Sunday, June 4, 2017
Pulped by Timothy Hallinan - Book Review
Timothy Hallinan's latest detective thriller represents a departure from his usual style and a return to his late nineties Simeon Grist series of books. Pulped (Hallinan Consulting, 2017, 374 pages, $13.99) has just been released as a paperback while the Kindle edition is available for pre-order with release scheduled for June 9th, this Friday. Hallinan fans have longed for the re-emergence of this Hallinan character. With this release, Hallinan explores the world of genre fiction and the nature of the reader/book interaction while placing his long lost character Simeon Grist in a situation new to literature.
Pulped opens with Simeon Grist, becoming increasingly aware of himself as a character and Hallinan as his creator. Last seen in The Bone Polisher published in 1995, and newly released in a boxed set, this new Simeon Grist adventure will both satisfy and intrigue old and new fans. Grist complains about the difficulty of maintaining self-awareness when the pages on which he exists have been reduced to pulp, while admitting that such an intro to a detective story is certainly unconventional. Readers who have become involved in Hallinan's two current series featuring Poke Rafferty, the Bangkok-based travel writer and Junior Bender, the accomplished Los Angeles thief and problem solver for those who can't go to the police, have come to implicitly trust Hallinan's ability to deliver first rate writing. Newcomers may find it a bit odd to encounter the rich imagery beginning this novel twenty-two years removed from the last Simeon Grist story, but hang in there. You're in for a ride!
Simeon Grist wakes up wanting to drink one of the three beers always in his refrigerator whenever he opens the door, along with what Hallinan always wrote into the nearly empty refrigerator for him to eat. Above him, in the sky, hangs the solitary, never moving hawk Hallinan always placed there as a descriptive element. There's a knock on the back door, and after some difficulty getting to it, Grist greets Bradley Zipper, an Eagle Scout, who turns out to have been the hero of a 1920's pulp series. Zipper has left a door hanger explaining some of what Grist doesn't understand about being Here. He learns that book characters exist in four places: between the covers of their books, in their writers' imaginations, in the imaginations of those who publish and sell the books, and in the in the imaginations of their readers. When those mental images begin to disappear, so do the characters Here in limbo. Other central characters of almost forgotten pulp novels appear to reveal further insight and complication to Simeon's growing understanding, best characterized by his plaintive comment, “But I don't feel fisctional.” Limbo exists with all the limitations in Hallinan's imagination and the conventions of getting around an invented world. And then Simeon sees one of his readers get killed through the portal to There, discovering through his friends Here how to get There. Simeon is transported There, where he meets Madison and is given twenty-four hours to solve the crime before he is transported back Here.
Hallinan must have had a huge amount of fun writing this book. In order to clarify the conjunction of his characters he cooks up a sort-of electricity of the imagination, where ideas from different places live on with increasing numbers of connections made possible by the richness of the individual's imaginations. This brings the characters in books to life for the willing reader. There's an underlying sadness, too, as one considers the death of bookstores and book lovers, the places where unlikely connections are made. The digital substitution may make cross pollination of ideas less likely, not-so-slowly killing off the shared memories of the ages.
But Hallinan is playing a bigger game here than creating a paradoxical situation that allows characters from novels to return to the fictional world which they inhabited to interact with newly invented characters who now exist. Among other things, he is questioning the conventions which make fiction fiction and life life. Along the way, he is using detective fiction/thrillers, the genre with which he is closely associated and widely admired, to examine how deeply reading and experiencing fiction helps structure our perceptions of the real world. He's examining the transactions between reader and author through text that avid readers experience and critics spend inordinate amounts of time speculating about.
Isn't this the dilemma of every writer and reader as the characters become real to them, and the reader changes because of the interactions with the character? Hallinan, the writer, not the Hallinan character in his own book, is playing with bigger ideas in Pulped, perhaps the biggest he's tackled yet. No wonder he put aside the partly completed manuscript of Pulped for five years. He was in the midst of developing a theory of reading going beyond reader response to an interactive exchange within the text. In my own critical writing, this becomes real, as the opportunities for continual editing based on new data always exist. Writing in digital formats is never finished the way print is.
Usually, in genre fiction, plot is all. In Pulped the plot is there, interesting, and convoluted, but the book is a book of ideas given form and function through the plot. While still engaging the conventions of the thriller, the book requires consideration of issues like the meaning of existence, the value of imagination, the barriers to communication and probably several I haven't thought of yet. Hallinan complicates this situation still further by introducing a character named Hallinan who is writing a fantasy adventure to satisfy the maw of an audience he doesn't connect to. What would happen to the conventions of fiction if Simeon Grist were permitted to meet the real fictional Hallinan in the part of his existence where he has returned There? This engaging book asks more questions than it answers, while the re-emergence of the long missed character of Simeon Grist is most welcome.
Tim Hallinan, just nominated for a Shamus Award for last year's Christmas book, Fields Where They Lay, a Junior Bender book, had a long career in public relations, the film industry, and as a corporate consultant before turning to full time writing some years ago. His personal web site has lots of information about him and his two current series, which, if you don't know them already, you should! The Poke Rafferty series features a travel writer who has settled in Bangkok, Thailand where he lives with his Thai wife, a former prostitute and bar girl, and their adopted daughter, Miaow, whose early life was largely spent on the street. Poke is always drawn into social/political crimes within Thai society and affecting his family. Junior Bender is an accomplished thief who functions as the go-to problem solver for people who can't go the police for help. This series, a remarkable combination of humor and thriller represents a distinct change from the Poke series. The touching point between the two is Hallinan's remarkable control of character, plot, and voice which makes the separation between the two worlds complete.
Pulped by Timothy Hallinan ((Hallinan Consulting, 2017, 374 pages, $13.99) provides Hallinan's legion of devoted readers with a new feast of action and imagination leavened with ideas about fiction that must have been germinating in Tim's mind for years. He introduces new and intriguing characters, both Here and There, who readers will want to see develop and become more fully filled out as they emerge in print. Order the paperback now or wait a week and buy the Kindle edition. I read the book on my Kindle app as an Advanced Reviewers Copy supplied by the author.
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