Friday, November 27, 2009

#47: Four Kinds of Rain by Robert Ward

A broke but noble activist and therapist decides he's sick of both titles when he sees a chance to steal a priceless work of art from an unstable patient in Robert Ward's riveting modern noir Four Kinds of Rain.

I haven't found a lot of noir that I liked since the great Gold Medal era of pulp writing, but Ward's novel belongs on the list of contemporary classics. It compares favorably to another modern favorite of mine, Scott Smith's A Simple Plan, which features literary writing with genre trappings. And Jim Thompson himself couldn't frown upon the unreliable narrator depicted here, whose vast narcissism and cold rationalization of his actions cause the events to unravel in the bloody final chapters.

I found this one on the $1 goodbye shelf at the local Books a Million while out Christmas shopping and devoured it in a couple of settings. Recommended for thriller fans.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

#46: Rocannon's World by Ursula LeGuin

Rocannon is a scientist for the League of Worlds, learning about civilizations on uncharted planets; but when a space rebellion leaves him stranded on a Bronze Age-style planet, Rocannon takes up a sword and flying steed and goes after his starborn enemies.

Admirable pulp, and the rookie novel from the great Ursula LeGuin. However, unlike some of the debut works of other sci-fi authors, which often has to come with allowances made for early writings, LeGuin's novel comes out fully-formed and engaging.

I was pleasantly surprised by this short novel, and that it takes place in the same "universe" as some of LeGuin's most well-known science fiction, including The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. Interestingly, this is also the first appearance of LeGuin's creation the Ansible, a device for talking between words that others (including Orson Scott Card and his Ender series) have picked up on and used for their own over the years.

A good read for both sci-fi and fantasy fans. I nabbed this off of, an Ace Double with Avram Davidson's The Kar-Chee Reign on the flip side.

Monday, November 23, 2009

#45: Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

Oslo's crumpled cop Harry Hole is back in Jo Nesbo's Nemesis, in which our troubled hero tries to get out of the frame for an ex-girlfriend's murder while tracking a murderous serial bank robber.

Nesbo's first Scandinavian thriller translated into English, The Redbreast, was one of my favorite books of 2008, so I was pleased to find this one at the Morrison-Reeves Public Library. The Redbreast dealt with the emotional and political repercussions of Norway's Nazi involvement in World War II. This new one picks up a lot of themes and characters from his previous novel but, lacking the historical context, doesn't have quite the dramatic resonance of the prior outing.

That being said, Nemesis is a crackling good thriller with a great protagonist that reminds me favorably of Michael Connelly's notable series detective Harry Bosch. I like moody Scandinavian thrillers as a change of pace from American writers, but find that Nesbo has more the stylings of his U.S. counterparts with breakneck storytelling, linear action, and sardonic humor.

Recommended, with the caveat that you should read The Redbreast first. I am looking forward to Harry Hole's next adventure.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

#44: River Girl by Charles Williams

A crooked deputy gets one look at a mysterious woman living in the swamp with her husband and is ready to do anything to be with her in Charles Williams' blistering noir River Girl.

It seems to me that Williams is not as well known as some of the other pulp writers of the era, but I have come across his work from time to time and have always found that he delivers the goods. Even though the reader can pretty well guess what's going to happen when our tarnished protagonist gets hooked by the "River Girl," watching the doom unfold is a wild ride and a great read. There is a great sense of time and place (a broiling small Southern town in the 50s) and an interesting (unreliable) narrator. A strong entry and one I would recommend for noir fans.

I surprisingly snagged this one for just .99 for my beloved Kindle.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

#43: Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard

A paroled bank robber readily slips into his old life with a fake psychic and her crime lord boyfriend even as the police have him in their sights in Elmore Leonard's easygoing crime novel Road Dogs.

I have been a longtime fan of Leonard, but in the latter part of his career he has been a bit hit and miss. This is a good novel for longtime fans, though, as it features a handful of characters from previous novels (including the George Clooney character from Out of Sight). However, for three quarters of the novel they stand around and assess each other's coolness and tell stories; only during the last bit of the novel does the story come to life with double and triple crosses and bursts of violence.

Overall an enjoyable tale, though again not at the top of Leonard's admirable bibliography. I listened to this on a good audio book version on loan from Morrison-Reeves Public Library.