I have an admission to make: I love melancholy: that sense of ennui at the human condition, a despair at the inevitable entropy and ending of everything, and – bubbling just under it – the anger at man’s impotence in the face of a world that just won’t be set right.
Which is probably why I love Noir Crime, and definitely why I adored Max Drescher and “A Slow Death.” There are enough reviewers here giving out hints on the plot; suffice to say that it has more plot twists than the average mystery. Almost every time I thought I’d figured out where we were going, James Craig threw a curveball, and we were off on a direction I hadn’t foreseen. If Amazon gave out “Jaw Dropper” scores, this would be a “Four Jaws on the Floor” book.
The characterisation is perfect: Max is a genuine, believable, sympathetic character, who also just happens to have a knot of (barely) repressed violence bubbling up inside him. His partner Michael is a decent family man, one who manages (sometimes) to keep Max on the straight and narrow, but who is also happy to watch as Drescher does (at times) the things that nobody else would dare. The supporting characters – from off-the-rails Turkish thugs turned killers, to grieving fathers, cops at multiple points on the Bent-to-straight spectrum and wives, lovers and kids – are well sketched thoroughly believable and make for a world you can fully immerse yourself in.
The villains – there are (as there so often are in Noir books) more than one – are suitably villainous, with a mixture of venality, greed, opportunism and stupidity that, where and when they occur makes their ultimate endings a real pleasure to behold.
The violence is almost never skied over – whether it’s the execution of a mob accountant or the almost accidental shooting of a Berlin Police officer – and the writing is – as it should be in this type of fiction – visceral.
Berlin – that most schizophrenic of cities – is brilliantly rendered; the bourgeois sitting next to the immigrant, the grimy crumbling bits of the East nosing up against the shiny temples to Mammon. There’s a very 1970s New York feel to Craig’s 1990s Berlin, and that – along with the damaged, downtrodden and all too human Drescher makes this, I think, an absolute must for anyone who loves the Lawrence Block Matt Scudder novels or, indeed, the Benjamin Black Quirke books, which have the same sense of a modern Knight wading through the filth for us, whilst chain-smoking and drinking more than a human liver should endure.
Highly recommended for anyone who likes Noir, Berlin, Gritty crime, snappy dialogue, and characters that you can really relate to