Tuesday, May 29, 2012


StickStick by Elmore Leonard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fresh out of jail after the events of Swag, Ernest Stickley tries to go legit and winds up back in the thick of things once again. While lying low as a chaffeur, can Stick stay alive long enough to collect the $5,000 he's owed?

Stick is a by the numbers, run of the mill Elmore Leonard book. I can't imagine it's anyone's favorite Leonard. However, it is enjoyable in the same way all of Leonard's books are enjoyable. It contains all the Leonard hallmarks: lowlifes, broads with loose morals, slick dialogue and more double crossing than you can shake a stick it at.

Stick is the return engagement of Ernest Stickley, one of the loveable lowlifes from Swag. While Stick is a pretty slick character in the mold of most Elmore Leonard protagonists, he wasn't as interesting as Swag's other lead, Frank Ryan. Too bad Ryan died in prison from drinking moonshine.

The plot is pretty simple. Stick's supposed to help deliver some money, get's double crossed, and then spends a lot of his time looking over his shoulder and trying to get even. The supporting cast is a mixed bag, from Chucky, the man with the womanly hips, to Nestor, the Cuban drug dealer who practices Santeria, to Kyle McLaren, the lady financial wizard that Stick has his eye on.

Leonard's dialogue is the star of the show, as it normally is. I guess my main grip with Stick is that I felt like I've read it a few times before. It's was good but didn't stand out at all compared to the other Leonard's I've read. It's still a three star read though.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Right to Sing the Blues

The Right To Sing The Blues (Alo Nudger, #3)The Right To Sing The Blues by John Lutz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

St. Louis detective Alo Nudger is hired to go to New Orleans and investigate a singer for a legendary jazz man named Fat Jack. Only certain people don't want Nudger poking around in their business...

This is the third book in the Nudger series and John Lutz seems to have hit a good rhythm. Nudger's case takes him from St. Louis to New Orleans to several other cities, all in the name of investigating a shady piano player who's romancing the singer at Fat Jack's nightclub who also happens to be the daughter of a bouncer.

Honestly, the case was secondary for me. I'm far more interested in Nudger as a character. He's far from a typical detective. He's not particularly tough, brave, or even skilled. He mentions spending an entire morning looking for his car keys, for instance. What he is is tenacious and very human. He pops antacids repeatedly and isn't afraid to throw up when things get gory. He's almost an everyman. He's not great with the ladies and takes a good shit-kicking every time he has a case. He also has an office above a donut shop but it wasn't prominently featured in this outing.

The case itself seemed straight forward at first glance but had a lot more wrinkles than it seemed. I didn't see what was coming until around the time Nudger did. The supporting cast did its job but wasn't as good as the supporting cast of Matthew Scudder, Lawrence Block's ace detective that Nudger seems like a kinder, gentler version of at times.

Did I mention the smart dialogue yet? I don't believe I did. John Lutz's books have a lot of good banter and this one was no exception. Nudger's intellect is a notch above a lot of series detectives without crossing over into obnoxious territory. Just another reason to like the loser.

Any gripes? Well, it was a pretty slim book but I felt the pace could have been a little faster. Also, I felt bad Nudger, just as I did in the previous two books. Did he have to piss blood? Matthew Scudder never pisses blood! Seriously, though, it's a pretty solid detective story. I would have liked it more if Lutz had stuck with St. Louis as a setting but I think Nudger will return to his home base soon enough. 3+

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Maltese FalconThe Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

2012 re-read...
Sam Spade's partner is murdered and Sam is determined to find his killer. But what does Miles Archer's murder have to do with the client he was working for or the mysterious Maltese Falcon?

What can I say about one of the Big Two pulp detective novels, the other being The Big Sleep? Well, let's see...

The Maltese Falcon embodies a lot of what made pulp detective fiction great, leading to hordes of imitators. You've got the wise-cracking detective who has a way with the ladies, gunplay, deceit, sex, and murder. Throw in an elusive macguffin and you have a blueprint a lot of writers have been following for over three quarters of a century.

