Monday, March 31, 2008

Review of Empty Ever After

Reed Farrell Coleman’s Moe Prager series is unique because it features a private investigator whose role involves keeping secrets as much as it does exposing them. It is also unique in that Coleman has been carefully building a narrative arc throughout the duration of the series, which he clearly started with an end it mind. Empty Ever After (Bleak House Books, 2008) is that end, and what an end it is. It is the best book in the series that has already won it share of critical, if not popular, acclaim.

Coleman skips the decade of the 1990s, and starts Empty Ever After in 2000. The one thing Prager has always feared has come to pass. His wife Katy discovered the secret he has been hiding from her for decades; that he found her vanished brother Patrick years ago, and let him slip away. They have divorced, and Prager is trying to move on with his life, and deal with the fallout from what should be a closed chapter in his personal history. Someone however, wants to open old wounds, and Patrick’s grave is desecrated, as is that of his former boyfriend. Soon the fragile Katy is receiving calls from, and even seeing, her dead brother, and Prager is forced to go back into his past to search out the people who have reason to seek revenge against him.

The villain won’t come as a surprise to those who have read the series, but the resolution will. Coleman has always avoided pat endings, and this final bow for Prager has the least pat ending of all the novels in the series. There are no real answers, only more uncertainty, as the final curtain falls.

Those who have not read the series will likely be lost, as the story relies heavily on characters from earlier books, but this entire series is worth reading. The only book in the series that is out of print is The James Deans, which is easy enough to find second hand. The others are available thanks to Busted Flush Press and Bleak House. Anyone who seeks these books out will be well rewarded.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Your Double Wednesday Paperback Cover

In honor of Hard Case Crime's Robert Bloch double, I give you the original covers of both novels. It should be noted that the novels, while both originally published as doubles, were not published together.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bleak House in PW

Ben LeRoy and Bleak House books get a nice write up in Publisher's Weekly.

Monday, March 24, 2008

An Interview with Glauser's translator

Detectives Beyond Borders has the first part of an interview with Mike Mitchell, who has translated Swiss author Friedrich Glauser's work into English for Bitter Lemon Press. Glauser is an interesting author, and there's very little information about him available in English, so it's worth a look if you're interested in the author, or the problems that arise in translating fiction.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Review of How the Dead Live

Some books are gone when you close the back cover. Even if you enjoyed them, they just don’t make a long term impression. Then there are books that refuse to go away weeks after you read the last page. Derek Raymond’s How The Dead Live (Serpent’s Tail, 2007) is one of the latter. The third in Raymond’s Factory series featuring a nameless London detective who has born more tragedy in his personal life than any non-fictional human could bear, it has been long out of print, and should not be confused with Will Self’s novel of the same name, with which is shares nothing in terms of subject or tone. Self, who wrote an introduction for the new edition of Raymond’s book, cheerfully admits stealing the title without ever having read the book.

How the Dead Live finds the Detective sent away from London to investigate the disappearance of a doctor’s wife in a small town. It is no ordinary disappearance, however. The missing woman, who was once a vibrant, social creature, had taken to wearing a black veil and whispering when she appeared in public. As if that’s not enough, she’s been missing for six months and the local police have made only a token effort to find one of the town’s most prominent residents. This state of affairs does not sit well with the Detective, who has little patience with incompetence and even less patience with corruption, which is what he finds himself faced with the moment he starts his inquiry.

Raymond’s book has many of the trappings of Gothic horror; a veiled woman, a decaying mansion, mysterious voices, but this window dressing serves only to contrast with the real horror. There are no ghosts, no voices reaching out from the great beyond to guide or torment the living. Supernatural horror is a crutch in disguise, something that reassures while it supposedly terrifies. If a ghost can live forever why can’t you? In Raymond’s world no one lives forever, no matter how desperately they want to. The Detective exists in a world where the only constant is death.

For all its horror and police conventions, however, the greatest surprise of How the Dead Live is that, in the end, it’s not a police procedural or a horror story. It’s a romance. The central conspiracy the Detective uncovers is not one motivated by malice or greed, but by love. True, there is no shortage of villains in this book, but, at the very core of the book, where one expects to find the worst humanity has to offer, Raymond substitutes the best. It should be a relief. It’s not.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Harwood meets Grammar Girl

I don't know how he does it. With one day left until Jack Wakes Up is available (a.k.a. Palms Sunday) Seth Harwood continues to show up in the darndest places. He's managed to get himself onto the Grammar Girl podcast to discuss his use of present tense in JWU. If Seth's career as a teacher and novelist doesn't work out I really think he could make the big bucks in publicity and promotions. The guy's unstoppable. He's got all the angles covered. Color me impressed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Fifty to One

Hard Case Crime has announced it's fiftieth title. It's by publisher Ardai, and it's got a pomo/retro vibe to it. Just take a good look at the cover, and read a bit about the novel's premise here. This one look likes it's going to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, you've got to wait until December to lay your hands on it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

It's not every day you see a woman with glasses on a paperback cover.

Monday, March 10, 2008

At Central Booking

I've finally taken some time to poke around Sandra Ruttan's new site, At Central Booking, and there's some good stuff there. I particularly like the Lie Detector, which I think is a novel concept. There's also an audio story by Allan Guthrie, who will presumably not be the only author reading there for long. You ought to be able to find something to interest you there.

The Bigger the Lie, The More They Believe


I'm almost willing to take back some of my earlier criticism of this season of The Wire. The last two episodes were as good, maybe better, as anything that came before it. I still have some questions about the McNulty storyline, which didn't quite hang together, but in light of the final scene I'm willing to forgive a certain gaping plot hole, which seems to have escaped the writers. I'm willing to believe they overlooked it on purpose for dramatic effect, and that's okay with me because it worked.

Overall, though, I was surprised it ended on such an optimistic note. For the most part the good guys came out unscathed. They didn't exactly win, but this ending was as close to a triumph as The Wire could ever get. Simon and company actually hold out the possibility of redemption for just about everyone, even the dope dealers. The final scene with Cheese serves as a repudiation of the ruthlessness and raw ambition of Marlo and his crew.
The values of Prop Joe, imperfect though they were, aren't forgotten. Marlo walks, true, but he can't walk away and save himself. Even Dukie's undeserved descent is balanced out by Bubbles' trip up the stairs to his sister's dining room. And Michael found his place.

Lester and McNulty both made it out the other side, even after the rules they broke. I was surprised they got off so easy and ended up happy. Before the finale I was certain McNulty would end up putting a gun in his mouth. I was relieved when he ended up making peace with himself and with his girlfriend, even if it seems a little too convenient. I believed it. I believed it all.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Long Tail

Q: What do Industrial music icons Nine Inch Nails and first-time novelist Seth Harwood have in common?

A: The Long Tail.

Nine Inch Nails, following the lead of Radiohead, put out a double album of instrumental music this week under a Creative Common license under the theory that true fans will pay for something even if you give it away. So has Harwood. He's been putting himself out there for a long time with his podcast of three crime novels, the latest of which just started two weeks ago. Now, weeks before his first novel, Jack Wakes Up, is going on sale, he's released a pdf version of the book out there to generate interest. This sort of thing has been going with sci-fi authors for a while, and I am curious to see how Harwood's Palms Sunday promotion will turn out. The Internet is a huge new tool that allows people to connect with each other and seek out work they like. I like Seth, and I admire his willingness to promote his work so completely. He's got a grasp of this new media environment, and he's really reaching out to people who aren't the traditional audience for crime fiction, which is something I think the genre needs. I wish him luck.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

This is wandering off the reservation a bit, but the image above is from a Yugoslavian edition of Naked Lunch. It makes me wonder if anyone read the book because the image sure as hell wasn't inspired by anything Burroughs wrote. It appears to have come from a painting. If you recognize it, let me know. More Burroughs covers here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Bleak House Book Club

Bleak House books is starting a book club. To kick it off they're asking readers to pick the book they think should be the first title to get the treatment. After the winner has been selected there will be an opportunity for 10 folks to score a copy of the selected title gratis. For more details check out the announcement.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Who says money can't buy happiness?

Instead of staying inside and finishing my taxes I went out today to get some sun and do a little shopping. While browsing at A Capella Books, I came across a copy of The Machine in Ward Eleven by Charles Willeford. Since I had just finished Made in Miami earlier in the week Willeford was very much on my mind, and I couldn't resist.

It's a near fine first edition. Aside from one slight imperfection on the spine there's no evidence the book has ever been opened. Unusual for a paperback original. It is a thing of beauty.

I'm not really the kind of person much inclined to impulse buying. Most of the time when I go out I know exactly what I need, and that's what I buy. Sometimes, however, you've gotta give in. Now, I just have to find a beat up copy that I won't be afraid to read.

Review of Made in Miami

Made in Miami by Charles Willeford (Point Blank, 2008) is not a lost masterpiece on the order of The Black Mass of Brother Springer or Cockfighter. It is, however, a valuable contribution to the body of Willeford’s in-print work and shows that even when Willeford was not mining his signature themes of obsession and maintaining artistic integrity in the face of an indifferent world as deeply as he could, he still managed to keep them in mind and in print.

In an article that first appeared in First, the Book Collector’s Magazine, and is currently reprinted on his Web site, Don Herron writes that someone at Beacon, Willeford’s publisher at the time, suggested he imitate prolific author Orrie Hitt. Hitt wrote hundreds of novels and exactly none of them are in print today. The man doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia entry, which is a sure sign of being completely forgotten.

Hitt's influence is present in this novel, though, which is unfortunate. Originally published under the title, Lust is a Woman, Made in Miami, is probably as close to an actual sleaze novel as anything Willeford ever published. Willeford spent his early career writing for publishers who catered to men’s prurient interests, but his books were never about sex. He managed to put into print books that were more likely to get blood flowing to the brain than they were to points south.

Made is largely about sex, though. It’s a simple boy meets girl, boy loses girl to pimp, boy loses it when girl starts turning tricks story, but even when Willeford is off, he’s on. While the book does not mine any of Willeford’s signature themes very deeply, Willeford was also unable to suppress his literary instincts entirely and there are still flashes of brilliance, as when Ralph Tone, the protagonist, an art student and hotel elevator operator, laments that he will “never be the artist [he] wanted to be, following [his] own ideas, wrong or right.” At that point it’s almost as if the author is talking to himself, wondering what he’s doing trying to write like Hitt. It is fortunate that Willeford did not that suggestion too much to heart.