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The Big O Hardcover – September 22, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 279 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (September 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151014086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014088
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,333,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While Irish author Burke (Eight-ball Boogie) has been compared to Elmore Leonard, this effort falls short of Leonard's superior blending of crime and dark humor. The impending parole of violent armed robber Rossi Francis Assisi Callaghan sets in motion a cascading series of events. Callaghan's ex-wife, Karen King, herself a thief, fears he'll come after her, and seeks to get herself some insurance in the form of professional kidnapper Ray Brogan. Ray, in turn, is hired to abduct Karen's friend, Madge Dolan, by her husband, Frank, a plastic surgeon who wants to cash in a lucrative insurance policy. The waters are further muddied by questions about Callaghan's parentage and the introduction of a vicious, half-blind dog named Stalin. The broadly drawn figures and situations are clearly not intended to be taken seriously, but the absence of any character a reader is likely to sympathize with is a significant drawback. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Frank is a self-important but inept plastic surgeon who wants to have his ex-wife, Madge, snatched so that he can collect a half-million in ransom. Frank’s receptionist, Karen, commits armed robberies using her former lover’s Ducati motorcycle and .44 magnum pistol; Karen, unbeknownst to Frank, is best friends with Madge; still, she agrees to help with the kidnapping, though she knows Rossi (the former lover) is about to get out of prison and will be returning to collect his cycle and gun. She also knows that Rossi is as mean as a “piss-soaked snake.” For the kidnapper, Madge picks Ray, a guy she met during one of her robberies and who impressed her with his style. These schemers swirl around in a kind of novelistic Brownian motion (particles moving randomly while suspended in a liquid), colliding with each other during the week preceding the snatch. Burke has married hard-boiled crime with noir sensibility and seasoned it with humor and crackling dialogue. Credulity is strained throughout, but fans of comic noir will find plenty to enjoy here. --Thomas Gaughan

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A master of the aberrant behaviors of the fringe-dwellers of modern Irish society, Burke's novel attests to the endless creativity of those who indulge in usually non-violent crime to avoid the doldrums of regular employment. Ray is a soon-to-retire "babysitter" of sorts, a man who kidnaps specific targets for ransom until the money is paid and he gets his share; other than this peripatetic occupation, he paints murals on client's walls. Karen first meets Ray in the middle of a one-off (an impulsive holdup), her gun pointed directly at him- intrigued, Ray invites her for a drink. Karen works for Frank, a disgraced plastic surgeon who is only qualified to provide consultations, in the middle of a messy divorce settlement with Madge and living with a contemptuous girlfriend who openly mocks him while greedily spending his money. Desperate, Frank instigates Madge's kidnapping, setting in motion a bizarre plot that snowballs into a confrontation with flying bullets and snarling dogs.

As best friends, Karen and Madge focus their attentions on the inadequate and often laughable Frank, the brunt of much of their humor. None of these characters, save perhaps Frank, are particularly unlikeable, considering their economic circumstances and penchant for perpetrating opportunistic crime. The same cannot be said for Rossi, a con about to be released, poised to prey once more on an unsuspecting public. Rossi is a hard case, a true sociopath with a cruel streak; that combined with an impaired intellect is a recipe for disaster. This career criminal will be showing up on Karen's doorstep, expecting her to return his money, motorbike and weapon. Karen, of course, has no intention of returning anything.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lily Courthope on November 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is not the first time that I've marveled at the staid, moribund quality of a PW review. I'm pretty sure that if an author isn't named Hemingway, Fitzgerald or Faulkner, they just don't get it.

And that's too bad because author Declan Burke has created a frantically paced comedy of errors that is a lot of fun to read. No, I won't be writing a thesis any time soon about kidnapper Ray's probable identity crisis, but when was the last time you read a line as funny as the one (right near the end of the book) in which he at last reveals his true identity? And that line is just the froth on this comic concoction.

This book reminds me of some of my favorite movies: Libeled Lady, His Girl Friday, and of more recent origin, Snatch. Screwballs, every one of them. Some darker than others, some more romantic, but all of them with wild plot turns and breath-catching scenes that keep the viewer/reader fixed in place, waiting for the next laugh.

