Thursday, June 29, 2017

#52: The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Slightly burned-out Copenhagen cop Carl Morck now heads up Cold Cases in a dank basement, and--because of his meticulous assistant Assad and insouciant secretary Rose--reluctantly solves the case of murdered teen siblings in The Absent One.

The Absent One is the second in Jussi Adler-Olsen's highly regarded Department Q series, which has also spawned a trilogy of hit movies in his native Denmark.

This novel follows the pattern of its predecessor, The Keep of Lost Causes, with almost comedic scenes in the office contrasting with crime elements that include rape, torture, animal abuse, and more.  It can at times be somewhat jarring, with strong subject matter for the casual reader.

But Adler-Olsen is a great mystery writer, and The Absent One is recommended for discriminating readers.

I checked this out on audiobook from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

#51: Cruel is the Night by Karo Hamalainen

Two Finnish couples, made up of old friends, spend an evening having dinner in a luxurious London apartment--only to have it end with one left alive--in Karo Hamalainen's Cruel is the Night.

Cruel is the Night is an inky-black comedy of manners centered around a dinner party where every attendee brings something hidden to the table, be it infidelity or fraud or other vices, as well as a lifetime of resentments.  Unfortunately, an ornamental sword and a variety of poisons end up too readily at hand.

Hamalainen's novel ranges from riotously funny, to frightening and shocking, taking the reader on quite a ride; an Agatha Christie novel as told by Brett Easton Ellis.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

#50: Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach

An independent young woman decides to slip from a dull engagement and forge her own path, quickly learning that path leads into the arms of a rugged sailor, in Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach (writing as, of all people, Colonel Sanders).

Tender Wings of Desire was offered as a free Kindle download as part of a Kentucky Fried Chicken promotion. It was very interesting to me, because of the thought that a fast food franchise believed that somebody might want to read a book, instead of play a game or mess around on an app.  And they were right, which is really something to meditate on.

The second surprise is that the novella is pretty straight-faced, and hits all the right beats for fans of the romance genre.  The setting is sort of quasi-Austen, and the characters hit comfortable notes.  Despite the trappings, Kovach took her job seriously, and delivered for fans.

Tender Wings of Desire is a quick, accessible read and worthwhile, especially for readers of the genre.

Monday, June 12, 2017

#49: The Doomsday Affair by Harry Whittington

The swingin' men from U.N.C.L.E. go after the typical nut with a nuclear weapon in Harry Whittington's The Doomsday Affair, based on the 60s TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I discovered Harry Whittington earlier this year, an industrious pulp paperback novelist who cranked out noirs, westerns, and more under a number of names over a number of years.  I have become a fan, and thus couldn't pass this up at a goodbye price in a heaping box of paperbacks at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention.

I remember watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as a teen (never as popular in my house as Mission: Impossible or The Wild, Wild West) but still a fun slice of spy adventure. 

Whittington's novel seems much more muscular and serious than I remember the series (after an exploding lei at the outset) with car chases, fistfights, nerve gas attacks, and a last-ditch effort to prevent a nuke from launching. 

Quick and fun, and doesn't really rely much on remembering the series.  For Whittington completists, which I seem to be becoming.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

#48: The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

L.A. cop Harry Bosch is looking retirement square in the eye, but wants to close out a few cold cases first in Michael Connelly's The Burning Room.

In my mind, Connelly's Bosch series stands alongside Walter Moseley's Easy Rawlins and Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series as among the great contemporary police procedurals. 

In this outing, Bosch and a new partner investigate what at first appears to be random violence from a stray bullet, but might actually be tied to the rise of a political figure; and work on a more personal case involving a fire at an unlicensed daycare.

Connelly's tight writing (his background is journalism) and crisp plotting always makes for a fast, enjoyable read, with the richness of the series and its characters evident to longtime readers.

I listened to a nice audiobook version read by Titus Welliver, on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#47: Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

A police detective is assigned to media relations, though secretly wishes to return to crime-busting; but when an unsolved kidnapping comes back to the forefront, he may get his wish in Hideo Yokoyama's Six Four.

Six Four is a big undertaking, over 600 pages long, much of which dealing with the psychological, social, and political underpinnings of work in the Tokyo police force.  The crime elements don't really ramp up until the last quarter of the book, as the detective tries to balance new clues in the kidnapping with his own daughter's disappearance.

For those readers up to the challenge, Yokoyama's work is very rewarding, and really drills into Japanese culture as well as the machinery of contemporary police work.  Recommended.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, and ended up checking it out several times to finish it off.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

#46: Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt's first book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland revealed him as an Earth-2 version of myself, growing up on Dungeons and Dragons and sci-fi movies; his latest collection of essays, Silver Screen Fiend, only cements his status as a lost brother.

