Fiction & Biography

CPlME DPAMA WALTER MOSLEY Six Easy Pieces lSerpent's Tail S: 1 2i 0... PD JA ES

The Murder Room rFaber 8'1 [9% 0.

It was Dashiell Hammett who is alleged to have taken murder out of the drawing room and dropped it in the alley. They questioned Raymond Chandler but the author of The Thin Man was always the prime suspect. So, what are the facts; what kind of case is this? Hardboiled Yank gangster slang crime noir pulp fiction versus country house stylised prose Brit-Lit detective mystery? Certainly PD James likes to present her readers with a puzzle, albeit one with scope for a little social analysis and some obligatory ruminations on the human condition. Still, it would be unjust to dismiss her work as murder most foul with Colonel Mustard in the pantry dispatching the housekeeper with a priceless candlestick holder.

In her latest instalment of Commander Dalgliesh's career, there are references to 11 September, Stephen Lawrence, contemporary sexual politics and

the very British preoccupation with class. There are also characters who wear spats, habitual sherry drinkers and folk who drop words such as ‘egregious’ into their conversation. Who the hell talks like that? Baroness James has been described as ‘the Dickens of the thing’ by fellow crime scribbler Frances Fyfield, who also claims ‘she never wrote a sloppy sentence yet’. Well, call me Charlie if she isn’t guilty of overwriting a

few here.

James was first inspired by that literary conjurer, Agatha Christie, while Walter Mosley would doff his fedora to Chandler and other existential knights such as Chester Himes. Walt asks the big questions: who’s doing it and how are they getting away with it? He takes Malcolm X's words - ‘you have been bamboozled’ - and seeks to expose the age-old conspiracy of the powerful and corrupt. There is economy in his prose and devil in



Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Bloomsbury $316.99) 0...

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Might sell a few 102 THE LIST 3—1 7 Jul 2003

Murder, they wrote

his detail. This latest in the Easy Rawlins series is set in early 605 LA, where JFK’s non-hat wearing style has hit the haberdashery trade but apartheid is still all the rage. And while James’ Dalgliesh is didactic and aloof, Easy is a working man with a love of domesticity but whose dreams are ‘feral and shapeless'. The dialogue in Six Easy Pieces is probably as much

off the screen as it is straight outta Compton - slick city

slang not so different to that spoken by the denizens of

(Rodger Evans)

There are two books wrestling for SLlpremaCy in the latest Harry Potter saga. One of them is the hOCus- pocus novel of teenage wrzardry. ripe With the kind of DickenSian names Dolores Umbridge. Arabella Figg. Mundungus Fletcher that irritate the life out of non-initiates and start to grate even on loyal devotees after the cuteness of volumes one to tour has worn off. This book is a swashbuckling boy's own adventure. sometimes a tad labOured. but generally gripping and unexpected even while it sticks closely to the narrative template Rowling has established for her best-selling franchise.

The second novel runs in parallel and Is a satire of our own non-magical grown-up world. Just as the best SCience fiction tells us more abOut today than tomorrow. Rowling's fantaSy is never far from the political debates of contemporary Britain. There's something very New Lab0ur ab0ut the Ministry of Magic and its reVisionist tendenCies. while

Philip Marlowe’s Los Angeles of 20 years before. A real life private dick once asked: ‘How could Chandler write those wonderful books and never once use the word perpetrator?’ Apt because subtlety is Mosley’s modus operandi, and morality and survival his twin motives. A graduate of the ‘more tea, Lady Swathling?’ school of sleuthing he may not be, but nice and Easy done it.

Hogwarts headmaster. Aldus Dumbledore, looks ever more like an avuncular lefty. holding onto the old values of Ordinary. decent Wizardry. Dolores Umbridge. who teaches a class called ‘defence against the dark arts'. is an ideological extremist verging on the fascist. while the old rnudblood ethnic cleansing debate bubbles under the surface.

It's a rare feat to unite both stories. thereby sustaining the interest of readers young and old. For the most part. Rowling pulls it off, often with conSiderable humour ~ ‘x/hether it's the slapstick comedy of an invasion of owls into the Dursley household. or Hermione's relationship advrce and now With the added hormonal pulse of teen romance and insecurity.

You'll have heard that this ene's darker and more psychologically rich, but that's only from people who've forgotten that the previous books had those Qualities too: that's why they were successful.

I predict it will sell Quite a few copies. lMark Fisheri

Shelf life

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