Tuesday, September 29, 2009

#40: Rant by Chuck Palahniuk

Rant Casey is a mysterious hillbilly who turns out to be Patient Zero in a virulent rabies outbreak and a leading figure in a night-time car-crash ritual; when he dies in a flaming wreck, an oral history of his brief, strange life makes up the core of Chuck Palahniuk's Rant.

Initially I was a bit afraid to take on Chuck Palahniuk's dark vision but found, with Diary and Snuff (part of last year's 50 books), that he is quite a good writer, though decidedly not for all tastes. The contents of a "sex tornado," and a time travel device that is mostly used to rape, murder, and commit incest, could conceivably bring the casual reader up short.

But Palahniuk is, as usual, full of good ideas, and is a smart, literate writer; sort of a Kurt Vonnegut with the sensibilities of Howard Stern. Rant takes on more a science fiction bent than some of his other novels, though I was quite a ways into it before I realized its near-future setting, sort of a rural cyberpunk.

I bought this with a Books A Million card my daughter gave me and enjoyed it throughout, and am now trying to decide which unsuspecting friend to give it to, to turn on to Palahniuk's work.

For discerning readers up for a challenge, Chuck Palahniuk's work is quite rewarding. Recommended, with reservations.

Monday, September 28, 2009

#39: The Laughter Trap by Judson Philips

Hard-nosed journalist Peter Styles is snowed in at a ski lodge along with a cold-blooded killer and plenty of suspects in Judson Philips' The Laughter Trap, the first in the Styles series from prolific writer Philips.

Philips offers an agreeable enough thriller, plotted a bit like an Agatha Christie whodunit with a few hard edges in a Ross Macdonald vein. One curious element is that the novel is narrated by another character observing Styles' investigation, and had I not known that Styles returns in a series of other novels I would have suspected--with his obsessive tendencies and violent outbursts--that he was the killer himself. The novel is also a bit different in that although it was written in the swingin' 60s, unlike some authors of that time period Styles definitely puts himself in the Silent Majority and looks askance at some of the beatniks and hippies around him.

I ended up with two Peter Styles novels in a big chunk of pulp I landed from ebay, and though I am not driven to read the other one I am sure will turn to it one day.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

#38: Babylon Babies by Maurice G. Dantec

An Eastern European mercenary helps a young schizophrenic woman impregnated with two mysterious babies travel from Russia to Canada, along the way brushing up against the Siberian mafia, Native American hackers, Canadian biker gangs, a self-aware Artificial Intelligence, a doomsday religious cult, and more strange characters.

Maurice Dantec's baroque cyberpunk novel Babylon Babies is a dense, maddening chunk of
sci-fi, but not without its merits for patient readers. Dantec is brimming with fresh ideas, delivered in a sardonic tone, but is prone to lengthy digressions and side treks. I would recommend this to anyone who had read a lot of the sci-fi canon and would like a challenge.

The movie Babylon A.D. is a Vin Diesel action flick theoretically based on the book, though the movie has the slenderest whisper of a connection to this sprawling, chewy work.

I listened to a very good audio book version of this on loan from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

#37: To Kiss, Or Kill by Day Keene

A punch-drunk boxer from the mean streets of Chicago is fresh out of the asylum when he finds a dead blonde in his hotel in Day Keene's crackling noir To Kiss, or Kill. Soon steely cops, mouthy reporters, and bad women are all on his trail.

Dark humor and a relentless pace make this outing memorable. Keene also surprises with an upbeat ending, a rare sight to see in noir writing.

Day Keene is a current fave hardboiled writer that I only recently discovered (with Home is the Sailor being the launching point) and I am currently on the prowl for more of his work.

I snagged this one for 99 cents on my beloved Kindle.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

#36: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

A handful of murders have an antisocial hacker in common, leading her to try her clear her name even as the noose tightens in Stieg Larsson's second Swedish thriller, The Girl Who Played With Fire, published posthumously.
His first novel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was one of my favorite reads of this year, and the follow-up is not far behind. Those who enjoyed the first one will find a richer experience with the backstories of the characters in the second, but it can also more or less stand alone.
I chew through a lot of mysteries and thrillers, as loyal readers here have observed, and enjoy changing it up with Scandinavian mystery authors now and then, an increasingly popular genre in the U.S. Their storytelling has a tendency to be less linear and more ruminative, with shifting points of view. This novel is big and chunky at more than 500 pages, but reads at a good clip and is translated in a straightforward style.
I had the great fortune to be sent a copy of this novel to give away during Knopf's "Tattoo You" contest, but naturally read it before declaring the winner.