I used to do a lot of reviews for the New Mystery Reader web site, upwards of twenty a year. Now I do a small handful, and almost always of books I’m probably going to like. There are several reasons for this, not the least being the time spent on doing a proper review cut into my own writing time. I also decided a few years ago not to finish books I didn’t like, and you can’t do that when you’ve promised a review. (Well, you shouldn’t. I’ve done it a couple of times and felt lousy about it.)
Now I confine myself to mentioning books I like, both here on my blog and on the book’s Amazon page. (I’ve promised myself to get busy on Goodreads, too, but Goodreads and I don’t seem to mesh well.) Having occupied myself with Bouchercon planning and shameless self-promotion over the past several weeks, I have let these recommendations lapse. Today we’ll start catching up. (Books are listed in the order in which I read them. No ranking is implied.)
Get Shorty, Elmore Leonard. Yes, it’s an old book; so what? Leonard’s satire of Hollywood has all the features his work is recognized for—quirky characters, slightly off-kilter plot, fantastic dialog—and is his funniest book, by far. Those of you who have read it know what I’m talking about. Those who have not read it really ought to. Not as dark as his earlier crime fiction (City Primeval, Split Images), and not quite as representative of his overall work as some others (Swag, Glitz), this may be the best entry point for someone not sure about Leonard. A writer like him will not soon pass this way again.
The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, Eric Beetner. Eric was interviewed about this book as part of my pre-Bouchercon run-up; now I’ll tell you why. Old hit man who may have lost an inch off his fastball is sent a younger hotshot to help him close an outstanding contract. They don’t get along, but they get together to do the job, which is where things go haywire. I’ll not spoil anything, but suffice to say the books starts with a dynamic that reminded me of Armand and Richie from Elmore Leonard’s Killshot (one of my Leonard favorites) and segues seamlessly into a smart chase/action movie where everything is believable.
Prohibition and Slow Burn, Terrence McCauley. McCauley may have the best idea on how to sustain a series: make the setting the consistent thing and rotate the characters. Prohibition follows Terry Quinn in his role of chief enforcer for Archie Doyle in Prohibition-era New York; NYPD detective Charlie Doherty is a subordinate character. Slow Burn is Doherty’s book, taking place after Franklin Roosevelt has taken over as governor and pledged to clean up the Tammany machine in the city. McCauley has a gift for capturing not just the period in which the books are set, but the style of writing used by many of the pulp writers of the day. Prohibition comes first, but I read them in reverse order and did not lose any enjoyment.
The Take, Mike Dennis. Dennis’s first, and a great start. Eddie Ryan is a sad sack bookie who gets in over his head so badly he has little choice but to step out of his comfort zone. Things go wrong—as we knew they would—not in the way we expected. Dennis has a good twist on the femme fatale, enough surprises to keep anyone interested but not confused, and he keeps track of them all so nothing is wasted. The ending would make Quentin Tarentino proud.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson. All right, all right, it took me 57 years to get to this; it was worth waiting for. I expect everyone reading this is hip to F&L; if you’re not and you follow the kinds of things I follow, you should be. I’d write more, but I have to get these goddamn bats out of my office.
Dad is Fat, Jim Gaffigan. The popular comic with bits about raising five kids in a two-bedroom New York apartment. Laugh out loud funny in places, smileworthy for the rest. Gaffigan has the knack of making fun of his kids while never leaving any doubt how much he loves them. He reads the audio book himself, which I expect adds a whole nuther level of entertainment.
“Peaches,” Todd Robinson. Nominated for a short story Anthony, and deservedly so. An underworld tough guy encounters his old babysitter in a bar. Where it goes from there, only Todd Robinson could take you. To say more will kill the effect. As good a short story as I’ve read in a couple of years.
Dirty Words, Todd Robinson. An anthology of stories, published before “Peaches.” As with any anthology, some stories are better than others; none are weak. “So Long, Johnnie Scumbag” gets things started with a bang. “Last Call,” “Angelo Death,” and “The Saint of Gunners” all stand out, but the highlights of this collection are two stories featuring the heroes of Robinson’s novel, The Hard Bounce: Boo Malone and his sidekick, Junior. Both stories have the pacing of The Hard Bounce, yet show there’s more than action and dirty words going on in Robinson’s writing.