KB Journal

Book Review: Swan Dive

Michael Burke, Swan Dive. New York: Caravel Books


Private Detective Johnny “Blue” Herron pursues his quarry across the rubble desert of de-industrialized New England, that sprawling region North of Boston that Tom Wolfe called “the grayed-out Atlantic Sea Board.” Hired by an apparently wealthy father to discover his son’s affairs, ‘Blue’ encounters incest, perjury, suicide, embezzlement and murderous revenge as the adventure unfolds. He is constantly threatened, hoodwinked, and savagely attacked. Luckily, these intrigues and dangers do not interfere with his ability to copulate.

Mickey Spillane was always telling us that Mike Hammer had a “huge mind” yet he never produced anything but snarky clichés. ‘Blue,’ on the other hand, is far more than a lead fisted detective with driving energy and endless curiosity. He is a reflective man as well. This private eye is moved to tears by the fate of clients, and during his journeys in his aging Toyota he laments the loss of New England’s maritime charm, the displacement of the middle class, the departure of old-line industries, the loss of open spaces, and the corporate indifference to local aesthetics. Everywhere he perceives the ghosts of lost American community. As he sutures together his case, Blue is surrounded by farcically empty careerists. Yet he remains strong in his purpose and indifferent to the endless and joyless greed and carnality of nearly everyone around him.

Michael Burke is a master of dialogue. He practices the trope of economy and dialogue moves with the speed and wit of Comedia Del Arte. Johnny Blue Heron speaks with the force and certainty of a tight lipped athlete, describing and summing up complex situations with quick deft images.

But if the dialogue is vehement, fluent and rapid, the exposition is lush and thickly textured. Burke has a photographer’s, sensibility. One might almost say he has a painterly eye. With rapid strokes he sketches vividly focused scenes and then moves the reader through them like the Eye of God pursuing Ahab across the desert floor. The narrative has balance and flow and discipline and pace. At the end of 175 swiftly moving pages I cried out for more.

Michael Burke’s novel runs on two tracks: the myth of Leda and the Swan, and the journey of Johnny Heron. Along the way he insinuates Heron upon us by giving him sparkling wit and bucketfuls of charm.

And there will be more. We understand that he is finished or nearly finished with The Music of the Spheres, the next book in the Johnny ‘Blue’ Heron series to appear late this year. It will be eagerly awaited by this reviewer.

Andy King, Editor, KB Journal