Monday, January 23, 2012
Dead Men, Compulsive Gamblers, Lousy P.I.s, and Corrupt Deputies
DEAD MAN: BLOOD MESA- James Reasoner
This is the fifth book in the very exciting Dead Man series created by Lee Goldberg. I’ve enjoyed the previous volumes, but this time out is a must-read due to the presence of writer’s writer James Reasoner. If Reasoner’s name is on the cover, I’ll read it; it’s just that simple. Blood Mesa finds our hero Matt Cahill (on a quest to find and destroy the evil Mr. Dark) in the middle of an archeological dig on a sinister mesa in Arizona. But the archeology students have no idea they’re about to uncover an ancient evil, tied mysteriously to Mr. Dark, that will bring out the corruption in their souls and force Matt to take extreme action to contain the situation. Reasoner really ratchets up the action in this novella—by the time you’re twenty or so pages in, things heat up and don’t cool down again until the staggering end.
THE GAMBLERS- Martin Stanley
Kandinsky is a hardcore gambling addict and loser who owes far more than he can repay to loan shark. He’s a guy who’s screwed from the get-go. But when he overhears a plan to rob a drug dealer, he convinces himself and his friends—who are even bigger losers than him—that they can pull off a miracle. THE GAMBLERS is a sprawling, complicated novel with lots of intriguing characters, a great sense of humor, and a beautifully constructed sense of impending doom. The large cast are all tied together in really clever ways that you wouldn’t suspect, and as each of their personal sagas play out, and wind closer together, you’re left slightly amazed that Stanley is able to pull it off. It’s a very well-structured novel, but Stanley’s real strength is the depth and believability of his characters.
TO THE DEVIL, MY REGARDS- Victor Gischler & Anthony Neil Smith
Two of the best crime fiction writers of this generation, Gischler and Smith deliver a solid, fast-paced novella that mostly lives up to everything you’d expect from such a pairing. Z.Z. DelPresto is a P.I. who is, frankly, not very good at his job—hired to keep tabs on a wealthy wife, he almost immediately falls into bed with the wife’s sexy but under-age daughter, and when the girl winds up murdered DelPresto is the prime suspect. In a mad scramble to clear his name and find the real killer, DelPresto gets the crap beat out of him a few times, almost accidentally uncovers deeper secrets, and generally explodes whatever expectations you might have about the P.I. hero. This is a re-release on Kindle of a novella Gischler and Smith wrote back in ’01, and you can see inklings of the things both writers would later use to greater effect—which is to say: as good as this novella is, both writers are far, far better now than they were then. Still, this is a very solid piece of work, with a breakneck pace, some real laugh-out-loud moments, and great characters.
YELLOW MEDICINE- Anthony Neil Smith
And speaking of Anthony Neil Smith… YELLOW MEDICINE is the first book in the story of self-destructive, corrupt-but-complex, loser-hero Deputy Billy Lafitte. After irrevocably messing up his life in Louisiana, Billy is now a cop in a back-water burg in Minnesota. In a short period of time, he’s managed to establish himself as King of the Hill, controlling the county’s criminal element by force, intimidation, and shady dealings. But it’s a precarious perch he’s on, and when sexy Drew (bass player in a psycho-billy band) needs his help pulling her boyfriend out of a bad situation, Billy’s position starts to crumble. His past begins to catch up to him, and next thing he knows, he’s caught up in an epic struggle against backwoods meth cookers, a government agent who wants desperately to bring him down, and… wait for it… Islamic terrorists. Billy is an absolute gem of a character, so real you want to punch him in the face with every crap decision he makes, and yet still hope against hope that he can somehow prevail as his situation gets steadily worse and worse. This is vintage Smith, right here.