In this, Oswalt talks about the transformative power the New Beverly Cinema had on him as he struggled as a standup comedian, writer, and actor.  The New Beverly showed classic and cult double features, and Oswalt became obsessed with the venue and movies in general.

Most interestingly, Oswalt talks about the idea of a "Night Cafe"--a room you go into (real or figurative), and come out forever changed.  How these "Night Cafes" steered his career in various ways was fascinating, to me.

I listened to this on audiobook, read by the author, and that may be the best way to enjoy Oswalt's musings.  This copy was on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Recommended for fans of nerd culture of all stripes.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

#45: Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll

An unnamed narrator, mistaken for someone else, goes on a perilous journey and brushes up against death and sex in Atlantic Hotel by Brazilian author João Gilberto Noll.

Noll's slender novel is a lot of things at once; a surreal odyssey, a religious analogy, a hardboiled noir, a psychedelic parable.  The back-cover description makes it sound like more of a noir, but its hallucinogenic imagery, and cryptic finale, make it anything--and everything--but.

Recommended for those readers who enjoy literary fiction and/or international fiction, but are prepared for sex and violence.

I purchased this with an Amazon gift card and read it quickly.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

#44: The Whites by Harry Brandt

A gang of rule-bending New York cops who once called themselves "The Wild Geese" are aging, retiring, and mellowing; but their past comes back to haunt them in The Whites by Richard Price, using the pseudonym Harry Brandt.

The Whites of the title are the "white whales" that the cops each carry in their memories, criminals they tried to prosecute for terrible crimes that somehow slipped through the system.  When the "Whites" start dying off, the one remaining member of The Wild Geese, coasting out on the graveyard shift, tries to figure it all out, even while another troubled cop zeroes in on his family.

Richard Price has written some great literate, tough-minded urban fiction, such as The Wanderers and Clockers, and apparently decided to set out and write a straight genre novel--but it reads so much like vintage Price that his secret was uncovered quicker than J.K. Rowling's "Robert Galbraith."  There are vivid characters spouting colorful dialogue, lots of kinetic action, and a murky finale.

Recommended.  I listened to a very good audiobook reading, on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana, read by Ari Fliakos.

Friday, May 19, 2017

#43: The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

A writer decides to explore the long-ago relationship between H.P. Lovecraft and a gay teenage fan; when he goes missing, his therapist wife reluctantly takes up the search in Paul La Farge's The Night Ocean.

This interlude in Lovecraft's life is real, as is this young man growing up to be one of William S. Burrough's professors in Mexico City, in the "truth is stranger than fiction" category.  How La Farge blends truth and fiction is a compelling, decades-spanning riff on science fiction, fandom, relationships, and more, peppered with lots of real-life people and well-drawn fictional ones.

La Farge creates stories within stories, peeling back the onion on truth, lies, and speculation, an interesting metafiction that would appeal to fans of literary and genre fiction.  Recommended.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

#42: Two Graves for a Gunman by Barry Cord

A young cowhand is challenged by the outlaw Texas Jack to a showdown; when the less experienced cowhand surprisingly kills the outlaw, he sets out to find out more about the man he killed in Barry Cord's Two Graves for a Gunman.

The two graves of the title come into play when the cowhand finds out Texas Jack might have been a Civil War hero, and already has a memorial in a small town nearby.  Many secrets, that the townspeople would prefer to have stayed buried, begin to come to the surface.

Barry Cord was in reality the highly prolific author Peter Germano, who wrote mostly westerns for paperback and television. This oater is tight and compact enough to be pretty much television-sized, and was a quick read.

Two Graves for a Gunman is half of an Ace Double with another Barry Cord novel, The Deadly Amigos, on the flip side.  I nabbed this at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago, and enjoyed it enough to start reading the other side.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

#41: Glaxo by Hernan Ronsino

In a remote Argentinian town, at an intersection where a barbershop, a bar, a movie theater and a giant factory all squat alongside a train track getting dismantled, murder, betrayal, and revenge play out over several decades in Hernan Ronsino's Glaxo.

Glaxo is a slender, tightly-wound noir whose puzzle is intricately assembled through multiple narrators jumping back and forth in time.  Everything is packed in there from a femme fatale to a framed innocent to a stool pigeon to a corrupt official who orchestrates it all in the end. 

The denouement is especially satisfying, and caused me to thumb back through the book to see the tumblers fall.

This is Ronsino's first novel translated into English, and is as sure-handed and hard-boiled a noir as I have read.  Recommended for fans seeking new voices.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

#40: Camanchaca by Diego Zuniga

A young, disenfranchised Chilean man tries to work through some deep-rooted family dysfunction in Diego Zuniga's Camanchaca.

The young man travels over the summer with his absent father, and his father's new wife and son, while keeping a too-close tether to his mother back home and dealing with a reproachful grandfather.

