Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Scream Queen's Survival Guide, by Meredith O'Hayre

(pb; 2010: nonfiction/humor)

From the back cover:

"The Horror Movie Know-How For Every Bloody Situation.

"You've watched enough horror movies to know danger lurks around every corner, locker room, and strange new neighbor.  And inevitably, the last known survivor is always The Scream Queen.

"In The Scream Queen's Survival Guide, you'll learn more than 100 life or death lessons that Jamie Lee [Curtis], Neve [Campbell], and Jennifer Love [Hewitt] learned on screen - without the pain of dismemberment.  You owe it to yourself to master the scream queen's rules of survival, including:

(it's all downhill from there)

(no one ever got axed while cuttin' Footloose)

(or else end up at the mercy of a creepy tow-truck driver)

(the rent-a-cop always dies)

"Featuring little-known trivia and favorite moments from hundreds of the most well-known and scariest movies of all time, this is one survival guide you are sure to die without."


A snarky and clever read, Scream Queen is "light" (if you're a horror fan) book that's worth having - particularly if you're waiting in the lobby of a dentist's office (tooth pain generally being less severe than dismemberment) or engaged in a corresponding endeavor.

Scream Queen runs about twenty pages too long, especially near the end, in that some of her survival tips read like reworded versions of previous survival tips.  That said, this smart-minded book is worth checking out, even worth owning, if you get it cheap.

Either way, it's a good time for horror fans with a sense of humor.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Outrage, by Arnaldur Indriđason

(hb; 2008, 2011: ninth book in the Reykjavik Thriller series. Translated from the Icelandic by Anna Yates)

From the inside flap:

"Haunted by personal demons, Detective Erlendur decides to take a short leave of absence, putting a female detective, Elínborg, in charge while he is gone.  When a troubling case lands on Elínborg's desk, she's quickly thrust into a violent and volatile situation with extremely high stakes.  Soon, her investigation uncovers a twisted tale of double lives that may be connected to the unsolved disappearance of a young girl.  The clock is ticking to solve the case before a serial rapist strikes again. . ."


Adroit, reader-hooking police procedural, this.  Indriđason has, once again, crafted a kick-butt, difficult-to-put-down detective novel that is one of my favorite Reykjavik Thriller works thus far.

Early on, I figured out many of the events that took place at, or before, the scene of the (initial) crime - it's inevitable, given how structured and tightly written Outrage is - but some of the twists and the characters' interactions, well foreshadowed, were impressive and unexpected.

This is a book - and a series - worth owning.

Followed by Black Skies.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Jigsaw Man, by Gord Rollo

(pb; 2006, 2008)

From the back cover:

"What would you be willing to do for two million dollars?  Michael Fox answered that question for himself.  The hard way.  He was just about to commit suicide when a stranger approached him and offered him two million in cold, hard cash.  All he wanted in return was Fox's right arm. . .

"But that's only the beginning.  The mysterious surgeon's plans go far, far beyond one simple limb.  And Fox is not his only 'donor.'  Once Fox is trapped behind the operating room doors, he discovers there is no escape from the madness, as bit by bloody bit his body is taken from him. . . and gradually replaced. . ."


The Jigsaw Man is good horror read, with its sometimes pervy, pernicious update of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

After its brief, opening set-up chapters, the story blasts through dire, often surreal territory, lent realistic weight by its narrator (Fox), whose pain - physical and emotional - rings true, despite the novel's slaughterous and urban legendesque events.

Worth checking out, this.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Kinsey and Me by Sue Grafton

(hb; 2013: story anthology - off-shoot entry in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

Overall review:

Okay anthology from an excellent author.  Nine of the twenty-three stories in this collection are Kinsey Millhone detective stories, with a few standout pieces ("Between the Sheets", "The Parker Shotgun", "Non Sung Smoke", "Falling Off the Roof" and "A Little Missionary Work").

Also worthwhile is her between-story-sections essay "An Eye for an I: Justice, Morality, the Nature of the Hard-boiled Private Investigator, and All That Existential Stuff", which is part autobiography and part manifesto, the latter element addressing Grafton's feelings about the ever-changing detective genre.  This is an admirable, fun read.

The remainder of the pieces - all loosely semi-autobiographical stories - revolve around the feelings and perceptions of Kit Blue, a daughter of two alcoholic parents, whose differing personalities and actions scarred and molded their offspring.  The stories span the first twenty-nine years of Kit's life; they're well-written, personal, angry and often warm.  That said, psychoanalytical melodrama isn't my bag, so I didn't get into them, with the exception of "That's Not an Easy Way to Go", "Lost People" and "Clue".

Kinsey and Me is worth checking out from the library, at best - unless you're into her non-detective fiction work, also.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Prey by Graham Masterton

(pb; 1992, 1999)

From the back cover:

"There's something in the attic of Fortyfoot House.  Something that rustles.  Something that scampers and scratches.  Something with fur.  But it isn't a rat.  It's something far, far more terrifying than a rat.

"Recently divorced, David Williams takes a job restoring Fortyfoot House, a dilapidated 19th-century orphanage, hoping to find peace of mind and get to know his young son, Danny.  But then he hears the scratching noises in the attic.  And he sees long-dead people walking across the lawn.

"Does Fortyfoot House exist in today, yesterday, or tomorrow - or all three at once?  Only one thing is certain - it is a house with a dark, unthinkable secret that threatens to send David's world hurtling into a living nightmare.  A nightmare that only David himself can prevent - if he can escape the thing in the attic."


This is a disappointing work from a normally-excellent author.  What makes Prey disappointing is that its lead character, David, is a plot-convenient-idiot-encounters-haunted-house dumbf**k, risking the lives of his son (Danny) and his girlfriend (Liz) by staying in the house, even when it's clear that the house contains malefic elements that wish them serious harm, if not death.

What kept this deeply flawed work (barely) readable was Masterton's, intriguing science fiction spin on the spookhouse genre: the idea that Fortyfoot House is a triple-fold time machine, linked to Lovecraftian/horrific ancient pasts, is a wild and fun concept, when it works; sadly, the efficacy of the concept is often thwarted by David's bonehead actions, which are especially dumb, even for a b-movie horror character.

Prey is recommended only for hardcore Masterton fans, who must read everything this otherwise fantastic writer publishes - and even then, check it out from the library.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Pick-Up by Charles Willeford

(hb; 1955)

From the inside flap:

"Pick-Up. . . follows the pilgrimage of two lost and self-destructive lovers through the lower depths of San Francisco, from cheap bars and rooming houses to psychiatric clinics and police stations."


Despite it unremitting doomy vibe and the increasingly nihilistic decisions of its protagonists (Harry Jordan and Helen Meredith), this novella-short, sharp and waste-no-words tender read hooked me from the get-go. 

Pick-Up is an excellent, moving (without becoming bathetic), straightforward and fast-moving story that obviously isn't for everybody, but if you, as a reader, aren't afraid of noiresque turns of fate and characters who are clearly bent toward shadows, this just might be your bag.

Worth owning, this.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Dorchester Terrace, by Anne Perry

(hb; 2012: twenty-seventh novel in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series)

From the inside flap:

"Thomas Pitt, once a lowly policeman, is now the powerful head of Britain's Special Branch, and some people fear that he may have been promoted beyond his abilities.  He, too, feels painful memories of self-doubt, especially as rumors reach him of a plot to blow up connections on the Dover-London rail line - on which Austrian duke Alois Habsburg is soon to travel to visit his royal English kin.

"Why would anyone destroy an entire train to kill one obscure Austrian royal, or are the rumors designed to distract Pitt from an even more devastating plot?  He must resolve this riddle at once, before the damage is done.

"Meanwhile, in a London sickroom, an old Italian woman - at the end of a romantic career as a revolutionary spy - is terrified that as she sinks into dementia, she may divulge secrets that can kill.  And a beautiful young Croatian woman, married to a British power broker, hoards her own mysteries.  Apparently all roads lead to the Continent, and Pitt suspects that between them these two fascinating women could tell him things he desperately needs to know.  But as the hours tick by, it seems that the only woman Pitt can count on is his clever wife, Charlotte."


This is a suspenseful, masterful mystery that engaged me from its first word to its last.   Perry's trademark warmth and/or chill between the characters, many of them ongoing, livens up the action and often-charming conversations.

Exemplary entry in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series - and one of my favorites thus far.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by Midnight at the Marble Arch.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Bruce, by Peter Ames Carlin

(hb; 2012: biography)

From the inside flap:

"For more than four decades, Bruce Springsteen has reflected the heart and soul of America with a career that includes twenty Grammy Awards, more than 120 million albums sold, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award.  He has also become an influential voice in American culture and politics, inspiring President Barack Obama to admit: 'I'm the president, but he's the Boss.'

"Built from years of research and unparalleled access to its subject and his inner circle, Bruce presents the most revealing account yet of a man laden with family tragedy, a tremendous dedication to his artistry, and an all-consuming passion for fame and influence.  With this book, the E Street Band members finally bare their feelings about their abrupt dismissal in 1989, and how Springsteen's ambivalence nearly capsized their 1999 reunion.  Carlin. . . traces Springsteen's often harrowing personal life: from his lower working-class childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, through his stubborn climb to fame and tangled romantic life, and finally to his quest to conquer the demons that nearly destroyed his father."


Bruce is an excellent, hard-to-set down biography about an extraordinary man/musician, warts and all.

This is a must-own for any Springsteen fan, as well as one of the best rock bios I've read in a long while.

<em>Mother Night</em> by Kurt Vonnegut

(pb; 1961) From the back cover “ Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy du...