Thursday, June 30, 2016


Armed with a tempting and provocatively high concept plot, this new novel shot it's way to the top of my reading list for the year. This is a mystery novel that begs to be read, about an alternate present-day where the Civil War never happened, and slavery still exists in four Southern states, and about a freed black agent for the Federal Marshalls that infiltrates abolitionist cells to track down runaway slaves. I felt obligated to read it, to at least see where the concept goes from there. But it seems that this is what the author is banking on as well, because that great concept is really all there is. Beyond the cool premise is a book that moves like a stumbling drunk, awkward and tripping over itself.

The writing is clunky and the main character wooden,trying hard to be compelling but never really getting there. Winters also tries to put his cool idea to use, by dropping a few world-building alternate history nuggets throughout the story (like James Brown being a runaway slave that finds shelter in Europe and becomes a superstar there), but they ultimately feel inelegant and unearned due to the fact that the heart of the story never really engages. In fact, the whole novel feels like an early rough draft, with ideas and story points that never truly click. I give this a low score because if you take away the fancy premise, what are we really left with in this book?

I received an advanced copy of this book from Mulholland Books in exchange for an honest review.


Friday, June 24, 2016

DEATH'S SWEET SONG by Clifton Adams

"But all things end, if you wait long enough."
The plot is classic pulp noir. A man meets a married babe that he can't stop pining over and is ultimately drawn into a sandpit of crime that he can't crawl out of no matter how hard he tries. We've seen this plot many times before, obviously. But where lesser writers of the time expected us to just accept the fact that the man immediately falls for the fatale and would do anything for her,  Adams takes time here to really build Joe Hooper's motivation. We quickly feel his disillusion with his motel/gas station business, his desire to get out of his dead-end hometown, his disappointment with his bland girlfriend Beth, and his excitement and hard-on for the seductive Paula Sheldon when she shows up in town with her husband. So by the time the plot kicks into high gear and Joe decides to get his hands on a payroll heist and his hands on Paula Sheldon's short shorts, we understand his desire to seize an opportunity and we're along for the ride.

And Clifton Adams, mostly known as a successful Western writer, proves to be a master at pacing, never letting the reader up for air for a second. He also crafts a strong lead character in Joe Hooper, especially in the anguish he feels at his father's growing disappointment in him as things go from bad to worse. The small handful of crime pulp that Adams wrote in his career, including this one, are considered some of the best of the classic noir era. While the plot may be very familiar to fans of classic pulp, it's only with the master writers that you see it done with such a knack for pace, tension, and command of the material.
"You wouldn't like my world," she said. "You wouldn't like me either, after you got to know me."

"The way I feel about you has nothing to do with liking you. I just have to have you. As for this world of yours, all I ask is that it be different from the one I've known all my life."

Thursday, June 16, 2016

THE GRIFTERS by Jim Thompson

Ok, here goes. I started to read The Grifters and got about 70 pages in until I began to wonder whether or not, I was reading the right book. Like maybe it was a novelization of the movie (which I haven't seen)? Because not only did I love the two other Jim Thompson books I've read previously, so many people are fans of this particular book and it couldn't possibly be the one I was reading, right? I was expecting an entertaining con man thriller at worst, or another masterpiece of noir at best. But what I was reading was a bland soap opera about a love triangle between a short-con artist, his mother and his girlfriend. Maybe if I knew that's what it was from the start, I would've enjoyed it... It just kept going back and forth about his Roy's mommy issues, and his conflicting desires to leave grifting behind. I even looked up the Wikipedia synopsis to make sure that I wasn't missing anything.

I didn't. I was pretty uninterested, but I thought: Okay, this is building a set-up and then Thompson is gonna start putting it into overdrive in the 2nd half. Then the 2nd half of the book came and went. And it was more of the same, even up to the ending that people supposedly love. A big redeeming factor though is that Thompson's narrative voice is so enjoyable to read. That kept me going. But ultimately, I was disappointed that this one wasn't for me, and I'm most definitely in the very small minority. I thought the characters were easily forgettable and story itself pretty uneventful.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust

*Book 2 in the Angel Dare series*

Angel Dare has been trying to keep her head down after her Witness Protection has been compromised. The former porn-star turned vigilante has been working at a small Arizona diner when her ex-boyfriend and scene partner Slick Vic Ventura shows up, bringing her past right back to her doorstep. Angel promises Vic that she'll look after his estranged son, an aspiring MMA fighter, and they both end up on the run across the Southwest. And so begins a new memorable, action-packed novel by the talented Christa Faust.

Although this time around, Angel is on the run and in defense mode rather than on a mission to hunt down her attackers the way she did in the first book, Money Shot, she is no less a badass and the book is just as good as the first one! Faust's writing is always witty and entertaining, and filled with memorable characters, very much like the writing of Joe R. Lansdale, especially in his Hap and Leonard series. And like Lansdale, Faust has a wonderful knack for pacing. I've now read three of her books and I haven't been bored for a second. Once again, Angel is a fun character, willing to do whatever is necessary to survive. It's also fresh reading about sex where it's not treated as this dainty virtue that needs to be handled with kid gloves but it's also not treated like a male porn fantasy either. We're all adults here and sex is an integral part of Angel's character (she's more comfortable with sex than real intimacy), she is in complete control over it, and it's simply just another weapon in her arsenal. This is another good novel by Faust, it's a sequel that lives up to the first, and I definitely recommend it. And I'm still waiting impatiently for the second Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick novel!