Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Before Harry Whittington, the lawyer who Dick Cheney first shot in the face, and later threatened to waterboard unless he apologized for getting shot in the face, there was Harry Whittington the prolific paperback author, about whom I probably could have found some relevant biographical information had not the other Mr. Whittington managed to get himself shot in the face by Dr. Evil (Here's a tip: If you can't dodge birdshot, don't go "hunting" with high functioning alcoholics).
Whittingtion is the author of "Swamp Search," the third entry in The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction. The story is about a young vet and farmer who owns a helicopter he uses to rescue his cows from the Everglades (Here's another tip: Don't try to raise cows in a swamp). Anyway, one day, a beautiful woman shows up and wants to hire the young farmer to search for her defense contractor husband who, in the face of an impending congressional investigation into his war profiteering, decides to go on a hunting trip to the Everglades. Conveniently, his plane crashes, and he is believed dead. His wife, however, refuses to believe he's dead, and our young country squire chivalrously decides to help her search for her husband. He also, not so chivalrously, starts sleeping with her. What follows is a sordid tale of betrayal and greed. The takeaway from this story is that there will always be war profiteers, killers and degenerates, so let's hope they all decide to take hunting trips to Florida.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Leonardo Padura has brought Havana detective Mario Conde back for another investigation. In Havana Fever (Bitter Lemon Press, 2009), the retired policeman is working as a used book dealer in Havana when he uncovers the mysterious disappearance of a young jazz singer that occurred in pre revoultion Cuba. In the heart of a library full of priceless books in a crumbling mansion, Conde unearths an article about Violeta del Rio, a forgotten singer, and his curiosity gets the better of him, but his search turns out to have unexpected consequences, and he and his business partner are soon murder suspects.
Padura's novels have never exactly been fast paced, but Havana Fever is slow even by Padura's standards. Padura lovingly renders Havana, and he brings back the ususal cast of characters, but the price of this dilligence is a that the novel takes a hundred pages to even get off the ground. Padura has always been about atmosphere, but in this case the atmosphere starts to interfere with the pacing, making it a slog at times.
Strip away some of the asides, however, and there's still a solid story there, even if the author inisists on dragging it out. As Conde digs deeper into the mystery of Violeta's disappearance, he comes into conflict with the police department he once worked for and his old assistant Manuel Palacios, who now has Conde's old job, and sends him on a tour of a crumbling society that inspires much soul searching and disillusionment with contemporary Cuban society and what the revolution has wrought.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
A lot of Ballard's later work, like Cocaine Nights and Super Cannes ,are definitely works of crime fiction, obsessed with the dirt that lurks beneath the sleek, clean surface of modern society. I'll be the first to say that I didn't always enjoy Ballard's work. I've put down a couple of his books out of boredom and frustration, but I'll also be the first to say he was an important author who wasn't afraid to wrestle with ugly ideas and come up with some ugly results. I think that's why his work can be so hard to take at times. He spends a lot of time dwelling on various sorts of alienation, and he paints the picture so effectively that the reader inevitably ends up alienated.
Bonus Content: The Normal performing Warm Leatherette, an oft covered song inspired by Crash. The video is from David Cronenberg's movie adaptation of the novel.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Bill Pronzini's entry in The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction, "A Cold, Foggy Day" is a twist story with a twist. Actually, it's a story with two twists, one that you will see coming a mile away if your at all familiar with the conventions of these sorts of stories and another that plays with and subverts those conventions. An older man and his younger partner arrive in San Francisco with a job to do. It's a setup that's been done many times before, but it doesn't go where you expect it to. Pronzini's too savvy for that. The result is a very quiet crime story.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
When I saw Hard Case Crime's December offering, (or one of their December offerings, I should say. There's a second book coming in December that's still a secret.) The Corpse Wore Pasties, I thought it interesting because it was a murder mystery set in the burlesque world by a burlesque professional. It turns out he's following in the footsteps of Gypsy Rose Lee, famed burlesque performer and author of The G-String Murders.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
"The Used", by Loren D. Estleman, is a strong start right out of the gate. Estleman's story is short and sharp. It follows the final hours of a mob accountant who agrees to testify against his boss for the Feds, only to have his testimony go awry and his chance of relocation to Iowa literally get shredded in front of him. Like any cornered animal, the accountant turns dangerous, but he's not quite dangerous enough.
Estleman hits all of the right notes, and does a good job of ratcheting up the tension in what is a short, short story. There are no surprises here, and it pretty much ends exactly the way it has to, but it's satisfying nonetheless.
In my copy of the anthology, someone underlined a series of words in this story. They are, in order:
I've had The Black Lizard of Anthology of Crime Fiction for so long that I forgot I owned it. I picked it up somewhere used cheap a long time ago, before I really became interested in hard boiled crime fiction. I imagine I probably leafed through the contents and saw names like Joe Gores and Robert Edmond Alter and wondered who the hell they were and put the book on a shelf.
Looking for something else the other day, the anthology caught my eye, and I opened it up, and I realized that I now recognized every author's name and had read books by most of them. I put the book on my nightstand and decided I'd work my way through it, one story a week. Then I decided, that while I was at it, I might as well review the stories here. So, look for the first entry later today.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
The response to this particular giveaway was great, and I want to thank everyone who entered. I wish I had more than one copy to give away.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Glass is hardly on the job a couple of weeks before a murderer is pressuring him to smuggle drugs inside, and another thug is threatening his wife and child to give him an extra incentive to comply. He wants to keep his job but he wants to keep his family safe more, so he gives in and smuggles drugs, keeping a little back for himself, and starts on a quick, vicious downward spiral.
Slammer represents a departure for Guthrie in more than one way and is his most assured novel to date. His books up to this point have focused on unlikable thugs. Glass is a 22-year old kid who is full of good intentions, but hopelessly out of his depth. He's a bit weak, but he's not a bad guy, which makes his downfall much harder to watch than that of an average Guthrie character.
The story is also remarkably light on violence for a Guthrie novel. It seems Guthrie has realized that a sense of fear can be accomplished without decapitations and crucifixions. The tension in Slammer comes first from the dread of impending doom and later from the reader's confusion over exactly what has happened. Much of Guthrie's work can be read as a critique of a certain boneheaded definition of manhood. His books are filled with impotent, cuckolded thugs, tough guys with mommy issues, and the insanely jealous. For an author who enjoys mocking tough guys, however, his books are filled with grisly, pointlessly sensational acts of violence, as if he's daring the reader to look away, playing the very sort of games he's critiquing. It's as if he's smirking at the reader, saying "I can take it, can you?" Slammer is different. There is a terrible act of violence at the center of the novel, but it is entirely routine, which makes it much, much worse than any grand guignol tortures that Guthrie could have dreamed up. There's no sign of adolescent arrested development tough-guy posturing in Slammer. It is Guthrie's first grown-up novel.
Guthrie's writing style has also grown. His prose is tight. There is almost no description, but the few words Guthries does use stand out sharply enough to paint a vivid picture. He has also given up his habit of changing points-of-view. Slammer is written from a tight third person limited p.o.v. The story is Glass's and Guthrie tells it all from that perspective, making the surprises he's worked this tale all the more effective.
The result of Guthrie's more mature story married with his more disciplined writing is a nerve-wracking page turner that stands apart from Guthrie's earlier work that will appeal those who may have been turned off by Guthrie's earlier work without alienating his fans. Not an easy trick to pull off.
(And I'm giving away a copy of Slammer next Thursday, April 9. Details are here.)
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Allan Guthrie's new novel Slammer is out in the UK. I've bought a copy, and I'm reading it, but today in the mail I got a review copy, which I take it was kind of late, because it looks like it was sent to an old address first. Whenever something like this happens, I like to pass the good fortune on, so I'm giving away the brand new, never opened copy of Slammer I just got in the mail. To enter, just send an email with "Contest" in the subject line and your name and address in the body to IndieCrime-at-gmail-dotcom. I will pick the winner next week using a random number generator. Entries are numbered in the order in which they are received. Good Luck.
And stay tuned. I have another extra book to give away soon that you will want.