Category Archives: crime

Rabid Reads: "To the Devil, My Regards" by Victor Gischler & A. Neil Smith

To the Devil, My Regards
by Victor Gischler & A. Neil Smith
Kindle Edition (2011)
ASIN B004LZ55HI
In case you’re wondering: No, the Devil does not appear in this novella. Z.Z. DelPresto, the narrator of this little tale, does have to go through hell to solve who murdered the daughter of his client.
DelPresto, is a private eye, eking out a living down south in Florida and Alabama. His latest client is an ill-tempered business mogul has hired him to tail the guy’s wife, convinced she’s being unfaithful. While doing so, DelPresto is confronted by the seventeen-year-old daughter, which winds up becoming a wild trist that ends with her dead and DelPresto caught by the police over her corpse with the knife in his hands. Uh oh.
After being released by police, following an intense–and briefly violent–interrogation, DelPresto hits the streets to find out who did it. But as much as he is on the hunt, others are hunting him. The story starts off very strong, with a great blend of humor and violence, as DelPresto basically gets his ass handed to him by cops and crooks alike. He tries to piece together who would have motive to kill the girl and not get killed himself in the process. Then, midway through the novella, there was a bit of a lull. At least to me it felt like the pace of the book had slowed or lost momentum, but by the third act it picks up again and offers a satisfying, albeit a familiar end.
It’s not the kind of story that reinvents the wheel, but it is told with great precision, and wastes no time at all. This is a streamlined story that brings the goods. Fans of the private eye genre may be better equipped to say how well-worn the plot might be, but DelPresto was a great character through which to see the story told. If there are more collaborations in the works between Gischler and Smith, I say bring them on.
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Filed under A. Neil Smith, book review, crime, mystery, noir, Rabid Reads, To the Devil My Regards, Victor Gischler

Rabid Rewind: Rope (1948)

Rope
starring James Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
screenplay by Arthur Laurents
adapted from the play by Patrick Hamilton
Warner Bros. (1948)
Earlier in the summer, I had a hankering to watch a Hitchcock flick. Cate Gardner recommended Rope, which I had never seen, so I borrowed it from my library and reveled in some darkly witty suspense. And, hey, it had Jimmy Stewart to boot.
Sometimes I forget how remarkably dark some movies were in those days. The movie starts with Brandon (Dall) and Phillip (Granger) murdering a former classmate, David, by strangling him with a rope. Scene one, murder. How’s that grab ya? What makes the act even more macabre is the fact they are hosting a dinner party in the same apartment that evening, which is to be attended by David’s fiance Janet and his parents, and they’ve hidden the body inside a chest. Oh, and did I mention the chest is being used as the buffet table for the party? Yeah, that’s creepy.
Brandon and Phillip–Brandon at least–hold the opinion of being superior human beings, above the normal laws of man. It’s through their criminal act, and subsequent perversion of the corpse’s interment, they hope to exert their superiority. The cheery on top of their actions comes from Brandon’s invitation to their former university housemaster, Rupert Cadell (Stewart), to join the dinner party, the very person who instilled the idea that even murder could be condoned–even encouraged.
The party itself is dull and stuffy, at least in my view, with these well-off characters behaving so droll and flippant, which makes the idea their dining in the company of a corpse just a tad satirical. James Stewart is basically my eyes for this film, with his sardonic–maybe even disdainful–demeanor through much of the dinner. Like, I can’t believe I willfully surround myself with these cads. He picks up on the nervous behavior of Phillip, who is getting drunker by the minute, and Brandon, who seems to be fiendishly conspiring to set up the dead guy’s fiance–a woman he himself was dating years before–with her ex-boyfriend that was surreptitiously invited to the dinner.
While the movies plays out, Hitchcock films it in huge blocks of single camera shots. Remember Good Fellas and that long shot of them making their way into the restaurant through the back? Well, imagine a whole movie filmed like that. The technology was a bit of an obstacle in more ways than one for Hitchcock apparently, because he not only was limited by only capturing scenes ten minutes at a time, but because the camera was one of the first technicolor cameras it was the size of a Buick. While the camera was rolled around the set following characters around the soundstage, walls and set pieces had to be moved and replaced, making the whole filming process some kind of strange stagehand ballet. The DVD extra included with this movie was as engaging to watch as the film itself with revelations like that.
As for the movie, it’s probably a bit dry to today’s audiences. But with such a captivating backstory on how it was made, and Hitchcock’s own proclivities towards filmmaking, I really enjoyed the movie. The undertone of homo-eroticism in the movie didn’t seem like a big deal at all to me, and had I not known of that little controversy ahead of time, probably would have ignored it altogether. I mean, I can see it if you want to pick the movie apart like that, but whether Brandon and Phillip were gay lovers or not seemed inconsequential to me. They were villains either way.
I’d definitely recommend the movie to anyone who hasn’t seen it, and it has definitely got me hankering to watch more of Hitchcock’s work. I’ll have to look up his IMDB or something and see which movie he directed after this one. Maybe I’ll try to watch them in chronological order, excluding the films preceding this one–unless you can offer up a recommendation in the comments section.

