Wednesday, May 2, 2018

#25: Queenpin by Megan Abbott

A young woman ends up under the wing of a tough female gangster; but when the young woman falls for a hard-luck gambler with big debts, it creates deadly cracks in all of the relationships in Megan Abbott's Queenpin.

Queenpin is a contemporary novel, but could have fallen right off of a spinner rack full of Gold Medal paperbacks.  Abbott has written as hard-boiled and satisfying a noir as was ever banged out on the feverish typewriters of the 40s and 50s.  Abbott writes in the proper terse style, never lets up on the accelerator, and ends with the usual dose of nihilism; a potent brew, indeed.

I have read two books by Abbott recently, and they are both very different, but written in a style that ratchets up the suspense right to the end.  Recommended.

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

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

#24: The Late Show by Michael Connelly

A detective who accused her boss of sexual harassment ends up on the graveyard shift, but her determination to solve crimes--and work outside the rules--stays strong in Michael Connelly's The Late Show.

Ballard quickly finds herself with two cases she can't let go of; one is that of a transgender prostitute beaten with a pair of signature brass knuckles, and the other a club shoot-out that leaves a waitress and several others dead.

This is Connelly's first book in a new series with a different character, after a long and successful run with Harry Bosch and his half-brother "The Lincoln Lawyer"; I wouldn't say Ballard rings as resonantly yet, yet is interesting.

But the two cases move at a steady clip, so those looking for fast-paced police procedurals will enjoy it, and I would be interested in reading another novel featuring Renee Ballard.

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

Thursday, April 26, 2018

#23: Tangerine by Christine Mangan

In the 1950s, two college roommates fall out after a tragedy; sometime later, they are reunited in Tangiers, with equally troubling results in Chrstine Mangan's debut thriller Tangerine.

This novel features not one but two unreliable narrators, alternating chapters, and their complicated personal lives and relationships spool out throughout, keeping the reader guessing to everyone's motivations almost to the very end.

This novel reminded me a lot of a gender-bent version of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley but there is not doubt that Mangan is familiar with Sebastien Japrisot's novels A Trap for Cinderella and The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a GunTangerine compares favorably to these novels and definitely lives in the same world.

This was a great start to Mangan's career and I look forward to her next novel.

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

#22: The Resurrection Casket by Justin Richards

The Doctor and his companion Rose end up stranded in a section of space where technology doesn't work, and suddenly find themselves at odds with steam-driven robot buccaneers in search of a cosmic pirate treasure in Justin Richards' The Resurrection Casket, featuring characters from the long-running Doctor Who show.

If the idea of David Tennant's version of The Doctor battling robot pirates is very appealing to you, not much more needs to be said.  All other readers will find an amiable enough science fiction story with obvious allusions to Treasure Island.

I pick up a Doctor Who novel from time to time and find them by and large agreeable, even more so to fans.  I listened to this one on audiobook, with value added by David Tennant as the narrator.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library and listened to the whole thing on a drive to Chicago.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

#21: The Man Who Shot "The Kid" by Merle Constiner

A lawman is mistaken for an outlaw by a crooked sheriff, and decides to go along with it to see what might happen next in Merle Constiner's The Man Who Shot "The Kid."

An odd western title if there ever was one, but Constiner is a steady western scribe who I have read when I find him over the years.

What happens next is our protagonist gets mixed up in a range war, and in a tempestuous near-romance with a fiery woman whose cattle spread is at the center of it.

A nicely-done western, helped a lot with heavy doses of laconic humor, as the undercover sheriff (whose motivations to uphold the ruse seem agreeably murky throughout) meets all kinds of colorful characters in his journey to find out the truth.

An enjoyable, quick read, and on the other side of an Ace Double called The Skull Riders which also features a range war.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

#20: You WIll Know Me by Megan Abbott

A teen gymnast is on the verge of going to the next level when a coach's boyfriend is killed in a mysterious hit-and-run, throwing a wrench into everyone's plans, in Megan Abbott's You Will Know Me.

This suspense novel is narrated by the mother of the young gymnast, who begins to think both her husband and her daughter know a little too much about what happened. 

I think readers will see the ending coming, but the tension ratchets, ratchets, and ratchets throughout.

Good characterizations, and understanding of family dynamics, add value to a nail-biting story.  I will look for more from Megan Abbott.

I listened to this on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library, and the storytelling benefits from a good reading by Lauren Fortgang.  Worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

#19: The Skull Riders by Dean Owen

A ranch baron dies, and suddenly a range war brews up, casting a reluctant gun-hand into the center of it in Dean Owen's The Skull Riders.

Owen was Dudley Dean McGaughy, who appears to have written a lot across multiple genres using multiple names (most a variation of his real name).  

This is a pretty standard oater without many surprises, but it is fast-moving and has plenty of action as well as a splash of frontier romance.

I got this in a big lot of Ace Doubles, with the oddly-named The Man Who Shot "The Kid" on the reverse side.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

#18: A Girl in Exile by Ismail Kadare

A playwright in Communist Albania falls under scrutiny when his autograph ends up at the center of a mysterious case in Ismail Kadare's A Girl in Exile.

A young woman who recently died, and whose family was out of favor politically, had the signed book.  Her friend reaches out to the playwright, with far-reaching consequences.

This recent work is the first novel I have read by Kadare, who remains a towering figure in the history of Albanian literature.  It is both a stark portrayal of life in an oppressive state as well as a sometimes dreamlike story with fantasy elements.

Solid, literate novel of interest to those who wonder about life in a communist regime; complicated relationships add value.

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

Saturday, April 7, 2018

#17: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Long-time, hard-nosed LA detective Harry Bosch was forced into retirement, and now splits his time as a volunteer in a small-town police force as well as P.I. work; when both suddenly heat up with explosive cases, he has his hands full in Michael Connelly's The Wrong Side of Goodbye.

Connelly has written one of the great contemporary police procedural series, and it continues to grow and change with time for readers who have stuck with it. 

In this one, he helps a beleaguered police squad catch a serial rapist called The Screencutter; at the same time, a rich, elderly man decides to see if he has any living heirs, but dies abruptly after.  Both of these cases start to cut very close to home as the story rockets to its double finale.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye is a pretty straightforward entry, and is accessible for new readers.  Longtime fans will still find plenty to enjoy.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library on audiobook, with a good read from Titus Welliver.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

#16: The Tunnel by Carl-Johan Vallgren

An ex-junkie who has pieced a life back together as a tech consultant and translator starts down a dark path when his former dealer is murdered in Carl-Johan Vallgren's The Tunnel.

Even by the high standards of gloomy Scandinavian noir this one is inky-black and uncompromising, as our protagonist Katz finds himself opening the lid on a world of crooked cops, sex slavery, underground porn films, and torture-killings.  A nihilistic ending, where evil isn't exactly stopped but maybe slowed down a little, isn't for all tastes.

Vallgren writes with tremendous energy and has created a cast of fully-realized characters.  Recommended for those readers who don't mind a particularly dark read.

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

#15: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Actress Mindy Kaling's second autobiographical outing, Why Not Me?, is another breezy entry featuring essays on her life in Hollywood; if you liked her in The Office or The Mindy Project, you will find this just as agreeable.

Overall I liked her first book--which dealt more about her childhood and her peanut-butter days as a young writer--better than this one, which has her meeting President Obama as well as brushing against other famous people (including a disastrously funny incident with playwright Edward Albee).

But there is plenty to enjoy, including an essay on the fictitious life she might have had as a Latin teacher if she hadn't taken the L.A. plunge, and the real commencement speech she gave at Harvard Law.

Kaling reading her own audiobook, which I borrowed from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana, adds value.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

#14: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

An easygoing young guy living in a futuristic utopia jumps into an ill-advised time-travel experiment, and one spilled cup of coffee later ends up in a terrible dystopia--that happens to look exactly like 2017 America--in Elan Mastai's All Our Wrong Todays.

Our protagonist, whose science knowledge is admittedly cursory at best, works desperately to restore his timeline--but begins to realize that his personal life is actually a lot better in the dystopia, with family relationships and love life improved.

Pretty cool story about relationships cloaked in a time travel story, Mastai's debut novel is charming and entertaining throughout.

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

#13: Long Blows the North Wind By Owen G. Irons

A young trapper sees his friend and mentor murdered, but on the revenge trail stumbles across two orphans and finds his path diverted in Long Blows the North Wind by Owen G. Irons.

Irons was Paul Lederer, who burned up a lot of typewriters writing westerns under multiple names.

This is an entertaining oater that hits good beats as the trapper befriends the kids against nefarious distant relatives and guns-for-hire.  Value added with a memorable cattle drive in a snow storm and a drunken but still deadly railroad detective.

I will definitely dip my toe into Irons' deep pool of writing again.  This one I got in a big lot of vintage westerns from eBay and read quickly.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

#12: The Border Guidon by Gordon D. Shirreffs

A remote Arizona fort is racked by disease and surrounded by hostile Apache, with the Confederate Army approaching and a religious zealot on the loose; so it is up to one lone soldier to carry off an impossible mission in Gordon D. Shirreff's The Border Guidon.

This was a surprisingly tough, unusually spare western with a pretty interesting plot (and a high body count).  An exciting third act, with a frontier cult hunkered down in an abandoned series of caves (and hiding a couple of field howitzers), adds value.

I have heard about Shirreff's writing but had never come across one of his paperbacks in the wild until I saw this for under a dollar at a used bookstore.  I will keep my eyes peeled for more by him.

Recommended for western fans.

Monday, February 12, 2018

#11: Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Karl is coasting along with a Chicago bar he owns, and dwells on his past success in a moderately successful 90s rock band; but when a wormhole opens up in his closet, his life dramatically changes in Mo Daviau's Every Anxious Wave.

Karl and his slacker friend Wayne, naturally, decide to use the wormhole to visit concerts in the past they really want to see, name-checking tons of 80s and 90s bands. 

But when Wayne gets stranded in the distant past, and Karl recruits an astrophysicist named Lena to help rescue him, the plot boomerangs in all kinds of new and surprising directions.

Every Anxious Wave feels like what might happen if Nick Hornby took over showrunning Doctor Who.  Not for fans of hard science--being in love can trigger time travel, and an inconvenient double somehow evaporates--but enjoyable on every other level.  A pretty cool and thought-provoking novel.  Recommended.

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

#10: Ride of Fury by Tim Kelly

A veteran tracker follows the rumor of a young woman who may have survived as an Indian captive in Tim Kelly's Ride of Fury.

This was Tim Kelly's first novel, and the flip side of an Ace Double with Reese Sullivan's The Blind Trail that I got at a goodbye price in an eBay lot.  For such an inauspicious start, this was a nicely surprising western, grim and mature with some pretty bleak passages that I think even Cormac McCarthy would approve of.

I believe this is the same Tim Kelly who was mostly a playwright and didn't write too many pulp paperbacks; which is a shame, because this was a really solid western that I truly enjoyed.

A welcome find to western fans who might come across it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

#9: The Indian Incident by Matt Chisholm

The unlikely-named Joe Blade is a manhunter for hire, but decides to hunt for free when he stumbles over a gang of outlaws who slaughter a band of Indians in Matt Chisholm's The Indian Incident.

Chisholm was an incredibly busy western writer with multiple series characters; I have read several of his McAllister books and enjoyed them. 

Where McAllister is leavened with some humor, Blade is all action, action, action, culminating in a big shoot-out in a cave where Blade and an eclectic group have holed up.

This was a fast-paced read I enjoyed from Piccadilly Publishing, who is bringing a lot of Matt Chisholm back to the digital realm.  A good read for western fans.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

#8: The Blind Trail by Reese Sullivan

A stalwart deputy learns the town sheriff is crooked, and suddenly is accused of murder and on the run in Reese Sullivan's The Blind Trail.

Sullivan was actually western wordslinger Giles Lutz, who kept the paperback market busy with a number of pseudonyms.

This one pretty much lays all its cards on the table early, but hits all the right beats, including an irascible old coot and a late-arriving frontier romance.

 This is half of an Ace Double with Tim Kelly's Ride of Fury on the flip side.  I got this in a bunch of old westerns from eBay and read it quickly.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

#7: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson

In a fractured, near-future Europe, a cook becomes a reluctant spy in Dave Hutchinson's Europe in Autumn.

Europe in Autumn is the first in a science fiction trilogy that reads a bit like a mash-up of John le Carré and Bruce Sterling, a pretty sober espionage tale cloaked in advanced tech and an altered political landscape (with a bit of alternate universe theory thrown in).

I enjoyed the spycraft elements, but the world-building was pretty unique as well; certainly of interest to anyone who reads either genre or both.  For my own tastes, I could have used a shade less of the latter and a shade more of the former.

Hutchinson's work was refreshing enough that I am sure to look for the other novels in the series, especially since this one, as a warning, ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

I got this book for Christmas and read it steadily.

Monday, January 29, 2018

#6: The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch, forced into retirement from the LAPD after conflicts with the top brass, finds he can't let his detective skills go; so when his half-brother, a defense lawyer, brings him a client who he believes is innocent Bosch reluctantly gets involved in Michael Connelly's The Crossing.

"The Crossing" of the title refers to Bosch, a longtime homicide cop, crossing over to help an accused murderer, something he swore he would never do; but very quickly Bosch learns some crooked cops might be in the mix.

This novel also features Connelly's other series character "The Lincoln Lawyer" who has appeared in several novels and a film version (which is often humorously referenced in the novels).

Connelly has written a long series of very solid police procedurals and courtroom dramas; this one has a nice mix of both, as well as updates on other characters for long-time fans.

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

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.