Sunday, March 29, 2020

#15: You'll Get Yours by William Ard

A straight-arrow private eye falls hard for a rising starlet, and in short order is ready to kill to get her out of a blackmail frame, in William Ard's You'll Get Yours.

I know Ard mostly as Jonas Ward, who wrote a tough-minded series of westerns featuring Tom Buchanan, but he also wrote a number of crime novels under various names before his untimely death.

Stark House Press brought this one back under their Black Gat imprint, and it is a doozy.

You'll Get Yours is as hard-boiled as they come from the first page to the last--opening on the P.I. ready to kill someone in a seedy Mexican hotel all the way to a deadly, and downbeat, finale.  In between are gangsters, junkies, tough cops, and bad deals, and lots of pretty frank storytelling for the 50s.

I got this one from Stark House Press via mail and read it quickly.

Friday, March 20, 2020

#14: The Fragility of Bodies by Sergio Olguin

A tough Buenos Aires magazine reporter finds out that rich people are gambling on a disturbing contest involving a moving train and impoverished children in Sergio Olguin's The Fragility of Bodies.

The investigation becomes complex and deadly when she learns the contest threads through all levels of government, as well as the police.  A volatile relationship she ill-advisedly starts with a married conductor doesn't help matters.

This is the first in a series from Olguin, also the first translated into English.  There is apparently an Argentinian television series around the character as well.

Oguin is a vivid writer, working with a lot of unique characters and situations.  The storytelling is full of explosive violence and raw sex and features an unusual plot.  Rewarding for genre fans.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2020

#13: Duel in Tombstone by Louis Masterson

Morgan Kane is a deadly lawman sent to clean up Tombstone after the Earps leave post-OK Corral, and find there is still plenty to do, in Louis Masterson's Duel in Tombstone.

Masterson was really Kjell Hallbing, a very prolific Norwegian author of American westerns in his native tongue, with his work translated into English and I believe other languages. 

I recently learned of him and found this one on eBay, and to my knowledge have never seen one in the wild, despite him having written nearly 100 volumes.

This is almost more of an alternate history than a western, as Kane shoots it out with plenty of real-life outlaws who had different real-life fates, like Buckskin Frank Leslie, Pony Deal, Johnny Ringo, and more.  Real people like Johnny Behan and Ike Clanton have central roles.

Plenty of action in this quick read; I hope I can find some more Masterson somewhere.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

#12: And the Bride Closed the Door by Ronit Matalon

In Tel Aviv, a young woman barricades herself in a bedroom on her wedding day, sending her extended family into crisis, in Ronit Matalon's slice-of-life novel And the Bride Closed the Door.

This is a slender volume, but rich in characters and situations, as some of the backstory of the bride's life begins to slowly unfold.  Plenty of eccentric characters and quirky episodes, including a section where they try to reach the bride through a window with a borrowed bucket truck.

But it is tinged with melancholy also, as some family tragedy is gradually revealed as well.

A brisk but rewarding read that I borrowed from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

#11: North to Montana by Steven C. Lawrence

Slattery is a former gun-hand who helps a group of settlers with a cattle drive to a Montana promised land; but when they get there, they find a cruel ranch owner holding secret sway in Steven C. Lawrence's North to Montana.  

Soon enough, Slattery's old gunfighting skills come in handy.

I found a Slattery book in a goodbye pile in a flea market and have been on a bender ever since, this being the third this year.  I really enjoy the hard-boiled style, reminiscent of one of my favorites, Ben Haas (John Benteen).  A big shoot-out in a sub-zero blizzard at the denouement adds value.

I feel like Lawrence and Slattery isn't on the radar for a lot of western readers, and should be.

I checked this one out from the Henry County-New Castle Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Friday, February 21, 2020

#10: The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

Ballard is a cop relegated to "The Late Show" in Hollywood overnight after reporting a boss for sexual harassment; Bosch is a grizzled retired cop who can't let old cases go.  When Bosch is gifted an old cold case file after the death of his mentor, a murderous chain of events starts in the present in Michael Connelly's The Night Fire.

Connelly has been writing a great contemporary police procedural series, and the fabric has grown rich over time; this one also includes another series character, "The Lincoln Lawyer," who happens to be Bosch's half-brother.

Bosch and Ballard (a newer character) end up juggling several cases--a homeless man killed in what looks like an accidental fire, a judge's murder in front of a courthouse, and a gay man's killing in the past--several of which end up threading together.

I thought the finale went a little far afield from Connelly's usual journalistic style--featuring a movie-sized female assassin who has Bosch pinned down in an office building--and that was a bit of a letdown.  But otherwise another good entry in the series.

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

#9: Bullet Welcome by Steven C. Lawrence

Slattery is a gun-hand trying to retire, but when he--and a young boy passing by--stumble upon a gunrunner crossing the Mexican border, he is forced to defend the boy and his family against a ruthless gang in Steven C. Lawrence's Bullet Welcome.

But Slattery can't quite figure out who to defend them against, with a town full of secrets--including the motives of its lawmen--at the forefront.  Includes a memorable shoot-out for a finale.

This is the second Slattery book I have found recently, this one at the public library, and find the author and his writing the equal of many of the more well-known western authors.

Enjoyable throughout.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

#8: The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

A poor, troubled teen --with an ability to see ghosts--finds herself mysteriously admitted to Yale, where she is tasked with overseeing the school's secret societies.  But when a young woman "townie" is found murdered, she quickly finds herself at odds with the living and the dead in Leigh Bardugo's The Ninth House.

I have never read Bardugo, who has primarily been a Young Adult author; I believe this is her first novel for adults.  And it would need to be approached by older teens with caution; it is full of sexual assaults, including by a ghost (!), casual drug use, and some gory scenes, including an opening sequence where some students use a living indigent person's organs to read the future.

Bardugo's writing is hip and engaging, and the story rockets in a cinematic fashion from one escapade to the next; only a complicated finale, with too big a thread dangling for the sequel, marred the storytelling for me.

I listened to a good audiobook reading of the book by Lauren Fortgang and Michael David Axtell, on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

#7: Contract in Cartridges by Ben Elliot

A gun-hand trying to retire gets pushed into a gunfight he doesn't want, and when a manhunt ensues he ends up recuperating at a struggling ranch run by a brother and sister.  When he falls for the sister, and a nearby rancher begins to crowd the land, he straps his guns on again in Ben Elliot's Contract in Cartridges.

This was on the flip side of an Ace Double with Don't Cross My Line by Tom West,  an author I wanted to read.  But at that point I didn't realize that Ben Elliot was actually Ben Haas, who wrote two tough-minded series I really enjoyed, Fargo and Sundance (as Ben Haas).

By any name, this is a really great western, and begins to almost slip into noir territory towards the end, when the various relationships, and the lies they have told each other, begin to come out.  It has a downbeat but very rewarding ending.

I was glad I picked this one up at a used bookstore, and it continued to cement Ben Haas' reputation as a top western writer in my mind.  Recommended for fans.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

#6: The Siberian Dilemma by Martin Cruz Smith

Renko is a world-weary Russian detective, but is moved to action when the love of his life--an investigative journalist writing a story about oligarchs and oil in Siberia--is suddenly in danger in Martin Cruz Smith's The Siberian Dilemma

Renko is the star of a long-running police procedural series, beginning with Gorky Park, which has charted the changes in the Soviet Union right in step along the way.  Renko has also accumulated a handful of supporting characters, including a quasi-foster son/chess wizard, a drunken but philosophical partner, and a scheming politically-sensitive boss.

These novels are always solidly plotted, with interesting characters, and in an interesting setting.  I always look forward to the next one.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

#5: The Gun is My Brother by Cy James

Sam Spur is a hired gun who is forced to kill a preacher, and finds an entire poisonous town turned against him, in Cy James' first Spur novel, The Gun is My Brother.

James was actually Matt Chisholm who was actually prolific Australian writer Peter Watts, an author who wrote multiple western series at a breakneck pace.  His Blade series is pretty action-packed and mindless, his McAllister series is much more serious and hard-boiled, but this Spur novel is probably darker and bleaker still.

Spur gets bushwhacked and shot up near the outset, and spends a lot of the novel just trying to stay alive, until he is finally pushed into gunplay that shrinks the size of the town by some measure.

I have read a number of McAllisters but will definitely get another Spur novel soon.  I got this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

#4: Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores by Massimo Carlotto

A melancholy, blues-loving criminal called The Alligator and his crew hunt a murderous snitch, and take on sex traffickers, in Massimo Carlotto's Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores.

Carlotto is an Italian author who writes very hard-boiled novels, as the title of this one might suggest.  I like his style and find his writing, though uncompromising, enjoyable and often surprising in its twists and turns.

The Alligator lives in a world where the criminals have honor and a code, and the cops and prosecutors can't be trusted. 

At the outset, his crew becomes outraged when they are framed and then blackmailed by the cops to hunt a killer they can't reach, even though his crew justifiably belongs in prison and they wanted to kill the person anyway.

