Thursday, 31 January 2013

JANUARY 2013 - READING LIST




Dominic Streatfeild - Cocaine, An Unauthorised Biography

Erica Spindler - Watch Me Die

Twenty Major - The Order Of The Phoenix Park

Anthony Neil Smith - All The Young Warriors

Austin S. Camacho - The Payback Assignment

Duane Swierczynski - Fun And Games

Linwood Barclay - The Accident

Martin Amis - The Pregnant Widow

Jo Nesbo - The Bat

Joe Clifford - Choice Cuts

Lawrence Block - The Sins Of The Father

Ed Lacy - Room To Swing

Marcus Sakey - At The City's Edge

Deon Meyer - Blood Safari

Chuck Palahniuk - Survivor

Well January certainly had quantity if nothing else - 15 books read.
A few disappointments in particular Sakey's At The City's Edge and Twenty Major's Phoenix Park.

My first taste of Jo Nesbo and a re-read of the first Scudder book from Lawrence Block; both above average.  As was Swierczynski, Spindler and Streatfeild.

A toss up for book of the month between Neil Smith and Deon Meyer, but I'll give Smith the vote because of the Somalian location. Both amazing reads though and highly recommended.

January book of the month - Anthony Neil Smith - All The Young Warriors

CHUCK PALAHNIUK - SURVIVOR


 
Blurb........

Tender Branson, the last surviving member of the Creedish death cult, has commandeered a Boeing 747, emptied of passengers, in order to tell his story to the plane's black box before it crashes. Brought up by the repressive cult and, like all Creedish younger sons, hired out as a domestic servant, Tender finds himself suddenly famous when his fellow cult members all commit suicide. As media messiah he ascends to the very top of the freak-show heap before finally and apocalyptically spiralling out of control.

I read this in 2 days so it can’t have been too bad. The books I don’t really enjoy seem to drag on for an eternity. That said I didn’t put it down marvelling at Palahniuk’s satire, nor did I find it savagely funny like some of the back cover reviews.

I was entertained, and interested to read about Tender’s life, but that was it.
Maybe some authors just don’t resonate with me the same way they connect with other readers. Oh well, an average read on the Keane measuring scale.

3 from 5

 
Bought second-hand last year in a bundle of 3 Palahniuk’s on E-bay. (Oh great, I get to read 2 more then!)  Show More


 


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

DEON MEYER - BLOOD SAFARI




Blurb......

 

LEMMER is a professional bodyguard. Silent and invisible, he never gets involved.

EMMA LE ROUX believed her brother died twenty years ago, until she sees him on the news as the prime suspect in the brutal killing of four poachers.

As Lemmer and Emma join forces in pursuit of the truth, it soon becomes clear that someone is willing to do whatever it takes to stop them.

When that someone tries to murder them both, Lemmer is forced to step out of the shadows for the first time in his life.


I must admit, I had minimal expectations when opening this up. I previously read Meyer’s Trackers back in the middle of 2012, and whilst it was enjoyable, I sort of had the feeling that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have, particularly when looking around the web at other bloggers reviews. I couldn’t shift the feeling of “is that it?”

This time around I have to say Meyer impressed me no end. South Africa with its landscape of sprawling, vast grasslands, nature reserves and dusty veldt and its recent political history of apartheid and the subsequent dismantling of the white minority led state provides a rich back-drop for the novel.
Emma le Roux is seeking answers about her long-lost brother after a brief sighting of a photo on a news bulletin.  Her interest, 20 years after his disappearance sets off an increasingly violent chain of events. After an unsuccessful home invasion and some threats received over the phone, she hires Lemmer for protection while she tries to establish whether the man wanted for the brutal slaying of poachers is her brother.  

Lemmer, Meyer’s main character is interesting; a former bodyguard for government ministers but now after a period inside for manslaughter he’s working in the private sector.  Solitary, aloof and fiery, with a barely repressed penchant for violence he’s one of my favourite protagonists figuring in my recent reads of the last couple of months or so.
Meyer mixes the plot well, expertly weaving into the narrative recent South African history with its volatile neighbour, Mozambique, as well as eco warriors-cum- terrorists fighting against developers and tribal land claims. Economics and social and racial tensions are all combined together to provide a compelling read.   

