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review 2016-05-17 18:55
A Terrible Sort of Beauty
Fatale, Vol. 1: Death Chases Me - Ed Brubaker,Sean Phillips

This is definitely hardboiled horror. I read this during the day, but I wouldn't read this before bed. It's very dark and some of the aspects and imagery are pretty disturbing. I couldn't tell if the author was going for a Lovecraft mythos kind of vibe or more of a Satanic/black magic kind of thing. Maybe both. There are many questions, particularly about the lead female character. What is she? Who is she? Why does she lead every man she encounters down the road of destruction. The author who is a prominent character did not inspire my sympathy in any way. The sad results of his choices did bother me, but moreso because of the innocents who were hurt because of his obsession with that woman. I am not sure if I will continue this. Part of me is curious, but I didn't like the way this made me feel as I read it. I've learned to go with my gut in my reading choices. Having said that, if you like the strange intersection of genres, particularly hardboiled/noir crime thriller and horror, you might pick this up. I would give this four stars because it's very well-written.

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review 2015-09-12 19:21
Herron goes hardboiled
Nobody Walks - Mick Herron

After a long career as an ops agent for MI-5, Tom Bettany had had enough.  He'd gone undercover for years to bust the McGarry crime organization, and that experience was a stain on the soul.  When his wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he quit to be with her and their son, Liam.  After Hannah died, the estrangement from Liam that had begun during his undercover years turned to a complete split.


Bettany became a bit of a drifter, leaving England for France and taking strenuous physical jobs, like his latest one in a meat packing plant.  When he gets a call saying that Liam died from a fall from his apartment balcony, where he had been smoking a powerful new strain of marijuana called muskrat, Bettany comes home.  Not just to go to the funeral, but to find out exactly what happened.


It doesn't take much of his old intelligence skills for Bettany to figure out that Liam's death was no accident.  Now he needs to find out who is responsible and make them pay.  With no official sanction and a fierce thirst for revenge, though, Bettany's methods of investigation lack a certain subtlety.  In short order, he has problems with a whole raft of dangerous characters, including the muskrat distribution gang's kingpin, McGarry gang members, and the muscle for Liam's boss, a multi-millionaire video game creator.  And when he gets a call from MI-5, that's not good news, either.


I got to know Herron's writing in the last couple of years, when I read his Slow Horses and Dead Lions, books about a group of MI-5 agents who have been exiled from Regent's Park, where the real intelligence action is, to Slough House because of various screwups and misdeeds. These castoff agents are expected to resign at the sheer humiliation, but they're determined to hang on, distinguish themselves somehow and scrape their way back across the Thames.


The Slough House series books are terrific thrillers, stylishly written and with plenty of of cynical humor.  One running schtick is how the Slough House boss, the slovenly and casually offensive Jackson Lamb, is able to puncture the two top iron ladies at Regent's Park, Ingrid Tearney and Diana Tavener.


You definitely don't have to read the Slough House books to enjoy Nobody Walks.  It stands on its own and has a different style.  There is not much humor to be had in Tom Bettany's story.  This is a grim and gritty revenge thriller.  You can't call Bettany likable, but he's a riveting character and the story is both action-packed and thought-provoking, with plenty of twists and turns.  If this book were made into a movie––which would be a great idea––I could see Daniel Craig or Liam Neeson playing Bettany.


If you have read the Slough House books, I think you'll get a kick out of seeing the iron ladies, and you may wonder, as I do, whether Nobody Walks is the end of the Bettany story or if there will be a sequel.  And if there is a sequel, might the Slough House gang come along for the ride?

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review 2015-09-12 13:28
The legendary last novel by the author of Get Carter
GBH - Ted Lewis

Ted Lewis was the author of Get Carter (initially titled Jack's Return Home), the inspiration for the Michael Caine classic noir crime drama.  The hard-living Lewis died in 1982 at age 42, and the legend has been that his last novel, GBH, not Get Carter, is his real noir masterpiece.  The problem is that GBH (which stands for the crime of Grievous Bodily Harm) went out of print in the UK almost instantly after it was published in 1980, and it wasn't published in the US.  But now we can all find out if the GBH of legend is the real deal.


In GBH's two-track narrative, crime boss George Fowler alternates between his life in London, where he ruthlessly hunts for the traitors within his organization, helped by the members of his ever-shrinking trusted inner circle.  The London chapters are called Smoke, and they alternate with chapters titled Sea, in which Fowler is now in a coastal town, where he is as alone and bleak as the the off-season beachfront.


The story is gritty, deep dark noir.  Fowler's business is extremely nasty porn, and he's relentless, ultra-violent and increasingly unhinged in his pursuit of his betrayer.  As the chapters alternate between Smoke and Sea, we learn how Fowler has come to the state he's in when he retreats to his luxurious, but empty, seaside house, and what the consequences will be of the choices he's made.


Lewis's prose is stripped down and searing.  One aspect of it I wasn't crazy about is its purposeful lack of clarity. Names are given, but we don't know who they are for some time.  We don't even know Fowler's first name for awhile, nor what his criminal empire is all about or why he's having various members of his organization tortured.  I thought the story was more than tense and compelling enough not to need this element, which just seemed gimmicky to me.


Noir fans will want to give this vintage London crime drama a read.  Some, maybe even most, may find that the clarity issue that bothered me adds an air of creepy suspense.


Note: I was given an advance copy of the book for review.

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review 2015-09-09 22:01
The Final Cut
The Fade Out Volume 1 - Ed Brubaker,Sean Phillips

One word for this graphic novel. Atmosphere. I definitely felt like I was in the late 1940s Hollywood. But the real Hollywood, not the glamorous, shining synthetic world that so many people in the industry tried to project. The point of view is from a screenwriter deeply immersed in the studio system who was emotionally broken by his war experiences. He wakes up in a bedroom and finds the body of the starlet in the next room. The star of the movie he's been working on. The list of suspects is long, and even if they aren't the murderer, most of these people aren't blameless and are far from innocent.

People like to say that the depths of depravity in society has gotten worse. I don't think so. I think people have gotten more blatant in their dark desires, but they have been doing anything under the sun for gratification since the beginning of time. This book shows that very dark side of Hollywood that swallows people whole, brings out the very worst in its denizens, exploiting their weaknesses and insecurities and their desire to be famous regardless of the cost. It features the wolves and the lambs (although the lambs aren't without blemish), and the bottom-feeders of the industry.

The artwork was alluring and perfectly paired to the narrative. It conveys the feel of a hardboiled, noir mystery, although the artist is not afraid to use color. I love the style of the 1940s, and I found myself a student of the character design in this book. It's done in such a way that it doesn't give a misleading tone of brightness that is completely opposite to the story.

This ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, in that there is no resolution of the mystery, but instead a big breadcrumb for the reader to follow in the next volume. I need to know, so I'll keep reading.

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review 2015-06-26 06:58
The most coveted object
The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett

Sam Spade is a street-smart protagonist with a nose for solving crimes and an eye for the ladies, but nothing touches his heart of stone. Not even the quest for a black statue of a falcon that is a priceless treasure, and the beautiful damsel in distress it brings into his life.

What starts as a simple surveillance job becomes a mystery that leads to some dead bodies, that the police are eager to pin on Spade. Spade isn't the man to be played, and he shows his ruthless nature, and keen intelligence hiding under a deceptive facade.

I listened to this on audio, narrated by William Dufris. He does an excellent job and really seems to enjoy himself in the process. Unlike some narrators, he manages a very good female voice that doesn't remind me of a man in drag. He also makes each character sound distinctive, and the nature of those characters oozes out to the listener.

I personally found Spade to be a jerk. But he's not all bad. He is adept that saying what a woman wants to hear, and with casual endearments delivered in a silver tongue, but meaning none of it, but he can also be quite mean to the women in his life. I wouldn't exactly call him a thug, but he has no problem using his physicality as an asset when it's necessary. The fact that he's a good detective is very apparent. And strangely enough, deep down there is a strange sense of honor that won't allow him to look the other way, even when he longs to. He also seems to be motivated by a need for no one to think they can take advantage of him. He's even willing to allow people to think the worst of him so long as he can keep his tough guy reputation. You get the impression that San Francisco is his city, and he knows how to maneuver his way through its deep waters. He is a true detective in the sense that nothing gets past him, and while he sometimes struggles to control his emotions, he never allows them to compromise his intellect.

Bridget O'Shaugnessey is one of those heroines who seems helpless and sweet, but it's also apparent she is more than capable of taking care of herself, like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. The fact that she's deeply involved in this falcon affair is a big sign that she's no Pollyanna. While part of you really wants to like her and fall into her honeytrap, the other part knows that she's not exactly what she seems. I didn't blame Spade for being wary of her and not believing any word she says.

Gutman and Cairo are conveyed in such a way that it's impossible to think of them as caricatures. Their descriptions are so distinctive, almost misleading. However, as I kept reading, I realized that their menace lurks under the surface. Wilbur is truly a scary character, a young psychopath capable of extreme violence and kept on a very short leash. While Wilbur is like a trigger, I'd rather know who my enemy is instead of being faced with an amiable man who is all smiles while he's plotting my demise, like Gutman. Or squishy dandy who seems like he'd jump if you shooed a fly.

I was a bit surprised at the raw content in this novel. Plenty of swearing, although not the big swear words that slip so casually off the tongue nowadays in media. While the sexual elements are alluded to, there is no question that something is going on between the sheets, and that Spade has a certain reputation.

Hammett's writing is terse and tends to be heavy on dialogue, using it as a tool to reveal crucial information about its character. His imagery is clear and bold. While some of his adjectives are a bit clunky, I really enjoyed the auditory stimulus of his descriptors. He conveys Spade as a very physical man, but that is merely a smokescreen for his keen intelligence, and one of his best assets, the ability to cause his enemies to underestimate him.

I think that there is a lot to learn about writing detective fiction from this book. Hammett makes it look easy, but it's not. Less is more is a lot harder than it seems, and my favorite authors are those who get it right. I recommend listening to this. It's very easy on the ears.

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