Declan Burke's The Big O (Harcourt, $24.00) is a noir hybrid of murder and merriment.
Burke handles a wide cast of characters including: a doctor's receptionist who picks up extra money through blackmail and the occasional convenience store robbery; a house painter whose main source of income is kidnapper for hire; a disgraced plastic surgeon with an ill-conceived scheme to make some quick money; and a bubbleheaded ex-con with violence on his mind. Oh, and did I mention the one-eyed dog?
The book hits the ground running as if Quentin Tarantino and Buster Keaton had a love child who could write. Burke (who's previous Eight-Ball Boogie is available only in an imported edition) has a fine ear for dialogue and a great sense for plotting. Peopled by second-rate criminals plotting third-rate schemes, it's inevitable that the worst-laid plans of these men fall apart with everyone converging for a bloodspattered finale ... and even that's amusing.
There have been few novelists who could plot tightly, create well-developed characters and write laugh-out-loud dialogue -- Burke is a welcome new addition.