Sunday, February 22, 2009

#10: Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

An aging metal star is haunted by ghosts, from his past and otherwise, in Joe Hill's chilling spook story Heart Shaped Box.

I actually started this book in 2008 but put it down three times, finally finishing it today.  I checked it out from the Farmland Public Library and, since it got where I would not read it at night, couldn't get it done in time before it was due.  The truth is I also put it down when it scared the bejeezus out of me, which was frequently. Despite its pop-culture trappings this is an old-school ghost story at heart, and therein the fright lies.  

Heart Shaped Box is the debut novel from Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King, and I'm not sure if that was supposed to be a secret at some point but a glance at his author photo and the jig's up.  He writes a bit like his dad, but I saw more of George R.R. Martin's writing there, especially The Armageddon Rag.

This is a genuinely frightening tale that I enjoyed, when I could bring myself to read it.  For fans of old school horror, from a new voice.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

#9: A Cure for Night by Justin Peacock

A big-firm lawyer, after a scandal, takes a tumble to the Brooklyn Public Defenders office, where a housing project shooting has him facing his past as well as a dangerous present.

Justin Peacock's sturdy legal thriller A Cure for Night has a splash of speedy John Grisham plotting and a dash of Scott Turow's nuanced characterizations, but Peacock's own background as a lawyer in Brooklyn is all his, and seems to ring true to me.

The story heads along its expected routes up to a surprising ending that did tie everything up nicely. This was a solid, straightforward legal thriller with its feet on the ground, and certainly to be appealing to fans of the genre.

This is Peacock's first novel, and I would read another from him. I borrowed this from Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, and read it over a couple of snowy days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

#8: Shooting Star by Robert Bloch

A literary agent and part-time private eye tries to help clear the name of a murdered cowboy star in Robert Bloch's Shooting Star, another in the admirable series of pulp reprints showcased by Hard Case Crime.

I thought Shooting Star was an enjoyable, if minor, work by Bloch (author of Psycho and more). The private eye was agreeably smart-alecky and Bloch seemed to have a good feel for Hollywood in the late 50s, the setting of this novel. There are plenty of smoldering dames and gat-wielding yeggs along the way as our tarnished protagonist gets mixed up in a "reefer" ring selling "tea" and "muggles."

I am a longtime fan of Hard Case Crime and found this to be an enjoyable outing. This one, I believe, is the first printed in that old-school "Ace Double" style, with another Bloch novel, Spiderweb, on the flip side. I will, I'm sure, start reading that one shortly.

I purchased this paperback with a Christmas gift card and chewed through it pretty quickly.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

#7: The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

One-time hotshot lawyer Mickey Haller tries to come back from an addiction problem when he inherits a slain friend's clients, including a big-time movie producer about to go on trial for double murder, in Michael Connelly's brisk legal thriller The Brass Verdict.

I find Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series, about a tarnished cop with his own code of ethics and a weighted past, to be one of the finest contemporary mystery series out there (with Walter Mosely's Easy Rawlins a close second). I have not read Connelly's off-series novels as closely, but picked this one up as Bosch has a supporting role.

Connelly writes in a clipped style that gives away his background in journalism, but writes fully-rounded characters.  I enjoyed this outing, even though Bosch had a tertiary part, and read it at a good clip.  I will probably seek out the other novel featuring Haller, The Lincoln Lawyer.

Connelly is one of my favorite mystery writers, and I think this is a solid read from him.  

I checked this out from the Farmland Public Library in Farmland, Indiana.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

#6: Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick

A doctor sets his marital problems aside to help the Earth get out of an unwinnable galactic war in Philip K. Dick's mind-boggling Now Wait for Last Year.

I find The Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep to be milestone science fiction novels, not just of Dick's work but of the genre, but the more I read of Dick the more I realize how deep his body of work goes. I finished 2008 reading Martian Time-Slip and found it to be one of Dick's finer works as well, and A Scanner Darkly remains a favorite.

Although Now Wait for Last Year treads a lot of Dick's familiar trails--everyday people caught up in huge events, time travel, drug abuse, paranoid government conspiracies, p-whipping shrews, odd robots and aliens--I found the writing to be denser and more downbeat than some of his funnier, freer works; and thus somehow more rewarding.

I read this in a very fine edition from the Library of America in their second volume of Dick's collected works. With biographical notes and comments from Jonathan Lethem (whom I am realizing, the more I read of Lethem, is a stylistic follower of Dick's), the Library of America volumes are worth picking up. I have been giving them as gifts in that way that you kind of want them for yourself. This one I checked out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Friday, February 6, 2009

#5: Steel-Jacket by Merle Constiner

Laconic gun hand helps a naive homesteader cross treacherous ground in Merle Constiner's easygoing oater Steel-Jacket.

I have come to Constiner's work lately after reading praise of him from other pulp fans. I enjoy his work, and found this one to be a cut above his usual fare. Typically Constiner has a lantern-jawed hero, a spitfire woman, and a wise older man who helps the hero, with everything snug tightly at the end.

Here, our cowpoke is more clever and funny than Constiner usually allows, giving the overall work a looser feel.

I picked this one up for a shiny quarter at an area flea market and enjoyed a quick read.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

#4: Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis

Hallucinogenic hybrid of horror, family drama, and quasi-autobiography, Lunar Park features bad boy writer Brett Easton Ellis (author of the controversial American Psycho) deciding to settle down with his movie-star wife and his (previously unclaimed) son in suburbia, only to find their house haunted and their family life deteriorating.

Reviews of Lunar Park were polarized, with some critics hating it and some loving it. I fell in the latter category, but recognize that it might not be for all tastes. There are elements of tell-all, with real people and situations depicted; but there is also skin-crawling horror, with ghosts and demons and the like popping out of the woodwork. Fellow Brat Pack writer Jay McInerney appears, and is a real person; but Ellis' wife and son aren't. The fictional killer from American Psycho appears to be on the loose as well. But real emotions, of relations between fathers and sons, of failures and regret, all ring true.

And, most surprisingly, Ellis casts himself as a weaselly a-hole throughout. The idea of the "unreliable narrator" takes on real resonance here; especially late in the book, when the continuous horrors finally causes Ellis to split into two characters, one he calls "The Author." I enjoy this type of meta storytelling and thought it was well-crafted.

Overall Lunar Park is a confounding book, but--knowing little about Ellis and having not been exposed to his previous work--I could enjoy it on its own merits. Another early front-runner in my favorites column for 2009.

I read this on a very good audio book recorded by James Van Der Beek, given to me by a friend.