Sunday, 17 October 2021

MAX ALLAN COLLINS - QUARRY (AKA THE BROKER) (1976)

 


Synopsis/blurb ...

Cult favorite Quarry, the killer for hire, is back in print with this debut novel and four other early works by author Max Allan Collins. They don't come any harder-boiled than Quarry. After carrying out his assignment in a down-at-heels river town, the gunman finds someone has played him for a sucker. To figure out who, he must solve the murder he committed. This new edition includes a previously unpublished Afterword by the author.

A re-read from Max Allan Collins to assist with a Goodreads challenge and seeing as it was a 4.5 STAR read back in 2016 and I do like a hitman tale, no big hardship. Quarry is the first in the author's now 16 book long series. 

The series opener shows Quarry at work, in tandem with usual partner Boyd. We get some background to Quarry's character. He's an ex-Vietnam veteran and is divorced. The separation from his wife and the aftermath is almost worthy of a book itself. Fair to say they probably don't exchange Christmas cards. Quarry now puts the talents the US army taught him to good use back in the US at the behest of his new employer the Broker.

Boyd surveils the target for a week or two. Quarry turns up. Gets the details from Boyd and carries out the hit. Things go wrong almost immediately. Boyd is killed, Quarry nearly so and his fee is stolen. The Broker orders him out of town, but Quarry decides otherwise. He's already got the arse with the Broker over his previous job. He sticks around to investigate, recover his money and exact some payback. The fun starts.

It's interesting how a skilled author can have you rooting for someone who dispassionately kills people for a living. When you are inside Quarry's head all his actions seem reasonable and measured and perfectly logical. 

I liked how the story unfolded from start to finish. The back story, the other job and the developing friction between Quarry and the Broker, the history with Boyd, the current job and the aftermath featuring small town shenanigans - an ex-Playboy Bunny, sex, a big businessman running a small town, money, reputations, infidelity and family matters. 

A busy book and second time around, just as enjoyable as the first.

4.5 from 5 

Read (re-read) - October, 2021
Published - 1976

Page count - 236

Source - purchased copy

Format - Kindle

Link to my first time around Quarry thoughts.


Friday, 15 October 2021

MARCIA MULLER and BILL PRONZINI - DOUBLE (1984)


Synopsis/blurb ....

MYSTERY WAS THE ONLY THING THEY HAD IN COMMON. BUT THAT WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH ...

Sharon McCone had come home again: to her warm, troubled family, to San Diego and a convention of private detectives in a posh seaside hotel. For Sharon it was a chance to catch up with old friends. All except for the one who fell four stories from one of the hotel spires.

Now Sharon is determined to find out why her friend, the director of security at the Casa del Rey Hotel, died. To do it she recruits a slouching fellow she affectionately calls "Wolf." Wolf - otherwise known as the Nameless Detective - has uncovered a little mystery of his own at the Casa del Rey. Now the two cases, like the two sleuths, are bonding beautifully - within a knot of kinky sex and multiple murder that will take twice the cunning to unravel, and twice the luck to survive ...

A few years ago I embarked on an ambitious plan to read my way through Bill Pronzini's Nameless mysteries at a rate of one a month. Despite enjoying the first dozen or so and keeping with the programme for more than a year I got waylaid. Double is the 13th in the series and one which is co-written with his wife, though I don't think she was at the time of the book's conception. Marcia Muller is the author of the Sharon McCone PI series and here the two author's two detectives collaborate.

If I'm totally honest I was a bit bored by the book until the second half when things start to move at a slightly quicker pace. McCone and Nameless - though here he is referred to as Wolf for large parts of the book - meet up at a PI convention. A woman flies out of a fourth story window and Nameless witnesses it from a distance. The dead woman is a friend of McCone's who had been intending to talk to her about something. McCone isn't convinced it is suicide and decides to do some digging. In the meantime Nameless is a bit puzzled by the fact that a woman and child he was talking to before the incident have disappeared from the hotel and the management have denied they were ever present at the location. He wants a few answers of his own.

Nameless and McCone both do their thing separately initially and as the book progresses more in cooperation with each other, though still on a mainly comparing notes basis. The investigations - with further incidents including death, danger, zoo animals, an ex-military man with political ambitions, a dead private detective, a sex club, a blackmailer, a kidnapper and a trip to Mexico - eventually merge and answers are provided to our initial events. 

