Lost Things: A Novella

Lost Things: A Novella - John Rector I've been discovering some great authors lately and John Rector is definitely one of them. I've had him on my radar this year and I decided to start with this tight novella, which did not disappoint! This is a tense, tragic noir thriller about two men whose close friendship is put to the test after a violent altercation with drunk muggers one late night. Rector is really a natural when it comes to that great, propulsive writing that never lets up, but somehow never feels rushed. I had a lot of work to do at home today and I kept taking a break to return to this story, needing to see what happens next. Now, more of John Rector's books have rudely elbowed their way to the top of my reading list!

The Girl With the Long Green Heart

The Girl With the Long Green Heart - Lawrence Block Pulpy Tagline!: "From the top of her beautiful, brilliant head, to the pit of her merciless soul, she was filled with larceny." (Gold Medal edition)

Everyone likes reading about con artists. Stories about people using their brains and wits as weapons to fool someone and get away with are pretty hard to resist. In this early novel by master Lawrence Block, John Hayden is a skilled confidence man who has just gotten out of San Quentin and has decided to put it all behind him and hang up his grifter's cap. That is until he gets approached to be a part of the mother of all long cons. A long con so sweet that even as his conscience tells him he should live a quiet life managing a bowling alley, the gratification of pulling it off is just something he can't resist.

Block pays such a great attention to details of the inner-workings of such an elaborate hustle; it was such a pleasure to read. The con is super complex but I was never confused and that's a testament to Block's control of his material. I'd recommend this for all lovers of classic crime and noir. It's definitely a slow build-up where you'll get engulfed in their set-up and ache to see how they pull it off. But then once the twists start flying, so will the pages!

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World Gone By: A Novel

World Gone By: A Novel - Dennis Lehane Do I really need to tell you in this day and age that this is a very well-written crime saga filled with fully-drawn characters and a page-turning plot? I don't think so. I could just tell you that it's a new Dennis Lehane book and you should already know what to expect.

World Gone By is the sequel to Lehane's Edgar-Award-winning [b:Live by Night|13083008|Live by Night (Coughlin, #2)|Dennis Lehane||18252653] and you should definitely read that book before tackling this one. It leads to a much more rewarding experience. Set in the middle of World War II in 1943, years after the events in Live By Night, former South Florida crime boss Joe Coughlin has sort-of gone legit, a member of the Commission with Meyer Lansky, but now he just runs his sugar cane and import/export business, acting as the legal front and consigliere to the present Florida crime lords. He leads a relatively quiet life between Cuba and Ybor City with his son Tomas. But everything changes once Joe hears the rumours of a contract put out for his assassination, a hit scheduled on Ash Wednesday, eight days away.

This book is understandably not the epic crime saga that Live By Night was (which tracked the bloody rise of Joe Coughlin from a small-time hood in South Boston to the most powerful crime lord in Florida); it's more intimate and narrower in scope but still just as exciting, the ticking clock of the assassination providing tension and suspense as the story moves forward. But more importantly the book deals with the theme of consequences that come home to roost when you live the lives that these characters do, with each one forced to take stock of the things that they've done in the past and what their lives have amounted to. Yet again, another good piece of work from one of my favorite authors.
"You have put a lot of sin out into the world Joseph. Maybe it's rolling back in on the tide. Maybe men like us, in order to be men like us, sacrifice peace of mind forevermore."

The Shootist

The Shootist - Glendon Swarthout, Miles Hood Swarthout, Miles Swarthout John Bernard Books has found out he has terminal prostate cancer.

