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

July 24, 2012

Quick bytes

CAPTURE, by Roger Smith. Somewhere on the Internet recently I came across a discussion about what constituted or defined neo-noir. This book is my idea of what neo-noir is all about: the same sick, twisted, desperate, going-down-the-tubes characters found in original noir plus the faster pace and action usually found in thrillers. In this latest release, Smith somehow manages to conjure up a character, Vernon Saul, who is evil incarnate. What kind of man can sit back and watch a child drown, his inaction solely for the thought that he might find an angle to gain some kind of power over the grieving parents? And yet the reader cannot help but sympathize with the abused child that preceded the man Vernon became. There is a line delivered by William Peterson in the 1986 Michael Mann film, MANHUNTER, that perfectly sums up my feelings toward Vernon Saul:
My heart bleeds for him, as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he's irredeemable... As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks.
CAPTURE is bit more of a psychological character study than Smith's previous novels, but the tension ratchets up, chapter by chapter, to a shattering and satisfying denouement. RECOMMENDED.

THE KINGS OF COOL, by Don Winslow. If this book is your introduction to Don Winslow's work, you're starting in the wrong place. Back up a book and read SAVAGES first. Yes, THE KINGS OF COOL is a prequel so you ought to be able to start there, right? Um, no. This origin story of Ben, O, and Chon is best viewed through the wrong end of the telescope, so to speak. The plot premise is similar to SAVAGES: Interlopers want to cut in on our trio's marijuana business. Winslow determinedly takes the story in a different direction than SAVAGES though, finding new ways to delicately gut the souls of his characters. Not quite as fresh nor as savagely (see what I did there?) sharp as its predecessor, THE KINGS OF COOL still delivers on its title. RECOMMENDED.

A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME, by Wiley Cash. The author uses first-person accounts from three characters: a county sheriff, an elderly woman, and an eight-year-old boy, to turn a simple tale of being in the wrong place at the wrong time into a Greek tragedy. With a genuine sense of place and fully rounded characters, the reader is pulled into a small town where too much faith in a fundamentalist, snake-handling preacher leads to heartbreak for one family. The prose is graceful, the story powerful and unforgettable. Here's a link to the first chapter. Read it and tell me what you think. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

MISS PYM DISPOSES, by Josephine Tey. If this is the first Tey you read after enjoying her wonderful DAUGHTER OF TIME, you're in for a shock. It only takes three words to sum up this tale of wrongdoing at an all-girls' school: Tedious and obvious. On the other hand, if you think SPELLBOUND is Alfred Hitchcock's greatest movie, you may very well enjoy this book.

THE GIRL IN THE CELLAR, a 1961 release by Patricia Wentworth, has an unforgettable opening chapter that will delight any fan of modern day thrillers: A young woman regains consciousness, but with amnesia, in a dark cellar with the corpse of another woman. After that terrific tease the pace drops to a crawl. The plot creaks through the tropes of Golden Age mysteries, though it is too slight overall to say it lumbers. Strictly for those who want their fictional murders kept offstage and no chance of an increase in the heart rate.

NICEVILLE by Carsten Stroud. I loved the first 50 pages of this book. I might have loved the rest of it if I enjoyed paranormal, gothic, oogie-boogie goings on, but I generally don't. If you do, jump on this one, but be ready to juggle numerous plot lines and characters that eventually intertwine. Give the author his due: he isn't just cranking out the same-old-same-old here, he's trying something a bit new in form and construction. It's a fine balancing act that, for me, was only partially successful. This one starts out with a boy gone missing. Instantly gone missing. As in, here he is and in the next millisecond, he has vanished. And it's on video, not tampered with. From there, the mysteries and oddities become abundant.