Monday, October 13, 2008

New Blog for Crime Reviews

I am moving my reviewing to Mack Captures Crime.

The new link

and the new feed

I apologize for putting subscribers and followers through this but Mack Pitches Up as a blog title just doesn't work. The site is sparse right now but content is coming.

This site will remain up to archive past reviews though I may move some to the new blog, particularly if they are part of a series.

New name Possibilities

What do you think about these two possibilities for a new blog name

Capturing Crime

Mack Captures Crime

Mack Captures Crime is more informal. Good or Bad?

What would you think if you ran across either of these names when searching for sources of information on crime novels.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Time for a name change

I need your help.

Mack Pitches Up started as a one-off blog created during a staff demonstration and the name doesn't make a lot of sense in the context of how I am using it. I would like to start a new blog but I'm drawing a blank on names. There is always Mack's Book Reviews with the URL which isn't presently taken. My reviews are almost entirely in the crime, mystery, and thriller genres but I have no idea how to work that into the name.

Suggestions will be appreciated.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Reading in Progress

I find that I've caught up on the books that I've finished. So, not having any other fully formed thoughts at this time, here are the books that I've started in the order they are stacked next to me:

  • A Rage in Harlem - Chester Himes
  • Bone Yard - Michelle Gagnon
  • A Hell of a Woman - Megan Abbott (editor)
  • The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing - Mayra Calvani & Anne K. Edwards
  • Cypress Grove - James Sallis
  • Living Agelessly - Linda Altoonian
  • A Good Day to Die - Simon Kernick
  • Bloody Mary - J.A. Konrath (audio)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Blonde faith - Walter Mosley

This is the first Easy Rawlins novel I've read and Mosley says it is the last he will write. While I sorry there will be no more, it will be interesting to start at the beginning and see how Easy got to this point in his life.

Easy is an African-American and Walter Mosley himself is bi-racial. His father was an African-American school librarian and his wife white and Jewish. He is identified as an African-American author, something that plays a significant part in the Easy Rawlins stories.

Blonde Faith is the 11th Easy Rawlins novel and I wonder why it took me so long to discover Mosley. I'm fortunate that it was selected for a book discussion which prompted me to buy it. This is easily one of the best reads I've experienced. I put Mosley alongside classic detective writers such as Raymond Chandler. Like Chandler, his writing, his descriptions, are first rate. Also like Chandler, his books are set in L.A. and like Philip Marlowe, Rawlins is basically a good guy in a corrupt society who sometimes has to compromise himself to do the right thing. His descriptions are really vivid and, as far as I can tell, pretty accurate of post-war Los Angeles.

There are spoilers ahead though nothing that would keep someone from enjoying the book (my opinion but your mileage might vary). It also a longish discussion.

The first Easy Rawlins novel is Devil in a Blue Dress. It is set in 1948 and Rawlins is 28 and a combat veternan of WWII. In Blonde Faith, it is 1967, 2 years after the Watts riots. Rawlins is now middle-aged, 47, with two adopted children, one a grown man married with a child, and an 11 year old girl, Feather.

His state of mind - lethargy, weariness - is set from the first page. In the previous book, Cinnamon Kiss, Rawlins kicked the love of his life, Bonnie, out of the house after she slept with another man. The fact that it was in the course of getting his daughter life-saving medical treatment at a Swiss clinic didn't matter.

Where I came from -- fifth Ward, Houston, Texas -- another man sleeping with your woman was more than reason enough for justifiable double homicide.
Rawlins wants her back, misses her terribly, knows he should call her but can't. He can't escape thinking about her.

The introductory case, rescuing a 16 yr. old from a pimp, is covered in only 6 pages but in those pages you get a feel for the the man Rawlins, his character, as well as the shadow (the absence of Bonnie) that has settled over his soul.

He see that he is capable of extreme violence including murder - I was ready to kill him [Porky the pimp]. I wanted to kill him.

Before Rawlins takes the girl, Chevette, back to her father, Rawlins inserts himself into their relationship. Easy works to make the father understand that he had to change his attitude about his daughter. This is an interesting window into Rawlins' character. It could be coming from him being a father himself or it could be who he is or both.

Without having read the previous books (any references to previous books come from Wikipedia and other reviews), my sense is that Rawlins doesn't like people being used and exploited, particularly children. While Easy counts a career criminal and stone cold killer (Raymond "Mouse" Alexander) as one of his closest friends, the pimp is outside acceptable society.

When he gets home the main story with several interwoven plot lines begins.

Easter Dawn, the adopted Vietnamese daughter of Christmas Black, an African-American ex-special forces major, is at his house, having been dropped off by Black with no explanation. Black makes his appearance in the previous book. Black was responsible for wiping out the village where Easter's parents were killed. I figure the name is symbolic.

Easter tells Rawlins that a blond lady was with her father (the title character, Faith Morel).

At this point we get several story lines going:
  • Where is Black? What kind of danger could he be in that he needed to get his daughter to safety?
  • Rawlins calls Mouse who is a friend of Christmas. Mouse's whereabouts are unknown and the police are after him for the murder of Pericles Tarr. Where is Mouse? Did he kill Tarr? If he didn't, where is Tarr? Etta, Mouse's girl friend, hires Easy to find Mouse before the police kill him.
Rawlins begins his parallel investigation - looking for Black and for Mouse/Pericles. Along the way he finds that several Army MPs (supposedly) are looking for Black and he finds the blond woman who was with Christmas, Faith Morel. Faith is an ex nun, now married to someone in the military, who convinced Black to adopt Easter. Black massacred 17 civilians, Easter's parents among them.

His approach to his investigations is very well done though I have a minor quibble. In 1967, before the Internet, could he really get the current status of military personnel from the public library even if it is a government depository. The information is needed to advance the story so I put that aside. Besides, I thought the librarian's willingness to take money under the table to do research an interesting twist. Is it corruption or just the way business in done in Easy's world?

So, Blonde Faith is a first rate detective story. Is that all?

Of the book, the leader of the discussion said
I thought the tone and topics were spot-on. I'm usually more interested in the thoughts and feelings of the PI (and I guess I like my PI's to be a little vulnerable and reticent about things) than in the "mystery" and its solution.
Bookslut wrote
Blonde Faith's plot is stellar as usual but it is the substance of of Mosley's language that never fails to move me. While Easy is rarely beaten, he understands to his very core the losses of life, big and small, and never fails to clench a fist or grit his teeth at the shocking injustices of life on the streets.
I gather from other reviews that this is a different Easy - he is experiencing middle-age regret, he is heavy hearted, more contemplative even for someone normally philosophical. Possibly suicidal. Resumes drinking. I also gather there there is often a high body count and lots of sex but not so much here.

What pulled me in was the way Mosley is able to weave social commentary and race into the story without being heavy handed about it. It is an emotional experience.

The way Mosley is able to have Rawlins express his feelings and the observations he makes along the way are exceptionally well done.

When confronting a redneck
Somewhere inside the machinery of my mind I found the will and the recklessness to kill the man who had commandeered my people's reformation of his language to threaten me.
When meeting a man who might have information
Thomas Hight was the quintessential white man ...I felt gratitude toward him while at the same time feeling that he was everything that stood in the way of my freedom, my manhood, and my people's ultimate deliverance. If these conflicting sentiments were meteorological, they would have conjured a tornado in that small apartment. Added to my already ambivalent feelings was the deep desire in me to respect and admire this man., not because of who Thomas Hight was or what he'd done but because he was the hero of all the movies, books, TV shows, newspapers, classes, and elections I had witnessed in my forty-seven hears. I had been conditioned to esteem this man and I hated that fact.... I owed him respect and admiration. It was a bitter debt.
Mosley includes two other interesting white characters. There is Peter Rhone who lost the love of his life in the Watts riots, gave up on the white race, and became the personal manservant to Mouse's girlfriend. Others are men Easy helped in the past - Hans Green, restaurant owner

I'm a white man, he said, an Aryan. I golf, belong to a men's club. My parents came to America in order to be free and to share in democracy, but in ten minutes with you and I've had arguments with four people about their bigotry. If that's what I face in ten minutes, what must life be like for you twenty-four hours a day.

