Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Favorite Reads of 2016

I read a total of 85 books in 2016 and while this number is well below what I've been able to get through in previous years the list is filled with quality books I've discovered throughout my 2016 reading journey. 

Some highlights include the Hesperian Trilogy by Alan Smale, the first book in the series, Clash of Eagles, was published in 2015 and had been sitting on my review shelf for a while (shout out to Titan books for the review copy) but when I finally got around to reading it I was blown away and quickly bought the second, Eagle in Exile (pub 2016). The trilogy concludes with Eagle and Empire due to be published in March 2017 and I can't wait! This is the first 'best of' list that I've put together which features two books by the same author in the same series.  


Another highlight of 2016 was the discovery of the Chinese sci-fi trilogy Remembrance of the Earth's Past by Liu Cixin, and in particular, book 2 The Dark Forest. While book 1, The Three-Body Problem, which I also read in 2016 was good and introduced some inventive concepts The Dark Forest was simply mind blowing. I've got Death's End, the last book in the trilogy sitting in my tbr and aim to read it in early 2017. 

2016 also saw the return of some favorite series in The Cartel by Don Winslow (Power of the Dog) and The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly (Jack West Jr.). I rated both of these near the top of the heap. 

Another first of for my 'best of' list for 2016 is a novelization, The Nice Guys by Charles Ardai, this is one of those rare instances where the reverse adaptation outshines the original - but only just as the movie was great too.


Here is my top reads of 2016 (includes any books read throughout the course of the year, not just those published in 2016):

1. The Cartel by Don Winslow (crime)

2. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu (sci-fi)

3. The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly (adventure)

4. The Scarlet Flush by Carter Brown (pulp)


5. Eagle in Exile by Alan Smale (alt history)

6. The Mad Sculptor by Harold Schechter (non-fiction)

7. World Gone By by Dennis Lehane (crime)

8. The Hit by Nadia Dalbuono (crime)

9. The Nice Guys by Charles Ardai (crime) 

10. Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale (alt history)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Pick Up A Pulp [15]: THE SPANKING GIRLS by Carter Brown

The Spanking Girls is not the typical Al Wheeler book by Carter Brown, in so much as it leans heavily towards the sleaze pulp sub genre rather than the dime store detective books Brown's perennial cop prominently features, so some 'buyer beware' is necessary for potential readers; if you're not into sleaze pulp with extra cheese then don't both picking this one up.

The title alone aptly captures what lies within the pages of this 1979 installment in the Al Wheeler chronicles; a young, attractive woman is found murdered at a beach house, the MO is pure evil; this wasn't a crime of passion, it's got hatred and determination fingerprinted all over it. So when Al Wheeler comes to investigate of course he's going to zero in on the attractive Elaine Matthews, daughter of the beach house owner who discovered the body of the victim shortly after arriving for vacation, notice her supple body and request a quiet drink or two while he waits for the 'meat-wagon' to take the victim away; reality be damned, throw sensibility out of the door while reading this book. 

Wheeler has one thing on his mind and it isn't murder, and as the investigation unfolds 'The Spanking Girls' title takes on relevance; the victim and another attractive knock-out redhead who is friends with Elaine's brother (the brother who happens to have been dating the victim) work in the porn industry posing for mags specifically catering for the 'spanking' niche market - Wheeler barely contains himself; all previous sense of character is thrown out the window as Brown transforms his prime protagonist into a generic womanizer with no substance who bounds from one bed to another until the case is solved in a standard grandstand finale - the murderer, however, is easily discernible early in the piece which makes this grandstand finale a little less 'grand'.  

The Spanking Girls is entertaining enough if you're aware of what you're getting into. It doesn't bring much to the table but is fast paced and easily read in one sitting. Certainly not the best of the Carter Brown books - I'd give this 2.5 / 5 stars. 

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."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review: THE BRONX KILL by Peter Milligan, James Romberger (Illustrator)

The Bronx Kill promised to be gritty, grimy, and noir. Yet what we get is a deeply rooted family drama that's both twisted and perverted amid a backdrop of a missing persons case that sometimes jumps around a little too much to make sense. 

The art by James Romberger is moody and effective. The styling of each character is distinguishable page to page - you never get lost in the narrative trying to define who is who. For some reason I pictured most of this graphic novel taking place in the day time - even though there are a number of clearly drawn night time sequences. The Bronx Kill, the location, that is, that dumping ground of human waste both organic and non, just feels right in the day time - a seedy decrepit dark contrast to the sunshine. 

Peter Milligan writes a nicely woven family drama than spans generations of adultery and murder. That was interesting. But a little of the spice was lost when in a matter of pages we jump months or even years without a segue or indication in a panel (bar one scene when Martin leaves America for Ireland and returns 4 months later). It can be confusing to the reader. 

The Bronx Kill is a decent read that has a great twist but lacks a little rationale. There is one character, Kerry, who appears late in the book loaded with plot bombs that changes the course of Martin's story. Perhaps if she was introduced earlier, her character would have had more of an impact and the story would've felt more organic. That said, I see what Peter Milligan was trying to do and I liked it. 

I'd rate this Vertigo Crime graphic novel a solid 3.5 / 5.   

Friday, October 28, 2016

Review: 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.

Scamarcio’s own connection to organised crime is an omnipresent cloud that hangs over his every move; a cloud that only gets darker as he become embroiled in a power play for the criminal elite. Does trading one problem for another, one side for another clear his debt or double it?


