Friday, May 31, 2013

Review: DEATH OF A CITIZEN by Donald Hamilton

Matt Helm - Death of a CitizenMatt Helm is retired from the war business. His days of covert killing and globetrotting replaced by a suburban comfy lifestyle where his family and writing career consume and fulfil him. However, a chance encounter with a former sexy operative, Tina, at a local party thrusts the agent known as ‘Eric’ back into the world of bullets, blood and bruising fist fights.

DEATH OF A CITIZEN took a while to get going (about a third of the book) as author Donald Hamilton established Helm as a writer and family man with a darkly brooding sense of violence bubbling beneath the surface. Slowly unravelling his back-story and assignments during the war effort, Helm is built up as a once successful assassin turned soft. Luckily, all it took was a subtle signal from the deadly Tina to turn that around and merge past and present into what is a surprisingly decent action thriller.

I wanted to love this book (I haven’t seen the adaptations fortunately) having been a fan of pulps from some time, this reprint of the first Matt Helm book original published in 1960 promised much yet felt slightly off centre to me. Conceptually, DEATH OF A CITIZEN ticked all the boxes but for some reason (which I can’t put my finger on) it felt like something was missing – perhaps it was the use of Helm as a has-been who effortlessly springs into action despite seeing no recent action.

While I enjoy a good twist as much as the next reader, DEATH OF A CITIZEN constantly changes the goal posts – working more often than not yet at times seeming a little too convenient as a means to progress the story.

Will I read more Matt Helm novels? Yes. Reading the blurbs of some of the upcoming books reminds me of a cross between Bond and Quarry. For DEAHT OF A CITIZEN, I give it a pass mark.

Books in the Matt Helm series:

  1. Death of a Citizen (1960)
  2. The Wrecking Crew (1960)
  3. The Removers (1961)
  4. The Silencers (1962)
  5. Murderers' Row (1962)
  6. The Ambushers (1963)
  7. The Shadowers (1964)
  8. The Ravagers (1964)
  9. The Devastators (1965)
  10. The Betrayers (1966)
  11. The Menacers (1968)
  12. The Interlopers (1969)
  13. The Poisoners (1971)
  14. The Intriguers (1972)
  15. The Intimidators (1974)
  16. The Terminators (1975)
  17. The Retaliators (1976)
  18. The Terrorizers (1977)
  19. The Revengers (1982)
  20. The Annihilators (1983)
  21. The Infiltrators (1984)
  22. The Detonators (1985)
  23. The Vanishers (1986)
  24. The Demolishers (1987)
  25. The Frighteners (1989)
  26. The Threateners (1992)
  27. The Damagers (1993)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: ALL THE WILD CHILDREN by Josh Stallings

All The Wild Children: A noir memoirRaw and uninhibited. Josh Stallings, in his memoir doesn’t shy away from his demons – he confronts them head on. Like Ellroy’s MY DARK PLACES, Stallings writes a brutal truth that’s honesty is as uplifting as it is heartbreaking. Noir in life has a power not captured in fiction (though some filters through into Stallings’ books) that’s a shade darker and more complex than its fictional counterpart. ALL THE WILD CHILDREN is a perfect example of using pain and turning it in to love. I found the recollections of Stallings childhood confronting, evocative, and much like a movie though more cinematic and vividly violent.

ALL THE WILD CHILDREN allows the reader to delve inside the mind of a man who has lived noir. Ultimately I gained further appreciation of Stallings achievements through his struggles in childhood to his demanding and difficult fatherhood experiences. There are elements in his crime writing that bleeds raw emotion, reading ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, we as a reader community get to see where that originates from.

Josh Stallings website:

Snubnose Press website:

The Book Blurb:

From the author of the critically acclaimed Moses McGuire crime series comes a brutally honest memoir. Raised in the 60's counter-culture, a teen in the 70's, and a father in the go go 80's. White boy in a ghetto high school. Guns. Drugs. Sex. Fatherhood. Heart warming, uplifting and tough. A life writ large.

