Welcome to my Kabul-based crime blog. I will post analyses of real life crimes that highlight the connections between crime and politics in Afghanistan. I will also link to articles that shine a light on the dark side of life in the Afghan capital.

In addition to this I will also review both contemporary and vintage crime fiction mostly revolving around random books I am able to buy or find. As ever I welcome your comments and analysis.

DTK Molise.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy: A Review

I never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence of the ways her death drove them.
So begins James Ellroy’s wonderfully twisted reworking of the infamous 1940’s murder case of Elizabeth Short, dubbed The Black Dahlia by the LA gutter press due to her penchant for wearing short black dresses. Ellroy’s novel of the same name was first published in 1987 to widespread acclaim and is the accepted first book in the loosely connected “LA Quartet”.

Bucky Bleichert is our narrator, our man on the inside, our guide to the increasing psychosexual-tinged criminal investigation that takes place through the books 383 pages. An ex light-heavy boxer with protruding teeth once ranked in the national top 10 by Ring magazine Bucky ends up working alongside Lee Blanchard, another ex boxer of altogether more powerful dimensions, before they eventually become partners in the Warrants section of the LAPD.

Blanchard and Bleichert or Fire and Ice, as they come be known throughout the force after an epic LAPD boxing match, end up being detailed to the Black Dahlia case where they both, in their separate ways, end up becoming obsessed not only with the case but with the Dahlia herself. Blanchard has issues revolving around the disappearance of his sister, which in some ways must match those felt by Ellroy himself about his murdered mother, whereas Bleichert gets slowly dragged into a deranged sexual obsession that leads to a hotel room and a hooker.

Los Angeles in all its post war, smog-bound, hazy neon glory is fully realized throughout The Black Dahlia with all its power to seduce and frighten its inhabitants. The period detail is wonderfully recreated with the language used by Ellroy both jazz-flecked in its sound, street smart in its apparent authenticity, and filled with descriptions of activities dripping with depravity.
The bar was a urinal trough. Marines and sailors masturbated into it while they gash dived the nudie girls squatting on top.
The book is not without flaws however. The plot is interesting but the way the ends are drawn together at the books conclusions seems forced and generic. It appears that the crime fiction genre was still very much within Ellroy’s particular mindset whilst writing the novel and he perhaps relies slightly too much on the genres expectations . The language, whilst described above as excellent, is not as fluent and avant-garde as is often suggested about Ellroy, which prevents this book from fully realizing his clear talents.

Having now read the first 50 pages of The Big Nowhere, his second book in the LA Quartet, it is clear that The Black Dahlia is an important developmental work.  Here is where Ellroy starts his transition away from the traditional crime fiction novels of his early days towards his potentially more important later LA Quartet novels The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz and his “big political books” as he terms his latest Underworld USA trilogy.

The Black Dahlia is an excellent crime fiction novel that is darker and deeper than most similar works, yet in this book Ellroy is still fully ensconced in the restrictions of the genre and this book doesn’t quite break free of those in the way I had first hoped. Whilst flawed, this bookcertainly begins to establish Ellroy's credentials as the only true demon dog of American crime writing.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Night Letters

Nangarhar - 03 Jul 2010 - BATI KOWT District: On the night of 3-4 Jul 2010, Anti-Government Insurgents posted 'night letters'* ordering local civilians to stop working with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), Goverment of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). 

The letters contained an ultimatum, stating that the local community had seven days to cease their co-operation with the government and security forces otherwise they would face “strong consequences”.  So continues the daily reality of intimidation and violence for people living in the countryside of Afghanistan. 

Life simply does not continue for those trying to live a life outside of politics.  Violence and crime litter the landscape like dust or flies.  Until these political problems are solved people will continue to live under the threat of mafia-style tactics like 'night letters' - a suitably shady, if obfuscatory, term for what in other countries would be called outright threats.

*'Night letters' are an unsigned leaflet distributed clandestinely that explain and threaten political opponents. These letters have been a political tactic of insurgencies and underground movements for many years and have been taken up by the Taliban to threaten those who are seen to work with the government and their allies.  Declan Welsh, of the Guardian, wrote an article about these letters in 2004: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/19/afghanistan.declanwalsh

Monday, 5 July 2010

On the Loose, On the Streets, and Out for Blood: Point Blank by Richard Stark

Parker is the quintessential hard man of American fiction. There are men. Then there are men. And then there is Parker. A loner, a streetwise criminal intellectual with a burning desire to see his own form of justice wherever he deems necessary. Parker is hard, tough, and indefatigable.  Expect cold-hearted murder, tough justice, and a stack of freshly killed bodies. 

In this novel (originally titled The Hunter) Parker is double-crossed by his wife and partner in crime and left for dead in a burning building. This cannot, and will not, stand.  Parker proceeds to take us on a journey through which he will receive what is rightfully his regardless of the consequences.  Sit back and enjoy the ride as Parker makes up for these terrible crimes against him - Mafia or no Mafia.

Point Blank is a truly original take on the heist and thriller genres and deserves its plaudits. Try to savour the words and not rush it as the book is only 190 pages long.  Luckily for us there are 12 more Parker novels for us to enjoy.   I would, however, like to leave the last word on the book to the writer Elmore Leonard who clearly and unequivocally states: "Whatever Stark writes, I read".  Get out there and buy it, or borrow it.  Better yet steal it from the hands of your unjust assailant as he realises he crossed the wrong man...