Monday, 7 December 2020

2 BY TOD GOLDBERG

Another author with a few books in the collection and who is as yet an untried quantity - Tod Goldberg.




Anything be it a book or film with GANGSTER in the title is pretty much guaranteed to grab my attention.

Tod Goldberg has had another half dozen or so novels and a few short story collections published. His book, Fake Liar Cheat sits on the pile also. 

I'll probably start with these two though.



Gangsterland (2014)


Sal Cupertine is a legendary hit man for the Chicago Mafia, able to get in and out of a crime without a trace. Until now, that is. His first-ever mistake forces Sal to botch an assassination, killing three undercover FBI agents in the process. This puts too much heat on Sal, and he knows this botched job will be his death sentence to the Mafia. So he agrees to their radical idea to save his own skin: hide out as a Rabbi in Las Vegas.







Gangster Nation (2017)

"One can't help but think of such greats as Mario Puzo, Jimmy Breslin, Elmore Leonard, and Donald E. Westlake while reading this witty, brutal, vital book. Goldberg is a master." -- Mystery Scene Magazine

 "Gangster Nation is a razor. It will slice you open and reveal your insides. And like the best of Tod Goldberg's work, it'll show you everything you are at your core." --Brad Meltzer, New York Times bestselling author of The President's Shadow

It's been two years since the events of Gangsterland, when legendary Chicago hitman Sal Cupertine disappeared into the guise of Vegas Rabbi David Cohen. It's September of 2001 and for David, everything is coming up gold: Temple membership is on the rise, the new private school is raking it in, and the mortuary and cemetery--where Cohen has been laundering bodies for the mob--is minting cash. But Sal wants out. He's got money stashed in safe-deposit boxes all over the city. He's looking at places to escape to, Mexico or maybe Argentina. He only needs to make it through the High Holidays, and he'll have enough money to slip away, grab his wife and kid, and start fresh.

Across the country, former FBI agent Matthew Drew is now running security for an Indian Casino outside of Milwaukee, spending his off-time stalking members of The Family, looking for vengeance for the murder of his former partner. So when Sal's cousin stumbles into the casino one night, Matthew takes the law into his own hands--again--touching off a series of events that will have Rabbi Cohen running for his life, trapped in Las Vegas, with the law, society, and the post-9/11 world closing in around him.

Gangster Nation is a thrilling follow-up to Gangsterland, an unexpected, page-turning examination of the seedy foundations of American life. With the wit and gritty glamor that defines his writing, Goldberg traces how the things we most value in our lives--home, health, even our spiritual lives--have been built on the enterprises of criminals.

Friday, 4 December 2020

NOVEMBER 2020 - 30 DAYS, 30 SHORTS!

My quarterly story a day adventure continued in November.

It's a great way to meet new authors, catch up with old ones and it makes a change from reading full length novels all the time.



1st - Neille Williams - A Mashed Potato Murder (Close To The Bone)


2nd - Sebnem E. Sanders - Hunter's Moon (Punk Noir Magazine)


3rd - Mark McConville - Herd of Angels (Punk Noir Magazine)

4th - Stephen J. GoldsThe Hard Time (Shotgun Honey)


5th - Nik KorponMontevideo (Shotgun Honey)

6th - Daniel Eveloff - Prevenge (Close To The Bone)

7th - Nick Kolakowski - Contact Tracing (Shotgun Honey)

8th - Georgia MacShaneThe Flooding of Alice Springs (Brain Drip)

9th - Nigel Bird - Stones In Me Pockets (Shotgun Honey)

10th - Angel Luis Col√≥n - Trimmigrant Song (Shotgun Honey)

11th - JB Polk - Regenerator (Close To The Bone)

12th - Margot Kinberg - And the Music Played (Crime and Mystery Writer Margot Kinberg)

13th - Bruce Maddle - Winterkill  (Close To The Bone)

14th - John Rector - Eddie Loves Animals (Tough)

15th - Ben Boulden - Reprobate  (Gravetapping - blog of Ben Boulden)

16th - Brian Beatty - Serious Business (Mystery Tribune)

17th - Paul D. Brazill - Who Killed Skippy? (Paul D. Brazill)

18th - K A Laity - The Chimp (Punk Noir Magazine)

19th - Billy Kring - The Little Angel (Mystery People)

20th - Steve Ellis - He Knows (Close To The Bone)

21st - Charlotte Perkins Stetson The Yellow Wallpaper (National Library of Medicine)

22nd - Josh Stallings - When the Hammer Comes Down (Mystery People)

23rd - Fred AndersenWriters’ Chat Room: Chat Log April 13 (Close To The Bone)

24th - Paul D. Brazill - Stamp of a Vamp  (Paul D. Brazill)

                                            PAUL D. BRAZILL

A Hard Man To Ignore But Well Worth The Effort.

25th - Robert Ragan - PO Box (Punk Noir Magazine)

26th - Fredric Brown - Don't Look Behind You (You-books.com)

27th - Christopher Witty - Bones (Northodox Press)

28th - David Tromblay - Short Timer (Shotgun Honey)

29th - Paul D. Brazill - The Luck of the Devil (Paul D. Brazill)

30th - Amy-Jean Muller Your Hair Woman (Close To The Bone)



AUGUST 2020 - 31 DAYS 31 SHORTS!


Tuesday, 1 December 2020

WILLIAM BAYER - PEREGRINE (1981)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

This novel won the Mystery Writers of American Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Circling high over Rockefeller Center is a peregrine falcon, the most awesome of the flying predators. She awaits a signal from her falconer. It is given: The bird attacks, plummeting from the sky at nearly 200 miles an hour, striking a young woman and killing her instantly.

By chance, newscaster Pamela Barrett witnesses the slaying. Her impassioned account of it on television that evening thrills the falconer - a brilliant madman who identifies with his deadly bird and, through her, seeks catharsis. He becomes fascinated with Pam and enmeshes her in a bizarre and deadly scheme, even as she finds herself drawn to him by an erotic need she does not understand.