On reflection I think the book ended up being a bit better than I thought it would. The first half was a bit draggy, with initial incident aside not too much happening at all. Mainly scene setting and a bit of character background for both detectives.

The last hundred pages or so were a lot busier and in truth all the plot strands were skilfully connected and by the conclusion every question was answered. There's also a bit of humour with McCone's mother trying to matchmake the two protagonists, despite the essence of their relationship being a sort of father - daughter one. 

Overall 3 from 5

I think reading this one has given me an excuse to get back to the Nameless series and try and finish what I started. (Only maybe 30 to go.) I do have a Marcia Muller - Sharon McCone novel on the pile,
but I'm not minded to dig it out anytime soon.

BooktakerNightshadesQuicksilverCasefileBindlestiffDragonfireScattershotHoodwinkLabyrinthTwospotBlowbackUndercurrentThe Vanished and The Snatch are my previous encounters with Nameless - 12 novels, one long short story and a collection of short stories.

Read - October, 2021
Published - 1984
Page count - 288
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback 

2 BY COLIN COTTERILL

A couple from Colin Cotterill and his long running series featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun.



Cotterill has penned over a dozen books in this series, since The Coroner's Lunch dropped in 2004. And I haven't read any of them despite acquiring three or four.

I visited Vietnam more than a few times in my reading over the years, but can honestly say Laos will be a new location for me.

2022 reading, hopefully ....



Disco For the Departed (2006)

Colin Cotterill made a considerable impression with his previous novel The Coroner's Lunch, a book that succeeded in being something entirely new in the crime fiction field. His protagonist, the elderly coroner, Dr Siri Paiboun, was something unusual in the genre: in his 70s, but still immensely sharp, struggling with his career in the 1970s as the only coroner in Laos, a country which is a hotbed of dishonesty and corruption.

That book won the author many friends, with favourable comparisons being made to the novels of Alexander McCall Smith (but always in Cotterill's favour - his narratives wear a darker hue than that of the more cosy world of McCall Smith). And here is Dr Siri again in the equally diverting Disco for the Departed, which is in fact, the third outing for one of the most entertaining crime protagonists around. Siri finds himself summoned to the mountains of Huaphan Province -- the very region where the totalitarian Communist rulers of the country hid from the authorities before their own accession to power. But as celebrations are underway for the 'success' of the new regime (which, of course, can do no wrong), a human arm is discovered sticking out of a concrete walk, which has been laid from the president's cave hideout to his splendid new home under the cliffs. Siri is handed the job of uncovering the arm (and the body to which it is attached) and identifying the corpse. His autopsy reveals that the body was buried alive, but in order to track down the killer, the elderly pathologist has to call on some of his supernatural skill (which readers will remember from the earlier books - and the one element of Cotterill's work that some of his admirers have an ambiguous attitude towards). What Siri uncovers is a very rich brew of mysteries.


Anarchy and Old Dogs (2007) 


A blind retired dentist has been run down by a logging truck on the street in Vientiane just opposite the post office. His body is duly delivered to the morgue of Dr. Siri Paiboun, the official and only coroner of Laos. At the age of seventy-four, Dr. Siri is too old to be in awe of the new communist bureaucrats for whom he now works. He identifies the corpse, helped by the letter in the man's pocket. But first he must decipher it; it is written in code and invisible ink. The dentist's widow explains that the enigmatic letters and numbers describe chess moves, but they are unlike any chess symbols Siri has previously encountered. With the help of his old friend, Civilai, now a senior member of the Laos politburo; Nurse Dtui ("Fatty"); Phosy, a police officer; and Aunt Bpoo, a transvestite fortune-teller, Dr. Siri solves the mystery of the note and foils a plot to overthrow the government of Laos.


Thursday, 14 October 2021

KOTARO ISAKA - BULLET TRAIN (2021)




Synopsis/blurb ...

Five killers find themselves on a bullet train from Tokyo competing for a suitcase full of money. Who will make it to the last station? An original and propulsive thriller from a Japanese bestseller.

Satoshi looks like an innocent teenage schoolboy, but he is really a viciously cunning psychopath. Kimura's young son is in a coma thanks to Satoshi, and he's tracked him onto the bullet train headed from Tokyo to Morioka to exact his revenge. But Kimura soon discovers that he and Satoshi are not the only dangerous passengers onboard.

