Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favorite Reads of 2017

I read an astounding number of books this year, more than I ever have since keeping this blog, close to ten years ago.  But in a lot of ways it was a year like no other, on the national scene, local scene, and in my own extended family, and like a lot of people I burrowed down and read a lot.

Since I read a bit more, I turned this Top Ten list to 11.  Here are my favorite reads of 2017.  Enjoy!

Glaxo by Hernan Ronsino

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel

The Girls by Emma Cline

Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach

Saturday, December 30, 2017

#81: A Perfect Crime by A Yi

An alienated youth in China kills a classmate to stave off boredom, then plays cat-and-mouse with the police, in A Yi's A Perfect Crime.

Yi's book reminded me of Camus' The Stranger, but with the social and political undertones of modern China.  How media and society tries to understand the teenager, and then how corruption influences that view, makes up a big part of the novel.

A Yi writes in a very straightforward style that, with the protagonist's banal descriptions and lack of emotion, actually makes the storytelling harder to take rather than easier.

An interesting character study, with unpleasant passages, and an insider's sketch of contemporary China.  Recommended for those interested in international crime stories.

I got this for Christmas from my daughter and read it quickly.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

#80: I'll Take You There by Wally Lamb

A film scholar looks back at the women in his life, aided by the ghost of a silent film director, in Wally Lamb's I'll Take You There.

Wally Lamb is everywhere these days, after breaking onto the scene with She's Come Undone and several bestsellers since, although I had not read him.

This story has our protagonist looking back at the lives of his sister, her birth mother, and his own mother, through adult eyes, framed in the real-life Miss Rheingold contest that peaked in the 1950s.  A current story includes his daughter and ex-wife, and their struggles.

The storytelling is interesting, but to me the framing device--the ghosts of film stars transporting him into movies of his life, playing in an old movie theater--clanks pretty badly.  Some passages are more nuanced, but much is painted in too-broad strokes of pathos or comedy.

I got this for Christmas and read it pretty quickly over a few lazy days.

Monday, December 25, 2017

#79: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Jack is a drug pirate, driving her invisible submarine around dispensing black market pharmaceuticals for medical and recreational reasons; when one of her batches goes fatally wrong, she is pursued by a spy and his military-grade robot in Annalee Newitz's Autonomous.

This is Newitz's first novel, but she comes from a long background writing and editing for io9, Gizmodo, Ars Technica, Wired, and more. 

This work obviously gave her the chops for some really good near-future world-building, putting her right there with the likes of William Gibson's Neuromancer, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and Pat Cadigan's Tea from an Empty Cup

There's some heavy thinking to go along with all of the action, as we meet an indentured human slave, an indentured robot with a human brain, and a free robot as supporting characters, all providing different views on, as the title suggests, what it means to be autonomous.

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

Friday, December 22, 2017

#78: The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

Oslo's most famous homicide detective is retired and teaching at a police college when a notorious serial killer who once escaped his grasp--and is now armed with a set of iron teeth--is on the loose again, drawing him back into action in Jo Nesbo's The Thirst.

I think Nesbo's Harry Hole series is one of the best contemporary police procedurals, in any language; and his alcoholic, hard-headed cop (who has survived death and dismemberment countless times) is one of the great "tarnished angel" detectives.

This is an action-packed entry that had me shouting "No!" at the audiobook playing in the car three times as the story unfolded.  Not really a jumping-on point for new readers--understanding all of the physical and emotional scars all of the supporting players carry around makes the storytelling more resonant--but rewarding for long-time fans.

I listened to a good read of this on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana during a drive back and forth from Chicago.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

#77: The Demanding Land by Reese Sullivan

Finally cleared of a killing he didn't commit, a young rancher comes home--but finds the dead man's family doesn't forgive so easily in Reese Sullivan's The Demanding Land.

Sullivan was actually Giles Lutz, a prolific western writer, and he shows a sure hand in this outing.  Besides all the standard beats, Lutz includes scenes of interest, including a wolf hunt and the capture and taming of a band of wild horses.

I have seen Lutz's name everywhere but never picked one up.  I ended up with this one on the flip of an Ace Double that I got at a goodbye price at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago.

Enjoyable.  I intend to flip it over and read John Callahan's Hackett's Feud on the other side.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

#76: Undercover Gun by Brett Waring

Clay Nash is forced off his humble homestead by an unscrupulous land baron, and takes a roundabout revenge through becoming a Wells Fargo agent in Brett Waring's Undercover Gun, the first in a long series returning to ebook via Piccadilly Publishing.

Waring was in reality Australian author Keith Hetherington, who was also Hank J. Kirby and Kirk Hamilton, an incredibly prolific western writer.

Waring puts enough plot in this one to cover a couple of stories, as Nash is chased through the desert, rides shotgun on some stages, has fist fights and gun fights and is nursed back to health a few times, before finally exacting revenge, and setting the stage--so to speak--for future adventures with Wells Fargo.

I enjoyed the first of Hamilton's Bannerman series, which I also read through Piccadilly Publishing, and liked this one as well.  Good for fast-action western fans.

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

#75: The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz

Lisbeth Salander is in prison--for, basically, everything that happened in the last four books--and ends up in the sights of a murderous prison boss; while on the outside, her old friend, journalist Mikael Blomqvist, starts to uncover the details of an unethical experiment Salander was a part of as a child.

How these stories slowly, and then quickly, intertwine is at the crux of David Lagercrantz's The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.

This is the second novel Lagercrantz has written as an extension of the story began as a trilogy by Stieg Larsson, who died before writing more but is generally credited with launching the boom in Scandinavian noir in the U.S. (of which I have been a grateful recipient).

There has been a fair amount of controversy from many quarters about this series being continued, but on their own merits I think Lagercrantz has done a nice job with his two contributions.

I listened to a good audiobook reading of this novel on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

#74: The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason

During World War II, in an Iceland awash in Allied troops, a young woman known to date soldiers is found murdered; many years later, an elderly man is killed in his bed, with threads tying back to that long-ago unsolved case in Arnaldur Indridason's The Shadow District.

The Shadow District is the first in a new series from Indridason.  His novels about morose Reykjavik cop Erlendur are noteworthy (start with Jar City and keep reading), but these have a totally different vibe, with a military police investigation in the 40s and a contemporary storyline following a recently retired police detective who gets an itch to solve this cold case.

The parallel timelines are interesting, especially if you aren't aware of Iceland's role in World War II (which I wasn't).

This is a very solid police procedural from one of my favorite Scandinavian authors.  I will look for the next in this series.

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

#73: Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

An upper-class New York marriage has seen better days, but is being held together by the shared love of a daughter; when outside forces threaten the young woman, the whole family is changed in Matthew Weiner's slender study Heather, the Totality.

Weiner is best known as the creator of the television show Mad Men as well as a turn as a writer on The Sopranos.  This has a splash of both, but I would wager that Weiner has made a close read of Philip Roth and John Updike at some point in his life. 

Much as Mad Men mirrored a time and place, Heather, the Totality reminds me of the styling of both Roth and Updike.  Fans of those writers will enjoy this piece, whether they have heard of Weiner's other work or not (somehow).

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

#72: Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishigiro puts together a masterful collection of short stories, lightly threaded together with themes of music, of evening, of relationships and friendships on the wane, in Nocturnes.

If you have never read Ishigiro, chances are you've seen a movie based on one of his books, such as The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go; other titles include The Buried Giant and When We Were Orphans.

This is a great way to dip into Ishigiro's writing, catching little glimpses of unraveling lives, from a visitor inadvertently crashing his friend's fractured marriage, to a never-was musician having a midnight adventure with a bigger star, to a fading singer wanting to serenade his wife one more time.