As killing follows killing, the terrified city becomes the backdrop of an extraordinary drama. Police and the media engage in cutthroat competition to find the murderer. Two predator birds are pitted in a fight to the death above Central Park. Call girls, rich eccentrics, striving careerists, dealers in the black market for rare birds - all play their roles in this study of secret passion, desire, fulfillment, and ecstasy. The ancient sport of falconry, in which birds are trained to hunt and kill on command, is the key to the spectacular operatic finale.

For all its excitement and intricate detail, Peregrine is more than a thriller: It is a study of secret passion - desire, fulfillment, ecstasy. In the falconer, in Pam his prey, and in the burnt-out detective who finds in this case a means to his salvation, author William Bayer has created vibrant characters each of whom is both hunter and hunted, each of whom fulfills the others in extraordinary ways.

An early 80s Edgar winner from William Bayer and a book with an unusual murder weapon - a peregrine falcon. Enjoyable and exciting upto a point, I think I struggled with a lack of understanding as to why the murderer was killing, despite a decent amount of time spent in his head. When his bird attacks he feels electric and alive. As he increases his attacks and the New York public become panicked and scared, in a great part fuelled by the publicity that he helps engineer through his notes to the TV lady who witnesses and reported on the first attack; he feels sated and omnipotent and in control. Further attacks fuel his fantasies which ever increasingly feature Pam the TV presenter. I understood the perverse sense of satisfaction he felt as his bird did his bidding, but frustratingly I didn't get any clue as to why he felt compelled to go down the particular road he was travelling on.

During the book we spend time in the company of three different characters; the killer himself; Pamela, the struggling TV presenter with a career in the doldrums, that is until she witnesses the first murder and it explodes on an upward trajectory and, after only appearing on the periphery for the early part of the book, Detective Janek. 

Inevitably the three protagonists are drawn closer and closer together as the book progresses. Pamela conducts her own enquiries, albeit on behalf of her network and always to fuel the story, into the different aspects of falconry - training, breeding, the sport and its fans and detractors as well as the black market and the leading characters in the pursuit. The killer; by positioning himself closer and closer to Pamela, as an unofficial adviser of sorts to her and her network, given his expertise regarding the peregrine. And lastly Janek, who intersects with Pamela, while trying to control the information her and the TV network release from the killer, while trying to get a handle on him to advance his investigation.

It's a tense and exciting book and it read quite quickly. I liked the setting - New York - who doesn't?  The conclusion when we get to it, is a bit strange and weird, but it put to bed most of my concerns.  Probably the star of the show though was the bird. His initial attack is breathtaking and he reportedly dives at 150mph, which had me shaking my head - no way. A bit of googling later, 150mph sounds slow as they can get to 220 apparently. WTF!

I reckon I've enjoyed other books from 1981 more than this one though. That said I'll look forward to more from William Bayer in the future, including his other Janek books. I hope he features more prominently in them than he does in this, as he is a little bit absent from a lot of the proceedings.

Overall 3.5 from 5

Read - (listened to) November, 2020

Published - 1981

Page count - 305 (10 hrs 27 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible

Monday, 30 November 2020

2 BY MERCEDES LAMBERT

A couple from 25-30 years ago and another-new-to-me author, Mercedes Lambert.



Mercedes Lambert wrote three novels featuring lawyer, Whitney Logan and her friend Lupe Ramos - these two plus Ghosttown. Ghosttown was published posthumously in 2007. She also had a fourth novel, El Nino published under her real name. 

Mercedes Lambert - Douglas Anne Munson sadly passed in 2003.






Her books have been praised by Ken Bruen, Michael Connelly and John Lutz to mention a few

LA setting, a couple of strong female characters, a missing person, armed robbery, death, secrets  what's not to like?


Dogtown (1991)


Whitney Logan, attorney-at-law, is broke. So when Monica Fullbright shows up with a thousand dollar retainer wanting her to locate her missing housemaid, an illegal immigrant named Carmen, Whitney takes the job. She may not like playing sleuth, but she can't afford to be picky. Enlisting the aid of Lupe Ramos, a chicana prostitute who works the street below her office, she soon finds out that Monica is not all she seems. And when the two of them stumble on the housemaid's dead body, they quickly find themselves on a fetid trail of Latin politics, drug smuggling and misguided allegiances. Nothing is as it seems in Dogtown






Soultown (1996)

Whitney Logan and Lupe have gone in different directions, the only thing in common their shared dream of a new start. But Whitney figures she owes Lupe something and agrees to help her reunite with her son, now living with Lupe's ex-boxer brother Hector and his new girlfriend in Koreatown. When they show up to get the boy, they find themselves in the midst of an armed robbery. However, this is no simple operation, but a complicated theft involving old Korean friends. Whitney agrees to help, and soon finds that Hector's girlfriend Kim and the old friends all have closely held secrets that none of them are prepared to give up. Even her alliance with Lupe is an uneasy one. Deception is the order of the day in Soultown

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

LAWRENCE BLOCK (as SHELDON LORD) - A WOMAN MUST LOVE (1960)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

A WOMAN MUST LOVE is #12 in the Collection of Classic Erotica, and it’s never been reissued since Midwood brought it out in 1960. Consequently I’ve just read it for the first time since I wrote it some 57 years ago.

I remember the circumstances of writing it. I was living in Buffalo, at 422 Starin Avenue, in the house where I grew up. Besides writing, I was co-proprietor of a coffee house and non-alcoholic nightclub called The Jazz Center. (We hosted some decent musicians. Trumpeter Sammy Noto, who’d quit Stan Kenton’s band because he didn’t like living on the road, led one combo that played our joint with some frequency. Another band was fronted by a dude known alternately as Tommy Green, Tommy Mundy, and Ahmed Khan; his specialty was bongos and bullshit, but he had some good musicians working for him. One night Percy Heath of the Modern Jazz Quartet came by late, sat in with our guys, and played a twenty-minute bass solo that I wish I could hear again. That part was nice, but we never took a dime out of the place, and after I sold my interest to my partner, an old Trotskyite named Frank St. George, he wound up making the musicians partners so he wouldn’t have to pay them. After he was forced to close down, Frank went on to have a distinguished career as a Buffalo restauranteur.)

