Saturday, August 30, 2014

In the Shadow of the Arch

In the Shadow of the Arch (Joe Keough Mysteries)In the Shadow of the Arch by Robert J. Randisi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After his police career in New York is ruined, Joe Keough moves to Saint Louis, Missouri, and gets a job with the Richmond Heights PD. An hour into his first day, a three year old boy walks into the police station, leaving a trail of bloody footprints. But he connected to the string of murder-kidnappings all over St. Louis count?

I had this book pushed on me several minutes after I was told Randisi would be a guest on The Review Board in coming weeks. So far, not impressed.

In the Shadow of the Arch had a lot of strikes against it going in. First off, I wasn't really keen on reading it. Secondly, it features a serial killer. These facts didn't consciously influence my opinion of the book but they probably didn't help.

Looks like I'm going to attempt the compliment sandwich approach to this review to lessen the blow. I loved a lot of the St. Louis details worked into the story. To me, New York is the city of skyscrapers I see on TV and two airports I've spent some time in. St. Louis is nearly my back yard so I was thrilled with the authenticity of cops calling the The West County Mall "The Bird Mall," and it was twelve kinds of awesome when Keough and Steinbach ate at Gingham's, the greasy spoon I used to eat at all hours of the night after seeing bands in dive bars.

Unfortunately, getting St. Louis cultural references was most of my enjoyment. First off, while the book was first published in 1998, the internet and cellphones are nonexistent. Not only that, wives are constantly deferring to their husbands, making this book feel like it took place in the late 1950's. Some of the St. Louis references also seemed a little off but the good far outweighed the bad on that score.

Those gripes, however, paled in comparison to Keough and the various St. Louis police departments. Apparently, despite St. Louis being nicknamed Murder City because of the crime rate, the STLPD ran around like a bunch of monkeys trying to fuck a football until supercop Keough took charge. Jackson makes incredible leaps of logic to figure out who the killer was before even Keough but he is killed before we ever get to find out how he did it! Keough was kind of an asshole but it didn't annoy me as much as his "New York Attitude" mentioned once every other page.

I said I was doing the compliment sandwich so I guess the other piece of bread will be it was a pretty engaging read despite the annoyances. I'll give Randisi the benefit of the doubt and not completely write him off just yet. Two out of five stars.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Mucho Mojo

Mucho Mojo (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, #2)Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Leonard's Uncle Chester dies and leaves him a house, Hap and Leonard move in in order to fix it up and find a child's skeleton wrapped in a porno mag. Was Uncle Chester a child predator or was someone else the killer? And does it have anything to do with the crackhouse next door?

2014 Reread

Here we are, the second book in Joe Lansdale's redneck noir adventures of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. While I had vague recollections of reading this sometime around the turn of the century, it was mostly a new book.

Leonard's Uncle Chester dies so the boys pack up and head to LaBorde to settle his affairs. While repairing his house, they stumble upon a child's skeleton and uncover a wasp's nest of religious-themed serial killing that has been going on for decades.

While the first book wasn't quite firing on all cylinders, this one roared down the track like one of those crazy tractors with four or five engines on it. Hap and Leonard's investigations come from the Spenser school of walking around, pissing people off, and eventually having the case come together in the midst of some bloodshed.

Some longtime supporting cast members were introduced in this volume, like Marvin Hanson and Florida. Marvin is also the star of Act of Love, a Lansdale that I still have yet to read but own at least two copies of. Like most of the early Hap and Leonard's, Hap and Leonard do a lot of philosophizing when they're not cracking wise or cracking skulls. This may account for the brevity of later volumes when Hap isn't such a bleeding heart. Also, this is the first time Leonard burns down a crackhouse, something that happens at least two more times in the series if I remember correctly.

The mystery is fairly intricate. I guessed part of it, both the first time and this time but forgot some of the wrinkles. I guess I'm lucky I remembered the details that I did considering it's probably been over a decade since I first read it. In fact, if the girlfriend I'd let borrow this book sometime years ago hadn't left a couple post-its in the book with notes on them, I probably would have been a little further afield than I was when all the shit went down.

Funny thing, I completely forgot about one character's death and was surprised when another one lived. Like I've said before, old books magically become new books once enough time passes.

Lansdale's really shows his chops in this one, writing like a backwoods Elmore Leonard. When the killers are revealed, their motives make a certain amount of sense, to me and Hap, at least. Leonard's not as kind was we are. The contrasting personalities of Hap and Leonard set them a cut above other buddy teams for my money.

Mucho Mojo is one of the best books of one of my favorite series. Five out of five stars.


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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Savage Season

Savage Season (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, #1)Savage Season by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When laborer Hap Collins' ex-wife Trudy pops back into his life with a story about retrieving unrecovered money from a bank robbery, Hap's up for it. In tow is Hap's best friend, Leonard, a gay black man who happens to be the toughest son of a bitch on the planet. Will Hap and Leonard finally make the big score that saves them from a life of backbreaking labor or is Trudy leading them to their deaths?

2014 reread: Since nothing on my unread pile looks appealing at the moment and a Hap and Leonard TV series is in the works, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the Hap and Leonard books I read pre-Goodreads. One of the perks of getting older is that old books magically become new books after seven or eight years. I remembered the basic plot of this book but forgot most of the wrinkles.

Savage Season introduces Hap Collins and Leonard Pine to the world. Hap is an ex-hippy who spent a year and a half in prison for dodging the Vietnam draft and Leonard is a gay black Vietnam vet who is the toughest man on Earth. Together, they coast through life on crap wages and make a lot of smart ass remarks.

Since originally reading this, I've read a lot of other crime books. It seems to me that Hap and Leonard owe something to Robert Parker's Spenser and Hawk characters, transported to Lansdale's rural east Texas setting. No matter how you slice it, though, Hap and Leonard are one of the most entertaining duos in crime fiction.

The plot of this one is pretty straight forward. Some money from a bank robbery was stashed on boat and sunk in the Sabine River. Trudy, Hap's ex, with some other radicals in tow, want Hap's help in retrieving it. Funny quips and bloody double-crosses ensue and Hap and Leonard wind up in the hospital for the first of many times in the series.

It always surprises me how funny Joe Lansdale's books are without lessening the impact of the violence that often follows. There are some pretty brutal images in this one.

While Savage Season isn't the best book of the series, it's a great beginning. Even in their first appearance, Hap and Leonard are very much the losers I've come to love over the years and I'm excited to be experiencing their adventures once again. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt


When the Commodore orders the Sisters brothers to kill Herman Kermit Warm and take his mysterious formula, they have no idea the series of misadventures they will endure in the undertaking.

I've been interested in this book forever and nabbed it on the cheap when it popped up on one of my ebook newsletter things. It may have been that my expectations were too high but this didn't live up to the hype for me.

I liked the characters of Eli and Charlie Sister, natural born killers in the old west. They were funny at times and brutal at others. I also liked the overly-formal Western dialog with few contractions, much like the Coehn brothers version of True Grit. I suspect the novel has the same style of dialog but I've yet to read it. It also reminded me of Richard Brautigan's The Hawkline Monster at times.

The book is described as being a picaresque adventure, which it is. It's also not a very interesting one for long stretches at a time. I loved the writing but I kept getting drowsy while reading it. I've never before been torn between my admiration for writing and my desire to toss a book back on the unread pile for something more interesting.

I did like it more than I thought it was bland, though. There were enough twists and reversals of fortune to keep me from drooling on my Kindle. There were a few close calls, though. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror

Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror (New Series Adventures, #55)Doctor Who: The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the TARDIS takes The Doctor and Clara to a seemingly sleepy English town, they are stunned at what they find: giant, mutated insects and arachnids. But what does that have to do with townsfolk wandering around in a zombie-like state, the stone circle at the edge of town, and something mysterious that happened during WWII? That's what the Doctor intends to find out!

I got this from Netgalley.

This is the third Twelfth Doctor novel I've read and it's a pretty middle of the road Doctor Who novel. Clara rings true and, as with the previous novels, I can't be too sure how accurate Doctor Capaldi's characterization will turn out to be. I will say that he doesn't feel like the Tenth or Eleventh Doctors, though.

Much like Silhouette, this Doctor Who had all kinds of plot elements that eventually converged. However, it may have had a little too much going on. There were some chapters that didn't feature Clara or the Doctor.

I did like how Mike Tucker managed to bring everything together in the end. What could have simply been a giant monster tale turned into quite a bit more. It was a fun Doctor Who adventure but by no means was it one of the better ones I've read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Doctor Who: Silhouette

Doctor Who: Silhouette (New Series Adventures, #53)Doctor Who: Silhouette by Justin Richards


When the Doctor and Clara visit a carnival in Victorian London after the Doctor detects a power spike, they cross paths with Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax. Vastra and Jenny are attempting to solve a locked room mystery while Strax is on the trail of someone who murdered a friend of his. How are the cases linked with the mysterious power spike the Doctor detected and what do they have to do with origami birds and the carnival?

I got this from Netgalley.

This is the second Twelfth Doctor novel I've read and it's pretty damn good. Since we haven't seen much of Doctor Capaldi so far, I can't vouch for the accuracy of Richards' portrayal but it didn't feel like a book written for a different version of the Doctor that was hastily modified. Clara rang true to character and the Paternoster Gang were well done, especially Strax, not surprising since Justin Richards also wrote Devil in the Smoke, a novella featuring the trio.

Orestes Milton proved to be a good foil for The Doctor and company, as did his weaponized carnies. Without a doubt, my favorite part was when the shapeshifter tried to distract the Doctor by assuming the forms of past Doctors, which the Doctor ignored.

The plot was like a greased pig at first. It took me a little while to grab hold of it. When you combine a carnival, a weapons dealer in hiding, a shapeshifter, and a creature that drains emotions, you've got a certain amount of fiddling to do to get everything into the proper place. Richards proved himself a good fiddler. Everything game together in the end and it was a pretty satisfying Doctor Who adventure.

However, it wasn't without a minor hiccup. I thought Madame Vastra made a stupid mistake around the midpoint of the story, funny considering she's The World's Greatest Detective.

Anyway, Doctor Who: Silhouette is a worthy addition to any Doctor Who fan's library. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Rain Dancers

The Rain DancersThe Rain Dancers by Greg F. Gifune
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Will and Betty Colby are at her recently deceased father's house preparing it for sale, an old man shows up out of the rain. Bob Laurent claims to be a friend of the family. But why can't Betty remember him? And why is he putting his hands all over her...

The Rain Dancers is one creepy little novella. It's basic premise reminds me of Joe Lansdale's Mr. Weedeater a bit. Bob Laurent shows up, undermines Will, and has some pretty sinister intentions. In addition to Mr. Weedeater, The Rain Dancers reminds me of Stephen King's It as well.

Gifune's writing conveys a growing feeling of unease from Will very well. The story goes down a dark path and events Betty herself can't remember come to light.

Since it's a novella, that's about all I'm prepared to reveal at this time. The Rain Dancers is a worthwhile entry in to the DarkFuse novella series and will likely prove to be a very memorable read. Four out of five stars.

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