Sunday, March 01, 2009

Book: Safer, by Sean Doolittle (2009)

In small towns as in academia, life can get nasty because the stakes are so low. Both feature in Safer, the latest from Sean Doolittle.

When his wife accepts a job at a Midwestern university, Paul Callaway finds himself at a loose end. He no longer wears the pants in his household and he’s not in his big city comfort zone, staring down a future of weekend golf and nightly patrols with the neighborhood watch. In short order he clashes with a local fixture who is a retired police officer and beloved community leader. When the bad blood between them boils over, Callaway finds himself in jail charged with child pornography, and he soon realizes the poison running under his quiet street has its origins in a murder a decade old.

The neighbor-from-hell premise may be a familiar one, but Doolittle sharpens its teeth. His villain is a chillingly plausible and all too human one, and he works in a portrait of a shaky marriage amidst a nuanced recreation of the awkward suburban dance of backyard barbecues and over the fence conversations. The book is shrewdly structured, alternating between present tense scenes of Callaway’s legal nightmare and a past tense recounting of his collapsing relationships. And the suspense never lets up.

Doolittle’s previous books include diamond-hard intimate crime novels like Rain Dogs and The Cleanup. Not to speculate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d been encouraged to think bigger with this outing. It’s nice to see him clear the fences.

DVD: The Narrow Margin (1952)

Seventy one minutes. No false steps. B-movie magic. Pure noir heaven.