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The Crooked Man Paperback – June 1, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

There's not much to like about this thin tale from an Irish novelist and playwright. Davison writes in short, flat sentences ("She did not stay on the motorway long. It was dangerous for her. She might have to stop to hit her brother-in-law again with the jack handle.") that quickly overwhelm any initial, quirky appeal. As told by Harry Fielding, a seedy freelance criminal who works as an "understrapper" (sort of a villain of all trades) for a sleek British intelligence officer known as Hamilton, the narrative reads like an unfunny parody of Len Deighton's early Palmer books, but without Deighton's wit or talent. Fielding lives in a wretched London flat, eating foil containers of airline food which he buys by the batch, contents unknown. Although he tells us that his job description doesn't include kidnapping or killing, he's soon up to his neck in dead bodies--helping a neighbor dispose of an abusive relative, aiding Hamilton in cleaning up after a nasty murder, savaging a journalist who gets in the way. Occasionally vivid settings--a restaurant in London's Chinatown or a ramshackle Dublin hotel--hold promise of significance, but Davison's ungraceful prose doesn't deliver on them.

Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

Forget the knee-jerk comparisons to le Carre; this oddly compelling blue-collar spy novel, the debut effort from the talented Davison, has the feel of George Higgins' Friends of Eddie Coyle--gritty, low-life pathos, tightly written and utterly unromantic. Harry Fielding is an "understrapper," a freelancer for MI5, the British equivalent of the FBI. He lives an anonymous, dreary life, spying on government types, breaking and entering, doing the odd wiretap--no "wet work" and nothing particularly important. That all changes when Harry happens to witness two murders, one involving a cabinet minister and requiring an elaborate cover-up. Gradually, Harry finds himself troubled by the corruption around him and begins to look for a way out of the morass. Tone is everything here; Harry moves as if in a self-induced trance, somewhere between Camus' Mersault and Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Harry's London is a dreary, soul-stultifying place, and his attempt to escape seems to offer only another kind of defeat. A muted, minimalist morality tale without a moral. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1st Printing edition (June 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142002089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142002087
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,709,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I am going to read all of his books now, and look forward to his next.
K. Douglas Anderson
Author Davison's pithy and direct writing style is effective in evoking the sense of desperation and confusion felt and witnessed by the narrator.
"treestamp"
Other times there is so little description that you don't really get what, or why something is happening.
Flint McColgan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "treestamp" on June 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
This novel is rather unlike anything I've ever read before. At best, I could compare it to Camus' The Stranger, as it shares the same dark, surreal quality of narrative. However, in The Crooked Man, the protagonist, Harry Fielding, does manage to make a hint of peace with his circumstances, but it's a hellish sojourn before he obtains even that much.
Fielding is employed by the M15 to do someone else's dirty work, which puts him outside of the law, more or less. Although Fielding manages to escape the legal consequences reserved for ordinary citizens, his deeds do not go unpunished. As he goes through his existence making choices according to a half-anesthetized morality, he begins to become aware that he, as an individual entity, is being eclipsed by the shady manipulations of his unscrupulous boss. That sense of powerlessness breeds in him desperation, and as he makes his slow and steady way toward damnation, he discovers that potential exits are really deceptions that lead him back to his previous course and there are no u-turns to go back and undo past deeds. He also finds a singular yet grim consolation in knowing that he is not alone in being punished far more than he deserves, and becomes a sympathetic witness to the desperation, fear and suffering of others, from incidental strangers to his neighbors, friends and family. In the end, Fielding manages to thwart fatal resignation and comes to terms with his situation, acknowledging wryly the twisted means of his survival in a world dominated by desperation, confusion and moral ambiguity.
Author Davison's pithy and direct writing style is effective in evoking the sense of desperation and confusion felt and witnessed by the narrator.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Armand M. Inezian on July 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Crooked Man is a good read. It's sparse, true, but some of us prefer our steak lean.
I originally was going to post a glowing review of (Davison's) The Crooked Man on this page but I started reading some of the negative reviews and I began to doubt myself. It's funny how somebody else's opinion can spin yours, especially if you find yourself in the minority.
But then I came to my wits and I want to say this- Yes, it is true that the story exercises lean prose, offers hints of a shady, violent world, and has a scumbag for a narrator but I ripped through the book in a little over 4 hours and was never bored.
Per the writing: It's not for everybody. A lot of "big idea" themes: murder, kidnapping, family are delivered in very understated ways. In fact, it sort of reminds me of Irvine Welsh's stuff (Trainspotting, Acid House) but without the wacky dialect and over the top heart-racing style. But the writing is solid and consistent to the character of Harry Fielding (the scumbag in question). Harry, exposed to violence for most of his life, doesn't react to it the way you might expect but, deep inside, he is moved by events and witnessing a bunch of murders does transform him.
In fact, I like Harry because he is a bit of a scumbag. A loser. He isn't the heroic type. He is a sub-operative for the government for God's sake so what kind of a hero could he be? His Universe (like the Universe of many people) is often empty and filled with the choice between greater or lesser evils. In Harry's case, even choosing the lesser evils (for example: choosing kidnapping and threatening instead of murder) can lead Harry to be harmed, maybe even killed. We watch Harry maneuver through a minefield of moral choices, sometimes numb and sometimes disgusted with himself.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ceara on August 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
Even before I read the reviews of the others the word delicious had come into my mind - not exactly the way I would normally describe a book but after seeing it described as "lean but tasty" I new I was in the same mind frame as some of the other reviewers. Every page offered something new, it was never boring- it was refreshing - not wordy, drawn out - and the characters were themselves - in other words no matter what bizzareness they were involved in they seemed real - I really liked it!!
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Format: Paperback
The Crooked Man is about a man named Harry Fielding, who is an "understrapper" for a secret organization in the government of England. Harry Fielding is a spy, his boss tells him who to watch, and Harry does it. Usually these cases are just for legal or protective reasons, but one turns into a murder, and Fielding is trapped between his morals, and his job.
The Crooked Man may be, in some eyes, is a very wonderful book, in others a fairly average book. I am the latter. I actually enjoyed this book, but, in reality, it isn't that greatly written. The writer lives in Dublin, Ireland and the story is set mostly in England, so perhaps it could be just a different kind of writing, but I don't think so. This book uses long, drawn out, corny, melancholy thought descriptions, like many cheap detective novels, and this can sometimes become tedious to concentrate on. Other times there is so little description that you don't really get what, or why something is happening. Despite my many complaints I gave it 2.5 stars because it was a fun read, and I think I will read some of Philip Davison's other books, especially others featuring Harry Fielding, who was just introduced in this book, but will be a character in others.
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