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The Big O

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  146 ratings  ·  29 reviews
A lightning-witted, action-packed caper from second-time Irish novelist Declan Burke, The Big O is ostensibly about a tiger kidnapping gone wrong. However, it also manages to capture the brink-of-the-abyss finality of falling in love along the way very well, with lots of black humour and quirky, loveable characters thrown into the mix. There's Karen, a ballsy plastic surge ...more
Paperback, 285 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by Hag's Head Press
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Average rating 3.56  · 
Rating details
 ·  146 ratings  ·  29 reviews

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Karl Jorgenson
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
What do you get when you take a crew of wild, willful, quirky, criminal characters, load them with drugs and alcohol, and let them try for easy money?
Ha! It was a trick question! You get bored! Burke's problem is: his book has only weirdos. Nobody to like, nobody to relate to. Any one or two of these bizarros would be hilarious, if let loose in the real world, but unfortunately they're locked up in Burke's zoo: a place populated only by other crazies. Why is the Kramer character from Seinfeld fu
Michael Schrader
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Das hat richtig Spaß gemacht. Ein Gauner-Krimi, wie ihn sich Elmore Leonard nicht schöner hätte ausdenken können. Mit ganz viel Rafinesse und Sprachwitz: "Doug machte ein Geräusch wie eine feuchte Tapete, als er sich vom Laken löste." Declan Burke? Den merk ich mir!
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle, own, read_2013
Drawing upon dark humour and clever use of coincidence, Declan Burke’s THE BIG O is a kidnap caper that’s violently funny and is written in a manner eerily reminiscent of Elmore Leonard. The kidnapper, Ray, doubles as a painter; an occupation he readily uses to scope his targets. Wanting to retire from the business, Ray takes on one last job to snatch the wife of a doctor for the purpose of netting some insurance cash. Along the way Ray becomes involved with the doctors receptionist and later di ...more
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Da ich in meiner letzten Rezension zu Olivia Kiernans „Zu nah“ daran rumgemäkelt habe, dass der Handlungsort in dem Krimi völlig austauschbar war, muss ich hier nun klar stellen, dass er das nicht ist. Es wird in keiner Zeile angegeben, wo die Geschichte sich abspielt, aber ganz gewiss nicht in Europa, schon gar nicht in Irland. Der Krimi – oder fast schon die Krimikomödie – liest sich so verdammt amerikanisch, dass ich nochmal nachlesen musste, aber ja, der Autor wohnt tatsächlich noch in Irlan ...more
Aug 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009-reads
RATING: 3.25

Oftentimes a book that is attempting to be a "caper" has a bit of a complicated set-up; that is certainly the case for THE BIG O. Let's start with one of the lead characters, Karen King. Karen is a receptionist for a disgraced plastic surgeon named Frank. Being somewhat short of viable financial options, Frank decides to hire someone to kidnap his wife, Madge, in order to cash in on a sizeable insurance policy. Madge is also Karen's best friend.

In addition to her day job, Karen is a
Renee Pawlish
Aug 15, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really struggled with what rating to give this book. In some regards, I want to give it two stars (it was okay) but ultimately I have to give it one, as the story just did not draw me in. I saw another review that said it's only in the last fifty or so pages that things really start to cook, and I have to agree with that. Everything before just seems to be a bit of setup, and then characters doing this or that, but it didn't really add to the story. Burke writes well, I just couldn't get into ...more
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
What at great book. Think Elmore Leonard, but double speed. Screwball seems to be the way folks describe this bok, and screwball it is. A twisted web of characters hurtling towards an improbable climax. Each and every one of them are simultaneously likable and despicable.

Passes the Bechdel test with ease (no small feat for a straight up noir crime novel written by a man), for what that's worth.

A terrific palate cleanser. Good for what ails you. Highly recommended.
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing

Meet Ray.

