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.