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

July 1, 2009

Strawberry short takes.

A round-up of my June reading:

The Price of Blood by Declan Hughes. Traditional American crime fiction by an Irishman; and no Yank could have done it better. PI Ed Loy is searching for a jockey who's been missing for years, and why does it seem like even the priest who hired Loy doesn't really want the guy found? Loy's dialogue comes straight out of Humphrey Bogart's mouth. I'm looking forward to more of Hughes's work as this book inherits all the best qualities of the Chandler-Hammett legacy and none of the excesses of many another legatee.

Saturday's Child, by Ray Banks, introduces the reader to Cal Innes, fresh from jail and a PI without a license. Cal is forced to take a job for a local mob boss, and while searching for the dealer who ran off with the boss's money, the boss's son plays the nastiest game of cat-and-mouse Cal has yet encountered. Hard, mean, and wincingly funny (as if you fell down a flight of stairs: you know you looked hilarious but it hurt like hell). This is the first book in the Cal Innes series. Some series are best read in order of publication; some series, the order of reading doesn't really matter. To fully appreciate Cal's situation in book two, Sucker Punch, it's best to start with Saturday's Child.

Dark Horse by Craig Johnson. Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire is back, and this time he literally gets to ride the range. Not that horses are his favored mode of transportation. In this episode, Wyoming Sheriff Longmire tries to understand the events that led to a man's brutal death and the open-and-shut case against that man's wife. Johnson's gift for characterization never flags, and his western sense of humor keeps a tragic story from becoming maudlin.

The Sweetness At the Bottom Of the Pie by Alan Bradley. A budding young scientist discovers a murder victim in the garden and worries that her father might be responsible. Lots of buzz about this book, about its award-winning charm. I can see why some are taken with this book, but the mechanics of the story are too obvious and contrived for my taste. I didn't find the uber-precocious 11-year old heroine all that entertaining. Maybe I read too much noir, but that kid has the potential to become a sweet young psychopath. But who knows, if she ever turns into a female Lou Ford I might become quite enamored of her. As it is, I think a lot of folks, particularly young readers, will be big fans of young Flavia de Luce. And if Walt Disney were still making Hayley Mills movies, this one would be a dandy. For a contrasting viewpoint, check out Joe Barone's review here.

The Fourth Man by K.O. Dahl. Intriguing psychological mystery. Full review here.

Awakening by S.J. Bolton. A smart, energetic gothic suspense. Full review here.

Hickey and Boggs by Phillip Rock, is about a pair of down-at-heel PIs whose search for a woman leads them into the crossfire over $400,000 in stolen bank notes. The book is a novelized version of the film. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Michael over at Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer. He provided me with both book and film, which stars Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. This is not a slap-dash film version of I Spy, but is instead a suitably bleak neo-noir tale from the early 1970s, when noir had fallen well and truly out of fashion in Hollywood. Some kind of neo-noir magnetic force must be at work because no sooner had Michael sent this book to me than Duane Swierczynski penned a paean to the film at Secret Dead Blog. That post is well worth a look-see, as are the comments. But of course, you should see the film, right? Click here to watch it for free. Thanks also to Michael for steering me to the Film Noir Reader for the comparative analysis between Hickey and Boggs and Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. The very fact that it's feasible to examine the film in the light of Chandler's work should tell you a lot about this movie.

And since that analysis has already been done, I won't dig any deeper here. In The Long Goodbye, PI Philip Marlowe befriends an alcoholic war veteran whose rich, indiscreet wife gets her head bashed in. Some aspects of this book seem autobiographical (not the murders of course), and as a result Chandler gave us a slower paced, more introspective story than I'm used to from him. At the same time the story is awash with all the things that make reading Chandler such a rich experience: seamless prose, picture-perfect similes, painfully accurate portrayals of the human condition and the environment we create for our personal dramas. Not my favorite Marlowe story, but it carries an emotional complexity I haven't seen in his other works, though I haven't read his entire body of work. I'm glad to have read it, and will probably re-read it at some point. Because I never get everything Chandler says in one reading. Has anyone ever?


  1. I agree. Chandler is one of the few that requires multiple readings.

  2. Given your praise of Declan Hughes, I'm definitely going to give this a go. And I've discovered that Audible has it in audiobook form! But, they have as Dying Breed--must be it's European release title. They also have other DH titles, all narrated by Stanley Townsend (check out the sample to hear a reading).

    And having just finished The Cold Dish, I'm really looking forward to getting more into the Longmire series. You describe CJ's prose to a tee. And I agree with Jen that George Guidall is a perfect narrator for this series.

    Thank you for the call out (very kind), and the link for H & B. And thanks for another of your monthly summaries, Corey.

  3. The thanks all go to you. Even with Duane's blog about H&B I doubt I would have picked up on the movie without your generosity.

    You and Jen definitely have me wanting to listen to George Guidall's reading.

  4. I, too, want to check out Declan Hughes. I have to read a little faster so I can squeeze a few more books into my reading schedule. Just chomping at the bit to get to my copy of THE DARK HORSE. And blasted, the CLEVNET doesn't have it on audio yet. I put in a request, but at the present, I'm sure they aren't ordering anything until this craziness is figured out with the state budget.

  5. I'm with you on Ray Banks. I read NMH and BOB, then Saturday's Child and Donkey Punch (as Banks INSISTS it's called).All great but in the right order I'm SURE even better.

  6. The Sweetness was just too darn sweet for me.