What a book!

October 4, 2011

Review: Sharp Teeth

Filed under: Crime,Fiction,Noir,Poetry — mike @ 5:34 am

Sharp Teeth
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are an awful lot of awful and irritating supernatural books out now so you may be leery about this one, as it’s ostensibly about werewolves. But you should read this anyway.

If you had to make your way through The Odyssey and Beowulf in high school (I enjoyed the former then and did not appreciate the latter until much later), you are of course familiar with the writing of stories in verse, which more or less made its way out of the oral tradition of telling stories, I guess. This story is told in verse, but it doesn’t feel like someone looking for a hook for an MFA project to appear all high-minded. Rather, this is what would come out if Homer read Dashiell Hammett and pitched a new epic poem to Steven Spielberg. “Sharp Teeth” would be darn good story that comes out of it.

The story is basically a noir LA gang story, and the gang members all happen to be werewolves. And that trait is presented as straightforwardly as any other quality, like height or hair color. Other, non-were, characters include a dogcatcher (lots of dark little humor in this, as well as bigger laughs) who wonders about some dogs acting strangely, and a cop who’s tracking a series of strange, savage murders of dogcatchers.

And thanks to the cleanness and spareness of the verse, this story moves along quickly so you want to keep turning pages, long after your eyes begin to droop, as you can almost hear the author muttering the tale out of the side of his mouth in a fluorescent-lit, whiskey-soaked, smoky agora.

If you like noir, read this book. If you like some supernatural fiction, read this book. If you’re Team Jacob, or wish you were one of the meth-crazed hillbilly wolves in ‘True Blood,’ it may not be wolfie enough for you, but read it anyway to broaden your horizons.

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July 16, 2010

The Unreality of Reality: When Cyber-Punk Goes Noir

Hey all. Long time, no read.

With Christopher Nolan’s Inception opening this weekend at a theater near you, it brought to mind a fantastic novel I’d read many moons ago that mined the same, lucid shared dream vein called The Night Mayor.

In the not to distant future, since movies and TV are a thing of the past, people look to virtual reality, where a person can be projected into their own movie inside their own head, for their entertainment. Things go a bit awry when master criminal Truro Daine tries to make this unreality a reality, with himself in control of everything, and its up to two cyber-sleuths to tune-in to his wavelength and put the kibosh on his nefarious schemes…

Author Kim Newman is a huge film buff and has written several reference books on said subject. The Night Mayor is his fictional debut and it’s a real treat for his fellow film fanatics. See, Newman’s master-criminal bases his cyber-kingdom on the shadowy, rain-soaked streets and neon-lights of vintage hard-boiled Hollywood noir movies, and it’s populated with several familiar characters, scenarios, actors and femme fatales of the same era — Bogart, Powell, and Tierney — one of them being Daine in disguise. Which is why the authorities bring in an outside expert on the genre (– a surrogate for Newman, perhaps?) to help the lead detective smoke him out. And with this being based in virtual reality anything goes, right?  And when our heroes start tweaking things a bit, movie-genres start to get cross-pollinated — and if you think Lon Chaney Jr. showing up and sprouting whiskers in the middle of all this is wild, just wait until you see what comes stomping out of the harbor.

Of course knowledge of vintage films will help your enjoyment of this book but even a cursory film fan will recognize most of the cameos, winks and nods in Newman’s book. The science part of the equation takes a bit to slog through but it’s well worth it to get the fiction.

Highly recommended.

May 8, 2010

C.S.I. New York — Circa 1896

Filed under: Crime,Fiction,Mystery,Thriller — WB Kelso @ 1:21 am
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When the severally mutilated body of a murdered prostitute is posed and left for a gruesome public display, newly appointed New York City police commissioner Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt decides to forgo normal procedure and brings in an alienist — Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, an expert in the burgeoning field of psychology and abnormal behavior — to apply his trade and help solve this bizarre homicide. Together, facing both danger, doubt, and ridicule at every turn, these two crusaders gather a small team of experts on the local criminal elements (on both sides of the law) and the most advanced forensic techniques, and then start poking and prodding at the dark underbelly of the city, trying to figure out what makes the killer tick and flush him out before this butcher strikes again.

Truthfully, author Caleb Carr’s The Alienist is about 50/50 split between psychological thriller and history lesson. And speaking truthfully again, whichever way you come at it — as a mystery lover or history buff — you’ve stumbled right into a goldmine. Carr paints a fascinating and minutely detailed canvas of turn of the century New York and its colorful denizens, which, contrary to what you might think, does nothing to distract from the plot as our protagonists methodically piece together clues and draw conclusions from the killer’s actions but serves, instead, to enhance the proceedings. Sure, some authors can bring a reader into their books as a casual observer from a safe distance, but Carr has a knack for putting you into the scene with all the sights and sounds and smells found therein — none of them all that pleasant.

It’s real. It’s happening. It’s a whole new spin on the phrase “social studies.” And, my friends, you’re along for a wild and rewarding ride if you just crack it open and take a look.

March 27, 2010

Murder Has a Good Beat

Filed under: Crime,Mystery,Thriller,Uncategorized — WB Kelso @ 12:44 pm
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When his twin brother, a homicide detective for the Denver P.D., commits suicide after being unable to solve a particularly grisly murder that he’d been obsessing over, Jack McEvoy, a violent crime-beat reporter for The Rocky Mountain News, deals with his grief and the five stages of denial the best way he knows how. But while tracking down his brother’s last few days for his next story, when things don’t quite add up, the reporter comes to the conclusion that it wasn’t a suicide after all but a carefully staged murder. And then, when his research into police suicides nationwide turns up a disturbing pattern of an unsolvable murder, followed by the lead detective’s suicide, complete with a cryptic suicide note consisting of a quote from Edgar Allen Poe, McEvoy realizes his brother was the latest victim of a serial killer.

Probably better known for his crime novels featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosh, regardless, I jumped into author Michael Connelly’s “pool” with The Scarecrow, the second novel featuring his other reoccurring character, reporter Jack McEvoy, which quickly sent me searching for his inaugural adventure, The Poet. McEvoy is very good at his job, perhaps a little too good, meaning some clues he digs up or patterns he sees are so damned obvious that nobody else has seen them is a bit of a stretch. However, find the patterns he does, and that turns out to be the easy part as now he has to convince his boss, the police, and eventually, the F.B.I. that a deranged killer, or possibly two deranged killers, is moving across the country and leaving a lot of bodies in his/their wake. And convincing that last group brings him to the attention of Special Agent Rachel Walling for a little joint-investigating and the prerequisite boot-knocking.

To tell his story, Connelly splits time between McEvoy and the killer. Fairly blunt and straight forward with his plot, from what I’ve read so far, the author likes to keep things simple as the mystery methodically unravels and saves the big twist for the end. And in the case of The Poet, it’s a pretty big one. If I have one major beef with the plot it’s the whole body in the locked room scenario for the suicide victims, who leave the quotes from Poe in their own handwriting. Here, the author kind of paints himself into a corner, and how he gets out of it will give the credulity muscle in your brain a good stretch. And for those of you who like the squickier side of these serial mysteries with the accompanying blood and guts may want to look elsewhere as we’re mostly dealing with the murders after the fact. Still, if you like puzzles and authors that reward you with pieces as you go along,  you’ll probably like the final picture Connelly provides for you.

January 18, 2010

“Blaze” by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Filed under: Crime,Stephen King — jacksheard @ 3:43 pm
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Simple story, but it’s a nice one. It’s the story of a grown dimwit, now trying to pull off a complicated heist planned by his former parter in crime. It bounces back and forth from Blaze’s childhood and the present. Great look at a kid forgotten and what happens later in his life. 

Love the looks back in the past, the characters and simple story. It’s a few years old, I found it in the bargain bin.

YOU’LL LIKE THIS IF: You liked the movie “Sleepers”, Stephen King’s “Shawshank Redemption”.

Four stars out of five. 

Link to Stephen King site

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