Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Re-read: TWISTED CITY by Jason Starr

Publisher No Exit Press
Length 319 pages
Format mass market paperback
Published 2004
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Jason Starr is perhaps the best writer of modern white collar noir I've come across. His stories are laced with an undercurrent of vehemence that steams from normalcy ever so delicately nurtured to noir. TWISTED CITY (published 2004) is everything I'd come to expect from a Jason Starr and then some. Early on Starr plants the seeds that something is a little off about the character lead in David Miller, a journalist for a financial magazine who is still mourning the death of his sister some time ago.

This dark and almost obsessive compulsion to seek his sister in the eyes of his prospective partners or casual hook-ups is creepy and, well, twisted (hence the title) yet the reader can go along with it - clearly Miller is a victim of long lasting grief bordering depression. Scratch the surface and it goes much deeper.

As with any good book, there are multiple plot threads interlocked with one another that drives the narrative. In TWISTED CITY David Miller is the center of a murder investigation, and victim of blackmail while being stuck in a seemingly abusive relationship with a highly unstable young woman - naturally things don't end all that well for David.

I first read this book in 2014 and loved rereading it; the characters still read fresh and the accidental murders still have the same impact as the first time around. 

TWISTED CITY is a fun, easy read that offers everything you'd expect from a Jason Starr book; dark humor, easy violence, smooth storytelling, and messed up characters. 

4 / 5 stars. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: THIS SAVAGE SONG by V.E. Schwab

Publisher Titan
Length 407 pages
Format paperback
Published 2016
Series Monsters of Verity #1
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
The first book in the Monsters of Verity series sets the scene for a dark and blood thirsty horror-fantasy tale that is sure to capture readers of Jonathan Maberry to Charlaine Harris. Despite opening with a distinct young adult feel, This Savage Song quickly develops into something more dark and dangerous. Sure the protagonists are high school age and a fair amount of the book is set in their high school but it’s what happens when the bell rings that brings the horrors.

The monsters of Verity are literally monsters; a twist on the vampiric, zombie, and demonic with a twist of avenging angel. It’s an interesting mix that forms an equally interesting dynamic. With a city divided in two, a civil war simmering beneath a facade of peace, the monsters lurk in wait. Harker and Flynn – leaders of the respective sides of the city have their own means for taming / eradicating the monsters but their ultimate goals come under fire when their respective sides heir-apparents unite for survival.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from This Savage Song and was glad a dipped my toes in before falling head first into a completely immersing tale. 

Bring on book 2! 

5/5 stars. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Pick of the Month [Feb 2017]

I read 12 books in February to continue my great start to 2017, having read a whopping 17 in January. Sounds like a lot of time between the pages but the numbers are padded somewhat by audiobooks. This is the first year I've really got stuck into them and I am loving it. I've listened to 9 so far and can only see than number rising. 

February was a bit of a mixed bag, I read crime, sci-fi, horror, and thrillers - an eclectic mix, which is good, however not all of the books hit the spot. I also had my first reread of 2017 with the Hard Case Crime pulp, Top of the Heap by A.A. Fair. I like rereading and will make more of an effort in the coming months. As for Top of the Heap, I rated it 2 stars, which is exactly the same rating I gave it a number of years ago. A reread of a favorite will be next. 

Despite not being as strong a month as January in terms of 5 star reads, I still read some very enjoyable books; Savage Lane by Jason Starr, The Fall of the Governor Pt.1 by Robert Kirkman, and Death's End by Cixin Liu all get honorable mentions. But the pick of the month was the excellent follow-up to Gregg Hurwitz's Orphan X, The Nowhere Man. This book blew me away. 

Read the review of The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz here. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: FELLSIDE by M.R. Carey

Publisher Orbit
Length 486 pages
Format paperback
Published 2016
Series standalone
My Copy I bought it

My Review
Fellside is a women's prison, it's also the place Jess, a drug addict convicted of murdering a young boy in a fire which she allegedly set in a drug addled haze, has been sent to serve her life sentence. It's here in the dark depths of Fellside that Jess will find answers to questions she didn't release she'd even asked herself. What if the little boy who died in the fire wasn't the same one she'd formed a bond with in-between fixes but someone else all together? What if Alex, if it had been him, had been dead already before the fire started? Could she still be a murderer? And what about John, her boyfriend and co-addict, what part, if any did he play in the fire?

Jess doesn't question the sentence handed down to her, so wrapped up in remorse she's willing to take the whole book if it's thrown at her. Upon entering Fellside she's all but resigned to a life behind bars until the day she dies. Going on a hunger strikes speeds the process, bringing her to the edge before the ghost of Alex haunts her. Giving her meaning, a mission of sorts; to find the truth to what happened that fateful night. 

Prison life is loaded with hardships, an omnipresent sense of impending danger, and violence at every turn. Author M.R. Carey does a great job at weaving prison life and all it's dangerous trappings into this cleverly written horror story. The inmates and prison staff give the book an added layer of depth, with side plots just as entertaining as Jess's story; Grace, Delvin, Sally and co all bring something different to the table, providing a sense of realism to the supernatural tone of the book.

I really enjoyed Fellside and can see me going back for a re-read at some stage. 5/5 stars. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: THE NOWHERE MAN by Gregg Hurwitz

Publisher Penguin
Length 358 pages
Format paperback
Published 2017
Series Evan Smoak #2
My Copy provided by the publisher

My Review
The Evan Smoak books are fast becoming one of my favorite thriller series. Loaded with action and told at a frenetic yet well plotted pace, they are truly hard to put down. I consumed both Orphan X (book 1) and The Nowhere Man in quick succession in only a few sittings. Not only are they enjoyable to read, author Gregg Hurwitz envelopes in the reader in Evan’s secret and dangerous world making you feel part of the action.

The Nowhere Man sees Evan kidnapped and held at a mysterious location. His captures are a mix of eccentric and professional killers, led by Dex – a mute brimming with menace and murderous intent, and Rene Cassaroy – a wealthy and somewhat deranged eccentric whose life goal is the pursuit of eternal youth. So, how did Evan end up in this predicament? He bought a katana off the internet, the purchase tracked by Rene as part of a broader scheme to kidnap the wealthy and sell them back their lives at great cost. In Evan, Rene got more than he had bargained for.

Two of the more prominent characters from the first book return in Candy McLure and Orphan M, still on the hunt for Evan as one of the remaining rogue Orphans they’ve been tasked to decommission. There’s a little bit of a Smokin’ Aces feel to this aspect of The Nowhere Man as Candy and Orphan M discover they aren’t the only ones after Evan.

As you’d expect with an action thriller, there is a heap of action and thrills but it’s the characters that make the book what it is. Evan is well written and not without flaws. His past is further elaborated in cutaway scenes to his time with his mentor as well as his earlier missions whilst part of the Orphan program which make him read all the more real while the growing cast of characters each has their own unique voice while also bringing something different to the book.

The Nowhere Man is a great read, however, I recommend reading Orphan X first in order to familiarise yourself with the characters and to get a better perspective on where Evan is at in his post Orphan career. 5/5 stars. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: STAY by Victor Gischler

Publisher Thomas Dunne Books
Length 295 pages
Format hardcover
Published 2015
Series standalone
My Copy borrowed form the library

My Review
Former military solo ops specialist turned househusband goes on the offensive when his wife's life is threatened at her work in an incident that left a coworker hospitalized and a star witness dead. For Assistant DA, Amy Sparrow, the loss of the witness is in some way worse than the threat to her own life. Her case against notorious criminal Dante Payne now in tatters needs something dramatic to turn the tide; David, having been on the sidelines on indefinite leave for too long has a mission other than keeping house - track down Payne and kill him before he strikes at Amy again.  

Stay has all the hallmarks of a popular action thriller easily transferable to the big screen. The linear plot is accompanied by some cleverly inserted throwbacks to David's special ops missions - one in particular linking to the present day story line. The action is constant and well paced. 

While David, himself is a likable character, the one-man-army aspect did grow tiresome at times with the constant fighting, killing, and winning battle after battle feeling more and more unbelievable. Payne and his highly qualified goons end up resembling little more than red shirts (those generic typecast goons written into stories to serve as cannon fodder) falling victim all too easily to David's far superior skills.  

Stay is a departure from the other books Victor Gischler has published but is still an enjoyable easy to read thriller. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pick Up A Pulp [16]: TOP OF THE HEAP by A.A. Fair

Like the other Cool and Lam pulps by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair, Top of the Heap starts with a simple and shady case, easily solved and paid for only to morph into a complex conspiracy.  

This time round, The Cool and Lam detective agency is hired by John Carver Billings to confirm an alibi placing him at a motel with two women from out of town at time of an attempted murder of a prominent mob boss. Lam promptly confirms the alibi only to get suspicious about how easily Billings's story fell into place. Taking matters into his own hands, Lam soon discovers the women were paid off and the simple case was a ruse leading him down a complex underworld rabbit warren. 

One thing this series has going for it, is that each installment (those I've read anyway) reads perfectly well as a standalone. Top of the Heap is book #13 and requires the reader to have no prior knowledge of the earlier cases. Though, readers of the series will note, by this point, Lam is taking lead and the charismatic Bertha Cool is on the peripheral - a far cry from the other Cool and Lam book published by Hard Case Crime in The Knife Slipped. 

Starting simple and evolving into a broader mystery is fine, if done right. Unfortunately each of the 3 Cool and Lam books I've read have lost me midway through as the case spans different directions connected together by paper thin threads. Top of the Heap is perhaps the prime example; there's an attempted hit on a mob boss, the murder of a mob moll, a murder of a mining mogul, stock market manipulation, paid alibis, and potential banker fraud, oh a plot to take over a prominent gambling establishment - all in around 200 pages. It's hard to keep up. 

Top of the Heap will appeal to fans of Cool and Lam but readers wanting a traditional pulp will be let down, dime store dialogue aside. 2/5 stars.