Sunday, December 30, 2012

#50: Treasure Island by Sara Levine

An aimless young woman finds renewed purpose--sort of--when she begins reading Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, much to the consternation of family and friends, in Sara Levine's novel of the same name (plus a few exclamation points, which Blogger would not let me include in the header).

After barely skidding into 50 books at the end of the year by reading a couple of short pulp novels I decided I would end strong with this more literary volume, which I picked up at a literature conference my wife attended in North Carolina.

The reader's enjoyment of this funny, dark novel will depend on your tolerance for an unpleasant, sometimes morally repugnant main character who is constantly thwarting the best intentions of those around her for her own ends. 

But even with a deeply flawed protagonist I enjoyed Levine's novel quite a bit, and found many laugh-out-loud moments, buoyed by good writing throughout.  A good way to end 2012 and recommended for fans of slacker lit.

Friday, December 28, 2012

#49: Massacre River by John Benteen

Gun-for-hire Neal Fargo is tasked to take a Chinese bride in an arranged marriage to her new husband at a remote Philippine stronghold, battling headhunters, revolutionaries, and other bad seeds along the way in John Benteen's Massacre River.

John Benteen wrote prolifically in the 60s and 70s, primarily in the Western and what is sometimes called Men's Adventure genres.  These burly novels follow a cold-blooded turn-of-the-century fortune hunter and thus probably fall more into the latter category (though the covers would often make you think otherwise).

I found this entry fast-moving and enjoyable, although definitely not nuanced in terms of gender and race as might be expected by contemporary audiences. 

I began and ended it over a snowy day or so from a big stack I got at goodbye prices at a local flea market.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

#48: The Dead Woman by David McAfee

Matt Cahill once died and came back with the ability to see evil, which he disposes of with his grandfather's axe; naturally this makes one tend to be a drifter, and Cahill wanders into the path of a serial killer in The Dead Woman, another entry in the Dead Man ebook series.

This television-sized premise has carried through a growing number of slender volumes, and this is the first one that struck me as rather flat.  Although sparked by Cahill meeting a small-town woman with the same powers (though used with more mysterious motives), overall the storyline went pretty much where the reader thinks.  The others I have read in the series have been livened with tongue somewhat in cheek, which might have helped the proceedings here.

But The Dead Woman is a decent horror read as part of what is becoming an interesting series.  I consumed it quickly during a snowbound holiday.

#47: Operation Fireball by Dan J. Marlowe

Drake is "The Man with Nobody's Face," a tough criminally-minded type who runs various operations for his own ends.  In Operation Fireball, Drake reluctantly joins up with a motley band to steal some money out of 1960s Cuba by, surprisingly read with a contemporary eye, sneaking in and out via Gitmo.

Dan J. Marlowe is a fan favorite pulp author, though I have not read any of his work before finding this for my beloved Kindle from Prologue Books.  Marlowe's life seems to have been about as interesting as any of his novels, which are reported to vary wildly in quality.

The Drake series is from the end of his career and is met with mixed reviews in general.  I found this one to be strongly reminiscent of Richard Stark's Parker series, although this has a little more of a spy feel, and Drake has a love interest (which Parker seems to have little time for).   But I liked this one well enough that I will look for more from Marlowe.

#46: Death Match by Christa Faust

Matt Cahill died and came back to life with the ability to see evil everywhere; now, with his trusty axe, he travels the country chasing an elusive quarry in the Dead Man ebook series.  In this outing, by Christa Faust, Cahill stumbles across the death matches of the title, sinister fights being staged by an affluent man for his own amusement.

I picked this one up because I enjoyed Faust's Hard Case Crime novel Money Shot, and found this to be an action-packed, inky-humored, fairly gore-soaked entry in the series.  Faust rather gamely tries to tie this novel into the series (including the first one I read, Blood Mesa), but it can be read on its own merits as a quick read on a snowbound day.

This ebook is the first that I borrowed from the Kindle Lending Library for my new Kindle Fire, and I consumed it quickly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

#45: Alaska Steel by John Benteen

Adventurer for hire Neal Fargo is working in early Hollywood silent movies when a starlet convinces him to accompany her to Alaska to look for a wayward, prospecting husband.  In short order they are knee deep in snow and villains in John Benteen's Alaska Steel.

Alaska Steel is in Benteen's Fargo series, which at first glance appears to be a Western but is really more accurately Men's Adventure, a category of the rough-and-tumble pulp of the 60s and 70s where men were men and guns were well described.

I have liked everything I have come across by Benteen, even though his writing is definitely a product of its time.  This one features several scenes that would be objectionable by contemporary standards whereas a good smack and some rough lovemaking can cure most of a woman's ills.

But the writing is tough and crisp and the adventure fast-moving.  I bought this in a big handful of Fargo novels at a flea market and consumed this one quickly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

#44: The Cutman by Mel Odom and Jack Tunney

A sailor docks in pre-Castro Havana and quickly falls in with a Latin beauty, and runs afoul of local mobsters, in Jack Tunney's The Cutman, the second entry in the Fight Card ebook series.

The Fight Card series emulates the pulpy boxing novels of the Golden Age of paperbacks and boxing magazines, and this volume (penned by Mel Odom under the house pseudonym) is a particularly rollicking entry chockablock full of action. 

Our protagonist (the brother of the lead in Felony Fists, which is a tenuous enough tie between the novels) is a bare-knuckle brawler who, through circumstance, ends up having to fight a superior boxer in a winner-take-all match set up by the ship's crew and the mob muscling into Cuba.  The story pretty much hits the points you would imagine, but is ultimately a satisfying read.

