Tuesday, December 30, 2014

THE OUTFIT by Richard Stark


*Book 3 in the Parker Series*

I love that I've discovered the Parker series. I'd been searching for a good series of popcorn books that I can read quickly without a whole lot of brainpower when I'm in that mood, or when I'm working and have little time to read. The Parker books have filled that void for me. They're quick, in-and-out little adventures that I can pop like mean little gummi bears whenever I want!

This episode seems to concludes the beef between master criminal Parker and the organized crime syndicate, the Outfit, a beef that began in the first novel, The Hunter. In The Hunter, Parker warned the bastards that he could rally together his network of professionals and make the Outfit's life a living hell. But they didn't listen. So Parker is making good on his promise. 

This was probably the most exciting of the three Parker books I've read so far, as Parker sets off a powder keg of crime, with him and his associates dedicated to pulling off a crippling number of Outfit robberies all over the country. It's always a pleasure reading how author Richard Stark meticulously crafts these robberies and makes each one feel fresh. As usual, there's not much to these books, but they're short little adventures guaranteed to keep you entertained!

*The 80th and final book I read in 2014! Just in time!*

Sunday, December 28, 2014



In a tiny, coastal Latin American town, Angela Vicario and Bayardo San Román get married and have the biggest party the town had seen! But soon after, Bayardo returns his new wife to her shocked family after he realizes that her virginity has been spoiled. In an effort to restore her honor, her twin brothers murder her alleged deflowerer in cold blood (obviously not a spoiler), but not before announcing their intentions for all to hear. 
 "'All right, girl,' he told her, trembling with rage, 'tell us who it was.'
She only took the time necessary to say the name. She looked for it in the shadows, she found it at first sight among the many, many easily confused names from this world and the other, and she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written.
'Santiago Nasar,' she said"
The late master Gabriel García Márquez (with credit to translator Gregory Rabassa) has once again impressed me and captivated me with his command of language, this time in an effort to explore and document the events that surround this very public homicide. Not only does Marquez look at whether or not the Vicario brothers are right in defending their sister's honor in such a way, but even more significant, he writes a fascinating portrait of a small town, and how its collective mindset, the self-absorption of it's citizens, bad decisions, unfortunate fate, and possibly straight up lies came together in an epic fail of preventing a tragedy that ultimately affect the community for years to come.
"They taught her old wives' tricks to feign her lost possession, so that on her first morning as a newlywed she could display open under the sun in the courtyard of her house the linen sheet with the stain of honor."

Saturday, December 27, 2014



Earlier this year I read Junot Díaz's first and only novel to date, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,  and was smitten by it. A large part of why that book was so enjoyable was the point-of-view of it's omniscient narrator Yunior. While Oscar was never able to find a girl, Yunior never seemed able to keep one. Díaz's newest book, a story collection, is a sort of follow-up to Oscar Wao, focusing more on Yunior the Dumb-ass, and Yunior's predicament of not being able to hold a relationship; all of them are doomed, but all of them leave an impression. 

Although he's a good-looking chick magnet, he always seems to screw things up. He could blame this predicament on so many things, including his Dominican ancestry, his family-life, his rolling-stone Papi, or the influence of his lady-killing brother Rafa. But that would be the easy explanation. This collection of interconnected stories touches on the machismo inherent in most men that can ultimately lead to their downfall in relationships.

I don't know what hot-blooded guy couldn't relate to Yunior. Although I feel like I'm a good dude, I've done some stupid shit in my time, ruined what could've been great things, and will always live to regret it. And if you asked me today to explain why I'd done those things, I really couldn't tell you. But what I can tell you is that this book touched me, because I could see hints of myself and my friends in Yunior.

Once again, Díaz's casual but poignant prose helps to craft a vibrant, energetic piece of work that's almost just as good as Oscar Wao, jumping back and forth in time as well as jumping back and forth from first-person POV to a surprisingly effective second-person POV. It felt like Yunior was one of the homies, talking to me over a game of pool, which made the book intensely readable. And strangely enough, with all the cheating and failed relationships going on, the book is a surprisingly spirited and lively look at love and heartbreak in all its forms.
“In another universe I probably came out OK, ended up with mad novias and jobs and a sea of love in which to swim, but in this world I had a brother who was dying of cancer and a long dark patch of life like a mile of black ice waiting for me up ahead.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

EASY DEATH by Daniel Boyd


Easy Death is a fun little yuletide carol of crime and suspense by the good folks over at Hard Case Crime, about an armored-car heist pulled by a couple of good-ol-boys and their twisty attempt at a getaway, while being pursued by the cops. I enjoyed it but it's a tricky one. On one hand, at times the writing feels amateurish, the story requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, the back-and-forth jumping between first-person and third-person POV is annoying, and the cute Christmas carol references got a bit cheeky at times. But on the other hand, it's cleverly structured, it's got great twists that I guarantee you won't see coming, and it was a thrill watching these guys attempt to get away with the money even when all the odds are against them, just in time for last-minute Christmas shopping!

Sunday, December 21, 2014



*Book 2 of the Parker Series*

This takes up shortly after The Hunter left off, and Parker has just gotten a new face from a plastic surgeon so he can hide from the Outfit and do his dirty deeds in peace. But because he is still low on dough, he reluctantly agrees to a shakily-planned armored car hold-up that might not be worth it. 
This might sound like a generic plot for your run-of-the-mill crime thriller, but what makes this one unique is that Parker knows from the get-go that a member of the crew will try to pull a double-cross. So on top of whether or not they'll be able to pull the job off, he has to also worry about staying one step ahead of the two-timing teammate.

It's a fun little heist caper in which we now get to see Parker interact with a team. Though this book feels a little like a pit stop on the way to an inevitable showdown with the Outfit, it's entertaining enough and left me wanting to know what happens next!

Friday, December 19, 2014



Whoa! Talk about having serious girl problems!!

A month ago I read another tight Gil Brewer pulp called The Red Scarf and got a kick out of it. But this awesomely-titled little gem rocked! Brewer takes a cue from the James M. Cain Holy Book of Noir, and weaves a tale of a TV sales-and-repairman who's business is less than stellar, and to top it off he has a psycho-stalker ex-girlfriend that won't leave him alone. Things change when he places a house call to a red-headed, little rich virgin who takes care of her ailing stepdad, and he immediately starts catching feelings. But then he starts catching ideas when:
1) he finds out the fun way that she's definitely not a virgin
2) she begins to drop hints that maybe her rich old man should die a bit quicker...

The book starts off at a leisurely pace, as the main characters flirt not only with each other but also with their murderous intents. But once they pass the point of no return, things get ratcheted up to a nail-biting intensity! Obstacles pile and pile and there's almost no letting up as Jack, the main character, tries to stay ahead of the obstacles and get away scot-free, while trying to keep a lid on his increasing paranoia. It makes for an entertaining read, where you know that it won't end well (as it is with most of these stories), but your eyes are still glued to the page to see how the tragedy will play itself out. And if you're one of those people who needs their fiction to have fancy, lofty themes, here's one that sums this book up. 90's R&B group BellBivDevoe said it best in their hit song: "Never trust a big butt and a smile. That girl is Poison!!"
"Her aqua dress was all roped up around her middle, and her hair was snarled, and she just lay there, like some glorious whore, glorifying her whoring, happy as hell."

Sunday, December 14, 2014



A ex-boxer comes home from his dead end job to find that his wife is not alone in their bedroom. What happens after that is what you need to read the book to find out.

For such a little novelette, this book has a pretty high body count. And no one is safe: not children, little old ladies, or even small animals. The story is bloody and violent, but the book wears its heart on its sleeve and manages to somehow also be a heartbreaking, tragic, and deeply emotional tale of loss, regret, and whether or not vengeance actually solves anything. The writing really left me unnerved throughout, my eyes constantly bugging out as the story moved to darker places with every page and nervous to find out what happened next. The most recent Kindle edition also includes a great little short story called "Beneath The Weeping Willow," about a broken family seen through the eyes of an autistic young boy, that is just as powerful and packs a wallop of an ending.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

THE HUNTER by Richard Stark


*Book 1 of the Parker series*

This is what hard-boiled crime fiction is all about. A mean, thrilling, fast-moving story with little-to-no frills, and lots of badassery. And Parker might just be the biggest badass in the literary crime world. In this loose cannon of a novel, the first one in a long-running, popular series, Parker, a professional heistman, literally walks across the George Washington bridge into New York City with nothing but the clothes on his back and revenge on his mind against his backstabbing weakling of a wife and an ex-partner that double-crossed him and left him for dead. Walking into NYC, he's essentially just a hobo after recently breaking out of a prison farm out west, but it was a delight seeing him quickly use his skills to con his way into some seed money, and by the end of the first chapter, he's in a nice hotel, laying in a hot bath, drinking from a bottle of vodka. A great introduction to the character. And from then on, it's an exciting ride where we learn what happened previously that led to Parker being in this situation while at the same time we follow him as he tries to bring the pain to those that wronged him.

If you're looking for some deep look at the human condition, look elsewhere. But don't get it twisted, this is still a very well-written novel filled with guns, fists, money, sex, and hard vengeance. Like I said: what hard-boiled crime fiction is all about.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

THE AX by Donald E. Westlake


The Ax starts strong with a great plot that is irresistible and tailor-made for a modern noir tale. Burke Devore has been laid off from his job as a manager at a paper manufacturer and has been jobless for two years. In a desperate attempt to land a job, he gathers together resumes of men that could be seen as his competition, and proceeds to take the steps that would guarantee his resume would be at the top of the pile: killing his competition one by one. 
"What it comes down to is, the CEOs, and the stockholders who put them there, are the enemy, but they are not the problem. They are society's problem, but they are not my personal problem.
These six resumés. These are my personal problem."
I was struck by how believable the entire situation was. This type of story could have easily succumbed to convenient plot-points and fantastical feats of ability by the protagonist. But I never felt a false note in the entire novel. Another risk is that the developments could have easily gotten repetitive. But incredibly, the book is still intensely readable and well-paced, with each murder-attempt feeling fresh and suspenseful.

The novel put you right into the mind of Burke, a man in a situation that we can all relate to in this modern job market. I could especially relate to him, being a freelance worker and having to deal with competition everyday. I was with him all the way. I related to his desperate need to take action, I felt his frustrations every time his plans met another obstacle, cheered for him every time he cleverly got his way out of trouble, and morbidly enough, I wanted to see him succeed.

Thursday, December 4, 2014



"'Realistically, how many more of these things could there be?'
'No idea', he muttered. 'But I'm pretty sure realistically has nothing to do with it.'"
In this fast-paced horror novella I read on a plane ride, two soldiers find themselves stranded at a mysterious and abandoned WWII outpost in the middle of an unforgiving desert. They struggle to save their skins and their sanity when, every night, bloodthirsty creatures emerge from the dunes, hungry and ready to eat the flesh from their bodies.

Author Greg F. Gifune infuses the story with both excitement and a creepy atmosphere (even the desert is foreboding) while still finding time to develop the main character and allow her backstory to be essential to the story. And the more I learned about the ferocious predators, they're unnerving abilities, and what they will do to a person BEFORE they kill them, the more worried I got for our heroes. I started hoping that, on the next page, I wouldn't have to read about them falling into the hands of these creatures. While not a game-changer, this shorter horror tale is still entertaining and chilling all the way through to it's unsettling ending.