See, that much I remember. And I remember my writing schedule at the time. I would be at the club, or out on the town with the unfortunate young woman destined to become the first Mrs. Block. Then I’d get home, and I’d have a cup of coffee with my night owl mother before she went to bed around midnight. Then I’d write until dawn, when I’d have breakfast with my early-rising father. And then I’d go to bed and sleep until it was time to get up and do it all over again.

As for the novel itself, A WOMAN MUST LOVE, I can’t say I remembered much. It’s set in Buffalo, in the very neighborhood in which it was written, and I hadn’t even recalled that about the book until I read it on my Kindle. I vaguely remembered that there was a book in which I’d given all the characters English and Irish counties as surnames, and this seems to be the book. Aside from those two elements, I felt like the old boy in the assisted-living center, meeting new people every day.

I was surprised to be reading less the erotic romp the Midwood and Nightstand books tended to be than an out-and-out romance novel. Barbara, a young widow, has vowed to be true to her husband’s memory (even though he’d wished otherwise). She’s courted, and she has a couple of adventures, and there’s a certain amount of coupling in the book of one sort or another, but the damn thing’s a romance, and I have to wonder how I came to write it.

It would have been about a year later that my own father died—suddenly, of an aortic aneurysm. In the years that followed I might well have gone through some sort of Hamlet/Oedipus crap when my mother resumed dating, though I can’t recall much in the way of conflicted feelings. But the book was way earlier, and where the story came from I have no idea.

Well, never mind. I hope you’ll find things to enjoy in Barbara’s story—not least of all Paul Rader’s cover art. Long after I’d forgotten the words I wrote, I remembered those vivid pastels.

Not one of my favourite Lawrence Block books, but I was entertained as well as troubled in equal measures with this one.

Obviously it was aimed at the adult soft porn (erotic) market of the day and during the course of the book we have a widow finding out that her vow to stay faithful to her dead husband's memory is sorely tested. Eventually she succumbs and thereafter she has a series of midly titillating encounters with a boiler repairman, and a couple of teachers from the school where she works - one female, one male, before she eventually decides she isn't gay. Her boyfriend and her then presumably go off page to live life happily ever after, now she has finally put her guilt and bereavement behind her.

I think what troubled me is the second encounter with the boiler man where he forces himself on her. Comforted by her friend, within x number of hours she's enjoying a romp with her compadre. I suppose it's indicative of the times and I'm applying 2020 20-20 vision to the attitudes and mores of sixty years ago. It's almost as if rape can be quickly dismissed and gotten past. I doubt very much that life works that way. The attack is cruel, brutal and violent, and you would have to believe our main character is suitably traumatised.

Maybe I'm over thinking things and should just consume a dated piece of work, attempt to apply some context to the book and its audience and the time it was written and move on.

I enjoyed portions of the book. The main character suffers loss, survives it, comes to terms with her new reality, and decides to carry on living life and enjoying it. The end.

3 from 5

Lawrence Block has been read many times in the past and I'll look forward to many more in the future.

Read - (listened to) November, 2020

Published - 1960

Page count - 168 (4 hrs 21 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

NIK KORPON - RADICALS (2020)

 


Synopsis/blurb......

Jay Brodsky is an enigma. To his fellow agents at the FBI’s cybercrimes division. To his new partner. Even to himself. For someone whose skills are beyond question, he often seems just on the edge of losing control. He seldom speaks about his family and his personal life, but he seems to be hiding something. And he has an unusual obsession with even the most obscure punk rock. 

So when a mysterious cyber-terrorist organization begins erasing Americans’ medical debt, Jay must put his personal issues aside to focus on an attack that threatens to destabilize the US economy. But when the trail leads to his own family, Jay will be forced to confront everything he never knew about his parents and his long-missing sister and decide where his true loyalties lie. 

With his country and his mind racing toward a breaking point, can Jay find the answers before everything descends into chaos?

A fast paced thriller with an intriguing backdrop of punk rock, family history and current day anarchism. Our main character is Jay, an FBI agent. He is currently investigating some hackers who are causing mayhem by wiping out insurance debts. Each subsequent attack increases the threat to the economic stability of the country, irrespective of the rights and wrongs and morality of some of the companies suffering the losses. There's some real sleazeballs getting their comeuppance. While frowned upon and feared by the authorities, the actions attract some level of public sympathy.

Somewhat inevitably the crimes escalate and increase in ferocity ie murder and as a consequence the pressure on Jay and his unit multiplies.

I quite liked the main character, Jay. He's a loner and has several peculiar OCD tics which he has to enact, particularly when stressed. His part in the investigation, reveals to the reader, much of his past.... difficulties with his parents, a maverick upbringing of protest and rebellion, grief and bereavement, deep roots in punk rock and a strong bond with his sister, which fractured when Jay signed up to be an FBI agent. 

As the investigation progresses and circles closer and closer to the old music scene he and his sister inhabited, our man is conflicted. Do his job, stop the anarchists and possibly do damage to his estranged sister or put absent family before duty. Uncomfortable family secrets are uncovered, a work partnership has potential for more, but only if he can open up his secret self. 

As well as the quirkiness of the main character and his emotional baggage, I enjoyed the depiction of the music scene and the ground level participation in it....... band membership, gigging, touring, friendships, the collecting element and also the point at which for some people it stops. You grow, you move on, you depart the scene, you rebel back into normality and a career. The other fork in the road, you stay, you play, you live the doctrine, you submerse yourself in non-confirmity and embrace anarchy and you reject and despise the sibling that took the other path.

Family reunions can be fleeting and not always happy events, but blood can prove thicker than water.

Lots to like..... pace, plot, character, history, a nostalgic look back at a fascinating musical genre, which on this side of the Atlantic this reader embraced (albeit a dipping of a toe in the water, as opposed to a head first total immersion). There's a decent outcome to round things off. I'd be happy to see a second book with Jay Brodsky in the future.

Radicals was my first time reading author Nik Korpon's work. Irrespective of a sequel, it won't be my last. Old Ghosts and Wear Your Home Like a Scar sit on the pile already.


