Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eightball Boogie, by Declan Burke

Although these days, I write posts about whatever books come to hand--new, old, or somewhere in between--this is exactly the kind of book I was thinking of when I first considered doing this blog. Eightball Boogie was published in 2003 by Sitric books, but despite it's many virtues, never made it's way over to my side of the pond. So the first book of Mr. Burke's that I was able to read was the madcap romp known as The Big O. At the time I read it, I hadn't yet decided to do a book post blog, but you can read a post to whet your appetite for that one at excellent crime blog Detectives Beyond Borders.

Recently, Eightball Boogie has become available on Kindle, and the author has also made the remaining print copies available for the mere cost of shipping and handling. As the true opposite of an early adopter, I of course sent off for a print copy. I knew it was an earlier work than The Big O, so expected it to be a more elementary type of the same thing. Much to my surprise and delight, I was largely wrong.

Rather than the multicharacter perspectives of The Big O, Eightball Boogie follows one Harry Rigby through a few wild days leading up to Christmas. ("The rest of the week is coming on hard, and its breaks are shot to hell.") Although he's managed a successful tryst with his not quite wife Denise ( and not incidentally, the mother of his son Ben), in reality he's been kicked out of the house and is sleeping at his office. If there were P.I.s in Ireland (and both Ken Bruen and Declan Hughes say there aren't) that is probably what Harry would be, child of Philip Marlowe that he so clearly is, but as it is, he's an "independent research consultant". Also, sometimes a freelance reporter, or at least that's why his pal Herbie, a photographer, is trying to lure him to follow up on some big news that's happened a few hours earlier: Imelda Sheridan, wife of an up and coming politician, has been savagely murdered on her own front porch at five o'clock that morning. We know this from the get go, but the police, or "the Dibble", as Harry is fond of calling them, seem to be in favor of calling this suicide. Herbie thinks he and Harry will be in the money if they can prove otherwise.

Oh, and one more thing to keep Harry on his toes. Denise informs him before she shoos him out the door that Gonzo's coming back. Who's Gonzo? Harry's, shall we say, 'no boundaries' brother, absent these four years.

To  make matters a bit more complicated, a shady seeming car auctioneer named Dave Conway shows up at Harry's office, wanting him to find out the dirt on  his wife, Helen. Why? So Conway can "break her fucking neck". (It's right about here that I should probably warn you that this isn't a cozy.)

So now Mr. Burke has all the plates spinning, and it's just as much a matter of suspense whether he can keep them all up in the air as to whether Harry can solve Imelda's murder, find out what's going on with Dave's tigress of a wife, and most importantly, deliver's Ben's present in time for Christmas. I'll give you a hint by saying that Declan Burke is an excellent plate spinner, and in fact there is only one character who I thought came into and disappeared from the story without a trace. (Yeah, read the book and see if you can spot it, or if you even agree with me.)

I've seen the quibble in various reviews that maybe Harry gets beaten up a few too many times, not to mention shot at, but I have to say that I didn't really care about that. It's an old trope in crime fiction, and Harry's not the nicest guy in the world, and probably deserves his licks. There was one scene in the book that I found a bit too excruciating, but it is very brief, so don't let that scare you off.

What I really want to talk about now that I've given you some idea of the premise is the inventiveness of the prose. Emulating a master like Chandler is a risky thing and you not only have to have guts, you've got to have a gift. And Burke's got it.Everyone's going to have their favorite line or ten by the time they get through with this one.

Here's a throwaway, bearing on the plot not at all, but terrific:

"It was Christmas week and the town belonged to the farmers. They lumbered up and down the streets, sailors on shore leave, grim and determined. Parcels stacked in elastic arms, necks craning around the piles. Tinny hymns drifted out of shop doorways. High above the streets the coloured lights danced a hangman's jib on the breeze."

99 cents, people. 99 cents. Or check out the print book offer (while supplies last) HERE.

Not convinced? Think you're somehow going to buy a cup of coffee with that instead? Well, take a look at one of his Digested Reads (which I wish he'd do more of) and think again.

(I'm editing this to add another interesting perspective on this book.)


  1. Thanks for the heads-up on this, Seana. I somehow missed the mention on Crime Always Pays. I've been wanting to read Eightball Boogie for a while and it should have made its way through the aether to my Kindle by now.

  2. Glad to be of service, Mack. Makes all this book blogging jazz worthwhile to help with the promo on really good and chronically underpublicized authors.

  3. It really was good read, and like you, I loved the writing. I haven't read Chandler yet, he's next on my list once I finish Mina's series, but if Declan is emulating him in Eightball, then I'm pretty sure I'll like him.

  4. Yes, I´m convinced. I have it in my Kindle, but I am not sure when I will get around to reading it. I have a dozen books I feel I ought to review first so though I enjoyed The Big O, this one will have to wait.

  5. Dorte, I hope you do get to it sometime. It is very fun, though in a darker sort of way.