Ten years ago I didn't have it so bad, I said. "Things have gotten worse?" In a way. Ten years ago you wouldn't have been able to seat me. Ten years ago I wouldn't have been in this neighborhood. Slavery and what came after are deep wounds, Hans. Any, you know, healing hurts like hell."
Are Rhone and Green extremes?

Rawlins doesn't have formal education but he is well read, intelligent, and deeply philosophical. It is interesting to see how Mosley adjusts Rawlins speech depending on who he is talking to. Talikng to Hans he is one person. Talking to other African -Americans on the street he is someone else. This isn't an unusual technique, I suppose, but I haven't read a book that used it in a while nor with the skill Mosley Mosley uses in his dialog.

Mosley is an important author in the field of crime fiction (and writing in general, I'd say) and I recommend Blonde Faith without reservations.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sweetheart - Chelsea Cain

A friend sent me Chelsea Cain's Heartsick after she read it and it is one of the best crime thrillers I've read. I took myself and my discount coupon down to Borders as soon as Sweetheart was on the shelf.

This novel pick up after the events in Heartsick and keeps the same main cast of characters Detective Archie Sheridan, his partner Henry Sobol, reporter Susan Ward, and the dark force that is serial killer Gretchen Lowell, the Beauty Killer, still exerting her power over Archie from prison. Archie is now living with his ex-wife Debbie and children, trying to resume a normal family life.

Sweetheart opens with the discovery of the body of a young woman in Forest Park, the location where Gretchen's first victim was found but this time Gretchen is not involved. Later, Susan identifies the victim who was a source for the biggest story in Susan's career.

Gretchen manages what should have been impossible, her escape. This complicates the investigation since Archie and his family are potential victims at the hands of Gretchen.

Sweetheart is a fast paced crime thriller that is difficult to put down. It is also one where I was able to suspend belief because I found it so enjoyable. Gretchen could give Hannibal Lector serious competition and her powers of manipulation seem almost supernatural at times. The relationship between Archie and Gretchen gets a much deeper treatment this time and the reasons for Archie's almost psychic ties start to become better understood.

Cain handles the several story threads expertly - the murder investigation, Susan's story, Gretchen Lowell's omnipresent influence. The effects of Archie's obsession with Gretchen on those who love him are agonizing to read.

I think there is one more good story possible out of the Archie & Gretchen relationship and I'd rather not see the story end where it does. You can see several directions Cain could take the next installment but I know I'm not sure which I would prefer. All could work.

I wouldn't mind if Cain put off writing another in this series and worked on a different project instead, coming back later with a fresh take.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Die Twice - Simon Kernick

This is another book I owe to an independent bookstore. In this case, I credit Partners & Crime and the readers' advisory skills of the staff.

Kernick is an English crime writer.Die Twice is two of his novels in one volume -- The Business of Dying and The Murder Exchange.

The Business of Dying

Detective Sergeant Dennis Milne tells us that he isn't a bad man but is idealism has turned to cynicism over the years and he now has a certain moral flexibility. Some drugs might go missing from evidence, some information get exchanged. And then there are the executions. The mysterious Raymond hires him to take out people not likely to be punished through legal channels. His latest commission to kill three drug dealers goes very wrong when Milne is seen doing the deed and later he discovers that the three men were not drug dealers but two customs agents and an accountant.

Milne is faced with trying to keep himself and his partner clear, finding out why Raymond wanted them killed, and investigating the murder/mutilation of a young prostitute.

Part procedural, part thriller, The Business of Dying is a smartly paced, engrossing story with excellent dialog and various story lines crossing and finally coming together. Not to neglect Kernick's skill with describing action and violence. It is told in first person so the reader is privy to Milne's feelings, observations, and self-doubts. U.S. readers will also learn new slang words. For example, I was unaware that prostitutes are referred to as Toms.

The Murder Exchange

The Murder Exchange takes place two years after the events of The Business of Dying. The shadow of Dennis Milne still hangs over the North London station where he worked. DI John Gallan is transferred here with a shadow of his own having been involved in covering up an incident of prisoner abuse. He also finds himself reminded of a case that was never solved, the murder of a young boy.

The novel is told from two view points, John Gallan and Max Iversson, an ex-mercenary and now a security consultant. It starts nineteen days is the past working its way to the Now that starts the book. Iversson and his team are hired by nightclub owner Roy Fowler to handle an exchange that goes wrong and very bloody. At the same time, Gallan is investigating the strange (as in cause of) death of one of Fowler's doormen.

Murder Exchange has a very good story with side plots and character relationships to move it along. The first person, alternating viewpoint style is effective and lets bits of the story to be revealed form different angles. As with The Business of Dying you get great dialog, action, violence, and some memorably nasty characters.

Lee Child provides the Foreword and he sees the third Age of of English crime fiction drawing to a close and writers like Simon Kernick leading the way into the Fourth Age. The First Age was Arthur Conan doyle and Sherlock Holmes. The Second Age covered the span between Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers (sometimes referred to as the Golden Age). "The Third Age took over with Ruth Rendell and P. d. James."

Child see the Fourth Ages as reflecting the changes in England, and importantly London, itself. Ethnic diversity is now the norm and class less important. The time when "Lord Peter Whimsey could quell a street riot with his accent alone" is past. People of color and non-English can't be relegated to curiosities and villains - "The casts of characters are as instinctively multicultural as the London phone book" and "Fourth Age writers are past all that."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Max

Ken Bruen and Jason Starr are remarkable authors individually and their combined talents are a real treat. The Max is the third book in the Max Fischer/Angela Petrakos series and it is as darkly humorous as Bust and Slide. Is noir humor a category of crime fiction? If not it should be. The Max picks up where Slide left off. Max Fischer has been convicted of drug trafficking and is on his way to Attica and Angela has fled to Greece only to find herself in jail on the island of Lesbos. Max's deluded perception of himself as a drug kingpin is even more inflated and, against all odds, he thrives in prison. wherever Max goes, chaos and violence follow.

This is a wonderfully dark, humorous, and often violent novel and characters without any redeeming value to society and I love them. I'm not sure how long Starr and Bruen can keep it up but I hope that there will be a next installment. The Max knows no limits.

Don't start this series with The Max. You need to see the growth (or is it fall) of Max Fischer from the beginning.

Whiskey Sour, JA Konrath

This was a listen rather than a read. It is an excellent production with Susie Breck and Dick Hill providing the voices.

Whisky Sour is the first in JA Konrath's Jack Daniels series, now up to five and all using drinks as titles. Jacqueline (known to everyone as Jack) Daniels is a lieutenant in violent crimes in the Chicago Police Department. With her partner Herb, Jack is called to the scene of a homicide. The mutilated body of a woman was found in a trash can outside a convenience store. She had been tortured before dying. More bodies are found and the police find that they have a serial killer who calls himself The Gingerbread Man on their hands. The killer becomes fixated on Jack, leaving her letters and targeting her as one of his victims. Mixed in with the fast-paced search to catch a killer before another life is lost is Jack's personal life which is a shambles. Her live-in boyfriend left her for a personal trainer and Jack finds herself considering a dating service to achieve some semblance of a normal life.

The story moves along briskly with the appropriate sense of urgency. The search for the link between the victims is well done and interesting. Nothing suddenly appears to reveal all. The reader develops a feeling for Jack's character and the inclusion of her personal life makes her more human. The killer is seriously demented and creepy. Konrath has a flair for writing scenes of action, gore, and violence.

I started this book when it first came out. At the time I was annoyed by what I considered inconsistencies in character and some other elements that I stopped reading after a couple of chapters. This time around the inconsistencies are less important and certainly not serious enough cast the book aside.

