Thursday, 31 October 2013

2 BY STAN JONES

One of my online friends read and reviewed Stan Jones and one or other of his books earlier this year. I was interested at the time and kind of hummed and hawed over whether to take the plunge. Was it ever in doubt?

Great covers and some promising mysteries set in an area of the world that I have never visited before in my reading. To date there have been four Nathan Active series books published, and yes I did buy the other two also. That probably sums up my reading/library/TBR issues. How can you commit to buying four books from an author that you haven’t read one thing by? What if I don’t particularly enjoy the first? No way is Stan Jones an isolated instance either, for him you could probably substitute fifty other names. I’m like a greedy child let loose in a sweet shop...what was the child’s name in Willy Wonka?

Anyway hopefully the first in the series rocks and even if it doesn't, I ought to read the following ones as penance for my own rashness.    

This will cover my Alaska state entry when I start my USA state reading challenge next year.

Thanks to Keishon at Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog. Her reviews are here:

White Sky, Black Ice
Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog
An Alaskan State trooper must satisfy both Eskimo and "white man's" justice.

Trooper Nathan Active, child of a fifteen-year-old unmarried Inupiat Eskimo girl, was given up for adoption and raised in Anchorage, where he graduated from the university. Now that he has been posted to his remote birth village, Chukchi, he longs to return to civilization. Before that happens, he is confronted with atypical suicides. Eskimos are notoriously at risk for self-slaughter, but never has one man after another shot himself in the Adam's apple. Can a shaman's curse really be at work?

Lucy Generous is a beautiful villager who is enlivening Nathan's tour of duty. Nathan's mother tells him to beware; she wants him to find a girl who went to college and has a good job. But with Lucy's help, the nalauqmiiyaak (almost white) state trooper begins to understand his Eskimo heritage, which provides him with the solution to the crimes that he is confronted with.

This is the first in a series of Nathan Active mysteries.


Shaman Pass

A Murder With A Motive Steeped In Inupiat Tradition

Nathan Active is regarded as 'half white' by Alaskans. He is a state trooper, adopted and raised in Anchorage, but now serving a tour of duty in Chukchi, the village of his birth, where he is called upon to investigate the murder of an Inupiat tribal leader. The victim was killed with an antique ivory and wood harpoon returned to the community by the Smithsonian, in accordance with the terms of the Indian Graves Act, just a few days earlier together with an unidentified Inupiat mummy nicknamed 'Uncle Frosty.'


With the help of his girlfriend, birth mother, aged grandfather, and other old-timers, Nathan must grapple with the identity of the murderer and the elusive motive.



Monday, 28 October 2013

KEN BRUEN - PURGATORY


Synopsis/blurb......

Someone is scraping the scum off the streets of Galway, and they want Jack Taylor to get involved. A drug pusher, a rapist, a loan shark, all targeted in what look like vigilante attacks. And the killer is writing to Jack, signing their name: C-33.

Jack has had enough. He doesn't need the money, and doesn't want to get involved. But when his friend Stewart gets drawn in, it seems he isn't been given a choice. In the meantime, Jack is being courted by Reardon, a charismatic billionaire intent on buying up much of Galway, and begins a tentative relationship with Reardon's PR director, Kelly.

Caught between heaven and hell, there's only one path for Jack Taylor to take: Purgatory.

Purgatory is Bruen’s 10th and latest Jack Taylor novel and unusually for the completist in me I skipped forward to this one, after having only read the first two or three.

An interesting enough read, but a little less enjoyable than I had been hoping for. Perhaps skipping the seven in-between left me feeling more as a fairly impartial observer to events concerning Taylor and his friends Stewart and Ridge, as opposed to having an emotional connection to them and caring – assuming the friendships have developed over the course of the series.

Bad things happen during the course of the book. A vigilante seems to be cleaning up Galway and the Gardai aren’t joining up the dots and acknowledging the connection. Jack ignores notes from the killer, until the murderer makes things personal. Taylor oscillates between manic action with a mad urge to locate someone one minute, to calmly having a drink the next day; said person still unfound. Maybe that’s how damaged alcoholic investigators function?

The usual cultural references and hat-tips towards other novelists and books abound throughout, though they seemed a bit forced and stale to me this time. Perhaps, I’m turning into an old grouch?

Best bit of the book - the slow motion analysis of Ibrahimovic’s spectacular goal for Sweden against England......go figure.

3 from 5  

At some point I will read the Taylor books that I have skipped. For now at least Brant rules.


Another book courtesy of Net Galley.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

LEIF G.W. PERSSON - HE WHO KILLS THE DRAGON

Synopsis/blurb.......

In this second installment of Persson's trilogy of police procedurals featuring the "small, fat and primitive" Evert Bäckström, the grand master's most appallingly repulsive (and funniest) character is finally given his fifteen minutes of fame by way of his patented combination of laziness, luck, and an unbelievable sense of timing.

A seemingly ordinary murder puzzles Bäckström, who is struggling with strict orders from his doctor to lead a healthier life. His gut feeling proves him right: within days, his team has another murder linked to the first on their hands, and reports of alleged ties to a Securicor heist gone out of control, killing two. The nation needs a hero, and the newly appointed head of the Västerort police force Anna Holt needs somebody to kill the dragon for her. Who better to heed to the task than Evert Bäckström: self-sufficient, ostentatious, devoid of moral, Hawaii shirt-clad, and, latterly, armed?

5 from 5

I try not to give too much away when discussing books I have read and this time I will be briefer than usual.

One of my challenges this year was to get stuck into some Scandinavian crime fiction and to that end; this was my fourth Persson book. During the other three, my attention and interest has wandered at times as the author has a tendency to go off page with some of his characters and their musings. This time around Persson stays firmly on track. The result is leaner, meaner and more satisfying for this reader at least. 370-odd pages and I was done in a day and a half! 


Decent storyline, decent support characters – some of whom I’m familiar with from previous books, an unforgettable lead in Backstrom and an intriguing murder case to resolve. Backstrom on his own in an empty room would be interesting and funny, when he interacts with his underlings and crosses paths with his frustrated superiors, multiply that x 100.

Probably the best Scandi Crime Fiction I have read all year.

I obtained access to this via the Net Galley website.

My previous reviews on Persson’s books are as follows:


Friday, 25 October 2013

LUKE PRESTON - DARK CITY BLUE


Synopsis/blurb.....

If there's one thing worse than a crooked cop on your heels then it's a whole unit of them.

A fistful of people are murdered, fifteen million dollars is stolen and detective Tom Bishop is stuck in the middle. When he hits the street, every clue points in the same direction - his colleagues in a police department demoralised by cutbacks and scandals. Hunted, alone and with no place left to turn, Bishop embarks on a hellish journey down into the gutters where right and wrong quickly become twisted and problems are solved with gunfire and bloodshed.

Over the next two days, Tom Bishop will be cornered. He will be beaten. He will bust into prison. 
He will shoot at police. He will team up with violent criminals. He will become one of them. He will break every rule in the book, chasing a lead nobody else will go near down a rabbit hole of corruption, murder and buried secrets.

Will Bishop become the very monster he set out to destroy?

A modern hard-boiled tale that unfolds at a relentless pace, Dark City Blue is Serpico, if Serpico snorted a fistful of cocaine and hung out with Lee Marvin.

This type of fast-paced crime fiction is usually right up my street ...... death, violence, guns, shooting, murder and mayhem; with bent cops and other criminals colliding with a lone good guy or team struggling to impose some level of sanity on the proceedings, by bringing the rogues to heel.

I say usually and to be fair I did enjoy this trip on the dark-side of one of Australia’s mean cities, but by the end, the level of violence inflicted on and by our hero cop, Tom Bishop had assumed comedic proportions. In my opinion the story suffered because of it. All that was lacking was Bishop and an adversary, going toe to toe with each other – one with a frying pan.....BISH!....the other with a trusty saucepan.......CLUNK! .....as they shook their lumpen heads and carried on swinging as beads of sweat and teeth flew through the air.

Bishop was interesting and generally likeable with a troubled back story, which fleshed out the book and offered a few moments of respite from the shootings and fights. To say he has a dark side would be an under-statement. The support cast were for the most part uninteresting, though there were a couple of exceptions – Bishop’s daughter and another cop Ellison, being the best of a shallow bunch.

The story was okay, not too original (in fairness are there any untold stories anymore?) .....dirty cops engaged in crime – a hero cop trying to stop them. Enjoyable enough, but I was a bit jaded by the end. At no point during reading it, did I long to be doing something else and at a touch over 200 pages it was relatively short. In terms of the action - less would have been more.

Overall I’ll give it a 3 from 5

Dark City Blue was another debut novel. (There have been a few of them lately.) Preston has followed this with Out Of Exile, his second novel; which also features Tom Bishop. I will read the second book, but I’m hoping for a bit more next time around.

I got this from Amazon UK when it was offered as free for kindle a week or two ago.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

JAMES W. ZISKIN - STYX & STONE


Synopsis/blurb.......

Ellie Stone is a professed modern girl in 1960s' New York City, playing by her own rules and breaking boundaries while searching for a killer among the renowned scholars in Columbia University's Italian Department.

"If you were a man, you'd make a good detective."

Ellie is sure that Sgt. McKeever meant that as a compliment, but that identity-a girl wanting to do a man's job-has throttled her for too long. It's 1960, and Ellie doesn't want to blaze any trails for women; she just wants to be a reporter, one who doesn't need to swat hands off her behind at every turn.

Adrift in her career, Ellie is back in New York City after receiving news that her estranged father, a renowned Dante scholar and distinguished professor, is near death after a savage bludgeoning in his home. The police suspect a routine burglary, but Ellie has her doubts. When a second attempt is made on her father's life, in the form of an "accident" in the hospital's ICU, Ellie's suspicions are confirmed.

Then another professor turns up dead, and Ellie's investigation turns to her father's university colleagues, their ambitions, jealousies, and secret lives. Ellie embarks on a thorny journey of discovery and reconciliation, as she pursues an investigation that offers her both a chance at redemption in her father's eyes, and the risk of losing him forever.

Another new author, another debut book and another interesting mystery set in 60’s New York; this time in the world of academia – which was another first for me.  Who would have thought that university politics and the petty back-biting and jostling would have proved such an interesting back-drop for this satisfying read?

I will be honest; it started brightly for me, then dipped a wee bit for maybe a chapter or two, then kicked back in with the introduction of a character whose story was incredibly sad. This turn of events seemed to offer the reader and Ellie answers as to the identity of our attacker/murderer, but with a chunk of the book still to read.....maybe yes/maybe no.

Ellie, herself was interesting – liberated, intelligent, impulsive, smart, independent and lonely.  Some of the supporting cast of university scholars were by turns....loathsome, irritating, self-centred, aloof, condescending, cold, bitter, angry and devious, whilst others exhibited more compassionate characteristics. (The same as any work-place anywhere, I imagine.) Our policeman was kind, helpful and sympathetic, though I feared his soft exterior might have been a handicap in his role as a detective in 60’s New York.

Would I like to read more by the author? Yes

Would I like to read more about Ellie Stone? Yes, though in a different setting.

Would I recommend this to others? Yes, though in truth I don’t feel it would appeal to everyone. The events unfold over a period of just over a week and there’s a natural logical progression towards the conclusion. No hard pace, no fast action – just an interesting well-written and satisfying mystery, with an atmospheric setting.

A little bit different to my usual reading fare, but I’ll give it a 4 from 5.

Thanks again to Meghan at Prometheus/Seventh Street Books for my copy.
       

                

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

2 BY FRANK BILL



















As I sort through my books later this year and early next, I will highlight a couple of books by an author that I reckon I’m going to enjoy at some point in the future and see if I can tempt anyone else to give them a try.

This week’s author is Frank Bill.

Frank has to date published two books; one collection of short stories and his first novel.

The back cover of Crimes in Southern Indiana reads..... Welcome to Heartland America circa right about now, when the union jobs and family farms that kept the white on the picket fences have given way to meth labs, backwoods gunrunners, and bare-knuckle brawling.

Frank Bill's southern Indiana is haunted by a deep, abiding sense of place, and Frank Bill's people are men and women pressed to the brink - and beyond. They are survivors, and in Frank Bill's hands, their stories bristle with noir energy.

Flat-out fearless and unputdownable, Crimes in Southern Indiana is at once a gut punch and a wake-up call - and the announcement of an authentic, original American literary voice we simply can't ignore.

Praised by.....

“Good Lord, where in the hell did this guy come from? Blasts off like a frigging rocket ship and hits as hard as an ax handle to the side of the head after you’ve eaten a live rattlesnake for breakfast. One of the wildest damn rides you’re ever going to take inside a book.” —Donald Ray Pollock, author of Knockemstiff

“Frank Bill’s characters all seem to be hurtling at ninety miles an hour down dead end streets, and his recounting of their passage is vivid and unforgettable. Like Barry Hannah on amphetamines, but the voice is undeniably Bill’s own.”—William Gay, author of Provinces of Night

“What can I say about this book? This: planning a summer trip north from Mississippi, these stories caused me to reroute to avoid Southern Indiana. Mr. Bill knows his people well, and writes like they live—on the edge of the edge. Just plain unforgettable fiction.” —Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter



The back cover of Donnybrook reads...... The Donnybrook is a three-day bare-knuckle tournament held on a thousand-acre plot out in the sticks of southern Indiana. Twenty fighters. One wire-fence ring. Fight until only one man is left standing while a rowdy festival of onlookers - drunk and high on whatever's on offer - bet on the outcome.

Jarhead is a desperate man who'd do just about anything to feed his children. He's also the toughest fighter in southeastern Kentucky, and he's convinced that his ticket to a better life is one last fight with a cash prize so big it'll solve all his problems. Meanwhile, there's Chainsaw Angus - an undefeated master fighter who isn't too keen on getting his face punched anymore, so he and his sister, Liz, have started cooking meth. And they get in deep. So deep that Liz wants it all for herself, and she might just be ready to kill her brother for it.

As we travel through the backwoods on the way to the Donnybrook, we meet a cast of nasty, ruined characters driven to all sorts of evil, all in the name of getting their fix - drugs, violence, sex, money, honour. Donnybrook is exactly the fearless, explosive, amphetamine-fuelled journey you'd expect from Frank Bill's first novel . . . and then some.

Praised by Daniel Woodrell, Megan Abbott, Craig Johnson and Bonnie Jo Campbell.

Woodrell says...”Donnybrook, is vivid in its violence, grim in its grimness. It reams the English language with a broken beer bottle and lets the blood drops tell the story."

That’s good enough for me then!

I will read one of these, possibly both in 2014 as one of the entries for the USA state reading challenge I’m participating in. I bet you can’t guess which state figures!








Tuesday, 22 October 2013

WALTER MOSLEY - DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS


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

The time is 1948. The town is Los Angeles. The hero is Easy Rawlins, an out of work black war veteran. The mortgage payment's coming due, so Easy accepts the assignment of finding Daphne Monet, a blonde torch singer with a penchant for jazz and criminal black consorts. In his search through a sleazy, fearful city, he is lucky to be under the protection of the murderous Mouse who wants a piece of the action. Easy Rawlins is a fascinating creation driving a plot that carries a fine and bitter sting. With this first novel, Walter Mosley made a distinctly confident start to his career as a great and inspirational writer.

This was October’s monthly Pulp Fiction Group read over on Goodreads site. I can’t honestly recall whether I voted for this or one of the three alternatives, but having read this debut novel many years ago, I wasn’t too unhappy to re-visit it.

Mosley’s Devil In A Blue Dress was originally published back around 1990 and introduces us to one of the author’s enduring characters – Easy Rawlins. To date, there have been twelve books in the series. Ten of the titles have colours in them; red, white, black, yellow etc – and two titles, curiously in my opinion don’t - Gone Fishin’ and Six Easy Pieces. (Anyone know why? Just curious.)     

Easy Rawlins is a black man getting by in LA after the war. A veteran of the conflict, Rawlins has seen and participated in his share of killing. Until recently he’s been working as a mechanic at an aviation plant. Rawlins has pride, which for a black man can be an expensive commodity in post-war LA. You can hate him for his colour, but you better respect him. After losing his job at the plant, an acquaintance points mighty whitey De Witt Allbright in Easy’s direction. Allbright want to engage Easy to find Daphne Monet. Easy with his home to protect and his mortgage coming due accepts the job.  

Rawlins starts asking questions around Monet’s haunts. After a late night drinking session and then more intimate discussion with Coretta James, after her man passes out drunk, Easy gets pumped himself for detail. 
A day or so later he’s arrested and beaten by the police for reasons then unknown.  When our man finds out that Coretta is dead and certain other parties seem interested in locating Daphne, LA becomes a dangerous place for a black man who can either be a patsy for the police and framed for the death of Coretta or a casualty at the hands of Allbright if Easy doesn’t come through for him.

Verdict.......short at 220 pages long, detailed with a great depiction of LA shortly after the war. Mosley shows us life within the black community and the problems encountered when crossing over the racial boundary geographically and also when interacting with white authority. There’s a reasonable amount of carnage and death along the way, as Easy with the assistance of an old friend, Mouse eventually survives the fall out to breathe another day. (Having previously mentioned that this is the start of a long-ish series, I hardly think I’ve gone and spoilt it for you!)       

I’m looking forward to reading more from the series in the next year or two – only 11 to catch up on!

4 from 5


I acquired my copy recently second hand and cheap after being unable to locate my original.

Monday, 21 October 2013

JASON J.R.GASKELL - DARKLING LIGHT


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

"Darkling Light... And Other Short Stories" is a collection of ten short tales from Jason J.R. Gaskell. The collection includes a unique approach to addiction in "The Therapist", a killer on the loose in the Nigerian jungle in "The Nightwalker", a phobias workshop gone wrong in "The Great Shave", and a brutal antihero in "Coincidence".

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of short stories if I’m honest. The format doesn't usually allow enough time to develop characters, which you empathise with and have concern over whatever fate befalls them in the end.  Conversely though, they offer a welcome alternative when time is short or concentration is an issue.

Darkling Light is a collection of ten stories from Jason Gaskell; yet another new author for me this month. Saturday afternoon, I sat down with them and read the first seven straight through, only stopping because we were watching a couple of films. Sunday morning I picked up the last three and finished them.

An interesting collection and a little bit away from my comfort zone in respect of genre. Most of the stories had horror elements, with a little bit of sci-fi in a few and a touch of comedy or black humour here and there. 

The Nightwalker
There’s some artwork that accompanies each story which adds to the prose. Illustrations including the cover are by Bob Veon.

Overall verdict – enjoyable and entertaining. Within the ten there were a couple that were less interesting to me than some of the others, but overall the writing was smooth, the plots were interesting and I was engaged.

Highlights were The Therapist, Metamorphosis, Coincidence and Getting Out. Gaskell shows us an interesting alternative to conventional addiction treatments and his accidental serial killer is hilarious.

4 from 5


The author was kind enough to send me a copy to look at. Available on Amazon is you fancy a change with a twist.  

Friday, 18 October 2013

THATCHER ROBINSON - WHITE GINGER


Synopsis/blurb....

Fierce loyalties, staunch compassion, and a weakness for strays lead Bai Jiang--San Francisco's best known souxun, or people finder--into violent conflicts that test her pacifist beliefs in the brutal world she lives in.

Armed with Buddhist philosophy and wicked knife skills, Bai Jiang works at being a better person by following her conscience, while struggling with what she likes to think of as "aggressive assertiveness."

When a girl goes missing in San Francisco's Chinatown, Bai is called upon as a souxun, a people finder, to track down the lost girl. The trail leads to wannabe gangsters, flesh peddlers, and eventually to those who have marked Bai for death.

Enlisting the aid of her closest friend and partner, Lee--a sophisticated gay man who protects her, mostly from herself--and Jason--a triad assassin and the father of her daughter--they follow the girl across the Bay and across the country. Bai confronts paid assassins and triad hatchet men, only to find that being true to her beliefs as a Buddhist and staying alive are often at odds. At the same time, fighting a faceless enemy who seems committed to having her killed fills her with anger and fear that sometimes turns into a burning rage with deadly consequences.

Flavoured with dark humour, White Ginger serves the perfect cocktail of wit, charm, sex, and violence.

White Ginger is a debut novel and another new author to add to the growing list for this year.  It’s a thriller-cum-crime novel.......someone please tell me the difference.......set in the Chinese community of San Francisco. Our protagonist, Bai Jiang is female and a single parent with a 12 year old daughter. Her daughter’s father, Jason is a ruthless triad killer. Bai, despite her family’s history and triad connections is trying to forge her own path within the Chinese community, but outside of organised crime.  She is a people finder, well schooled in a myriad of martial arts and not averse to using her skill-set when necessary.

Initially we are on the trail of a missing girl which leads from San Francisco to Vancouver. Bai reluctantly enlists the assistance of her ex-partner, Jason in hunting down the pimp who has taken the girl there to be sold. Bloodshed, confrontation, violence and death follow as the girl is retrieved. A lot of the violence concerns triad inter-gang feuding and a struggle for ascendancy within the movement by Jason.

Our story then evolves into something else, with Bai targeted for death for reasons wholly unrelated to the initial premise of the book. I liked how Robinson switched track on us, whilst still keeping the first thread alive, albeit on a back-burner.

I enjoyed this look at the San Franciscan Chinese community. Bai’s friendships, family and business relationships seemed for the most part confined to fellow Chinese, though she does interact and form relationships outside of this. She’s likeable, confident and assured in most things, but retains a weak spot for her ex. This complicated relationship adds a lot of the humour and fizz to the novel, with a further high coming from the inter-actions between Bai and her gay-live in friend-cum-housemate-cum-protector Lee Li.

Overall a great read and at 290-odd pages it’s long enough to develop characters and story, but short enough to be a quick satisfying read. One of the methods I use it to measure a book’s enjoyment, is to ask myself if I would like to read more about the characters and more form the author.......in this case – yes to both.

4 from 5.

My thanks are due to Lisa at Prometheus/Seventh Street Books for my copy of the book. White Ginger is available from the 15th October..

           

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM - BOMBPROOF


Synopsis/blurb.......

Sami Macbeth is not a master criminal. He's not even a minor one. He's not a jewel thief. He's not a safe-cracker. He's not an expert in explosives. Sami plays guitar and wants to be a rock god but keeps getting side-tracked by unforeseen circumstances.

Fifty-four hours ago Sami was released from prison. Thirty-six hours ago he slept with the woman of his dreams at the Savoy. An hour ago his train blew up. Now he's carrying a rucksack through London's West End and has turned himself into the most wanted terrorist in the country.
Fast, funny, hip and violent, Bombproof is a non-stop adventure full of unforgettable characters and a heart-warming hero - Sami Macbeth - a man with the uncanny ability to turn a desperate situation into a hopeless one.

Michael Robotham is an author who has been recommended to me as someone who I would probably enjoy reading, advice I have managed to ignore until now. Robotham has to date authored 9 novels – 3 standalones and 6 in a series with psychologist, Joseph O’Loughlin. Lost and Shatter, both from his O’Loughlin series have won the Ned Kelly Award for best novel in 2005 and 2008 respectively.     

Verdict......boom, Robotham blew me away with this one!

There’s a lively cast of characters.......a bent cop, a retired cop – still troubled by the old case and the villain who got away from him, the villain – now Mr Clean, hobnobbing with Judges and Politicians, but still dirty in his dealings, his deviant son – a chip off the old-block but lacking his father’s intelligence and cunning, another wannabee crime king-pin, pimp with a ruthless enforcer, various low-level drug dealers, users and general low-life scum. Add Sami Macbeth, fresh out of jail after serving a stretch for possession; then throw in his beautiful sister, Nadia who has suddenly disappeared from her flat.      

Macbeth thinks he can get his life back on track after being turned over by the justice system.  Other people have plans for him though; plans which involve turning Nadia into a crack-addicted whore who’ll dance dirty for another hit from the pipe. If Tony Murphy can persuade Sami into utilising his legendary safe-cracking skills on an evidence locker at the Old Bailey, maybe he can save Nadia.

When the Old Bailey gig goes pear-shaped and Sami’s shadow inadvertently blows up an underground train, Sami and his rucksack have all of the Met’s finest hunting him down.  It’s hard to save yourself in these circumstances, let alone your sister.

Bombs, bullets, hostages, snipers, parole officers, cops, hotels, prison, drugs, sex, violence, death and payback...all make an appearance as Sami’s first few days on the outside don’t go to plan.

Overall, a fast addictive read at just over 300 pages. Funny and furious. I’m sorely tempted to try more from the author.......if only the TBR pile wasn't so big, if only I had more time, if only I didn't work for a living.

4 stars from 5


Bombproof was originally published in 2008 and has just been being re-issued by Mulholland books. I obtained access to this title after receiving an invite on Net Galley.

Monday, 14 October 2013

USA FICTION CHALLENGE - STATE BY STATE IN 2014


I first discovered crime fiction sometime back in the 80’s.  My initial exposure to the genre was author Elmore Leonard, quickly followed by Robert B. Parker. From that moment on I was hooked and my reading has remained firmly entrenched in the genre ever since. Whilst geographically I have spread my wings in recent years, reading crime from northern Europe and South Africa and a fair few other places as well, my favourite location for crime remains the US.

Earlier this year, I was on Goodreads and became aware of the USA Fiction Challenge – state by state. It was the right challenge but at the wrong time. Recently musing on FriendFeed’s Crime and Mystery thread about under-taking this challenge for next year; I was offered great support from fellow crime fiction readers and bloggers. I have received some helpful tips and suggestions as to where I can pin down authors and books for each state – whilst my library of books carries many US crime fiction books; I’m guessing that there will be gaps in my collection that will require plugging.


Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise embraced the idea and has kindly set the challenge up over here. Feel free to sign up and join in. Thanks, Kerrie.

If the prospect of reading over 50 titles in the one year, seems too daunting, relax and take the journey at your own pace, starting now if you like. 

Please check in and update us all on your progress - http://readingusafiction.blogspot.com.au/

Below is where I hope to be visiting during next year's reading.
  1. ALABAMA
  2. ALASKA
  3. ARIZONA
  4. ARKANSAS
  5. CALIFORNIA
  6. COLORADO
  7. CONNECTICUT
  8. DISTRICT of COLUMBIA
  9. DELAWARE
  10. FLORIDA
  11. GEORGIA
  12. HAWAII
  13. IDAHO
  14. ILLINOIS
  15. INDIANA
  16. IOWA
  17. KANSAS
  18. KENTUCKY
  19. LOUISIANA
  20. MAINE
  21. MARYLAND
  22. MASSACHUSETTS
  23. MICHIGAN
  24. MINNESOTA
  25. MISSISSIPPI
  26. MISSOURI
  27. MONTANA
  28. NEBRASKA
  29. NEVADA
  30. NEW HAMPSHIRE
  31. NEW JERSEY
  32. NEW MEXICO
  33. NEW YORK
  34. NORTH CAROLINA
  35. NORTH DAKOTA
  36. OHIO
  37. OKLAHOMA
  38. OREGON
  39. PENNSYLVANIA
  40. RHODE ISLAND
  41. SOUTH CAROLINA
  42. SOUTH DAKOTA
  43. TENNESSEE
  44. TEXAS
  45. UTAH
  46. VERMONT
  47. VIRGINIA
  48. WASHINGTON
  49. WEST VIRGINIA
  50. WISCONSIN
  51. WYOMING

MARK CURTIS - UNPEOPLE


Synopsis/blurb......

Britain is complicit in the deaths of ten million people.

These are Unpeople - those whose lives are seen as expendable in the pursuit of Britain's economic and political goals.

In Unpeople, Mark Curtis shows that the Blair government is deepening its support for many states promoting terrorism and, using evidence unearthed from formerly secret documents, reveals for the first time the hidden history of unethical British policies, including: support for the massacres in Iraq in 1963; the extraordinary private backing of the US in its aggression against Vietnam; support for the rise of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin; the running of a covert 'dirty war' in Yemen in the 1960s; secret campaigns with the US to overthrow the governments of Indonesia and British Guiana; the welcoming of General Pinochet's brutal coup in Chile in 1973; and much more.

This explosive new book, from the author of Web of Deceit, exposes the reality of the Blair government's foreign policies since the invasion of Iraq. It discloses government documents showing that Britain's military is poised for a new phase of global intervention with the US, and reveals the extraordinary propaganda campaigns being mounted to obscure the reality of policies from the public.

Whilst my main reading interests lie firmly in crime fiction, I do like to read a bit of non-fiction now away, whether it’s memoirs, history, politics or social commentary. Last year I read about 13 non-fiction books, this year Unpeople was only the second after Dominic Streatfeild’s Cocaine back in January. Unpeople has been in the car for months and months now, and probably due to the subject matter didn’t really lend itself to dipping in and dipping out whenever I had those 10 spare minutes while waiting for my better half to finish work or during a waiting period on my Taxi-Dad duties.

In the end irritated by the lack of progress with the book, I decided to just get stuck in and read it. I’m not too interested in spouting my political views or engaging in a debate over successive British government’s foreign policies, I‘d rather chat about whether or not I should read a few Golden Age Mysteries or stick to my current diet of crime.

Unpeople was interesting enough. There were some examples of some British policies and interventions that occurred in the post-war years that I was unaware of. More recent examples, such as Iraq and Afghanistan; well you would probably have to be living in a cave in Pakistan to remain unaware of these.

The author obviously has an agenda and whilst all his examples are supported by the evidence presented, after a while it just wearied me. Governments do awful things in the name of national interest and security and it would be difficult to consider some of the policies discussed objectively and condone the actions taken. Would the world be a different place if different decisions and policies had been made and followed? Would the death toll have been less in Iraq, in Chile, in Nigeria or in Uganda? Maybe.

I suppose the saddest fact is that so much of what is decided goes unnoticed or unchallenged with little debate in parliament or by the press. Iraq probably being the exception. I’m probably a little bit more naive than I had previously reckoned, unaware of the regularity with which Prime Ministers lied to the House of Commons.

When I was younger, I used to think that voting for one party or another made a difference; Unpeople confirms my latter-acquired cynicism that there is little to choose between the parties at least in respect of foreign policy. Government has decided that a life in Africa, or Asia or South America has less value than big business. and the balance of payments.  

Unpeople rated a 3 from 5.

Acquired second hand from a local charity shop earlier in the year.    

    

Friday, 11 October 2013

MARK HASKELL SMITH - RAW


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

Reality TV hunk and People magazine's "sexiest man alive", Sepp Gregory goes on a book tour to promote his debut novel, a thinly veiled autobiography. Not that Sepp has actually read the book, he doesn't have to, he lived it! The book becomes a sensation, a New York Times bestseller, and, surprisingly, it even gets rave reviews from serious critics. Aside from Harriet Post, that is.

One of the blogosphere's most respected critics, Harriet hears the host of her favorite, high-brow, radio show gush about Sepp's abdominal muscles on-air and fears the end of civilization is upon us. She takes matters into her own hands and sets off to reveal the truth behind the bestseller and to show Sepp as the buff fraud he really is. But then Harriet reads Totally Reality, Sepp's novel, and it's totally great. Now she needs to find Sepp's ghostwriter and find out why he's wasting his talent.
She finds him, appropriately enough, at the Playboy Mansion, where he's supposed to be interviewing Sepp's former television love Roxy Sandoval for his next, highly lucrative, project. 

Reality and “reality"  collide, and a tragic accident sends Sepp and Harriet off on a sex-fuelled roadtrip through the southwest. The mind meets the body, and both will be changed forever. Raw: A Love Story is Mark Haskell Smith at his best, dangerously sexy and wickedly funny.

This was another book accessed via the useful Net Galley website.

Raw is the author’s fifth book. I read his debut novel Moist some years ago. Moist was tag-lined as....... a comic rampage through the polyglot gutters of modern Los Angeles. Moist revolved around a tattooed severed arm, Mexican mobsters, LAPD’s finest, a cannabis aficianado, a masturbation coach (yes, really) and minimum wage Bob, in a hilarious stew of murder, sex and mobster-style politics. My kind of book really. Two of his following three books made it onto my piles of unread – Delicious and Salty, but alas Baked has thus far eluded me, as Smith kind of slid off my reading radar.

So after a gap of maybe 6 or 7 years, I was eager to see how Smith’s latest panned out for me.  Raw wouldn’t qualify as one of my typical noir or hard-boiled crime reads but was a comedic, satirical poke at celebrity and publishing.  Absolutely hilarious in places, on several occasions I was laughing like a drain. Smith paints his likeable characters into situations that are absurd but at the same time believable.  

We follow Abs-man, hot-reality star, Sepp Gregory on his successful book tour around the US. Sepp, amiable and easy-going is promoting the book he never wrote, whilst embarrassingly suffering erectile dysfunction as a consequence of the public break-up with super-hot, super-fake reality co-star, Roxy. All the women throwing themselves at Sepp and his equipment isn’t working!

We meet, Curtis his ghost-writer. Curtis, an un-published novelist in his own right, is miffed and angered at the plaudits being showered on Sepp for “HIS” best-seller. He’s conflicted, does he take the big bucks on offer for his next project – Roxy’s Magnum Opus shot at the New York Times Best-seller list, or does he try for some literary recognition for himself? That’s an awfully big cheque they’re waving at him.   

We meet Harriet, serious book-blogger and critic, an unsuccessful, published novelist. Harriet has her own anger issues; the rise of the celebrity ghost-written novel endangers the whole of western civilisation as she knows it. If she doesn’t expose the charade, her and all legions of aspiring serious, novelists will have to look forward to is a future flipping burgers.

Lastly, we meet Roxy and her plastic breasts, back to exact more revenge and heap further humiliation on Sepp, whilst Curtis interviews her before penning “HER” shot at the best- seller market.

Fast and fun, our combatants collide at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion.  Sepp with his parts back in working order ends up on another Reality-road trip with the unlikeliest of companions.

Verdict – savagely funny and satisfying with characters you care about. It’s probably time to dust off the other Mark Haskell Smith books on the pile.

4 from 5   


I accessed this via the Net Galley website. I believe the novel is released in late December. Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

LIAM McILVANNEY - WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO


Synopsis/blurb.....

After three years in the wilderness, hardboiled reporter Gerry Conway is back at his desk at the Glasgow Tribune. But three years is a long time on newspapers and things have changed - readers are dwindling, budgets are tightening, and the Trib's once rigorous standards are slipping. Once the paper's star reporter, Conway now plays second fiddle to his former protege, crime reporter Martin Moir. But when Moir goes AWOL as a big story breaks, Conway is dispatched to cover a gangland shooting. And when Moir's body turns up in a flooded quarry, Conway is drawn deeper into the city's criminal underworld as he looks for the truth about his colleague's death. Braving the hostility of gangsters, ambitious politicians and his own newspaper bosses, Conway discovers he still has what it takes to break a big story. But this is a story not everyone wants to hear as the city prepares to host the Commonwealth Games and the country gears up for a make-or-break referendum on independence. In this, the second book in the Conway Trilogy, McIlvanney explores the murky interface of crime and politics in the New Scotland.

Another new author for me though I do have a copy of his debut novel – All The Colours Of The Town – sitting on the pile of unreads.  Where The Dead Men Go is Liam’s McIlvanney’s second fiction outing and another book concerning his journalist Gerry Conway.

Having recently finished Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow hit-man debut earlier this month, it was strange landing back amongst Glasgow’s criminal fraternity this time viewed through the eyes of a hard-bitten hack. There is a common theme with these two books, namely organised crime. Does Glasgow suffer from gangs, drugs and prostitution to a greater or lesser extent than any other inner-city in the UK? Probably not. When the gangland rivalries do explode into violence, Glaswegian style the shadow of bigotry and sectarianism hangs over it, whether as the reason, a factor or as misdirection to confuse the authorities.  

Our main man, Gerry Conway has baggage to carry both on a personal front and career-wise. He’s back at the struggling Tribune a few years after his sacking and living in a flat with his girlfriend and baby son; whilst maintaining regular contact with his two boys from his failed marriage.

Martin Moir, one time underling of Conway and now the star turn at the Tribune disappears and Conway gets shunted from his desk covering politics to fill the void on the crime desk. He’s assigned to report on a shooting on a soccer pitch. The discovery of the victim’s identity, threatens a return to the bad old days of feuding and blood-letting as the city’s gangs jostle for ascendancy and payback.  When the gangland rivalries do explode into violence - Glaswegian style - the shadow of bigotry and sectarianism hangs over it, whether as the reason, a factor or as misdirection to confuse the authorities. The rest of the city braces itself for the backlash in the mean-time.


When Moir’s body is found in his car at the bottom of a quarry, Gerry gets the crime gig on a more permanent basis. Moir’s death is ruled a suicide, but with Conway and Moir’s wife unconvinced, our intrepid reporter digs into Moir’s recent investigations and peels back the lid on a can of rotten worms....... murder, prostitution,  pay-offs, corruption, dodgy contracts with the crime bosses and politicians as well as the media-hounds all inhabiting the same flea-ridden pit.

Where The Dead Men Go was a superb read and a great introduction to another newish crime author for me. It registered slightly lower on the Richter scale for me than Mackay’s Lewis Winter book, but it was extremely enjoyable nonetheless.

4 stars from 5

I gained access to this book via the increasingly useful Net Galley website.


Monday, 7 October 2013

CAROLYN HART - BRAVE HEARTS


Synopsis/blurb.....

Catharine Cavanaugh was the beautiful wife of an ambitious American diplomat - a woman who denied her passions and hid her regrets. Jack Maguire was a brash reporter who lived by his wits and broke all the rules. In a moment, their lives touched and a dangerous love was born. From bomb-shattered London to the besieged Philippines, Catherine and Jack were caught in the sweeping tides of war. Finally, Catherine was forced to make a choice between keeping her love trapped inside her forever, or embracing the joy meant for only for brave hearts...

