Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recent Reads

Savages by Don Winslow: Ben and Chon are partners in a drug growing operation in Southern California and couldn't be further apart philosophically: Ben is a peace and love pseudo Buddhist while Chon is a lock 'n' load ex Navy Seal. Tying them together and sealing their friendship is O, a wild and voracious young woman who loves them both. When a Mexican drug cartel tries to take over their growing operation by hostile means and show them they mean business by kidnapping O, the men have to do whatever it takes to get her back. To say this story was a wild ride is an understatement: fueled by sex, drugs and violence it is a real page turner. Starting out very funny and then turning progressively darker as the story builds to an explosive conclusion, Winslow really keeps the narrative pedal to the metal throughout. It works really well, almost reminding me of Ken Bruen's fast past story telling style in the way the plot rockets along. The characters are well drawn and the dialogue is excellent, reminiscent of the witty banter of Elmore Leonard. Brutal, yet funny, this is a fine fast paced thriller. Savages -

High Life by Matthew Stokoe: In Ken Bruen's book The Dramatist, he has his great anti-hero character Jack Taylor raving about this book, calling Stokoe the heir to James Ellroy in noir fiction. There are certainly some hints of Ellroy in this book, but if you read Ellroy close enough, you begin to understand that he is at heart a romantic. Stokoe, on the other hand, is anything but, and his prose is as dark as the grave and twice as cold. Jack is living in Hollywood and is obsessed with the rich and famous. When his prostitute wife is murdered, he feels he has nothing left to lose and will do whatever it takes to make himself a star. When he meets the beautiful and mysterious Bella while working as a male escort, things take a turn for the strange. Bella can give him everything he has ever wanted, but at a terrible price, and all the while Jack is hounded by a rogue cop who suspects him of murder. It must be said that Stokoe writes well and crafts a dark, dark tale, but I think what kept me from truly embracing the story was the characters. Everyone from Jack on down is a complete self-obsessed narcissist with no redeeming quality. Shocking scenes of violence and debauchery are common, but often seem like set pieces that while they catalog Jack's plummet to the lowest depths, start to seem a little gratuitous after a while. So, while it was interesting on the level of a character study, about how far a man will go to make himself famous in the glitter and glamor Hollywood, the book lacked an emotional connection to make it a really compelling story. High Life -

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