Sunday, September 02, 2007

In honor of our nation's history of carefully executed labor, some well-turned phrases from a master craftsman

I was right on Friday: it's turned out to be a weekend for books that can be read in one sitting. Simenon down, I'm on to the newest entry on Hard Case Crime's list, Robert Terrral's Kill Now, Pay Later (1960).

I'm only a quarter of the way through it, but Terrall's already won me over with his way with lacerating descriptions, which flow nicely out of his sardonic detective. Like this:
She was enormously fat and loaded with jewels, like the wife of a slum landlord in an old-fashioned radical cartoon.
(Appropriately for Labor Day, that brings to mind the giant, hideous-looking inflatable rats that unions will perch outside of non-union work sites.)

Mere pages later, the detective describes a much-despised insurance inspector:
He was thin and dapper, with an ebbing hairline and a narrow, nervous mustache which seemed to have landed on his upper lip by accident.

Then an arrogant local cop enters the picture:
He was well over six feet, and didn't have much fat on him except around the mouth. He had an abundant crop of iron-gray hair, and I diagnosed him at once as the kind of extremist who gets a weekly haircut. The fat lips smiled at me, showing teeth that were too beautiful to be his own.
That's effectively mean-spirited, though it doesn't have quite the sting to it that the above descriptions share. But that's only because, like a skilled comedian, Terrall knows how to parcel out his material, saving the best for an unexpected return to a theme, in this case a dozen pages later:
We continued to look at each other. I was fascinated by the teeth. They would have made a wonderful prop for a hypnotist.

Oh, this one's going to be good.

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