Thursday, January 18, 2018

#5: A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Copenhagen cop Carl Morck has been assigned to the Cold Case squad, and is content to coast out his career; but his able assistant Assad, and insouciant secretary Rose, won't let a mysterious message in a bottle go in Jussi Adler-Olsen's A Conspiracy of Faith.

This is the third in the popular Department Q series, and follows the curious pattern of its predecessors with pretty gruesome crimes counterbalanced with office hijinks. 

In this one, a dedicated and previously undiscovered serial killer has spent decades preying on closed-off religious sects throughout Denmark.  A reluctant Morck begins to realize that the killer is still very active, and very close to the detective.

This outing has two really nice set pieces--a car/train chase, and a stand-off in a bowling alley--that shows a more cinematic flair.  As it happens, A Conspiracy of Faith was made into a popular movie in Denmark, which I am eager to see.

An interesting series, although not for all tastes.  I listened to a good audiobook version on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

#4: The Grabhorn Bounty by Clifton Adams

A railroad detective hunting a train robber follows the trail to a town gripped with a nameless fear in Clifton Adams' The Grabhorn Bounty.

Adams wrote pulp mysteries and paperback westerns, and this one is, interestingly, about 75 percent noir and 25 percent oater.

At the center is a poor farmer's daughter more scheming than any femme fatale Jim Thompson or David Goodis could dream up.  With a jaded detective as the central character, and a downbeat ending, horses and sixguns are all that keep it from being a straight trip down the mean streets.

Really a good read, with colorful characters and a sense of history.  Recommended for genre fans.

I got this in a lot of westerns from eBay and read it quickly.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

#3: The Last of the Breed by Don Rico

A lawman retires after a promise to a dying friend to raise his son; when that son grows up and turns bad, it puts the lawman between justice and his promise in Don Rico's The Last of the Breed.

I had not heard of author Don Rico, and wasn't sure it wasn't a pseudonym; but Rico had an interesting career, being a writer/artist in the early days of comics, as well as writing paperback novels and screenplays.   

This is a very fine western, well-written with a pretty hard-nosed storyline. It feels very much like a late Randolph Scott/Budd  Boetticher western, for those familiar with that series of films. 

I really enjoyed this one, and read it quickly.  Recommended for fans.

I got this in a box of paperbacks from a friend and read it quickly on a snowy few days.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

#2: Badge for a Gunfighter by Clair Huffaker

An easygoing hired gun falls into a scheme to impersonate a sheriff, and then finds he likes being the good guy after all in Clair Huffaker's Badge for a Gunfighter.

Huffaker is a well-regarded paperback writer and screenwriter, but I had never run across one of his novels until I received this one in a box of books from a friend. 

I understand now why his name is bandied about in genre circles; Badge for a Gunfighter is a cut above the typical western, with lean, solid writing and a funny, likeable protagonist.

But overall Huffaker hits all the comfortable beats; gunfighters who are badder than bad, a noble frontier widow and the son who needs somebody to look up to, and the like.  A brutal finale is satisfying.

Recommended for fans of pulp westerns.

Monday, January 1, 2018

#1: Hackett's Feud by John Callahan

A cowhand is bushwhacked for his cattle money, and kills a man in self-defense; but an ill-advised attempt to save his innocent widow's feelings ends up sparking a murderous war in John Callahan's Hackett's Feud.

I've read several Callahan novels, sturdy westerns all; apparently Callahan was actually Paul Chadwick, who wrote across numerous genres under various names. 

This is a nicely-done entry that hits all of the expected beats.

This was the other side of a nice Ace Double with The Demanding Land by Reese Sullivan.  I got it at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago at a goodbye price.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favorite Reads of 2017

I read an astounding number of books this year, more than I ever have since keeping this blog, close to ten years ago.  But in a lot of ways it was a year like no other, on the national scene, local scene, and in my own extended family, and like a lot of people I burrowed down and read a lot.

Since I read a bit more, I turned this Top Ten list to 11.  Here are my favorite reads of 2017.  Enjoy!

Glaxo by Hernan Ronsino

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel

The Girls by Emma Cline

Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach

Saturday, December 30, 2017

#81: A Perfect Crime by A Yi

An alienated youth in China kills a classmate to stave off boredom, then plays cat-and-mouse with the police, in A Yi's A Perfect Crime.

Yi's book reminded me of Camus' The Stranger, but with the social and political undertones of modern China.  How media and society tries to understand the teenager, and then how corruption influences that view, makes up a big part of the novel.