I have been enjoying these Fight Card novels for my beloved Kindle and will seek out more of them as they come out.

#43: The Motive by John Lescroat

A fire rips through one of San Francisco's legendary "painted lady" homes, and when the smoke clears a murdered couple is found inside in John Lescroat's courtroom thriller The Motive.

I have enjoyed reading Lescroat's series, which alternates between a lawyer and a policeman as main characters, but never really seek out the latest one like I would Walter Mosley or Michael Connelly.  This one was loaned to me on audiobook by a friend, and I enjoyed the solidly plotted outing.

Here the lawyer, Dismas Hardy, agrees to defend a former girlfriend in the arson/murder, which he begins to regret as the case goes from largely circumstantial to squeezing the accused tighter and tighter as more of the story unfolds.  Another cop with a grudge against Hardy complicates matters before all is wrapped up in a somewhat surprising denouement.

Good overall, with additional backstory for fans of the series; others can enjoy it as a standalone legal thriller.

Monday, November 26, 2012

#42: Felony Fists by Paul Bishop and Jack Tunney

In the 1950s, a beat cop and amateur boxer helps LA's notorious Hat Squad detectives bring down a crime kingpin in Jack Tunney's initial entry in the Fight Card ebook series, Felony Fists.

The Fight Card series is harking back to the pulp novels, specifically the boxing novels, of yore and does an admirable job with a quick, muscular read.  Jack Tunney is the house pseudonym for a bevy of writers, with Paul Bishop at the helm for this one.

Bishop hits the standard beats as our protagonist rises from an orphanage, where he was taught boxing (naturally), to being a warm-hearted cop in a bad neighborhood, on up to being the underdog in a big fight.

Felony Fists is enjoyable yet undemanding, but I will certainly grab the next one in the series.

I got this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

#41: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

A giant meteor is going to destroy Earth in a few months; in the meantime, a solitary policeman in a small town continues to try to hold out order against the chaos in Ben Winters' effective end-of-the world crime novel The Last Policeman.

Winters' protagonist figures out that a local suicide--one among many happening by the score across the globe--was actually a murder, and decides to solve it despite a general indifference by his colleagues and a continuing weakening of the social structure.

Satisfying as both an apocalyptic novel and a good police procedural, Winters also features an interesting lead character whose backstory is teased out slowly throughout.  There is enough left unsaid to warrant at least one more sequel (the meteor still being a ways off at the end of the story), and I will seek it out when it is released.

I bought this from Amazon because the author is the cousin of my wife's friend, if that isn't a convoluted enough reason, and found this to be a really good surprise.  Recommended for fans of both genres.

Monday, November 19, 2012

#40: Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson

Two young people are killed while ice-diving towards a mysterious wreck, drawing a prosecutor and a detective into a case which has been covered up since the end of World War II, in Asa Larsson's Until Thy Wrath Be Past.

I am a fan of Larsson's work and her dual protagonists, Rebeckah Martinsson and Anna-Maria Mella, a lawyer and police detective, respectively, who both have complex personal lives that have evolved during the series.  Her novels take place in a small Swedish town, seemingly perpetually encased in ice and snow, which is nonetheless not immune to grisly crimes.

This novel is a bit different than some of her others in that it deals with guilt over Nazi collaborations (a common theme in a lot of Scandinavian crime novels, it seems) and also features a ghost as a sort of omniscient narrator, an unusual touch.

I always seek out Larsson's books when they come out and think that have been, for the most part, quite good.  Recommended for fans of Scandinavian mysteries especially.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

#39: Wagons East by George G. Gilman

Laconic drifter Adam Steele comes across a group of young couples outrunning a secret in George G. Gilman's Wagons East.

Adam Steele is Gilman's lesser-known Western character after Edge, the star of a long string of violent western paperbacks in the 60s and 70s.  I picked up an Edge book after seeing them promoted ceaselessly in the backs of other paperbacks, but found it rather unpleasant and written in an unusual style.

Steele seems to be more of a traditional western hero, and the plot of this one holds few surprises as well.  Steele, although not as well recognized today as Edge, still managed to star in close to 50 of his own titles, so readers were finding and apparently enjoying him.

I again had trouble adjusting to Gilman's writing, written in a staccato style and featuring lots of quips and puns.  I think I will have to try a larger sampling size before deciding what I think of Gilman's work.

I bought this in a large stack of goodbye paperbacks at a flea market in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

#38: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

This Is How You Lose Her is a much-anticipated series of connected short stories from Junot Diaz, whose novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was a critical success and a personal favorite of mine.

These stories feature the same protagonist, a funny, edgy narrator who nonetheless picks up and discards women at a steady rate.  I enjoyed the short stories, but missed some of the elements of the first novel, including Oscar Wao himself, a D&D-loving nebbish (who I could relate to a little easier than his smooth friend Yunior who holds up this collection).

Although I wouldn't rate This Is How You Lose Her as highly as Wao I did enjoy this work, although I suspect some might enjoy it more than myself.

I actually nabbed this at the Penguin booth at a literary conference my wife was attending and read it in a single day (and then immediately gave it to someone else who wanted to read it as badly).  Recommended for fans of the first novel.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

#37: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

A flu bug wipes out most of the United States, leaving society stripped to its basest form; some years later, a lonely pilot, his trusted dog, and his slightly less trustworthy heavily-armed friend contemplate what's next in Peter Heller's The Dog Stars.

My short review would be that if you love dogs, and you love the Apocalypse, you should definitely check out Heller's freshman work.  In its muscular writing style that favors the outdoors it probably reminds me of a slightly more upbeat version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but Heller's book has merits all its own.

