The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

May 31, 2009

MAYhem: Rounding up the unusual suspects.

All around me the books are self-propagating and I fear for my living space. Stay close as I machete a path through the crime-fic kudzu.

First up, books I recommend without reservation:
Dave Zeltserman's Pariah, I have already recommended here, so I'll say no more on that terrific book.

A tip o' the hat to Michael at Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer. In his list of 2009 reading is 13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time, by Michael Brooks. I was intrigued by the title. It's an enlightening non-fic read that brings some complicated science about how the universe works down to the layman's level - mostly. Sometimes I was caught out of my depth. Beyond the unsolved mysteries of the universe (most of which we can't even find, it seems), the book is an intriguing revelation of the crushing need to reform in order to be respected as a scientist, even to the point of ignoring physical evidence contrary to popular theory. I guess not much has changed in scientific socio-politics since Louis Pasteur was being castigated for his research.

The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay is the story of a narcoleptic PI whose delusions and unwanted naps interfere with not only his immediate case but his entire life. And always will. There's no cure lurking for PI Mark Genevich. The narcolepsy sounds like a cozy gimmick, but this book is no cozy and author Tremblay so infuses the story with the harsh reality of his PI's affliction that the story is tragically earnest rather than gimmicky. In some PI stories, the exterior landscape is another character. Example: LA for Elvis Cole and Harry Bosch. In The Little Sleep, the landscape-who-would-be-character is the inner world of severe narcolepsy. I don't know if author Tremblay plans a series for his sleepy PI, but I'd be happy to read more.

Craig Johnson's Another Man's Moccasins continues the story of Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire. I begin to think Johnson is incapable of a bad book. His characters are so rich, the setting so vivid, these books read like a joyous homecoming. Absaroka County, Wyoming, may be not be populated with the kind of characters Johnson creates, but he sure makes it tempting to go and find out for oneself.

That's not to say those four books were the only good books I read, merely that I'd recommend them to anyone who walked through the door. Books that may require a target audience:
For those who are fans of John Sandford's Lucas Davenport series or fans of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, Wicked Prey and Gone Tomorrow are solid entries in their respective series, and well worth a fan's time. If you're not a Davenport or Reacher fan, there's nothing in these books that will change your mind. Maybe I'd give a slight edge to Wicked Prey, as the author has gone to more trouble to develop and mature his characters, even the children.

Allan Guthrie's Hard Man is a crackerjack of a tale about an ex-con named Pearce who wants vengeance for the death of Hilda, his three-legged Dandie Dinmont terrier. Only Hilda may not be dead, she just may have been the bait to sucker Pearce into a confrontation that everyone will regret. This book is not for the fainthearted though, because the violence is brutal, well nigh constant and a bit over-the-top towards the end of the book; but the hilarity and awesomely bad judgement of the characters more than makes up for it. This is the kind of book that has you simultaneously laughing and peeking through your fingers.

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, by John McFetridge, is a solidly written book that doesn't pigeon-hole easily. A lot of reviews refer to this book as noir, but that might be too restrictive a term. Opening with a man falling (or being pushed?) from a Toronto highrise, the pace picks up from there to include corrupt cops, dope dealers with apartments used strictly as marijuana grow rooms, a kidnapped child, and more. This book has drawn a lot of comparisons to Elmore Leonard's work, so if you're a fan of his, you might want to check this book out. Who would be the target audience for this book? I'd say, if you liked the film, To Live and Die In LA, this might be your kind of book. Not that the stories are similar, they are not, but they share a bleak, sleek, slicing open of a metropolitan underbelly.

The Last Gig, by Norman Green, introduces Alessandra Martillo, a Latina PI right outta the Bronx. She's a kick-ass heroine, street smart as they come. She may get a bit over the top occasionally, but this is an interesting story with an intriguing protagonist, all about the death of a mobster's son who was on the verge of rock star success. Green is especially good at defining his characters via short strokes and dialogue, rather than in long, drawn-out descriptions.

And perhaps I missed something in these books:
The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald. This author gets a lot of notice for being underappreciated in relation to Raymond Chandler. This book didn't persuade me that that should not be the case. But I still have MacDonald's Black Money and The Chill in the TBR closet, so I may come to my senses yet.

Sworn To Silence by Linda Castillo. This book is a rather dry, formulaic thriller, too much so for my taste, and the usual serial killer tale is not helped by some cliched characterization and situations. But this book should still find an audience among fans of Tami Hoag and Iris Johansen, not to mention Castillo's own fans from the romantic suspense arena.

Presumed Dead by Hugh Holton. Some interesting prose didn't make up for an unlikely plot about a mysterious weapon created and lost around the turn of the twentieth century, but which is still killing unwary people today. Aside from not buying into the plot, the characterizations and dialogue sometimes felt awkward and forced. This book is more likely to be enjoyed by fans of the Dean Koontz school of the macabre than by crime fiction aficionados.


  1. You read faster than I do. I always appreciate your recommendation columns. I found a couple here I plan to read. I, too, am like you. More books than time.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. A very fine novel. And if don't mind me suggesting Macdonald's The Way Some People Die. One of the master's best.

  3. I'll pick that one up, David, and thanks for the reccie. Interesting title - similar to Willeford's 'The Way We Die Now.' Was that a nod from Willedford to MacD?

  4. Glad to hear to enjoyed 13 Things... And your point is well taken about the socio-politics.

    With Pariah coming out in Oct '09, that gives me enough time to take in Small Crimes ;-)

    I'm intrigued with Hard Man, and your description of the book. And with that simple image of a spike on the cover, am I sensing a bit of Beat the Reaper-type mayhem here?

    And since To Live and Die in L.A. and Elmore Leonard are in the same paragraph, that's more than a good recommendation for me re: that McFetridge novel.

    Another great monthly wrap-up, Corey. Thanks.

  5. BtR has that final bit of self-violence that just amazed me, but HM has (I think) even more violence and some of it has that same oo-ah-ouch factor as in BtR. And I thought HM was funnier and sadder at the same time. Think of HM as a kind of Keystone Cops version of Hamlet, but without actual cops.

  6. I would add "Jack Wakes Up" to your TBR pile. Seth Harwood has done a great job of capturing Tarantino and John Woo in their prime via his novel.

  7. Cormac, thanks for the reccie. I've added it to my list. And the synopsis looks really good; I may have to move this one to the stop of the list PDQ.

  8. You put the rest of us to shame as I amble along reading a book a week at best.

  9. Merci du compliment but I don't even play in the same league with some reviewers who manage one or more books per day. How dey do dat?

    Nothing wrong with a book a week, that's a pretty good pace. And lots better than I managed during the '80s and '90s when the phrase 'stay home' was not in my personal lexicon.