3 Picks for December

Atlanta Deathwatch Cover ImageAtlanta Deathwatch by Ralph Dennis

Brash Books is bringing back this acclaimed and hard to find series from the seventies featuring disgraced ex-cop Jim Hardman working the grimy streets of Atlanta as an unlicensed PI with former pro-baller Hump as back up. In this first outing Hardman looks into a murdered girl tied to both a street dealer and politician. Good gritty stuff, with subtle emotions, and lots of gunfire. These books partly inspired Joe Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard series.

 

Hearts of the Missing: A Mystery Cover ImageHearts Of The Missing by Carol Potenza

Winner of the Tony Hillerman prize, this mystery takes us into the Fire Sky tribe on New Mexico’s Tsiba-ashi D’yini reservation. Tribal police officer Sgt. Nicky Matthews’ discovery of a body without a heart leads to a history of other unsolved murders and a conspiracy on the reservation. Potenza explores the idea of identity in a well crafted debut that should hook any western mystery fan.

 

 

Nightfall Cover ImageNightfall/ Cassidy’s Girl/ Night Squad by David Goodis

Three fine books by one of the masters of classic noir. Whether the man on the run, the disgraced pilot-turned-bus driver caught between two women, or the shady cop torn between loyalties, all three of these intense tales show how no one captured the dark streets and lives of desperation like David Goodis. As crime writer Ed Gorman said, “David Goodis didn’t write novels, he wrote suicide notes.”  

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PICK OF THE MONTH- WRONG LIGHT BY MATT COYLE

Matt Coyle has proved himself to be one of the best when it comes to tapping into the voice of the traditional private eye novel. The mood he creates between his series detective, Rick Cahill, its San Diego setting, and emotion of the story evokes Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald without treading into literary nostalgia. In his latest, The Wrong Light, Coyle finds a new tone for that melancholy voice.

Wrong Light (Rick Cahill #5) Cover ImageA radio station hires Nick to protect their sultry voiced evening host, Naomi Hendrix, from a stalker. As her tormentor closes in, Cahill learns of the secrets Naomi has been hiding, connected to a criminal past. Before long, he is in the middle of a deadly scam involving the FBI, Russian mob, and Irish gypsies.

Coyle develops a strong bond between, character, plot, and setting in the book. Coyle sets up an instant rapport with Rick and Naomi through the dialogue in their first meeting, that lends to his drive to help her and the possible heartbreak the job could lead to. Rick knows San Diego like the ex-cop he is and its changes reflect his age and connection to it. The book never forgets the detective moves the story. We watch every detail of Rick’s job, the stake outs and surveillances through his city and the interviewing of its people. Coyle builds a separation in these interaction, giving the feeling of private detection as lonely man’s work.

After the last book, Blood Truth, I was curious what Matt Coyle would do with Rick after wrapping up a major arc for the character. Right now, he seems to be a man in search of purpose, deciding to be the knight errant, tarnished armor or not. I look forward to going down many mean streets with Rick Cahill.

 

REVIEW: ADRENALINE JUNKIE BY LES EDGERTON

When Les Edgerton asked if I wanted to read his memoir, Adrenaline Junkie, I jumped at the chance. The several times I’ve hung out with Les have always been entertaining, partially due to the stories he has told of his outlaw life. I strapped myself in for several wild rides when I opened the book, but even knowing what a master story teller he is, I didn’t expect the journey he took me on.

Adrenaline Junkie: A Memoir Cover ImageWe start out with anecdotes from a Huck Finn-style childhood in postwar Texas. Most of it was under the eye of his grandmother, a tough business woman who had as much affect on him as his parents. One of the first heart breaking moments is when his family has to move away from her.

After some time in the Navy that included a tryst with future international sex goddess Brit Eklund, and college, Les fell into a life of crime with very little need for encouragement. Some involved drugs, but most involved theft. Many of these recollections are funny, like robbing a laundromat, knowing a patrol car is out front, and a shoot out during a heist that has an only-in-real-life twist. Les and his cohorts are far from master criminals. They are mainly guys who don’t want to grow up, feeling that luck is in their favor.

Luck finally runs out and Les finds himself in the prison system. He avoids both portraying his incarceration with macho bluster or overselling the horror of the place. He presents it as existing in a society where both routine and adaptation become a daily part of life.

His avoidance of over dramatization is never more apparent than in the chapter he devotes to being raped by a fellow inmate. Just by recalling the the details he remembers and the feelings he had at the time, Les knows this moment is harrowing enough. He perfectly balances the personal and the subjective as we get the feeling that he is still processing the crime after all these years. By avoiding any grand declarations, he neither belittles the violation or other victims of it.

What completely floored me was how the wildest and most adrenaline fueled parts of Les’s life came in the 80’s as hairdresser who put Warren Beatty’s Shampoo character to shame. Learning the trade in prison, Les built a salon and a national name for himself in the business. The money and success bought him a life of sex, drugs, and dangerous romances that almost put him back behind bars. Les allows you  to laugh at many of these harrowing moments and feel happy they didn’t happen to you.

This part of the book, of bouncing between successful businessman and self-destructive hedonist, becomes more vivid since it embodies the theme Les seems to be writing toward. If there is an antagonist in Adrenaline Junkie, it is boredom. Les is often searching for peace then screwing  it up. His goal is to find grace, but the temptation of chaos constantly knocks at the door. It also reflects his life as writer, working to find order within those experiences. We root for Les, like we would a fictional character, for him to finally get it right, mainly because this colorful life  eventually becomes exhausting.

For a memoir to work, the writer must not only have a life worth writing about, but he must know how to examine it. Les Edgerton seems to be as astonished as we are sometimes, with bemused asides at many of its darker moments. He makes no excuses. If he holds himself up as anything, it’s as a survivor, mainly of himself. He gives us no moral to the story of his life, but shows us how he finally found his grace. As a friend, I’m happy he came out the other side. As a reader, I’m glad he lived to tell the tale.

REVIEW OF IN THE GALWAY SILENCE BY KEN BRUEN

In The Galway Silence is the first book in the Jack Taylor series–it’s a follow up to “The Emerald Trilogy” where the character was involved with a Gaelic femme fatale. We find the semi-functioning Irish “finder” picking up the pieces that Emerald left in her wake in a life that is different. As dark as those three books were, Bruen finds ways to take Jack and the reader further down into the abyss.

In the Galway Silence Cover ImageYou know it is going to be dark when Jack tells you he has found a good point in his life. An inheritance has him flush and he is in a stable relationship. Saving a drowning man and being asked of two things puts him on his new road to Hell. An Irish version of the Trump brothers are drowned and their father wants to hire Jack to locate the killer. He refuses, but finds himself drawn into the case. His girlfriend asks him to look after her bratty son while she is in America for a couple weeks. These events and the return of a lover from the past tie Jack to a killer who calls himself Silence and makes him an opponent in a dark chess game.

Bruen uses the idea of silence as a dual theme. One is the quiet life that Jack struggles to attain, particularly after the chaos with Emerald. Jack follows current events as much as his case, connecting it to our own need for solace from the noise of a Brexit/Trump world. Silence also expresses the death that circles around Taylor as events close in. One great example is Bruen’s use of one small sentence after long rambling paragraph describing the day he spent with someone he gets to know and love. That sentence makes it clear there will never be another day they’ll have.

Bruen follows Taylor as someone attempting to retreat from the damage he’s been a part of. The only problem is, it keeps coming. He wonders if he is drawn to it, his penchant for self destruction only destroying others. He struggles to find a way to connect with anyone if fate always forces him to tap into the darkest part of himself.

In The Galway Silence is both Ken Bruen and The Jack Taylor series at it’s best. Bruen examines his hero and his city with a styles that cuts to the marrow of both. Jack Taylor may not always be a likable character, but we wouldn’t like him any other way.

 

REVIEW OF FOREVER AND A DAY BY ANTHONY HOROWITZ

Forever and a Day: A James Bond Novel Cover ImageIn Forever and a Day, Anthony Horowitz takes on the iconic spy James Bond for a second time. He goes further back to his first mission as 007. While new to having a license to kill, he proves to be lethal from the start.

When the previous 007 is murdered, Bond is recruited into the program. His predecessor noticed something odd about the drug smuggling in Marseilles — it had become almost non-existent. MI6 sends Bond out to find out what the agent learned about this dip in crime that got him killed. When asked what number he’d like to have with his double 0, he chooses seven to let them know they keep coming.