Our melancholy protagonist is hunkered down at an airport, thinking about a long-ago signal he heard from another control tower.  His eventual decision to begin a journey to follow that voice, even if it leads to his doom in the wider world, makes up the bulk of the story.

I have already recommended this to several people and, despite some genre overtones, would recommend this to anyone interested in general fiction.

I bought this with some birthday money from Amazon and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

#36: Easy Money by Jens Lapidus

Three criminals--a middle-class youth who enters the world of high-rollers through selling coke, a young Latin man who escapes from prison after being framed in a drug bust, and a Yugoslavian mob enforcer trying to keep custody of his daughter--cross and re-cross each other's paths in the Stockholm underworld in Jens Lapidus' Easy Money.

I have found a taste for Scandinavian mysteries, but this one reads like straight-up George Pelecanos, a hip, gritty urban thriller.  Lapidus' energetic sketches of Swedish life from the indolent jet-setters on down to the immigrant taxi drivers showed me a side of that country I had not seen in other writers from Scandinavia.

For better or worse, Lapidus dispatches with a lot of the gloom common to these mysteries and writes a very American-style thriller that is the equal to his U.S. counterparts.  How the disparate storylines dovetail in a cold-blooded finale is especially admirable.

For those fishing around for something new after finishing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy would do well by digging this one out. Recommended.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

#35: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

Roland the Gunslinger finds two unlikely companions--a drug addict and a schizophrenic paraplegic--in his quest to hunt the Dark Tower in Stephen King's second book in the series, The Drawing of the Three.

Stephen King's dark fantasy series The Dark Tower has attracted a lot of readers over the years, but after I tried the first volume, The Gunslinger, I wasn't particularly compelled to keep reading.  I thought I would give it another go after finding it on audio book at the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

The Drawing of the Three is a big novel in which it seems the overall Dark Tower storyline only inches ahead a fraction.  In my mind, a more detailed description of the plot wouldn't include much more than what I wrote in the first sentence.  I wonder if it is a transitional novel between the first book, which almost could stand alone, and the rest of the series.

But, like a lot of King's work, it is readable enough, and certainly has its fans.  There was enough interesting writing that I will probably look for the third volume at a later date.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#34: Draw Down the Lightning by Ben Bridges

Gun-for-hire O'Brien gets involved with a fiery ranch widow (is there any other kind?) and a heap of varmints angling for her herd in Ben Bridges' brawny western Draw Down the Lightning.

Bridges is a contemporary scribe from a group of British writers who favor American Westerns (collectively called The Piccadilly Cowboys), who can trace their roots back to George G. Gilman and others.

Amazon is constantly suggesting I buy one of Bridges' novels for my beloved Kindle, so I selected this one based on the title alone (Bridges seems to be re-issuing his work and the work of others for ebook at a rapid rate, so there were plenty to choose from).  I found it to be a solid, enjoyable Western with plenty of action and some unique storytelling elements (including the breeding of the widow's herd).

I would definitely look for more work from Ben Bridges and his British counterparts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

#33: Bay Prowler by Mike Barry

Wulff is an ex-cop and former Vietnam vet driven over the edge when his girlfriend is killed by drug dealers; now his one-man war against the drug trade takes him to San Francisco in Mike Barry's Bay Prowler.

Barry (actually author Barry Malzberg) wrote a big chunk of these Lone Wolf Men's Adventure novels at a blistering pace in the 1970s.

This follow-up to Night Raider misses the decaying New York setting brought so vividly to life in the first novel but benefits from introducing a young girl, in the clutches of addiction, who (mistakenly) sees Wulff as an avenging angel.  A slam-bang ending on a burning ship is also a highlight.

Although not as strong as the first novel, Bay Prowler is pretty grim and gritty, and interested me enough to download the third volume from Prologue Books for my beloved Kindle.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

#32: The Game-Players of Titan by Philip K. Dick

A Chinese nuke depopulates Earth, leaving it ripe for an alien invasion; mankind's new overlords then set forth a complex series of rules and games to govern everyday life.  But, as in a lot of Philip K. Dick's work, this plot is just a mere backstory for his usual brew of lackluster schlubs, shrewish wives, psychedelic experimentation, mental health issues, and generally unhappy marriages in The Game-Players of Titan.

After a youth full of reading about lantern-jawed sci-fi heroes I have found a midlife enjoyment of Dick's trippy novels, but have been doling them out to myself slowly as I know the list is finite.

I would say Titan is a good mid-range Dick novel, certainly not an entry point for new readers but enjoyable for fans.  Not everything adds up, and there are some shifts in plotting, but Dick's overflowing font of ideas is always admirable.

I got this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Monday, August 27, 2012

#31: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson's Train Dreams is a spare, lean, lyrical novel about a man in turn-of-the-century America who lives through great highs and great lows--but ultimately perseveres.

Johnson is a noted contemporary author who has written across the genres, including a novel about Vietnam and his most recent, in the mystery genre.  I have heard a lot about Johnson and thought this slender novel--which at first glimpse has sort of a western theme--might be a good entry point.

This is a really good slice of literary fiction that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading in whatever genre.  Really fine writing, with some magical elements (including a somewhat cryptic denouement) and passages of searing emotion. 

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#30: Iron House by John Hart

A hitman tries to cut his mob ties for a new love; but when the boss dies, all bets are off, and he finds himself on the run towards an estranged brother with his own problems in John Hart's Iron House.

I had no notion of who John Hart was or what his novel was about when I picked it up on a whim on audiobook at the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library.  But I found Iron House to be a solid beach-style thriller with complex (though mostly unlikeable) characters and a twisty plot.

