Sunday, November 27, 2011

#48: Dead Money by Ray Banks

A pair of British salesmen spend their evenings drinking and gambling and get in trouble slowly, then quickly, in Ray Banks' noir Dead Money.

Banks gives his protagonist that Jim Thompson spin that I always appreciate, where his actions make sense to him even as the repercussions for those actions grown in intensity; a classic "unreliable narrator" story often favored in crime novels.

Banks writes in a clean style, looped with inky black humor, and the plot goes at a lightning pace, heaping dread upon dread.  My only complaint is that I felt that the novel probably needed one or two more chapters to fully realize all of the plotlines set forth.

I was pleasantly surprised when I was emailed a copy of this novel for my beloved Kindle from Blasted Heath.  I have become a fan of these U.K. crime writers, quietly supplanting their Scandinavian brethren who have gotten a toehold on U.S. shores in recent years.

I will definitely look for more from Ray Banks and would recommend this to fans of the genre.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

#47: I'm Down by Mishna Wolff

Mishna Wolff grows up one of the only white kids in a black neighborhood, and then becomes one of the only poor kids at an affluent school for gifted students.  The situation is compounded by the looming shadow of her white father, an underemployed, overpowering figure who identifies solely with black culture; yet Wolff brings a sense of humor to her life story in the autobiography I'm Down.

I listened to an audiobook version read by the author, which I think added to the enjoyment as Wolff did a good job telling her story.  The reader's enjoyment will probably rest in how much they identify with Wolff and her various problems, both major and minor.

Although at times a little uneven in tone, I was compelled to find out where her story was going, from her early childhood and parents' divorce to her tween years and her father's second marriage.  Wolff has apparently led a fairly interesting life since then which I would imagine will be the subject of future volumes.

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

#46: Embassytown by China Mieville

A small human embassy on a remote alien planet welcomes a new ambassador; but a resulting faux pas almost destroys both human and alien civilizations in China Mieville's thought-provoking sci-fi novel Embassytown.

I labored long to come up with a short description of the novel and have had a hard time articulating its depth and breadth to others.  It is dense and fascinating and brimming with all kinds of original thinking, especially in terms of the nature of language and thought.

I am somewhat new to Mieville and have learned that he is part of the writing tradition called The New Weird, which is I think the hip contemporary descendant of what I called the "hippie-fi" writing of the 60s and 70s from authors like Michael Moorcock, Philip K. Dick, and Samuel R. Delany.

Mieville has also stated he would like to write a novel in every genre from western to detective to so on; to me this one hews closest to horror, and even makes an oblique reference to George Romero's zombie films.  But perhaps more so I would say Mieville is trying to capture some of the baroque nature of Delany's Dahlgren or Dick's martian novels.  Either author would probably give Embassytown a nod of approval along with a scratch of the head.

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

Embassytown has been one of my favorite reads of the year, and I would recommend it to fantasy or sci-fi fans who want a challenge.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

#45: Baby Moll by John Farris

The strong arm of an aging crime boss gets out of the racket when he meets an innocent and beautiful girl (naturally), but gets pulled back in (naturally), when a vengeful killer stalks the gang in Baby Moll by John Farris.

Baby Moll is a tough-minded entry in the very readable Hard Case Crime collection, an admirable paperback series of lost noirs and contemporary stories in a similar vein.

This one was written by John Farris, who had a lengthy career writing in a variety of pulp traditions.  What was unbelievable to find out, after a little googling, was that this novel was written basically straight out of high school.  It is hard to fathom Farris had the sophistication to write some of the sequences in the story, despite however many Mickey Spillane novels he might have read beforehand.

I got this, with no small amount of surprise, from a Dollar General spinner rack of paperbacks. 

A very sturdy entry in the series and worth a look for fans of organized crime novels in general and Hard Case Crime in particular.