Thursday, October 14, 2021

#50: The Darkness Knows by Arnaldur Indridason

A body shows up in the ice melt of a glacier, and a retired Reykjavik police detective starts to try again to finish out a long-unsolved case, in Arnaldur Indridason's The Darkness Knows.

Indridason is one of my favorite crime writers, not just one of my favorite Scandinavian authors.  His Erlendur novels, beginning with Jar City, are all strong.

This is the second novel featuring Konrad, the retired detective, following on The Shadow District.  Some of his own sometimes troubling backstory comes out more in this one, and a third seems likely in the offing as his father's murder (a part of both novels) still remains unsolved at the end.

The Darkness Knows is a very solidly-assembled puzzle with interesting characters and situations, and that dash of inky blackness known to fans of Scandinavian noir.

I got this from New Castle-Henry County Public Library and read it steadily.

Monday, October 11, 2021

#49: Time Clock of Death by Nick Carter

The Russians blame the Americans for a stolen Russian plane, so Killmaster Nick Carter swings into action to find out where it really went in Time Clock of Death.

This edition of the long-running spy series comes from the early 70s and was written by George Snyder, who chopped away at all kinds of men's adventure and western novels.  

I have been doing a casual re-read of some of the series, which I loved as a teenager, and I especially remember having this one from the curious title.  I'm surprised I don't remember more of it, as it opens with a woman getting shot while having sex with Nick Carter, and I think that would have stuck in my teenaged brain.

From there Nick Carter teams up with a sexy female agent to hunt "The Colonel," ending up at a Bond-style castle on an island filled with traps and shenanigans.  A leather-clad, whip-wielding villainess and her army of female bodyguards are also right out of this era of Bond villainy.  

Sits squarely in a less sophisticated era of race and gender relations, but a solid (though unremarkable) spy outing.

I got this from a big stack of Nick Carter books I got somewhere and read this quickly on a camping trip, the best possible way to consume it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

#48: A Man Named Doll by Jonathan Ames

 A former cop turned private eye is chucked headfirst into dangerous waters when another retired cop shows up needing a kidney in Jonathan Ames' violent, loopy detective novel A Man Named Doll.

Ames has an eclectic bibliography, but this one veers closer to his comedy-flavored private eye TV show Bored to Death.  

There is plenty of action, and our protagonist is responsible for lots of (accidental) deaths, but the core of it is pretty dark humor.  Doll gets colossally, somewhat accidentally, stoned during long passages of the novel in which he is in immense danger, which is quite funny.

Ames writes a solid detective novel with a lot of twists and turns and a likeable protagonist; it is apparently the first of a new series, and I am looking forward to the next.

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

Thursday, September 23, 2021

#47: Faithful Place by Tana French

A cop returns to the old neighborhood when the body of his lost love is found, triggering buried secrets, in Tana French's Faithful Place, part of her Dublin Murder Squad series.

The cop reluctantly reconnects with his brothers, sisters, and parents, whose fractured family dynamics--the father is a dangerous alcoholic--had driven him away several decades before.  But another killing, much closer to his family center, forces him to stay and try to find out what happened to both people.

I had seen the first season of the TV show but not read the related novels; though the connections between the novels are somewhat tenuous, with minor characters in previous books becoming main protagonists in subsequent ones.

French's strengths are her writing about the family, and the deep psychological trauma that spins out from the poisonous center.  Her sense of place--so to speak--in this case a working-class neighborhood, adds value.

My wife is a big fan of French, but this is the first I've read.  I listened to a very good audiobook reading by Tim Gerard Reynolds.  I will definitely look for more of her writing.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

#46: Ride Reckless by Marshall Grover

Two easygoing, but deadly, Texas cowpokes drift into a town ready to explode after a prospector hides a fortune in gold--and promptly dies--in Marshall Grover's Ride Reckless.

Grover was Australian Leonard Meares, who wrote literally hundreds of fast-paced westerns over several decades.  Somewhat inexplicably he is called Marshall McCoy in the States, and his two laconic protagonists Larry and Stretch are called Larry and Streak.  

Under either name, Larry and Streak take a bit of a backseat to a story about a western town under the thrall of a criminally-inclined mayor and a crooked sheriff.  The arrival of a crotchety old lady--who is the mother of the town lawyer's wife--and the niece of the dead prospector--conveniently married to a town-taming lawman--sets the whole machine of the narrative running.

Larry and Streak are a bit of a comedic Greek chorus, with the added benefit of fist fights and gun play when the story needs moving along.

