I haven’t been posting much about books here lately. I’ve been very busy. Not only do I read, I also write and I also produce ebooks for other writers. Not that I’m reading less, but I have less time to natter on about it.
In no particular order, some books I’ve read lately that you might find fun and/or interesting to read, too.
The Moses MacGuire series by Josh Stallings.
When I first started reading about Moses I wasn’t sure I’d like him. He’s a burnt out strip club bouncer with a prison record and few socially redeeming qualities. He grew on me. Bad boys tend to do that. Stallings writes gritty, unapologetic thrillers with nasty bad guys, nasty crimes and a lot of surprising twists. As soon as I finished reading Beautiful, Naked & Dead, I immediately read Out There Bad. Pretty soon there’ll be a new Moses story, One More Body. I’m looking forward to it.
Moses McGuire a suicidal strip club bouncer is out to avenge the death of one of his girls. From his East L.A. home, through the legal brothels of Nevada and finally to a battle with the mob in the mountains above Palo Alto, it is a sex soaked, rage driven, road trip from hell.
“Out There Bad is the follow up novel to the critically claimed Beautiful, Naked & Dead. Armenian mobsters, Russian strippers, human traffickers, Mexican assassins, they all want Moses dead. Hell most days, even Moses wants Moses dead, but he’ll have to put his dark thoughts on hold. Somewhere between Moscow and LA a young girl has disappeared. The hunt for her will take Moses deep into the heart of Mexico. He will be taught once again that that which does not kill you, often leaves you scarred for life.”
On the paranormal side, two stories from two of my favorite authors: Ben Aaronovitch and J.F. Lewis. Aaronovitch writes the Peter Grant series about a London cop who ends up apprenticed to a wizard. Sort of Harry Potter meets Sherlock Holmes, but funnier. The latest is Whispers Underground where Peter has to solve a magical murder with a most mundane motive. Then we have J.F. Lewis who writes the wildly funny Void City novels featuring Eric the vampire and a screwball cast of creatures. A Corpse of Mistaken Identity is not a Void City novel, it’s a novella featuring a zaomancer (a very special resurrectionist). I really hope everybody runs out and buys this to encourage Lewis to write more about the zaomancers.
If someone dies an unnatural death, an untimely death, and you have to have them back, no matter what the cost… Marlo Morne can help, but there are rules, time is an important factor, and there are always clients who want those rules to be broken on their behalf.
For a change of pace from murder, magic and mayhem, I read a Regency romance, The Taming of Lady Kate, by G. G. Vandagriff, the second in her series: Three Rogues and Their Ladies. Written with wit and style and plenty of big sigh romance.
Back to murder and mayhem, but this time in sci-fi, Riding Fourth, by M. H. Mead. Let us call it carpooling run amok. This short story (available free right now!) is a teaser for a new novel, Taking the Highway, coming in December. Can’t hardly wait.
That’s not all I’ve read, but I have to get back to work. Ebooks don’t format themselves, you know.
Now this list was really hard to narrow down to just ten. I love kick ass detectives and troublemakers, the more complex and tortured, or oddball, the better.
Jack Reacher, created by Lee Child
Huge, dangerous and homeless. Who’d a thought a hobo could be a superstar. I love his odd obsessions and zen-like philosophy.
Heironymous “Harry” Bosch, created by Michael Connelly
Brilliant, determined and doomed, the poor guy can’t catch a break personally or professionally, but he’s never one to quit.
Joe Pike, created by Robert Crais
Silent and deadly, and surprisingly deep.
DI Thomas Lynley, created by Elizabeth George
An oh so proper English earl, stuck between station and his desire for justice.
Patrick Kenzie & Angie Gennaro, created by Dennis Lehane
A pair of Boston detectives with deep thuggish streaks and heightened senses of making the world right.
Dexter Morgan, created by Jeff Lindsay
My favorite serial killer.
Logan MacRae, created by Stuart MacBride
If brains and determination counted, he’d rule the world, but instead he’s stuck with a nutty, profane collection of Aberdeen cops.
Virgil Flowers, created by John Sandford
“That fuckin’ Flowers.” Sexy and brilliant, but with a weakness for women and fishing.
Israel Armstrong, created by Ian Sansom
Vegetarian, Jewish mobile librarian who’s lost in the wilds of Northern Ireland.
Burke, created by Andrew Vachss
A true outlaw, dark and dangerous, but with a code of honor stricter than any citizen’s.
