Friday, November 14, 2003

Why I Hate Blake Crouch 

Last year, my fellow reviewer at January Magazine (and King of the Thrilling Detective universe) Kevin Burton Smith reviewed Lawrence Block's short story collection ENOUGH ROPE by listing all the reasons he hated the author. Well, I shall do the same thing, although I'm assuming most of my readership has some passing knowledge of Larry, while hardly any of you have heard of Blake. Yet.

That's because Blake Crouch's debut novel, DESERT PLACES, won't be in stores until January, but lucky me, I got the advance copy in the mail today. So I thought perhaps I'd get in a few pages after sticking to my usual end of the night routine: catch the latest edition of The Daily Show, listen to my mother comment for the umpteenth time how beautiful Jon Stewart's eyes are, laugh at all the absurdities, then switch the tube off when the show's done and get to bed.

Boy did that get shot to hell pretty quickly.

It all started with the first chapter. A successful, though not yet stratospheric, crime writer's finishing up the last touches on his latest opus when he gets a note in the mail. He opens it and it reads as follows: "Greetings. There is a body buried on your property, covered in your blood. The unfortunate young lady's name is Rita Jones. In her jeans pocket you'll find a slip of paper with a phone number on it. You have one day to call that number. If I have not heard from you by 8 PM tomorrow, the police department will receive an anonymous call. (I do believe a paring knife is missing from your kitchen.)"

Well, with a killer opening like that, my routine was completely and utterly ruined. So there's reason one why I hate Blake Crouch.

With sleep out of the question, all I could do was keep going. No way in hell I was putting this baby down. It's two hundred and eighty pages of pure, lean, thriller, the pace never letting up. Even if I'd wanted to force myself away from the pages, I simply couldn't. That's reason two.

Think the opening's twisted enough? That's only the beginning. Things get much, much sicker as the book goes on. There's killing, torture, disturbing violence--and none of it is gratuitous! How the hell did he pull that off. And that's reason number three.

But DESERT PLACES isn't just about plot, there's a hell of a lot of character development. The relationship between our erstwhile protagonist (or is he?) and his family, especially the twin brother who'd mysteriously disappeared in college. The thin line between good and evil, love and hate, both sides of a mirror. There's history and philosophy and literature. That's not what a thriller's supposed to do, it's supposed to entertain, be tonic for the unwashed masses. You mean I have to think while I'm reading this? Argh, that Blake's making me hate him a fourth time.

Just when I thought I knew what was happening, the plot changed on me again. Any lulls? Sure, but they went away awfully fast. It was such a rollercoaster I thought my stomach would churn. And I have a pretty good stomach. Any author that makes me contemplate antacid pills is not someone I'm liking. And that's the fifth reason.

So with all this, think I've run out of reasons to hate? Hell no. Here's reason six: DESERT PLACES, like I said, is a debut novel. It's supposed to have first novel problems but nope, barely any of that. Instead there's prose that's throat grabbing. Like when our novelist has finally gone over the edge from writing about crime to preparing to kill. All that research for his books had finally come to fruition. "Who does this kind of thing? Pretty fucking gutsy. It'd make one hell of a book." I mean, that's deep. And shows the kind of talent that authors on their third, fourth, fifth book would ache to have.

And then on top of that, there's Val McDermid blurbing, calling it "a genuine thriller that pulses with adrenaline from start to finish. Blake Crouch is one of the most exciting new writers I've read in years." Dammit, I hate when Val's right. And there's reason seven.

Am I done? Nope, because here's the kicker: Blake Crouch is twenty-five years old. I don't get it. There are other new crime writers around my age, like Rebecca Pawel (Death of a Nationalist) and Edwin Thomas (The Blighted Cliffs) who are in their mid-20s and already well on their way to long careers in the writing world. I don't hate them. Maybe it's because they write historical fiction and so they're not plumbing the depths of darkness and evil in the same way, in such a raw, visceral manner. But how can Blake be so nice and placid in person and come up with one of the most messed-up novels I have read in ages? I haven't had a "can't-put-it-down-read-it-in-one-sitting-flat" experience in ages. This is going to do wonders for my psyche, and not in a good way. There must be several more reasons to hate him in that paragraph.

But ignore my vitriol. I'm just a bitter, jealous girl because I can't handle the fact that Blake Crouch is a major league talent who is going to be really, really big. You'll just all have to see for yourselves when DESERT PLACES hits stores near you in a couple months' time.

And as for me, I'm gonna try to get some sleep--not that I expect to.


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