Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2016 Crime Fiction Recommendations

As the year winds down and 2017 approaches, I thought I'd tale a look back at the crime fiction reads that impressed me the most from this years batch of releases. While I haven't read anywhere near the same amount of books as previous years, 2016 still saw a number of quality crime books being published. 

Here are my recommendations in no particular order. 

RevolverREVOLVER 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.

Read the review

Gunshine StateGUNSHINE 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. 

Read the review

The Hit (Leone Scamarcio, #3)THE HIT by Nadia Dalbuono

Sex, lies, and criminal ties. A sudden and dramatic car crash leaves a top television exec dazed and confused; more so when he realizes a good Samaritan is a sheep in wolfs clothing, and is part of an elaborate ruse to kidnap his family. As Leone Scamarcio investigates the nature of the kidnapping a connection to organised crime and a shady brother in-law emerge as key pieces to the puzzle. With the investigation slipping away, and suspects mounting, Scamarcio’s lone wolf investigative approach might not be enough to save the exec’s wife and child.

Read the review

Black Sails, Disco InfernoBLACK SAILS, DISCO INFERNO by Andrez Bergen

BLACK SAILS, DISCO INFERNO is a criminally good novel that ripens the rotten forbidden fruit of romance amid the slippery red violence of the underworld in a classic retelling reminiscent of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet.

Read the review

The Emerald Lie (Jack Taylor, #12)THE EMERALD LIE by Ken Bruen

As with the previous books in this series, The Emerald Lie reads more as a character study than crime novel, with Jack, the glue that binds Bruen's noir enriched world of fiction together. Well known for being a drunkard and not one to shy away from drugs and violence, Jack once again dons the tried and true persona to great effect. His nonchalance customary to the crimes he takes as cases, yet he yields results inadvertently by virtue of proximity, luck, and shear will. The Grammatical killer, the antagonist with a not so obscure link to Jack, is the latest niche serial killer to wade into the cross-hairs.

Read the review

The Nice Guys: The Official Movie NovelizationTHE NICE GUYS by Charles Ardai

Holland March is a private eye, hired to track down deceased porn star, Misty Mountains - wait, she's supposed to be dead right? Not according the elderly woman who swears she saw her briefly before Misty turned heel and did a runner from her home - the day after flipping her car and officially being declared dead. Jackson Healy is the tough guy who was hired by Amelia, a young woman with a striking resemblance to Misty, to put the hard word on a man (March) who had been snooping around her. The two cases collide in a wave of conspiracy, murder and evil schemes that neither could have predicted. 

Read the review

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review: STAR WARS: CATALYST, A ROGUE ONE NOVEL by James Leceno

New cannon setting: The first part of the book is set during the clone wars, part 2 onward leads up to the Rogue One movie. There is no direct interaction (as far as I could tell) with other novels set in this time period; Lords of the Sith, A New Dawn). 

Primary characters: Smuggler and pilot Has Obitt, scientist Galen Erso, his wife Lyra, and young daughter Jyn, and the ambitious Orson Krennic - the man responsible for weaponising the Death Star 

My brief plot summary: Prequel to Rogue One, sets the foundations for the Death Star. 

My Thoughts: Catalyst Reads well as a standalone - this is one of those Star Wars books readers could enjoy simply to get a taste of what's to come in Rogue One without worrying about the baggage of the new cannon. That said, some familiarity with the characters and earlier movies will improve the reader experience (The Clone Wars features prominently in discussion throughout the earlier stages while Tarkin (A New Hope) is a key figure.

While it lacks the same level of adventure and action as some of the other new cannon books, Catalyst does provide an important look at the early development of the Death Star's eventual world destroying weapon and the nuances that go into getting the Empire established. Remember, most of the people across the galaxy know not of Palpatine's evil ways.

Author James Luceno also wrote another of the Star Wars new cannon novels in Tarkin; this is evident in Catalyst with the character featuring prominently. I loved the way Luceno played Krennic and Tarkin off one another, the dynamic was tense to say least. 

As far as the other characters go, there is a little bit of Han Solo to Has; a tried and tested formula that is proven to work, so why not adopt here? Luckily, the typecast suits Has and his character develops into its own, rather than becoming a Han-like clone. The Eros' fit the Rebel mold perfectly while the bit players (Saw most notably) add a little something. 

Catalyst doesn't bring much new to the franchise but it does serve its purpose in wetting the appetite for Rogue One. A must read for Star Wars fans but not essential to the casual observer. 

3 / 5 stars. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Best Short Stories of Daniel Woodrell's THE OUTLAW ALBUM

The Outlaw Album is a collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors in Daniel Woodrell. The vast majority are very short (5 to 10 pages) and in some instances this is too short, but the length generally works.  

The Echo of Neighborly Bone is a tale of a deranged and violent individual in a rural setting who becomes a serial killer of one. murdering his neighbor time and time ago. The ending was a little of for me, and threw the story making it not feel complete.

One of my favorites, Uncle is about a sexual predator; a menacing figure who has his way with young women on vacation. He's a predator who not only takes what he wants from strangers but family too. Woodrell writes a clever and evocative tale of revenge with prolonged satisfaction for the sufferance of the man who ultimately gets his comeuppance.

Twin Forks is a small town campers delight that touches upon the rural noir Woodrell writes so well without quite giving up the goods to satisfy this reader. The story itself felt like it was just getting started before ending. 

Florianne is an emotional tale which lacks depth of a missing daughter not found. More of a thought provoking narrative than deep and meaningful mystery. 

The Night Stand was strange and engaging. Woken by a man standing over a couple as they slept, the recently startled awake male contributes to a seemingly premeditated intruder suicide. Good depth and back-story - it would make a great novel. 

Some of the stories in the middle of the collection felt flat; one about a Chinese whisper that grew and got murky over time and another about a man in prison with a knack for poetry, while well written didn't really engage the reader. The later stories also didn't do it for me which is disheartening as the collection got off to a relatively strong start.

Fans of Woodrell will no doubt have read this. I was left with mixed feelings - perhaps my exceptions were too high but for some reason the majority of the stories just didn't connect with me; I'd rate this book a 2 out of 5. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

THE NICE GUYS: The Official Movie Novelization

Charles Ardai is one of my favorite authors, under the alias, Richard Aleas,  he's penned two of the most enjoyable Hard Case Crime books I've read in Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence as well as the epic 50 to One under his own name, also by Hard Case Crime. This time 'round Ardai puts his skills to use, adapting the The Nice Guys screenplay into a laugh out loud buddy cop-like story that captures the essence of the characters beautifully and adding that little bit extra. 

Holland March is a private eye, hired to track down deceased porn star, Misty Mountains - wait, she's supposed to be dead right? Not according the elderly woman who swears she saw her briefly before Misty turned heel and did a runner from her home - the day after flipping her car and officially being declared dead. March is a guy with questionable ethics, and he's sure as hell not about to let an easy payday pass him by. He takes the case but it doesn't turn out at all like he had hoped...

Jackson Healy is the tough guy who was hired by Amelia, a young woman with a striking resemblance to Misty, to put the hard word on a man (March) who had been snooping around her. 

The two cases collide in a wave of conspiracy, murder and evil schemes that neither could have predicted. 

I read the book before watching the movie and have got to say, the novelization was better - which is to take nothing away from the buddy-cop laugh out loud premise of the movie - they were both very fun to read / watch. 

The human is on point, the story rushes along at breakneck speed, jumping from one problem to the next as the 'heroes' bundle their way through the case.

I highly recommend checking out both forms of media.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Pick Up A Pulp [14]: THE SCARLET FLUSH by Carter Brown

The Carter Brown mysteries can be hit or miss, such is the nature of a dime-store pulp hack, the novels often being churned out within quick succession of one another, written with little to no editorial influence. Luckily, THE SCARLET FLUSH falls into the 'hit' category. 

Down on his luck and in debt to the house for over ten thousand dollars, gambler Mike Farrell finds himself staring at a bottomless pit; one that sucks the cash and life right out of him. Putting all he has on 0 at the roulette wheel in a last chance high risk, high reward stake; he nails the risk but not the reward. Soon he's hustled into a back office by a couple of heavies thinking he's about to get a beating, only to be confronted by a dame to kill for; a curvy blonde with a heart-shaped face and a body that draws the eye in all the right places. The kicker - she's also got a proposal that'll not only clear Mikes' debt but leave him twenty thousand dollars richer.