“Someday, this will read much better than it lived.” - LARK STALLINGS (1975)

"Josh has done an incredible job with the hand life dealt him. I admire the hell outa that. All the Wild Children is simply Stunning." - KEN BRUEN

"What is most remarkable about All The Wild Children isn't the rhythmic fleetness of it's earnest prose, nor the relentless pace, nor the fantastic nature of its plot, nor, even, the fact that it is all true. What is most remarkable is that Josh Stallings managed to survive malicious fate, addiction, and the belligerent idiocy of his youth, and somehow find some dregs of fortitude remaining that allowed him to put it all on the page with a rare degree of honesty; willingly admitting that truth is fleeting and that this is no more than his best recollection of the storms and what they left behind. Laughing in the face of brutal misfortune and epic poor judgement is a tonic. One that Stallings graciously invites us to imbibe with him. Drink up. God knows Josh did." - CHARLIE HUSTON

Review: THE BLUE BLAZES by Chuck Wendig

The Blue Blazes (Mookie Pearl, #1)THE BLUE BLAZES reminds me a lot of the Joe Pitt casebooks by Charlie Huston in terms of its otherworldly atmospheric quality and the subtle supernatural elements that creep into underworld society. The gangs of Wendig’s New York are far more sinister than mere mortals with low morals and high body counts. Affiliated with, or controlled by monsters of deep, these gangs are more than a threat to the average Joe with the entire city resting on the outcome of a murderous plot to bring those that dwell in the dark to feast in the light above ground. Standing in the way of this is Mookie Pearl and by extension, his wayward and seemingly power hungry daughter Nora. Operating on both sides of the Organisation, this family dynamic is explosive to say the least.

Drugs, sexual undertones, violence, and a cult hero in the making, THE BLUE BLAZES has it all. From the dark and violent corners of noir to the fantastical elements of hell and back, Mookie’s story is one fans of all genres will be hard pressed not to enjoy.

Wendig knows how to write cool characters that aren’t the norm. Like Miriam Black, Mookie has a certain charisma and tough yet touching fa├žade which forces the care about their plight. I look forward to reading the next instalment.

My review of MOCKINGBIRD (Miriam Black #2) can be found here:

Angry Robot Books website:

THE BLUE BLAZES book blurb:

Meet Mookie Pearl.
Criminal underworld? He runs it.
Supernatural underworld? He hunts in it.
Nothing stops Mookie when he’s on the job.
But when his daughter takes up arms and opposes him, something’s gotta give…

The Blue Blazes – the first in a new urban fantasy series in which lovable thug Mookie Pearl must contend with the criminal underworld, the supernatural underworld, a new drug that makes the invisible visible, and a rebellious teen daughter who opposes him at every turn

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: POINT & SHOOT (Charlie Hardie #3) by Duane Swierczynski

Point and ShootCharlie Hardie is as resilient as they come. He’s had to endure gross physical pain in order to protect his family from the Accident People and fend off a larger Secret America organisation which threatens to tear the fabric of reality as he knows it. Once again confined to a small space and segregated from those he loves, Hardie is teased with a glimpse of his family via a satellite picture beaming images from earth direct to his outer space prison. It keeps him sane – to a degree.

Tasked with guarding some precious piece of information, all Hardie knows is that outer space is the only way to keep the information secure with him the permanent custodian. Day bleeds into day, night to night, the mundane chipping away at his mental state. SSDD until an unexpected visitor crashes his solitude and Charlie comes face to face with a more disturbing form of reality then he could have ever imagined.

POINT & SHOOT, the third (and hopefully not final) pulp in the Charlie Hardie series is a hell of a book. Swierczynski crafts a fun pulply tale that’s outlandish yet disturbingly plausible. As Hardie does everything imaginable to protect his wife and teenage son from his mysterious adversaries, the reader is enveloped in the story, feeling every inch of pain along with Charlie.

What makes this series great is the length Swierczynski goes to in order to maintain diversity. Accident People in FUN & GAMES, an underground prison in HELL & GONE, and an outer space experience in POINT & SHOOT. The one constant being good writing ad engaging storytelling.

Side note. I couldn’t help but think Swierczynski incorporated a little bit of Bloodshot (Valiant comics) into Charlie Hardie in POINT & SHOOT.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: THE BLINDING KNIFE (Lightbringer #2) by Brent Weeks

The Blinding KnifeOriginality in epic fantasy is a hard thing to accomplish yet the Lightbringer series does just that. There is so much to like about the premise and execution. Whereas some fantasy tombs get beaded down by inconsequential dialogue and scenes, author Brent Weeks makes each word count towards a deeper evolution, be it towards the universe, plots, lore, or characters. One thing that’s becoming abundantly clear with this series is that Weeks HAS got to write more in this setting. Despite the first two books being large in page count I got the feeling that we’re only now seeing where this series is headed.

THE BLINDING KNIFE picks up where THE BLACK PRISM left off with a world on the verge of more war and a Prism fading from existence while his begotten (hmm) son Kip trains for the elite Blackguard forces while stumbling towards a greater destiny than even Gavin can imagine. Liv has switched sides and is aiding the battle against Gavin and his Gods while Karris is still the fearsome member of the Blackguards from THE BLACK PRISM yet more defined. I could go on but wont in fear of letting out spoilers.


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. (Nov 2012, Just A Guy That Likes To Read - Review link below)

Safe to say THE BLINDING KNIFE doesn’t deviate from the successful formulate of book 1 but builds upon a diverse and interesting merger of fantastical concepts, religion, relationship, and war. Right up there with the best fantasy series I’ve read to date.

Brent Weeks on the third instalment of the Lightbringer series:

Review: THE FACE OF DEATH (Barney Thomson #2.5) by Douglas Lindsay

The Face Of DeathAh, you know you’re onto something good when a book opens like this:

There are two kinds of people in the world.
There are those who have never accidentally murdered their work colleagues, discovered their mother is a serial killer, had to dispose of eight bodies, gone on the run from the police, hidden out in a monastery where the monks were murdered one by one, killed the monastery murderer and been allowed to walk free by the two investigating officers at the scene of the crimes.
And those who have.

Barney Thomson, infamous barber and accidental murderer attracts chaos no matter where he goes - the reaper waiting with sickle ready to slash anyone in close proximity to the unassuming alleged serial killer. THE FACE OF DEATH is a novella which takes place after the blood letting frenzy at a monastery where Barney found himself - one again the target of a couple of determined investigators and that of a crazed monk on the warpath.

In THE FACE OF DEATH Barney finds himself smack bang in the middle of a four person murder, all given bad haircuts before their untimely demise. With the media abuzz with Barney, the finger pointing takes no time and Barney once again finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Much like THE END OF DAYS (another Barney Thomson novella), THE FACE OF DEATH is as short as a number 2 haircut and as sharp as barbers cutthroat razor blade. Loaded with outlandish humour and engaging yet simple characters, THE FACE OF DEATH will appeal to long time Barney Thomson fans and newcomers alike.  

My review of THE BARBER SERGEON’S HAIRSHIRT (book 2) can be found here:

Other useful links:

Blasted Heath ebook publisher:

Review: THE LONG-LEGGED FLY by James Sallis

The Long-Legged Fly (Lew Griffin, #1)
“Maybe the best parts of out lives are always over. Maybe happiness, contentment, are things we only recollect through filters of time, elusive ghosts forever behind us.”

The Long-Legged Fly is on par with the great American detective novels which embody and define noir down to its seedy and desperate core (think James Crumley, or Ken Bruen with a sprinkle of George Pelecanos). Drowning sorrows, starving the soul of oxygen, Griffin is the true tainted protagonist. Seeking love and ones lost, solace and a time to mean something, Griffin meanders from one case to another slowly evolving into those he is entrusted to guard against. I love the way the cases are fragmented by time yet linked by some deftly placed plot threads. 

Spanning four distinct periods, 1964, 1970, 1987, and 1990, PI Lew Griffin is as shady as the streets he stumbles, side stepping blood splatter throughout the underside of New Orleans. The book is as much about Griffin’s battle with his personal demons as it is the missing people he’s tasked to find – I couldn’t read this fast enough, a must read for fans of raw and realistic detective fiction.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: QUARRY'S DEAL (Quarry #3) by Max Allan Collins

Quarry's DealQuarry is to Max Allan Collins as Parker is to Westlake. A likeable, somewhat cult-like figure that lives on the wrong side of the law. In QUARRY’S DEAL, the third instalment in the hit-man series, Quarry tracks down a fellow operative with designs to make some cash by informing the target of his impending demise. From there Quarry moves with brutal efficiency, thrusting himself in the assassin’s life in more ways than one on track towards a nice payday.

This is perhaps one of the more calculated and cold Quarry novels I’ve read (inc. the Hardcase Crime books). Max Allan Collins paints a perfect picture of the subtle yet shockingly effective kill – one of the hallmarks of the series.

Like the other Quarry books I found myself unable to put it down. There is something about Quarry and his method that intrigues and addicts. No longer a traditional hitman, his self made occupation relies upon tracking assassins (for lack of a better word) and dealing for their targets lives. It’s an interesting concept that doesn’t date.

A must for fans of the HCC series.

View the label on the left for other reviews of books by Max Allan Collins.

Review: MATADOR by Ray Banks

MatadorWhat originated through a haze of distorted reality and complete disorientation eventuated in a blood thirsty quest for vengeance which culminates in a maze of hellfire viewed through a blanket of smoke tinged with speckled blood. For bullfighter, Raf, rising from the dead (almost), memory is inconsistent, time is fragmented by moments of pain and utter confusion. The target of a hit by a mob of ruthless gangsters for apparently being in liege with the lawful and lawless, Raf finds himself in a dangerous game of cat and mouse - and rabbits, without knowing the reasons.

Riddled with bullet holes and almost succumbing to a series of life threatening injuries, Raf slowly learns of his friends, enemies, and crimes. However, the lines are not quite as definable as he first thought.

Ray Banks further showcases his storytelling ability by writing a novel that’s detailed, well researched, and far removed from his previous works (in occupation at least) while still maintaining the gritty and raw sense of determined violence I’ve come to expect from him.

MATADOR is a gem of a noir that’s got a Quentin Tarantino film adaptation written all over it. Highly recommend.    

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: IN BROAD DAYLIGHT by Seth Harwood

In Broad DaylightMoving away from the Jack Palms mystery series, IN BROAD DAYLIGHT is a police procedural which introduces readers to a new female protagonist in FBI agent Jess Harding, a professional who hunts serial killers – only this time, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Set in Alaska, Harwood managers to instil a good sense of time and place, enveloping the reader in a real sense of isolation and small town atmosphere. This is not one of the glamour FBI cases portrayed in popular genre fiction – IN BROAD DAYLIGHT is gory, messy, and a little disturbing, the setting helps to confine to atrocities as well as perpetuate the darkness and mystery surrounding the methodical madness.

IN BROAD DAYLIGHT reads as a second series book rather than first with many references to Jess’s past attempts at bringing this particular killer to justice. There is also a high degree of back-story implied as it relates to Jess’s romantic interests with fellow agents. I did find it difficult to fully appreciate Jess’s past without having read a prequel-like novel first. That aside, this is a solid police procedural that has plenty of action filled moments.

Does writing about books make you read more?

Prior to starting this blog I’ve wouldn’t said no, simply because writing about books detracts from actually reading. In order to satisfy the need for both, more time (or better time management) is required. Now, my thought process has changed. Having adopted a specific stance on the kind of book writing I wish to undertake has in fact led me to read more books this year than previous years. How? By writing about books I both own and haven’t read yet, books coming out soon, and participating in online book club discussions.

My series of infrequent blog posts (Delayed Gratification) examines my large TBR pile from both an eReader (I use Kindle Paperwhite for my eReading) and physical book-on-shelf perspective. Every few weeks I glance over my shelves with the hope of rediscovering a book that I’d purchased some time ago to reinstate the enthusiasm to read, to find what led me to purchase the book in the first place. So far I’ve read around 50% of the books I’ve mentioned on those posts. I’d call that a success as, truth be told, some of those books might’ve sat for another couple of years had I not looked back at them – no fault of the book, but the cause and effect of continually acquiring books.

As of this post, I’ve read 72 books this year – well on target to reading my Goodreads Reading Challenge:

So how have I managed to read more? Maximising my down time is key. Using travel to and from work will net me a solid block of time. I find I’m looking to read more as a result of talking about books, continually building the anticipation of jumping into a new book and delving into a new story. I read once that Stephen King recommended reading 8hrs a day – reading wherever you can (in the shopping line, waiting for a bus, before bed etc.), aimed more a writers as a means of learning the craft but it can be applied to fans of fiction too. While I don’t read at every opportunity (I have a life outside of books), I do try to maximise the time I do have decided to reading. 

So with that, what are some books I’m looking to read in the near future? Here’s a glimpse at what’s got me excited to turn that first page and get lost in a book:

The Blue Blazes (Mookie Pearl, #1) Point and Shoot Matador

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: ESCOBAR by Roberto Escobar

Escobar: The Inside Story of Pablo Escobar, the World's Most Powerful Criminal. as Told by His Brother Roberto Escobar“I’m defending him because it is the right thing to do.” - Roberto Escobar on his brothers Godfather like perception and underworld heavy weight judgement by the public by in large. Roberto Escobar depicts Pablo as a Robin Hood-type character; someone who gave back to his people as opposed to the ruthless drug magnate the media inflated him to be; the book, ESCOBAR stresses this yet still leaves room for interpretation.

ESOCBAR is an informative, one-sided, and interesting look at one of the world’s most famous criminal figures in drug trafficking kingpin, Pablo Escobar. While ESCOBAR doesn't add much by virtue of providing the reader with an insight into deep and dark secrets, it does provide a glimpse at life of Pablo and his family whilst on the run from authorities, his vast methods for smuggling drugs around the globe, the sums of cash he had hidden, and his networks of lawful and unlawful people alike.

Despite the core topic being about Pablo, its Roberto who often takes center stage and tells his story while brushing over Pablo in passing. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the book jacket specified a story about the Escobar brothers but it didn’t – as a result I left wanting more of Pablo and his trials and tribulations. More along the lines of the quote below would’ve really added a truer reflection of the books intended purpose:

“On December 3 the New York Times announced the death of Pablo Escobar on the front page. “Pablo Escobar, who rose from the slums of Colombia to become one of the world’s most murderous and successful cocaine traffickers, was killed in a hail of gunfire...

            “The death is not expected to seriously affect cocaine traffic.”

When Roberto focused on his sole existence whist incarcerated, the writing improved along with the recollection and intensity. I found the last portion of the book very satisfying.

“The bomb exploded in my face. My eyes were gone. The explosion had lifted me off my feet to the ceiling, breaking the ceiling tiles with my head. The world was black. I smelled the blood. God, I thought, don’t let me die here.” – Roberto Escobar on a failed attempt on his life whilst incarcerated.

Overall, ESCOBAR is informative and insightful and has me interested to read more about Pablo and his exploits.

Review: THE BLACK DAHLIA by James Ellroy

The Black DahliaThe first book in the LA Quartet proves Ellroy is the epitome of noir. Not only does he exemplify the hallmarks of the genre but adds a realism and sense of desperation few can muster. Turning the pages of THE BLACK DAHLIA will infuse the reader with a keen sense of time and place via a perfect blend of heinous fact and deeply disturbed fiction. Making it all the more harrowing is the believability – not only of the details of the Black Dahlia case itself, but the actions of the officers and other characters alike.

Everyone is tainted, judged by their inadequacies, hated by their conquests. The outlook remains bleak from the first bout to the bloody end. Cops Bleichert and Blanchard and the woman who both solidifies and threatens to break them are as well written and wholly consuming as any I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Story aside, the characters are what makes THE BLACK DAHLIA really come to life – not taking anything away from the case which looms over these characters till the very end.

Ellroy crafts a masterfully intense and provocative crime noir which takes the reader deep into his own dark places and allows them to wallow in a perpetual state of hopelessness and longing. THE BLACK DAHLIA is confronting, disturbing, and demands multiple reads - one of my all time favourites and a classic of the genre.

Review: GANGSTER SQUAD by Paul Lieberman

Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los AngelesLieberman’s looks at the special unit formulated to stop the wave of mobsters heading to LA promised to be a bare knuckle, bruising and bloody affair. It had it all; colourful mobsters (Cohan at least started out that way while Jack Whalen’s history was slowly building via his criminal genes), ruthless cops who wouldn’t think twice about stepping over the line to enforce justice, and sultry women hanging off the arms of the bad guys. In other words, GANGSTER SQUAD was reading like a well detailed pulp, brimming with interesting back story, multiple plot threads, and intriguing police cases (later the Black Dahlia case comes up only to be mentioned in passing). It maintained this premise for the majority before becoming bogged down at times with filler content – while seemingly thoroughly researched; I felt it had a tendency to push the entertainment value to the side in order to pursue a more journalistic angle (Lieberman is a journalist, and this story did, in part at lease appear in serial form in the 1990’s).

Supposedly focused on this elite group of lawmen, I found it more a book of Cohan and Whalen’s journey to crime and subsequent deaths. While Lieberman hit the mark for the most part, I would’ve liked to have seen more of a focus on the squad themselves (O’Mara and a few others have adequate page time but I was still left wanting more – a good sign).  

There are many interesting factoids within GANGSTER SQUAD, from their success rate, influence, relationship with the FBI and their individual members. All added a picture perfect snapshot of the real LA noir. There is a lot of re-read value without a doubt.

Despite enjoying GANGSTER SQUAD I got the feeling it was watered down to curb the violence, particularly as the story progressed as the squad members themselves fell in line with LAPD policy. If Lieberman had written more about crime and punishment over back story and lives of his character studies then I wouldn’t hesitate in giving GANGSTER SQUAD 5 stars.

Review: THE POSTHUMOUS MAN by Jake Hinkson

The Posthumous Man by Jake HinksonIf you’re not reading Jake Hinkson and you are a fan of noir then you need to rectify that asap and go buy his books. Hinkson again delivers the goods with a novella that will leave you wanting more, and more, and more.

Read my review of HELL ON CHURCH STREET here:

Recently noir novellas have brought back that pulp style single plot thread delivery with a peripheral side story attached to the protagonist in a way that is reminiscent of the dime store pulps of yester year with THE POSTHUMOUS MAN a perfect example.

It’s taut, lean, precise, and as sharp as a scalpel. Hinkson doesn’t waste a word as he thrusts the recently departed then revived former reverend Elliot Stilling into a world far removed from the church. God is an absentee landlord inaccessible for any of the criminally inclined characters in THE POSTHUMOUS MAN.

I enjoyed every aspect of THE POSTHUMOUS MAN. From nurse Felicia’s involvement with the underworld and some very shady characters to Elliot’s evolution from a man of the cloth to a man more than capable of sending his foes to meet their maker. Accompanying this violent story is one of immense loss which not only rationalises Elliot’s actions but makes him more human in doing so.

Earlier I blog about my top noir novellas - THE POSTHUMOUS MAN easily gets on the list.

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