Music Reviews


Dead Rats Press

Burke’s Music of the Spheres
After finishing Burke's second PI novel which follows Johnny "Blue" Herron, I now think that Swan Dive was in fact rough. Not to say that it wasn't any good. My rating stands and it contained a thoughtful and interesting use of genre. The second novel was much more polished and the parts that kind of missed (or at least made me wonder if they missed, re: Seriously? a review of Michael Burke's Swan Dive) had been fleshed out. This made for a more fluid read, but also lacked some of the rawness that I tend to enjoy in the early work of an author.
Excellent book -- very entertaining again. Worth the read. The Kindle edition, however, has some odd, consistent formatting issues. Words beginning with "th" have those two letters replaced by the pi symbol. Whenever "fi" or "fl" appear together, they disappear (like oor for floor or door and terri  ic for terrific). Whenever "ft" appear together they are replaced by a backward "K," which is the symbol for third strike (caught looking) in baseball symbology. Finally the print sized changed every couple of pages. I was understandably unhappy with this to begin with (and still am considering I bought the book for full price), but I decided to just read it and see if I had trouble. After a couple of pages it was fine, my mind almost automatically substituting letters for symbols and blank spaces. It's funny to notice the recurrence of words in the book that are tagged by these aberrations (file, floor, door, for example). I don't know if they're used more in PI novels, but it feels like it now.
Burke, Michael. Music of the Spheres. New York: Pleasure Boat Studio, 2011.

Posted by Lyle Rosdahl
I love the PI genre. All of them. But in particular the curvy-plotted, smart-alecky character driven ones. This novel fell into that category. But its short coming was the fact that it so thoroughly clung to the genre itself. This led, at least I think, to the writing being somewhat hackneyed in places. I say, "I think," because it's sometimes hard to tell if it's tongue-in-cheek or just a shortcut.
This is perhaps best summed up in the sex scene in chapter 17 (I read the Kindle version which gives me "locations" so I'm going to use the book's chapters as points of reference). Much of the first person narrative is given over to Johnny "Blue" Heron's pornographic daydreaming, which is fun and self-consciously shallow (to the point of becoming quasi-philosophical -- another thing that draws me to these types of PI stories). So near the convoluted (that's a good thing) climax of the novel, Heron has a graphically recorded sexual encounter with one of the main characters, Helen Plumworth. It's a perfect spot to consider the novel because the pornographic reveries and the action of the novel collide and because writing a sex scene is difficult. It's easy to slip into either mawkish romanticism or ridiculous objective description. So in a lot of ways this is the narrative voice's climax as well. The result? Still not sure: "I think my cock must have jumped like a released jack-in-the-box." Then more graphic sex play, which, again, jibes with the confessionally pornographic daydreams Herron indulges in ("I've always thought the best way to deal with metaphysical shudders was to cover them with pornographic fantasies" chapter 22). Then: "She lay against me, from head to toe like the statues of Shiva and Shakti welded together. The docent at the museum said it was not erotic, that it was the merging of her rationality with his emotion. Perhaps that explained why I never took religion seriously." This seems entirely out of place. Ridiculous. But it works too. Daydreaming sex helps him deal with the world; ironically, he can't seem to help himself from daydreaming museums in the middle of an unfettered physical encounter. That's funny.
The absurdity of the genre, then, seems to play a role in this fairly straight-forward PI novel. Burke manages to use the tropes of the genre to further the voice (the smart-alecky PI that I love so much) as well as call it into question. I'll leave you with this Bulwer-Lyttonesque quote to prove the point: "This group was wound together so tightly that if one strand broke the whole mess would fly apart like a house with a gas leak when a chain smoker drops by to follow up on an illicit affair with the bored housewife" (chapter 13). Seriously?
Another thought: use of plays in the novel suggest not only an undercurrent of dramatic action but also that "all the world's a stage" and so this is a drama within a drama. Furthers the somewhat tongue-in-cheek quality of the book while casting suspicion, at least initially, on the literary ability of Burke to push the boundaries of the genre. And perhaps, after all, he had no intention of doing that.
Overall: **** I bought the second book (Music of the Spheres). The plot turned and twisted enough so that I was surprised and impressed while the voice also steaded and became engrossing. Great book.
Burke, Michael. Swan Dive. New York: Pleasure Boat Studio, 2009.
Tagged as: kindle, lyle rosdahl, michael burke, mystery, private investigators, reading, review, swan dive No Comments

Publishers Weekly

Music of the Spheres

Michael Burke, Pleasure Boat Studio/Caravel (SPD, dist.), $16 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-1-929355-10-5

Burke once again smoothly blends allusions to Greek mythology with familiar detective fiction tropes in his second mystery featuring winning, if slightly dim, PI Johnny "Blue" Heron (after 2009's Swan Dive). When Heron learns that Hank Menotti, who was convicted of manslaughter after stabbing his father, George Windsore, to death 12 years earlier, has been released from the state pen, Heron drives over to the house of George's son and Hank's half-brother, Billy, in the unnamed Northeastern town that serves as the series' setting. There he finds Billy dying with a knife wound in his back. Enlisted to assist in the murder investigation, Heron seizes the chance to rekindle his relationship with his ex-girlfriend and newly appointed chief of police, Kathy McGregor. Those who like their noir with a touch of whimsical humor will be satisfied. (Dec.)