There is only one aspect of Whiskey Sour that still seriously annoys me, the treatment of the FBI. It is a common theme in crime fiction for local law enforcement to be hostile to FBI and call them the "feebs" or "feebies." That mostly isn't the case in real life I gather - I asked Lee Lofland, a retired detective who did work with the FBI on cases. What I didn't like in the story was making the FBI agents buffoons and using profiling and the VICAP system as a source of humor. The profiles go beyond unlikely, they are absurd. Still, this is a minor aspect of the story, used for comic relief, and I acknowledge this as a personal pet peeve that other readers might not share.

I did enjoy Whiskey Sour and recommend it to readers of police procedurals and serial killer stories. After listening to this book I downloaded the other four in the series from Audible.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Killer Year

It has only been in the past 10 months or so that I've started seeking out short stories. In the introduction to Killer Year, Lee Child likens the collection to sampler LPs that came out in the late sixties with twelve tracks by different bands perhaps two of which you might have heard of. I had a similar thought that a book of short stories is like buying a CD. You base it on one or two tracks you've heard and hope that the other are as good. I know the reason I bought Chicago Blues; it had a story by Sean Chercover, "The Non Compos Mentis Blues."

When I read about Killer Year I was primed to get it.

The concept behind the collection is unique. The International Thriller Writers (ITW) was formed in 2004 to

... celebrate the thriller, enhance the prestige and raise the profile of thrillers, create a community that together could do more, much more than any one author--or even any one publisher.

A group of debut authors collectively banded together to achieve "creativity in numbers" by supporting each other. The ITW provided mentors to the Class of 2007 and Killer Year is the result of this initiative.

The other reason I picked up my copy as soon as it hit the shelves are the names involved. The mentors include Ken Bruen, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen, Jeffery Deaver, and Duane Swierczynski. Three of the mentors also contributed stories: Ken Bruen, Allison Brennan, and Duane Swiercznski.

I was also familiar with several of the Class of '07 before I read it. Sean Chercover is here with a story featuring Ray Dudgeon who first appeared in his novel Big City, Bad Blood. Brett Battles is included and now has two successful books in his Cleaner series. Marcus Sakey also has a story in Chicago Blues and his first novel, The Blade Itself is an award winner.

There are a wide variety of stories - hard-boiled detectives, a con man, a couple that are actually rather poignant, one I don't know how to classify, and one I won't because it would give away the story. I read Killer Year from cover to cover and enjoyed all of it. So buy this book or, at least, talk your library into buying it. If you like crime fiction you won't be disappointed.

Consider also the versatility of the short story. Each story is self-contained which means you can finish a story without feeling compelled read the next chapter to see what happens and then the next chapter .... So short stories actually facilitate good sleeping habits.

Many of the writers have accounts on CrimeSpace, "a place for readers and writers of crime fiction to meet." It gives you an opportunity to communicate with authors and participate in discussions. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Red House Mystery

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise regularly posts reviews of Forgotten Books and I'm borrowing that idea today.

A. A. Milne is well known as the author of the Winnie the Pooh stories but modern readers might not know that he also wrote a mystery, The Red House Mystery published in 1922. I read it many years ago then found a copy in a used book store earlier this year and snapped it up.

This is an English country house with guests locked room cozy. It is miles away from my normal taste in crime stories but I enjoy reading it for its style. Milne writes with a flowing elegance, precise use of words, and understated humor that makes it a pleasure to read - for me, your mileage might vary. My edition has an introduction by Milne in which he describes how he came to write a mystery and what he likes in a mystery. You can read it here. It was well received and remained popular for many years. Raymond Chandler, in The Simple Art of Murder, described it as "... an agreeable book, light, amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks." Chandler then proceeds to dissect the book.

Antony Gillingham is our amateur detective. At 21, he inherited 400 pounds a year from his mother's estate and, not having to worry about money, decided to see the world. 400 pounds might not seem like much to live on but today it might be worth $20,000 -$30,000 in current U.S. dollars. (see How Much is That?")

Antony, however, had no intention of going further away than London. His idea of seeing the world was to see, not countries, but people; and to see them from as many angles as possible.

Now thirty, Antony is taking a holiday between jobs and discovers that he is staying near the Red House where his friend Bill Beverly is a guest. He decides to pay him a visit and arrives just in time to assist when the owner of Red House, Mark Ablett, is found shot dead in his study which is locked from the inside. Not long before his murder, Ablett's estranged brother Robert appeared at the house to see Mark. He has disappeared without a trace. Tony, with Bill as his Watson decide to investigate. Tony has been previously established as an observer of people and adjusts his theories as new facts appear which seems to confuse Bill and the police who would prefer Tony stick to something.

The Red House Mystery is a very pleasant, classic, cozy that actually holds up quite well. Read Chandler's essay for an excellent analysis of Milne's approach to detection.

Technical Note
I wanted to make Milne's introduction and Chandler's essay available but didn't a server on which to store the documents. Google Docs doesn't permit PDFs to be publicly available at this time. A colleague suggested I look at Dropbox. It is pretty nifty and only took a few minutes to set up. It looks like they will go to a pay model eventually but for now it is free.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Christa Faust - Control Freak & Hoodtown

The first book by Christa Faust that I read was Money Shot, her most recent. I wrote about it at Revish. It is a terrific read, a hard-boiled crime story about a woman wronged and told first person by her.

Faust's two earlier novels, Control Freak and Hoodtown, are have female characters who are tough, comfortable with themselves, and live outside of normal society.

Control Freak 1998.

This is Christa's first novel.

Caitlin McCullough inherited some money which has allowed her to write hard-boiled crime stories without requiring her to have a job to live. Her money is starting to run low and she is thinking that she needs to find something that pays better. She is seeing a NYPD detective, Mike Kiernan, who is considerably older than she. They have great sexual chemistry but she is not looking for love. Mike might be.

She finds out about a gruesome murder including sexual mutilation in the meat packing district from Wilson, a hacker friend. Her friend Mike has just started investigating the same crime. True crime might turn out to be her ticket and with information supplied by her friend, Caitlin figures she can get the jump on any competitors.

The victim is Eva Eiseman and Caitlin learns that she was involved in the sadomasochistic society of New York City. Caitlin begins her investigation at the House of Absinthe, an SM club. Unexpectedly, Caitlin finds herself not unwillingly pulled into the society and, even more so that she appears to be a natural Domina.

Control Freak is explicit about SM and the people who embrace the culture. I would not recommend it for anyone not comfortable exploring alternate lifestyles. I did enjoy it. Faust created interesting characters, situations, and story lines. I'm not going to have myself fitted for leathers and chains but I wasn't bothered reading about people who do.

Faust does get a bit carried away with her similes and descriptions at times but her first novel holds together quite well.

Computers play a part in the story but the book was written before the Internet as we know it. Younger readers might not have heard about bulletin boards (BBS) which predate web sites and blogs. Still, with a minor bit of editing Control Freak could be easily modernized.

Hoodtown (2004)

Hoodtown is a very different story with the exception of another strong female character. Hoodtown is an inner-city neighborhood where the culture is derived from lucha libre, Mexican style wrestling. Everyone is hooded beginning at infancy. Residents are know by the style (gimmicks) of their hoods. The hood is everything and no one would be caught dead without their hoods. Except now they are. Someone is murdering Hoodtown prostitutes and leaving them unmasked. X is a former luchadora who left the ring under a cloud and she decides that she is going to investigate. She has no faith that the Skin detectives are going to put any effort into finding the killer.

Someone wrote that they couldn't get into the story because they couldn't buy into a society where everyone wore hoods and had the legal right to do so. I didn't have that problem, perhaps because I also enjoy fantasy. As with Control Freak, Faust works considerable detail into the story. She goes into the intricacies of always wearing a hood. Want to know how the residents of Hoodtown sleep or wash their hair, it's covered.

In style, Hoodtown is a hardiboiled pulp detective story with snappy dialog and fights built on wrestling techniques. I appreciated the glossary of Hoodtown slang she included since it allowed her to keep the narrative flowing without having to explain terms.

