Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pg. 69: "The Bullet Trick"

Louise Welsh earned my interest on the strength of her first two novellas, so there was no question I would read her latest novel, The Bullet Trick, when it became available.

Nevertheless, I wondered how it would fare under the "page 69 test." I turned to page 69 well after I was into the novel and learned that it really didn't capture the language or story-telling power I was enjoying. I'm not sure I would have read this novel if page 69 was my only clue to Welsh's literary charms.

But I did read the novel and enjoyed it immensely.

Here's a better sample of the novel's charms and promise, from page 7:

'So,' he tapped his nose like a tipster revealing a cert, 'remember, loyalty costs nothing.'

Once upon a time Rich had thought I might be in the new wave of conjurers, 'the post-Paul Daniels brigade' he called them. These days we weren't close, but he let me call his answerphone direct. The evening this story starts was the first time in weeks he'd called me back. 'It may not be the big time William' - Richard hailed originally from Southend. He had a voice as loud as a McGill postcard, all whelks, beer and fat ladies flashing their drawers. I held the receiver an inch or two from my ear; there was no premium in adding deafness to my problems. 'But there'll be some interesting people there. You never know who you'll meet.' I'd made some noncommittal sound, and Rich had gone on with his spiel, selling it to me though he knew I'd take it. 'You'll have fun. It's a police retirement night.'

'Lovely, just what I need. The filth interrogating me on how I do my act.' 'Is that any attitude to have towards Her Majesty's finest? Anyway they'll love it, William. These guys are into lies and misdirection big time.' Rich paused and I could hear him dragging on his cigarette. 'Tell you, here's an idea, pick on the weediest one and do some funny business with his handcuffs.' His laugh caught in his throat and there was a pause as he struggled to catch his breath. I wondered if he was lying down on his office divan.

'That's wonderful advice, Richard: pick on a weedy looking polis, the one with the Napoleon complex. I'll remember that. So who am I opening for?' 'You know these events, William. They're not name in lights occasions, but they have the benefit of equality, there's no headline act.'

A reader would learn a few things here: there's a fair amount of vocabulary and cultural references that would probably prove elusive but not crippling (and maybe even intriguing) for the American reader; our narrator is a conjuror (and who doesn't like magic?); and we are most definitely not hanging around with boy scouts but rather with some down-at-the-heels types with a jaded view of the police ("the filth").

This will be no story full of sweetness and light.

Note--many writers who have subjected their books to the "page 69 test" for the blog have said that the page does do a fair job of representing the book; quite possibly Louise Welsh would say the same (and I'll try to find out if that's the case). This run at the issue is my own take.

The Rap Sheet offers a pithy account of the plot and some good links to related material.

This profile discusses (among many other interesting angles) how Welsh is categorized as a writer, yet it fails to use the label I'd tag her books with: literary noir. Here's another worthwhile profile/interview.

Here's a review of The Bullet Trick that's very close to my take.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue