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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

#62: Shock Value by Jason Zinoman

Jason Zinoman writes an interesting account of the cultural changes that led to a shift in horror filmmaking in the 70s in Shock Value.

This is the era of horror film I more or less grew up on, and is especially interesting to me.  And even for me, there are some stories--like William Castle wanting to make Rosemary's Baby--that I was unfamiliar with.

To me, the most enjoyable element was Zinoman giving the proper due to Dan O'Bannon and Dark Star, to me an underrated figure and film of that period.

For those unfamiliar with the era, there are great accounts of directors such as George Romero, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Brian De Palma, and how they got their starts, sometimes by hook or by crook.

Worthwhile, for horror movie fans and general film buffs.

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

#61: Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Moses is raised in a socialist orphanage, runs the streets in a gang, and becomes an errand boy in a brothel, leading to a sad end in Alain Mabanckou's Black Moses.

This vivid slice-of-life story is set against a backdrop of life in the Congo in the 70s and 80s, helping create a fully-realized sketch of time, place, and people.

Mabanckou's novel crackles with life, alternating between darkness and light humor, with bursts of violence. Ultimately, the novel talks about the universal bonds of friendship, accessible in any society.

Mabanckou has written an entirely readable novel from a point of view less-seen to the average reader and is enjoyable throughout.  Recommended for readers interested in international and particularly African fiction.

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

#60: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Somebody has died at a parents' kindergarten mixer; slowly, we go back in time and unravel what happened, and who it happened to, through the viewpoints of three different moms in Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies.

I became interested in reading Big Little Lies after watching the popular HBO miniseries based on the novel.  It is rewarding, with good performances, and with a few notable exceptions hews close to the novel's storyline.

Moriarty's novel starts out somewhat comic, but as we delve more into the three womens' lives we find more sobering truths--one has a daughter acting out, one has a son who was the product of a violent encounter, and one is in an abusive marriage.  These threads play out against a broader landscape of all the little trials and tribulations of navigating a classroom, and the other parents you are thrown in with.

It's a solid read about family and relationships of all kinds, with a vein of mystery running throughout.  Worthwhile in both novel and television form.

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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

#59: California Split by Lou Cameron

Two hardcore gamblers--one carefree, one obsessed--try to get one big score in Lou Cameron's California Split.

California Split has one of the most unusual pedigrees of any book I've read.  It's a novelization of a screenplay by Joseph Walsh, an actor who based the story on his own gambling addiction.  The movie version was directed by great 70s auteur Robert Altman, but remains one of his lesser-known works of that period (and features George Segal and Elliot Gould, who allegedly played a version of himself).

The novelization was done by Lou Cameron, who did tons of other adaptations and novels but may be best known as the creator of the "Longarm" adult western series.

All that aside, it's a pretty cool little story, a slice of early 70s life with a noirish feel.  Our sad-sack protagonist and his motor-mouthed friend brush up against the underworld and various low-lifes, prostitutes, and loan sharks as they try to stay one step ahead of their addictions.

I found this for a quarter at a hospital book sale, and mainly picked it up out of curiosity.  But it stands on its own merits as a hardboiled tale of the gambling world.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

#58: The Deadly Amigos by Barry Cord

An ex-ranger goes undercover with a vicious gang who killed his brother, a ranger in good standing, in Barry Cord's The Deadly Amigos.

Cord was actually Peter Germano, a highly prolific prolific writer and magazine editor who wrote pulp fiction, television scripts, and more. This novel is actually the flip side of a nice Ace Double also written by him, Two Graves for a Gunman, a tidy little western about a young trail boss who tries to understand the outlaw he's killed.

Where Two Graves for a Gunman would make a good episode of Zane Grey Theater or something else television-sized, The Deadly Amigos is pure spaghetti.  There is a lot of gunplay and cruelty, as the gang falls in with a band of Mexican revolutionaries causing trouble on both sides of the border.  Overall pretty tough and action-oriented.

I grab Ace Doubles wherever I can find them, and this one I picked up at goodbye prices at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago.  Fun for western fans.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

#57: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

A writer with a number of problems lucks into reporting about the maiden voyage of a luxury cruise ship; when somebody goes overboard--and nobody believes her--the tension ratchets up in Ruth Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10.

Ware's novel follows the trend of unreliable female protagonists seen in thrillers from Gone Girl to The Girl on the Train in recent years.  This outing is an agreeable entry for those that enjoyed those novels.

At times, it seems Ware relies more on luck and rickety coincidence than her contemporaries, but a breakneck pace and interesting plotting smooth it all over.

I listened to a good audiobook reading of this from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, on a long drive back and forth from Pennsylvania.

Friday, July 14, 2017

#56: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Young Willie Lincoln dies, and his grieving father visits the gravesite, stranding the boy between the worlds of the living and the dead; so it's up to three ghosts, also hanging in limbo, to help the boy through his passage in George Saunders' offbeat literary sensation Lincoln in the Bardo.

Saunders uses an unusual structure for his story--almost like an oral history--with literally hundreds of voices, some historic accounts and others fiction, in a fragmented style.  I am guessing its presentation is not for all readers.   In its setting and framework it most reminded me of Thorton Wilder's play Our Town, and perhaps because of this I think I enjoyed it the best way possible, as an audiobook.

Lincoln in the Bardo has been billed as the first all-star audiobook, and there is an argument to be made there; voices include Nick Offerman, David Sedaris (a great audiobook reader of his own work), Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, Rainn Wilson, Susan Sarandon, Don Cheadle, Megan Mullally, Bill Hader, Keegan Michael-Key, and many more.

Saunders' book is challenging in its style and interesting in its ideas.  I would recommend the audiobook version experience.

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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

#55: No Gun is Neutral by Marshall Grover

Nevada Jim is drifting, but drifts right into a war between ranchers and farmers, in No Gun is Neutral.

Marshall Grover (in reality an Australian writer named Leonard Meares) was an extremely prolific author of westerns, and Nevada Jim (also called Big Jim) drifted across the plains in lots of novels (as did a pair of cowpokes called Larry and Stretch, who figured into another long-running series).

This tight western tries on, rather curiously, a Romeo and Juliet style subplot between a ranch family and a farm family, but still leaves plenty of time for shooting and fighting.

Although I first learned of Meares through Piccadilly Publishing, who has done admirable work in bringing these oaters back to a digital generation, I bought this in a lot of vintage westerns from eBay and read it quickly.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

#54: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Zombies are on the brink of taking over the world, as zombies are prone to do; but in a fortified school/prison, a group of zombie children may hold the key to the future in M.R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts.

M.R. Carey is also Mike Carey, a comic-book writer with popular Vertigo titles like Lucifer and Hellblazer to his name; I especially enjoyed his series The Unwritten, which is why I picked this novel up to read.

The Girl with All the Gifts is fast-paced, thrilling, and cinematic (in fact there is also a film version), and is enjoyable in all the right ways.

But I can't help but feel the novel is also enjoyable because it has so many touchpoints from films I enjoyed in the past.  28 Days Later and Day of the Dead draw obvious comparisons, but the somewhat downbeat/somewhat hopeful ending pays direct homage to I Am Legend (in my opinion).  The novel Lord of the Flies is owed no small debt as well.

Overall, though, an enjoyable thrill ride for fans of zombie movies and horror in general.

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

#53: The Persian Cat by John Flagg

A cynical former spy, rattling around after World War II, helps an old friend (and former French resistance fighter) track down a woman who supposedly aided the Nazis.  Pretty soon, he begins to question the motives of the woman, his friend, himself, and everyone around him, in John Flagg's The Persian Cat.

The Persian Cat is an extremely hard-boiled spy novel that reads much like a private eye outing.  There is plenty of tough talk and rough action.  The setting, a Tehran completely different than the one we know today, adds a lot of interest, as does a full and colorful collection of supporting characters.
Flagg's book is part of the Black Gat line through Stark House Press, which puts out an admirable line of forgotten noirs and other similar titles. Flagg, actually John Gearon, wrote a string of these for Gold Medal in the 40s and 50s, though this is the first time I had encountered him.

I bought this from Stark House Press and read it quickly.  Recommended for fans of the spy genre and hard-boiled fiction.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

#52: The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

#51: Cruel is the Night by Karo Hamalainen

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

#50: Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

#49: The Doomsday Affair by Harry Whittington

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

#48: The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#47: Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

#46: Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

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

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

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

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

Recommended for fans of nerd culture of all stripes.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

#45: Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

#44: The Whites by Harry Brandt

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

#43: The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

#42: Two Graves for a Gunman by Barry Cord

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

#41: Glaxo by Hernan Ronsino

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

#40: Camanchaca by Diego Zuniga

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

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

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

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

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