Thursday, July 30, 2009

#30: The Murderer Vine by Shepard Rifkin

Slightly shady private eye is convinced to avenge the murder of several civil-rights workers in the deep South in Shepard Rifkin's sobering noir The Murderer Vine.

A long shadow is cast over the first few pages, leading relentlessly to a stark closing chapter that turns detective fiction on its cauliflower ear. Rifkin's private eye, fresh from the big city with his secretary in tow, finds the rural South and its supposed bumpkins a little harder to fathom than he thought. A lot of interesting political and social thought lifts the storytelling.

Rifkin has offered a fine, downbeat work, originally written in the 1970s and reprinted for the excellent Hard Case Crime line, a mix of pulp paperbacks featuring lost noirs and contemporary crime. This would probably be one of my favorites in the entire series, and I haven't missed many.

I read this one on my lovely Kindle and was one of the first three books I bought for this device. Recommended.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

#29: Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie

A mentally unbalanced trio of thieves inadvertently cross paths with an ex-con trying to go straight(ish) and a crooked(ish) private eye in Allan Guthrie's crisp caper novel Two-Way Split.

Guthrie name-checks old-school noir but adds his own touches of blunt humor and quirky characters. The Edinburgh setting adds interest and is also the location of another crackling crime drama from Guthrie that I read last year, Kiss Her Goodbye, which features some of the same characters.

I would easily point any Guy Ritchie movie fans towards Guthrie, or any reader who likes tough noir in a different setting. There is no doubt there is a lot of good mystery writing coming out of Europe today, at times eclipsing our homegrown scribes.

Two-Way Split has the distinction of being the first novel I read on my beloved new Kindle, and I purchased the download at the humble price of around a dollar. I consumed it over a day or so on the beach in Traverse City, Michigan, the perfect spot for reading a good pulpy outing.

I am on the prowl for more of Guthrie's fine, reverent noir writing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

#28: The Ballad of Beta-2 by Samuel R. Delany

Trippy sci-fi has student tasked with tracing a poem that originated during a star-journey in which spaceship society devolved over a generations-long flight. The student makes a space-jaunt to the fleet of supposedly junked ships and finds that they aren't quite as abandoned as he thought.

I became a big fan of Samuel R. Delany last year and keep an eye out for his work. This one was the first one I nabbed from the book-swapping site (an improvement over BookCrossing, I think, which I used to call "Book Throwing Away Club"). I swallowed this in a single gulp on a long afternoon on the beach in Traverse City, Michigan.

The Ballad of Beta-2 is an early work and, although interesting, not as fully ripened with the wild imagination of some of his later novels such as Nova and Babel-17. In fact, its brief page count means big chunks of exposition are dealt with rather briskly.

However, a lot of Delany's trademarks are here, and there are bouts of neat ideas, making it worth reading for Delany completists like myself.

Friday, July 24, 2009

#27: Go Green, Live Rich by David Bach

Interesting collection of insights about how to green your life and perhaps save/make some money at the same time. Go Green, Live Rich is a rather slender, breezy volume written with the cheery agressiveness of a lot of business books of this type.

This seems like a curious selection based on previous blog entries, and it is. I had to select a "green" book to complete the summer reading program at the Morrison-Reeves Library. I picked this one because of having some interest in green living and green applications at work and home. This very quick read had some decent takeaways; however, I wasn't convinced that if I took all my savings from going green and invested it I would become rich.

Go Green, Live Rich will provide some food for thought as a primer for green thinking, especially if the reader hasn't been exposed to the concepts before.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond Indiana and read it in a short span of lunch breaks.

Monday, July 20, 2009

#26: The Paper Pistol Contract by Philip Atlee

Nullifier Joe Gall is given the tricky assignment of spoiling a French nuclear test and pinning it on the Chinese in The Paper Pistol Contract by Philip Atlee.