Books is an aging but notorious gunman, who is known across the frontier for being dangerously quick on the draw, for loving women, and for killing over thirty men. So it comes to his dismay that he is destined to die an undignified and unremarkable death, taken down by a disease in his crotch. He doesn't have long to live and pretty soon news of his condition spreads around town. But J.B. Books is determined to die with some semblance of dignity.
And then, emptied, on hands and knees, head hanging over his own spew, teeth chattering with cold, in that animal posture he knew fear for the first time in his adult life.
I was really taken with this outstanding novel and this great character: a portrait of a dying man who must figure out the best way to make his last stand in life. Author Glendon Swarthout creates a three-dimensional character out of the conventionally one-dimensional Western antihero. On the outside Books is trying to portray the same stoicism and grit that he's known for, but on the inside is a man terrified of dying the way he is. Not only is he forced to look back on his life and decide if it was truly worth anything, but he also has to deal with the town's sudden interest in his imminent death, interest both curious and nefarious, but everyone looking to profit one way or another.

A great theme that is prevalent throughout the book is the changing times. It is the turn of the 20th century, year 1901, and the West is changing from the frontier that it was to a more modern, civilized place. And the aging gunman is part of those dying times. He's constantly reminded of this in every new invention he sees, or by the newspaper articles he reads to pass the time.
She looked at him bravely now for the first time, at his face, the face from which a child had fled, and drew breath. She rose. Her eyes filled.

She knew.

He took her in his arms and kissed her ardently. Men in their hosts, young and old, innocent and corrupt, had paid her for her favors, but she put her arms about him of her own free will as though to give him what she could in recompense for this, the last gift she guessed, of his manhood.
It was a real joy reading this book, which was tender and mournful, like a melancholy fable, downright funny at times, and gorgeously written. Swarthout seems to always use just the right words; I felt like every page had a line or paragraph I wanted to make note of. The book also contains a stunning classic Western bar shootout that is well-crafted, dark, and nihilistic.

I would agree with critics that this is one of the best Western novels ever written (definitely one of the best that I've read). It's about courage, dignity and throwing up a middle finger to death, taking control of your life and the the way you leave it.
He thought: I will not break. I won't tell anybody what a tight I am in. I will keep my pride. And my guns loaded to the last.

Mucho Mojo (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, #2)

Mucho Mojo (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, #2) - Joe R. Lansdale While the first great book in this series, Savage Season, focuses a lot on Hap Collins's backstory, this second installment focuses a bit more on Leonard's past and the town that he grew up in. Hap owes Leonard after getting him involved in the violent events of the first book so he agrees to accompany his buddy to the funeral of Leonard's estranged Uncle Chester. After the funeral, the boys are cleaning up Chester's old, run-down house and discover a skeleton and a stash of kiddie porn stuffed into a box under the floorboards. Leonard wants to learn the truth, so the two decide to try detective work on for size and get to the bottom of it all.

Once again, the two good ol' boys are a joy to read. I would read anything with these characters. At this point, if one of the subsequent books in the series turns out to be a 700-page tome about Hap and Leonard sitting in a boat the whole time trying to catch a catfish, I'd still read it in a heartbeat! Lansdale is a stunning writer. He has a real knack for finding the perfect combination of tone in his work (at least in the three books I've read so far). He's able to balance tender moments of real connection between friends with intriguing mystery, and with the perfect blend of humor. The books are downright funny sometimes without feeling forced. The humor seems to come naturally and the book never feels like it's trying to hard to be in the quirky humor crime genre. I think that's what I love about the characters Hap and Leonard, the balance and the ease of their characterization. They're funny while not trying to be and they're tough dudes while not having to be hard-boiled. I mean Hap actually seeks out non-alcoholic beer!

Anyway, this is another great Southern thriller by Joe R. Lansdale, who really is an awesome storyteller. I'm glad I still have a plethora of books written by him to choose from!

Black Hornet

Black Hornet - James Sallis With Black Hornet, I'm realizing that the Lew Griffin series is entirely the written memories of an older man looking back on and contemplating major events in his life. While the first novel, [b:The Long-Legged Fly|176381|The Long-Legged Fly (Lew Griffin, #1)|James Sallis||1098952], jumps around in time to study a changing man through different decades and the second novel, [b:Moth|176383|Moth (Lew Griffin, #2)|James Sallis||1872980], expands more on the 1990's part of his life, in Black Hornet, Lew remembers more events from the 1960's, expanding on the first part of Fly. What struck me, was how much the book actually did feel like a memory, even more so than the previous stories. Lew's narration seems to be unstuck in time, paralleling the past and present, cross-referencing not only things that have happened, but events to come and filling in some of the blanks between events that we are aware of from the previous books (maybe this is material for the later novels in the series?). All of this gives a great sense of an old man looking back on life with waning memory.

This story focuses on the younger Lew of the 1960's section of Fly, a raging drinker and debt collector, who is still far away from the best-selling novelist, professor, and sometime private detective that we know from the 1990's. He meets Esmé Dupuy in a bar, a white journalist who he has a drink with but who is soon gunned down right in front of him, the latest victim of a sniper that's been terrorizing New Orleans shooting white people. Lew is set on tracking the man down (an event that is alluded to in Moth). And in doing so, we get to witness Lew meeting different people that we know will be important friends in the times to come.

This book has a very different atmosphere from the previous books in the series. There's more of a focus on race and racial identity and protest, probably coming out of being set in the racially-charged and political '60's. Lew finds himself adrift in this world, bumping into militant groups like the Panthers, and even meeting and rubbing shoulders with a socially-angry [a:Chester Himes|4392029|Chester Himes|] at an event for the author, a scene that turns out to be a great homage to one of Sallis's inspirations. Although the book is pretty short, I took my time with it and soaked in Sallis's passionate prose, enjoying yet another great book in a series focusing on identity and memory.

Shoot the Woman First (Crissa Stone Novels)

Shoot the Woman First (Crissa Stone Novels) - Wallace Stroby Crissa Stone is back at it again. She's reunited with a couple of old colleagues (including Charlie Glass from the check cashing heist in [b:Cold Shot to the Heart|9627683|Cold Shot to the Heart (Crissa Stone, #1)|Wallace Stroby||14514968]) and is getting ready to rob a car-full of cash just sitting out in the middle of a Detroit street. But, once again, everything gets all screwed-up, dumbasses make mistakes, people get shot, and Crissa ends up being hunted for the dough.

And yet again, Crissa lets her sense of morality and goodness get in the way. That's the thing that sets her character apart from her male literary counterpart, Parker, who she's constantly compared to. She actually has a heart, no matter how much she tries to conceal it. I guess that's a good thing, but if she didn't feel the need to do things like help a dead friend's family, things would go a lot easier for her. But, on the other hand, if she didn't do those things we wouldn't have these fun, action-packed books. Like the two previous books, this one is sleek and propulsive with very little filler. Another exciting chapter in a consistent series about one badass anti-heroine!
"When they're training these counterterror teams, they tell them when they're going into a situation where there's multiple targets––men and women– you shoot the women first."


"Because in a gang or a crew or whatever, a woman's got to be three times as tough, three times as committed, three times as hard-ass for the men to take her seriously."

Poontang and Other Poems

Poontang and Other Poems - Charles Willeford Bizarre as f&%$!! I'd like to think that Willeford was under the influence of something serious while writing these. There are a few poems that are really interesting and then there are some that are just batshit crazy.

...wait. Who am I kidding? They're ALL batshit crazy!

The Whites

The Whites - Harry Brandt Years ago, I was blown away by the urban crime epic Clockers and I swore to read everything that author Richard Price had ever written. I got caught up in discovering new authors and (other than reading Samaritan and enjoying it) I've sadly been neglecting his work. I'm kicking myself now because this latest book, The Whites, is wonderful. He wrote it as Harry Brandt, a sort-of-pseudonym that he reportedly used because he wanted to write a more straight-up short cop thriller than Price normally writes. Well, he failed, because this is way more than just a standard thriller. It's not even really a thriller. But what it is is a complex and tragic character piece focusing on an NYPD cop dealing not only with the nightly horrors that he investigates with his Manhattan Night Watch team, but also with the consequences of the past surfacing to threaten his family and friends.

