Friday, January 12, 2018

The Thirst by Jo Nesbø

(hb; 2017: eleventh novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series – Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith.)

From the inside flap

"In Police—the last novel featuring Jo Nesbø's hard-bitten, maverick Oslo detective—a killer wreaking revenge on the police had Harry Hole fighting for the safety of the people closest to him. Now, in The Thirst, the story continues as Harry is inextricably drawn back into the Oslo police force. A serial murderer has begun targeting Tinder daters—a murderer whose MO reignites Harry's hunt for a nemesis of his past."


Warning: possible -- if mild -- spoilers in this review.

Thirst is a mostly excellent thriller that moves along at a breakneck pace, continuing plot threads from the last two novels, as well as bringing in previous villains ─ Valetin Gjerten and Svein “the Fiancé” Finne ─ to cause further mayhem. Like some of the better Harry Hole books, it is a character-rich, intriguing and plot-pretzelesque read until its disingenuous Thin Man-esque Reveal scene [hint: do not leave loaded weapons lying near the bad guy you are outing!]. This minor nit aside, this is a worthwhile entry in this long-running series.

14 by Peter Clines

(hb; 2012)

From the inside flap

"Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

"There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.

"Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

"At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbour across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s. Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.  Or the end of everything."


14 is a fun, if chatty, Lovecraftian (minus the racism) science fictionish/mystery novel with steam punkesque elements. The bad guys are obvious from the get-go, the apocalyptic aspects near the end run a bit long, but it is a good, hybrid-genre book that is worth reading, if you can overlook the aforementioned nits.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

(hb; 1970: first novelette in The Chronicles in Amber quintology)

From the inside flap

"Amber, the one real world, wherein all others, including our own Earth, are but Shadows. Amber burns in Corwin's blood. Exiled on Shadow Earth for centuries, the prince is about to return to Amber to make a mad and desperate rush upon the throne. From Arden to the blood-slippery Stairway into the Sea, the air is electrified with the powers of Eric, Random, Bleys, Caine, and all the princes of Amber whom Corwin must overcome. Yet, his savage path is blocked and guarded by eerie structures beyond imagining; impossible realities forged by demonic assassins and staggering horrors to challenge the might of Corwin's superhuman fury.' to 'Awakening in an Earth hospital unable to remember who he is or where he came from, Corwin is amazed to learn that he is one of the sons of Oberon, King of Amber, and is the rightful successor to the crown in a parallel world."


Princes is a fun, barebones and plot-swift urban fantasy novelette that wastes zero words, with characters who deftly adapt to shifting dimensions and identities with an aplomb that may put off some readers, who are used to “epic” [read: often overlong] works within the same genre. This is an excellent, scene-vivid, and sometimes humorous read, one worth owning. When reading Princes, you might want to make sure you have its first sequel, The Guns of Avalon, on hand, because Princes ─ with its not-quite-cliffhanger ending ─ is an opening arc in a five-book storyline.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Feverish Fiction Vol. #1 edited by Sophia Faun

(pb; 2012: horror microstory anthology. Published by Hyperpyrexia Press.)

Overall review

This is a solid, gory B-movie story collection. Most of the forty-two entries published here have something to recommend them. (In an anthology this size, there are bound to be a few tales that are less wonderful than others.) Worth checking out, this.

Standout stories

1.Devil’s Commisary” – Michael Faun: A demon cockroach attempts to elevate his staus through especially treacherous means. Fans of late Sixties rock ‘n’ roll may appreciate this story.

2.The Avid Collector” – Michael Bergamotte: The employee of a wealthy family recounts the horrible tale of the family’s deviant son.

3. Destiny of Lobster Boy” – Michael Faun: Short, sharp microtale about odious appetites and fast revenge, revolving around canries and a grotesque, wealthy man.

4.Through the Lens of Insanity” – Michael Faun: A questionable monacle inspires alarm and murder ─ are the visions it reveals real? Fun, supernatural crime work.

5.Destiny” – Michael Bergamotte: Memorable, excellent piece about a totalitarian government, a strange stone and a supposed criminal.

6.The Sodomite of Seville” – Michael Faun: During the Spanish Inquistion, demonic doings disrupt the religious-toned purge. Excellent, blasphemous and worth remembering.

7. The Dread at Scarfolk Cove” – Michael Bergamotte: Atmospheric, solid Lovecraftian microstory about a missing boy, a desperate father and an eerie seaside village.

8.Trent Must Vent” – Michael Faun: Darkly funny piece about a man’s “therapy sessions” and his Autophagic therapist (of sorts).

9. “Elixir” – Greg Cole: Youthful rejuvenation takes a messy, stinking turn. Fun microwork.

10. The Annual Olfactophilian Award” – Michael Faun: Laugh-out-loud, perverted read about panty-lovers.

11. Possession” – M.T. Mathieson: The supernatural and the criminal are merged int his one. Fun stuff.

12.The Killing Frequenzy” – Michael Faun: In 1968, a bullied student completes his odd, musical revenge. Especially entertaining entry in this collection.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography by Bruce Dickinson

(hb; 2017: autobiography)

From the inside flap

"A long-awaited memoir from the larger-than-life, multifaceted lead vocalist of Iron Maiden, one of the most successful, influential and enduring rock bands ever.

"Pioneers of Britain’s nascent Rock & Metal scene back in the late 1970s, Iron Maiden smashed its way to the top, thanks in no small part to the high-octane performances, operatic singing style, and stage presence of its second, but twice-longest-serving, lead singer, Bruce Dickinson. As Iron Maiden’s front man—first from 1981 to 1993, and then from 1999 to the present—Dickinson has been, and remains, a man of legend.

"But OTT front man is just one of the many hats Bruce wears. In addition to being one of the world’s most storied and well-respected singers and songwriters, he is an airline captain, aviation entrepreneur, motivational speaker, beer brewer, novelist, radio presenter, and film scriptwriter. He has also competed as a world-class level fencer. Often credited as a genuine polymath Bruce, in his own words (and handwritten script in the first instance!), sets forth many personal observations guaranteed to inspire curious souls and hard-core fans alike.

"Dickinson turns his unbridled creativity, passion, and anarchic humour to reveal some fascinating stories from his life, including his thirty years with Maiden, his solo career, his childhood within the eccentric British school system, his early bands, fatherhood and family, and his recent battle with cancer."


Button is a light, fast, highlights-of-Dickinson’s-life read that focuses on the events, elements and people who shaped his life, his musical beginnings and career, and his other interests (flying airplanes, writing sex farce novels and fencing). If you are looking for details about his and others’ romantic relationships, dirt on other people, and other sleazy aspects of the rock ‘n’ roll world, you are likely to be disappointed. While there are mentions of sex and drugs (briefly mentioned, usually indulged by others) and profanity, from time to time, this is a relatively clean and respectful-of-others read that timelines Dickinson’s life thus far.

Button is a good offering for what it is, a fast-moving book that often feels like Dickinson is a tour guide focusing on the positive, not the salacious ─ a wise choice, considering how much it has allowed him to accomplish in his life.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Police by Jo Nesbø

(hb; 2013: tenth novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.)

From the inside flap

"The police urgently need Harry Hole . . . A killer is stalking Oslo's streets. Police officers are being slain at the scenes of crimes they once investigated but failed to solve. The murders are brutal, the media reaction hysterical.  

"But this time, Harry can't help . . . For years, detective Harry Hole has been at the center of every major criminal investigation in Oslo. His dedication to his job and his brilliant insights have saved the lives of countless people. But now, with those he loves most facing terrible danger, Harry is not in a position to protect anyone."


Police is a good, steady-build cop procedural/thriller that brings together many of the character and plot threads that have been accumulating over the course of the past few Harry Hole books. When everything starts to mesh, about two hundred pages in, it is a difficult-to-set-down read.

My only nit about Police is that Nesbø toys with his readers too long, stretching out the tension too much, in a insult-your-readers way: there are two instances of this irritating habit, which is given away by his sudden, vague descriptions of characters (e.g., “the victim” instead naming or specifically describing a specific character). Chances are, most readers will not be put off by this (they are not serious writers, but readers who just want to be "entertained")  ─ while I view this as a note-worthy glitch, it is not a deal-breaker, and Police is still a solid transition novel for the series, tone-, plot- and character-wise.

Followed by The Thirst.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Behanding in Spokane by Martin McDonagh

(pb; 2010, 2011: play)

From the back cover

"A dingy motel room. Small-town America. Carmichael travels with a suitcase full of hands, but he wants his own back.

"Toby has a hand that he'd like to sell Carmichael for the right price.

"Marilyn wishes that Toby had never stolen that hand from the museum.

"Mervyn thinks Marilyn is pretty hot. He works reception, though he wouldn't call himself a receptionist. Life and death are up for grabs, and fate is governed by imbeciles and madmen in this darkly comic new play from the acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh. A Behanding in Spokane turns over American daily existence, exposing the obsessions, prejudices, madness, horrors, and, above all, absurdities that crawl beneath it."


McDonagh, the director/screenwriter of In Bruges (2008), Seven Psychopaths (2012) and other films, has written another violent, darkly hilarious and non-P.C. piece that pushes most social boundaries, with its intriguing characters, able sketch-work and take-no-prisoners outlook. This is an excellent play, one worth reading if you are not easily offended, and are a fan of his other output.

When it was staged in 2010, Christopher Walken played Carmichael, the racist sociopath; Sam Rockwell played Mervyn, the snarky hotel clerk; Anthony Mackie played Toby, the sly weed dealer; Zoe Kazan played Marilyn, Toby’s girlfriend.

Gold Dust Woman: A Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis

(hb; 2017: biography)

From the inside flap

"Stevie Nicks is a legend of rock, but her energy and magnetism sparked new interest in this icon. At sixty-nine, she's one of the most glamorous creatures rock has known, and the rare woman who's a real rock 'n' roller.

