Saturday, February 22, 2014

Advance Review: DEPTH CHARGING ICE PLANET GOTH by Andrez Bergen

Depth Charging Ice Planet GothMina is a typical 17yr old girl from Melbourne – her life a poster for normalcy; going to high school, hanging out with friends, listening to music, reading books, writing stories, going to the odd party etc. However, the façade is one of crafty deception, behind a long fringe and downcast eyes hides an inner torment and imaginary solace to a life more attune to violence and condemnation than the carefree rebellious teen life she should be leading.

Subjected to physical and mental abuse at the hatful hand of her older sibling, Mina conjures up Anim, an imaginary friend with real life influence who becomes her confidant and closest ally against the unbrotherly bombardment.

Adding to this hard knock life story is the typical teenage angst mixed with fluid friendship, experimental intoxication and a form of escapism that’s surreal and real at once. Mina is a complex character who experiences the full gambit of emotions as she shifts through a time lapse of events that at once captures the essence of 1980’s Australia and something a little other-worldly.

Author Andrez Bergen makes the fantastical and real bleed into one another; the seamless trajectory of actions to and from the respective perspective create a lucid dream experience that encapsulates genre fiction in its many iterations.

DEPTH CHARGING ICE PLANET GOTH does not subscribe to a label/category of fiction which makes this refreshing and unpredictable. Andrez Bergen builds upon his strength in diversity to ensure Mina’s plight is one of multiple possibilities and dimensions. We, as the reader, get to enjoy this vivid imagery and enthralling tale of survival, endurance, and coming-of-age. 

DEPTH CHARGING ICE PLANET GOTH is due out midyear 2014.

Review: SHIFT (Wool Trilogy #2) by Hugh Howey

Shift Omnibus Edition (Silo, #2) (Wool, #6-8)In SHIFT, author Hugh Howey introduces the Silo’s chief architect, Donald, the designer of the containers intended to preserve a limited sample of the human population post an extension level event. His wife Helen, mentor, and work partners all play pivotal roles in crafting the world as depicted in WOOL (though Helen’s more-so from a character building perspective for Donald as opposed to directly influencing the disastrous chain of events that led to the habitation of these 100plus level silos). These characters are what drive SHIFT and provide a deeper context to the events of WOOL, notably the books final sequences.

The short synopsis for SHIFT is essentially just that. This prequel of sorts is told in shifts as members of Silo #1 come in and out of ‘deep freeze’ spanning hundreds of years to take up their respective shift(s) in order to keep the illusion of singularity and governance over the other silos going.

While a prequel, there are events, particularly towards the later stages that are all the better for having read WOOL. Howey manages to merge this distinct tale within his Wool universe seamlessly into the books predecessor whilst keeping the ideas fresh. SHIFT could’ve easily fallen into the ‘same-same’ yet is a different beast altogether.

I really enjoyed reading about the silo’s origins and how the world came to be in such a ruined state. The revelations will shock yet come across as plausible and within character of those few villainous decision makers.

SHIFT is a must read for those who have read WOOL and want to delve deeper into the questions surrounding this post-apocalyptic landscape.