I found the book a lot of fun though I'm not sure who I would recommend it to. If I'm ever near a lucha libre event I'm going to do my best to attend.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Deceived, Brett Battles

I'm not sure how I learned about Brett Battles' The Cleaner, his first Jonathan Quinn novel. It might actually be one of the few that I got from a newspaper review. In any case, I'm glad it happened.

If you haven't read The Cleaner, you should start there. I wrote about it here. Here is a bit of background. Quinn is a cleaner. His job is to clean-up messes. It might be disposing of a body or sussing out a situation to see if anything needs to be covered up. He sometimes works for a black ops intelligence organization called simply The Office.

The Deceived picks up after the events in The Cleaner. Quinn continues to train his apprentice Nate in his craft. Quinn takes a job to dispose of a body in a shipping container. Quinn recognizes the body as Steven Markoff, a CIA agent and friend who saved his life. Quinn completes the job because he is a professional but he wants to know who killed his friend. Quinn tries to contact Markoff's girlfriend Jenny who works for a high profile senator but she's "not available" and the senator's office is less than helpful. What's going on? Conspiracy?

Quinn launches his off the books investigation in earnest. Soon, while crisscrossing the country he finds himself trying to figure out what to do with Tasha, Jenny's friend, who wants to help find her. Orlando, his beautiful, brilliant, computer genius friend joins the team and they head to Singapore where all the clues lead.

They discover that something much, much larger than they suspect is going on and the truth is staggering.

The Deceived is a straight-up action thriller and very entertaining. I admit to being a sucker for conspiracy stories and a hero that doesn't have to worry about money and identification, who can acquire weapons anywhere, and who has incredible tools that could have come from Q himself. Think of Quinn as a freelance James bond Quinn's assistants, Nate and Orlando, provide a good balance.

The book ends with a nice setup to future books and a plot line that Battles can return to as needed.

Excellent escapist novel - I liked it very much and recommend it if you like this genre.

Kent Harrington

I love indie book stores, particularly ones that specialize. You have a staff that knows the subject, knows their customers, and more often than not, knows many of the authors. I might not have learned about Kent Harrington were not for Partners & Crime in Greenwich Village, New York City. One of the partners, Megan I think, observed the books I was selecting and steered me toward the $10 specials and Dia de los Muertos by Kent Harrington. She described Harrington as one of the best writers she has read and if I read and liked it I would also want to read The Good Physician. I bought it, read it, and called the shop and ordered The Good Physician as soon as I finished.

From Partners & Crime I also learned about Dennis McMillan Publications. They specialize in limited first editions of noir and hard-boiled fiction. I think they limit their runs to one to two thousand copies and place them mainly in independent book stores.

Dia de Los Muertos

Vincent Calhoun is a DEA agent stationed in Tijuana with a major gambling problem. Aided by his partner Castro, a corrupt Mexican judicale, he supplements his income as a coyote, smuggling very wealthy people across the border. On the Day of the Dead he is shocked when a woman gets off a prison bus and he recognizes her from his past, a past not very pleasant. His luck begins to leave him: debts he can't pay; a time limit rapidly running out; a smuggling commission he really doesn't want to carry out. Regarding the reluctant commission, Harrington came up with one of the most grotesque and repulsive characters I've encountered in a while.

The Good Physician

Colin Reeves is a doctor who has rejected the good life he could have if he went into practice with his father in the U.S. Instead, he studied at the London School of Tropical Diseases and works in third world countries. His is also a CIA officer, recruited after 9/11, now working out of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. The Head of Station at the embassy is alerted to a plot by Islamic extremists who may have smuggled something very dangerous into Mexico for use against U.S. interests. Colin finds himself in a situation and asked to do things that run counter to his idealistic nature. Colin's life is further complicated when he is asked to treat a female tourist with whom he falls in love.

Vince Calhoun is older, jaded and a cynic. Colin Reeves is young and and a romantic idealist but they have something in common. A woman comes into their lives bringing both hope and fear. The women are not used to represent the downfall of men but to bring out unexpected emotions. Both Calhoun and Reeves are well developed characters and the reader gets to know them intimately.

The story in ...Muertos is closer to a straight thriller than The Good Physician. There is a steady pace to it with episodes of violence. By contrast, The Good Physician takes its time. With a theme of the War on Terror, Harrington gives the reader a lot to think about and the time to do it.

Harrington is a real artist with language and there is a flow and elegance that makes him a joy to read.

I can't speak to all of Harrington's books but these two both have a gold colored image embossed on the flyleaf. In Dia de los Muertos there is a scarab (dung) beetle. With The Good Physician it is a scorpion. These images have meaning within the context of the story and are a nice and attractive touch.

Harrington is a terrific writer and I highly recommend him.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Adrian McKinty's Dead series

The three books in Adrian McKinty's Dead series are more that I learned about from blogs. McKinty didn't like a review of The Bloomsday Dead in The Irish Times, posted about it, and there was some discussion on other blogs whether it is wise to respond.

It was enough to get my interest. I couldn't find them in local bookstores but did find that Dead I May Well Be, The Dead Yard, and The Bloomsday Dead are available from Audible and downloaded them.

So this was a listen rather than a read. Gerard Doyle's reading is terrific. If anyone reading this knows Irish accents I'd like to know what you think. It won't affect my enjoyment of Doyle's narration but I am curious how well he does distinguishing Dublin and Belfast accents.

Dead I May Well Be

It is the early 1990s in New York City and Michael Forsythe has had a bit of trouble in Ireland and and it was expedient for him to take a job working construction for Darkey White. Darkey is the head of an Irish gang and Michael becomes muscle on one of Darkey's lower level crews. It becomes obvious that Michael isn't some goon. He's well read (though not formally educated) and articulate though he keeps his thought to himself. He distinguishes himself and seems to be on the way up in the organization until he begins a secret relationship with Darkey's girl friend, Brigit. Darkey sends Michael's crew to Mexico to buy drugs but it is actually a set-up that lands them in a Mexican prison. Betrayal, survival, revenge.

The Dead Yard

It is several years after the events in Dead I May Well Be. Michael has a price on his head and is in the witness protection program. He takes a vacation to a Spanish island and gets caught up in a football riot. The Spanish authorities are threatening to put him in prison and/or extradite him to Mexico. The British intelligence agency MI6 offers to get him out of his situation if he will infiltrate an Irish terrorist cell, the Sons of Cuchulainn, lead by two old school, hard core, ex-IRA. They oppose the peace accords that have just been signed and hope to get noticed by the Real IRA. Michael joins the cell. The leader has a daughter who Michael falls for. Michael again finds himself in a fight for survival.

The Bloomsday Dead

It is twelve years after the events in Dead I May Well Be. Brigit, Darkey White's fiance, has been trying to have Michael killed but finds she needs him when her daughter is kidnapped in Belfast. She offers to clear the slate if Michael will come to Ireland and help find the girl. Against the advice of the FBI, Michael agrees; he has never gotten over Brigit and wants to help her. He arrives in Ireland on June 16, Bloomsday in Dublin, commemorating the events in James Joyce's Ulysses. I have a feeling that there may be parallels between what happens to Michael and Ulysses but not having read Joyce's work I don't know. A London bookstore ran a contest to find the literary references and I hope to find the results. Members of Brigit's gang still want Michael dead for what he did to Darkey's gang, no matter what Brigit promised. Michael begins his search leaves a trail of violence along the way. I'm not about to give any spoilers at this point so you'll need to read or listen to the story to find out what happens.

I try not to read reviews before I put down my thoughts about a book but I did scan a couple of editorial reviews and saw Michael described as a hit man. He isn't. He is a man who finds himself in situations where he has to act decisively to survive. Frequently that requires violence, often fatal.

