Saturday, September 17, 2016

Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale


(hb; 2016: twelfth book in the Hap and Leonard series)


From the inside flap:

"Only Hap and Leonard would catch a cold case with hot cars, hot women, and ugly skinheads.

"The story starts simply enough when Hap, a former 60s activist and self-proclaimed white trash rebel, and Leonard, a tough black, gay Vietnam vet and Republican with an addiction to Dr. Pepper, are working a freelance surveillance job in East Texas. The uneventful stakeout is coming to an end when the pair witness a man abusing his dog. Leonard takes matters into his own fists, and now the bruised dog abuser wants to press charges.

"One week later, a woman named Lilly Buckner drops by their new PI office with a proposition: find her missing granddaughter, or she'll turn in a video of Leonard beating the dog abuser. The pair agrees to take on the cold case and soon discover that the used car dealership where her granddaughter worked is actually a front for a prostitution ring. What began as a missing-person case becomes one of blackmail and murder."



Review:

Honky is one of my favorite entries in this series thus far. It has all the best aspects of previous Hap and Leonard page-turners, with its effective levity, lots of raw and realistic action, characters who are worth rooting for or hissing at, effective twists and a storyline that blends old and new elements – and characters, as well. New, colorful characters include the creepy, strange and compelling Booger; older characters include Vanilla Ride, Jim Bob, Cason Statler (Hap and Leonard’s playboy-reporter friend) and Marvin. Throw in a bunch of especially sicko hillbillies, and you have another future classic worth owning.

Followed by the story anthology Hap and Leonard.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Disciple by Laird Koenig

(pb; 1983)

From the back cover:

"They came together at the Willows.

"There by the riverside grave of his twin sister, Marc-Anthony met Brother Leaf, a soft-spoken man blessed with the awesome power to perform miracles. Cure the sick. . . Heal the crippled. . . Raise the dead. . .

"Marc Anthony became his most devoted disciple, and Brother Leaf rewarded his family with wondrous gifts. Love, for his lonely mother. Faith, for his arrogant father. Passion for his beautiful sister.

"Soon everyone came to Brother Leaf., for they believed he was a prayer come true. . . until the night of horror. Until the night when the miracles didn't work and the killing wouldn't stop."


Review:

Disciple is a fun, fast-read thriller about a family whose peril comes into being in the form a quiet young man whose underlying faith is more manipulative and dangerous than his uttered ideals and pursuits. There are few, if any surprises, in this tidy and well-written novel but that is not necessarily a bad thing if you keep your expectations modest and realistic about this effective tale of religious obsession, lies and other aspects of human darkness.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Rhinemann Exchange by Robert Ludlum

(pb; 1974)

From the back cover:

"David Spaulding is the most feared and efficient Allied agent in wartime Europe. Expert, deadly and professional, he is also high on the Gestapo's 'most wanted' list. Now Spaulding has been selected by the Allied Command to transact an undercover deal in Argentina involving top secret Nazi scientific plans. The dealer is Erich Rhinemann, an exiled German Jew who is awaiting the end of the war with his millions in an impenetrable retreat near Buenos Aires. But there's something Spaulding doesn't know. The other side of the deal. And it involves the most bizarre, horrific intrigue of the Second World War."


Review:

Rhinemann, which runs from 1939 to 1944, is a slow-build conspiracy thriller. The Americans and the Germans each have something the other wants, so a secret, desperate deal is struck between the enemies, both of whom hope the other will not develop the resulting weapons first.

All the usual Ludlum elements are in place: the ticking-doomtime clock; the conflicted, betrayed and politically disavowed hero; the woman whom the hero cares about; the stretches of conspiratorial exposition, punctuated with explosive, brutal and realistic violence (often resulting in a high body count). This time out, though, Rhinemann's lead-in exposition runs longer than it does in other Ludlum works -- it is not a negative, but it is an adjustment on the reader's part; this lengthier lead-in is necessary up to a point, as there are quite a few characters who have to be introduced, whose personalities -- borne out by their actions -- impact the action when it booms on the page, bringing Rhinemann to a satisfactory, troubling and ultra-violent close.

It is worth reading. I would not own it, but I would recommend it, if it is borrowed from the library or if the book is bought for a few dollars.

#

The five-hour miniseries aired stateside on March 10, 1977. Burt Kennedy directed the one-episode miniseries, from a teleplay by Richard Collins.

Stephen Collins played David Spaulding. Rene Auberjonois played Dr. Eugene Lyons. Claude Akins played Walter Kendall. José Ferrer played Erich Rhinemann. Lauren Hutton played Leslie Jenner Hawkewood.

Vince Edwards played Gen. Swanson. Larry Hagman played Col. Edmund Pace. Werner Kemperer played Franz Altmuller.

John Huston played Ambassador Henderson Granville. Roddy McDowall played Bobby Ballard. Len Birman played Asher Feld.

Thayer David played an "Industrialist". John Hoyt played a "German scientist".


