Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Kingdom by Fuminori Nakamura

(hb; 2011, 2016: translated from the Japanese by Kaulau Almony)

From the inside flap:

"Yurika is a freelancer in the Tokyo underworld. She poses as a prostitute, carefully targeting potential johns, selecting powerful and high-profile men. When she is alone with them, she drugs them and takes incriminating photos to sell for blackmail purposes. She knows very little about the organization she’s working for, and is perfectly satisfied with the arrangement, as long as it means she doesn’t have to reveal anything about her identity, either. She operates alone and lives a private, solitary life, doing her best to lock away painful memories.

"But when a figure from Yurika’s past resurfaces, she realizes there is someone out there who knows all her secrets: her losses, her motivations, her every move. There are whispers of a crime lord named Kizaki—“a monster,” she is told—and Yurika finds herself trapped in a game of cat and mouse. Is she wily enough to escape one of the most sadistic men in Tokyo?"


Kingdom -- Nakamura's tenth novel -- is a thematic-sister work to The Thief (Nakamura writes this in his "Author's Afterward" at the end of the book). Structurally, it follows the same storyline blueprint as Thief, with several characters from that earlier novel populating Kingdom. While it maintains the same gritty, desperate tone of Thief, it has a different undertone to it: much of this undertone springs from its lead character's personality and her story, told from a first-person perspective. And, like Thief, it is a waste-no-words, pulp-centric and character centered story that is hard to set down.  This is a book worth owning, another perfect offering from Nakamura.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard

(hb; 2001, 2007: nonfiction. Illustrated by Joe Ciardiello.)

From the inside flap:

"For aspiring writers and lovers of the written word, this concise guide breaks down the writing process with simplicity and clarity. From adjectives and exclamation points to dialect and hoopetedoodle, Elmore Leonard explains what to avoid, what to aspire to, and what to do when it sounds like 'writing' (rewrite)."


This short, lots-of-white-space nonfiction book about writing was originally published as an article in the New York Times (“Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”), so if you can get your hands on that, do so.

If you cannot access it that way, purchase this indispensable, direct and fast read that all writers should check out, if not own. Leonard was a master writer, and his rules – which are flexible, depending on the situation – are the key to more effective published works. This is one of my all-time favorite books about being a better author.)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Evil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura

(hb; 2010, 2013. Translation from Japanese by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates.)

From the inside flap:

"When Fumihiro Kuki is eleven years old, his elderly, enigmatic father calls him into his study for a meeting. "I created you to be a cancer on the world," his father tells him. It is a tradition in their wealthy family: a patriarch, when reaching the end of his life, will beget one last child to cause misery in a world that cannot be controlled or saved. From this point on, Fumihiro will be specially educated to learn to create as much destruction and unhappiness in the world around him as a single person can. Between his education in hedonism and his family's resources, Fumihiro's life is one without repercussions. Every door is open to him, for he need obey no laws and may live out any fantasy he might have, no matter how many people are hurt in the process. But as his education progresses, Fumihiro begins to question his father's mandate, and starts to resist."


Evil is a rare thing: it is a perfect novel that works on all levels – emotional, plotwise, character-wise and action-wise. I would not change one word of this original, disturbing and intense work, whose ties to real world history serve to imbue Evil with a resonance it might otherwise lack. This, of course, is worth owning, an entertaining, provocative and landmark neo-pulp book.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Bat by Jo Nesbø

(pb; 1997, 2012: first book in the Harry Hole series. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.)

From the back cover:

"Before Harry took on the neo-Nazi gangs of Oslo, before he met Rakel, before The Snowman tried to take everything he held dear, he went to Australia. Harry Hole is sent to Sydney to investigate the murder of Inger Holter, a young Norwegian girl, who was working in a bar. Initially sidelined as an outsider, Harry becomes central to the Australian police investigation when they start to notice a number of unsolved rape and murder cases around the country. The victims were usually young blondes. Inger had a number of admirers, each with his own share of secrets, but there is no obvious suspect, and the pattern of the other crimes seems impossible to crack. Then a circus performer is brutally murdered followed by yet another young woman. Harry is in a race against time to stop highly intelligent killer, who is bent on total destruction."