All Mike has to do is impersonate Mike Kluger, a jewel thief who is due to return home to a lovely and lonely wife after seven years in prison. Sure, he just happens to 'look' like Kluger, but can he pull of 'being' Kluger in order to find where the hidden diamonds have been stashed all these years?

The Scarlet Flush is cheesy and entertaining. Every woman Farrell encounters (bar one, I should mention) is gorgeous and willing to drop their inhibitions as quickly as they are to drop love laced one liners. While the criminal element itself plays out in page turning anticipation. There's even a crafty twist involving Kluger's wife I didn't see coming. 

The Scarlet Flush, originally published in 1963, is hands down one of my favorite Carter Brown books and well worth tracking down.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Review: OLD SCORES by David Whish-Wilson

No one writes West Australian crime fiction like David Whish-Wilson. Old Scores once again transports the reader back in time, this time to the 1980's at the beginning of the urban boom. 

Frank Swan, cop turned P.I turned WA Premier's fixer, returns for a third installment bringing with him all the baggage carried over from Line of Sight and Zero At The Bone. This time, however, he's out on his own, solving problems for the premier before the media catches of wind of their existence while acting as a quasi security guard. 

Read the review of Zero At The Bone

Read the review of Line of Sight

The premier, having already committed to furthering the urban sprawl has his sights set on prime real-estate to develop. Swan is asked to look over the tenders by one of the premier's minders to undercover any shady dealings. What Swan finds, is more than he bargained for. 

With the ghosts of his past returning to haunt him, and the real and ever present threat of Chief of police Hogan, Swan navigates through a criminal underworld populated by bikies, drug lords, scam artists, ex-cons, police, and politicians to uncover a spate of illegal and unethical doings by the bidders which, if not carefully handed and eradicated could result in dire consequences for the premier - and Swan himself.

While Swan is the cog that keeps the plot turning, there are a number of threads involving equally interesting characters with unique and deep backstories; Des Foley, the Good Morning Bandit is colorful and not without an element of danger, while Blake Tracker is a young man harshly dealt with by the law who is on the run after a successful jailbreak. While not seemingly connected to one another in the early stages of the novel, Whish-Wilson brings these threads together to form a single cohesive narrative that is a joy to read. I couldn't help but get caught up in Des's mission on behalf of his mother as well as Blake's uncertain future on the run. Old Score envelopes the reader into not only a time and place, but puts them firmly in the mind off the characters. 

Old Scores is a must read for fans of Australian crime fiction and/or crime fiction in general.

Old Scores is published by Fremantle Press and is available for purchase now. Read more from their website:

https://www.fremantlepress.com.au/products/old-scores

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Review: STAR WARS: BLOODLINE by Claudia Gray

New cannon setting: after the Aftermath trilogy written by Chuck Wendig and before The Force Awakens. 

Primary characters: Populist senator Leia Organa, Centrist senator Ransolm Casterfo, Leia's assistant and former race pilot Greer Sonnel, x-wing pilot Joph Seastriker, Cenrist senator Lady Carise

My brief plot summary: Leia and her team investigate shady dealings reported to the senate involving a new criminal power with unprecedented financial backing who threatens the stability of the New Republic; a more prominent far reaching Hutt enterprise or a covert military power establishing themselves as a prelude to war? 

My Thoughts: Galactic politics mixed with a bit of skulduggery. Leia is very well written and has a distinct voice which separates her from not only the other characters in the book but also from the other Star Wars stories she appears. Leia is older, wiser, and more well rounded in Bloodlines than her appearances in the original trilogy. That said, Han's influence is omnipresent in her actions; drinking, gambling, even sinking an entire city, killing thousands in order to achieve her mission objective (the mass killing surprisingly goes largely unnoticed in the book). 

The heavy emphasis on politics doesn't detract from the action. That old Star Wars galactic adventure feel is perfectly captured and the band of characters accompanying Leia feel like they belong - Joph, Geer, and Casterfo. There's also a nice segue into The Force Awakens thanks to the ambitious Centrist senator Lady Carise.

Bloodline is a fun read. Claudia Gray clearly knows her Star Wars history with references to movies and books spattered throughout. This certainly reads like part of the overall Star Wars story. 

'The sun is setting on the new republic. It is time for the resistance to rise."