A Yi writes in a very straightforward style that, with the protagonist's banal descriptions and lack of emotion, actually makes the storytelling harder to take rather than easier.

An interesting character study, with unpleasant passages, and an insider's sketch of contemporary China.  Recommended for those interested in international crime stories.

I got this for Christmas from my daughter and read it quickly.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

#80: I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb

A film scholar looks back at the women in his life, aided by the ghost of a silent film director, in Wally Lamb's I'll Take You There.

Wally Lamb is everywhere these days, after breaking onto the scene with She's Come Undone and several bestsellers since, although I had not read him.

This story has our protagonist looking back at the lives of his sister, her birth mother, and his own mother, through adult eyes, framed in the real-life Miss Rheingold contest that peaked in the 1950s.  A current story includes his daughter and ex-wife, and their struggles.

The storytelling is interesting, but to me the framing device--the ghosts of film stars transporting him into movies of his life, playing in an old movie theater--clanks pretty badly.  Some passages are more nuanced, but much is painted in too-broad strokes of pathos or comedy.

I got this for Christmas and read it pretty quickly over a few lazy days.

Monday, December 25, 2017

#79: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Jack is a drug pirate, driving her invisible submarine around dispensing black market pharmaceuticals for medical and recreational reasons; when one of her batches goes fatally wrong, she is pursued by a spy and his military-grade robot in Annalee Newitz's Autonomous.

This is Newitz's first novel, but she comes from a long background writing and editing for io9, Gizmodo, Ars Technica, Wired, and more. 

This work obviously gave her the chops for some really good near-future world-building, putting her right there with the likes of William Gibson's Neuromancer, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and Pat Cadigan's Tea from an Empty Cup

There's some heavy thinking to go along with all of the action, as we meet an indentured human slave, an indentured robot with a human brain, and a free robot as supporting characters, all providing different views on, as the title suggests, what it means to be autonomous.

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

Friday, December 22, 2017

#78: The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

Oslo's most famous homicide detective is retired and teaching at a police college when a notorious serial killer who once escaped his grasp--and is now armed with a set of iron teeth--is on the loose again, drawing him back into action in Jo Nesbo's The Thirst.

I think Nesbo's Harry Hole series is one of the best contemporary police procedurals, in any language; and his alcoholic, hard-headed cop (who has survived death and dismemberment countless times) is one of the great "tarnished angel" detectives.

This is an action-packed entry that had me shouting "No!" at the audiobook playing in the car three times as the story unfolded.  Not really a jumping-on point for new readers--understanding all of the physical and emotional scars all of the supporting players carry around makes the storytelling more resonant--but rewarding for long-time fans.

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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

#77: The Demanding Land by Reese Sullivan

Finally cleared of a killing he didn't commit, a young rancher comes home--but finds the dead man's family doesn't forgive so easily in Reese Sullivan's The Demanding Land.

Sullivan was actually Giles Lutz, a prolific western writer, and he shows a sure hand in this outing.  Besides all the standard beats, Lutz includes scenes of interest, including a wolf hunt and the capture and taming of a band of wild horses.

I have seen Lutz's name everywhere but never picked one up.  I ended up with this one on the flip of an Ace Double that I got at a goodbye price at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago.

Enjoyable.  I intend to flip it over and read John Callahan's Hackett's Feud on the other side.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

#76: Undercover Gun by Brett Waring

Clay Nash is forced off his humble homestead by an unscrupulous land baron, and takes a roundabout revenge through becoming a Wells Fargo agent in Brett Waring's Undercover Gun, the first in a long series returning to ebook via Piccadilly Publishing.

Waring was in reality Australian author Keith Hetherington, who was also Hank J. Kirby and Kirk Hamilton, an incredibly prolific western writer.

Waring puts enough plot in this one to cover a couple of stories, as Nash is chased through the desert, rides shotgun on some stages, has fist fights and gun fights and is nursed back to health a few times, before finally exacting revenge, and setting the stage--so to speak--for future adventures with Wells Fargo.

I enjoyed the first of Hamilton's Bannerman series, which I also read through Piccadilly Publishing, and liked this one as well.  Good for fast-action western fans.

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

#75: The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz

Lisbeth Salander is in prison--for, basically, everything that happened in the last four books--and ends up in the sights of a murderous prison boss; while on the outside, her old friend, journalist Mikael Blomqvist, starts to uncover the details of an unethical experiment Salander was a part of as a child.

