Disco from the late 1970's / early 1980's being a formative part of my early years, some of the sheer enjoyment that BLACK SAILS, DISCO INFERNO providDisco from the late 1970's / early 1980's being a formative part of my early years, some of the sheer enjoyment that BLACK SAILS, DISCO INFERNO provided could be put down to nostalgia, but there's a lot more to it than that.
Based on the ancient story of Tristan and Isolde, with a pulp / noir sensibility, there is a strong sense of homage and a deep understanding of the original medieval romance. The setting employed here is an unnamed city, sectioned off into the territory of rival crime families the Holts and the Cornwall's. Issy (Isidor Junior) is the playboy heir of the Holt family. Trista Rivalen a trusted niece and heir to Marcella, head of the Cornwall family. The switching of the gender of the two main characters is a device that works seamlessly, even if you're steeped in the original tale, because of all the things that BLACK SAILS does well, it absolutely excels at character. Issy's background is pretty simple - the only child and heir, a boy with all the advantages and not a lot of responsibilities, his relationship with his parents is strained. Similarly Trista's relationship with her parents is difficult, and she's mostly been raised by faithful lieutenant Governal. His idea of extra-curricula education might seem a little peculiar, but Trista has a future that needs to be considered. Needless to say, around the two main characters of Trista and Issy, there's a wonderfully elaborate cast of good and bad, villains and the slightly misunderstood.
The cast is then placed in a setting which is all about atmosphere, with location names that echo the Irish / Cornish roots of the original. The plot then revolves around the bones of a grand old family feud, covering off the scenarios of the original, enhanced with some complications you'd expect in noir set in the 70s. There's plenty of twists and turns built into that - including a very interesting twist on the adultery storyline, and the tragedy of the ending.
Into this go the sorts of cultural hat-tips that Bergen excels in, including my very favourite - the references to disco songs that are now so deeply embedded as earworms, they are pretty well all I've been able to hear since reading this book. It has all come together into something that's extremely addictive reading.
Having loved, but gleefully not understood parts of an earlier book by Andrez Bergen (Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat), and having seen the early publicity for BLACK SAILS, DISCO INFERNO I was expecting it to be good. It exceeded good by a very big measure.
Ultra-gritty describes the 1930's Stockholm that Harry Kvist occupies, as well as Kvist himself. To say nothing of the people that he mixes with. It'sUltra-gritty describes the 1930's Stockholm that Harry Kvist occupies, as well as Kvist himself. To say nothing of the people that he mixes with. It's a beautifully evoked world of dark and despair, littered with violent sexual encounters, drinking, and oddly, an unexpected love affair of sorts.
Told from his point of view Kvist is nothing if not brutally honest about himself, his situation, even the way he looks. And as an ex-boxer he's well suited to his now role of debt-collector, and general intimidating presence. It's the role of debt collector that sees him become the prime suspect after a debtor he has just visited, and roughed up just a touch, is discovered murdered in his apartment. Kvist might be the last known person to have seen him alive, but this time he knows he's definitely not guilty. Unfortunately clearing his name isn't going to be straightforward as finding the witness that saw him leaving on the night, when he's just got is a working name and physical description to go on, isn't easy.
The plot itself is not unfamiliar - the lone wolf character, presumed guilty because that's the easiest conclusion to draw, setting out on his own to clear his name. What lifts CLINCH out of the familiar is the strength of the character of Kvist and the world that he occupies. Working the streets, the slums, the brothels and the dives of Stockholm, there's something deeply physical about the way that Kvist undertakes his quest. But then sheer physicality is the thing about Kvist - be it his hetero- and homo-sexual encounters, or the way he inhabits the darker places in which he seeks.
When Scandinavian crime / thriller fiction first elbowed itself into the consciousness of crime fiction fans it frequently bought with it something unusual at the time - introspection and consideration, the examination of why people do what they do, rather than always the crime, an investigation and resolution. CLINCH seems to come from somewhere slightly different again. Kvist feels like he'd be comfortable walking the dark, gritty streets of a dangerous American city, and equally at home on the hard edges of the Scottish and Irish tenements plagued with violence and social problems. That he's from Stockholm, and the world he inhabits is dark, cold, dirty, desperate, and frequently pretty nasty makes more sense than this reader ever imagined would be possible.
If you've read the blurb for CLINCH and formed some conclusions about style, and outcome in your mind, then it's likely you got close in some things and miles away in others. There are shades of noir in this novel so unexpected that even after reading CLINCH, this reader is still mildly stunned and absolutely thankful for the opportunity.
Dom and Donald Tolen are identical twins - in looks but not personality. Whilst Dom craves the quiet life, Donald has pushed the boundaries a lot moreDom and Donald Tolen are identical twins - in looks but not personality. Whilst Dom craves the quiet life, Donald has pushed the boundaries a lot more. But now, separated from his wife and living, as an increasingly unwelcome guest, in his brother's apartment, Donald needs to get himself sorted in a hurry. What ensues is a complicated tale of swapped identities and confusion that is going to need the reader to be paying close attention.
We've all heard tales of identical twins swapping places. Particularly when young, and in this reader's case, in school when one twin was much better at a particular subject than the other. Dom and Donald always did the same thing as kids, and when Donald convinces Dom to try it one more time in adult life, it kind of makes sense that he'd like to do it again as a joke or a bit of fun. But things are never quite that simple when you're an adult, particularly if there are sneaky plans afoot. Hence the need for reader's to be paying attention.
A psychological thriller, THE SWAP is written in a nicely flowing manner, taking the reader straight into the action, and through the stories of Dom and Donald. Structured well with current day and past revelations nicely balanced, the pace doesn't lag at all during this book. The likelihood of something going astray when Donald convinces Dom to switch places for the day is nothing compared to what actually does occur, nor the complications that continue from that event onwards. Although the "Dom" and "Donald" names do sound like the potential for confusion you are given license to get past that with most of the viewpoint remaining with Dom - the more sedate and quieter of the two twins.
There is a supporting cast dotted throughout THE SWAP but the focus is always on the twins, and Dom in particular so most of the extras fade rapidly into the background and remain somewhat one-dimensional. Many readers might find themselves hanging tightly onto the twins identities anyway - things get pretty complicated in that department pretty darn quickly.
It's an interesting idea for a debut novel - the knowing swapping of identities and the consequences from there. Combined with some insights into the differences, as well as similarities between identical twins and THE SWAP was an engaging read - not perfect by any means - but well worth the time and attention.