Saturday, January 30, 2021

#8: Nympho Lodge by Jack Lynn

Swingin' PI Tokey Wedge goes to a resort to bodyguard a woman afraid of being murdered by her husband, only to find his list of suspects--and potential love interests--continuing to grow exponentially in Jack Lynn's Nympho Lodge.

Jack Lynn was Max Van DerVeer, a working mystery writer who penned these "spicy" mysteries under a different name for reasons that were probably more obvious in 1959.  By today's standards, the spiciness is very mild indeed and more implied than anything.

And it is all presented in a fairly comedic manner reminiscent of a low-grade version of Richard Prather's Shell Scott (and I don't think that's a coincidence). 

To put it politely, the characters are not finely shaded by contemporary standards; every woman is eager to jump into bed with Wedge, and he never pauses for self reflection, even when he ends up shooting one five times at the denouement.

This is the first in a new line of reprints by Grizzly Pulp, a company committed to putting out at least a half dozen of the hard-to-find Tokey Wedge books.  

I will get the next one as well, but would hope they would work more closely on editing, as there were a lot of mistakes in the text that threw me for a loop a time or two.

For fans of pulp paperbacks.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

#7: Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

 A space salvage crew finds a powerful alien weapon at the center of a galactic war, pitting human against alien and corporation against corporation, in Karen Osborne's Architects of Memory.

The spine of Osborne's plot is not unfamiliar; a future run by megacorporations rather than governments, and a perhaps misunderstood first contact with a mysterious alien race, but the central characters are well-rounded and interesting.

And it's high-octane space opera most of the way, to an action-packed finale that leaves open the door for a sequel that is reportedly in the works.

Osborne's debut novel didn't break new ground, but was interesting and enjoyable throughout.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2021

#6: Zero Zone by Scott O'Connor

In 70s Los Angeles, an artist built an outdoor installation to honor a dead lover--only to find it taken over by a handful of disenfranchised people with a dangerous agenda--and has to live with the fallout in Scott O'Connor's Zero Zone.

We see the artist's backstory unspool over several chapters, which includes the death of her parents and estrangement from her cinephile brother, threaded with the lives of the people who hole up in the installation--including an affluent teenage runaway, a Las Vegas waitress, a recent parolee, and a charismatic but physically and emotionally scarred young man.

The last chapters have a more cinematic feel, as several untimely prison releases threaten to heighten the danger around the artist again. 

This is the kind of literate thriller I have always enjoyed, with musings on the art and film worlds and how a creative life can work for and against people.  Recommended.

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

Sunday, January 17, 2021

#5: Agatha by Anne Cathrine Bomann

 A therapist at the end of his career seems to find life again when taking on a lively young patient in Anne Cathrine Bomann's debut Agatha.

This is Danish author Bomann's first novel--she has previously been a therapist as well, and a table tennis national champion--and it is a warm-hearted story, though the basic plot--an older person finding the will to live through a vibrant younger person--is familiar.

Well-drawn characters, including the therapist's strict secretary who has a surprising home life, and a long-time neighbor who turns out to have an interesting backstory, add value to the slender but engaging volume.

My wife got this for Christmas and I picked it up myself and read it quickly.  Recommended for those who want a light, literary novel.  I'll be interested to see what Bomann does next.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

#4: Babysitter Massacre: Daddy's Little Killer by David O'Hanlon

In the past, a babysitter is killed in a night of passion and rage; years later, a group of babysitters face the fallout of this killing over several terrible days in David O'Hanlon's first installment in the new "Babysitter Massacre" paperback series, Daddy's Little Killer.

Babysitter Massacre was a 2013 b-movie directed by my friend Henrique Couto, who I have workedwith on several films, including two of my own.  Couto set his film squarely in the 80s-90s slasher film genre, and having a book series to accompany it falls right into that era as well.  Couto is working with O'Hanlon on the first trilogy of stories.

Readers who cut their teeth on those slasher franchises will find all the familiar beats here, with sexually-charged situations and a passel of gruesome killings.  There are callbacks to the Ohio-based film, but its storytelling is self-contained in an Arkansas setting that includes some escaped mental patients, a stalker ex, and the seen-it-all cop who is, naturally, a step behind the intrepid babysitter protagonist trying to save two children in her charge.

I ordered this book online and read it quickly.  Recommended for slasher movie fans.

Monday, January 11, 2021

#3: Amnesty by Aravid Adiga

In Sydney, an illegal immigrant who works as a cleaner begins to suspect that one of his customers killed another, but calling the police could lead to his deportation, in Aravind Adiga's Amnesty.

Throughout a single long day the cleaner debates about what to do, all the time being goaded via cell phone by the suspected killer to come clean his apartment before he decamps.  

He relives his experiences in Sydney, from hiding in a storeroom above a grocery to meeting his girlfriend on a vegan dating website to getting too involved in the explosive relationship between his two clients, who pay cash and know his status is precarious.

Adiga's novel has a thread of thriller woven through it, but really is a literary novel focusing on the immigrant experience in all its facets.

I had previously read Adiga's Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger which deals with an Indian cab driver who carries on a one-sided correspondence with the Premier of China; the protagonist here also is an eccentric character and somewhat unreliable narrator prone to flights of fancy, which makes for an interesting read.

A worthwhile literary work that I checked out from the New Castle-Henry County Bookmobile and read quickly.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

#2: The Last Quarter Hour by Jean Bruce

In 1950s Argentina, a cell of escaped Nazis have wiped out two networks of American agents, sending OSS-117 into action in Jean Bruce's The Last Quarter Hour.

OSS-117, along with a partner with a garrote and a genial disregard for human life, changes up the spy formula and sets the sex aside to focus all on violence in speedily dispatching the villains.

French writer Jean Bruce's OSS-117 predates Ian Fleming's James Bond, and ran hundreds of installments from the 50s to the 90s, the pseudonym first used by Jean Brochet, then his wife Josette upon his death in a car crash, and ultimately by their children aftet Josette's death, a true writing family.

This series also spawned a film franchise in France, but neither the handful of books translated into English (by a British publishing house) nor the movie franchise ever seemed to catch on here.

However, I am a big fan of French noir, and this installment is as hard-hearted and tough-minded as any of them, and would come recommended if it wasn't so very hard to find any of these in the wild.  I actually got this one in a batch of books I purchased from the web and was genuinely surprised to get this single one in the lot at a goodbye price.

The Last Quarter Hour is a cool spy entry in an interesting series, if one goes hunting.

Monday, January 4, 2021

#1: Echo on the Bay by Masatsugu Ono

 An officer is assigned to a seemingly tranquil coastal police station, but his teenaged daughter sees its comings and goings through different eyes in Masatsugu Ono's Echo on the Bay.

Ono's story starts out a bit whimsical, with comical and colorful characters, but pretty soon we uncover backstories that involve dark themes, including child abuse, sexual abuse, and murder.

This makes for an unsettling, enigmatic read.

Ono offers a lot to think about, including a deer--or something else?--hit by the policeman on a late night, and the origins of a "ghost ship" that appears offshore after a red tide.

Echo on the Bay has elements of the crime novel, but is most successful as a literary work with dark undertones for discerning readers.

I got this for Christmas and read it quickly.  

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Best Reads of 2020

Passed my goal of reading 50 books in 2020 and topped out at 66 in a strange year.  Here are my favorites, if you are looking for a new read.

The Black Jersey by Jorge Zepeda Patterson

These Women by Ivy Pochoda

Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby

The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter

The Fragility of Bodies by Sergio Olguin

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

Winter Counts by David Heska Wambli Weiden

Red Dust by Yoss

The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel