Michael Carlson

Three shades of noir

In the days of cheap paperbacks, publishers sometimes printed two pulp novels in one volume, back to back. Ariel Winter has done one better, because The Twenty- Year Death consists of three novels, dealing with murders committed over the course of two decades, each told in the style of a great crime writer. The first

The Hillicker Curse

By now, the crucial details of James Ellroy’s life, particularly the unsolved murder of his mother when he was ten years old, may be known better than his books. He emphasised the connection himself when The Black Dahlia, based on a more famous unsolved murder, became a bestseller, constructing a ‘demon dog’ persona to promote

Reheating the Cold War

In the days when the Cold War provided depth and context to all spy fiction, Charles McCarry was the strongest of the contenders for the title of ‘the American John Le Carré’. Although Robert Littell and Paul Hennisart wrote novels of complex moral ambiguity, McCarry’s CIA was closer in tone to Smiley’s Circus, chosen from

Engrossing obsessions

With Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy finally finishes his ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy. With Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy finally finishes his ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy. It’s been eight years since the second volume, The Cold Six Thousand, written in a staccato shorthand prose that seemed always about to veer out of control, marked the apotheosis of

Lost in the fog

Thomas Pynchon’s reputation has risen and fallen over the past five decades; one of his conspiracy-chasing characters might note a pattern of inverse relation to rises and falls in the world’s financial markets. Gravity’s Rain- bow, 36 years ago, confirmed Pynchon as America’s new great reclusive genius; since then battalions of academics have made careers

This is America

Homicide, by David Simon; Death Dyed Blonde, by Stanley Reynolds David Simon was a Baltimore Sun reporter who, having spent a Christmas Eve observing the city’s homicide squad, somehow got the department’s permission to spend an entire year with them as a ‘police intern’. The result, in 1991, was this stunning book, now published for

Murder in the South

When David Rose visited Columbus, Georgia, to write a story about capital punishment in the United States, it drew him inexorably into a decade-long battle for justice on behalf of Carlton Gary, a black man on death row, convicted 20 years ago of a series of rape/murders of elderly white women committed some eight years

Grace under pressure | 30 December 2006

In Alan Furst’s nine novels, it always seems to be twilight. The second world war is being fought off-stage, or, as in The Foreign Correspondent, approaching with grim inevitability. Furst’s world is one of railway stations filled with steam, dark cafés filled with smoke, lonely hotel rooms filled with apprehension. It is populated by exiles and

How many deaths?

‘Suspicion is a shifting shade,’ Mark tells the police lieutenant who’s questioning him, and no one appreciates the tensions of suspicion better than Thomas H. Cook.  Cook remains relatively unknown, though he’s garnered numerous crime-writing awards, including an Edgar for The Chatham School Affair. Places in the Dark and last year’s Red Leaves rank among

A second, darker diagnosis

In 1976 Godfrey Hodgson published In Our Time, a portrait of America in the years from ‘World War II to Watergate’. To this American, newly arrived in Britain, it seemed remarkable that the best social history of my country during my then brief lifetime should have been written by an Englishman. His sharp eye captured

Down to the last detail

One might assume that the Oxford novel, like some long-delayed train finally pulling into Paddington, has run its course. Bright young things flee back into their stately towers as tourists prowl the streets in search of Sebastian Flyte and his chums. But today’s Oxford student is just as likely to be commuting from London in