The Hit reads like a bare knuckles Mafioso story and police procedural in one, equally at home amongst Dennis Lehane (Joe Coughlin series) and Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch Series); top notch story telling from beginning to end, the best Scamarcio novel yet.

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

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: WORLD GONE BY by Dennis Lehane

The Coughlin saga ends in a satisfying hail of bullets with WORLD 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.


WORLD 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,  

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Pick Up A Pulp [13]: THE VENOM BUSINESS by Michael Crichton


Hardcase Crime, did the reader world a favor when they reprinted Michael Crichton's foray into pulp writing under the pen name John Lange. ODDS ON, DRUG OF CHOICE, and GRAVE DESCEND are all very good reads. Naturally I had high hopes for VENOM BUSINESS, the largest (in page count) of the reprinted / rebranded books. It stated off great but tapered...

My Review:

This book was tracking as a 5 star read for me around the halfway mark but a change in direction soiled the story to a degree. 

Charles Raynaud reads as a James Bond type character; introduced as a professional snake handler, he knows his way around a forest almost as good as a knows his way around women. He's a protagonist full of mystery and intrigue. Equally adapt at smuggling priceless artifacts as he is undertaking murder for hire, his thirst for money lands him in the middle of a scandal that is a little hard to decipher.

THE VENOM BUSINESS lacks clarity to how Raynaud gets mixed up in a family drama centered around a big inheritance and relatives with murderous intent. Add to the mix a couple of attractive and willing women and what was a decent read turns murky. 

I'm not sure if author Michael Crichton during his pulp phase published any more books featuring Raynaud but THE VENOM BUSINESS protagonist has a lot of potential and was the most enjoyable aspect to the book.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Catching up on crime: ODDS ON by Michael Crichton and DJIBOUTI by Elmore Leonard

Here are a couple of recent reads from my tbr. I've been on a bit of a modern masters crime kick as of late having already read some Ed McBain. It's great to be able to delve into these books but authors who know how to write a damn good yarn.


ODDS ON by Michael Crichton

ODDS ON is a fast moving heist novel centered around 3 guys looking for a large score at a luxury resort. Elements of Michael Crichton’s tech-fi are glimpsed here with the heist planned using a computer to determine the probability for success measured against a number of variables. The human factor not withstanding (unknown elements that can’t be factored into the equation), the stakes looked low to garner a high payoff. What ensues is a fun and colorful pulp mixing a free spirited resort mentality, freewheeling men and women, and a plan cooked to perfection.

DJIBOUTI by Elmore Leonard

For the first half of the book, Djibouti felt disjointed; meandering through the mundane in a mix mash of present and past tense that did little but confuse. I got the feeling Elmore Leonard felt the same - to an extent. Enter James Russell, the character that set the book on a path to redemption; a linear plot ensued with Russell at the core along with a terror plot to blow the world into submission. 

Dara, a documentary film maker and her cameraman Xavier are trademark characters; full of life, distinction, and color - they jump off the page and immediately bond the with reader. Much the same goes for the wealthy Billy and his model girlfriend-of-the-moment Helene. Elmore Leonard has always written characters and conversations well - in Djibouti it's no different. 

Unfortunately it's the early plotting that smeared what would have otherwise been a very good book. The documentary film angle in search of modern day pirates was a interesting concept which lacked a bit of polish in the execution. It was that very concept, however, that linked Russell to Dara and the others, for which I'm glad. 

Djibouti is a miss then a hit. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: The Summer That Melted Everything

The day the devil came to the small town of Breathed, Ohio, it was in the form of an unassuming young boy, hot on the heels of hell's own heat wave.   

Responding to a public notice, this figure sought and found his caller; a disenfranchised lawyer and father of two who had renounced his faith. Autopsy Bliss (a fitting name for a story about the devil) welcomed the 13 yr old boy going by the name of Sal into his home under the assumption he wan't the devil, but a runaway looking for a family. 

Sal acclimatized to eventually being part of the warm and loving Bliss family, only for the town to destroy it - perhaps under his influence? A subtle menace or pure circumstantial?  

The physiological horror that ensues throughout is complex, distributing and hard to stomach. Paranoia coupled with fanatical belief drives the devil to decay the town's hive mind and sensibilities. The big unresolved question is whether or not the devil is Sal or the townspeople themselves as a collective, cursed by the mere suggestion of the dark prince in their midst. 

The Summer That Melted Everything is a lean horror that is more thought provoking than gore splatter. 

It's certainly a book that will stay with me for a long time. 

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

Rating: 3/5 stars

Would I re-read? Likely 

Fiction Filed under: Horror, Loss, Family Drama, General Fiction, The Devil, 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Conclusion to The Passage Trilogy (The City of Mirrors)

The City Mirrors is many books in one. At times, you'll forget you're reading a post apocalyptic survival horror in favor of a coming of age story heavily seeped in love, loss, and the harsh realization of consequence, only to be then thrust back into a violent world where normalcy revolves around keeping watch and the fortification of townships to keep the night terrors at bay. 

Despite it's size, The City of Mirrors reads fast. It's not a tome that feels like the flick of a page is never ending, if anything, I wanted more and more. More Amy, more tales of survival in New York and the hardships faced when confronted with the virals, more of the island settlements, and ultimately more from the Indo-Australian populace and how it came to be. That's not to say there wasn't enough story, because there was but rather a compliment to the engrossing tale Justin Cronin weaved throughout the three volumes. 

The City of Mirrors is a truly satisfying conclusion to The Passage Trilogy.


Rating: 5/5 stars

Would I re-read? Yes (to the whole trilogy)

Fiction Filed under: Horror, General Fiction, Epics,