Friday, October 20, 2017

Review of A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston (2006 by Ballantine Books)

Having moved from a man on the run in Mexico to reluctant hitman for the Russian Mob in Las Vegas, Hank Thompson only seems to function if he’s swallowed a cocktail of drugs. Other than the drugs, all that is keeping him going is the need to serve his debt to keep his parents alive, but he knows that his boss’s patient is running thin. He’s somewhat surprised then when he’s asked to babysit a rising baseball star and gambling addict who's visiting the city to blow some of his signing-on-fee from the New York Mets. Hank’s task is to keep the player partying and out of trouble. It’s a bitter pill for the ailing hitman to take given that he was also a hot baseball prospect before events overtook him. Nonetheless despite his resentment he can’t help liking Miguel Arenas. When Miguel heads to his new life, Hank is sent as his chaperone; back to the city where he’s still a wanted man.

A Dangerous Man is the final instalment of the Hank Thompson trilogy. After the trials and tribulations leading up to his present predicament, it’s no surprise to find him struggling as a conscience-wracked, drug-adled hitman for David Dolokhov, a Russian mobster. Dolokhov specialises in fleecing gambling addicts and running rackets, taking the ultimate sanction as a warning to others when they fail him. He keeps Hank on a short tether with a threat to murder his parents. At a low ebb and waiting to find himself in the firing line Hank’s surprised to be asked to mind a rising baseball star with a gambling problem. Huston uses the introduction of Miguel Arenas to inject some hope into Hank’s life, but also more danger as he’s sent back to New York where his descent started. Told in the first person the narrative is pretty bleak throughout with Hank stumbling from one incident to another, constantly shifting from paranoia to scheming for a way out. It’s a little uneven in the telling, but still a solid piece of contemporary hardboiled pulp and it has a very apt noir ending.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

Hurricane Orphelia should be a tropical storm by the time it hits Ireland in the early hours of Monday. It's predicted to be the biggest storm in 50 years with winds gusting 90-130 km an hour. Hopefully our nearly complete house and garage will survive. Fingers crossed the storm loses energy very quickly and veers west into the Atlantic.

My posts this week:
Review of Moth by James Sallis
Pharmakon

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Pharmakon

Grogan opened the front door. ‘It’s yourself.’

‘I thought you’d appreciate a personal visit. You don’t look so well.’

‘No thanks to you.’

‘You seem to think I’m the poison, Grogan, but I’m the remedy.’ Phelan held up a bag containing an off-white powder.

‘Ha! A pharmakon.’

‘Pharmakon?’

‘It’s Greek. It means poison and remedy. Both you and the H.’

‘Nobody made you take drugs, professor.’

‘Nobody tried to stop me either.’

Phelan shrugged. ‘You’re an adult, and I’m a businessman. Now, you want a fix, I want my money.’

‘I’m broke.’

‘Then you need remedy that situation. And mine.’



A drabble is a story of 100 words.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review of Moth by James Sallis (1993, No Exit Press)

Lew Griffin has lived a meandering life of unfulfilled relationships, sorrow and regrets. After years of working as a private detective, scouring the underbelly of New Orleans, he has become a novelist and university professor, transforming his past into fiction. Shortly after the death of one of his past loves her current partner asks Griffin to locate her missing daughter.  She has dropped out of school and seemingly gone on a drugs-filled bender. Griffin agrees to try and track her down, returning to his old crafts and haunts, and occasional violence he thought he’d left behind. The trail takes him out of the city and to memories of his parents and his own long-lost son.

Moth is the second book in the Lew Griffin series set in New Orleans. In this outing Griffin comes out of retirement as a private detective to track down the missing daughter of an old flame who has recently died. His journey threads him through the underbelly of the city and out into rural Louisiana. There are three real strengths to Moth. The first is the central character of Griffin, who is cloaked in a world weariness, worn down by years of operating as a PI and dealing with oppressors and victims, everyday racism, successive failed relationships sabotaged by his own unwillingness to commit, and his inability to find his missing son, yet remains compassionate and resolute. The second is philosophical observations and asides about human nature and society, as well as some nice intertextuality concerning the authorship and narrative form. The third is the prose and voice; Sallis also writes poetry and it tells in the lyrical nature of his writing.  The plot is engaging enough, tracking Griffin’s progress in locating the wayward daughter, with a second thread added near the end, though the resolution of both are rather flat. However, Moth is really a tale about Griffin himself rather than telling the story of a compelling mystery. And that focus worked fine for me as he’s an interesting character to spend time with, as is Sallis’ prose and reflections on life and society.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I'm finally getting round to reading the final installment of Charlie Huston's 'Hank Thompson' trilogy, A Dangerous Man. It's hardly cheery stuff, but it's rattling along.

