Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Iain Levison's hybrid crime thriller

Dog Eats Dog, a new novel by Iain Levison from Bitter Lemon Press, defies conventions in a number of ways. Levison, a Scot, moved to the U.S. and after working around the country now lives in North Carolina. This novel, though, was first published in France, as Une canaille et demie. The novel is part Elmore Leonard (a laconic style and off-hand, comic plotting and character development), part Donald Westlake (hopelessly botched bank robbery), and part Don Delillo (college professor wants to make his name as a sort of Hitler apologist, a device used by Delillo to great effect in White Noise). A female FBI agent is on the trail of the escaped bank robber, who has holed up in the college professor's house. Stated bluntly, it almost sounds like a Key Largo, Cape Fear kind of thing, but Levison manipulates this well-worn territory in his own unique way. At every turn, expectations are overturned. For example, the FBI agent is fed clue after clue by the narrator, but she's in the middle of a mid-life (and professional) crisis and the normal progress of the thriller plot, along the line of those clues, is nullified. The professor both fears and admires the thief, not something unusual in these sorts of plots, but the inevitable confrontation doesn't happen the way you might expect. The conclusion doesn't either, the characters each coming to a resolution in unexpected ways. There are a couple of flaws, particularly in the way academic publications or .45 automatics work, but overall Dog Eats Dog is funny, breezy, and effective.

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