Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: DARK CITY BLUE by Luke Preston

Dark City Blue by Luke Preston‘Justice’ is more an idea than concept or purpose for policing. It’s a universal term coined to facilitate the dispensing of action through lawful conduct on those who are in breach of maintaining public order. DARK CITY BLUE squashes the safety blanket-like public and policing perception by using this as a means of defining a central corrupt body of lawmakers and turning them into first class criminals. Protagonist, Bishop, a hard-man who’s shed more blood than tears is an honest cop in a world where disloyalty is rewarded. Not the type to turn a blind eye, he embarks on a one man mission to bring down a deeply entrenched seed of criminal activity right in the backyard of the boys in the blue.

Preston wastes no time in thrusting the reader face first into the action. From the opening scene Bishop is confronted with the underage sex trade, shotguns, and dead bodies. The high octane, noir on no-doze feel to DARK CITY BLUE doesn’t let up with Bishop piecing the broken bits of a blood encrusted puzzle one shard at a time over the course of a number of violent encounters with the law and lawless alike.

Bishop’s motive is fuelled by rage, derived through the clouded eyes of a dying, abused child, in Chloe. A captive against her will serving as no more than a means to fatten the pockets of the elusive entity known as ‘Justice’. As the body bag is zipped up, darkening the youthful body within, so does Bishops mood and determination. Throughout the course of the novel, moments exist where Bishop could walk, turn to IA, or act alone as a vigilante – luckily for the reader; he decides to go at it alone. Following the deathly whispers of ‘Justice’, Bishop learns of police involvement in a heist worth 15mil and other heinous crimes that threaten to tear apart the already thin fabric that holds the police department together.

Fellow officers, judges, commanders, criminals, snitches, undercover agents, and best friends all come scrutiny as Bishop kicks tail and takes names on the path to the truth. DARK CITY BLUE is delivered in a frenetic pace, while this had the potential to overshadow the novels protagonist, Preston still manages to establish a deep and painful back-story amongst the bullets and blood. It’s easy to see how Bishop can evolve into a serious series character. One can’t help but think the complexity of his character unearthed in DARK CITY BLUE is but the tip of the iceberg.

This is one shot of oz noir adrenaline not to be missed - 4 stars.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: THRILL CITY by Leigh Redhead

Thrill CityWho knew a bunch of writers, a secret, and copious amounts of alcohol could lead to murder? In THRILL CITY this is exactly what recently deregistered PI Simone Kirsch finds herself up against. THRILL CITY as the name implies leads one to think of an almost Sin City-like setting, a metropolis where crime is commonplace, where the sewer dwellers scuttle across the sodden streets and the law is, as if not more, unlawful than their criminal opposites. However, what transpires in Redhead's fourth Simone Kirsch novel is far from the underworld inspired seedy escapades of the previous instalments. THRILL CITY reads more like popular fiction with a little bit of traditional Redhead thrown in to keep series and hardboiled/noir fans semi-satisfied.
 
Despite a ghoulish murder and hazy link to a bikie gang, THRILL CITY is mostly a story of Simone Kirsch and her trials and lack of tribulations that affect her personal and professional life. Her relationships with Sean and Alex are paramount to proceedings, as is best friend and sometimes sidekick, Chloe's impending child birth. The heavy character centric focus had a tendency to stray away from the plot and action - while not necessarily a bad thing, I was hoping for more of CHERRY PIE - a high octane story full of tension, twists, and hardboiled action.
 
The unassuming group of suspects was a deviation from the format which made PEEPSHOW, RUBDOWN, and CHERRY PIE so enjoyable. Deriving a murder mystery from blue collars linked by a book tour was always going to wash away the grime and lighten the darker mode of storytelling. Luckily there are moments of crime that put this book back on the path to darker fiction - if only to dip a toe or two. That said, THRILL CITY is crime fiction, more mainstream than I would've liked and a tad longer and padded than necessary but still a must for any fan of the series.
 
This review all appears on the all Aussie crime blog http://fairdinkumcrime.com/

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review: THE STREET OF NO RETURN by David Goodis

Street of No Return by David Goodis'Street Of No Return' is one of my favourite Goodis novels. It's multi layered, has an interesting central character and a deep interlocking plot. Goodis views race riots, alcoholism, murder, police corruption and a deep seeded longing for a better place all through a tainted glass beer bottle. Whitey, a bum amongst bums, is mistaken for a murderer after trying to aide a felled police officer in a dark alleyway. His trip to the station house brings insight into the world around him. Danger and breathing go hand in hand. The world is not a nice place and the boys in blue have a hidden agenda.

I was surprised at how complex Goodis made 'Street Of No Return'. Not only did he maintain an interesting plot set in the present but also enveloped the reader in the past - a time when Whitey wasn't a street dweller and his clothes not insect infested. Even more interesting to read is how that past, and a women named Celia impact on the race riots happening around him in the present tense.

'Street Of No Return' is a fast paced crime novel - set primary at night to hold true to the noir theme. The protagonist is a helpless drunk, the good guys are bad, the bad guys are bad and the riots are only the tip of a much larger and deadlier iceberg. The speed at which the story is delivered is not without its filler content with some passages coming across as dialogue heavey and perhaps unwarrented.

The only thing that really holds 'Street Of No Return' back is the typical Goodis internal dialogue by which the character has a tendency to over think a situation and analyse every possible move and outcome. Some of this introspection detracted from the story at hand - which is a shame as the plot itself was excellent. That aside, I really enjoyed 'Street Of No Return' and have no hesitation is saying that this will be a future re-read.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: THE MOON IN THE GUTTER by David Goodis

The Moon in the Gutter by David Goodis"In the sticky darkness of a July midnight the cat waited there for more than a half hour. As it walked away, it lefts its paw prints in the dried blood of a girl who had died here in the alley some seven months ago."

Will Kerrigan is devoid of purpose following the death of his sister. He meanders through life working at the docks and obsessing over his lost family despite the fact he still has family members alive and well. An alleyway taunts him into action, the place of his sisters last breath draws his in and sets out a series of events which lead Will to discover the truth behind Catherine's demise.

An integral piece of this fragmented puzzle is a murder/suicide mystery compounded by the visual of dried blood in an alley and ghost of a memory. In Will’s sister Catherine, Goodis alludes to a ‘lady of the night’ profession without providing full disclosure. While tainting the deceased it also casts doubt on the pedestal Will so fondly sits Catherine atop. Her death constantly clouds his thoughts and impacts his judgment, even going so far as to point the finger at his own brother. This semi PI persona is made all the more attractive by hazy facts in light of Catherine’s death and Will’s questionable state of mind.

The sense of desired menace and unaccountable, unruly inhabitants of Vernon Street were delivered without conviction. Sure it’s a seedy place to live yet I think Goodis missed the target in conveying that true sense of dread after dark. Nick and Mooney are a couple of characters introduced early on who serve more as comic amusement than a testament to the terrors of Vernon. Personally I would've liked to have seen more of Ruttman, the infamous muscle of a man whose name is legend amongst the workers at the dock.

The main female lead in Loretta’s part felt misplaced. Along with her brother Newton slumming it on Vernon Street for kicks did little more than add another body to count against Catherine’s death. Loretta’s contribution didn’t account to much apart from adding an element of sass without substance while romanticising Will. For Newton, a frequent drinker, the bar (Dugan's Den) he’s most often cited provided the loud and boozy hovel needed in this kind of book. The bones of a deep and distinctly dark noir are there, yet the meat was nowhere to be found - shame really as Goodis is a master of noir, this just wasn't his best effort in my opinion.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: THE ROBBERS by Paul Anderson

The RobbersOn face value, ‘The Robbers’ looks to be a typical crime tale written by an author well versed in crime fictions true-to-life counterpart. However, the fa├žade is quickly diminished once the pages get turning. By in large, ‘The Robbers’ is noir; the protagonists are tainted, a law unto themselves, a band of brothers with a slightly skewed moral compass, their means justify the end. Some are family men, others glorified hounds yet they all serve a common purpose – clean the street of its scum by any means necessary.
 
“Think footy and you think Brereton, Dipper, Rhys-Jones and Lockett. The real hard c#nts … Think Victoria Police and you think The Robbers. We still shirtfront the bad blokes.”
 
This line sure gets my literary senses tingling - words direct from our own brand of Aussie noir. The members that comprise the elite Armed Robbery Squad are diverse, deep, and not afraid to go against the grain. There's something that invokes a sense of hero worship and desire to see them conquer all despite overwhelming odds against. From common criminals to IA to politicians, The Robbers are battling the world for the greater good. Sure their means are unconventional but then sometimes it takes violence to end violence.
 
Unofficial member, journalist Ian Malone adds another dimension to the group. His motive and means a constant question throughout the novel. Initially a carbon copy character lifted from a mainstream crime story, Anderson quickly establishes Malone as someone who has a police mentality hardened by a past many would kill to forget. Of all the colourful and interesting characters that caress the pages of THE ROBBERS, it's Malone that tops my list.
 
The Free Dictionary online (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/noir) describes noir as “of or relating to a genre of crime literature featuring tough, cynical characters and bleak settings” and is “suggestive of danger or violence”. Anderson nails this definition - split knuckles, bloodied streets, and brutal bashings are commonplace. Readers emotions will run high and low as they laugh, cry, hate and love right alongside The Robbers.
 
Colourful characters, distinct Australian dialogue, and Aussie Rules references - this is a book purpose built for blokes and fans of crime fiction who like their stories dark and on the rougher side of life. 5 stars.

Review: THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin

The Twelve (The Passage, #2)THE TWELVE is vastly different from THE PASSAGE in terms of plot focus and central theme. Apart from being set in the same world as its predecessor, THE TWELVE reads as an entirely different book conceptually. The virals and humanity's struggle to thrive in a limited existence was bound to evolve, yet it may have been to the detriment of all that Cronin had achieved in THE PASSAGE.
 
Where THE PASSAGE excelled in elements of survival horror, post apocalyptic dread, horrific creatures and a truly depressing and desperate setting, THE TWELVE is more thriller, action, almost special ops orientated. This approach, while decent in its own right, paled in comparison to the THE PASSAGE. I was hoping for something that followed up from THE PASSAGE, something that picked up the bloodied pieces of the shocking conclusion and maintained the same horror of the first instalment.
 
THE TWELVE in turn, focuses more on the human dynamic and less on the virals themselves. Amy, the mysterious thirteenth test subject becomes something much more than an everlasting, slow ageing viral cousin so to speak. Her story is one of the highlights, along with the expanded sub plot given to Alicia Donadio.
 
You could easily be excused for thinking THE TWELVE was written by Stephen King. All the hallmarks of a popular King horror are paramount through Cronin's THE TWELVE. Characters are given ample time to develop, past and present conflicts morph as one, the slow burning plot cruises along leisurely at times taking a back seat to dialogue or less critical narrative, and the overall feel is very in tune with Kings craft.
 
If not for THE PASSAGE, THE TWELVE would read much better. That said, THE PASSAGE is essential in defining the world and establishing the core characters. As much as I enjoyed THE TWELVE, I couldn't help but think it would've been much better if had resembled THE PASSAGE more. The ending has me counting down the days until the third book is released though my thirst isn't that of when THE PASSAGE concluded.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: THE BURGLAR by David Goodis

The Burglar, TheUnderneath the facade' of a heist novel lies a story about a damaged man who slowly finds himself, only to loose his tender grip on a perfect reality just as he begins to grasp it. Nat Harbin grew up, fostered by a thief, raised as one, consumed by the idea and thrill of the take. Deeper than most in the sub genre, 'The Burglar' inches towards literature by virtue of its core plot element and rationalisation of character. For Nat, the deducer, evaluator, and strategist, planning, execution and reward are drivers in a less than lawful lifestyle - this he recognises while succumbing to old adage of being a product of his environment. While the less than ideal childhood led him down the path to stolen jewels, police shootouts, death, and murder, its the steady cause for redemption and realisation of romantic notions that drives his character throughout the novel.

'The Burglar' offers a glimpse at the grim over glitter side of the profession. Herein lies broken truths and empty dreams as members of the gang turn all too quickly for monetary gain, damning false friendship in preference for saving themselves when the sirens come. Adding to a shattered criminal dynamic is a shyster in police blues who acts as the twist to each turn orchestrated by Goodis as the gang of thieves struggle to make way with their household take. The inception of the corrupt figure, a wolf in sheep's clothing, promises so much and delivers far more - a testament to Goodis' boundary-stretching noir (largely thanks to a mysterious women named Della who eases herself too easily into the frame).

Female lead Gladden is the primary reason for the novel's deception, turning heist to romance, to noir with literally qualities. Having grown up with Nat, there was always going to be some sort of complex - one that bears fruit just at the right time for the readers enjoyment.

My only real complaint with Goodis is that his male leads tend to be interchangeable, 'The Burglar', 'Dark Passage' and 'Nightfall' all have protagonists with similar if not the same voice, that aside, this was a nice read. Different to what I had perceived and rewarding all the same.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: DARKNESS COMES THIS WAY by Pixie Lynn Whitfield

Darkness Comes This Way (The Guardians of the Night #1)I should start this review by stipulating that 'Darkness Comes This Way' is a little left of centre from my typical reading. As a result I wasn't sure what to expect from this vampire/supernatural novel. Safe to say I was pleasantly surprised. The characters are dominated by their emotions, every action has a consequence, and the action scenes read like they are lifted from a big budget choreographed kung-fu flick - yep, they're that good.
 
One of the core strengths to 'Darkness Comes This Way' is the emphasis on a family dynamic separated by violence and mistrust which slowly forms as the characters define themselves by their actions. Zarah shows more heart and compassion than most vampire protagonists I've read while still dishing out gore with grace. She's a misplaced individual searching for the truth while trying to maintain some semblance of who she should be. Going Rogue and back to Guardian will do that. This could almost be deemed as a coming of age tale of love, loss and quest for a the truth which could derail all she knows.
 
Whitfield blends Humans, Guardians, Rogues, Fallen Angels, and something altogether different into a melting pot of suspense, action and tense scenes which left me on the edge of my seat. Never knowing how a Guardian/Rogue encounter will end, or how the Zarah/Draven dynamic plays out adds a little spice to each chapter.
 
Violence, cruelty, ambitions of domination - the parallels from real world to vampiric fiction are easily defined. Whitfield does a good job at making this tale of fiction read plausible in real life by subtlety linking a likeness to the world we live in. This touch and a revelation later in the book regarding the purpose of the Rogues are highlights of 'Darkness Comes This Way'.
 
Overall, this an easily readable and enjoyable form of escapism, one where a reader will be able to suspend his/her belief long enough to become enthralled in the world Whitfield has created and the fantasy-like characters that inhibit it. 4 stars.

Review: NIGHTFALL by David Goodis

NightfallVanning – a victim of circumstance is placed in the perfect and unforgiving wrong man scenario. Touted as a murderer, thief, and artist (yep there is some legitimacy to the protagonist), Vanning is the classic case of a man stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the run from the law and a gang of bank robbers, Vanning lives a life filled with paranoia and mistrust. In his mind, he’s innocent of the crimes he’s accused - his actions vindicated by circumstance yet there’s a subtle cloudiness to the believability of his mantra.

Like many other Goodis novels, ‘Nightfall’ questions the lead characters sincerity and state of mind. You never quite know if they are honest or are feigning innocence to mask sinister motives. This stems true for Vanning, the comely Martha, and Fraser – the man with whom Vanning shares a cat and mouse relationship.

The overtly insecure and semi-obsessive cop, Fraser is grounded only by his wife who seems to be the backbone of his sanity and manhood for that matter. With one eye on Vanning and another on the reward, Fraser acts as a lone wolf resembling more conventional PI than police (minus the hard-boiled persona).

It takes a good writer to evoke reader emotion, and Goodis is a great writer - I really disliked Fraser while I was genuinely concerned for the health and wellbeing of Vanning. That said; the characters alone weren’t quite enough to champion the story. The plot was good enough and the overall sense of chasing reality was executed well, however the dialogue fuelled by unbelievable character emotions (Vanning falling too easily in love for instance) spoiled what was a solid premise.

In ‘Nightfall’ the criminal element is secondary with human interaction the primary driver – had the dialogue and believability been a little more polished this would’ve worked well, however it just failed to hit the right notes but was still enjoyable to read.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: DARK PASSAGE by David Goodis

Dark Passage A prison break, a murder, an assault, an attempt at grand theft auto, an unfaithful husband, and bribing law enforcement - yet Goodis' protagonist, Vince Parry comes across as a soft hearted, overtly emotionally man who personifies the noir 'wrong-man' stereotype. After being convicted for the murder of his cheating significant other, Parry finds himself behind bars at San Quentin. Knowing he's innocent he masterminds an all too easy escape and subsequently finds himself at the mercy of a helping hand wanting nothing more than to heal his tarnished person.

Each core character's story interlopes with Parry the centre of the patchwork plot - a masterstroke of coincidence and tightly plotted linear focus. The Irene angle played out a little less believable yet presented enough surface reality to be plausible. The main event; the murder of Perry's cheating wife, Gert, leads to suspicion of everyone within the doomed couple's circle - notably Madge and Bob Rapf, a couple with a seemingly open relationship who both come under fire throughout proceedings. There's also a nice side bar which plays on Parry's paranoia following his escape - keep in mind the Studebaker while reading...

While entertaining enough throughout, Goodis employed an annoying element of estimation into almost anything that encompassed figures (distance travelled, time, money, etc.) - this had a tendency to be a distraction rather than an addition to the story. Other blips can be overlooked - notably some corny dialogue but then again this was written some time ago and rings true to the time and genre trappings.

Parry, prone to leak at the drop of a hat yet hardened enough to beat a man unconscious is an interested character made of two distinct halves - I'm not sure which takes prominence - the hard or heart? Goodis will question Parry's sanity and humility throughout, making 'Dark Passage' all the more true to the title. As noir/pulp as it gets - held together by the glue of intrigue and mystery while following a theme of the classic case of whodunit without the police procedural element.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bargain Books!

This weekend I found some great bargains at a couple of local libraries near me in the 'for sale' section. Going to the library and checking out what's on the sale rack usually results in an abundance of Patricia Cornwell or James Patterson but this time 'round I found something a little more to my liking:

All the Flowers Are Dying  Pandaemonium  Whiskey Sour (Jack Daniels Mystery, #1)

I have been eyeing off Christopher Brookmyre's 'Pandaemonium' ever since Bernadette from http://fairdinkumcrime.com/ recommended the book to me on Goodreads.com a while back. For some reason I didn't buy the book back then - luckily as I paid next to nothing for this little used copy. The book blurb can be found here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7438238-pandaemonium
 
Thanks to kindle short 'Serial' I've been hooked on books set in this universe of serial killers and determined cops. I've been wanted to get hold of 'Whiskey Sour' by J.A. Konrath for a little while to read where it all started. A real find, this one. Head here to read the book blurb: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/509702.Whiskey_Sour
 
The last of the books is a Matthew Scudder hardcover by Lawrence Block, 'All The Flowers Are Dying'. While this series has been largely hit or miss, I'm looking forward to reading this one. It's the 16th novel to feature Scudder and judging from the Goodreads.com ratings and blurb it looks to be a winner: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/919874.All_the_Flowers_Are_Dying
 
All up, this trio of treasures set me back a whopping 70 cents. I'd say that's a damn good investment if ever there was one!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review: A Death In Mexico by Jonathan Woods

A Death in Mexico‘A Death In Mexico’ looked promising, having read and loved, ‘Bad Juju’ I had high expectations for Woods’ debut. That’s the trouble with expectation; you’re indivertibly set up for disappointment. While 'A Death In Mexico' is a serviceable murder mystery laid out in police procedural fashion, it didn't captivate my attention to the extent of 'Bad Juju'.
 
The plot; a young gingra in Amanda Smallwood, a nude model from Texas, is found mutilated in the streets of San Migeul, Mexico. Her eyes have been gouged out and there is suspicion of rape. The body was discovered by an American couple stumbling home after consuming a little too much alcohol at the local watering hole. From there, they are faced with full frontal police corruption by means of a bribe to keep them out of the line of suspects and an overwhelming sense of something being a little left of centre in the small town. I liked the way Woods cut to the chase with the corruption angle. Not once did the author shy away from the lawmen's motives nor try to dress them as Hollywood heroes. The cops in 'A Death In Mexico' are little more than figureheads for law enforcement. The yin and yang, right and wrong was offset beautifully from the beginning. These cops have their own interests at heart and the publics second.
 
Central to the investigation is Inspector Hector Diaz, a somewhat shallow man who stumbles from woman to woman following an investigative logic derived from his manhood. While he wants to solve the murder, even pressure from the Mayor cant persuade him to drop his laid back, easy come easy go manner. Adding to the fact he believes his fellow cops to be incapable, the case was never going to be solved in typical fashion.
 
Every female is voluptuous and sex crazed, the men, a stereotype. This did tend to distract me, as every single woman was objectified in true pulp fashion. It took the glamour off of some of the more important female characters whose influence on the story warranted their oversexed persona.
 
'A Death in Mexico' is a police procedural with odd moments of dark humour and a deeper plot not realised until the later stages of the book. There are references to Crumley and Chandler but this book reads more like a dime-store pulp, simular in style and substance to Carter Brown rather than a hardboiled masterpiece. Make no mistake; ‘A Death In Mexico’ is a quick, and entertaining read – kind of McDonalds for the mind. It's not of the quality of 'Bad Juju' but then again, that was always going to be hard to live-up to.
 
My review of Bad Juju, a short story collection by Jonathan Woods can be found here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/159362076

Review: What It Was by George Pelecanos

What it Was‘What It Was’ is a sequel of sorts to ‘Hard Revolution’ and focuses more so on the criminal perspective rather than the PI angle of other Derek Strange novels. Frank Vaughn (aka Hound Dog), reunites with Derek, their bond formed in the blood of a criminal in ‘Hard Revolution’ is ever present. Derek, having quit the police force is now running a fledging PI firm is asked by an attractive woman to track down a ring of sentimental value. Vaughn, for his part, is investigating the murder of a local thug and informant who is a 'tester' of new product before it hits the street. Before long the cases interlock and the bullets fly.
 
Enter Red Fury, a street gangster with ambition to be legend. Pelecanos crafts some memorable execution-like scenes involving the ever hard Red and his partner in crime. Coco, Fury's other half is the perfect mob-like moll. She's the Madame of a local brothel and is just as tough as her man. As per any Pelecanoss novel, the characters are well defined and a joy to read, those who grace the pages of 'What It Was' are no different.
 
The Into and Outro provide a sense of continuity to the Strange saga, with Nick Stefanos and Derek recounting killer Red Fury’s rain of homicide in 1972. The bar room scene plays out almost as a direct flow on from ‘Soul Circus’, the last book to feature the PI combo of Strange and Quinn. So in many respect, ‘What It Was’ is a look back at the past with an eye to the future.
 
I also liked the additional content which provided an insight into the creative process. Pelecanos sighted true events and a conversation with Ed Burns. The idea of Red Fury is also planted in another Pelecanos novel,’ The Night Gardner’ which I’m yet to read.
 
'What Is Was' is close to the best book to feature Strange. It has an engaging plot, dramatic insight into a more mature Strange, and a criminal cast just as strong as Pelecanos' other books if not more so. I couldn't read this fast enough. 5 stars. Pelecanos has left plenty of room for more stories set either in the present or past. I sure look forward to seeing where he heads next.
 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich

The Bride Wore BlackWoolrich takes a unique spin on the police procedural by segregating scenes relevant to the crime investigation and that of the victims and perpetrator to create an almost short story like act linked by reoccurring characters. The deliberate separation served to create a sense of time and space between the murderous vixen and her hunter in detective Wanger, allowing the reader to focus more so on the events at hand, rather than the overarching investigation.
 
'The Bride Wore Black' lacks the poetic prose of other Woolrich novels (notably 'The Night Has A Thousand Eyes') and reads more like a modern day crime novel with a touch of Woolrich trademark noir. 'The Bride Wore Black' is not formulaic nor is it comparable to other novels I've read by Cornell Woolrich. Once the story gets underway it's a case of the unknown - failure and success in equal measure. Luckily, this format worked well and was enjoyable for most of the book.
 
The plot was simple enough - a women, for means unknown, acquaintances herself with members of the opposite sex only to wriggle her way into their lives for but a moment before snuffing them out. Leaving nothing but a conflicting description for those who see her passing by. The murderess is not without compassion, operating to a killers code rather than blatantly murdering anyone that gets in her way. If an innocent should stumble upon her she warns them off only to return to the task at hand. Her victims are selective. I liked the mystery that surrounds the murderess, her true identity and rationale behind the killings isn't apparent throughout the course of her actions.
 
The ending was the only downer in 'The Bride Wore Black'. It felt a little too convenient for my liking. It did have an interesting twist at the end which I didn't see coming. That aside, everything else about this was solid. The characters, even those with a short span were given time to develop and establish context to the story while the police equation was well documented and delivered in an interesting manner. If it weren't for the almost hurried ending I would've given this 5 stars. That said, I highly recommend 'The Bride Wore Black' - 3.5 stars.
 
My review of 'The Night Has A Thousand Eyes' as mentioned in this review can be found on my blog here: http://justaguythatlikes2read.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/review-night-has-thousand-eyes-by.html

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual VacancyI was interested to see how J.K. Rowling would move on from Harry Potter. A lot of reviews I'd previously read were condemning 'The Casual Vacacny' for essentially not being another book in the famous series without really looking at this in isolation. Perhaps to my advantage (and to that of the favourable review below), I didn't connect with the Harry Potter books and only read the first two some time ago which allowed me to read The Casual Vacancy' for what it was - a stand alone novel for adults. One loaded with gossip, death, human emotion, local politics and small town syndrome - everyone's business in news.
 
I was surprised by how much I liked this. 'The Casual Vacancy' managed to intrigue and maintain my attention throughout the course of the entire book. While it's true, not a lot actually happens, Rowling does a great job at writing well rounded and meaningful characters full of emotion and real world problems - all of them. The premise is simple enough, a prominent town member passes and his position at head of the council becomes vacant. Once the initial shock subsides over Barry Fairbrother's untimely passing, the towns people turn to gossip and before long the seemingly humble town of Pagford turns toxic as Barry's memory and all he had worked for comes crashing down in dramatic fashion.
 
The ghost of Barry Fairbrother haunts every turn of 'The Casual Vacancy', from posthumously released articles in the local rag, to comments on the council's website message board. Friends, acquaintances, rivals, and impressionable (and somewhat mislead) teens all feel the brunt of Barry in death.
 
'The Casual Vacancy' is really a tale of two towns, one with a crisp, posh facade in Pagford, the other in a constant state of decay in the Fields. Yet, the inhabitants of these respective places almost turn about face on public perception with Barry himself coming from 'the wrong side of the tracks' while many of the teens (Fats and Andrew come to mind) would suit the Fields as apposed to being Pagford natives. This was an interesting dynamic, while the characters lead the story, the sidebar of a struggling council wanting to annex itself from the welfare state in the fields and the associated ramifications were enjoyable and entirely believable.
 
There are many loveable (or hateable) characters within the pages of this book. For me, Krystal Weedon, the 16yr old girl off the rails was the highlight. Coming a close second is Samantha Mollison, wife to Miles, the air apparent to Barry's throne, a 40 something who has kept her looks and body in check. She is funny, down to earth, and wholly entertaining. I love her evolution from mother to almost rebel like status. I wont delve any deeper into the characters or further into Samantha as to not give away the story. Most people will want to punch Fats. I suspect Rowling achieved what she had set out to do with his character.
 
This was a change of pace from my usual read, I had little expectation and was blown away by how easy 'The Casual Vacancy' was to read and how shocking some of the revelations were. I think there is a little something here most people can relate to. Given there is such a large cast of central characters, any reader would be hard pressed not to identify with certain traits and mannerisms. I Highly recommend this for those readers who can forget that this author wrote Harry Potter and can judge 'The Casual Vacancy' on its own merits. For me, 'The Casual Vacancy' gets 5 stars.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: Hard Labour Anthology by Crime Factory

Hard LabourAustralia - an island continent with a desolate inner landscape where heat rules and life has no way. The outer limits serve as an oasis for the populace - a place to live, flourish, and thrive. Despite the shiny veneer and overseas promo hype lies a very different Australia. One where the hopelessness and hardness of the desert meets the bikini clad million dollar smiles of advertising. Grit meets girt by sea and no amount of water can wash away the dirt. 'Hard Labour', the all Australian crime anthology exemplifies this in a similar yet uniquely down-under way. Language as colourful as its characters, plots as sharp as its knife wielding crims - from tales of outback horror, traitorous hit men, MMA fighting, and cults, to not so common thieves, there is a little something here for everyone.

The anthology gets off to a great start with the first short story featuring Wyatt, Disher's own Aussie version of Parker (by Richard Stark) - the thief who's more common man than hard criminal. In 'Wyatt's Art', Wyatt faces a cross continent smuggling ring involving more than the product he's pushing. I liken this to 'Parker-lite' - the criminal element is there, however Wyatt is more of a thinking thief as apposed to violent hard man. Next up was 'Grassed' by Leigh Redhead (better known for her Simone Kirsch PI series) in which a physically mature 14yr old girl, Ananda is the object of 38yr Kyle's affection. This love story ends before it begins, only it's bones that break, not hearts. It was good to read something a little different by Redhead . 'Grassed' for me was on of the highlights of this collection.

The good thing about this anthology is the diversity in storytelling. 'Killing Peacocks' by Angela Savage writes a about a rural town where domestic violence extends its bloody tendrils to peacocks to cover a murder. The culprit, a petite package of innocence with lethal intentions uses her assets to reel in a scapegoat. 'The Town' by Cameron Ashley, and 'No Through Road' by Greig Johnston couldn't be more different, one looks at alcoholic squatters, the other gives new meaning to the term 'criminally insane'. I really liked Johnston's story, it was quick, precise and laced with dark humour. The lead criminal uses a sawed off antique shotgun for a robbery to net a measly score only to find out the shotgun he ruined was a collectable worth upwards of $10,000. Criminal masterminds at their best - not.

'Hard Labour' enlists some well known names in crime fiction in Helen FitzGerlad ('Killing Mum'), Adrian McKinty ('The Dutch Book'), and Peter Corris ('Prodigal Son') amongst others. While each of these stories were entertaining, McKinty's 'The Dutch Book' was the strongest and most involving. Written so well that it felt like a full length. In 'The Dutch Book' McKinty pits a small time collector against the organisation for the purpose of financial gain only to see friends, girlfriend and family safety net dwindle away. 'Prodigal Son' was the only true PI story in 'Hard Labour' and rounds out the anthology well while 'Killing Mum' was depressing, sober, and a glimpse at age old age no one wants to see.

To compliment the well known authors, a talented bunch of lesser knowns provides a glimpse at the future of Australian crime fiction. JJ Decegile's 'Death Cannot Be Delegated' is about an introspective compulsive gambler who is swayed by the allure of his targets provocative manner (oh and nakedness). The hit man switches allegiance in favour of a better deal. Quick, efficient and brutal. 'The Break' by Andrew Prentice is about a former cop charged with assault following a citizens arrest. The characters were well developed with the short story reading more as an opening chapter to a novel. I sure hope Prentice explores this further. 'A Forgiving Kind Of Nature' by Amanda Wrangles was surprisingly deep for a short story - I want more!

There are many highlights to 'Hard Labour', 'Underhooks' by Liam Jose had a semi 'Choke Hold' (by Christa Faust) feel to it yet was more raw, brutal and entertaining. I would love to see this fleshed out to a full length. A former mixed martial arts athlete is forced back into the ring following a stint in prison for killing a competitor. Cage fighting, sex on bloodied matts and hard hitting storytelling. 'Chasing Atlantis' by Andrew Nette (author of Ghost Money) contains cults, double crosses, murder, a hot dame, and thievery. One of the best. Rounding out my favourites is 'Dead Fellow Churls' by Andrez Bergen in which a drunk cop gets caught on a stake-out and has to rely on his partner to get him out, there is a distinct femme fatale feel to this. Like 'The Break', 'Dead Fellow Churls' felt like a novel teaser rather than short story - left me wanting more.

Much like any anthology there are good and average stories depending on the reader tastes. Luckily most of the shorts in 'Hard Labour' hit the mark. Crime Factory have served up a well rounded and diverse entree of Australian crime fiction which has left me craving a main course. I look forward to tracking down the Wyatt series by Disher, reading 'Ghost Money' by Andrew Nette and getting stuck into the novels by Andrez Bergen ('Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat'). My wishlist has grown by a few books thanks to 'Hard Labour'. This is a satisfying collection not to be missed - 4 stars.


Read more about Crime Factory here: http://www.thecrimefactory.com/

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell

The Bayou Trilogy: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do"...there was Frogtown, the white-trash Paris, where the wide brown flow of rank water scented all the days, and everfy set of toes touched bottom."
 
Flecks of dried blood and dirt stick equal in Woodrell’s look at small town where multiple criminal entities thrive on their unlawful activities. The down trodden and hopeless sense of conformance with poverty is delivered in poetic-like fashion. Equal billing to the just and unjust alike is given throughout the trilogy to paint a picture perfect glimpse at ‘criminalities’.
 
"I've been poor so long it doesn't bother me anymore, and that's as much peace of mind as a Rockerfeller's got."
 
Woodrell writes in a language so few can emulate. His voice is distinct yet similar enough to evoke a sense of modernised noir. Aside from Megan Abbott, I can’t think of another author who comes close. His works within country noir are better delivered yet the tone and prose of ‘The Bayou Trilogy’ remain true, to a certain extent, of the formula.
 
Opening with a police procedural in ‘Under The Bright Lights’ Woodrell introduces Shade – a cop (and former boxer), a DA, and a criminally affiliated barman – brothers who provide an interesting mix which could’ve been exploited further over the course of the proceeding books. Called in to investigate the shooting of a black politician made out to be a case of robbery gone badly, Shade soon learns of cover-ups and hidden agendas. Given the opportunity to tote the company line or play it honest, Shade is forced to make a decision damning him either way. ‘Under The Bright Lights’ was a decent enough read which hinted at the hallmarks of a Woodrell noir yet focusing on the more procedural aspects of the story.
 
‘Muscle for the Wing’ offers up more of the same in a sense that the story is part police procedural and part criminal POV. The second of the Shade books did little to highlight the unique family ties of the three professionally distinct brothers and could be read well as a stand alone. This both pleased and annoyed me. I think I would’ve liked to have read this aside from the trilogy – as I read it in this collection I was hoping for more continuity than what Woodrell presented.
 
'The Ones You Do' encapsulated that heavy character driven story Woodrell is most known for in 'Tomato Red' and 'Winter's Bone' where the emphasis isn't on a crime itself, rather the repercussions and the victim/instigator's reaction directly following. John X. father to the Shade brothers is a girfter always on the look out for a quick score. In returning to Frogtown, he’s not only brought with him his young daughter but that of raging madman hell bent on revenge. What follows is an interesting family dynamic as John X gets reacquainted with his sons while keeping his more nefarious activities completely aside. ‘The Ones You Do’ was the best in the trilogy – definite re-read appeal.
 
Overall, I was a little disappointed with ‘The Bayou Trilogy’. I was hoping for more country noir than police procedural (re: the first two books) and while ‘The Ones You Do’ redeemed the collection I was left wanting more. The Shade brothers were well written and had the capacity to form a unique story in their own right, I only wish Woodrell had put his talents towards those three accompanied by a plot which infused their respective professions and pitted them against one another. That said, I still enjoyed ‘The Bayou Trilogy’ but I’d be recommending new readers towards Woodrell’s other books prior to picking this one up. 3 stars.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Review: The Wrong Goodbye by Chris F Holm

The Wrong Goodbye'The Wrong Goodbye', the second in the very cool 'Collectors' series is more mature and true to the PI formula than 'Dead Harvest'. A collection gone bad sees Sam on the hunt for a former friend which will once again place him and his handler Lilith at the mercy of a much higher and devastating power.
 
The opening sequence in the Amazon jungle has a distinct pulp feel to it reminiscent of a Gabriel Hunt novel. The subsequent discovery of a stolen soul amidst the bloody jungle chaos prompts a flash back to the collection of a doll makers soul some time ago, written equal to a well nourished short story brimming with tension and overt, in-you-face horror. A mere glimpse into the more macabre side of Sam’s profession. I sure hope Holm explores Sam's past escapades further - there is a lot of scope for some decent stories here.
 
'The Wrong Goodbye' comes with a more hardened edge to it. Sound allegiances are found to have subtle cracks, murder doesn't equate to the end, and collection becomes part of a drug-like trade. I loved the introduction of the skim-joint, a sort of drug haven for the damned and physically misplaced where a glimpse of life is provided at a cost – a kind of supernatural drug house, only this one is based in a former sanatorium. Holm continues to hone in the deviant activity paramount through his world building series. Skim joint aside, another side of Lilith is exposed, and a new character - a creepy crawly creature of seemingly unknown origins is introducted- all these elements provide further evidence that something big is brewing.
 
Demons, angels, soul collectors, and murderous individuals - it's all within the pages of 'The Wrong Goodbye'. The plot itself is interesting with a layer of complexity added with each revelation alongside Sam's journey to track down Danny. Gio – a humours sidekick provides some nice comic relief and is a great teaming with Sam. Gio also lightens Sam tough guy persona as we see the collector express more emotion and second guess any violent encounter.
 
This is one hell of a book and I cant wait for the third instalment.

At the end of the book, Holm labels his work as fantastical noir and he's pretty damn close in that description of this series. It's got elements of the supernatural, the traditional hallmarks of noir (as Holm so aptly described in his end of book essay) and damn fine writing. If I were to compare the theme and feel of the series to other fiction, there are aspects of the graphic novel 'Fatal' (horror, noir mash-up), the Joe Pitt Casebooks by Charlie Huston (the supernatural of sorts PI angle), and a splattering of influence by the masters in Cain, Chandler, and Hammett (as the smart title(s) suggest).
 
My review of 'Dead Harvest' can be found here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/219581945
 
Find more cool books by Angry Robot on their website: http://angryrobotbooks.com/
 
More on Chris F Holm can be found on his website: http://www.chrisfholm.com/index/intro.html

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite - Anticipation

Today marks a historic day in any book nerds calender - the release of the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. If you're anything like me, you've read all the prelim reviews, salivated over the promo video, and pre-ordered (in a round about way if not based in US) the device.
 
 
So what makes this such a significant upgrade on the previous kindles (non-Fire)? For one thing, the built in light pretty much eradicates glare when reading in broad day light and also means midnight book worms don't need to disturb their significant others when reading in bed as the illumination is contained to the pages. The Paperwhite also looks far crisper, speedier, and has a range of tantalising options only a true book enthusiast would love. Xray sounds very cool, but the main new feature is 'time to read' which calculates how long you have until you reach the end of a chapter based on your reading speed. This is a great new feature and one I'm pretty keen to road test.
 
I'm a little surprised that I'm upgrading so soon. I'm not typically an early adopter of new technology but the Paperwhite is just too good to resist. I've had my current kindle (which was my first foray into the ereader world) for a solid 18 months. Having read around 110 books on it in during that time, I knew that pre-ordering the Paperwhite was going to be money well spent. For me, it's all about the experience, I loved my kindle when I first got it (and still do) - the Paperwhite looks even better. Wonder if my read count will increase? I suspect so.
 
Being based outside the US, I'm expecting my pre-order to take a couple of weeks to get to me (still far sooner than the planned 'official' release date outside US) - until then I'll continue to use my trusty keyboard kindle. Expect a full review once my much anticipated package arrives.