4.5 from 5

Read - (listened to) November, 2020

Published - 2020

Page count - unknown (6 hrs 45 mins)

Source - Audible freebie purchase after receiving a download code from the author

Format - Audible


Monday, 23 November 2020

2 BY JOE IDE

A couple from Joe Ide and his well regarded IQ series. 


I sometimes scratch my head in bewilderment. I mean there's an author and a series of books that everyone raves about, I read the blurb, like the sound of them, buy them but never actually get around to reading them. WTF!

There's four in the series so far, with a fifth due out early next year.....

1. IQ (2016)

2. Righteous (2017)

3. Wrecked (2018)

4. Hi Five (2020)

5. Smoke (2021)

No doubt, I'll buy the bugger, by then I hope to have read a couple at least, watch this space!

From the author's wensite - JoeIde.com

JOE IDE is of Japanese American descent and grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Joe’s favorite books were the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories. The idea that a person could face the world and vanquish his enemies with just his intelligence fascinated him. Joe went on to earn a graduate degree and had several careers before writing his debut novel, IQ, inspired by his early experiences and love of Sherlock. Joe lives in Santa Monica, California.



 IQ (2016)

'Joe Ide is the best new discovery I've come across in a long time. And Isaiah Quintabe is the kind of sleuth not seen on the mystery landscape before.' Michael Connelly

SHORTLISTED FOR THE CWA JOHN CREASEY (new blood) DAGGER

THE TIMES CRIME BOOK OF THE MONTH: 'Full of humour, originality and high-quality writing'

East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, the elderly are being mugged, children go missing. But word has spread: if you've got a case the police can't - or won't - touch, Isaiah Quintabe will help you out.

They call him IQ. He's a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. His clients pay him whatever they can afford, a new set of tyres or some homemade muffins. But now he needs a client who can pay. And the only way to that client is through a jive-talking, low-life drug dealer he thought he'd left behind. Then there's the case itself. A drug-addled rap star surrounded by a crew of flunkies who believes his life is in danger; and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. If he solves this case, IQ can put right a mistake he made long ago. If not it won't just be the hit man coming after him ...

WINNER of the ANTHONY AWARD for Best Debut, the SHAMUS AWARD for BEST FIRST P.I. NOVEL. the MACAVITY AWARD for Best First Novel; SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2017 EDGAR AWARD and STRAND CRITICS AWARD.

Wrecked (2018)


Isaiah Quintabe - IQ for short - has never been more successful, or felt more alone. A series of high-profile wins in his hometown of East Long Beach have made him so notorious that he can hardly go to the corner store without being recognized. Dodson, once his sidekick, is now his full-fledged partner, hell-bent on giving IQ's PI business some real legitimacy: a Facebook page, and IQ's promise to stop accepting Christmas sweaters and carpet cleanings in exchange for PI services.

So when a young painter approaches IQ for help tracking down her missing mother, it's not just the case Isaiah's looking for, but the human connection. And when his new confidant turns out to be connected to a dangerous paramilitary operation, IQ falls victim to a threat even a genius can't see coming.

Waiting for Isaiah around every corner is Seb, the Oxford-educated gangster who was responsible for the death of his brother, Marcus. Only, this time, Isaiah's not alone. Joined by a new love interest and his familiar band of accomplices, IQ is back - and the adventures are better than ever.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

ELKA RAY - KILLER COIN (2020)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

A wealthy socialite goes missing… a battered body is found in her abandoned cabin…

At the center of it all lies the witty and down-to-earth divorce lawyer, Toby Wong. How did she manage to get wrapped up in all of this…again?

All Toby wanted was to settle into island life and start working on her own love story—torn between the wealthy and charismatic Josh Barton, and the adorable and dependable detective Colin Destin.

But Toby’s romantic prospects take the back burner when her mom’s best friend, Daphne Dane, disappears. Toby soon discovers that Daphne’s latest boyfriend is both an alleged conman and the cheating husband of her newest client. Could he be behind Daphne’s disappearance? What about Daphne’s children, vying for their aging mother’s money?

When a dead body is uncovered that entwines both Colin and Josh with the Dane family drama, Toby begins to realize her own life may be in danger.

Equal parts cozy mystery and romantic suspense, the second novel in Elka Ray's Vancouver Island mystery series will keep you up late with a twisty tale of rivalry, love, money, and murder.

An okay murder mystery from author Elka Ray with Killer Coin. It's the second in her series featuring lawyer, Toby Wong after the first Divorce is Murder. In truth having enjoyed Saigon Dark from Ray previously, I was slightly disappointed by this one.

There's a murder and a missing woman and all sorts of family intrigue in this one, with a rich woman's grown-up children jostling for influence and money from their mother Daphne. They might not be the only ones, as new boyfriend, Stephen may be trying to fleece her as well. Not for long though, as he winds up dead, obviously murdered and Daphne goes missing. 

Toby gets involved, as her eccentric mother is a good friend of the family. The case itself and the way it unfolds is interesting enough. The murder victim could plausibly have been killed by either of the kids, one of their spouses, Daphne herself, Daphne's housekeeper or the dead boyfriend's angry Russian wife, by coincidence a client of Toby's and one who is initially seeking a divorce, before her husband gets all brown bread.

Large parts of the book, and this is where I found myself irritated, are given over to Toby's indecision regarding her love life. She has a sort of relationship with Josh, a former childhood sweetheart. He's rich, good looking and a bit self-centred. She's also seeing a police detective, Colin who is more down to earth and supportive, and a much nicer guy. Toby is seeing both, hedging her bets, unable to make a choice. I think it's difficult to read about relationships that are clouded by uncertainty when from afar the choice seems bleeding obvious and from a personal point of view, teenage angst-ridden years apart, I've been blessed by certainty when it comes to matters of the heart. 

The relationship dilemna is also clouded by discovering the corpse with one of the contenders and having it investigated, somewhat awkwardly by the other, alongside his sexy new partner. The presence of the gorgeous new detective adds a bit of tension to the book, with Toby becoming irrationally jealous and increasingly insecure.

