Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review: The Witch Elm

The Witch Elm The Witch Elm by Tana French
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After suffering a brain injury during a burglary at his apartment, Toby goes to live with his terminally ill uncle Hugo. When a skull is found in a hollow tree on Hugo's property, the cops eye up Toby as a suspect. But with his brain injury, he can't be sure he's responsible or not...

I've been awaiting this Tana French book since it was available for pre-order since her Dublin Murder Squad books are some of my favorite things. I almost canceled my pre-order when I saw this was a standalone but stuck with it.

Tana French is one of my must-buy authors so it pains me to say I almost tossed this one back on the pile. The skull isn't found until about a third of the way through the book. The writing is as sharp as ever but I felt like something was missing. It was glacially paced and I didn't really care for Toby. He was unsympathetic before the beating and I only liked him a little bit more after.

Once the skull was found, however, I tore through the book in two or three long sittings. When the fuzz started sniffing around, I was about 90% sure Toby did it and was going to wind up in the clink. French ratcheted up the suspense and I was hooked for the duration. At various times, she had me believing a few different people were the killer. Things eventually went off the rails in a huge way and I was quite glad I didn't chuck it.

Once the mystery really kicked in, the book was good, almost great. Before that, I felt like she was padding things until she figured out whether she was writing a literary novel or one of her usual literary-mystery hybrids. A third of the book is too much setup for what was basically a whodunnit, no matter how well written it is!

Okay then. The Witch Elm is an enjoyable book once you get over the sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow start. I don't want to say Tana French should stick with the Dublin Murder Squad but her next attempt at a standalone needs to be more engaging than this. Three out of five stars.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review: The Man Who Came Uptown

The Man Who Came Uptown The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michael Hudson is released from jail after witness refused to testify. After developing a voracious appetite for books in the joint, he just wants to get a job and read in peace. When the detective that got his witness to bow out comes looking for a favor, it's either be a getaway driver or go back to prison...

George Pelecanos is back in fine form with The Man Who Came Uptown. Michael Hudson just wants to get his life back to normal when Phil Ornazian braces him for a favor. Just let the guy read his damn book!

The atmosphere of George Pelecanos' Washington DC is still there but it's matured some since his last outing. While there were still references to cars, music, food, and dogs, they weren't as prominent as they normally are. There was a lot more book talk, however.

The Man Who Came Uptown was more character-driven than some of Pelecanos' previous books. Michael and Anna and the bond between them was one of the most interesting parts. Who can't empathize with a guy who just wants people to leave him alone so he can read?

Since it's a Pelecanos book, I was sure it was headed toward the usual shootout with drug dealers ending but it swerved around it into something more meaningful.

While I don't think it was Pelecanos' best, The Man Who Came Uptown was his best in a long while. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Review: Everything is Horrible Now

Everything is Horrible Now Everything is Horrible Now by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decades ago, the people of Bay's End burned the town founder and his wife after she was accused of being a witch. When the pastor kills his family and them himself with a shotgun, things appear to be coming full circle...

I first encountered Edward Lorn on Booklikes. He's one of those insidious types that never pushes his books on you. Anyway, a little while ago, he asked if I wanted to take a look at Everything is Horrible Now. Of course I did! I read the first 20% during a rare lunch break where people left me alone and I was starving for more!

"Everything is Horrible Now" is repeated throughout the story, first by Pastor George before he blows his brains all over his front porch in front of Wesley Haversham, then by others. It's partly small town horror, shades of early Stephen King when no one was safe, part cosmic horror. Hell, most forms of horror appear between the two covers at some point.

There are several viewpoint characters: Sheriff Hap Carrigan, the lawnman that resembles Lou Ford of The Killer Inside Me more than the heroes of most detective stories, Wesley Haversham, the farm boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Kirby Johnson, the homosexual boy sent to Humble Hill to be "cured," and Pete Blackwood, an imaginative boy living with his hyper-religious grandmother Beulah. Beulah's also a viewpoint character, as is Gertie Fulgore, a woman from a family stricken with a blood curse that used to worship The Bastard.

I feel like I was missing a few things by not reading every Edward Lorn book in existence but I caught references to all of his books I've read up to this point. Easy E does a great job of juxtaposing cosmic horror with the everyday small town horrors of racism, fear, and ignorance. There is some extremely creep shit going on here, like the Coat Men, the people working at Humble Hill, and whatever the fuck the kid in the eyepatch is doing. The book feels like a Laird Barron book at times, what with the cosmic horror and talk about the nature of time and such.

There's a lot of small press horror out there and a lot of it is mediocre to average. What sets Ed apart from a lot of horror is his characters. They all rang true for me, from Hap's inner demons to the friendship between Pete and Wesley. He nicely captures what it was like to be an eleven year old boy. It also helps that Ed knows how to put the words in the right order. "Like an asshole full of concertina wire" was one of the early lines that jumped out at me and there were a hundred others.

Everything is Horrible Now turned out to be quite a wild ride with a lot of crazy bumps in the road. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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