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dead Aim by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 2013: novella. Eleventh book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the back cover:

"The story begins simply enough when the two agree to provide protection for a woman harassed by her violent, soon-to-be-ex husband. But, as readers of this series will already know, events in the lives of Hap and Leonard rarely stay simple for long. When a protracted stakeout ends in a lethal shooting and a pair of moldering corpses turn up in an otherwise deserted trailer, the nature of this “routine” assignment changes dramatically. The ensuing investigation unearths a complex web of lies, duplicity, and hidden agendas that leads from an upscale Texas law firm to the world of organized crime. . . "


Review:

Dead Aim is a good, succinct read that reunites Hap Collins and Leonard Pine in a series-familiar and accelerated arc of humor, amity and violence. When the two brawlers are hired for a surveillance-and-forceful-persuasion job, inevitable corpses, complications and character-centered twists ensue. This is an entertaining, fast-burn work penned by a master-of-his-genres author, a work worth owning.

Followed by Honky Tonk Samurai.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Fireman by Joe Hill

(hb; 2016)

From the inside flap:

"No one knows exactly when or where it began. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one. . . The doctors call it Draco incendia trychophyton. To everyone else it's Dragonscale, a highly contagious, dead spore that tattoos its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks -- before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

"Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she's discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, her and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob's dismay, Harper now wants to live -- at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers giving birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can stay alive long enough to deliver the child. . ."

Review:


Fireman is a too-long novel written by a normally excellent author. Hill has followed in his father, Stephen King's, path and taken a story that could easily be cut to three-quarters of its length and offered up a tale-bloated work that is worth reading if you are a fan of Stephen King's novels It and The Tommyknockers (in terms of length).

The first quarter of this 750-page book is excellent. After that, it starts to go downhill (shortly after Harper moves into Camp Wyndam, a refuge for those with Dragonscale). It is not that Fireman is a bad book, it has a lot of great writing and characterization (too much of the latter, at times) and this melding of humanity-based horror, romance, straining-for-epicness and social/political commentary is noble. That said, i
f you are not a fan of overly emotional characters and drawn-out storylines (I am not big on either), this might be an interesting-but-not-worthwhile experiment that ultimately fails -- and, sadly, one that Hill seems likely to strive for again, scope- and character-wise (if his post-novel notes are any indication).

I have little doubt this will be the basis for a future television/online miniseries or film. Maybe that will play better than this well-intentioned and sometimes well-penned novel.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hondo by Louis L'Amour

(pb; 1953)

From the back cover:

"He was a big man, wide-shouldered, with the lean, hard-boned face of a desert rider. There was no softness in him. His toughness was ingrained and deep, without cruelty, yet quick, hard and dangerous. Whatever gentleness that might lie within him was guarded and deep.

"He had been sitting motionless and still on his buckskin for more than an hour. Patience was the price of survival, he knew that, and often the first to move was the first to die.

"His name was Hondo and he could almost smell the trouble coming. Somewhere holed up in an arroyo were renegade Apaches, waiting."


Review:

Hondo is a short, raw-write movie novelization (like Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey), entertaining with flashes of dialogue-framed information about the Old West, and characters whose close-to-the-surface emotions impel this excellent, truly-a-classic Western: landmark and worth owning, this.

#

The film was released stateside on April 5, 1954. The movie is based on L'Amour's story "The Gift of Cochise", not the aforementioned novel, which is a novelization of the film.

Hondo was directed by John Farrow, from James Edward Grant's screenplay.

John Wayne played Hondo Lane. Geraldine Page played Angie Lowe. Lee Aaker played Johnny Lowe.

Ward Bond played Buffalo Baker. Michael Pate played Vittorio - Chiracahua Apache Chief. James Arness played Lennie - Army Indian Scout.

Leo Gordon played Ed Lowe. Tom Irish played Lt. McKay. Rodolfo Acosta played Silva.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Keepers of Éire by Jordan Bernal

(oversized pb; 2013: first book in the Keepers series)

From the back cover:

"The Keepers of Eire is a modern-day fantasy. For centuries dragons have protected Ireland, their existence kept secret with the help of earth magic and their human riders. Now that secret is threatened as the bodies of four riders are found at sacred Irish sites. Christian Riley, a man with secrets of his own, is haunted by vivid dreams of each slaying. An American searching for her Irish heritage and the meaning of an inherited dragon ring, Devan Fraser, stumbles into the mystery of the murders. Christian's only memento from the mother who gave him up for adoption is a dragon pendant that matches Devan's ring. Together they discover their destinies, the truth of dragons, and the depth of honor and loyalty to which people will go to protect the ones they love."


Review:

Éire is an entertaining, plot-swift, cinematic, romantic  and dragon-centric urban fantasy that works on all levels. There are not a lot of surprises -- if any -- in this well-written book, one that is worth owning if you are an adult fan of the fantasy genre.

Followed by The Keepers of Caledonia (which is yet to be completed and published).