Saturday, January 31, 2015



Just as in his novel Winter's Bone, in this book author Daniel Woodrell moves beyond usual "modern noir," and into something closer to rural tragedy set in his world of the Missouri Ozark mountains. This Oedipal tale is about the relationship between young "Shug" Akins and his mother Glenda. Glenda is attractive and apparently irresistible to the opposite sex, which is a sad situation because she makes terrible decisions when it comes to men.
Granny said Mom could make 'Hello, there" sound so sinful you'd run off and wash your ears after hearing it, then probably come back to hear it again.
Shug's dead beat father, Red, (and there's a good chance he might not even be his real father) is still in the picture. He's emotionally and physically abusive to both Glenda and Shug, and forces Shug to steal prescription drugs for him. But things get even more complicated when a pleasant, smooth-talking cook in a sexy green Thunderbird rolls into town, and has eyes for Glenda.

On the surface, The Death of Sweet Mister seems like a short, simple read, but it's anything but that. Woodrell is less concerned with plot and more concerned with evoking his literary world of the Ozark community and his complex characters that live there. But the plot was even less of propulsive than the murder mystery in Winter's Bone, and at the start, the POV of Shug Avery was somehow difficult for me to engage with. But about halfway through the novel it stuck and by the sad and troubling conclusion, I enjoyed it. But I wouldn't recommend it to everyone though. There are some disturbing themes in the story and if you're looking for a fast-paced plot, you probably won't find it here. Usually I would be one of those people, but for some reason, so far Woodrell's writing fascinates me.
The bottle where I hid my lifelong screams busted wide. The screams flew loose where nobody could hear.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

SAVAGE SEASON by Joe R. Lansdale


*Book 1 of the Hap and Leonard series*

I really loved The Thicket last year when I chose it to quench my thirst for a good Western read. I was impressed by how engaging the writing was. I decided this year to jump into more books by author Joe Lansdale, and I thought a good start would be his popular Texas crime series featuring his characters Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. This first novel in the series lived up to my lofty expectations!

Hap & Leonard are best buddies, are minding their own business and shooting some skeet in Hap's backyard, when a cute blond heartbreaker walks back into Hap's life, offering more of that sweet love that he remembers fondly. But like any experienced femme fatale knows, most human men would agree to any post-coital request no matter how stupid. So in bed, he agrees to help her and her new man find a treasure trove of cash lost after a bank heist years ago. 
 "I didn't want to be anywhere near Trudy right then. I had a hunch she would have harsh words to say about me and Leonard, and I wasn't up to it. I didn't want her to get me near a bed either. She could really talk in bed, and if she talked long enough and moved certain parts of her body just right, I might agree to have Leonard shot at sunset."
Lansdale is one of those writers that makes it seem so easy. He manages to find that balance between economic storytelling and lyrical, expressive prose; a balance that my favorite writers possess. It makes for a captivating read that's entertaining and still leaves an impression. In just this one book, Hap and Leonard become two of the most enjoyable protagonists I've come across in a crime series. They seem like two guys I'd like to be friends with and so I would be willing to go on any adventure with them in the future. In this way, they're right up there with Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins and Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Gennaro as some of my favorite crime heroes. Likeable, everyday people caught up in dark, extraordinary situations, where they have to step up and be heroes. Hap and Leonard are so different on the surface but are perfect compliments for each other, making for hilarious banter between them that makes the proceedings that much more enjoyable. Can't wait to see what craziness they get into next.
"Yea, that money could make up for a lot of missed ambitions, but without it we were nothing more than a batch of losers, standing cold and silly, empty-handed on the muddy bank of an unnamed creek."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL by James Ellroy

*Book 3 of the L.A. Quartet*

L.A. Confidential feels like the book that James Ellroy has been preparing for and working up to
during his entire career up to this point. He takes all of the themes he explored in previous novels and packs them into a book that's an even larger, more epic tale of crime, perversion, and Hollywood corruption than any of his previous books. L.A. Confidential tells the story of three LAPD officers who are initially at odds with one another after the infamous Bloody Christmas police brutality scandal and once again cross paths after a bloody massacre at the Nite Owl coffee shop in Hollywood. At first, each of them are involved in separate investigations. Slowly these mysteries all seem to connect to the Nite Owl in some way and ultimately, the men must learn to put there differences aside as they realize that they are neck deep in a scandal bigger than anything they could've imagined, one that goes beyond the Nite Owl Massacre, that involves filth porn, heroin, tabloid extortion, a popular kid's theme park (Disneyland anyone?), and high-class whores cut to look like movie stars.

I mentioned before that the novel is even more epic than the previous ones in the L.A. Quartet, but is so huge that it's hard to keep track of at times, which makes for a slower read than the more focused stories in The Black Dahlia and The Big Nowhere. It has the most complicated mystery and conspiracy that I've ever read, so complicated that it seems to involve ever person living in L.A. County, and even the characters sometimes have to create graphs to keep track of everything. But no one could've wrangled all of these threads into something coherent other than author James Ellroy, showing his tremendous skill as a writer. And this is the novel where he begins his experimentation with his writing style, moving toward the clipped, manic, jazzy prose that he uses in later novels.

As usual, the characters in this were fascinating, strong men with weaknesses and dark secrets, who through their investigation, seek something close to redemption. Edmund Exley is a young officer living under his father's shadow and a war hero reputation based on a lie, and who is an ambitious, by-the-book, do-gooder who believes in the pursuit of absolute justice and willing to rat out his fellow officers and be hated by everyone to move up in the department. Wendell "Bud" White is a bruising, hard co cop, haunted by witnessing the violent murder of his mother by his father, and takes it out on woman beaters that he arrests. He hates the fact that he's seen as lacking the intelligence to be a good detective, only good with his fists, and he becomes obsessed with privately investigating a string of hooker murders. And finally there's "Trashcan" Jack Vincennes, a Narcotics officer with his own skeletons in his closet, who's dead set on arresting drug users, but more importantly, he strives for Hollywood stardom, consulting on a hit cop show, rousts celebrity druggies, and gives exclusive dirt to tabloid writer Sid Hudgens and his Hush Hush scandal mag in exchange for cash, article write-ups, and a photo op. He begins investigating the production of porno picture books, and we realize that Trashcan Jack might also have an unhealthy obsession with what's between the pages of the books that he finds. The way that each story evolves and interconnects is truly something to behold! This book has enough story for 5 novels, but somehow it's told in about 500 pages. How that's even possible is beyond me...

The movie based on this book is one of my top five favorites, and reading this novel made me appreciate it even more. I've realized it's probably the best movie adaptation of a book to date. How it takes this loaded story that could be adapted into a 10-part miniseries, and successfully converts it into an exciting and engaging 2 hour, 20 minute movie is a feat that really should be recognized. Obviously the movie is missing lots of the story from the book, but the movie really stands on it's own, and skillfully combines multiple characters and creates new scenes and themes that still works to tell the story in an effective way. Although it's sadly missing much of Jack Vincennes's intriguing storyline, it introduces new backstory elements that I wish were in the book (Rollo Tomasi), strengthens the Bud and Exley dynamic, and makes Lynn Bracken an even stronger character. The fact that the movie is at times even better than the book and can stand on it's own really says something about the adaptation. I would suggest both seeing the movie and reading the book, as there is something to be gained by both.

James Ellroy is quickly becoming one of my favorites and I can't wait to soon read White Jazz and his other books. Anyway Dear Reader, that's all the dirt that's fit to print. And you heard it here first, off-the-record, on the QT, and very Hush Hush.


Sunday, January 11, 2015



Pelecanos is undeniably one of my favorite authors, so of course I had to jump headfirst into this newly-released collection of his short fiction, although I was already familiar with some of the stories. Fellow fans of the author will find many of his usual strengths on display here: his knack for creating flawed but sympathetic characters, his way with dialogue, and the potent atmosphere that he's able to convey in his urban D.C. environments. 