The storytelling was really elevated by an excellent audiobook version I listened to, with different readers doing each story.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and listened to most of it on a long drive back and forth to Michigan.

Friday, November 3, 2017

#71: Death on the Bozeman by Paul Bedford

Tough-minded western has three former Confederate soldiers, now traveling companions, clashing with the Army, hostile Indians, and a ruthless gun-hand called Slade in Paul Bedford's Death on the Bozeman.

Death on the Bozeman is a sprawling and brawling western, written in a classic style but with contemporary sensibilities in violence and situations.  An appearance by the real-life Jim Bridger adds value.

Black Horse Westerns has done a good job in putting out a steady diet of these type of western stories for many years.  I enjoyed this outing by Paul Bedford and will look for more from him.

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

#70: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

A professor finds herself searching for a missing pupil, leaving the dreamlands for the waking world in Kij Johnson's The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe.

The title is a riff on H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and features characters and situations from that novel. 

I have read a lot of work recently by people trying to process their appreciation of Lovecraft's writing versus his themes, as seen through contemporary eyes; race in Victor LaVelle's The Ballad of Black Tom, sexual identity in Paul La Farge's The Night Ocean, and now Johnson's look at gender in this novel.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is vivid and imaginative, but grounded in the story of a middle-aged woman looking back at her life.  A solid, award-winning fantasy read.

I bought this with an Amazon gift card and read it quickly, then sent it to a professor friend I thought would enjoy it.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

#69: A Bullet for Sartain by Frank Leslie

In the Old West, a Cajun gunslinger named Sartain, but called The Revenger, goes into action when an old pard is killed and two others are threatened in Frank Leslie's A Bullet for Sartain.

Frank Leslie is in reality Peter Brandvold, who has written a lot of westerns under his name and others.  He contributed to the long-running "Adult Western" series Longarm, and much of that vibe is here; Sartain has one eye for killing and one for the ladies, and even his horse is on the lookout for a filly.

But Brandvold doesn't stint on the action; every character is rude and ready for gunplay at a moment's notice.

A satisfying action-oriented contemporary western for fans.

I received this book in the mail from Brandvold, a double novel with Death and the Saloon Girl as the second offering.  I look forward to reading it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

#68: I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson

In the early 1970s, two Welsh girls share a friendship built on their love of David Cassidy; years later, fate brings them together to fly to Vegas and see their childhood crush in Allison Pearson's I Think I Love You.

Pearson mines Nick Hornby territory in this novel, a humorous story of relationships built along the lines of Hornby's About A Boy and High Fidelity (with maybe some of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones thrown in).

I Think I Love You is highly enjoyable and largely pretty breezy, with bonus points if you were alive when David Cassidy was at his peak. 

Even though I was somewhat aware of Cassidy's fame, he was even more famous in Europe, and his concert at White City Stadium in London is a critical juncture in the story.  An epilogue, where Pearson interviews Cassidy, adds value.

I listened to a good audiobook reading of this novel on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

#67: Last Chance Canyon by Jim Austin

John Fury is a wandering gun-hand who comes across a dying man delivering mail, catapulting him into a war against a ruthless band of claim-jumpers in Jim Austin's Last Chance Canyon.

Jim Austin is in reality James Reasoner, a prolific author who has wrote five novels as Austin and countless others under many names.  This novel is dedicated to western author Len Meares--known as Marshall Grover and other pen names as he himself knocked out over 700 westerns.

If you are familiar with either Meares or Reasoner you have a pretty good idea what to expect; a solid western that hits all the right beats in action and storytelling.

I checked this out from the Parker City Public Library in Parker City, Indiana and read it quickly.

Friday, September 29, 2017

#66: The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera

In an epidemic-ravaged Mexico City, a peace broker called The Redeemer tries to negotiate a Romeo and Juliet-type situation between two crime families in Yuri Herrera's The Transmigration of Bodies.

Herrera's tight novel is a bit of a genre-buster, reading like a hard-boiled noir but--with characters called Neeyanderthal, Three Times Blonde, and The Unruly--also has elements of parable, with hallucinogenic imagery.

Our laconic hero spends half the novel trying to find an open pharmacy--his neighbor has finally given in to his advances, but he is out of condoms--and the other half dealing with deadly adversaries, all against a haunted, emptied landscape.

I read a lot of noir, and found Herrera's work fresh in a lot of ways.  Recommended for those who enjoy hard-boiled fiction and would like to try something new.

I bought this with an Amazon gift card for Father's Day and read it quickly.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

#65: The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

In the long shadow between WWI and WWII, a French aristocrat and spy in Poland tangles with vengeful Nazis, sneaky Soviet spies, and more in Alan Furst's The Spies of Warsaw.

Our protagonist comes across a German plan for a tank invasion, which his superiors find hard to believe, while a romance with a League of Nations representative begins to bloom.

Furst has written a long series of spy novels set in this era, and this is a sturdy entry, reading like early Graham Greene or Eric Ambler.  It's a good old-fashioned outing for those interested in this time and place.

I listened to a good audiobook version on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

#64: River War by Jim Austin

Wandering gun-hand John Fury meets up with an old pal, now a prosperous shopkeeper with a target on his back, in Jim Austin's River War.

Soon Fury is working as a sort-of bodyguard for his friend, and has his plate more than full.

Austin and the (brief) John Fury western series were written by prolific author James Reasoner.  As a seasoned hand himself, Reasoner hits all the right beats, with plenty of gunplay, as well as a dangerous riverboat trip, hostile Indians, a buffalo stampede, and a prairie fire, among other misadventures.

Reasoner creates an enjoyable outing for fans of the genre.

I borrowed River War, and one more John Fury book, from the Parker City Library in Parker City, Indiana, and read this one quickly.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

#63: The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel

Long-feuding brothers finally end their acrimony with gunplay; and when the surviving brother sets out on a horse to escape, the other brother's widow leads her own horse in pursuit in Ian Stansel's contemporary western The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo.

What sets the long feud off is a rivalry over a hat; how this then plays out with horses and property the brothers own, and a struggling business they run as horse trainers, is the backdrop for the story.

Stansel has created a lyrical, engaging tale of family dysfunction set against a backdrop of a rural California at odds with itself.  Well-drawn characters, and an involved sketch of the horsemanship world, add interest.

Recommended for readers of contemporary fiction in general, but western fans will see classic parallels to enjoy.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

#62: Shock Value by Jason Zinoman

Jason Zinoman writes an interesting account of the cultural changes that led to a shift in horror filmmaking in the 70s in Shock Value.

This is the era of horror film I more or less grew up on, and is especially interesting to me.  And even for me, there are some stories--like William Castle wanting to make Rosemary's Baby--that I was unfamiliar with.

To me, the most enjoyable element was Zinoman giving the proper due to Dan O'Bannon and Dark Star, to me an underrated figure and film of that period.

For those unfamiliar with the era, there are great accounts of directors such as George Romero, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Brian De Palma, and how they got their starts, sometimes by hook or by crook.

Worthwhile, for horror movie fans and general film buffs.

I listened to this on audiobook checked out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Monday, September 11, 2017

#61: Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Moses is raised in a socialist orphanage, runs the streets in a gang, and becomes an errand boy in a brothel, leading to a sad end in Alain Mabanckou's Black Moses.

This vivid slice-of-life story is set against a backdrop of life in the Congo in the 70s and 80s, helping create a fully-realized sketch of time, place, and people.

Mabanckou's novel crackles with life, alternating between darkness and light humor, with bursts of violence. Ultimately, the novel talks about the universal bonds of friendship, accessible in any society.

Mabanckou has written an entirely readable novel from a point of view less-seen to the average reader and is enjoyable throughout.  Recommended for readers interested in international and particularly African fiction.

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

#60: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Somebody has died at a parents' kindergarten mixer; slowly, we go back in time and unravel what happened, and who it happened to, through the viewpoints of three different moms in Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies.

I became interested in reading Big Little Lies after watching the popular HBO miniseries based on the novel.  It is rewarding, with good performances, and with a few notable exceptions hews close to the novel's storyline.

Moriarty's novel starts out somewhat comic, but as we delve more into the three womens' lives we find more sobering truths--one has a daughter acting out, one has a son who was the product of a violent encounter, and one is in an abusive marriage.  These threads play out against a broader landscape of all the little trials and tribulations of navigating a classroom, and the other parents you are thrown in with.

It's a solid read about family and relationships of all kinds, with a vein of mystery running throughout.  Worthwhile in both novel and television form.

I checked this out on audiobook from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

#59: California Split by Lou Cameron

Two hardcore gamblers--one carefree, one obsessed--try to get one big score in Lou Cameron's California Split.

California Split has one of the most unusual pedigrees of any book I've read.  It's a novelization of a screenplay by Joseph Walsh, an actor who based the story on his own gambling addiction.  The movie version was directed by great 70s auteur Robert Altman, but remains one of his lesser-known works of that period (and features George Segal and Elliot Gould, who allegedly played a version of himself).

The novelization was done by Lou Cameron, who did tons of other adaptations and novels but may be best known as the creator of the "Longarm" adult western series.

All that aside, it's a pretty cool little story, a slice of early 70s life with a noirish feel.  Our sad-sack protagonist and his motor-mouthed friend brush up against the underworld and various low-lifes, prostitutes, and loan sharks as they try to stay one step ahead of their addictions.

I found this for a quarter at a hospital book sale, and mainly picked it up out of curiosity.  But it stands on its own merits as a hardboiled tale of the gambling world.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

#58: The Deadly Amigos by Barry Cord

An ex-ranger goes undercover with a vicious gang who killed his brother, a ranger in good standing, in Barry Cord's The Deadly Amigos.

Cord was actually Peter Germano, a highly prolific prolific writer and magazine editor who wrote pulp fiction, television scripts, and more. This novel is actually the flip side of a nice Ace Double also written by him, Two Graves for a Gunman, a tidy little western about a young trail boss who tries to understand the outlaw he's killed.

Where Two Graves for a Gunman would make a good episode of Zane Grey Theater or something else television-sized, The Deadly Amigos is pure spaghetti.  There is a lot of gunplay and cruelty, as the gang falls in with a band of Mexican revolutionaries causing trouble on both sides of the border.  Overall pretty tough and action-oriented.

I grab Ace Doubles wherever I can find them, and this one I picked up at goodbye prices at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago.  Fun for western fans.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

#57: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

A writer with a number of problems lucks into reporting about the maiden voyage of a luxury cruise ship; when somebody goes overboard--and nobody believes her--the tension ratchets up in Ruth Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10.

Ware's novel follows the trend of unreliable female protagonists seen in thrillers from Gone Girl to The Girl on the Train in recent years.  This outing is an agreeable entry for those that enjoyed those novels.

At times, it seems Ware relies more on luck and rickety coincidence than her contemporaries, but a breakneck pace and interesting plotting smooth it all over.

I listened to a good audiobook reading of this from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, on a long drive back and forth from Pennsylvania.

Friday, July 14, 2017

#56: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Young Willie Lincoln dies, and his grieving father visits the gravesite, stranding the boy between the worlds of the living and the dead; so it's up to three ghosts, also hanging in limbo, to help the boy through his passage in George Saunders' offbeat literary sensation Lincoln in the Bardo.

Saunders uses an unusual structure for his story--almost like an oral history--with literally hundreds of voices, some historic accounts and others fiction, in a fragmented style.  I am guessing its presentation is not for all readers.   In its setting and framework it most reminded me of Thorton Wilder's play Our Town, and perhaps because of this I think I enjoyed it the best way possible, as an audiobook.

Lincoln in the Bardo has been billed as the first all-star audiobook, and there is an argument to be made there; voices include Nick Offerman, David Sedaris (a great audiobook reader of his own work), Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, Rainn Wilson, Susan Sarandon, Don Cheadle, Megan Mullally, Bill Hader, Keegan Michael-Key, and many more.

Saunders' book is challenging in its style and interesting in its ideas.  I would recommend the audiobook version experience.

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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

#55: No Gun is Neutral by Marshall Grover

Nevada Jim is drifting, but drifts right into a war between ranchers and farmers, in No Gun is Neutral.

Marshall Grover (in reality an Australian writer named Leonard Meares) was an extremely prolific author of westerns, and Nevada Jim (also called Big Jim) drifted across the plains in lots of novels (as did a pair of cowpokes called Larry and Stretch, who figured into another long-running series).

This tight western tries on, rather curiously, a Romeo and Juliet style subplot between a ranch family and a farm family, but still leaves plenty of time for shooting and fighting.

Although I first learned of Meares through Piccadilly Publishing, who has done admirable work in bringing these oaters back to a digital generation, I bought this in a lot of vintage westerns from eBay and read it quickly.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

#54: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Zombies are on the brink of taking over the world, as zombies are prone to do; but in a fortified school/prison, a group of zombie children may hold the key to the future in M.R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts.

M.R. Carey is also Mike Carey, a comic-book writer with popular Vertigo titles like Lucifer and Hellblazer to his name; I especially enjoyed his series The Unwritten, which is why I picked this novel up to read.

The Girl with All the Gifts is fast-paced, thrilling, and cinematic (in fact there is also a film version), and is enjoyable in all the right ways.

But I can't help but feel the novel is also enjoyable because it has so many touchpoints from films I enjoyed in the past.  28 Days Later and Day of the Dead draw obvious comparisons, but the somewhat downbeat/somewhat hopeful ending pays direct homage to I Am Legend (in my opinion).  The novel Lord of the Flies is owed no small debt as well.

Overall, though, an enjoyable thrill ride for fans of zombie movies and horror in general.

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

#53: The Persian Cat by John Flagg

A cynical former spy, rattling around after World War II, helps an old friend (and former French resistance fighter) track down a woman who supposedly aided the Nazis.  Pretty soon, he begins to question the motives of the woman, his friend, himself, and everyone around him, in John Flagg's The Persian Cat.

The Persian Cat is an extremely hard-boiled spy novel that reads much like a private eye outing.  There is plenty of tough talk and rough action.  The setting, a Tehran completely different than the one we know today, adds a lot of interest, as does a full and colorful collection of supporting characters.
Flagg's book is part of the Black Gat line through Stark House Press, which puts out an admirable line of forgotten noirs and other similar titles. Flagg, actually John Gearon, wrote a string of these for Gold Medal in the 40s and 50s, though this is the first time I had encountered him.

I bought this from Stark House Press and read it quickly.  Recommended for fans of the spy genre and hard-boiled fiction.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

#52: The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Slightly burned-out Copenhagen cop Carl Morck now heads up Cold Cases in a dank basement, and--because of his meticulous assistant Assad and insouciant secretary Rose--reluctantly solves the case of murdered teen siblings in The Absent One.

The Absent One is the second in Jussi Adler-Olsen's highly regarded Department Q series, which has also spawned a trilogy of hit movies in his native Denmark.

This novel follows the pattern of its predecessor, The Keep of Lost Causes, with almost comedic scenes in the office contrasting with crime elements that include rape, torture, animal abuse, and more.  It can at times be somewhat jarring, with strong subject matter for the casual reader.

But Adler-Olsen is a great mystery writer, and The Absent One is recommended for discriminating readers.

I checked this out on audiobook from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

#51: Cruel is the Night by Karo Hamalainen

Two Finnish couples, made up of old friends, spend an evening having dinner in a luxurious London apartment--only to have it end with one left alive--in Karo Hamalainen's Cruel is the Night.