I still have another of his books unread – Devil’s Peak which I will need to get to soon in the hope that it lives up to the standard of this one.
His full bibliography is as follows;
Benny Griessel – series
1. Devil's Peak (2007)
aka Infanta
2. Thirteen Hours (2010)
3. 7 Days (2012)


Novels
Dead Before Dying (1999)
Dead at Daybreak (2000)
aka Orion
Heart of the Hunter (2003)
Blood Safari (2009)
Trackers (2011


5 from 5  
Borrowed from my local library in Leighton Buzzard

Monday, 28 January 2013

MARCUS SAKEY - AT THE CITY'S EDGE



Blurb........

Jason Palmer loved being a soldier. But after returning home from Iraq with an "other than honorable" discharge, he's finding rebuilding his life the toughest battle yet.

Elena Cruz is a talented cop, the first woman to make Chicago's prestigious Gang Intelligence Unit. She's ready for anything the job can throw at her.

Until Jason's brother, a prominent community activist, is murdered in front of his own son.

Now, stalked by brutal men with a shadowy agenda, Jason and Elena must unravel a conspiracy stretching from the darkest alleys of the ghetto to the manicured lawns of the city's power brokers. In a world where corruption and violence are simply the cost of doing business, two damaged people are all that stand between an innocent child--and the killers who will stop at nothing to find him.


Started well with a furious opening, Jason Palmer ambushed at gunpoint by a couple of black gang members. After his escape the story continued to engage for about 50 pages or so, before embarking on a slow torturous downward spiral into mediocrity and cliché.
Decent enough action scenes, reasonable dialogue but these alone weren’t sufficient to arrest the slide, with  a cast of stereotypical characters; Cruz, for starters  - the token Hispanic cop wronged by the power brokers on the force and Washington - the reformed black gangster trying to effect change in the youth on the impoverished Crenwood streets.

The motivation behind the killing of Michael Palmer and the actual raison d’etre for the whole book just wasn’t believable in my opinion. I just couldn’t buy into certain aspects of what Sakey was trying to sell. I won’t expand upon this in the unlikely event that someone reads this and either happens to have a copy of this on mount TBR or wants to read it at some point in the future. I’m fairly certain that I have seen a film with a similar plot-line, though I can’t for the life of me remember what.
I can remember reading Sakey’s debut novel - The Blade Itself - when it came out a fair few years ago in 2007 and enjoying it, marking him down at the time as someone to keep an eye out for. Hopefully this book was a temporary blip in an otherwise stellar career. I’ll know more when I’ve read The Two Deaths Of Daniel Hayes at some point in the distant future. I’m not in too much of a hurry to pick it up now to be truthful.

2 from 5
My copy was bought back in 2011, though I can’t remember where from – online and second-hand at a guess.  



 

ED LACY - ROOM TO SWING


Blurb......


1958 Edgar Award Winner. First appearance of Toussaint Moore, a black private investigator from New York, framed in his own city for a white man's murder. Moore ends up in a small Ohio town, close to the Kentucky border, trying to prove his own innocence and dealing the attitudes of the time. Fascinating novel, written by Lacy (Len Zinberg), a politically active author from the '30s whose knowledge of the culture is derived from his marriage to an African-American woman. Toussaint "Touie" Moore is considered the first credible black detective.

The author was obviously ahead of his time in his willingness to question societal norms in regard to racism and homosexuality, possibly the adoption of his pseudonym was an effort to protect himself from the fall-out of McCarthyism in the 50’s, who knows?  
Moore a part-time investigator cum security guard lands on his feet when hired to keep tabs on Robert Thomas, a small-town hood from Ohio now esconsed in New York. At $50 a day plus expenses, he’s making plans for his own detective agency. Cue disaster - Thomas gets murdered and Moore’s set-up to take the fall. Discovered by the police, with the corpse minutes after the crime is committed, he panickes, slugs a cop and goes on the run.
Fleeing south to Ohio, Moore starts on a search for the real killer and the reasons he’s been put in the frame. A few days in Ohio, encountering more black/white disharmony as well as some small acts of kindness, in particular from Frances, the daughter of his temporary landlord, Moore with few answers heads back to New York to continue his hunt.

At the end of the book, with the crime solved, Moore tired of the detective game and tired of his whingeing girlfriend’s vision of their future together and her greater regard for possessions than love heads south again to re-connect with Frances, to hopefully live happily ever after?
Lacy resurrected Toussaint Moore once more in the 1964 novel – Moment Of Untruth. (Not something that’s on my TBR Pile.)

3 plus from 5, so we'll go to a 4!
This copy was a Blackmask pdf file that was emailed to me some years ago, by a fellow crime fiction fan in the US


 

 




Wednesday, 23 January 2013

JOE CLIFFORD - CHOICE CUTS



Blurb.........

Clifford’s debut short story collection Choice Cuts mines the fractured territory of the marginalized, misanthropic, and short-changed. From morally bereft television producers desperate for a hit, to veterans suffering psychotic splits, Clifford delves into the madness and desperation that plague those living on the edge, while never surrendering the search for the light that guides us all. In these fast-paced, hard-hitting tales of ne’er-do-wells, addicts, and gangsters, two predominant themes emerge throughout the collection: human life frequently reduced to little more than pieces of meat, and the bad choices we often make to escape that fate, however good our intentions.

Echoing the pulp past of Thompson and Keene, with the sardonic worldview of Caulfield and Durden, Clifford’s style is lean, mean, and unforgiving.

Joe Clifford is the producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. His work has appeared in Big Bridge, the Bryant Review, the Connecticut Review, Drunken Boat, Fringe, Opium, and Word Riot, among others. Joe’s writing can be found at www.joeclifford.com. His novel Wake the Undertaker will be out later in the year.


I can’t claim to be the world’s biggest fan of the short story. I usually find it hard to care about what happens to the victim/villain/hero/protagonist (delete where applicable,) that I’ve only known for a few short pages. It’s hard to empathise or more bluntly give a shit, after only a short journey.
I’ve struggled through collections by William Boyd, James Kelman and Jack Kerouac in the past, fervently wishing to be struck by lightning just to make the pain stop.

Conversely, a recently read ensemble from Dan Fante - Corksucker did hit the mark.
This collection has more than a few gems in it. Clifford serves up 16 of his stories in Choice Cuts and whilst not all of them smacked me in the face like a slammed door there were enough of them here that did.

Outsiders; losers, gamblers, drunks, down-at-luck writers cross paths with tired cops, dope fiends, college kids and normal working Joes.  Bad people making bad decisions and good people making bad decisions.
Clifford’s novel out later this year – Wake The Undertaker is something I’m looking forward to.

4 from 5
I purchased this earlier this month for kindle on Amazon UK, despite my New Year resolution to curb my book buying – but hey, no regrets!



LAWRENCE BLOCK - THE SINS OF THE FATHERS




Blurb.......

A pretty young girl is butchered in her Greenwich Village apartment. The prime suspect dies and NYPD consider the case closed, but Scudder looks into the death for the girl's father. Suddenly he's up to his neck in sleaze and corruption in a world where children must pay for their parents' sins.

I read this book a few years ago, but having recently joined a pulp fiction group on Goodreads spent an hour or so Saturday afternoon scrabbling around in the attic, trying to locate the blooming thing. The group have a monthly poll where members vote on a future read and this was obviously selected a couple of months ago as January’s pick. I wasn’t too unhappy as I could dimly recall reading and enjoying it before, plus an added bonus was that at less than 150 pages long it wouldn’t take forever to get through.

Block has been quite prolific with a writing career spanning over 50 years so far, and he’s still going strong. During that period he has written several other series, in addition to the Scudder books, listed below.  Apart from the odd Bernie Rhodenbarr book and the first Keller – Hit Man, I haven’t really immersed myself in his work. That said, I probably have all the Scudder books, at least as far as no.14 in my collection. No excuse for not pulling my finger out and getting stuck in. 


Scudder, an ex-cop with a fondness for the bottle looks into a murder/suicide for the murder victim’s father, crossing paths with old colleagues, a retired good-time girl and a minister of the cloth. During the course of his enquiries, we find out the reasons for Scudder’s departure from the NYPD, as well as his solitary status, being estranged from his wife and children though still in touch with his boys.

 Whilst the case is quickly resolved, I found it slightly less interesting than the man investigating it...... aloof, unemotional, tolerant of and complicit in graft, violent if the mood suits him, but with a moral compass, albeit somewhat skewed.

I’m interested in seeing how Block's Scudder evolves over the next few books. As my Oxfam purchased copy is an omnibus edition covering the first three titles in the series, I’ve no real excuse for not reading the next instalment in February.

4 from 5

Bought from Oxfam several years ago.

   

Monday, 21 January 2013

JO NESBO - THE BAT


Blurb.......

HARRY IS OUT OF HIS DEPTH.

Detective Harry Hole is meant to keep out of trouble. A young Norwegian girl taking a gap year in Sydney has been murdered, and Harry has been sent to Australia to assist in any way he can.

HE'S NOT SUPPOSED TO GET TOO INVOLVED.

When the team unearths a string of unsolved murders and disappearances, nothing will stop Harry from finding out the truth. The hunt for a serial killer is on, but the murderer will talk only to Harry.

HE MIGHT JUST BE THE NEXT VICTIM.

Appearing in English for the first time, The Bat is the legendary first novel from the worldwide phenomenon Jo Nesbo.

 
This was my first taste of the Scandinavian writer, Jo Nesbo - my OCD-like tendencies having caused me to spurn earlier opportunities to read him, in favour of his waiting for his first published book, The Bat to become available at my local library.
 Having collected it Thursday evening, I read a chapter on Friday night, got properly stuck into it on Saturday afternoon and finished it Sunday evening.
First thoughts – better than average, without blowing me away totally. Perhaps most debuts aren’t the best work an author can produce and his later books are stronger, although this did win the 1998 Glass Key Award – for best Scandinavian Novel of the year.  
Harry Hole – Nesbo’s Norwegian policeman pitches up in Sydney to assist in the investigation into the violent death of a young Norwegian woman.  After initially only being assigned an observer role in the investigation, Harry and his Aboriginal babysitter, Andrew Kensington are drawn deeper into the pursuit of a serial rapist-killer.
The novel immerses Hole into Sydney’s notorious King Cross area, full of seedy bars, strip joints and prostitution. Kensington befriending Harry gives Nesbo the opportunity to provide some background history to the difficulties between the Aboriginal indigents and white-Australia, as well as imparting some knowledge on some Aboriginal cultural beliefs and legends.
Whilst I enjoyed the book in the main, particularly Nesbo’s ensemble of characters, as well as the violence that seemed never too far away from Hole, I wasn’t totally convinced by Harry’s subsequent phoenix-like rise from the ashes of his latest alcoholic lapse.
Where Nesbo did score points with me was with his readiness to dispense permanently with key characters during the execution of the investigation.
I’m looking forward to more reading more from Nesbo, though can’t decide whether to wait for the second Harry Hole instalment when it is published in English later this year – The Cockroach, or skip ahead to The Redbreast ( Hole - number 3), or alternately the standalone book Headhunters.  
4 from 5
Reserved and borrowed, after sitting in a queue of 9 from Leighton Buzzard library.

MARTIN AMIS - THE PREGNANT WIDOW






Blurb..........

Summer, 1970. Sex is very much on everyone's mind.

The girls are acting like boys and the boys are going on acting like boys. Keith Nearing - a bookish twenty-year-old, in that much disputed territory between five foot six and five foot seven - is on holiday and struggling to twist feminism towards his own ends. Torn between three women, his scheming doesn't come off quite as he expects.


I wasn’t especially looking forward to reading this, particularly after the recent train-wreck that was House Of Meetings – an absolute stinker of a book, in my opinion. However, whilst I wasn’t exactly dazzled by Mr Amis this time around, it was mostly readable and enjoyable – insofar as I didn’t loathe it - in an average-that-passed-some-time fashion, now what’s for tea?

Amis writes about the 70’s and in particular the experiences of 20 year-old Keith on a vacation to Italy with a group of friends.  The story revolves around Keith and his efforts to make the most of the increasing sexual freedoms enjoyed by the younger generation. ie he spends half the summer and a lot of the book trying to get it on with his girlfriend’s friend Scheherazade.

Keith, an English literature student, also gives Amis the opportunity to dissect the great English novel, with constant references to characters in books by DH Lawrence and others. Never having been that interested in this prose of this period, these constant references were for me the dullest and most irritating parts of the book.  I possibly dozed off at these points, and therefore can’t recall with absolute clarity what other literary giants were mentioned.

The latter part of the book, updates us with Keith and his life; his recent relationships and woes – again not too interesting for me.

Re-reading the above, I’m kind of scratching my head as to what I enjoyed about this; probably Keith’s pursuit of Scheherazade and the tension caused by the will he - won’t he scenario.

Another useless piece of trivia - one of the characters, Keith’s sister Violet is based on Amis’s deceased sister Sally, so in parts the book is semi-autobiographical.  

3 from 5 for The Pregnant Widow - hopefully all of the other 10 or so Amis on the TBR pile will entertain me more, when I get to them.

Purchased late 2011, from one of the plethora of second-hand retailers on-line.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

LINWOOD BARCLAY - THE ACCIDENT



Blurb..........

Glen Garber's life has just spiralled out of control. His wife's car is found at the scene of a drunk-driving accident that took three lives. Not only is she dead, but it appears she was the cause of the accident.
Suddenly Glen has to deal with a potent mixture of emotions: grief at the loss of his wife, along with anger at her reckless behaviour that leaves their young daughter motherless. If only he could convince himself that Sheila wasn't responsible for the tragedy.
But as more and more secrets begin to surface, Glen may have to face something much, much worse...


I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I was going to.
With Barclay, he has a habit of arranging his narrative so that the reader never fully understands what’s the raison d’etre is, until the big reveal close to the finish. Whilst this was an interesting tactic/practice – I can’t find the right word here - at first, I’ve grown a bit tired of the format over time. However, this book seemed slightly more straight-forward. Admittedly there was a grand finale and the protagonist(s) got their comeuppance at the end – no real surprises or spoilers there, but I wasn’t left scratching my head throughout wondering – “What the f***!”
Believable enough plot, sympathetic main character, with a reasonable ensemble of supporting cast including the annoying mother-in-law and interesting police-woman.  

He manages to portray the effects of the banking crisis and economic downturn of the last few years and the effect it has had on jobs, housing and everyday folk and their finances.
Enjoyable enough, better than average, but I’m not charging down the bookstore doors to get hold of the next. My wife enjoys them, maybe a bit more than me, so I’ll no doubt be reading Trust Your Eyes at some point in the second half of this year.  
4 from 5 at a push - insofar as it was better than a 3.

Bought new last year for my better half.

   

 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI - FUN AND GAMES




Blurb.........
Mulholland Books presents... FUN AND GAMES

NUMBER OF ACCIDENTAL DEATHS PER YEAR
By suffocation: 3,300
By poisoning: 8,600

STAGED BY PROFESSIONALS: You have no idea.

Ex-cop Charlie Hardie's latest job is guarding an isolated mansion in LA's Hollywood Hills. But it comes with an unwanted guest - a D-list actress who says she's being hunted by professional hitmen.

Charlie thinks she's just high and paranoid.

But he's wrong.

The killers are real.
They've tracked her to the house.
And they're not letting anyone out alive.


The first in a trilogy starring Charlie Hardie. Fast, frenetic, funny, plenty of action, likeable main characters, likeable supporting characters, slight stretch of the imagination to "buy" the plot - but isn't all fiction just made up words? Fantastic interplay between Hardie and Mann, the main adversary.

I read it in just over a day, which would have been quicker if life hadn't interfered.
The most enjoyable of his books to date, having previously read Secret Dead Men, The Blonde, The Wheelman and Severance Package.

I'll keep an eye out for the series follow-ons as this was a real blast.

4 from 5

Bought new last year from somewhere or other, Buzzard Books in town maybe.

Friday, 11 January 2013

AUSTIN S. CAMACHO - THE PAYBACK ASSIGNMENT





Blurb.......
Morgan Stark, a black mercenary soldier, is stranded in the Central American nation of Belize after a raid goes wrong. Felicity O'Brian, an Irish jewel thief, is stranded in the jungle south of Mexico after doing a job for an American client. When these two meet, they learn they've been double-crossed by the same person: Adrian Seagrave, a ruthless businessman maintaining his respectability by having others do his dirty work.
Morgan and Felicity become friends and partners while following their common enemy's trail. They become even closer when they find they share a peculiar psychic link, allowing them to sense danger approaching themselves, or each other. But their extrasensory abilities and fighting skills are tested to their limits against Seagrave's soldiers-for-hire and Monk, his giant simian bodyguard. After a series of battles from the California coast to the New York Public Library, they must face a final confrontation with Seagrave's army of hired killers in a skyscraper engulfed by flames. "The Payback Assignment" is the first in a series of novels featuring Morgan Stark and Felicity O'Brian.


I picked up over on the Crimespace website that the author was offering this over the new year for free on Amazon kindle, so being the cheapskate that I am downloaded it, even though the numbers of books in various formats I have to wade through is somewhat ridiculous.

It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but by no means the worst either. There's a decent enough plot, which moves at pace. The two main characters are likeable enough, but I'm not moved sufficiently to abandon all book-buying restraint in my haste to read the next two installments in the Stark and O'Brian series.

I read it in just over a day, which wouldn't happen if I wasn't enjoying the book. On the whole decent and engaging but not something that will stay with me for a long time, invading my thoughts at odd moments. I had a slight problem with the characters reactions to getting things on together, which probably tempered my overall score.

Camacho has written another series of action books of which I have the first - again an author kindle giveaway on Amazon. I'll get to it at some point in time - The Troubleshooter (Hannibal Jones Mystery Series).

3 from 5

Acquired through Amazon UK kindle for zilch.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

ANTHONY NEIL SMITH - ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS



Blurb.........
From a double cop-killing on the frozen streets of Minnesota to the burning sands of Mogadishu, Somali pirates and a brutal civil war, All The Young Warriors is an epic thriller spanning continents and cultures.
Murder, warfare, piracy, love, betrayal and revenge – this is a white-knuckle ride for fans of James Lee Burke (the Dave Robicheaux series), Richard Price (Lush Life) and Michael Connelly (the Harry Bosch series).

"a brilliant book, possibly the best novel of the year."
– Les Edgerton

Winner of the 2012 Spinetingler Award for Best Novel: Rising Star

The story…


When two of the Twin Cities' “Lost Boys” — young Somali men drafted to fight for terrorists back in the homeland — kill a pair of cops on his home turf, detective Ray Bleeker is left devastated. One of the dead cops was his girlfriend.

The investigation grinds to a halt when he discovers that the young murderers have fled to Somalia to fight in the rebel army. He's at his wits' end until the father of one of the boys, an ex-gang leader called Mustafa, comes looking for answers. Bleeker and Mustafa form an uneasy alliance, teaming up to help bring the boys back home.

But little do they know what Somalia has in store for them.

I've read a few of Neil Smith's books previously; Psychosomatic, The Drummer and most recently the slightly disappointing Yellow Medecine - albeit a few years ago now. After that disappointment, I've steered clear of his subsequent books until now - if this book is indicative of his latest output, it's been my loss.

From the off Smith grabbed my attention and never let it go. The first scene has 2 cops hauling over a couple of Somali-American boys driving erratically in the snow. The encounter ends badly for the cops, one of them the pregnant girlfriend of Bleeker another cop.

The Somalian boys, Adem – a reluctant accomplice, in way over his head; and Jibriil – now a cold-stone killer, flee the scene and shortly afterwards the country. Having been recently “educated” and steered towards the more radical extremist side of their Muslim faith, their end destination of Mogadishu, Somalia sees them take up arms in the struggle to establish Sharia law.
The action splits between Minnesota and a vengeful Bleeker, seeking answers and retribution in blood and the bleak, impoverished capital of Somalia where casual violence and death in the name of Islam is the norm.

Bleeker’s quest has him crossing swords with Mustafa  - Adem’s reformed, ex- gang-banger father, also hunting his son and some answers. These two form an uneasy alliance in the hunt for the long gone killer(s).
Meanwhile in Somalia, Jibriil actively embraces the struggle and thrives in the chaotic, African cess-pit whilst Adem questions his faith and the path he has meekly embraced. The two friends; initially bound together travel ever-diverging paths.   

The contrast between the snow and icy Minnesotan landscape and the heat-soaked African capital added to my enjoyment. Throw in a mix of likeable and believable characters, with a diversity of backgrounds and histories. Add to the plot the dynamics of a young, armed, angry, impoverished and radical population. Chuck in a bit of civil war, cross-border terror and a healthy dose of Somalian piracy, interspersed with black-ops American fixers, BBC reporters and a few out-of-depth aid workers.
If you get the mix exactly right; character, setting, plot and motivation and can skilfully blend graphic, but never gratuitous violence, including death and torture, with love, loss and family loyalties you may end up with a book as rewarding and fantastic as this one.

Probably not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no locked room mystery, no little old sleuthing pensioner ladies and there’s a distinct lack of cats, but for me it was bang on and ticked every box.
If I wasn’t labouring under a deluge of un-read books already, and a fanciful new year’s resolution to limit my new book acquisitions to 10% of what I read, I’d be on-line ordering more Anthony Neil Smith today.  I’ll have to make do with adding Hotdoggin’ and Choke On Your Lies to my wishlist.

5 from 5 – and an early contender for book of the month.
I bought this last year as a kindle read on Amazon-UK.

    

 







Monday, 7 January 2013

TWENTY MAJOR - THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX PARK


Blurb......... 

For three years Twenty Major has written a daily blog. Now though comes a tale so bizarre and abominable that mere words on a computer screen wouldnt have been able to do it justice. These words need to be on paper ...

When Twenty Major's friend, record-shop-owner Tom OFarrell is brutally shot in the stomach, his dying act was to scrawl the number 60 in blood on his chest and dial Twenty's number into his phone. When Twenty is called to the scene of the crime he hasnt a clue why Tom was trying to contact him or what the hell the number 60 means. But himself and Tom go back a long way and he vows to find Tom's killer.

Then things take a turn for the worse: Folkapalooza is announced - a massive free concert due to take place in the Phoenix Park with headlining acts Damien Rice, James Blunt and David Gray.

Something is wrong, really wrong. Why are people obsessed with Folkapalooza? What has turned the Goths outside the Central Bank into acoustic loving drips? Who is the ginger albino and how does it all link to Tom?

Can Twenty, Jimmy the Bollix, Stinking Pete, Dirty Dave, Lucky and even Ron himself, save the people of Dublin and, less importantly, the rest of Ireland, from a fate that is, quite literally, worse than death? And solve a murder along the way?

 Well, this started off in promising fashion – entertaining and amusing in places.
Unfortunately, by about a third of the way through this turned to irritation as to why there was still so much of the book left to read.  The plot was unbelievable, the characters one-dimensional and the sprinkling of one-liners that took a page or two to set up before delivery was frankly annoying.
The resolution of the murder/Folkapalooza palaver..........well who cares?

I don’t suppose the author meant for this to be taken seriously, and was written very much tongue in cheek, but it didn’t do anything for me.
2 from 5.

This was borrowed from my local library, so at least I can give it back.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

ERICA SPINDLER - WATCH ME DIE


Blurb..........
 

In Erica Spindler’s thrilling psychological drama Watch Me Die, one woman’s journey to recovery becomes her worst nightmare…

Stained-glass restoration artist Mira Gallier had it all. A career she loved. An idyllic marriage. A bright future in her favorite city. Then Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and Mira lost everything—even her husband, swept away by floodwaters, never to be seen again…

Years later, Mira has finally healed and is ready to start over. But her fate is once again altered by forces beyond her control. Instead of a killer storm, she faces a psychopath determined to shatter her life once more. First, church windows that she restored are vandalized—with haunting religious scripture—and a priest is found dead at the scene. Next, New Orleans is rocked by a series of murders that seem to be linked to her…and the police can’t help but wonder if the murderer isn’t Mira herself.

As Mira begins to unravel under pressure from all sides, she has no one left to trust. One by one, the people in Mira’s life are targeted—and soon it’s clear that the killer has been saving her for last. And now there’s nowhere left for her to run…

Well this turned out to be a bit of a surprise package. My wife must have read this 2 or 3 months ago, and to be truthful I have been trying to avoid it. You see I read one of Spindler’s books previously and I can only just say now that I’ve recovered from it; Breakneck in January, 2011..........not a pleasant experience from memory.

Anyway this was fairly good and to give the author some praise she steadily cranked up the tension throughout the book. Short, sharp chapters helped keep the narrative flowing at pace, and with a hundred-odd pages to go, I conceded to my wife I was really enjoying it, and whilst having some suspicions as to who the killer was, I wouldn’t have bet on it.

I continued to enjoy it, and even got up an hour earlier than usual - 5am not 6am, to finish the last 30-odd pages. When the protagonist had been revealed maybe 45 pages from the end, the book did slightly lose its hold on me.....but hey I enjoyed it far more than anticipated. Give it another couple of years and I’ll be ready for a third Spindler read!

4 from 5   

Another second-hand book purchase from Willen Hospice! (Not many authors get rich from me reading them! I’ll try a new one next time!)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

DOMINIC STREATFEILD - COCAINE, AN UNAUTHORISED BIOGRAPHY

Blurb......


The story of cocaine isn’t just about crime and profit; it’s about psychoanalysis, about empire building, about exploitation, emancipation, and, ultimately, about power. To tell the story of the twentieth century without reference to this drug and its contribution is to miss a vital and fascinating strand of social history. Streatfeild examines the story of cocaine from its first medical uses to the worldwide chaos it causes today. His research takes him from the arcane reaches of the British Library to the isolation cells of America’s most secure prisons; from the crackhouses of New York to the jungles of Bolivia and Colombia.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Streatfeild’s latest book A History Of The World Since 9/11, I did a bit of web browsing and bought his two earlier books; Brainwash - A Secret History Of Mind Control and Cocaine.

Brainwash was summarily read and whilst interesting didn’t rock me in the same way as 9/11 did. Cocaine, when it arrived in hardback the size of a house brick was started then put away.  

With a steely resolve to finish this after Christmas, I got back into it.

Streatfeild has undertaken a mammoth amount of research both into the origins of the drug its initial rise and fall in the late 19th century when Freud and others became aware of some of its abilities, and its resurgence in the late 70’s up to 2000. (This book was published back in 2003, so doesn’t cover the last 10 years of the continuing saga.)

