Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: LOCKED DOORS by Blake Crouch

Locked Doors (Andrew Z. Thomas #2)LOCKED DOORS is the sequel to DESERT PLACES and features as a pivotal early piece in the ‘serial universe’ alongside other titles by Crouch and Konrath. Central character, Andrew Z. Thomas returns, the accused novelist now living in hiding is thrust into the dangerous world of serial killers once more when he learns of the re-emergence of Lucifer, a deranged and emotionally detracted killer.
LOCKED DOORS doesn’t have the same polished feel as DESERT PLACES with the second instalment in the Andrew Z. Thomas trilogy reading much like a typical serial killer tale. Yet, it’s the overly brutal manner by which it’s delivered that separates it from the pack. No character is safe as Lucifer does whatever it takes to enact revenge on Andrew for leaving him to bleed out at the end of DESERT PLACES.
At its core, LOCKED DOORS is driven by revenge. Lucifer, let to live regains his strength and targets those who were previously close to Andrew – once the bait is set and subsequently latched upon – the real gore begins. 
Despite the graphical content, I felt it was warranted. Unlike other serial killer novels where the blood leads to distraction, the brutality and cruel ways of the killings served to enhance Lucifers lore and establish a truly menacing character. 
I also liked the inception of a more investigative angle this time round. Violet, a young detective is on the hunt for Andrew – accused for murders his deranged brother committed, ends up forming a rather unique and interesting relationship with Andrew and Lucifer for that matter. I really liked the way Crouch wrote Violet – her story adds further humility to the series. 
LOCKED DOORS is a pretty decent serial killer novel with plenty of gore with cause and thrills typical of the genre. Andrew Z. Thomas continues to grown on me as a ‘man wronged’ with his resolve tested to the fullest in this instalment. I’m interested to see what transpires in BREAK YOU, the conclusion to the Andrew Z. Thompson trilogy. 
On a side note – Crouch includes a very handy read list of the Serial Universe up to LOCKED DOORS at the end of the novel in the kindle edition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: THE UNWANTED by Brett Battles

The Unwanted (Jonathan Quinn #3)THE UNWANTED continues to push Quinn further from his occupation as a ‘cleaner’ and more towards spy/counter-terrorism territory. Not that the transition is a bad thing, however the feel of THE CLEANER (book 1) and BECOMING QUINN (prequel) are much more in-tune with the character I’d come to enjoy.

THE UNWANTED is pure action laced with conspiracy theories and a separatist group known as LP which is determined to change the face of American politics and big business. The Office, headed by Peter, Quinn’s boss, looses some of its allure as the LP rise to prominence.

THE UNWANTED almost signifies the end of an exciting chapter in the Quinn saga with the emphasis on alphabet agencies and more extreme missions rather than clean-up jobs of past books.

Nate and Orlando are just as important as Quinn himself with Quinn assuming the role of a father-type figure to Nate and husband to Orlando to create a family dynamic built upon events of THE DECEIVED (book 2) and THE CLEANER.

There are some really interesting plot twists, though not as earth shattering as THE DECEIVED, the reasoning behind the disappearance of a kidnapped 5yr old will shock the reader – it certainly did me.

Overall, THE UNWANTED, is a solid spy thriller and one that doesn’t read well as a stand-alone (I had to refer to past books to determine the significance of returning bad guys). I’m jumping straight into THE DESTROYED (book 4) to ensure the events of THE UNWANTED aren’t diluted by ability to recall important actions/characters. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: SO WHAT KILLED THE VAMPIRE by Carter Brown

So, What Killed the Vampire?Aussie pulp from the golden era - a look back at a Carter Brown special: SO WHAT KILLED THE VAMPIRE (1966)

TV  Script writer Larry Baker is hired to pen a new horror series. On location at an old castle he encounters more drama than the second rate TV actors could muster in all too realistic vampires, fear inducing bumps in the night, and dames that are both vicious and voluptuous. 

SO WHAT KILLED THE VAMPIRE is pure pulp from beginning to end. Despite being formulaic, it's still entertaining and driven by mystery. The whodunit aspect alone is worth the price of admission. 

Carter Brown takes aim at b-grade horror, detailing some of the genre's traits in colorful jest. I liked the light hearted approach to this mystery which complimented Larry Baker - a guy who is hard to take serious in any event. 

SO WHAT KILLED THE VAMPIRE is one of the better Carter Brown pulps. I've read it twice now and will likely keep coming back. The haunted atmosphere of the castle and colorful characters are fun to read.

I rate this Aussie author pulp 4 stars, initially 3.5 when I read it back in March 2009.

Hit up the labels/tags for more Carter Brown reviews.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN by David Goodis

The Wounded and the Slain (Hard Case Crime #31) THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN exemplifies the derailment of human decency as a subsequent of vice and childhood induced trauma. In James and Cora Bevan, Goodis creates a pair of dysfunctional lovers tainted by their past and victimised by their future. For James, the consummate alcoholic, the amber liquid serves as a means to rid the reminders that hold true his reality; a hopeless sense of foreboding, crippling depression, a sham of a marriage to an almost trophy wife without perk, and a need to experiment in self obliteration. For Cora, her past dictates her every movement, life is one great horror movie, every man hides behind sinister and dirty motives, ones that threaten to soil her to the very core. 
Goodis writes the alcoholic induced protagonist to perfection. Much like STREET OF NO RETURN, the vice provides the key to the leads chemical make-up, building character (for good and bad) and driving the sordid tale.  
Set amongst contrasting locales in Jamaica, THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN provides equal billing to the desirable and undesirable alike. The slums are without hope, an emotionally desolate place of structures where criminality is commonplace - whereas the fine hotel where the Bevan’s are situated is all tourist guide perfection – sunshine and a healthy lifestyle. This does well to enhance the Bevan’s facade’, a circle that doesn’t fit inside a square. 
I’ve read THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN twice now and am still drawn to the raw feeling of depression and complex nature of the Bevan’s. As a couple and as individuals they are hopelessly flawed yet both provide glimpses of redeeming qualities as the story progresses, all it takes is a little blood and the realisation of a harsh truth.
THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN is one of my favourite Goodis noir novels and perhaps the truest to the overall feeling of noir. It’s bleak, grey, unnerving, and true grit. There are no bells and whistles in this tale – just an easily believable plot and smart story telling. 5 stars.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: BECOMING QUINN by Brett Battles

Becoming Quinn - A Jonathan Quinn NovellaOne of the better 'origin' stories I've read. Jake Oliver (Quinn) is an honest cop too smart for his own good. First on the scene of a suspected arson, he soon uncovers clues about a more sinister crime, one that will lead him down a path of shattered dreams, fallen friends, and ultimately, a new profession.
Author Brett Battles instils a sense of the familiar to the origin tale by opening the novel with a scene likened to any of the Quinn books to date: A hit team on a mission with the 'cleaner' the eyes of the op. Durrie, the cleaner in BECOMING QUINN is cold, calculated, highly observant, and somewhat weighed down by the seemingly incompetent hitmen accompanying him on the op. It's easy to draw comparisons between Durrie and Quinn even at this early junction. Jake the 22yr old cop from Phoenix, Durrie, the professional clearer of murder sites operate in a similar manner despite their initially differing occupation.
I liked the way Battles added an emotional element to this take on the rookie cop. Enlisting the services of fellow rookie, Berit, a hard working female officer who recognises the seriousness of the crime and implications associated with evidence overlooked by the subdivision detectives, Battles ensures that the omnipresent danger lurking within the unsanctioned duo's investigation is more reality than sidebar.
BECOMING QUINN is fast paced, while not in league with other Quinn novels, the police procedural aspect borders on noir - it's perhaps more darker than the Quinn cleaner novels by virtual of it's unsanctioned, off-the-grid investigation by Jake and Berit which ultimately culminates in the creation that is Jonathan Quinn. I really enjoyed this - 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: THE COLD DARK HOURS by A.G. Yates (Carter Brown)

The Cold Dark HoursTHE COLD DARK HOURS by A.G. Yates is far different from his works as pulp novelist Carter Brown though some traits remain the same. Like any Carter Brown novel and dimestore novels of the era, the depiction of female leads borders on soft porn. Whether it’s through their garment shedding occupation in shady nightclubs or a brief description of an office receptionist upon her arrival at work the overt and unashamed objectification of their physical attributes conjures imagines of curvaceous and willing young women placed in front of the male character in similar fashion to a course of red meat. Bear in mind, in Carter Brown novels this perception of a female lead as eye candy is generally a smoke and mirrors tactic with that same character developing into a pivotal piece of the story.

THE COLD DARK HOURS is grounded and perhaps driven by the female leads in Lavinia Sloan (wife of Electronics GM Jason) and Peggy Bush (Keith’s personal secretary). Both are vastly different characters from one another and surprisingly rich in back-story and characterisation. Lavinia is the picture perfect housewife stuck inside a broken frame, a model for her executive husband with a secret past that’s far from glamorous. While Peggy is a distraction of the good kind for Keith, the central character and P.R man at the front of THE COLD DARK HOURS, a young woman with ambition, drive, and willingness to do whatever it takes to make a name for herself in the world of public relations.

I couldn’t help but think of MADMEN while reading THE COLD DARK HOURS; similar concepts, similar era, similar male business executives and women secretaires true to the stereotype. The plot centralises around a failed television set and the company’s (Electronics) attempts to change the public’s perception of their product through crafty advertising and public relations. Keith Kirkland, recently returned home to Sydney from New York is thrown in at the deep end, forced to disregard his workmates and adopt a ‘take charge’ attitude to turn the company fortune around. Despite many of his co-workers being displeased with Keith’s sudden rise in the P.R ranks, he manages to establish loyalty, but not before encountering some drama along the way.

A.G. Yates pays homage to the old adage ‘what comes around goes around’. Keith’s rise to prominence is not without fall. It’s interesting to read Keith as a ‘yes man’ only to see his staff eventually assume the role once his stake in the company is realised. I thought A.G. Yates pulled this role reversal off beautifully. There is a lot of humanity to THE COLD DARK HOURS and the take on 1950’s office etiquette which I found enjoyable and insightful in comparison to the present day. 

THE COLD DARK HOURS is one of the better works of fiction by the author famously known as Carter Brown which, despite the over use of exclamation marks, is well written and free flowing. 4 stars.

Review: DEFENDER: INTREPID 1 by Chris Allen

Defender: INTREPID 1 (INTREPID, #1)Author Chris Allen’s protagonist Alex Morgan is a perfect blend of Bond and Matthew Reilly’s Scarecrow. Thrust into back-to-back missions, Morgan’s introduction is nothing short of fierce and quickly establishes the character as a hardened military vet with a penchant for justice underlined by an ability to carry out mission objectives without preservation for self.

The action sequences are intense; described in a manner which completely eradicates the world around you and places you inside the fictional landscape scared by the atrocities of war and moulded by intelligence agency corruption.

A mission to Malfajiri uncovers a harsh reality in a spy gone rogue - vicious killer Victor Lundt. Morgan, having lost a friend and fellow operative in Sean Collins via a gruesome death at the hands of a torturous group has to swallow his personal vendetta in favour of serving a greater good. Amidst the chaos of battle, an evacuation delivers a cinematic display of modern warfare and ground tactics yet through Arena Halls (under the guise of a Red Cross worker), author Chris Allen uncovers a semblance of beauty in the face of brutality.

It’s the professional relationship between Arena and Morgan that sets the tone for the remainder of the novel. The chemistry between doesn’t feel forced or without cause. As an operative in her own right, Arena is far from the damsel in distress, in fact Allen goes to great lengths to switch the script by reversing the roles with Arena just as capable as Morgan albeit a little less intimidating than the soldier.

DEFENDER is a multi-layered action thriller which encompasses all the hallmarks of a Hollywood big budget blockbuster. What separates it apart from the contenders is the down to earth Morgan and complex web of lies and half truths spun by the intelligence agencies. Knowing who to trust throughout this story will keep you on your toes.

DEFENDER is a great start to what promises to be an exciting series. The foundation of heroes is laid, the agency administrators established, and background formulated for a number of interesting characters.

