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.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

#28: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won a Pulitzer for The Sympathizer (one of my favorite reads from last year), is back with The Refugees, a collection of stories featuring finely-drawn characters from all walks of life.

In this collection, we find a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia--and calling her a name she's never heard before--a man who befriends an organ donor with a shady past, a young man coming to grips with his sexuality, a young woman visited by her brother's ghost, a new teacher and her father trying to understand each other, and more. 

Rather than being a set of short stories about refugees, Nguyen has written a collection about people who happen to be refugees, or where a refugee is a supporting character.  The storytelling ranges across the United States and Vietnam.

Timely, rewarding, and recommended. 

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

#27: Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

After World War I, a misfit band of anarchists, poets, and malcontents (with names like The Art Witch and The Ace of Hearts) carve their own country out of pieces of Italy and Yugoslavia--a nutty story made even stranger by the fact that some of it is true--in Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia.

Pirate Utopia is part steampunk and part alternate history, filled with eye-popping modernist illustrations, but is based on real events and people, played out on a long, weird string. 

Unfortunately, I think it could have played out just a bit longer, as it ends just as American spies Harry Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard crash the party, and I could have read a lot more story featuring them.  Perhaps a sequel may one day be in the offing.

Slender and strange, with additional commentary packing both ends about where it all comes from, Pirate Utopia is recommended for those science fiction readers who like stories that don't easily fit into one box or another.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

#26: Limbo Pass by Marshall Grover

A peaceful frontier town is the target of a ruthless gang's bank robbery and murder, and a ragtag posse--with an aging sheriff, a widow, a pacifist, a gambler, a drunken doctor, and others--set off in pursuit.  But the odds are in their favor as at the front rides Big Jim, with his own score to settle, in Marshall Grover's Limbo Pass.

Marshall Grover was actually Leonard Meares, who wrote hundreds of westerns about Big Jim and other series characters.  Piccadilly Publishing is bringing these back via Kindle, but this one is an American paperback that I got from ebay in a big lot of vintage westerns, where the lead is called "Nevada Jim" and the pseudonym is "Marshall McCoy" for whatever reason.

But despite this winding publishing history, Limbo Pass is plenty rip-roaring, as the posse struggles with each other as well as a seemingly unbeatable gang, whose reason for knowing their every move is revealed in the final chapters.  Slender but satisfying, for fans of spaghetti-style westerns.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

#25: 113 Minutes by James Patterson and Max DiLallo

A teenager dies of a drug overdose, and his grieving mother and her brothers plot an elaborate Texas revenge in James Patterson's 113 Minutes.

113 Minutes is an entry in Patterson's Bookshots line, a series of slender paperbacks written with a variety of co-authors and built for speed and quick consumption.  I am probably not the first one to wryly note that this one would probably take about 113 minutes to read.

Obviously the plot cracks along, with a couple of complex heists pulled off with a dogged agent in pursuit, the situations ranging from slightly unbelievable to wholly unbelievable.  But you know what you're getting when you turn the first page.

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#24: The Man from Cheyenne by Jack Slade

Lassiter is a hired gun who goes after a runaway wife with a big bounty on her head, but double and triple crosses stand behind him and the reward in Jack Slade's The Man from Cheyenne.

Lassiter is a true western antihero, poured in the spaghetti western mold, and initially penned by the prolific mystery and western writer W.T. Ballard.  Ballard used the well-traveled Jack Slade pseudonym for this one (as did the subsequent writers of this series).

The storytelling is hard-bitten, and a conclusion lacking redemption surprises.  This early entry must have clicked with readers, as Lassiter rode the trail a long time.

I found this at a used bookstore in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

#23: The Girls by Emma Cline

At the end of the 60s, at the end of her parents' marriage, a teenage girl gradually disconnects from suburbia and falls in with a growingly dangerous cult in Emma Cline's debut The Girls.

The Girls has elements of literary fiction and elements of thriller, with the obvious parallel being to the Manson murders.  But at its center Cline's novel is really about a young girl's awakening sexuality, and her attraction to a magnetic young woman in the cult. 

How this relationship slowly, and then quickly, destroys lives around them is the spine of the story.

This is a solid read for those with any type of fiction interests and is recommended.  A really good rendition on audiobook by Cady McClain adds value.

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

#22: The Wild Stallions by John Benteen

The Army has their eyes on the prize horses of a defeated Indian tribe, but Jim Sundance--a product of both worlds, who has fought on both sides--begs to differ in The Wild Stallions by Ben Haas (as John Benteen).

I have been reading and enjoying this western series featuring tough-minded storytelling mixed in with real characters and situations (this volume including brushes with Chief Joseph and Calamity Jane, among others).  A generally more clear-eyed renditions of the treatment of the Indians than you see in a lot of vintage Western fiction is a welcome change.

If you like your westerns more Lee Van Cleef and less Gene Autry, Benteen's Sundance novels are worth digging up.

A friend sent me a batch of these in the mail recently, and I read this one quickly.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

#21: Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

A young man in Iowa--working in a small town video store at the end of the VHS era--finds unsettling clips spliced into tape rentals, upending his world in John Darnielle's Universal Harvester.

Darnielle's second novel, after the acclaimed Wolf in White Van, is both a sketch of rural midwestern life and at the same time a very creepy horror-flavored story with more questions at the end than answers.  Without ever showing its hand, the novel gets under your skin--to the point that I picked it up and put it down several times, but ultimately finished it.

Darnielle carefully sketches a world that shows the serenity of an endless cornfield, but the underlying uncertainties of how a rusty car got left in the middle of it all.

A mix of literary novel and early Stephen King thriller, Universal Harvester is rewarding for interested readers.

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