Naturally, this being written in the swinging 60s, Joe leaves a little time for the ladies and to kill a Godless Communist or two. But in the end I was a bit surprised how philosophical Gall is and more surprised at a somewhat downbeat ending; in fact Gall's "contract" more or less ends in ruins, with the bodies of friends and foes alike around him.

Atlee also displays a fine, full sense of place and character that makes his writing a cut above the usual pulp fare of that era. I was genuinely pleased with the last Joe Gall adventure I read (scroll down) and will keep looking for more of Atlee's work (even as, it seems, more and more of the Gold Medal paperbacks of my youth are in landfills, or somewhere).

I bought this one in a big heaping helping of Atlee and Edward S. Aarons paperbacks from ebay and looking forward to more.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

#25: Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

A Thai cop with his own curious code of ethics (on display in Burdett's last novel with this character, Bangkok 8) intervenes when a prostitute--who works in his mother's brothel--kills an American spy. Soon our somewhat tarnished protagonist stages a coverup that draws the attention of the U.S. government, potential terrorists, and corrupt cops and soldiers.

John Burdett's writing features steel-hearted storytelling spiked with dark humor and shocking bursts of sex and violence. Plenty of Bangkok red-light adventures makes this one cautious treading for the unwary reader, but I really liked our protagonist's circuitous philosophical musings. I will be looking for the third in this series, I believe freshly released.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2009

#24: Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Billy Beane continues to spin straw into gold with the Oakland A's, a traditionally underfunded baseball team with ongoing successes. How he does so is at the center of Michael Lewis' Moneyball, an entertaining piece of reporting heavy with arcane baseball logic but leavened with interesting human interest stories.

Whether you are a hardcore baseball person or a more fair-weather dabbler like myself, Moneyball is engaging storytelling. A reader can tell that Lewis enjoyed the subject and he writes in a bright, clear style. It is interesting to see what has happened to some of the characters--I mean, actual baseball players--since the writing of the book and how the A's have fared overall.

I picked this up for a quarter at a library book sale and passed it on to another baseball fan when I was finished.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

#23: Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs, a private investigator and amateur psychologist in 1930s London, takes on the case of a missing heiress that eventually leads back to multiple murders driven by a shameful act during World War I.

This is the second of the series featuring Maisie Dobbs, and like the first has a mildly engaging mystery. But Dobbs has a great backstory; she was a poor girl who came up "in service" as a maid to a quirky mistress who later sent her to college, then later still serves as a nurse at the front in World War I, becoming wounded and then coming under the toutelage of a Poirot-like investigator and eventually taking over his practice.

Consequently, I picked up the second novel mostly to see what happened to Maisie Dobbs next, and again found the storylines from the past more compelling than the present mystery presented. I think the writing is a little more clear-eyed than what you might find in the typical English "cozy" mystery, and Winspear writes with a nuanced ear for details. This, more than any plotting, would encourage me to get the next in the series.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

#22: The Silken Baroness Contract by Philip Atlee

Secret agent Joe Gall, "The Nullifier," goes deep undercover to sort out various intrigues in the Canary Islands and elsewhere in Philip Atlee's enjoyable spy outing The Silken Baroness Contract.

As I wrote recently, I have a renewed interest (along with a fair chunk of fandom) in finding some pulpy Gold Medal books of the 50s-70s, and getting acquainted (or re-acquainting myself) with this body of work.

I had not read Atlee before and found myself pleasantly surprised. His protagonist, Joe Gall, never found a doll he didn't want to bed or a commie he didn't want to kill, but Atlee has a great sense of detail and place and passages of fine writing, as well as finely-tuned action scenes and bolts of (non-PC) humor. Gall was a more well-rounded character than I thought I would find, once you get past all of the saber-rattling (including one eyebrow-raising scene where Gall, in a steambath, kneads the stump of a Korean War vet who lost his leg).

I thought I would briefly dip into Atlee before resuming another Edward S. Aarons book, but find myself inclined to try Atlee again sooner.

I bought this book in a happily large lot of Gold Medal paperbacks from ebay.