My posts this week

The time I wrestled with a tiger
Review of Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich
September reads

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The time I wrestled with a tiger

Tom paused and stared at the fire.  He’d told the story so many times he was no longer sure as to what was truth or embellishment. Perhaps his memory had become so corrupted that it was all just a mutant narrative. Maybe it wasn’t a memory at all, but simply a story about himself; an expression of who he wanted to be.

‘Granddad? What happened next?’

‘I don’t know, son. I’m not sure if any of it happened.’

‘But you have the scar!  There on your hand.’

Tom rang a finger along the pale line.

‘The tiger leapt forward. Roar!’


 


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Review of Whisky in Small Glasses by Denzil Meyrich (Polygon, 2012)

The body of a young woman is washed up on a Scottish beach in the West of Scotland. Detective Inspector Jim Daley is sent from Glasgow to the remote, close-knit town of Kinloch to investigate. There he discovers that the woman was infamous for performing sexual favours for drink and drugs and that her friend and a local club owner have disappeared. Daley and his team start a search while also hunting for other clues, though their task is not aided by the lukewarm reception of the local sub-divisional commander. Also acting as a distraction is the presence of Daley’s wife. She has followed him to the seaside town with her brother-in-law in tow hoping to try and patch things up despite her infidelity and Daley's hair-trigger temper. When the body count rises further pressure is applied by Daley’s ambitious boss. Soon there is much more at stake than Daley’s job and his rocky marriage.

Whisky in Small Glasses is the first in the DCI Daley series set in the West of Scotland. Daley is for the most part calm, collected and reasonable but he also has anger management issues that flair up when stressed. Given the state of his marriage, the pressure from his boss, and a difficult case, he’s never far from snapping. His sidekick is DS Brian Scott, a no-nonsense cop who’s reached his career ceiling. Together they make an interesting pair. Where the story suffers though is with respect to the plotting and telling. Meyrich uses a succession of plot devices to keep the story moving forward, some of which are seem barely credible, such as the backstory and unfolding drama involving the local chief cop, and Daley’s wife following him to the murder location. Moreover, the identity of the killer is strongly telegraphed from about halfway through in what is meant to be a whodunit. This is not helped by the lifeless, workmanlike prose. The result is a fairly weakly told police procedural anchored by a couple of intriguing lead characters.

Monday, October 2, 2017

September reads

September proved to be quite possibly the slowest reading month of the last eight years of the blog. I managed one book a week. At least they were good reads! My book of the month was Eva Dolan's After You Die.

Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr ****
After You Die by Eva Dolan *****
Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham ****.5
Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding ***.5

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fireflies

Hannah took a sip of red wine.

‘Do you think this is going anywhere?’

‘What?’ Tom looked up from his meal. ‘Us?’

‘Yes.’

‘I … I thought we were getting on okay?’

‘But is okay enough?’

‘You want more?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect any more.’

‘You were hoping for fireworks?’

‘Maybe.’ Hannah shrugged.

‘They’re sparking all around us, but they’re fireflies rather than lightning bolts.’

‘You’re sure?’

‘This is what, our sixth date? I’m sixty three, and I’m too polite to ask your age, and I’m not sure of anything anymore. But I see fireflies.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review of Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr (Quercus, 2017)

1956. Bernie Gunther, former Berlin Kripo detective, is working as a concierge on the French Riviera. Gunther has a colourful past including working as a private investigator and for the upper echelons of the SD and SS; the latter under duress as he’s no Nazi. He’s also a wanted man for war crimes he didn’t commit. Ernst Mielke, the deputy head of the East German Stasi, wants Gunther to travel to Britain to murder a female agent that’s fallen out of favour. To make him compliant, Mielke’s brought along a small team led by Friedrich Korsch, an old Kripo colleague. Despite making the penalty for failing the mission clear, Bernie is reluctant to participate and loses his chaperones, making a break for West Germany. As he heads for the border, pursued by the Stasi and the French police who suspect him of a double murder, he recollects the last case he worked with his former Kripo colleague. That took place in early 1939 when he was asked by Martin Bormann and Reinhard Heydrich to investigate the shooting of a SS officer on the terrace of Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in Obersalzberg. Heydrich considers Gunther the best detective in Germany, and one not driven by political ideology. It’s unthinkable that a man can be killed on the Fuhrer’s terrace, especially a week before the leader’s fiftieth birthday, and Bormann gives Bernie one week to catch the killer or face dire consequences. Bernie soon discovers there are no shortage of suspects given the widespread corruption linked to the development in the area. The problem is identifying which snake in the grass is the murderer and to tread carefully enough that he doesn’t end up dead as well. However, full of methamphetamines to keep him at work night and day, Bernie has big feet and the drugs make him emboldened. 

Prussian Blue is the twelfth instalment of the Bernie Gunther series. As with the last few outings the story is split into related threads, one set in 1956, the other in 1939. In 1956 Bernie is on the run from the East Germany Stasi who want him to murder a rogue agent and the French police who want him for murder. While fleeing from the French Riviera towards West Germany, Bernie remembers the last case he worked with the man now in pursuit of him. That involved him searching for the murderer of a high-ranking SS officer serving at Hitler’s mountaintop retreat, conducting the investigation while trying to deal with several senior Nazis and widespread local corruption. As with the other tales, the undoubted draw of Prussian Blue is the acerbic, world weary lead character whose principles have slowly been eroded over the years, and the historical contextualisation. A bit like Forrest Gump, Bernie has a habit of rubbing shoulders with a range of high profile historical characters and real-world events. Both threads are engaging, but there’s an unevenness in the telling. The 1956 thread is quite linear and operates as a short story interleaved between episodes of the more developed, complex 1939 thread. In many ways the 1956 thread more acts as a framing for the 1939 story and a bridge to the next episode in Bernie’s tale, moving him back to Germany. While the 1939 tale is engaging and rich in historical detail it’s also somewhat drawn out, with quite a bit of unnecessary explication, and in my view would have benefitted from quite a bit of pruning. Overall, despite my quibbles, another enjoyable addition to the series.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

This might possibly be the leanest period of reading and posting I've had on the blog. Too many things going on offline. I'm presently working my way slowly through 'Whisky from small glasses by Denzil Meyrich, one of the spate of Scottish-set police procedurals published in the last few years.


My posts the last two weeks
We still need better property data
Review of After You Die by Eva Dolan
Easy, girl 
Poor cat

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Poor cat

John yanked the steering wheel and slammed on the brakes but still felt a dull thud.

‘What the hell was that?’ Carrie said.

‘I dunno; some kind of animal.’

‘Jesus, John. Did we kill it?’

‘I’ve no idea.’

‘We should check.’

Carrie was crouching over a small black body when John joined her.

‘It’s a cat. We need to put it out of its misery.’

‘How about taking it to a vet?’

‘It’s too late for that; you need to kill it.’

‘Me? With what?’

‘A rock?’

‘No way.’

‘John, show some compassion. ’

‘You kill it then.’

‘Poor cat.’



A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Easy, girl

Three SOCOs were huddled near the house.

‘What the hell’s that noise?’ Carter asked, approaching the shed.

‘His dog.’

‘Why hasn’t she been removed?’

‘No-one was brave enough to tackle her.’ Halligan eased open the door. ‘Dog warden’s on his way.’

The white bull terrier lifted her head, stopped mewing and rumbled a low growl.

‘Easy, girl,’ Carter said, showing his palms.

The dog eased itself up, it’s left flank covered in blood.

‘Are you going to remove it, Sir?’

‘I’d prefer not to look like our friend here. The question is, how did his attacker get past the dog?’


A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review of After You Die by Eva Dolan (2016, Random House)

A gas leak explosion leads to the discovery of a mother and her paraplegic daughter in the house next door. Dawn Prentice has been stabbed multiple times, her daughter left to fend for herself, dying from a stroke bought on by neglect. The Prentices were already known to DS Mel Ferreira of Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit after a number of harassment incidents, including ‘Cripple’ being written on their car. That places the murder investigation into the hands of DI Zigic rather than CID and he, Ferreira, and their small team try to solve the case. Hampering their progress is the absence of a key witness who is being protected by another police force, too many potential suspects given Dawn’s promiscuous love life, and a lack of resources, but they doggedly stick to their task.

After You Die is the third book in the Ferreira and Zigic procedural series focusing on the work of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. In this outing, the pair and their small team are investigating the murder of a mother and the death of her severely disabled child who been victims of a harassment campaign. The murder has the feel of a domestic crime and Dawn Prentice almost certainly knew her attacker, but there are plenty of potential candidates and some complicating factors, including the absence of a key witness and the murder weapon. In my view it’s the strongest book in what is an excellent series. There are several aspects that make it standout, not least its realism – this is no fantasist thriller, nor does it rely on unlikely coincidences or weak plot devices. Instead, it is a tightly plotted tale of a tragic double murder and its investigation that rings true. And for the first time in a while I hadn’t identified the killer a fair way before the reveal; well, I had, but then I had a fair few characters pegged as the suspect throughout the read. Indeed, Dolan does an excellent job of keeping various possible suspects in the frame and shifting potential guilt between them. The characterisation is nicely done, as is the peeling back of the victims’ lives and their relationships to others as the investigation unfolds. The tale also nicely deals with issues around disability, harassment, and fostering. And Ferreira and Zigic’s personal lives unfold with their own everyday domestic dramas. Overall, a captivating read and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lazy Sunday Service

I know we're not getting hurricanes like elsewhere, but it's rained every day for seven weeks and it really is time for it to stop. I'm fed up with being constantly damp! I've finally got round to starting Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr - it's a big book and I might have to get a little stand for it as its fair weighty; I suspect the content is going to be as well.

My posts this week
Review of Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham
Behind the water tank
August reads