Catching up on crime: THE BOYS FROM SANTA CRUZ by Jonathan Nasaw

The Boys from Santa CruzJonathan Nasaw has long been one of my favourite crime writers. FEAR ITSELF and WHEN SHE WAS BAD are perfect examples of his ability to craft a well defined crime tale that goes the extra mile. THE BOYS FROM SANTA CRUZ is no different in terms of engaging the reader and satisfying that criminal appetite for genre junkies.
Like a lot of crime fiction, Nasaw’s E.L Pender is a lone wolf-type working liaison for the FBI who steps outside the boundaries of ‘safe law enforcement’ in order to catch the bad guys. In taking a step back from the present day tone of the series, Nasaw turns our attention to Pender  investigating an earlier case in his career involving Luke Sweet, a damaged young man presumed to be a ruthless killer and victim of his upbringing (he was on the phone to his father just prior to his death and saw his father’s lover commit suicide, the drug peddling and snuff films his parental figures were involved in doesn’t add well to the mix). However, Luke, is really misunderstood and ends up being someone the reader can sympathize with – he’s notorious throughout the novel for being in the wrong place at the wrong time; a victim of circumstance and deadly coincidence.
What I love about this book is the shift in perspective and changing point of view. Primarily narrated by Sweet with alternating chapters focused on Pender, we see both sides of the story spread over the course of decades (Luke is admitted to a mental health institution which takes him out of action for some time) which really gives a feel of realism and depth (not all cases are clean cut, this is a perfect example o f the blow burn crime fiction).
Not without its humour, Nasaw balances out the macabre nature of his fictional killing spree with light hearted characters and a side bar featuring the personal side of Pender.
THE BOYS FROM SANTA CRUZ, whilst part of a series of crime novels featuring E.L Pender, can be read as a standalone (I haven't read the preceding novels for some time yet found this easily readable as a self contained story) or enjoyed as part of the series.
Another highly recommended novel by Jonathan Nasaw

Review: STALK ME by Richard Parker

Stalk MeSTALK ME is an intense and clever thriller that thrusts the reader into a world devoid of reason and brimming with suffocating paranoia. For Mary and her husband, slowly and steadily building a life together, times are starting to look up; successful job, new house, and then disaster strikes. Mary’s picture perfect reality becomes a fractured and damaged portrait of a happy marriage hung inside a broken frame. The catalyst; a fatal car accident that, while on face value, is the root cause, is actually  the tip of the iceberg which turns Mary’s blood splattered life ice cold.

Recovering (physically at least) from the accident, Mary soon learns that her trauma is public property when youtube clips of the incident go viral. Her actions displayed for all to see; the lashing out at passer-bys, the struggle with paramedics, the death of her husband. In an age where celebrity is everyone and anything, not even the most personal of moments is excluded from the circus. It’s this present day environment and use of social media that spans a cross continent mystery involving the deaths of many of those present at the accident scene that fateful day and the broader uncovering of a life Mary had thought she knew she was living.

Mimic, the serial killer underpinning the deaths in STALK ME, is a well defined monster, who looks and acts the part of a determined purposeful killer – to him, murder is a job, one he’s skilled and passionate about. Unfortunately for Mary and her family, she’s within his sights.

Like SCARE ME, author Richard Parker has written another edge of your seat thriller that, if anything else builds upon his capacity to spin an utterly engrossing and complex thriller. STALK ME is one book where you won’t be able to determine the rationale behind the heinous events nor establish a link between the disturbing social media parade of injustice and Mary’s personal life – which makes for great reading.

STALK ME is one of the best books of 2014 so far and I have little doubt it’ll end up on my end of year lists.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: THE WRONG QUARRY by Max Allan Collins

The Wrong QuarryQuarry, keeping in line with his recent business venture, is in Stockwell, hoping to tracking down the target of a hit in order to get some cash out of the unsuspecting soul by removing him of the perceived threat; eradicate the assassin(s) hired to kill him.  Roger Vale, a small time dance instructor, surprisingly takes well to this revelation despite some drama and theatrics (comes with the territory) and agrees to utilise Quarry’s morbid services all in the name of self preservation.  

THE WRONG QUARRY is pure popcorn pulp in all its overtly sexual and violent ways. Quarry not only nails the bad guys but also any young hottie in sight. There is a distinct Al Wheeler (Carter Brown detective pulp protagonist) quality to Quarry which is further emphasised by his easy going and blasé attitude towards his conquests. Be it 40yr old renowned easy women or 18yr old teens, Quarry manages to appeal to the broader demographic.  

However, it’s his ‘other head’ (as quoted by Quarry) that gets him in hot water as he becomes involved in a case surrounding the disappearance of a young women, Candy (and niece of Jenny, his 40yr old love interest) presumably at the hands of Roger Vale (Candy’s dance instructor). Without meaning to do so, Quarry finds himself an almost ad-hoc PI as he scours bars, women, and the missing Candy’s family for truth – what he finds could quite possibly result in him having tracked the wrong quarry.

