Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top Crime Reads of 2013

With 2013 all but done and dusted I decided to reflect upon the best crime reads for the year (my genre of choice). Unlike my best of 2013 list which focused on books published in 2013, this list is for crime reads exclusively and those that weren’t published this calendar year. In no particular order:

Live by Night
LIVE BY NIGHT by Dennise Lehane (REVIEW)
Loss (Gus Dury, #3)
LOSS by Tony Black (REVIEW)
When it all Comes Down to Dust
Fifteen Digits
Gone Girl
GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn (REVIEW)

Review: THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE by A. Lee Martinez

The Automatic DetectiveEmpire City is a futuristic metropolis ruled by a mix mutant populace which includes biological, robotic, alien, and mutated inhabitants. Technology powers progression, enhances efficiencies, and dilutes the humanist aspects to inner city living. The foundation piece for THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE, Empire City has an aura that compliments the protagonist as he smashes his way through villainy towards his objective. The safe return of a kidnapped biological family – the only beings he can call friends in his two year existence.

Mack Megaton, a seven foot robot cab driver with free will (an anomaly of his programming) watches as his neighbours are kidnapped in front of him. A four armed mutant is responsible, having used a teleportation device to whisk the family off into the ether; he vanishes, leaving a handful of angry underworld figures and one determined ‘bot in his wake. Mack doesn’t take to this sudden disappearance. Ignoring all reasoning, he sets out to locate the missing family at any cost – even at the expense of Empire City itself.

He has a few helpers along the way in the devilish beautiful and dangerously smart Lucia Napier, a 22yro genius, Doctor Mujahid, Mack’s shrink, and Jung, a fellow cabdriver and ape. It’s an odd mix that works very well. Not only do these characters have their own distinct roles to play but they also add an element of humanity to the protagonist.

From government conspiracies, alien invasion, mad scientists, and robotic technology to hardboiled detective gumption – THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE has it all. Author A. Lee Martinez has crafted a deftly good tale encompassing the futuristic world of sci-fi, the dark and dangerous alleyways of noir and hardboiled exploits of a unique and engrossing detective.  

THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE is Mack’s first case and judging from what I’ve read about A. Lee Martinez, it looks to be the last we’ll see of him as the author isn’t big on ‘series’ books. That said I’m hoping readers get to see more of Mack at some stage.

Friday, December 27, 2013


The Secret Lives of Married WomenNot typically my genre of choice and had it not be a Hardcase Crime publication, I doubt I would’ve picked this up off the shelf. One thing I love about the Hardcase Crime books is the genre diversity and the fact they are willing to take a chance on something a little outside of the norm. THE SECRET LIVES OF MARRIED WOMEN fits that bill – that said there are some of the trademark criminal undertones you’d expect to see in a Hardcase Crime book.

THE SECRET LIVES OF MARRIED WOMEN – both title and cover are a little misleading. I’ve seen reviews note the cover is R18 whereas the content PG13 and for the most part I’d have to agree. Not necessarily a bad thing, as I for one, wasn’t sure what I was going to get with this book so I didn’t have any expectations.

The story plays out in two distinct and subtlety linked acts. The first focuses on a young couple with a baby and another on way. The housewife, Leda, feels underappreciated and disconnected from her husband and finds a friend in labourer Jack, who happens to be doing some work next door. Cue the adultery? Not quite, while I thought this was the direction the story was heading, Jack turned out to be a stalker of sorts and ends up missing with Leda’s husband, Stas, a prime suspect.

The second half of the book is all about the world beneath the silk curtain - one where desires and lustful ambitions can be bought, exploited, and used as currency. Lilly, Leda’s sister, is a successful lawyer who has been trying for some time to have a baby with her husband but thus far, falling pregnant has eluded the power couple. Lilly’s case takes her to a place so foreign to her everyday life that it at once excites and appals her. Nan, a professional submissive, has left the life to work as a devoted receptionist/personal assistant to a blind powerbroker only to cross paths with Lilly when her employer is involved in a shady development deal. Nan’s world and Lilly’s collide, opening them both to new experiences and ways of life. This portion of the novel is more along the lines as to what the cover promised.

THE SECRET LIVES OF MARRIED WOMEN is an enjoyable, well written and easily readable book. It’s not heavily explicit and the touch of crime added some flavour to the overarching tale. More Hardcase Crime than Fifty Shades of Grey.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: THE EDINBURGH DEAD by Brian Ruckley (2011)

The Edinburgh DeadEdinburgh, 1828 is a dangerous place brimming with all kinds of violence from the dead and alive alike. For local police sergeant, Adam Quire, the fabled become a macabre reality. Body snatching is on the rise, the cemetery a shopping mall for the experimental, a quick cash grab occupation for undesirables for the purposes of the prosperous. Missing cadavers find their way into universities for medical students to craft their trade and for the lesser well intentioned to ply their dark arts.

When a man is found with his throat torn out, dead in horrific fashion, the Edinburgh police look to Quire to solve the murder. What he embarks upon soon turns personal when attempts are made on his life, his time on the force prematurely ended, and mysterious trinkets appear in his homestead. If that wasn’t enough, he faces man made monsters and dogs akin to zombies yet more like Frankenstein’s monster – without pain or remorse, driven by murder on command of their handlers. The streets of old and new town run red with blood of innocents and Quire, unrelenting in his plight, splashes in the sickly puddles to rid Edinburgh of this darkly strange menace.

THE EDINBURGH DEAD is different from the books I’ve previously read by Brian Ruckley (The Godless World trilogy) yet the fantastical and deep characterisation remain. Quire is a well developed former solider whose natural flair and sense of purpose are derived from his violent past. Just as well given the latest endeavour he so finds himself. The plot itself initially shifts from early 1800’s horror to urban fantasy encompassing a primarily linear focus with flashbacks to Quire’s past.

I enjoyed THE EDINBURGH DEAD. It’s got a uniqueness to it that embodies multiple genres as the story unfolds but is ultimately held together by the criminal elements. Published in 2011 (Orbit) I’m surprised to not have seen any more books in this setting from Ruckley, there’s certainly enough depth Quire to warrant further instalments, be it flashbacks to his policing or the event proceeding THE EDINBURGH DEAD.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: AURORA: PEGASUS by Amanda Bridgeman

Aurora: PegasusAURORA PEGASUS is a direct and seamlessly integrated continuation of author Amanda Bridgemans’ first novel, AURORA: DARWIN. This review spoils much of the plot and outcome of that earlier novel so if you haven’t read it, go check it out then come back and read this review J.

The Aurora series is shaping as a heavily character centric space adventure in a futuristic world where interplanetary inhabitation is reminiscent of the American wild west. The UNF, the leading government force is one that both protects and neglects its loyal servants. For the team aboard space shuttle Aurora, this is something they know all too well and now find themselves on that dusty red frontier, Mars cleaning up the UNF’s mess – trying to contain and capture the man responsible for creating a new breed of super soldier called Jumbos.

Welles, Harris, Doc, McKinley, Hunter, Packham, and Brown are joined by a batch of new recruits in a bid to lure Sharley and his jumbos out of hiding – the bait, Carrie Welles, the select female member of the Aurora team whose not only a crack member of the unit but is perfect breeding material for the jumbos next evolution, a pure bread jumbo. If Welles can lure Sharley, the UNF can put an end to this rogue program. But looming in the background is the question ‘does the UNF want to continue or mask the jumbo experiment?’ Harris and co find themselves yet again the puppets, controlled by a higher power on a deadly mission that once again threatens to tear apart the team limb by limb.

There were some great character defining moments in AURORA: PEGASUS, the relationship between Carrie and Doc for one, and Harris’ unrelenting determination to keep the surviving members of the team safe as they slowly piece together their lives and man-up for another confrontation is another. That said, after a while the Doc/Carrie subplot took over and distracted from what was a very solid and entertaining broader story in the hunt for Sharley. At times, feeling more of a romantic drama than sci-fi thriller.

The place setting is superb; I love the likeness of Mars to the Wild West; a bold and dangerous new frontier town where salons and gun toting men dominate the early stages of inhabitation. The space shuttles themselves also add a distinct sense of place with the Aurora already well established as a key locale. Bridgeman also teases a superior and imposing warship called the Barbican which I hope to read more of in later instalments. Then there’s Hell Town – the super max prison home to the worst of the worst...

Overall, there’s a lot to like about the second Aurora novel yet it doesn’t hit the same cords as the initial instalment, largely due to the lengthy period of time dedicated to the Doc/Carrie romance. Certainly worth a look if you read and enjoyed AURORA: DARWIN.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Best Books of 2013

Below is a list in no particular order of the books published in 2013 that stood out for me. There are some notable absences, largely due to me simply not being able to read everything published this year in what was a very good year to be a reader. 2013 was probably the first year where I made an effort to read as much new release material as I could. As a result I was able to read 50 books that were published in 2013 (out of my 160+ books read in total throughout the year). Without further delay – here’s the cream of the crop (a mixed genre list):
The Thicket
THE THICKET by Joe R Lansdale (Mulholland) REVIEW
Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?
Zero at the Bone
ZERO AT THE BONE by David Whish-Wilson (Penguin) REVIEW
The Cambodian Book of the Dead
The Baddest Ass (Billy Lafitte, #3)
THE BADDEST ASS by Anthony Neil Smith (Blasted Heath) REVIEW
SKINNER by Charlie Huston (Mulholland) REVIEW
All The Wild Children: A noir memoir
ALL THE WILD CHILDREN by Josh Stallings (Snubnose Press) REVIEW
Point and Shoot
POINT AND SHOOT by Duane Swierczynski (Mulholland) REVIEW
Letters From a Murderer
Aurora: Darwin
AURORA: DARWIN by Amanda Bridgeman (Momentum) REVIEW

