Tuesday, December 20, 2011

That Difficult Second Book...

Second in a series, anyway. Recently I read the second books in both the Charlie Hardie and Moses McGuire series, so I thought I'd lump them together and see what kind of utterly contrived similarities and contrasts I could come up with.

Out There Bad  -  Josh Stallings

Moses McGuire, no question, is a great hardboiled character. In the first book - Beautiful Naked and Dead - Moses is as hard-ass as your Nan, but he's got a streak of kindness, humanity, weakness for strippers, call it what you will, that won't let him wallow in ordinary trouble. Oh no, he has to fall into trouble as deep as an Anthony Neil Smith snowdrift. How could Mr Stallings possibly top an improbably good hardboiled novel with such a subtly complex character? Easy. Everything times two. Twice the trouble, twice the heartache, twice the punishment. The ante is upped and upped again as Moses' sense of justice leads him into a Russian bearpit in Mexico, and you know he's not coming out without some scars: physical, mental, and emotional. We're not taken further into the character, but the character is taken further down the road to hell, just to see if he stand the heat. I wouldn't personally say this is better than the first book (though some certainly have). But I loved the first book, and this is just as good.

Hell and Gone  -  Duane Swierczynski

No less badass, though less willing to dive in on behalf of others, is Charlie Hardie. At the start of the series (Fun & Games) he is a more complex character, having already gone through a lot of heartache. The first book is a tribute, homage or rip-off of 80s action movies, which it mimics and references constantly, making an enormously enjoyable read with enough character to keep it interesting. This book is rather different, however. Less action oriented, instead we start with our impossible-to-keep-down hero in bad physical shape. Rather than keep in the same vein as the Fun & Games, Swierczynski bravely digs in a different direction - deep into the pains and mental battles of the protagonist. Does it succeed? Hell yes. Instead of the Die Hard era Bruce Willis against-all-odds hero, we see a man struggling against impossible odds both externally and internally. Less roller coaster (though this is relative - it still has enough action for any hardboiled junkie) and more introspective, but more interesting for it, this sets up the third book in the promised trilogy nicely. We've seen all this character can be and do on two fronts now, and I can't wait for the third.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Quote Of The Moment...

"Peter, the poor son of a bitch, thought a locked car door would save him if this deal got wet. Locks only keep honest men out, and I had a feeling whoever was waiting for us up the hill, they were anything but honest."

Out There Bad (Moses McGuire)
- Josh Stallings

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Getting Me Grits On...

I'm going to hazard a guess that when Paul Brazill was jotting down names for the forthcoming Brit Grit Too collection, Nigel Bird was one of the first on the list. This novella shows exactly why. The writing is tight and intense with no let-ups - there's no filler in here. Every character desperately wants something and is prepared to fight for it, whether they're chasing love, money, respect or revenge. The perspective shifts are skillfully overlapped to provide us with a second point of view, a little distance before the dirt and the violence are thrown back in our face. Yet somehow it never seems over the top. This isn't cartoon violence, or blood for the sake of blood, but realistic, painful violence. Hardboiled and dark, Smoke is very British, and very, very gritty. An excellent little noirish read.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Don't Know Why, I Don't know How...

Real life continues to interrupt far more important pursuits. October has been a blur of work, subway trains, alcohol, cat masks, veterinary offices, karoake, restaurants, dingy basement bars, overtime, dingy basement clubs, grinning jack o'lanterns, headaches, children, shellfish and a host of other distractions. Fortunately, I still found plenty of time to read. What follows are not reviews per se, more along the lines of 'I read this in the last few weeks, and I really liked it, so you might too. If you haven't read it already, which you proably have, because, frankly, I'm not the most up to date person around. Hell, I still think of the Jesus & Mary Chain as contemporary music, but hey.'

