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.