How these stories slowly, and then quickly, intertwine is at the crux of David Lagercrantz's The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.

This is the second novel Lagercrantz has written as an extension of the story began as a trilogy by Stieg Larsson, who died before writing more but is generally credited with launching the boom in Scandinavian noir in the U.S. (of which I have been a grateful recipient).

There has been a fair amount of controversy from many quarters about this series being continued, but on their own merits I think Lagercrantz has done a nice job with his two contributions.

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

#74: The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason

During World War II, in an Iceland awash in Allied troops, a young woman known to date soldiers is found murdered; many years later, an elderly man is killed in his bed, with threads tying back to that long-ago unsolved case in Arnaldur Indridason's The Shadow District.

The Shadow District is the first in a new series from Indridason.  His novels about morose Reykjavik cop Erlendur are noteworthy (start with Jar City and keep reading), but these have a totally different vibe, with a military police investigation in the 40s and a contemporary storyline following a recently retired police detective who gets an itch to solve this cold case.

The parallel timelines are interesting, especially if you aren't aware of Iceland's role in World War II (which I wasn't).

This is a very solid police procedural from one of my favorite Scandinavian authors.  I will look for the next in this series.

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

#73: Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

An upper-class New York marriage has seen better days, but is being held together by the shared love of a daughter; when outside forces threaten the young woman, the whole family is changed in Matthew Weiner's slender study Heather, the Totality.

Weiner is best known as the creator of the television show Mad Men as well as a turn as a writer on The Sopranos.  This has a splash of both, but I would wager that Weiner has made a close read of Philip Roth and John Updike at some point in his life. 

Much as Mad Men mirrored a time and place, Heather, the Totality reminds me of the styling of both Roth and Updike.  Fans of those writers will enjoy this piece, whether they have heard of Weiner's other work or not (somehow).

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

#72: Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishigiro puts together a masterful collection of short stories, lightly threaded together with themes of music, of evening, of relationships and friendships on the wane, in Nocturnes.

If you have never read Ishigiro, chances are you've seen a movie based on one of his books, such as The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go; other titles include The Buried Giant and When We Were Orphans.

This is a great way to dip into Ishigiro's writing, catching little glimpses of unraveling lives, from a visitor inadvertently crashing his friend's fractured marriage, to a never-was musician having a midnight adventure with a bigger star, to a fading singer wanting to serenade his wife one more time.

The storytelling was really elevated by an excellent audiobook version I listened to, with different readers doing each story.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and listened to most of it on a long drive back and forth to Michigan.

Friday, November 3, 2017

#71: Death on the Bozeman by Paul Bedford

Tough-minded western has three former Confederate soldiers, now traveling companions, clashing with the Army, hostile Indians, and a ruthless gun-hand called Slade in Paul Bedford's Death on the Bozeman.

Death on the Bozeman is a sprawling and brawling western, written in a classic style but with contemporary sensibilities in violence and situations.  An appearance by the real-life Jim Bridger adds value.

Black Horse Westerns has done a good job in putting out a steady diet of these type of western stories for many years.  I enjoyed this outing by Paul Bedford and will look for more from him.

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

#70: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

A professor finds herself searching for a missing pupil, leaving the dreamlands for the waking world in Kij Johnson's The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe.

The title is a riff on H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and features characters and situations from that novel. 

I have read a lot of work recently by people trying to process their appreciation of Lovecraft's writing versus his themes, as seen through contemporary eyes; race in Victor LaVelle's The Ballad of Black Tom, sexual identity in Paul La Farge's The Night Ocean, and now Johnson's look at gender in this novel.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is vivid and imaginative, but grounded in the story of a middle-aged woman looking back at her life.  A solid, award-winning fantasy read.

I bought this with an Amazon gift card and read it quickly, then sent it to a professor friend I thought would enjoy it.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

#69: A Bullet for Sartain by Frank Leslie

In the Old West, a Cajun gunslinger named Sartain, but called The Revenger, goes into action when an old pard is killed and two others are threatened in Frank Leslie's A Bullet for Sartain.

Frank Leslie is in reality Peter Brandvold, who has written a lot of westerns under his name and others.  He contributed to the long-running "Adult Western" series Longarm, and much of that vibe is here; Sartain has one eye for killing and one for the ladies, and even his horse is on the lookout for a filly.

But Brandvold doesn't stint on the action; every character is rude and ready for gunplay at a moment's notice.

