Monday, April 28, 2014

Crime Always Pays, by Declan Burke

I should start out by saying that this book is a sequel to the terrific The Big O, and if you can get your hands on a copy of that first you would be well advised to do so, as this novel essentially takes off where that one left off. That said, though, the back story is very well covered in this book, so you should be able to make your way.

In truth I needed a bit of a reminder about the back story myself, because it's been awhile since The Big O came out. And it's not the author's fault that the sequel has taken awhile to come our way. Here's what I handily wrote on Good Reads about the book's unfortunate publishing trajectory when it was all a bit fresher in my mind.

"Burke drew the short straw when in a fit of downsizing, Houghton Mifflin not only cancelled the paperback, but cancelled the sequel. Shortsighted of you, HM, or I guess that's now HMH, because now they're merged into a larger conglomerate."

Anyway. Crime Always Pays was then by default self-published as an Amazon ebook, but recently it's come into its own again with Servern House. I gather that the subsequent revisions make it a somewhat different book, but I dutifully begged an e-galley rather than reading the old free one that was on my computer so that I would get this right. But this all makes for a gap of about six years between two books which probably are better read in a shorter timeframe.

If The Big O was like the home game, then Crime Always Pays is like the away game. (And yes, take a screenshot, because that is likely to be the last time I use a sports metaphor in a book review.) The Big O takes place in Ireland, but Crime Always Pays has pretty much the whole cast of characters taking off for the Mediterranean, mostly Greece, though one person is under the delusion that he is headed for Sicily. 

Burke starts spinning the plates early on, and by the end your own head may be whirling as well. Without meaning to be pretentious about this, the phrase that kept coming to my mind was "Shakespearean comedy". No, it's not written in iambic pentameter, though the prose is excellent-if you can slow down long enough to take it in, that is. It's more the kind of breathless whirl of mistaken identities--who is on whose side?--and a certain fluidity of personality that seems to overwhelm all the cast of characters. And there are a lot of twists and surprises along the way. 

For all the possible romantic combinations in the story, though, it is unlike Shakespearean comedy in one aspect-- it does not end in a wedding. And perhaps if there is one thing I miss from the first novel, it's that the partnership of Ray and Karen is not much in evidence. They are aware of each other throughout the story, but are not acting in tandem. Which is a bit unfortunate, as the Ray and Karen meetup was one of my favorite things about the first book. Read the first chapter free on Amazon if you don't believe me. 

Still, you can't have everything, and Crime Always Pays is an entertaining romp in its own right. It would be just the thing to take on a Mediterranean cruise.



  1. Burke reminds me a little of Donald Westlake in one key way: when he writes dark, he's as dark, and effective, as anyone. When he writes funny, as he does here, he's laugh out loud funny. There aren't many who can pull that off.

  2. Yes, I was kind of taken aback by the dark edge to Slaughter's Hound, though I loved the book. I do like how Declan doesn't stay in any one box for too long.

    I unfortunately haven't delved into Westlake much at all. In fact, I think I have only seen the movie The Hot Rock which I've been told is not as good as the book though I enjoyed it as a kid.

  3. Maybe I should pick up "The Big O" again. I can see that I reviewed it in 2007, and I know that I enjoyed it, but I don't remember anything much either :)

  4. I think it would be the way to go if you have the time, Dorte. They are basically one story.