Monday, December 5, 2016

#8 December, 2016- End of the Year, what's worth the reading effort?

Hope the year has been reasonably good and you, my reader (if such exists), has some quiet time to put feet up and get down with a good book. Several new books by that stalwart thriller writer, Thomas Perry, caught my eye recently. Perry, the author of the "Butcher's Boy" and Jane Whitefield series, introduces two married couples, Sid and Veronica Abel, who retired from the LAPD and are private investigators and Nicole and Ed Hoyt who are very well-paid assassins for hire. When the body of a black man, who is a scientist for an LA company, turns up in the LA storm sewer with two bullets in his brain and the police case is very cold after a year, the Abels are hired to investigate. And when their investigation leads to a very serious attempt on their lives and home, they try to tackle the assassins. Both couples are very interesting and the plot ticks along as they all discover who is paying the Hoyts and why the man had to die.

Perry's latest will be published in January and is certainly worth the wait. "The Old Man" is Dan Chase, a 60s something widower living quietly with his two big dogs in rural Vermont, but an observation on the street while walking his dogs sets him off. Thirty-five years earlier,as a military intelligence officer in the middle east, Chase was supposed to deliver a large amount of cash to a rebel leader, but he didn't and now enemies from overseas and within the US government want an accounting and his life. But Chase has skills,many complete identities, millions of legitimately earned dollars squirreled away in accounts around the country and world, a daughter who is privy to his story, and his two, big dogs who have their own very special skills.

I was in New Orleans in September-- and if you think you know humidity, forget it...NOLA works in humidity like Rembrandt worked in oil-- for the Bouchercon Mystery Writers Convention and it was excellent. I picked up the Perry book and several others awaiting reading, but I had to read Julie Smith's "New Orleans Noir: The Classics" part of the Akashic Press series. The 18 stories are presented chronologically from one written in 1843 about a strange, slave-related tradition to several post-Katrina period stories. All are set within the fascinating neighborhoods of New Orleans and are illustrated on a map of the city. Authors included in this collection are Kate Chopin, O Henry, Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams, Shirley Ann Grau, Ellen Gilchrist, James Lee Burke, Nevada Barr and Ace Atkins. Almost as good as walking through the Quarter at sunrise!

A truly amazing piece of writing is Patrick Hoffman's "White Van" which presents Emily Rosario, a drug-hustling woman of San Francisco's Tenderloin district who grabs a chance to spend some time with a Russian businessman. When she awakens days later in a drug-induced stupr, the Russian has been joined by a woman and a hard looking young man, Emily takes part in a bomb-laden bank robbery that goes wrong, but walks away with the money. A SFPD detective takes on the case as the solution to all his problems and the story scrapes along with no redeeming characters but with a crackling plot that forces attention. Great!

Finally, Patrick Millikin, a bookseller at Scottsdale's Poisoned Pen Bookstore, and an aspiring editor has collected 15 great stories from the A-List of writers in "The Highway Kind:Tales of Fast Cars, Desperate Drivers and Dark Roads. A Labor of Love for him and his authors, these stories are the REAL thing about cars and the road. Contributors include Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, C.J.Box, Diana Gabaldon, Ace Atkins, Wallace Stroby, James Sallis, Joe R. Lansdale, Gary Phillips, Willy Vlautin, and Luis Alberto Urrea. Not a Loser in the Bunch.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

New Stuff and a few Re-reads

#7 August 28, 2016
It has been a while since I last reviewed my reading list and I know I've read more than what I'll list but I can't find any written record. And believe me if I can't remember reading it, you sure wouldn't want to waste time on it. So what have I been reading these past six months that had an impact?

I got a signed copy of Chris Pavone's "The Travelers" at the Tucson Book Festival and wanted to try his writing. Will Rhodes, a writer for Travelers Magazine finds himself and his marriage seriously compromised in a hotel room in Argentina when his lady friend threatens a video of their tryst and then, belts him in the mouth. The hectic pace Rhodes follows trying to find this lady and to discover why his editor seems to be a spy master of international scope is matched by his wife as she slowly reveals her skills and history.

Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize and a fistful of other awards for "The Sympathizer" that serves as a reminder of the Vietnam War 40 years later.An un-named, half Vietnamese, half French man serves as a captain in the South Vietnamese Army in the closing days of the war as his general is planning his escape with extended family to the United States and California. The captain who assists in the escape is actually a spy for the Viet Cong and he continues his reports on the general and other Vietnamese military and political leaders in the US in coded messages to Paris.The twist in the reporting is in how these messages are misunderstood in the communist-controlled Vietnam and what it means to the Sympathiser when he returns to Vietnam.

I really enjoyed Paolo Bacigalupi's "Water Knife" which, while fiction, seems more timely and horrifying as the months go on. Set in an unspecified future, the novel presents a western US that is in complete drought with the Colorado river drying up and the states at war with each other to control access to water. A "water knife", Angel Velasquez is parts detective, murderer, and consigliere for the "Queen of the Colorado", Catherine Case who has partnered with Chinese construction companies to build self-contained and fully-watered "arcologies" in Las Vegas where the super-rich live and gamble. Angel is sent to the hell-hole of Phoenix to investigate rumors of a possible water grant that is senior to all others and may guarantee Phoenix water at the expense of Las Vegas and California. Murders of people in the Phoenix water world and journalism involve Angel with two young women, Lucy Monroe, a journalist and Maria Villarosa, an escapee, migrant from Texas as they work against each other and then cooperate to survive.

Monday, March 28, 2016

#6-- 2016 is a quarter over, so what has Ted been reading?

I ended 2015 with a reading of J.K.Rowling/Robert Galbraith "The Cuckoo's Calling", her foray into mystery writing. I certainly enjoyed her descriptions of London and her attention to detail. But it seemed to me she needed some reining in/editorial control with a massive number of plot elements that, in the end, made sense in tying the story together, but seemed to take several pages on each element to be identified. It brought back memories of reading all the Harry Potter books to my son over the span of 12 years, most evenings-- I loved the locations and characters, but she never seemed happy with a simple statement.

I needed to get back to my crime roots so I picked up the latest from Scottish author Malcolm Mackay, "Every Night I Dream of Hell."This book follows his hugely successful, award-winning Glasgow Trilogy-The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, The Sudden Arrival of Violence and How a Gunman Says Goodbye. The Jamieson gang that ran drugs, prostitution and petty crime in Glasgow, Scotland has been weakened by prison sentences or death for the leaders and a new gang has shown up assassinating a low level gangster. Nate Colgan is the newly appointed "security advisor" and he must take charge. But why did his ex-girlfriend (and mother of his daughter) suddenly return to Glasgow at the same time as the new gang is making its move?
This book continues the stark dialog and sometime internal ethical debate among crooks as small-time crooks strive to do each other in to take over.

A new author beckoned and I fell for it-- Charles McCarry, ex-CIA operative presents his latest "The Mulberry Bush" about a young man who is the best assassin of jihadist leaders in the middle east, but is re-called to HQ/CIA to take a new assignment in Argentina contacting a beautiful young woman who may have contacts with Russian spies.Her parents were murdered decades earlier in "The Disappearance" of communists but her connections run deep and may fit into the CIA operative's plan to destroy the Agency from within.

I read a collection of stories by Tim Johnston called the "Irish Girl" after reading his great book"Descent" in 2015. He is a writing professor at the University of Memphis and we got together for coffee on one of my grand-daughter visits to Memphis after I had read about half of his book. I was blown away with what I had read already and the rest of the book was a runaway truck ride as he concluded the story of a family's disintegration when the daughter disappears, apparently kidnapped, and there are no clues as to what happened. 
Reading the stories written before the novel was published is very revealing of his talent. Most are set in the midwest, small towns where bad luck, bad timing are constants and it's usually revealed right before disaster strikes.

For something totally different, I read and would recommend two books by George Makana Clark-- "The Raw Man" and "The Small Bees' Honey: Stories." Clark's novel" The Raw Man" published in 2011 is the story of Sergeant Gordon's life in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Africa as told in reverse chronological order. Beginning from his capture by partisans and imprisonment in a horrible, underground copper mine where the only food was roasted,fellow prisoners and stretching back through his very dysfunctional teen years, youth, childhood and family, his story intertwines with that of Rhodesia and civil war until his family story becomes clear and yet mystically challenging.
"The Small Bees' Honey" published 14 years before the novel contain early drafts of some of the ideas presented in the novel as well as the tone that permeates the novel. Racial makeup, history, and personality drive these stories set in Africa, Central America and, eventually, America. This book is equally amazing but not an easy read. So that's what I've been reading this quarter.