Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Recent Reads

I haven't blogged about what I have been reading in a while, so here goes. Mostly crime fiction over the past month or so:

Rain Dogs by James Lee Burke: After getting a mysterious phone call from a distraught witness, rural Texas sheriff Hackberry Holland makes a grisly discovery: the bodies of nine young Thai women who were murdered while being smuggled into the country as prostitutes and drug mules. In the aftermath of this slaughter, the witness and his girlfriend go on the run leading to a vicious conflict between cops, gangsters and cold blooded killers. This was a crackling story of greed, violence and the hope of redemption. Burke is the master of characterization, and the men and women who populate his novels are fully formed individuals. Holland, the rural sheriff haunted by his memories of the Korean War, killer "Preacher" Jack Collins who is obsessed by old school religion, and the other characters of the story are not cookie cutter constructs, but deep people with the same contradictory emotions that all of us face daily. Like most Burke novels, the description of the natural environment is key. The landscape and weather of the desert of west Texas is described in such clarity as to almost become a character in the story as well. With his extraordinary eye for detail and thoughtful and sympathetic characterizations, this is crime writing on a sublime level and is very highly recommended.
Rain Gods -

Vanilla Ride by Joe R. Lansdale: Longtime favorite characters Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are back - contacted by their friend Marvin who asks them to get his granddaughter away from a group of criminals in the East Texas woods, the boys find much more then they bargained for. Coming up against crooked cops, double dealing feds and the Dixie Mafia they must find a way out of the mess. This one actually started out a little slow - Lansdale dedicates the book to fans who begged another Hap & Leonard adventure, and the beginning seems a little forced. Lansdale quickly finds his footing though and the familiar mix of ribald humor and ultra-violence commences. What is interesting about Lansdale's thrillers is that violence always has a cost and it is never bloodletting for its own sake. Hap and Leonard are multi-dimensional characters and that is what makes them so compelling to follow.
Vanilla Ride -

The Midnight Road by Tom Picrilli: Flynn leads a life of quiet desperation, trying to save children by day as part of the Long Island CPS and filling his nights with film noir revivals in the Village. When he is called to a Long Island home, he is appalled to find an autistic man caged in a basement and an armed woman at the end of her rope. Flynn flees with two children from the house only to crash into the freezing water of Long Island Sound during his escape. After being clinically dead for nearly a half-hour Flynn is miraculously revived only to discover that someone... is trying to kill him. This was a fascinating story - Picirilli originally made his mark as a well regarded horror writer, and there are elements of the supernatural that play a role in this one as well, as he transitions into the noir writer who would pen the excellent modern crime novels The Cold Spot and The Coldest Mile.
The Midnight Road -

Get Real by Donald Westlake: John Dortmunder and his gang of bumbling fellow thieves are back for one final adventure. When a reality TV producer hears about the gang he has a brain-wave - what if he filmed the gang planning and executing a real life heist, broadcast weekly on television - it could be a surefire blockbuster. Of course, Dortmunder and the gang aren't exactly thrilled by the idea of breaking the law on national television, but they wonder if it's possible to go along with the plan just long enough to get a really big score. The Dortmunder novels are always a joy to read, and this one is no exception. Westlake was a master storyteller, and he told humorous stories as well as hard-boiled ones. The notion of "reality" TV is ripe for a fine skewering, and Westlake does an excellent job making light of the whole situation. With the boys looking to use the un-reality of reality TV to their advantage, the laughs come quick and often. With Westlake's unfortunate passing last year, it's sad to think that there will be no more stories of the bumbling gang. But if you haven't already made Dortmunder's acquaintance, this is a fine way to do so.
Get Real -

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