Sunday, July 31, 2011

July’s Best Reads

I’m having a good time taking the summer off from writing, though I can feel the itch starting to grow behind my right ear. Reading goes on year-round. Here are my favorite reads for July.

Shadow of the Dahlia, Jack Bludis. Bludis is another one of those writers I’ve been aware of for a while. When an interview in Allan Guthrie’s Criminal-E blog activated the Kindle Impulse Purchase section of my brain, I downloaded a copy. Bludis does a great job of catching post-war LA without going to the extremes that sometimes make reading James Ellroy a chore. The murder here may be related to the famous Black Dahlia killing, but is buried by the media attention afforded the Dahlia. A few shovelfuls of dirt may also have bee thrown by people who draw enough water to keep a story like this hidden, even without the Dahlia case to hog the headlines. Toss in a mob boss who wants the PI protagonist to find a husband for the boss’s daughter and the story is seamy enough to hint of Ellroy without making you feel as though you should shower afterward.

In Defense of Flogging, Peter Moskos. I discovered Moskos through his first book, Cop in the Hood, that tells of his year-and-a half working a sector in the Eastern District of Baltimore. He currently teaches criminal justice at John Jay College in New York. In Defense of Flogging is a thought-provoking book, the central premise of which is that our current system of incarceration is broken and has to be fixed. Moskos isn’t advocating flogging, but uses it to start a conversation Americans badly need to have.

Big Numbers, Jack Getze. Getze does an excellent job of taking a sleazy stockbroker, making downright criminal, and still make you root for him. Austin isn’t as bad as the events in Big Numbers force him to be if he wants to continue to have visitation rights for his children, but he doesn’t fight all that hard against him, either. By the end no one is sure who wants him dead more. This is the kind of story Carl Hiaasen could write the hell out of and sell a bazillion copies if it had a Florida developer angle to play with. Getze has a Jersey stockbroker and pulls it off well enough for Big Numbers  to deserve more attention than it has received.

Shit My Dad Says, Justin Halpern. The popular series of tweets turned into a book is better than expected. More than just a series of shit his dad says, Halpern writes brief chapters to give some context to what his father has said over the years. This is both good and bad, as things an elderly man says to a grown child can be entertaining, while the same thing said by a father to a ten-twelve-thirteen-year-old boy make him look like a prick. The last chapter goes a long way toward redemption, and the book is pee your pants funny in spots.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Hale Fellow, Well Met

The Interwebs may differ whether it’s “Hail” or “Hale” and where it comes from, but it’s my blog and I know what I mean when I say it. In here, a “hale fellow, well met” is a person of generous good sprit with whom time spent is never wasted, being both entertaining and informative. Charlie Stella, for instance.

I was lucky enough to spend Saturday with Charlie, his cousin Jason, and Jason’s significant other, Allison at the Gettysburg battlefield. Conversation ranged from the Civil War to politics to writing to Tim McCarver. (Charlie is welcome to have him to run the Mets if he wants him. They can put McCarver in charge of NSA for all I care. So long as it gets him off television.)

This was the first time Charlie and I had met in the flesh. Pretty much a perfect day, though it was hotter than a bastard, not unlike the weather for the battle itself. The air-conditioned bus tour helped (the guide was well informed and personable), but the company was the key. Thanks to Charlie, Jason, and Allison for allowing me to share their day. I hope it won’t take as long to get together again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Absolute Zero Cool

My friendship with Declan Burke predates this blog. I met him via an interview after I had reviewed his novel The Big O, the appeal of which has not diminished with the passage of three years. He is a splendid person, a good friend and confederate, and has bucked me up more times than I care to remember as having needed to be bucked up.

His new book, Absolute Zero Cool, was officially released on July 7, though the big party will be August 10 at the award-winning Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar, in Dublin. Stop by and hoist a pint or three; say “Dana sent me” and I’m sure Dec will give you a hale fellow well met slap on the back. (He’ll do it, anyway, but I always wanted to tell someone to say, “Dana sent me,” and this was my chance.)

My copy was pre-ordered and is winging/floating its way across the Atlantic Ocean to me as we speak. It will get bumped immediately to the head of my To Be Read queue, as a brief taste of an early draft told me this is something I’m going to want to read, and I’m already damned tired of waiting for it.

What’s that? Who the hell am I to tell you what to read, since I’ve already said I’m in the tank for Dec? Fine. Don’t take my word for it. To hell with you. Do yourself a favor, though, and see what others, people who have actually demonstrated some game, say about Absolute Zero Cool:

“A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny. Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler.” – John Banville, author of THE SEA

Who in their right mind would want to blow up a hospital?

“Close it down, blow it up – what’s the difference?”

Billy Karlsson needs to get real. Literally. A hospital porter with a sideline in euthanasia, Billy is a character trapped in the purgatory of an abandoned novel. Deranged by logic, driven beyond sanity, Billy makes his final stand: if killing old people won’t cut the mustard, the whole hospital will have to go up in flames.

Only his creator can stop him now, the author who abandoned Billy to his half-life limbo, in which Billy schemes to do whatever it takes to get himself published, or be damned . . .

“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is unlike anything else you’ll read this year … Laugh-out-loud funny … This is writing at its dazzling, cleverest zenith. Think John Fowles, via Paul Auster and Rolling Stone … a feat of extraordinary alchemy.” – Ken Bruen, author of AMERICAN SKIN

Advance Praise for ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL:

“Stop waiting for Godot – he’s here. Declan Burke takes the existential dilemma of characters writing themselves and turns it on its ear, and then some. He gives it body and soul … an Irish soul.” - Reed Farrel Coleman, author of EMPTY EVER AFTER

“Declan Burke has broken the mould with ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which is actually very cool indeed. Funny, inventive and hugely entertaining crime fiction - I guarantee you’ll love it.” - Melissa Hill, author of SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY’S

“If you want to find something new and challenging, comic crime fiction is now the place to go … Declan Burke [is] at the vanguard of a new wave of young writers kicking against the clich├ęs and producing ambitious, challenging, genre-bending works.” - Colin Bateman, author of NINE INCHES

“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is a surreal rollercoaster of a read, full of the blackest humour, and yet poignant. An outrageously funny novel ... The joy is in the writing itself, all sparky dialogue and wry observation, so smooth that when it cuts, it’s like finding razor blades in honey.” - Deborah Lawrenson, author of THE LANTERN

“Burke has written a deep, lyrical and moving crime novel … an intoxicating and exciting novel of which the master himself, Flann O’Brien, would be proud.” - Adrian McKinty, author of FIFTY GRAND

Now that your appetite has been whetted, you can queue up for your copy here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mark Your Calendar

July 7 is a red letter day. No, not just because it’s Doc Severinsen’s birthday (also Gustav Mahler’s, but I never met Mahler personally, nor played a gig with him), but because Declan Burke’s new book, Absolute Zero Cool will drop this Thursday.

Dec has been a good friend to me and to this blog for several years, so yes, I’m in the tank. It should also be noted that we became acquainted when I interviewed him after reading and reviewing The Big O, which earned a highly coveted place on my ten best reads of 2008. (If Michelle Bachman can call herself a presidential candidate, I can call a spot on my list highly coveted.) It was the quality of his writing that served as our initial introduction; it wasn’t till later I learned what a good guy he is. A tireless promoter of all things good in Irish (and other) crime writing, his blog is updated more often Lindsey Lohan’s rap sheet. How his writing has failed to gain traction is pone of the great mysteries of the 21st Century, right up there with Snooki’s popularity.

I haven’t read AZC yet, so no spoiler warnings are necessary. Here’s the description from Irish Books Direct:

‘This man at the foot of my bed is too sharply dressed to be anything but a lawyer or a pimp. He is reading, intently, which leads me to believe he is more likely a pimp, as these days lawyers are more usually to be found writing novels than reading them.’ So begins an unforgettable trip into the seedy crime underworld and deep inside the author’s head. Rarely has a book within a book been more entertaining.

American readers can pre-order (as I have) at The Book Depository; shipping to the States is free. Based on Dec’s previous work and what I know of this book, it will be as much fun as you’re likely to have reading this year, and it will not go where you expect it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

June’s Best Reads

I’m enjoying my summer off from writing (waiting for Wild Bill to come back from formatting by doing light prep research for uploading) by watching baseball (the Pirates are two games over .500 on July 1 and I lived to see it) and reading. Lots of reading. And, as you can see by the list below, lots of good reading.

Samaritan, Richard Price. Not his best, still better than just about everyone else. Price examines white guilt through the story of a writer who returns home to the project where he grew up and tries to do good for debatable reasons. As always, solving the crime is less important than how the principals respond to the act of solving the crime. The book goes on a little longer than it needs to, but the writing never drags. Easy to see how Price got hooked up with David Simon for The Wire. They were made for each other.

Charlie Opera, Charlie Stella. Not as polished as his more recent books, easy to see how this one launched Stella into multiple publications. What could have turned into yet another story of an innocent straight guy in over his head against the mob—winning implausibly when he had no business doing so—becomes the story of a resourceful man who’s straight, but as hard as the crooks who are after him. Law enforcement plays just enough of a role, and the hoods are just shortsighted enough, to keep things believable. Stella’s writing has become tighter over the years, but nothing drags here. It was fun to see where he came from.

Setup on Front Street, Mike Dennis. I’ve been aware of Mike Dennis from his blog and other sources for a while now, finally got around to reading him. Now I’m kicking myself for waiting so long. He hits the trifecta here: great, but not overdone setting (Key West), a protagonist who’s hard enough to get things done in the manner described while retaining your empathy, and a spot-on voice reminiscent of Mickey Spillane. I thought I might like it going in, but not nearly as much as I did. Dennis also has a knack too many writers have forgotten these days: get in, tell your story, and get out. No padding here.

Collateral Damage, the authors or the Do Some Damage blog. Several collaborative blogs have released collection in the past year or so. This one and its predecessor (Terminal Damage) are the best I’ve read. Not a weak story in the bunch, though Joelle Charbonneau, Russell MacLean, and John McFetridge stand out. Just about the most entertaining dollar you’ll ever spend. (Assuming you have a Kindle.)

Pocket 47, Jude Hardin. Kick ass. Hardin’s hero is a former musician turned PI (which I love, as one of my protags is a musician turned PI) who struggles to make ends meet in a manner reminiscent of Hickey and Boggs. Nicholas Colt gets involved in what appears to be  a routine wandering sister case and finds himself seeing dead people. Okay, not really, but read the book to find out. Helluva read.