh, of course that's what's gonna happen next!" Then bam! I was blindsided by the final "coincidence." Didn't see it coming at all, but I was grinning from ear to ear when it was revealed.

I have to say that this was one of the rare plot-driven books that really kept me entranced. I wasn't especially fond of the characters, save Anna. They were crass, some were overly spoiled, others were career criminals. They were all smoking pot so often I was getting high just reading the book. But, I had to find out how everything was going to play out in the end. I felt exactly the same way about The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie.

If you're looking for something deep and realistic, you'll have to look elsewhere. The Big O is funny, at times ridiculous or even absurd, and just plain entertaining. It's a fun book; enjoy it - don't look for enlightenment! ( )
  jenforbus | Oct 13, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0151014086, Hardcover)

Karen's easy life as a receptionist and armed robber is about to take a turn for the worse. Rossi, her ex, is getting out of prison any day now. He'll be looking for his motorcycle, his gun, the sixty grand he says is his, and revenge. But he won't be expecting Ray, the new guy Karen's just met, to be in his way. No stranger to the underworld himself, Ray wants out of the kidnapping game now that some dangerous new bosses are moving in.
Meanwhile Frank, a disgraced plastic surgeon, hires Ray to kidnap his ex-wife for the insurance money. But the ex-wife also happens to be Karen's best friend. Can Karen and Ray trust each other enough to work together on one last job? Or will love, as always, ruin everything?
From a writer hailed as "Elmore Leonard with a hard Irish edge" (Irish Mail on Sunday), Declan Burke's The Big O is crime fiction at its darkest and funniest.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:41 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

General Adult. When a guy Karen has just met is hired to kidnap a disgraced plastic surgeons ex-wife--and Karens best friend--for the insurance money, Karens easy life as a receptionist and armed robber is turned upside down.

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