I’m a Lawrence Block fan from way back in the day. I loved Bernie Rhodenbarr and Keller, and I gobbled up Block’s non-fiction like a starving tiger pouncing on meat. (He was my guru while I was learning to write) I didn’t like Matthew Scudder. I read one or two of the Scudder novels, but they weren’t to my taste, so I read other things.
Fast forward to today. Some of Block’s publishers are reissuing the Scudder novels as ebooks. Block, himself, has the rights back to several and is releasing them as ebooks and POD (print on demand). He even wrote some new Scudder short stories and bundled them with previously published short stories and released the collection as The Night and the Music.
In short order I’ve read The Sins Of The Fathers, A Stab In The Dark, A Walk Among The Tombstones, and A Long Line Of Dead Men. I have found my new best favorite series character. (and acquired a long list of novels to buy and read, since I very much intend to read every book in the series)
So how, you might ask, did a “not to your taste” character turn into a favorite? Simple. When I first read the Scudder books I was a young mother and Scudder was too dark, his world too ugly. At the time I needed assurance that the world wasn’t a very bad place. I couldn’t see the message of hope. Now I can because my outlook has changed.
I asked Mr. Block if he had researched PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) before writing The Sins Of The Fathers. Mr. Block said he hadn’t. Back in 1970s the term wasn’t common and possibly not even in use. That’s doubly interesting because any psychiatrist would look at Scudder’s reaction to a devastating trauma and declare Scudder a textbook case.
The man is lost. Deliberately so. Scudder accidentally killed a child. Even though it was an accident, even though he was assured by his superiors in the police department that it was an accident, the trauma bruised Scudder’s soul. Scudder’s reaction? He decided to un-become. He un-became a police officer. He un-became a husband and a father. In some ways he un-became a member of society by taking up residence in a hotel and not looking for steady employment. He says he is not a private investigator. He will not get a license. He won’t set a price on his services. Instead, he does favors and accepts “gifts” in return. He even denies he is making any attempts at atonement, but he is. He tithes to churches and locks his heart in solitary confinement.
Ooh, that makes him sound like a sad sack, doesn’t it? He’s not. Not at all. In fact, he’s the opposite of a sad sack. Instead of self-absorbed self-pity, Scudder is trying to shove himself away. He actively resists finding his way back by drinking and living a ghost-like existence. Despite his desire to not-be, he’s on a journey anyway. A long, difficult journey. The survivor inside forces him along whether he consciously wants to or not. He does it by doing for others what he refuses to do for himself.
Most curiously, Mr. Block had not originally intended for that to happen. In Afterthoughts, his collection of essays about his writing, he says:
That was never part of the agenda back in 1973. I figured Scudder, like almost all characters in genre fiction, would remain essentially the same for as long as I wrote about him. He wouldn’t age, nor would he alter his behavior. He’d keep his seat at that back table in Jimmy Armstrong’s saloon, and he’d drink his whiskey neat or stir it into his coffee, depending on the hour or his mood or the phase of the moon. For heaven’s sake, why should he change?
I’m not sure he had much choice.
No, he didn’t. Once a journey is begun, it has to end somehow. With a character as complex as Scudder, he will find an end, one way or another, because taking a situation to its end is who he is–even when he has to come sideways at truths too difficult to look at straight on.
I thought of poor old Bandersnatch, always game to chase a stick or go for a walk. He’d bring one of his toys to you to signal his eagerness to play. If you just stood there he’d drop it your feet, but if you tried to take it away from him he’d set his jaw and hang on grimly.
Maybe I’d learned it from him.
from A Stab In The Dark
Most curious to me, is that Scudder is not very likeable. When I make the mistake of thinking him likeable, he does something shitty to remind me he’s not to be trusted. He’s angry and self-destructive. He justifies criminal behavior. His brand of justice is often shocking. In A Walk Among The Tombstones, knowing full well what might happen, Scudder leaves a killer in the hands of a very dangerous victim. Scudder seeks justice, but it’s his brand of justice. He punishes the wrongdoers the way he feels he, himself, should be punished. That can get ugly.
And yet, he’s a character with a deep core of decency. He protects the helpless. He’s affected deeply by the innocent. Even when he cannot help himself, he reaches out a hand to help others. His friends know he is a much better person than he believes himself to be. In A Long Line Of Dead Men he is in AA and firmly committed to sobriety. When he meets a man he believes is an alcoholic, Scudder grows invested (too deeply invested as it turns out) with helping the man. It forces Scudder to look at himself, an examination as painful as it is therapeutic.
I haven’t read all the Scudder novels. I intend to. And I want to read them in order. In each novel the mystery he must solve and the people he encounters bring him a little bit more out of the darkness and into the light. Proving, to me at least, that even when we try to deliberately lose ourselves, there is always a way back. It might be hard, it might look impossible, but there is definitely a way. Thirty years ago, I missed seeing the hope in Scudder’s stories. I’m grateful epublishing has given me another chance.
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about short stories. Larry the Kindle loves him some short stories, especially when I’m cooking dinner. It’s like my very own floor show. Read a story, stir the pot, read another story, scream like a madwoman because something is burning, order a pizza and read another story. Life is good.
So in no particular order:
BEAT TO A PULP: Hardboiled. Glenn Gray (Author), John Hornor Jacobs (Author), Kent Gowran (Author), Kieran Shea (Author), Thomas Pluck (Author), Wayne D. Dundee (Author), Patricia Abbott (Author), Garnett Elliott (Author), Scott D. Parker (Editor), David Cranmer (Editor)
Recommended to me by Thomas Pluck (aka @tommysalami) over on Twitter, this collection of hardboiled crime stories follows the tradition of pulp noir crime fiction. (Tommy, I really liked “Black-eyed Susan,” twisted and nasty, just how I like it)
Also recommended by Thomas Pluck was this collection of dark, disturbing, and very good stories written and presented for charity. All proceeds for the ebook go to CHILDREN 1ST, an organization in Scotland championing the rights of children and vulnerable families.
Lost Children, Paul D. Brazill (Author), Luca Veste (Author), Chad Rohrbacher (Author), Benoit Lelievre (Author), Susan Tepper (Author), Seamus Bellamy (Author), Lynn Beighley (Author), Thomas Pluck (Editor), McDroll (Editor), Ron Earl Phillips (Editor)
I’m biased since I edited this short story, so you’ll have to trust me when I say it is one of her best (so far, since we’re getting ready to release Zombies Take Manhattan very soon and that collection is her best so far!). If you like zombies, Ferris wheels and sick humor, you’ll love this one.
McKenna’s short stories are always a delight. Unusual settings and themes, wicked humor, lots of irony. This one is set in the future where it isn’t the cops in speed traps you have to worry about, but those killer eyes in the sky.
What do Occupy Wallstreet and the Grim Reaper have in common? It all depends on who is using whom. A creepy little tale with some interesting points about the haves versus the have nots.
Catch & Release, Lawrence Block.
Larry the Kindle is not happy unless I have a few Block novels and short stories in the TBR pile. Block never pulls punches, but this short story has to be, hand’s down, the most chilling story I’ve read yet by him. Pop into the mind of a serial killer, if you dare. This one will have you locking the doors and looking funny at the neighbors.
If you have an ereader, short stories are the best value for entertainment around. If you’re loving the resurgence of short fiction that e-publishing is fostering, too, list some of your new-found treasures in the comments.
You need to forgive me if I’ve been gushing a lot about Lawrence Block lately. He published the majority of his back list last year as e-books and he keeps holding sales. Of course every time he holds a sale, I have to run over to Amazon and start 1-clicking titles for my Kindle. I read a lot of Block’s work back in the day, so this is like being reconnected with an old friend.
One series I had never read before is the Chip Harrison series. Block first published these under a pseudonym, and his publishers kept changing the titles, so I never discovered Block was the author. Apparently, No Score, the first Chip Harrison novel, came about when Block was still working for a soft-porn mill. He realized there was something special about this book, that it was good enough to qualify as a “real book.” Here is what Block has to say in Afterthoughts:
No Score is the first of four novels featuring Chip Harrison, and they all bore the lead character’s byline when they first appeared as Fawcett paperbacks. The working title of No Score was The Lecher in the Rye, which sums it up well enough; it’s a picaresque account of a young man’s desperate attempt to become sexually experienced.
Fawcett did very well with the book, and a couple of years later I wrote a sequel. And, because I liked the voice, I wanted to write a third book, but how many times could one lad lose his virginity? So in the third book I put him to work for a private detective, and books three and four are mysteries that could be called Nero Wolfe pastiches.
The funny thing is, I’ve never been a huge fan of coming-of-age stories. Especially those involving young men getting their horndog on. Chip charmed me, though. He’s a mixture of tough and tender, decency and desire, that makes him an interesting narrator. Maybe it’s my age. I doubt I would have liked Chip when I was a teenager or even into my 20s or 30s. “Stupid boy. What a stupid, selfish boy,” would have been running through my head as I read. Back then, I wouldn’t have understood him. I would have fixated on the sexy parts and missed completely the thread about finding one’s self and how easy it is to lose one’s way and the struggle it takes to get back on track. In the second book of the series, Chip Harrison Scores Again, Chip’s antics drove me nuts. I was so angry about some of his decisions. Again, maybe it’s my age, I could understand why he did what he did. Despite his failings, I wished him well. I certainly wanted to read more of his adventures.
I dunno, maybe that’s what For Mature Audiences Only truly means.
Chip comes into his own when he starts working for private investigator, Leo Haig, a genius who believes Nero Wolfe was real. Because Haig wants to be recognized as a great detective, he hires Chip to be his Archie Goodwin. Make Out With Murder and The Topless Tulip Caper are funny, funny books. I’ve never been a huge fan of deductive mysteries, far preferring the gritty stuff with lots of science and police procedure. Readers hoping for the hard stuff in these books will be deeply disappointed. You can’t read this series with those expectations. You read it for Chip.
But this was business. Leo Haig had a case and a client, and his client was performing at the Treasure Chest, and since Leo Haig was no more likely to hie himself off to a topless club than I was to enter a monastery, I, Chip Harrison, was elected to serve as Haig’s eyes, ears, nose and throat.
Which explains why I had just tucked a ten-dollar bill into a very large and callused hand.
‘Ten bucks?’ said the owner of the hand. ‘For ten bucks you could go to a massage parlor and get a fancy hand job.’
‘I’m allergic to hand lotion.’
‘I get this horrible rash.’
Chip is a charmer all right.
These stories can also be read as period pieces, with a voice and flavor that’s very much locked in the 1960s. The themes and characters are timeless, making them as readable and enjoyable now as they were then.
Block says it annoys him when fans beg him to write more stories about their favorite characters. I am very tempted to add my voice to the clamor and beg him to write more Chip stories (and Block wouldn’t have that problem if he didn’t write such wonderful characters in the first place, so it’s his own damned fault). I’ll behave, though, and savor what is now my favorite non-series.
Chip Harrison novels (in order):
I read the first book in Jeff Strand’s Andrew Mayhem series this weekend. Laugh, cringe, laugh, cringe, laugh some more, cringe some more. In other words, lots of fun. As soon as I finished, I wanted more, so I popped over to Amazon to buy #2 and #3 in the series. And as soon as Download Complete appeared on my Kindle, I’m like, What is the hell is wrong with you? Just how many ebooks do you need in the queue? Have you no self-control whatsoever?
So then, this morning I got an email from Lawrence Block informing me that all his Open Road ebooks are on sale for today only. One day? Oh crap. So of course I had to pop right over to Amazon. Three minutes later, seven titles are off my wish list and loaded on my Kindle.
I am such a slut.
But wait just a minute. For less than the cost of dinner and a movie, I have nine new books to read. Unlike dinner and a movie which will be over and done with in about four hours and mostly forgotten within a day or two (Unless the movies were either Seven or Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, both of which I bitched about for weeks and can still get riled up about years later for offending me so greatly with such stupid plots).
Here’s the thing about books, especially genre fiction. The vast majority are temporary entertainment. I can enjoy a few hours lost in somebody else’s world and maybe learn a thing or two along the way. There are a few that stick. A few that matter for whatever reason. I have some books, now tattered and soft, the spines a mass of crinkles and broken paper, because I’ve read them over and over. Those books offer more than pleasure or information. They speak to me. They feel like old friends and we have a connection.
Since I was old enough to speak, I’ve been a story addict. I’ve had lots of interests in my life and a few passions and one or two obsessions (or to hear the old man tell it, “Your OCD acting up again?”) Those come and go. Except for stories. My passion, even my obsession for stories has never died.
Give me a book and a few hours of quiet and I am happy. Tell me a story and I am happy. I’m convinced that if a tornado roared through the neighborhood and flattened my house and swept away all I own, the only possessions I would truly miss would be my books. Even then I wouldn’t be too depressed because even if the books are gone, the stories remain and I can find them again.
They say money can’t buy happiness. Oh yeah? Well $25 just added another page and a half to my Kindle home page. That makes me very happy.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say something that many people are going to take as an insult or else think it’s snobbish or just plain weird. I’ll say it anyway. I don’t expect terrific quality from self-published books.
Bear with me, because I’m not insulting self-pubbers at all. In fact, I love them. Self-pubbing as a viable method for getting one’s books before readers is in its infancy. Those writers who are coming into it without having been published by a traditional publisher tend to be… rough writers. What most self-pubbed novels remind me of is pulp fiction. For those of you too young to remember when us old folks rode dinosaurs to work, pulp fiction consisted of cheap paperback novels, mostly mystery, romance, Westerns, soft-core porn and science fiction, written fast, produced fast and released in mass quantities. They weren’t meant to be great literature. Many of the writers described themselves as “hacks.” Despite that factory-inspired method of writing, pulp fiction produced genuine stars. Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Lawrence Block, Barbara Cartland, Robert Heinlein, Donald Westlake and many others. Those were good writers. Some have produced classics. I see today’s crop of self-pubbers as cousins to yesterday’s pulp fiction writers. I don’t expect great literature. Usually I’m satisfied with readable. I’ve found a few self-pubbers worth watching. Their work is raw, they need experience and some editorial help (or maybe a lot of editorial help), but if they hang in there, they’ll produce some good fiction someday.
Then I read Junkie, by Robert P. French. I found something I wasn’t expecting. A writer with the “It” factor. The “It” factor is like art, impossible to explain, but I know it when I see it.
French has created Cal Rogan, ex-cop and heroin addict. Cal kept me on an emotional roller coaster throughout the entire novel. A sad, frustrating, heartbreaking game of will-he-won’t-he. He wants to be clean, he’s got so much at stake, but the pull of addiction is so powerful he’s helpless before it. Cal lies and promises and betrays. At times I hated him. Yet I found myself rooting for him, begging him from my reader’s chair to beat the heroin. The hardest part of it is how far and how hard Cal fell. He’s smart, tenacious, he was a really good cop. Then he blew it. In spite of that, at heart he’s still a good cop and he wants to do the right thing. Junkie has a strong mystery and some well-drawn villains, but the true conflict at the heart of the story is between Cal and the monkey on his back.
The story: Cal’s best friend commits suicide, but Cal knows it’s murder. That’s when Cal starts making promises. He promises the victim’s mother to leave it alone, then promises the father he’ll not only prove it was murder, he’ll bring the killer to justice. Meanwhile Cal’s ex-wife is engaged to be married and threatening to take Cal’s daughter 2000 miles away. He promises he’ll get clean for his daughter, and promises himself he’ll be reinstated on the police force. He promises the cops he didn’t murder his friend. It’s a twisty, tricky, action-filled story– just the way I like them.
This novel isn’t perfect. There’s some roughness around the edges, a few places that need an editorial kick in the pants, and it needs another go-round with a proofreader (which says a lot for the quality of the story telling that my inner editor never tried to grab my Kindle out of my hands). French definitely has the “It” factor. If he keeps writing, keeps honing his skills and developing as a writer, he’ll be up there with authors like John Sandford, Michael Connelly, and Robert Crais.
What about anyone else? Have you discovered any self-published fiction writers rising from today’s version of pulp fiction?
Long ago I read a lot of Lawrence Block’s mystery novels. As tastes changed, I moved on to other writers and other genres. Recently I’ve rediscovered him and I am falling in love again with this older mysteries and really liking his newer works. Over on his blog, he posted this:
“Q: WHAT DOES LB LIKE TO READ?
I don’t know why anyone would care, but I get that question often enough to gather that you do. While I’ll probably continue to mumble something evasive in public, we’re private here, right? I mean, it’s the Internet, for heaven’s sake. Our privacy is guaranteed.
So let’s go. I’ll stick largely to dead authors, in order to avoid offending the unmentioned living. What follows is in no particular order. I’ve supplied links for those books that are in print, but the others shouldn’t be too hard for you to track down. I know my readers, and y’all are a resourceful lot…”
Why would anyone care? Rolling my eyes here, Mr. Block. The hunt for good books to read is never ending. What better way to hunt than to follow the trail of a master? On his list are many writers I’ve read, but there are a few I’ve never tried. I think I shall have to give them a shot.
Check out his list of favorite writers here.