Wednesday, December 30, 2020

#66: Sidewinder by Jack Slade

Gun-hand Lassiter travels to Mexico to collect on an IOU, and ends up embroiled in local corruption and national politics, in Sidewinder, an entry in the long-running series by "Jack Slade."

Jack Slade was a lot of different people, in this case Frank Castle, considered one of the second-tier scribes of the series.  

But I liked this overheated, spaghetti-flavored western, written in a baroque style but never lacking in action.  

This one opens with Lassiter digging his own grave, but he quickly escapes only to be jailed a few more times in between killing owlhoots and bedding women.  

With a whole Mexican town against him, he hides away dynamite and weapons all over town, and needs them all in fast-paced finale.

I got this western in a Christmas swap in a paperback collecting Facebook group I belong to, and read it quickly on a camping trip.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

#65: Hangman's Territory by Jack M Bickham

 A gunhand comes to a Montana town to help settle a range war and goes against a hanging judge, a creepy hangman, and a murderous sheriff in Jack M. Bickham's Hangman's Territory.

The gunhand ends up teaming up with a greenhorn lawyer and a colorful, dynamite-happy friend for a tough battle and an action-packed finale.

Bickham wrote a lot of novels across genres, and perhaps is best known for The Apple Dumpling Gang and his Wildcat O'Shea stories.  It seems clearly that the eccentric character "Boom Boom" is an early incarnation of Wildcat, who is a somewhat comic figure with an appetite for explosives as well.

This was once half of an Ace Double but has been reprinted on its own several times.  One of the later versions came to me in a holiday book swap from a paperback collecting group I belong to on Facebook.

I read this one very quickly and would recommend for western fans.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

#64: Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

In 1990s Los Angeles, race relations are simmering when a Korean shop owner shoots an unarmed Black teenager; nearly 30 years later, the two families are threaded back together by another crime in Steph Cha's Your House Will Pay.

Cha's novel has elements of the crime genre, but is even more successful when it looks at the lives of the two families; in the Korean family, secrets around the shooting have caused estrangement, and in the other family, mourning has taken both positive and negative forms, from activism to violence.

And readers quickly learn that racial tensions haven't stopped simmering in Los Angeles since, although Cha tries to end on a somewhat positive note.

Your House Will Pay is a worthwhile novel for both genre and literary readers.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Bookmobile and read it quickly.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

#63: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

 A man who is part private eye/part enforcer on a South Dakota Indian reservation goes on a personal quest when drug dealers involve his young nephew in David Heska Wanbli Widen's debut crime novel Winter Counts.

Complicating matters further is the arrival of an old flame, which also embroils him in tribal politics.  Both stories intersect in an explosive, violent denouement.

The crime elements of the book pretty much go where you expect, but the settings and characters are noteworthy.  The reservation and its denizens provide a fresh look at the genre.

Our tarnished protagonist tried to ignore the old ways in favor of stark contemporary reality, but the old ways keep guiding him, whether he wants them to or not.

I enjoyed Winter Counts throughout and would recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary crime fiction but would like a more unique character and setting.

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

Sunday, December 6, 2020

#62: The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly

 "Lincoln Lawyer" Mickey Haller gets the most personal case of his career when a routine traffic stop finds the body of a former client in the trunk in Michael Connelly's The Law of Innocence.

Haller ends up defending himself as the prime murder suspect.  But he has to try to unravel the conspiracy against him from a jail cell, where he is under constant threat from inmates and prison guards alike.

Connelly is probably best known for his notable, long-running Harry Bosch series, but Bosch's half-brother has starred in a couple of his own books (and one movie).

This one is one of my favorites in that series, as it starts on a rocket in the first pages and never lets up.  More of a courtroom drama than Connelly's other books, but still written in the no-nonsense style I have always enjoyed from the author.

Recommended for fans.  I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library Bookmobile and read it very quickly.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

#61: Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Immediately following the events of Gideon the Ninth, a necromancer joins the Emperor and his inner circle in a bid to destroy an invading army of monsters, all while trying to navigate internal politics, in Tamsyn Muir's sequel to one of my favorite books from last year, Harrow the Ninth.

However, I flat didn't know what to make of this book.  The first one hundred pages (of approximately five hundred) are basically Harrowhawk getting over the shocking finale of the previous book.  Subsequently, she has flashbacks to the events of that novel, which actually don't match the earlier storyline.  

It becomes so dense and unwieldy that I kept going back to Wikipedia and the internet to refresh my memory on who the characters were and what was going on.

When all is revealed, it is a genuine surprise, and the story rockets along for the last one hundred pages or so (and ends basically on a cliffhanger for the wrap-up of the trilogy).

I ended up really enjoying this book but can't recommend it on its own merits; at this point, I feel it is best for new readers to wait for the trilogy to complete, and then read them all straight through.  I love Muir's writing style, and  Harrow the Ninth is a highly memorable science fiction romp, but just doesn't really stand on its own merits.

But if you have already read the first one, refresh your memory and then dive right in.

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

#60: Tall Man Riding by Peter McCurtin

 Gun-hand Carmody decides, at the spur of the moment, to rob a small bank, only to cross a gang who also wanted to rob it; when they beat him mercilessly in the middle of the street, he won't rest until the whole gang is dead in Peter McCurtin's Tall Man Riding.

McCurtin was an extremely prolific writer and editor across many genres; Carmody was a western series character that appeared in a number of volumes.  

To say Carmody is an anti-hero is putting it mildly; he kills men and beds women without much of a thought for either throughout.  To that end, it would be most polite to say that the book is a product of its time, with race relations and gender relations not portrayed in a contemporary vein.

But McCurtin is just a cracking good paperback writer, and I've found his books to be enjoyable for discriminating readers.

I got this in a batch of mixed western paperbacks from a friend and read it quickly.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

#59: Southern Showdown by Louis Masterson

 Lawman Morgan Kane walks away from the badge and becomes a hired gun, but soon suspects he signed on to the wrong side of an oil dispute, in Louis Masterson's Southern Showdown.

Masterson was Norwegian writer Kjell Hallbing, and his Morgan Kane series numbered close to a hundred volumes and was immensely popular.  Holding the storytelling threads together through various books, and showing the character grow and change, seem to be two hallmarks that readers enjoy.

But my sampling size is two, as only some have been translated into English, and are extremely hard to find in the wild.  If I see one on eBay for less than ten dollars, I snatch it up, which is where I found this one.

Southern Showdown is definitely spaghetti-flavored, full of sex and bloodshed, with an above-average story.  Masterson is worth seeking out for western fans looking for a series they might not have known about.

Friday, November 13, 2020

#58: These Women by Ivy Pochoda

 A serial killer is dispatching women on the bad streets of LA, and it's up to a disparate group of struggling women to sort out the truth in Ivy Pochoda's These Women.

Pochoda's writing is downbeat and clear-eyed, and the characterizations are vivid.  Chapters alternate between a haunted mother whose daughter died 15 years before, a hard-living stripper, a demoted police detective with PTSD, an artist with a myriad of repressed emotions, her equally repressed mother, and the killer's lone survivor whose voice goes unheard through the years.

