Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review: Castle Danger - Woman on Ice by Anthony Neil Smith

Publisher Bastei Entertainment
Length 305 pages
Format ebook
Published 2017
Series The Duluth Files #1
My Copy provided by the author

My Review
Castle Danger - Woman on Ice starts off much like any typical mainstream crime book would; a mystery, a hint of murder, a tragedy, and a dead cop, all in the span of a handful of pages. Sure it's a decent enough opening but its nothing compared to what awaits the reader further in. 

When Manny looks into the case of a drowning victim who fell through ice, he had no idea that the circumstances surrounding this event would lead him down a painful path of self discovery, putting his career and life in jeopardy while uncovering deeply rooted political and police corruption.   

Castle Danger - Woman on Ice is a book that grows on you. It went from a 3, to 4, to 5 star read by the time I finished it. This is not at all what I was expecting; characters straight from James Ellroy, topics hot in modern day society, and (what I did expect) damn fine story telling from an author whose catalog continues to diversify (I strongly recommend checking out All The Young Warriors and the Billy Lafitte series). 

My rating: 5/5 stars. Pick it up and be patient - the payoff is well worth it. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: FOREVER AND A DEATH by Donald Westlake

Publisher Hardcase Crime
Length 464 pages
Format ebook
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Forever and a Death is an ok action book set in Australia, Singapore and Honk Kong that thematically resembles a plot lifted straight from James Bond, complete with Westalke’s own Bond Girl in the form of Kim, a fearless diver with ties to an environmental activist group.

Engineer George Manville is the hero and he largely plays the part but reads too clever and tough at times; easily dispatching bay guys without breaking much of a sweat.

The main element of the story is revolves around a business tycoon wanting to destroy a major city, but before that, steal as much gold as possible from banks using an underground tunnel network; it’s a pretty elaborate set-up but it sure entertains.

After starting off well, the book meandered a little before ramping up again towards the end. The cast of characters each added their own side story and I enjoyed some of the scheming, wheeling and dealing. The ending is pure Hollywood and befitting of a Bond script, which was originally.

My rating: 3/5 stars. Forever and a Death is a ‘safe’ read – it didn't blow me away nor did I walk away disappointed. The story was good and a couple of characters were particularly well written. On a personal note, I loved the Australian setting, being my home country. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [22]: KISS ME, DEADLY by Mickey Spillane

Mike Hammer runs into trouble when a sanatorium escapee throws herself into harm’s way in the middle of a road. Narrowly avoiding a collision which surely would've left the escapee a blood red smear on the road, Hammer gathers his bearings only to be confronted with the beautiful and curvaceous blond Viking of a woman begging for his help.

Hammer, not one to shy away from a dame in distress, invites her into his car and they set off, only to run into some hardened thugs with a hard-on for murder. Fast forward and Mike’s in the hospital with Velda, secretary and budding PI in her own right, at his side with the crazy dame long dead; so begins a one man war on the mafia.

Kiss Me, Deadly (published in 1952) is a violent book even by today’s more accepting standards in crime fiction. What is said on the page is just as brutal as the implied, particularly regarding the opening stanza when Hammer is left for dead and his recently distressed damsel deceased. Whilst the one man war machine is hard to stomach at times, I mean, Hammer isn't super human but he’s damn near indestructible here, it is an entertaining ride which shines a spotlight on Hammer's inner and outer hatred for the underworld; something which is exemplified more-so when Velda becomes involved.

On the surface, Kiss Me Deadly, is a murder mystery that feels like it tries to do too much; there’s government corruption, murder, drug smuggling, mafia ties, and hired assassins. Had this been a straight mafia murder cover-up, I think the book would've flowed better and bumped up the star rating.  

The plot structure is linear so there’s nothing too complex about the book but the various suspects are hard to follow with a number of characters popping up here and there, murdered one at a time until the deadly process of elimination reveals the killer. Hammer reads almost too smart and the braggadocio and chauvinistic ways are cringe worthy but you know you’re bound to get that with these books.

Spillane didn't write high end literature, he wrote tough guy books set in the black of night about beautiful women in ugly situations accompanied by a protagonist with a penchant for murder and revenge without remorse; this pretty much sums up Kiss Me, Deadly.

My rating: 3/5 stars, reads perfectly well as a standalone Hammer book as well as a continuation of the series (this is the sixth installment in the still running Mike Hammer series). 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review: THE PICTURES by Guy Bolton

Publisher Bolinda Audio
Length 12hrs 8mins
Format audiobook
Published 2017
Series Detective Craine #1
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Jonathon Craine is a Hollywood detective, working for the big studio, MGM, more-so than the LAPD.  His deceased wife was a movie star; he knows the business, the studio’s know they can rely on him as their on-call fixer – he can sweep crime under the carpet, make the ghosts of convictions past disappear all for the sake of saving the studio image. Hollywood in 1939 glitters with gold and perfection, it’s Craine’s job to preserve the public facade. 

The Pictures is all about scandal and cover-ups. It's a multi-faceted read that encompasses many typical crime troupes mixed with the stardom of Hollywood; high end prostitution, extortion, murder, assassination, with a dose of syndicate action. I loved it all.

Craine is a well rounded character accompanied by a nice supporting cast on either side of the law;Detective O'Neil is a worthy sidekick, one whose importance in the investigations isn't realized until later in the book, while a certain photographer, studio exec, and hired hitman pave the way for a nice mix good and bad guys. 

The narration is great, Adam Sims reads Jonathan Craine and co exceptionally well, however, towards the later stages of the book, the voice over’s (corrections) are glaringly apparent which can be jarring at times as Sims often uses a slightly different tone for the voice-overs. Nevertheless it’s a minor gripe in what is overall a very good performance.

My rating: 5/5, I hope to read more books involving studio 'fixing' in this period.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: THE FORCE by Don Winslow

Publisher Harper Collins
Length 498 pages
Format softcover
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
The Force is an excellent book. 

Really, there's nothing more to say other than that one sentence but for the sake of reviewing, I'll provide some commentary;

As the synopsis indicates, The Force is about corrupt cops, criminals, and elected officials bending the law to serve a fit for purpose justice system that is as rotten as the morals of the fictitious kings who run the streets. 

The cornerstone is Denny Malone, head of Da Force, an elite special unit that does whatever it takes to ensure justice is dispensed, rightly or wrongly. The book follows his trajectory in a displaced time-capsule-like narrative from beat cop to rat, spilling a whole lot of blood along the way. 

Denny as a character is flawed and exceptionally well written; author Don Winslow goes to great lengths to give Denny a story that's deep and tragic - from his formative police years through to his failed marriage, to the unmistakable bond he shares with his fellow officers - there's a richness to his story which makes The Force all the more better. 

With a subject matter such as this, a happy Hollywood ending was never on the cards; it's this darkness that resonates with the reader long after the last page has turned. 

My rating: 5/5, one of the best crime fiction books of 2017.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: KILLING IS MY BUSINESS by Adam Christopher

Publisher Tor Books
Length 278 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series Ray Electromatic Mysteries #2
My Copy I bought it

My Review

*updated November 2019 - re-read*

Ray is the last of his kind, having rolled off the production line before the robotic business went bust for good. Now he's a hitman moonlighting as a private detective. Accompanied by his handler, Ada, a supercomputer, Ray earns a living taking the lives of others. Sounds cold and dark but Ray is anything but.

The follow-up to Made to Kill and the novella Standard Hollywood Depravity, provides a glimpse into the murder for hit hitman robot's past on the production line by virtue of a crafty and deliciously devious pulp infused plot. 

Killing is my Business has an engaging story-line complimented by the fact that Ray has to download information every day given his memory stack fills each day and requires a reboot. Each day is a first for Ray - with just enough information to go on to get the job done. This a particularly important cog in the machine as it contributes heavily to some key plot elements, notably in the later stages of the book.

The thing I really like about Killing is my Business, is the way the author, Adam Christopher infuses doubt into the story. Doubt over the contract Ray's been hired, doubt over Ada's intentions, doubt over Ray himself; this is all mixed with a twisting plot that goes much deeper than a typical P.I book. 

My rating: 4/5 stars. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pick of the Month [July 2017]

I've definitely hit my mid-year reading mojo. July was another great month where I finished 17 books across a variety of genres and mediums. Reading different books keeps my hopelessly addictive hobby fresh and exciting. I often find reading the same kind of book too many times makes a genre feel stale so it's good to mix things up a little, as per a Recent Reads Post

For the third time this year my pick of the month selection is multiple books but I've narrowed it down to 2 (I could have easily picked more) and, as with the theme of this post, they couldn't be any more different from one another. 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky is a fantasy adventure novel focused on an unlikely band of heroes as they traverse a dangerous and mythical landscape in search of the Dark Lord Darvezian, the stereotypical fantasy villain spreading his darkness throughout the country. I was blown away by the world-building, characters, and the clever use of wit. This is a novel where the author clearly had fun writing and it shows throughout the dialogue and the atypical conclusion to the epic quest. Highly recommend picking this one up.  

October is the Coldest Month is a damn good book perfectly suited for fans of rural noir, and draws comparison with Daniel Woodrell. The 16yr old protagonist, Vega is a character you can't help but want more of. She's street smart, complex and has all the hallmarks of a countryside femme fatale. Shout out to Scribe for sending a copy my way.

Other books I rated 5 stars in no particular order include:

The Lone Child by Anna George - general fiction

A Girl Called Honey by Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block - pulp/erotica

Purgatory by Ken Bruen - the 10th book in the Jack Taylor series 

The Woman by Jack Ketchum (reread) - horror, set in the same world as Off Season

Review: THE DEVIL'S BUSINESS by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Publisher Image
Length 136 pages
Format trade
Published 2012
Series Fatale (6-10)
My Copy I bought it

My Review
The second volume in the Fatale epic creates and concludes another chapter in the mysterious life of Josephine circa 1979. The eternal beauty who mystifies men with a mere look entraps a young and struggling actor into her gory world almost by accident; Miles fleeing from a gruesome cult killing murder scene with Suzy, a convert of the cult, stumbles upon Josephine’s secluded mansion as he searches for safety. There Josephine takes Miles and Suzy in, providing solace from the cult and any dangerous pursuers. 

