Friday, October 31, 2014

Skin Folk up at EIL and Happy All Hallow's Read

Book review day just happens to coincide with Halloween this year and so I was more than happy to have a review from Julie C. Graham on a book that while not all about horror, certainly has it's creepy moments. Check out her review of Nalo Hopkinson's Skin Folk at Escape Into Life.

As I learned from a friend and coworker a couple of years ago, it's also All Hallows Read, a day of the year when you're supposed to give someone else a scary book. Neil Gaiman explains it all for you:

I don't really have any scary books to give anyone this year, but I do have a couple of links to scary stories.
First, we have three scary flash fiction pieces from Paul D. Brazill over on his blog. The post is called Three Shots of the Dark Stuff and it's pretty gritty, so beware.

And Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen is offering her story "She Never Came Home" free for Halloween, so grab it up now, as I did.

And finally, you can hear Gerard Brennan reading The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe over at Crime Scene NI.

A little something for everyone, then. Happy Halloween.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Horizon Drive: A Novel Noir by J.M. Zen--the book review

Late one night in March of 1942, a Japanese-American family are rousted from their beds by two brutish strangers. It's only a few months since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and like many West Coast families of similar ethnicity, the Matsuis have heard the stories of other families being taken in for questioning by government agents. As the Matsuis are driven off into the night, the father, Tadao, begins to realize that they are headed the wrong way to be going to FBI headquarters. Where, then, are they headed? And who are these people?

Before we learn the answer to this question the story jumps ahead in time to 1950. The first case of Detective Dalton Pope we witness, though, is of a completely different type, and this one is a suicide, not a murder. The death of Miss Norah Peele is a sad and self-evident one, but it serves the purpose of placing the story firmly in both time and space. Just a few years after the war, the country has another preoccupation--not Japanese invasion, but Communist takeover from within. And any one who has ever shown an interest in that ideology is being blacklisted by Hollywood.

Horizon Drive is a snapshot of this particular moment in the history of Los Angeles. Dalton Pope knows a bit about both ends of the social spectrum of the era. With a mother who drifted into prostitution, he is later adopted by members of the highest levels of L.A. society. Pope has an unorthodox approach to crime solving  that is more than a little at odds with the powers that be. He also has a partner who would rather land even a bit part in a movie than be a real life cop. As Pope and Briggs go about investigating the mysterious death of the Matsuis, whose undiscovered death comes to light when a road in the Hollywood Hills collapses, they also encounter personal challenges. Pope's comes in the form of a Japanese-American girl he once knew and loved before fate intervened to separate them. Helen's appearance in the story presents an opportunity for the novel to delve into the not so distant Japanese-American experience of the internment camps, which provides what I found to be the most moving passages of the book.

This debut novel has many strengths. Although J.M. Zen is the pen name of  two authors writing together, the narrative is very smooth. In addition to the compelling mystery, there are many interesting forensic details, and a great deal of lore about Los Angeles, which I particularly enjoyed as someone with a long connection to the region myself. Check out the J.M. Zen website, where you can watch the impressive trailer, learn more about the authors, and who knows, maybe even buy the book.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Harvest by Jim Crace up at Escape Into Life

My review for the Booker shortlisted Harvest is up at Escape Into Life. Although Jim Crace's distanced stance left me a bit detached from this novel, this was a strong favorite with my reading group and led to an unusually long and spirited discussion. So, as I'm sure you know by now, you shouldn't always listen to me...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Horizon Drive: A Novel Noir, by J. M. Zen--the book trailer

I'm excited to feature this somewhat spooky book trailer here today. I've only just started this book, so can't tell you much about it yet, but will soon. What I can tell you, though is that J.M. Zen has a split personality. And I have met them both.

That's because this is a sister and brother act, and J.M. Zen is actually a composite of their writing talents. Writing duos seem to work well in crime fiction,at least if "Charles Todd", "Perri O'Shaughnessy" and "Michael Stanley" are any indication.

I can also tell you that the story centers around the mysterious death of a Japanese-American family in Los Angeles during the infamous time of the Japanese internment camps during World War II. But why listen to me? You can learn about all this and more at the J.M.Zen website. And be sure to check out Jane and Mike's letters while you're there. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (no spoilers)

That's right, I promise. For that one random person stopping by this blog who hasn't yet either read the book or seen the movie, but still has some vague intention of doing one or both, a condition I was in myself till just yesterday, I am writing a review that will not mention anything about the elaborate plot nor offer either praise or criticism of it. How's that, you ask? Simple. I'm going to focus on a couple of things I liked about the story that have nothing to do with it being a thriller.

I am very late getting to this book. A friend and former coworker who had moved on to a position at Crown Publishing sent word back to me while I was still working in the bookstore, asking me if I'd like her to send me a galley of this. I rather ungraciously said, "No thanks." Although my friend had pegged me as a mystery reader, she didn't know that I tend to avoid novels set in the abducted girl sub-genre, rapists, serial killers and the like not really being my thing. Of course at a certain point I realized that she had offered me an early look at a very big book, and I felt a bit embarrassed, but still not in a huge hurry to read it.

It's only with the new movie coming out that I felt that the story's twists and turns would be revealed to me sooner rather than later and decided it was now or never. It turned out that I had a nice window for it, so I began it. Such was my paranoia about things being divulged before I had reached them, I not only didn't tell any of my friends that I was reading the book, but I was actually slightly reluctant to take it to the Laundromat, for fear that some random stranger would see the title and start blurting things out.

None of that happened. I have reached the end and its secrets are safe with me. What I wanted to talk about was the fact that my concept of the book was slightly wrong. I would say that far from being sensationalistic, it is really more of a literary novel disguised as a thriller. Pretty well, disguised, yes, but still.

The basic setup of the book (which you will find in the first few pages) is that a youngish husband and wife, writers, living the sort of New York lifestyle that the rest of the world both envies and mocks, find that the carpet has been pulled out from under them and they can no longer sustain themselves in their chosen profession. The husband's hometown in Missouri beckons at a convenient time, and so they move there, willy-nilly, where he uses his wife's savings to set up a bar. Called "The Bar". This has all happened before the story even starts, so don't worry.

Yes, we thought we were being clever New Yorkers--that the name was a  joke that no one else would get, not get like we did. Not meta-get. We pictured the locals scrunching their noses: Why'd you name it The Bar? But our first customer, a gray-haired woman in bifocals and a pink jogging suit, said, "I like the name. Like in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Audrey Hepburn's cat was named Cat."

We felt much less superior after that , which was a good thing.

The novel is very much set up along these lines, where New York and Missouri spar with each other, sometimes within the characters themselves. It makes you remember that a lot of the 'in the know' New Yorkers are originally from somewhere else themselves.

So I was very much taken with the novel from the start, realizing that a story that stops to take time to lament the passing of a journalistic era was not going to be just any 'gone girl' novel. But I think where it really grabbed me was with a throwaway line:

[My wife] had made a grim figure on the Fiji beach during our two-week honeymoon, battling her way through a million mystical pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, casting pissy glances at me as I devoured thriller after thriller.

Forget marriage, which in many ways what this book is about. (Marriage, that is, not forgetting marriage, though it might be a little about that too.) I can remember, did remember on reading this line, my aunt's account of laughing uproariously through a book I'd given her for her trip to France, the wonderful Handling Sin, by Michael Malone, which upset her travel companion, who was trying to read something serious in French, no end.

The book is a thriller, and not a sociological study, nor is it a lament for a past era. But it is set in time, in a particular moment and that moment is very well described here:

I sat in the doorstep of a vacant storefront. It occurred to me that I had brought Amy to the end of everything. We were literally experiencing the end of a way of life, a phrase I'd applied only to New Guinea tribesmen and Appalachian glassblowers. The recession had ended the mall. Computers had ended the Blue Book plant. Carthage had gone bust; it's sister city Hannibal was losing ground to brighter, louder, cartoonier tourist spots. My beloved Mississippi River was being eaten in reverse by Asian carp flip-flopping their way up toward Michigan...It was the end of my career, the end of hers, the end of my father, the end of my mom. The end of our marriage. The end of Amy.

Gone, girl. Gone.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Findings by Kathleen Jamie up at EIL

The latest book review from Julie C. Graham is up at Escape Into Life, this time on a book of essays by Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie called Findings.Check it out HERE.

Like the other books Julie has written about there, I want to read this one too.

Monday, October 6, 2014

1222 by Anne Holt

I should say right up front that Goodreads lists this as the 8th Hanne Wilhelmsen novel, so if reading series in order matters to you, you should stop reading right here. I am not going to write anything spoilerish about this book, but the book itself is very likely quite spoilerish for earlier books in the series. Get my drift? That said, I didn't have any idea that it was part of a series from the cover and it never turned out to be a big problem.

For someone who lives in a small space, I have an awful lot of books, emphasis on unread books, thanks to many years working in a bookstore and also certain natural book buying proclivities. So it's not entirely strange that when Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders happened to mention 1222 in a comment over at his place, I happened to have a copy of it just sitting here waiting for me to read. It's perhaps a little bit stranger that the discussion was about a verbal tic the book has, though whether the fault of the author or translator I don't think we determined. Although that probably shouldn't be an inducement to read a book, it did at least get me to open the cover. And once I had, I was hooked on the premise from the get go.

A train crashes in the Norwegian mountains as a storm of epic proportions is brewing. Everyone but the engineer survives the crash. Luckily for them there is an old Norwegian hotel near enough to the tracks that they can be housed there until help comes, whenever that is. It's called Finse 1222 because it 1222 meters above sea level. (I must have skipped over the part where this was explained, because I remained curious about the title till I looked at the jacket copy after. I thought 1222 was the address.)

The  narrator of the tale is Hanna Wilhelmsen, formerly a policewoman, now a paraplegic, after a bullet taken in the line of duty has severed her spine. Crusty and antisocial, clinical in her approach at least initially, it's Hanna's perspective that drew me in from the get go. People trapped in a remote place while mayhem ensues is hardly a new plot idea, but somehow Hanna's misanthropic world view coupled with a dire situation plus a lot of plate spinning as various personalities among the 268 survivors come into play makes this a very compulsive read, or at least it was for me. The gale force storm as another dimension of the book also adds to its energy.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Belfast Noir, Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville, editors at Escape Into Life

Just a quick post to say that my review is up of the Akashic Books anthology Belfast Noir over at Escape Into Life. Those of you familiar with the Northern Irish crime fiction scene will find some familiar names here--Brian McGilloway, Gerard Brennan, Garbhan Downey, to name but a few. You might be a bit more surprised to find Lee Child has a tale here, and even more surprised that a science fiction writer like Ian McDonald has a bit here. Don't worry, it's all legit, folks.

This is a standout collection, which I've described a bit more fully, but by no means comprehensively HERE.