The sequel HUNTER: INTREPID 2 is available in December 2012 and I, for one, can’t wait. INTREPID 1 gets 4.5 stars from me.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review: LINE OF SIGHT by David Whish-Wilson

Line of SightIn a state where police are mob and honesty a foreign concept, a murdered prostitute/Madame, Ruby Devine, provokes moral outrage from an honest cop. Something that should've been swept under the rug of ill justice turns Royal Commission. Accusations from both sides prove fatal; more damaging to physical wellbeing than defamation of character. For Swann, an outcast of the force he once gave his all, the mere suggestion of corruption provokes a series of events which leave him fearing for his life and those he holds dear.
Compounded by the disappearance of his daughter, the murder investigation (or lack thereof) of brothel Madame Ruby Devine, proves more sinister with rumours of the boys-in-blue being responsible for both incidents. Swann, portrayed as the epitome of justice in Australia's 1970's version of the Wild West, battles professional and personal conflicts on all fronts. Author David Whish-Wilson does a great job at fusing the two dynamics into a single, distinctly underworld crime that captures the period perfectly, casting a darker shade of noir without remorse on 1970's Western Australia.
Despite assistance from some acquaintances, Swann acts as a lone wolf seeking answers where many find blood and ill fated half truths. His persistence, and underdog status captures the reader's imagination and heart. You can't help but barrack for this guy. Adding to the seemingly helpless crusade, Whish-Wilson creates layers of depth to the protagonist by establishing a less than perfect family life, unethical yet justified policing in prior posts (Kalgoorlie), and damning character traits that serve to prove Swann's humanity more so than highlighting any inadequacies.
LINE OF SIGHT is as noir as Australian fiction gets. While the bleak plot leaves little room for the Hollywood sunshine and rainbows ending, it does promote a realism that's hard to swallow - such is life. Prostitution, murder, corruption (political and police), drugs, scams, and organised crime formulate the backbone of the story, yet the characters carry the load and are bound to remain imbedded in my mind for a time to come. 4 stars.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review: ODD APOCALYPSE by Dean Koontz

Odd Apocalypse“Their faces melt off their skulls. And their skulls turn black when the air touches them, and all their bones block. And then the black blows away like soot, there isn’t anything left of them.”
ODD APOCALYPSE is a novel of nightmares, the most 'adult horror' to feature Odd Thomas yet. The latest instalment breathes a breath of rancid air to the series, sure to fear and induce night terrors. Koontz' creations share some similarities with the conceptual monsters of 77 SHADOW STREET - perhaps not in likeness but purpose. The emphasis on the grotesque masquerading as plausible beings brings a new dimension to Odd's gift and broadens his influence as dictated by him being drawn to unearthly spirits in need.
There is a distinct episodic feel to the Odd Thomas novels, with ODD APOCALYPSE sufficing as a stand-alone pit stop for Odd in a similar fashion to the Odd Interludes (think of the format behind the DEAD MAN novellas). That said, Koontz makes many references to the first book in ODD THOMAS and subsequent events that take place through to ODD HOURS. This added a real sense of continuity that I thought missing from ODD HOURS, however, Koontz seemed to have completely ignored the events of the Odd Interludes - I kept wondering where the super AI computer was, the assistance of which, in Odd's latest drama would've been well received in my opinion.
ODD APOCALYPSE maintains the mystery behind the omnipresent pregnant Annamaria, a plain yet spellbinding young woman who speaks in tongues and riddles while conveying infinite wisdom. Despite Annamaria having a lesser presence in ODD APOCALYPSE I was pleased with her portrayal and happy that Koontz maintained the allure and mystery surrounding her character.
The place-setting is one dimensional (on face value that is) - a mansion set upon a vast land sectioned off by a wall. Roseland is not you're average house of horrors for Koontz blends a mixture of the paranormal, supernatural and sci-fi into the waking nightmare Odd and Annamaria find themselves. The idea borrows elements from many books (including Koontz' own catalogue) but concocts them so well as to feel original and as harrowing as any I've read (re: The Freaks especially).
ODD APOCALYPSE is brimming with action and tension - something that perhaps the previous instalments (the later ones, that is) have missed. It also serves well to further define Odd and brings the horror back in a big way. This is a welcome return to the series and brings new hope for further instalments to maintain the quality. The dialogue is still Odd (overtly polite) yet Koontz isn't afraid to cast a shadow here and there to give more of a edge - all round, ODD APOCALYPSE is a decent, almost 'refresher' of the series that's entertaining all way through. 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: GHOST MONEY by Andrew Nette

Ghost MoneyAndrew Nette is Australia’s answer to David Corbett - GHOST MONEY comprises the same deep and richly detailed foreign landscape encrusted in local mannerisms, religion, and occupation as Corbett’s BLOOD OF PARADISE. 