*I received an Advanced Copy of this novella from publisher DarkFuse through Netgalley for review. The book will be released on December 9th*

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


 *Book 1 in the Lew Griffin series*

"In the darkness things always go away from you. Memory holds you down while regret and sorrow kick the hell out of you.  
The only help you'll get is a few hard drinks and morning."
This book is unlike any other detective novel I've read. You know how in all detective stories you get the sense that the case our hero is investigating is a stand-out case for him amongst all of his smaller, regular cases? That it's a a mystery that he'll probably remember forever and is worth dedicating a book to above the others? Well, The Long-Legged Fly focuses instead on those OTHER cases: the everyday ones, the day-to-day work. The book can barely be considered a novel; it's more of a series of short stories highlighting key times throughout different decades in Creole private detective (and part-time insurance strong-arm) Lew Griffin's life as an individual instead of just a hard-boiled dick. Even though the mysteries are fairly tame and inconsequential, each decade finds Lew as a different person, a complex man that finds himself and loses himself again, that evolves and transforms throughout the years, as any person would. 
"The world doesn't change, and mostly we don't either, we just go on looking into the same mirror, trying on different hats and expressions and new sets of vice, opinion, and prejudice; pretending, as children do, to see and feel things that are not there."
It's also written by James Sallis, who is not only a crime novelist but also a poet, philosopher, and musician. He fills the book with sometimes drunken but always poignant ruminations on life, the blues, and classic literature. Although the book's structure makes it sometimes difficult to be engaged in the superficial story, the character of Lew Griffin is the star of the show, and it's fascinating watching him evolve. I really enjoyed this one. Sallis is a really gifted writer and I'm interesting in seeing where Griffin goes from here.
"Maybe the best parts of our lives are always over. Maybe happiness, contentment, are things we only recollect through the filters of time, elusive ghosts forever behind us."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

FACIAL by Jeff Strand


This screwed up little novella begins like an everyday noir story and then transforms into something vastly different. Impotent resume writer Greg has hired a hitman to kill the boldest of his wife's many lovers, but he doesn't want any loose ends and murders him in his office. Of course, the problem arises of how to dispose of the body. Conveniently, Greg's brother Carlton has a need for a dead body and a great way of disposing of it. It has something  to do with the terrifying thing that he just found in his basement.

This was a pretty entertaining, quick read. It's not life-changing literature by any means, but I wouldn't have been able to stop reading even if I wanted to. My eyes were glued to my Kindle by the sheer audacity of the story, thinking: "I can't believe I'm actually reading this!," but also anxious to read more because it was cool to see how the story evolved and I had a desire to see how far the author would take the craziness. And I'm here to tell you, he took it pretty far!

*I generously received an Advanced Reader Copy from DarkFuse via NetGalley for an honest review*

Monday, November 24, 2014

THE CRAZY KILL by Chester Himes


*Book 3 of the Harlem Cycle*

The 3rd novel in Himes's Harlem Cycle begins like a twisted Harlem version of an Agatha Christie mystery. During a liquor-filled wake for Big Joe Pullen, a man is killed on a bread basket with a very distinctive knife. There are many at the wake who have motive for killing him, including his sister Dulcy, her husband Johnny Perry, her wanna-be lover, Chink Charlie Dawson, the victim's girlfriend Doll Baby, and their opium-addicted Holy Roller preacher. But instead of Miss Marple trying to find out who did it, it's Harlem's two gun-happy detectives Grave Digger and Coffin Ed!

This book is more of a straight murder mystery than the first two novels and the plot is much more complicated and confusing, with many characters and motivations introduced in the first chapter. But Chester Himes's hard-hitting, satirical prose is still in full effect here! While not as remarkable as the previous books, this one is still entertaining!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

RESTORATION (short story) by Greg F. Gifune


A beat cop is chasing a drugged up robbery suspect when he accidentally shoots and kills a child bystander. He subsequently loses his job, wife, and self-respect, landing a minimum wage job guarding a used car lot. But, things might start to get a lot worse now that he begins to see the little boy again.

I was first introduced to the publisher DarkFuse recently through reviews on Goodreads. Since then, I've been doing more research on them and they seem to be a fun little company that puts out cool titles with awesome cover art and affordable price. I signed up for membership and received this short story as an ebook gift. I couldn't sleep last night and decided to crack it open and give it a read. 

I was completely unfamiliar with the author Greg F. Gifune, but not anymore. "Restoration" is an extremely well written story with loads of atmosphere. It's a moody noir/horror hybrid with a creepy tone all throughout, while maintaining a level of sadness as well. It's a very quick read at only a tight 20 pages. I really enjoyed it and would like to read more by Gifune and more by DarkFuse in the future.

Friday, November 21, 2014

REVIVAL by Stephen King


Although I've taken a little break from reading lots of Stephen King in order to focus on discovering other authors, he remains one of my very favorite writers. And when I read the synopsis for his latest novel Revival, I wanted to give it a shot. The book narrates the decades-long connection between Jamie Morton and Charlie Jacobs, which began when Jamie was a little boy and Charlie a young, popular Methodist reverend. 

As usual, King his talent for great writing here, especially in the sections showing Jamie coming of age in a small town. But ultimately the book was strangely unengaging, and it's hard to pin down why. But I think it might have something to do with it's time-jumping structure. With Jamie and Charlie reinventing themselves almost completely throughout the decades, it's hard to really connect with either of them. And the book feels like King had tons of ideas he wanted to get down on paper, but it never really amounts to something satisfying. In fact the climax feels like something out of a completely different novel from the first half. Sometimes, as in the disappointing ending of Needful Things, when King pulls out crazy supernatural stuff from way out of left field, it doesn't really fit and feels forced.  Part of me feels as if this should have been better as a tighter written novella or long short story.

I don't know, maybe my my expectations were high because it's King and the book has been promoted as having "the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written." No, not so much. That distinction still goes to Pet Sematary or his short story "The Jaunt."

Friday, November 14, 2014



I was surprised that there's so much negative stuff written about this book. But it's mostly written by people who are all butt-hurt that there's not a new book in the actual series yet. I don't understand people sometimes. George R. R. Martin doesn't owe us anything. One of my biggest pet peeves in books, movies, or TV is pandering to fans. That's why I dislike most network television. So although I'm also foaming at the mouth for The Winds of Winter, I'd rather Martin take the time he needs to write a book equal or better in quality to the previous epics, rather than churn out dreck just to appease impatient fans.
I really enjoyed this companion book. It's coffee-table-sized and wonderfully designed, from it's pseudo-vinyl cover to the gorgeous interior artwork. It's a real pleasure to flip through. I've always thought that the backstory for A Song of Ice and Fire is just as rich as the present-day book narratives. But I'm kind of an Ice and Fire nerd so there really wasn't much in there that I didn't know previously. My biggest gripe is that I wish the authors didn't use the idea of writing the history as a Maester of the Citadel would and wrote it as a more omniscient, encyclopedia-like concordance. I feel that would've included more information and less opinions and artistic flourish. I wish there were more things included like more details on Robert's Rebellion, the creepy history of the Night's Watch, more details on the religions, etc. But other than that, it's a gorgeous book, a great collectors item, and a great read for anymore interested in learning more about the back story behind this great series.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

THE RED SCARF by Gil Brewer


Pulpy Tagline!: The money was hot and so was the girl, but it was cold-blooded murder just the same. (Crest edition)

This fast-paced noir novel from one of the star writers in the genre follows sad-sack Roy Nichols who's hitching rides across the country begging for money for his floundering business running the Southern Comfort Motel with his doting wife. Things start looking up when he gets involved with sexy, black-haired Vivian, her brooding boyfriend, and a briefcase full of dough. Getting a cut of that money might be just what he needs to keep the motel open, if he can stay alive and out of jail to spend it!
"The sight of that money was like catching a cold and know it would turn into pneumonia."
Although at times awkwardly written, this was a fun, quick read! I love how Brewer kept ratcheting up the tension as everything starts closing in around Roy from all sides. I was surprised by the complete lack of sex in the book! Because it's a major genre convention, every minute I expected Roy and Vivian to get it on, but they never did. I found it interesting that Roy could care less about her. Although he finds her attractive, he finds the money more ravishing and that's where most of his attention goes. And besides, with so many complications he has to stay ahead of, he doesn't have time to be thinking with his penis!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

KINGS OF MIDNIGHT by Wallace Stroby


*Book 2 of the Crissa Stone Series*

This 2nd novel in the Crissa Stone series picks up shortly after shit hit the fan at the end of Cold Shot To The Heart. Now professional thief Crissa is desperately trying to rebuild her nest egg and get control of her life again. But desperation is a dangerous thing to have in this business. Desperation drives the usually careful and meticulous Crissa to team up with a former OG wiseguy–turned government informant–turned short order cook on the lam and agrees to a risky job tracking down millions in cash left over from the famous 1978 Lufthansa airline heist. It could be the big payday that Crissa need. But it also would be a big payday for a host of rough guys on the hunt for the same dough.

This is totally a worthy follow-up to Cold Shot To The Heart and once again loved reading about Crissa and her badassness. I love how Crissa is a woman of few words, even when people question her abilities just because she's a woman. She lets her actions speak for themselves. But I also love that even though she tries to put up the front of being unemotional and all-business, she can't help but feel empathy for people being hurt and a drive to do the right thing. The book is a real page-turner and I can't wait to read the next one.

Saturday, November 8, 2014



*Book 6 of the Matthew Scudder series*

This is the latest installment in my journey into Lawrence Block's stunning Matthew Scudder crime series. This one comes on the heels of the showstopping Eight Million Ways To Die, and I was wondering if it was possible for this book to be as good. I was pleased to see that it comes pretty damn close! Block keeps it fresh by showing us a different side of Scudder, flashing back to events from Matt's past that occurred even before the first novel. Here, Matt tells the story of when he and his hard-drinking saloon homies got in and out of trouble during a hot, eventful, New York summer in '75.

This book felt totally different from all the others. Matt seems less of a loner here and more connected with his buddies. I felt like he was also a lot less interested in his cases, more aloof, which is understandable as I was reading about a slightly younger Scudder than I was used to. Even the writing itself fits into this tone. This one is very nostalgic as well; it's a love letter to a throwback New York City that doesn't exist anymore, and to a simpler, more innocent time for Matt (who at this point hasn't even begun to consider himself an alcoholic). This book also has a first-rate, bittersweet ending where, like most of the great crime novels, the mystery is solved not in the way you expected or even wanted, but in a way that is undeniably satisfying. This ending took my expected four star rating and turned it into a solid five.

Monday, November 3, 2014

WINTER'S BONE by Daniel Woodrell


I love it when I read a book or watch a movie and I discover a new and unique world or community that I was never familiar with before. Daniel Woodrell writes about the tight knit communities in the Missouri Ozark Mountains. I'm almost totally unfamiliar with small American towns like this, having grown up in the Caribbean, and spent all of my adult life in major cities.So I found Woodrell's world fascinating: this community of people in which your last name is more important than your first, and is destined to effect everything about your life before you can even grow up to understand. It's a place with their own rules so deeply entrenched for so long that it goes beyond the reach of most government law.

This novel follows Ree Dolly, a poor 16-year old girl who has quit school to take care of her sick mother and her two little brothers now that her crank-cook father is M.I.A. But now she must track him down after he fails to show up in court and the law comes knocking, threatening to take their house, because her dad put the house up for his bond. 

This is a stark, immersive book, and even though Woodrell is sometimes prone to some pretty purple prose, his writing is gorgeous and evocative, really giving you a sense of place. I could almost feel the cold of the winter landscape in which the story takes place. Woodrell is a writer I would dare to compare to Cormac McCarthy with the way he has with words and how well he's able to evoke a sense of place.
Some may be tempted to call this book a coming-of-age story, but I disagree. Ree has come of age too early, becoming more of an adult than I am even now. Her hope is that she can teach her little brothers in a way that they can grow up to be something more than the destiny the town gives them and that she can escape it herself by joining the Army. Ree is at times both strong and vulnerable, incredibly courageous while we get glimpses of the child hiding inside. She is an amazing young heroine right up there at the top of the literary list with True Grit's Mattie Ross.
“She would never cry where her tears might be seen and counted against her.”

Sunday, November 2, 2014

THE QUEEN OF BEDLAM by Robert McCammon


*Book 2 of the Matthew Corbett series*

Although The Queen of Bedlam is the 2nd book in the terrific Matthew Corbett series, this is the novel where the series truly kicks off! The first one, Speaks the Nightbird is a great book, but might have possibly been written as a stand-alone novel and can be read that way. But not only is this the tale that really introduces Matthew and his world the way we know it now, but this is where author McCammon also ratchets up the excitement and doesn't let up all the way through the latest installment, The River of Souls. Don't get me wrong, it's hard to have a plot more interesting than Speaks The Nightbird's witch hunts, but this novel is a faster-paced adventure!

In this installment, it's 1702, three years after the events in the first novel, and Matthew has settled in the growing colony of New York City working as a clerk. A serial killer is terrorizing the city and no one can figure out how to catch the guy. Soon, Matthew gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he's recruited to join the famous London-based Herrald Agency in it's newly-formed New York team as a professional "problem solver," and must travel to a creepy mental asylum where he might find the clues he needs to solve the killings.

McCammon is a playful, energized writer that makes reading these novels irresistible! The historical details of the world in early 18th century NYC is fascinating. We also get introduced to what will become Matthew's circle of allies and friends, including the spunky Berry Grisby and Matthew's resourceful new partner Hudson Greathouse, while you also get hints of the evil that will plague Matthew in the future in the form of an arch-nemesis! While long and detailed like the first novel, I found the book fast-paced, never boring, and filled with great moments (the heart-pounding hawk sequence is still one of the best scenes in the series). The book also sets the stage beautifully for the action packed 3rd installment, Mister Slaughter. You will want to read it immediately after finishing this one, trust me!

Friday, October 31, 2014



Many know David Benioff as one half of the team that created the stellar Game of Thrones HBO series adaptation. And no problem, that show is awesome and it's one of the most impressive film adaptations I've seen of fiction. But I originally was a fan of Benioff's work as an author, with both of his fantastic novels (the New York crime drama The 25th Hour and the WWII coming of age adventure, City of Thieves) on my list of favorites! Now I've finally completed the author's short list of fiction work with this solid collection of short stories.  
Each story is a slice of life tale, not featuring large moments of action, but instead focusing on each character at a critical turning point in their lives or at a time when they have to make the hard decisions. As usual, Benioff writes with a poetic ease and injects each story with a tangible atmosphere. My favorites in the collection were "De Composition," about a man struggling with his sanity after hunkering down in a survival bunker during the end of the world (I love how Benioff is intentionally vague with what is possibly an awesome reveal), "Garden of No," about a young waitress/wannabe actress in Hollywood about to hit her big break, and the heartbreaking final story "Merde for Luck," that follows a gay couple in New York City as they struggle with AIDS during the mid-90's.
"So many die without our caring, decline to silence in rooms beyond hearing. We honor the dead and abhor the dying."
As much as I love Game of Thrones, a hope that Benioff returns to write more awesome books, he's up there on my list with Scott B. Smith as being overdue for another great novel!

THOSE ACROSS THE RIVER by Christopher Buehlman


*Sigh*. This book had such great potential and loads of missed opportunities. 
It follows a couple, Frank and Eudora, moving to a small town in the Depression-era South. Frank has inherited a house and land that stretches back generations and he travels there to write what he hopes to be a bestseller about the violent history of his great grandfather's slave plantation that lies in the mysterious woods across the river. Soon, after arriving, the town is terrorized by...dunh dunh dunh! Those Across The River!

The novel begins in a very similar way to 'Salem's Lot, with no major action happening until about halfway through both books, instead focusing on the going-ons around the small town. But while Stephen King's novel took this time to really get to know the small town so that when the horror happens to the community, it's truly affecting, Buehlman's novel spends a large chunk of its time with Frank's mostly unnecessary dreams about his time in war and the couple's extremely healthy sex life. They literally make hot, sweaty, love every other chapter! Now, I'm no prude; I love sex just like everyone else and would love to have it all day like this couple, but I don't care about reading it when I should be reading about things that truly develop the story. And I may be biased about dream sequences, because I rarely think they work very well in stories, but for the life of me, I still can't figure out what they had to do with the story in any way. I mean, I guess they developed Frank's character a little, but maybe I could've just read one, not FIFTEEN repetitive dreams! Most of those pages that featured sex and dreams could've been used for something more useful.

I won't spoil what lies beyond the river, but the time spent building the suspense was effective and creepy, and once the action kicks off, it's at times very exciting, but eventually, it feels like Buehlman just ran out of steam and couldn't figure out how to finish it. A true, satisfying climax is missing! A great build-up of what lies across the river, and then the potential just peters out. The great character of Martin Cramner has SOOO much potential for interesting ideas and scenes, and nothing much happens with him either! Again, this book really had many chances to be great, and they were either flubbed in the messy storytelling or hijacked by hot sex or dreams of trench warfare.

THE DEEP by Nick Cutter


I received this advanced reader's copy from Gallery Books through NetGalley in exchange for review. I had heard great creepy things about Nick Cutter's debut novel The Troop, and decided to give his upcoming follow-up a try during this Halloween season. The book begins with a great premise, humanity is dying away after a worldwide outbreak of a disease called the 'Gets, which causes the victim to begin to forget, starting with little meaningless things, but eventually evolves to forgetting things far more serious and fatal. This concept is terrifying in itself and deserves its own novel. In an effort to find a cure, a team is sent into the deepest point on Earth, miles down into the Mariana Trench, and then even further, to the bottom of Challenger Deep. The story that follows is a mix between Sphere, Event Horizon, and The Shining. It's a total nosedive into insanity.
"Don't worry, it'll get even darker. You've never seen the kind of dark we're gonna encounter."
All my friends should know that I have a fear of deep ocean and open water. So this book had me by the throat from the very beginning. I'm not ashamed to say that if I got sent on a mission to the bottom of the Pacific, I'd probably be the one to go totally bonkers. The book wastes no time getting to the goosebumps, ratcheting up the creepy tension as soon as the trip begins to the bottom of the sea. Nick Cutter is great at building suspense and atmosphere. But once down at the underwater facility, the plot goes ALL over the place. I never fully got a sense of what the threat really was. There were so many antagonizing ideas thrown into the story that it sort of became a mess; a kind of a reverse deus ex machina of perils and obstacles, thrown in to move the story along. What did work were the descriptions of the psychological breakdown of the characters. That was the stuff that really affected me. The style of writing told in slipped, short chapters, kept my eyes flying through the book, to the point where I felt that I might actually be going a little crazy myself by the time I got to the insane final chapters.

Monday, October 27, 2014

THE BLACK DAHLIA by James Ellroy

*Book 1 of the L.A. Quartet*

Most people are familiar with the case of the Black Dahlia, one of the most infamous unsolved
murder cases in U.S. history, where a young, pretty Hollywood starlet named Elizabeth Short is found in a vacant lot, her body mutilated, disemboweled, and cut in half. But this isn't a true crime book. Just as in the fantastic The Big Nowhere, the first book I read by author James Ellroy, he mixes L.A. history and fascinating fictional characters and weaves an awesome tapestry of the seedy and depraved world of 1940's Los Angeles. The novel is told from the point of view of Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, who starts the book as a promising new LAPD warrants officer, until he gets embroiled in the case of the Black Dahlia, changing his life forever in more ways than one, as he is swept up in the obsessive circus that the investigation becomes. 

This fixation on the case is personal for the author, he also fell victim to the Dahlia's pull in real life in the late 50's after Ellroy's mother was brutally murdered. He became fascinated with historical violent crime and studying the murder of Elizabeth Short became a proxy for dealing with his mother's death. This personal attachment fills the book with real earnestness and passion that helped to make it a crime classic.

Aside from the fact that Ellroy's usual knack for great wordplay is on display, one of the most interesting things about the novel is the way the obsession over the Dahlia is detailed, an obsession that jumps from person to person like a disease, eating away at everyone it touches. Although his partner jumps headfirst into the investigation, Bucky starts off fairly unfazed by the murder, annoyed at the media frenzy and eager to get back to working warrants; catching normal bad guys he can understand, not ones that cut Glasgow smiles into pretty girls' faces from ear to ear. But eventually he succumbs to the Dahlia's pull and falls deeper, the way Danny does in The Big Nowhere, so deep it becomes all he thinks about. The Black Dahlia is the story of that kind of obsession, the one that can eat away at the soul. 


Saturday, October 18, 2014

COLD SHOT TO THE HEART by Wallace Stroby


*Book 1 of the Crissa Stone Series*

I recently read Wallace Stroby's standalone novel Gone 'til November, and was disappointed in it, mostly because of the inefficiency of the lead female character, who proved to be non-essential to the story and seemed terrible at being a police officer once the action started popping off. So I was a little hesitant going into this book. But, my worries were in vain! Stroby creates one badass series character in Crissa Stone (book 4, The Devil's Share, comes out next year), one that is a breath of fresh air in crime fiction. There are a bunch of female protagonists in crime today, but mostly of the do-gooder detective type, like Kinsey Millhone or Tess Monaghan, but I don't know of any straight rumble-tumble, female criminal antiheroes like Richard Stark's Parker. Until now. Or maybe not now, but in 2011, when this book came out...

Crissa Stone is an efficient thief, who's all business, always has a plan, never works near her home in NYC, has never needed to fire her gun on a job, and is careful about the people she works with. But it all goes to hell once pricey payoffs to the sleazy Texas lawyer dealing with the case of her imprisoned mentor, partner, and lover pressure her to take a job ripping off a high stakes poker game in South Florida. Things go south bad. And now Crissa is targeted by a psycho Mob hitter named Eddie The Saint.

I loved reading about Crissa going about her business and setting up heists. I always love reading about people being good at their jobs, and especially about women who can throw down on their own in a fight. But Crissa is not just an emotionless criminal. She's trying to make money to provide a nice life for her estranged daughter, who is being raised by Crissa's cousin and doesn't know Crissa at all. And she finally wants to have something of her own and set roots by finally buying her dream house in Connecticut. That's why she decides not to run. She needs to protect what's hers. So she decides to  face off with Eddie The Saint. And stand tall while doing it.

MY FAVORITE BOOKS by Dennis Lehane

My Top 10 Favorite Books by Dennis Lehane

1) Mystic River
2) Gone Baby, Gone
3) The Given Day
4) Shutter Island
5) Darkness, Take My Hand
6) A Drink Before The War
7) Live By Night
8) The Drop
9) Prayers For Rain
10) Moonlight Mile

Friday, October 17, 2014

GONE BABY GONE by Dennis Lehane


*Book 4 of the Kenzie and Gennaro series*
“When I was young, I asked my priest how to get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God told His children; 'You are sheep among wolves, be wise as the serpent, yet innocent as doves.'”
This is by far the best installment in Dennis Lehane's great series following inner city Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. And the best detective novel I've read so far. I know that's saying a lot but I don't say it lightly. Lehane always proves to be a master of plotting, and here, he not only takes a simple missing child mystery and turns it into something endlessly addictive and compelling, but he ends it well too. The final reveal and resolution came at me like a hard fist to the face, sending me reeling for days. It's ingenious and truly one of a kind, and left me to ponder even my own morality. When a novel in such a crowded and cliché-ridden field as the detective genre can leave you so affected, that book is truly something special. There are so many great moments in this book, the plot develops at a flawless pace, and every character is pitch-perfect and memorable. And I love the way the Patrick and Angie get so involved that the case affects them personally and take over their lives, challenging everything they believe in. All of this ranks this book as one of the best novels in modern crime fiction, right up there on my list with Clockers, A Simple Plan, The 25th Hour, The Big Nowhere, and the author's other masterwork, Mystic River.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014




It's hard to describe this book or the effect that it has. The novel is an exposé on the troubled history of the de Leon/Cabral family, their immigration from the Dominican Republic to America, and how a curse that stretches all the way back to that pendejo Christopher Columbus haunts them throughout time. It focuses specifically on Oscar, the youngest child, an obese nerd in the 80's/90's, who falls in love easily but is destined to be the only Dominicano to never get laid. 

This book may sound like every other immigrant family/coming of age saga out there, but what sets this apart from any other book I've ever read is the novel's style and it's delightful narrator. The story is dictated by the almost omniscient Yunior, a friend of the family who was once Oscar's roommate, with a conversational, word-on-the-street style. A style that's a gumbo mixture of formal, poetic prose, constantly changing Spanglish, historical footnotes, and nerd culture references, everything from Lord of the Rings, Dune, Point Blank, Joseph Conrad, and Planet of the Apes. I know a bit of Spanish and I'm familiar with some of the references so I didn't have a hard time with it the way some people have. There is lots of history about the Dominican Republic during the reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo, and the story could have easily turned into a depressing, boring slog, but the book's irresistible style prevented all that. 

I feel silly reading the above synopsis that I wrote. The book is about more than that. It's about love, family, and legacy that manages to be heartbreaking and joyous at the same time. It's about embracing your inner nerd and about finding your way back home. I don't know, I feel like I'm not doing this awesome novel justice with this review. Maybe I shouldn't have even written one! I'll just stop here and let the book (and Yunior) speak for itself:
"Hey, it's only a story, with no solid evidence, the kind of shit only a nerd could love."

Saturday, October 11, 2014

GONE 'TIL NOVEMBER by Wallace Stroby


"Forget about money. Pain's the only currency. And everybody pays their way."
This decent standalone effort by author Wallace Stroby tracks parallel stories of two vastly different people on different sides of the law as their paths start to cross surrounding an officer-involved Florida roadside shooting of a young black man. Sara Cross is a small-town sheriff's deputy who is the first responder to the shooting. The officer involved happens to be her ex-boyfriend that she inexplicably still has the hots for, but soon she suspects that there is more to the shooting that meets the eye. Meanwhile, Morgan, an aging hitman from Jersey reluctantly comes into town hired to find out what happened to a shipment of money and guns that never made it to its destination. 

This novel reads so much like a George Pelecanos novel, I wouldn't be surprised if it actually was dug out of his closet somewhere. It has so many of the same themes, same structure, and written with the same prose-style: an unadorned, direct, no-nonsense manner, like Ernest Hemingway meets Elmore Leonard. Even Morgan, the story's best character, reads like a Pelecanos hero, sort of like Derek Strange if he decided to break bad. Morgan, is efficient and ruthless, is tired of the life, but needs the money to deal with a rare intestinal cancer that's flared up in him. Listening to the old cassette tapes of the classic soul music that he loves is the only thing that eases the pain. 

But my biggest problem is with the character of Sara. I was surprised by how incapable of a protagonist she was. She never seems to be able to take care of herself when trouble goes down, always needing to be rescued. But not only that! She was COMPLETELY inconsequential to the story. And it seems like Stroby went out of his way to make her immaterial. We follow her as she uncovers clues, but then the story is pushed forward because of the actions of other people, not because of anything she did. I realized at the end of the novel that if Sara was removed from the book altogether, the development of the plot would not change at all.

The book is entertaining enough while reading it, but I was left fairly unsatisfied when it was all said and done. But, I hear nothing but great things about Stroby's series novels, which I'm starting very soon. Hopefully they're better.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014



This beautifully written and provocatively-titled novella follows a lonely commitment-phobe who, on his 90th birthday, wants a night of mad passion with an adolescent virgin. But instead of the usual heartless, physical sex he has had 514 times in his life, he finally finds real love in the form a young hooker in the midst of a deep sleep.
"I was ignorant of the arts of seduction and had always chosen my brides for a night at random, more for their price than their charms, and we had made love without love, half-dressed most of the time and always in the dark so we could imagine ourselves as better than we were. That night I discovered the improbable pleasure of contemplating the body of a sleeping woman without the urgencies of desire or the obstacles of modesty."
At first glance, this story could easily be seen just as the tale of a dirty old man infatuated with a little girl, but I was taken by the deeper exploration of the emotional and physical effects of aging, the celebration of the innocent and pure, and a man finding love so late in the game and finally being rejuvenated at the terminus of his years. This book would make an interesting companion piece with Walter Mosley's The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, with which it shares similar themes.
“Blood circulated through her veins with the fluidity of a song that branched off into the most hidden areas of her body and returned to her heart, purified by love. Before I left at dawn I drew the lines of her hand on a piece of paper and gave it to Diva Sahibí for a reading so I could know her soul.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

ROSE GOLD by Walter Mosley

 *Book 13 of the Easy Rawlins Series*
Easy Rawlins needs money. Again. This guy can't get a break. Sometimes I wish that this series would just end where Easy acquires a bunch of money, sends Feather off to a good school overseas, retires from running the streets, settles down on farmland out in Ventura somewhere with Bonnie and tend crops on his farm all day. He definitely deserves it. But nope, them's the breaks. Easy seems destined to roam the streets of Los Angeles as a private dick. Money trouble always seems to creep up on him. This time his rental properties need city-required repairs and his adopted daughter Feather has been invited to go to an expensive Ivy prep school. The LAPD stop by his new house just in time to offer him a heap of money to help locate a kidnapped UC Santa Barbara coed that might just turn out to be a Patty Hearst situation.

I'm starting to feel more and more now that Mosley should end this series soon. No, not really, I'd miss Easy too much! But it at least needs an overhaul. It's suffering from what befalls so many other detective series: stale plots. The plots are starting to get repetitive. The last book, Little Green, was also pretty forgettable for this same reason. This book lost any tension it might've had pretty early on, after you discover that there's not much danger. It's disappointing because I think that a Patty Hearst-style kidnapping would be ripe for an engaging story. The series needs to be shaken and spiced up a little bit, the way Mosley did in the great installment Cinnamon Kiss, where Easy had something to really fight for. But, Mosley's great writing, the highly-readable main character, and his motley cast of friends and colleagues introduced in previous novels, are enough to keep me going, despite the yawn-inducing plot.

Friday, October 3, 2014

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn


There's not a whole lot I can say to promote this book any more that it already has been. But I'll start off by saying that Gillian Flynn has a new reader, and I'll jump into her other novels soon! The story is pretty well known and deceptively simple: Nick Dunne's wife Amy goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, sparking an intense manhunt to find her. Doesn't sound all that special does it? But as many already know, that is only the tip of Gone Girl's decadent little plot iceberg. To say more about the story would lead to spoilers and a disservice.

Flynn is a talented writer with an assured voice, a great sense of pace, and a knack for keep you turning the pages with twists that could easily feel like gimmicks, but don't. The reason for this is that she takes the time to flesh out the characters so fully, that the reader is completely immersed in their story, and each subsequent plot point feels like they naturally build on everything stem we have learned.

The structure is great as well too, alternating between Nick's point of view in the present, and Amy's diary entries throughout the years of their relationship. This provides important back story as well as conflicting POV's on different pieces of the back story, revealing that many couples might not truly know one another.

An entertaining read all around.

Saturday, September 27, 2014



"Dead people never stop talking and sometimes the living hear."
I'm really torn with this one. I feel like I should possibly try reading it again. The book is a big sprawling epic that explores a huge colorful cast of fictional characters, all linked to the aftermath of the true life 1976 assassination attempt on reggae superstar Bob Marley (known only as "The Singer" right before the Smile Concert in Jamaica.

It's a really fascinating story, well-researched and well-conceived by brave up-and-coming Jamaican author Marlon James. It's actually one of the most interesting stories I've read in a long time, told over a span of decades, and combining politics, gang violence, drug wars, journalism, and the CIA. The characters are interesting and detailed, the star of the show being Nina Burgess, who starts in the story as a lost young woman who once had a one-night stand with the singer and at the beginning is now lingering outside of his Jamaican mansion hoping to confront him about her unborn baby and possibly get some child support. But by the end of the book she will have evolved numerous times in a grand character arc.

So why a C+? The book and the prose becomes bloated and tedious. Marlon James, undoubtedly a great writer, seems enamored by his own writing and seemed to be flexing his muscles for all to see all throughout the book. His prose has loads of poetic style but sometimes it got distracting. But every other reviewer who's read an advanced copy seems to love it. Maybe I shouldn't have started reading this while in the midst of a big job that takes up 12 hours a day and took up most of my attention. That could have really affected my patience. Because although I really enjoyed the story itself and its characters, I felt bogged down with the writing, which wasn't helped by the fact that there were a ton of constantly switching POV characters (there's a cast list of about 70 characters at the start of the book!) . I really wanted to like this more but it might have been the wrong time to read it. I will try to tackle it again. I get a sense that the book deserves it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

THE WAYS OF THE DEAD by Neely Tucker


The Ways of the Dead is set in 1999, during a time when the internet had yet to take over the media, and newspapers are still the primary source for news. After the teenage daughter of a high-powered Washington, DC judge is killed in an inner-city alley, the murder seems pretty open and shut after three black boys are arrested for the slaying. Of course they did it, right? But a head-strong DC Metro reporter smells something fishy and suspects a link between this case and a number of unsolved murders of minority women in the neighborhood. 

We've all gotten so used to reading about private detectives or police officers investigating the mysteries in crime novels. This time it was a refreshing change to read about a newspaper reporter doing the legwork and using his skills to solve the crime. The book is the debut novel of Neely Tucker, who is himself a Washington DC area reporter, who uses his knowledge to lend a real authenticity to the day to day work of the newsmen in the book. I also love reading books set in DC, as I lived there while going to college. This one was especially enjoyable as I lived in the Park View area that is prevalent in the novel. 

There are two things that make this book worth reading. The first: Tucker has a great knack for writing dialogue that sounds the way that real people talk. It flows, feels totally authentic, but has a little extra flair. His writing style reminds me the most of Richard Price, with a little hint of George Pelecanos, two of my favorites. The second, and probably the most impressive thing about the book is the main character, Sullivan "Sully" Carter. I got a kick out of reading about him and he definitely deserves a series. Sully was blown up when reporting on the war in Bosnia (with the scars to prove it), lost his true love there, drives a Ducati sports bike he didn't exactly acquire on the straight, would prefer to drink bourbon for each meal of the day, has contacts all over the city from city prosecutors to urban gang lords, and has a dogged determination in his work.
"You never stopped moving. That was the thing. You just kept pushing, driving, asking, sticking your nose in people's faces, taking the shit, the insults, fighting back the depression and the sense of hopelessness and then, out of the void, sometimes somebody told you something."
But the major problem with this novel is the plotting. The plot itself is nothing special and seems no different than any of your run of the mill modern mysteries.  The pacing is uneven and there are also too many coincidences and convenient plot points set to push the story forward. Sully is conveniently the only person in the story who believes that there is more than meets the eye in the murder, even though it seems pretty obvious. This prevented me from enjoying the book fully, but I believe with Tucker's talent for dialogue and armed with a great character like Sully. He could turn out some great work in the future if teamed up with a solid story.

Sunday, September 14, 2014



*Book 5 of the Matthew Scudder series*

That's it. If I never read another Lawrence Block novel (I shudder at the thought), this book on it's own solidifies in my mind that Block is one of the best crime novelists out there.  But this is so much more than just a "detective novel." It's a vividly written character study of the struggle to overcome alcoholism. 

In this, the fifth book in the famed Matthew Scudder series, Matt gets hired by a beautiful hooker to convince her pimp to let her get out of the life. It eventually turns into a murder investigation. But the mystery is almost completely secondary. Since the start of the series, Matt has had a steady downward arc in regards to his drinking. In the beginning he was comfortably in denial, confident in his control. But it's gotten worse with each book. And now, even though he tries to attend AA meetings, he has hit bottom. Terrified at what he's failed to see in himself and determined to stay sober, he ends up throwing his all into searching for a killer, dedicating himself to the case more than ever before. Not necessarily to do the right thing, but because it gives him something to take his mind off of his liquor jones. You get the sense that the case is the only thing that saving him from falling off the wagon again.

The personal struggle is what puts this high above the previous Scudder books (which were all good). There's just more at stake for Matthew. Block's great writing really shines when describing Matt's struggle: detailing the denial of his lack of control, the bargaining that he goes through with himself about why he should take a sip, his feelings about the AA meetings, and his realization of how serious the problem has actually become. Matt sees liquor everywhere; temptation follows him around every corner of the investigation.

And Matt isn't the only well-drawn character. I really enjoyed reading about Jan, Matt's love interest and the person who (in the previous novel) opened his eyes to his alcoholism and the solutions, as well as Chance, the level-headed pimp that totally bucks the stereotype. I enjoyed so much of this book and it's the best installment so far in a series that will hopefully only get better.