Zuniga's novel is slender--most of the chapters are a single page, or even a paragraph--and full of tiny sketches, many of them mournful, some uncomfortable, and some mysterious (including the unexplained fate of a missing uncle).

Finely-wrought prose in an interesting debut.  For fans of literate character sketches, and complicated answers to hard questions.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

#39: The Green Eagle Score by Richard Stark

Legendary thief Parker is brought in on a payroll heist that, surprisingly, takes place on an Air Force base in Richard Stark's The Green Eagle Score.

Donald Westlake wrote quite a few Parker novels as Richard Stark, mostly hard-boiled caper novels, a lot of which became movies, comics, spinoff novels, homages, and so on.  I have read and enjoyed a number of them over the years, which I started looking for after getting to meet the gracious Westlake once.

I found this novel, from the late 60s, as an audiobook at the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana, so I gave it a listen.  It's a very tidy little heist story with an interesting setting, and naturally has the requisite double and triple crosses (many centered around an unscrupulous psychotherapist). 

Genre readers who have yet to discover Donald Westlake, or The Green Eagle Score in particular, will find much to enjoy.

Friday, April 28, 2017

#38: Catalina Eddy by Daniel Pyne

Daniel Pyne's Catalina Eddy deftly threads together three crime novellas, representing different styles and time periods.

In "The Big Empty," set in the 50s, a former spy turned L.A. private eye hunts the killer of his estranged wife; in "Losertown," a San Diego prosecutor in the 80s tries to catch a drug lord while fighting uphill against politics; and in "Portugese Bend," a contemporary thriller, a paralyzed cop and a crime scene photog unmask a police cover-up.

For fans of California-style noir, this is a pretty cool idea and a good read.  The stories are connected by various threads, with children in one story being (often troubled) adults in a second, and the fates of characters in earlier stories sometimes casually revealed. 

Although the politics are often painted in broad strokes, the storytelling remains interesting throughout.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

#37: All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer

Former lovers, one also a former spy but the other a current one, discuss a long-ago terror attack over dinner--all the while peeling back their failed relationship--in Olen Steinhauer's meditative spy novel All the Old Knives.

Steinhauer borrows heavily from the old school of LeCarre and Deighton, focusing as much on the tangled personal webs as the treacherous professional ones, as both people reveal their own thoughts about a possible traitor in their midst.

Nicely done, in alternating chapters from dual viewpoints, and satisfying spy elements alongside a more philosophical bent.

This one benefited from a really nice audiobook reading from two narrators, Ari Fliakos and Juliana Francis Kelly.  I borrowed it from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

#36: McAllister and the Spanish Gold by Matt Chisholm

McAllister is a gun hand with some crooked law on his tail, so he teams up with a disparate group to chase a legendary gold cache in Matt Chisholm's McAllister and the Spanish Gold.

McAllister featured in a long-running series of oaters, and I was a little disappointed that this one wasn't narrated by Matt Chisholm himself (actually author Peter Watts) as was the last one I read, but it was still written in the same humorous, conversational style.

The focus is on high adventure as McAllister is hired to protect the group from hostile Indians and bandits, but as they are all ready to double and triple cross each other, McAllister ends up with his hands full.

Enjoyable western action, and I plan on looking for more of Matt Chisholm.  This particular one I got from a lot of vintage western paperbacks on eBay.

Friday, April 21, 2017

#35: Police by Jo Nesbo

The intrepid cops of Oslo law enforcement pull out all the stops when a cop killer starts on a shocking spree in Jo Nesbo's Police.

Police is the latest in the Harry Hole crime series, even though the fate of Harry Hole--the troubled detective who seemed to be slightly to mostly dead-ish at the end of the last novel--isn't revealed until a chunk of this one is underway.

The spotlight turns on Hole's established supporting cast, and when one of those falls victim to the killer, Hole has no choice but to put himself back into play.

Nesbo's great crime series gets a fast-paced entry, which helps smooth over the grisly parts for the casual reader.  Another downbeat ending, where the reader is once again reminded that good never quite triumphs over evil, provides a dour Scandinavian coda.

But Nesbo's thrillers are top flight in any language.  I listened to a good audiobook reading on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

#34: Coyote Courage by Scott Harris

A drifting gunman, with a horse called Horse and a wolf called Wolf for companions, stops in a small town under siege and ends up making a stand in Coyote Courage by Scott Harris.

Our easygoing protagonist--who nonetheless is sharp with a gun--reluctantly, and then with gradual acceptance, falls into a circle of people that includes a pretty young woman and her grieving father, a lonely young boy, and several other townspeople, taking their side against a group of toughs running roughshod over their lives.  Hits the expected beats, but holds out a few surprises.