After some twists and a few turns, additional incidents - physical attacks, a poisoning, a trip or two to the hospital, we get a resolution to the murder mystery, one which was a bit of a surprise, but which also made sense and we get a decision regarding Toby's love life.

Overall, it was ok, but not amazing. Maybe I'm being overly critical. I did like the Vancouver Island setting. There are some references to incidents in the earlier series book, but I think this one can be enjoyed on its own.

3 from 5

Read - November, 2020

Published - 2020

Page count - 276

Source - review copy courtesy of publisher Seventh Street books and Edelweiss - Above the Treeline

Format - ePUB read on laptop

Friday, 20 November 2020

BEN HOBSON - SNAKE ISLAND (2019)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

For fans of Cormac McCarthy, Phillip Meyer, Fargo, and Justified, a gritty rural noir thriller about family, drugs, and the legacy of violence.

In an isolated town on the coast of southern Australia, Vernon Moore and his wife, Penelope, live in retirement, haunted by an unspeakable act of violence that sent their son, Caleb, to serve time in prison and has driven the couple apart. Ashamed, they refuse to talk about him or visit, but when a close friend warns Vernon that Caleb has been savagely beaten, he has no choice but to act to protect their only child.
 
The perpetrator of the beating is a local thug from a crime family whose patriarch holds sway over the town, with the police in his pay. Everyone knows they trade in drugs. When Vernon maneuvers to negotiate a deal with the father, he makes a critical error. His mistake unleashes a cycle of violence that escalates to engulf the whole town, taking lives with it, revealing what has been hiding in plain sight in this picturesque rural community and threatening to overtake his son.

Told from shifting perspectives at a sprint, in language that sometimes approaches the simple profundity of parable, this gritty debut was hailed on its Australian publication as “a darkly illuminating thriller that soars across genre constraints . . . [and] engages with pressing contemporary issues while exploring timeless questions. Hobson writes as if his life depends on it” (The Australian).

Snake Island is one I've been wanting to read for a while, ever since it popped up on my radar at some point last year. Luckily enough it appeared on both Net Galley and Edelweiss - Above the Treeline early reviewer sites. In my excitement I got access to it via both mediums. Fair to say it didn't disappoint.

Small town, isolated Australian setting, a fractured family, a compromised police chief in thrall to the local criminal element who grow and harvest Mary Jane, a beat down in the local prison, and the subsequent violent fall out with some big city dealers coming to town and making waves. 

It's a busy book with lots happening and one event providing, the impetus and stimulus for everything that follows ..... desperation, guilt, poor choices and the opportunity for many of the cast of characters to reflect on their complicity and errant behaviour, even if they mostly lack the will to change it.

From the get-go I was sucked into this one. It's an unsettling tale of domestic strife, which then escalates and affects the wider community. The Moore's are still struggling to cope individually with the shock of their son's past violence towards his wife. Caleb is in an open prison and since his trial and incarceration has been ignored and all but disowned by his parents, Vernon and Penelope. It almost seems as if the decision to cut ties with their son have been arrived at separately, as there is little meaningful communication between the pair as a couple. 

I liked the portrayal of the family, even as my sympathies rested with Vernon and the lack of empathy his wife displayed towards him, seeming to offer him up as an object of ridicule to her friends. Vernon decides to protect his son, a victim of one of the drug dealing Cahill's fists and feet, whilst ensconced in the seeming safety of the local prison. The Cahill's reputation and domination of the locals extends to the prison authorities and the local police chief, though on this occasion, it is Brendan one of the sons, acting unilaterally.

The Cahill's themselves have an intriguing dynamic - Ernie, the dominating father ruling the roost, with his wife and two sons, Brendan and Sidney. Brendan is a chip off the old block, while Sidney the weaker of the two siblings, longs to escape the ties of his family and the local area and make a fresh life for himself with his young family. 

Vernon attempts to reason with Ernie, father to father for Brendan to lay off Caleb. A reasonable request, but when have the Cahills ever listened to reason? What follows is incendiary.

Great setting, great characters, fantastic story, intriguingly presented with different characters offering their voice in alternating chapters. All topped off by a brilliant finale. I look forward to seeing what Ben Hobson dishes up next.


5 from 5

Read - November, 2020
Published - 2019
Page count - 226
Source - review copy Net Gallay and Edelweiss - Above the Treeline
Format - ePUB read on laptop

Monday, 16 November 2020

2 BY GREG LEVIN

 A couple from the TBR pile and untried-as-yet author Greg Levin.






Levin has three published novels, these two and Sick to Death. I think I'm going to enjoy these.


Author contact info...  

Website - GregLevin.com

Facebook - Greg Levin Author Page

Twitter - @greg_levin




The Exit Man (2014)


Suicide should come with a warning label: "Do not try this alone." If you truly need out and want the job done right, consider using an outside expert. Like Eli.

Eli Edelmann never intended on taking over his father's party supply store. Nor did he ever intend on making a living through mercy killing. But life doesn't always go according to plan.

After granting the desperate request of a terminally ill family friend, Eli discovers euthanasia is his true calling ... and soon finds there's quite the market for it. But how long can he keep his daring "exit" operation going before the police catch on? And what's he going to do about his volatile new girlfriend, who may or may not be a serial killer?




In Wolves' Clothing (2017)

Zero Slade is not a bad guy—he merely plays one when saving children’s lives.

During his seven years on a team fighting child sex trafficking, Zero’s become quite good at schmoozing with pimps, getting handcuffed by cops and pretending not to care about the Lost Girls he liberates. But the dangerous sting operations are starting to take their toll on his marriage and sanity. His affinity for prescription painkillers isn’t exactly helping matters.

When the youngest girl the team has ever rescued gets abducted from a safe house in Cambodia, Zero decides to risk everything to find her. His only shot is to go rogue—and sink deeper into the bowels of the trafficking world than he’s ever sunk.

It’s the biggest mission of his life. Trouble is, it’s almost certain death.


