Saturday, May 30, 2015

THE BIG GOLD DREAM by Chester Himes


*Book 4 of the Harlem Cycle*

Since absolutely loving Chester Himes's first two books in his Harlem Cycle, A Rage in Harlem and The Real Cool Killers, it's sad that the next three books that I read in the cycle have gotten progressively worse. Himes's writing is always assured and fun to read. But while both Rage and Killers feel fresh and alive and filled with memorable characters, this novel feels uninspired and was frankly boring, as if Himes was phoning it in by this time with more of the same formula. After Alberta White drops dead after drinking a bottle of water blessed by the Sweet Prophet Brown during one of his mass street baptisms, it's somehow linked to more murders and a heap of stolen money everyone wants to get their hands on. You might like it, but if you want to start reading books by Chester Himes, I wouldn't recommend starting with this one.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

THE BLONDE by Duane Swierczynski


"I poisoned your drink."
"Excuse me?"
"You heard me."
"Um, I don't think I did."
The blonde lifted her cosmopolitan. "Cheers."
And thus starts Duane Swierczynski's bizarre thriller where Jack Eisley is poisoned by a sexy crazy woman in a bar who claims that she has something in her blood that will make her head explode if she doesn't have anyone within ten feet of her at all times, and essentially takes him hostage in exchange for the antidote.

It's a set-up that forces you to pick the book up and read it, a modern Hitchcockian-thriller that's a mash-up of noir and science fiction. It's also told in what seems like real-time with clipped chapters and a Woolrich-like clock ticker. It seems like the book was tailor-made for me to love it! So why was I strangely uninvolved? I'm not sure. I mean, I love Swierczynski's writing style and humour, and there are some sequences and moments that are actually pretty clever and entertaining. But at the end of the day, it wasn't the wild, un-put-downable, rollercoaster ride that it promises to be. I was never bored, just never as interested as I should've been. It might be the fact that it felt like I was never allowed to truly engage and empathize with any of the characters. They never felt like real people to me. And some of the sequences felt forced and out of place, as if they were there just to put the characters in another crazy situation, without really adding anything to the story. The Sybian Club and the train accident for example are two sequences that could've been left out and probably not really affect the story much. 

But I loved Swierczynski's The Wheelman and I really admire the author from what I know so far. He seems fearless in his ideas and execution, creating his own genres, and all of his books just scream to be read. He's a more exciting writer than most people out there right now. I feel like I should give all of his work a chance. It's just that this one was a little disappointing.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


* Book 1 of the Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick series *

After thoroughly enjoying Money Shot, I couldn't resist squeezing in a read of Double-D Double
Cross, the first book in Christa Faust's PI series. Faust set out to write a detective book in the same hard-boiled pulp vein of the 40's and 50's, but with a queer erotic twist. The story ticks off all of the usual classic PI conventions, but instead of Mike Hammer running around solving cases and bedding dames, we have Butch Fatale, a broad-shouldered, big-titted, good-hearted, but tough-as-nails lesbian private detective, who cuts her hair like Tony Curtis and keeps a pistol and a strap-on dildo under her office desk for, you know, emergencies. 

Unlike most of our literary detectives, Butch's vice isn't liquor, it's vagina. And because her stomping grounds is sunny Los Angeles, there is plenty of temptation/distraction around. But make no mistake, Butch is also pretty formidable as an investigator, searching for a missing drug addict and ex-prostitute.  
 She looks like a Mormon quarterback but fucks like a wolverine.
Butch Fatale is a great character that really deserves a full series. She is even more fun to read than Angel Dare from Money Shot, and Faust brings her to life with writing that features her usual flair, well-tuned pacing, and clever wit. 
I've got a substantial ego, and like to think of myself as pretty bad-ass. Okay, maybe more bad-ass adjacent, but still...
While reading, you can feel how much fun Faust is having writing this story as well as her love for Butch and for the city of Los Angeles. Are there a lot of explicit sex scenes? Of course. It's an erotic crime novel so what did you expect? And as one might also expect, the book is a bit derivative, but it's still a really enjoyable and highly entertaining all the way up to a wild and crazy, climactic chase sequence from Malibu to the Palisades, an audacious sequence that has to be read to be believed! I read that last quarter of the book in glee, with a smile on my face. I hope for many more Butch Fatale books, and I'm happy to hear that Faust is already working on the next two novels, with Book 3 titled My Tongue Is Quick! How awesome is that!??


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

THE MOURNER by Richard Stark


*Book 4 of the Parker series*

There aren't loads of substance to these books so far and they're almost all plot, so I would feel weird giving them super high scores. But I really can't find much that's wrong with them. They've been very consistent so far and Richard Stark always shines with pacing, plotting, and action.

This time around, Parker has finally concluded his big F**k-you campaign against the Outfit and now he's ready to go back to doing his regular dirty deeds. But first he has to finish his business with his treacherous bed-buddy Bett Harrow, who stole his hot gun after a shootout in the last book and is blackmailing him to help her father steal a priceless 14th-century statuette thought lost for centuries. Parker's a bit pissed that his hand is being forced, but he needs the gun back, he's able to swindle a high pay day on the job as well, and the job seems simple enough. But, remember in Parker world, it's never that simple.

Although it's not remarkable, it's a solid installment in what is a good series that is fun, quick and easy-to-read, and entertaining. And that's all one can ask for!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust

This is an awesome little pulp crime novel set deep in the porn industry community of Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley, which also happens to be where I lay my head at night! It follows Angel Dare, a
former porn star who now runs an agency for new talent. One night she gets a call to shoot one last scene and she can't resist the urge to prove that she's still got it. But the shoot turns out to be a front and she winds up shot and left for dead in the trunk of a car and framed for murder. She then must use all of her wits to find those responsible and pay them back in full!

I enjoyed the character of Angel Dare, a well-rounded heroine who at first doubts herself and her ability to handle the situation that she's in, but then grows and realizes that she actually can be a badass and totally handle her own with the tough guys and take care of herself. I mean damn, she gets a bullet in the chest and still manages to walk to a local mercado and call for help! It made for interesting reading because at first, I was a little disappointed because Angel felt like your run-of-the-mill damsel in distress, feeling sorry for herself and relying on some ex-cop to help her. But then at a point in the book, you realize that this is all necessary as Angel comes into her own and evolves in a potent character arc that was enjoyable to read! Christa Faust skillfully finds a great balance with her narrative voice, injecting just the right humor at the right times, even managing to get a snicker out of the reader in tense situations.
I wanted to shout something tough and manly like Freeze motherfucker, or I'll blow your balls off! In the end I just pointed the gun and yelled, "Hey!"
And she's the real star of this crime show, that Christa Faust, writing with great confidence and wit, with good pacing and a clever style. Aside from a slightly stumbling resolution, I had lots of fun reading this and I can't wait to see what she does with her other work!
I'll also take some time to mention Glen Orbik, the awesome cover artist who also contributed other amazing covers for Hard Case Crime (including the great cover for David Goodis's The Wounded and the Slain, and the covers for the popular Hard Case's popular Stephen King and Michael Crichton releases), and who sadly passed away while I was in the middle of reading this.
Eventually, morning came instead of bad guys. That was the thing about mornings. No matter how fucked up your life got, how deep and black your despair, how sure you were that you couldn't take another second of this shit, morning just kept on coming.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015


If there wasn't suffering, men would feel no need to believe in God. The sick part is, if there is a God, he must have planned it that way.
I'd never heard of Jake Hinkson before but a friend on Goodreads recommended this book to me, showering it with praise. He has an identical taste in noir as I do and so I knew I had to read it! And now, after staying up in the wee hours of the morning to finish it, I have to agree with everyone else that's had the pleasure of reading it. It's irreverent, violent, depraved, gritty, manipulative, filthy, potentially offensive, and irresistible...everything that a proper, self-respecting noir fan looks for in a novel!
A drifter decides to rob the wrong fat man late one night and ends up bearing witness to the fat man's terrible story about what happened years ago when he was skinny and moved to Church Street in Little Rock, Arkansas to work as a youth minister, where he began to have eyes for the head priest's underage daughter.
In that instant, her face seemed to absorb all my sins. It was like looking in a mirror for the first time and discovering you're a monster.
What follows is noir of the pitch-black sort, which at times is just dripping with suspense and keeps you riveted. It's really impressive for a debut novel. The extended scene in the hospital was so tense I felt drained after reading it! But the novel is so much more than just suspense. In less than 200 pages, amidst all the craziness, Hinkson also manages a scathing exposé on the hypocrisy of organized religion. So if you're offended by stuff like this, maybe you should stay away. But if you're a thriller fan, a noir fan, or simply curious about what good pulp fiction really is, check out this little monster! I'll be reading more by Jake Hinkson soon!
"I'm going to have to hurt you. And since I'm not a sadist, I'll be angry with you for making me hurt you. That's just more weight for the soul to carry. So I'll torture you with the cold fury of a man who's been forced into it. Do you understand me?"