If you're looking for deep meaning and deathless prose, go check out the latest bestselling, yawn-worthy, overwrought work of 'literature' (or even another PW review); if you're looking for a good time, call 1-800-THE BIG O.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paul D Brazill on February 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Big O and its follow up Crime Always Pays actually are that oxymoron
`screwball noir'. These novels are like two cracking, fast paced, clever and very droll road movies with a top drawer cast that includes a narcoleptic called Sleeps and a wolf. Twists and turns, spicy dialogue and scenes which really make you `LOL', as the young people say.
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More About the Author

Declan Burke is the award-winning author of EIGHTBALL BOOGIE (2003), THE BIG O (2007), ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL (2011) and SLAUGHTER'S HOUND (2012). He is also the editor of DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY, and is the co-editor, with John Connolly, of BOOKS TO DIE FOR (2012). ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL won the Goldsboro 'Last Laugh' Award at Crimefest. Declan hosts a website dedicated to Irish crime fiction called Crime Always Pays.

Praise for THE BIG O

"If Elmore Leonard met Jim Thompson down a dark alley at midnight they might emerge a week later with thick beards, bloodshot eyes and the manuscript for THE BIG O." - Eoin Colfer

"Imagine Donald Westlake and his alter ego Richard Stark moving to Ireland and collaborating on a screwball noir and you have some idea of Burke's accomplishment." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Burke has married hard-boiled crime with noir sensibility and seasoned it with humour and crackling dialogue ... fans of comic noir will find plenty to enjoy here." - Booklist

"Carries on the tradition of Irish noir with its Elmore Leonard-like style ... the dialogue is as slick as an ice run, the plot is nicely intricate, and the character drawing is spot on ... a high-octane novel that fairly coruscates with tension." - Irish Times

"Burke has [George V.] Higgins' gift for dialogue, [Barry] Gifford's concision and the effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak. In short, THE BIG O is an essential crime novel of 2007, and one of the best of any year." - Ray Banks

"THE BIG O is a big ol' success, a tale fuelled by the mischievous spirits of Donald E. Westlake, Elmore Leonard and even Carl Hiaasen ... THE BIG O kept me reading at speed - and laughing the whole damn time." - J. Kingston Pierce, January Magazine


"Everything you could want - action, suspense, character and setting, all floating on the easy lyricism of a fine writer at the top of his game." - Lee Child

"Declan Burke sets the scene for the most perfect noir novel ... The only way Harry Rigby could be more like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe would be if he rode around in a 1930s Chrysler and called all the women 'dames' ... In the very American realm of hard-boiled crime fiction ... few of his peers over the Atlantic can hold a candle to him." - Sunday Times

"Many writers of crime fiction are drawn to the streetwise narrator with the wisecracking voice - Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett have a lot to answer for - but only a handful can make it credible and funny. Irish writer Burke is one who has succeeded spectacularly well ... From the arresting opening image to the unexpected twist at the end, this is a hardboiled delight." - The Guardian

"SLAUGHTER'S HOUND has everything you want from noir but what makes it special is the writing: taut, honed and vivid ... a sheer pleasure." - Tana French


"A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny ... Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O'Brien and Raymond Chandler." - John Banville

"Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre, was Declan Burke's ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL ... a fiendishly dark thriller that evokes the best of Flann O'Brien and Bret Easton Ellis." - Sunday Times

"Metafiction? Postmodern noir? These and other labels will be applied to Burke's newest; any might be apt, but none is sufficient. ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is largely a literary novel that draws on history, mythology, and literature ... Noir fans may not care for this one, but lovers of literary fiction will find much to savour." - Booklist

"Burke sprinkles his way-outside-the-box noir with quotes from Beckett, Bukowski, and other literary names as he explores the nature of writing and the descent of personal darkness. Those looking for a highly intellectual version of Stephen King's THE DARK HALF will be most satisfied." - Publishers Weekly

"Thus begins a fascinating hybrid of MISERY, AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN, and who knows what else ... ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL isn't quite like anything else you've read, in any genre. It's clever, intimate, passionate, and funny: altogether a wonderful achievement." - Irish Times

"ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is unlike anything else you'll read this year ... Laugh-out-loud funny ... This is writing at its dazzling, cleverest zenith. Think John Fowles, via Paul Auster and Rolling Stone ... A feat of extraordinary alchemy." - Ken Bruen

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