The plot centralises around Quinlan, a Melbourne cop turned PI and his search for the elusive Charles Avery. Hired by Avery’s sister, Quinlan follows a trail of blood through Cambodia in search of his quarry.

GHOST MONEY is not your run of the mill PI novel. Nette provides the reader with an interesting game and cat and mouse that's noir with a subtle nod towards literature. Highlighting the political state, grinding poverty, and socioeconomic landscape coupled with the history associated with the Khmer Rouge, establishes a true sense of struggle and identity. The peripheral two dimensional 'extras in the background' going about their daily lives feel real and with purpose, not merely serving as obstacles or obstructions for Quinlan in his pursuit of Avery. Everything adds to the story.

The place-setting is much a character as protagonist PI Quinlan, changing the character’s perception, demeanor and level of influence with via a change of soil. Along the way author Andrew Nette introduces many memorable characters to accompany or hinder Quinlan; none more-so than Sarin, a local interpreter turned fast friend.

The action does at time, lend itself to Jame Bond in an ode to the spy pulps of yesteryear yet it is entirely justifiable. The dialogue and plot are smart; the detail a devil - GHOST MONEY is all consuming and utterly essential for fans wanting more smarts to their noir.

Andrew Nette is on to a winner in Quinlan, a PI who doesn't conform to the stereotype. His background, emotional depth and way of getting into the private gig separates him from the others. I sure hope to see more of Quinlan, one cant help but think his story is just getting started. 5 stars.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review: THE BLACK PRISM by Brent Weeks

The Black Prism (Lightbringer, #1)Vastly different from THE NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY yet just as good as the best fantasy out there. 

THE BLACK PRISM started with a bang - young Kip stumbles upon an army camp heading towards his hometown, encounters a colour wight and is subsequently thrust into battle along side unwilling accomplices. Captivating, unique and a perfect way to capture the fantastical and commence the building of a richly entrenched world of fear, violence, and magic. With such a start I was sure THE BLACK PRISM would be one of the great fantasy novels - well written, an intriguing new concept and a fast paced action romp lead by strong characters with a distinct purpose. Then the mundane set in. The concept of colour being wielded by humans as a weapon of destruction or used as a tool to create seemed 'young adult' and a little too far fetched to suspend my belief - coupled with Kip, a teen who resembled Eragon a little too much by way of cheesy adolescent dialogue and mannerisms and it looked as though my expectations were going to be severely undercut. Enter an interesting new dynamic lead by the Chromeria way of life and Gavin Guile, the latest Prism and victor of the War of the False Prisms.

The first book in the Lightbringer series is fantastic. The concepts are creative, the characters a joy to read, and the plot a never ending road of twists, turns, deceit, culminating in traditional fantasy epic violence. THE BLACK PRISM will shock and awe, just give it some time. 

There are so many strong characters with interlocking plot threads to keep the lengthy story fresh - nothing felt forced or out of place. After finishing THE BLACK PRISM, the 'down-time' I experienced in the earlier stages of the novel felt warranted and helped to established the core group of characters and the mythology of drafting and the different categories of drafters.

Brent Weeks rewards his readers persistence with a blistering final third of the likes I've not commonly seen. True, the action is there but its the twists, turns, the deer-in-headlights moments of time standing still that did it for me - the revelations Weeks unravels are pure genius. I wont go into detail as I'm likely to give something away. Rest assured, you wont see these coming.

Kip, Drazen, Gavin, Kariss, Liv, Ironfist, and Lord Omnichrome to name but a few are interesting and well thought out characters who each have a back-story sure to be further exploited in further endeavours. All contribute something unique and are essential to the plot and will satisfy readers seeking a meaningful and character driven fantasy.

THE BLACK PRISM is a great start to the Lightbringer series. Safe to say, the follow-up, THE BLINDING KNIFE has been bumped up the TBR. 5 stars.