"Gold Dust Woman gives "the gold standard of rock biographers" (The Boston Globe) his ideal topic: Nicks' work and life are equally sexy and interesting, and Davis delves deeply into each, unearthing fresh details from new, intimate interviews and interpreting them to present a rich new portrait of the star. Just as Nicks (and Lindsey Buckingham) gave Fleetwood Mac the 'shot of adrenaline' they needed to become real rock stars--according to Christine McVie--Gold Dust Woman is vibrant with stories and with a life lived large and hard:
--How Nicks and Buckingham were asked to join Fleetwood Mac and how they turned the band into stars
--The affairs that informed Nicks' greatest songs
--Her relationships with the Eagles' Don Henley and Joe Walsh, and with Fleetwood himself
--Why Nicks married her best friend's widower
--Her dependency on cocaine, drinking and pot, but how it was a decade-long addiction to Klonopin that almost killed her
-- Nicks' successful solo career that has her still performing in venues like Madison Square Garden
--The cult of Nicks and its extension to chart-toppers like Taylor Swift and the Dixie Chicks


Gold is a good, fast-moving and informative read about the mystically-themed singer, whose successful career spans more than four decades. Davis deftly captures the sense of drama, love and other emotions that imbued her thus-far dealings with Fleetwood Mac and others, while keeping the writing and timeline relatively light and lively. Gold is a book worth reading if you are a fan of Nicks/Fleetwood Mac.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Jack Carter's Law (a.k.a. Jack Carter and the Law) by Ted Lewis

(pb; 1970: second book in the Jack Carter trilogy)

From the back cover

"London. The late 1960s. It's Christmastime and Jack Carter is the top man in a crime syndicate headed by two brothers, Gerald and Les Fletcher. He’s also a worried man. The fact that he’s sleeping with Gerald’s wife, Audrey, and that they plan on someday running away together with a lot of the brothers’ money, doesn’t have Jack concerned. Instead it’s an informant—one of his own men—that has him losing sleep. The grass has enough knowledge about the firm to not only bring down Gerald and Les but Jack as well. Jack doesn’t like his name in the mouth of that sort."


Law, a prequel to Jack Carter’s Return, is just as engaging, nasty, chatty, sexual and violent as its source novel. It has many of the same characters as Return, further illuminating nuances, rough as they are, making many of these characters seem like old friends rather than page-bound creations. This is excellent work. Followed by Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Star Wars: Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson

(hb; 2017: loosely linked prequel to the 2015 film Star Wars -- Episode VII: The Force Awakens)

From the back cover

"Discover Captain Phasma’s mysterious history in this Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi novel.

"One of the most cunning and merciless officers of the First Order, Captain Phasma commands the favor of her superiors, the respect of her peers, and the terror of her enemies. But for all her renown, Phasma remains as virtually unknown as the impassive expression on her gleaming chrome helmet. Now, an adversary is bent on unearthing her mysterious origins—and exposing a secret she guards as zealously and ruthlessly as she serves her masters."


Despite its third-person present tense writing, Phasma is an intriguing read, telling the backstory of Phasma, the chrome-armored commander of the First Order. This tale is filtered through Vi Moradi, a Rebel spy, as she resists the interrogative tortures of Cardinal, the crimson–armored First Order commander – and a professional rival of Phasma’s.

There is plenty of Star Wars-esque action, plot wrinkles, character development and a full array of emotions displayed in this loosely linked prequel to The Force Awakens. Its central character, Phasma – a ruthless, ambitious character – has a solid, sufficiently interesting early existence, but it is the present interactions between Vi and Cardinal that make Phasma  a worthwhile book, better borrowed from the library than purchased at full price. . . provided readers can get past its present-tense third-person writing.

Gwendoline Christie played Phasma in The Force Awakens and its 2017 sequel Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Phantom by Jo Nesbø

(hb; 2011, 2012: ninth novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.)

From the back cover

"When Harry left Oslo again for Hong Kong—fleeing the traumas of life as a cop—he thought he was there for good. But then the unthinkable happened. The son of the woman he loved, lost, and still loves is arrested for murder: Oleg, the boy Harry helped raise but couldn't help deserting when he fled. Harry has come back to prove that Oleg is not a killer. Barred from rejoining the police force, he sets out on a solitary, increasingly dangerous investigation that takes him deep into the world of the most virulent drug to ever hit the streets of Oslo (and the careers of some of the city's highest officials), and into the maze of his own past, where he will find the wrenching truth that finally matters to Oleg, and to himself."


Phantom, one of my favorite Harry Hole novels, is one of the most personal entries in the series thus far. It has the usual in-depth character development (many of them ongoing), tight and corkscrew plotting, pop culture references, suspense and other genre elements that make Nesbø’s work addictive and top-notch. Be warned that there is more heartbreak than usual in this one, and its ending is a cliffhanger. When reading Phantom, you might want to make sure you have its sequel, Police, on hand.

<em>The Thirst</em> by Jo Nesbø

(hb; 2017:  eleventh novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series – Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith.) From the inside flap ...