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Filed under Alfred Hitchcock, crime, Farley Granger, James Stewart, John Dall, movie review, Rabid Rewind, Rope, suspense

Rabid Reads: "Supernatural Noir" edited by Ellen Datlow

Supernatural Noir
edited by Ellen Datlow
Dark Horse (2011)
ISBN 1595825460
Available via: Amazon / BookDepository / Indiebound
The ARC of this anthology came at the perfect time, as my reading tastes this spring and summer have been tuned to the noir and dark fantasy genres. So, to see a slew of authors each offer up short stories with a blending of elements from both genres, with Ellen Datlow expertly compiling the stories together, well … let’s just say this might have been the perfect summer read for me this year.
Now, being an anthology, this book offers up a mixed bag, even if does seem like the theme narrows the borders in which the authors can play. The truth is that noir fiction can be pretty damned diverse, and throwing in a supernatural bent only offers more freedom. It boils down to tone, I suppose. In any case, an anthologist like Ellen Datlow is about as reliable as they get when it comes to getting the best from the best.
Right off the bat I was charmed by a gritty heist story by Paul Tremblay called “The Getaway.” A getaway driver speeds his cohorts out of town after a botched robbery, only to find the leader of the pack isn’t in the car anymore. He’s just disappeared, and the rest start to wonder just what the guy they robbed might have had to do with it. This was had a good deal of tension and a cool bit of paranoia.
A great little tale of the wayward soul seeking redemption came from Jeffrey Ford’s “The Last Triangle.” A washed-out addict winds up at the end of his rope and going through a rough bit of rehab in an old woman’s house. But she doesn’t throw him out, and instead recruits him into helping her investigate a mystery involving some rune-like symbols graffitied around town. The dichotomy of the two characters felt familiar, but the magical flavoring and Ford’s way of moving the story along made it feel unique. Quite liked this one.
After that came Laird Barron’s “The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven.” Young women hiding out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, hiding out from the law and the men in their lives, are swept up in a local legend and an animal hide with some powers that imbue through whoever wears it. A damned strange story with an ending that really packed a punch. It wound up being one of my favorites from the bunch.
A bit of a quirky one came from Joe Lansdale’s “Dead Sister,” which had a fella hired by an alluring woman to find out who is digging up her sister’s grave each night. I found this one creepy as heck, but with an odd bit of humor to it that kept the rather macabre subject matter from being too gruesome.
Those are just a few samples of what you can expect from the anthology. Sufficed to say that I didn’t really find any of them to be a disappointment, and I was really happy to finally get a chance to sample the works of some authors I’ve not read from yet, but have heard tons of praise for. It’s just about as good as I could ask for from a themed anthology and I hope there is second volume sometime down the road. I suspect Supernatural Noir could be a wellspring of stories if this batch is any indication.

CymLowell

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Filed under anthology, book review, crime, Ellen Datlow, fantasy, horror, noir, Rabid Reads, Supernatural Noir

