Thursday, 30 May 2013

BILL PRONZINI - UNDERCURRENT


Synopsis/blurb......

The Nameless detective is hired by a young wife to find out whether her husband has been having an affair. He trails the husband to a motel of cabins in a small village, sees him meet with a bald man and then return to his cabin. Hours later, Nameless realizes the cabin may have a backdoor; he investigates and finds the husband has been murdered!

The third instalment in this long-running series, which incidentally has its 38th episode, published this year; not counting a couple of volumes of short stories and two novellas. I should have caught up to Nemesis in about 3 years-time assuming I stick with the pace I have set at one a month. I can’t imagine stopping as I’m enjoying myself too much with Nameless.  

It’s a fairly straightforward mystery. Nameless follows the husband of his client easily enough. When he discovers Walter Paige murdered. After explaining his connection to Paige, he manages to ingratiate himself into the investigation when finding a kindred spirit in Quartermain, Cypress Bay’s chief of police. 

Forensics indicates that Paige was with another woman shortly before he died. Part of Nameless’ attraction I think is his decency and empathy for the wounded souls that cross his path during his investigations; in this case, Judith Paige his client, duped by her callous husband.

Nameless, an avid pulp magazine collector, when not sleuthing, has his curiosity piqued when amongst Paige’s possession is a 20-year old mystery novel by a pulp fiction author, Russell Dancer; who Nameless is familiar with. Subsequent inquiries indicate Walter was previously known in the Cypress Bay area, where he socialised with Dancer and others, before disappearing from the scene, unknown to his circle to serve a four year jail-term.

Quartermain and Nameless keep digging into Paige’s Cypress Bay past and get a break when the “bald man” starts a fire at Dancer’s house and breaks into Nameless’ hotel room and steals the book Paige was in possession of at the time of his death.

Interesting, enjoyable, entertaining............I’m going to have to find a dictionary of superlatives because I’m running out of adjectives to describe just how much I’m enjoying these books of Pronzini’s without repeating myself.

I sometimes worry about recommending books to others, for fear that they don’t derive the same amount of pleasure from a book that I have read and enjoyed. I would recommend that you try at least one of this author’s books though.

On the basis that I scored the first 2 in the series a 5 from 5, we will shave his mark down to a 4, even though I found the book pretty faultless. I think it is important to keep him on his toes! At 70 we can’t have him getting complacent.

Here are my reviews for the first two in the series.
The Snatch
The Vanished

4 from 5

I bought this copy on Amazon for my kindle pc reader thingy. Next month book 4 is Blowback.

 

            

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

H's ENJOYED, H's UNREAD

Week 8 and the turn of the H's in the 2013 Crime Fiction Alphabet marathon, hosted over at Mysteries in Paradise

I have read a few in my time.......George V. Higgins, Tony Hillerman, Donald Harstad, Larry Heinemann, Charlie Huston, James Hawes, Chester Himes - to mention a few.........next week I think I'll be struggling to fill the slots on my team!
 
Hall, Hiaasen, Haywood.........3 enjoyed!
 
 
James W. Hall – Under Cover Of Daylight

One of my favourite Floridian authors and Thorn is one of my favourite series characters. So memorable in fact that I can’t remember a thing about this book which I would have read over 20 years ago. Good job I saved it for a re-read at some point!I can't find my editions cover on the net so have reluctantly settled on one of the latter editions.
 

Years after Thorn's real parents are killed by a drunk driver and he executes his own justice in the form of murder, his foster mother is found brutally murdered, and Thorn edges in among the suspects.

 
 
 
 
 
Carl Hiaasen – Tourist Season

Along with James W. Hall, Hiaasen has produced some of the most entertaining and amusing crime fiction I have ever read. I think I laughed so much reading this, my wife threatened to smother me with the pillow. I’m sure she regrets not following through on this. I loved this guy so much, I used to log onto the Miami Herald website weekly to read his column! 

A bizarre series of killings in Florida lead a one-time journalist onto the trail of a former colleague. The columnist is conducting a vendetta against tourists spoiling the beauty of the area. His headquarters are somewhere in the Everglades, his gang are a mixed-up bunch.

 
 
 
Gar Anthony Haywood – Fear Of The Dark

Long before the days of the internet, I used to trek up to London a couple of times a year, to the Murder One bookshop on Charing Cross Road to feed my addiction for US crime fiction. One of my discoveries was Gar Anthony Haywood. I read this, loved it, bought more by him and promptly never picked him up again. This – as a reread -  and the latter ones in the Gunner series are still waiting for me. Like Hall above, my copy is so old, I can't find the relevant edition to depict.

A failed private eye searches Los Angeles for a murderous white supremacist

Aaron Gunner made a lousy private detective. After a year's carnage in Vietnam and a quick exit from the police academy, private work was the only avenue he saw to be a hero. But the seediness, tedium, and lack of real power crushed his hopes, and he quit the job after inadvertently setting a pregnant woman up for a violent death. But after a savage racial murder, it may be time to come out of retirement.

The white man comes to the Acey Deuce, a bar in South Central Los Angeles, to blow the head off a young black militant. The dead radical's sister pays Gunner a visit with a .22 revolver, and convinces him to find her brother's killer. As Gunner draws closer to answers, prejudice and rage threaten to tear Los Angeles apart. To save the city - and himself - Aaron Gunner must finally find his calling.

 Highsmith, Harrison, Hamilton.......3 unread,


Patricia Highsmith  – The Talented Mr Ripley

I had this book, tried to read it, but it was obviously a case of wrong book, wrong time. Stopped and got rid of it. I was told by a friend to persist, so I got another copy. Funny enough I was watching the film of the same book, starring Matt Damon and gave up on that also. Wrong film, wrong time! I will try again at some point in the future.

 
 
Ripley wanted out. He wanted money, success, the good life - and he was willing to kill for it. This is the first novel to feature Patricia Highsmith's anti-hero, Tom Ripley.

 

 
 
 
Colin Harrison – Break And Enter

This book has been unread for only a mere matter of 5 or 6 years. I’m sure if I cut down on my blogging and blog-browsing, I can shift it closer to the top of the pile! I picked this one up after reading the author's excellent book Finder.

Peter Scattergood is an Assistant DA. At 31 he has gained a reputation as one of the most talented, ruthless prosecutors in the city. Then one day he wakes up - to the fact that his wife of seven years has disappeared and that he has been assigned to the most explosive case of his career.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Steve Hamilton – The Lock Artist

I have read and enjoyed a few of the author’s Alex McKnight character series. I bought this stand-alone a couple of years ago, so it’s not that dusty!

At the age of eight, Michael survives an act of violence so horrific that the local press dubs him 'The Miracle Boy.' And orphan now, and no longer able to speak, Michael soon discovers the one thing he can do better than anyone else. Whether it's a locked door with no key, a padlock with no combination, or even an 800-pound safe; Michael can open them all.

It doesn't take long for him to become a hot commodity, and the best 'boxman' in the business. But like any valuable commodity, there are people who will do whatever it takes to own him. And once they see what Michael can really do, they're not about to let him walk away.

Travelling all across the country, always on the run. If there's a heist in the works and a group of criminals with the right phone number, then Michael is their man. And he is always successful. Always. Until one day, when a seemingly simple job turns into a nightmare, and everything falls apart. With nothing left to lose, he decides to go back home to find the only person he ever loved. And to finally face his bigger secret - the secret that has kept him silent for all these years.

Best-known for his Edgar-and Shamus-winning Alex McKnight series, Steve Hamilton delivers a knockout standalone that will bowl over both his diehard fans and anyone looking for a bold, one-of-a-kind thriller.


I's next week and there's not too much springing to mind at the minute!
  
 



 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

DICK FRANCIS - DEAD CERT


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

Three jockeys were warned not to win their races, someone wanted good riders turned into also-rans. Bill died when the sure-footed Admiral fell, Joe was scared rotten, and Alan York became the prime target of a vicious gang. But Alan wanted revenge, and to hell with the danger.

 

I have seen and heard of this author for many years before finally deciding to give him a try. I read and enjoyed Forfeit last month and having picked up a few of his books recently decided to try his first published novel from 1962 next.

At 180-odd pages long it was a fairly quick read. Sufficient length for the author to develop his characters into more than stick people, but not over-long like so many of the books published today.

Alan York is our main man here. Rhodesian by birth, Alan’s a part-time amateur jockey in addition to looking after his father’s business from London a couple of days a week. Alan is trailing his best friend Bill Davidson during a steeplechase race, when disaster strikes the leading horse and jockey. Davidson suffers a bad fall, incurring fatal injuries after his horse landed on him. York having witnessed the accident is sufficiently disturbed to re-visit the fence where the incident took place.  Hidden in the fence is a coil of wire which has been used to bring Davidson and Admiral, his odds-on favourite mount down. Unable to attract assistance that evening, York returns to the course the next day with a policeman in tow, but the evidence has disappeared.  

After the inquest where York’s insistence of foul-play is dismissed and an accidental verdict returned, Alan decides to investigate who is responsible for his friend’s death.  Whilst talking in the weighing room to other jockeys, it’s apparent that someone is trying to stop several nailed-on horses from winning their races in order to profit. As the plot quickly unfolds, Alan is threatened and warned off by the gang responsible for the race-fixing, which is in addition to a protection racket they have been operating in Brighton. There’s a bit of a love interest introduced, which also links in to the eventual unmasking of the head honcho controlling the criminal gang.

Short, sharp, concise, with a few twists and turns before the identity of the culprit was revealed.It’s unlikely that I will find myself thinking about this book much in the weeks ahead, but for all that I really enjoyed it. A fairly straight-forward thriller-cum-crime-novel (can someone explain to me the difference?), interesting and likeable main character, believable plot and all ends properly tied-up at the conclusion.  Verdict - nothing to complain about.

4 from 5

I acquired my omnibus edition of 3 early Dick Francis books a month or two ago from a seller on e-bay.

  

 

Friday, 24 May 2013

RANDY WAYNE WHITE - THE MAN WHO INVENTED FLORIDA


Synopsis/blurb.......

When solitary marine biologist Doc Ford focused his telescope on the woman in the white boat, he didn't know his life was about to be capsized: that his conniving uncle Tucker Gatrell would discover the Fountain of Youth, that The National Enquirer would write about it, and that the law would beat down his door in search of three missing men.

But Doc Ford is about to find these things out -- the hard way. Because in the shadowy world of Southwest Florida, where gators yawn, cattle craze, and Indian bones are buried, mysteries great and small have found the man to solve them.

My 3rd read in the author’s Doc Ford series, and also the slowest, the weakest and the least enjoyable. I was probably 120 pages into this one before scratching my head and asking myself what is the mystery or crime or raison d’être for this 300-odd page long book? When will something happen, other than the mundane, the boring or the everyday?

At the end of the book, I wasn’t particularly enlightened or bothered. Doc Ford, likeable and interesting takes a back-seat role to his uncle. His uncle wasn’t anyone that stirred any strong emotions in me, either positive or negative and so the book was a bit of a damp squib or squid, keeping the marine theme going.

Amusing in places, but it was dull as dishwasher in many more, unfortunately.

Best line in the book........”When politicians looked at old people, all they saw was saggy skin wrapped around a voting finger.”

Not worth all my time invested for that little gem, back next month with Captiva – book number 4. Boy I can hardly wait! There was a 3 year gap in between books 3 and 4 - 1993-96 so hopefully Mr White had plenty of time to sharpen his pencil and re-focus on what made the first two more enjoyable.

2 stars from 5 for this one.

I bought it second-hand on Amazon a month or two ago.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

ELMORE LEONARD - VALDEZ IS COMING


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

They laughed at Roberto Valdez and then ignored him. But when a dark-skinned man was holed up in a shack with a gun, they sent the part-time town constable to deal with the problem -- and made sure he had no choice but to gun the fugitive down. Trouble was, Valdez killed an innocent man. And when he asked for justice -- and some money for the dead man's woman -- they beat Valdez and tied him to a cross. They were still laughing when Valdez came back. And then they began to die...

One of my first introductions to crime fiction was Elmore Leonard. I spotted a blurb by Stephen King on a late 80’s or early 90’s book. My reasoning was, if I like King and King likes Leonard, I ought to try him. Whilst over the past 20-plus years, I have come to take a lot of author recommendations of other authors as a bit of a mutual, sycophantic back-slapping that isn’t necessarily to be trusted; this time he was on the money. Obviously, the last remark was part tongue-in-cheek, but you can’t tell me it doesn’t go on.

Anyway after reading one Elmore Leonard, either Unknown Man No. 89 or The Hunted or 52-Pickup, I was hooked on the guy. It’s been a one-way love affair that has endured ever since. I’ve back-tracked on his earlier books, mainly Westerns when he started out writing and stuck with him to the present day with his Raylon character and the spin-off hit TV series, Justified. He’s had a few books that haven’t rocked me in this period, but he has consistently entertained and remained in my all-time top 10 author list.

Valdez Is Coming was a re-read for me. It’s a western originally published around 1970, with a film I think the following year with Burt Lancaster; one which I can’t recall ever seeing. This was selected as the May read for Pulp Fiction group members and as it was a while since I read “Dutch” I wasn’t too unhappy.  

Bob Valdez is a lowly sheriff, employed mainly to stop the town drunks from killing each other when they’ve had one too many. Valdez is called to a stand-off where a black man and his Indian wife have been holed up in a shack with a gun-toting mob taking pot-shots at them. Tanner the local big-shot has claimed the fugitive is an army deserter who killed a man. Our protagonist, Bob gets suckered into killing him, when his efforts to defuse the situation fail. One unhappy pregnant widow and one unhappy sheriff bury the unfortunate victim as the mob and Tanner ride off into the sunset heading for the nearest tavern without a backwards glance.

Valdez asks the town folk to take up a collection for the widow unsuccessfully; before approaching Tanner to get him to contribute some money. Tanner takes exception to Valdez’s request and after being humiliated a few times, Valdez responds by kidnapping the women who is living as Tanner’s wife. Un-used to defiance from anyone and desperate to retain face, Tanner starts a man-hunt for Valdez.  

Now that the sheriff has stood up to Tanner, the course is set for a collision between an immovable object and an irresistible force. Light v. Dark, Good v. Evil.

I enjoyed this book (again), reading the 200-odd pages during the course of a lazy day. Valdez is a moral, upright man, prepared to stand up for what he believes in, but only after enduring severe provocation. Courageous, spirited, tough, resilient, cunning and intelligent; Bob Valdez is a man to admire.

4 from 5

I couldn’t find my copy at home, so borrowed this from my local library.       

   Show more


 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

MAX ALLAN COLLINS - FLY PAPER


Synopsis/blurb......

Max Allan Collins's professional heist man Nolan takes on a treacherous backwoods family. Classic hard-boiled Collins, back in print with a new Introduction by the author.





Short, sharp, enjoyable, interesting and entertaining.

Still wasn’t the best book I have ever read, but I’m relishing these outings with Nolan and his young-sidekick Jon. Jon is trying to close up his uncle’s antique shop, which had been successfully used as a front and control centre for the various scams and heists Jon’s uncle – Planner used to arrange. Planner was killed in the last instalment which saw Nolan and Jon unsuccessfully try to recover the $800,000 they had heisted in book 1.

 You still following me? 

Nolan’s still at peace with the Family, still hooked up with the same girlfriend, who has just gone home for the summer. He’s still managing the same Family business and he’s getting restless.

Jon’s still in the same awkward relationship with his 10-years-older than him girlfriend and her annoying son. One night, Jon is disturbed by Breen - another guy who makes his living outside the law. Breen’s been running a scam on parking meters and has been crossed by his partner, the cantankerous and dangerous Sam Comfort. Instead of his $12k cut, Comfort’s sent him on his way with a hail of lead and a couple of bullet wounds. Breen, unaware of Planner’s demise, instead finds himself reliant on Jon to assist him.

Nolan and Jon hook up again with a plan to relieve Comfort of his ill-gotten gains and improve their cash-flow situation.

In the mean-time, Collins has a separate story strand in play involving Carol and Ken, a married couple a bit down on their luck after losing their savings in a land and property scam in Florida. Ken is bitter and determined to get back on track by any means possible, which as he’s a bit of a handyman, in this case involves constructing a bomb and executing a plane hijacking  à la D.B. Cooper.

This 3rd book in the series has an exciting finale when Ken, Nolan and Jon cross paths.

More enjoyable than the first two in the series, I’m looking forward to the fourth in the series next month – Hush Money.

4 stars out of 5.

I bought this one a month or so ago on Amazon for Kindle.

     

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

ROBERT CRAIS - VOODOO RIVER


Synopsis/blurb........
Hired to uncover the past of Jodi Taylor, an actress in a hit TV show, Elvis leaves his native Los Angeles to head for Louisiana in search of Jodi's biological parents. But before he can tackle the mystery of the actress's background, he is up against a whole host of eccentrics, including a crazed Raid-spraying housewife, a Cajun thug who looks like he's been made out of spare parts, and a menacing hundred-year-old river turtle named Luther. As Elvis learns about the enigmatic actress's origins, he also discovers the real reason he's been sent to Louisiana...

The latest instalment of Robert Crais’ series involving LA PI Elvis Cole was probably my most enjoyed book so far in this series...........5 down, about 7 to go.

Cole moves off his home turf of Los Angeles and heads to the steamy south to try and track down the natural birth parents of the latest American sweetheart - Jodi Taylor, star of the small screen.  Ostensibly Taylor, adopted at birth, wants Cole to establish whether her birth parents had anything in their medical history that may be of concern to her in the future.

Cole quickly realises he’s been duped by the actress and her agent, and that a local investigator has already uncovered the actress’ family history and has been blackmailing her. After confronting the investigator, Elvis crosses paths with the local big-shot, Milt Rossier and his stooges and is warned off. When the investigator turns up dead, Cole realises there’s more at play and calls in Pike.

What started as a relatively uncomplicated investigation into tracing an adoptee’s family history evolves into a sorry tale involving people smuggling from Central America by competing factions of ruthless criminals, who served their apprenticeships operating in 80’s Salvadorean death squads.

Cole for the first time sacrifices his client’s interests in pursuit of a bigger goal, whilst also finding time to romance Lucy Chenier, Taylor’s Louisianan lawyer.

If you like mysteries involving wise-cracking PI’s, enigmatic sidekicks, blackmail, Cajun food, family secrets, murder, people smuggling, race issues, gun-play, crooked cops, violence, romance and a 100-year old snapping turtle this one is definitely the book for you.

5 stars out of 5 from me.  

Next month, I will hopefully be reading Sunset Express, winner of a Shamus Award in 1997 – I’m only 16 years late to the party!

I bought my copy of Voodoo River too many years ago to recall exactly where from.        

Monday, 20 May 2013

G's ENJOYED, G'S UNREAD

Week 7 on the Crime Fiction Alphabet 2013 tour, hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise and it's the turn of the G's.

Green, Garcia, Gischler.......... 3 enjoyed!


Norman Green – Shooting Dr. Jack

I can’t recall how I discovered this book sometime back in the mid-2000’s, but I’m glad I did. I absolutely loved this and once done with it set about acquiring copies of everything else he had written. Needless to say I haven’t read any of these subsequent books – shame on me!

It takes considerable skill to craft a gripping novel approaching 300 pages in which nothing much happens during the first 150. Fortunately for the readers of Norman Green's first book, Shooting Dr. Jack, Green's got the knack, in spades. His characters aren't drawn, they're acid-etched. His landscape, seamlessly rendered, is a grey, emotionless void:

Fall through the cracks of a better and kinder world, and you find yourself on Troutman Street. Dreams of a new world die in her sweatshops, cars and trucks die in her chop shops and junkyards, children die in her vacant lots, shooting one another for the right to sell crack on the two or three big intersections, junkies die wherever they happen to be when they shoot up--hallways, alleys, parking lots.



Tommy Rosselli, a.k.a. Fat Tommy, a.k.a. Tommy Bagadonuts, is a relatively brilliant entrepreneur who, while largely operating beyond the law, nonetheless owns a good and honest heart. Stoney, Tommy's brutal partner in a shady Brooklyn junkyard, is a smoldering alcoholic struggling to bring his body, soul, wife, and kids into some approximation of normalcy. And 18-year-old Eddie Tuco, an illiterate "Nuyorican" who works for Tommy and Stoney, faces temptation, redemption, and loss as a result.

Tommy and Stoney need to find out who left two dead teenagers in the junkyard, who killed their accountant, who ambushed Tommy in his apartment, who's been shadowing their employees, and why. Tuco does too, but he's got some demons to wrestle and scores to settle on his own. Rounding out this vision of desperation are the eponymous Dr. Jack--the name of both a drug and its dealer, which affect their users as Dr. Kevorkian affects his patients--and the junkyard's blighted Troutman Street landscape itself.

Not a mystery in the truest sense and not a thriller by most standards, Shooting Dr. Jack is both of those things and more. It's intelligent, it grabs like a vice in due course, and its dialogue and narrative resonate with urban grit and truth. --Michael Hudson

Victor Gischler – Gun Monkeys

Gischler’s first book which I loved. I’m spoilt for choice with him because I could so easily have recommended, Pistol Poets, Suicide Squeeze, Shotgun Opera or Go-Go Girls Of The Apocalypse. I’ve missed out on his last few books, and if I had limitless time and money I’d remedy that situation.

Charlie Swift just pumped three .38-caliber bullets into a dead polar bear in his taxidermist girlfriend's garage. But he's a gun monkey, and no one can blame him for having an itchy trigger finger. Ever since he drove down the Florida Turnpike with a headless body in the trunk of a Chrysler, then took down four cops, Charlie's been running hard through the sprawling sleaze of central Florida. And to make matters worse, he's holding on to some crooked paperwork that a lot of people would like to take off his hands. Now, with his boss disappeared and his friends dropping like flies, Charlie has got his work cut out just to survive. If he wants to keep the money and get the girl too, he's really going to have to go ape...

Nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel,
Gun Monkeys is a fast, furious collage of wit and wise guys, violence and thrills—and a full-throttle run through the dark side of the Sunshine State.

Eric Garcia – Matchstick Men

I loved the book, I loved the film. I found it terribly sad, but enjoyed it in spite of that, or maybe because of it. Read it or watch it!

"After the first of Eric Garcia's Rex books, I found myself thinking, ‘I wonder what he's up to now.' After Matchstick Men, a lot of other people will begin wondering, too."—Thomas Perry, author of Pursuit

Roy and Frankie are matchstick men—con artists. Partners in elegant crimes for years, they know each other like brothers and have perfected the rules of the game.

Roy is the careful one. Saves every penny. Takes his medication regularly. Without the pills, his obsessive-compulsive disorder kicks in and he is too nauseated to do anything but stare at the dirt on the carpet.

Frankie is the adventurous one, hungry for a big score. He wants Roy to join him in running a tricky game, but Roy is distracted—for good reason. Roy has just discovered that he is the father of a punky teenage daughter from a brief marriage that ended years ago. Much to the frustration of Roy's partner, the kid wants to get to know her father. She also wants to learn the family business.

Novelist Eric Garcia takes readers into the fast and funny world of grifters with issues.
Matchstick Men is a dazzling literary con game that will keep readers guessing until the last page.

matchstick men (mach•stik men) n. pl. 1. simply drawn characters, meant to represent the human form 2. tavern betting game, invented circa 1920 3. con artists or grifters, those who steal via wit, trickery, or confusion 4. a mob of people, easily enraged 5. a deviously suspenseful and surprising novel by Eric Garcia, acclaimed cult author of Anonymous Rex 6. a major motion picture, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell, coming in 2003 from Warner Bros.
 
Grafton, Goodis, Gardner..........3 unread,
Sue Grafton – A Is For Alibi
In an effort to read more that has been written by the female of the species, I tracked this down recently after reading a mention of the author on another blog. Only unread for a matter of weeks, not even had the chance to get dusty!
Mystery novel featuring wise-cracking female private investigator, Kinsey Millhone. When Nikki comes out of jail after serving a sentence for murdering her husband, she calls in Kinsey Millhone to track down the real killer.
 
 
 
 
David Goodis – The Moon In The Gutter
I have had this and other works by this prolific 50’s author on the unread pile for over 10 years. If I wait a while longer I‘m guessing it won’t matter too much.  Don't Shoot The Piano Player may be better known than this offering.
Another piece of pulp fiction, Goodis's 1953 noirish novel portrays the story of protagonist Bill Kerrigan, a poor street-hardened man who marries wealthy Loretta Channing. Kerrigan, however, soon learns that class is something you can't buy and once a street punk, always a street punk.
 
 
 
 
 
John Gardner – The Liquidator
I like espionage and I like on occasion authors that can make me laugh. I don’t always need grit and realism in what I read, sometimes I need a giggle and this seems to fit the bill.  Acquired last year, along with some of the later ones, so it’s not been ignored too long.
Boysie Oakes is fictional secret agent created by the British spy novelist John Gardner in 1964 at the height of the fictional spy mania. Oakes is a richly comic character who is inadvertently taken to be a tough, pitiless man of action and is thereupon recruited into a British spy agency. He is, in actuality, a devout coward with many other character flaws who wants nothing more than to be left alone.
An example of the endearing points in these novels is the continuing appearance of monogrammed "BO" gifts from his mother - shirts, handkerchiefs, cigarette lighter, and so forth. He would never dream of NOT using them, even though he resents them.
The cowardly Oakes starred in another seven novels over the next 15 years and eventually, once again by inadvertence, becomes the head of the secret agency that has caused him to be in a constant state of terror for so long.
The first novel in the series, The Liquidator, was made into a feature film of the same name in 1965, starring Rod Taylor as Boysie Oakes.
Off to do some research on my H's!

 
 
 


 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

SEELEY JAMES - THE GENEVA DECISION


Synopsis/blurb......

 

About The Geneva Decision:



Pia Sabel plays to win.

Until a few weeks ago, she was an international soccer star. But now she’s taken the helm of her billionaire father’s private security company, and she’s playing against a whole new set of opponents – the kind who shoot to kill.

On her first day on the job, Pia’s client is assassinated in front of her. There’s no time for training, so Pia must trust her instincts and athletic skills to unravel the complicated maze of money laundering and piracy that will take her from Swiss mansions to the jungles of Cameroon.

Her battle-hardened employees suspect she’s just a spoiled rich girl with a mean corner kick. But Pia’s got some unexpected moves of her own. Will they be enough to bring her team through its mission?

What People Are Saying:



A fine thriller with intriguing locations, intricate plot twists and a complex heroine. – Kirkus Reviews

This book really got into its stride and kept going strong. I loved the character of Pia Sabel – there’s a girl Charlie Fox would team up with any day! -- Zoe Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox novels

Seeley James has created a protagonist that is strong and yet conflicted. This compelling heroine presents a multi-faceted character that mystery readers will enjoy getting to know in this first book and probably for many more to come. -- PJReviewofBooks.com

Female leads in bestselling thrillers are rarely this realistic and complete. She’s not panting over a man, not whining all the time, makes her own decisions and still kicks ass. Pia Sabel must be the love child of Suzanne Collins’ Katniss Everdeen and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. -- ShortThrills Review

The Geneva Decision is superb....The non-stop intensity catapults the action from the first page to the last, never relaxing....Seeley James is definitely an author to watch in the future as he writes more featuring the undaunting Pia Sabel. -- Mysteries Galore

If you're an adrenalin junkie who enjoys breakneck pacing and action on every page, then The Geneva Decision is the book for you… A great debut for a new thriller series. -- William G. Davis, author of Pagan Moon.

I typically don’t have too much trouble being critical or voicing an opinion when I haven’t especially enjoyed a book that much. It is a little bit awkward this time, as I was offered a copy of the book by the author to read and review. However, I wouldn’t think that Mr James would expect or even want me to say his thriller rocked me, when it didn’t. Other comments, (see above) are more positive and I’m glad some folks got more out of it than I did.

One of my main difficulties was the basic plot. Rich bankers in Geneva are being eliminated by a military-style hit squad.......and who cares exactly? Not me, I’m afraid. Sabel Security, with the world famous footballing daughter of the founder newly on-board, had been invited for a meeting with the first assassinated banker. Pia, the star and new head of the company manages to catch the assassin, although shortly afterwards he manages to escape. Other bankers get their just desserts, err..... I mean get assassinated and Sabel Security are compelled to investigate the killings which are apparently linked to the several recent hijackings of some tankers at sea.    

Pia, our heroine, has to convince a sceptical bunch of Sabel agents to follow her to Cameroon to solve the mystery. The trip to Africa results in more gun-play and the loss of an agent, but uncovers more evidence of who is responsible for the whole affair. Another jaunt back to Europe, more investigating, more gun-play and we wrap the whole thing up.

About three-quarters of the way through, I asked myself; how I would feel if Pia was killed during one of the encounters with the villains. Answer, not that bothered.....and therein lays the second major difficulty I had with the book, I just didn’t feel the characters, even the main character, had enough depth for them to become real to me. As a consequence, whatever happened to them was unimportant. Maybe I have a problem with rich people, even well-meaning, benevolent, kind-hearted rich people, I don’t warm to them.

On a positive note, the action scenes were for the most part very well described. The plot and raison d’être for the book hung together well, so the author can write and construct a plot.........it just wasn’t one that engaged me on this occasion. I didn’t feel like giving up at any point during reading, so there was something about the mystery that ensured I kept reading to see how things resolved themselves.

Marks out of 5 then.......toying between a 2 and a 3. It wasn’t the least enjoyable book I have read this month, but it was far from the most either.

Did I enjoy it more than the others books I voted 2? Yes.

Did I enjoy it as much as the others books I read this month rated a 3? No.

Did I feel I wasted valuable reading time on this? No.

With apologies and thanks to Seeley James,

2 from 5

Copy received from the author.

  

Friday, 17 May 2013

JOHN D. MACDONALD - THE QUICK RED FOX


Synopsis/blurb.....

From a beloved master of crime fiction, The Quick Red Fox is one of many classic novels featuring Travis McGee, the hard-boiled detective who lives on a houseboat.
 
She’s the opposite of a damsel in distress: a famous movie star, very beautiful, very much in control of her life. She’s just made one little mistake and now she needs Travis McGee to set it right. The money is good and Travis’s funds are in need of replenishing. But that’s not the only reason he takes the case. There is the movie star’s assistant—efficient and reserved, with a sadness underneath that makes McGee feel he’d brave any danger to help her.

“John D. MacDonald is a shining example for all us in the field. Talk about the best.”—Mary Higgins Clark

Sultry movie star Lysa Dean has gotten herself into a spot of blackmail, posing for naked photos while participating in a debauched party near Big Sur. If the pictures get out, Lysa’s engagement to her rich, strait laced fiancé doesn’t stand a chance. Enter Travis McGee, who’s agreed to put a stop to the extortion, working alongside Lysa’s assistant, Dana Holtzer.

They begin by tracking down everyone associated with the lurid evening, and soon enough they’re led on a chase across the nation as murder after murder piles up. Further complicating matters, Travis and Dana’s relationship soon turns steamy. And just when he thinks he knows exactly where things are headed, one big twist shakes McGee’s life to the very foundation.

Well, I’m continuing my McGee journey month by month. This was the fourth instalment in the twenty-one book series which MacDonald wrote and had published between 1964 and 1985. Incidentally, the first four were all published in 1964. I don’t believe that would happen today.

McGee is engaged by Lysa Dean, Hollywood hot property to get her out of a jam. After indulging in a sexual free-for-all with some guests on a break a year or so ago, she’s being blackmailed with photographic evidence of the shenanigans. McGee’s task is to remove the threat and try and recover some of the money paid.

Travis sets out on the recovery mission with the strait-laced Dana Holtzer, Dean’s disapproving assistant in tow. After identifying most other of the other orgy members, Travis and Dana traverse the country, catching up with and eliminating some of the players along the way. As the journey gathers pace, there appears to be someone else, a step or two ahead of them eliminating some of the participants in the sex-games.

This book was more enjoyable for me than the second and third in the series, maybe a notch under the standard of the first – The Deep Blue Goodbye.

McGee; sage, part-time philosopher, granite chin, iron fists and with a tender, caring disposition is an interesting companion to share a few hours with each month. He strikes me as a deeply moral person. He has his own code to follow - a short-haired hippy, minus the predilection for meaningless sex and drug abuse. Not adverse to violence when it is needed, but never as his first resort. I wonder how he would view the world fifty years on from this adventure.       

4 from 5

Bought second-hand as an omnibus edition online recently, so books 5 and 6 are already lined up.

    

Thursday, 16 May 2013

JACK TUNNEY - FIGHTCARD: WELCOME TO THE OCTAGON


Synopsis/blurb....

FIGHT CARD MMA: WELCOME TO THE OCTAGON

Belfast 2013

Mickey The Rage Rafferty has gone through some tough times, but he's not ready to tap-out just yet. The Belfast widower has to take care of his eight-year-old daughter, Lily. However, his main talent is fighting and the only way he can make enough money off it to support his girl is to take dodgy underground matches paying off in bloodstained cash. Mickey’s trainer, Eddie Smith, doesn't approve. He wants his most promising student to step into the cage as a real martial artist, not as a fool for thugs and gangsters.

With Eddie on the verge of cutting him loose, Mickey is up against the cage – crushed between fast cash and a legitimate career. Mickey has some big decisions to make and some even bigger opponents to face.

The MMA life can be harsh, and it’s never easy ... Welcome To The Octagon.

 

I have lifted this from bit of detail from the Fightcard website......

The books in the Fight Card series are monthly 25,000 word novelettes, designed to be read in one or two sittings, and are inspired by the fight pulps of the '30s and '40s – such as Fight Stories Magazine – and Robert E. Howard’s two-fisted boxing tales featuring Sailor Steve Costigan.

I read this novelette quite quickly, probably over a couple of days as I had my head half into something else at the time. I found it enjoyable with well described fight scenes. I enjoy watching a bit of boxing when it’s on free to view terrestrial TV, so it was a fairly safe bet that this would be up my street.  I wouldn’t claim to be a student of the sport or its cousin – Mixed Martial Arts, but something in my bones gets excited about watching two guys trying to knock seven bells out of each other. If you can’t watch it, what better than to read about it?

Mickey, our eponymous hero, is struggling to make his way in the game. I think he loves it, but essentially it’s just a vehicle to earn quick cash to support his daughter. The commitment to training helps him keep his head out of the bottle, but he’s struggling to keep afloat. Legitimate bouts can’t come quick enough, and the established route to the top will take too long for him to achieve the paydays necessary to keep the wolf from the door.  Taking on underground illegal matches, fighting above dodgy Belfast pubs where he’s been set up as a fall guy in a betting sting, Mickey’s outlook seems bleak until Swifty, a Dublin gangster steps in. Soon Mickey’s beholden to Swifty and is getting deeper and deeper in the brown stuff. Does he sink or does he swim?

If you’ve a spare pound for a punch or want a bang for your buck, and have a few loose hours and nothing to fill them with, you could do worse than getting this one on your Kindle. You'll see whether Mickey wins his toughest fight or not.

If I’m totally honest, a fuller length treatment by the author, Gerard Brennan would have been more enjoyable. With fewer limitations or constraints on length, I reckon he could have fully developed the tale and delivered a knockout. However, at 110-odd pages it was good enough to win easily on points.

4 from 5      

Gerard was kind enough to ping me a review copy. Check out his website, check out his other stuff. His website is here.

 

 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

ALAN FURST - MISSION TO PARIS


Synopsis/blurb........

 

Frederic Stahl, a Hollywood film star, travels from Beverly Hills to the boulevards of Paris. It is a dangerous, difficult, seductive time: Europe is about to explode, and the Parisians are living every night as though it were their last. As filming progresses, Stahl is drawn into a clandestine world of foreign correspondents, embassy officials, and spies of every sort. His engagements take him from the bistros of Paris to the back alleys of Morocco; from a Hungarian castle to Kristallnacht, and the chilling heart of the Third Reich. But can he survive as German operatives track him across Paris? Gripping, haunting, and deeply passionate, Mission to Paris is the ultimate portrait of a people at war and Alan Furst's most panoramic, lovingly described, and finest book to date.

 

My first Alan Furst book and it was an absolute cracker. I have a lot of his earlier work sat around at home unread, but on the basis of this offering, hopefully for not too much longer.

Furst’s Mission To Paris is set – guess where? Paris in 1938. Our hero, Fredrik Stahl, an Austrian by birth and a successful actor in LA is making a film in Europe. Returning to Paris, after some years away, he becomes immersed in the manipulations and machinations of Parisian society. His presence in the city is seized upon by none too subtle Nazi elements that seek to use him to advance their cause. Stahl, unsympathetic to their aims, tries to avoid becoming a stooge for the Germans in the war being fought in the press about the French government’s preferred stance towards Hitler. Opt for appeasement and hope he leaves them be? Or stand up to the playground bully in the near certain knowledge that French resistance on its own would be easily overcome by the German military machine.

This is where I struggle with my reviews generally, how much detail do I put in, how much do I leave out?

 Furst masterfully portrays a conflicted society and city; factions embracing the impending era of Nazi dominance and endeavouring to speed its ascent, factions fearful of the changes to come and the ever-invasive dread of what Nazism will mean for their families and friends, many of them having departed Germany previously in terror at the growing right-wing menace.

Furst’s Stahl was a realistic and compelling hero. Overcoming his initial reservations, he is increasingly drawn into a shadowy world of espionage, trying to provide a conduit for information between Americans anxious to influence the President at home regarding the German menace and practical support for agents on the ground in Berlin, at the risk to his public persona. Before too long the stakes are raised and Stahl is sucked into not just a battle to preserve his career, but his life and that of the woman he has fallen for.    

Intelligent and educational, gripping, exciting and scary; this was one of the best books I’ve read in the past year or so, let alone this month.

5 from 5  

I borrowed my copy form my local library in Leighton Buzzard.