The identity of the serial killer unspools rather readily but the storytelling is striking throughout, as the dominoes begin to tip over--who was a babysitter, who was a neighbor or a friend, until the plot threads right together to a tight finale involving everyone.

A compelling crime novel with a literary bent that I read at a rocket pace and found rewarding throughout.

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

Sunday, November 8, 2020

#57: The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda

 A mass poisoning at a family gathering in the 1970s, where only an enigmatic blind child survives, resonates through the decades in Riku Onda's The Aosawa Murders.

The plot sounds straightforward but the storytelling is unique, with each chapter telling the story from different perspectives, including characters with major roles such as a neighbor child who later writes a bestseller about the murders and an origami-loving detective down to people who only were involved peripherally, such as the neighbor of the suspected killer, the author's research assistant, and the children of various characters like the family housekeeper.  

Newspaper articles, interviews, and segments from the bestselling novel-within-a-novel also play an unusual role.

This is a strangely elliptical crime novel that had me guessing right to the very end, and even then I wasn't sure what had happened.  

Really a fascinating and offbeat read from a popular Japanese writer.  This is her first novel translated into English, via Bitter Lemon Press.  I hope more of her work is translated.  Recommended.

I got this for my birthday and read it steadily.

Monday, October 26, 2020

#56: Beyond the Pass by Lee Leighton

A bounty hunter takes a job tracking a pair of outlaws holed up in a small town about to get snowed in for the winter, thinking he can reconnect with his father and perhaps connect with a fiery young woman he had met there once before; but when he rides in and finds his father married to the woman, it makes for a long winter in Lee Leighton's Beyond the Pass.

Making things even more complicated, the outlaws don't seem that bad and the townspeople have a lot of dark secrets.  As it happens, his new stepmother may be the most dangerous one of them all.

The western veers close to noir before the finale.

I had never heard of Lee Leighton, who was actually Wayne Overholser, until pretty recently, and was surprised how good Hanging at Pulpit Rock was.  This one was also a cut above, with interesting characters and an above-average plot.

I was surprised again by Leighton/Overholser and happen to have one or two more in this big lot of mixed westerns I picked up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

#55: The Executioner Weeps by Frederic Dard

 A painter accidentally knocks down a mysterious woman carrying a violin along a desolate road in Spain; when she awakens with amnesia, they form an unhealthy attachment in Frederic Dard's The Executioner Weeps.

The artist becomes obsessed with the young woman, and doggedly ignores signs that maybe all was not well in her previous life; a quick trip back to France to check on clues reveals a tragic truth that leads to a downbeat ending.

Dard was a highly prolific author of French noir, and this entry was an award winner when it came out in the late 1950s.  This is a recent translation by the imprint Pushkin Vertigo.

The French noir novels I have sampled overall have a tendency to be short, very dark, and unpleasant, and I would say this first dip into Dard's work fits the criteria.

That being said, I enjoy Dard's writing quite a bit and would look for more of his lengthy bibliography.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

#54: A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez

 A mismatched pair of London cops are assigned to investigate the murder of a college student, but find the roots of the case reach into complex Ugandan politics, in Stav Sherez's A Dark Redemption.

This World Noir entry had a somewhat familiar pair of protagonists--the lead detective kind of an eccentric outcast, his new partner carrying a lot of baggage from a messy breakup--but the African themes in the plot elevate the surroundings.  

Of most interest is the lead detective, who had a promising recording career before visiting Africa with two friends after graduation; they make a few mistakes that lead to tragedy, and influences the detective's current behavior.  The flashbacks are one of the more compelling aspects of the storytelling.

This is a very solid police procedural and apparently the start of a new series.  I would look for the next one.  A pretty good change of pace.

I picked this up somewhere and read it steadily.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

#53: Peking and The Tulip Affair by Nick Carter

Nick Carter, Killmaster, hunts his old enemy Mr. Judas (actually escaped Nazi Martin Bormann) as Judas teams up with the Chinese to launch a deadly drug called Agent Z, in Peking, part of the long-running spy series.

As a teen, I read Nick Carter books avidly, and have decided to tentatively dip my toes back in to see how they hold up.

In this entry, Carter forgoes his usual array of nicknamed weapons and instead using an Astra Firecat .25 pistol and an incredibly handy pen that actually injects a serum that makes the recipient seem dead (and is used multiple ways at convenient times throughout).

This one was penned by Arnold Marmor, an old-school pulp fiction jockey, who writes in a terse, overheated style with a Nick Carter prone to anger and violence.

So terse, in fact, that the story goes that the book was too short, so instead of padding it out Marmor wrote a little short story to stick in the back.  To my knowledge, this is the only time this was ever allowed to happen, and might have contributed to the fact that Marmor only wrote one Killmaster book.

The short story, The Tulip Affair, is a pretty poker-faced and straightforward account of a double agent called Tulip who Carter sets out to kill and chases around Asia a bit before finishing the job.

This is a second-tier spy novel I picked up in a big stash of Nick Carters somewhere, and read quickly.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

#52: Killer's Corral by Merle Constiner

A former gunslinger gets a second chance at a normal life and job; but a trio of owlhoots guns down his boss, sending him back on the vengeance trail in Merle Constiner's Killer's Corral.

It's a straightforward description of a pretty fast-paced western, peppered with eccentric characters and humorous digressions, despite the novel's murderous thread featuring a lightning-fast gun-hand who ends up sideways of cattle rustlers.

Constiner is a long-time favorite of mine, and like to dip into one when I find it. He is a colorful, engaging writer with a wry sense of humor. 

This was half of an Ace Double on the other side of The Long Wire by Barry Cord (a pseudonym of another author I like, Peter Germano).  Curiously, this one features the protagonist in charge of grading of a road from a town to a fort, and The Long Wire features characters stringing telephone line; whether this was a coincidence in themes or designed I'm not sure, but makes an interesting Ace Double.

I read this one quickly; enjoyable for fans.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

#51: Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

 An investigative reporter learns that a one-night stand is murdered, and he is a peripheral suspect; thus he decides to investigate the murder himself, and finds himself in the sights of a serial killer and in the middle of a dark web conspiracy in Michael Connelly's Fair Warning.

Connelly is probably best known as the author of the long-running Harry Bosch crime series, which I admire greatly, and then probably for The Lincoln Lawyer novels, which features Bosch's half-brother; but he occasionally features other protagonists from the same general milieu.  

Jack McEvoy was the lead in The Poet and The Scarecrow and because of circumstances in those novels has tumbled quite a ways from lead bylines in prominent LA papers to writing for a consumer website.  His off and on again love interest, Rachel Walling, has also lost her job as an FBI profiler (because of McEvoy!) and is now doing corporate background checks.  Yet both still have the fire in the blood for crime, and each other.

They start chasing The Shrike, who they quickly find out is targeting women using a DNA website like or 23 and Me.  

This novel is a slow boil that continues to ratchet and ratchet the tension to an explosive finale, and a second chance for several characters.

Connelly is a solid writer and this is a decent thriller to add to his admirable bibliography.

I checked this out from the Bookmobile for the New Castle-Henry County Public Library--my first library in six months--and read it quickly.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

#50: The Last Lawman by Peter Brandvold

 An aging lawman goes after a deadly gang in Peter Brandvold's The Last Lawman.

Western vet Brandvold has written a lot of "fast action" westerns frequently heavy in sex and violence.  This one has all of that plus features a unique character, a grizzled and cantankerous old law dog who is hoping his heart doesn't quit on him before he has sent a lot of bad guys to Boot Hill.

The bad guys are an especially evil bunch called The Vultures who rape, murder, and pillage across a pretty wide path while our protagonist doggedly follows, gaining and losing a lot of gun-help along the way.

This one has a memorably blood-soaked finale, set in a rotting ghost town that evoked, to me, late-period spaghetti westerns.  The surprise appearance of another Brandvold series character will be welcome to fans.

Brandvold knows how to write westerns for people who like them tough and mean, and I have enjoyed all that I have sampled.  I bought this one for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Friday, September 25, 2020

#49: Big Red's Daughter by John McPartland

Freshly back in the U.S. after a tour in Korea, a young man gets in a fender-bender where he meets a lovely young woman and her hot-headed boyfriend; he loves one on sight and hates the other on sight, leading to plenty of trouble in John McPartland's Big Red's Daughter.

McPartland writes a super-charged noir where destructive emotions run high from the first page; it appears that McPartland himself lived a similar life and died young.  

But he seemed to have left a number of memorable novels.  This one paints a picture of a bohemian 50s California that is fully realized as a backdrop to a pretty brutal story; there are a number of grisly fights, terrorized women, a handful of murders, and a jailbreak, all before a conclusion that makes a turn and wraps up more upbeat than one would think.

This was a rapid-fire read and a nice surprise from Stark House Press, which is dedicated to bringing back more obscure and out-of-print crime, detective, and noir books from the past.  

I would definitely recommend this in any edition you can find it in for noir fans, and will be checking out more of John McPartland.

Friday, September 18, 2020

#48: The Devil's Dozen by Nick Carter

Nick Carter avenges the death of a fellow secret agent by trying to break the back of a drug ring in the spy novel The Devil's Dozen.

Unfortunately, Carter meets a strong-willed crime boss who is every inch his equal, and he contemplates his place in the spy game as a result.  But there's more action than introspection, including a helicopter versus skier fight and a memorable wresting match against a Turkish villain, both in a remote mountain fortress.

Nick Carter starred in hundreds of spy novels, written by a legion of writers, and I read a ton of them as a teenager.  I have recently gone back and revisited all three of the ones by Martin Cruz Smith (a favorite contemporary author) written in his peanut-butter days, and liked this one the best.  It's a good second-tier spy novel on its own merits.

I would rank them as this one, Code Name: Werewolf, and then The Inca Death Squad for those interested.

I tracked this one down on eBay and read it quickly.  I might go back and look for more Nick Carter spy novels if the pseudonymous author is a good match for more interests.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

#47: The Inca Death Squad by Nick Carter

 In 1970s Chile, superspy Nick Carter is asked to bodyguard a Soviet dignitary against revolutionaries as part of a secret deal in The Inca Death Squad.

I read these Nick Carter novels by the stack during my teen years, and thought I would revisit a few to see how they held up.  Although I could tell the quality varied widely, I didn't know they were all written by different people until the internet.  I wanted to start with the three Martin Cruz Smith wrote, as his ongoing Arkady Renko series I have steadily enjoyed.

The first I read, Code Name: Werewolf, was a solid second-tier spy novel, but this one I just didn't enjoy as much.  

The core plotting just doesn't make a lot of sense, starting with Carter delivering a new style of bulletproof clothing to the oafish Russian for kind of hazy reasons.  Later, rather oddly, he has a bolo fight with an Aztec warrior in ancient garb, but still has time to bed all of the Russian's comrade harem, which includes an undercover KGB agent.

But there is plenty of action, including a cavalry charge on a band of outlaws and a jeep versus fighter plane battle.

I have heard that Smith disavowed these early novels, and I can see a better argument for it here.  I have one more, The Devil's Dozen, to decide.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

#46: Red Dust by Yoss

 On the space station William S. Burroughs a dangerous psionic criminal is on the loose, and it is up to a robot policeman with a Raymond Chandler obsession to catch him in Red Dust by the Cuban sci-fi writer/rock star Yoss.

Yoss writes a pretty goofy romp, awash in pop culture references and action-oriented.  But Yoss has a somewhat cloaked political side as well, which features a triumvirate of alien races who have more or less subjugated humankind, allowing them only limited knowledge of their superior technology.  The robot lawmen are the mediators between both factions, and generally disliked by all.

Yoss appears to be very popular in Cuba, and Restless Books is getting some of his novels translated into English--I also liked Super Extra Grande, about a vet who works on giant alien animals, and has to go inside one (the hard way) to rescue some girlfriends.

Yoss writes a light, fresh, largely comedic science fiction story that is worthwhile for a change of pace.  

I got this for my birthday and read it quickly.

Friday, August 28, 2020

#45: Hanging at Pulpit Rock by Lee Leighton

 A greenhorn deputy is put in charge of a tough frontier town when the rugged sheriff goes on a three day fishing trip in Lee Leighton's Hanging at Pulpit Rock.

Leighton was actually Wayne Overholser, a well-regarded western writer whose books I see everywhere, though I had never knowingly dipped into one.  I actually started reading this for the odd cover, which features an angry man slipping a hangman's noose around another man who is smiling enigmatically.  There is a hanging, as per the title, but there isn't any smiling.

Leighton's plot is a cut above, with interesting characters and situations.  Almost right away a murder and alleged rape happens, and the greenhorn deputy proves out to be the fastest gun anyone has seen, tested by any number of owlhoots.  The crooked town leadership doesn't help as a rampaging lynch mob leads to a trial by fire for some of the more upstanding citizens.

I enjoyed this western quite a bit, and would look for more from Overholser/Leighton.  I got this as part of a big lot of western books I was more interested in from eBay but read this one first.  A good find for western fans.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

#44: Dark Times in the City by Gene Kerrigan

Not long out of prison after a fight that went wrong, Danny Callaghan impulsively jumps in during an attempted shooting at his local pub, inadvertently putting himself in the middle of a Dublin gang war he doesn't want a part of in Gene Kerrigan's Dark Times in the City.

Kerrigan writes a propulsive, sardonic crime story that is full of satisfying beats.  About two-thirds through he offers a lengthy flashback that sets up the violent finale, a nice bit of narrative style.

Dark times indeed, as the final chapters leave no characters unscathed, and only a handful alive.

Kerrigan is an Irish journalist with a couple of crime novels to his name; his knowledge of Irish politics and contemporary history plays no small role in the storytelling.  This is a very self-assured outing, and I would look for more from him.

I received this from World Noir, a part of Europa Editions, and read it quickly.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

#43: Boxes by Pascal Garnier

 A man slowly unraveling after the disappearance of his wife moves to their newly-purchased country home, only to fall into the circle of a strange neighbor, in Pascal Garnier's Boxes.