I find Grover's books fast and easy reading; I knocked this one out on a weekend camping trip, and would recommend Larry and Streak to any western fans.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

#45: The Guide by Peter Heller

A fishing guide tries to reconcile his unsettling past by taking a job at a remote fishing lodge for affluent patrons, but almost immediately discovers all is not what it seems to be, in Peter Heller's The Guide.

The guide quickly finds an ally in a pop singer who has her own reasons for being there as a guest, and in short order the two are thrown together in an ever-tightening noose.

I found the thriller aspect to be compelling without being surprising, but the nature writing--with long passages about fly fishing and being in the wilderness--to be superb.  It is easy for a reader to see that Heller has a background in the outdoor lifestyle, and it makes great writing.

Heller's post-apocalyptic novel The Dog Stars is one of my favorites of the last several years and I was happy to come across this one at the public library.  

I was compelled to read this very quickly and thought the writing and storytelling were crisp throughout.  Recommended for thriller readers.


Saturday, August 28, 2021

#44: The Valdez Horses by Lee Hoffman

An aspiring young cowhand forms an uneasy friendship with an older, expert horse breeder with a troubling inner life in Lee Hoffman's The Valdez Horses.

I discovered Hoffman for the first time earlier this summer, finding a book of hers in a Little Free Library while camping in Michigan.  I immediately sought out what is considered her masterwork, this novel, right after.

This book was popular enough that it became the movie Chino starring Charles Bronson, but Hoffman wasn't on my radar nor seems to be on the radar of a lot of readers.  A shame, because this is another very solid western whose psychological elements outweigh the trappings of a standard oater.

The Valdez Horses has a very bleak ending, with a surprising uptick of hope in literally the last few words.  Just really solid writing that plumbs a lot of emotional depths.

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

Saturday, August 14, 2021

#43: The Hollywood Spiral by Paul Neilan

An old-fashioned private eye in a near-future L.A. hunts a missing woman in Paul Neilan's The Hollywood Spiral.

Our throwback gumshoe crosses paths with organized crime, street gangs, a doomsday cult, and various factions serving the Grid, a hybrid of Big Brother and social media influencers about to be potentially disrupted by a program called Mirror, Mirror.

Written in a literary fashion--visits to a bizarre stand-up comedy bar, and to a dying mentor remembering surreal childhood traumas, both resonate--but the world-building isn't particularly ground-breaking.  A kind of bleak, hazy ending doesn't add value.

This is Neilan's second novel, with about a decade in between.  It's a solid dystopian read that doesn't hold a lot of surprises but kept me entertained.

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

Sunday, August 8, 2021

#42: West of Cheyenne by Lee Hoffman

A Civil War vet goes looking for his brother, only to find him dead under suspicious circumstances and his widow (and her farm) under siege in Lee Hoffman's West of Cheyenne.

I picked this up from a Little Free Library in Angola, Indiana to read on a camping trip and was genuinely surprised by the novel.  

The plot is somewhat of a standard oater, with a quickly-resolved ending, but the protagonist is especially finely shaded for a western written in the late 60s.  He's a troubled, emotionally scarred person obviously suffering from what we would now call PTSD, and it makes for a more well-rounded story.

I was also surprised to find that Lee Hoffman was really Shirley Hoffman, a well-known figure in science fiction fandom who wrote westerns, sci-fi, and romances (as Georgia York).  She edited her own magazines dedicated to sci-fi and also folk music.

West of Cheyenne was a cut above the standard western and recommended for those who haven't tried Hoffman's writing.  I'm going hunting for more.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

#41: Duel for Cannons by Dane Hartman

Dirty Harry lets the bullets fly when a Texas lawman friend is killed by an assassin in Duel for Cannons, the first in the 80s  paperback spin-off series from the films, .

The novels are all credited to "Dane Hartman," but this is by Ric Meyers, who has written all kinds of things from non-fiction about martial arts to comic books to various paperback genres.  Various others tackled Dirty Harry under the Hartman name as well, but I was glad to find this was by Meyers, whose work I have read before.

I was very mixed about Duel for Cannons; there were a lot of clever touches, like a vegetarian villain, and some set pieces around San Antonio, but there was a lot of dumb plotting, like a guy picking up a prop gun on a movie set and thinking it had real bullets.  

There is also sort of a general unpleasantness about it, with Dirty Harry solving even modest conflict by shooting people dead.  Overall, though, Meyers writes an accurate Dirty Harry and sets it in the world of the films.

I know these paperbacks are somewhat collectible, but this one I bought for a dollar at a junk shop, read in a single day camping, and left at a Little Free Library.  For undiscriminating fans of the movies.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

#40: The Hang-Up Kid by Carter Brown

Swingin' Hollywood P.I. Rick Holman tries to help a morose film star whose Astrology signs point to his murder in Carter Brown's The Hang-Up Kid.

