Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: DEAD IN THE WATER by Tania Chandler

I was really impressed with Tania Chandler's debut novel, Please Don't Leave Me Here; a book that explored two very different and unique sides to her lead character Brigitte, a wife, mother and victim. The balance between crime and literary-like insight was perfect and complementary. The follow-up however, didn't hit the same chords. 

Dead in the Water sees Tania Chandler return to Brigitte as she rebuilds her life following the events of the first novel. Living on a small island and married to a policeman, she spends a lot of her time traversing back forth from the mainland for work and day-to-day life. It's this daily routine coupled with Brigitte's inner turmoil surrounding her adulterous thoughts that consumes a large part of the novel. At times tedious and, for lack of a better word, boring, I found myself skimming over the chapters just to get to the parts of the novel which focused on the peripheral murder investigation.

The murder of a celebrity chef is the undercurrent that spans Brigitte's own encounter with death, yet again. Requiring the reader to suspend belief is part and parcel when reading fiction, but the amount of bad luck that follows Brigitte is hard to swallow, particularly as it's written in a way which is more sub plot than crime fiction - which is ok if you're into that sort of thing - I'm not.  

Dead in the Water was an ok read which didn't match my expectations given how good Please Don't Leave Me Here was.   

I was provided a copy by the publisher in exchange for a honest review. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Review: CLASH OF EAGLES by Alan Smale

Imagine a Roman empire so mighty that it never fell and crushed all those who stood in their way as they pursued a never ending expansion across continents and into the fertile and dangerous lands of North America. 

Clash of Eagles allows history to alter. Bringing the Roman army to the shores of North America and face to face with American natives. Steel swords and sophisticated battle strategy clash with poison arrows, stealth attacks, and the mound-building Cahokiani.

However, for The 33rd Roman Legion, led by Praetor Gaius Marcellinus on their quest for an easy conquest and acquisition of gold ends in a bloody battle at the hands of the fantastical flight warriors of the Cahokiani outside of Cahokia.

With Marcellinus the sole survivor, he switches allegiance and joins the Cahokiani, bringing modernised Roman warfare to Cahokia to give them the advantage in the never ending Morning War against their local enemy of Iroqva.

Clash of Eagles is loaded historical fact and a healthy dose of fantasy; author Alan Smale gets the dosage just right. Clash of Eagles reads as 'real' with a deep core character in Marcellinus and a Cahokiani supporting cast that I just want more of. 

Beware, Clash of Eagles, while depicting an interesting side of life in Cahokia also has a fair amount of battle scenes, as you'd expect - they are gory, frenetic and not for the squeamish - but I liked them.

The first book in the Hesperian Trilogy is a great start with a semi-cliff hanger ending (don't worry, Clash of Eagles still feels like a complete read) that has me adding Eagle in Exile (book 2) straight to the top of my 'next to buy' list.  

I was provided a copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review: SKIN PALACE by Jack O'Connell

SKIN PALACE paints a picture of a certain kind of book. One where the adult entertainment industry is at the forefront and, being a crime novel, accompanied by an ever present underworld influence. That's not what SKIN PALACE is about. It's a character study and so much more; a steady evolution of character through a decrepit viewfinder.

True, criminalities seep into the seedy underworld of sex, drugs and adultery bringing together critical plot elements centered around film, photography and family drama to form a complex topsy turvy narrative depicted in equal parts night and day. Yet it's the lives of the characters that envelope the reader in a shroud of uncertainty, trying to figure out each angle, plot thread, and core direction of story. 

A the center of all that happens in SKIN PALACE is Sylvia who's passion for photography leads her to the Canal Zone; a dangerous quadrant of the city and rabbit hole of sorts which brings together a mystery of a man, a bloodthirsty gang, and a cinema (The Skin Palace) owner who sees something in her that her partner (and lawyer) doesn't - exploitation or opportunity?

SKIN PALACE is complex, interesting, and certainly not what I was expecting - in a good way. Despite being book 3 in the Quinsigamond Quintet it reads perfectly well as a standalone. Highly recommended. 

I was provided a copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Review: GUNSHINE STATE by Andrew Nette

The thief’s theme is rife in this cross continent noir by Aussie crime writer Andrew Nette.

Gary Chance makes his hard earned cash from stealing others hard earned cash. He’s a professional in a profession where the big ‘pay-off’ is the pinnacle but prison is a more probable outcome – if not death. His latest job takes him to the Gold Coast but all is not glitter, gold and sunny beaches. The planning is precise, the target a foreigner with a penchant for poker games and an accumulator of cash. Gary’s newly assembled team (consisting of less than reputable and trustworthy characters) looks set to score but things soon change when bundles of drugs are discovered midway through executing the plan. Unbeknownst to Gary, this had been planned from day one – only no one told him. With the stakes raised, bullets puncture the thinly veiled fabric of Gary’s reality and he’s soon on the run with an unlikely traveling companion from both killers and the law.

Make no mistake, Gary isn’t just a thief, he’s a harden criminal with contacts, motivation, and a knack for getting into and out of trouble. The Parker influence abounds with Gary a well-defined Australian counterpart to Richard Stark’s popular character. Gary is street smart who plays the hardman as easily as he plays the lover. His easy acquiescence to violence akin to Parker at his most dangerous.

GUNSHINE STATE’s distinct stanzas read as bite sized chunks of episodic noir, each comprising a full complement of crime, characterisation, and sub plot which bind together to form part of a broader narrative. While helping to keep the story fresh, these distinct elements enhance the reader experience by flipping the script from a locale perspective and changing up criminalities.

I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend readers of Richard Stark’s Parker series check it out. 

I was given a copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Catching up on Crime Fiction: WOLD GONE BY by Dennis Lehane

The Coughlin saga ends in a satisfying hail of bullets with WOLD GONE BY reaffirming Lehane’s place as one of my go-to-for-a-great-mob-book authors.

Joe Coughlin has lost his wife and buried many friends during his life as a fedora wearing, smooth dressing gangster but WORLD GONE BY takes his time in ‘this thing of ours’ to new extremes. Learning of a contract being placed on his head by a less than reputable source does little to crease Joe’s smooth veneer – after all, he’s more a businessman these days, too valuable to the underworld to lie six deep but when the threat steadily emerges and the pieces align to a pistol pointed his way, Joe does what he does best – lean on his standing in the crime community to negotiate a deal to keeps his lungs full of air, and his enemies/friends pockets lined with cash.

Yeah, that doesn't quite work out.

WOLD GONE BY is an emotionally charged book thanks to some very good writing and solid plotting. Joe and his crime compatriots are well defined characters that give life the underworld. I’m still left reeling from the conclusion and suspect I will for some time yet – Lehane has crafted cinematic quality structured scenes written to make an impact – and that they do. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

Would I re-read? Yes (and its predecessor LIVE BY NIGHT) 

Fiction Filed under: Crime, This Thing of Ours, Family Drama,  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review: REVOLVER by Duane Swierczynski

REVOLVER is fine storytelling - seamlessly switching gears through alternating timelines to deliver a multifaceted crime tale, steadily increasing in complexity as the narrative unfolds. Spanning three generations each enveloped in heady blood red mist of murder and mystery surrounding the deaths of Philadelphia cops Stan Walczak and George Wildey in 1965, Swierczynski ensures his fictitious bullet fired some 50years past is still dangerous in the present.

Audrey is a CSI in training, studying her craft from afar, the family outcast is cast into the spotlight when she seeks to uncover the truth surrounding her grandfather’s murder in 1965. With her father (Jim) a cop and brother (Stas), her keen eye and inherent internal compass for justice (albeit a justice that feels slightly out of character) is right on point. What she discovers is just as destructive now as that day when her grandfather and his partner were gunned down. This time it’s not bullets raining down on her family but syrupy secrets and morbid revelations.  

The route REVOLVER takes is not conventional and that’s one of its biggest drawcards. Linking different timelines through a single act of violence without giving away the motivation while embedding a complex family drama element is satisfying reading when done right – luckily it is here.

Readers of Swierczynki’s previous works will see REVOLVER as somewhat of a departure from what’s come before and a progression in his crime fiction prowess. While being a self-contained story, the door is left ajar for further exploration into the Walczak world – fingers crossed Swierczynski revisits it again at some stage.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Would I re-read? Yes

Fiction Filed under: Crime, Cop Story, Family Drama,  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Catching up on Crime Fiction: THE STRANGLER by William Landay

Wow – I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. Jumping in, I thought I was up for a run of the mill semi historical crime novel, what I got instead was a deep seeded mystery with a heavy emphasis on strong characters intertwined in a family drama.

The three Daley brothers; Joe – the cop with a habit of getting in deep with the mob, Michael – the lawyer assigned to the Strangler task force, and Ricky – the cocksure criminal and professional cat burglar each bring a unique angle to the story centered around a spate of murders targeting young and old women alike. On the peripheral is the JFK assassination which does little to impact the story aside from providing context to the period piece.

At times THE STRANGLER read like an episode of the Sopranos, complete with the double crosses, violence, and jovial banter between characters that were staples of the series proper. The thin blue line did little to separate the good-guys from the bad-guys as the Daley struggles fought the system and each other just to stay whole.

Overall, this was a great read. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

Would I re-read? Yes

Fiction Filed under: Crime, Family Drama, Mobsters, Boston,