A globe-trotting chase ensues, with a pretty downbeat ending.

This is part of the World Noir line that I have enjoyed for a long time.  World Noir sent me an advanced copy of Carlotto's latest, and I will look forward to his next adventure with The Alligator.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

#3: Don't Cross My Line by Tom West

An outlaw poses as a lawman to sneak back from Mexico, then needs to go undercover as an outlaw (?!?!) to roust a dangerous gang, in Tom West's Don't Cross My Line.

Tom West was actually a British writer named Fred East, and has a following as a western scribe.  West packs enough plotting in this one for about a dozen westerns, but plenty of action smooths over the hazy motivations of the characters.

This was one half of an Ace Double with Ben Elliot's Contract in Cartridges on the other side, which I am eager to read after learning this was actually Ben Haas (who wrote most often as John Benteen).  Most Ace Doubles I've read are pretty light, and this one lighter than most; though I continue to enjoy Tom West when I find him.

I got this one in a big lot of Ace Doubles from a friend and read it quickly.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

#2: A Noose for Slattery by Steven C. Lawrence

Slattery comes to town to join a cattle drive, but the town's boss takes to murder to keep it from happening, in A Noose for Slattery by Steve C. Lawrence.

Slattery seems to want to make his money in normal ways, but being a lightning-fast gun hand ends up being his stock in trade.

I had never heard of this author or series when I found A Noose for Slattery in a three-for-a-dollar box at a flea market in Frankfort, Indiana. 

Thus I was genuinely surprised to enjoy the writing in this one, and probably more surprised that more experienced reviewers than myself don't seem to have the author and series on their radar.

Not I'm on the hunt for more Slattery books after finding this one quite enjoyable.

Friday, January 3, 2020

#1: The Black Jersey by Jorge Zepeda Patterson

A French cyclist begins to realize that a series of accidents and mishaps on the Tour de France are anything but in Jorge Zepeda Patterson's The Black Jersey.

Our reluctant hero is former military, and thus is forcibly recruited to investigate, all the while feeling the threads unravel on an old friendship with the Tour's front-runner, a Hollywood-ready American.

His girlfriend, an old mentor, and the colorful collection of other cyclists make up a fully-realized cast in a thriller that moves, literally, at deadly speed.

This was an entirely refreshing novel with a unique setting and characters, and a great way to ring in 2020's reading challenge.

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Best of 2019

I read 63 books this year; I struggled a bit to pick a top ten, but my top five all blew my mind in different ways, and could be recommended to anyone wanting a fresh read.  Enjoy!

Destroy All Monsters by Jeff Jackson

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

The Ready-Made Thief by Augustus Rose

The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

 Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Big Sister by Gunnar Staalesen

My Sister is a Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris

Orson Welles's Last Movie by Josh Karp






Monday, December 30, 2019

#63: The Ready-Made Thief by Augustus Rose

A troubled teen runaway runs afoul of a vast, baroque conspiracy in Augustus Rose's debut novel The Ready-Made Thief.

Every once in a while I come across a novel that is completely fresh, and this one is it; it has the trappings of a contemporary thriller, but has at its core the work of avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp, and delves deeply into his works.  There are unsolved codes, hidden rooms in art museums, a deadly secret society, and more, all cleverly tied to some of his famous pieces.

Contemporary influences include the dark web, the rave scene, and the sex traffic world.  It wraps up in an appropriately hazy fashion.

I can already think of several people to recommend this one to, and got it in just under the wire in 2019, having been gifted it for Christmas.  Recommended for readers wanting to hit genre beats in an unusual fashion.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

#62: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

Multi-talented actors and married performers Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman riff on life, marriage, and fame in The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

Your interest in this will be measured by your interest in their careers, especially in the TV shows Will and Grace and Parks and Rec.  Both had fan-favorite roles in their respective programs.  But their theatre and personal lives are as interesting.

I listened to this on audiobook, performed by the couple, and I can't imagine actually reading it; it seemed like they were riffing and chatting during most of the recording, which added to the enjoyment.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library and consumed it quickly.

Monday, December 23, 2019

#61: The Devil's Dollar Sign by Joe Millard

The Man with No Name is hunting bad guys and gold, while an alleged preacher--who has a gun hidden in a bible--hunts him in return in Joe Millard's The Devil's Dollar Sign.

Millard wrote a series of spin-off novels from Sergio Leone's Man with No Name film trilogy featuring Clint Eastwood, and these paperbacks seem somewhat elusive in the wild.  I was happy to find one in a three-for-a-dollar bin at a flea market in Frankfort, Indiana.

