Monday, March 26, 2018

THE LISTENER by Robert McCammon

McCammon is one of our most naturally gifted storytellers. There's a folksy quality to his work that is charming and enchanting and I can't help but love it. When it's paired with a strong story he's among the best of the best. His new novel is one of the better standalone books he's written in a while and a great showcase for his style and the qualities that make him stand out. It's a 1930's Depression period piece that begins as an awesome pulpy sleaze noir about a morally shifty grifter, the cutthroat harpy he gets tangled with and the kidnapping scheme they concoct, but then the story morphs into a magical adventure thriller about the telepathic New Orleans redcap that gets in their way, and somehow it all works!
He didn’t doubt that Hell wouldn’t claim Ginger LaFrance before the count got to a mere three. For the moment, though, he had first dibs on her. And boy, did he mean to get his Satan’s share of payback.
Also, even though I've got a thing for dark and gloomy crime stories with morally flawed characters, I also really do appreciate characters that are undeniably likable and that's also something McCammon excels at, this time giving us the character of Curtis Mayhew, a genuinely nice guy you can't help but care for and root for immediately.

Even though his Matthew Corbett series is top-notch, this sports some of McCammon's best prose in a long time, stirring and touching writing that feels like it's told around a campfire or at bedtime. And although I feel like he still can be long-winded and the some of the third act overstays it's welcome a little, it's all brought to a close with a really moving conclusion.
They stood in the beautiful room, neither speaking, each uncomfortable in their unaccustomed freedom, both waiting on the other like shadows soon to pass.
Read this. Now.


Monday, March 12, 2018

FUN & GAMES by Duane Swierczynski

*Book 1 of the Charlie Hardie Trilogy*

Damn, talk about a thriller! This thing comes guns blazing right out the gate and maintains it's fast pace all the way through. One thing you definitely can't say about Swierczynski is that he's boring. He really knows how to keep the reader interested. He tells us the story of Charlie Hardie, an ex-police "consultant" who is trying to distance himself from mistakes in the past by enjoying the exile and solitude of house sitting. On his latest job in the Hollywood Hills, he stumbles onto a beautiful woman claiming to be hunted by a connected network of professional assassins, and the action only rises from there.

One thing I've noticed about Swierczynski's work is that he's not afraid to go over the top. But he does it with so much gusto and confidence that I totally go with it. Sometimes that walk on the tightrope of ridiculousness is what makes things really engrossing. The book also doesn't ignore the important stuff either, which sets it apart from your usual forgettable action thriller. Instead of slow-paced exposition at the beginning, the backstory and character development is cleverly laced into the action throughout, so not only do we get discoveries and twists amidst the real time action, but we're also constantly learning new twists about the history of the characters. In my opinion, this is one of the smartest things a writer can do to keep a reader engaged.

If you're curious about how to write great thrillers, check out this and Swierczynski's other work, to see how clever plotting and structure, humor, relatable characters and fearlessness can leading to pure entertainment.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

THE WARREN by Brian Evenson

Brian Evenson has a knack for mood setting in his stories, and he delivers atmosphere for days in this existential psychological sci-fi portrait. It's a fascinating little mind-fuck that I'm not sure I fully understand but it definitely kept my interest. It defies description a bit but think of it in the same vein as the movies Solaris or Moon. But, you know how it can get super annoying when someone keeps answering your serious questions with other questions? That's also what this book felt like.


Friday, March 2, 2018

GOTHAM CENTRAL OMNIBUS by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka

You know that Gotham City is a pretty screwed up place when a story focusing solely on the city's cops is just as compelling as the ones focusing on it's cape-wearing, billionaire vigilante. That's the case in this multiple award winning series by now superstar writers Brubaker and Rucka (splitting the writing duties between the day shift and night shift, and rotating story arcs). The detectives of the GCPD Major Crimes Unit are the stars here, in a constant struggle to navigate the dangerous criminal world of Gotham, all while dealing with sometimes playing second fiddle to a crazy person that runs around in a bat costume, overshadows their efforts, and undermines their authority, leaving them to constantly clean up his damn mess.

I loved seeing the Bat-world from this point of view of regular Joe's just trying to make a living: whether it's seeing the lasting effects that a super-weapon like Mr. Freeze's gun would have on a person, the day-to-day bureaucracy behind who will turn the switch on the Bat-Signal, or seeing how the mad chaos caused by The Joker could put the fear of god in a whole town.

Although I wish all of them got equal attention, all of the characters are enjoyable and well-drawn, lending to further ground the comic book atmosphere. Most of the story arcs were great but the standouts to me were:

"Soft Targets," about the unit trying to hunt down the Joker as he holds Gotham hostage during Christmas.

"Dead Robin," about the investigation of a serial killer dressing up his victims as the Boy Wonder.

"Corrigan," where Det. Renee Montoya must clear her partner's name after evidence is removed from the scene of an officer involved shooting by a corrupt forensics officer

And of course, the award-winning "Half a Life," in which Montoya's life gets turned upside down after being targeted by an unknown stalker.

This series is a must-read, and you don't need to be a Batman fan or reader to really enjoy this. The character is barely in this and only once in a while makes an appearance. It's less of a Batman book and something closer to NYPD Blue or Homicide: Life on the Street. So get on this quickly, especially if you love police procedurals!