He is self-educated, witty, and sardonic. The stories are told in first person narrative and McKinty frequently has Michael engaging in lengthy, often lyrical, descriptions and introspective discourses. Some might that this unnecessarily breaks up the action but I liked it. It builds up a picture of the kind of person he is. You feel you know him as a person. McKinty has Michael going from exposition to staccato, almost stream of conscious, firing of words, e.g.

Yawn. Stand on tiptoes. Roll my head. Lazy stretch.

I want to give an an example of Michael's way of describing scenes and people. This one from The Bloomsday Dead isn't the most typical but I am a librarian so I had to select it.

The reading room was a charming little affair with old book tables, neat shelves and a tidy Georgian appearance. Various oddball types reading magazines, newspapers and books. The more stereotypical iron-faced librarians with horn-rimmed glasses and a capacity for unspeakable deeds patrolled the reference area enforcing the strict rules on silence, shelving, and pencils only.

...capacity for unspeakable deeds... said about librarians makes me laugh every time and I'd like to work it into my job description somehow. The comment about pencils is true, by the way. In special collection libraries, pens are not allowed.

I don't have a print copy of Dead I May Well Be in front of me but McKinty is able to have Michael describe everyday matters in most remarkable prose, his apartment in Harlem and his war with the vermin that share it with him, for example.

Lean dialog, exposition that reached lyrical heights at times, putting the reader inside a characters mind - it all pulled me into the story.

McKinty is also a very skilled writer when the action turns violent. Events turn to Michael's favor no matter how desperate the situation which gains him the reputation of someone who can't be killed. The violence is graphic but I wouldn't call gratuitous. I'm pretty sure I could justify Michael's actions in all cases.

I enjoyed all three books though my favorite is probably the first because that is where we see the beginning of Michael's change from a 19 year old to the underworld legend he becomes.

This is a terrific series and I intend to add paper copies to my library as soon as I find them in trade paperback editions. McKinty is definitely on my watch and wait for list.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Big O by Declan Burke

I'll be wandering and babbling a bit before I actually get to the book so feel free to jump ahead.

The Big O by Declan Burke is an example of a book that I would not have known about were it not for blogs. The reason I mention this is because I'm tracking where I learn about books. This is prompted by a post on Declan's own blog, Crime Always Pays. In a September 15 post he wonders "about where crime fiction itself is going, and what blogs and sites can do to help it get there." I think blogs can do much.

I learned about The Big O from the flogging Declan himself gave it on his blog (is flogging a pejorative expression here? I don't mean it to be) and it sounded like a book I wanted to read. Unfortunately it was only available in the UK and unless I deprived the cats of their premium food it was out of reach. When I found it was going to be published in the U.S. and available for advanced order on Amazon I immediately ordered a copy. Bless Amazon, they shipped it well in advance of the September 22 U.S. release date so I've had a chance to read it.

The blurb on the book jacket describes Declan as "Elmore Leonard with a harsh Irish edge." I would also add a bit of Donald Westlake (think a Dortmunder caper) with profanity and violence and some Carl Hiassen with his talent for creating interesting characters and putting them in darkly humorous situations.

The Big O falls into the humorous caper category but there are also aspects of the hardboiled school of crime writing so it is covering several of the crime sub-genres.

    We have:
  • Karen who is a receptionist for a plastic surgeon who supplements her income with armed robbery.

  • Karen's ex boyfriend Rossi is out on parole and looking for his motorcycle, .44 automatic, and his money, all of which he thinks Karen has.

  • Ray wants to get out of the kidnapping business. His job is to mind the kidnapped until the insurance company pays the ransom. He is also falling in love with Karen

  • Frank is a plastic surgeon with money trouble and also Karen's boss

  • Frank's almost ex-wife, Madge who is also Karen's best friend.

  • Anna who you need to meet in the book. I will say no more.

  • Assorted other characters who contribute to the craziness.

Frank figures that the only way out of his money predicament is to have his ex-wife kidnapped before the insurance policy expires. Ray gets subcontracted to hold Madge until the ransom is paid. Ray and Karen team up and the caper moves into high gear.

The story is told in alternating sections from the viewpoint of the major characters. A character many have several pages or a few paragraphs. This is a nifty approach that I enjoy. You get bits of back story and unfolding plot elements as the path of the characters weave in an out, sometimes crossing, and finally intersecting. Burke does this skillfully. The only downside to this style for me is that I think I can stop reading any time because there are break points so close together. The reality is that I decide that I can read just one more bit since it isn't that long, not like a chapter. I stayed up much too late over two work nights.

You know how there are television shows where the cast is perfect and they complement each other - Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Shield, The Wire, shows like that. That's the way I felt about the characters in The Big O. I liked many of them but was interested in all of them.

Earlier I described this book as a humorous caper. Humorous doesn't mean comedy. It means that there is much sharp, witty, and snarky dialog and narration. There is nothing slow or ponderous here. Burke makes frequent use of short statement, rapid fire dialog/observations that propel the story along. Hmm, that isn't phrased well. I need to study reviewer lingo a bit more.

All in all it is a cracking good story told well and I don't regret springing for the hardcover.

I would like large numbers of people on this side of the Atlantic to purchase this book so the folks at Harcourt will be inclined to publish Declan's next book simultaneously in the US so I won't have to wait for months.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Seth Harwood's Crime Podcasts

If you think you would enjoy listening to crime fiction then I'd like to steer to toward three of Seth Harwood's projects. I've been a fan for a while and, besides being a nice guy, Seth's a very talented writer and podcaster (except when he does the voice for Momma Ponds).

CrimeWAV is a nifty concept. Crime writers read their short stories. Episode 12 just got posted and it features Megan Abbott reading Cheers. Megan recently won an Edgar for Queenpin. The other authors so far are Vickie Hendricks, Jason Starr, Christa Faust, Gary Phillips, Dave Zeltserman, Mark Coggins, Charles Ardai, Tim Maleeny, and Reed Farrell Coleman. This is an outstanding lineup and I've enjoyed hearing their stories and their voices.
Promo for CrimeWAV

Seth came on the podcast scene with the first Jack Palms story, Jack Wakes Up. Jack is an ex-actor and ex-drug addict. Since then there have been two more Jack Palms stories and Seth is starting to appear in print. The Jack Palms stories are hard boiled stuff, lots of violence, and immensely entertaining. He does his own narration.
Promo for Jack Palms Crime

Jack Wakes Up included a drug dealer named Junius Ponds. He was a popular character and Seth decided to give him some back story. Young Junius starts with Junius a teenager (16 yrs old?) in the Boston projects. When I listened to the first episode I was reminded of The Wire and in a good way.
Promo for Young Junius

Saturday, September 20, 2008

New TBR and LibraryThing

I'm experimenting with pulling in covers from LibraryThing. You may not see an image. Tim Spalding says that LT has to figure out what the *best* cover for a given ISBN should be.

My TBR stack has been refreshing itself at a pretty fair rate these days. I was fortunate to score all four volumes of David Peace's Red Riding Quartet from one of Declan Burke's "Best things in life are free" giveaways. This series deals with the Yorkshire Ripper but also deals with police corruption and I'm not sure what else. I'd been salivating over these books since I heard of them.