The Devil’s Business can be confusing at times but reads better in a single sitting; it also requires the reader having some familiarity with the preceding volume Death Chases Me to understand the interludes, prologue and epilogue which span across two different periods; the 1950’s and present day.

The book doesn’t resolve the initial story arc introduced in Death Chases Me, rather it builds upon the lore of the cult and deepens the questions surrounding Josephine and her link to the violent Hollywood underground. Unlike Death Chases Me, The Devil’s Business does have a full story in it as mentioned above with new character Miles and his unfortunate involvement with the cult. 

The art is great and the chemistry between Phillips and Brubaker is evident throughout. Fatale is a series that hooks you in and will have you coming back for more. 

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [21]: A GIRL CALLED HONEY by Lawrence Block & Donald Westlake

Originally published in 1960 as an erotic novel under the authors respective pulp pseudonyms of the time (Sheldon Lord and Alan Marshall), A Girl Called Honey would be tame by today's more openly lurid standards (and I say that in a nice way).

The focus of the book is Honour Mercy Bane, daughter of churchgoing, god-fearing people who gets sent packing after being caught out for one too many indiscretions with the opposite sex - far from wanton, Honour's only black-mark in the eyes of her parents is having sex out of wedlock, immediately she's branded a whore and left to find her way in the world. 

She winds up in a small town, and ultimately gets a job in a cafe which happens to be a front for a brothel; her parents termed her a whole therefore she acts on it and earns a profitable living for while on her back. Before long she meets a young man named Joseph, AWOL from the Air Force who appeals to her nature, soon enough they're living together, he in the apartment all day in fear of being caught, her at the cafe earning a paycheck. The couple decide to relocate to New York after Joesph's paranoia has him believing the net in closing in on him. That's where things get interesting. 

In New York, Honour (going by the name Honey to Johns and acquaintances in the profession) sets to turning tricks on the streets before being snapped up by a high class call girl syndicate. It's here she meets James Crawford, a lawyer and family man who falls head over heals for her. There's a problem, Honey is in love with Joseph and James is used to getting what he wants - naturally things take a murderous turn and Honey/Honour's life is turned inside out. 

A Girl Called Honey is a surprisingly good read that stacks up well against some of today's pulp/noir novels. Sure there's not a lot of depth to these characters but they are well written and fit their environment perfectly. I loved how dark the story turned and will definitely be picking up Sin Hellcat, the next book by these two great writers.

My rating: 5/5, pick up this pulp. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt

Publisher Hachette
Length 328 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
See What I Have Done is the fictitious retelling of the Borden murders in 1892 in which Lizzie Borden was accused of having murdered her father and step mother in their home. 

The book focuses on the murders themselves, though the culprit is never clearly identified as the murders remain unsolved to this day, the daughters in Lizzie (who was a home when the murders took place) and Emma (who was staying with a friend at the time) and housekeeper Bridget. John, Lizzie and Emma's uncle also gets page time having arrived at house the day prior the heinous event. The book is told from the points of view of these key characters as well as another, Benjamin, a streetwise thug hired by John to take care of Andrew and Abby (the murdered father and step mother) by giving them a scare for their inappropriate treatment of the daughters. Whether or not this meant committing the act of murder is alluded to though not explicit.

One thing that stands out is the atmosphere of the house where the murders took place. Author Sarah Schmidt does a great job at transforming the humble home into a stuffy fortress full of vile smells and intimidating characters. 

Reader be warned, there are some stomach churning passages involving mutton broth, vomit and the decapitation of pigeons spattered throughout the book (though not necessarily linked to one another thankfully) which certainly add to the feel of the book. 

I liked See What I Have Done but wasn't blown away by it. Of all the characters I thought Benjamin was the most interesting - his backstory was well written and he added another layer of mystery to the murders. 

My rating: 3/5 stars, there's reread value in this one.   

Reviews from the web

I enjoy reading other peoples reviews on books I'm thinking of buying/borrowing/accepting for review to gain another's perspective. Here's some new-ish reviews of recent published books from around the web that are on my radar.

The Late Show by Michael Connelly, reviewed on Crime Watch - this new crime series by the author of the Harry Bosch series looks great. 

After Life by Marcus Sakey, reviewed on The Real Book Spy - it's been a while since I read a book by Marcus Sakey but this surreal thriller has me interested. 

Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher, reviewed on Criminal Element - currently reading this one, shout out to Tor Books for the review copy. 

Darktown by Thomas Mullen, reviews on Goodreads - originally published in 2016 with a new paperback edition published Feb 2017, this new series set in the 1940's looks like a winner.
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