Review: THE THICKET by Joe R. Lansdale

The ThicketWith his parents falling victim to the plague, his grandfather murdered while crossing a river to seemingly greener pastures, and his 14yr old sister kidnapped by a ruthless gang of cutthroats, teenager Jack Parker faces adversity from all angles yet doesn’t succumb to it. Rather, he turns his pain and sufferance into determination on a quest for vengeance – one that not only looks to return his sister to safety, but also make his grandfathers’ murderers accountable.  
Set in the early 1900’s, THE THICKET is Lansdale writing near perfect contemporary fiction. The sense of time and place is enveloping, the characters and their mannerisms wholly period-centric. While transporting to the reader to a dangerous time in American history, Lansdale also manages to capture the hearts and imagination of the reader by virtue of a great cast of characters with realistic personas and agendas.
The young protagonist, Jack Parker, assembles a rough and ready band of misfits to track his sisters’ kidnappers while along way growing their group with some interesting and dynamic personalities. Spilling blood in the wake of an escape, one of the kidnappers’ leaves a bloody trail of menace which only serves to spur Jack on despite being seemingly unfit for such a violent confrontation should it come to ahead. Luckily, his bounty hunters are well equipped to handle such situations.  

There is so much to like about THE THICKET but I’ll refrain for saying too much as to not spoil the plot and the formulation of Jack’s search party. Many of the characters will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book; Eustace and Shorty, as an example, are two of the most memorable fictional characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading, yet they are a mere sample of the quality of cast Lansdale as crafted for this novel.
Without a doubt, THE THICKET (much like 2012’s EDGE OF DARK WATER) is one of my top reads for the year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Review: SAINT HOMICIDE by Jake Hinkson

Saint HomicideJake Hinkson, author of the novella THE POSTHUMOUS MAN and novel HELL ON CHURCH STREET returns with a new novella, SAINT HOMICIDE to explore one man’s hidden urges and sickly sweet lust narrated with a naivety and undercurrent of malice that demands the reader’s attention.
In a misguided attempt to serve his creator, Daniel, a devout religious man, crosses the line between doing God’s work and being an agent of hell. Though Hinkson outlines the ending up front; we know Daniel ends up in prison, the writing consistently conveys a message of hope, morphing Daniel from a criminal to good-guy to ultimately a man who deserves his place in a cell.
The slow dilapidation and easy sway of decay that creeps over the character as the plot ticks along grows increasing violent and truer to the Saint Homicide moniker. Touted as a seemingly loving husband to a wife still recovering from the mental and physical injuries of an accident, Daniel at first looks to be the doting and caring husband his fa├žade so alludes. Then his sister in law goes missing and he’s asked to help find her for fear it will burden his wife. This is where the story heads down that dark and non returnable place...
Tracking down someone who doesn’t want to be found, being confronted with that person performing acts you hadn’t thought them capable, and discovering disturbing and sinister truths about the family history culminate in Daniel undertaking a couple of brazenly violent acts that ultimately bring him back to his present day incarceration and conclude the single shot of noir that is SAINT HOMICIDE.

If you like your noir short and black then SAINT HOMICIDE is your poison.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An advance look at HANG WIRE by Adam Christopher (coming in 2014)

HangwireThere’s a comic book and horror-like quality to the forthcoming novel by Adam Christopher that seems to take all that is good from the sub genres and mould it into a deliciously well crafted tale that gives life to the death that stalks the inhabitants of this semi fictitious San Francisco landscape – the place-setting for HANG WIRE.  

Local blog reporter, Ted is felled by an exploding fortune cookie whilst celebrating his birthday. Suffering head injuries, he can’t account for time or the strange events that seem to follow him. His partner, Alison, worried for his safety regularly checks in but apart from those interactions, we see little of Ted post accident. And the mystery begins...

There’s a killer lurking the streets, stalking his victims, desperately searching for that next outlet to feed his bloodlust; something to satisfy the craving, if only for a little while. The Hang Wire killer murders in macabre fashion, using wire as a means of hanging his victims (the tools of the trade a dead giveaway by virtue of the moniker) which not only strangles but nearly decapitates those unfortunate enough to meet his deadly embrace. Highwire, part of a circus act and hero of sorts has caught wind of this killer and wants to stop the menace – sounds like a scripted superhero/villain tale, yet author Adam Christopher ensures there’s so much going on that the reader can’t easily adjust to a single theme - enter the Gods in mortal disguise.