Michelle Gagnon sent me an IM in Second Life about a discussion with the Athena Isle Writers. Turns out she was being interviewed. I couldn't make the event but I did learn that she is the author of Bone Yard, a novel about serial killers. By all reports it is a good read and the first couple of pages have grabbed me. If you look for this book in Barnes & Noble, check the general fiction section. Border's puts it in the mystery section.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Two blog posts on crime fiction that have me thinking

Declan Burke over at Crime Always Pays has an interesting post on the lack of critical evaluation of crime fiction and the role of blogs. My library has a pretty good collection of books about crime/mystery fiction and I've found many interesting journal articles but not much recent material. I've come to rely on blogs and web sites. It is nigh to impossible to select nuggets from Dec's post since the whole thing is spot on but here are a couple of selections

By the same token, many mainstream commentators have suggested that the blogging format doesn’t lend itself to the quality of commentary available in mainstream media. To a certain extent, this is true. The blogging paradigm lends itself to shorter, more direct forms of communication than that of the traditional mainstream press. Further, most bloggers are not being paid to read and review books, and are for the most part doing it as a labour of love in their spare time. Another factor involved is that to be a ‘successful’ blogger – i.e., to achieve the kind of exposure that makes your time and effort worthwhile – it is necessary to blog on a regular basis, or at least far more regularly than the traditional media reviewer needs to review. For all these reasons, and more, the on-line community lacks the resources (but mainly space, time and money) that has allowed the more literary community build up a corpus of critical work on literary novels.
... the critical work on crime fiction needs to develop of and through its own metier, that the Johnsons of the crime / mystery community require their Boswells, and that I believe heart and soul that crime / mystery fiction needs and deserves the kind of widespread, top-to-bottom critical work that would in turn inspire the writers to strive towards ever-higher standards of work.
I think blogs have the potential to provide the kind of critical commentary Declan suggests. There have been discussions on blogs that blogs might be a better than print journals for scholarly publishing because of their immediacy and because the author and readers can have an active dialog. In fact, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, an assistant professor at U.C. San Diego, used blog comments to peer review his book. Read about it here.

I hope Declan's challenge is taken up by bloggers. There are tremendously talented bloggers and very astute readers in the blogosphere and critical commentary is very possible.

The other post that I've been thinking about comes from Petrona. It isn't the clarion call of Declan's post. It's personal - What I like in a book. Maxine nicely articulates what she likes in crime fiction. The reason it has me thinking is that I don't really consider the elements of what I like in a book. I devour books but why do I drop some after the first chapter, skip to the end of others to see if I want to keep reading, and stay up much to late on a work night to finish others. I think I'm going to keep pen and paper handy the next time I start a book note what stands out, good and bad.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Life is Good in the Area of Crime Entertainment

Lots of stuff showed up at the same time. I might need to take another week off.

The Shield's final season premiered last night. Wow! Not an episode for those with a delicate constitution. Shane Vendrell got a real work-out. New female character was introduced, Olivia Murray, who works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I think that is what ICE stands for). She and Vic are eying each other. Definite interest there. Vic got a 30 day stay on his forced retirement. Don't call me Tuesday's between 10 and 11 p.m.

Amazon is shipping Declan Burke's The Big O early and my copy should be here on Sept. 5. This will help satisfy my need for more Irish crime fiction. Here is a review of The Big O at Crime scene NI and another at Euro Crime.

Speaking of which, through Declan's Blog, Crime Always Pays, I learned about Adrian McKinty. His "dead" books are available from Audible and I downloaded Dead I May Well Be, The Dead Yard, and The Bloomsday Dead. I'm about 3 hours into Dead I May Well Be and it is a terrific story with a great reader, Gerald Doyle. More on this series later.

Sweetheart, Chelsea Cain's sequel to Heartsick is currently near the top of of my to-be-read stack. When I picked it up at Borders last night the salesperson asked me if I had read Heartsick. He thought I should know that Heartsick was graphic in its presentation of violence. I guess he didn't want me to be shocked with Sweetheart.

Finally, Jason Starr and Ken Bruen's latest collaboration, The Max, finally arrived. I guess you can call it a series since there are now three books with continuing characters - Bust, Slide, and The Max. They are immensely entertaining. More later on these books.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why I haven't posted

This summer I had three stress inducing projects with project two depending on project one and project three requiring project two. First I had to move our library system to a new server. Following that, we upgraded to a new version of our library software. Finally, we reloaded our entire bibliographic database and cleared and reloaded the authority records. by we, I mean me and my part-time assistant.

Now I'm off to Florida to visit my mother. Since I'm flying I have skimped on clothing in favor of books. Here is what I'm taking with me:

  • Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski
  • The Four Noble Truths: Foundation of Buddhist Thought, vol. 1 by Geshe Tashi Tsering
  • The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
  • Hoodtown by Christa Faust
  • Die Twice by Simon Kernick
  • Mysterium and Mystery: The Clerical Crime Novel by William D. Spencer
  • Assorted photocopies about mysteries, women authors of mysteries, and clerical mysteries
Yep, that's a lot of books for eight days but I know I can will read three quickly, one is mostly reference for a something I'm trying to write, and the other two are insurance since there is a hurricane approaching Florida and the forecast calls for rain for my entire visit.

I hope to return with at least three reviews.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

TBR Stack Just Got Taller

Christa Faust (blog - Deadlier Than the Male) is the author of Money Shot and is Hard Case Crime's first female author. Money Shot is the story of a retired adult film actor turned agent to porn actors, Angel Dare, who finds her comfortable world unraveling though no fault of her own. Angel is an interesting character, unapologetic about her past career. The story is well constructed and paced and the first person narrative style and writing is terrific. It is one of my favorite books this year.

I found two earlier novels by Faust on Amazon (Control Freak and Hoodtown). They arrived this week and I haven't read either yet. One thing is obvious; Faust's heroes do not operate within "normal" society.

Her first novel was Control Freak. Following a murder case, hard-boiled crime writer Caitlin McCullough, discovers the world of S&M and her inner Domina. In the course of her investigation she finds

A perverse playground for the rich and twisted where anything goes and nothing is taboo. A place that for Caitlin begins to feel inexplicably like home.
Hoodtown will be, I think, very unusual to most readers. It is described as a lucha-noir novel. Lucha libre ("free fight") is professional wrestling as practiced in Mexico and other Latin American countries. The performers wear colorful full-head masks. So, lucha-noir is a crime story set in this world. What makes the story really unusual is that the characters maintain their lucha libra personnas all the time and do not remove their masks within the Hoodtown ghetto of masked wrestlers. The hero is X, a former luchadora, who is trying to find out who is killing Hood prostitutes and leaving their bodies unmasked. This is a really nifty hook for a story.

I read a bit about lucha libra several years ago when I started watching the Internet cartoon character Strong Bad at Homestar Runner. Strong Bad wears a lucha libra wrestling mask. There was also an episode of Angel (season 5, episode 6, The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco) that featured a family of five luchadores.

So many books, so little time.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

My TBR Just Grew

Last Monday, Marilyn and I were in New York City visiting friends and she and I stopped by the indie book seller, Partners & Crime in Greenwich Village. She claims we were in the shop for three hours but she was dozing on the "grumpy spouse couch" so I'm claiming we were only there for 30 minutes, tops. The person working that day - I didn't get her name - was very knowledgeable and knows many of my favorite authors personally. Check out their web site and if you are in the City, visit them. It is a great shop. I left with the following:

  • Bang Bang by Theo Gangi. This is a crime thriller and Theo's first book. He was in the shop that day and I got an autographed copy. I'm half-way through and it is an excellent read. Izzy and his partner rob drug dealers and one of their jobs goes wrong. Izzy and Mal end up on opposite sides with Mal determined to kill Izzy. Lots of good and action as well as some interesting introspection on the part of Izzy. Gangi's nedt book will be Kiss Kiss and I'll be watching for it.
  • A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir edited by Megan Abbott. Megan won an Edgar Award for Queenpin, a terrific book. I haven't dipped into A Hell of a Woman yet but I'm familiar with many of the authors (Ken Bruen, Christa Faust, Libby Hellman, Vicki Hentricks) and all the stories are new to me. Val McDermid wrote the foreward.
  • Die Twice by Simon Kernick. This volume contains two crime novels: The Business of Dying and The Murder Exchange. Kernick is a British crime fiction writer. Since I like British writers and they can be hard to find in the big box book stores and the counter person highly recommended it I picked it up.
  • A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes. I need to read this book for an upcoming discussion but Himes has been on my list for a while. He is a major figure of Black crime writers.
  • Dia de los Muertos by Kent Harrington. This is another book recommended by the person working the store. Harrington is a new author to me. Michael Connelly says "he writes with the ghost of Jim Thompson looking over his shoulder." He is published by Dennis McMillan who, I learned, publishes a limited runs of 2,000 copies. At $10 this book seemed like a steal to get aquainted with this author.
  • The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin. This is a departure from my usual hardboiled, high body count reading. It was first published in the U.K. in 1944 and is the first Gervase Fen mystery. Fen is a scholar who prefers the role of amateur sleuth. I picked this up because I recently read A. A. Milne's The Red House Mystery and I was reminded how much fun clever and witty British can be.
On the same trip I had some good coupons from Borders and picked up these in the Chestnut Hills Borders in Philadelphia:
  • A Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. I'm normally not one for historical mysteries but this one interested me because I do enjoy forensic crime stories. A Mistress ... is set in the time of Henry II and four children have been murdered. Jews are blaimed and Henry summons an expert in the science of deduction and death. He gets Adelia a woman, from the Medical School of Salerno.
  • Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski. If I hadn't purchased this in Philadelphia I surely would have in New York. The woman in Partners & Crime recommended it highly. She described it as very violent and very funny. Here is the description from the back of the book: "Jamie Debroux's boss has called a special meeting for all key personnel ant 9 A.M. on a hot Saturday in August. When Jamie arrives, the conference room is stocked with cookies and chanpagne. His boss smiles and tells his employees, "We're a cover for a branch of the intelligence community. and we're being shut down." Jamie's boss then tells everyone to drink some chanpagne, and in a few seconds they'll fall asleep--for good. If they refuse, they'll be shot in the head." This a great set up, kind of a variation on Six Days of the Condor.
  • Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley. This is the 10th Easy Rawlins story. Mosley, like Himes, is another Black writer I've been meaning to read.
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. This is a true crime book. In 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent is found murdered. Detective Inspector Jonathan Whicher is detailed from Scotland yard to investigate. Whicher was one of the original eight detectives that formed Scotland Yard.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Catching up with book, part 1

I have four new reviews on Revish with four more to come.

An Illiad: A Story of War. Alessandro Baricco retells the story of Homer's Illiad by removing nearly all references to the Greek gods and their interference in mortal affairs. He describes the action from the viewpoint of the characters in the story. It is well done and would be a good introduction to the story for a young reader who might only have seen the movie Troy. You do lose the aspect of the story where the humans are pawns in a game played by the gods but still it is a valid and interesting approach.

Expletive Deleted. This is a collection of crime short stories that feature some aspect of the F-word. some of my favorite authors have stories in this collection including Ken Bruen. The stories range from amusing to disgusting with one that you could call poignant.

Silver Swan. This a sequel to Benjamin Black's excellent novel, Christine Falls. Quirk the Dublin pathologist is back. This time a former school mate asks Quirk not to do something which launches a chain of events that hit close to Quirk's personal life. I feel sorry for but don't really like any of the characters that that didn't stop me enjoying it tremendously. black is a terrific writer.

Confessions of a Fallen Angel. This is Irish solicitor Ronan O'Brien's first novel. I'm not sure how to characterize it. There is a bit of supernatural but it doesn't take over the story. Romance, sentimentality, substance abuse, all have a part. It is the character driven story of Charlie from age 10 until ... and surfacing of his special gift to foretell the death of someone close to him. and to be the cause of that death.

I enjoyed it and recommend it.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Catching Up: New DVDs

UPDATE: I completely forgot to mention these aspects of the Criterion edition of If....

The digital transfer is excellent. The color and black & white are crisp and vivid.

I had trouble with the audio in places but I attribute that to:

  • age (mine)
  • the chaos that generally accompanies young schoolboys
  • accents
The commentary is by Malcolm McDowell and film critic and historian David Robinson. I think it came from interviews rather than commenting as they watched the file but is still a welcome addition and contributed to my appreciation of the film.

Another extra rounds out the appreciation of the film. The Scottish TV show, Cast and Crew brought together Malcolm McDowell (remotely), the director of photography Miroslav Ondricek, screenwriter David Sherwin, producer Michael Medwin, and several others.

There is also an interview with Graham Crowden who plays the history master in If....

The commentary track and interview with Crowden also made me appreciate the talents of Lindsay Anderson and the significant role he played in British cinema.

Thursday's Children, a 1954 documentary directed by Lindsay Anderson and narrated by Richard Burton. It is about a school for deaf children and won an Academy Award. It is quite moving and shows a different aspect of Anderson's skills as a director. The title comes from this old rhyme:
  • Monday's child is fair of face;
  • Tuesday's child is full of grace;
  • Wednesday's child is full of woe;
  • Thursday's child has far to go;
  • Friday's child is loving and giving;
  • Saturday's child works hard for a living.
  • But the child that is born on the Sabbath day is fair and wise, good and gay

Hmm, I just realized that I haven't posted in nearly two months. Wonder what I've been doing.

My return was prompted by a post by Maxine Clarke on her blog Petrona. She noted that the Lindsay Anderson (dir.)/Malcolm McDowell (star) film, O Lucky Man!, has been released on DVD in the U.K. I love this movie but I'd resigned myself to watching my third generation copy made from the laser disk edition. A quick check on Amazon revealed that O Lucky Man! has been available in the U.S. since 2007. Serendipity led to the discovery that there is a restored, two disk Criterion edition of If..., also Lindsay Anderson/Malcolm McDowell, as well as a two disk, remastered version of A Clockwork Orange also starring Malcolm McDowell but directed this time by Stanley Kubrick. There is, nonetheless, a connection between Anderson and A Clockwork Orange (described below). So, $70+ dollars later I have all three sets and a desire to proselytize.

You might have noticed a common theme here - I'm a bit of a Malcolm McDowell fan-boy. These three films are ones that I can, and do, view repeatedly. All three sets include commentary by Malcolm McDowell and others which means that I have to watch each twice.

I'm viewing the Lindsay Anderson directed films first rather than chronological order and leading off with If.... This was Malcolm McDowell's first film role and was shot in 1968, released in 1969. If.... takes place in a British public school follows three rebellious students, Travis, Johnny, and Wallace as they come into conflict with authority, primarily the senior house Whips (Prefects).

The original script was titled The Crusaders but there was concern that people would be confused about the subject of the film. The producer's secretary suggested "If" (from the Kipling poem) and Anderson, ever the anarchist, added the four dots. If.... won the Grand Prix at the 1969 Cannes film Festival.

Scenes shift between black & white and color. Like a lot of viewers, when I first saw If.... I thought there must be some symbolic reason why some scenes were b&w. It turns out that it would have been too expensive to light the interior cathedral scenes for color so they were done in b&w. Anderson really liked b&w but realized that it would limit TV sales so he couldn't shoot the entire film in b&w. b&w was used elsewhere for emotional reasons, because it seemed appropriate. For example, the interior scenes that take place in a greasy spoon road side diner are rather more effective in black and white than if they had been shot in color.

The scenes where Travis, Johnny, and Wallace are caned by the head whip Roundtree remains very powerful and is the turning point that leads to the violent conclusion. The boys are not punished for anything they've done but for their attitude. After this, their desire to fight the injustice of the power structure becomes more determined.

When McDowell was cast as Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange, he went to Anderson to ask how he should play the character. Anderson read the script, was thankful that he wasn't directing, and referred him to the scene in If.... when he/Travis throws open the doors to the gymnasium as he enters to take his whipping at the hands of Roundtree. It was the expression and posture of Mick Travis, framed in the doorway that Anderson told McDowell to take to Alex DeLarge. If you have seen both films you will agree.

If.... is generally acknowledged as one of the most important British films particularly as a counterculture film. It seemed almost prophetic when the Czech student riots occurred no long after the film was released.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Strangers in Death, a new Eve Dallas Novel

I used to refer to J. D. Robb's future police procedurals as a guilty pleasure but I've decided there is no reason to feel guilty - I really enjoy them. This is the 28th in the In Death.. series. Astute mystery readers should be able to figure out the significance of the title before Robb has one of her characters reveal it. I have a longer write-up on Revish.

