Thursday, March 25, 2010

#14: Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick

A small moon used as a mental hospital is lost behind enemy lines during a galactic war; now Earth wants to reclaim it, only to find it has developed its own culture based on the different mental illnesses of those who were left behind.  A counselor, a CIA agent, a TV comedian, various robots, and a telepathic slime mold all converge there, for various reasons, in Philip Dick's trippy Clans of the Alphane Moon.

I've read a lot of Philip Dick in the last few years, and you have to admire him for never running out of ideas.  I thought this outing had more strange notions than most, as my brief description hardly scrapes the surface.  What I like about Dick's work is how he is able to take star-spanning stories and put them in the hands of everyday people; in this case, the counselor and the secret agent, whose marriage is crumbling, the details of which weigh as heavily in the storytelling as the planet-hopping spies and aliens.

A very free-wheeling and imaginative sci-fi story with grounding in the minutiae of daily life; one of my favorites of his books to date.  Recommended for fans.

I nabbed this one from

Friday, March 12, 2010

#13: Room to Swing by Ed Lacy

Down-on-his-luck New York P.I. Toussaint Moore does some low-level shadowing work for a big television network and ends up getting framed for murder in Ed Lacy's Room to Swing.

Room to Swing is a highly enjoyable pulp outing from the 50s and is notable on two counts; one, it features an early depiction of an African-American private eye, and second, the prolific Lacy won an Edgar for this work.

Moore is quick with the wisecracks and the knuckle sandwiches, as the genre dictates, but the story benefits greatly from its socio-politcal elements as Moore walks the mean streets of the big city and the rural countryside, dealing with various prejudices and hunting who framed him.

I stumbled across this novel for .99 for my beloved Kindle and snatched it up sight unseen, knowing nothing of its history. I enjoyed it immensely and will seek out more of Ed Lacy's writing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

#12: Still River by Harry Hunsicker

Dallas P.I. Lee Oswald (no, a different one) hits the bad streets of the city to find out what happened to the missing younger brother of a high school friend in Harry Hunsicker's debut noir Still River.

Hunsicker writes a solidly plotted mystery as Oswald tangles with everyone from powerful real estate developers down to menacing street dealers, all hinging on a plot to land a future Olympics site in downtown Dallas. Oswald is an interesting enough detective character, with a more interesting supporting cast, neither adding not subtracting from the genre. Hunsicker gets points for trying to make Dallas a character in the story, the way Walter Mosley has with L.A. and Joseph Wambaugh did to some degree with New York.

I found this on a swap shelf at a retirement community while visiting my in-laws in Florida and read it over the course of a few days.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#11: Hunter's Moon by Randy Wayne White

Marine biologist Doc Ford--sort of a cross between Indiana Jones and Doc from Steinbeck's Cannery Row--finds himself in the middle of an assassination attempt on a dying former President and gets drawn into political intrigue in Randy Wayne White's Hunter's Moon.

Doc Ford is the hero of a long-running series of thrillers that I honestly didn't know existed until I happened upon this paperback on a swap shelf in a retirement community in Florida. I took a chance on it because most of the action takes place within a stone's throw of where I happened to be, visiting my in-laws.

White writes in a straightforward style and features interesting characters and plotting. The story moved at a lightning pace, ending in a dramatic stand at the Panama Canal. I enjoyed it enough to consider reading more of White's work, after consuming this one in about two days poolside; but that might be the best place to read one of these.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

#10: The Star Ruby Contract by Philip Atlee

Nullifier Joe Gall goes back to Southeast Asia to settle a few scores in The Star Ruby Contract, part of Philip Atlee's swingin' spy series.

Gold Medal books of the 60s-70s can't be read with the same PC eye used on contemporary literature, but this outing for Joe Gall--with its treacherous Asians, traitorous hippies, and subservient women--might be even less palatable than some of the entries I have read in this long-running series.

But Atlee writes in a loose, funny style, with a seeming first-hand knowledge of place and politics of the time period. Atlee always offers memorable plotting and situations, including in this story a knowing nod to Ian Fleming's creation with a high-stakes poker game between the blue-collar Gall and a drunken priest in a jungle hut surrounded by nubile natives.

I enjoy the Joe Gall series and pick them up steadily. This one I bought in a big lot of pulp I nabbed off of ebay some time ago and have been working through as the mood hits me.