Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pick Up A Pulp [4]: STRANGE EMBRACE by Lawrence Block

A Touch of Squalor producer Johnny Lane stumbles upon the murder of young and promising starlet Elaine, found dead, in the nude with her throat slit. Despite the horrendous nature of this unfortunate event, this being showbiz, the show must go on. 

STRANGE EMBRACE is pure pulp, rather than the sleaze pulp/soft-core erotica I had anticipated (by virtue of the cover painting) and is more derived from the classic yet contained whodunit formulaic laden fiction of the genre.

Written in 1961 (this edition first publicised by Hardcase Crime under the authors actual name) STRANGE EMBRACE ages well. The characters are typecast, the mystery omnipresent,  and a touch of humour (notably between the producer and investigating officer) compliments proceedings as the nature of the murder and whispering threat of violence unravels.

Producer Johnny Lane plays detective as he deduces and evaluates potential suspects from within the troupe of Broadway’s A Touch of Squalor. Whilst it’s easy enough to see where the conclusion is heading, I did enjoy reading Johnny’s mishap and defamation of character time and time again.

Johnny’s natural attraction and relationship with one of his other stars was also enjoyable and added depth to the lead character as more than an investigating producer trying to muscle his way into the world of crime and debauchery. Written more as a means to throw the reader’s perception of Johnny, it didn’t quite work but did enough to cloud my perception of his judgement.

STRANGE EMRACE is a one sitting read that achieves what it sets out to do – provide a bite size portion of popcorn pulp that’s entertaining and easily consumable.    

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Catching Up On Crime: EAST OF A by Russell Atwood (1999)

East of AEAST OF A started with a bang, a near pitch perfect opening which looked to have set the tone for the remainder of the book; equal parts action and humour with a touch of character development thrown in to allow an immediate connection with the down-on-his-luck PI Payton Sherwood.

Coming to the aid of a young women who’s being roughed up by a couple of thugs, Sherwood steps in only to be handed a beating and then have his watch stolen by the very woman he was trying to save.

From there the plot follows Sherwood as he searches for this mystery women in order to retrieve his stolen goods. What he discovers is a deeper seeded mystery involving the theft of a new street drug, murder, and criminal activity that he didn’t sign up for.

EAST OF A follows a tight script and is much improved on the other Payton Sherwood novel I read published by Hardcase Crime, LOSERS LIVE LONGER. I though the pacing was right on par and the course of the investigation organic and not without justification.Yet EAST OF A just didn’t live up to that opening billing and the ending did feel too abrupt. That said I’ll be sure to search for more books featuring PI Payton Sherwood if they’re out there.

Advance Review: MERRICK by Ken Bruen

MerrickMerrick – former PI and partner of author Reed Farrel Coleman’s series PI Moe Prager now runs a bar having retired from the detective gig. However, with Moe out of commission, there’s one case that hangs over Merrick; missing children and the taunting perpetrator – one case he can’t walk away from but can’t solve on his own.

Ken Bruen’s newest lead character creation Tommy Ryan has elements of Bruen’s penultimate Guarda Jack Taylor but with a little more restraint and a greater moral compass. He’s looking to make a fresh start in America having lost his way and all that matters in life in his homeland.

The two cops find each other over a couple of brews and instantly bond – soon enough they’re teaming up to crack down on children killers with their own brand of justice.

MERRICK is loaded with little easter eggs for fans of Ken Bruen’s other books. The Jack Taylor series resemblance is here, as are subtle nods to TOWER (co-authored by Reed Farrel Coleman) and ONCE WERE COPS.

Ryan is the main character and reads very well. Bruen devoted a lot of time and effort in making him multi dimensional with his personal life and relationship with a local Indian woman sharing top billing with the case itself. Interestingly enough, Merrick read as a sidekick which makes this title somewhat misleading.

It’s evident there’s to be more books featuring the two and if MERRICK is anything to go by, the new series has potential.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Best Books 2014: Surreal Picks & What To Look Forward To

Of late, my reading has leaned towards the surreal (fantasy, horror, sci-fi etc.) which is a good thing as 2014 has already produced some great reads. Below are some of my picks from what I've read and a mention at some of the books I'm really excited about yet to be published.

In no particular order:

Picks of 2014 (to be or already published):

The Girl with All the Gifts Hang Wire The Almost Girl

Murder of Crows (The Others, #2) The Burning Dark Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth

Read the reviews:

Now a look ahead:

The Seal of the Worm (Shadows of the Apt #10) Clariel (Abhorsen, #4) Hellhole Inferno (Hellhole, #3)

Broken Monsters The Broken Eye (Lightbringer, #3) Multiversum (Multiversum, #1)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First Look: NIGHT TERRORS by Tim Waggoner

Night Terrors (Shadow Watch, #1)NIGHT TERRORS is a ridiculously fun book to read – a concoction of nightmares, detective drama, and the supernatural that stretches the fabric of reality and bleeds surreal through the seams.

Shadow Watch officers/agents Audra (an Ideator, maker of nightmares) and Jinx (an Incubus, Audra’s nightmare made real) are introduced to the reader following the unsuccessful collar of another Incubus causing havoc amongst the general populace.  It is during this episode of violence that a Maelstrom opens up, dredging up monsters and supernatural horrors bringing the Shadow Watch partners out of the shadows and into full light of their superiors and many terrified onlookers. From here a tried and tested detective formula precedes the investigation – yet with a shade of the surreal.

I really like the dynamic of the unpredictable duo in Audra and Jinx, not only does the real life existence of Audra’s worst nightmare work with her day and night (Ideators don’t need sleep, often relying on illegal drugs to maintain alertness) but often saves her from other peoples tormented and ghastly creations. Jinx, being a murderous clown, packs a few big gloved punches (or mallets) to go along with his humour which lightens the mood and breaks-up the procedural nature of their investigation.

NIGHT TERRORS has a lot going for it and I’m pleased that it’s the first in a series focusing of the Shadow Watch as Jinx is one nightmare that I, as a reader, wouldn’t mind reoccurring.

NIGHT TERRORS is due out in May 2014 from Angry Robot. Read more here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: KING OF THORNS by Mark Lawrence

King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #2)Four years have passed since the Prince of Thorns, Jorg Ancrath forged his place atop a fractured and broken throne won with the blood of his brothers and those who dared to stand in his way. Now, the Price of Arrows threatens all that the newly proclaimed King Jorg has taken. Marching twenty thousand strong to his doorstep, the Price of Arrowshas Jorg’s number but not his thirst and talent for bloodshed. KING OF THORNS pits Jorg against a worthy foe, albeit a mere mortal who just might cut the killing king down to size. Might.

KING OF THORNS is really a novel of two tales. For the better part, the present day battle and attempted take-over of Jorg’s kingdom is secondary to the throw-back chapters of four years prior. Despite the aptly titled, King of Thorns, more than half is a direct sequel to PRINCE OF THORNS with a dedicated and elaborate focus on Jorg forging alliances with other amenable states in the preparation of war some three months after taking the throne. This does well to link the allegiances we see in the present day confrontation and gives context to the relationships between the newer characters introduced across the Broken Empire.

As for the ‘wedding day’ story arc set in the present, as the chapter title suggest, this is a single event of monolithic proportions which, not only provides Jorg with a wife and Queen to his kingdom, but a clever and strong minded companion who aides the war effort in more ways than one. Author Mark Lawrence does a great job at providing some redeemable qualities to his very tainted and horribly violent lead character – the introduction of the bride-to-be helps with that.

Initially I was taken aback by the continued references to the back-story, after all there is a whole book dedicated to the Prince prior to becoming King yet as the novel progresses these chapters became more and more relevant and enhanced the present day storyline.

While the fantastical elements are obvious, the medieval, strategic warfare, and futuristic components add a nice touch to KING OF THORNS, making this one of the more enjoyable and distinct concepts in the genre.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Catching up on crime: ATOMIC CITY by Sally Breen

Atomic CityThis is an interesting book on so many levels. Despite enjoying it there was something that felt a little off. Set on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia it was nice to see an Aussie author tackle noir and do it well. I thought the writing was at times poetic and vivid, with the seedy depiction of the sunshine state a real highlight.

One thing that bugged was that the characters just didn’t feel real, more a cardboard cut-out than three dimensional. That said the author did go to some length to make Jade, one half of the books’ focus, a tormented and deeply scarred individual with a penchant for the grifters game, same with the titular male lead ‘The Dealer’ – the foundation for a decent character yet something was just a little off centre.

The plot revolves around Jade and her attempts at luring members of the opposite sex into her world of scams and cons. For the most part she’s successful but quickly shows her devil may care attitude when switching sides to hook up with a prominent underworld figure, leaving The Dealer alone with his thoughts of past capers and romanticisms.

From that point forward, the reader learns not to trust her narrative nor The Dealers as jealously boils over and versions of the truth become skewed.

I give this 4 stars on Goodreads but not with confidence. The premise and poetry enough to satisfy me despite the lack of character depth.