Ray lit a cigarette and cracked the window, humming along with the stereo. Wondering how it was that Bruce always got himself hooked up on these women named Mary. 'Thunder Road,' 'The River,' 'Mary's Place'… Christ, the man was obsessed.

Ray, if he was Springsteen, he'd have shot through for Mexico long ago, nabbed himself a Juanita, some shit like that. Ray had only ever met one Karen before, this Kiwi blonde in Hamburg with an oral fixation. Ray getting blowjobs on buss

Keith Nixon
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
By day Karen works for disgraced plastic surgeon Frank, by night she carries out armed robberies. Whilst holding up a store she meets Ray, who also has two roles – mural painter and kidnapper.

Frank lives the high-life, but he’s bankrupt. He needs a lot of money, and fast, to resolve his many problems. So he employs local crook Terry to kidnap his ex-wife, Madge. The plan – get an insurance payout for $500,000 and jet off somewhere hot.

The trouble is Madge is Karen’s best friend and Ray is the
Ellen Trufant
Oct 03, 2016 rated it liked it
A fun caper in the style of Elmore Leonard. One jarring note is the occasional Irish/English vernacular in the midst of the American gangster talk, but it's fine, creating distance from these comical characters.
Sep 23, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
When Karen the armed robber runs into Ray the kidnapper in the midst of a hold-up, sparks start to fly. However, Karen comes with some rather serious baggage - an ex about to be released from prison and Anna.

Ray is not without his problems. It just so happens that he's been hired to kidnap Karen's best friend, Madge. It also isn't such a good thing when police detective Stephanie Doyle takes a shine to Ray and starts giving him more attention than he'd like. Stephanie Doyle is investigating Fra
Dana King
Oct 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I recently extolled the virtues of Declan Burke’s The Big O on the occasions of its re-release as an e-book. It occurred to me while writing that blog my original reading of The Big O was five years ago. It might be time to see if I’d still agree with my original assessment.

I read it again. Liked it even more.

Much of that is due to my maturing as a reader and writer myself. (it’s not like the book changed in the interim. It’s the same copy I read in 2008. Any changes must be some Harry Potter sh
Lukasz Pruski
May 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Declan Burke's "The Big O", a comedic mystery, happens to be very funny. It is a hard-to-put-away book, and a pleasant, easy read, with zero depth, but quite well-written.

We meet Karen, a stick-up woman, and Ray, a professional kidnapper. They are the protagonists in the plot, with Frank, a plastic surgeon, his soon-to-be ex-wife, Madge, a career criminal, Rossi, and Doyle, a policewoman, being the remaining central characters. There is also the mysterious Anna. Frank and his lawyer concoct a sc
Oct 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, 2008
I've been reading a lot of tough guy novels lately. I'm not sure why. I'm not exactly the toughest guy on the block. Most of these books feature a lone wolf, a big gun, and a hot car. They rarely include any funny business.

THE BIG O, thank goodness, adds a big dose of humor to the template. But be forewarned, the humor here is specific to its intended crime-reading audence. For example: "Frank was startled to realize he'd been daydreaming about Margaret. Seeing her gagged, cuffed and blindfolded
Rob Kitchin
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Big O is a comic crime caper – think of Carl Hiasson strained though a noir filter. The story is broken into a succession of short scenes each written from the perspective of one of the six principle characters. The structure works to provide a nice, quick pace and enables Burke to flesh out the characterisation, where each person is slightly larger than life with certain foibles. The plot is driven by multiple coincidences, each binding the actors into ever-more overlapping and mutually dep ...more
May 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
All you have to do is read the opening sequence in this book to know whether you'll like it or not, and if you're not blown away by it, you probably shouldn't be reading my reviews anyway. The easiest comparison is to Elmore Leonard, though with an Irish twist, but seriously, it's that good.

Burke drew the short straw when in a fit of downsizing, Houghton Mifflin not only cancelled the paperback, but cancelled the sequel. Shortsighted of you, HM, or I guess that's now HMH, because now they're mer
Feb 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of the hard-boiled crime drama
A hard-boiled crime (not detective) "caper" with taut dialog, post-modern syntax, and a break-neck pace, elements to make Chandler and Hammett proud. Highly recommended for fans of the crime genre.