The Iron House of the title is an ill-run orphanage where the two brothers once lived, with one being rescued by the wife of an influential senator (a couple with their own secrets) while the other brother ends up on the street.  They meet up again as adults in the middle of multiple murder investigations as well as various other nefarious plots and intrigues.

Although it's hard to find characters to root for, Hart draws a fairly rich tapestry for a thriller and writes solidly.  For fans of an easy summer read.

Monday, August 13, 2012

#29: Misterioso by Arne Dahl

An intricately-constructed series of murders target rich Swedes, pulling an eclectic group of cops together to solve the case, in Arne Dahl's Misterioso

This band of near-misfit cops, assembled by an aloof commander with a penchant for head-butting, ends up rampaging through every level of Swedish society--from powerful, affluent secret cults to the street thugs working for Eastern European mafia families--in seeking out a killer with a growing list of deaths to his name.

With its tough, complicated cops and sardonic humor I would most equate this novel to a Scandinavian Ed McBain.  Passages about Swedish business, crime, politics, and philosophy are probably of more valuable to those with a knowledge of these things but don't drag the storytelling down too much for U.S. readers.  Interesting characters and both funny and action-packed interludes help tremendously.

This is the first of Dahl's "Intercrime" series to be translated to English, and I hope more is not far behind.  A solid read for fans of Scandinavian Crime.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#28: Night Raider by Mike Barry

A VietNam vet turned NYC narcotics cop gets too close the exposing corruption, and finds his girlfriend dead as a warning; something snaps, and he becomes a one-man war on drugs in Mike Barry's first Lone Wolf novel, Night Raider.

Mike Barry--actually sci fi writer Barry Malzberg--passed into legend by writing a big chunk of this series of Men's Adventure novels in a single year in the early 70s.  And Night Raider has a hastily-written quality to it, with characters' names and personalities shifting and an instance of someone getting on the subway and arriving shortly thereafter in a cab.

But there is a feverish intensity to the novel as well, and a vivid depiction of the decaying Big Apple of the 1970s, before the clean-up of Times Square and elsewhere.  Barry also uses an interesting plot device amidst the carnage as the Lone Wolf of the title picks out a dealer on the street and becomes determined to follow a single thread as far as it will go, with death a constant companion.

Like a lot of Men's Adventure-type novels there is a lot of attention paid to guns and weaponry but also a rather curious fixation on engines and cars and muscle cars in particular.

I got this cheaply for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly, then downloaded the next one in the series from Prologue Books.  A quick read, but not entirely undemanding, for discerning readers.

Monday, July 23, 2012

#27: The Score by Richard Stark

Ice-cool criminal Parker gets involved with an intricate plot to rob an entire mining town in a single night, against his better judgement, in Richard Stark's The Score.

I came back to Donald Westlake's Richard Stark pseudonym via Darwyn Cooke's excellent graphic novels about Parker, as well as their appearance at goodbye prices for my beloved Kindle.  They have all, thus far, proved to be very crisp, hard-nosed crime novels.

As is often the case, after much build-up a few wrenches get thrown in the mix just in time for a slam-bang finale, including a surprising revelation about a main character's motives.  Naturally Parker's instincts prove out and he again escapes by the skin of his teeth, with just a hint of further treachery to come.

A solid early entry in the Parker series.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#26: Blood Mesa by James Reasoner

A loner, who survived a near-death experience only to be rewarded with an ability to see evil all around him, ends up as a handyman at a college's archaeological dig; but in short order they dig up something that should have remained buried in James Reasoner's Blood Mesa, from the "Dead Man" ebook series.

I got interested in seeing what this series was about via Twitter and decided to start with a contribution from the always-steady James Reasoner.  The Dead Man series in general follows our haunted protagonist as he drifts from place to place either trying to find, or being stalked by, a satanic figure called Mr. Dark.

Reading summaries of the other novels in the series makes me think that the series has pieces and parts from a little of everything across the map, but in this particular edition it adds up to a pleasing, if not particularly strenuous, whole.

I bought a collected volume of these for my beloved Kindle and am interested enough to read another.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

#25: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A man finds himself mysteriously transported to Mars, and quickly becomes involved in various civil wars and bidding for the hand of a martian princess in Edgar Rice Burroughs' first Mars novel A Princess of Mars.

I was a devoted Tarzan fan as a teen but never (at least in my memory) dipped into these Mars novels.  I found this on audio book at the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library and decided to give it a go after seeing (what I thought) was a pretty underrated film version in John Carter.

Part travelogue and part Men's Adventure, A Princess of Mars is a brisk, enjoyable sci-fi adventure that holds up pretty well despite being written almost a century ago.  I would recommend it for anyone who enjoyed the film version, or enjoys Golden Age pulp writing.

Monday, June 18, 2012

#24: Trullion: Alastor 2262 by Jack Vance

A spacefarer returns home, longing for family and hearth, only to meet up with mysterious cults, aquatic beasts, space pirates, robbery, and treachery in Jack Vance's whacked-out sci-fi Trullion.

As I have gotten older I have started liking hotter and rarer foods as well as what I used to disparagingly call hippie-fi, science fiction of the 60s and 70s (I was more a lantern-jawed 40s and 50s reader for most of my youth).  Although not as philosophically resonant as Philip K. Dick or Samuel R. Delany, Jack Vance's novel gets credit for plenty of crazy ideas and out-of-the-box thinking, and I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

Some of the out-of-the-box thinking focuses on our protagonist playing Hussade, a complicated sport with water tanks, trapezes, and virgins that is extremely popular on the planet and part of several plot developments.  Bonus points for having a Hussade opponent named Denzel Warhound.

This was the first book loaned to me for my beloved Kindle as part of their new book-borrowing program, and I read it quickly.  Recommended for fans of psychedelic sci-fi.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

#23: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Two gunslinging brothers are set on a murderous trail, seeing their lives change slowly--then quickly--in Patrick deWitt's lyrical Western The Sisters Brothers.

The novel will probably draw parallels to the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit (and naturally Charles Portis' novel), but it felt more to me like the longer-ago film Little Big Man (and Thomas Berger's novel as well).   

The Sisters Brothers is filled with dark magic and allegory, longing and regret, the hero's journey.  With all of that it is written in a baroque, often humorous style and is a quick read.

This book came recommended to me from several avenues and was loaned by a friend.  It's the kind of book, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a few years ago, that I feel comfortable recommending to anyone who likes to read.  Probably one of my favorite reads of the year to date.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#22: The Dead Man's Brother by Roger Zelazny

A former art thief turned mostly legit art dealer is thrust back into danger when the body of a dead friend turns up in his New York gallery, sending him on a journey from the deepest jungles to the solemn halls of the Vatican in Roger Zelazny's The Dead Man's Brother.

This is an offbeat entry from the notable Hard Case Crime paperback noir series as it features a lost work of Zelazny's, who was almost exclusively known as a fantasy and science fiction writer.  His series The Chronicles of Amber seems to have been read by everyone who read fantasy novels in the 70s and 80s, including myself.

This adventure-style novel is a definite departure for Zelazny as our globe-hopping protagonist tries to clear his name, meeting exotic women and fighting sinister villains along the way.  Although definitely a product of a less enlightened era, with many non-PC moments, it is a fun read throughout.

I picked this up not only because I like Zelazny and Hard Case Crime but because some of the novel takes place at the Vatican, which I had visited.  I bought this with an Amazon gift card and read it in one swoop on a plane ride back from Italy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

#21: The Terracotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri

While trying to solve a series of contemporary crimes, a Sicilian police detective finds a pair of long-dead lovers in a sealed cave; working both cases, past and present, is at the core of Andrea Camilleri's The Terracotta Dog, the second in his popular Inspector Montalbano series.

This series has been recommended to me, but I did not come across one of Camilleri's books until I stayed in a hotel in Florence, Italy and stumbled on one on the swap shelf. 

I found Camilleri's novel to be a good police procedural with funny, often raunchy, overtones. There is a lot of cultural flavor and unique characterizations in The Terracotta Dog that separates it from other crime writing.  The main detective is especially memorable with a lot of interesting personality traits.

I read this rather quickly towards the end of my visit to Italy.  I will be looking for more of Montalbano's adventures in the future.

Friday, May 18, 2012

#20: The Silent Wall by Peter Rabe

After World War II, a man returns to a remote Italian village looking for a lost love, and slights a few members of the local populace;  this starts an escalating series of incidents that quickly turn desperate in Peter Rabe's chilling noir The Silent Wall.

Rabe creates a nightmarish, steadily worsening situation as the local populace closes ranks--a silent wall in several ways--and won't allow the former G.I. to leave.  His various schemes to escape--all the while getting interested in another local beauty--are the center of a worsening gyre.  Although I saw the ending coming a little ways out, the storytelling is compelling throughout.

I think Peter Rabe is one of the lesser-known great noir writers of the 50s and 60s, but I have always had a soft spot for him as he is really the first author to turn me on to this genre.  His themes of darkness and despair are, to me, the equal of Cornell Woolrich and he has the spare prose of a Raymond Chandler.  I think it is interesting that several of his books take place in Italy. 

As I was returning to Italy this summer, I decided to seek one out that I had not read.  I found this one for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.  Recommended for noir fans.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

#19: The Devil's Home On Leave by Derek Raymond

A nameless detective who works dead-end cases in an ominous London police building called The Factory chases a serial killer in The Devil's Home On Leave, the second novel in Derek Raymond's Factory series.

The first novel, He Died With His Eyes Open, is an absolutely harrowing, philosophical murder mystery and a milestone London noir for those with discriminating tastes.  I didn't find the follow-up novel to be quite as strong, but still an offbeat story with lots of crackling dialogue.

Although our philosophical protagonist figures out the killer early on, he ruminates over the nature of evil for quite a stretch between some bare-knuckled adventuring.  A tense conclusion/confrontation ties the story up nicely, though a subplot with espionage overtones seemed misplaced to me and distracted a bit from the overall work.

I first discovered Derek Raymond among the used booksellers along London's South Bank last year and regretted not grabbing a handful when I had the chance.  I was lucky to find this one used here in the States and read it quickly on a return flight to Europe.  Overall, still recommended and I will look for the third volume in the series.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

#18: Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks

Two old friends--who bonded over shared sociopathic tendencies and various addiction problems-- find themselves chasing an old girlfriend who ran off with another man, a cache of drugs, and a prize leather jacket; soon things get worse, then worse again, in Ray Banks' Wolf Tickets.

I thoroughly enjoyed an early outing from Edinburgh noir author Banks, Dead Money, another very tough crime novel, so I was eager to pick this one up.  Once again this novel features two knockaround protagonists--although in this case with chapters in alternating voices--and a storyline that veers from sardonic humor to chilling spatters of violence.

The main drawback to Wolf Tickets is that at times I had a hard time delineating between the two voices; but this one also comes with a warning for the casual reader who is unprepared for various scenes of violence, torture, and abuse (of substances, other people, and The King's English).

This came to me from Blasted Heath, a highly admirable ebook publisher from across the pond who are putting out some crackling contemporary noir.  Recommended for fans of the hard-boiled.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

#17: Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

An Empire prison barge finds an eerily (seemingly) abandoned star destroyer in deep space, and before long it's stormtroopers versus zombies in Joe Schreiber's Star Wars horror novel Death Troopers

I read Schreiber's Red Harvest earlier, a sort-of prequel to this novel, and found both to be entertaining but undemanding entries in the Star Wars universe, albeit much gorier than the average tale.

Death Troopers takes place during the time of the original trilogy, my personal favorites, so I think the edge goes to this one in terms of story.  There is also an appearance of a pair of classic characters about halfway through which, based on the fact I haven't seen it mentioned on online reviews, I suspect is meant to be a surprise.

Before that there are sinister Imperials, a helpful droid, some stalwart rebels, and--memorably--a handful of zombie Wookies.  A high body count gives this one a surprising grisly finale.

I bought this at a bookstore in Richmond, Indiana before a trip and read it quickly.

Recommended for horror fans with offbeat tastes and discerning Star Wars fans.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

#16: Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer

NFL player Pat Tillman chucks fame and fortune aside to join the military in the wake of 9/11; when he dies in a firefight, the tragedy is compounded when it becomes known he was accidentally killed by friendly forces.  Jon Krakauer's nonfiction accounting of his life and death, Where Men Win Glory, is important reading no matter where on the political spectrum you are.

I am a big fan of Krakauer's writing, and have learned in reading previous books like Into Thin Air and Into the Wild that he has an interest in protagonists with their own code of honor who will follow that code no matter where it leads. 

Tillman is that type of protagonist, and as his life heads on the path to its conclusion the reading is sometimes agonizing.  Equally painful is reading the chapters dealing with the history of the region and all of the mistakes, mishaps, and miscues going back decades that set Tillman on this collision course.

I think Krakauer is a very sharp, clear writer and his in-depth research--delineated in the back of the book--backs up the narrative.

I bought this from Amazon with a gift card and held onto it until I was basically mentally ready to read it.  Solid writing and a powerful story makes this one recommended.

Friday, April 27, 2012

#15: 1222 by Anne Holt

A terrible accident derails a train in a snowy Norwegian mountain pass, and the survivors--including a paralyzed former policewoman, a troubled teenager, a magnetic religious leader, and at least one killer--manage to make it to a ski lodge--where their real problems begin--in Anne Holt's thriller 1222.

Even though the novel has the locked-room trappings of an Agatha Christie novel 1222 is quite a crackling thriller, despite featuring an unusually dour protagonist (even by the high standards of the typically gloomy Scandinavian mystery) in the paralyzed, retired detective.

The storytelling is exceptional, ratcheting up the suspense as the reader learns about a mysterious passenger sequestered behind armed bodyguards, various political ramifications involving high levels in the Norwegian government, and an increasing body count.

Holt is apparently quite popular in her native Norway, and although this is one of the later novels in her series featuring the reluctant police detective I believe it is the first translated into English.  I hope to see more of this series.

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

Monday, April 23, 2012

#14: The Clockwise Man by Justin Richards

The Doctor and his companion, Rose, travel to 1920s London to check out the British Exhibition, but almost immediately find themselves set upon by robots, aliens, and intelligent cats in Justin Richards' contemporary Doctor Who adventure The Clockwise Man.

As a teen I read a ton of Terrence Dicks' novels based on the long-running BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who, although I never got to see the program until I moved to Wisconsin as an adult and found it on PBS there (beginning when Tom Baker was the Doctor, a great place to start enjoying Doctor Who).

Obviously Dicks' novels, and this first of a new series, are for fans of the show, and as that it is quite enjoyable.  The story is brisk and breezy and compliments the television program.

I checked this out from the Farmland Public Library and read it quickly.  Recommended for fans.

#13: Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

A retired British policeman impulsively buys a child from a drug addict; a sometime private eye rescues a dog from an abusive man at a park; and an elderly actress struggles with dementia while co-starring on a hit detective show; how these stories cross, loop back, and fold in on each other forms the heart of Started Early, Took My Dog.

I picked this up on a whim from the Farmland Public Library based on the title alone, having never heard of Kate Atkinson.  I found a rewarding, complex mystery that may be one of my favorites of the year.

The story picks up threads of the notorious Manchester Ripper case of the 70s and reaches all the way to contemporary times, following the life arcs of many complicated, fully-realized characters, including tarnished cops and well-meaning criminals.  The diverse storylines, which include a humorous running background thread about a cheesy cop show, are very nicely tied up at the end.

I listened to this via a good audio book rendition I borrowed from the Farmland Public Library.

Atkinson is a fine literary writer with all of the requisite beats for mystery fans.  Recommended. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

#12: Assignment Moon Girl by Edward S. Aarons

A female cosmonaut of Chinese and Russian heritage disappears and then surfaces in Teheran, sending multiple factions after her--including American agent Sam Durrell--in Edward S. Aarons' Assignment Moon Girl

I have read quite a few of these sturdy spy novels since I began keeping this blog list and find it to be a greatly underrated series that ran for several decades.  This one, from 1967, features a more cosmopolitan Iran than we know today and focuses a lot on the space race (as does Assignment Mara Tirana) as well as being the first appearance of reoccurring villain Madame Hung.

This entry also seems heavier on action than some, and certainly features more torture, as Durrell gets thrown into a pit with a lion, is captured and beaten multiple times, and endures brainwashing with psychedelic drugs.  Thankfully, he has enough left in the tank at the end to head out on a worldwide tour of vacation spots with a rescued companion named Lotus.

I have heard a bit about this one on the web, but a copy eluded me until I found it on a goodbye shelf at a used bookstore in Muncie, Indiana.  A good entry in the series.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

#11: Raylan by Elmore Leonard

Federal marshal Raylan Givens takes on a variety of Kentucky criminals, from organ traffickers to corporate thieves to cold-blooded killers, in Elmore Leonard's Raylan.

Leonard's laconic, trigger-eager lawman has appeared in several earlier crime novels but has become more prominent since the FX television show Justified featured the character, in a solid portrayal by Timothy Olyphant.

Unfortunately I found the storytelling in this one more television-sized, picking up characters and situations from the show and sometimes riffing on them in different ways; but I felt Raylan never really creating a large enough stage for the characters, as one might hope for when freed from the constrictions of TV production.

That being said, it is a quick, enjoyable read and pretty solid for a late entry in Leonard's bibliography, which has run hot and cold in recent years.

I picked this up from the Farmland Public Library in Farmland, Indiana and read it quickly.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

#10: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

A Copenhagen cop is wounded in a shootout, while another partner is wounded and a third killed; in the aftermath, the burned-out cop is content to be assigned to the cold case files deep in a windowless basement.  However, he meets a janitor/driver named Assad (with mysterious skills far above his station in life) and is gradually coaxed back to life in The Keeper of Lost Causes.

This is the first of Jussi Adler-Olsen's crime novels translated into English, and it is quite a tale.  Our cop and his assistant become interested in a female politician who went missing five years before and is presumed dead.  They rather quickly find out there may be more to the disappearance and take off on a winding mystery, leavened by surprising bits of humor in the relationship between the two lead characters, somewhat rare in the typically gloomy Scandinavian mystery.

Meanwhile, a parallel story is a particularly gruesome one as the missing woman deals with being imprisoned and tortured in a small chamber for years on end, a grim counterpart to the main plot and more in line with the typically downbeat offerings from these authors.  The burned-out cop's intent to keep his feet up and drink coffee often acts as an agonizing contrast to these scenes.

I found this to be one of my favorite reads in the Scandinavian mystery genre and would recommend this to fans of Stieg Larsson and others.

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

Friday, February 10, 2012

#9: Plugged by Eoin Colfer

An ex-soldier leaves Ireland for what he thinks is the relative peace and solitude of suburban New Jersey, only to get wrapped up in a few riotous days of kidnapping and murder in Eoin Colfer's Plugged.

Colfer is probably best know as the author of the Artemis Fowl young adult novels, and seems to have made a concerted effort to reach the other end of the spectrum with this foul-mouthed, raunchy action-oriented comedy.  The "Plugged" of the title refers to not only the euphemism for killing but also two characters' obsession with hair transplants done by a shady doctor (whose ghost speaks to the protagonist throughout).

Although I felt the humor seemed strained at times, I enjoyed the action and plotting of this brisk little story and would look for more of Colfer's adult work.  It is definitely not for young adults, however, and woe be to the parent that buys it for a young person.

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#8: Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Third-string sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout makes a pilgrimage to a small midwestern town, where a brush with an unstable car salesman sets off a sad series of events in Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions.

I have been a big Vonnegut fan since my teen years and have read practically all of his work, but somehow this one slipped through the cracks.  When I saw it at giveaway prices for my beloved Kindle I snatched it up and gave it a try.

In a way I'm glad I did not read this as a teenager because I think I have a greater appreciation for it now.  Despite some funny drawings and observations it is as melancholy a piece of metafiction as I've ever read. 

Vonnegut writes as if he is telling someone who is unfamiliar with the world of the early 1970s what is going on, and now some forty years later this conceit seems more resonant.  He is a major character himself in the story, literally injecting himself into a bar at the Holiday Inn at the tumultuous denouement.

Rewarding for fans of Vonnegut's work, as Breakfast of Champions features the appearances of many characters from other novels, including his alter-ego Trout.  Recommended.

Monday, February 6, 2012

#7: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In a depleted future world, society has largely retreated into OASIS, a virtual world coded by a Bill Gates/Steven Jobs figure with an 80s obsession.  Upon his death, he releases a "treasure hunt" into the virtual world that spells danger for a teenager in the real world in Ernest Cline's debut Ready Player One.

If The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz was the ultimate tribute to growing up in the 70s, then Cline's book will have the same importance for readers who grew up in the 80s.  Cline name-checks everything from old arcade games, imported Japanese TV shows, Matthew Broderick movies, and dog-eared D&D modules in our protagonist's quest to escape his trailer-park life and reach his reward.

I thoroughly enjoyed Cline's novel and read it quickly, and can think of a few friends who would enjoy this just as much.  Recommended for fans of nerd-dom from the 80s forward.

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

Sunday, January 29, 2012

#6: The Man with the Getaway Face by Richard Stark

Master thief Parker runs afoul of the mob, and goes under the knife to get a new face; broke, he gets involved in an armored car robbery against his better judgement, and it continues to go more and more haywire in The Man with the Getaway Face.

This is the second book in the long-running Parker series by Donald Westlake.  I have read Westlake steadily over the years (and once got to direct him on a TV show) but had only skimmed the surface of this pseudonymous series.  When Darwyn Cooke did a graphic novel version of The Hunter I became interested again and picked up the first few novels for my beloved Kindle.

Parker is a very tough, amoral crook who singlemindedly flattens anything in his way, including shady partners, nosy bystanders, aggressive cops, and other inconveniences. 

In this outing, a very fragile alliance of criminals unravels quickly; hampered more by the fact that Parker's plastic surgeon gets murdered, with Parker being a prime suspect.  It probably won't surprise the reader to find out that crime does pay, and Parker ends with an eye on more illegal exploits.

I enjoyed this very hard-boiled crime story and will pick up the next Parker novel before long.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#5: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

A lone envoy from a galactic federation lands on a frozen world in Ursula K. LeGuin's notable science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness.

After reading and enjoying LeGuin's Earthsea fantasy novels I tackled this series of related sci-fi books (beginning with Rocannon's World).  This, the fourth one, is one of LeGuin's best-known tales, a sophisticated, philosophical adventure set on an ice planet populated with an asexual race who become male or female only a few days a month.  How this impacts politics, war, nation-building and more, was I'm sure pretty heady stuff in 1969 and is still pretty interesting today.  It is as fully-realized an alternate world as I have seen.

But The Left Hand of Darkness is also quite exciting.  The novel is basically broken into three parts: in the first, the envoy deals with a mad king; in the second, he goes across the border into a socialist-type country and is promptly put into a gulag; and in the third, a friend rescues him, and they have a Jack London-style race across a glacier field back to civilization. 

I have held onto this paperback for a long time and am glad I finally tackled it.  It is a great, rewarding read for science fiction and fantasy fans.  Recommended.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#4: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

A model gets shot in the face, destroying her features, and subsequently--under the tutelage of a transsexual friend--ends up heading out on a cross-continental crime spree in Chuck Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters.

This is an early work by the cult novelist, and like all of his books has a least a little something to make any reader squeamish; this one includes murder, maiming, arson, incest, child molesting, drug abuse, and an infatuation with Rona Barrett.

I have pointed out in other reviews of Palahniuk's work that when you get past the shock value of his novels you realize he is a pretty good writer.  Although slighter than a lot of his more famous novels (Fight Club prominently among them) Invisible Monsters still packs a punch with plenty of surprises.

For fans of Palahniuk, I would rate it a more modest work; for the casual reader, it is dark and funny but has to be approached with an open mind.

I found this on

Monday, January 23, 2012

#3: He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond

A nameless London copper, working dead end cases out of a notorious police station called The Factory, becomes dangerously obsessed with a bum's murder in Derek Raymond's powerful crime novel He Died With His Eyes Open.

The policeman becomes enamored of a series of philosophical audio recordings that the murder victim made on his long slide downward, and ends up meeting--and then, strangely, courting--the cold-hearted beauty who precipitated his decline.

Derek Raymond's "Factory" series, written in the 80s and 90s, has often been pointed to as launching a London noir movement; I don't doubt David Peace (with his Yorkshire Ripper novels) had to have been a fan, among others. It also seems as if the late Derek Raymond was an interesting person in his own right, which I am sure has led to the mystique as well.

I first stumbled across Raymond's novels on the South Bank in London among rows of used books; my greatest regret in that visit to London was that I did not snatch them up right when I saw them, for when I went back later they were gone.  I remembered the author and, when I saw them on Amazon, purchased the first one for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

He Died With His Eyes Open is very tough, and very frank, and thus is recommended for discriminating tastes. I will definitely read more in the series.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

#2: The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson by Douglas Lindsay

A dour barber with delusions of grandeur working in a second-tier shop dreams of murder and retribution; meanwhile, a squad of bored, weary, bickering cops hunt a serial killer terrorizing Glasgow.  Where these two storylines intersect, in a maelstrom of violence, is at the heart of Douglas Lindsay's The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson.

The description makes it sound like pretty grim fare, but Lindsay's novel is full of surprising humor, and is almost surreal in spots.  If Thomas Harris and Nick Hornby opened a barber shop, and Douglas Adams was the first customer, the three of them together might brainstorm up something like this.

I was caught unawares at first, but once I got into the rhythm of the storytelling I found myself wrapped up in Barney Thomson's misfortunes. Lindsay writes in more of a cinematic style and probably owes more to post-modern directors like Quentin Tarantino than the noir traditions of authors like Cornell Woolrich.

The downside of having an unlikable schlub as a protagonist is offset by some humorous writing and interesting ideas.  There has apparently been enough interest that Barney Thomson returns at least twice more, and I'm sure I will look for these as well.

I received this for my beloved Kindle from Blasted Heath, a publisher of e-books, and read it steadily.

Monday, January 16, 2012

#1: The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

Thriller writer Douglas Preston goes to Florence to research a new novel, with his family in tow, and rents a house that happens to be near the site of a real-life double murder attributed to a serial killer. Preston becomes very involved--perhaps too involved--in the story, working alongside a local investigative reporter, and it all goes in some surprising directions in The Monster of Florence.

I grabbed this non-fiction work out of a stack at a library book sale largely because of a visit to Florence last spring.  I had picked up and put down a lot of Preston's fiction but thought I would give him another look because of the locale and subject matter.

The story is fascinating and almost wouldn't make a believable fiction story, as the hunt for the serial killer involves political machinations, officials trying to use the case for personal gain, the shadow of secret societies, low-lifes working various angles, and a full cast of cops, criminals, crackpots, cast-offs, and other colorful characters.  The crimes, and subsequent investigations, cover several decades and end with a surprising denouement (which, incidentally, isn't the capture of the Monster).

Overall, I would recommend the book for fans of true crime and of Preston's fiction. In general I think the reader's enjoyment of the work will depend largely on how one feels about Preston putting himself square in the middle of a string of unsolved murders that has unintended consequences for himself and others.  Interesting reading.