Rabid Reads: "Every Shallow Cut" by Tom Piccirilli

Every Shallow Cut
162 pages
ISBN 9781926851105
Available via: Amazon and Book Depository
One good way to enticing me to read your book is to put a dog in it. One good way to repel me is to put a cat in it. Tom Piccirilli opted for dog. My kind of author.
This isn’t a story about a dog though, even if it is an adorable old bulldog named Churchill. It’s about an author at the end of his rope. He’s lost his house, his wife, his career, and the story starts off with him being beaten and robbed of his few remaining possessions in front of a pawn shop. All he has left is his car and his dog. Throw in a steel guitar and you’ve got yourself a country song. After he’s patched up, he pawns off what he can and buys something he believes he’ll need: a gun.
Have you ever had an disquieting feeling go through you, one that feels like when you’re in a sawmill? That’s kind of how this book makes you feel as you read it. There’s a menacing shadow over this guy as he makes his cross-country journey to see his estranged big brother. He’s not going on a killing spree or anything as explosive as that, but he’s a lit fuse. He drives from Colorado to New York to reunite with his estranged brother, as well as his literary agent. Every relationship he has is strained, if not ruined by how his life has been led. The guy, who is never named, is sympathetic on one level for the hardships he faces, but he’s not a very likable guy.
The narration is a combination of frenetic ramblings and brooding contemplation. Piccirilli gives you the idea of what’s going through the guy’s head as it’s happening, not much of it pretty. A feel good story it is not, but it wound up being a story that resonated–like that hum I mentioned–and is rightfully earning praise from just about everyone who reads it. It’s a novella length work, which is a perfect fit for a story like this, as it lasts just long enough for the story that needs to be told to have its turn in the spotlight. The ending may not be what you expect, but it’s about as close to a perfect ending that you could ask for.
If you have any appreciation for dark fiction, then you should most definitely read this book.

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Filed under book review, Chizine, crime, Every Shallow Cut, horror, noir, noirella, Rabid Reads, Tom Piccirilli

Rabid Reads: "Fun & Games" by Duane Swierczynski

Fun & Games
Mulholland Books (June 2011)
ISBN 9780316133289
Purchase via: Amazon / Book Depository
Hollywood has its own mythology, or maybe it’s just really good at revamping the mythologies of other places with a lot of glitz. In either case, Duane Swierczynski has concocted a novel, the first of a trilogy it turns out, that taps into the kind of conspiracy-laden thrill rides only Hollywood could call its own.
Take a washed-out Hollywood starlet, Lane Madden, and put her behind the wheel of a fast car in one of the richer sections of L.A., then have a crew of killers try to run her off the road to make it look like an accident. The killers: a fabled organization called “The Accident People.” They’re the people who are offing politicians and celebrities in such a way to appear accidental, but still leave a few onlookers wondering if maybe something else is at play.
On the other side of the coin is Charlie Hardie, a retired cop-of-sorts turned house-sitter to the wealthy. The biggest thing on his plate is pitching his tent at his next gig, watching old movies, and getting shitfaced. So when he gets to L.A. on the same day Lane Madden breaks into the house he’s hired to look after, inadvertently putting him between her and her would-be assassins, sufficed to say everyone’s day is ruined.
The sheer amount of ass this novel kicked cannot be measured. When I started into this book, I was in the mood for a hard-boiled, relentless piece of pulp. I’d been getting a good dose of it this spring from the likes of Jeff Strand, Lee Goldberg, and Joe R. Lansdale, but Swierczynski managed to up the ante with this one. The pace is quick, and punctuated by shifting points of view between Charlie, Lane, as well as a gorgeous ringleader named Mann and her gang of techno-savvy thugs. A scene barely has time to end before a twist is thrown in and the characters are scrambling to recover and start the cat-and-mouse all over again. Well, “cat-and-mouse” might be too delicate a term for the kind of utter torture Charlie and other characters are put through in the course of this novel. Maybe “profanity-laden meatgrinder” would be apt.
The layers of mystery within the story is surprising, as certain things are held back from you as the reader for the sake of intrigue and suspense, and once certain details are revealed, some new question is raised that has you wondering how far down the rabbit hole this thing goes. While the book can be accused of being convoluted, it’s done in such a way that it’s hard not to appreciate the lengths to which it has been laid out for your enjoyment.
There was only one niggling detail concerning the climax of the story that irked me. I won’t go into details, because I don’t want to spoil anything for folks tempted to read this book, but there is something about how the book plays out in the end that sucked me out of the story immediately and threatened to ruin the entire experience. Fortunately, it didn’t become an overriding factor, and I still walked away from this book utterly satisfied and salivating at the chance to read its sequel, Hell and Gone. This just might be my new favorite novel of the year.

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Filed under book review, crime, Duane Swierczynski, Fun and Games, Rabid Reads

Rabid Reads: "Freezer Burn" by Joe R. Lansdale

Freezer Burn
by Joe R. Lansdale
Warner Books (1999)
245 pages
ISBN 089296703X
9780892967032

There’s something about a carnival that makes for a good story. Too bad that didn’t work the other way around with equal effect. Some carnivals and sideshows are just awful. And the one imagined by Joe Lansdale in this novel sounds like it’d be kind of awful if I were to actually visit it. Fortunately, in the confines of this novel it was a real treat.

It takes a few chapters to get to the carnival, though. Before that, Lansdale introduces Bill as the protagonist. In just about any other story Bill would be the heel of the tale. He’s an unintelligent, willfully ignorant, deceitful thief. His mother is dead and rotting up in her bedroom, and he hasn’t bothered to inform anyone since the house isn’t willed to him. And even though he’d like to forge her signature on the checks that keep coming in the mail, he’s too devoid of talent to do it–and lacks the will to even try.

He does, however, get it into his head that he can make some money by robbing the fireworks stand across the road. And he really needs some money because he’s down to eating the canned beats in the cupboard of a powerless house. But Bill and his two cronies foul things up and winds up on the run, presumably a fugitive from the law. That is a bit of a tale all its own that you’ll have to read for yourself. It’s when he stumbles upon a freak show carnival in east Texas, tired and lost and his face deformed by insect bites, that his luck seems to turn around a little bit. His luck isn’t all the way turned around, mind you, as the cast of characters he meets all have their own story and Bill manages to get mixed up in all of their inner dealings too.

This was my first Lansdale novel and, boy, did I pick a wild one. The writing is a gritty, straight-forward kind of style peppered with slang and colloquialisms, some of them some real eye-catchers. I feel pretty safe in saying that this book offered the first occasion for me to see the words “stinky on his dinky.” Ever. And it was reading so much of the story from Bill’s point of view, as well as the entertaining dialogue, that really made this book stand out for me.

The ending felt a bit like a letdown, but that’s simply because it didn’t go in a direction I expected it to. That’s fine, but after such a slow buildup through the novel, I kind of expected a bigger payoff. Not a Hollywood, guns-a-blazin’ style ending, but something that would’ve let me close the book and let out a sigh of satisfaction. But, heck, it was still a fun ride and I am definitely on the hunt for more Lansdale novels to read.

If Lansdale fans have any suggestions, whether a Hap/Leonard novel or some short fiction, I’m all ears.

CymLowell

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Filed under book review, crime, Freezer Burn, horror, Joe R. Lansdale, Rabid Reads

Book Review: "Out of Sight" by Elmore Leonard

Title: Out of Sight
Author: Elmore Leonard
Publisher: Dell (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group)
Published: 1997, paperback; 1996, original
Pages: 341
Genre: Crime

I have been a fan of Elmore Leonard’s work for many years, and by that I mean I have enjoyed many of the movies adapted from his novels. It wasn’t until this decade when I started to read novels of his not adapted to film that I realized it wasn’t so much the movies, but the stories I loved. The man knows how to spin a yarn.

Out of Sight is my favorite among all the films adapted from his work, and stars George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, and other notable actors. So, I figured it was about time I sat down and read the novel that inspired a damned good flick. And, I’m glad I did.

In the novel, Jack Foley is a middle-aged bank robber stuck in a federal prison–yet again. Karen Sisco is gorgeous and gritty … and a federal marshall visiting the same Florida prison where Jack is imprisoned, on the same night he makes his daring escape. Despite her attempt to thwart his escape, Karen ends up locked in the trunk with Jack in the back of Buddy’s–his best friend–getaway car. It’s in the cramped dark where their fascination with each other begins, as does Karen’s pursuit of Jack and every criminal he’s associated with outside.

If there’s one thing to admire in a Leonard novel, it’s the dialogue. Writers and critics alike praise the man’s ability to tell a tale nearly entirely through the conversations his characters have. I’m inclined to agree. Despite minimal descriptions of each character’s physical appearance, it’s pretty easy to visualize each of them. Things play out in an almost casual fashion despite a manhunt takes place throughout the book for Foley and the others who escaped the prison.

Foley’s old habits die hard, and he is most certainly not a reformed man. He is, however, a charismatic guy with a firm sense on reality … even though he comes close on more than one occasion to sabotaging his own freedom by risking a second encounter with the beautiful Karen Sisco. Sisco, herself, has her own fascination with Foley and wonders just what chance they might have if they’d met under different circumstances.

It’s a bit of a romance, a bit of a caper, and a whole lot of fun to read. Leonard knows the lingo, the personalities, and the near perfect ending.

On a side-note, this novel contains one of my favorite lines ever uttered: “You wanted to tussle? We tussled.” – Karen Sisco

I say that if you haven’t sampled an Elmore Leonard novel yet in your life, you’d be doing yourself a favor by starting with this one. For me, there’s a sequel of sorts out now or very soon called Road Dogs. Needless to say it’s on my wish list.

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Filed under book review, crime, elmore leonard, out of sight