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

March 22, 2012

Overdue books.

I hate trying to play catch-up on writing reviews because it means (a) I have too much to write about, and (b) I can't do justice to any of it, let alone all of it. But here's how I've spent some of my precious (and precious few) reading hours of late.

It's redundant of me to express the pleasure I derive from reading Allan Guthrie's stories and novels. But honestly, I've never read anything by him that I didn't enjoy. Stories with dark edges and darker hilarity, that's my addiction, and Guthrie always delivers. The title story in this sparkling collection of four shorts, Hilda's Big Day Out, tells of a man who arranges to steal Hilda, an adorable Dandie Dinmont Terrier, for the purpose of placating the daughter he has kidnapped. A man who will steal a child certainly will not stick at stealing a dog. This is an Allan Guthrie story, so things aren't going to end well for somebody. But the reader will be more than okay. In fact, some will be lining to up to get their own Dandie Dinmont.

Chris Rhatigan's Watch You Drown, his first collection of short stories -- short shorts even -- is a series of noir vignettes. No, really. 'Noir' as in a cast of losers, as noir is supposed to be. Moving from story to story here is like walking down a street and turning your head to peer through dark windows, briefly seeing the losers in their homes, their interactions cruel and ominous like the flickering lights at dusk from unseen, unheard televisions. The story not to miss is In the Hard Nowhere, involving a petty criminal with something of a conscience -- not that you will like him any the better for it. But the stories, those you should enjoy.

Ishmael Toffee. What to say about this novella by Roger Smith, whose novels are, every one of them, stellar reads? I can say that Smith injects as much gut-wrenching emotion and as much action into the short form as he does his novels, and that's saying something indeed. This is the story of a murderous ex-con who wants, with all his being, to be able to ignore the pleas for help coming from a little girl being sexually abused by her father. Getting involved, as Ishmael knows only too well, will get him killed. But this lonely, friendless killer finds he can't turn a blind eye to a desperate child, and the question becomes not can he survive the fallout, but only how long can he avoid it. I've never read anything by Smith that didn't steal my breath, and this story is no exception.