Carter Brown was Australian author Alan Yates, who wrote hundreds and hundreds of paperbacks from the 50s-80s and could have written thousands probably if he hadn't died fairly young.

Holman figures out that there might be a good reason the film star is afraid of being killed, and it might have something to do with a car accident that killed his wife.

This one was written in 1970, and has all the plotting and characterization of that era, some of which doesn't jibe with contemporary tastes.  

Obviously Brown wrote lickety-split, and this one shows, as the plot is fairly quippy and not overly demanding.

I grabbed this at a rummage sale for a quarter and read it in a single day camping, then left it at a Little Free Library.  I think Carter Brown is good for exactly this kind of thing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

#39: Assassin: Code Name Vulture by Nick Carter

Killmaster Nick Carter loses a friend to a suspicious plane accident (that he himself walks away from), only to learn the friend had found out about a coup attempt growing in Greece, in Nick Carter's Assassin: Code Name Vulture.

I have recently, perhaps whimsically, been revisiting this fave spy series of my teen years.  This one, by veteran paperback scribe Ralph Hayes, is a decent enough second-tier spy novel.  

Carter finds out there is an affluent businessman apparently pulling the strings on the coup, but quickly learns that the real person has been kidnapped and replaced, with plenty of action forthcoming.

I think my biggest problem with this one, and it's not Hayes' fault, is the back copy, which promises an assassin with mechanical claws (there aren't any claws) named The Vulture (he is only called A vulture, not THE Vulture, and that's not until the end) and a bizarre double (it's just two brothers that look alike).

I got this in a big stack of Nick Carters somewhere and, fittingly, read it in a single day camping in Michigan.

Monday, July 19, 2021

#38: Guns of Durango by Lou Cameron

 A frontier doctor gets into a lot of bloody confrontations trying to clear his name in Lou Cameron's Guns of Durango.

Cameron was a prolific writer across a number of genres but was perhaps best known for creating the "Longarm" adult western series, as well as a number of film and television novelizations.

Guns of Durango is written in a humorous first-person dialect which mixes light comedic undertones with plenty of western action.  

Our wry protagonist is trying to find his former military commander, who could clear him of the false charge of desertion during the Civil War; but that former commander has unfortunately gotten mixed up in the Mexican Revolution, with a lot of hard road filled with hostile Indians between the two men.

There seems to be a lot of Lou Cameron fans out there, though I had not dipped much of a toe into his work; but this was full of energy and fun, and I should go looking for more.

I picked this up at a yard sale for a quarter, read it in a single day camping in Michigan and was very satisfied, then left it in a Little Free Library.  Recommended for western fans.

Friday, July 16, 2021

#37: Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

 A gay, mixed-race couple is murdered, and a biker gang is involved; to the gang's great misfortune, the fathers of both men are ex-cons with murderous histories in S.A. Cosby's Razorblade Tears.

One of the fathers is trying to stay out of trouble, the other isn't trying very hard; both agree to basically a suicide pact to stop at nothing until the killers of their sons are in the ground.  

And they don't take their promise lightly, with plenty of broken bones, gun and knife wounds (fatal and mostly fatal), and the liberal use of equipment and materials from one of the father's lawn care service all in play.

This is as tough a noir as you can find, with flashes of humor but a bleak undertone; if it wasn't for all the frank discussion of race, gender, and sexuality, it would fit squarely in a 1950s spinner rack full of Gold Medal paperbacks.

I thought Cosby's first novel, Blacktop Wasteland--full of muscle cars and antiheroes--was one of the best reads I'd found in a while, but this one is even better.  

I also thought though the first seemed ready-built for the movies, this one was even more so, with a graveside coda that seems right out of a screenplay.  I wouldn't be surprised to see either at the multiplex one day.

Recommended, especially for fans of hard-boiled contemporary noir.

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

#36: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quintin Tarantino

 A fading cowboy star, with his laconic stuntman in tow, turns to television as Hollywood begins to change in Quintin Tarantino's novelization of his film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

There's a lot of buzz around Tarantino's book, cleverly published as a cheap paperback with the stylings of that era.  It's both an expansion and a reimagining of the movie, with the bloody denouement of the film basically dismissed and long noodlings about Tarantino's classic film and television interests expanded.

My mileage with Tarantino really varies; for instance, in his film The Hateful Eight, I loved the spaghetti western influences from The Great Silence to including Morricone; but disliked the the constant punching of Jennifer Jason Leigh in the face for what I thought was humorous intent.  

I actually liked a lot of the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood film, but again was confounded by a couple of choices.

Same with this novel; lots of neat digressions and and musings on movies, but also some maddening elements, like a kind of unpleasant revision of the Brad Pitt character as well as Tarantino's long-standing insistence on being politically incorrect in various ways.

If you're a fan of Tarantino or the movie, it's a must-read; I think most casual readers who don't have an opinion on Tarantino might find their mileage varies.

I pre-ordered this from Amazon and read it quickly.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

#35: The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu by Tom Lin

Ming Tsu is a Chinese orphan, raised to be a killer, who marries a white woman and sets out to go straight; but when she is kidnapped, and he is conscripted into building the railroads going westward, nothing but revenge is on his mind in Tom Lin's debut The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu.

Lin writes an offbeat genre-bender; it starts off as a pretty bleak western, with a high body count of men and horses, but takes a turn into the supernatural when Ming Tsu meets up with a blind prophet and a traveling sideshow of people with varying powers (from shape-shifting to pyrokinesis).  There are also intelligent animals and at least two characters seemingly raised from the dead.

Although there is a lot of heavy foreshadowing, a grim and bloody finale still surprises.  

Lyrically written, but doesn't fit in a single groove; for very discerning fans of traditional westerns, or for fantasy fans who don't mind a lot of cowboys.

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

Monday, June 28, 2021

#34: Ice Bomb Zero by Nick Carter

Killmaster Nick Carter hunts for a secret Chinese base in the Arctic, with a sexy Russian spy (there never seems to be any homely ones) as a lover and rival, in Ice Bomb Zero.

Ice Bomb Zero is part of a casual re-read I have been doing of this long-running series, which I consumed voraciously as a teen.  I picked this one by George Snyder, as he seems to be one of the pseudonymous authors favored by other readers.  Snyder had a long career as a scribe of burly men's adventure and, late in life, westerns.

This is a perfectly agreeable but unremarkable spy outing from the early 70s, with race and sexual relations not portrayed in a particularly nuanced way, as one might suspect.  The finale in the underground base unravels quickly at sort of a mid-range Roger Moore level.

The closeness in title to the popular Alistair MacLean novel Ice Station Zebra doesn't pass without notice.

I liked George Snyder's take on Nick Carter perfectly fine and would seek out another of his books.

I got this in a big lot of Nick Carters and read quickly.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

#33: The Summer of Kim Novak by Hakan Nesser

In early 60s Sweden, two teenage boys plan to spend an idyllic summer at a ramshackle lake cabin, but the real world intrudes with a mysterious murder in Hakan Nesser's The Summer of Kim Novak.

Nesser has written a popular series of police procedurals over the years; but this novel is a departure, more of a coming-of-age story and a portrait of Swedish life, with the murder unsolved but wrapped up rather enigmatically in the denouement.

Although the teens swim, bicycle, and meet girls (including the one from the title, a substitute teacher at the school who looks like Kim Novak and ends up dating an older brother), the storytelling is infused with melancholy and dread.  One kids' mom is an alcoholic, and his dad abusive; the other's mother is terminally ill.  The wide cast of characters include people on the margins, for various reasons.  The tension cranks up when the older brother is accused of the murder.

As much an exercise in literary fiction as a mystery; worthwhile for fans of either.

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

Friday, June 25, 2021

#32: The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

An army investigator returns from overseas and heads into the hills of Kentucky to help his sister, a local sheriff, while trying to save his fractured marriage in Chris Offut's tough-minded rural noir The Killing Hills.

A woman's murder, her body found at a remote location, sets off a chain of retribution through the community that puts our protagonist square in the center.

Offutt writes with the authenticity of having grown up in this environment, with scenes that range from sorrowful to surreal to super-charged with danger.

This novel will undoubtedly be compared to Elmore Leonard's Raylan Givens stories (and accompanying television show Justified), but where Raylan Givens seems to easily master his environment, Mick Hardin is subsumed and overcome by it, leading to a melancholy coda.

The Killing Hills is a literate, fast-paced story with memorable characters and situations; recommended for crime fans.

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

Monday, June 14, 2021

#31: Lesson in Red by Maria Hummel

Maggie Richter is a writer/editor at a floundering art museum in L.A., from which she is on leave after helping solve an artist's murder; but the apparent suicide of a rising student artist at a top-flight L.A. art school puts her back in the mix in Maria Hummel's explosive novel Lesson in Red.

Hummel's first novel with Maggie Richter, Still Lives, was a literate thriller with a corrosive take on the art world; this one punches even harder in the underlying discussion of women in that culture.