Cruel is the Night is an inky-black comedy of manners centered around a dinner party where every attendee brings something hidden to the table, be it infidelity or fraud or other vices, as well as a lifetime of resentments.  Unfortunately, an ornamental sword and a variety of poisons end up too readily at hand.

Hamalainen's novel ranges from riotously funny, to frightening and shocking, taking the reader on quite a ride; an Agatha Christie novel as told by Brett Easton Ellis.

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

#50: Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach

An independent young woman decides to slip from a dull engagement and forge her own path, quickly learning that path leads into the arms of a rugged sailor, in Tender Wings of Desire by Catherine Kovach (writing as, of all people, Colonel Sanders).

Tender Wings of Desire was offered as a free Kindle download as part of a Kentucky Fried Chicken promotion. It was very interesting to me, because of the thought that a fast food franchise believed that somebody might want to read a book, instead of play a game or mess around on an app.  And they were right, which is really something to meditate on.

The second surprise is that the novella is pretty straight-faced, and hits all the right beats for fans of the romance genre.  The setting is sort of quasi-Austen, and the characters hit comfortable notes.  Despite the trappings, Kovach took her job seriously, and delivered for fans.

Tender Wings of Desire is a quick, accessible read and worthwhile, especially for readers of the genre.

Monday, June 12, 2017

#49: The Doomsday Affair by Harry Whittington

The swingin' men from U.N.C.L.E. go after the typical nut with a nuclear weapon in Harry Whittington's The Doomsday Affair, based on the 60s TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I discovered Harry Whittington earlier this year, an industrious pulp paperback novelist who cranked out noirs, westerns, and more under a number of names over a number of years.  I have become a fan, and thus couldn't pass this up at a goodbye price in a heaping box of paperbacks at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention.

I remember watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as a teen (never as popular in my house as Mission: Impossible or The Wild, Wild West) but still a fun slice of spy adventure. 

Whittington's novel seems much more muscular and serious than I remember the series (after an exploding lei at the outset) with car chases, fistfights, nerve gas attacks, and a last-ditch effort to prevent a nuke from launching. 

Quick and fun, and doesn't really rely much on remembering the series.  For Whittington completists, which I seem to be becoming.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

#48: The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

L.A. cop Harry Bosch is looking retirement square in the eye, but wants to close out a few cold cases first in Michael Connelly's The Burning Room.

In my mind, Connelly's Bosch series stands alongside Walter Moseley's Easy Rawlins and Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series as among the great contemporary police procedurals. 

In this outing, Bosch and a new partner investigate what at first appears to be random violence from a stray bullet, but might actually be tied to the rise of a political figure; and work on a more personal case involving a fire at an unlicensed daycare.

Connelly's tight writing (his background is journalism) and crisp plotting always makes for a fast, enjoyable read, with the richness of the series and its characters evident to longtime readers.

I listened to a nice audiobook version read by Titus Welliver, on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#47: Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

A police detective is assigned to media relations, though secretly wishes to return to crime-busting; but when an unsolved kidnapping comes back to the forefront, he may get his wish in Hideo Yokoyama's Six Four.

Six Four is a big undertaking, over 600 pages long, much of which dealing with the psychological, social, and political underpinnings of work in the Tokyo police force.  The crime elements don't really ramp up until the last quarter of the book, as the detective tries to balance new clues in the kidnapping with his own daughter's disappearance.

For those readers up to the challenge, Yokoyama's work is very rewarding, and really drills into Japanese culture as well as the machinery of contemporary police work.  Recommended.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana, and ended up checking it out several times to finish it off.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

#46: Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt's first book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland revealed him as an Earth-2 version of myself, growing up on Dungeons and Dragons and sci-fi movies; his latest collection of essays, Silver Screen Fiend, only cements his status as a lost brother.

In this, Oswalt talks about the transformative power the New Beverly Cinema had on him as he struggled as a standup comedian, writer, and actor.  The New Beverly showed classic and cult double features, and Oswalt became obsessed with the venue and movies in general.

Most interestingly, Oswalt talks about the idea of a "Night Cafe"--a room you go into (real or figurative), and come out forever changed.  How these "Night Cafes" steered his career in various ways was fascinating, to me.

I listened to this on audiobook, read by the author, and that may be the best way to enjoy Oswalt's musings.  This copy was on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Recommended for fans of nerd culture of all stripes.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

#45: Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll

An unnamed narrator, mistaken for someone else, goes on a perilous journey and brushes up against death and sex in Atlantic Hotel by Brazilian author João Gilberto Noll.

Noll's slender novel is a lot of things at once; a surreal odyssey, a religious analogy, a hardboiled noir, a psychedelic parable.  The back-cover description makes it sound like more of a noir, but its hallucinogenic imagery, and cryptic finale, make it anything--and everything--but.

Recommended for those readers who enjoy literary fiction and/or international fiction, but are prepared for sex and violence.

I purchased this with an Amazon gift card and read it quickly.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

#44: The Whites by Harry Brandt

A gang of rule-bending New York cops who once called themselves "The Wild Geese" are aging, retiring, and mellowing; but their past comes back to haunt them in The Whites by Richard Price, using the pseudonym Harry Brandt.

The Whites of the title are the "white whales" that the cops each carry in their memories, criminals they tried to prosecute for terrible crimes that somehow slipped through the system.  When the "Whites" start dying off, the one remaining member of The Wild Geese, coasting out on the graveyard shift, tries to figure it all out, even while another troubled cop zeroes in on his family.

Richard Price has written some great literate, tough-minded urban fiction, such as The Wanderers and Clockers, and apparently decided to set out and write a straight genre novel--but it reads so much like vintage Price that his secret was uncovered quicker than J.K. Rowling's "Robert Galbraith."  There are vivid characters spouting colorful dialogue, lots of kinetic action, and a murky finale.

Recommended.  I listened to a very good audiobook reading, on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana, read by Ari Fliakos.

Friday, May 19, 2017

#43: The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

A writer decides to explore the long-ago relationship between H.P. Lovecraft and a gay teenage fan; when he goes missing, his therapist wife reluctantly takes up the search in Paul La Farge's The Night Ocean.

This interlude in Lovecraft's life is real, as is this young man growing up to be one of William S. Burrough's professors in Mexico City, in the "truth is stranger than fiction" category.  How La Farge blends truth and fiction is a compelling, decades-spanning riff on science fiction, fandom, relationships, and more, peppered with lots of real-life people and well-drawn fictional ones.

La Farge creates stories within stories, peeling back the onion on truth, lies, and speculation, an interesting metafiction that would appeal to fans of literary and genre fiction.  Recommended.

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

#42: Two Graves for a Gunman by Barry Cord

A young cowhand is challenged by the outlaw Texas Jack to a showdown; when the less experienced cowhand surprisingly kills the outlaw, he sets out to find out more about the man he killed in Barry Cord's Two Graves for a Gunman.

The two graves of the title come into play when the cowhand finds out Texas Jack might have been a Civil War hero, and already has a memorial in a small town nearby.  Many secrets, that the townspeople would prefer to have stayed buried, begin to come to the surface.

Barry Cord was in reality the highly prolific author Peter Germano, who wrote mostly westerns for paperback and television. This oater is tight and compact enough to be pretty much television-sized, and was a quick read.

Two Graves for a Gunman is half of an Ace Double with another Barry Cord novel, The Deadly Amigos, on the flip side.  I nabbed this at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Chicago, and enjoyed it enough to start reading the other side.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

#41: Glaxo by Hernan Ronsino

In a remote Argentinian town, at an intersection where a barbershop, a bar, a movie theater and a giant factory all squat alongside a train track getting dismantled, murder, betrayal, and revenge play out over several decades in Hernan Ronsino's Glaxo.

Glaxo is a slender, tightly-wound noir whose puzzle is intricately assembled through multiple narrators jumping back and forth in time.  Everything is packed in there from a femme fatale to a framed innocent to a stool pigeon to a corrupt official who orchestrates it all in the end. 

The denouement is especially satisfying, and caused me to thumb back through the book to see the tumblers fall.

This is Ronsino's first novel translated into English, and is as sure-handed and hard-boiled a noir as I have read.  Recommended for fans seeking new voices.

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

#40: Camanchaca by Diego Zuniga

A young, disenfranchised Chilean man tries to work through some deep-rooted family dysfunction in Diego Zuniga's Camanchaca.

The young man travels over the summer with his absent father, and his father's new wife and son, while keeping a too-close tether to his mother back home and dealing with a reproachful grandfather.

Zuniga's novel is slender--most of the chapters are a single page, or even a paragraph--and full of tiny sketches, many of them mournful, some uncomfortable, and some mysterious (including the unexplained fate of a missing uncle).

Finely-wrought prose in an interesting debut.  For fans of literate character sketches, and complicated answers to hard questions.

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

#39: The Green Eagle Score by Richard Stark

Legendary thief Parker is brought in on a payroll heist that, surprisingly, takes place on an Air Force base in Richard Stark's The Green Eagle Score.

Donald Westlake wrote quite a few Parker novels as Richard Stark, mostly hard-boiled caper novels, a lot of which became movies, comics, spinoff novels, homages, and so on.  I have read and enjoyed a number of them over the years, which I started looking for after getting to meet the gracious Westlake once.

I found this novel, from the late 60s, as an audiobook at the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana, so I gave it a listen.  It's a very tidy little heist story with an interesting setting, and naturally has the requisite double and triple crosses (many centered around an unscrupulous psychotherapist). 

Genre readers who have yet to discover Donald Westlake, or The Green Eagle Score in particular, will find much to enjoy.

Friday, April 28, 2017

#38: Catalina Eddy by Daniel Pyne

Daniel Pyne's Catalina Eddy deftly threads together three crime novellas, representing different styles and time periods.

In "The Big Empty," set in the 50s, a former spy turned L.A. private eye hunts the killer of his estranged wife; in "Losertown," a San Diego prosecutor in the 80s tries to catch a drug lord while fighting uphill against politics; and in "Portugese Bend," a contemporary thriller, a paralyzed cop and a crime scene photog unmask a police cover-up.

For fans of California-style noir, this is a pretty cool idea and a good read.  The stories are connected by various threads, with children in one story being (often troubled) adults in a second, and the fates of characters in earlier stories sometimes casually revealed. 

Although the politics are often painted in broad strokes, the storytelling remains interesting throughout.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

#37: All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer

Former lovers, one also a former spy but the other a current one, discuss a long-ago terror attack over dinner--all the while peeling back their failed relationship--in Olen Steinhauer's meditative spy novel All the Old Knives.

Steinhauer borrows heavily from the old school of LeCarre and Deighton, focusing as much on the tangled personal webs as the treacherous professional ones, as both people reveal their own thoughts about a possible traitor in their midst.

Nicely done, in alternating chapters from dual viewpoints, and satisfying spy elements alongside a more philosophical bent.

This one benefited from a really nice audiobook reading from two narrators, Ari Fliakos and Juliana Francis Kelly.  I borrowed it from the Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

#36: McAllister and the Spanish Gold by Matt Chisholm

McAllister is a gun hand with some crooked law on his tail, so he teams up with a disparate group to chase a legendary gold cache in Matt Chisholm's McAllister and the Spanish Gold.

McAllister featured in a long-running series of oaters, and I was a little disappointed that this one wasn't narrated by Matt Chisholm himself (actually author Peter Watts) as was the last one I read, but it was still written in the same humorous, conversational style.

The focus is on high adventure as McAllister is hired to protect the group from hostile Indians and bandits, but as they are all ready to double and triple cross each other, McAllister ends up with his hands full.

Enjoyable western action, and I plan on looking for more of Matt Chisholm.  This particular one I got from a lot of vintage western paperbacks on eBay.

Friday, April 21, 2017

#35: Police by Jo Nesbo

The intrepid cops of Oslo law enforcement pull out all the stops when a cop killer starts on a shocking spree in Jo Nesbo's Police.

Police is the latest in the Harry Hole crime series, even though the fate of Harry Hole--the troubled detective who seemed to be slightly to mostly dead-ish at the end of the last novel--isn't revealed until a chunk of this one is underway.

The spotlight turns on Hole's established supporting cast, and when one of those falls victim to the killer, Hole has no choice but to put himself back into play.

Nesbo's great crime series gets a fast-paced entry, which helps smooth over the grisly parts for the casual reader.  Another downbeat ending, where the reader is once again reminded that good never quite triumphs over evil, provides a dour Scandinavian coda.

But Nesbo's thrillers are top flight in any language.  I listened to a good audiobook reading on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

#34: Coyote Courage by Scott Harris

A drifting gunman, with a horse called Horse and a wolf called Wolf for companions, stops in a small town under siege and ends up making a stand in Coyote Courage by Scott Harris.

Our easygoing protagonist--who nonetheless is sharp with a gun--reluctantly, and then with gradual acceptance, falls into a circle of people that includes a pretty young woman and her grieving father, a lonely young boy, and several other townspeople, taking their side against a group of toughs running roughshod over their lives.  Hits the expected beats, but holds out a few surprises.

Nicely done contemporary western reminds me most of the writing of Loren Estleman and Elmer Kelton, and would be enjoyed by fans of those authors.

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

#33: Seven Westbound by Marshall Grover

Big Jim is looking for the man that gunned down his kid brother, but in the meantime helps guard a stagecoach carrying a dangerous outlaw, in Marshall Grover's Seven Westbound.

Seven Westbound is a tight little western, with colorful characters, including a bandit leader who always wears a mask (whose identity is, naturally, revealed in a surprise ending).  Plenty of action ensues when the outlaw's gang uses every means at hand to try and spring him.

Marshall Grover was actually Leonard Meares, and was also Marshall McCoy, which is what name the books were released under in the U.S.  To add to the confusion, Big Jim was called Nevada Jim in the U.S.  Either way, Meares knocked out hundreds of novels featuring Big Jim and other characters.

I first learned about Meares through Piccadilly Publishing, which has been bringing these back via Kindle.  This one, and several others, came out of  an ebay lot of vintage westerns.  Definitely on the prowl for more of these.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

#32: Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

James Bond swings into action when a diabolical plot to sabotage the Space Race is revealed in Trigger Mortis, a new James Bond novel set in the late 1950s, during the time of the original Ian Fleming series.

The recent James Bond novels have ranged from excellent (Sebastian Faulks' Devil May Care) to just okay (Jeffrey Deaver's Carte Blanche), but Horowitz's entry is pretty good.  It has all the requisite elements, including a memorable Formula One car race against a Soviet driver, and a climactic motorcycle vs subway train chase, plus colorful villains and supporting characters.

Interestingly, Trigger Mortis snugs in just a few weeks after the events in the novel Goldfinger, and includes "Bond Girl" Pussy Galore from that story.

Fans of Fleming's original Bond novels will find a lot to enjoy here.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library on audiobook.  The audiobook version got some attention when it was announced that actor David Oyelowo was the reader, making him the first African-American to portray James Bond--and he does a great job with the reading.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

#31: The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping by Keigo Higashino

An ad man's marketing idea is turned down by a demanding auto exec, leading him into a complicated revenge plan featuring the daughter of the exec's mistress, in Keigo Higashino's The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping.