Sunday, May 10, 2015

DIE A LITTLE by Megan Abbott


Almost from the start, Lora King, a Pasadena schoolteacher, thinks that something fishy is going on with her mysterious new sister-in-law. In an effort to protect her pussy-whipped brother, she begins to investigate his wife's secrets, and she finds herself uncovering a world of sex, drugs, and murder. 

Given how much I enjoyed the three other books I've read by Megan Abbott, I was surprised with how disappointed I was with this one, her debut novel. I really wanted to like it more than I did, but I found the plot to be fairly unremarkable, the characters forgettable, and the book, frankly boring. I loved the idea of a bunch of dainty, sheltered, 1950's suburban wives getting caught up in the degenerate underworld of Hollywood, but the book was surprisingly delicate, too tame to really milk out its potential and be truly powerful. How awesome would it have been if Lora, this naive and innocent high school teacher, stumbled into the nasty world of a James Ellroy novel! But instead, what she stumbles into never really feels all that dangerous, more like a moderate, Decency-Code-Era movie version of the underworld. And the plot never really gave me much more than what I read in the synopsis. I hoped for more!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

THE TWO-BEAR MAMBO by Joe R. Lansdale


*Book 3 of the Hap & Leonard series*

Another great adventure for my buddies Hap Collins and Leonard Pine! Leonard has a new boyfriend but is still surly, having just burnt down the neighborhood crack house for the third Christmas Eve in a row. But to stay out of jail this time, Leonard and Hap agree to help their friend Marvin locate his girlfriend Florida Grange, who happens to be Leonard's old lawyer and Hap's former sweet thang. The stakes are pretty high though this go round because Florida, an attractive black woman, was last seen in Grovetown, which is not only being threatened by heavy rains and flooding, but which also happens to be the most scummy hotbucket of racism this side of Texas, which doesn't bode well for an ex-hippie and his black, gay best friend with a hot temper. 
"Hell, I can't figure Raul. He's all mopey and shit. Today is the anniversary of when we met, and he wanted us to go out to dinner, go to a movie, do some serious fucking. I wanted us to do that too, but I didn't want it getting in the way of me killing somebody."
Lansdale does it once again, creating a thoroughly entertaining country romp, that's well-balanced with great dialogue, action, laugh-out-loud comedy, surprising insight and depth, and even a somber bleakness this time as our heroes realize that they may have stepped into some serious shit that they might not be able to handle. Again, there's a great cast of colorful characters that really stand out (Charlie really flew off the page this time) and in three books I've developed a really fondness for Hap and Leonard, I don't want them hurt, and I'm invested in their adventures. Mr. Lansdale created something special with this series and these characters so far.
"No one is anything better than human. Just some humans are better humans than others, but the best humans are still just human."

Sunday, May 3, 2015

MIXED BLOOD by Roger Smith


Set in Cape Town, South Africa, described in the novel as the "rape and murder capital of the world," Mixed Blood brings together an ensemble of disparate characters that all collide after a violent suburban home invasion that ends in bloodshed and cover-up.

This book by Roger Smith, just like his hard-hitting novella that I read last year, Ishmael Toffee, is rough, violent, and not for the faint of heart. If I could describe Smith's writing in one word it would be: "extreme." Not necessarily extreme in its violence but more extreme in its characterization. Almost every character has had the hardest life imaginable, and the villains were absolute monsters. One of the characters is not only a crack whore with a heart of gold who's beaten constantly by her boyfriend, but she was also molested by her father when she was a child, resulting in two abortions, then abandoned by her mother. And the main villain is a fat ass, saved-soul boer with halitosis and hemorrhoids, and also the most corrupt cop you will read about for a while. I couldn't even imagine him solving an actual crime for the greater good. 
Rudi Barnard loved Jesus Christ, gatsbys, and killing people. And out here in the Flats he could feel that love the most.
The characters were always fascinating, but the piling on of "hard times" sometimes felt like Smith was just trying too hard to be edgy. And while sometimes multiple POV's work, here it felt like it took away from really digging deep into some of the characters, especially the fugitive Jack Burn, who has fled the U.S. to hide out in South Africa, and who can be argued as being the main character.

But, superficially, the book really works and Smith really knows how to spin an exciting tale that keeps you riveted. He excels in creating a visceral sense of place in his urban Cape Town, a city that feels like it can never truly escape the horrors of apartheid. The book just pumps with local atmosphere, and there's a real sense of place, similar to what Richard Price and George Pelecanos are able to do in their work. This is definitely worth picking up if you're in the mood for a solid thriller about how the actions of our past one day catches up with all of us. By the end, some characters find redemption and some are sent to meet their mothers, but everyone gets what they deserve.