I enjoyed this novel, but I suspect it was helped by the fact that I finished Hummel's first novel very recently.  The events of Still Lives are so closely ingrained in Lesson in Red that I don't think it would be as rewarding reading as a standalone.  And in fact there are still a number of plot threads from the first book--specifically the unusual death of one of the character's brother--that seem to be obvious fodder to make this a trilogy. 

Both of Hummel's books are hitting enough Book Clubs as to give her the chance to write another one, and I hope she does.  Recommended for those who have already read Still Lives.

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

Monday, May 31, 2021

#30: Northern Spy by Flynn Berry

A BBC radio producer in Belfast sees on television that her sister appears to be part of an IRA terrorist cell, and ends up in extreme danger learning how and why, in Flynn Berry's Northern Spy.

The latest from Berry has all of her hallmarks; it's a high-octane thriller set against the backdrop of family dynamics, with a sudden, explosive climax.  

I have liked all three of Berry's novels, which I read this year almost back to back, but the political background adds value to the storytelling in this case.  

And the words "page turning" is thrown around a lot, but this one genuinely is, as the last chapters really kept me glued to the fate of the protagonist, a single mom trying to help her sister while keeping her son and her mother out of harm's way.

Reese Witherspoon and I both recommend this one.  I checked it out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and read it very quickly.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

#29: Still Lives by Maria Hummel

 A failing art museum is pinning its hopes on a challenging art show featuring paintings of murdered LA women; but when the artist disappears on the night of the opening, the stakes become even higher in Maria Hummel's Still Lives.

Hummel writes a highly literary thriller that is as much a searing indictment on the California art scene as it is a mystery.  In fact, our protagonist--a writer/editor at the museum with a background in investigative journalism, which she left after a traumatic experience--doesn't really knuckle down and get into finding the artist until about halfway through.

Hummel's background seems to be literary fiction, and she is a professor of English, but even though there are highly interesting characters and relationships and vivid writing,  it is in the end just a crackling good thriller.  It's rare that I have trouble putting a book down, but the last fifty pages or so had me locked in.

I really enjoyed this book and will recommend it readily.

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

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

#28: Pursuit of the Eagle by Nick Carter

 Killmaster Nick Carter is tracking an intelligent dog (!) when he finds what looks to be a missing American plane, and is soon on the trail of a kidnapped scientist in Pursuit of the Eagle.

This novel is part of my careful re-read of a favorite series as a youth, before I knew that Nick Carter wasn't a real person but a full slate of authors of various abilities.  I selected this one because it was written by Gayle Lynds, a thriller writer whose work I also read steadily--under her own name--as a young man.

This is a meat-and-potatoes thriller, but feels kind of low-stakes, with Carter being chased by Bulgarian spies and a not particularly adept German terrorist group while being helped by a Macedonian freedom fighter and a jolly French spy.

The mid-80s Eastern European politics seems about right, and the action comes steadily, so a solid entry for fans of the series.  Lynds wrote a handful of these--as did her husband, Dennis Lynds--and I would read another if I found one.

I've been steadily picking these Nick Carter books up here and there and read this one quickly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

#27: A Double Life by Flynn Berry

A child survives a murderous night in her own home, and her affluent father disappears afterwards and becomes the prime suspect; as an adult, she tries to find out if he is dead or alive, and uncovers a wide-ranging connection to his upper-crust friends in Flynn Berry's A Double Life.

This is Berry's follow-up to the superb Under the Harrow, and I picked this one up quickly thereafter because I enjoyed the first so much.  I think this novel suffers a bit from such close comparison; both feature a troubled protagonist, and a close family member with hidden motives.  The denouement here unravels very quickly, and is not quite as satisfying.

But A Double Life is still a cut above the standard thriller fare, and I am sure I will continue to read Berry's work.

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

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

#26: Northern Heist by Richard O'Rawe

A gang of robbers knock over a Belfast bank, and soon have the cops and the IRA out hunting them, in Richard O'Rawe's Northern Heist.

This is O'Rawe's first foray into fiction after writing several nonfiction accounts based around his own experiences in the IRA.  Northern Heist is a bit of both, fictionalized but based on a true-life large-scale bank robbery in Belfast in the early 2000s.

Of course, there is almost immediately double-crossings, close calls, and other shenanigans, otherwise it would be a short story and not a novel.

O'Rawe writes a very hard-boiled heist novel, and hits all the right beats on par with a Donald Westlake outing.  

I thought the biggest shortcoming is O'Rawe invites the reader to root for the main characters, which I struggled with when they kidnapped two families and terrorized them, forcing two bank employees to carry out the biggest aspect of the heist (called a "tiger kidnapping").

A good heist novel overall, for fans of this type of fiction.

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