One of the best examples of this is the first story in the collection, and possibly one of Pelecanos's best pieces, "The Confidential Informant." It's about an aging nobody who still lives with his parents, and becomes a CI for a local detective. It's a tale filled with an air of sadness, as the main character is still desperate for his parent's approval and he believes that he's finally found his calling as a snitch. Another story that's just as good, "String Music," follows a teen streetball player, who struggles to find a balance between being tough and being smart on the street. It was also refreshing reading "String Music" during the current atmosphere in the U.S. between the public and police officers. The character of Sergeant Peters is everything that a good cop should be. He's in touch with the community that he polices and has a relationship with people there. So instead of seeing the neighborhood as a place to flex his power and bust heads, he sees it as a place to protect. So kudos to Pelecanos for writing a cop character that can stand as an example for the real ones. These two stories feature some of the best writing that he has done.

One of the things that's always struck me about Pelecanos is the fact that he's probably the only non-black novelist who has a talent for constantly writing complex, honest, and fully realized black characters from the inner city. This can be credited not only to the fact that he's lived all of his life in "Chocolate City," but to what seems to be an acute sensitivity to the people and world around him. It's something I've noticed in all of his work. He can be described the same way the social worker in the short story "Chosen" describes Van and Eleni Lucas (Spero Lucas's adopted parents), who adopt two African-American boys: he never feels over-earnest, or trying too hard to be multicultural. His work feels genuine, unlike someone like Quentin Tarantino, who always seems to be trying too hard.

Most of the stories are solid, with the title novella being the weak link. The story is filled with tons of unnecessary detail about the inner workings of a movie set, to the point where most readers would lose interest. I got a kick out of it because I work in that industry and it was fun to see it written very accurately, but it did make the story much longer than it needed to be. At first, I couldn't understand the main character's motivations for looking into the death of another crew member, but by the end, his motivations are revealed and they're pretty interesting. The ending was satisfying, but the novella would have made a better short story. 

I wouldn't recommend readers new to Pelecanos to start here, but it's a great, necessary addition to his work and would definitely recommend it to fans.
"I took the ball and dribbled it up. I knew what I was gonna do, knew exactly where I was gonna go with it, knew wasn't nobody out there could stop me. I wasn't thinkin about Wallace or the stoop of my mom's shoulders or which nigga was gonna be lookin to fuck my baby sister, and I wasn't thinkin on no job or college test or my future or nothin like that. 
I was concentratin on droppin that pill through the hole. Watching myself doin it before I did. Out here in the sunshine, every dark thing far away. Runnin ball like I do."

Thursday, January 8, 2015

THE WHEELMAN by Duane Swierczynski


When it comes to big loads of money, trust nobody!
I probably wouldn't last very long as a career criminal. I probably would be on the edge the whole time and might blow everyone away because I wouldn't be able to trust that any of my partners would be loyal. If I tried to pull a heist, the outcome might look a bit like this fun novel about a mute getaway driver during the most disastrous heist of his career. Lennon and his partners make their getaway from a $650K bank heist, but immediately all hell breaks loose!

The action almost never lets up throughout the entire novel, constantly growing into a complex web of colorful characters, twists and turns, and enough double- and triple-crosses to fill three Dashiell Hammett books and a season of 24. This is a fast-paced read and definitely one of the most entertaining novels I've read in a while! I love how each character introduced had more to him or her than met the eye at first, and they brought something new to the plot and pushed it along in a unique way. My favorite character was probably Saugherty, the corrupt ex-cop who made his way through the entire story drunk as a skunk, but surprisingly very functional. 

Action-packed, and at times downright hilarious, I would recommend this to any fan of crime thrillers. If Elmore Leonard got a little buzzed and tried to churn out a Richard Stark novel, this book might've been the product!
"This bastard, Lennon decided, was going to die the slowest of slow deaths. The kind where you start out with a cheese grater and a blowtorch, and things escalate from there."

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Favorite Books that I Read in 2014

So I decided to jump on the bandwagon and post my thoughts on what I read this past year. Keep in mind, I haven't read that many 2014-released books this year, so a lot of these are just my favorite books that I personally read this year. Many people might not care, but maybe this can at least be a good record for myself of my taste in 2014. And maybe a few people out there might discover a new book or author to read!

Favorite Novel I Read in 2014:

The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Notable Mentions:
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

Favorite Novel Actually Released in 2014:

Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore by Walter Mosley
*It's not like this book was drop dead perfect or anything (as I said, I didn't read man 2014 releases this year), but for some reason this one really touched me.

Notable Mentions:
The Martian by Andy Weir
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Favorite Author Discovery:

James Ellroy (books read: The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere)
*Ellroy is everything I want in an author: detailed characterization and plotting, great dialogue, crackling prose. Why I took so long to read him I have no idea

Notable Mentions:
Junot Diaz
Jim Thompson
Gabriel García Márquez
Lawrence Block
Megan Abbott

Book that Lived Up To Its Hype:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
*Gone Girl is just as twisted, enthralling, and exciting as everyone claimed

Biggest Disappointment:

S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams
*S. had such an awesome concept and gorgeous book design, but it fell totally flat, and strangely boring.

Book That I Deserves a Re-Read:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
*Although I admired it, I feel that I didn't read it at the right time, and possibly missed out on really enjoying it. Re-reading soon!

Favorite Crime Novel:

The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy

Notable Mentions:
Eight Million Ways To Die by Lawrence Block

Favorite Noir:

Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliot Chaze
*This book is a perfect noir and should be considered a classic. Lean prose, a cool title, kinky sex, violence, a heist, tragic lovers, and a great ending!

Notable Mentions:
A Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson
Pick-up by Charles Willeford

Favorite Series That I Started and I'm Most Excited About:

Matthew Scudder Series by Lawrence Block
Crissa Stone Series by Wallace Stroby

Creepiest Novel:

The Deep by Nick Cutter

Most Entertaining Novel:

The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

Notable Mentions:
The Martian by Andy Weir

Favorite Short Story:

"Going To Meet The Man" (from the collection Going To Meet The Man: Stories) by James Baldwin

Favorite Short Story Collection:

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

Saturday, January 3, 2015

IT'S ONLY DEATH by Lee Thompson


"They clubbed me and tossed me into the truck of a new pink Cadillac shortly after midnight. I knew the car and couldn't figure out at first why it had to be her car. But the last three days, since I blew back into Miami, had been building up to this. I'd had old enemies who were just waiting for my mother to die so they could kill me, and I had made new enemies while trying to forge a bond with my sister that I had irrevocably broken when I killed our father ten years ago."
I know that it's preferred that reviewers not quote from an Advanced Copy of a book but I couldn't resist showing potential readers how skilled a writer Lee Thompson can be! He includes more story in this book's first paragraph than most authors have in the first half of their work! Here, he not only sets up time and setting, but also introduces the important characters, their relationships , and provides key details in an intriguing way that serves as an awesome taste of things to come! And he does all of this with impressive economy!

Elmore James Jackson has been on the lam for a decade, after killing his father in a spur-of-the-moment bank robbery, shattering his family. He finally rolls back into his small Florida hometown after he's contacted by his younger sister and finds out that his mother is dying of cancer. Naturally, he has a plethora of enemies that would love to snuff him out as soon as possible. But he hopes that before that happens he can make peace with his Mom and reconnect with his estranged sister. 

It's Only Death is a gripping story, well-written in James's engrossing POV. It's a smooth read, and at times, I lost track of time as the story sucked me in and moved at a great pace. Thompson creates an interesting character in James, a man difficult to empathize with at first, but the author succeeds in making me engaged in his decisions and obstacles, and his desire to reconnect to the loved ones he hurt before it's too late. But probably even more interesting, when you learn more about James's relationship with his parents and what might have caused his violence, you realize that there's a strong possibility that James might be a sociopath. I wish Thompson delved into this a bit more, as I think that's the most fascinating part of the story. It's Only Death is a solid piece of crime writing and I can't wait to delve into more of Thompson's work.

*I received this Advanced Copy from publisher DarkFuse through NetGalley for an honest review*