With the faint hope that things may soon return to normal here at The Home Office, it’s time to do a little catching up. I was able to slip in some worthwhile reading over the past several weeks. Here are my recommendations, in the order in which they were read.
Little Elvises, Timothy Hallinan. Hallinan’s Junior Bender series (e-book only) is funnier and less intense than his Poke Rafferty thrillers, but no less readable. Junior is a thief who serves as unlicensed PI to the underworld, getting himself out of scrapes by performing certain “services” for those who could do him harm. In Little Elvises he has to clear a cop’s uncle who was a shady music promoter fifty years ago and who may—or may not—be mobbed up. Hallinan has assembled an ensemble of characters that wears well and should provide ample fodder for a successful series.
Big Money, Jack Getze. The sequel to Big Numbers finds Austin Carr no longer living in a camper, but still making bad decisions. This time his boss has gone on vacation, leaving Austin to hold the bag without much to help him aside from the winning Carr smile and his wits, which cannot be relied upon any more than the smile. A New York-New Jersey mob war and federal investigators complicate things. Getze once again is able to pull off showing the reader right off the bat who is/are the bad guy/guys without telling you who they are, so you know how the climax sets up without knowing who is there. A fun read, perfectly balancing comedy, crime, and violence, without spoiling the effect of any.
Fox Five, Zoe Sharp. Sharp writes the kind of books I don’t usually read, unless they’re written by her. Charlotte “Charlie” Fox is a close protection agent (bodyguard to us in the States) who is involved in a series of thrillers. Sharp keeps Charlie believable by making her efficient (not a sexy killbot) yet not perfect (she still needs help from time to time). This collection of short stories is an excellent primer into Fox’s world, and should lead any reader to want to read the Fox novels.
Watch Me Die, Lee Goldberg. I’d forgotten how many humorous books I’d read recently until I put this list together. Goldberg does a great job with Harvey Mapes, a Walter Mitty for the 21st Century. Mapes works in the guard shack for a gated community but dreams of being a private investigator. When he’s finally given an opportunity, he researches investigative techniques by reading Travis McGee books and watching an Mannix marathon. That works about as well as could be expected. Goldberg keeps Harvey likeable and teases you just enough with what can go wrong without giving too much away. The ending is a little somber in tone compared to the rest of the book, but not enough to spoil the fun.
Gun, Ray Banks. Banks is the goods. Gun is a day in the life of Richie, recently released from jail, who is tasked with picking up a gun for a local crime boss. This is a bigger deal in England than it would be in the States, but still should be a simple pick up and deliver. Things go wrong and Richie finds himself far more involved than he intended. A true noir tale of a flawed but not wholly irredeemable character drawn down by circumstances and bad judgment, written by a master.
Road Rules, Jim Winter. Insurance companies, Russian gangsters, cops, feds, and the Catholic Church combine to give this chase story multiple injections of energy ad fun. Winter treads the line between what’s funny and making light of what isn’t funny with a deft touch. A large cast is well differentiated and easy to keep track of, and everything makes sense, in it’s own goofy way. The added twist in the last paragraph is the mint after a great dinner.
Joe Puma, PI, William Campbell Gault. Five first-rate PI stories from the 50s, hard-boiled without being self-conscious about it. There’s nothing neo or retro about Gault. He wrote these when they were the vogue and hold his own with anyone. I’d never heard of him before, and I forget how I heard of this colleciton, but he’s on my radar now.