The ad man and the daughter cobble together a fake kidnapping plot to extort money from the exec, but naturally nothing goes quite as planned. 

Highashino presents the storytelling in sort of a breezy caper style, but the three main characters are all pretty amoral, leading to double and triple crosses and a surprisingly downbeat ending.  Of added value is a glimpse into Japanese culture, for those interested.

A solid crime read in an international setting, for fans.

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

#30: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

A theater director, drummed out of his summer stock company Shakespeare Festival, plots a long-range revenge in Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed.

Hag-Seed is part of a new series of re-imagined Shakespeare works from the Hogarth Shakespeare Project.  Atwood (probably best known for The Handmaid's Tale) takes on The Tempest, creating a world within a world as the director decides to put on The Tempest at a local prison.  Before too long, the play mirrors the actions in real life.

Very clever, with a lot of cool elements, but at some points feels more like an exercise than a fully realized work.  Nonetheless Hag-Seed is an enjoyable read and has lots of little nuggets to mine for Shakespeare fans (as well as Atwood's).

I listened to a nice audiobook version of this novel on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

#29: Phantom by Jo Nesbo

Haunted Oslo cop Harry Hole is hunkered down in Hong Kong, chasing his demons; but when a young man he once befriended is accused of a drug addict's murder, he returns to the scene with a vengeance in Jo Nesbo's Phantom.

Nesbo's crime series featuring tarnished angel Harry Hole is, I think, one of the great contemporary detective series, Scandinavian or otherwise.

This one--which features a devastating drug called Violin catching hold in the city--is unrelentingly bleak, even by the high standards of gloominess set by Scandinavian noir.  A surprisingly downbeat finale, which features the fates of multiple characters up for speculation, and the general triumph of evil over good, makes it challenging for the unwary, but a good entry in the series.

I listened to a good audiobook version of this on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Friday, March 17, 2017

#28: McAllister on the Comanche Crossing by Matt Chisholm

Range-tough McAllister takes a band of colorful characters on a doomed cattle drive, dogged by stormy weather, hostile Indians, and general bad luck in Matt Chisholm's rambunctious cattle-drive epic McAllister on the Comanche Crossing.

McAllister featured in a number of oaters penned by Chisholm (actually British writer Peter Watts), and it is Chisholm himself who laconically narrates the action in the story, with amusing results.

There is also plenty of tough, wide-open action in what is a pleasing western from the Piccadilly Cowboys, a hearty band of Brits who wrote generally spaghetti-flavored westerns from the 60s onward.

I got this one from Piccadilly Publishing for my beloved Kindle and will definitely look for more of Matt Chisholm.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

#28: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won a Pulitzer for The Sympathizer (one of my favorite reads from last year), is back with The Refugees, a collection of stories featuring finely-drawn characters from all walks of life.

In this collection, we find a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia--and calling her a name she's never heard before--a man who befriends an organ donor with a shady past, a young man coming to grips with his sexuality, a young woman visited by her brother's ghost, a new teacher and her father trying to understand each other, and more. 

Rather than being a set of short stories about refugees, Nguyen has written a collection about people who happen to be refugees, or where a refugee is a supporting character.  The storytelling ranges across the United States and Vietnam.

Timely, rewarding, and recommended. 

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

#27: Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

After World War I, a misfit band of anarchists, poets, and malcontents (with names like The Art Witch and The Ace of Hearts) carve their own country out of pieces of Italy and Yugoslavia--a nutty story made even stranger by the fact that some of it is true--in Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia.

Pirate Utopia is part steampunk and part alternate history, filled with eye-popping modernist illustrations, but is based on real events and people, played out on a long, weird string. 

Unfortunately, I think it could have played out just a bit longer, as it ends just as American spies Harry Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard crash the party, and I could have read a lot more story featuring them.  Perhaps a sequel may one day be in the offing.

Slender and strange, with additional commentary packing both ends about where it all comes from, Pirate Utopia is recommended for those science fiction readers who like stories that don't easily fit into one box or another.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana, and read it quickly.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

#26: Limbo Pass by Marshall Grover

A peaceful frontier town is the target of a ruthless gang's bank robbery and murder, and a ragtag posse--with an aging sheriff, a widow, a pacifist, a gambler, a drunken doctor, and others--set off in pursuit.  But the odds are in their favor as at the front rides Big Jim, with his own score to settle, in Marshall Grover's Limbo Pass.

Marshall Grover was actually Leonard Meares, who wrote hundreds of westerns about Big Jim and other series characters.  Piccadilly Publishing is bringing these back via Kindle, but this one is an American paperback that I got from ebay in a big lot of vintage westerns, where the lead is called "Nevada Jim" and the pseudonym is "Marshall McCoy" for whatever reason.

But despite this winding publishing history, Limbo Pass is plenty rip-roaring, as the posse struggles with each other as well as a seemingly unbeatable gang, whose reason for knowing their every move is revealed in the final chapters.  Slender but satisfying, for fans of spaghetti-style westerns.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

#25: 113 Minutes by James Patterson and Max DiLallo

A teenager dies of a drug overdose, and his grieving mother and her brothers plot an elaborate Texas revenge in James Patterson's 113 Minutes.

113 Minutes is an entry in Patterson's Bookshots line, a series of slender paperbacks written with a variety of co-authors and built for speed and quick consumption.  I am probably not the first one to wryly note that this one would probably take about 113 minutes to read.

Obviously the plot cracks along, with a couple of complex heists pulled off with a dogged agent in pursuit, the situations ranging from slightly unbelievable to wholly unbelievable.  But you know what you're getting when you turn the first page.

I listened to this on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#24: The Man from Cheyenne by Jack Slade

Lassiter is a hired gun who goes after a runaway wife with a big bounty on her head, but double and triple crosses stand between him and the reward in Jack Slade's The Man from Cheyenne.

Lassiter is a true western antihero, poured in the spaghetti western mold, and initially penned by the prolific mystery and western writer W.T. Ballard.  Ballard used the well-traveled Jack Slade pseudonym for this one (as did the subsequent writers of this series).

The storytelling is hard-bitten, and a conclusion lacking redemption surprises.  This early entry must have clicked with readers, as Lassiter rode the trail a long time.

I found this at a used bookstore in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

#23: The Girls by Emma Cline

At the end of the 60s, at the end of her parents' marriage, a teenage girl gradually disconnects from suburbia and falls in with a growingly dangerous cult in Emma Cline's debut The Girls.

The Girls has elements of literary fiction and elements of thriller, with the obvious parallel being to the Manson murders.  But at its center Cline's novel is really about a young girl's awakening sexuality, and her attraction to a magnetic young woman in the cult. 

How this relationship slowly, and then quickly, destroys lives around them is the spine of the story.

This is a solid read for those with any type of fiction interests and is recommended.  A really good rendition on audiobook by Cady McClain adds value.

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

#22: The Wild Stallions by John Benteen

The Army has their eyes on the prize horses of a defeated Indian tribe, but Jim Sundance--a product of both worlds, who has fought on both sides--begs to differ in The Wild Stallions by Ben Haas (as John Benteen).

I have been reading and enjoying this western series featuring tough-minded storytelling mixed in with real characters and situations (this volume including brushes with Chief Joseph and Calamity Jane, among others).  A generally more clear-eyed renditions of the treatment of the Indians than you see in a lot of vintage Western fiction is a welcome change.

If you like your westerns more Lee Van Cleef and less Gene Autry, Benteen's Sundance novels are worth digging up.

A friend sent me a batch of these in the mail recently, and I read this one quickly.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

#21: Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

A young man in Iowa--working in a small town video store at the end of the VHS era--finds unsettling clips spliced into tape rentals, upending his world in John Darnielle's Universal Harvester.

