Tuesday, 30 April 2013

D's ENJOYED, D ENDURED, D's UNREAD

The D's are up this week in 2013's Crime Fiction Alphabet hosted by Kerrie at her Mysteries In Paradise blog.

Duns, Doolittle........2 enjoyed,

Jeremy Duns - Free Agent

I read this relatively recently - June 2012. It was the first in a 3 book series (so far), more spy than crime, but we won't split hairs. Enjoyable and gripping, I'll be back for more.

For fans of John le Carré, a riveting spy thriller that spans two continents and probes the limits of loyalty and love

Jeremy Duns's lightning-paced debut introduces a morally complex and unforgettable agent named Paul Dark into the canon of espionage literature. In June 1945, Dark joins his father in a top-secret mission to hunt down and unofficially execute Nazi war criminals. Almost twenty-five years later, Dark is a seasoned agent for MI6 when a KGB officer turns up in Nigeria during the Biafran civil war wanting to defect. He claims to have details of a British double agent recruited by the Russians in Germany in 1945.


Knowing he's the chief suspect and now on the run from both MI6 and the KGB, Paul Dark heads toward Africa to find, confront, and, if necessary, kill the only woman he has ever loved, whom he has thought dead for the past twenty-four years. Free Agent is the spectacular story of one man's fight for survival and search for the truth about his father's death and his lover's betrayal.

Sean Doolittle - Dirt

I must have read this back in the mid-2000's, absolutely loved it. Hard to believe this was a debut novel. I have read 3 or 4 more by Doolittle, but not his latest Lake Country. I'd recommend any of his books to be honest.

On a clear autumn L.A. morning, sitting in the front row of his best friend's funeral, professional loafer Quince Bishop can't think of anything more depressing than watching yet another loved one being lowered into the ground--until a band of guerilla environmentalists crash the ceremony to deliver a lecture on the high cost of dying in America. One violent impulse later, Quince finds himself up to his waist in dirt ... and he hasn't even begun to dig himself a hole. With the help of beautiful funeral-rights advocate Maria Casteneda--not to mention the complicated ambitions of reporter and perennial ex-girlfriend Melanie Roth--Quince learns just how an unscrupulous funeral director can turn death into a high-class living. Unable to let buried skeletons lie, Quince Bishop unwittingly sets himself on a collision course with two entrepreneurial ex-cons who are hatching a burial plot of their own. Chaos, confusion, and double-dealing are on the program, and only one thing is certain: all paths lead to the cemetery.

Donoghue...........1 endured,

Emma Donoghue - Room

My wife read this and loathed it, I read it after her and loathed it also.(March, 2011) I just didn't buy into it, complete and utter twaddle and 12  to 15 hours of my life I will never get back. It's funny how differently people feel about the same book, see the blurbs below. If you read it and enjoyed it - good luck to you. Not my cup of tea by a long way.


It's Jack's birthday, and he's excited about turning five. Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real - only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there's a world outside . . . Told in Jack's voice, Room is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.

Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, Room is a novel like no other. 'Emma Donoghue's writing is superb alchemy, changing innocence into horror and horror into tenderness. Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it's over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days' Audrey Niffenegger

'Room is one of the most profoundly affecting books I've read in a long time. Jack moved me greatly. His voice, his story, his innocence, his love for Ma combine to create something very unusual and, I think, something very important . . . Room deserves to reach the widest possible audience' John Boyne

'I loved Room. Such incredible imagination, and dazzling use of language. And with all this, an entirely credible, endearing little boy. It's unlike anything I've ever read before' Anita Shreve






Dexter, Duffy, Davidsen...........3 unread,

Pete Dexter - Train

Might struggle to find this in the crime fiction section, but so what? Unread for a couple of years now, along with a few of his other books, God's Pocket, The Paperboy (also a recent film.)
One of these days!

Lionel Walk, better known as Train, is a young black caddy at an elite Los Angeles golf course, where he comes to know a police detective he calls 'The Mile-Away Man'.

Norah Still is unwillingly at the center of the criminal investigation, as the only survivor of an attempted boat hijacking gone violently wrong. Sergeant Miller Packer - Train's 'Mile-Away Man' - is in charge of the case and he finds himself drawn to the beautiful widow.

Miller's interest in Norah and Train soon moves beyond his professional obligations. He tries to shield Norah from the events on the boat, fighting her need to hold on to the past and becomes a kind of manager as Train competes as a golfer on a lucrative underground gambling circuit. Miller's oddly personal concern binds the three of them together in an uneasy triangle.

Pete Dexter's remarkable new novel brings to life the most violent and tender impulses of his characters as they struggle to come to terms with the difference between a gift and a passion, between their abilities and their desires.


Stella Duffy - Fresh Flesh

I bought this as much because of the publisher as for the author herself - Serpent's Tail. They published a lot of quality crime fiction back in the 90's that was extremely eye-catching. Both author and publisher are still going strong. 

Patrick Freeman, celebrity chef, with the legendary bad temper and the obligatory wild child wife... Chris Marquand, adopted son of wealthy parents, a successful doctor, father-to-be... Georgina Leyton, high powered lawyer and a beautiful bitch who's as cool as they come.... Matthew Godwin, owner of the hottest South London bar and a talent for scaring the life out of people with his mad rages. Four virtual strangers, unwittingly bound together by a dark secret from the past. And, after all these years, it's about to blow up in their faces.

Leif Davidsen - Lime's Photograph
Only unread for a couple of months, this recent acquisition was purchased for a couple of reasons. Firstly to expand my Scandinavian crime reading author base and secondly because it was the winner of the prestigious 1999 Glass Key Award.
 
In this dramatic political thriller from one of Denmark's finest crime writers, Lime sets out to discover a motive when fire destroys his home, and finds himself drawn into the complex and terrifying web of international terrorism.




 
 


 



CAMILLA LACKBERG - THE STRANGER


Synopsis/blurb......

To avoid disappointment, please note this book was previously published under the title THE GALLOWS BIRD. Swedish crime sensation and No. 1 international bestseller, Camilla Lackberg’s fourth psychological thriller - for fans of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo. A woman is found dead, apparently the victim of a tragic car crash. It’s the first in a spate of seemingly inexplicable accidents in Tanumshede and marks the end of a quiet winter for detective Patrik Hedström and his colleagues. At the same time a reality TV show is being shot in the town. As cameras shadow the stars’ every move, relations with the locals are strained to breaking point. When a drunken party ends with a particularly unpopular contestant’s murder, the cast and crew are obvious suspects. Could there be a killer in their midst? As the country tunes in, the bodies mount up. Under the intense glare of the media spotlight, Patrik faces his toughest investigation yet…

My wife read this about a month ago, and was quite insistent that I get to it. After all I had inflicted it on her. Suffice to say she didn’t particularly enjoy it much; ok - not at all then! I’ve been avoiding it for a couple of weeks, in the hope I could delay it until May and count it as my Scandinavian read for the month which is one of my own personal reading challenges in 2013. One of the many things I love about my wife is her persistence!

This was a 390’ish page book where not very much seemed to happen at the beginning, other than we spend a lot of time with the chief investigator’s family. In fact throughout the book we spend a lot of time with Hedstrom’s wife, Erica and sister, Anna......who I’m guessing suffered some “event” in one of the author’s previous books. Most of the time, I enjoy stories where detectives or investigators personal lives are shown to us. I need to see another side to them, apart from the job. It adds flesh to their bones and gives them substance. Here it bored me unfortunately.

After maybe the halfway point the pace picked up a bit and there were some interesting developments. The investigation into the car crash victim developed with other similar cases uncovered. I did guess the identity of the killer early, and as I’m no Sherlock Holmes perhaps it wasn’t concealed as cunningly as the author thought it had been. Conversely, it could have been her intention to telegraph the culprit to the reader. She did cleverly link the two crimes of reality show murder victim and drunk driver together.

The supporting cast of police investigators were on the whole likeable and fairly believable. Perhaps my favourite was Gosta. Initially jaded and uninterested, counting down the days until he could get out on the golf course; he became invigorated and brought his A-game to the investigation. Maybe his transformation stretched the bounds of credibility a little bit, but as I liked him I’ll buy this one.

There were a couple more downsides to the book in my opinion. I felt the minor back story with the chief of police, Mellberg was clichéd and predictable.  The ending where she served up a hook for her next book was annoying, irritating and blatantly unsubtle and patronising to an intelligent readership.

I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first, despite the gripes mentioned above. I do have another book of hers to read, The Drowning. It won’t be something I’ll be rushing to in a hurry. As a further sidenote, my 2012 edition states that the author was the 9th best-selling author in Europe in the previous year. She must have a very big family, I reckon.  

2 from 5    

I bought this new for my wife earlier this year from Buzzard Books in my hometown. Perhaps I need help when shopping for my wife?

Monday, 29 April 2013

RANDY WAYNE WHITE - THE HEAT ISLANDS


Synopsis/blurb....

The eagerly-awaited follow-up to Sanibel Flats from the author the Tampa Tribune-Times calls "the rightful heir to John D MacDonald". When Doc Ford's friend--the simplest and sweetest resident of Sanibel Island--is framed for murder, Doc heads to Florida's dark side to save him and the island from a rising tide of land-grab schemes, blood money, and violence.

This was the second book in Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford series. It’s interesting how he has been compared to John D MacDonald as spookily enough this is another author who I am endeavouring to read monthly. In MacDonald’s case his highly regarded series involving Travis McGee.  

Ford gets involved when Marvyn Rios, one of Sanibel Island’s most hated residents turns up dead and his friend, Jeth Nicholes lands in jail accused of his murder. Nicholes apparent reluctance to plead innocent both puzzles and worries Doc; particularly as he cannot believe the Jeth he knows has it in him to kill anyone. The death has coincided with Rios’s own Tarpon Fishing Competition with its first prize of $80,000.  

When the competition is won by Karl Sutter, brother-in-law of Marvin, Ford’s suspicions are roused. Especially when Sutter’s capabilities as a fishing guide and boatman are considered. Rios’s business associates and dealings also merit further investigation by Doc.

In tandem with the investigation, Ford has a burgeoning friendship with Dewey Nye, a young tennis professional that adds an element of personal intrigue to the mystery. There’s also the continuing presence of Tomlinson, Ford’s friend and several other minor characters that appeared in the first book – Sanibel Flats.

Doc Ford is an interesting character. He’s a marine biologist, operating a small fish supply business to colleges and universities throughout the US. In a former life he was an operative in the CIA, an occupation that taught him several skills useful in his amateur sleuthing capacity.  An ongoing theme through the books, I’m guessing will be environmental concerns relating to Florida’s continuing urban growth.  Ford’s day job offers White a platform to highlight some of these issues.  The book was originally published in 1992, 20-odd years ago, I doubt very much the concerns of environmentalists and the impact of continuing population influx and tourism on areas such as the Everglades and the Keys have been pacified much in the intervening years.         

I will be reading the next Doc Ford book in May, the 3rd in his series, but it is fair to say the author hasn’t yet over-taken Carl Hiaasen, James W. Hall or John D. Mac in my Floridian league table of favourite authors.

3 from 5

I bought my copy from Amazon.
Sanibel Flats review

Saturday, 27 April 2013

JOHN D. MACDONALD - A PURPLE PLACE FOR DYING


Synopsis/blurb....

Mona is in love with a poor, young college professor and married to a wealthy man whom she is convinced is stealing from her trust fund. So she does what any self-respecting girl would do: She hires someone to steal her money back so she can run away with the love of her life.

Travis isn’t sure he wants to help out until he sees Mona getting shot and killed out on the cliffs near her cabin. Now he’s a lead suspect in a plot to help her escape, and to clear his name, he needs to get to the bottom of things. But the murders just keep mounting, and for Travis, even working with Mona’s husband doesn’t seem to help matters. Will he be able to uncover the complex plot in time to save his own skin?

A short review or summary for a short novel.......no a brief Q & A session with myself instead,

Did you enjoy it? Hmmm, yes, not over-whelmed, not under-whelmed either – it was ok in an averagely good sense.

What didn’t engage you? Well McGee seems to be the go-to-chap when the dame needs rescuing. He couldn’t save the first, but lo and behold there was a second one along a while later that he could save. Maybe there’s a bit of a formula developing with this series. If the next 18 or so are the same it might be a test of endurance rather than a reading pleasure.

That seems unnecessarily harsh...... Probably with a bit of hindsight, maybe I just woke up grumpy! I will persevere with the series and I expect to enjoy them as I go.

Marks from 5?  This would rate as a 3. Not as enjoyable as the first in the series – The Deep Blue Goodbye.

Where did you get your copy from? On-line at Amazon quite recently.

Thanks for your time..... You’re welcome.

 

 

Friday, 26 April 2013

LAWRENCE BLOCK - A STAB IN THE DARK


Synopsis/blurb....

Louis Pinell, the recently apprehended "Icepick Prowler," freely admits to having slain seven young women nine years ago -- but be swears it was a copycat who killed Barbara Ettinger Matthew Scudder believes him. ...

In this 4th Matthew Scudder book, Scudder is asked to look into the murder of Charles London’s daughter, Barbara. At the time she was believed to have been a victim of the “Icepick” serial killer who has been recently arrested. Pinell, the killer has an alibi for when Barbara was slain and London wants Scudder to make some enquiries because the police aren’t particularly interested. Who was responsible for Ettinger’s death and why?

Scudder’s enquiries lead him back to Ettinger’s husband at the time, who may or may not having been cheating on Barbara and could ostensibly have been responsible for the murder. Digging deeper and speaking with the original officers who were part of the original enquiry, as well as Barbara’s sister and neighbours; Matthew still feels the trail has gone too cold and the task is fruitless. Scudder’s involvement also brings him into contact with the victim’s employer at the time of her death, Janice Corwin. Sensing a kindred spirit, with a similar fondness for alcohol, they become involved.

After upsetting someone with his questions and the consequent re-opening of old wounds, London tries to yank Scudder off the case. As Scudder hasn’t actually been hired he refuses and continues to dig until he finds the answer.

I enjoyed the continuation of Block’s series and Scudder’s continued descent deeper and deeper into the bottle. There is an acknowledgement from him of issues with alcohol, brought home to him, when Jan breaks off their fledgling relationship. How he addresses these difficulties, I’m hoping is explored in book 5 of the series which I will be reading next month.

This was another enjoyable and solid book from Block. I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who has enjoys crime fiction and watching the evolution and development of a main character.

4 from 5

I bought my copy second-hand years ago, source forgotten.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

ROBERT CRAIS - FREE FALL


Synopsis/blurb....

Elvis Cole is just a detective who can't say no, especially to a girl in a terrible fix. And Jennifer Sheridan qualifies. Her fiance, Mark Thurman, is a decorated LA cop with an elite plainclothes unit, but Jennifer is sure he's in trouble - the kind of serious trouble that only Cole can get him out of. Five minutes after his new client leaves the office, Cole and his partner, the enigmatic Joe Pike, are hip-deep in a deadly situation as they plummet into a world of South Central gangs, corrupt cops and conspiracies of silence. And before long, every cop in the LAPD is gunning for a pair of armed and dangerous killers - Cole and Pike.

 

In this 4th instalment of Crais’s series with Elvis Cole and his enigmatic sidekick Joe Pike, the dynamic duo cross swords with an elite unit of the LAPD who have crossed the line. Engaged by Jennifer Sheridan to find out exactly what is troubling her cop boyfriend, the pair come up against a former colleague of Pike from his police days. After ignoring the warnings to drop the case, Cole’s digging ties the cop unit to a South Central gang-lord and the death of a black suspect during one of the unit’s sting operations in an LA pawn shop.

 

Violence, gun-play, drugs, gangs, race issues, corrupt cops, broken families, anger management, intimidation and fear all figure in this tale.

 

Just shy of 300 pages long, I read this in a day over the weekend. I was reminded a bit of Robert B. Parker’s creation Spencer. Cole has the same wise-cracking attitude that thankfully stops just short of irritating. I stuck with Spencer for around 20 books before tiring of him. This series if you include the later books that seem to figure Pike as the protagonist runs to around 15 or 16. There’s nothing yet to suggest that I won’t last the pace. Perhaps if Cole was a little less savvy, a little less understanding, a little less moral and a little more imperfect, I would like him a little more.

 

Fast-paced and enjoyable, so I’ll be back with the 5th next month.

 

4 from 5

 
I bought my copy new many years ago, possibly from the now defunct Murder One bookshop in London, seeing as it was a US paperback.        

C's ENJOYED, C's UNREAD

Week 3 and the C's are up next.

My contribution to  Kerrie's Crime Fiction Alphabet 2013 at MYSTERIES in PARADISE


Cross, Colfer, Carbone.........3 C’s enjoyed

 

Neil Cross – Luther: The Calling

Loved the TV series and loved this book (March 2012), plus the other one or two of his that I’ve read.

Meet DCI John Luther. He's brilliant. He's intense. He's obsessional. HE'S DANGEROUS. DCI John Luther has an extraordinary clearance rate. He commands outstanding loyalty from friends and colleagues. Nobody who ever stood at his side has a bad word to say about him. But Luther seethes with a hidden fury that at times he can barely control. Sometimes it sends him to the brink of madness, making him do things he shouldn't; things way beyond the limits of the law. The Calling, the first in a new series of novels featuring DCI John Luther, takes us into Luther's past and into his mind. It is the story of the case that tore his personal and professional relationships apart and propelled him over the precipice. Beyond fury, beyond vengeance. All the way to murder...

Eoin Colfer – Plugged

Read this in June 2011, Colfer’s first novel for adults.I absolutely loved it. There’s a follow-up Screwed out in May, 2013......not long to wait now!

Dan, an Irishman who's ended up in New Jersey, finds himself embroiled in a world of murder, kidnapping and corrupt cops.

Dan works as a bouncer in a seedy club, half in love with hostess Connie. When Connie is murdered on the premises, a vengeful Dan finds himself embroiled in an increasingly deadly sequence of events in which his doctor friend Zeb goes mysteriously missing, a cop-killing female cop becomes his only ally, and he makes an enemy of ruthless drug-dealer Mike Madden. Written with the warmth and wit that make the Artemis Fowl novels so irresistible, though with additional torture and violence, PLUGGED is a brilliant crime debut from a naturally gifted writer with a huge fanbase.

 

John Carbone – Last Of The Good Guys

 

I read this debut novel back in 2009, a year after it came out and really enjoyed it. I keep checking on Carbone, but to date I can’t find a second book by him.

 

In 1970s Brooklyn, it's all about walking tall and making your own luck. Marco Bolzani refuses to get stuck in a dead-end job, so he goes into 'business' with his closest friends. Compared to the guys around them, they're just a group of small-time hoods.

That is, until Marco's Uncle Tony gets involved. Smart, ruthless, respected and feared, Tony asks them to up the stakes and Marco never questions his judgement. But the more Marco tries to break free, the deeper he's dragged into the web of organised crime. And when the whole thing comes crashing down, it looks like no one will make it out alive ...

 
 Cook, Cook,Connelly......3 C’s unread

Thomas H.  Cook – The Chatham School Affair

I’ve got a few of this author’s book sitting around unread. I’ve been knocking the dust of this one for maybe 3 years or so. I think he's written about 20 or so books in total, I ought to read at least one sometime soon.

When Malcolm Gaines asks his attorney to prepare his will, he resurrects the long-buried secret behind a tragedy at Chatham School, which destroyed lives and shattered a quiet community.

 






Christopher Cook – Robbers

Untouched, unread, but not unloved – one of these days I’ll read it!

Two drifters pull their caddy ragtop into a 7-Eleven outside Austin, Texas. They buy a pack of cigarettes; they shoot a guy over a penny. And hit the road to mayhem. Joined by Della,a young working class woman who's had to leave town because of a lethal encounter in a hotel bar, the trio embark on a bullet-riddled odyssey, pursued by Rule Hoos, a Texas Ranger who follows his own lonely code, and breaks it.

In this fast moving southern noir that marries poetry to action, the story flows over terrain from Texas hill country through coastal swamps into the lush East Texas riverbottoms as each flawed character seeks his own redemption. Robbers is a literary thriller of the first order.





Michael Connelly – The Black Box

His 25th novel, I’ve read the previous 24 so I’m nearly up-to-date, Mount TBR for 3 months maybe.

May 1992, and after four LAPD officers were acquitted after the savage beating of Rodney King, Los Angeles is ablaze. As looting and burning take over the city, law and order are swept away in a tidal wave of violence. But under threat of their lives, homicide detectives like Harry Bosch are still stubbornly trying to do their job. With no effective police presence on the streets, murder just got ...

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

JAMES CRUMLEY - THE LAST GOOD KISS


Synopsis/blurb....

 

Tough, hard-boiled, and brilliantly suspenseful, The Last Good Kiss is an unforgettable detective story starring C. W. Sughrue, a Montana investigator who kills time by working at a topless bar. Hired to track down a derelict author, he ends up on the trail of a girl missing in Haight-Ashbury for a decade. The tense hunt becomes obsessive as Sughrue takes a haunting journey through the underbelly of America's sleaziest nightmares.

 

I first read this maybe 10 years or so ago and to be honest I didn’t enjoy it as much as I felt I ought to based on other people’s reactions and comments towards it. I almost felt like the little kid pointing out that the Emperor wasn’t actually wearing any clothes, rather than admiring the finery of his garb and the quality and cut of the cloth used. I’m not saying it wasn’t okay, I just had more an attitude of “is that it?”

 

Well fast forward those 10 years, join up to up a Pulp Fiction group on Goodreads and you get the opportunity to read it again as the April group read as voted for by the group members (but not me!)

 

Second time around it was maybe a wee bit better, but unforgettable? I doubt it, but you have to ask me in another 10.

 

Sughrue, our PI and main man is sent after an alcoholic poet and novelist by his ex-wife. Eventually after some meandering bar-hopping, he catches up with him, provoking a quarrel in the bar where Trahearne, our missing author gets shot in the ass. Whilst waiting out the week that Trahearne is hospitalised, Sughrue gets hired to look into the 10 year-old disappearance of Betty Sue Flowers – the bar owner’s daughter.

 

With Trahearne in tow, most of the time, Sughrue digs deeper into the disappearance of the girl. He pieces together remnants of her past, from appearing in a pornographic movie, spending time at a now derelict and abandoned hippy commune and some sporadic contact with her absent father in the intervening period.   

 

The quest seems to be concluded when our man is informed, at a help-centre for waifs and strays, of both the two and four-legged varieties, that Betty Sue died several years ago in a car accident. With the death certificate in hand, Sughrue returns to Rosie and her bar........mission accomplished.

 

Only it isn’t; cue more travelling, investigating, drinking, sex, secrets, enquiring, plot-twists, fighting, sleuthing, more drinking, driving, gun-play, issues with dysfunctional families and other things, before a finale.

 

In summary I enjoyed it and didn’t feel as if wasted valuable time re-reading it. It was far enough back in the past that I read it initially, that the memory banks weren’t second guessing the next twist in the tale. Not the best book I’ve read ever, not even the best book I’ve read in the past week. Some people may feel differently and that’s good........different strokes for different folks.

 

On the basis that it was a wee bit better than last time and the last time was a 3, I’ll have to give it a 4 from 5.

 

I had to purchase this copy from Amazon having disposed of my first some years ago.

 

 

           

 

Monday, 22 April 2013

MAX ALLAN COLLINS - BLOOD MONEY


Synopsis/blurb....

Nolan was still alive; his wounds were nearly healed and his money was safe – all $800.000 of it. It was Nolan’s birthday and he was sitting happy.

 Until Planner was killed. Planner was an eccentric antique dealer; Planner had the $800.000 in his safe. But now he was dead and the money was gone.

 Caught up in a sizzling crossfire of double-dealing, danger and death, Nolan was up against the “Family” again. There was only one way out....Blood Money!

This was my second Nolan outing in as many months, with another 6 to follow in the series. Originally published in the 70’s it has the feel of a dime-story novel. I wouldn’t pretend this is the best book I’ve read all week, and it isn’t particularly stand-out in any way at all. The plot is relatively straightforward, Nolan’s money gets stolen. Nolan finds out who it is has taken it and he sets out to recover it. There’s a fair bit of action and violence, nothing too gratuitous or graphic, but most of the characters are a bit two-dimensional.

For all its faults, I enjoyed it. Sometimes it’s enough that a book makes you want to get to the end quickly to see how things play out and without taxing the brain too much. I wouldn’t try and foist this on anyone else, but I am looking forward to the third instalment next month.

This and the predecessor were written quite early in Collins career, and I’m guessing that as he wrote more the quality of his writing improved and subsequent books will be stronger and more enjoyable, but hey - if they stay at this standard, I won’t be screaming for 5 or 6 hours of my life back.

3 from 5

I bought this and the preceding book, as a “Two For The Money” omnibus on Amazon recently.  

Friday, 19 April 2013

ROGER SMITH - ISHMAEL TOFFEE


Synopsis/blurb.......

HE'S KILLED MORE MEN THAN HE CAN REMEMBER, BUT CAN HE SAVE A CHILD?
Ishmael Toffee's knife put him behind bars and kept him there for twenty years as a prison gang assassin until he lost his taste for blood. Paroled, he finds himself with no money and no family. And no knife in his hand.

He gets a job as a gardener at the luxurious home of a prominent lawyer and makes an unexpected friend--Cindy, the lawyer's six-year-old daughter. When Ishmael discovers that Cindy is being raped by her father he must choose: abandon the girl and walk away, or do what he does best . . .

A gut-wrenching novella of violence and redemption from the award-winning author of DUST DEVILS, WAKE UP DEAD and MIXED BLOOD.

This is the second time I’ve tasted Roger Smith’s violent prose, after reading the excellent Mixed Blood late last year. Mixed Blood was my favourite book of November 2012, so I’ve been meaning to get back to Mr Smith for some time.

Another excellent offering from him time around, though I would hazard that Roger isn’t flavour of the month with the Cape Town tourist board. I wouldn’t be over-keen  to visit the city or even the country based on what I’ve read from Smith and his fellow SA scribes, Deon Meyer and Mike Nicol.

Despite the abolition of apartheid in South Africa there are still divisions and fractures in the country today. The divide seems to be more a matter of economics .......the haves v. the have nots.....though surely a lot of that must be as a result of the previous racial politics that disadvantaged whole generations of black and mixed race people; forcing them into an underclass ghetto lifestyle that it will take more than a vote to cure.    

In Ishmael Toffee, we have a protagonist who is a product of his environment. Illiterate and impoverished, attracted into a life of gang violence for which he has been serving hard time in Pollsmoor. Sick of his past actions he has turned away from violence to a more productive peaceful life inside, growing plants in the prison garden.

Now out on parole, Toffee is given an opportunity as a gardener for a rich, white lawyer Goddard. Ishmael with his jailhouse, gang tattoos and his ghetto stink and dirty clothes is viewed disdainfully by Goddard’s black housekeeper. Goddard’s 6 year old daughter is more engaging, gradually befriending Ishmael, over-coming her shyness to confide that she is being abused by her father – abuse that the housekeeper is trying to exploit for her own advantage.

Ishmael tries to help Cindy without resorting to the violence of his past. This admirable aim is quickly compromised and his redemption can only be realised in the eyes of a little girl, and by recourse to his previous behaviour.

Overall I really enjoyed it. It moved quickly as a well-written 100-odd page book/novella should. There were no major surprises, I felt as the tale unfolded. So whilst there was an element of predictability about the outcome, as soon as the abuse became apparent I enjoyed it nonetheless. Not quite as much as I enjoyed his full length work though.

4 from 5

I bought this on Amazon earlier this year.

         

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

LEIF G. W. PERSSON - BETWEEN SUMMER'S LONGING AND WINTER'S END



Synopsis/blurb....

The first novel in a trilogy that has become the defining account of the unsolved 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme - an event that still haunts the collective Swedish memory.

Beginning with the death of an unknown American citizen in Stockholm, Leif G.W. Persson slowly unravels the complex web of international espionage, greed, sheer incompetence, and work by a poorly constructed Swedish intelligence force that in this fiction leads to the murder of the prime minister. Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End is a riveting insider's combination of black satire, thriller, psychological drama, and police procedural about the biggest police investigation in recorded history.

I have been looking forward to reading this author ever since Sarah’s excellent Crimepieces blog reviewed his latest book to appear in the UK, Linda, As In The Linda Murder. With “Linda” not available, I had to settle for this book which was ordered up from my local library. As this book has been regarded in some quarters as “one of the best Swedish crime novels of all time” (Expressen), I wasn’t too down-hearted at starting here.

Well, what was the verdict on Persson’s 640 page magnum opus?

Interesting, enjoyable, educational, entertaining, ambitious, demanding, confusing, annoying, irritating, infuriating, very heavy and long; would be a few ways of describing my reactions to the book. I think I oscillated between extreme pleasure at certain passages of the book to a deep funk, where I just wanted it all to end. At one point I broke off from it for a day, in which to read some lighter fare and gain a bit of respite from the brain overload I was experiencing.

Persson has constructed a detailed and in my opinion, in places over-complicated novel, blending historical fact with speculation.  There are multiple viewpoints offered from disparate strands of the Swedish police, secret intelligence services and government insiders. I’ll be honest in places I was confused as to the raison d’etre for certain characters behaving as they did.
We open with the initial police enquiry into the apparent suicide of an American. We discover that the dead man, Krassner is a nephew of a former-CIA agent stationed in Northern Europe during and after the close of the WW2. Krassner's uncle; Buchanan ran the current Swedish PM as an informant and recruiter for the American intelligence services in the aftermath of the war. The US was desperately jockeying to counter-act Soviet influence in northern Europe in this period of time, which marked the onset of the Cold War. 
Krassner is preparing a manuscript for publication, having been provided with US secret documents from his uncle's archive. This book when published will expose the PM's youthful adventures as an agent for a foreign power. This and subsequent revelations further on in Krassner's book, would effectively destroy any domestic credibility the PM held with the Swedish electorate.  In the course of completing his manuscript, Krassner has come to the attention of people close to the PM and with some knowledge of his previous history. Has Krassner committed suicide or has he been murdered by elements withing the intelligence community, in an effort to thwart the revelations?
Superintendent Johanssen having received a blind, circuitous communication from the deceased Krassner, and with his curiosity aroused digs into the circumstances surrounding Krassner's death and his unpublished manuscript having been passed the papers from an ex-girlfriend of Krassner when in the States on a work trip. His methodical dissection leads him closer to the truth.
Whilst this strand of the book unfolds and progresses, we also get an insight from the Swedish intelligence services into potential threats to the PM's security from other factions within the country who may have a grievance with him. Chief amongst these suspects are Kurdish nationals suspected of belonging to the PKK. An ongoing theme is also the PM's disregard for high-level protection and his desire to live as normally as possible.          

Eventually we arrived at the destination the author intended, but it just seemed to take an awfully long time to get there. Perhaps if there was less detail in a lot of places I would have enjoyed it more. Some of the detail and speculations at times from peripheral characters seemed to serve no other function than to slow the pace of the novel down. Maybe other readers have enjoyed the microscopic analysis and minutiae, for me less would have been more.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book by Persson. This tome is apparently the first in a loose trilogy of sorts. I will be back to read more from him in the future, and seeing as my library had the next book in the threesome available; maybe it will be a bit sooner than my brain wants.

A few of the characters reappear in later books and on reflection I will look forward to meeting up with them again. Step forward Johansson and Backstrom.  

4 from 5....maybe 140-odd pages shorter and I would have given it top marks.

My copy was borrowed from Leighton Buzzard library.

  

GERARD BRENNAN - OTHER STORIES AND NOTHING BUT TIME


Product description....

A 10,000-word short story collection by one of the hottest new writers in Northern Ireland.

“Gerard Brennan is a master of gritty violence.” - Colin Bateman

BOUNCER first appeared in Verbal Magazine, a literary publication based in Derry, Northern Ireland. It’s the tale of a bouncer who can’t figure out how to relate to his gay son and how if affects his increasingly violent behaviour on the door.

HARD ROCK was published online at ThugLit and again in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime, volume 8. A rude rock and roll romp that gets sick fast. Narrated by a second rate rock star that dives in way too deep with an adventurous groupie.

NOTHING BUT TIME was first published at Tony Black’s Pulp Pusher website. The terrified narrator tries to work his way up the prison hierarchy in a bid to make it through his stint without getting shanked.

DAY-TRIPPING is a brand new story, never before published. The oddest couple since The Odd Couple do breakfast with a difference. Can stoner Mattie convince straight-laced James that it’s a good idea to experiment with psychedelics on a Tuesday morning?

SWING is also a brand new, previously unpublished story. Conor (AKA Swinger) knows better than most just how cruel kids can be. His parents cause him grief when word gets out that they’re swingers. Conor quickly discovers who his real friends are when the fists start flying in the schoolyard

I dipped into this short, short story collection when I needed some brief respite from another book I was reading at the time.

I’m probably not the world’s greatest fan of short stories to be truthful. I kind of get irritated after a while. Invariably there’s one or two at a minimum within an anthology that I just don’t enjoy. I’ll read about a character or situation that isn’t working for me, when I’ve just left behind another character that I wanted to know more about.

Four out of the five here were really enjoyable for me, one less so. Pick of the bunch was Bouncer – an astute observation on the difficulties families have accepting and loving each other unconditionally, irrespective of our choices.

On that basis and with an 80% pass mark,

4 from 5

I obtained my copy of the collection from the author. 