In my opinion, what has always set Price apart as a writer is his impeccable attention to detail when it comes to character. Most of the great crime writers today still can't match his ability to craft such engaging personalities. And in this novel, that ability is fully on display. Literally every character here, both major and minor, stands out, and is meticulously well-drawn and memorable. Also, the family-life of both Billy Graves and Milton Ramos were just as compelling to read about as the police investigations. This is a book about friendship and family, as well as justice and morality and the repercussions that arise in the pursuit of both, the pursuit of your personal "White."

Frank Sinatra in a Blender

Frank Sinatra in a Blender - Matthew McBride 3.5 Stars
How ex-cop-turned-investigator Nick Valentine even makes it through the day on two feet, let alone solve mysteries, is beyond me. The drunk private dick is a mystery cliche that has been run into the ground for decades. But you haven't truly read a book about a heavy-drinking detective until you've read Frank Sinatra in a Blender. Nick Valentine, our protagonist with a liver made of concrete, is called in to help investigate the "suicide" of a banker. Soon, he discovers that the body is linked to a botched robbery of a credit union and joins in the blood-soaked hunt for the missing money.

Nick Valentine is such a great character to follow. He's laid-back, but still tough, and at times sensitive. He's practicing real discipline by quitting cigarettes and coffee, but he damn sure won't quit the stuff that really makes him tick: multiple shots of Southern Comfort and tequila, bottles of Corona, and snorts of Oxycontin and Percocet. And he lives in his nasty office with his best friend, Yorkshire terrier and pissing champion Frank Sinatra.

Although Nick is a great character and there are some downright hilarious moments in the book, my main problem with the story is one of my biggest pet peeves: an inactive protagonist. Through the first two-thirds of the book Nick hardly does anything other than drink and hang out with Frank, while the rest of the actual story happens around him. And you never really get a sense of how good of an investigator he really is. This really took me out of the story for most of the book's first half. I wish more attention was paid to involving the main character in the book's driving action than to the long passages describing heavy drinking and drug use. I swear, it seems like everyone in the story was either snorting something, using a needle, or getting drunk. It wasn't until the last third that Nick started taking real action. Once this happens, the story flies off the page in well-written action sequences and a great pace. Just wish it happened earlier.

But again, I loved reading about Nick and I think he would make a really awesome series character. There's potential for a great franchise here. The author is fairly new, having only written two novels so far, so here's hoping he has more stories featuring Nick Valentine to tell! I would read 'em!

The Rain Dancers

The Rain Dancers - Greg F. Gifune This is a disturbing, atmospheric, entirely creepy novella that is best read in one sitting late at night. On a rainy, stormy night, married couple Will and Betty Colby are visited by an old man that neither of them recognize, but who knows details about both of their pasts. Before the night is over, they will have to face old demons and confront painful memories. A sense of foreboding permeates through the entire story and you can literally feel the oppressive rain falling throughout. Gifune is one of those writers that make it seem easy. He doesn't write with fancy, flowery prose but he manages to choose just the right words to sneak up on you with sadness and pensive mystery, as the details of the plot are slowly revealed. I really enjoyed it.


Moth - James Sallis While the first book in James Sallis's Lew Griffin series, The Long-Legged Fly, was essentially a compilation of stories during different decades in Lew's life, the second, Moth, focuses on the time immediately following the events at the end of the 1990 section of that first book (literally picking up right where the last line in Fly left off). Lew has realized that he's too old to be running the streets now and has quit as a private detective and is now a successful mystery author and college French instructor. After a close friend passes, he feels a responsibility to track down her runaway estranged daughter. But if the investigation itself is the most important thing to you when reading a mystery novel, then you might be disappointed in Sallis's rich work.

I found this book to be even more enjoyable than the first. Not only because now I'm more familiar with Lew and Sallis's writing style, but also because I'm discovering how meta, self-referencing, and cyclic these novels might be. Here are some examples:

1) Moth starts off with a line that made me flip back to the last paragraph in the first book with a whole new understanding, as well as more questions! Intriguing.