For many years Gods and other elements have walked amongst the mortal, taking human form and entire bloodlines as their own. Some thirst for blood, others the more tranquil life – some have converged on San Francisco as history looks to repeat itself. The fire under the city threatens to burst and rain down hell upon the unsuspecting citizens – enter golems, horror, and a... circus? Yep, a travelling circus.

There’s only so much praise you can heap on a book, and I’m going to lay it on thick here. HANG WIRE is a damn cool book. It’s the perfect example of deep and well thought-out characterisation, diversification, multi dimensional plotting, and clever (and at times poetic) writing. Each chapter could easily read as a self contained short story yet it’s the intrinsically well linked and overlapping plot that binds these gems into a greater beast that dares the reader to tame it – be warned, you can’t... and you’ll love Adam Christopher for it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Review: AURORA: DARWIN by Amanda Bridgeman

Aurora: DarwinA United National Forces (UNF) Space Patrol crack team is dispatched to a deadly and secretive corner of space to investigate a breakdown of communication at a classified government facility known to have been dabbling in dangerous scientific experiments. Aboard the Aurora, Captain Saul Harris knows this isn’t a simple mission – for one, he’s been given three additional crew members; all female, something unique to space patrol, secondly; command are sketchy on the details of the communications breakdown and have an open reluctance to divulging information about the facility and the research/breakthroughs made deep in the outer limits.

The newcomers, lead by Carrie Welles, the main member of the group to feature prominently in proceedings, find themselves victims of inexperience and gender segregation as the male members of the Aurora test and taunt the new recruits to determine their mettle and capacity to do more than cook and clean. Welles and co bridge the gender divide by pure will and determination. In a world/universe of hard men and hard action, these women bring brass balls and a dead aim.

Author Amanda Bridgeman has provided readers with a plausible space story that’s grounded by its deep characterisation and tension filled plot. From the moment the crew of the Aurora disembark from Earth, the palpable and ever impending sense of doom kicks into gear. Never knowing what’s around the corner, where the threat will arise or from whom heightens the anticipation for action and blood curdling terror – in which Bridgeman delivers in spades.

I didn’t know what to expect from AURORA: DARWIN and found myself instantly hooked on the premise and impressed by the delivery. Each character brings something to the table, from Doc, Harris, Welles, to Command – all elements in a broader game of deceit, violence, and cover-up. Utterly addictive.

The follow-up, AURORA: PEGASUS was released in December 2013 and has shot near the top of my TBR.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Revew: A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George R.R. Martin

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5)The fifth volume in this magnum opus that is A Song of Ice and Fire reinstates Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Tyrion Lannister as lead characters whose stories take place, for the better part, alongside those told in A FEAST FOR CROWS. Taking a step away from the bloody state of Kings Landing, A DANCE OF DRAGONS takes readers to the frozen and deadly cold winds of the Wall where Jon Snow is Lord Commander of the Nights Watch, and some other unruly guests. To the south of Westeros in the free city states of Slavers Bay, the promise of dragons is unleashed with unforeseen consequences. Daenerys is a Queen without a King in a land of dwindling food supply and murderous sellswords. Tyrion Lannister, much like the majority of the novel, finds himself far away from Kings Landing, battered and without his Lannister gold, his wits, the only thing keeping him from being little more than a circus act or source of entertainment for wild companies of men looking for a distraction from their bloody occupation.

There’s a host of lesser characters and some nice cameos but the sheer number did make the book hard to follow in parts - partly due to the breadth of storytelling and the well defined and complex narrative attributed to this deeply rich world GRRM has so painstakingly created. Each character means something, the deaths, trials, and tribulations all have a significant impact on the broader endgame which makes every chapter, every piece of dialogue, and every murderous action a must to savour and enjoy.

I read large chucks of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS deliberately slowly in order to take in as much as I could and I think this is essential for developing a full appreciation and understanding of what GRRM is trying to achieve with these books. It’s one long sweeping tale which encompasses every nook and cranny of Westeros’ past, present and future – from times of peace to warfare with secretary, sorcery, and the fantastical in-between and all around.

GRRM answered back to some suggestions he write THE WINDS OF WINTER faster, here’s what he had to say about that and a hint that A Song of Fire and Ice may span longer than the seven books he’s alluded to:

"It is great that so many people are eager for the next book and certainly these are the people who are paying my bills and allowing me to have a house across the street from my other house," he says. "But at the same time, sometimes I just wish they would stop pressuring me about it. It will be done when it's done. I'm working on it. I don't know what else I can say: I'm a slow writer, I've always been a slow writer, and these are gigantic books." (2013)

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