Monday, July 18, 2011

crime with a higher purpose

i've gotten into a strange habit in the last six months. probably i can blame it on my friend dennis palumbo, whose thriller mirror image arrived on the shelves a while back. he's such a fan of the crime novel i figured they must have something special. (he's got another coming out this fall.)

this, i must confess, against my own instincts. as a teenager i read a lot of the nero wolfe stories - and ultimately found the whole genre depressing. the mystery may be quite an adventure, yet at the end the hero rarely gets the girl and it's a matter of stopping something that shouldn't have happened at all (rather like standing up against a government out of whack). lying, cheating, stealing, i've tried them all, my father caught me filching candybars at the local grocery and pouncing on the collection plate sunday evenings after a service. i guess those lessons must have sunk in. if i'm not honest, i feel lousy about myself.

so, if it's dostoyevsky, crime and punishment, or the brothers karamazov, i can see the point of the whole endeavor, larger metaphysical issues at stake. that was until i listened to a few contemporary thrillers on cd while driving back and forth from the mountain. michael criton's next, frankly hilarious, especially read aloud. a send-up of genetic engineering, the real topic.  and the forgery of venus by michael gruber,  fascinating in its details of how to fake a famous painting, and the hero actually flashes back to being valazquez. 

then the dragon tattoo girl came along. the first movie craven compared to the actual novel, the violent deaths emphasized over larrson's real motive - he wanted to call the series crimes against women. yes, i actually read the first volume. afterwards, to get the whole pie, i speed-read the next two volumes, going for the story, skipping a lot of the subplots, sitting in my bookstore cafe and watching the plot pass as though i were watching a movie.

thus came about this bizarre habit of reading thrillers this way, and discovering i like the ones that do more than solve the specific villainy. of course, nazis and wwii a fairly easy mark, though stephen kerr in the berlin trilogy and follow-ups makes the most of it, revealing gas-chambers for jews in argentina, for example. and in his futuristic novel a philosophical investigation he questions genotyping of individuals.  gradually the themes of these writers have gotten more interesting.

one of my favorites is the devil's trill by gerald elias where a blind, irascible violin teacher exposes the forcing of young children to practice until they can win contests, yet fail in life. yesterday,  one of my two hour jaunts with james patterson and liza markland in the postcard killers  where they examine the carrying of art to the extremes of murder, the victims posed like paintings. (damian hirst, you can run, but you can't hide.) 

these don't depress me like the mundane examples of the genre cause they serve a higher purpose, interesting larger violations of humanity.

more androids: and more fake matisse's: