Monday, February 6, 2012

Howard Shrier

Howard Shrier was born and raised in Montreal, where he earned an Honours Degree in journalism and creative writing at Concordia University. He has worked as a writer for more than thirty years in a wide variety of media, including print, magazine and radio journalism, theatre and television, sketch comedy and improv, and high-level corporate and government communications. His critically acclaimed first novel, Buffalo Jump, which introduces Toronto investigator Jonah Geller, won the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. The sequel, High Chicago, won the Arthur Ellis for Best Novel of 2009, making Shrier the first author in the history of the awards to win both back to back.

Shrier's latest Jonah Geller novel is Boston Cream.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading.  His reply:
Raylan, by Elmore Leonard. The latest work by my all-time favourite crime writer features U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the hero of the novels Pronto and Riding the Rap, and the story “Fire in the Hole,” which launched the hit series Justified. Less of a novel than three interconnected stories—an organ theft ring, an arrogant and ruthless strip-mining company and a hip young poker-playing college girl who may or may not rob banks on the side.

It’s interesting to see Leonard bend reality to suit the TV show. Boyd Crowder dies in the original story after being shot by Raylan. But actor Walton Goggins’ portrayal proved so popular in the pilot, they allowed him to survive. So Boyd is back in this book, guarding a coal company's killer executive, courting local beauty and former sister-in-law Ava, and generally getting in Raylan’s way.

The dialogue is always sweet and spot on, as usual. It’s a different rhythm from the man whose best novels, set in Detroit and Miami, were known for their urban, jazzy sound. Here he pares down the mountain patois to its barest needs. No one ever says more than they have to. And Leonard can’t write anything uninteresting. How it hangs together as a “novel” doesn’t approach his best work, and I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether the instant love affair between the fortyish Raylan and the 23-year-old Jackie holds water. But I own everything Leonard has ever written, including his great Westerns, and I’ll continue to buy whatever he puts out.

Field Gray, by Philip Kerr. I’ve read all the Bernie Gunther novels in this great series set in Germany before, during and after WWII. This one is more sprawling than the others, a kind of remembrance of things past for Bernie as he languishes in American custody—first in New York, then in Germany—following his arrest in Cuba in 1954. Kerr jumps back and forth in time to incidents that tormented Bernie, including his role as part of the Paris occupation force and as a prisoner of war in Russia, all linked to the war criminal Erich Mielke. Growing to hate his American interrogators, he reveals episodes that took place in the thirties and forties, each crammed with dozens of key Nazi figures, most of them real. Bernie is allowed to resume contact with an old Berlin flame linked to Mielke, a woman whom he has helped over the years, now alone after failed affairs with American servicemen.

The result is not up to the same standard as Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy or others that have followed in the series. I honestly grew weary of all the jumps and found it hard to keep track of every name and rank spelled out. I also didn’t find the love affair that convincing or compelling.

I’ll keep reading the series but this one was overwhelmed by all the research and needed tapering to a sharper flame.

The Drop, by Michael Connelly. This latest Harry Bosch novel—and again, I’ve read them all—is a winner start to finish. Two very different cases weigh on Harry as he adjusts to life as a single dad of a teenager. One is the latest from the Open/Unsolved cold case squad, in which a DNA hit in a brutal slaying leads them to a man who was just eight years old at the time of the murder. Harry also catches a fresh case fraught with political bullshit, also known as high jingo: the apparent suicide of the son of his longtime nemesis Irvin Irving, who either jumped, fell or was pushed from the top of L.A.’s fabled Chateau Marmont. There’s pressure from the chief to satisfy Irving, now a councilman seeking revenge on the department after his ouster, which puts a strain on Harry’s relationship with friend and former partner Kiz Rider, now a police bureaucrat. Connelly does his usual masterful job on every level and I tore through this one in a hurry.

Hound of the Baskervilles and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve been fascinated by crime fiction for more than 30 years, but never was a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read most of the novels over the years, watched various adaptations on film and TV and certainly acknowledge his influence and importance in the history of the genre, but mostly maintained a polite relationship with the whole canon. Prepping for an online mystery workshop I’m teaching through the New York Times Knowledge Network, I downloaded these free to my Kobo and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Hound of the Baskervilles will be a great example of setting, as Conan Doyle completely captures the moors in their haunting menace. I was surprised at how well Watson could carry a story in which Holmes is gone for long periods of time.

The Memoirs include the introductions of Sherlock’s smarter brother Mycroft and his great nemesis Moriarty, whose criminal prowess absolutely delights Holmes, who relishes a case that will crown his Hall of Fame career. I read most of these eleven stories while flat on my back after a Boxing Day accident, and under the slight influence of Dilaudid, so their length perfectly matched my compromised attention span. A good Holmes book to have if you only have one.
Visit Howard Shrier's website.

Writers Read: Howard Shrier (May 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue