Thursday, 8 May 2014

CRIME FICTION - VARIATIONS ON A THEME

I don't always want to read about murders and serial killers and the police in my daily dose of crime reading.....grifters, scammers, ex-cons, hitmen, bank robbers, burglars, pickpockets, pimps, strippers, whores, bouncers, bartenders, waitresses, loan sharks, bookies, hustlers, drug addicts, gamblers, delinquents and chancers often provide me with a lot more entertainment. 

A few favourite authors and books below….(ok they probably feature murders and cops, but I know what I mean, even if I can’t articulate it too well.)

Tom Kakonis – Timothy Waverly character – Michigan Roll, Double Down, Criss Cross

Kakonis wrote 3 or 4 novels in the late eighties/early nineties about a college professor-ex-con-professional gambler - Waverly. I know I read and loved the first and at least one more in the series. Unfortunately the problem with older books is that when you hunt for blurbs (inaccurate or otherwise) to try and spread the word and entice fellow readers to give him a try, they’re a bit sparse and thin on the ground.

The best I can come up with is the following for Michigan Roll ………... harsh story about killers and gamblers in a deadly game of chance. Timothy Waverley is a professor turned gambler just out of prison. Helping a woman called Midnight means taking on two sadistic killers called Gleep and Shadow. Doesn’t actually inspire you to rush out and buy a copy does it?

A lot of authors I like aren’t especially well known. Kakonis never attained more than mid-list status with his publisher. After a few books he was dropped and subsequently penned a couple more novels which were released under a pseudonym of Adam Barrow – Flawless and Blind Spot. I have read and enjoyed one of these.  His publisher didn’t promote the books and they bombed, despite receiving some acclaim.

There’s a discussion concerning Kakonis on the RARA-AVIS site. Kakonis himself corresponded with the host and you can feel his disillusionment with writing and publishing…… Anyway (and to wind down this melancholy tale), after that debacle all of my proposals and sample chapter ideas were summarily rejected, as was the fate of a novel written in silence and desperation and completed in the summer of 1997. By then I guess I felt that the game was no longer worth the candle, in the words of the old saw. Of course, when I see a message like yours (forwarded to me by a nephew, by the way) I'm almost tempted to get back into the fray one more time, and I do thank you for the kind words on my earlier novels. I'm particularly pleased that there's at least one other person out there who enjoyed CRISS CROSS, which I believe, on reflection, may be the best work I've done."

Whilst I haven’t yet read everything he’s written and he’s not had a new book out in 15 plus years, I’m still saddened by the fact he’s no longer writing and getting published.

Anthony Bourdain – Celebrity Chef, TV personality and author – Gone Bamboo, Bobby Gold, Bone in the Throat

My first taste of Bourdain was his Bobby Gold series of stories which are loosely connected and form a short novel maybe 130 pages long. I’ve read it a few times and it never fails to impress, entertain and touch me. He doesn’t only have a deft hand in the kitchen. Gone Bamboo is somewhat longer, but just as satisfying.

Bobby Gold…….Gold is security chief at a mob-run New York nightclub by night, and reluctant bone breaker and enforcer for Eddie - his college roommate and friend - by day. Emerging from an upstate prison with an imposing physique and a reputation for skilled brutalitiy, he is a lonely child in a hulking body.

Gone Bamboo……Henry and his wife, Frances, live an idyllic life as two of the Caribbean's most charming ex-pats (and professional assassins). But when Donnie, a powerful capo, is relocated to the island the scene is set for an Elmore Leonard-style mix of low life and high comedy.







Steven Bochco – Death by Hollywood

Bochco is a Hollywood writer and producer, with notable hits to his name……..Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blues to mention a couple. He has also turned his hand to writing with just one novel penned, which kind of annoys me. It was so good, I wanted more from him.

Death by Hollywood……….One evening, spying on his Hollywood Hills neighbours through his $4,000 electronic telescope, Bobby witnesses a beautiful woman making love to a handsome Latin actor called Ramon. As their pillow talk turns ugly, Bobby watches in horror as the woman appears to bludgeon her lover to death with his own acting trophy. Instead of rushing to the cops, Bobby decides to find out more about the events that led up to the crime, and to use the material for his next movie
screenplay. However, when he sneaks into the actor's apartment, the discovery he makes changes his life forever. Empowered by his secret knowledge, Bobby is able to seduce the beautiful woman, while forging a unique friendship with Detective Dennis Farentino, the cop in charge of the investigation. Before long Bobby has dragged the detective, his wife, his lover, and his agent into a Hollywood fun-house hall of mirrors, where only the most manipulative player will survive.



Norman Green – Sick Like That, Shooting Dr. Jack, Dead Cat Bounce plus others
Can you tag an author as one of your favourites even if you’ve only read 1 book from about 6 that’s he’s written? You can in my world. I read Shooting Dr. Jack maybe 5 or 6 years ago and loved it. Loved it so much I promptly acquired a copy of everything else he’d ever written. (Unsurprisingly!)


So why haven't I read more from him? I'm kind of putting them off, because part of my reading enjoyment, somewhat perversely stems from the anticipation of reading something, almost as much as devouring the prose themselves. I can pick these up and scan the back cover and maybe read the first page or two and then put it back down to be enjoyed at a later date. Once I have cracked the spine and started reading it, the anticipation and surprise element disappears! Well I never said I wasn't a bit weird did I?  

Shooting Dr. Jack…………… 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 gray, 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

Dead Cat Bounce…..Stoney gave up drinking, but it couldn't save his marriage. Leaving the big house in New Jersey to his wife and kids, he's living in the City-still working the profitable, if not 100 percent legal, angles with his partner, "Fat Tommy Bagadonuts." Then, out of the blue, Stoney's teenage daughter shows up with a problem: an unwanted admirer who needs to be cooled down . . . or eliminated.

But the secrets Marisa's been keeping from her father-like her night job as an exotic dancer-can't compare with those being guarded by the mysterious and violent man who's stalking her: a dangerous enigma with no past and a made-up name. He does, however, have lots of money-which makes him a very tempting mark for Stoney, Tommy, and their young streetwise "apprentice," Tuco. But people who look too closely into this guy's history have a habit of turning up dead.


Sick Like That……….PI Marty Stiles was shot and paralyzed and is now in rehab, trying to decide whether to fight to recover. Meanwhile, his agency is being run by two women: the street-smart and savvy Alessandra Martillo, who's the muscle, and Sarah Waters, a na├»ve, single mom, new to the job but who

This follow-up to The Last Gig features a tough and edgy, one-of-a-kind heroine - an entirely fresh take on the hardboiled women private investigators who dominate so many crime fiction classics.
quickly becomes the brains. Though the two women grew up only a few miles from each other in Brooklyn, it might as well have been worlds apart. Now they're partners, and for all their differences, are committed to their joint venture. When Sarah's deadbeat ex-husband gets into trouble, Al would rather let him suffer, but she agrees to help Sarah figure out where he is and why another man has ended up dead.



A few other favourites in no particular order…….Charlie Stella, Lou Berney, Joseph Koenig, Eugene Izzi, Gerald Petievich

10 comments:

  1. Col - I agree completely that it's nice to have sleuths who are aren't 'typical' cops or PIs. Of course, there's plenty of room in crime fiction for a good cop novel or PI novel. But it's just as refreshing when the sleuth is someone else. Thanks for this set of suggestions.

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    1. Margot thanks. There's room for everything on my shelves, but I do have my preferred sub-sections within the genre.

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  2. There is a lot here ... I have Gone Bamboo, and have not read it, so glad you liked it. That is a sad story about Kakonis. Glen and I have a close friend who has written several children's and young adult books, but has not sold anything in a while. It is hard to deal with. The others sound interesting but don't think I have heard of them.

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    1. Tracy I reckon you will enjoy Gone Bamboo, I hope so.
      Re Kakonis and your friend, yes it's sad and I suppose in some way I contribute to the situation because my first instinct is always to buy the cheapest copy of a book that I can, which benefits neither the author or publisher.

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  3. All very interesting - I do like the sound of the academic/gambler. Bourdain I had no idea had written thrillers: I just remember his Kitchen Confidential book, which caused a terrific kerfuffle in my book group between those who thought it was a good laugh and those who thought it was outrageously vile!

    And I didn't know Steven Bochco had written a thriller - I used to love Hill St Blues (humming the theme tune now). You've done a good job selling it.

    Really interesting post all round.

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    1. I would definitely love your take on a Kakonis-Waverly book Moira. I bought Kitchen Confidential because it seemed like it would be an interesting read, the fact that its "outrageously vile" moves it closer to the top of the pile, though its still some light years from the very top! Which camp did you fall into?
      I loved HSB back in the day. I think it was the first cop show I watched where there was an emphasis on a team of people as opposed to the lone wolf detective or the pairing - Starsky and Hutch, Cagney and Lacey, Jim Rockford, Cannon etc. His book just ticked a lot of boxes for me. Thought I could recall the theme tune - but its just eluding me. Off to You Tube to confirm!

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  4. Hey Col,

    That's an eclectic list of reads. I wouldn't mind reading reviews of other types of stories outside of the cop/murder/crime books. I am thinking of expanding my own reading as well to include stories that don't always include murder either.

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    1. Keishon, I'm happy to read about cops etc, just not all the time. I love steak and chips, but I wouldn't eat it every day. As long as everyone's enjoying most of the books they read and they're happy with a narrow band of crime, good luck to them. A bit like your standalone v series debate - each to their own.

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  5. Col, these are all new writers for me perhaps with the exception of Anthony Bourdain whose foodie show has been beamed on Indian television. However, I didn't know he'd written books but then most famous chefs have, I think. The Norman Green novels look interesting.

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    1. Prashant, I hope you decide to give a Norman Green book a shot. I'd like to hear what you think afterwards. We watch a few food shows at home if there is nothing better on. I hadn't seen much of Bourdain on TV until recently.

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