THE WRONG QUARRY follows a linear plot with a small scale cast, making it easy for the reader to enjoy all this pulply goodness without having to think too hard about what’s going on. Making a novel read easy is hard and Max Allan Collins does just this with his latest venture into his acclaimed hit-man series, Quarry. I loved it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

EXPIRATION DATE by Duane Swierczynski

7193226Keeping in line with my new year’s bookish resolutions, I decided to go back and reread a favourite of mine, EXPIRATION DATE by Duane Swierczynski. It tells the tale of a down-on-his luck and out of work newspaper reporter who moves into his grand pop’s apartment in a downtrodden and seemingly dangerous part of town. There, Mickey Wade discovers an innocuous bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet which he greedily takes in hopes of them having some medicinal purpose as a means to pre-empt his impending hangover. Rather than take the edge off, they send Mickey back in time, to the date he was born. Being a reporter and naturally inquisitive, Mickey soon learns family secrets best left buried and confronts his father’s killer only to learn things aren’t quite what they seem.
Wow. EXPIRATION DATE is just as, if not more, impressive the second time round. Like with any reread I found myself noticing details that I didn’t take in before, such as the complexity associated with Wade’s predicament and the ‘butterfly effect’ his time travelling sojourns have on the present.  
There are some great twists that complement the story, as well as an ending I didn’t envision (yes, despite having read it close to its original publication).
With EXPIRATION DATE, author Duane Swierczynski explores the cause and effect of actions of the more violent nature and how a split second decision, one that even seems right, can have dire consequences years down the track. I enjoyed every moment and will no doubt go back for yet another read.

Catching up on crime: THE EVIL THAT MEN DO by Dave White

The Evil That Men Do: A Jackson Donne NovelTHE EVIL THAT MEN DO is a multi-generational spanning plot of revenge where monetary gain comes second to violence all for the cause of a misguided sense of entitlement.

The present day and 1938 timelines add context and depth to the villainous plight the antagonist takes giving Donne more to work with than the present day injustice inflicted upon his immediate family.

For an out-of-business PI, Jackson Donne manages to maintain the fire and desire to solve crime and help those in need – however, having turned his back on his family sometime ago, this latest ad-hoc and unsanctioned investigation brings him closer to his family in more ways than one.

There’s a lot to digest in THE EVIL THAT MEN DO. The interlocking plot threads and justification for the continuous stream of hard-luck Donne’s family injures takes a little time to come to light. That said, its well worth reading as the mystery unravels.

Personally I found the 1938 timeline the more enjoyable of the two, Joe Tenant comes across as a foundation character for what Donne could eventually replicate (perhaps in later instalments we’ll see Donne rekindle the family urge now that his drinking and coke habit are under control). Author Dave White writes Joe in a way that makes him sympathetic yet still come across as someone not to be intimidated or messed with; the victim and the perpetrator.  

In WHEN ONE MAN DIES we saw more of Donne’s life up front and personal, here, we see a broader family drama that adds context and purpose to the Jackson Donne story.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sequels wanted – Books that deserve another instalment

Below is a list (in no particular order) of some books that I've read which, from an avid reader perspective, warrant/demand additional instalments. The characters in these books are addictive, the world's are unique, the writing - exceptional. While these books share a similar criminal element what binds them together for this list is one simple thing - they did their job; they connected with the reader (me) and have remained on my mind long after turning that last page. So here they are:

The Automatic Detective
Why? Spoiler alert – Martinez instils his automatic detective Mack as a certified PI at the end of this book. Meaning, THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE reads as an origin story for better things to come from this mash up of sci fi and hardboiled. Unfortunately Martinez has publicly stated a sequel is unlikely. Let’s hope he changes his mind. You can read my review HERE.
Gun Machine
GUN MACHINE by Warren Ellis
Why? Warren Ellis has written one of the best police procedurals I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Simply put, I just want more. You can read my review HERE.
Blood Crimes: Book One
BLOOD CRIMES by Dave Zeltserman
Why? Intended to be part of a ebook exclusive series, BLOOD CRIMES halted at the start line before getting into second gear. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish and hope that Dave Zeltserman picks this idea up once again for a second go round. You can read my review HERE.
Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat
Why? Well, there sort of has been a sequel, to an extent with the anthology THE TOBACCO STAINED SKY building upon this uniquely diverse and captivating dystopian Melbourne crafted from the gifted mind of Andrez Bergen. After finishing the TOBACCO STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT I couldn’t help but want more. You can read my review HERE.
Why? The setting, time, and characters are utterly enthralling. Ruckley’s venture into the dark criminal underworld of 1828 paid dividends and his protagonist was perfect for the ensuing but of policing. You can read my review HERE.
Letters From a Murderer
Why? Jameson and Argenti are a unique couple that take on the Ripper case head on across continent. From London to New York the lore of the Ripper is expanded, his deadly reach sweeping fear into the hearts of men and women alike like never before. I would love to see this pairing taking on other equally dark cases circa 1890’s. You can read my review HERE.
Hard Bite
HARD BITE by Anonymous 9
Why? I love it. Sid is incredibly cool and the pulpy protagonist is not your typical portrait of a serial killer. Plain and simple Anonymous 9 is a damn fine writer and I want more. You can read my review HERE.
Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick - Double D Double Cross
Why? Probably best known for her Angel Dare series published by Hardcase Crime (which is also very cool), Christa Faust’s detective book is sooo good. Butch Fatale reads like a cross between a Carter Brown pulp and Mickey Spillane hardboiled detective story. I know there was a kickstarter some time ago for a second Butch Fatale novel, here’s hoping we see more of this character from Faust in the near future. You can read my review HERE.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Review: THE BALLAD OF MILA by Matteo Strukul

The Ballad of Mila

I don’t usually talk about ratings or my justification, however, for THE BALLAD OF MILA I want to make an exception. I give this 4/5 stars; the concept is pure pulp noir; a young woman is witness to her cop father’s murder and is subsequently rapped by the killers. She devotes her life to learning martial arts turning her into a living breathing weapon for the purpose of vengeance. It’s a steadily forming process that takes devotion, discipline and detachment – and author Matteo Strukul ensures Mila’s addictive and compulsive personality matches that requirement perfectly. She’s an efficient, effective, and elusive killer – an absolute assassin.

What lets THE BALLAD OF MILA down is her placement within context of the plot. We first get a glimpse of Mila at a service station; a presumably chance meeting by which she expertly eradicates two known associates of the criminal underworld. She takes off in a stolen vehicle loaded with cash, the owner of which happens to be an Italian mob boss (and also the person ultimately responsible for the heinous acts thrust upon her life previously) who doesn’t take too kindly to loosing the sum. She eventually contacts the mob boss, making a deal that will see her and his loyal band of killers take out the Triads, a 14K gang of ruthless Chinese killers moving in on the Italians turf.

There’s more to it but what THE BALLAD OF MILA boils down to is; a killer elite realising her potential and taking aim at Chinese and Italian mobsters to avenge her father’s death and save her homeland of unwanted interlopers.

Mila is a cool calculated character with enough sass and instinct to make her instantly likable. Additionally she’s someone that cries for a series of stories by virtue of her profession, particularly at novel’s end.

My main gripes are:

·         She appears for no apparent reason (though we learn later why she wants to destroy the Italian mobsters, this initial introduction lacked justification)

·         Heads of both the Chinese and Italian mobs take her into their confidence with little or no question – had they dug deeper, justified their easy acceptance, THE BALLAD OF MILA would’ve been a 5 star read.

THE BALLAD OF MILA could’ve been something special but just stopped short in my opinion. Perhaps the author wanted to hold something back for the future instalments with Mila as a hired assassin, who knows. Either way, this is a must read for modern splatter pulp fans than like their fiction sexy and gory.
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