Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mama Black Widow, by Iceberg Slim

(pb; 1969)

From the back cover:

"Mama Black Widow tells the story of Otis Tilson, a comely and tragic homosexual queen adrift with his brothers and sisters in the dark, labyrinthine world of pimping, tricking, violence, and petty crime. Written in the jagged, vivid, and always authentic language of the homosexual underworld and the black ghetto, Mama Black Widow is a tour of a predatory urban hell. . ."

Review:

Alternately harsh, heartbreaking, explicitly violent and sexual, tender, and occasionally hyperbolic, Mama Black Widow is one of Slim's best books. It has a cohesive storyline and solid emotional base: the reader sees the unfolding dramas through the eyes of a forty-year old homosexual cross-dresser, Otis Tilson, who's trying to rein in what he feels is his perverse alter-ego, "that bitch Sally," while keep his sh*t together, which is damn near impossible with what's going on around him.

As the novel transpires, one of Otis's brothers (Junior) and one of sisters (Bessie) succumb to the corrupting, fast-cash draw of the streets by turning to crime and prostitution; Otis's clean-cut sister, Carol, courting an adoring white boy, suffers greatly at the hands of their manipulative, cold-hearted mother (Sedalia Tilson, aka "Mama"), who's trying to sell Carol (as a wife) to a hideously-scarred, wealthy thug, Lockjaw Hudson.

Frank Tilson (aka, "Papa"), good-hearted, hard-working father of Otis, Junior, Bessie, and Carol, fares no better than his children: Sedalia's public belittlement of him, coupled with other situational factors, eventually turns him into a pathetic drunk.

The above descriptions may read like spoilers to the book, but they're not. The characters, consistent and fated, are the main draw here -- along with the coarse, sometimes tender, intensity of Slim's writing.

Minor nit: a couple of his characters -- usually male -- speechify about Black politics and society in a forced, uncharacteristic manner. Their outlooks are consistent with their barely-reined-in rants, but their word choices are too educated, or "high-fallutin'," for these characters, who, for the most part, possess little book learning.

That nit aside, this is a wow-worthy read. The ending's not happy, but then, given what precedes it, any reasonable reader wouldn't expect it to be.

Check it out.

The resulting film is scheduled to be released stateside in 2011. Will De Los Santos scripts; Darren Grant is set to co-produce and direct.

Brian J. White is rumored to be playing Otis Tilson. Mos Def is scheduled to play Papa Tilson. Anthony Anderson is scheduled to play Lockjaw Hudson. Rihana is rumored to be playing Carol Tilson. Macy Gray is scheduled to play Jonnie Mae Hudson.

Monday, April 27, 2009

'J' is for Judgment, by Sue Grafton

(pb; 1993: tenth book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"Wendell Jaffe has been dead for five years -- until his former insurance agent spots him in a dusty resort bar. Now California Fidelity wants Kinsey Millhone to track down the dead man. Just two months before, his widow collected on Jaffe's $500,000 life insurance policy -- her only legacy since Jaffe went overboard, bankrupt and about to be indicted for his fraudulent real estate schemes. As Kinsey pushes deeper into the mystery surrounding Wendell Jaffe's pseudocide, she explores her own past, discovering that in family matters, as in crime, sometimes it's better to reserve judgment. . ."

Review:

Kinsey's uncomplicated family history becomes complicated: she discovers she has surviving, previously-unknown family members living near her cozy town of Santa Teresa.

These familial bombshells come at her just as she's investigating a particularly complex case stemming from an old and widely-reported Ponzi scheme that ruined the livelihood of many local people. It seems one of the Ponzi instigators, Wendell Jaffe (previously thought dead), was seen, alive and well, in Mexico with another woman (Renata Huff, not his widow). Not only does Kinsey have to figure out if Wendell is indeed alive; she also has to catch his accomplice (or accomplices) from five years prior, and now -- if Wendell is still alive.

Wendell's family members and friends seem to be hiding something -- it's a matter of what each of them are hiding that keeps Kinsey deducing, and how many of them have it in them to be a killer.

Entertaining and a blast-read (as always), Grafton delivers the P.I.-kicks, with a denouement that opens up fresh plot directions that future Kinsey Millhone novels may take.

Exciting stuff. Check this series out!