Garnier was a French author of bleak, unpleasant noirs, often made more palatable with surreal humor.  This one has a fair amount of humor and is light on the noir, with any sort of crime not really materializing until the final chapters of the novel.

What mystery there is centers around the neighbor, a fragile, pale woman with the overprotective older friend of her deceased father hovering nearby and a lot of unanswered questions--if only our protagonist could keep his wits about him long enough to answer them.

More a study of mental unraveling than a crime novel, Garnier still writes with a speed and wit that makes his writing readable for the discerning.

This is the final novel in a collection I purchased titled Gallic Noir Volume 2.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

#42: The Blurry Years by Eleanor Kriseman

 A teenager comes of age in the shadow of an alcoholic mother in Eleanor Kriseman's debut The Blurry Years.

The young woman lives on the fringes of Florida society, and dips in and out of various dangerous situations; an ill-advised road trip with her mother to Oregon begins to tip the scales in her favor, but their return to Florida leads to the breaking point.

Although I didn't think Kriseman's novel broke any new ground, I liked the storytelling, with a good feel for time and place.  The characters are complex and the novel ends with a respite of sorts, but with no easy answers.  I'm curious to see what Kriseman would write next.

This novel was sent to me by Two Dollar Radio, and I read it quickly.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

#41: Minna Needs Rehearsal Space by Dorthe Nors

 Minna loses a lover via text message, and then finds herself adrift in every aspect of her life, in Danish writer Dorthe Nors' novella Minna Needs Rehearsal Space.

Nors' slender outing is packed with both whimsy and melancholy, as Minna navigates interpersonal challenges, including various frenemies and their families.  Minna eventually tries to run away from it all, but perhaps runs towards a better future.

Minna Needs Rehearsal Space is a fast read, but actually a bit of a difficult read, as it is written in an unusual, choppy style.  I believe Nors was trying to reflect both the order, and encroaching disorder, of the protagonist's mind, but its single-sentence paragraphs, often starting with "Minna does etc.", is an unusual literary device, to put it lightly.

However, I enjoyed Nors' storytelling and am interested in her other novels in translation.

I bought this from Amazon and read it quickly.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

#40: Go, Lovely Rose by Jean Potts

A sour old housekeeper is pushed down the basement stairs, and a dissolute young man becomes the prime suspect--much to the dismay of his older, protective sister--in Jean Potts' Go, Lovely Rose.

I didn't know anything about Potts or the novel before picking it up from Stark House Press, one of my favorite publishers, who seems dedicated to bringing lost noir out of obscurity.  This one actually won the Edgar for best first novel in 1954 and has unjustifiably fallen off of the radar.

This is a smart, funny novel that colorfully paints the characters and their small-town life.  Potts writes in a steady amount of coded subtext that makes it of continued interest to contemporary readers.  

Eccentric characters add value, including the young man's oddball high school girlfriend, the housekeeper's equally dour twin sister, the scheming ex-husband of the housekeeper, and a somewhat melancholy and love-stricken town doctor.

A welcome surprise, and extremely enjoyable.  Recommended for fans of classic mysteries.

Friday, July 31, 2020

#39: Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby

 An expert getaway driver gets drawn back into the life (as seems to happen) in SA Cosby's blistering, lyrical crime novel Blacktop Wasteland.

Bug is trying to go straight as a mechanic, looking out for his wife, three kids, and an unforgiving mother; but the bills pile up too fast, and he falls in with an untrustworthy gang of halfwit criminals whose scheme is destined to go sideways (as seems to happen).

Cosby's novel is ready-made for the big screen, opening with a backroads muscle-car race, peaking with a harrowing robbery escape that motors along over and through highway construction, and slamming home with a rage-fueled car chase and a spatter of killings.

Cosby hits every noir beat, but also speaks to the rural Black experience with a deft hand.  This adds value to the narrative and lifts the novel above the standard adrenaline-fueled romp.

I found this to be a rewarding read, and has been one of my favorites of 2020--along with, seemingly, a lot of other people.  

I bought this from Amazon and read it quickly. Easy to recommend to any reader.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

#38: Lawman by Grant Freeling

 A tough, unbending lawman stalks a nearby town where a group of drunken cowboys accidentally shot a man through a window; and when the cowboys--including an affluent rancher and his son--won't come willingly, violence ensues in Grant Freeling's Lawman.

This is a novelization of a Michael Winner film, written by Gerald Wilson, and starring Burt Lancaster, a 70s film that somehow I've missed seeing along the way.  As for the novelization, there is some debate whether Grant Freeling was a real person or a pseudonym.  

That's typically two strikes against it in my book--I don't like not knowing the author, and I don't generally read novelizations.  

But this is a somber, late-era spaghetti-flavored western novel that I think stands on its own merits.  It is filled with complicated, flawed characters and has as melancholy a denouement you'll read.  I'm glad I gave it a chance.

I got this in a "mystery bag" of books in a fundraiser from Horizon Books in Seattle, a place I had the pleasure to visit a few years ago.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

#37: The Unforgiven by Alan LeMay

 A hardscrabble cattle family, living in near isolation and beset by marauding Kiowas, find their fortunes turn for the worse when a poisonous rumor starts about their youngest child in Alan LeMay's The Unforgiven.

I picked this up for a western fiction book club I joined online, and was caught by surprise.  I did not know of LeMay, or that he had also written the novel The Searchers (which was turned into the great John Ford movie).  I also did not realize this novel was made into a (seemingly ill-fated) John Huston movie as well.

Most of all I was surprised by the mature, nuanced storytelling, genuinely surprising for a western, and for one written in the 50s.  I was unprepared for the depth of the narrative (last month's book club read was a poker-faced, PG-rated Louis L'Amour western) and had to keep flipping back to the copyright notice to absorb that it was actually written during the 1950s.

After building mounting dread throughout, the third act is an absolutely harrowing--at times gruesome--siege of the family home by a group of Kiowas who believe the adopted daughter of this ranch family is actually a lost Kiowa child, a somber coda.

Recommended on all counts for western fans looking for a literate entry in the genre.

I bought this from Amazon and immediately went looking for The Searchers.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

#36: The Islanders by Pascal Garnier

During a frigid winter, an alcoholic man's estranged elderly mother dies, and when he returns home to her apartment he finds his former love (and her blind brother) now live across the hall, tipping over a dark past in Pascal Garnier's The Islanders.

Garnier wrote a lot of short, intense French noirs, often laced with dark humor.  This one is in a collection I picked up some time ago.  I stick a toe in only every so often as his books are often gruesome, nihilistic, and populated with unpleasant characters.

In this, we gradually learn that the ill-fated couple, as teens, has been responsible for the (perhaps inadvertent, perhaps not) death of a young boy, and escaped unscathed.  As they reunite, a young homeless man, and then a policeman, come to abrupt ends.

Garnier is a great noir writer and rewarding for the discriminating reader.

Friday, July 3, 2020

#35: Wolf's Head by John Benteen

Soldier of Fortune Neal Fargo heads to the Pacific Northwest to help out a logging operation under attack in John Benteen's Wolf's Head.

