Friday, 4 December 2015

Michigan Roll by Tom Kakonis



published 1988


MIchigan RollHolly Clemmons was pretty, but not in any Florida way. Her hair was so richly black, it seemed to absorb all the light around her, swallow it right up, an antipodal halo, and her eyes were black, too, which was how she came by the name a select group of friends called her: Midnight. In contrast, her skin was white as bone dust, wafer-thin, almost translucent, but with a luminous glow, as though there were a bulb beneath it. Good skin. Face was narrow with nice sharp angles and planes, same as the body, nothing rounded anywhere, no backside and scarcely any breasts, all fine even lines. A model’s body, long and elegant. It sent out extraordinary signals. She looked smashing there, all five-ten of her in ass-grabber jeans and a summer blouse, perched on a stool in the Park Place Lounge, and she knew it.


 
commentary: There’s been slim pickings lately when Col wanders over from his Criminal Library – there’ve been Mitfords, and Golden Age Queens of Crime, and books with a lot of clothes (of all things to find here) – not really his kind of thing, I was feeling sorry for him. So when he recommended this one as being one of his ‘favourite books of all time’ I decided it was worth the £2.95 it cost on Kindle and I gave it a go.

On the plus side, I do like a hardcore American thriller about lowlifes from time to time. These were the opening lines:
Every quack at the table was fried but one, and since that was the same one had been shorting the pot all night, Waverly had to fear for the quality of health care in the republic. The game was low ball, five card. Three were already down. The five-and-dime cheater, Sven Fish by name, was doing the dealing.
Total incomprehensibility appeals to me. And so does Michigan: a state I have never visited, but one that’s home to some good books – the wondrous True North by Jim Harrison, the excellent Margaret Millar’s Vanish in an Instant, Robert Traver’s Anatomy of A Murder.

The story involves Tim Waverley, an over-educated ex-con and professional gambler, a man who might be said to have come down in the world. He now lives in Florida, but decides to revisit his home city of Traverse City, Michigan. There, by chance, he hooks up with the young woman above, and helps her to try to get her half-brother out of trouble - a young rich boy who has made the bad mistake of trying out a double-cross on a drugs deal. Some very vicious people are anxious to get the goods back, and don’t much care who might get wiped out along the way.

So far, so classic, and the plot sweeps along with a lot of action and violence and twists and turns, and many characters to keep track of. For me, the violence went too far – there is one very gruesome scene that I would like to erase from my memory – and I was not enthralled by the extreme racist and misogynistic language that came up. These slurs were from the mouths of obviously vile characters, but I was still quite shocked to have to read so many of them. So although the book was a quick read, it was just the wrong side of the line for me, and though I’m glad to have taken in this one, I probably won’t pursue Kakonis further. But if you like this kind of thing, this is most definitely the kind of thing you will like…

So it didn’t live up to the last book Col gave such a big shoutout to - William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel. That is one of my books of the year, it still gives me the shivers.

The picture is a fashion advert of the era.







8 comments:

  1. Well, I think it's very generous of you to choose a book that your readers would like, Moira. I remember Col's comments on this, and although the plot sounds like a solid bleak noir kind of story, I'm not sure I'm one for all that violence, either, and certainly not one for that sort of racist and misogynistic commentary. Hmmm.......

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    1. Thanks Margot, you give me great credit! For me I have to pick my way between the kind of noir I enjoy, and the ones just over the line....

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  2. Some of the negative points you made would not appeal to me either but I may give Kakonis a try someday. I am glad you mentioned Falling Angel. I was just looking into that book recently and the description called it a horror novel and I was not sure if that would be too much for me. I guess I will just have to try it and see.

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    1. I've been thinking a lot about why I liked Falling Angel so much - because it is really violent too - but was put off by this one. I don't know what the answer is! Interested to hear your views on both of them.

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  3. I think this is one you read so that I don't have to, Moira. Yes, Falling Angel was violent, too - but so brilliantly clever.

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    1. Yes, I think you're right Chrissie. Cleverness excuses much....

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  4. Thanks for reading, I'm so glad you did. Just out of curiosity - would you say the "offensive" elements reflect on the author, or is he just portraying unpleasant and unpalatable aspects of society through his characters? I'll have to have a re-read again. I didn't find his main character Waverley objectionable from memory. I do agree that some of the content would cross the line for some readers - my line is obviously a bit further down the road than yours.

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    1. I would bet any money that Mr Kakonis is a real gentleman with not an offensive thought in his mind! He really plainly gave the hate speech to the villains. I found Waverley a bit sexist, but no more than I would expect from a tough guy of the date. But reading the horrors of speech and action were just a bit too much for me - we all have our own lines. (Or else, you have been hardened and your sensitivities blunted by reading this stuff for years....)

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