My second taste of Carolyn Hart’s fiction after last month’s impressive introduction to her work with Death By Surprise.  Brave Hearts is a standalone book that was originally published back in the late 1980’s.  The novel revolves around US diplomat, Spencer Cavanaugh, his wife Catharine and a journalist, Jack Maguire whom she crosses paths with at a dinner at the Ritz, during the time of the Blitz.

The Cavanaugh’s are locked in a loveless marriage, but still bound together by the needs of Spencer’s career and the necessity of portraying a certain image to the US’s allies during the early days of WW II. As the novel unfolds we follow the three leads and their complicated personal lives from war-torn London to the Far East and Manila before the Japanese strike at Pearl Harbour. The subsequent invasion of the Philippines and desperate retreat of the US forces does little to smooth the path towards true love.

It would be fair to say, I didn't enjoy this quite as much as the previous novel of hers that I read. I was intrigued by the characters and was piqued enough to care about whether they would survive the war in the Pacific. The personal relationships between the three and several other minor players in the book made for interesting reading and I happy enough to read on and see how things were resolved.

The major plus points for me were in Hart’s depiction of war-torn London suffering under the relentless bombing of the German air force. Similarly when transporting the action to the Pacific islands caught in the conflict, the writing brought home the brutality of war and the harshness of the conditions under which people struggled to survive.

On balance the romantic elements of the book were a bit too much for my taste. Much grittier than your average Mills and Boon offering (I guess) but I did have to roll my eyes a few times, as yet another bout of tonsil hockey was followed by some frantic plunging and coupling.

Overall I found Brave Hearts an enjoyable and satisfying read, with a few minor reservations.

3 from 5

I was grateful to Meghan at Prometheus books for my copy.  

         

Sunday, 6 October 2013

JULY TO SEPTEMBER - AUTHORS NEW TO ME

My 3rd quarter this year, saw me read 29 books in total of which 16 were authors that were new to me.
Eva Peron

In total so far I have read 111 books up until the end of September and 47 have been newbies.

There were 3 books that blew me away and I will be interested in reading more in the future from Gregory Widen, J. Sydney Jones and Peter Leonard.

Joseph Hansen's series with his gay insurance investigator, Dave Brandstetter will be revisited at some point in the future, when I finish a couple of the series that I started earlier this year and abandoned a few months ago.

David Mark's 2nd book awaits me and the 1st is recommended.

Kjeldsen and Helms were debut authors that I would be interested in following in the future.

Nothing really disappointed, but some were obviously better than others.

The full list of new authors and titles follows.

Nuremberg, 1945
Joseph Hansen - Fadeout (4)

Stanley Ellin - Mirror, Mirror On The Wall (4)

Alan Bennett -  Smut (3)

Belinda Bauer - Blacklands (4)

Jake Hinkson - Hell On Church Street (4)

Gregory Widen - Blood Makes Noise (5)

David Mark - Dark Winter (4)

Wayne Epperson - Chasing Bad Guys (3)

Kirk Kjeldsen -Tomorrow City (4)
Nasty Nazi!

E. Michael Helms -  Deadly Catch (4)

Sarah Brannan - Noah's Rainy Day (4)

Carolyn Hart - Death By Surprise (4)

J. Sydney Jones - Ruin Value (5)

Peter Leonard - Back From The Dead  (5)

Nicolas Freeling - The King Of The Rainy Country (3)

Karin Alvtegen - Missing (3)




Florida Dang!

Shanghai surprise!


Murder in Hull!



Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is collating other bloggers crime fiction finds for the 3rd quarter over here. It's well worth a visit to pick up some more reading recommendations.

Friday, 4 October 2013

MALCOLM MACKAY - THE NECESSARY DEATH OF LEWIS WINTER


Synopsis/blurb........

A twenty-nine-year-old man lives alone in his Glasgow flat. The telephone rings; a casual conversation, but behind this a job offer. The clues are there if you know to look for them.
He is an expert. A loner. Freelance. Another job is another job, but what if this organisation wants more?

A meeting at a club. An offer. A brief. A target:

Lewis Winter.

It's hard to kill a man well. People who do it well know this. People who do it badly find out the hard way. The hard way has consequences.

An arresting, gripping novel of dark relationships and even darker moralities, The Necessary 
Death of Lewis Winter introduces a remarkable new voice in crime fiction.

The second book in the Glasgow Trilogy How A Gunman Says Goodbye will follow soon . . .

Wow! If I read a better book this month I’ll be extremely surprised and delighted.  

Cool, incisive, sharp, interesting, addictive and totally satisfying. Mackay lifted and transplanted me straight into the heads of a hitman, a cop, a tart, a drug dealer and a crime boss, among others. I have to wonder whether he was one of these, or perhaps even all five in a previous life, before he turned his hand to writing.

The prose and narrative is so smooth and impressive, had circumstance permitted I would have read all 312 pages in one sitting. Never a lull in the story, never a page or chapter where my interest dipped, each and every strand of this story sustained my interest. Totally captivating.

Violence? Yes.

Unsavoury, amoral characters and chancers? Yes.

Decent folk? A couple.

These are the people I like reading about.

With thanks to Raven for pointing me in the direction of this. Raven Crime Reads’ review of Lewis Winter is here.

I’m looking forward to the 2nd installment in the trilogy about Glasgow’s criminal underworld, How A Gunman Says Goodbye. Incidentally this follow up book won the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year prize.

6 stars out of 5!

I borrowed my copy from my local library.