John Benteen (Ben Haas) is a go-to western writer and men's adventure scribe.  This series, which actually takes place in the early 20th Century, features our tarnished hero, and his impressive array of unique weapons, under orders from Teddy Roosevelt (!) to help out an old friend.

Men's Adventure was never more manly, as there is fist fighting, axe fighting, fire fighting, hard drinking, and tough talk throughout. 

A quick and easy read from a big stack of Fargo books I picked up somewhere.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

#34: The Deeper the Water, the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina

Two sisters have to go live with their absent father (a famous author) after their mother's suicide attempt, and slowly unbury a troubled family history, in Katya Apekina's The Deeper the Water, the Uglier the Fish.

Apekina's debut novel has familiar plotting--there seems to be shades of Mona Simpson, Larry McMurtry, and Michael Chabon throughout--in its discussion of difficult topics such as mental illness, infidelity, suicide, child molesting, and incest.  But its storytelling is more uniquely its own, mixing in oral histories, letters, and vantage points from various times, places, and characters.

Part of the storytelling centers around the father being involved in the civil rights movement, where he meets a teenager who becomes his wife; more around a graduate student trying to write a dissertation about the author (though more accurately, stalking him); but central is the voice of one sister, from her perspective as a teen, and the other sister, as an adult looking back at a rocky stretch of her life.

Apekina's novel is compelling and readable throughout, even with some familiar beats, and worthwhile for those comfortable with challenging subject matter.

I was sent this novel by the publisher, Two Dollar Radio.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

#33: The Jaws That Bite, The Claws That Catch by Michael G. Coney

A businessman dealing in alien furs falls for a young woman he learns is a "Spare Parts Girl" for a fading video star, with disastrous results, in Michael G. Coney's The Jaws That Bite, The Claws That Catch.

I came across this in a box of books at a flea market and was interested in the title, and the promise of the kind of psychedelic sci-fi I have grown to appreciate as an adult (this one came out in 1975).  I learned Coney was a British science fiction writer with a steady output.

This has a lot of funny world-building, taking place in a town clinging to what appears to be what's left of California after the rest of it slid into the ocean, whose inhabitants are hung up on para-gliding and making pets out of dangerous sea life like sharks--and an ambulatory one (set up with a water-breathing device so that he can wander around the surface) has a significant role in the story.

The core of the story features the idea that prisoners can have their sentence reduced by becoming "bonded" servants to business people--but part of the deal is that they have to donate organs and limbs if the business person needs it.  A "3-V" star in a love triangle with the protagonist and her own "Spare Parts Girl" drives the narrative.

To me, the story is marred a bit by a passive, unlikable protagonist who uses and discards several women, which as it happens causes great harm to them.  The ending has a strikingly dark note.

It's interesting to me that Kazuo Ishiguro's literary novel Never Let Me Go from 2005 has a surprisingly similar plot, though used to show class divides rather than paperback sci-fi genre beats. Ishiguro was 20 or 21 when this book came out in England, where he lived, and I can't help wondering whether he read it, and it percolated in the back of his young mind for a long time.  Fun to think about.

This was also published as The Girl with A Symphony in Her Fingers, which is another trippy title.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

#32: The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

A pair of drifters lose track of each other, and when one finds out the other committed suicide, she heads to a remote commune to figure out what happened in Margaret Killjoy's The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion.

In very short order she learns this commune, set up in an abandoned town in Iowa, has summed a three-horned, blood-red deer who for better or worse manifests a hazy form of justice over the community.  Quickly we have squatters versus cops versus the Unknown, with no answers in black and white.

Killjoy writes a sharp-edged novel with equal parts horror, post-apocalyptic fantasy, and punk manifesto, both genre-busting and gender-busting.  To me, this novel owes a significant nod to Samuel R. Delany's masterwork Dahlgren, also about an eerie, otherworldly city populated by free-thinking and free-loving inhabitants.  It is good company to be in.

I was brought up a little short by a rather conventional ending, with the survivors setting themselves up for a sequel by pledging to band together and fight against the supernatural in other towns, which seemed to betray the outsider coolness throughout.

But I would still read that novel, and enjoyed this one.  

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

#31: Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

An eclectic group of nuns--on a deep space assignment in a large living spaceship--reluctantly come into conflict with an increasingly restrictive central government on far-away Earth in Lina Rather's highly imaginative science fiction outing Sisters of the Vast Black.

Rather's storytelling has enough neat world-building ideas for a half-dozen novels, from the organic ships grown from more or less tadpoles to the repressive Earth government risen from radioactive ashes to the tenets of a future Catholic church.

Best of which are the characters, from the ship--trying to veer off course and mate with another ship she saw in passing--to the Mother Superior with a government-toppling past to the nun who has a secret romance correspondence with a woman she met at a space station.

Entirely satisfying sci-fi I read quickly on my beloved Kindle.  I hope this one becomes a series.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

#30: The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

Twins born of a ruthless dictator try to forge their own paths in JY Yang's The Black Tides of Heaven.

One has tremendous precognition powers, used in service to the regime, while the other ends up joining a rebel group called The Machinists.

This is the first of a new series with tremendous world-building and an interesting plot.  The story is threaded with psychic powers, magic, mythic monsters, and steampunk-style technology, a high-wire balance of high fantasy and science fiction.  The cultural world-building has an Asian-fused backdrop and gender-fluid relationships.

Yang has written an intricate opening salvo to what I think will be a strong series.

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

Sunday, June 14, 2020

#29: Code Name: Werewolf by Nick Carter

In early 70s Spain, Nick Carter, Killmaster, takes on the unlikely job of protecting dictator Francisco Franco from an assassin in Code Name: Werewolf, part of the long-running spy series.

I read these Nick Carter paperbacks fervently as a teen in the late 70s and early 80s, and had no idea they were written by a large number of authors (although I could tell some were markedly better than others).  I even ordered them by mail from the backs of other paperbacks, paying with hard-earned allowance money.

I became interested (although tentatively) in revisiting a few and thought this was a good place to start, as this was one written by Martin Cruz Smith.  Martin Cruz Smith writes the Arkady Renko detective novels that I enjoy as they are released (beginning with Gorky Park).

Although Martin Cruz Smith has apparently disavowed his few Nick Carter contributions, I found this a solid and interesting spy thriller.  Spanish politics and culture, including several bullfighting scenes involving Carter (one intended to kill him), add interest.

This was a good second-tier spy novel, not at the level of a Donald Hamilton or Edward S. Aarons but eminently readable.

I accumulated a stack of these from a friend--at one point that seemed to be stacked up in used bookstores everywhere--and might dive into another if I find an author behind the pseudonym of interest. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

#28: Sackett's Land by Louis L'Amour

In 1600s England, a poor young man tries to help an affluent lady, drawing the ire of a dark-hearted aristocrat and setting off a dire chain of events in Louis L'Amour's Sackett's Land.

The young man gets press-ganged into a pirate ship headed for the New World, escapes on land and there gets a fragile toehold in the fur trading business.  But he eventually needs to return to England to deal with his old foe.

L'Amour is one of the most heralded western writers, with many popular titles and series, the Sacketts series possibly top among them.  This kind-of prequel to the Sacketts stories is a departure from the Old West stories, pretty obviously, but still chock full of manly, rousing adventure. 

L'Amour, along with Zane Grey, Elmer Kelton, Ray Hogan, and just a handful of others, were the main western writers I read during my teen and young adult years.  I haven't read L'Amour in decades, and revisited this him because of joining an online western fiction book group just formed.

My tastes have evolved to more spaghetti-style storytelling, but it moves fast and is reader-friendly for fans.

I bought this from Amazon and read it quickly.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

#27: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

A decades-old Ponzi scheme collapses, throwing many lives into chaos, from a fading painter to an addicted performance artist to a cargo shipping manager to a bartender turned rich man's girlfriend and more; a woman jumping from a cargo ship, and a message scrawled on a swank hotel's window, bracket the narrative and tie all the storylines together in Emily St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel.

I recommended Mandel's Station Eleven to everyone a few years ago, and find this follow-up also a literate, rewarding novel for any reader.  Attached to the spine of the story are many interweaving narratives, which showcase, more than anything else, how chance happenstance and random meetings can resonate through a person's life.

There is a magical element to the narrative too, with ghosts--perhaps brought on by guilt and strong memories, perhaps not--and an exploration of alternate histories core parts of the story.  

In fact, careful readers will see several characters from Station Eleven here, positioning the novel as an alternate history version of Station Eleven, in an odd way.   Odd especially in that her previous novel is about a pandemic that wipes out a lot of the population, and this one reflects on what might have happened if that pandemic had been contained.

A worthwhile read that I was looking forward to.  I bought this from Amazon and read it quickly.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

#26: The Wildcatters by John Benteen

A soldier of fortune heads to a booming oil field looking for gunwork, and finds all he wants, in John Benteen's The Wildcatters.

The Fargo series was written by John Benteen, alias Ben Haas, and although packaged like a western these are more straight adventure.  The books take place in the early 20th century, with cars and other contemporary elements mixed in with the requisite shoot-outs.

Benteen knows how to wrap up a story; this one features an uncapped gusher flooding a town while Fargo fights to the death against a seemingly unkillable foe.

Benteen also wrote another series, featuring a Native American gun-hand called Sundance, and I find both to be full of solid storytelling.  In fact Benteen has become a go-to favorite.

I can't recall where I found this one, but I grab them for comfort reading when I see them, and quickly read this fast-moving tale.

Monday, May 25, 2020

#25: Defending Jacob by William Landay

A prosecutor is assigned the murder of a teenager in an affluent suburb, and quickly realizes his own son is the prime suspect, in William Landay's Defending Jacob.

The prosecutor is dismissed from the case but starts his own investigation, focusing on a child predator who lives nearby, blurring the lines of law and order as evidence mounts against his son.  

Some breakneck turns in the narrative in the last third of the book dish up plenty of surprises, all the way to a nebulous but surprising and satisfying conclusion.

This book reminds me of early Scott Turow and John Grisham but also compares pretty strikingly to Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk about Kevin.  

Defending Jacob came recommended, and was on my radar as there is a television miniseries version just out, so I grabbed this from Amazon and read it quickly.  

Recommended for those readers looking for one of those brick-sized legal thriller beach reads.  

Sunday, May 24, 2020

#24: Last Rider from Lonesome Canyon by James Farnsworth

A pair of brothers, one an outlaw and one a cowhand, square off as the military heats up a campaign against a band of Kiowa in James Farnsworth's Last Rider from Lonesome Canyon.

This is a standard western with curiously overheated elements, including almost supernatural animals, a giant snake among them, and almost superhuman feats of action, including shooting knives out of hands.  A deformed outlaw with lightning-fast knife skills has almost a James Bond villain quality.

Poor editing and odd chapter breaks add to the curiosity of the narrative.  But there was enough going on that I kept reading, and Farnsworth wrote a number of westerns, although I can't find much else about him.

I got this in a pickup of a stash of westerns and read it quickly.

Monday, May 11, 2020

#23: I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flasar

A young shut-in trying to re-enter the world, and a salaryman who can't tell his wife he lost his job, have a chance meeting in a park that changes the young man's life in Milena Michiko Flasar's I Called Him Necktie.

This is a slender, lyrically-written novel with a deep dive into Japanese culture.  We see how the young man--called a hikikomori--is driven to being a hermit-like figure by his outsider status, and how the older man's marriage and career left him where he was as well.

Melancholy throughout, but an upbeat ending helps.  Worthwhile for anyone wanting to read a well-written story from another culture.

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

#22: No Law Against Angels by Carter Brown

Al Wheeler is an unorthodox California cop working on a series of call-girl murders in Carter Brown's No Law Against Angels.

Carter Brown, actually an Australian writer named Alan Yates, wrote hundreds and hundreds of crime novels, and it seemed like in my teen years I couldn't go into a used book store and not see them stacked up everywhere.  I had never read one, but when my old favorite Stark House Press started reprinting them, I thought I would give one a go.

Despite the very hard-boiled title, this is a rather breezy, jokey novel in which Wheeler only gives the faintest hints of being a real policeman or having to follow any rules.  A "ditzy dame" sidekick provides even more comic relief.  In fact, there is so much comic relief, one keeps forgetting this short novel is really about a bunch of murdered prostitutes (and a handful of others for good measure).

Definitely a product of its 50s origin, but enjoyable on its merits, and now that I know about Carter Brown I would pick up another when I wanted an extremely light, quick read.

Monday, May 4, 2020

#21: Reckoning in Fire Valley by Clay Ringold

A young man inherits a ranch from a long-lost uncle, only to find when he goes to claim it that it is overrun with owlhoots, in Clay Ringold's Reckoning in Fire Valley.

In short order our hero is framed up for the murder of another cowpuncher, and has to get out of that as well as track down a band of rustlers, as well as squeeze in a little mild frontier romance.

I learned Ringold was actually Ray Hogan, a steady western author I enjoyed as a teen, when I read Westerns a bit more sporadically.  So I was not surprised this one was entirely serviceable, no matter which name he used.  Suffers a bit from some of the speedy denouements found in these Ace Doubles (Scorpion Showdown by the equally steady Tom West is on the other side), but it was a fast enjoyable read.

I grabbed this from a used bookstore a while back and was in the mood to read it quickly. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

#20: The Long Wire by Barry Cord

A young man's brother is killed under mysterious circumstances with a crew of men stringing telegraph wire, so he impersonates his replacement to figure out what happened in Barry Cord's The Long Wire.

Barry Cord was Peter Germano, who wrote extensively in books and television; I have found his work to be steady and satisfying.  I picked this one up somewhere, half of an Ace Double with Merle Constiner's Killer's Corral., because I thought the plot featuring a telegraph wire crew was interesting.  I've always found Constiner to be a pleasing western writer as well.

It was a good read, although lightly sketched in, in places; a frontier romance, and the appearance of the lead's old mentor on the wrong side of the law, are almost afterthoughts.  But most Ace Doubles are quick, undemanding reads, and any are recommended for fans of such.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

#19: The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel

A man and woman end up next to each other on an early train to Paris, an unwelcome surprise as they had a brief relationship years before; their minds cast back over the catastrophic end of it all during the ride in Jean-Philippe Blondel's The 6:41 to Paris.

This is a slender read, made up of both character's internal monologues in alternating chapters.  Although that sounds somewhat slight, it is absolutely compelling throughout.  The man had a lot of potential, most of it squandered; the woman seemed destined for a middle-of-the-road life, but rose through the business world to fame; a friend in common ties them together as well.  A terrible night in London is finally revealed near the denouement, when the two old lovers address each other for the first time.

In some ways the novel seems like an exercise, or a study; but it manages to be suspenseful, with lots of surprises.  Recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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

Monday, April 13, 2020

#18: The Men from the Boys by Ed Lacy

A crooked cop who falls all the way to being a "house dick" at a seedy hotel puts all of his bad skills to work when his stepson, a rookie officer, gets severely beaten in The Men from the Boys.

This tough-minded piece of 50s crime fiction comes from Ed Lacy, who wrote a lot of notably hard-boiled stories in this era which I have read and enjoyed when I've found them. 

The crime portion of this story isn't much, but the vivid lead character--a sexist, racist, rule-busting cop who tries to do one good deed in his life--carries the story.  A dire medical diagnosis also recklessly propels him along, leading to a downbeat ending.

Although the protagonist is not presented in a positive light, the references are a product of their time even as the storytelling is energetic and ultimately timeless.

This is a reprint from Stark House Press's Black Gat line, where they are trying to bring great pulp fiction back from obscurity. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

#17: The Bishop's Bedroom by Piero Chiara

In the earliest days of a post-war Italy, a man takes to his boat on Lake Maggiore looking for female companionship and mild adventure; but when he meets a mysterious man, his skittish wife, and their supposedly widowed sister-in-law, he gets more than he bargained for in Piero Chiara's The Bishop's Bedroom.

The two men settle into an uneasy friendship that unfortunately, and ultimately violently, devolves into rivalries for the same women they meet around the lake.  

The Bishop's Bedroom has a splash of psychological suspense and an undertone of noir, as well as a vivid description of life in Italy in the mid 40s.  Rewarding overall.  

Chiara first published this novel in the 70s in Italian; I believe this edition is a newer translation by New Vessel Press.  

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

Sunday, April 5, 2020

#16: The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter

An aging art expert, living in solitary affluence in a luxurious Zurich apartment, finds his life upended when he spontaneously spends the night with a troubled younger woman in Martin Suter's The Last Weynfeldt.

In short order the art expert, the last Weynfeldt of the title, is involved in an art forgery scheme and a cascading series of payoffs and double-crosses.

This is the kind of dry-witted, highbrow fine art caper that I always fall for, with characters drinking exquisite wines and eating at all the best places while discussing European art.  But there's an inky black undertone that gives it extra spice.

I enjoyed Suter's novel in translation and have learned he has written several others with similar themes.  I'm hoping to find more.

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

#15: You'll Get Yours by William Ard

A straight-arrow private eye falls hard for a rising starlet, and in short order is ready to kill to get her out of a blackmail frame, in William Ard's You'll Get Yours.

I know Ard mostly as Jonas Ward, who wrote a tough-minded series of westerns featuring Tom Buchanan, but he also wrote a number of crime novels under various names before his untimely death.

Stark House Press brought this one back under their Black Gat imprint, and it is a doozy.

You'll Get Yours is as hard-boiled as they come from the first page to the last--opening on the P.I. ready to kill someone in a seedy Mexican hotel all the way to a deadly, and downbeat, finale.  In between are gangsters, junkies, tough cops, and bad deals, and lots of pretty frank storytelling for the 50s.

I got this one from Stark House Press via mail and read it quickly.

Friday, March 20, 2020

#14: The Fragility of Bodies by Sergio Olguin

A tough Buenos Aires magazine reporter finds out that rich people are gambling on a disturbing contest involving a moving train and impoverished children in Sergio Olguin's The Fragility of Bodies.

The investigation becomes complex and deadly when she learns the contest threads through all levels of government, as well as the police.  A volatile relationship she ill-advisedly starts with a married conductor doesn't help matters.

This is the first in a series from Olguin, also the first translated into English.  There is apparently an Argentinian television series around the character as well.

Oguin is a vivid writer, working with a lot of unique characters and situations.  The storytelling is full of explosive violence and raw sex and features an unusual plot.  Rewarding for genre fans.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2020

#13: Duel in Tombstone by Louis Masterson

Morgan Kane is a deadly lawman sent to clean up Tombstone after the Earps leave post-OK Corral, and find there is still plenty to do, in Louis Masterson's Duel in Tombstone.

Masterson was really Kjell Hallbing, a very prolific Norwegian author of American westerns in his native tongue, with his work translated into English and I believe other languages. 

I recently learned of him and found this one on eBay, and to my knowledge have never seen one in the wild, despite him having written nearly 100 volumes.

This is almost more of an alternate history than a western, as Kane shoots it out with plenty of real-life outlaws who had different real-life fates, like Buckskin Frank Leslie, Pony Deal, Johnny Ringo, and more.  Real people like Johnny Behan and Ike Clanton have central roles.

Plenty of action in this quick read; I hope I can find some more Masterson somewhere.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

#12: And the Bride Closed the Door by Ronit Matalon

In Tel Aviv, a young woman barricades herself in a bedroom on her wedding day, sending her extended family into crisis, in Ronit Matalon's slice-of-life novel And the Bride Closed the Door.

This is a slender volume, but rich in characters and situations, as some of the backstory of the bride's life begins to slowly unfold.  Plenty of eccentric characters and quirky episodes, including a section where they try to reach the bride through a window with a borrowed bucket truck.

But it is tinged with melancholy also, as some family tragedy is gradually revealed as well.

A brisk but rewarding read that I borrowed from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

#11: North to Montana by Steven C. Lawrence

Slattery is a former gun-hand who helps a group of settlers with a cattle drive to a Montana promised land; but when they get there, they find a cruel ranch owner holding secret sway in Steven C. Lawrence's North to Montana.  

Soon enough, Slattery's old gunfighting skills come in handy.

I found a Slattery book in a goodbye pile in a flea market and have been on a bender ever since, this being the third this year.  I really enjoy the hard-boiled style, reminiscent of one of my favorites, Ben Haas (John Benteen).  A big shoot-out in a sub-zero blizzard at the denouement adds value.

I feel like Lawrence and Slattery isn't on the radar for a lot of western readers, and should be.

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

Friday, February 21, 2020

#10: The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

Ballard is a cop relegated to "The Late Show" in Hollywood overnight after reporting a boss for sexual harassment; Bosch is a grizzled retired cop who can't let old cases go.  When Bosch is gifted an old cold case file after the death of his mentor, a murderous chain of events starts in the present in Michael Connelly's The Night Fire.

Connelly has been writing a great contemporary police procedural series, and the fabric has grown rich over time; this one also includes another series character, "The Lincoln Lawyer," who happens to be Bosch's half-brother.

Bosch and Ballard (a newer character) end up juggling several cases--a homeless man killed in what looks like an accidental fire, a judge's murder in front of a courthouse, and a gay man's killing in the past--several of which end up threading together.