Nobody's Angel  -  Jack Clark

Only a year or so behind, on this one. Jack Clark is a taxi driver in Chicago who happened to write on the side. Then he sent a self-published book to Mr Ardai and the result is a fantastic noir from Hard Case. Chicago is as much a character as anyone in this to the extent that it reminds me of Mathew Scudder's New York. Where New York has always been familiar, however (through a thousand movies, books, songs, etc) Chicago is pretty much a stranger to me - at least from this viewpoint - and the book is fascinating for this alone. Although the characters and plot are tight and believable, what really sets this book high above the average is the way in which plot lines, thoughts and clues/hints/red herrings are picked up and set down, almost at random, almost like a cab driver picking up and... well you get the idea. Set almost entirely at night, this book is very, very dark, as Eddie Miles, cab driver, muses on who we can and can't, should or shouldn't pick up on a darkened street. Or save. Or redeem, and so on. Cf. more literary effort The Book of Dave by pretentious pensmith Will Self - which is not noir, but a little more psycho - for an interesting cabby pair off.

That Damned Coyote Hill  -  Heath Lowrance

When I first started seeing blogpost titles about BLASTED HEATH, I naturally assumed they were talking about the author of The Bastard Hand. 'That Blasted Heath,' I imagined them spluttering, 'That danged Mr Lowrance. He's only gone and pulled another one out of his ass like it's no effort at all.' Well it turns out I was wrong, and I might as well've been right. That gosh-darned Mr Lowrance continues to show his range with a nice little horror-western full of the kind of images you might have trouble clearing from your mind. A taut tale of supernatural terror with six-shooters, if you've read Dig Ten Graves (and you should have), then you know to go in expecting nothing, except quality. Also, short stories available as one off purchases from teh interweb, will it catch on? If all the stories are of this quality, it's got a good chance.

Deadfolk  - Charlie Williams

I grew up just a decent heft of a good-size stone from the fictional setting of Mangel (coupla mile as the crow flies, but I knows a short cut). We've all read books written in Irish or Southern US dialect, and a few others, but this is the first time I've read something close to my mother tongue set in print (Krek Waiter Speak Bristle doesn't really count). The language is dead on, and I was impressed by the accuracy and attention to detail, including the abuse of various forms of the verb to be, incorrect use of pluralisation and the 3rd person, and other details of the idiom, such as the difference between is and iss (the latter being a contraction of it's). As a writer, these things are a bugger to pull off. Kudos to Charlie Williams for even attempting it, and even more impressive, he gets it spot on without the language interrupting the flow of the story.
And the story itself? As hardboiled as it gets, shot through with bleak humour and violence. If you like Josh Stallings - and who doesn't - this is every bit as good. The only real difference is that Moses McGuire has LA and the entire American Southwest to play in, whereas Royston Blake has a small west country English town which no-one ever leaves. A townful of yokels and a couple of bars and a couple of small flats are all Charlie Williams needs to unfold a story as nasty and involving and surpisingly deep as the aforementioned Mr Stallings, told in a brash 1st person but with a surprising deftness as the characters unfold. And for all you non-UK readers who could use a handle on the accent (no, it's nothing like the Beatles, nor Layer Cake, nor even Snatch), try watching the movie Hot Fuzz (recomendable on it's own). The accent would be somewhere between the old policeman with the dog and the younglings, if they had broken out with a bit of colorful language.

But then again, bollox to all that. Just read the book, it's brilliant.

So there you go, my favorite reads of the last month or so. I could also have recommended Duane Swierczynski, Gil Brewer, and Cornell Woolrich among recent original reads, but didn't due to lack of time and timeliness. Not quite up to date (Deadfolk was originally published in 2004), but getting there. Currently I'm reading Anthony Neil Smith's All The Young Warriors from Blasted Heath (as are we all, since they were giving it out free), and then Nigel Bird's Smoke, a novel I've been looking forward to since before I'd even heard about it, if you see what I mean.

And then perhaps a review of young pop upstarts, The Clash. Apparently they're pretty good.