I found the early part of the evolution of cocaine instructive, but ultimately a lot less interesting than the last 30-odd years of the 20th century.  Cocaine’s resurgence into US cities in the 70’s and 80’s and the reaction from the Reagan and subsequent administrations, I found a lot more relevant.

Streatfeild has interviews with LA crack-king, Ricky Ross and Colombian cartel members, along with various DEA agents and lowly growers in the South American jungles. He provides sharp analysis of the ongoing “war on drugs” waged by the US administration. A war that is ultimately unwinnable, unless there is a radical change of strategy and some forward thinking.

Political suicide for any politician to countenance, but is legalisation a better route to travel? I wouldn’t necessarily advocate it, but it would be worth having a reasoned, non-hysterical debate in regards to it. Remove the profit potential from the equation. For the traffickers and dealers then it becomes a less lucrative market to get involved in. Spend some of the money currently used to combat the trade in assistance for the small growers in South America, providing alternative crops with sustainable value in the market place. Reduce spending on housing over 500,000 people in the prison population, the result of tougher laws which have criminalised lower level street dealers and users, and put the money to better use.  Okay - a bit simplistic, but is it a worse alternative to the current status quo? 

It won’t happen though. Too much money to be made from prolonging the fight, too many corrupt officials, both in law enforcement and government in Mexico and South America for anyone to want to try an alternative method of combating an issue that isn’t going away anytime soon.

The book may be 10 years old and a bit behind the current situation, but Streatfeild has opened my eyes to this phoney war. Educational, instructive, thought provoking.

4 from 5

I picked this up this copy second-hand on E-bay.      

2013 READING AIMS (PLUS THE OLD LOSE WEIGHT CHESTNUT)

Well the start of a new year and the immediate aim would be to read as many books this year as last year, so we will go with 10 a month and 120 for the year.

Another aim is to actually stop buying more books at least until I get a handle on how many old books I actually have, which at the minute is kind of difficult because after getting evicted from my study earlier last year in the interests of peace and harmony in the Keane household, all the books kind of just got lobbed up into the attic. They need sorting and at least some semblance of organising which is a mammoth task that will surely eat into my reading time. At a guess there are 2000 or so which just means it isn't sensible to acquire any more, not when there is about 20 years material in place already. And to be honest I must have seen some potential in each and everyone of them or I wouldn't have acquired them in the first place. Instead of going cold turkey completely, I will allow myself the opportunity to acquire 1 book a month. On that basis I should reduce the stockpile by a 100 or so come the end of this year. I have a bit of a dread of turning into Mr Trebus of Life Of Grime infamy, where in 15 or 20 years time I'll be buried under piles of books and paperwork.

If I add a "books acquired" tab to my blog, I can track the acquisitions and see if I'm exercising some control over my compulsive purchasing. At least allowing myself 1 a month, I can still inject some new blood into my library.

Within my monthly read, I shall endeavour to read some Scandinavian crime - 1 a month shouldn't be beyond me.

In addition to the disordered books, I have tons of "printed" e-books, e-zines articles and general clutter which I shall try and reduce by a couple a month. If there a 100-odd page magazine that I read cover to cover, well I'm the one keeping score so it will count towards my total.

Clear the started-never-finished pile, which I have down to about 3. Get caught up with my wife and then I can enjoy my own choice of books, though I may try and maintain tabs on my son's reading also. He's 18 soon and only reads a book every 3 months or so which shouldn't be too hard.

Catch up with a few authors, whose books I had previously read all of, but who subsequently sneaked a couple out that I haven't got to..........Michael Connelly, Duane Swierczynski, Anthony Neil Smith, Pearce Hansen.

As I don't have a kindle, only a reader on my pc, I need to clear down the books stored on my laptop, because I just don't want to read this way. There's maybe 15 or 20 on there, so these will go at about 2 a month hopefully.

In summary, hopefully to read some decent stuff this coming year, and try and get a bit healthier.
So start running again, eat better and lose the 3-4 stone that has crept on since I was a skinny beast of a man 25 years ago. Hey, I'll even allow myself a book treat for every half stone I lose - and I won't cheat. Target say 12 stone 7lb by the time my 25th wedding anniversary comes around in July. Perhaps I'll even look something like the man my wife married, apart from the thinning silver thatch with the 50pence piece sized chunk missing at the back and the reading glasses!

GOOD LUCK FOR 2013!