I thought the finale went a little far afield from Connelly's usual journalistic style--featuring a movie-sized female assassin who has Bosch pinned down in an office building--and that was a bit of a letdown.  But otherwise another good entry in the series.

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

#9: Bullet Welcome by Steven C. Lawrence

Slattery is a gun-hand trying to retire, but when he--and a young boy passing by--stumble upon a gunrunner crossing the Mexican border, he is forced to defend the boy and his family against a ruthless gang in Steven C. Lawrence's Bullet Welcome.

But Slattery can't quite figure out who to defend them against, with a town full of secrets--including the motives of its lawmen--at the forefront.  Includes a memorable shoot-out for a finale.

This is the second Slattery book I have found recently, this one at the public library, and find the author and his writing the equal of many of the more well-known western authors.

Enjoyable throughout.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

#8: The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

A poor, troubled teen --with an ability to see ghosts--finds herself mysteriously admitted to Yale, where she is tasked with overseeing the school's secret societies.  But when a young woman "townie" is found murdered, she quickly finds herself at odds with the living and the dead in Leigh Bardugo's The Ninth House.

I have never read Bardugo, who has primarily been a Young Adult author; I believe this is her first novel for adults.  And it would need to be approached by older teens with caution; it is full of sexual assaults, including by a ghost (!), casual drug use, and some gory scenes, including an opening sequence where some students use a living indigent person's organs to read the future.

Bardugo's writing is hip and engaging, and the story rockets in a cinematic fashion from one escapade to the next; only a complicated finale, with too big a thread dangling for the sequel, marred the storytelling for me.

I listened to a good audiobook reading of the book by Lauren Fortgang and Michael David Axtell, on loan from the Morrisson-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

#7: Contract in Cartridges by Ben Elliot

A gun-hand trying to retire gets pushed into a gunfight he doesn't want, and when a manhunt ensues he ends up recuperating at a struggling ranch run by a brother and sister.  When he falls for the sister, and a nearby rancher begins to crowd the land, he straps his guns on again in Ben Elliot's Contract in Cartridges.

This was on the flip side of an Ace Double with Don't Cross My Line by Tom West,  an author I wanted to read.  But at that point I didn't realize that Ben Elliot was actually Ben Haas, who wrote two tough-minded series I really enjoyed, Fargo and Sundance (as John Benteen).

By any name, this is a really great western, and begins to almost slip into noir territory towards the end, when the various relationships, and the lies they have told each other, begin to come out.  It has a downbeat but very rewarding ending.

I was glad I picked this one up at a used bookstore, and it continued to cement Ben Haas' reputation as a top western writer in my mind.  Recommended for fans.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

#6: The Siberian Dilemma by Martin Cruz Smith

Renko is a world-weary Russian detective, but is moved to action when the love of his life--an investigative journalist writing a story about oligarchs and oil in Siberia--is suddenly in danger in Martin Cruz Smith's The Siberian Dilemma

Renko is the star of a long-running police procedural series, beginning with Gorky Park, which has charted the changes in the Soviet Union right in step along the way.  Renko has also accumulated a handful of supporting characters, including a quasi-foster son/chess wizard, a drunken but philosophical partner, and a scheming politically-sensitive boss.

These novels are always solidly plotted, with interesting characters, and in an interesting setting.  I always look forward to the next one.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

#5: The Gun is My Brother by Cy James

Sam Spur is a hired gun who is forced to kill a preacher, and finds an entire poisonous town turned against him, in Cy James' first Spur novel, The Gun is My Brother.

James was actually Matt Chisholm who was actually prolific Australian writer Peter Watts, an author who wrote multiple western series at a breakneck pace.  His Blade series is pretty action-packed and mindless, his McAllister series is much more serious and hard-boiled, but this Spur novel is probably darker and bleaker still.

Spur gets bushwhacked and shot up near the outset, and spends a lot of the novel just trying to stay alive, until he is finally pushed into gunplay that shrinks the size of the town by some measure.

I have read a number of McAllisters but will definitely get another Spur novel soon.  I got this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

#4: Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores by Massimo Carlotto

A melancholy, blues-loving criminal called The Alligator and his crew hunt a murderous snitch, and take on sex traffickers, in Massimo Carlotto's Blues for Outlaw Hearts and Old Whores.

Carlotto is an Italian author who writes very hard-boiled novels, as the title of this one might suggest.  I like his style and find his writing, though uncompromising, enjoyable and often surprising in its twists and turns.

The Alligator lives in a world where the criminals have honor and a code, and the cops and prosecutors can't be trusted. 

At the outset, his crew becomes outraged when they are framed and then blackmailed by the cops to hunt a killer they can't reach, even though his crew justifiably belongs in prison and they wanted to kill the person anyway.

A globe-trotting chase ensues, with a pretty downbeat ending.

This is part of the World Noir line that I have enjoyed for a long time.  World Noir sent me an advanced copy of Carlotto's latest, and I will look forward to his next adventure with The Alligator.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

#3: Don't Cross My Line by Tom West

An outlaw poses as a lawman to sneak back from Mexico, then needs to go undercover as an outlaw (?!?!) to roust a dangerous gang, in Tom West's Don't Cross My Line.

Tom West was actually a British writer named Fred East, and has a following as a western scribe.  West packs enough plotting in this one for about a dozen westerns, but plenty of action smooths over the hazy motivations of the characters.

This was one half of an Ace Double with Ben Elliot's Contract in Cartridges on the other side, which I am eager to read after learning this was actually Ben Haas (who wrote most often as John Benteen).  Most Ace Doubles I've read are pretty light, and this one lighter than most; though I continue to enjoy Tom West when I find him.

I got this one in a big lot of Ace Doubles from a friend and read it quickly.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

#2: A Noose for Slattery by Steven C. Lawrence

Slattery comes to town to join a cattle drive, but the town's boss takes to murder to keep it from happening, in A Noose for Slattery by Steve C. Lawrence.

Slattery seems to want to make his money in normal ways, but being a lightning-fast gun hand ends up being his stock in trade.

I had never heard of this author or series when I found A Noose for Slattery in a three-for-a-dollar box at a flea market in Frankfort, Indiana. 

Thus I was genuinely surprised to enjoy the writing in this one, and probably more surprised that more experienced reviewers than myself don't seem to have the author and series on their radar.

Not I'm on the hunt for more Slattery books after finding this one quite enjoyable.

Friday, January 3, 2020

#1: The Black Jersey by Jorge Zepeda Patterson

A French cyclist begins to realize that a series of accidents and mishaps on the Tour de France are anything but in Jorge Zepeda Patterson's The Black Jersey.

Our reluctant hero is former military, and thus is forcibly recruited to investigate, all the while feeling the threads unravel on an old friendship with the Tour's front-runner, a Hollywood-ready American.

His girlfriend, an old mentor, and the colorful collection of other cyclists make up a fully-realized cast in a thriller that moves, literally, at deadly speed.

This was an entirely refreshing novel with a unique setting and characters, and a great way to ring in 2020's reading challenge.

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