Marseilles proves to be a hive of dangerous scoundrels. After a brief altercation at the previous 00’s villa, Bond befriends Reade Griffith, an amiable CIA agent who shows him around the port city. He soon realizes the person he must find is Sixtine, a sultry freelance spy master with a tragic past, and a certain way she likes her martini. It all leads to a plot of international scale where few can be trusted.

Horowitz captures the flavor of the early Bond books. He replicates the cool tone and matter of fact attitude Bond carries, even in killing. He realizes that even though he may be new to the Double 0 circle, he would be a capable agent. Most of the missteps he makes are in his emotions.

The book also perfectly weaves Bond history into world history. We get Bond’s first meeting with M and a charming one with Moneypenny. Horowitz also plays with expectations of the the cannon, such as his choice of gun. He  uses the cold war backdrop of the fifties to perfect effect, having it play into the villain’s plan and the perfect twist of a last chapter.

Forever and a Day is a treat for Bond fans, particularly those who dug the Ian Fleming books. It is both dry and punchy as the spy’s favorite drink. This kind of mission may be new to the freshly minted 007, but it provides the kind of familiar entertainment his fans have loved for decades.

3 Picks for November

Forever and a Day: A James Bond Novel Cover ImageForever And A Day by Anthony Horowitz

Taking some material from Ian Fleming, Horowitz goes back to James Bond’s first mission as 007. MI6 sends him to Marseilles where he encounters drug smugglers, power players, and an alluring spy master. to find out what the previous 007 discovered before he was murdered. This book captures the cool style of the Fleming Bonds and cold blooded attitude of the secret agent, especially with the twist at the end.

 

 

Nighttown (A Junior Bender Mystery #7) Cover ImageNighttown by Timothy Hallinan

Burglar Junior Bender is hired to steal an antique doll for more money than it is worth. When he stumbles across somebody else trying to steal it, Junior and his girlfriend are on the run with a shady hit woman as their only hope. Hallinan skillfully uses humor, his anti-hero’s point of view, and the city of Los Angeles for a fun caper novel with heart and a wonderful literary reveal.

 

 

Adrenaline Junkie: A Memoir Cover ImageAdrenaline Junkie: A Memoir by Les Edgerton

Author Les Edgerton lets you into his life that leads into some of his great crime fiction. Following him through the swinging sixties and hedonistic seventies and early eighties, he led one hell of a life as a thief, convict, and hair stylist. Les pulls no punches in the telling. It’s not all pretty, but it’s all pretty entertaining. This is like experiencing that guy at the bar who had collected a lot of life experience and knows how to talk about it in book form.

PICK OF THE MONTH- THE SHADOWS WE HIDE BY ALLEN ESKENS

Thanks to MysteryPeople contributor Meike for writing a review of the November Pick of the Month The Shadows We Hide.

The Shadows We Hide Cover ImageAP cub reporter Joe Talbert stumbles across a story that piques his curiosity—a man also named Joe Talbert has been murdered in the small town of Buckley, Minnesota. Believing that the murdered man might be the father he never knew, Joe heads to Buckley to learn what he can about his possible namesake. Having no memory of his father, he’s not sure what to expect; what he doesn’t expect is to learn that his father was a hateful man who threatened his daughter, swindled a neighbor, and squandered his late wife’s inheritance. Any number of people in Buckley had a reason to want “Toke” Talbert dead.

At the same time, Joe’s estranged mother attempts to reconnect—a recovering alcoholic who neglected both Joe and Jeremy, Joe’s autistic brother, she is trying to make amends with her son. But he wants nothing to do with the woman who preferred booze and men over her sons. Forced to confront painful memories from his childhood, Joe has to try to put the pieces of his past together—and comes close to losing his future.

Eskens’ fans will remember Joe from the Edgar-nominated author’s debut, The Life We Bury. A college student at the time, Joe helped put a serial killer behind bars. Now Joe has graduated and is living with his girlfriend Lila who helps him care for Jeremy. The Shadows We Hide is a character-driven novel, carefully plotted and slowly unfolding to a gripping and completely unexpected conclusion.