Followed by 'K' is for Killer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Golem, by Edward Lee

(pb; 2009)

From the back cover:

"From the bones of the dead. . . from a long-buried secret. . . through an ancient ritual. . . they rise to kill. What was first created to protect has now been perverted and twisted into servants of evil, commanded to exact a bloody, brutal vengeance. The original golem was molded from clay centuries ago to serve and defend the innocent. But today new golems will stalk the night to bring terror and death to the quiet Maryland coast. For one young couple, their dream home will become a slaughterhouse when they discover that nothing can stop the relentless walking horror known as. . . the Golem."

Review:

Fun, splateriffic B-movie of a horror novel (this describes most of Lee's work I've read), with a sequel-friendly finish. The characters are well-written and their interactions ring true; the horror elements -- drug addiction, rape, necrophilia, grave-robbing, Kischuph-created monsters -- are firmly in place, with thrilling results; and, with the exception of one scene (where a normally-smart character acts uncharacteristically stupid), it's a put-off-everything-else blast of a read.

Check it out.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sweetheart, by Chelsea Cain

(hb; 2008: second book in the Gretchen Lowell series)

From the inside flap:

"When the body of a young woman is discovered in Portland's Forest Park, [Portland detective] Archie [Sheridan] is reminded of the last time the police found a body there, more than a decade ago: it turned out to be the Beauty Killer's first victim, and Archie's first case. This body can't be one of Gretchen's -- she's in prison -- but when, with the help of reporter Susan Ward, he uncovers the dead woman's identity, it becomes another big case. Trouble is, Archie can't focus on the new investigation because the Beauty Killer case has exploded: Gretchen Lowell has escaped from prison.

"Archie hasn't seen her in two months: he's moved back in with his family and sworn off visiting her. Though it should feel like progress, he actually feels worse. The news of her escape spreads like wildfire, but secretly, he's relieved. He knows he's the one person who can catch her, and in fact, he has a plan to get out from under her thumb once and for all."

Review:

Sweetheart is as fast-paced, deliciously macabre, character-interesting and slick as Cain's first novel, HeartSick. Cain's tightly-plotted sequel feels like a logical, intriguing continuation of HeartSick, while throwing new variation-twists into the series storyline.

The ending's an obvious sequel-promise, but it's acceptably consistent, as Gretchen Lowell is a fascinating, has-potential-to-be-iconic character.

Worthwhile read.

Followed by Evil At Heart.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Goliath Bone, by Mickey Spillane with Max Allan Collins

(hb; 2008)

From the inside flap:

"In the midst of a Manhattan snowstorm, [Mike] Hammer halts the violent robbery of a pair of college sweethearts who have stumbled onto a remarkable archeological find in the Valley of Elah: the perfectly preserved femur of what may have been the biblical giant Goliath. Hammer postpones his marriage to his faithful girl Friday, Velda, to fight a foe deadlier than the mobsters and KGB agents of his past -- Islamic terrorists and Israeli extremists bent upon recovering the relic for their own agendas.

"A week before his death, Mickey Spillane entrusted his nearly finished manuscript and extensive notes to his frequent collaborator, Road to Perdition author Max Allan Collins, to complete. The result marks the triumphant return of Spillane's beloved PI Mike Hammer after a twelve-year hiatus. . ."

Review:

The immediate pall of 9/11 hangs heavy over this latest -- last? -- Hammer offering from Spillane, infusing the plot with twenty-first century tensions. New York is still freaking out over the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the Twin Towers when Hammer rescues two college kids, who hold a package that will spark a jihad-flavored WWIII: once again, it's up to Hammer, with help from his longtime love, Velda Sterling, and his longtime cop friend, Pat Chambers, to prevent yet another Armageddon.

All the Hammer elements are in place: curvy dames; political and social corruption; snappy one-liners and blue-collar sentimentality, edged with tired, hard-guy threat; several political situations which seem likely to spiral into worldwide death scenarios; and a spectacularly brutal finish that recalls earlier Spillane novel finishes.

The Goliath Bone is a welcome, updated addition to the Hammer/Spillane ouevre.

Check it out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Long Spoon Lane, by Anne Perry

(pb; 2005: twenty-fourth book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the back cover:

"After bombs explode during an anarchist attack in Long Spoon Lane, two of the culprits are captured and the leader is shot. . . but by whom? As Thomas Pitt of the Special Branch delves into the case, he finds that there's more to the terrorism than the brutality of misguided idealists. Clues suggest that Inspector Wetron is the mastermind. As the shadowy leader of the Inner Circle, Wetron is using his influence with the press to stir up fears of more attacks and to rush a bill through Parliament that would severely curtail civil liberties. To defeat Wetron, Pitt must run in harness with his old enemy, Sir Charles Voisey. The unlikely allies are joined by Pitt's clever wife, Charlotte, and her great aunt, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould. As they strive to prevent future destruction, nothing less than the fate of the British Empire hangs in precarious balance."

Review:

One of the best Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels yet. This time out, Perry cuts loose with unexpected, impressive twists and acts of violence, characters whose bonds to each other deepen even as the possibilities of betrayals increase, and a finish that's as emotionally captivating as the fervid plot that precedes it.

Another wow-worthy, turning-point entry in this consistently-exemplary series.

Check this series out!

Followed by Buckingham Palace Gardens.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chelsea Horror Hotel, by Dee Dee Ramone

(pb; 2001)

From the back cover:

"Dee Dee Ramone doesn't quite know what he's getting himself into when he and his wife Barbara move into the Chelsea Hotel with their dog Banfield. The room he's been been staying in might be the very room where his old friend Sid stabbed Nancy. Dee spends most of his time trying to score drugs and walking Banfield, with whom he can magically communicate. Meanwhile, he can't stand his neighbors and though he shies away from violence, he wishes everyone were six feet under. Dee Dee gets involved with the transvestite lover of one of his gay fellow addicts. When Barbara finds out, things get out of hand. All the while Dee Dee is tormented by the living and dead demons that plague the hotel, with the ghosts of his old dead punk rock friends Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders and Stiv Bators. And that's when the Devil himself decides to join the party. . ."

Review:

Chatty, dark, quirky first-person narrative from Ramone, with semi-autobiographical bits thrown into this odd, charming Abbadonian mix: I laughed a lot, even related to, much of what Ramone wrote in this novel.

The end-section is a crazy, kitschy rambling of violence, Satanism and drug addiction. Tone- character- and theme-wise it fits, but Ramone's seemingly-unchecked diarrhea-of-the-brain dulls the edge of the writing that preceded it.

That said, it's still a worthwhile read, that may induce evil chuckles from certain readers, like myself.

Check it out.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Seven Dials, by Anne Perry

(pb; 2003: twenty-third book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the back cover:

"Thomas Pitt, mainstay of Her Majesty's Special Branch, is summoned to Connaught Square mansion where the body of a junior diplomat lies huddled in a wheelbarrow. Nearby stands the tenant of the house, the beautiful and notorious Egyptian woman Ayesha Zakhari, who falls under the shadow of suspicion. Pitt's orders are to protect -- at all costs -- the good name of the third person in the garden: senior cabinet minister Saville Ryerson. This distinguished public servant, whispered to be Ayesha's lover, insists that she is as innocent as Pitt himself is. Pitt's journey to uncover the truth takes him from Egyptian cotton fields to the insidious London slum called Seven Dials, to a packed London courtroom where shocking secrets will at last be revealed."

Review:

Solid entry in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series, with an exotic, turning-point element (Pitt travels to Alexandria, Egypt) in the unfolding plot. The writing, as usual, is excellent, with characters worth rooting for or hissing at. The killer is obvious, with an ending that should be somewhat familiar to Perry's readers, but the ride's still fun.

Check this series out.

Followed by Long Spoon Lane.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Wolf Moon, by Ed Gorman

(pb; 1993)

From the back cover:

"It wasn't just the memories of his murdered brothers or the ten years in prison that reminded Chase how much he hated Reeves for double-crossing him after the bank robbery. Chase's face was carved with righteous scars from the bloody night when Reeves's killer wolf had attacked and left him for dead.

"Now he was out of jail and in the same town where Reeves was setting up his next bank heist. The lust for revenge was eating away at Chase's gut, and not even the love of a woman could stop him from the hell-bound path he must follow. For him, no price was too high -- and the sacrifice would be savage. . ."

Review:

Lean and mean, Wolf Moon is a flawed book. It bears all the Gorman trademarks -- the aforementioned barebones writing, occasional quirkiness, relatable and well-fleshed characters, surprising twists -- but in the middle of the book, Gorman blows it when Chase, a level-headed hero, changes unbelievably: he's too dark, too cold, as to be unrecognizable. He becomes an entirely different character.

The emotionally-potent ending rings true, though, making up for that middle section, and making it a worthwhile read. Just don't make it the first Gorman novel you read. Pick up Ride Into Yesterday instead, or something of that caliber.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Girl with the Golden Bouffant, by Mabel Maney

(pb; 2004: second book in the 007½ /Jane Bond series)

From the back cover:

"When James Bond lands in the hospital with nasty facial burns (the result of an explosive encounter between a girl's fag and his hair pomade), the home office once again calls on Jane Bond, James's lesbian older sister -- aka, 007½ -- to don, suit, sneer and scars, and masquerade as the infamous 007. Her destination is the men-only International Spy Convention in glamorous Las Vegas. Her assignment: to steal a secret spy invention. As a double agent for Her Majesty's Secret Service and for G.E.O.R.G.I.E., the all-girl secret organization of she-spies, Jane must complete her mission and keep her brother's reputation intact by guzzling martinis, flirting with near-naked showgirls, and -- most important -- remembering to use the men's bathroom.

"Along for the ride is Jane's only ally in the male spy world, retired special agent Cedric Pumpernickel, and two G.E.O.R.G.I.E. gals, Bridget St. Clare and Bibi Gallini, who will attempt to blend into the tourist crowd in the Mary Quant dresses.

"But Jane's stay in Sin City becomes doubly dangerous when an American agent is thrown over the Hoover Dam and all fingers point to Jane. . ."



Review:

Maney's second Jane Bond novel isn't as good as the first novel, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy. There's plenty of wry humor, campy schtick and sexy slapstick, and Maney is relentless in her skewering of the different perceptions of men and women. However, all these charming qualities wear thin around the middle of the book, as the plot doesn't fully kick in until that point.

Maney favors a leisurely, character-paced approach, and for the most part, it works.

Maney -- an excellent, deadpan writer -- eventually picks up the pace and plot, with a funny finish that makes me hope she'll write another Jane Bond novel, provided it's more tightly plotted than this one.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Nineteen Eighty-Three, by David Peace

(hb; 2002: Book Four of the Yorkshire Quartet, aka the Riding Red Quartet)

From the back cover:

"Nineteen Eighty-Three's three intertwining storylines see the quartet's central themes of corruption and perversion of justice come to a head: BJ the rent boy from 1974, the lawyer Big John Pigott, who's as near as you get to a hero in Peace's world, and Maurice Jobson, the senior cop whose career of corruption and brutality has set all this in motion, find themselves on a collision course that can only end in a terrible vengeance. . ."

Review:

Compelling, noir- and series-veracious completion of the Yorkshire puzzle: Peace fills in the murder-mystery blanks, with surprising and logical a-ha-from-the-reader-inducing connections, and characters who once again are seen in different lights. The finish, as always is (mostly) a self-destructive go-out-with-a-shotgun-blast affair, with distinctive, newer elements thrown into the end-mix.

Superb conclusion to a superb series. Check these novels out.

Red Riding: 1983, the resulting movie, is set for stateside release in 2009. Anand Tucker directed, from a script by Tony Grisoni (who also penned the first two Red Riding films).

David Morrissey reprised his role of Maurice Jobson. Robert Sheehan reprised his role of BJ (aka, Barry James Anderson). Mark Addy played John Piggott. Lisa Howard played Judith Jobson. Shaun Dooley once again played Dick Alderman. Warren Clarke reprised his role of Bill "Badger" Molloy. Sean Bean reprised his role of John Dawson (from Red Riding: 1974). Steven Robertson once again played Bob Fraser. Michelle Dockery reprised her role of Kathryn Tyler (from Red Riding: 1974). Sean Harris reprised his role of Bob Craven.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

HeartSick, by Chelsea Cain

(pb; 2007: first book in the Gretchen Lowell series)

From the back cover:

"Portland detective Archie Sheridan spent years tracking Gretchen Lowell, a beautiful and brutal serial killer. In the end, she was the one who caught him. . . and tortured him. . . and then let him go. Why did Gretchen spare Archie's life and then turn herself in? This is the question that keeps him all night -- and the reason why he has visited Gretchen in prison every week since.

"Meanwhile, another series of Portland murders has Archie working on a brand-new task force. . . and heading straight into the line of fire. The local news is covering the case 24/7, and it's not long before Archie enters a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the killer -- and his former captor. But this time, it's up to Archie to save himself. . ."

Review:

Fast-paced, reader-intriguing novel, this. The characters are fully-realized, the story is ticking-clock gripping: I found the killer to be obvious, but it didn't detract from this otherwise worthwhile read. Not only that, but Cain's backdrop is rich in Portland history and locations, adding to the uncomfortably-humid mood of Heartsick.

Gretchen Lowell has the potential to become one of the more distinctive serial killers to come down the Fiction Pike in recent years, if she's handled right in future novels -- she could easily join the ranks of Norman Bates, Dexter Morgan and Hannibal Lecter, whose M.O.s are extensions of their unique personalities.

Check it out!

Followed by Sweetheart.