Bat is a flawed but worthwhile read. It is flawed because its plot feels scattershot at times, and, as a result, the book runs longer than it should, anywhere between twenty-five and fifty pages. What saves this otherwise so-so police procedural is its intriguing – for some exotic – environs [Australia], some of its interesting characters, its use of Aboriginal folklore, as well as other Australian cultural elements. Bat is not worth owning if purchased at full price but it is worth reading if bought used or borrowed from your local library.

Followed by Cockroaches.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties-Inspired Neon Noir edited by Michael Poole

(2016 eBook: crime fiction story anthology. "Foreword" by Will Viharo.)

Overal review:

Good anthology, all of the thirteen stories had something to keep my attention, even the works that did not make me go wow (in a positive way). This is a collection worth owning.

Standout stories:

1.) "Valley Girl" -- Kat Richardson: The interrogation of a murderous, spoiled girl (Kim) goes bad for her lawyer (Marberg), and the cop (Willet) who is interrogating her. Good read, nice end-twists.

2.)  "Big Shots" -- S.W. Lauden: Fun, fast and darkly funny tale about Gary, a heroin-hooked, convenience store-robbing manager of an up and coming punk band.

3.)  "Widowman" -- Matthew J. Hockey: In Tokyo, a cycle of corruption, revenge and treachery plays itself out in a fast-paced and bloody way.

4.)  "Meantime" -- Will Viharo: Miami Vice, Scarface, lust, drugs and Elvis in a clever, chock-full-o'-quotables blender. Excellent, fun read -- if filmed in the Eighties it would have been one of the best Vice episodes ever. One of my favorite stories in this collection.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi

(pb; 1999, 2006. Translated from Japanese by Masami Isetani and Camellia Nieh.)

From the back cover:

"When an unemployed former math major wakes up one day, he wonders if he's somehow ended up on the red planet. The good-looking young woman with aid-she says her name is Ai and that she draws erotic comics for a living-seems to have no clue either as to their whereabouts. Their only leads are cryptic instructions beamed to a portable device. Has the game begun?

"There is no reset button, no saving and no continue-make the wrong move and it's really GAME OVER. In the cruel world of THE MARS LABYRINTH, mercy and compassion are only for the weak or the very, very strong. The stakes are nothing less than your life-and apparently a lot of money."


Crimson is an excellent, clever, mood-effective thriller. Its plot, action and twists are not always unexpected, but they are well-executed and the characters are well-sketched out. It is fast-paced, hard to set down and worth owning.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Pendulum by A.E. van Vogt

(pb; 1978: science fiction story anthology)

Overall review:

Pendulum is a good, fun story collection, one worth owning. Between the solid writing, the intriguing concepts, the humor and everything else within them, these stories are entertaining and provocative.


1.)  "Pendulum": An oceanic endeavor to regenerate new marine life  revives mysterious beings whose presence ushers in a new age of language and time-travel (particularly for a man, John Hudman). This is a mostly fun -- if overlong -- tale.

2.)  "The Male Condition": On an anger- and crime-free planet, a psychological study on rape is scheduled for re-enactment. Of course, complications ensue. This is a biting, satirical, non-explicit and non-violent work, embodied with psychological terms and quirky aliens (Tinkers). Fun, dark-themed and sometimes silly stuff, this.

3.)  "Living with Jane": A scientist (Dan), trying to fend off an android societal takeover, discovers that his family has been taken hostage. Plot- and character-twisty, this is a provocative and entertaining tale.

4.)  "The First Rull": Excellent thriller about an alien (the Rull) whose plot to steal a scientific discovery from a human college campus encounters disruptive complications. This is one of my favorite stories in this collection.

5.)  "Footprint Farm": A farm, the site of an ancient meteorite crash, may prove to be the salvation -- or doom -- of a family on the brink of falling apart. Good story, long enough to be interesting, short enough to not overstay its welcome. 

6.)  "The Non-Aristotelian Detective": An unusual sleuth figures out a murder case. Fun story.

7.)  "The Human Operators" (written in collaboration with Harlan Ellison): Mostly good piece about a man whose entire existence revolves around spaceship maintenance -- a Ship that is his master. The concept and execution of the work is solid, though it could have been considerably shorter.

8.)  "The Launch of Apollo XVII": A science fiction writer, at the site of a NASA rocket launch, interviews other spectators from different social strati. This humorous, loose work is political, satirical and offbeat, different than the other stories in this collection. Another fun offering, this.