Thursday, 28 February 2013

FEBRUARY 2013 - READING LIST

Michael Connelly - The Fifth Witness

Gary Carson - Hot Wire

John D. MacDonald - The Deep Blue Goodbye

Robert Crais - The Monkey's Raincoat

Robert Crais - Stalking The Angel

Richard Morgan - Altered Carbon

Andrew Nette - Ghost Money

Lawrence Block - Time To Murder And Create

Adam Hall - The Quiller Memorandum

Deon Meyer - Heart Of The Hunter

Pearce Hansen - Stagger Bay

Arnaldur Indridason - The Draining Lake

Ian Rankin - The Complaints

Another decent month in terms of reading quantity and quality. I managed 13 books in the month, which at one point didn't seem very likely as I got bogged down with Altered Carbon halfway through the book and the month.  My Pulp Fiction group membership over on Goodreads had it down as the reading choice of the month. There's really no accounting for taste! I suppose if you read a "bad" book, it just makes you appreciate the ones you enjoy a bit more.

I managed to keep up with my personal reading challenges, both numbers-wise and in sticking to my Scandinavian quest of one a month. I usually read at least one non-fiction book a month, but managed to break the habit by sticking to fiction in February. When I say fiction I should perhaps qualify that as male fiction, as I didn't have any female authors cross my path.........tut tut.

I've started a few series, with the intention of visiting them once a month to make progress through them. We'll see how long that lasts!
Lawrence Block and Matthew Scudder, 2 in 2 months with about 15 to go!
John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee, 1 down 20 to go.
Robert Crais -  2 in a month, with about 10 more Elvis Cole's before progressing to the 3 or 4 Joe Pike books.

I actually closed the spine on a Michael Connelly book and felt satisfied which hasn't happened for the past 3 or 4 books I've read of his. Another highlight was reading The Complaints by Ian Rankin. I've a load of unread Rebus in the loft along with his second in the series follow on to this book. Maybe, I'll be inspired to get stuck in, but knowing me something else will turn my head and I'll forget all about him in a week or two!

There were two standout books in the month; another excellent offering from Deon Meyer - Heart Of The Hunter, and the Scandinavian author, Arnaldur Indridason's The Draining Lake.

Book of the month..........hmm, dead heat, maybe? No by the narrowest of margins, it has to be Deon Meyer again - Heat Of The Hunter.

IAN RANKIN - THE COMPLAINTS


Blurb........

Nobody likes The Complaints - they're the cops who investigate other cops. Complaints and Conduct Department, to give them their full title, but known colloquially as 'the Dark Side', or simply 'The Complaints'. Malcolm Fox works for The Complaints. He's just had a result, and should be feeling good about himself. But he's middle-aged, sour and unwell. He also has a father in a care home and a sister who persists in an abusive relationship.

In the midst of an aggressive Edinburgh winter, the reluctant Fox is given a new task. There's a cop called Jamie Breck, and he's dirty. Problem is, no one can prove it. But as Fox takes on the job, he learns that there's more to Breck than anyone thinks. This knowledge will prove dangerous, especially when murder intervenes.

Confession time here, I’ve been a devotee of crime fiction for 20-odd years and shock-horror in all that time I have only ever read one book by Ian Rankin! After this venture north of the border that is something I’ll have to address.

The Complaints is the first in what is hopefully going to be another long running series from the author. There’s definitely a second outing for the team, as the back of my edition offers the first chapter in this follow-up, The Impossible Dead. Happily I have a copy of this somewhere at home that will be demanding some attention later on in the year.

I thought the pace was slightly slow in the first half of the book, as Rankin seemed intent on introducing Fox and the team to the reader- mainly Fox. We learn about his family, his problems with alcohol and his job as one of the peeping Toms, spying on his fellow cops. It picked up speed in the second half as all the strands of the investigation came together.

Enjoyable and entertaining with a satisfactory conclusion. Interesting characters throughout, though I was slightly less fond of Breck than Fox.

My wife read this late last year, and it’s good to know we’re on the same page, as she liked it too.

4 from 5

My copy was a bargain obtained from a local charity shop.

ARNALDUR INDRIDASON - THE DRAINING LAKE


Synopsis....

In the wake of an earthquake, the water level of an Icelandic lake drops suddenly, revealing the skeleton of a man half-buried in its sandy bed. It is clear immediately that it has been there for many years. There is a large hole in the skull. Yet more mysteriously, a heavy communication device is attached to it, possibly some sort of radio transmitter, bearing inscriptions in Russian.

The police are called in and Erlendur, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli begin their investigation, which gradually leads them back to the time of the Cold War when bright, left-wing students would be sent from Iceland to study in the 'heavenly state' of Communist East Germany.

The Draining Lake is another remarkable Indridason mystery about passions and shattered dreams, the fate of the missing and the grief of those left behind.

One of the reading challenges I set for myself this year was to read at least one Scandinavian crime novel in each month. Last month was my first taste of Jo Nesbo, albeit with a novel set in Australia. This month was Arnaldur Indridason and his book, The Draining Lake. I reckon I have read one of the author’s previous efforts, Jar City several long years ago. A lot of books have been read in the mean-time and as a consequence any memories or feelings for the novel have long since left me.

 

Effectively coming to this author fresh and with a novel based at least some of the time in an authentic Scandinavian setting, I was immediately captured by the story. Indridason weaves between a present day investigation into a recently discovered skeleton, and a more turbulent period in Eastern Europe’s recent history with some students studying in Leipzig. The Icelandic students with their Socialist ideals get to enjoy the realities of life in a Communist country; one which probably infringed on its citizens liberties more than Mother Russia did. I’ve read of life in East Germany under Communism last year with Anna Funder’s excellent Stasiland. Indridason captures the menace of the 60’s in a country where individuals lived under a regime where suspicion and paranoia was the default position of the state. Icelandic idealism soon wearies in a society where trust is in short supply.

 

Traversing the narrative back and forth between 60’s Leipzig and present day Iceland, Indridason knits a cohesive tale. The book was enjoyable and interesting, and populated with characters that were likeable and engaging. The three police officers in the team have lives outside the job and we are introduced to their families and ongoing sagas. Rather than acting as a distraction or sideshow to the main tale, the relationship between the three and their obvious regard and support for each other added to my enjoyment.

     

This is the 4th in the author’s series of Reykjavik murder mysteries, with another 4 published after it. I’ll definitely be back for more. I’m hoping the long forgotten Jar City still resides somewhere in my attic, as I wouldn’t mind revisiting it again or to be honest any of the others.

 

In my somewhat slim Scandinavian crime league table, Indridason sits at the top ahead of Nesbo after one book each. Stieg Larsson is in third position with his namesake Asa and the double act of Sjowall/Wahloo and Henning Mankell still to join the fray.

 

5 from 5 – and a likely book of the month.

 

Bought my copy of the book from an Oxfam shop many moons ago.  

DEON MEYER - HEART OF THE HUNTER


Blurb....

When Johnny K is kidnapped and held to ransom, his daughter turns to his old friend Tiny. She has 72 hours to deliver a disc with sensitive data on it to the kidnappers. But some people are watching Tiny’s every move – waiting for him to trip up and lead them to what they want.

Phew........ 420-odd pages of pure adrenaline filled, roller-coasting rocket fuel. I managed to read this in less than a day over the weekend, when I might typically read on average about 100-odd pages a day over the course of a month.

There must be something in the water in South Africa as Meyer and his fellow countrymen, Mike Nicol and Roger Smith have churned out some of the best crime fiction I’ve read in the past 6 months.

Heart Of The Hunter is one of Meyer’s earlier books originally published back in 2003. Since then he has attracted a wider audience with 13 Hours, Trackers and his latest book 7 Days. Of his 3 most recent books, I have only read Trackers which if I’m totally honest didn’t blow me away like this and last month’s reading highlight- Blood Safari. 13 Hours is on mount TBR along with his earlier stuff.

Meyer gives us Thobela Mpayipheli – former fighter in the struggle for equality in South Africa. Thobela has a checkered past; previously loaned out by the ANC resistance, as a favour to operate for the KGB as an assassin; but now post-apartheid surplus to requirements. Thobela after a few years as an enforcer in the drugs trade has gone straight. With an ordinary Joe job and his love for a women and her son he has a dream of a farm where they can bring up the boy away from the dangers and temptations of the crime-ridden city; a place where he can learn to grow crops and see life flourish from his efforts, instead of choking it off at the core.  

Tiny’s plans are on track, until a former friend is kidnapped and he’s sucked back into the vortex. To save his friend he has to deliver a disc to Lusaka within 3 days. Before too long he’s fallen foul of the intelligence services seeking to recover the disc and stop the data falling into enemy hands. Thebola fleeing on a stolen motor-bike becomes a fugitive in a massive man-hunt organised by the authorities and fueled by the media which has broken the story.

Does the interests of the state, over-ride the basic rights of her citizens? Can you be loyal to the state but retain your principles and behave according to your conscience? Can people fundamentally change and out-grow their past and become more?

Sometimes you start reading a book that starts out in a promising fashion, but along the way loses its edge and ultimately crawls to an unsatisfactory conclusion. Not this book, and from the evidence of the last month or two, not this author. Pedal to metal from first page to last

5 from 5

Borrowed from my local library.

     

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

PEARCE HANSEN - STAGGER BAY


Synopsis/blurb......

Maybe you grow up in the gutter with no one to lend you a hand. But that’s okay – nobody owes you nothing no how.

Maybe you meet your one true love, have a son, and leave the Life forever to become a Citizen. You obey the law, think maybe you’ve paid your dues. You fool yourself into believing you’ve got something coming to you; you think the past is past, no more than a bad dream long gone.

But sometimes that’s all shown up as a load of crap. Sometimes reality slices through all your illusions and bites you right on your flabby pale ass.

It didn’t matter you were innocent of the horrible crimes they accused you of – your violent childhood meant you were born to hang the frame on. Seven long years, gone from your life – and along the way you lost everything that ever mattered.

But now you’ve been exonerated – free! – and you have a second chance you never expected and don’t pretend to deserve. They’re calling you a hero for what you did that day: blood everywhere, and multiple homicide in front of all those screaming kids.

Everyone wants in on the media feeding frenzy; paparazzi and news crews follow wherever you go now. Unfortunately they’re not the only ones hounding you.

What are you supposed to do, when you discover fifteen minutes of fame is the worst thing that could ever happen? What can you do, now that your town is hunting ground to serial killers and rogue cops working together – and the shadowy force behind them is turning its cold, deadly eye straight your way?

Welcome home to Stagger Bay . . .

Stagger Bay is a battle of wills, where every moral choice seems only to increase the body count, in the tradition of Paul Cain’s Fast One, Ted Lewis' Get Carter or Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male.

I read Hansen’s first book Street Raised a few years ago (published 2006) and whilst I can remember next to nothing about it today, (ok, totally nothing) I’m fairly sure I must have enjoyed it enough to keep my eye out for any further books from the author.

Fast forward 5 or 6 years and there I was Saturday afternoon racing through this, eating up the pages keen to finish. I feel no real need to expand on the blurb above, so I’ll have a quick Q & A with myself.

Did you enjoy it? Yes,

Best book you’ve ever read? No,

Would you read more from the author? Yes,

Do you feel inclined to rush out and find anything else by him this very moment? Err, no,

What impressed you the most? Hansen’s narrative skills; culminating in a taut, pacey tale with an interesting main character, trying to get his life back on track after an injustice has been served on him and he’s spent time inside during which his partner has overdosed  and died and the son he loved has grown up and grown away from him.  After that cheery start, things take a turn for the worse as Marcus the main man turns from villain to hero and gets embroiled in combating small-town corruption and a sadistic killer.

Read the 220-odd pages in an afternoon.

4 from 5

Bought late last year on Amazon for Kindle.

 

   

ADAM HALL - THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM


Synopsis/blurb...........

You are a secret agent working for the British in Berlin. You are due to go home on leave, but you are being followed-by your own people, or by the enemy. A man meets you in the theater and briefs you on a plot to revive the power of Nazi Germany. You do not believe him, but you remember that one of the suspects mentioned was a senior SS officer you met with in the days when you were working as a spy in Nazi Germany. The next day you make contact with a beautiful girl who may know something. Someone tries to kill both of you.
Your name is Quiller. You are the hero of an extraordinary novel which shows how a spy works, how messages are coded and decoded, how contacts are made, how a man reacts under the influence of truth drugs-and which traces the story of a vastly complex, entertaining, convincing, and sinister plot.

 

In the past year or two I have tried, not very successfully, I admit to expand my reading scope to include a whole range of writers that I wouldn’t normally find nestled under the “crime fiction” umbrella. A logical off-shoot seemed to me to be thrillers or espionage books.....Robert Harris, Olen Steinhauer, Jeremy Duns, John le Carre all seemed to fit the bill.  Scratching a bit below the surface of the genre, I came across Adam Hall - a pseudonym of Elleston Trevor. Hall/Trevor wrote a series of 19 books about Quiller – a British agent; the first of which was published in 1965, the last in 1996.

 

This first in the series was the recipient of the prestigious Edgar Award in 1966, which was the same year a film adaptation was released starring Alec Guinness. I can’t recall seeing the film, but at least now I’ve read the book.

 

It’s a relatively short book at less than 200 pages, as a lot of fiction of the period seems to be. But hey, as I keep telling my wife, size isn’t everything. Within the confines of this thin book, Hall manages to paint a vivid landscape of a cold, hostile, frightening city where the future of the continent is being fought for by conflicting ideologies with disparate interests.    

 

Hall takes the reader inside Quiller’s head and convincingly conveys the dread and psyche of a lone agent pitted against an enemy that refuses to accept that the end of the war brought the defeat of Nazism.

 

Stunning, thoughtful, sympathetic, humane – just a few random adjectives that inadequately convey my thoughts on this book.

 

4 from 5, though a week or so on from finishing it I can’t quite put my finger on why it wasn’t a 5..........scratches head in a puzzled fashion.

 

I picked my copy up a year or two ago, second-hand from some forgotten online outlet.

 

LAWRENCE BLOCK - TIME TO MURDER AND CREATE


Synopsis/blurb.....

Small-time stoolie, Jake " The Spinner" Jablon, made a lot of new enemies when he switched careers, from informer to blackmailer. And the more "clients", he figured, the more money -- and more people eager to see him dead. So no one is surprised when the pigeon is found floating in the East River with his skull bashed in. And what's worse, no one cares -- except Matthew Scudder. The ex-cop-turned-private-eye is no conscientious avenging angel. But he's willing to risk his own life and limb to confront Spinner's most murderously aggressive marks. A job's a job after all -- and Scudder's been paid to find a killer -- by the victim...in advance.

My second encounter with Matthew Scudder after reading Block’s first in this series last month. I’m unsure whether this is actually the second Scudder book or the third, it seems to vary depending where you view the chronology of the series, but as I’m planning on reading the last instalment in my omnibus edition in March it’s probably not going to make too much of a difference, or at least not enough to set my OCD alarm bells ringing.

Short and sweet at about 130-odd pages long, Block reveals slightly more of Scudder’s personal code of morality and justice. Justice doesn’t always need to be meted out from the authorities; Scudder’s happy enough to impose his own verdict and punishment on the guilty. He has his own failings and makes misjudgements which have unintended consequences from which others can’t recover. Flawed but intriguing, Block’s Scudder is definitely a series that even at this early stage is growing on me.

4 from 5   

My omnibus edition was purchased second hand from Oxfam many moons ago.

Friday, 22 February 2013

ANDREW NETTE - GHOST MONEY


Synopsis/blurb.....

Cambodia, 1996, the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency is fragmenting, competing factions of an unstable coalition government scrambling to gain the upper hand. Missing in the chaos is businessman Charles Avery. Hired to find him is Vietnamese Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan.

But Avery has made dangerous enemies and Quinlan is not the only one looking. Teaming up with Heng Sarin, a local journalist, Quinlan’s search takes him from the freewheeling capital Phnom Penh to the battle scarred western borderlands. As the political temperature soars, he is slowly drawn into a mystery that plunges him into the heart of Cambodia’s bloody past.

Ghost Money is a crime novel, but it’s also about Cambodia in the mid-nineties, a broken country, and what happens to people who are trapped in the cracks between two periods of history, locals and foreigners, the choices they make, what they do to survive.

"Ghost Money is a fast-paced, atmospheric crime novel. Its journey into a cynical and treacherous world is tense and suspenseful." - Garry Disher

Ghost Money was a first for me. Whilst I have previously read a lot of books both fact and fiction concerning the conflict of the 60’s and 70’s in Vietnam, I never extended my reading vistas to encompass other areas of South-East Asia, although I’m not too sure how many other crime fiction books there are set in Cambodia.

Ghost Money was an eye-opener for me. Nette, with his debut novel, drags Cambodia and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge back into the daylight 30-odd years after the horrors of Pol Pot and his followers have been largely forgotten by the rest of the world.

The novel, set in Cambodia in the mid-90’s, is as much a history lesson as it is a crime novel. Nette displays empathy for the Cambodian people and the harsh brutalities that have been inflicted on them by a succession of oppressors or liberators........forced migration and genocide, American carpet bombing, Vietnamese invasion and occupation, on-going civil war, refugee camps, Soviet interest and abandonment, UN lip-service and ultimately worldwide apathy and indifference once the news reels had changed their focus and moved on.

The crime element has Quinlan, ex-cop turned PI hired to find an Australian businessman, Charles Avery. Avery, suspected of murder in Thailand is tracked by Quinlan to Phnom Penh. Quinlan enlists local and Aussie ex-pat help in his efforts to unravel Avery’s whereabouts. Avery with dodgy business dealings in gems and a fake mine has annoyed his fellow entrepreneurs. Unfortunately for Avery and now Quinlan several of these erstwhile partners have psychopathic personalities and an aversion to being played. Quinlan ends up in a battle to save himself from being added to the death toll, in a country where life is cheap and can be bought for a few dollars.

Bloody, pacey, intriguing and educational; I enjoyed this journey through Cambodia in the capable hands of the author. I’ll be keeping an eye out for his next offering whenever that comes about.

4 from 5 

I obtained a copy to review from the author himself.  

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

RICHARD MORGAN - ALTERED CARBON


Synopsis:

In the 26th century mankind has spread through the galaxy, taking its religions and racial divisions out into the cold arena of space. While tensions exist and small dirty wars flare up every now and then, the UN Protectorate maintains an iron grasp on the new worlds, aided by its very own elite shock-troops; the Envoy Corps.

Meanwhile, what religion cannot guarantee technology has already delivered; when your consciousness can be stored in a cortical stack and routinely downloaded into a new body even death has become little more than an inconvenience. As long as you can afford a new body…

Ex-UN Envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before; it was a hazard of the job, but his last death was particularly brutal. Needlecast across light years of space, re-sleeved into a body in San Francisco on Old Earth and throw into the centre of a conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that has forgotten how to value life, he soon realises that the shell that blew a hole in his chest on Harlan’s World was only the beginning of his problems…

Well it’s fairly obvious now why I don’t read much Science Fiction......I don’t enjoy it! I signed up to a pulp-fiction group on Goodreads site, and Altered Carbon was the February reading choice as voted for by some of the members.

Hopes were raised on reading some of the praise on the back.......hardcore, hard-boiled, astonishing, blown away, adrenaline, slick hard-hitting, brilliant, commanding, exciting, addictive, intriguing and inventive,

If they ever want my contribution for future editions...........snore-fest, dull, grim, tedious, numbing, anaesthetising.............these will do for starters.

My main gripe would have to be that I just couldn’t feel a connection or any empathy for Kovacs. Gosh he’s in peril, will he survive this latest conflict? Yawn, who cares?  

There were some decent bits in the book and to give Morgan his due he can write some decent action scenes and he has a vivid imagination, and he didn’t bore me with too much technical jargon where I felt a degree in physics would have been helpful. I’m fairly certain that many, many people really enjoyed this, but sadly I wasn’t one of them. I wouldn’t say I actively loathed it, but it was a close run thing.

Highlight for me, turning the last page, reading the last paragraph.

2 from 5

I acquired my copy as a book-swap on the readitswapit website.

 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

ROBERT CRAIS - STALKING THE ANGEL




Blurb....

Bradley Warren had lost something very valuable, something that belonged to someone else: a rare thirteenth-century Japanese manuscript called the Hagakure.

Everything PI Elvis Cole knew about Japanese culture he'd learned from reading SHOGUN, but he knew a lot of crooks - and what he didn't know, his sidekick Joe Pike did.

Together, Cole and Pike begin their search in L.A.'s Little Tokyo, the nest of the notorious Japanese mafia, the Yakuza - and find themselves caught up in a white-knuckled adventure filled with madness, murder and sexual obsession. Just another day's work for Elvis Cole...

Hot on the heels of the first Crais/Elvis Cole novel I read on Saturday, the second instalment was done and dusted on the following day. Don’t you just love weekends where you can pretty much just chill and do nothing but read? I’ll have to make the most of them, because in a month or so, with spring around the corner I’ll no doubt be cutting the grass or trimming trees or painting the shed.   

Anyway.....Cole gets hired to recover a valuable Japanese manuscript recording the warrior code of the Samurai; the Hagakure. His employer, Bradley Warren is a successful, driven businessman, married to a wife with a penchant for daytime boozing and a daughter, Mimi  he seemingly has no connection to either. Warren, unlikeable from the off needs the manuscript found to placate his Japanese trading partners.

Cole in pursuit of the script in Little Tokyo crosses words with the Japanese Yakuza and manages to annoy several branches of law enforcement along the way. After ignoring threats to his family, Warren fires Cole after the kidnapping of his daughter. Cole feeling responsibility towards the unhappy girl persists in investigating the crimes, now more focused on recovering the girl instead of the book.

Pike, the enigmatic partner assists as does Warren’s previously aloof assistant. Cole tracks Mimi down and there the story endeths...........err, not really as Crais burdens Cole with a heavier load to resolve.

Entertaining and enjoyable, but slightly less so than The Monkey’s Raincoat as far as this reader was concerned.

Still merits a 4 from 5 rating.

I bought my copy new, back in the days when my hair was its original colour and my waistband considerably smaller.  

 

ROBERT CRAIS - THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT


Blurb....

When quiet Ellen Lang enters Elvis Cole's Disney-deco office, she's lost something very valuable - her husband and young son. The case seems simple enough, but Elvis isn't thrilled. Neither is his enigmatic partner and firepower Joe Pike.

Their search down the seamy side of Hollywood's studio lots and sculptured lawns soon leads them deep into a nasty netherworld of drugs and sex - and murder. Now the case is getting interesting, but it's also turned ugly. Because everybody, from cops to starlets to crooks, has declared war on Ellen and Elvis.

I read this first Crais book probably a year or two after it was first published in 1987. Robert Crais was one of a new breed of writer I wanted to get into when I made the reading jump from the horror genre into crime fiction. Crais along with Robert Parker, Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke opened my eyes to a different kind of fiction and a far different kind of life on the streets of America than I was used to living in sleepy Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.

Whilst my reading has mainly remained in the crime zone, for the past 20 years, with the odd foray elsewhere, I kind of neglected Crais and his creation Elvis Cole. I still acquired new Crais books along the way, but can’t say that I ever made the actual jump into opening the damn things and getting stuck into them. Cole with his sometime sidekick Joe Pike appeared in a series of 12 or so books, before Pike was given his own showcase by the author. Vaguely recalling the enigmatic Pike, and wanting to read more about his exploits, the OCD within me dictated that I re-visit the first Elvis Cole and start again back in late 80’s LA.

Cole is an interesting enough protagonist in this book; a private investigator for hire, a military background having served in Vietnam, an exponent of some form of martial arts, a practising yoga fiend, wise-cracking mouth, a bit of a loner with only a couple of friends; Pike and Portias – a detective with the LAPD. Crais at time steers Cole close to the stereotypical PI of the genre, but manages to infuse enough depth to the man to allay any concerns that he’s a cardboard cut-out. Cole’s drink of choice seems to be beer rather than the obligatory bottle of bourbon stored in the lower desk drawer.

Crais entertains with his first book, whilst Cole predictably gets to the bottom of the mystery and achieves a resolution of sorts for Ellen; the book was good enough to withstand a second reading 20 plus years after I first cracked its spine. Good enough for me to follow straight on with the second book in the series – Stalking The Angel.

4 from 5

I bought my copy new 20 plus years ago, pre-internet days from some long lost High Street outlet.

 

JOHN D. MACDONALD - THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE


 
TRAVIS McGEE
He's a self-described beach bum who won his houseboat in a card game. He's also a knight errant who's wary of credit cards, retirement benefits, political parties, mortgages, and television. He only works when his cash runs out and his rule is simple: he'll help you find whatever was taken from you, as long as he can keep half....

I owned this book years ago, when I first got into crime fiction in the early 90’s. I discarded it, un-read a couple of years later on the basis that it looked old, it was old - therefore it must be rubbish.  Fast forward 20 years and my outlook has somewhat changed.  I’m old myself now; 50 this year and still older than the book, which by definition cannot now be dismissed automatically as rubbish on grounds of age alone. I was encouraged to give it a chance to by a friend I’ve made on the Goodreads site - Cathy from Florida.

So a big hat tip to Cathy then, as the book was extremely enjoyable. McDonald’s creation, Travis McGee is the star of the show in this his first outing. Travis is a “salvage” expert. He specialises in recovering people’s property for a 50/50 split of the spoils, but only when he needs the money. The rest of the time he enjoys a life of leisure on his boat in sunny Florida.

McGee agrees to help Cathy recover her mystery inheritance that’s been swindled from her by Junior Allen, a smooth talking, rapist ex-con. McGee’s investigation sees him delving into Cathy’s father’s past and his wartime exploits as well as more recent events with Junior’s involvement with another local lady. Fast forward a bit.......... McGee eventually catches up with Allen and attempts to reclaim Cathy’s gem stones as well as making Allen pay for his exploits.  

MacDonald portrays McGee as a part-time sage-cum-philosopher as well as a man of action when the need arises. He’s a loner with a heart, albeit a chauvinistic one, and whilst that may be irritating and a turn off for some readers, I actually liked him and want to read more about him.

The Deep Blue Goodbye was MacDonald’s first Travis book in a series that ran for 20 years and a further 20 books. I won’t bite off more than I can chew, but I’ve already line up the second in the series for reading next month sometime – Nightmare In Pink.

4 from 5

I managed to obtain a second-hand copy of this by agreeing to swap another of my books on the useful ReadItSwapIt website.

Friday, 8 February 2013

MICHAEL CONNELLY - THE FIFTH WITNESS

Blurb......


In tough times, crime is one of the few things that still pays, but even criminals are having to make cut-backs. So for defence lawyer Mickey Haller, most of his new business is not about keeping people out of jail; it's about keeping a roof over their heads as the foreclosure business is booming. Lisa Trammel has been a client of Mickey's for eight months, and so far he's stopped the bank from taking her house. But now the bank's CEO has been found beaten to death - and Lisa is about to be indicted for murder...






I’ve put off reading any Michael Connelly books for a good while now. When I first started reading him, I was absolutely staggered by the quality of his writing. Once I had discovered him, I was like a pig rolling in shit, a dog with two dicks and the cat that had got the cream – all bundled up into one happy parcel of book-reading joy, if you get the picture. I had about 15 or so of his back catalogue to catch up on, which was fantastic reading for a fair few months. I absolutely loved Harry Bosch and couldn’t get enough of him.  

Unfortunately though, and in the words of The Righteous Brothers  crooning “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” his last 3 or 4 books just haven’t done it for me. Connelly had introduced a fresh character, Mickey Haller into his arsenal and whilst he was likeable enough and shared a parent and sometimes a storyline with Bosch, Connelly just didn’t grab me in the way that he used to.

Picking up The Fifth Witness, more with a sense of apprehension than anticipation, I had already put him on notice that once this, The Drop and The Black Box (both on mount TBR) were done, if he didn’t up his game, he was joining the ranks of ex-authors – those that I used to read......James Lee Burke, Jason Starr, James Ellroy, Robert Ferrigno to mention a few.

Well happy to report that this time around he nailed it for me. Haller, criminal defence lawyer extraordinaire defends Lisa Trammel on a murder charge. Lisa, an unsympathetic character relies upon Haller to convince a jury that she is innocent of killing Michael Bondurant, a bank executive who’s actively engaged in trying to foreclose on her property.

Without going into mega detail, Connelly kept me hooked for over 550 pages...........the cops, the investigation, the trial, the prosecution, Haller’s team, his ex-wife and daughter, the absent husband, foreclosures, bank fraud, dubious Hollywood agents and film-makers, East coast Mafiosi linked with West coast banking magnates and an LA biker gang. Plenty of ingredients in the pot, with a few blind alleys and red herrings; all blended together skilfully and served up.

4 from 5

My copy was bought new last year sometime in paperback.   

GARY CARSON - HOT WIRE



Blurb.......
 Emma Martin isn't your average teenager. A scrawny, impulsive runt of a girl with glasses and a ponytail, she steals cars for the Deacon-Gonzalez Organization, an uneasy alliance of Bay Area rednecks and Mexican drug dealers who smuggle heroin and hot cars through the Port of Oakland.

Night after night, Emma cruises the streets with her hillbilly boyfriend, Arnold Willis, bypassing alarms, smashing windshields and hotwiring ignitions. But the good life comes to an end when she can’t resist a black Lexus sedan and decides to go into business for herself.

Now she's on the run from the cops, a Customs task force, two thugs who claim to be FBI agents, a spooky fed who wants to use her as bait and a gang of vicious locos who work for her own employers. A pawn in a game she doesn't understand, her only ally is a seedy reporter who thinks the car she stole holds the key to an explosive conspiracy that dates back to the fall of the Soviet Union.


I started this last year and put it aside as I wasn’t really getting into it at the time.

This time around – déjà-vous I’m afraid. I started again from scratch and whilst it opened brightly I just sort of stumbled through it, picking things up, putting them down again for a week or so, until with a steely resolve I sat down to finish it this morning.   

Verdict – well okay in an average sort of way. Lots of guns, cops and government agents – bent and straight, Mexican hoods smuggling dope and hot vehicles, a burnt-out alky journalist, a dead stripper and a young pair of unlucky car thieves. Plenty of violence and death and Emma, one of the young car thieves who jacks the wrong vehicle is at the centre of the maelstrom not knowing who she can trust.          

What initially seems to be a straightforward crime story evolves into a commentary on the dark forces of government that want to erode all civil liberties and take control of society. Oliver North types with added zeal ready to wage war on the streets of America turning ordinary fears into paranoia and eventually presiding over a Soviet style police state.

 I would have probably enjoyed it more if the author stuck to a tale of low-level car crime and smuggling with Emma trying to extricate herself from the fix she found herself in. I just didn’t feel that emotionally invested in the overall outcome and whether she survived to tell the tale.

Slightly disappointing - as I had set my hopes a bit higher. Enjoyable but average.

3 from 5

The author has written another book – Phase Four, which I also have and which I’ll get to at some point.

This copy was obtained from the publisher, Blasted Heath, though I can’t recall whether I paid for it or if it was a freebie