Tuesday, March 31, 2015

THE COLD KISS by John Rector


Yep. This guy John Rector is the real deal. I very recently enjoyed his novella, Lost Things, and now I LOVED his second novel, The Cold Kiss. He writes the kind of thrillers that I enjoy the most: dark suspense stories featuring ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations, making decisions that cause a tragic snowball effect as they struggle to get out of what they realize is actually a lose-lose situation. Wait a minute...you could say that is the definition of noir, my favorite genre! And I would agree; this book is probably the best example of modern noir I've read since A Simple Plan, and that's saying a lot!

Newly engaged couple Nate and Sara are driving from Minnesota to Reno to get married and start a new life with their unborn child. But on the way, they pick up a hitchhiker and are forced to stop at an isolated motel to wait out a terrible snowstorm. But once they get there, they discover their hitchhiker is dead of a festering gunshot wound and with a sack full of cash money in his bags. And it's a lot of money. Definitely enough for a new family to start a good life with...

Rector ratchets up the tension as Nate and Sara try every way to make it through the next 36 hours and get away with the money scot-free. And he builds such a great atmosphere at the motel, with the constant snowfall, and lack of electricity or phone service. And as I mentioned in my review of the last book I read by him, Rector's prose is pitch-perfect. This guy really knows how to craft a plot that moves without feeling like anything's lost. Some people might be able to see some of the twists coming but I didn't care. I was taken for a ride. So f&*% it. I'm throwing an A at this book. And I'm locked in as a fan now. 

Hard Case Crime founder Charles Ardai says this about noir:
There is a feeling of dread and doom that suffuses the action; the story typically features a protagonist who's in trouble, who often doesn't deserve the trouble he's in (even if he's a bad guy, he often doesn't deserve the *particular* trouble he's in), and whose trouble just gets worse as the narrative grinds inexorably toward an unhappy -- often tragic -- ending. 

And that's a great way to describe this book. 
"Kiss me, for good luck" 
I frowned. "That doesn't work."
"Of course it does," she said. "It always works. Now kiss me."
I stared at her for a moment longer, then bent and pressed my lips against hers.
It was a good kiss.
But it didn't work.

Sunday, March 29, 2015



*Book 3 of the Leonid McGill series*

I'd read the first two Leonid McGill detective mysteries written by Mosley years back, before I began to write my book opinions down. For some reason I never got around to continuing the series so I decided to try to catch up. From what I remember from the earlier books, the plots were a little unremarkable, as with many detective series. That might have been part of the reason why I wasn't in a rush to read this one. 
But this series carries it's strength in depicting Leonid McGill's highly-dysfunctional family life, having to juggle them as skillfully as navigating his dangerous cases as a PI in contemporary New York City. From his brilliant and charismatic son, Twill,  who's just dropped out of high school and always finds his way into trouble, his loveless but devoted marriage to his cheating wife Katrina, his on-again, off-again relationship with his girlfriend Aura, and his shaky relationship with his dead Communist revolutionary father (whose teachings are a constant influence to Leonid), it's a wonder that our hero has any time in the day to actually do detective work.

And in this installment, Leonid is hired by a young steel painter who is scared of being murdered by the psychic superpowers of her billionaire husband, a man who lives in a ranch-style house on the roof of a Manhattan skyscraper.

One of Mosley's strengths is a sensitivity to character and an ability to create very engaging protagonists. Like Easy Rawlins, Leonid is compassionate behind his gruff exterior, with an aching heart for the downtrodden. In this novel you really get a sense of Leonid cultivating a new "family" of misfits from the people in need that he helps along the way. But one of the issues with Leonid is that he always seems to have every resource available to him to solve every problem that comes his way, so he never seems to be in much danger and he never has to work too hard to find clues. That might also be an issue with detective novels set in contemporary times when information is so easy to find. And why are the plots in so many detective series books so damned forgettable?! Is it laziness and dependency on a cool character to carry you through? But anyway, the book is still an enjoyable read and the series is worth a look. And this installment might be the best in the series so far.
A sigh escaped my lips but no one heard, and so no one cared.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

LOST THINGS by John Rector


I've been discovering some great authors lately and John Rector is definitely one of them. I've had him on my radar this year and I decided to start with this tight novella, which did not disappoint! This is a tense, tragic noir thriller about two men whose close friendship is put to the test after a violent altercation with drunk muggers one dark night. Rector is really a natural when it comes to that great, propulsive writing that never lets up, but somehow never feels rushed. I had a lot of work to do at home today and I kept taking a break to return to this story, needing to see what happens next. Now, more of John Rector's books have rudely elbowed their way to the top of my reading list!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015



*Book 3 of the Matthew Corbett series*

While Speaks The Nightbird is a historical mystery similar with touches of The Crucible, with a darker atmosphere than the rest and a hint of the paranormal, and The Queen of Bedlam really jump-started the series with more of a straight detective thriller, this next novel truly flipped the Matthew Corbett series on it’s ear by introducing a pure action-adventure novel.

Robert McCammon ratchets up the excitement level in the series with Mister Slaughter and crafts a story that’s simpler and more narrowly-focused than the previous novels, with even bigger stakes! The book picks up where the last book left off, where Matthew (fully in his position as a "problem solver" for the Herrald Agency) and his partner Hudson Greathouse were offered a simple task of escorting pyscho prisoner Tyranthus Slaughter from Westerwicke Prison in the Philly colony to a boat in New York for transport to England. But on the road, the manipulative Mr. Slaughter presents our heroes with an offer they can’t refuse, setting them off on a terrifying chase and a thrilling adventure.

The stakes are even higher in this book, with it being more personal for Matthew. I love the idea of this character we love feeling like he’s made a terrible mistake, and dedicating himself for the rest of the book to making sure he sets it right. As usual with these books, we can feel Matthew maturing and learning during this adventure, growing up, becoming a better detective, and learning how to handle himself in dire situations. And Slaughter is an awesome villain, and definitely the most dangerous one that Matthew has faced up to this point! You feel the malevolence in every one of his lines and the imminent danger whenever he’s around. Even though the book isn’t exactly short, I went through this one like a speed demon; it’s so intensely readable and definitely is the fastest-paced installment in the series!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015



Pulpy Tagline!: "From the top of her beautiful, brilliant head, to the pit of her merciless soul, she was filled with larceny." (Gold Medal edition)

Everyone likes reading about con artists. Stories about people using their brains and wits as weapons to fool someone and get away with it are pretty hard to resist. In this early novel by master Lawrence Block, John Hayden is a skilled confidence man who has just gotten out of San Quentin and has decided to put it all behind him and hang up his grifter's cap. That is until he gets approached to be a part of the mother of all long cons. A long con so sweet that even as his conscience tells him he should live a quiet life managing a bowling alley, the gratification of pulling it off is just something he can't resist.

Block pays such a great attention to details of the inner-workings of such an elaborate hustle; it was such a pleasure to read. The con is super complex but I was never confused and that's a testament to Block's control of his material. I'd recommend this for all lovers of classic crime and noir. It's definitely a slow build-up where you'll get engulfed in their set-up and ache to see how they pull it off. But then once the twists start flying, so will the pages!

Monday, March 16, 2015

WORLD GONE BY by Dennis Lehane


Do I really need to tell you in this day and age that this is a very well-written crime saga filled with fully-drawn characters and a page-turning plot? I don't think so. I could just tell you that it's a new Dennis Lehane book and you should already know what to expect. 

World Gone By is the sequel to Lehane's Edgar-Award-winning Live By Night and you should definitely read that book before tackling this one. It leads to a much more rewarding experience. Set in the middle of World War II in 1943, years after the events in Live By Night, former South Florida crime boss Joe Coughlin has sort-of gone legit, a member of the Commission with Meyer Lansky, but now he just runs his sugar cane and import/export business, acting as the legal front and consigliere to the present Florida crime lords. He leads a relatively quiet life between Cuba and Ybor City with his son Tomas. But everything changes once Joe hears the rumours of a contract put out for his assassination, a hit scheduled on Ash Wednesday, eight days away. 

This book is understandably not the epic crime saga that Live By Night was (which tracked the bloody rise of Joe Coughlin from a small-time hood in South Boston to the most powerful crime lord in Florida), it's more intimate and narrower in scope but still just as exciting, the ticking clock of the assassination providing tension and suspense as the story moves forward. But more importantly the book deals with the theme of consequences that come home to roost when you live the lives that these characters do, with each one forced to take stock of the things that they've done in the past and what their lives have amounted to. Yet again, another good piece of work from one of my favorite authors.
"You have put a lot of sin out into the world Joseph. Maybe it's rolling back in on the tide. Maybe men like us, in order to be men like us, sacrifice peace of mind forevermore"

Thursday, March 12, 2015

THE SHOOTIST by Glendon Swarthout


John Bernard Books has found out he has terminal prostate cancer.

Books is an aging but notorious gunman, who is known across the frontier for being dangerously quick on the draw, for loving women, and for killing over thirty men. So it comes to his dismay that he is destined to die an undignified and unremarkable death, taken down by a disease in his crotch. He doesn't have long to live and pretty soon news of his condition spreads around town. But J.B. Books is determined to die with some semblance of dignity.
And then, emptied, on hands and knees, head hanging over his own spew, teeth chattering with cold, in that animal posture he knew fear for the first time in his adult life.
 I was really taken with this outstanding novel and this great character: a portrait of a dying man who must figure out the best way to make his last stand in life. Author Glendon Swarthout creates a three-dimensional character out of the conventionally one-dimensional Western antihero. On the outside Books is trying to portray the same stoicism and grit that he's known for, but on the inside is a man terrified of dying the way he is. Not only is he forced to look back on his life and decide if it was truly worth anything, but he also has to deal with the town's sudden interest in his imminent death, interest both curious and nefarious, but everyone looking to profit one way or another.

A great theme that is prevalent throughout the book is the changing times. It is the turn of the 20th century, year 1901, and the West is changing from the frontier that it was to a more modern, civilized place. And the aging gunman is part of those dying times. He's constantly reminded of this in every new invention he sees, or by the newspaper articles he reads to pass the time.
She looked at him bravely now for the first time, at his face, the face from which a child had fled, and drew breath. She rose. Her eyes filled.
She knew.
He took her in his arms and kissed her ardently. Men in their hosts, young and old, innocent and corrupt, had paid her for her favors, but she put her arms about him of her own free will as though to give him what she could in recompense for this, the last gift she guessed, of his manhood.
It was a real joy reading this book, which was tender and mournful, like a melancholy fable, downright funny at times, and gorgeously written. Swarthout seems to always use just the right words; I felt like every page had a line or paragraph I wanted to make note of. The book also contains a stunning classic Western bar shootout that is well-crafted, dark, and nihilistic.

I would agree with critics that this is one of the best Western novels ever written (definitely one of the best that I've read). It's about courage, dignity and throwing up a middle finger to death, taking control of your life and the the way you leave it.
He thought: I will not break. I won't tell anybody what a tight I am in. I will keep my pride. And my guns loaded to the last.

Monday, March 9, 2015

MUCHO MOJO by Joe R. Lansdale


*Book 2 in the Hap and Leonard series*

While the first great book in this series, Savage Season, focuses a lot on Hap Collins's backstory, this second installment focuses a bit more on Leonard's past and the town that he grew up in. Hap owes Leonard after getting him involved in the violent events of the first book so he agrees to accompany his buddy to the funeral of Leonard's estranged Uncle Chester. After the funeral, the boys are cleaning up Chester's old, run-down house and discover a skeleton and a stash of kiddie porn stuffed into a box under the floorboards. Leonard wants to learn the truth, so the two decide to try detective work on for size and get to the bottom of it all.

Once again, the two good ol' boys are a joy to read. I would read anything with these characters. At this point, if one of the subsequent books in the series turns out to be a 700-page tome about Hap and Leonard sitting in a boat the whole time trying to catch a catfish, I'd still read it in a heartbeat. Lansdale is a stunning writer. He has a real knack for finding the perfect combination of tone in his work (at least in the three books I've read so far). He's able to balance tender moments of real connection between friends with intriguing mystery, and with the perfect blend of humor. The books are downright funny sometimes without feeling forced. The humor seems to come naturally and the book never feels like it's trying to hard to be in the quirky humor crime genre. I think that's what I love about the characters Hap and Leonard, the balance and the ease of their characterization. They're funny while not trying to be and they're tough dudes while not having to be hard-boiled. I mean Hap actually seeks out non-alcoholic beer!

Anyway, this is another great Southern thriller by Joe R. Lansdale, who really is an awesome storyteller. I'm glad I still have a plethora of books written by him to choose from!

Friday, March 6, 2015



*Book 1 of the Matthew Corbett series*

People who sometimes pay attention to my humble opinions here on Goodreads might guess that Robert McCammon’s Matthew Corbett series is possibly my favorite detective series. But, sadly it seems like it’s still a bit underrated. I think it’s one of the most consistently enjoyable book series and full of fantastic entertainment.