Darnielle's second novel, after the acclaimed Wolf in White Van, is both a sketch of rural midwestern life and at the same time a very creepy horror-flavored story with more questions at the end than answers.  Without ever showing its hand, the novel gets under your skin--to the point that I picked it up and put it down several times, but ultimately finished it.

Darnielle carefully sketches a world that shows the serenity of an endless cornfield, but the underlying uncertainties of how a rusty car got left in the middle of it all.

A mix of literary novel and early Stephen King thriller, Universal Harvester is rewarding for interested readers.

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

#20: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Somebody sent London P.I. Cormoran Strike a severed leg, and he has several suspects to chose from in the latest thriller from J.K. Rowling (writing under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym) Career of Evil.

Rowling was outed as Galbraith some time ago, but it's a good thing that she is still using the name, so an unsuspecting young muggle doesn't inadvertently wander into this story.  It is chock full of adult elements, including gruesome murders and dismemberment, spousal and child abuse, and plenty of fighting and gunplay.

But it is Rowling's characters and situations that go beyond the genre trappings; Strike's troubled childhood with a rock star father, his loyal assistant Robin on the verge of making a bad luck marriage, and various family members and friends are well drawn and interesting.

This is the third in the series, and all are recommended to mystery fans.

I listened to this on audiobook from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.  The story was really enhanced by a good read from Robert Glenister.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

#19: The Believer by Joakim Zander

A woman in New York is a trendspotter for hip companies; back in Sweden, her younger brother Fadi becomes radicalized and heads to Syria; and in London, another woman has a laptop stolen after a night of drinking.

How these three storylines connect, and are connected to shadowy government agencies, is at the center of Swedish thriller The Believer by Joakim Zander.

This is a big, globe-trotting book ready-made for a movie adaptation starring Emily Blunt.  In the writing world, I would most closely equate Zander with late-era John LeCarre.

Slices of immigrant life in Sweden adds value to one of those big conspiracy storylines it never pays to think too hard about.

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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

#18: The Pistoleros by John Benteen

Gun-for-hire Jim Sundance takes on a gang holed up in a desert fortress--even as he has a price on his own head--in The Pistoleros, another entry in the Sundance western series by the prolific Ben Haas (writing as John Benteen).

Sundance has a white father and Cheyenne mother, and uses his skills to try and help those in need in both worlds; mostly by hiring himself out in dangerous situations, and then using his hefty payment to help with Native American issues in far-off Washington.  It's a pretty interesting premise that underlies what in this case is a sturdy western with a spaghetti flavor.

After finding a single Sundance not long ago, I have been on the prowl for more, as Haas seems to write a cut above the standard oater; a friend sent me a batch in the mail, and this was the first one of those I knocked out. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

#17: Lethal Injection by Jim Nisbet

An alcoholic doctor, who makes ends meet by administering lethal injections at a nearby prison, believes he has killed an innocent man; when his marriage bottoms out, he decides to find the real killer in Jim Nisbet's Lethal Injection.

This inky-black noir has been labeled by some a contemporary classic of the genre, but is not for the faint-hearted.  The story is bracketed by two scenes that are especially not for the squeamish; the opening lethal injection at the prison, and a heart-stopping finale in a squalid apartment, where a lethal dose of drugs is unwittedly passed around.

The doctor's dark path is compelling throughout, and Nisbet writes with a literary bent; but I will have to rest my mind a while before seeking out more of his work.

I listened to this in a good audiobook reading on loan from the New Castle Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

#16: The Enforcer by Kirk Hamilton

Yancey Bannerman is the son of a wealthy west coast patriarch, yet prefers the dusty Texas trail; but when his wayward brother gets into hot water, he's drawn back into the family's problems in Kirk Hamilton's The Enforcer.

The Enforcer was the first in a long series of westerns featuring Bannerman, actually written by Australian Keith Hetherington, who used a batch of other pseudonyms as well for various western series. 

Bannerman is aided by Johnny Cato, a helpful gunsmith with an unusual weapon, and plenty of drinking, fighting, and shooting ensues.  It all leads to a tidy wrap-up which dovetails into the rest of the book series, where Bannerman and Cato are special "enforcers" for the Governor of Texas, a salty character himself.

This is an agreeable western from Piccadilly Publishing, which specializes in bringing these British and Australian writers of Italian-style westerns to light.  I bought this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Monday, January 23, 2017

#15: Night of the Horns by Douglas Sanderson

An up-and-coming lawyer seems to have it all, including a loving wife, close friends, and a growing practice; but when he agrees to pick up a suitcase for a shady client, it all collapses overnight in Night of the Horns by Douglas Sanderson.

One thing I really enjoy about Stark House Press is that they put out some crime and noir novels from people I have never heard of, but obviously should learn more about.  Night of the Horns is as bleak and hard-boiled a noir as I've ever read, and since it was written in the 1950s has plenty simmering under the surface, including homoeroticism, abortion, infidelity, impotence, and more.

Night of the Horns is a very tough but rewarding entry in the noir genre, and I will look for more from Sanderson. 

I checked this out from the New Castle Henry County Public Library in New Castle Indiana and read it quickly.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

#14: The Penalty Area by Alain Gillot

A washed-out soccer player tries to put the pieces back together by coaching a youth squad, but the appearance of his wayward sister and his nephew opens up old wounds in Alain Gillot's The Penalty Area.

We find out quickly the nephew has undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, which plays out in an uncanny ability to read soccer defenses.  The coach tries him out as goalkeeper, helping build their relationship as well as not coincidentally helping out a hard-luck team.  A friendly psychiatrist with her own baggage offers a love interest.

This French novel reads much like Nick Hornby's work, such as About A Boy, and is the sort of feel-good family relationship story that is ready-made for a movie version.  It is a slight but at times emotionally engaging read.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

#13: The Widow by Fiona Barton

A woman gradually begins to suspect that her husband is responsible for a child's disappearance in The Widow by Fiona Barton.

Barton's novel is at both times a portrait of a marriage and a psychological thriller, and the story ratchets up the tension by peeling back the onion through one revelation after the next.  Although I saw the ending coming, it was sufficiently suspenseful throughout.

The Widow benefits from having various chapters told from alternating points of view, mostly from an ambitious reporter and a dogged police detective, but also including the mother and the husband.

I listened to a very good audiobook recording (on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana) that took great advantage of the multiple POVs by having different voices read the parts, adding value.

The Widow tries to land in the same range as The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, with pretty good results.  For fans of thrillers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

#12: Cross the Red Creek by Harry Whittington

A young man tries to dig himself out of being framed for a robbery, only to have the whole town against him, in Harry Whittington's Cross the Red Creek.

With its unfaithful women, unfriendly cops, and unbeatable odds, Whittington's novel reads more like a classic noir; but it is actually an extremely hard-boiled western.  It is the second novel in a bound trilogy of westerns by Whittington put out by Stark House Press that I have been consuming this month.

Whittington was a pulp writer of some reputation, with a long list of titles in multiple genres, though generally writing in mystery/thriller/noir.  Those influences definitely play into this fast-paced oater.

I read this quickly over a few nights.

Monday, January 16, 2017

#11: Death's End by Cixin Liu

Humankind and a remorseless alien invader have an uneasy stalemate, but both sides find out the universe is bigger and badder than they imagined in Death's End, the finish to Cixin Liu's mammoth sci-fi trilogy.

The Three-Body Problem was the most mind-blowing science fiction I read last year, or in recent years, and my favorite new novel to recommend to any sci-fi fans.  All three books are filled with crazy ideas and painted on a galaxy-wide, century-spanning tapestry.

But the trilogy, topping out close to 2,000 pages, is also relentlessly downbeat, with the human race continuously set back after missteps and missed opportunities, slivers of hope usually extinguished by overwhelming odds.  Although I admired much of the original thinking and plotting, even I felt a little ennui by the end of the third novel.

This trilogy is a great achievement, translated from Chinese and making a big splash in its English debut; it requires a debt of time but also an emotional debt for the willing.

I checked this out from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana and had to renew it several times to finish it off.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

#10: The Oslo Conspiracy by Asle Skredderberget

A young woman is murdered in Rome, and her younger brother killed in a schoolyard in Oslo; it is up to an Oslo cop with a Norwegian father and an Italian mother to stitch the two cases together in The Oslo Conspiracy from Asle Skredderberget.

I enjoy a lot of Scandinavian mysteries, but I'm not sure I've ever read one with a protagonist quite like this; typically the main characters are quite morose with myriad emotional problems, but Milo Cavalli--from a moneyed family, with plenty of girlfriends  and a penchant for globe-trotting and other fine things--is positively breezy by comparison.

The plotting is a breezier as well, reading a bit more like a beach thriller with action scenes with backdrops in various cities and a storyline featuring international business,, crime gangs, and the mysterious sinking of an Italian ship years ago.

Much lighter than the average Scandinavian thriller, for better or worse depending on one's tastes; either way quite readable.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

#9: Chase by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

A man appears to commit suicide jumping from a New York skyscraper, but cop Michael Bennett quickly learns that he might not have jumped, and may have been living under an assumed name, in Chase from James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge.

Bennett learns that the mystery corpse had ties to various levels of military and government, making things more complicated and leading Bennett to a remote Pennsylvania encampment.

This is in the Bookshots line from James Patterson and various co-authors, slender novels with short chapters and very quickly-paced plots.  I grabbed a handful of these with Christmas money from Books-A-Million in Muncie, Indiana at two-for-one prices.  Stacking the four I bought together makes it about as tall as the average beach read.  And the two I have read so far have that tone.

Chase was brisk and enjoyable, for thriller fans who are eager for a quick read.

Monday, January 9, 2017

#8: Drift! by Marshall Grover

Two rowdy Texas cowpokes end up helping a schoolmarm intent on testifying against an outlaw in Marshall Grover's laconic Western Drift!

Drift! was the first of Grover's long-running series featuring Larry and Stretch, two hard-drinking and hard-fighting Texans who nonetheless have hearts of gold.  This entry was an even mix of tongue-in-cheek comedy and raucous action, with engaging characters.  The formula apparently worked for a long while.

I had never heard of Marshall Grover before the new year, and yet have read two inaugural series novels from Grover this month, liking them both. Leonard Meares was an Australian author who wrote as "Marshall Grover" and under a passel of other names.

I read this quickly on my beloved Kindle via Piccadilly Publishing, who seem intent on bringing back tons of classic Westerns from (primarily) British writers.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

#7: The Leopard by Jo Nesbo

Oslo cop Harry Hole is hiding out in Hong Kong, awash in alcohol and drugs; but a string of killings coaxes him back into service in The Leopard.

I--rather perversely--read a lot of Scandinavian mysteries in the wintertime, and Jo Nesbo is one of my favorites; but this one, full of the typical morose characters and subzero temps, but also fatal avalanches and grisly torture, was almost too much to bear on cold nights.

As usual, Nesbo's plots are full of twists and turns and reversals of fortune, but The Leopard plays out on a broader canvas than usual, from a remote cabin in Norway to Hong Kong's seedy underbelly to war-torn Africa.

I listened to a good reading on audiobook on loan from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

#6: Scratch A Thief by John Trinian

An ex-con with a young family tries to go straight, but his criminal brother and a vengeful cop point him on a crooked path in John Trinian's Scratch A Thief.

Scratch A Thief is an especially hardboiled noir, with literary touches and a great sense of place (early 60s San Francisco), which makes this read especially rewarding.  The forward mentions that there was a film version as well.

Speaking of the forward, I originally became interested in the book because of the colorful history of the author, who counted among his friends people like Jack Kerouac and Richard Brautigan.  It seems apparent that Trinian's real life often bled over into his (relatively small, for pulp writers) book and television output.

But the novel stands on its own merits and is recommended for noir fans.

I got this in a nice edition from Stark House Press, in a double with House of Evil.  I am eager to read more from John Trinian.

Friday, January 6, 2017

#5: The House Husband by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

A cop just a day back from maternity leave stalks a serial killer who targets families in The House Husband, from James Patterson's Bookshots line.

I got a handful of these at two-for-one prices at Books-A-Million with Christmas money, because I have been interested in checking this new series out.  Bookshots are thrillers and romances in the beach read style, but at about one-fifth the size.  All are overseen by Patterson with a co-author, in this instance Duane Swierczynski, whose books and comics I have been interested in on their own merits.

This story, told in alternating chapters by the cop and the killer (who seems to lead the mild life of the house husband of the title) hits all the expected beats, but a twisty ending and a Philadelphia setting add value.

I enjoyed reading this quickly, as intended, and have a few more to peruse over the long winter months.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

#4: Trouble Rides Tall by Harry Whittington

An aging marshal has finally tamed a town, but the murder of a saloon girl brings long-buried emotions to the surface in Harry Whittington's Trouble Rides Tall.

This is my first read by the prolific Whittington, a very hard-bitten western that almost reads like a hard-boiled mystery.  Trouble Rides Tall has a solid noir element, with resonant characters, and is framed with plenty of gunplay.

Apparently this was a popular western by Whittington, as according to a forward to the novel, it was later made into a television show.

I got this in a collection of three Harry Whittington novels from the notable noir publisher Stark House Press, and read the first one quickly.  I am eager to read the other two novels in the collection.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

#3: Normal by Warren Ellis

A consultant who forecasts the future loses his mind, and ends up in a sanitarium with others in the same profession; but when another patient disappears, he has to try to put the pieces back together in Warren Ellis' Normal.

I have followed Ellis' comic-book writing for a long time, and have always found his work interesting and frequently challenging; his previous novels follow the same vein.   

Normal is a bit different, in that it was first serialized through Amazon Kindle, and later published in a slim volume (which I checked out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library).  It is thematically a shade different as well, presenting as a locked-room mystery at the outset, and then later plumbing the near-future depths of authors like Cory Doctorow and Bruce Sterling (although perhaps with a slightly bleaker outlook).

I am always curious to know where Warren Ellis is going next, and when recommend this to readers of the offbeat.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

#2: The Ghost Dancers by John Benteen

Sundance is half-Cheyenne, and has fought in both worlds; but settling down on a ranch with his wife doesn't end his troubles in John Benteen's The Ghost Dancers.

Benteen wrote lots of genre novels, in multiple series; I have dipped my toe in his Men's Adventure series Fargo but had never read one his Sundance novels until I came across this one at a flea market for a dollar.  John Benteen was, most of the time, the mainstream author Ben Haas.

This is an action-packed western, with several touchpoints throughout real history--including Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee--which adds value to the proceedings.

Benteen is always a solid storyteller, and I will look for more in the Sundance series.

Monday, January 2, 2017

#1: The Night McLennan Died by Marshall Grover

Big Jim Rand resigns his military commission to hunt the man that shot his brother in the back; but the trail turns towards a town under siege that needs a new deputy quick in Marshall Grover's The Night McLennan Died.

Piccadilly Publishing is re-issuing this long-running western series by the prolific Grover, and I snatched this first one up at an introductory price for my beloved Kindle.  Leonard Meares was the Australian author who wrote as "Marshall Grover" and kept busy with other pseudonyms as well.

Grover writes a burly western full of tough action and gunplay, with little time for frontier romance (though a wily Mexican sidekick provides some mild comic relief).  I prefer my westerns lean and laconic, and this one delivers.

This is my first introduction to Marshall Grover, and I will look for more of his writing.