2) There's a part in this novel where Lew discusses a bad review of his third novel called [b:Black Hornet|176380|Black Hornet (Lew Griffin, #3)|James Sallis||1277051], which foreshadows Sallis's next book, the third in the series, one that wasn't even written for another couple of years!

3) There's also a scene where Lew interacts with an old Cajun colleague who's also a private investigator named Boudleaux. But wait a minute, the main private eye character in Lew's books is a Cajun named Boudleaux! Hmm...Lew's inspiration perhaps?

Discoveries like these make this novel and the potential for the series really fascinating. And obviously means that it's necessary to read the series in order. But even aside from that, Sallis is a lovely writer with a great knack for characterization and for turning a simple mystery into a deeper look at loss, regret, and responsibility. He's gearing up to be one of my favorite authors and I want to tackle all of his work now. And with this book, the Lew Griffin series is gearing up to be an excellent, detailed character piece. While Fly touched on multiple parts of Lew's life, acting like an outline for Lew's entire story, Moth and the subsequent books seem to expand more on each specific period, adding more detailed nuance and texture to a larger existential portrait of a complex man.
While I never could bring myself to accept Christian notions of sin and atonement, there's definitely something to karma. The things we do pile up on us, weigh us down. Or hold us in place, at the very least.


Blackout - Tim Curran These DarkFuse novellas are like tasty little gummi bears that I munch on in between the bigger meals. So far, they've all been fun, quick and easy reads that I can get through in a day or two. This latest one is by horror writer Tim Curran and in it, a science teacher wakes up to an immense blackout and his wife missing. He groups up with his fellow neighbors on what is usually a quiet neighborhood street and try to figure out what's happening. Then the shiny, black tentacles start dropping from the sky...

The story is fast-paced and told from the point of view of an everyday guy that could be any one of us, trying to make sense of the chaos. Even though I got the sense that the author was making up the story as he went along (with a bungled third act and the rules of the creatures not being entirely consistent), it's still an enjoyable book and reads like an homage to H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds laced with Stephen King's incredible The Mist.

John Crow's Devil

John Crow's Devil - Marlon James
"Come now, church, who is ready to be violent for the Lord?"
There's something about organized religion that can be really terrifying at times, with the way it can feed on fear and trump all logic and decency. This is illustrated to the nth degree in the unsettling debut novel by rising star [a:Marlon James|56064|Marlon James|]. The book tracks the downfall and destruction of the small Jamaican village of Gibbeah, in the wake of a religious battle between two evangelical preachers for the control of both the Holy Sepulchral Full Gospel Church of St. Thomas Apostolic as well as the very soul of Gibbeah. It all starts on the day that Hector Bligh (the "Rum Preacher"), a drunk priest who's lost his way, is kicked out of the church by a charismatic new arrival, a fire-and-brimstone preacher calling himself Apostle York, who has intentions to purify Gibbeah, even if it means Old Testament judgement.
The Pastor now drank day and night. He was spiraling downward and would have taken the village with him were it not for the other, who lead them instead to a light blacker than the thickest darkness.
He came like a thief on a night colored silver.
Many might consider this novel magical realism and they would be right. But maybe there should be a sub-genre of "black"-magical realism, for a book like this one, so filled with Obeah and omens of black vultures (john crows). And do I dare call this a satire? Because at times I wanted to chuckle, but mostly to keep myself from being so horrified at the events that I would chuck the book across the room. Maybe that's what makes a great dark satire! And James is a confident and terrifically skilled writer who handles this balance perfectly. One of his effective techniques is the occasional passage that uses a point of view that seems to come from the collective gossip of the village itself, sort of a small-town Greek chorus in a Jamaican tragedy play showing the mob mentality that can come from a town gripped in religious fervor. I loved the way that the town's hypocrisy and secrets slowly began to be revealed and ultimately lead to its downfall. James also created a couple of well-illustrated female characters in the Widow Greenfield and especially the tragic Lucinda, who was endlessly fascinating to read.
Lucinda was to be the bride of Christ but her ring finger got lost in a thatch of pubic hair. It was that damn Apostle. Him and those bold red books and the bold red tip of his circumcision.
I really enjoyed this one, although at times the author's wordsmithing got in the way of narrative pacing. But I was engaged throughout and would definitely recommend it. It really made me want to revisit his epic novel from last year, [b:A Brief History of Seven Killings|20893314|A Brief History of Seven Killings|Marlon James||40236328]. I read that long book while shooting a movie last year, which I think was a mistake. I read John Crow's Devil when I had lots of time to focus my attention and get lost in the story. With three respected novels, Marlon James is definitely an author to watch and wait for what he does next.
God judgement a no play-play judgement. God not romping with we.

Out On The Cutting Edge

Out On The Cutting Edge - Lawrence Block It's been a little over three years since the events in the stellar Eight Million Ways To Die, and Matt has successfully been able to stay sober and regularly participate in AA meetings. A man hires him to track down his missing actress daughter and we're off to the races with my next Matthew Scudder read!

The actual mystery storyline of the missing actress is one of the least interesting of all the Scudder books so far, but witnessing Matthew's struggle to maintain sobriety in Manhattan and his experiences in AA is what makes the book really enjoyable. The mystery is second priority. And as usual with the series, the supporting characters in this one are great, from the repentant Eddie (Matt's AA friend) to the enigmatic and dangerous Mick Ballou. A popular staple in hard-boiled detective fiction is for the protagonist to be a hardcore drinker, like it makes them harder or grittier or something. The Scudder series stands out to me because it really shows the negative effects of such drinking in a tender, honest, and heartfelt way. But author Lawrence Block never allows Matt to have a sentimental, self-pitying attitude about the whole thing. He just takes it one day at a time.
"I wanted a drink. There were a hundred reasons why a man will want a drink, but I wanted one now for the most elementary reason of all. I didn't want to feel what I was feeling, and a voice within was telling me that I needed a drink, that I couldn't bear it without it.

But that voice is a liar. You can always bear the pain. It'll hurt, it'll burn like acid in an open wound, but you can stand it. And, as long as you can make yourself go on choosing the pain over the relief, you can keep going."

The Death of Sweet Mister

The Death of Sweet Mister - Daniel Woodrell, Dennis Lehane 3.5 stars
Just as in his novel Winter's Bone, in this book author Daniel Woodrell moves beyond usual "modern noir," and into something closer to rural tragedy set in his world of the Missouri Ozark mountains. This Oedipal tale is about the relationship between young "Shug" Akins and his mother Glenda. Glenda is attractive and apparently irresistible to the opposite sex, which is a sad situation because she makes terrible decisions when it comes to men.
Granny said Mom could make 'Hello, there" sound so sinful you'd run off and wash your ears after hearing it, then probably come back to hear it again.
Shug's dead beat father, Red, (and there's a good chance he might not even be his real father) is still in the picture. He's emotionally and physically abusive to both Glenda and Shug, and forces Shug to steal prescription drugs for him. But things get even more complicated when a pleasant, smooth-talking cook in a sexy green Thunderbird rolls into town, and has eyes for Glenda.

On the surface, The Death of Sweet Mister seems like a short, simple read, but it's anything but that. Woodrell is less concerned with plot and more concerned with evoking his literary world of the Ozark community and his complex characters that live there. But the plot was even less of propulsive than the murder mystery in Winter's Bone, and at the start, the POV of Shug Avery was somehow difficult for me to engage with. But about halfway through the novel it stuck and by the sad and troubling conclusion, I enjoyed it. But I wouldn't recommend it to everyone though. There are some disturbing themes in the story and if you're looking for a fast-paced plot, you probably won't find it here. Usually I would be one of those people, but for some reason, so far Woodrell's writing fascinates me.
The bottle where I hid my lifelong screams busted wide. The screams flew loose where nobody could hear.

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