Nanao, the self-proclaimed 'unluckiest assassin in the world', and the deadly partnership of Tangerine and Lemon are also travelling to Morioka. A suitcase full of money leads others to show their hands. Why are they all on the same train, and who will get off alive at the last station?

A bestseller in Japan, Bullet Train is an original and propulsive thriller which fizzes with an incredible energy as its complex net of double-crosses and twists unwinds to the last station.

Really enjoyable, fast-moving, exciting, funny, frustrating and satisfying.

Multiple killers on a train, as well as a recovered kidnap victim and a suitcase full of cash. I liked the set up here and the ever changing POV of the narrative. Each chapter offers a differing take, each character, with the exception of the double act, Lemon and Tangerine have different agendas, goals and reasons for being on this particular high speed bullet train.  

Plenty of action, incident, conflict and death with certain characters departing the scene and new combatants joining the fray. I really liked how the author had me sympathising with most of the protagonists at one point or another. It was almost like a knockout cup competition with my team getting eliminated, and my hopes of whichever character I had nailed my colours to prevailing, continually getting dashed. One character, Prince was the exception. I hated him from first encounter to last and fervently wanted someone to clean his clock for him. 

Along with our train ride, we get backstory and family history and motivation for a lot of what happens. Some of the action is not just confined to the train.

A good time was had. 

4 from 5   

Read - October, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 432
Source - Edelweiss Above the Treeline reviewer site
Format - Kindle

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

DAVID DOWNING - ZOO STATION (2007)

 


Synopsis/blurb ....

Englishman John Russell is a member of the foreign press corps in Berlin and a first-hand witness to the brutal machinations of Hitler and the Nazi party in the build-up to war during the early months of 1939. Unlike many of his colleagues, Russell wishes to remain in Berlin for as long as possible to be close to his eleven-year-old son, who lives with his estranged German wife. 

When an old acquaintance turns up at his lodging house, Russell's life begins to change. Gradually, he is persuaded by a combination of threats, financial need and appeals to his conscience to become a spy - first for the Soviet Union and then, simultaneously, for the British.

The grim streets, the constant fear and the skin-deep glitter of pre-war Berlin - with excursions to Prague, Danzig, London and the Baltic seashore - form a rich backdrop as Russell, a reluctant hero and a saviour for some, treads an ever narrowing line between the Russians, the British and the Gestapo.

Zoo Station was my second outing with David Downing and John Russell, his English journalist residing in pre-war Berlin. Wedding Station, the latest in the series was enjoyed earlier this year. Fortunately, that was written as a prequel and as a consequence didn't upset my OCD must-read-series-in-order self. 

I think what I enjoy about these books is the fantastic sense of time and place and the tense tightrope the main character has to navigate. John Russell with his journalistic credentials, his English nationality and his veteran status with previous combat experience fighting against Germany in the First World War and his younger, now disowned Communist leanings has three/four strikes against his name with the German authorities. Any interaction, however trivial with the powers that be induces worry, concern and anxiety. Paranoid tendencies and a high sense of danger is a sensible state of mind in Berlin in the 30s.  

Here Russell finds himself embroiled in trying to help a Jewish doctor and his family, while simultaneously spying for Moscow and by proxy the UK, by passing on German military secrets. Batting against one unscrupulous regime doesn’t make his current paymasters any more trusting or palatable. He doesn’t put his hand up to volunteer, it’s a more coercive arrangement which if survivable does have an upside. Namely money and a bit of influence towards helping his Jewish friends with visas.   

It’s a tense, edge of the seat book, but not one which arrives where it’s going at a breakneck pace. There’s more a slow, subtle, creeping sense of menace which Downing expertly applies to the narrative. Can Russell trust his landlady? What happens if his apartment is searched? Would his former sister-in-law’s husband, a man who works for the Nazi regime cause him trouble? Is he watched when meeting his Russian contact? All of the little things accumulate and build up a sense of a society (hindsight notwithstanding) on the edge of a precipice.   

Allied to the above, Russell endeavours to live a normal life. Football matches with his son and conducting a romance with his actress girlfriend. I think the everyday activities provide a counterweight to the turmoil bubbling along in the book.