Monday, 15 April 2013

B's ENJOYED, B's UNREAD

Continuing on with my contribution to Kerrie's Crime Fiction Alphabet theme over at Mysteries In Paradise. Here's a few books to consider for week 2 and the B's.

Bateman, Brown, Baker.....3 enjoyed


Colin Bateman – Cycle Of Violence (1995)

I was drawn to this book by the cover initially; this and Bateman’s other novel from 95, Divorcing Jack.  Humorous, in fact laugh out loud in places but still with a story to tell. I’ve continued to read the author on and off through the years, and still retained this and “Jack” to re-read at some point again in the future. 

   

Set in a mythical Northern Ireland town. Drunken journalist Miller is sent as a punishment from his Belfast newspaper to small-town Crossmaheart as a replacement for someone who has disappeared. Once there, he falls is love with the missing man's girlfriend.

Larry Brown – Father And Son

Larry Brown is unlikely to be found in the crime fiction section in your local bookstore. He’s been pigeon-holed typically as “Southern Literature.” Any one of his fine books would be worthy of your attention. I could just have easily selected Joe or Dirty Work for your consideration. Sadly, he died back in 2004 at the relatively young age of 53. His work typically depicts “gritty realism and shocking violence,” according to his wikipedia entry.   

Glen Davies has just been released from a three year stint in Parchman Penitentiary, Mississippi. Before he's been back in town 36 hours, he has browbeaten his younger brother, Puppy, threatened his father, renewed his sexual relations with Jewel, rejected his son and committed a cold-blooded rape.



John Baker – Poet In The Gutter (1995)

This is the first in a 6 book series involving Sam Turner.  Hand on heart, I can’t remember when I read it or what I enjoyed about it, though I know I kept it to re-read at a later date. As I typically get rid of my books after reading, it must have been memorable! (Blame me for fading memory.) Unsurprisingly I have all the others in the series on Mount TBR also.

Sam Turner has always had a romantic yearning to be Sam Spade. So he tells his men's group in York that he's a private eye - it's better than admitting he's an unemployed alcoholic. But then one of his friends asks for help in tracking an erring wife. So suddenly Sam is a P.I. And the next thing he knows, he's on the track of a serial killer - with the help of a street liver and an ex English teacher pensioner. . .



Barrett, Bazell, Benacquista............3 B’s unread

Robert G. Barrett – You Wouldn’t Be Dead For Quids (1985)

Some years ago, before Peter Temple came to prominence I was having a hunt around for some Australian crime fiction authors. After Peter Corris, I “discovered” Robert  Barrett and his series of books featuring Les Norton, a gruff, brawling bouncer-cum PI. Shamefully after paying to have this and a few more in the series shipped halfway around the world, I still haven’t got to any of them. Barrett sadly passed away last year.

Les Norton, a big red-headed country boy from Queensland, has just arrived in the big smoke and is set to make his mark. Working as a bouncer at an illegal casino in the Cross, Les encounters a number of fascinating characters who make up the seamier side of one of the most exciting cities in the world gamblers, conmen, bookies, bouncers, hookers and hit men, who ply their respective trades from the golden sands of Bondi to the tainted gutters of Kings Cross... usually on the wrong side of the law.

Josh Bazell – Beat The Reaper (2008)

A first novel from Bazell that’s been sat on my shelves since a trip with the family to the Isle of Wight back in April, 2009. One of these years I’ll get around to reading it. Bazell had a second book out last year titled Wild Thing.

Meet Peter Brown, a young Manhattan emergency room doctor with an unusual past that is just about to catch up with him. His morning begins with the quick disarming of a would-be mugger, followed by a steamy elevator encounter with a sexy young pharmaceutical rep, topped off by a visit with a new patient--and from there Peter's day is going to get a whole lot worse and a whole lot weirder. Because that patient knows Peter from his other life, when he had a different name and a very different job. The only reason he's a doctor now is thanks to the Witness Protection Program--and even they can't protect him from the long reach of the New Jersey mob. Now he's got to do whatever it takes to keep his patient alive so he can buy some time...and beat the reaper.

Tonino Benacquista – Someone Else (2005)

Always trying to expand my crime fiction horizons, I picked up this one from a French author, maybe 4 or 5 years ago. One of these days maybe, I’ll stop acquiring and stock-piling books and try and read a bit faster instead!

"Breathless pace. Touches effortlessly on identity, love, alcohol, and the cynicism of the business world."-Les Echos

Who hasn't wanted to become "someone else"? Over a drink in Paris, two men give each other three years to see which one can more radically alter his life. Blin becomes a private detective. He takes on a new identity, even a surgically altered face. Gredzinski, a self-effacing corporate executive, discovers liquor that evening and rapidly yields to the sensuality and self-confidence induced by alcoholism. Things get complicated when Blin is hired by an ex-lover to find himself and when Gredzinski secretly follows his girlfriend to her home. A helter-skelter tale of humor and suspense.

Winner of the literary prize RTL-Lire
.