Monday, November 20, 2023

BORN TO BLEED by Ryan C. Thomas

The Summer I Died was one of the hardest books to read due to the extreme graphic violence but was still wholly satisfying as a story. So I wanted to read its sequel but had to take a deep breath before jumping into this one. 

But nope, I still wasn’t prepared…

Roger Huntington, who barely survived that first book is trying to manage his trauma and has attempted to move on, relocating to Los Angeles and working as a painter of serene woods scenes. But that doesn’t last long, as trouble catches up with him again. 

The violence and depravity is just as hard-hitting in this book and the author still manages to deftly touch on the long-term affects of trauma and how it changes Roger in ways that he never expected, where he’s constantly questioning what kind of person he might be becoming. 


A TOUCH OF DEATH by Charles Williams

This is another banger by Charles Williams, where a broke ex-football player gets sucked into a robbery plot by a scheming brunette in a bikini. 
…looking like something the censors cut out of a sailor’s dream.
It really stands out because not only was it constantly surprising but it features one of the coolest femme fatales in the genre, a master manipulator that never once used sex to seduce our lead sucker, because she simply doesn’t need it, she’s that good. Seriously, I constantly kept waiting for the clothes to come off but was always surprised. In fact, the moment that the two meet, they hate each other, and the hate only grows hotter as the story moves forward. 
You’re a business proposition to me, a hundred and twenty thousand dollars’ worth of meat to be delivered on the hoof.
The other thing that grows is the tension, which is the real star of the show here. The moment the plot gets going, the suspense never lets up, and I was right there in the protagonist’s shoes, not sure how much more I could take, and nearly yearning for the police to just catch them already or for the double-crosses to happen, if only to allow me to breathe for a bit. And when the ending comes, it’s not like I didn’t see it coming, but I didn’t expect it to be as satisfying. While this one isn’t as much of a slam-dunk classic as Hell Hath No Fury (The Hot Spot), it’s still a fantastic noir by Charles Williams. 
There were no days now. Time had melted and run together into one endless and unmarked second of waiting for an explosion when the fuse was always burning and forever a quarter of an inch long. 


Tuesday, October 31, 2023

FEAR ME by Tim Curran

As if the idea of being stuck inside a maximum security prison wasn’t terrifying enough, imagine if a bloodthirsty monster was locked up in there with you. 

In this novella, a prisoner at Shaddock Valley Penitentiary seems to be a meek victim for the more hardened cons, but hides a secret that will lead to more than just a prison yard shanking. Author Tim Curran does a great job of setting up the oppressive atmosphere in the prison, a hopeless place that brings out the worst in people and the darker side of humanity. But then, when prisoners begin dying in the night, the tension gets ratcheted up like crazy. The way that Curran describes what happens after lights out is pretty chilling. And even though it did get a bit repetitive at times, I appreciated how damn creepy it was. 


Saturday, September 30, 2023

SMALL MERCIES by Dennis Lehane

Set on the eve of the desegregation of Boston's public schools in the 1970's, a woman from Southie, an ex-addict cop, and the Irish mob collide after a young white girl goes missing and a black man is found dead at a train station, setting fire to an already lit match of racial unrest in the city. 

"We're not built for princesses down here."

It feels like it's been a while since I've read a novel by Lehane, one of my favorites. And everything here is all that you expect from a master crime writer. The man has such a strong command of his art form at this point. Not only is this a great time capsule documenting this tense time in Boston (and American) history, but it's also a fantastic portrait of these two lead characters. 

Mary Pat Fennessy is finally confronted with how stuck she and her community have been in their ways, how malignant her environment can be, and how she has to reckon with how this toxicity could have tragically spilled into her daughter. And in contrast, Detective Bobby Coyness has grown up in the same way but somehow managed to keep on the right path, even though it's an everyday struggle to keep his morality and his sobriety. 

He considers the possibility that maybe the opposite of hate is not love. It's hope. Because hate takes years to build, but hope can come sliding around the corner when you're not even looking.

Although this didn't have the raw power like some of his best novels have, this is still a great book, with its focus on the struggle to not allow hatred to be passed down from generation to generation.


Monday, September 11, 2023


True madness is like an aura around someone. It glows blue like the flame from a gas fire. That madness can spread. Become like a religion for the lost.
With this new novel, Cosby is 4 for 4. He continues to kick down the doors with guns blazing as he releases banger after banger in the crime fiction genre. 

Being an investigative cop drama, I was a bit worried that it would feel a bit stale as the detective mystery has gotten a little worn out to me. But I should have know better. This feels very fresh as it follows Titus Crown, the first black sheriff of the small Virginia county of Charon, as he not only tries to get a lid on the racial unrest in his town but also hunts a terrifying serial killer on a rampage.

Cosby does everything right here, starting with the portrayal and build-up of the serial killer. The killer and their actions here are seriously bone-chilling and serves to maintain a potent layer of tension throughout the whole book. I was also impressed by how well-developed the community was, and loved how present Titus's deputies were, showing how this investigation is not a one-man show and how much he can't do his job without them. There's a romantic figure from Titus's past that pops up halfway through the book and I was really worried that this would turn into a silly love triangle, but I loved the mature way it was handled, without resorting to soap opera antics. One of the author's strengths is a tendency to never oversell, never hit the reader over the head, but efficiently present just the right amount of emotional development and social commentary to keep the reader truly engaged. He's like a storytelling gymnast, finding the right balance. 


Friday, August 25, 2023

GOTHIC by Philip Fracassi

It's been amazing to witness the rise of Fracassi's career as he has steadily planted his flag among the crowd in the literary horror genre. I've been reading his work since I discovered his short stories and novellas early on and he has quickly become a priority author for me. He's recently been on a roll with his novel releases and this one does not disappoint!

The setup is simple, introducing Tyson Park, a washed-up horror novelist with writer's block, who is gifted a new desk that ends up being a bit more than just new furniture. Turns out that the desk is made of material from an ancient occult altar and Tyson begins to succumb to its influence. It's pretty unnerving to witness Tyson's gradual corruption, rotating between seeing it from his POV and the view of others around him. I felt dirty being in his head with his thoughts as they became more and more disturbing until I realized that the person that I was reading about is not the same person I was introduced to earlier. 

There are effective horror sequences in this book as well, right up there with the best of the best. So if you're looking for engaging classic King-style horror storytelling, by an author flexing his powers, check out this great novel.


Monday, August 14, 2023

CITY OF DREAMS by Don Winslow

*Book 2 of the City Trilogy*
...because the wounded find the wounded, washed up on the same sad shore.
Picking up immediately after Danny Ryan hightailed it outta Providence after losing his wife and the war with the Italian mob, this second novel in Winslow’s final trilogy finds Danny on the run, and struggling to carve out a safe space for his friends and young son. 

The novel takes on a very different atmosphere than the first, trading New England for the the sunny West Coast, bouncing around San Diego, Las Vegas, and the city of dreams itself, Los Angeles. I love that the book takes a bigger look at and expands on what were minor characters from the first novel as Danny makes this journey with the ragtag crew that he ran from Providence with. It was cool seeing more of Bernie Hughes, Jimmy Mac, Ned Egan, and especially the constantly entertaining Altar Boys: Sean and Kevin. The love story is potent but watching these New England hoods try to navigate the Hollywood world is pure gold!


Tuesday, August 8, 2023

JUDAS GOAT by Greg Gifune

I really need to stop waiting so long between Gifune books! His work scratches a horror itch for me that most writers fail to hit. The books dive to emotional depths that others never dare to, while still providing the terror and thrills. 

This novella feels like an eerie dream from the very first paragraph and it never once lets up on the atmosphere, especially as our main character Lenny gets to the small town where his ex-girlfriend has died and mysteriously left him her house. As he struggles to understand what happened to Sheena, we the reader discover a tragic story of love squandered and two people filled with pain and regret. I almost always leave a Gifune book satisfied and impressed and this is another great one. 


Friday, August 4, 2023

FIND HIM by Jake Hinkson

While not the hard-hitting gut-punch noirs that I’ve come to enjoy from the author (like The Posthumous Man, No Tomorrow, or his recent Dry County) this new Hinkson novel is still a solid thriller in the vein of The Big Ugly, and it also might be his most accessible book with arguably his most likable characters. 

The strength here is in how enjoyable it is to follow our protagonist Lily Stevens, a devout and pregnant "one-ness" Pentecostal teenager who bravely steps outside of her sheltered life to go full amateur dick and  track down her missing baby daddy. Even if you can’t relate to her background and religion, it’s hard not to get swept up by her determination and zeal. Allan is also another great character, a kind man with a  fondness for Reba McEntire, and a sense of morality that he can’t shake, no matter how much it might get him in trouble. These two together make for satisfying companions in this read and it's another great entry into Jake Hinkson’s bibliography! 


Saturday, March 4, 2023

MORE BETTER DEALS by Joe R. Lansdale

Joe Lansdale is one of our best authors and a total genre chameleon. He jumps from genre to genre with no warning and succeeding better than most, whether it’s horror, buddy comedies, westerns, or coming-of-age dramas. And even though he’s a chameleon, he still stands out in each lane because he has a voice all his own. 

Now, he’s back again with a straight noir worthy of the Gold Medal or Black Lizard label. It follows a used car salesman and passing mixed-race, Korean War veteran named Ed Edwards who wants the White American Dream for himself: the dream of owning a business, having a white woman on his arm, and making enough money to send his sister to school. And to get that, he’ll do anything, whether it’s sleep with another man’s bored wife, or plot a murder or three!

This one was extremely enjoyable, and it's Lansdale doing what he does best, plotting a well-paced backwoods noir with enough violence, sex, and betrayal to make Gil Brewer or Charles Williams smile, and doing it with the knack for humor, dialogue, and dramatic irony that we’ve come to love from the author!