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.