Saturday, 14 November 2020

TOM PICCIRILLI - LOSS (2010)

 


Synopsis/blurb.....

Employing the unique, darkly humorous, and powerful noir voice that is his trademark, Piccirilli demonstrates why he's become a must-read author for admirers of both crime and horror fiction.

Loss concerns a failed writer working as a handyman in an old Manhattan apartment building with a strange history and numerous oddball tenants, not all of whom may be what they seem. The penthouse is owned by a bestselling novelist and his wife, the nameless narrator's longtime unrequited love, who soon goes missing. Is she dead or somehow trapped within the endless corridors of a lair full of twisted memories and half-forgotten ambitions? This is a haunting noir-ghost story fusion that not only spotlights the fear of missing out on one's greatest hopes and romantic dreams, but also features such memorable characters as Mojo the talking monkey and the corpse of the real inventor of aluminum foil.

Another Audible offering with a short novella from recent favourite, Tom Piccirilli. Loss, while enjoyable upto a point, didn't really work out for me as well as the others.

We have an interesting main character and narrator, name escapes me. He's a published author. He still struggles with his writing. He's been remarkably unsuccessful commercially. He resides in the basement of an old building in New York. He's the janitor/repairman and he looks out for his eccentric residents.  

Among the residents, we have a man with a talking monkey; a man who falsely claimed to invent aluminium tinfoil; a severely disabled and incomplete man - courtesy of a stunt years ago where he lay for a day in a bath of toxic waste; and our narrator's childhood and adolescent best friend and his attractive wife.

There's a schism between this friend and our man. In fact they're now former friends. Janitor man's former friend is everything our man isn't....... a fellow novelist, successful, celebrated, famous, rich and he has the woman our man covets. The unspoken competition between the two has spoiled their relationship and now there is only awkwardness.

We see JM interact with the residents of the building, including the wife of his rival, but not the rival himself (until the end of the book) which is all very interesting and entertaining. 

We have an attack (resulting in death and murder), an attack which reminded me of an incident in another Piccirilli book, a conversation with a dying man, a police investigation, a missing woman, a murder solved and a confrontation and an ending which I didn't really vibe. Some reviewers have alluded to a sort of supernatural-ghosty outcome but I didn't interpret that myself. I was just kind of scratching my bonce in puzzlement.

Great writing, interesting setting, interesting characters and dynamics, a bit of incident, it all just felt a bit flat towards the end.  

3.5 from 5

The Last Deep Breath, The Nobody, Sorrow's Crown  and The Dead Past have been enjoyed recently.

Read - (listened to) November, 2020

Published - 2010

Page count - 46 (1 hr 32 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible

Friday, 13 November 2020

ROBIN MERRILL - INTRODUCING GERTRUDE, GUMSHOE (2016)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

WARNING: Gertrude can be a bit of a crank!

She shoots from the hip, is unburdened by tact, and likes things done her way. Yet, the people who know her adore her. 

It's a mystery.

Speaking of which, Gertrude never set out to be a sleuth. She was just minding her own business among her many, many collections (including her cat collection), when her neighbor went missing. With no one else around to help, Gertrude stepped in to solve the case--and found out she's got quite a knack for snooping.

You will love Gertrude, because she's laugh-out-loud, outlandishly funny. 

Another day, another new-to-me author, and a cozy mystery to boot complete with old lady with a walker, a sharp tongue and a plethora of cats.

Gertrude while searching for one of her cats, stumbles across a couple of frightened children, alone in a trailer. Their mum went off to work and never came back. Gertrude promises to help them and after searching the woman's trailer for some inkling as to where she went discovers some dirty polaroids featuring some prominent men around town. Allied with some regular cash deposits into a bank account, Gertrude surmises that the kid's mum is doing more than just waitressing at the local strip joint.

Gertrude after visiting one of the men in the photos place of work, find the corpse of the missing women. Disgruntled at being made to feel foolish by the local cops, she decides to uncover the murderer, as the police - so blatantly incompetent - will surely fail. A new amateur investigator is born.

Initially I found it quite hard to warm to the main character, but as the book wasn't too long, and I'd started listening to it at work anyway, I persisted and by the end without wishing she was my grandmother, I had thawed somewhat towards her. She's cranky, cantakerous, obstinate, feisty and pretty fearless. She watches every penny, she doesn't have a lot, she coupon clips and here she gets the job done. Along the way, Gertrude recruits a reluctant neighbour with wheels and some ready cash to assist her investigation. They make quite a double act. 

Far from the best book ever written and read, but enough there to keep me interested in the outcome. The dialogue is a bit corny in places, I can't recall any profanities and there's no graphic violence or major incidents. A few visits to a strip club to interview the dancers and staff are as risque as it gets. Good clean fun with an ok murder mystery at it's heart.

3 from 5 


At some point I'll revisit the series, but I'm in no particular rush to get to the next one. 

Read - (listened to) November, 2020

Published - 2016

Page count - 190 pages (3 hrs 46 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible

Thursday, 12 November 2020

IRVING WALLACE - THE FAN CLUB (1974)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

Imagine you are obsessed with a beautiful, famous actress. You know everything about her – at least, you know everything that the press, the tabloids, and the world knows about her. You think she is humble and nice and tired of living the Hollywood life. Better yet, you think she would fall for someone like you – a regular guy with a regular life. Now imagine that you told three other guys what you thought, and they all agreed – and you actually abducted this woman.

You are now in the head of the protagonist of Irving Wallace's thriller – The Fan Club. This is not a novel for the squeamish. After the abduction, things do not go as planned. At least three of the men involved force themselves on their captive. Each has his own problems, his own psychosis – his own reasons. Each is crazy in a different way, and their prisoner? She's not so sane herself.

The sexual situations in this novel show their roots in the cultural revolution of the 1970s. They are crude, rough, difficult to take. There are no punches pulled. The characters, while difficult to empathize with, are very believable. This novel is more a horror thriller than mainstream, but it has the power and authenticity readers have come to expect from Irving Wallace, one of the most popular and talented voices in American Literature.

