Before we begin, a brief reminder that the audio book of Grind Joint is now available on Amazon, audible.com, and iTunes. Mike Dennis has done an excellent job of capturing the aura of Penns River and the attitudes of the characters.
Not as many recommended reads from February as in January, but 1.) January was an exceptional month, and b.) February is shorter.
Herbie’s Game, Timothy Hallinan. I scored an advance copy of this one, and you’re jealous, even if you don’t know it yet. The best of Hallinan’s Junior Bender books, with the same humor plus a little deeper level of character development. The series started in this direction with The Fame Thief, and the momentum continues to build. All four Bender books are great stories and fun reads, but this one steps it up a notch. (Launches in July 2014, when a more detailed review will be available.)
Appaloosa, Robert B. Parker. I stopped reading the Spenser books the last few years of Parker’s life; I had the impression he had started mailing them in. His interest in the Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch novels may have been why. Great pacing, spot on dialog, and the dry style Parker had evolved toward is perfect for the setting. Using Hitch as Dr. Watson to Cole’s Holmes was inspired. Looking forward to reading the next in the series, after how this one ended. Highly recommended. I’m not sure why Cole becomes so enamored of Allie, but maybe that’s because Renee Zellweger played her in the movie. (The movie is also highly recommended. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen more than make up for the dubious allure of Ms. Zellweger.)
Whiplash River, Lou Berney. I stumbled—almost literally—onto Berney’s Gutshot Straight at Bouchercon Indianapolis: the line to work one’s way through the book tables stalled with me in front of it. (For what it’s worth, how Indianapolis handled the free book situation was perfect. Attendees got tickets (Three? Five? I forget.) to be redeemed at an exhibition of authors sitting at tables where the books could be inspected and the authors chatted up. I read every book I got there. I can’t remember the last time I read a book I got in my MWA bag.) I finally got around to Whiplash River and was delighted to find Berney suffered no sophomore jinx; it’s at least as good. Berney combines Elmore Leonard-like characterizations with Carol Hiaasen plotting without ripping anyone off; Berney’s voice is his own. If you haven’t read either book yet and you like Leonard or Hiaasen at all, you really need to catch up.
Star Island, Carl Hiaasen. Speaking of Hiaasen, my reading of him went on hiatus for a while after Nature Girl, where I felt he’d qualified for Raymond Chandler’s comment: “he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.” (Hmmm. Looking back, I see I read Nature Girl seven years ago. It wasn’t that disappointing.) Star Island is Hiaasen back in vintage form: characters who stand in as satirical archetypes (though Chemo’s prosthesis is a bit much), dialog that sounds almost unintentionally funny, a plot just goofy enough to make you know you’re suspending disbelief and digging it, and laugh out loud moments. He moves away from his usual Florida developer subject this time—though a prominent subplot skewers it again, literally—to give the world of celebrity and paparazzo “journalism” his own unique perspective. Skink also makes an appearance, which should be enough for Hiaasen fans to want to look this one up.