Review: ISHMAEL TOFFEE by Roger Smith

Ishmael ToffeeFormer gang banger and prison assassin turned civilian and gardener for the rich , Ishmael Toffee doesn't get the opportunity to live life on the outside for long before his talents are called upon. This time round, it's not some gang beef that has him reaching for his blood encrusted tradition, rather, 6yr old Cindy, the victim of a father who loves his daughter in all the inappropriate ways.
This is a powerful novella. It's noir filled with heart-warming and heartbreaking moments. Ishmael and Cindy are beautifully written, their connection hard to miss, their shared struggle sure to consume the reader throughout. Author Roger Smith manages to capture the hearts and mind of his readers in a tightly bundled package and never fails to hold them until the last word is read.
With the central character being a seemingly reformed ex-con, and the home of a rich South African man the place-setting, this had the hallmarks of a typical bad guy goes bad again yet Smith delivers an emotionally gripping tale that deals with sexual abuse, kindness, typecasts, poverty, and deep characterisation many would struggle to achieve in longer formats. Essential reading. 5 stars.
This was my first read by Roger Smith and wont be the last.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

B@stard Books: Put Some Hair on Your Chest

Inspired by author Luke Preston's recent blog post of 10 Books to put hair on your chest, I thought I'd put my own spin on the list. The below books contain hard blokes, harsh environments, and violent predicaments.

In no particular order:

Pariah by Dave Zeltserman (2009)
In my review I wrote "Dave Zeltserman sure knows how to write a mean bastard...Nevin is a one man army with no redeeming qualities who you are compelled to read". PARIAH is the second book in Zeltserman's 'man out of prison trilogy' and is the best of a very good bunch.

Hogdoggin' by Anthony Neil Smith (2009)

The second Lafitte novel is pure badass. In my review I wrote "compassion is a commodity [Lafitte] can little afford...a vicious and bloody game of cat and mouse that leaves everything from brain splatter to charred meat" - I hope we see more of Billy Lafitte. 
 The Robbers by Paul Anderson (2012)
The Robbers
With lines like “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 is Aussie noir at its best and one of the surprise reads of 2012. Will feature in my 'best of' list.
Shotgun Opera by Victor Gischler (2006)
Shotgun Opera
Worthy of entry for the title alone but its the overtly violent story that gets the nod for this list. SHOTGUN OPERA is one of my favourite Gishler books.
Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie (2004)
Two-Way Split
In my review I wrote "Guthrie’s debut showcases fragmented moments of cruelty delivered in multi POV episodic-like crime noir." From the book blurb: "This lean and muscular crime caper with a seriously twisted dark side" 'nuff said.
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (1978)
This should've been the first book I thought of for a list like this. C.W. Sughrue is a masterful creation which doesn't stray too far from his creators own characteristics. A modern classic.
Quarry by Max Allan Collins (Perfect Crime edition 2011)
The first book (prior to the Hardcase Crime releases) to feature hitman Quarry. In my review I wrote "Max Allan Collins establishes his Parker-like character, in hit-man Quarry as a methodical ice cold killer who fears nothing of bringing death to those he's been contracted to do so." A must have.
I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane (1947)
I the Jury
The first book to feature hard nosed PI Mike Hammer. While not the best in the series, it sets the tone for the hardboiled private eye.
The Bloomsday Dead by Adrian McKinty (2007)
The Bloomsday Dead (Michael Forsythe #3)
In my review I wrote that "The Bloomsday Dead’ is a bullet ridden romp through Ireland's underbelly...a compelling and blood soaked journey from start to finish which culminates in a violent ending true to the trilogies origin." The final installment of the DEAD TRILOGY is pure class.
The Cleaner by Brett Battles (2008)
The Cleaner (Jonathan Quinn, #1)
Quinn is a professional cleaner - the go-to-guy when you want a body removed and a crime scene made to disappear. THE CLEANER is probably the rawest and hard-man-like book of the series. A great protagonist with a deeply disturbing profession.
So there you have it, my take on a list of books sure to put hair on your chest. There are many more (my list is completely different to Luke Preston's for instance) bastard books out there - time to get reading!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: ZOO CITY by Lauren Beukes

Zoo CityI’m on a bit of an animal accomplice kick lately, having recently finished HARD BITE with helper monkey Sid, and now ZOO CITY with a sloth backpacking on Beukes’ main character Zinzi.

I like ZOO CITY more for the concept than actual story that is until the darker side of key players comes to light. Beukes creates a world teaming with real world comparisons separated by unique twists of the fantastical. The plot, once established, is pretty straight forward and conforms to the typical PI case format comprising a series of interviews, background digging, violent encounters etc as the protagonist, Zinzi December, and her sloth source the target.

Having previously used her talents on trinkets or minor items of significance to their owners, the PI gig is a step into the unknown. Odi Huron, by way of an eccentric couple who specialise in ‘procurement’, hires Zinzi to locate a missing female musician, Songweza, seen as a good girl idol for the youth – using non-traditional techniques (PI’s, cops) to keep the disappearance out of the tabloids.

One of the best scenes is separate to the core investigation itself, rather Zinzi’s battle against some thugs in the Johannesburg storm drains. It’s dark, wet and brimming with tensions and an overwhelming sense of foreboding. More of this would’ve added a much grittier undertone to the novel.

The later stages of the novel uncover sinister motives and the drafting of magic concoctions formulated by macabre means that shocks and infuriates Zinzi (and all Animalled sympathisers alike). Linked to her investigation, she winds up in the jaws of death as the case takes a turn for the worse. The fusion of PI theatrics and wild animal rage results in a truly epic conclusion which for the most part is the novel’s highlight.

The intermissions provide a glimpse at the fantastical world and the concept of the ‘Animalled’ and the alternate universe of Beukes’ creation. These deviations from the story are greatly beneficial in establishing context to the environment and enhance the overall believability of the concept.

ZOO CITY is an interesting concept, a semi sleuth with a sloth attached to her…anyone who commits a crime is forced to ‘partner-up’ with an animal which cannot leave their side. It is set in South Africa but the place setting is very much inner city American ghetto. Living in Zoo City, a kind of quarantine for the destitute criminal accompanies all the vices typical in an urban ghetto-like sprawl in prostitution, gang activity, scams (though these are run by Zinzi herself), violence, and corruption. I thought Beukes did a great job at merging reality with fiction – nothing felt forced or entirely unbelievable.

In summary: Was a little hard to get into, but worth persisting - 3.5 stars.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Review: HARD BITE by Anonymous-9

Hard BiteHARD BITE is modern pulp with a paraplegic protagonist and a side kick worthy of a cult following, in Sid, a serial killer monkey. HARD BITE is laced with satire and dark humour likened to other Blasted Heath titles, notably Douglas Lindsay's Barney Thomson series - despite the murderous plot, Anonymous-9 keeps the laughs and lighter moments rolling along. I didn't know whether to cringe when Sid went in for the 'hard bite' or laugh at the overall outlandish concept - great stuff.
Not your typical portrait of a serial killer, Dean Drayhart is wheelchair bound and uses a unique accomplice to carry out his killings. In a twisted way, Dean gets some redemption with every kill of a hit and run driver, slowly accounting for his predicament courtesy of a hit and run which not only caused his loss of movement but also cost him his family.
HARD BITE really comes to the boil when it's discovered one of Drayhart's victims has strong ties to a Mexican drug cartel. Soon he encounters bullets, a scornful mother, and the police in an all out action packed story that's entertaining all the way through.
The characters are superb, from Drayhart and Sid, to Drayhart's nurse Maric Blattlatch and prostitute girlfriend Cinda. Cop Doug provides a glimpse at the police procedural aspect to the hunt while the Mexican drug cartel add an element of noir to this fun pulpy caper.
Anonymous-9, Dave Zeltserman (Julius Katz mystery series), and Duane Swierczynski (Charlie Hardie trilogy) are leading the new era of modern pulp which could well turn into the second coming of the genres golden age. I wonder who's the better sidekick (albeit from opposite sides of the law); Sid from HARD BITE or Archie from JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE? Perhaps we need to see more of Sid before deciding.
HARD BITE gets 5 stars for me.
Side note: I love books that have covers relevant to the actual story, not just a cut and pasted images set amongst a generic backdrop. HARD BITE's cover has got to be one of the best this year.
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