Sam Spade, that blonde Satan, is the father of many detectives that came him. In fact, it would be interesting to see whether he or Raymond Chandler has more bastard detective descendents. The plot the Maltese Falcon is fairly simple. Somebody has the Maltese Falcon and everyone seems to think Sam Spade knows where it is. Miles Archer's murder complicates things a bit but really isn't much more than a bump in the road until his killer is revealed.

The bad guys and supporting cast are an interesting bunch. Brigid O'Shaughnessy lays the groundwork for a lot of femme fatales to come. Gutman, Cairo, and Wilmer are more than just stock characters. The cops were a little light on personality but they were mostly in the story to hassle Spade so that's not such of a big deal.

Hammett's prose drives the plot along but lacks the poetry of Raymond Chandler's. Seventeen years after I read The Maltese Falcon for the first time, I have more of an appreciation for Hammett's spare style. The plot keeps moving forward without a single misstep. It's only 200-ish pages but by the end, it feels like the perfect length for such a tale.

Any complaints? Not as such. Modern readers will probably not like the book's treatment of women but it was written in the late 1920's so it has to be given a bit of slack. Honestly, my only complaints are that there aren't any more Sam Spade books and that Dashielle Hammett wasn't Raymond Chandler.

For a parting thought, this line of dialogue nicely sums up Sam Spade's character:
"When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him."

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Shade, the Changing Man, Vol. 1: The American ScreamShade, the Changing Man, Vol. 1: The American Scream by Peter Milligan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An alien named Shade wins up in the body of a killer while he's being executed in the electric chair. Shade and Kathy, daughter of two of the killer's victims, go on a strange odyssey and combat the American Scream...

When people talk about British comic writers, Peter Milligan is usually an afterthought after the big three of Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison. While Shade isn't my favorite of Milligan's work, it gives hints as to what he's capable of.

Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing lead to a lot of British writers getting work reviving some of DC's forgotten characters. Milligan ended up with Shade, an old Steve Ditko character, and put out a book that consistently competed with the Doom Patrol as one of DC's weirdest books.

My plot summary doesn't do the book justice. The weirdness level is high and Milligan works JFK, Hollywood, and a lot of other distinctly American things into the mix. It's a fun ride even though I'm not quite sure what happened in parts. I'm giving it a 3, partly for nostalgia reasons and partly because I know it only gets better from here.

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The Getaway Man

The Getaway ManThe Getaway Man by Andrew Vachss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Simpleton car thief and getaway driver Eddie drifts in and out of prison until hooking up with J.C, a master planner. Things go south quickly when J.C.'s girlfriend Vonda wants a getaway man of her own...

I've greatly oversimplified the plot but that's pretty much it. The Getaway Man is a fast-paced page turner from Andrew Vachss. Not as bleak as his normal fare but it's still pretty good.

The narrator, Eddie, is slow but something of an idiot savant when it comes to cars and driving. He bounces from jail to jail and crime to crime, meeting women and learning lessons along the way. Then he meets up with J.C. and the book really takes off. The voice Vachss give Eddie is both believeable and sympathetic. You get the idea that Eddie's been lead around his whole life and isn't aware of it. When Vonda shows up, Eddie's probably the only one who doesn't know what her game is.

It's at this time you may hnotice the three star rating. For being less than 200 pages, the pace is a little slow for the first half. Sixty pages are spent on Eddie's background. It was necessary to the plot but it wasn't all that interesting. There's not a lot else to tell. It's a pretty slim book. Like I said in the previous paragraph, the ending was pretty predictable. Other than that, I have no complaints. Vachss proved he could write something besides one of his Burke novels in The Getaway Man.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Voodoo River

Voodoo River (Elvis Cole, #5)Voodoo River by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elvis Cole is hired to find the birth parents of a TV star. He and Pike head to Baton Rouge and quickly uncover more than they bargained for. Can Cole and Pike find Jodie Taylor's birth parents and leave Lousiana with their hides intact?

It's been a lot time since my last Robert Crais book. Too long, in fact. Voodoo River is a prime example of why I stuck with Crais despite my initial impression that he was ripping off Robert B. Parker's Spenser.

In this outing, Cole's case takes him to Louisiana and quickly spirals out of control, par for the course for Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. I liked that Lucy Chenier was introduced as a recurring love interest for Elvis, even though I didn't quite buy how their relationship unfolded. Pike showed a little more depth but was pretty much along to get his hands dirty so Elvis wouldn't have to. Elvis continues to grow on me as a character. He's not the Spenser ripoff with a collection of quirks I almost dismissed him as in the first book.

The plot took off in a direction I never expected, something that always gets high marks for me. Kudos to whomever wrote the back cover of the book for not giving anything away. (view spoiler)[Another thing going for it is that someone got devoured by a big snapping turtle at the end. You don't see that every day. (hide spoiler)]

If this was one of the first couple Elvis Cole books I read, I'd be tempted to give it a 5. However, I can't justify giving it more than a four for the following reason. It seems like the Elvis Cole books always follow the same pattern. Elvis and Joe keep poking around and poking around until they bad guys are good and mad and maneuver them into a bloody shootout at the end. While it was a really exciting book and I liked the twists, it followed the same basic pattern as the others. Still, it's firmly in four territory.

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Little SisterThe Little Sister by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A woman from a small Kansas town hires Philip Marlowe to find her missing brother. What Marlowe finds is himself ensnared in a web of drugs, blackmail, and murder...

As I've said many times, noir fiction and I go together like a bottle of cheap vodka and nightmares about being chased by coyotes. The Little Sister by the esteemed Raymond Chandler is no exception.

It may be because it's been a few months since I've read one of Raymond Chandler's oddly poetic noir masterpieces but I liked The Little Sister almost as much as Farewell, My Lovely but not as much as The Big Sleep. Chandler's simile-ridden prose pushes Marlowe from one sordid event to the next, making the bloody trip as pleasurable as a walk on the beach.

As is usual for a Chandler book, the plot meanders all over the place. Marlowe takes a kicking but keeps pushing his way forward, solving the case through a combination of luck, good detective work, and top notch dialog.

The case looked simple when it was just Ormafay looking for Orrin. Throw in the blackmail angle with Mavis Weld, some thug named Steelgrave, and people getting murdered with ice picks to the neck every other chapter and I had no idea where things were going for a good portion of the book.

The trip to the end was confusing but quite pleasurable due to Chandler's sublime prose. I lost track of all the one-liners I wanted to remember. "His nose had been broken and set but hadn't ever been a collector's item" is the first one that springs to mind.

I know I saw it with every Raymond Chandler book I review but this is a must read for noir and detective fiction fans. It's an easy four stars.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ship BreakerShip Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a dystopian future wracked with environmental disaster, a young salvager named Nailer's world is turned upside down when he stumbles upon the find of a lifetime, a magnificent clipper ship, and and its beautiful owner, a rich girl named Nita...

Paolo Baciglupi crafted quite a tale in Ship Breaker. You've got familial conflict, ecological disaster, young love, dystopia, what's not to like?

Not a lot, frankly. The world Bacigalupi has created is quite something. The cultures are very believable, especially in today's uncertain economic and ecological times. Nailer, Nita, and the others are three dimensional characters and Ship Breaker easily rises above just being another young adult novel.

Did I mention I loved the cultures depicted within? The scavengers had a rough yet believable life and Nita's transformation from swank to pseudo-scavenger was very well-done.

One thing that was foremost in my mind was Paolo Bacigalupi's skills as a writer. When Nailer was in danger of drowning in oil, I found myself getting more and more frantic, even though, rationally, I knew that since 300 pages were left, he'd probably survive.

While a lot of people mention the budding romance between Nailer and Nita, by far my favorite part was the filial showdown between Nailer and his father. Yeah, I'm way past the point in my life where I feel like kicking my dad's ass but I remember those days.

Actually, the plot is my least favorite part of the book. The world-building easily super-cedes it. The characters and the world take center stage. Yeah, it wouldn't have been as good if it had ended differently but what are you going to do.

Four easy stars. Don't let the YA label sway you.

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