Nameless Night

G. M. Ford writes terrific thrillers. This one falls into the "man has amnesia pursued by government agents in conspiracy to cover something up" category. It is nicely executed without the conspiracy too out-there. I have a longer discussion over at Revish.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Most of my reading is crime, fantasy, and science fiction so you might be surprised to find A tree Grows in Brooklyn among my recent reads. This is a terrific book about growing up one to the ground-down poor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the early part of the 20th century. It is beautifully written. I wrote a bit more about it on Revish.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Charles Ardai's First Two Novels

I heard a podcast interview with Charles Ardai, the co-founder of Hard Case Crime, on Behind the Black Mask. I've mentioned this podcast before and again recommend it for the excellent interviews. I have discovered a lot of good writing there.

Ardai writes under the pen name Richard Aleas. Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence are his first and second novels, respectively. As is my habit with library books, you will find the reviews on Revish at the links above.

Both of these books feature John Blake who doesn't seem to be able to escape being involved with women in one of the sex trades. The books fall into the hardboiled genre and are dark but not tawdry. Essentially you have people in a lot of pain.

Both are excellent reads and I recommend them if this genre appeals to your tastes.

Oh, and for the English majors, it is no coincidence that the main character is named Blake and that the book titles refer to works by William Blake.

Evil Librarians Rule the World

Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians is a fun juvenile fiction story. What if everything you think you know about the world is wrong because librarians are controlling information for your own good? Since this is a library book you will find the Review here on Revish.

Jack Taylor's life doesn't get any better

I have a review of Cross, Ken Bruen's latest Jack Taylor story, up on Revish. you can read it here. My fan-boy adoration of Bruen's writing continues unabated. Cross picks up not long after the events in Priest. No breaks for Jack Taylor or anyone around him here.

Guidelines for Reviewing

I'm a casual reviewer, posting most of my reviews on Revish under the user name Max where I also keep track of the books I've read. Paper lists didn't work for me and I figured I might as well describe the books while I was at it.

I've often pondered the act of writing a review and how much detail to include about a book.

Kerrie at the blog Mysteries in Paradise considers this in the post How much to reveal in a review. I like the guidelines and have decided to adopt them for my own. Kerrie starts off by saying that the reviewer should only reveal what is in the first 50 pages. Later, she asks if it wouldn't be better to change that to a 20% rule to accommodate longer books that might take a bit to get started.

Kerrie's post helped clarify reviewing for me and I recommend you read the entire post.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Blue Door & Fangland

I finished a couple more library books and have reviews on Revish

The Blue Door - this is an excellent mystery by David Fulmer. It is set in Philadelphia in the early '60s and introduces Eddie Cero (like zero but with a "C"), a prizefighter leaving the sport and reluctantly made an employee of a private investigator. Eddie gets interested in the disappearance a black singer, Johnny Pope, three years previously after seeing his sister sing in a night club. This is one of favorite books of 2008.

Fangland - this is a vampire story that has more in common with Bram Stoker than the modern, sexy, urban horror vampire we see on the shelves today. You could subtitle it "60 Minutes Meets Dracula" since it involves a television news magazine "The Hour." It is written in the form of letters, emails, and journal entries. It is an excellent return to classic style horror story.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

New reviews on Revish

I'm sticking with my plan to write about book I own here and library books on Revish. To that end, here are a couple I just posted to Revish:

Deadly Beloved - Ms Tree, a hardboiled female private investigator from the Mike Hammer School of Interpersonal Relations investigates a fishy double murder.

Queenpin - excellent tale of a young woman who "wants more" and doesn't mind entering the world of organized crime to get it. Style reminds me of Jim Thompson particularly in The Grifters.

W3 - Weaponized Animals Look for Home

We3 is a graphic novel written by Grant Morrison with artwork by Frank Quitely. The story will remind you of The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams. Here, a dog, a cat, and a rabbit, formerly household pets, are "augmented" to turn them into super weapons or biorgs. There bodies are encased in heavily weaponized armour.Their intelligence has been increased and they are capable of rudimentary speech. The dog, W1 a brown Labrador formally known as Bandit, is basically a tank, the cat, W2, a ginger tabby known as Tinker in his former life, is a stealth assassin, and the rabbit, W3 aka Pirate, is trained to deliver mine and poison gas. They are the prototype animal weapons and are slated to be "decommissioned." The doctor, Roseanne Berry, who helped create and train them, helps them to escape. The dog, decides that they should "go home." The military gives chase - you can't have three lethal cyborg animals loose in the world. Much blood is shed before the story comes to a mostly satisfactory conclusion.

W3 ranks at the top of my list of favorite graphic novels. The artwork is done in a style somewhat like manga. Morrison and Quitely do a great job personalizing the animals. The dog still has the basic instinct to serve, to be a "gud dog." W1 is also poignantly despondent wen it thinks it had been a bad dog. The cat, W2, is not at all happy, is more than a little spiteful given the circumstances, and says things such as " Mmmen Stink! Bosss! Stink! Hungry" - think of a death-dealing Bucky Cat from the comic strip Get Fuzzy. The rabbit, would like some grass to eat.

Not surprisingly, the government does not come out looking all that good in this story and your sympathies are with the animals as they fight to survive and to reach the dimly remembered happy place, home. Animal lovers might find themselves a bit teary-eyed by the end.

W3 is definitely for mature readers.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Boys, a graphic novel by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson

My interest in graphic novels has been off-again, on-again and has re-entered the on-again stage.

I was in the Comic Cubicle to pick up We3, the story of three "animal weapons" - a dog, a cat, and a rabbit - who escape captivity before they can be terminated when the program in which they were created is closed down. Will Wheaton recommended it on his blog and I liked his other recommendation so much (Fell) I decided to get We3. It wasn't in so I started browsing. By the way, comic stores are browsable unlike most big box bookstores. I found The Boys, written by Garth Ennis (Preacher) and illustrated by Darick Robertson.

The story line immediately appealed to me. I enjoy seeing a common theme reversed. Even if you don't read comics you know about super heroes battling super villains to save the world. What if the super heroes are really arrogant, super jerks who have only disdain for normal people, for whom a 60% attrition rate is acceptable because they don't know what they are doing? That's the idea here. The president of the U.S. unofficially sanctions a team, The Boys, to monitor the activities of the super heroes and stop them when they go too far. The Boys are Butcher, Frenchie, The Female, Mother's Milk, and Wee Hughie. OK, one of The Boys is a woman. Basically, they declare war on the supers. In volume one we learn that Butcher and Wee Hughie have personal scores to settle against the super heroes. Butcher's wife was raped by one, and Wee Hughie's girlfriend was killed by another. Wee Hughie is is the newest member of The Boys and his attempt to come to terms with their mission is possibly the only endearing aspects of this series. He is still an innocent among psychopaths.

Besides the story, another reason I had to have volume one of this series is Wee Hughie. They used Simon Pegg as a model when drawing this character. You might remember Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead, one of the best zombie movies ever. Also, he will play a young Scotty in the next Star Trek movie which might actually get me in the theatre to see it. I get a kick seeing Simon Pegg battling super heroes.

When I took The Boys to the counter I was cautioned that it is a bit twisted. I don't know if that was out of deference to my age and perhaps I should be looking at Archie and Jughead or if it was a general caution. The fellow was quite correct; The Boys has extreme violence and graphic sex. Definitely for mature readers, really mature readers.

Halting State by Charles Stross

Halting State is a technological thriller set in 2018 in Scotland. The starting point is a bank robbery by a gang of orcs in the virtual reality world of Avalon Four. From there it expands into a threat on the world's information infrastructure, and the use of virtual reality worlds and role playing games for governments to conduct clandestine activities.

The technological future Stross imagines is well grounded and not unlikely to be available in ten years. It is a fascinating look at the expansion of cell phone technology and gaming.

I have a longer review of this book up on Revish.