Sunday, 31 March 2013

MARCH 2013 - READING LIST


Gerald Seymour - The Outsiders

Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Played With Fire

Robert Crais - Lullaby Town

Gene Kerrigan - The Rage

Linwood Barclay - Clouded Vision

Max Allan Collins - Bait Money

Randy Wayne White - Sanibel Flats

Marek Krajewski - The End Of The World In Breslau

Bill Pronzini - The Snatch

Lawrence Block - In The Midst Of Death

Jack London - The Call Of The Wild

Dorothy B Hughes - In A Lonely Place

John D. MacDonald - Nightmare In Pink

Henry Baum - The Golden Calf

Pinckney Benedict - Dogs Of God

H. J. Hampson - The Vanity Game

A little bit of variety in my reading this month. I've been to 1920's Germany, late 19th century Canada, 60's New York and a crime infested present day Dublin, to mention a few. I've not got my non-fiction mojo back - sticking to fiction again for the second consecutive month. I have managed to read two books by female authors, which is two more than last month.

I've stayed on top of my reading challenges; Award winner - tick, Scandinavia - tick, overall numbers - double tick.

I've kept going with the two series I had started, plus I've begun a further three. If I maintain my series bent, my reading in coming months may become a little bit predictable, so I'll have to keep an eye on that. It doesn't pay to be too restrictive in my choices as my reading might turn into a chore rather than remain a pleasure. 

One stinker in the month which I struggled with - Krajewski and Breslau. Pretty much everything else I enjoyed, some a lot more than others.........Kerrigan, Block, Seymour, London......were a lot closer to the top of the pile than the rest.

Book of the month though - the first in Bill Pronzini's long running Nameless detective series - The Snatch.

H. J. HAMPSON - THE VANITY GAME


Synopsis/blurb......

Ripping the lid off the world of celebrity culture, The Vanity Game is a satirical black comedy that's as disturbing as it is hilarious.

Sexier than David Beckham and nastier than Joey Barton, life couldn't be much better for professional soccer ace and international megabrand, Beaumont Alexander. Living the life of luxury in his Essex mansion, The Love Palace, with his beautiful pop-star girlfriend and queen of the WAGS, Krystal McQueen, he’s every bit as vain as you might expect from a man who has the world at his fingertips as well as his feet.

But a celebrity party kick-starts a chain of events that turns his dream lifestyle into a waking nightmare. It begins with too many drugs and an attractive waitress and leads to an argument with Krystal that doesn't end well. Then a shady cartel steps in and changes his life forever.

Beaumont Alexander is about to discover that substitution is a fate worse than death.

"Take a pinch of TOWIE, add a measure of vapid sleb culture, throw in a few dark temptations, lob the lot OTT, and you've got a recipe for a premier league winner."
Val McDermid, bestselling author of The Retribution

A dark comedy for fans of John Niven (Kill Your Friends), Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho, Glamorama) and Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch).

This was a decent enough read to end the month on. Hampson takes a big stick and pokes it in the eye of celebrity and vacuous fame.

Beaumont Alexander is the star of the show. He’s a top flight footballer with the pop star girlfriend, glossy magazine shoots and an endless cycle of glamorous parties. His fame and fortune have fostered in him a sense of entitlement, whatever Beaumont wants Beaumont gets.....more drink, more drugs, more girls........now, now, now......instant gratification. However appallingly he behaves and treats people, he’s usually protected from the consequences. Serge, his agent can sort it out.

After a drug fuelled row with his girlfriend Krystal ends with tragic consequences, Beaumont’s and Serge’s control over his life begins to slip away from them, with a criminal gang pulling the strings.

I’m not sure if it says more about me or is testament to Hampson’s skills as a writer, but I actually liked Alexander and found myself rooting for him to “resolve” his difficulties. Whilst some of actions and behaviour are abhorrent, inside he’s still the small boy, the product of a single mum’s love, but without the support network of genuine friends who could keep him connected to reality. Fame, fortune and loneliness versus family, friends and love. No contest in my book.

I enjoyed The Vanity Game, I laughed, I winced, I cringed and then I laughed some more. Entertaining fun, if a little bit unbelievable.

4 from 5

I got my copy as a free download from the publisher Blasted Heath.    

Saturday, 30 March 2013

PINCKNEY BENEDICT - DOGS OF GOD


Synopsis/blurb.......

A tale of malevolence and violence, this "stunning novel" (New York Times Book Review) is the story of Tannhauser, a crazed backswoodsman turned drug lord, and the idiosyncratic characters who are enticed into his destructive orbit.

I’ve had this book sat on my shelves unread since I bought it new back in either 1994 when it was first published, or a bit later in 1995. Eighteen years on Mount TBR has got to be some sort of record, for me at least. I’ve previously attempted to read it more than once, but could never get more than about 30 pages in, before turning to something else. Well this time around, I got past the initial stumbling blocks and finished.

“Dogs” is populated by the kind of people, I like reading about but wouldn’t want to meet.

Tannhauser is a 12-fingered, ex-military drug dealer. He’s commandeered an abandoned women’s prison, burnt out the hippies that were growing their own weed there, literally and has his own captive, migrant work crew. The local sheriff’s on the payroll and with a massive arms shipment arriving in exchange for his crop, he’s looking to expand the operation. Cruel, ruthless and psychopathic; he’s running the show.

Goody, a drifting bare-knuckle fighter who has a match-up with Tannhauser’s bodyguard, Yukon arranged by Inchcape - a sometime farmer, part-time truck driver and Goody’s landlord.

Carmichael’s the DEA agent tasked with getting to grips with West Virginia’s burgeoning marijuana crops. He’s running an operation that’s targeting Tannhauser and which will cause conflict between the local law and their unofficial paymaster.

Bodo and Toma are outsiders; commodity dealers brought into the mix with their arms shipment in exchange for Tannhauser’s dope.

Pilot and co-pilot; two guys with a have plane, will smuggle mentality.

Benedict deals in other characters whose significance eludes me – an anchorite, which after googling is apparently a spiritual person who is living as a hermit and Peanut another drifter, ready to assume Yukon’s mantle after his catastrophic collision in the ring with Goody.

The book throughout is violent and for the most part interesting. The boxing scenes and the wild boar hunt are compelling and fantastic, but ultimately I put it down feeling slightly unsatisfied. Whether the anchorite and the apocalyptic climax has some allegorical meaning, I’m unsure – I’m not a student of the Old Testament or Aesop or Greek mythology so will pass on that one.

The passages earlier in the book concerning the underground caves in the region, that run for miles and miles, seem a convenient device at the end to allow one of the participants to ultimately survive the carnage Benedict wreaks on nearly everyone.

3 from 5

Bought new a long time ago.

Friday, 29 March 2013

HENRY BAUM - THE GOLDEN CALF


 
 
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Synopsis/blurb.....

 

Ray Tompkins is the kind of person you never get to know. He's the security guard, the factory worker, the man working the midnight shift. Nobody really understands Ray - not his coworkers, not his family, and certainly not the women in his life. There is a rage building inside Ray Tompkins and Los Angeles is the fuel - the sick obsession with celebrity mixed with the vacuousness of everyday life. Against this backdrop, Ray Tompkins finds a way to vent his anger. He, too, will be known.

 

This was quite an uncomfortable book to read. Ray Tompkins is a man with few friends and a difficult relationship with his family. He meanders through life working a succession of low-paid jobs until he inevitably gets fired from one and moves on to the next. He’s a guy with limited ambition and little interest in drink, drugs or sex. When he attempts to forge a connection with a woman or girl, he’s little or nothing to offer them.......he’s an invisible poster-boy for mediocrity and under-achievement.

 

Ray tires of the status quo and after transferring his unrequited affections and infatuations from a college student into a passionate hatred for Hollywood’s latest Golden Boy and flavour of the month; he at last shows a measure of ambition and tries to prove himself worthy of attention.

 

If I’m truthful I can’t see Baum troubling the best seller lists with this type of book, as I don’t believe it has mass appeal. Who wants to spend time reading about inadequacy and low self-esteem, apart from me?

 

Interesting and enjoyable and it made a change from the norm.

 

4 from 5

 

I got my copy from the website of Another Sky Press

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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

JOHN D. MACDONALD - NIGHTMARE IN PINK


Synopsis/blurb.......

From a beloved master of crime fiction, Nightmare in Pink is one of many classic novels featuring Travis McGee, the hard-boiled detective who lives on a houseboat.

Travis McGee’s permanent address is the Busted Flush, Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Lauderdale, and there isn’t a hell of a lot that compels him to leave it. Except maybe a call from an old army buddy who needs a favor. If it wasn’t for him, McGee might not be alive. For that kind of friend, Travis McGee will travel almost anywhere, even New York City. Especially when there’s a damsel in distress.

The damsel in question is his old friend’s kid sister, whose fiancé has just been murdered in what the authorities claim was a standard Manhattan mugging. But Nina knows better. Her soon-to-be husband had been digging around, finding scum and scandal at his real estate investment firm. And this scum will go to any lengths to make sure their secrets don’t get out.

Travis is determined to get to the bottom of things, but just as he’s closing in on the truth, he finds himself drugged and taken captive. If he’s being locked up in a mental institution with a steady stream of drugs siphoned into his body, how can Travis keep his promise to his old friend? More important, how can he get himself out alive?
 
I didn’t get too worked up over this second Travis McGee instalment in MacDonald’s long running series. It was enjoyable enough but when compared to last month’s The Deep Blue Goodbye just didn’t seem as strong or as interesting. For one thing the locale was different as McGee was off his home turf in Florida and playing away in New York, not that I have anything against books set there. Secondly, I’m a sucker for a well described action scene.....a brawl, a mugging, a shooting.......and there just wasn’t enough of that here to get the adrenaline pumping.

Overall enjoyable, but just closing it, I was left with a tinge of disappointment. Still I’ll be back with McGee in April for number 3 – A Purple Place For Dying

3 from 5

I acquired my copy by agreeing a swap for one of my finished books, on the excellent Readitswapit website.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

DOROTHY B. HUGHES - IN A LONELY PLACE


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

Dix Steele is back in town, and 'town' is post-war LA. His best friend Brub is on the force of the LAPD, and as the two meet in country clubs and beach bars, they discuss the latest case: a strangler is preying on young women in the dark. Dix listens with interest as Brub describes their top suspect, as yet unnamed. Dix loves the dark and women in equal measure, so he knows enough to watch his step, though when he meets the luscious Laurel Gray, something begins to crack. The American Dream is showing its seamy underside.
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This book originally published in 1947 was the March read, as voted for by the fellow pulp fiction group members on Goodreads. I will hold my hands up and admit it hadn’t attracted my vote. (The Hot Spot – Charles Williams was my selection.) I can’t be doing with women authors!  I’m only joking; honest.........I admit I don’t read enough by them.  So it was an opportunity to, if not redress the balance at least make a tentative step in that direction.

It was enjoyable enough insofar as I was kept wondering throughout whether Steele would get away home free. We know from a very early stage that there is something screwy about him, and a lot of the narrative allows us to see things from his perspective. He masks his emotions easily and only briefly does he allow his guard to slip and allow his friend’s wife to suspect he is more than he seems.  Brub, his policeman friend seems taken in initially......dinner with good ol’ Dix, drinks with good ol’ Dix, reminiscing about their shared exploits in England during the war.

Steele, funding his pretend lifestyle as a novelist, on someone else’s dime, eventually allows his sickness and paranoia to overtake his caution. Having fallen for wannabe actress Laurel Gray, his eventual downfall is brought about in part by the sharp perceptiveness of Brub’s wife Sylvia Nicholai.

This was an interesting and enjoyable book, with an insightful portrayal of a serial killer by Hughes. Whilst most of the violence happens off-page, and may be considered tame by today’s standards it still retains the capacity to chill.

As an aside, there was a noir film noir adaptation from the book, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame released in 1950. Brought out on DVD approximately 10 years ago.

4 from 5

My copy of the book was borrowed from my local library in Leighton Buzzard.

Monday, 25 March 2013

MAREK KRAJEWSKI - THE END OF THE WORLD IN BRESLAU


Blurb/synopsis..........

Breslau in the 1920s is haunt of marquises and merchants, gamblers and gutter-rats. Eberhard Mock, the hardened Criminal Councillor, fits right in as he sways from the basements of grubby casinos to his beautiful young wife in their palatial mansion.

But his beautiful young wife is feeling neglected. A series of sinister murders linked by the dates of past crimes has taken Mock out of the bedroom and into the archives. While Mock ransacks the city for clues, driven mad by the killer's tantalizing notes, his wife is seeking attention elsewhere. Engaging in perverted games with her less-than-innocent girlfriends, Mock's wife is being seduced by a mysterious sect which preaches the imminent end of the world.

The old adage; decide in haste repent at leisure is applicable to my taste in book acquisitions. Seduced once again by some intriguing covers and the promise of gaining a little bit of an understanding of the German psyche in between the two wars, just before the rise of fascism  I took the plunge and bought up a few of Krajewski’s Breslau novels.

I read the first Death In Breslau last year and whilst it wasn’t the worst book I have ever read it was a bit of a chore to be truthful.

 

Second book in the series, to be honest I loathed it. This was by far the least enjoyable book I have read this year and the most difficult to finish. Part of me wanted to throw the towel in and give up, but hey I’m no quitter, so struggled on manfully, swimming through treacle, reading about an investigator I didn’t care for trying to solve some murders I had no emotional investment in.

 

Mock.....a vile alcoholic, wife beater and rapist, may have the tenacity and intelligence to get his man in the end. He may possess other admirable qualities; loyalty and a sense of duty but when I balance the scales out, he’s just not someone I want to spend any time in the company of.

 

Sad to say, I do have the 3rd book – Phantoms In Breslau somewhere in the humungous pile of TBRs. Suffice to say though I won’t be digging it out any time soon, though the part of me that retains Catholic guilt syndrome will ensure I will have to read it at some point........maybe in another 10 years or so, when I’ve long forgotten this one.

 

1 from 5

 

Bought sometime last year on the internet from some forgotten bookseller.

 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

JACK LONDON - THE CALL OF THE WILD

Synopsis.......

The story takes place in the extreme conditions of the Yukon during the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush, where strong sled dogs were in high demand. After Buck, a domesticated dog, is snatched from a pastoral ranch in California, he is sold into a brutal life as a sled dog. The novella details Buck's struggle to adjust and survive the cruel treatment he receives from humans, other dogs, and nature. He eventually sheds the veneer of civilization altogether and instead relies on primordial instincts and the lessons he has learned to become a respected and feared leader in the wild.

Published back in 1903 after the author had spent sometime in the aforementioned Yukon.
I was looking for something a little bit different and quick to read after getting bogged down by another book which I wasn't enjoying. 

I had previously heard of this book, hasn't everyone(?) but can't recall reading it ever during my near half-century of years, not even in the dim and distant days of school. Glad I made the effort though.

Gripping, exciting, moving.......a testament of an indomitable spirit, bravery, determination, loyalty, fearlessness, and probably another dozen or so admirable attributes. Sad in places, but ultimately an uplifting and rewarding read.

I wouldn't put it past me finding more from London in the future.

4 from 5

Down-loaded free from the internet.

LAWRENCE BLOCK - IN THE MIDST OF DEATH


Blurb....

NYPD cop Jerry Broadfield has turned on his own, collaborating in a Special Prosecutor's investigation into police corruption. It's a move that lands him in a jail cell on a murder rap and Scudder has his work cut out trying to free Broadfield.

I’ve got a bit of a series jag on at the minute; I’m currently reading 5 separate character series at the rate of 1book a month. Whether each and every one sustains my interest in the coming months, only time will tell. One that does look like prolonging my interest and staying the course is Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder.

Currently 17 books long, this is the 3rd instalment I’ve read in as many months.  

Block has a writing style that engages me. Scudder frequently bar-hops, he’s often doing nothing more than drowning his sorrows or taking his poison with coffee if he’s not on a full-blown bender. There’s a frailty about Scudder, whilst physically large and imposing, and mentally sharp his guilt about accidentally killing a young girl while on the police force is slowly dragging him down. He provides financial support for his ex-wife and boys, but never seems willing to be the dad his sons clearly crave, always with a ready excuse as to why he can’t take them to a game. Drink being his one true love, but he hasn’t fully surrendered to it just yet. He’s still functional and still coherent most of the time.

There are almost two mysteries involved in each of the books I’ve read in the series so far. Each case, each crime, each murder is somewhat incidental, in my opinion to the real mystery of Matthew Scudder which Block slowly reveals a book at a time.    

I’m already looking forward to episode 4 next month.

4 from 5

 Bought my copy second hand years ago for £4.50 from Oxfam – the first books in an omnibus edition – bargain!

Friday, 22 March 2013

BILL PRONZINI - THE SNATCH


Synopsis.......

A San Francisco private detective becomes involved in a kidnapping case when a young boy's abductor demands that a third party deliver the ransom.

The Snatch, originally published back in 1971 is the first in Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective series. Pronzini has to date written a total of 37 books with a couple of Nameless mysteries published as recently as last year.

Several times over the years, I’ve toyed with the idea of dipping into the series but have always suppressed the urge until now. Part of the attraction for me was the fact that the series never seemed to take off and explode into mainstream consciousness. It sort of meandered along, ignored by the masses, but seemingly attracting enough readers to warrant the author continuing with the character and the publisher continuing to print the results of his labour. The restaurant serving the best food isn’t always the most popular one in town, sometimes it’s a well kept secret. 

In The Snatch, Nameless is retained by Louis Martinetti, a real-estate developer whose young son has been kidnapped. Nameless is the errand boy engaged to drop off the ransom. The money drop is hijacked and Nameless gets stabbed during the melee. With the suspected kidnapper killed, the money gone and the boy still missing, Nameless, with the police now involved digs deeper to resolve who amongst Martinetti’s associates could have engineered the abduction.

Coincidentally the last book I just read, Randy Wayne White’s Sanibel Flats also concerned a boy’s kidnapping. This time around there’s a darker feel to the mystery, in part driven by the location, with the action unfolding in the foggy, bay area of San Francisco; and partly stemming from Nameless himself......a middle-aged, ex-cop, with few friends. There’s a fractious relationship with his girlfriend who he loves, but she despises his calling, and there’s fragility about his health which both concerns and frightens him but which at this stage remains unresolved.

This series and author is definitely one for me to follow in future months.

5 from 5

Bought last month from Amazon Kindle UK.

   

Thursday, 21 March 2013

RANDY WAYNE WHITE - SANIBEL FLATS


Synopsis:

 

Its cool gulf breezes lured him from a life of danger. Its dark undercurrents threatened to destroy him.After ten years of living life on the edge, it was hard for Doc Ford to get that addiction to danger out of his system. But spending each day watching the sun melt into Dinkins More...Bay and the moon rise over the mangrove trees, cooking dinner for his beautiful neighbor, and dispensing advice to the locals over a cold beer lulled him into letting his guard down.Then Rafe Hollins appeared.How could he refuse his old friend's request-even if it would put him back on the firing line? Even if it would change forever the life he'd built here on Sanibel Island?

 

Over the years I have enjoyed a fair few crime fiction books set in and around Florida. A couple of names spring to mind as being near the top of the list of my favourites – James W. Hall and Carl Hiaasen. Both of these I have followed fairly closely, maybe not reading every book as it came out, but acquiring them later, to add to the ever-increasing pile on Mount TBR.

Possibly, there could be another name to add to the list. I say possibly, because I’ve only just read the first title in a series that to date runs to 20 books. A friend tells me the wheels fall off at or around book 12, in her opinion, but I’ve enjoyed this one enough to want to hunt down the 2nd and I’ll stick with author White and Doc Ford for a while longer.

Ford is an ex-CIA agent now out of the business. He’s living his life at a slower pace, getting by using his skills as a marine biologist to supply samples to schools and colleges throughout the country. He’s formed some easy friendships with the locals without giving away too much of himself.

Cue mayhem; a call for help from his best childhood friend, Rafe Hollins rips apart his sedentary lifestyle. Hollins’ son has been kidnapped and he wants to enlist Doc’s help in recovering him, in exchange for the merchandise Hollins stole from them. When Doc goes to meet Rafe he finds a corpse swinging in the breeze instead.  With his friend gone and his young son missing Ford starts looking into Hollins associates and past.

As the plot develops, Ford’s investigation uncovers corruption in Florida, smuggled artefacts and he suffers a trip back to the same Central American war-zone that was the scene of his previous retirement.

Fairly fast-paced, interesting and at times informative, I enjoyed reading Sanibel Flats. There’s a likeable cast of characters that White has assembled around the Doc that I’ll look forward to meeting again.

 

4 from 5

I bought my copy on Amazon UK.  

 

Monday, 18 March 2013

MAX ALLAN COLLINS - BAIT MONEY


Synopsis/blurb.... part review from somewhere on the web......

 

In Bait Money, Nolan is on the run from the mob, having left the organization after killing the brother of higher-up mafioso Charlie and making off with his money. Aging and looking to retire from his life of crime, Nolan attempts a deal with one of his remaining mob connections, and Charlie makes him a bargain: pay $100,000 in under a week. So, to pay off Charlie, Nolan sets off on the quintessential Last Big Heist, along with Jon, the nephew of his info contact, and some other amateurs. It’s a wonderful experiment in watching crime happen, with some great planning and a lot of lead-up. Normally, this can be a seriously tedious exercise, but Collins manages to make it work through some reoccurring characters and a cast of trouble: an ex-football star turned Mafia hitman, the angered doorman of Nolan’s last contact, and a lot of sex, drugs, and drama between the amateurs.

 

I’ve read a lot of Richard Stark’s excellent Parker books through the years. This offering from Collins written back in the 70’s was written as part homage to Westlake’s alter-ego creation. That said by the time he knocked out another 5 or 6 Nolan books, he had wilfully transgressed into rip-off territory; something he himself readily admits.

I can see similarities between the two characters, though for me Parker usurps Nolan in the tough guy stakes – leaner and meaner; more prone to viciousness without an ounce of compassion or any regrets.

 

The book was fast-paced, with a fair amount of violence and to be truthful I enjoyed it more than I anticipated having previously read a few reviews and comments from some fellow crime fiction aficionados on Goodreads.  I enjoy the variety of sub-genres within the crime fiction field and a decent heist book makes a change from police procedurals and PI novels. Nowhere near the best book I have ever read, but it was also far from the worst.

 

3 from 5.

 

I bought this double edition from Amazon website last month so will hopefully read the second instalment Blood Money next month.   

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

LINWOOD BARCLAY - CLOUDED VISION


Synopsis/blurb.....

Keisha Ceylon is a psychic. At least, that's what she passes herself off as. The truth is, Keisha's real powers have more to do with separating troubled families from their money than actually seeing into the netherworld. Keisha watches the news for stories of missing family members. She gives it a few days, then moves in, tells these families she's had a vision, that she may have some clue to where these missing people are. And by the way, she charges for this service, and likes to see the money up front.

Keisha's latest mark is a man whose wife disappeared a week ago. She's seen him on TV, pleading for his wife to come home, or, if she's been abducted, pleading with whoever took her to let her go. Keisha knows a payoff when she sees one. So she pays a visit to our troubled husband, tells him her vision.

Trouble is, her vision just happens to be close enough to the truth that it leaves this man rattled. And it may very well leave Keisha dead.


This was one of these Quick Read books approximately 100-odd pages long. The Quick Reads Initiative was launched back in 2006; designed to encourage adults who don’t read often, to discover the joy of books. An admirable aim, with over 60 titles published since, by both best-selling authors and celebrities.

I’m probably not the target market for this type of book, but hey if there’s something out there by an author I enjoy, why not?

An interesting enough story, not too complex, the ending was a little bit telegraphed, but it passed a couple of hours in a decent fashion, so I’m not going to knock it. It won’t remain long in the memory banks though, if I’m honest.

Missing wife and mother, TV appeal for information, charlatan psychic on the case for a quick cash return, meets with anguished husband.........bet she wishes her crystal ball had been working that day!

3 from 5

Acquired from the useful Readitswapit website in exchange for something I was finished with.

 

GENE KERRIGAN - THE RAGE


Synopsis/blurb....

Winner of the 2012 Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel

Vincent Naylor, a professional thief, is fresh out of jail. His latest project, an armed robbery, is just days away.

Bob Tidey, an honest, hardworking policeman, dedicated to public service, is about to commit perjury.

Maura Coady, a retired nun living in a Dublin backstreet, is lost in bad memories and regrets. Then, she sees something that she can't ignore, and makes a phone call that will unleash a storm of violence.



As one of the reading challenges I have set for myself, I’m trying to read one book a month that has been a recipient of a major crime writing award. Kerrigan’s The Rage won the 2012 CWA Gold Dagger  and as it was a Christmas present from my better half just a few months ago it seemed as  good a book as any to be reading right now. Familiarity with Kerrigan’s previous work was an added incentive to crack the spine on this. I read Little Criminals a fair few years ago and more recently his Dark Times In The City; both of which were extremely enjoyable.

Dublin, post-Tiger crash is the setting for Kerrigan’s Rage. It’s a collision of forces in what is an increasingly fractured and secular society with a mix of career criminals, police, lawyers, nuns, violence, guns, murder, sex, alcohol, abuse, religion, guilt, damaged families and politics.

As well as providing a driving plot that unfolds quickly, Kerrigan has the ability to depict his characters convincingly. His main villain, Vincent Naylor had enough likeable traits of personality that I was conflicted as to how I wanted the book to conclude. Conversely, his good guys have failings and faults and are all the more believable because of it. Bob Tidey, his policeman isn’t above breaking a few rules if it helps him get closer to resolving his investigations, but he never seems to stop caring for the victims he’s met along the way. He’s flawed but retains a decent sense of humanity.  Others are similarly afflicted; people with regrets and guilt over previous failings and poor choices. Real people living real lives.  

This is a superb book about modern Dublin and the harsh realities of everyday life, with ever-increasing levels of violence and criminality.

“A world this ugly, I’d rather look away,” laments one of the sadder characters within Kerrigan’s “Rage,” but with writing this crisp you can’t.

4 from 5

As mentioned above this was a Christmas present last year – one of my better ones!

Friday, 8 March 2013

ROBERT CRAIS - LULLABY TOWN


Synopsis/blurb.......

Peter Alan Nelsen is a super successful movie director who is used to getting what he wants. And what he wants is to find the wife and infant child he dumped on the road to fame. It's the kind of case that Cole could handle in his sleep, except that when Cole actually finds Nelsen's ex wife, everything takes on nightmarish proportions a nightmare which involves Cole with a nasty New York mob family and a psychokiller who is the son of the godfather. When the unpredictable Nelsen charges in, an explosive situation blows sky high.

This is the 3rd Elvis Cole book in the series. I read or possibly re-read the first 2 last month, memory being not quite what it used to be. The laid-back LA private investigator and his erstwhile side-kick Joe Pike team up again when hired to track down a Hollywood hotshot’s long divorced wife and son.

Cole achieves this fairly effortlessly, but when threatened and beaten after confronting the ex-wife, digs deeper. Kathy, the ex and now a successful businesswoman and bank manager is being coerced by the mob to launder cash through her bank. Cole, always a sympathetic ear for a damsel in distress holds off from reporting back to his employer, endeavouring to try and extricate Kathy from Charlie DeLuca clutches first. The problem is DeLuca instead of being a reasonable businessman, albeit operating outside the law is also the psychopathic son of a crime lord.

Cole’s efforts at negotiation prove ultimately fruitless and the saga unfolds with an ever-increasing number of criminal lowlifes, minor plot off-shoots and escalating violence.

At about 230 pages long, and without taxing my brain too much, Lullaby Town was a quick, fast-paced enjoyable read. I’ll be trying to locate the 4th instalment buried somewhere in the depths of my disorganised attic library – Free Fall – to read next month.

4 from 5

Bought new probably 20-odd years ago (originally published in 1992) from who knows where.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

STIEG LARSSON - THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE


Synopsis/blurb........

Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden are murdered, and Salander's prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society - but no-one can find her. Mikael Blomkvist, editor-in-chief of Millennium, does not believe the police. Using all his magazine staff and resources to prove Salander's innocence, Blomkvist also uncovers her terrible past, spent in criminally corrupt institutions. Yet Salander is more avenging angel than helpless victim. She may be an expert at staying out of sight - but she has ways of tracking down her most elusive enemies.

My son read this late last year and enjoyed it more than the first book in the trilogy. I would have to say his conclusions mirror my own.

 

I usually have a reluctance to pick up books over a certain length, more from an aspect of time management reasoning that I could read 2 @ 250 pages long; in the same time it would take to read 1 @ 500 pages. This doesn’t always ring true and a lot depends on the pace of the narrative as to how quickly I plough through something.

 

At 569 pages long I was expecting to take just under a week or so to finish, but in reality it took a little under 3 days – probably because even though I felt not that much happened in the first 150-odd pages, I was still enjoying it.

 

The action in the second half of the book more than made up for the plodding start.

Not the best book I have ever read, but far from the worst. Fairly predictable conclusion insofar as I was reading safe in the knowledge that there is a third book to follow, so unless Salander and Blomkvist needed to acquire Lazarus-like tendencies they were both sure to survive.

 

That said, within the narrative there were decent periods of action and violence, likeable and unlikeable characters – mainly within the investigating officers in the police force, and a reasonable plot with only a slight stretch on the boundaries of credibility in my honest opinion.

 

I’ll be back for the 3rd instalment sometime whenever, depending on whatever turns my head in the meantime.

 

4 from 5

 

Acquired second hand sometime last year from one of Leighton Buzzard’s charity shops.

 

GERALD SEYMOUR - THE OUTSIDERS


Synopsis/blurb.....

 

Winnie Monks has never forgotten - or forgiven - the death of a young agent on her team at the hands of a former Russian Army Major turned gangster. Now, years later, she hears the Major is travelling to a villa on the Costa del Sol and she asks permission to send in a surveillance unit.

They find an empty property near the Major's. The Villa Paraiso. It's perfect to spy from - and as a base for Winnie's darker, less official, plans.

But it turns out that the property isn't deserted. The owners have invited a young British couple to 'house sit' while they are away.

For Jonno and Posie, just embarking on a relationship, this is supposed to be a carefree break in the sun. But when the Secret Service team arrives in paradise, everything changes.





I picked up my first Seymour book last year, which was his debut novel, Harry’s Game – first published in 1975. Enjoyable it was too with a four star rating on the Keane scoreboard.

The Outsiders is his 29th book and was released last year.

This time around the story was a bit more complex with various players in separate strands of the British intelligence services, along with European equivalents, several Russian groups – both operating on the far side of legality, a couple of low-life Costa criminals and an unwitting couple of holidaymakers-cum-house sitters.

 Seymour’s depiction of the Costa del Sol and its changing landscape both physically and ethnically with the influx of Eastern European mafia and money, and the local authorities tolerance/indifference to it in these cash straightened times was eye-opening and disturbing. Whilst his book is fiction, I would have to believe that the author’s research would in fact support these illustrations as having some factual standing. Maybe I don’t get too much European news, living as I do in my cave in Leighton Buzzard, but I was wholly unaware of this development, or maybe it just hadn’t registered.

Seymour also reminds us that the good guys don’t always dress in white, blurring lines of both legality and morality in the interests of a result.  Does the end always justify the means, or do we play by the rules?  

Interesting characters, decent storyline, compelling situations racked with tension, mainly delivered at pace and with an ending that remains in doubt until the last (nearly).

Very enjoyable and a great way to start my new reading month. I just need to read more of the 27 books that sit in the middle.   

4 from 5

Borrowed from Leighton Buzzard library