Monday, August 29, 2016

DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch

It's really hard to find something else to add to the ton of accolades that's already been heaped onto this book, one of the most talked about novels of the year. The story by Blake Crouch, of a physics professor who is kidnapped one night and forced into an adventure beyond anyone's wildest imagination, has all the elements of crowd-pleasing, perfectly escapist entertainment. It has an amazing concept on which Crouch expertly adds layers upon layer, forcing me deeper into the rabbit hole. But not only does the concept make for great entertainment but it's also an ingenious way to tackle the issues that Crouch is really after: choices, regret, and what it truly means to love your family.

Along with a tender romance, a likable protagonist, and possibly the worst villain you can imagine, this book is a fast-moving adventure story that kept me reading past all the acceptable time limits! I'll just stop now because I don't have much more to add other than what others have already written. The book is cool as hell and much more fun than this redundant review.

Go read it.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A F*CKLOAD OF SHORTS by Jedidiah Ayres

Jedidiah Ayres is such a great writer that if he wrote more accessible stuff like a coming of age family drama or a thriller with the word Girl in the title, he would be a household name. But instead he writes stuff like this collection of stories full of depraved violence, filthy sex, disturbing psychology, comedy blacker than the darkest night, and characters devoid of any moral center and it's all for the better. It's one of the best written pieces of work I've read this year by a writer more people should know about. Most of the stories in this collection shouldn't work; they should feel too ridiculous. And Ayres takes these things to places you were sure he wouldn't dare go, but you'll be so wrapped up in his storytelling flair, that by the time you get to the witch-burning and the necrophilia, you will simply be along for the ride.

He tries his hands at a variety of genres here, from noir, Western, apocalyptic, or a couple of comedies that have a Friends of Eddie Coyle-ish stream-of-dialogue style, but he puts his own twisted spin on all of them. Try reading "Hoosier Daddy," "The Whole Buffalo," or this bewildering and tantalizing passage near the beginning of "The Adversary," and not want to read everything else he's written:
The witch had been holding ceremonies. Sacrifices. Poultry mostly. She blessed and hexed for a fee and she'd send and deliver messages across the Stygian chasms separating worlds.  All of her arts were brought over from the Dark Continent and she practiced in the woods under penalty of death by the Law of Moses, which the Reverend Chalfont Avery was charged with upholding now in the face of Armageddon.  He had been present at her execution, a willing and enthusiastic participant, but the kicking feet of the blasphemer brought not the warmth of God to his soul, so they torched her home to mirror the flames of Hades and on them he warmed his hands.
It's a shame that this book is out of print by SnubNose Press. I'm lucky to have stumbled onto a used copy in an LA bookstore. If you can find it, snatch it up. But if you can't, his novella Fierce Bitches is the best thing I've read so far this year, and I'm sure his full-length novel, Peckerwood, which I haven't read yet (soon come), is just as great.


Sunday, August 21, 2016


Sometimes, when presented with the opportunity to be a good samaritan, maybe you should think about just leaving well enough alone!

I'm sure Nick Gillis realizes this, after he helps a beautiful girl at a bar, and ends up on the radar of Chad Toll, the most dangerous dude in town. If Nick's own trouble trying to get over the suicide of his wife wasn't enough, now he has a psycho fascinated with him.

Chad, the charming psycho in question, is a well-illustrated, three-dimensional villain, who takes Nick on a date to watch classic films at the drive-in, before taking the most brutal act of revenge you'll read in fiction this year. He's one of the keys to the book's success, providing a quiet menace that permeates the book, even in scenes where he's absent, as if he can just pop up when you aren't expecting him and shocking you again with stunning violence. I'm sure that's how protagonist Nick Gillis felt too! This is a gripping novel that maintains the danger from beginning to end.
He pulled her tighter and she continued to cry. He felt better than he had in a long time. His own demons could sleep while he was dealing with hers. But even the relief nagged at him. Was it worth it? Leave one hell to vacation in another? And how long until he had to go back home?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


*Book 2 in the Underworld, U.S.A. Trilogy*
"You never know when you might rub shoulders with history."
Well here it is, the book that ends my A grade streak with James Ellroy's books. But it's definitely not a bad book, just not as impressively crafted as the others and much more difficult to read.

John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, all assassinated within five years, all by lone gunmen who all claimed to not be the only ones involved. Coincidence? James Ellroy thinks not, and just as in the stellar American Tabloid, he deconstructs the turbulent 1960's and rewrites his own version of American history during that time, leading up to the deaths of RFK and MLK. Picking up immediately after the JFK assassination at the end of Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand follows our characters cleaning up after the killing that has shaken the country to its core and they struggle to define their roles in the history being made. Pete Bondurant dedicates himself to staying useful and to mending his fraying relationship to the Mob and the CIA, dreaming of rekindling his Anti-Communist glory days that led up to the Cuban crisis, while Ward Littell uses all the skills he's learned from Kemper Boyd, dangerously juggling alliances with everyone from the Mob, Howard Hughes, the FBI, and the Civil Rights movement, and at the same time feeling increasing guilt with his role in a rising number of conspiracies. Debuting into this mess is Wayne Tedrow Jr., a Las Vegas cop struggling to avoid following in his racist father's footsteps, but tragic circumstances allow him to embrace the darkness within. And looming over everything is J. Edgar Hoover, the Emperor Palpatine of the Ellroy galaxy, increasingly unhinged, crafting conspiracies from behind a desk, wire-tapping every room in the country, struggling to make the country great again.

One of the things that made me fall in love with Ellroy's work is his ability to pull together an immense encyclopedia of material and, through the use of some black magic, craft these tight tales and characters that are engaging and fully memorable. And though his past five masterpieces that I've read haven't been short, this is the first of his work that I actually think is too long. And Ellroy takes his prose-style to the extreme here and that doesn't help. It's exhausting and many times tedious, and there are whole parts that I don't think were all that necessary; the Vietnam storyline in particular didn't really amount to much or affect much of anything. I wish that Ellroy spent less time on that and more time really fleshing out the character arcs, which weren't as finely tuned as in his previous novels. I wanted to feel the conflict in Ward Littell more as he feels the pull of the Left even though he tries so hard to be part of the Right. His story could've been the most fascinating. I wanted to further explore Wayne Junior's acceptance and rationalization of his racism. While all of these ideas were great, I just wish they were fleshed out more.

But the book is still an Ellroy book and like most of his work, it's an epic that stands out in a crowded field of fiction. There are times when the declarative sentence style really shines, as in a chapter where Littell witnesses firsthand the horrors that haunt the civil rights movement. It was also great catching up with old characters from previous books, or witnessing infamous history from a different perspective, like the JFK assassination clean-up, Sonny Liston's alleged Outfit ties, the plots to discredit Dr. King, or the recruitment of both Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray. There were times when the book hovered around an A-, but alas I have to settle on a B-. Hopefully the next book I read from him is back to the A-quality I've come to expect!