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."