This book is where it all begins, originally conceived as a historical mystery standalone in two parts. It takes place in 1699, and introduces one of my favorite book characters, Matthew Corbett, who begins the book as a young clerk traveling with and assisting Magistrate Woodward, who has traveled to the small town of Fount Royal in the Carolina colony and is overseeing the trial of a local young woman accused of witchcraft. To everyone, Rachel Howarth’s guilt seems pretty cut and dry, but Matthew has doubts and sets out against the magistrate’s wishes to save Rachel from execution.

As well as being an historical fiction mystery, it's even more rewarding as a coming of age story, as it's a pleasure to witness the character not only fall in love for the first time, but also stand up for what he believes is right, and come out from under the shadow of the magistrate. Matthew Corbett is a great creation. He's smart, dedicated, but also sensitive and has a knack for reading people and situations. Unless you have a heart of steel, it's impossible to read this and not want to root for him as he stands up to an entire town for what is right and just. And one of the great things in this series are the baddies, and in this novel, fire-and-brimstone preacher Exodus Jerusalem is a great example. 

Definitely read this series. The rest of the books are even better than this one! But read the series in order and start with this! It has romance, adventure, mystery, as well as history about American colonial life. It's a blast!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

BLACK HORNET by James Sallis


*Book 3 in the Lew Griffin series*

With Black Hornet, I'm realizing that the Lew Griffin series is entirely the written memories of an older man looking back on and contemplating major events in his life. While the first novel, The Long-Legged Fly, jumps around in time to study a changing man through different decades and the second novel, Moth, expands more on the 1990's part of his life, in Black Hornet, Lew remembers more events from the 1960's, expanding on the first part of Fly. What struck me, was how much the book actually did feel like a memory, even more so than the previous stories. Lew's narration seems to be unstuck in time, paralleling the past and present, cross-referencing not only things that have happened, but events to come and filling in some of the blanks between events that we are aware of from the previous books (maybe this is material for the later novels in the series?). All of this gives a great sense of an old man looking back on life with waning memory.

This story focuses on the younger Lew of the 1960's section of Fly, a raging drinker and debt collector, who is still far away from the best-selling novelist, professor, and sometime private detective that we know from the 1990's. He meets Esmé Dupuy in a bar, a white journalist who he has a drink with but who is soon gunned down right in front of him, the latest victim of a sniper that's been terrorizing New Orleans shooting white people. Lew is set on tracking the man down. And in doing so, we get to witness how Lew meets different people that we know will be important friends in the times to come.

This book has a very different atmosphere from the previous books in the series. There's more of a focus on race and racial identity and protest, probably coming out of being set in the racially-charged and political '60's. Lew finds himself adrift in this world, bumping into militant groups like the Panthers, and even meeting and rubbing shoulders with a socially-angry Chester Himes at an event for the author, a scene that turns out to be a great homage to one of Sallis's inspirations. Although the book is pretty short, I took my time with it and soaked in Sallis's passionate prose, enjoying yet another great book in a series focusing on identity and memory.

Monday, March 2, 2015


*Book 3 of the Crissa Stone series*
Crissa Stone is back at it again. She's reunited with a couple of old colleagues (including Charlie Glass from the check cashing heist in Cold Shot to the Heart) and is getting ready to rob a car-full of cash just sitting out in the middle of a Detroit street. But, once again, everything gets all screwed-up, dumbasses make mistakes, people get shot, and Crissa ends up being hunted for the dough.

And yet again, Crissa lets her sense of morality and goodness get in the way. That's the thing that sets her character apart from her male literary counterpart, Parker, who she's constantly compared to. She actually has a heart, no matter how much she tries to conceal it. I guess that's a good thing, but if she didn't feel the need to do things like help a dead friend's family, things would go a lot easier for her. But, on the other hand, if she didn't do those things we wouldn't have these fun, action-packed books. Like the two previous books, this one is sleek and propulsive with very little filler. Another exciting chapter in a consistent series about one badass anti-heroine!
"When they're training these counterterror teams, they tell them when they're going into a situation where there's multiple targets––men and women– you shoot the women first."
"Because in a gang or a crew or whatever, a woman's got to be three times as tough, three times as committed, three times as hard-ass for the men to take her seriously."