Saturday, January 31, 2015

"All our misery is better than the abyss"

[Ed. - This post mentions scenes from The Midnight Promise, The Papers Of Tony Veitch, and Eight Million Ways to Die. No spoilers per se, but enough info that if you really want to be surprised, you ought to skip it.]

Even the best lives are stupid. You're born into a situation you have no way to choose and no power to change. You spend your weekdays getting ready for a job you'll probably hate, and your weekends chasing girls who'll probably hate you. You grow up and work yourself rotten, only to come home to a mess of bills informing you the money you thought you made was never really yours. And at the end, you die.

And that's if you're lucky. You're not, you get born in the middle of a genocide. You have to wield a machete by the time you're six.

What makes crime fiction so important is the value it places on existence. Life must matter if a detective is willing to plow through disgusting scraps of evidence purely to ascertain the circumstances of its end.

Every mystery has its eureka, when the puzzle becomes a portrait. But the best also include an affirmation that all the misery of the preceding pages was merely water and every life is worth living.

That's how you get the genre's enduring images. Jack Laidlaw pulling a small, old woman from a cab queue to dance to the random notes made by a homeless man's harmonica. Matthew Scudder standing up at his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and bursting into tears, admitting the nature of his soul. Isabella telling Crockett, "Leave now. Life is short. Time is luck."

Time is luck. Never is that clearer than when you wade among the dead.

Nowhere, in any book, is the affirmation so unforgettable and moving as in The Midnight Promise, the first and only book by Zane Lovitt. The book is compiled from ten loosely related cases solved by Australian private inquiry agent John Dorn. The first couple are mild and slow and devoid of much in the way of actual crime. The mysteries get grittier, the violence more sickening, and Dorn more desperate as he searches to satisfy his self-centered death wish.

But oh, those final pages! Dorn gasping, body burning, soaked by blood and denial, paused in the throes of a futile gesture that has meaning only to the extent that it reminds us to hold on to our hopes and fight against all death, even in the face of certain defeat.

I gave The Midnight Promise four stars on Goodreads and then, after a couple weeks of dreams and thought, went back and re-rated it up to five. And then I sat down to write this post. It's a book I won't forget. One that screams loud, all our misery is better than the abyss.

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