Additional incidents in the book are dramatic and further proof of the moral bankruptcy of the Nazi regime - if the persecution of a Jewish family - singular (and wider community) isn't enough for you. A rumour surfaces. There's a whiff of disquiet over discussions and policy changes regarding the treatment of disabled and challenged children. ie cleansing the gene pool. A consequence is the murder of an American journalist and friend of Russell, who is investigating the story. German confidence is growing.

Unsettling, educational, informative, exciting and totally satisfying. I look forward to savouring more in this series. 

 4.5 from 5

Read - September, 2021
Published - 2007
Page count - 320
Source - purchased copy
Format - trade paperback

Monday, 11 October 2021

JAMES KESTREL - FIVE DECEMBERS (2021)


Synopsis/blurb ...

Major new hardcover launch by an acclaimed author: a gripping thriller, an unforgettable portrait of war, and a heartbreaking love story, on par with ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE.

Read this book for its palpitating story, its perfect emotional and physical detailing and, most of all, for its unforgettable conjuring of a steamy quicksilver world that will be new to almost every reader. Pico Iyer

December 1941. America teeters on the brink of war, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, police detective Joe McGrady is assigned to investigate a grisly homicide that will change his life forever. Because the trail of murder he uncovers will lead him across the Pacific, and though the U.S. doesn't know it yet, a Japanese fleet is already heading toward Pearl Harbor. This extraordinary novel is so much more than just a gripping detective story--it's a story of survival against all odds, of brutality and ruthlessness, of love and loss, all unfolding against the backdrop of the most cataclysmic conflict of the 20th century. Spanning the entirety of World War II, FIVE DECEMBERS is a beautiful, masterful, shocking novel that will live in your memory forever.

An absolute banger of a book - breathtaking, addictive and a proper page-turner. Highly recommended. I doubt that I'll be able to do the book justice here. Trust me - just read the bloody thing. 

We have a cracking story with a multiple murder investigation which straddles the slight inconvenience of World War II and the incarceration for our main character, the lead detective, Joe McGrady. He loses his liberty but finds something else by way of compensation.

Murder, investigation, loss, war, opposing sides with common goals, imprisonment, an alliance, secrecy, romance, the passage of time, solace, comfort, end of conflict, freedom, a resumption of enquiries, and a continued pursuit of justice and/or retribution. 

I really loved this one. There's a tremendous sense of time and place with the book kicking off just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Through Joe McGrady's war experiences we also see another side of Japanese society and some disquiet with the direction the country's leaders have taken Japan. After nearly five long years, we also view the devastation that war has taken on the country and on it's people with civilians bearing the brunt of America's military muscle. 

As well as an ambitious overview of the times, there is also a sadistic and brutal double murder to be solved; one which has an impact on a personal level with the undoubted sufferings of the victims and the ongoing pain of their relatives.

One of the best books I've read all year.

5 from 5

James Kestrel is a pseudonym for a well-established author. Having done a bit of sleuthing to uncover his identity, I'm happy to say I have a couple of his books on the TBR pile already. I'll be bumping them a bit closer to the top.


Read - September, 2021
Published - 2021
Page count - 432
Source - review copy from publisher Hard Case Crime
Format - PDF read on laptop

Saturday, 9 October 2021

SEPTEMBER 2021 - ADDITIONS TO THE LIBRARY - 6 OF THE BEST!

Six new authors for me to try.

America, Canada, Australia, Ireland and the UK. I'll be globe-trotting when I read this lot ...


DDC Morgan - Pills & Soap (2021) - purchased copy

Second in series after Blood & Cinders.


Six months after his adventure in Blood & Cinders, Reg Calloway finds himself working as head of security for a London film studio turning out low-budget Brit flicks.

When the studio boss's car is blown up, Special Branch suspects Irish terrorists are responsible but Calloway doesn't buy it. He saw a woman fleeing the scene. Finding the woman and uncovering her connection to the case becomes his obsession.

Calloway's under pressure from all sides - Special Branch and his studio bosses are convinced that the IRA are behind the bomb but when the terrorists give Calloway an ultimatum to find the real bomber or else, he knows for sure that the mysterious woman who fled the scene is the real key to everything.

His investigation takes him into the dark side of the London film business - its exploitation of starlets, its underworld connections and its Faustian star makers who trade young souls for broken dreams.

As Calloway delves into some of the seediest recesses of 1950s London he risks everything in an attempt to find the truth and see that justice, in some form, is served.


Gillian Godden - Fool's Gold (2021) - Net Galley reviewer site

Another author I haven't yet read.

A new life…

With their wretched life in Liverpool behind them, Julie and Ralph Gold head to London for their next big break. Julie’s had enough of slumming it, she's ready to quit their life of crime and go legit.

The same old game…

But it seems their reputation has beaten them to it, and the underworld is already bubbling with news of the their arrival.  And as much as Julie tries to go straight, the more people underestimate them and treat them like fools. And there is only so much Julie can take…

One last trick.

So when they are offered one final big job, Julie knows they should say no. It’s risky and could cost them everything they have. But it could also be their last chance to make it big.

And when fools rush in, the Golds take the spoils.

Read what happens next for Julie and Ralph Gold in another gripping story by Gillian Godden.


Wayne Arthurson - Dishonour in Camp 133 (2021) - Net Galley reviewer site

Second in an interesting looking series.

Even thousands of miles from the front lines, locked in a Canadian prisoner-of-war camp, death isn’t far away.

When Chef Schlipal is found dead, Sergeant August Neumann, head of Camp Civil Security and decorated German war hero, must find out what would drive the men of the camp, brothers-in-arms, to turn on each other. He’s learned, of course, that beneath the veneer of duty and honour, the camp is anything but civil.

When the trail of clues ends at the edge of the prison yard, Neumann must consider a crime bigger than the camp. Is someone getting out of the prison? If so, can he follow? If he can’t, he might have to live with the dishonour of Camp 133.


Mark Westmoreland - A Violent Gospel (2021) - purchased copy

Snakes and cash - what more do you want?

If there’s a bad idea in Tugalo County, chances are that Mack and Marshall Dooley are behind it. When the brothers heist a snake-handling church’s money-laundering operation, things go south in a hurry.

This part of the north Georgia hills ain’t much, just hardscrabble folks trying to get by. It’s the perfect place to wash a load of cash -- and an even better place to make your enemies disappear.

When Mack goes missing, Marshall cuts a deal with a local crime boss to rescue his brother. Navigating a storm of wild women and a literal nest of vipers, the Dooleys can’t trust anyone other than themselves to get out of the mess they’ve made.

Praise for A VIOLENT GOSPEL:

“Let me be the first to sing A Violent Gospel’s praises. Mark Westmoreland’s debut is the literary equivalent of The Dukes of Hazzard driving onto the set of Elmore Leonard’s Justified. This book is filled with folks who know right from wrong but don’t like boring.” —David Tromblay, author of As You Were and Sangre Road


Anna Willett - The Family Man (2021) - purchased copy

Another author I've been meaning to try for a while.

Utterly gripping crime fiction…

A householder who is clearing out the loft comes across a carefully concealed box containing a video camera.

When he plugs it in, unsure due to its age that it will even play, what he sees there has him immediately calling the police.

Senior Sergeant Veronika Pope and her team in the Special Crime Squad study the footage of the torture of four individuals held captive, all physically and mentally abused.

Assured this is no hoax, although all indications are that this happened long in the past, the team races to trace the identity of the victims.

Someone got away with murder once, will Sergeant Pope permit them to do so again?

THE FAMILY MAN is a gripping suspense thriller with a creepy edge.

Anna Willett is the bestselling author of DEAR NEIGHBOUR, UNWELCOME GUESTS, PEST and many other gripping thrillers. Her books are set in South Western Australia.


LJ Ross - Impostor (2019) - Audiobooks monthly choice

First in a three book series.

Impostor, is the first instalment in Ross's brand new Dr Alex Gregory series, narrated by actor Hugh Dancy.   

After an elite criminal profiling unit is shut down amid a storm of scandal and mismanagement, only one person emerges unscathed. Forensic psychiatrist, Doctor Alexander Gregory, has a reputation for being able to step inside the darkest minds to uncover whatever secrets lie hidden there and, soon enough, he finds himself drawn into the murky world of murder investigation. In the beautiful hills of County Mayo, Ireland, a killer is on the loose. Panic has a stranglehold on its rural community, and the Garda are running out of time. Gregory has sworn to follow a quiet life but, when the call comes, can he refuse to help their desperate search for justice? 

Murder and mystery are peppered with dark humour in this fast-paced thriller set amidst the spectacular Irish landscape.