Monday, March 29, 2021

MY DARKEST PRAYER by S.A. Cosby

For a while, I've been staying away from most "detective" novels because I began to find them repetitive and not fulfilling anymore. I longed for something more than just solving a mystery over and over. But every now and then, a standard mystery comes along and impresses me! I read Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby recently and I really enjoyed it and sought out his previous debut novel. I enjoyed this one just as much and I can confidently say that he truly is a rising star to watch. 

This book is armed with a cool, collected protagonist, who's pretty badass but not ridiculously so, tortured but not in a forced, clichéd way. Nate Waymaker works as an undertaker in his small Virginia town, but has been hired by the local church ladies to look into the mysterious death of a clergyman with a shaky past. The strange thing is that Cosby falls into many tropes here, with a structure lifted right out of Devil In a Blue Dress and with a hero who seems to be able to get every woman in the world drop their panties for him. But at the same time there was something that felt genuine about the novel, as if I was reading these clichés for the first time. The characters jump off the page, the dialogue is rich and grounded, and I enjoyed witnessing this author crafting a good story while finding his voice.

GRADE: B-


Monday, March 15, 2021

THE DAMAGE DONE by Hilary Davidson

I was really impressed by Hilary Davidson's work after reading her suspenseful and surprising novel, Blood Always Tells, and her short story collection, The Black Widow Club. She's got a real knack for crafting twisty thrillers and her work is objectively entertaining. But this debut novel, the one that put her on the map, was a bit of a disappointment. And not because of her lack of talent. Some of it is because of my recent aversion to the repetitiveness inherent in standard mystery/detective novels. But much of it is also because it just got so damned boring. The stakes seem very low through most of this book, as we follow travel writer and expatriate Lily Moore as she returns to New York City to find out who murdered her sister. 

I normally gravitate toward elevated tension and high stakes, so reading about Lily wandering around asking people questions about her sister didn't really do it for me. For most of the book there's not much danger or even much intrigue, and I kept questioning why I was even reading it, unlike the other work that I've read from her, which was much more engaging. But this award-winning work was a relative hit so it might just be my taste at the moment. Davidson is still one of the better thriller writers around right now, so I'll chalk this one up to taste and possible freshman quality.

GRADE: C-


Friday, March 5, 2021

WOLF HUNT 3 by Jeff Strand

In Jeff Strand's novels, especially the Wolf Hunt series, I've learned to expect anything. Anything can happen. So when Lou is brought back to life by some evil alchemy, I didn't bat an eye, I just rejoiced in the fact that I could have more George and Lou banter for another 200 pages. And like Ripley in the Alien movies, wherever George and Lou go, the werewolves follow. The adventure this time brings together all of the supporting characters from the previous books planning an assassination in an effort to prevent a human/werewolf war. 

If you're familiar with Strand's books, you know what the deal is. If you're new, get ready for some intense  lycanthrope action, hillbilly psychos, deformed killer babies, and seriously demented humor.

GRADE: B+ 


Sunday, February 28, 2021

WAKE UP DEAD by Roger Smith


This author is known for being uncompromising when it comes to violence and brutality, but this book is Smith at his most savage. As usual, his Cape Town is a Grand Guignol stage of crime and violence, and this time, he focuses on a relatively simple but tragic carjacking, and the large cast of characters that all connect around this crime, including an American model, a failed cop, rival gangbangers, a violent psychopath that only wants to reunite with his prison wife, and a young boy who only wants to celebrate his birthday. 

This book isn’t for the faint of heart or people who are turned off by graphic violence. It really rides the line of being gratuitous but it rings much more sincere than that because of how aware Smith is of his characters and their desires. The cast really sings here, as Smith efficiently illustrates who they are and what makes them tick. This book would simply just be an example of violence porn if it wasn’t for how well-drawn and complex of a hero Billy Africa was, or how great of a villain the monstrous Piper was. That’s one of Roger Smith’s strengths as a writer, the way he can somehow take despicable characters and make them irresistible to read about. 

GRADE: B

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

SAVAGES by Don Winslow

It’s interesting reading this early Winslow work having already read his later books, especially the Cartel ones. The tone and writing are so vastly different that it’s striking. If I read his books chronologically, I might have appreciated this more as a new exciting voice and admired his growth and maturity from book to book.  Winslow’s Cartel novels have many obvious similarities in content with this one, but the Cartel series is much more intricately plotted, deeply researched, and thoughtfully executed. 

Savages is less mature and more manic in its pacing. It crackles with an energy and attitude that really fits the material and definitely stands out in the pack of thriller fiction. But I couldn’t get past the large style-over-substance ratio where the writing technique is pretty distracting and it was frustrating how little I cared about the hollow characters or about any of the events and plot turns. The book has style to burn, but ultimately left me a bit cold and distracted. 

GRADE: C