A satisfying action-oriented contemporary western for fans.

I received this book in the mail from Brandvold, a double novel with Death and the Saloon Girl as the second offering.  I look forward to reading it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

#68: I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson

In the early 1970s, two Welsh girls share a friendship built on their love of David Cassidy; years later, fate brings them together to fly to Vegas and see their childhood crush in Allison Pearson's I Think I Love You.

Pearson mines Nick Hornby territory in this novel, a humorous story of relationships built along the lines of Hornby's About A Boy and High Fidelity (with maybe some of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones thrown in).

I Think I Love You is highly enjoyable and largely pretty breezy, with bonus points if you were alive when David Cassidy was at his peak. 

Even though I was somewhat aware of Cassidy's fame, he was even more famous in Europe, and his concert at White City Stadium in London is a critical juncture in the story.  An epilogue, where Pearson interviews Cassidy, adds value.

I listened to a good audiobook reading of this novel on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

#67: Last Chance Canyon by Jim Austin

John Fury is a wandering gun-hand who comes across a dying man delivering mail, catapulting him into a war against a ruthless band of claim-jumpers in Jim Austin's Last Chance Canyon.

Jim Austin is in reality James Reasoner, a prolific author who has wrote five novels as Austin and countless others under many names.  This novel is dedicated to western author Len Meares--known as Marshall Grover and other pen names as he himself knocked out over 700 westerns.

If you are familiar with either Meares or Reasoner you have a pretty good idea what to expect; a solid western that hits all the right beats in action and storytelling.

I checked this out from the Parker City Public Library in Parker City, Indiana and read it quickly.

Friday, September 29, 2017

#66: The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

In an epidemic-ravaged Mexico City, a peace broker called The Redeemer tries to negotiate a Romeo and Juliet-type situation between two crime families in Yuri Herrera's The Transmigration of Bodies.

Herrera's tight novel is a bit of a genre-buster, reading like a hard-boiled noir but--with characters called Neeyanderthal, Three Times Blonde, and The Unruly--also has elements of parable, with hallucinogenic imagery.

Our laconic hero spends half the novel trying to find an open pharmacy--his neighbor has finally given in to his advances, but he is out of condoms--and the other half dealing with deadly adversaries, all against a haunted, emptied landscape.

I read a lot of noir, and found Herrera's work fresh in a lot of ways.  Recommended for those who enjoy hard-boiled fiction and would like to try something new.

I bought this with an Amazon gift card for Father's Day and read it quickly.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

#65: The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

In the long shadow between WWI and WWII, a French aristocrat and spy in Poland tangles with vengeful Nazis, sneaky Soviet spies, and more in Alan Furst's The Spies of Warsaw.

Our protagonist comes across a German plan for a tank invasion, which his superiors find hard to believe, while a romance with a League of Nations representative begins to bloom.

Furst has written a long series of spy novels set in this era, and this is a sturdy entry, reading like early Graham Greene or Eric Ambler.  It's a good old-fashioned outing for those interested in this time and place.

I listened to a good audiobook version on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

#64: River War by Jim Austin

Wandering gun-hand John Fury meets up with an old pal, now a prosperous shopkeeper with a target on his back, in Jim Austin's River War.

Soon Fury is working as a sort-of bodyguard for his friend, and has his plate more than full.

Austin and the (brief) John Fury western series were written by prolific author James Reasoner.  As a seasoned hand himself, Reasoner hits all the right beats, with plenty of gunplay, as well as a dangerous riverboat trip, hostile Indians, a buffalo stampede, and a prairie fire, among other misadventures.

Reasoner creates an enjoyable outing for fans of the genre.

I borrowed River War, and one more John Fury book, from the Parker City Library in Parker City, Indiana, and read this one quickly.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

#63: The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel

Long-feuding brothers finally end their acrimony with gunplay; and when the surviving brother sets out on a horse to escape, the other brother's widow leads her own horse in pursuit in Ian Stansel's contemporary western The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo.

What sets the long feud off is a rivalry over a hat; how this then plays out with horses and property the brothers own, and a struggling business they run as horse trainers, is the backdrop for the story.

Stansel has created a lyrical, engaging tale of family dysfunction set against a backdrop of a rural California at odds with itself.  Well-drawn characters, and an involved sketch of the horsemanship world, add interest.

Recommended for readers of contemporary fiction in general, but western fans will see classic parallels to enjoy.

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