When I was growing up, I saw a copy of this in my parent's bedroom and was instantly drawn to the book...... surprise, curiosity, excitement - loads of different emotions flicking through my adolescent brain and nether regions.

It seemed so out of character for my parents. I don't think my dad ever read a red-top newspaper in his life, let alone a top shelf men's magazine. I always wondered where it came from. It wasn't something my dad would read and my mum was never much of a reader and still isn't. An unwanted hand-me-on from a friend? My teenage self, I'm not ashamed to admit was drawn towards it, like a moth to a flame and I must have read much of it, probably most intent on seeking out the racy parts. 

Forty five years on, it was surprising how much of the book remained quite familiar to me. 

Four guys, all strangers to each other are drinking in a bar, when the world's biggest sex symbol actress, Sharon Fields appears on the TV and instantly they start offering suggestions about what they could do for her and do to her. Typical bar room sleazeballs offering up crude remarks on an unattainable woman. 

Only one of them, the dreamer has held this women close to his heart and in his head, totally obsessed, uber obsessed, seen every film – more than once, read every interview – cut out and kept, got every still photo of her – plastered on his walls, and he has a plan to give the lady what he wants, what they want and according to one or two well remembered interviews, what she wants. 

We have… Adam Malone – a part-time writer and obsessed dreamer; Kyle Shively – a hard as nails, ill-mannered, Vietnam veteran and frustrated mechanic; Howard Yost – a fat, long past it former athlete and footballer, now married with two teenage kids and working as an insurance salesman and finally Leo Brunner – a married, mild-mannered, timid accountant. The four form the fan club and we're off and running.

All four, as the novel progresses we learn are deficient in some way or other - as if contemplating and committing kidnap for sex games doesn't mark their cards ......... arrogant, brash, boastful, entitled, divorced from reality, frustrated, angry, envious, psychopathic, sociopathic, self-centred, deceitful and more.  

Irving from the initial bar scene leads us through ..... the plans for kidnap, surveillance, plotting, the deed itself and uncomfortably for the victim (and the reader) terrorisation of the actress, physical and emotional assault, followed by multiple forced rapes. The fan club have gone off script, led into action by the cruel, sadistic mechanic, the dominant one of our gang of four. Our out of touch dreamer's plans are in tatters. Sharon Fields, a helpless captive, with resistance futile, and her coerced cooperation may need the full use of her acting skills to keep her alive.

There are fascinating elements at play in the novel, many of which make it a difficult read in places..... a helpless victim at the mercy of multiple sexual predators. Is it exploitative to describe the rapes in detail? Further on as Sharon offers her physical consent to her captors, it's still rape we're privy to. We have a victim surrendering in order to survive. The enounters are again described in detail, but we have the added bonus of the victim's perspective on her participation and her motivation to tease details out regarding the identity of her kidnappers and rapists and clues to her secret location. These clues she tries to signal to the outside world, by use of one of her proxys. She plants seeds and germs of ideas in their heads individually and she manipulates them collectively to work towards her own goals of survival, freedom and revenge. Sharon's physical submission to her assailants, masks her inner steel and determination, with Irving's portrayal eventually showing her to be stronger, more intelligent, more imaginative than her initial conquerors.

Overall, I'm conflicted as to whether it's too exploitative, or whether it is pitch perfect with it's eventual outcome - for which there is a further twist and one which I'm again not entirely comfortable with.

In summary, its fast, gripping, compulsive, a page turner, exciting, interesting, topical and thought provoking. 



4 from 5

Read - (listened to) November, 2020
Published - 1974
Page count - 502 (21 hrs 17 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible   

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

TOM PICCIRILLI - THE LAST DEEP BREATH (2010)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

The Last Deep Breath follows Grey, a drifter on the search for his foster sister, who showed up for the first time in ten years with a knife in her side, then vanished without a trace.

Grey winds up in Los Angeles dealing with manipulative actresses and scummy agents, hoping to find some clue as to what happened to her after she dropped out of a porn career he didn't know about.

Another strident, urgent piece of dark fiction from the late Tom Piccirilli.

Three foster kids, tight but abused. A backlash, consequences, three lives shattered, three different directions, the passage of time, a fleeting reconnection, and no happy ending.

My kind of book, plenty of heart, plenty of heartbreak, disappointment, failure, regrets, poor choices, poor outcomes and some memorable characters set against a fascinating backdrop of the adult movie business.

The more I read from Tom Piccirilli, the more I like, the more I regret the untimely death of someone who passed too soon. I guess I can enjoy the body of work he left us. 

4.5 from 5

Tom Piccirilli's work has been enjoyed a lot over the last couple of months..... The Dead Past, Sorrow's Crown and The Nobody

Read - (listened to) October, 2020

Published - 2010

Page count - 124 (1 hr 53 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible 

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

VINCENT ZANDRI - TUNNEL RATS (2018)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

Step aside Rambo, Sam Savage is in town!

For some men and women, the Vietnam War never ended....

Sky Marshal and former Army Ranger Sam Savage has just been handed his most dangerous assignment yet, and it has nothing to do with keeping a plane full of innocent people safe while cruising the friendly skies at 35,000 feet. This time, the sky marshal is on the trail of a New Viet Cong terrorist bent on wreaking havoc on a hotel full of American and Chinese businesspeople. Channy Linn is a new breed Viet Cong in that he's not just leading a band of militant irregulars who are defending their home turf. They are instead a band of terrorists, a la Al Qaeda, bent on the violent destruction of anyone or anything that doesn't follow their twisted ideology.

Along with his field asset, the beautiful but lethal Cindy, Sam will go on the hunt for Channy beginning in Bangkok, Thailand, making their way through Cambodia and finally into the jungles of Vietnam, where Sam will face one of the most terrifying ordeals of his life - being trapped inside the narrow underground tunnels of Cu Chi.

For listeners of Mark Dawson, Boyd Morrison, Lee Child, Russell Blake, and more, New York Times best-selling Thriller Award winning author Vincent Zandri invents yet another action/adventure character who most definitely should not be messed with. This novel promises to keep you glued to your seat for the entire journey.

