Book Review: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

What You Break
A Gus Murphy Novel #2
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7304-2
Hardcover

Michael Connolly has Los Angeles, Ian Rankin Edinburgh, Laura Lippman Baltimore; the late Robert Parker Boston; Tim Hallinan Bangkok.  Others write about localities they know.  And Reed Farrel Coleman not only lives in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, but takes us on a guided tour, in this novel featuring his somewhat flawed ex-cop Gus Murphy, still suffering after the death of his 20-year-old son, John Jr.  Gus, divorced after the death blew up his marriage, lives and works at a second-rate motel, driving a van to and from MacArthur airport and a LIRR station, picking up and dropping off passengers to and from the Paragon and providing security services in exchange for a free room.

The night bellman, Slava, who had once saved Gus’s life, is a close friend. When his friend’s past catches up with him and his life is threatened Gus is faced with a dilemma: sacrifice his friend or attempt to help him.   Meanwhile, another of Gus’s friends, the ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, asks him to take on finding out why wealthy Miceh Spears’ granddaughter was murdered.  The two plots move along simultaneously along the highways and byways  stretching from Queens County and Brooklyn right across Long Island.

Coleman even delves into the social and economic differences between various localities, with the Long Island Expressway sort of dividing north (white and wealthy) and south (for the most part poorer) and how enclaves protect the richer from others.  The novel takes a penetrating look at Gus, his personality and psyche, his assets and flaws.

A good read, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

Book Reviews: Baby Shark’s Showdown at Chigger Flats by Robert Fate and The Right Wrong Number by Jim Nesbitt

Baby Shark’s Showdown at Chigger Flats
Baby Shark #5
Robert Fate
Robert Bealmear, July 2012
Ebook

For readers of racing, abrupt and heavily plot-driven novels, here’s a fine example. Plus, it’s very well written with unusual and intriguing characters set in the blasted climate of the vast Texas oil fields. The action begins in the very beginning. In Fort Worth, Texas in 1960. Otis and Baby are on their way out of their office to a surveillance job. By the time the chapter ends, one guy has been dispatched by car bumper, another by .38, a third would-be assassin by heavy-duty handgun slug and at least one thug semi-crushed where he sat in their vehicle.

The cops show up of course, and some minor nicks and scrapes are duly attended to. Meanwhile, snappy dialogue between Otis and Baby and a few other characters effectively establish the characters, professions and attitudes of some characters. And, importantly, we get the foundation of the plot. A vanquished adversary, a very bad person, has been released from the Texas Penitentiary on compassionate leave. Now, word is out he wants revenge, and he has a lot of help.

Well, there is almost no let-down in pace, narrative voice or dialog between the characters for the entire novel. A delightful, bloody thriller of a crime novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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The Right Wrong Number
An Ed Earl Burch Novel #2
Jim Nesbitt
Spotted Mule Press, February 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9983294-0-6
Trade Paperback

This novel is filled with wrong numbers. Nearly every character is wrong, is one you would not enjoy having dinner with. Most of us would be afraid to walk down a dark street or even have a beer with any of them for fear of getting caught in the violent wash of a sudden shoot-out. Make no mistake, this is what we call a nasty, hard-boiled murder story. There’s no mystery here. The bad guys are carefully identified and described. There are no good guys, even the cops are at best flawed and mostly getting through life by bending the rules whenever necessary.

This exciting, roiling, novel is set in Texas and the action, nearly constant, runs from throttlings in Houston to gunfire, rape and murder in Dallas, as well as several points in between. The southern border to Mexico is breached as well. The story follows ex-cop, and former homicide dick, former footballer, Ed Earl Burch. He is paying in pain for his history and the loss of his gold shield due to questionable actions. He is over-weight, under-paid, living half the time from paid gigs as a private detective who has a rep that he’ll take on any sort of case. He seems to live the rest of the time wound up in the naked, sweaty limbs of ex-wives, current girlfriends and sundry other females, all of questionable social status. The sex is often violent, sometimes brutal, explicit and frequent.