I was a bit disappointed in the story.  The protagonist really doesn't act much like the Eastwood character, and the book feels overwritten; but perhaps I was expecting a more laconic experience that would mirror the movies. 

The over-the-top trappings of the spaghetti western are more or less intact, however, with not only the gun-toting preacher but a murderous Apache chief and a mysterious hermit who might not be as crazy as he seems.

I would be inclined to pick another up if I found one for collectability but found it only an average western that I read quickly over holiday break.

Friday, December 20, 2019

#60: The Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

In late 60s Baltimore, a woman leaves her husband and becomes a newspaper reporter, finding herself in the middle of two murders--one a white child and the second the young black woman of the title-- navigating both the men's world of the newsroom and the attentions of two killers in Laura Lippman's The Lady in the Lake.

Lippman paints on a broad canvas, vividly recreating a time and place, with a vast cast of characters-- from reporters to cops to waitresses to the victims themselves, and even a famous Baltimore Orioles player of the era. 

To me at least, this constantly shifting POV diffused the narrative a bit, and the story seems to more or less wrap up about three-quarters of the way through.  But I enjoyed the setting and storytelling well enough to seek out more from Lippman.

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


Friday, November 22, 2019

#59: Mad Shadows by Marie-Claire Blais

The disturbing family dynamics between a mother and her two troubled children, and eventually the lovers they draw into their whirlpool, is at the center of Marie-Claire Blais' debut novel Mad Shadows.

I read an article about Quebec author Blais and then decided to seek out her acclaimed debut novel, released in 1959. 

Mad Shadows is a dense allegory with underpinnings of child abuse, incest, and mental illness, and emotions running high throughout.  I could see why it made a splash when it debuted, and can still evoke strong emotions in a reader today.

I am glad I learned about Blais and read this novel, and would recommend it with some reservations.  I may seek out more of her work at some point, but would like to leave a little space between novels. 

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

#58: The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins

Brazilian author Geovani Martins presents a slice of life from the poor side of Rio in The Sun on My Head.

Martins offers roughly a dozen short stories featuring low-level drug dealers, street hustlers, troubled youths, and crooked cops, set against a vibrant neighborhood background.  It is written from a culture and set of experiences I was unfamiliar with, but is written with energy and wit and is engaging throughout.

This debut collection from Martins has already made a big splash for the author, and I am interested to see what he comes up with next.  I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it quickly.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

#57: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

A varied collection of necromancers, from rival houses, gather in a rotting old castle to vie for the attentions of their immortal emperor in Tamsyn Muir's irreverent, genre-breaking debut novel Gideon the Ninth.

Muir throws supernatural horror, locked-room mystery, and a little far-future space opera into a blender and comes out with something unlike anything I've read in a while, all written in a hip, contemporary style.

I had to keep flipping to the character list, and list of rival houses, at the beginning of the book to keep everyone straight, but the storytelling just cooks along, right to the point where it wants to jump off into a sequel, which I am eager to read as soon as it comes out.

This was a genuinely fresh novel, and recommended for horror or science fiction readers.

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

Saturday, November 2, 2019

#56: Under the Cold Bright Lights by Barry Disher

A retired cop comes back to the Cold Case Squad, and uses some unorthodox methods to close some files, in Barry Disher's Under the Cold Bright Lights.

Disher is a well-established Australian crime writer, but this is the first of his novels I have come across.  I enjoyed the characters especially, and the storytelling was interesting. 

Our lead detective has complex relationships with his ex-wife and daughter, and has a big, rambling old house where several people from all walks of life have ended up, and interact.

The cases include an old body found under a concrete slab, a doctor who may or may not have killed several ex-wives, and an accident which might have been a murder.  Another storyline follows a lodger at the cop's house who has an abusive husband. 

And more than one of these storylines are resolved in surprising ways.

This was a very solid police procedural with above-average characterization and plotting.  I would look for more from Disher.

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

#55: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

A hard-drinking Texas Ranger, on suspension after a racially charged standoff, heads to a small Texas town to investigate two murders on his own--one of a black man passing through and one of a white local waitress--in Attica Locke's Bluebird, Bluebird.

Locke is a writer and producer for the TV show Empire but is also a solid fiction writer; this thriller cooks right along, with strong characters to bolster the story.

What makes Bluebird, Bluebird a cut above contemporary crime writing is drawing a vivid portrait of race relations, as well as a fully realized characterization of rural Texas (Locke is from Houston).

Locke has a sequel to this one coming out, and I am eager to read more from her.

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