Thursday, May 31, 2012

#23: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Two gunslinging brothers are set on a murderous trail, seeing their lives change slowly--then quickly--in Patrick deWitt's lyrical Western The Sisters Brothers.

The novel will probably draw parallels to the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit (and naturally Charles Portis' novel), but it felt more to me like the longer-ago film Little Big Man (and Thomas Berger's novel as well).   

The Sisters Brothers is filled with dark magic and allegory, longing and regret, the hero's journey.  With all of that it is written in a baroque, often humorous style and is a quick read.

This book came recommended to me from several avenues and was loaned by a friend.  It's the kind of book, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a few years ago, that I feel comfortable recommending to anyone who likes to read.  Probably one of my favorite reads of the year to date.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#22: The Dead Man's Brother by Roger Zelazny

A former art thief turned mostly legit art dealer is thrust back into danger when the body of a dead friend turns up in his New York gallery, sending him on a journey from the deepest jungles to the solemn halls of the Vatican in Roger Zelazny's The Dead Man's Brother.

This is an offbeat entry from the notable Hard Case Crime paperback noir series as it features a lost work of Zelazny's, who was almost exclusively known as a fantasy and science fiction writer.  His series The Chronicles of Amber seems to have been read by everyone who read fantasy novels in the 70s and 80s, including myself.

This adventure-style novel is a definite departure for Zelazny as our globe-hopping protagonist tries to clear his name, meeting exotic women and fighting sinister villains along the way.  Although definitely a product of a less enlightened era, with many non-PC moments, it is a fun read throughout.

I picked this up not only because I like Zelazny and Hard Case Crime but because some of the novel takes place at the Vatican, which I had visited.  I bought this with an Amazon gift card and read it in one swoop on a plane ride back from Italy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

#21: The Terracotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri

While trying to solve a series of contemporary crimes, a Sicilian police detective finds a pair of long-dead lovers in a sealed cave; working both cases, past and present, is at the core of Andrea Camilleri's The Terracotta Dog, the second in his popular Inspector Montalbano series.

This series has been recommended to me, but I did not come across one of Camilleri's books until I stayed in a hotel in Florence, Italy and stumbled on one on the swap shelf. 

I found Camilleri's novel to be a good police procedural with funny, often raunchy, overtones. There is a lot of cultural flavor and unique characterizations in The Terracotta Dog that separates it from other crime writing.  The main detective is especially memorable with a lot of interesting personality traits.

I read this rather quickly towards the end of my visit to Italy.  I will be looking for more of Montalbano's adventures in the future.

Friday, May 18, 2012

#20: The Silent Wall by Peter Rabe

After World War II, a man returns to a remote Italian village looking for a lost love, and slights a few members of the local populace;  this starts an escalating series of incidents that quickly turn desperate in Peter Rabe's chilling noir The Silent Wall.

Rabe creates a nightmarish, steadily worsening situation as the local populace closes ranks--a silent wall in several ways--and won't allow the former G.I. to leave.  His various schemes to escape--all the while getting interested in another local beauty--are the center of a worsening gyre.  Although I saw the ending coming a little ways out, the storytelling is compelling throughout.

I think Peter Rabe is one of the lesser-known great noir writers of the 50s and 60s, but I have always had a soft spot for him as he is really the first author to turn me on to this genre.  His themes of darkness and despair are, to me, the equal of Cornell Woolrich and he has the spare prose of a Raymond Chandler.  I think it is interesting that several of his books take place in Italy. 

As I was returning to Italy this summer, I decided to seek one out that I had not read.  I found this one for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.  Recommended for noir fans.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

#19: The Devil's Home On Leave by Derek Raymond

A nameless detective who works dead-end cases in an ominous London police building called The Factory chases a serial killer in The Devil's Home On Leave, the second novel in Derek Raymond's Factory series.

The first novel, He Died With His Eyes Open, is an absolutely harrowing, philosophical murder mystery and a milestone London noir for those with discriminating tastes.  I didn't find the follow-up novel to be quite as strong, but still an offbeat story with lots of crackling dialogue.

Although our philosophical protagonist figures out the killer early on, he ruminates over the nature of evil for quite a stretch between some bare-knuckled adventuring.  A tense conclusion/confrontation ties the story up nicely, though a subplot with espionage overtones seemed misplaced to me and distracted a bit from the overall work.

I first discovered Derek Raymond among the used booksellers along London's South Bank last year and regretted not grabbing a handful when I had the chance.  I was lucky to find this one used here in the States and read it quickly on a return flight to Europe.  Overall, still recommended and I will look for the third volume in the series.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

#18: Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks

Two old friends--who bonded over shared sociopathic tendencies and various addiction problems-- find themselves chasing an old girlfriend who ran off with another man, a cache of drugs, and a prize leather jacket; soon things get worse, then worse again, in Ray Banks' Wolf Tickets.

I thoroughly enjoyed an early outing from Edinburgh noir author Banks, Dead Money, another very tough crime novel, so I was eager to pick this one up.  Once again this novel features two knockaround protagonists--although in this case with chapters in alternating voices--and a storyline that veers from sardonic humor to chilling spatters of violence.

The main drawback to Wolf Tickets is that at times I had a hard time delineating between the two voices; but this one also comes with a warning for the casual reader who is unprepared for various scenes of violence, torture, and abuse (of substances, other people, and The King's English).

This came to me from Blasted Heath, a highly admirable ebook publisher from across the pond who are putting out some crackling contemporary noir.  Recommended for fans of the hard-boiled.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

#17: Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

An Empire prison barge finds an eerily (seemingly) abandoned star destroyer in deep space, and before long it's stormtroopers versus zombies in Joe Schreiber's Star Wars horror novel Death Troopers

I read Schreiber's Red Harvest earlier, a sort-of prequel to this novel, and found both to be entertaining but undemanding entries in the Star Wars universe, albeit much gorier than the average tale.

Death Troopers takes place during the time of the original trilogy, my personal favorites, so I think the edge goes to this one in terms of story.  There is also an appearance of a pair of classic characters about halfway through which, based on the fact I haven't seen it mentioned on online reviews, I suspect is meant to be a surprise.

Before that there are sinister Imperials, a helpful droid, some stalwart rebels, and--memorably--a handful of zombie Wookies.  A high body count gives this one a surprising grisly finale.

I bought this at a bookstore in Richmond, Indiana before a trip and read it quickly.

Recommended for horror fans with offbeat tastes and discerning Star Wars fans.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

#16: Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer

NFL player Pat Tillman chucks fame and fortune aside to join the military in the wake of 9/11; when he dies in a firefight, the tragedy is compounded when it becomes known he was accidentally killed by friendly forces.  Jon Krakauer's nonfiction accounting of his life and death, Where Men Win Glory, is important reading no matter where on the political spectrum you are.

I am a big fan of Krakauer's writing, and have learned in reading previous books like Into Thin Air and Into the Wild that he has an interest in protagonists with their own code of honor who will follow that code no matter where it leads. 

Tillman is that type of protagonist, and as his life heads on the path to its conclusion the reading is sometimes agonizing.  Equally painful is reading the chapters dealing with the history of the region and all of the mistakes, mishaps, and miscues going back decades that set Tillman on this collision course.

I think Krakauer is a very sharp, clear writer and his in-depth research--delineated in the back of the book--backs up the narrative.

I bought this from Amazon with a gift card and held onto it until I was basically mentally ready to read it.  Solid writing and a powerful story makes this one recommended.