Burch becomes entangled in a complicated arrangement involving the transfer of large amounts of cash and illegal hard goods among banks and assorted gangs across international boundaries. Burch agrees to aid the wife of one of the principals in trying to wrest large chunks of money from her mate. Her attraction to Burch is not so much in desperately needed coin of the realm as it is in the use of her body. Their sex is frequent and frank and varied. The more they plan and maneuver, the more collateral damage occurs, to foe and friend alike.

The pace of the author’s writing is mostly fast, furious and relentless. Occasionally he lapses into rambling philosophical observations, but those too are well-written, as is the entirety of the novel. This is certainly not a crime novel with universal reader appeal, but it will have strong appeal to a particular segment of the reading public.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Thieves Fall Out by Gore Vidal Writing as Cameron Kay

Thieves Fall OutThieves Fall Out
Gore Vidal, writing as “Cameron Kay”
Hard Case Crime/Titan Publishing, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-7832-9249-3
Mass Market Paperback

It had been a long time since I’d read a novel by Gore Vidal (partially due to the fact that he passed away 3-1/2 years ago at age 86).  It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to read a novel by this prolific author, thanks to publisher Hard Case Crime, which discovered a lost pulp crime novel written in 1952, unavailable for more than 60 years and never published under his real name.  This is a tale of a down-on-his-luck American trying to smuggle an ancient treasure out of Egypt on the eve of a bloody revolution.

From the publisher:  It is a pulp yarn through and through, defiantly non-literary (and non-P.C., but then Vidal always was that, with echoes of “Casablanca” in its wartime intrigues and desperate rogues.  But it will also hold interest for modern readers for its depiction of Egypt in the throes of a revolution, with the ouster of a corrupt monarch leading to rioting in the streets, bloodshed and chaos.

Peter Wells, 31 years old, born in Salem, Oregon, finds himself in Cairo in July, the hottest possible time of the year.  He has been robbed by a prostitute and left penniless with nothing except, fortunately, his passport.  In quick succession, he meets two beauteous young woman, one French and one German, each of whom quickly has him under her spell, despite warnings against each and a slight unease that they may each cause harm, either directly or indirectly, to him, as well as the mission he is on: to smuggle out of the country a piece of jewelry said to be cursed but worth over $100,000, for a ‘commission’ of 10%, which he desperately needs.  The not-too-far-distant history of one of the women with Nazis, and of the other with the present Egyptian king, in addition to a mysterious hunchback known as Le Mouche, enter into the tale as well.

The novel reads quickly, and the plot is intriguing, neither Peter nor the reader knowing who can be trusted, and certain that each has been telling him nothing but lies.  It is a very interesting novel, especially considering its true authorship, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2016.

Book Review: Casey’s Last Chance by Joseph B. Atkins

Casey's Last ChanceCasey’s Last Chance
Joseph B. Atkins
Mojo Triangle Books, February 2015
ISBN: 9781941644171
Trade Paperback

This is one powerful exploration of corruption, random violence and murder in the deep south. In the southern United States during the second half of the Twentieth Century, a wealth of divergent forces warred over various resources using every known technique to corrupt law enforcement and keep poor and minority residents in their places. Industrialists and manufacturers fought against union organizers, the KKK raised flaming crosses against African-Americans and immigrant Latinos, and Martin Luther King led a burgeoning civil rights movement into rampant but peaceful civil protest.

Some of this unrest looms on the horizon in July, 1960, when the novel opens. Casey Eubanks, hustler and poolshark is running from arrest out of Jonesboro, South Carolina for the accidental shooting of his cousin in a local bar. He takes bad advice from an acquaintance and fellow hustler and agrees to a murder contract. He’s supposed to erase a union organizer who is agitating for better pay and better living conditions in a mill in southern Mississippi. When the plan goes awry Eubanks instead murders a local corrupt cop and we’re off on a classic dark run.

The author nails the descriptive elements of the territory Casey travels through and he nails the increasingly dark psychology that drives Eubanks through sleeepless nights in dingy motels and brushes with the law on light-less nighttime deserted roadways. Readers will meet a host of characters all nicely detailed. The mood is somber throughout, even when Casey hooks up with a rogue FBI agent and a free—lance reporter trying to bring down a sprawling ex-Nazi cabal of the worst kind of criminal.

The dialogue is crisp and relevant, the mean streets are the meanest and the pace of the story is compelling. The author not only nails the physical elements of the south, his characterizations are among the most accurate for this kind of novel I have read in a while. Bravo for a gritty, dark and thoughtful novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny and A Bullet Apiece by John Joseph Ryan

A Night in the Lonesome OctoberA Night in the Lonesome October
Roger Zelazny
Chicago Review Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-55652-560-5
Trade Paperback

A quirky blend of horror, mystery, the story is narrated by Snuff, a dog. Jack the Ripper’s dog, although Jack is never quite identified. Nevertheless, he’s easily recognizable in a cast that somehow includes Sherlock Holmes, Dr Frankenstein, and Dracula, among others. Forgive me, but I’m not certain who “Jill” is, beyond an “opener.” Openers and closers being two supernatural factions who, during the month of October, gather creepy stuff to aid them in opening–or closing–the gates into the underworld.

Each of these characters has an animal companion. Jill has a cat, there’s a snake, a raven, a pack rat who’s a bit of a loose cannon. And they all speak. There are also monsters and “things” kept in mirrors and jars and old steamer trunks. Snuff is in charge of keeping them all safely corralled until the big night of October 31. Halloween.

Day-by-day, the tension mounts as the people go about collecting items needed for the opening–or closing–ceremony. Some people are friends, some dire enemies. Ditto their animal familiars. And once a night, Snuff is able to speak out loud to Jack, and so the story progresses.

As one might imagine, the finale is enough to make you shiver although, not to worry, the good guys win. Or do they? Since when is Jack the Ripper a good guy?

Since Roger Zelazny, in his last book, created this highly innovative story, which is complete with illustrations by Gahan Wilson. A perfect read for the month of October (or any month).

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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A Bullet ApieceA Bullet Apiece
Saint Louis Noir #1
John Joseph Ryan
Blank Slate Press, July 2015
ISBN: 978-1-943075-01-0
Trade Paperback

The novel is a comfort read. That is, if you are an inveterate reader of crime fiction, you can be comforted knowing that every joke, every bon mot, just about every cliché of the genre finds its way into the pages of this book. The dialogue ain’t far off, either.

Ed Darvis is a St. Louis PI with a main-floor office in a seedy part of town. The period is sometime after the end of the second world war. Across the road-I suspect it’s a paved street-is a charter school of some kind and while Mr. Darvis is currently idle, he spends time smoking cigarettes, observing the kiddies and ogling the teachers. And some of the parents.

One day, a leggy, seductive woman who drives a late-model Caddy coupe bursts from the school door in what our astute PI deduces is intense fear, “radiating off her like heat waves.” She roars off in a cloud of exhaust leaving one of the teachers, clearly agitated, standing at the schoolroom door. What we have is clearly a case of child abduction. Enter PI Ed Darvis, cigarette dangling, loaded .38 in his belt, ready and willing to find the child and bed either comely teacher or luscious mother, not necessarily in that order.

The dialogue is snappy and often cute, the action is rousing and predictable and the plot becomes surprisingly tangled. Whether the whole thing is a tongue-in-cheek put-on or a serious attempt at a novel is for readers to determine. This reviewer is persuaded the author invested a considerable effort to produce this story and it has its moments.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Hard-Boiled Detective 1 by Ben Solomon

The Hard-Boiled DetectiveThe Hard-Boiled Detective 1
Ben Solomon
The Hard-Boiled Detective, August 2014
ISBN: 978-0692269947
Trade Paperback

Sounds. They’re stuck in your head. A muzzle blast from a .38. Garfield’s rasp. Bogart’s lispy rhythm and Cagney’s high-pitched rants. The sea, restless, running past Key Largo punctuated by blasts of tommy guns echoing off the greasy walls of that Chicago garage on St. Valentine’s Day, so long ago. And of course you remember the looks, the swaying hips, the invitation to whistle from the women who graced and sometimes motivated the greed, the sex and the violence in the hard-boiled crime story.

Well, here they all are, reborn in slinky, sly and quippy dialogue and crashing plot, pulsed by dangerous swinging saps, out of control thugs, cops and robbers. From the slimy Mr. Jupitor to the gunman with the roscoe in the dark doorway behind Jimmy Shin, the action never lets up and the dialogue races on.

Here they are, eleven tales of the hard-boiled, urban warrior, stalking his targets down the soft summer ribbons of asphalt, and always with a smart retort, even as the pistol fires. Ben Solomon has got it just right.

Richard Prather would be pleased, I think.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2015.
www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Book Reviews: Now You See It by Jane Tesh and The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

Now You See ItNow You See It
A Grace Street Mystery #3
Jane Tesh
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0196-7
Hardcover

Delightful, pleasant, encouraging, a fine summer read. This is the third episode in Ms. Tesh’s third series of mystery fiction novels. Praise for Stolen Hearts and Praise for Mixed Signals are the first two. Magic, magicians, jealousy, competition, theft and murder. All served up in carefully proportioned amounts with just the right amount of suspense, suspicion and sanguinity. What’s not to like?

In brief, private investigator David Randall is hired to search for an artifact that may have historical significance. A local night club that features magic acts on its stage is the scene of the apparent theft. The missing object once may have belonged to the legendary Harry Houdini. While our earnest PI begins his search for clues to the missing object, he begins to encounter a surprising array of jealous actors, off-beat club workers and assorted hangers-on.

Meanwhile, Randall’s friend, Camden, seems to be losing his voice, Cams girlfriend, Ellin, is beset on several sides, Randall’s girl, Kary has become a magician’s assistant wannabe. Confused? Well, trust me it all gets sorted out in the end in logical ways. Oh, mustn’t forget to mention a major complication, the body discovered backstage in the trunk.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Black-Eyed BlondeThe Black-Eyed Blonde
A Philip Marlowe Novel
Benjamin Black
Henry Holt and Company, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9814-3
Hardcover

John Banville, the Irish author here writing under his pen name of Benjamin Black, has written a book certain to give exquisite pleasure to the many fans of Raymond Chandler and his creation, LA private detective Philip Marlowe with a reputation as a “thinking man’s detective.”. The masterful re-imagining is evident from the first words: “It was ‘one of those Tuesday afternoons in summer when you wonder if the earth has stopped revolving. The telephone on my desk had the air of something that knows it’s being watched. Cars trickled past in the street below the dusty window of my office, and a few of the good folks of our fair city ambled along the sidewalk, men in hats, mostly, going nowhere.”

The eponymous woman makes her first appearance moments later. “Her hair was blond and her eyes were black, black and deep as a mountain lake, the lids exquisitely tapered at their outer corners. A blonde with black eyes – – that’s not a combination you get very often.” As Marlow later summarized things, he is “hired to look for a guy who was supposed to be dead. Next thing I know I’m up to my knees in corpses, and I damn near became a corpse myself.” What happens in between, taking place in a little more than a week, is laid out in Chandler-esque form, with a wholly unexpected ending. To say that Mr. Banville has “captured” the charm of that author seems inadequate.

Apparently this title was one that Chandler had listed as a possibility for a future novel, and Mr. Banville has made of it a terrific mystery. He evokes the Marlowe era perfectly, conjuring up memories with names like the Marx Brothers, Paul Whiteman, Lon Chaney, Raymond Burr, and Errol Flynn.

I highly recommend that you give yourself the deep pleasure of reading this book.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2014.