Wednesday, April 27, 2016

FIERCE BITCHES by Jedidiah Ayres

What a great find! I'm definitely not the first person to discover Jedidiah Ayres (I'm sure he has a bunch of fans already) but I'm glad I got to jump on the bandwagon early while his career is still relatively young! Although they're still niche areas of fiction, the new age of gritty noir and the novella format are getting more popular these days, so there are many great examples of both out there. But Jedidiah Ayres really put his mark down with this one and penned a true stand-out!

The book focuses on Politoburg, a small, depressing Mexican shanty town/brothel owned by a gringo crime boss. It's also where the crime boss sends all of the people in his outfit that have proven themselves useless to him. So it's a place filled with castoffs, fuck-ups, and failed dreams. Ayres tackles this story with panache: telling the tale with a creative structure, as well as with lyrical, haunting prose; writing that is both muscular and graceful at the same time. It's always exciting finding a new author that grips you simply with the way they form a sentence. He creates such an incredible atmosphere that the story feels almost like a fable or a myth. It's the best thing I've read this year so far. In just 55 pages, Jedidiah has locked in a new fan.
He put his nose on the top of her head and breathed in deeply. The aroma was hideous, but he breathed deeper as if he could somehow process the pollution and breathe purer air back to her, polish her scent til it shone like before. Deep, intense breaths through his nose, holding each breath like a precious object, stained and misused.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

SACRIFICES by Roger Smith

Sacrifices follows two South African families of opposite social classes: the rich, white, and privileged Lanes and the less-privileged family of their black maid, Denise Solomons. We witness the disintegration of these families after Michael Lane and his wife witness their son commit a brutal crime in their home.

It's a grim, violent, and riveting piece of work where author Roger Smith uses his tale to not only comment on the prevalent crime in Cape Town but also the racial and socioeconomic conflicts that still cripple the area. I was really impressed with Smith's writing this time around too, the prose in this book (his 7th I believe) even more propulsive and assertive than in his first novel Mixed Blood. It's a real surprise that Smith isn't more popular in the mainstream; one could easily compare his writing to the likes of Lehane and Pelecanos.

There's a review that called Smith "the crime genre's greatest tragedian." Among the three books I've read by him so far, this one supports that claim the most, showing the fall of these desperate individuals and their families with a scope that is fully Shakespearean. And it's gripping to witness the characters, even though each is the cause of the other's destruction, gravitate to one another because they have nowhere else to go. That makes it even more tragic.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016


With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Really though, how the three characters are friends is beyond me. They don't even seem like they like each other that much. But alas, the book's three losers all worked together at the local Pump 'n Munch and have continued to go bowling together every Wednesday. One of these Wednesdays they get drunk and decide to one up each other by confessing the worst things they've ever done. Obviously this will cause a tragic snowball effect and the guys seem to recognize this almost immediately. So were the events in the book some form of self-fulfilling prophecy, or maybe even a kind of twisted form of penitent wish-fulfillment? Seems like it to me.

The main character's nihilism and self-loathing along with the stream-of-consciousness style that Rhatigan uses in the narrator's voice might be a hard pill for some to swallow. But it worked for me, making the narration feel both manic and apathetic at the same time. Plus, at it's core that's what noir fiction is, right? A bottle of hard ass pills.
"I don't trust him," he said.
"Because he can't trust us anymore."

Monday, April 18, 2016

FREEDOM OF THE MASK by Robert McCammon

*Book 6 of the Matthew Corbett series*

Will Matthew Corbett ever make it back to his beloved home in the New York colony? It seems like it's been forever since he's walked along the Broad Way! And this time, Matthew has been kidnapped by an old nemesis and is transported across the sea to London to be handed over to the evil Professor Fell. Although his partner Hudson Greathouse and his scorned paramour Berry Grisby have embarked on a mission to rescue him, Matthew must rely only on his wits and cunning to navigate the dangerous city.

It's gotten to the point now that a new book in McCammon's Matthew Corbett series is guaranteed exciting entertainment and Freedom of the Mask is no different. And in this installment the danger to Matthew and his friends are greater than they've ever been! Throughout the novel I was constantly wondering how Matthew would get out of this one! As usual, McCammon's talent for plotting is one of the things that makes the book shine. Where other authors writing a new episode in a book series treat exposition from earlier books as "previously on" plot-dump summaries (one of my biggest pet peeves), McCammon always skillfully incorporates this exposition into the story in ways that never distract.And the way that he brings the many subplots together into one big web of intrigue is really cool. And the way that London is portrayed here and the atmosphere it creates is gothic and dangerous. McCammon is prone to being a little long-winded at times in his writing but because I expect that I prepare myself for it whenever I read his books.

And the heart of these books is still Matthew Corbett himself. Here, he's more world-weary than he's ever been, more adept to dealing with violence but just as smart and courageous as ever. Throughout all of his ordeals and the dire straits that he's in, he still can't control his curiosity and his desire to solve problems. Whether it's discovering the identity of the person writing the local tabloid rag, the whereabouts of a kidnapped opera singer, or who is the face behind the masked vigilante stalking London, he just can't resist a good mystery. That is the biggest strength in McCammon's character and what makes him so likable.

So if you are already a reader of the Matthew Corbett books, be prepared for another great tale where the stakes are even higher than ever by the end of the book. And if you're new to the series, don't start here, but hopefully this review piques your interest in what is possibly my favorite book series. Pure entertainment! Can't wait for the next one.

*Advanced Copy from Subterranean Press through NetGalley in exchange for honest review*


Friday, April 1, 2016

CRY FATHER by Benjamin Whitmer

Compared to other books that are placed in the "crime" section, not much action really happens in Cry Father. But it's miles away from being uneventful or boring. Thanks to Whitmer's uncanny sense of characterization and his vivid and forceful prose, this book is a standout and is more engaging than many of the popular crime novels these days. It probably shouldn't even be considered "crime." It's a portrait of two damaged men: Patterson Wells, a tree clearer in disaster zones that are just as torn apart as he is, who tries to cope with the loss of his young son by writing letters to him, and Junior, the younger son of Patterson's neighbor, a destructive drug dealer that blames his father for all that's wrong in the world. 
 The thing about grieving is how much you need to just sit still and stare, how little you need to try to figure things out. That's what's always made him like pills. It makes it easier to sit still and stare at things without trying to make sense of them.
Just like with his first novel, Pike, Whitmer's writing is exciting to read. He really knows how to set a scene and illustrate a character in efficient, unique ways so that the reader has no question where we are in the story or who we're reading about. Check out this little excerpt:
A fat man sits at the bar next to a blond, cherub-faced lady with cheeks as pink as a drugstore rose, and off in one corner a tall cowboy sleeps at one of the low bar tables underneath a whorehouse nude. It's windowless, everywhere trimmed in red vinyl, the kind of place where old jackpot rodeo riders drink away the ones they couldn't ride and the ones that walked away.
The book addresses themes of loss, bearing the pain, and the duties of fatherhood. It's about the mistakes we make and owning up to them. If you want some harsh words, hard violence and drug use, you can find some of that in this book, but that's not really the focus. The focus is on how these things are used as crutches and as consolation for our characters, and what happens when you strip all of that away and they have to focus on their problems head on. Great book.
That's what he thought back then, that children were some kind of little machines that ran on the guilt adults pumped into them. Now he knows better. Now he knows it's exactly the other way around.