Tuesday, September 30, 2014

American Gods by Neil Gaiman


(pb; 2001: loosely linked to Anansi Boys)

From the back cover:

"Shadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she's been killed in a terrible accident.

"Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him introduces himself.  The man calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he knows more about Shadow than is possible.

"He warns Shadow that a far bigger storm is coming.  And from that moment on, nothing will ever be the same."


Review:

American  is an epic - in the truest sense of the word - and entertaining novel that mixes humor, various mythologies, American history and landscapes, and murderous characters.  There are some great characters and excellent writing in this one.  Worth owning, this.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jennifer Blood: Neither Tarnished Nor Afraid by Al Ewing and various artists


(pb; 2013: graphic novel, collecting issues #13-18 of the series.  Third entry in the Jennifer Blood graphic novel series.)


From the back cover:

"It looks like Jen's finally got everything she wants - her crusade against her murderous Uncles is over and done with and she's successfully fended off attacks by everyone from war profiteers to waffle salesmen.  There's just one tiny fly in the ointment: Detective Elaine Pruitt, Homicide.  Jennifer Blood killed her partner, but didn't quite manage to kill her.

"That was a mistake.

"Meanwhile, an old flame of Andy's re-enters his life.  For anyone else's family, it'd be the makings of a fairly standard suburban drama.

"But this is Jennifer Blood's family.

"And she'll do anything she thinks she has to in order to preserve it."


Review:

Jen's life spirals further out of control as the loose ends of her weeklong vendetta - a ticked-off cop, an unstable marriage and other elements - come back to haunt her in bleakly hilarious, bloody and super-violent fashion.  The ending is a logical yet radical turn story-wise, one that looks like it will lead to promising developments in the next collection, Jennifer Blood: The Trial of Jennifer Blood.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Dame by Richard Stark


(pb; 1969, 2012: second novel in the Grofeld series.  Foreword by Sarah Weinman.)


From the back cover:

"An occasional conspirator in Parker heists, Alan Grofeld is everything Parker isn't: charming, funny and easily distracted by dames.  But Parker and Grofeld are both great at what they do -- steal.  And even when Parker isn't around, Grofeld manages to get himself into sticky situations.  The Dame follows Grofeld to Puerto Rico, where he takes up a job protecting a rich, demanding woman in her isolated jungle villa.  When events take a deadly turn, Grofeld must reluctantly assume the role of detective."


Review:

Shortly after the events of The Damsel, Grofeld's south of the border roadtrip continues, though this time a murder mystery - with him as the caustic-witted main suspect - flavors the fun, action-punctuated proceedings.  Like every Stark work I've read thus far, Dame is worth owning.

Followed by The Blackbird.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jennifer Blood: Beautiful People by Al Ewing and various artists


(pb; 2012: graphic novel, collecting issues #7-12 of the series.  Second entry in the Jennifer Blood graphic novel series.)

From the back cover:

"Jen Fellows is a housewife with two kids, a devoted husband, a beautiful suburban home, two cars, a plasma TV, a Mk. 153 SMAW Launcher, an AK47, ten pounds of C4, a large number of grenades, several hundred rounds of hollow-point-point ammunition, a great big knife. . .

"Jen Fellows was also Jennifer Blood, a vengeance-fueled vigilante taking brutal vengeance on the five men who destroyed her parents.  But now that she's finished off the last of them, her mission is over at last.

". . . In a word. . . no.

"It turns out you can't murder the five heads of a crime family - plus various assorted bodyguards, associates, ninja schoolgirl assassins, etc. - without any consequences.  There are leftover weapons to dispose of, nosy neighbors who might know a little too much, kids getting too curious about the hidden armory in the basement, detectives picking up all the clues you forgot you dropped. . . and a consortium of rich and powerful people, with private armies of highly trained mercenaries at their command, who want a little revenge of their own."


Review:

More bloody and violent hilarity, suburban public kink-wear and surreal unintended consequences ensue as Jen/nifer's vendetta against her crime-family family winds down, and the relatives and associates of those she killed seek revenge while the cops seek answers regarding her previous slaughters.  Wildly entertaining stuff, this - worth owning.

Followed by Jennifer Blood: Neither Tarnished Nor Afraid.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Damsel by Richard Stark


(pb; 1967, 2012: first novel in the Grofeld series.  Foreword by Sarah Weinman.)


From the back cover:

"On the surface, Alan Grofeld and Parker seem to be strange allies.  Where Parker is cold and calculating, Grofeld is chatty and charismatic.  But while they may not have much in common, they are both great at what they do -- steal.  The Damsel. . . follows the action of the Parker novel The Handle, and it finds our hero, dazed and injured, waking up to discover a girl crawling through the window of his hotel room.  [Soon,] Grofeld and his new companion begin a scenic, action-packed road trip from Mexico City to Acapulco. . ."


Review:

Chatty - compared to the waste-no-words efficiency of the Parker series - and entertaining crime tale about Grofeld and his south of the border road trip-adventure with Ellen Marie, a charming hotel room burglar whose circumstances involve political intrigue, corruption and murderous thugs.

Followed by The Dame.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indriđason


(hb; 2010, 2012: eleventh book in the Reykjavik Thriller series. Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb)

From the inside flap:

"In this latest puzzle, Inspector Erlendur learns of the baffling story of Matthildur, a local woman who went missing years earlier on the night of a violent storm.  A frequent visitor to his birthplace, Erlendur has spent his whole life searching for his brother, Beggi, who was lost in a snowstorm when they were both children.  As he begins to ask questions about the fateful evening when Matthildur disappeared, Erlendur begins to suspect what may have also befallen his long-lost brother.

"Can Erlendur possibly solve the disappearances of Matthildur and Beggi after all these decades?  Or are the forces that want him to stop investigating stronger than he is?"


Review:

Strange is a mood-effective (wintry, stark, moody), reader-hooking disappearance - possibly murder - mystery, one worth checking out from the library.  There's a nice mention of the events of the sixth Erlender book, The Draining Lake, which adds a thematic layer to Strange

The twists in Strange aren't surprising, but with Indriđason's work it's often about the journey not the destination.  The ending is a promising lead-in to the next book in the series, a loosely linked side-prequel, The Chess Match, as well as another prequel, Reyjavik Nights.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jennifer Blood: A Woman's Work is Never Done by Garth Ennis and various artists


(pb; 2012: graphic novel, collecting issue #1-6 of the series.  First entry in the Jennifer Blood graphic novel series.)

From the back cover:

"Meet Jen Fellows, your average suburban housewife.  Every day, she lives out your normal suburban life.  She makes breakfast, takes the kids to school, cleans the house, cooks dinner, kisses her husband and children goodnight, and hopes that the drugs she gives them in their dinner keeps them asleep until morning.

"Meet Jennifer Blood, ruthless vigilante.  Every night she stalks the underworld on a personal vendetta against organized crime, determined to obliterate the parasites and scum who run the city's rackets.

"But can she keep her dual lives separate?  Can she protect her family from the terrible world she now finds herself a part of?  And will the budget stretch to new cushion covers for the couch and six more cases of .45 hollow points?"



Review:

Jennifer Blood is a bloody, nasty, for-mature-audiences-only work, featuring writer Ennis' fast-moving, raunchy and black-as-frak wit.  The storyline is familiar (see the back cover description), but Ennis' action-lean writing, coupled with Jennifer's eye-popping illustrations and visual tones (courtesy of various artists, colorists and Rob Steen's lettering) make its plot-familiarity irrelevant.  This is not a graphic novel for readers put off by gore, nudity and ultra-dark - and effective - themes: worth owning, this, if the above description doesn't apply to you.

Followed by Jennifer Blood: Beautiful People.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Slayground by Richard Stark


(pb; 1969, 1971, 2010: fourteenth novel in the Parker series.  Introduction by Charles Ardai.)

From the back cover:

"The hunter becomes prey, as a heist gone sour and Parker finds himself trapped in a shuttered amusement park, besieged by a bevy of local mobsters.  There are no exits from Fun Island.  Outnumbered and outgunned, Parker can't afford a single miscalculation.  He's low on bullets - but, as anyone who's crossed his path knows, that doesn't mean he's defenseless."


Review:

One of the many things I appreciate about the Parker novels is how Stark changes up the elements (structure, characters, tones, etc.) from book to book, while maintaining the overall qualitative elements that make this character-progressive series so great - e.g., in the last Parker outing, Deadly Edge, much of the book was about Parker's relationship with Claire (when they weren't fighting and evading those villainous amateurs); in Slayground, Claire is generally mentioned but not seen, and most of the action takes place in the amusement park that could easily become Parker's last battlefield. . . it's just him and the worse guys.  Not even Alan Grofeld, one of Parker's semi-regular heistmates - who's seen briefly in the beginning of Slayground - gets much "air time" (though Grofeld's post-crash fate is shown in the side-series novel The Blackbird).

Like all the preceding Parker novels, Slayground is an excellent, waste-no-words crime thriller with a consistently compelling anti-hero: this, also, is worth owning.

Followed by Plunder Squad.

#

Slayground  was released stateside as a film in February 1984.  The film was directed by Terry Bedford from a screenplay by Trevor Preston.

Peter Coyote played Stone (cinematic stand-in for Parker).  Mel Smith played Terry Abbatt.  Billie Whitelaw played Madge.  Phil Sayer played Costello.  Bill Luhrs played Joe Sheer (a character who was killed in the sixth Parker book The Jugger).  Clarence Felder played Orxel.  Ned Eisenberg played Lonzini.  David Hayward played Laufman.

Side-note:  This film references Point Blank (based on Stark's first Parker novel The Hunter) and the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Alfred Hitchcock's A Hangman's Dozen, by various authors

 
(pb; 1962, 1966: crime anthology)

Overall review:

Excellent murder and crime anthology, worth owning.


Standout stories:

1.)  "The Children of Noah" - Richard Matheson:  A cross-country, speeding motorist (Mr. Ketchum) gets pulled over in Zachry, Maine and finds that leaving this strange town may be more difficult than he first thought.  Fun story, with a Twilight Zone-esque feel.



2.)  "Fair Game" - John Cortez:  Plot-twisty, excellent story about a hunting guide (Sam Ludlow) whose attraction to his client's wife leads to some dark revelations.  I especially love the ending to this one.



3.)  "The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution" - Richard Stark:  A man (Freddie) and his mistress (Karen) plot the demise of his materialistic wife (Janice) and encounter unforeseen complications.  Darkly humorous and increasingly intense tale.



4.)  "Your Witness" - Helen Nielsen:  Fun, well-written story about a woman (Naomi Shawn) whose husband's vicious lawyerly tactics inspire her own revenge on him.



5.)  "Blackout" - Richard Deming:  A drunk man's murder confession turns out to be more complicated than it initially seems.  The ending isn't a surprise, but the story is well-written.



6.)  "The October Game" - Ray Bradbury:  Memorable, nasty (in a dark notions way) and Halloween-atmospheric tale about a man and his family who host a horrifying holiday party.  This is one of my favorite stories in this collection.  The ending is especially effective.



7.)  "The Last Escape" - Jay Street:  An escape artist (Joe Ferlini) has more tricks up his sleeve than anyone - including his wife (Wanda) - suspects.  Great finish to this one.



8.)  "Most Agreeably Poisoned" - Fletcher Flora:  Urbane and "civilized" work about a cuckolded husband who suggests to his wife and her lover a unique port-wine-and-poison solution to resolve their sudden-change situation.



9.)  "The Best-Friend Murder" - Donald E. Westlake:  Police procedural tale about a polite poisoner's immediate confession to the cops, and how his confession rings odd to one of the investigating officers (Abraham Levine).  Great, reader-hooking writing in this work, with palpable, effective themes of youth and mortality.  Love the ending to this one.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Deadly Edge, by Richard Stark


(pb; 1971, 2010: thirteenth novel in the Parker series.  Introduction by Charles Ardai.)

From the back cover:

"Deadly Edge bids a brutal adieu to the 1960s as Parker robs a concert, and the heist goes south.  Soon Parker finds himself - and his woman, Claire - menaced by a pair of sadistic, drug-crazed hippies.  Parker has a score to settle while Claire's armed with her first rifle - and they're both ready to usher in the end of the Age of the Aquarius."


Review:

The darker-than-usual sensibility that set the tone for The Hunter and The Sour Lemon Score is also evident in Deadly, another hard-to-set-down crime thriller that has some particularly torture-giddy (if amateur) villains.  Still cut-to-it and not for the sentimental, Deadly is one of the bloodier books in the Parker series and an excellent one at that.

Followed by Slayground.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Siren by John Everson


(pb; 2010)

From the back cover:

"Night after night, Evan walked along the desolate beach, grieving over the loss of his son, drowned in an accident more than a year before.  Then one night he was drawn to the luminous sound of a beautiful, naked woman singing near the shore in the moonlight.  He watched mesmerized as the mysterious woman disappeared into the sea.  Driven by desire and temptation, Evan returned to the spot every night until he found her again.  Now he has begun a bizarre, otherworldly affair.  A deadly affair.  For Evan will soon realize that his seductive lover is a being far more evil and more terrifying than he ever imagined.  He will learn the danger of falling into the clutches of the Siren."


Review:

Siren is a fun B-flick horror novel that sports a big sense of humor. In order to fully enjoy it (as I didn't), one should be okay with the fact that its lead character's supernatural obsession with the Siren (Ligeia) strains credulity. If you can get past that, you'll probably enjoy this book a lot.

What kept me reading Siren - which would made an excellent novella - was its fast-paced plot, its sometimes-funny dialogue (I love Evan's verbal exchanges with his friend Bill) and Everson's overall solid (despite its extended length) writing.  By most writer's standards this is a good book, and it is, up to a point.  However, when compared to Everson's genre-transcendant novels Covenant, Sacrifice and Violet Eyes, Siren feels like a missed opportunity at B-horror greatness, an overlong trifle.

Either check this out from the library or pick it up for a few bucks.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Sour Lemon Score, by Richard Stark


(pb; 1969, 2010: twelfth novel in the Parker series.  Foreword by Dennis Lehane.)


From the back cover:

"Bank robberies should run like clockwork, right?  If your name's Parker, you expect nothing less.  Until, that is, one of your partners gets too greedy for his own good.  The four-way split following a job leaves too small a take for George Uhl, who begins to pick off his fellow hoisters, one by one.  The first mistake?  That he doesn't begin things by putting a bullet in Parker.  That means he won't get a chance to make a second. . ."


Review:

More so than any of the Parker sequels thus far, Sour recalls the especially dark acuity of the first book in this series (The Hunter) - its outlook, reflecting Parker's and several other characters', is harsher than usual and its delectably wicked finish is especially memorable and applaudable.  For these reasons Sour is one of my favorite entries in this twenty-four book series, and - like the preceding Parker novels - is worth owning.

Followed by Deadly Edge.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Ancient, My Enemy, by Gordon R. Dickson

(hb; 1974: science fiction anthology)

Overall review:

Excellent, memorable science fiction anthology - all of the nine stories in this collection are well-written, entertaining: worth owning, this.


Standout stories:

1.)  "Ancient, My Enemy": A clan of mountain-ranging cannibals, led by a feud-minded chief (Hehog), track a group of prospectors back to civilization.  Excellent, memorable tale that resonates on multiple levels with its timeless themes and troubling emotions.


2.)  "Tiger Green": Intriguing story about a human crew that's trapped on a jungle world, awash in their own nightmares and impending insanity, who are trying to escape.  Like other stories in this anthology, "Green" sports a strong, satisfactory sense of morality, humanism and logic, especially in how the men's situation(s) play out.


3.)   "The Friendly Man": A time traveler (Mark Toren) discovers that his arrival in a strangely familiar future may be less - and more - than he expected.  Compact, fun Twilight Zone-esque read.


4.)   "Love Me True":  Another compact, fun Twilight Zone-esque entry, this one about a soldier (Ted Homan), whose exotic, affectionate alien pet (Pogey) raises red flags among his commanding officers. 


5.)  "The Bleak and Barren Land":  Bureaucratic pettiness forces a Colonial Representative (Kent Harmon) into an untenable political and survival situation - trying to head off an impending conflict between planet-native aliens (Modorians) and incoming imperious human settlers.  This is a masterful story, resonant on multiple levels and increasingly intense; it's also one of the best pieces in this collection.

<em>The Freak</em> by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome ) From the back cover “He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of ...