Wednesday, April 29, 2015

COCKFIGHTER by Charles Willeford


The interesting thing about this book is that it is essentially the classic underdog sports story that is popular in a lot of movies, television, and books, but instead of focusing on a football player or boxer, it's about a man who trains chickens to fight to the death. 

It's told from the point of view of Frank Mansfield, a respected cockfighter who, at the books opening, loses all of his money, his car, his mobile home, and his ace cock Sandspur after being defeated by his rival. Now, with only a few bucks in his pocket and the clothes on his back, we witness him doggedly work his way to the top, in his pursuit of the Cockfighter of the Year Award.

Frank isn't the best of guys and is, for all intents and purposes, an asshole. But you feel his complete passion and dedication to not only the game, but the art and craft of conditioning a fighting cock. It's actually pretty inspiring, but it's also pretty sad as he shuns and alienates many people who love him in his pursuit of his dream. We even find him years into a vow of silence he's taken until he wins the award. This level of passion is what drives the novel. It's hard to see a guy so dedicated and not root for him to win. Also, the level of detail in depicting the world of Southern cockfighting is staggering. You get the feeling that Willeford definitely has some first-hand knowledge!

The story itself is actually pretty traditional and I could even see some of the cock-training marathons in my head as I read and hear the Rocky movie montage music playing in the background! Maybe that was a little disappointing, how traditional the plot is. There's not really much else to the story, which surprised me after reading both Pick-up and Wild Wives from Willeford, both of which felt anything but traditional. And obviously there's a lot of violence involving chickens, which is really hard to take at times, so if you are really sensitive about that stuff, you shouldn't read this one.

Thursday, April 23, 2015



*Book 4 of the Leonid McGill series*

A nifty little title. I like it. It refers to NY private detective Leonid McGill's new "client(?)" Zella Grisham, who recently served 8 years for not only shooting her boyfriend, but for being involved in a major robbery. As usual, Leonid is feeling the need to atone for past sins. Leonid is the one that planted the false evidence that implicated Zella in the heist. Now he means to get to the bottom of who was really behind it. 


The only thing cool about the plot is the title. One of the big issues here is that not only is that plot terribly boring, but Mosley also stacks too many other equally uninteresting mysteries, essentially weakening the effect of all of them. This seems to be a trademark in this series. It got to a point where I stopped caring about all the little issues that Leonid had to deal with. As a matter of fact it seemed like Mosley didn't really care that much either. It felt as if he just really enjoys writing these characters and, because he has the reputation of being a mysteries writer, felt as if he needed to come up with some thin mysteries to frame his characters around. The character that jump starts the whole story, Zella, is barely even shows up in the book! I've been noticing this trend of boring plots a lot in many detective stories and I'm getting a little tired of it. Don't get me wrong, character is very important, but there needs to be something else going on to keep me reading about the same people every book, and this series is getting a bit repetitive. This low rating might be a product of just getting tired of reading forgettable crime fiction.

That might be why I enjoy noir fiction over detective crime. The characters are sometimes more flawed and more engaging, and the plots and concepts are a lot more fresh and urgent. But don't get me wrong, I'm still a big fan of Mosley, but after catching up with this series after I read the next book, I'll focus more on his standalone work. I would've given this book a straight two stars but I wanted to give it a little extra for Mosley's usual good writing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015



This is a solid little mixtape of short crime fiction by the people at Zelmer Pulp. The first two stories are by far the best of the collection, and can be seen as great primers for anyone interested in getting more familiar with good modern noir. "Last Exit" by Chris Leek is a dark and grimy tale about a Jersey cop prowling the gutters of Brooklyn in search of the man who killed his hooker girlfriend. It's a story David Goodis would have been proud of. And "Omega Man" by Benoit Lelièvre, focuses on the extreme lengths that a man goes to get back the woman who left him for another man. Most of the other stories are either good but not really crime tales and feel like they don't really belong in the collection, or some are just plain terrible. Another stand out is the closing story, "The Roach Motel Reputation," about a hardass that is terrorizing a gay bar in search for a man named Thomas that he feels is in need of a beatdown.
Some people get to leave their mark on the world; he would only leave a stain.
Maybe I Should Just Shoot You In The Face isn't the greatest compilation of stories, but there are some gems, it's only about 90 Kindle pages, and it'll run you about 99¢ on Amazon. Good deal!

Monday, April 20, 2015

LEVIATHAN WAKES by James S. A. Corey


*Book 1 of The Expanse series*

I don't really read many big sci-fi/fantasy series, the only ones have been Stephen King's The Dark Tower series and George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, both of which I enjoyed. But I'd read great thing's about James S. A. Corey's Expanse series, and the books in the 9-volume series seem to be coming out at the steady pace at a book a year, so being that there is an end in sight, I thought I'd give it a shot! 

The book takes place centuries in the future, generations after mankind has expanded into the rest of the Solar System to colonize Mars, it's moons, the Asteroid Belt, as well as the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. There is turmoil already brewing between the "inner planets" and the "Belters" and "outer planets." In a pair of parallel stories, we follow both James Holden, the Earthling XO of an ice-hauling vessel who suddenly becomes the captain of a small ragtag crew after they witness the bombing of their ship while on a recon mission, and Detective Miller, a Belter security officer on Ceres station investigating a missing girl. They are both caught up in not only a conspiracy but also in the middle of a war that has just broken out in amongst the planets. 

The science and speculative details of the story is the most fascinating thing here and really kept me reading. I just loved being lost in this universe. It caused me to do my own research on the Solar System and learn more about gravity and lack there of. I love the idea of people who were born and raised in places without natural gravity looking different than people who do. And I love that by expanding to other planets, discrimination based on skin color or has pretty much gone away, but replaced by something else. And despite all of the complex sci-fi stuff, the book was surprisingly easy to read!

But I have to disagree with a lot of the fans out here, the book's pacing left a lot to be desired. Something always felt off with the pacing and the tension. There was never a sense of real urgency and it always felt to me like an episodic TV series where Holden and his crew go from one adventure to the other, rather than having a solid overarching through-line. And many times the action scenes were really fumbled, where the set-up is amazing and the the author ruins it by overwriting or taking all the tension out of it altogether. A great example is the initially exciting sequence where are heroes are trying to escape Eros station which is being put on lock down, then a huge twist is introduced that promises to ramp up the stakes even more, filling the sequence with a new type of danger and violence that the character have never had to deal with! But instead, our characters sit around and talk for a bit in the middle of all the action, as if they're oblivious. I couldn't believe about a missed opportunity. Also, a climactic scene near the end had so much potential to be as suspenseful and creepy as Ripley descending into the Queen's lair at the end of Aliens, but instead the sequence is about Miller mostly pining over some chick and feeling sorry for himself, and you never feel like he's in any real danger, even though he's literally surrounded by the enemy. It also seemed like there was a problem keeping character details consistent, with Holden's pilot introduced as a guy who constantly talks to the point of annoyance but then after a while, he gets quieter and quieter, until he barely says 10 sentences before the end of the book.

So I was a bit disappointed but I still think I'll give the 2nd book in the series a try!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015



*Re-Read (audio) in 2015 (originally read in 2010)*
This is a great story collection, which is interesting, because I was pretty disappointed by author Joe Hill's first two novels, Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. I thought they both started strong and then fizzled about half-way through. Maybe Hill is better in the short form?

The theme running most of these stories, are kids coming of age through unexplained events and phenomenon that will stay with them forever, even as they get older. There's a romantic, nostalgic quality to the writing that really resonates throughout, and Hill is really gifted at capturing the voice of a young boy. The title story, "20th Century Ghost," is one of the best short stories I've read. It really touched me and sets the standard for the whole collection. Other standout tales from the collection are "Pop Art," "The Cape," "Last Breath," "Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead," and the great novella that closes the collection, "Voluntary Committal." And "My Father's Mask" is so uncomfortably disturbing!

I decided to try my hand at audiobooks for the first time to help me through long commutes, and I thought re-reading this collection would be a great way to start. The reader was engaging and was great at voicing the kids. This is a wonderful story collection and deserves to be right up there with the collections from Matheson and Stephen King.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

LITTLE TALES OF MISOGYNY by Patricia Highsmith


If Aesop was abused by a mean, alcoholic mother and then jilted and heartbroken by the true love of his life, I think he would have written this book of short tales rather than his famous fables. This is a collection of tiny stories written by famed psychological thriller writer and alleged cynic and misanthrope, Patricia Highsmith. Each story focuses on a different vixen that everyone loves to hate, including golddiggers, prudes, whores, perfectionists, mother-in-laws, and even an unlucky cave-woman.
She was simple-minded and never lost her temper. She had been clubbed over the head so many times, her brain was addled. It was not necessary to club Oona to have her, but that was the custom, and Oona barely troubled to dodge to protect herself.
And one of the best stories is the one about a man who is horrified to discover that his wife has transformed into an unstoppable baby-making machine! I got a kick out of this one, really because of the style of writing: tongue-in-cheek and detached, while at the same time sad, sarcastic, and satirical, as if the tragic outcomes for these women were somehow inevitable and entirely justified. I'd love to see a man write a companion collection about guys we all hate!

Monday, April 6, 2015

RUTHLESS by John Rector

This new book became conveniently available right in the middle of my mini-binge of some of John Rector's great books. I received an advanced copy of this upcoming novel through NetGalley for an honest review. I've been pretty excited about Rector, who writes tense noir tales that recall the classics in the genre. If he was writing back in the 50's and 60's, his work would totally be published by Gold Medal, Ace, or Signet. This latest novel, Ruthless, with it's case of mistaken identity and ticking clock, would fit right in with Cornell Woolrich's work. 
Nick White is broke and recently dumped by his wife, so he's drinking his sorrows away in his local bar, while taking shelter from the rain. Then a sexy blonde fatale in black walks in, mistakes him for a hitman, drops a large sum of money and a picture of the beautiful target on his lap and walks out. Now, not only is the real hitman after him for the dough, but Nick's conscience gets the best of him and he's in a race against time to save the girl in the photo before it's too late.

It's a great set-up that is just ripe for tension and suspense, and for some of it Rector delivers as usual! But there are some narrative decisions made that slow down the urgency and weaken the ticking clock element. And the third act reveals were a bit disappointing to me and the narrative started to fall apart a little at that point. The simpler, more narrowly-focused scope of his other books like The Cold Kiss and Lost Things worked better for me than the choices here. But Rector's usual tight and urgent writing style is on display here, and I'm still excited to continue reading the rest of the author's work.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

DRIVE by James Sallis


*Re-Read in 2015 (originally read in May 2011)*
I've been on sort of a casual James Sallis binge lately, so I decided to squeeze in a re-read of the first book I read by him. I liked it a lot more this time, which might be due to the fact that I'm more familiar with his writing, or I'm in just a different mindset. In Drive, Sallis tries his hand at a hard-boiled, Parker-style heist story. And while being true to all the conventions of the genre, he still infuses it with his own trademark style: minimalist but effective prose, a non-linear structure, and HEAVY emphasis on character over plot development. 

Our main man (only known as Driver) is a skilled stunt driver for the movies by day and still manages to hold a part-time job as a wheelman for thieves. As with Sallis's other work, this is more of a character portrait, and Driver is definitely an intriguing character, tough but still private and introspective.  He wouldn't hesitate in stabbing a hard-ass in the throat, but also wouldn't hesitate to walk to a local payphone and call a screenwriter friend whenever he needs help understanding a difficult word he reads in the used paperbacks he buys at the cut-rate store. And the book also has an awesome first chapter, and one of my favorite opening paragraphs in fiction:
Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake. Later still, of course, there'd be no doubt. But for now Driver is, as they say, in the moment. And the moment includes this blood lapping toward him, the pressure of dawn's late light at windows and door, traffic sounds from the interstate nearby, the sound of someone weeping in the next room.