Enjoyable escapist nonsense........CRAZEEEEEEE!

Fun, fast, frantic, far-fetched and (probably) forgetable. Which isn't to say I wasn't engaged and entertained while listening to another Audible offering.

We have Sam Savage, a sky marshal, out of his comfort zone and pro-active in seeking out a modern day VC terrorist leader. Plenty of banter, action and sex, as Savage gets close to his NVC target. There's the involvement of Cindy, either an alluring ally or a woman playing for the highest bidder, an attack, a chase, an escape - temporary, incarceration in the Cu Chi tunnel network, escape again, a bombing, and a reunion between main man Sam Savage and enemy agent Channy Linn.

It's a busy book. Sam's survival at various points of the novel defies belief, but it's the kind of book where you know the outcome before you start it, so pretty much anything goes. I quite liked the main character, his cheery attitude, his desire to do his job without ever going overboard into full-blown jingoism or patriotism, which sometimes blinds people to their own country's historic errors. He's skilled, adaptable, determined and quite good company for the duration of the book. 

Fast-paced, action driven, not too much introspection though I did like Sam's inner monologue and the dynamics betwen him and Cindy and also his nemesis Channy. Decent narration which added to my enjoyment.

I'm tempted to look up New Viet Cong to see if they are actually an entity and a threat or just a figment of the author's imagination. I've never heard of them before and I'm intrigued. Maybe Zandri's book isn't quite as forgetable as I might once have thought, now I'm pondering elements of the set-up.   

Vincent Zandri is a busy author with over fifty fiction works to his name. I have a few more on the pile, but not the two earlier Sam Savage offerings. I'm interested in reading more from him again, which is as good a recommendation to myself as I can give. 


3.5 from 5

Read - (listened to) November, 2020

Published - 2018

Page count - 244 (3 hrs 3 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible 


Sunday, 8 November 2020

BILL JAMES - YOU'D BETTER BELIEVE IT (1985)

 


Synopsis/blurb....

Nominated for England's Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger Award in 1986, You'd Better Believe It introduced Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur to reader in England and the United States. Harpur's domain is a small seaport city south of London. It's not unusual for the big-town criminals to consider such a spot as easy prey. At such times a policeman must rely keenly upon his colleagues, to be sure, and also upon his retinue of narks (tipsters). This time it's a Lloyd's Bank branch that's the target. When the heist is postponed, a policeman is killed. One nark, then another, is murdered. As Harpur becomes driven to his limit, he must bypass regulations and settle things once and for all with a vicious crook named Holly. But not necessarily on his own terms.

The first in the author's thirty-plus long Harpur and Iles series and a re-read after first enjoying this one back in January, 2007. I'm guessing that the series comprises straightforward police procedurals with recurring characters as it goes on, but here in the opener we have a maverick cop trying to get to the bottom of a potential big robbery on his turf - a robbery which he views as a personal affront. So who knows what the rest of the series will bring.

A big heist, an outsider firm, planning, secrecy, informers, a false alarm, pressure from the higher-ups, a missing cop, an attractive wife, a dead body or two including a cop, a big cheese gangster, an off the cards meeting, a disagreement, breaking and entering, favour for favour, the robbery and the aftermath.

Great 80s time frame, a quirky writing style which demands you pay attention, off-beat humour, a roguish main character and a gripping story which maintained my interest throughout, before a decent conclusion. I'm interested in reading the second in the series sometime soon. (I'm definitely not leaving a 13 year gap before inevitably having to read this for a third time.) 

4 from 5

Bill James has been enjoyed before, apart from this one...... Noose, Hitmen I Have Known and The Squeeze (as David Craig)


Read - October, 2020

Published - 1985

Page count - 164

Source - owned copy

Format - hardback

Saturday, 7 November 2020

BRIAN KEENE - KILL WHITEY (2008)

 


Synopsis/blurb.....

From bestselling author Brian Keene comes another novel of dark crime and

the supernatural, in the tradition of Terminal...

Larry Gibson longed for something different from his days as a dock worker

and his lonely nights spent drinking with his friends.

When Larry meets Sondra Belov, a beautiful exotic dancer, he finally gets

some excitement in his life, too much excitement.

Now, Larry's friends are dying and he's on the run from the cops, the

Russian mob, and a seemingly invincible madman.

And if Larry wants to live another day, he'll have to figure out a way to

kill Whitey...

KILL WHITEY... how can you kill someone who cannot die?

My second time with author Brian Keene's work, after enjoying his shorter piece Alone, last month. Kill Whitey for long periods reads like a crimey-revenge thriller, as our main character Larry seeks to evade the Russian mob after assisting sexy stripper-cum-masseuse-cum-prostitute, Sondra. 

For months Larry has been visiting the Russian run club, mesmerised by Sondra whenever she takes to the stage. The man has fallen for her big time. One night there's a panic in the club, Whitey and his heavies are tearing around trying to find something. When Larry leaves to go home, the search has moved outside and having spotted Sondra shaking under his car, Larry makes the impulsive decision to help her.  

Flight and violent pursuit with much bloodshed entails for the rest of the book, as Larry after witnessing the murder of his friends and narrowly escaping death himself, finally turns into Rambo and tries to act out the title of the book and Kill Whitey. It's a bit harder than it might seem. 

Whitey's survival instincts and abilities are what tip the book into a story with horror and supernatural undertones. The back story and brief history lesson involving Rasputin lend some believability to the plot. SOME!!! as some portion of my brain just doesn't cede all scepticism. I could suspend disbelief for the purposes of enjoying an entertaining, fast-paced, violent tale though.

Best writing ever? No not especially, but a decent adventure, plenty of gore and action, decent main characters, particularly Larry and Sondra. The others don't really have that much depth. We get Sondra's back story, but it is her telling it and she proves to be a little bit unreliable, a little bit deceitful and economical with the truth. Is Larry a little bit too naive and trusting. Oh yeah.

Good, escapist fun was had. I'll be back to try more of Brian Keene's work in the future.

4 from 5


Read - (listened to) November, 2020

Published - 2008

Page count - 304 (6 hrs 30 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible