Monday, December 1, 2014

November's Best Reads

Lots of good stuff read since last time, and more news on the way, but work still needs to be done. So, without further ad, my favorite November reads:

Every Bitter Thing, Leighton Gage. Leighton Gage’ death a couple of years ago was a great loss. His series featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian federal police has many of the best elements of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct, writ large across a nation. The rapport—not always without edge—between his cadre of cops is spot on, and the political reactions to the cases ring true. This is the first in the too-short series I’m re-reading from the start. After refreshing my memory here, I can’t wait to get to the next. If you haven’t read any of these books, you’re missing out. First rate stuff, right down the line.

The Drop, Dennis Lehane. Read this in two days during free time at NoirCon, which gives you an idea of how I blew through it. True, it’s not a long book, but it’s damn near perfect. Lehane is a master at making narrative flow like dialog, while writing dialog George V. Higgins would be proud of. Appropriately funny in spots, dark in spots, and with a twist that made me want to see the movie even more. Highest marks.

Cottonwood, Scott Phillips. Phillips never disappoints. Asking which of his books is my favorite will return a different answer, depending on whether I’ve most recently read: The Ice Harvest, The Walkaway, or Cottonwood. Right now it’s Cottonwood. I toy with the idea of writing a Western someday. If I do, this is exactly the tone I want to take. Scott can start lining up his legal team now. (The book appears to be out of print. Amazon has several links. The one provided is not a recommendation, just the first one listed.)

Queenpin, Megan Abbott. Great period read. It’s easy to see how this put her on the map. Her females are as tough as any man without being caricatures and their predicaments are realistic, as are the resolutions. Reminded me of The Grifters in the mentor-protégé relationship, though is derivative in no way. Sets up well for a sequel, if she ever chooses to. The period patter was a bit much, at times.

Black Rock, John McFetridge. I read a pre-release e-book and had trouble getting it onto my Kindle; the formatting didn’t come out right. I read it again in paper to have a little more of a pure reading experience and liked it even more. Kindles are great, but they can get between the author and reader in ways books do not, and this is a book you want nothing to be in the way of. (That’s called license, when a writer makes up grammar on the fly like I just did. Look it up.) McFetridge never received the public acclaim his Toronto series deserved. Let’s hope Constable Eddie Dougherty does, and that he doesn’t have to get old and cranky to do so.

Sucker Punch, Ray Banks. Working my way through the entire Cal Innes series, happened to read this one on the plane to Bouchercon, completely unaware Innes spends most of this story in LA making a mess of chaperoning a young boxer. Banks is as pitch-perfect a writer as I can name. Uses no more words than necessary, but no fewer, and exactly the right ones. His plots are as complex as they need to be, and his characters are alive the instant you first meet them. Grade A stuff.

Kill Clock, Allan Guthrie. An author/agent/editor/publisher polymath of a writer, Guthrie knows how to leverage the flexibility available in e-books to write stories only as long as they need to be. Pearce is the perfect anti-hero here, not looking for shit, but not going to put up with any, either. When he finds himself in a bad situation he had nothing to do with—and wants nothing to do with even more—he’s more than capable of bringing it to a head on his own. Guthrie doesn’t back away from his ending, which some won’t like, but is exactly what the story needed. The wry little coda at the end is a nice touch.

Breaking Point, Gerard Brennan. Another novella. Brennan, along with Guthrie and Banks, may have the best understanding of the benefits of the form. A sequel to The Point, Breaking Point picks up the story with some scores settled, but some still outstanding. Brian Morgan only wanted to buy some grass, but his dealer’s unrealistic ambitions suck him in a classic “wrong place/wrong time” scenario. Brennan isn’t as dark or hard edged as Guthrie, but his anti-hero is someone you can root for, while Kill Clock’s Pearce is someone who causes you to fear for the other guys.

TheLincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly. I read for style as much as for anything else. This is why best-sellers rarely appeal to me: too bland. I live for books where I can read a particularly nice bit to The Beloved Spouse, or pause and sit back with the ultimate compliment: I wish I’d written that. Connelly rarely does that, so it’s a tribute to how well his plots and characters are drawn that his books envelope me as they do. His research is so well done, I use his books as research for my own. And I can’t put them down. I didn’t think I’d like the premise for The Lincoln Lawyer, but found it in a discount bin for six bucks. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Wow you made some great choices here. Have to try LINCOLN LAWYER. I know I have it somewhere....

Rick Ollerman said...

"Cottonwood" haunted me until I e-mailed Mr. Philips with a question about the ending. Not only did he give me the answer, he also pointed out that a sequel story of sorts appears in the anthology "Better Off Dead II" (this is from memory) and I believe his most recent book is a "Cottonwood" sequel.

And if you didn't know it, the homicidal family in "Cottonwood" is based on the real life "bloody Bender" family, about whom a number of books has been written.

On the other hand, if you already know all this, um, never mind....