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.