Nicely done contemporary western reminds me most of the writing of Loren Estleman and Elmer Kelton, and would be enjoyed by fans of those authors.

I got this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

#33: Seven Westbound by Marshall Grover

Big Jim is looking for the man that gunned down his kid brother, but in the meantime helps guard a stagecoach carrying a dangerous outlaw, in Marshall Grover's Seven Westbound.

Seven Westbound is a tight little western, with colorful characters, including a bandit leader who always wears a mask (whose identity is, naturally, revealed in a surprise ending).  Plenty of action ensues when the outlaw's gang uses every means at hand to try and spring him.

Marshall Grover was actually Leonard Meares, and was also Marshall McCoy, which is what name the books were released under in the U.S.  To add to the confusion, Big Jim was called Nevada Jim in the U.S.  Either way, Meares knocked out hundreds of novels featuring Big Jim and other characters.

I first learned about Meares through Piccadilly Publishing, which has been bringing these back via Kindle.  This one, and several others, came out of  an ebay lot of vintage westerns.  Definitely on the prowl for more of these.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

#32: Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

James Bond swings into action when a diabolical plot to sabotage the Space Race is revealed in Trigger Mortis, a new James Bond novel set in the late 1950s, during the time of the original Ian Fleming series.

The recent James Bond novels have ranged from excellent (Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care) to just okay (Jeffrey Deaver's Carte Blanche), but Horowitz's entry is pretty good.  It has all the requisite elements, including a memorable Formula One car race against a Soviet driver, and a climactic motorcycle vs subway train chase, plus colorful villains and supporting characters.

Interestingly, Trigger Mortis snugs in just a few weeks after the events in the novel Goldfinger, and includes "Bond Girl" Pussy Galore from that story.

Fans of Fleming's original Bond novels will find a lot to enjoy here.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library on audiobook.  The audiobook version got some attention when it was announced that actor David Oyelowo was the reader, making him the first African-American to portray James Bond--and he does a great job with the reading.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

#31: The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping by Keigo Higashino

An ad man's marketing idea is turned down by a demanding auto exec, leading him into a complicated revenge plan featuring the daughter of the exec's mistress, in Keigo Higashino's The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping.

The ad man and the daughter cobble together a fake kidnapping plot to extort money from the exec, but naturally nothing goes quite as planned. 

Highashino presents the storytelling in sort of a breezy caper style, but the three main characters are all pretty amoral, leading to double and triple crosses and a surprisingly downbeat ending.  Of added value is a glimpse into Japanese culture, for those interested.

A solid crime read in an international setting, for fans.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

#30: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

A theater director, drummed out of his summer stock company Shakespeare Festival, plots a long-range revenge in Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed.

Hag-Seed is part of a new series of re-imagined Shakespeare works from the Hogarth Shakespeare Project.  Atwood (probably best known for The Handmaid's Tale) takes on The Tempest, creating a world within a world as the director decides to put on The Tempest at a local prison.  Before too long, the play mirrors the actions in real life.

Very clever, with a lot of cool elements, but at some points feels more like an exercise than a fully realized work.  Nonetheless Hag-Seed is an enjoyable read and has lots of little nuggets to mine for Shakespeare fans (as well as Atwood's).

I listened to a nice audiobook version of this novel on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

#29: Phantom by Jo Nesbo

Haunted Oslo cop Harry Hole is hunkered down in Hong Kong, chasing his demons; but when a young man he once befriended is accused of a drug addict's murder, he returns to the scene with a vengeance in Jo Nesbo's Phantom.

Nesbo's crime series featuring tarnished angel Harry Hole is, I think, one of the great contemporary detective series, Scandinavian or otherwise.

This one--which features a devastating drug called Violin catching hold in the city--is unrelentingly bleak, even by the high standards of gloominess set by Scandinavian noir.  A surprisingly downbeat finale, which features the fates of multiple characters up for speculation, and the general triumph of evil over good, makes it challenging for the unwary, but a good entry in the series.

I listened to a good audiobook version of this on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Friday, March 17, 2017

#28: McAllister on the Comanche Crossing by Matt Chisholm

Range-tough McAllister takes a band of colorful characters on a doomed cattle drive, dogged by stormy weather, hostile Indians, and general bad luck in Matt Chisholm's rambunctious cattle-drive epic McAllister on the Comanche Crossing.

McAllister featured in a number of oaters penned by Chisholm (actually British writer Peter Watts), and it is Chisholm himself who laconically narrates the action in the story, with amusing results.

There is also plenty of tough, wide-open action in what is a pleasing western from the Piccadilly Cowboys, a hearty band of Brits who wrote generally spaghetti-flavored westerns from the 60s onward.

I got this one from Piccadilly Publishing for my beloved Kindle and will definitely look for more of Matt Chisholm.