Cool narrative technique used by Burke - tiny sections headed with a character's name as we switch to their POV ... Otherwise, the book is divided into chapters that correspond to days, a nice "countdown" to the crime/solution technique that I just used (*wink, wink) in my new novel.

Lots of character
Tom Bradley
Jun 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
This novel bristles with stripped-down, sharp, muscular, just-the-facts-ma'am prose -- which is just fine by me.

Although I found the ultra-short, POV-driven, character-titled chapters confusing (to a point), the characters themselves came off as sympathetic and identifiable, with the possible exception of Rossi...and even he wasn't ALL bad; just human.

My one quibble is the parenthetical subtitle "a screwball noir," as I believe dubbing it "screwball" does it a disservice. It reads more like what
Mar 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Declan Burke's THE BIG O is a fast, funny as hell crime novel with a surprising amount of heart. Relying on a degree of coincidence that on the surface might seem extreme, the coincidences themselves become a character of sorts, as the reader begins guessing (incorrectly, in my case) where the next cross-pollination will take place.

Alternating as needed between the POVs of the main players (each fully formed and well defined, not to mention entertaining as hell!), Burke keeps the plot and pace r
Mar 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While coincidences and happenstance are usually the sign of lazy writing in crime fiction, Declan Burke takes those coincidences and makes a unique hard-boiled farce. This book is like an Ealing comedy by way of Dashiell Hammett.

I won't go into any detail about the characters or the plot, the revelations in the reading are just too much fun. The story twists and turns and the character relationships manage to retain depth even when everything around them gets crazy.

That's the secret to the book'
Oct 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific! The concept of Irish crime writing in screwball comedy style was new to me, I have to confess, but I loved it. Try it once and you might well be hooked too. This is fast-paced and funny, like a rollercoaster combination of Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, with oddly lovable characters and some great lines in Irish blarney. The short - tiny - chapters, deadpan wit and multiple viewpoints put me in mind of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, and this has equal bucketloads of charm.
Aug 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
Pretty mediocre. I quite like a straight up crime book and 2-dimensional characters if it hits all the other points like snappy dialogue, tension and an intricate plot. This didn't really have any of those. There's only a drive to the plot 50 pages before the end wheras the 230 pages leading up to that have people knocking around, talking tough but actually doing sweet F.A.

Read another book of his, was loads of fun. This was not.
Crime caper set in Ireland with numerous point of view characters, dark humor, and a twisty plot. I did like the book for the most part and appreciated that it was under 300 pages but felt the author put too much emphasis on style over substance.
Oct 04, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ireland, noir
One of my favorite things about noir is the way that storylines twist around each other and cross in unexpected ways, and Burke accomplishes that with aplomb here. A good choice for Bruen fans who'd like a little more comedy and a little less black.
John Rogers
Jan 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really liked the book. In the hands of a lesser writer, the random association of so many closely-related individuals would not make for a credible plot. In Burke's hand, it reminds one that the real world is often stranger than any plot one might conjure. Nice writing; great dialog.
Nov 23, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
WORST book i have ever read. Period.
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime-mystery
I wrote a bit about this droll book in November 2008 here (including a tangent on locale): ...more
Linda Chrisman
Feb 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery
Gaelic noir and funny too - a must-read
Jun 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
A caper novel written in humorous character sketches.
rated it really liked it
Aug 25, 2008
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Declan Burke is the author of four novels: Eightball Boogie and Slaughter's Hound, both featuring the private eye Harry Rigby; Absolute Zero Cool; and The Big O.

Crime Always Pays, a comedy crime caper, will be published by Severn House in 2014.

He is also the editor of Down These Green Streets, a collection of essays, interviews and short fictions about the rise of Irish crime writing.

With John C

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