And, here's one final chance to enter the contest to win copies of Nikki Dudley's two books Ellipsis and Semblance, both reviewed here. Just email email@example.com or leave a comment here.
In June 2011, I interviewed Nikki Dudley and reviewed Ellipsis for Spinetingler. Read the interview and review here.
One more thing--a plug for a new book review blog from Noir Journal regular, Kristofer Upjohn:
Book Devil, in which "a fiendish fan of the written word shares his thoughts on modern and classic literature."
Now the reviews:
Ellipsis, by Nikki Dudley, Sparkling Books Ltd. (September 20, 2010)
Semblance, by Nikki Dudley, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 4, 2012)Nikki Dudley's first novel, Ellipsis, is an examination of the workings of the disturbed mind. Damaged by their pasts and/or their perceptions of it, neither Alice (or is it Sarah?) nor Thom has emotional stability.
The death of Thom's cousin Daniel brings them together. He has jumped or been pushed in front of an oncoming subway train. His legacy shifts Thom's life from the ordinary man-in-the-office to an obsessed creature seeking answers which will only send his psyche spiraling downward.
Alice/Sarah has reached the nadir of her insanity and through the connection she makes with Thom will try to begin the journey toward healing.
Told in two voices, Thom's and Alice's, the story ducks and weaves.
Thom goes back to the home of his childhood, the house of his Aunty Val, who raised him after his parents died. He is searching for who Daniel actually was. It's a troubling thing to lose a close family member and feel you never knew him. Thom can't let it go. Daniel reaches back from the grave to make sure Thom feels that way. Our boy Daniel was not an especially nice person.
Daniel has also marked Alice, who pushed him to his death under the wheels of a train. Why would the man's dying words be, "Right on time."? Alice is haunted and transfers her obsession with Daniel to his family.
No one in this story is without dark, uncomfortable secrets. The tale is heavily layered and peels back raw wounds one page at a time until it seems that surely the truth has been found. Has it really? What other lies and deceptions will come to light?
In Semblance, the sequel to Ellipsis, the rest of the story unfolds.
The voice shifts to Thom's cousin Richard, though Alice also continues her side of the narrative.
After Thom disappears, Richard cannot quit searching for him, though Thom obviously does not want to be found. Richard keeps notebooks and scribbles reflections of his efforts and his emotions. His pain and confusion are plain.
He is joined in the search by Thom's ex-girlfriend, Emma, whom Thom pushed aside after Alice came into his life. Emma and Richard, bound together by the feeling of responsibility to seek Thom, soon seek comfort from each other .
Meanwhile Alice's brother Michael has taken her in, found a new doctor for her and is trying to be a brother and protector to help her get on with her life. When she learns a deep secret, she shares that with him but still does not tell him her deepest, darkest secret. (Yes, there's a definite soap opera feel here.)
One of Richard's efforts to find Thom is to randomly visit the graves of Daniel and also of Thom's parents in the cemetery. When at last his determination is rewarded, it becomes a "be-careful-what-you-wish-for" situation.
Thom's damage is too deep. His return is the catalyst that brings this tale to its explosive end.
Whose story is this? Alice's? Thom's? Richard's? The mother's? Even Emma's?
None of the above. This is Daniel's story. Even though he is physically present in only the first few pages of Ellipsis, his aura dominates both books. Had Daniel not held such sway over those he touched, the damage would not have been done.
Both of these dark novels, Ellipsis and Semblance, will have great appeal to readers who love to delve into psychological character studies of abnormal minds.
The Consummata, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, Hard Case Crime (October 4, 2011)
This is the second novel featuring Morgan the Raider, a character Spillane introduced in The Delta Factor with the intention of beginning a new series. Sidetracked, he handed it over to Collins. Now, courtesy of Hard Case Crime, Morgan the Raider is in action again.
The place is Miami. The time the late 1960s. The government men are closing in on Morgan on a trumped-up charge when help sweeps in from an unexpected source. Morgan dodges into Little Havana, seeking to lead his trailers as far from his supporters as possible, when Cuban kids swirl around him, squealing and running as they play their childish games. The net is about to drop when the kids swish back through and pin him against a building. From there an adult hand snatches him, jerks him inside and hides him within a false wall.
From his hiding place, Morgan hears the confused exclamations of the feds and learns his old enemy is the head of the pursuing force.
After hours in his cramped quarters, Morgan is released and feted with the best his rescuers have to offer. It seems they know his rep and are hoping he will do a little favor for them.
The Cuban exiles are constantly raising money to return to the island with an invasion army. Sure, they'd like a piece of the forty million Morgan is reputed to have stolen but they would be happy just to have back the seventy-five thousand taken from their coffers by the traitor, Jaimie Halaquez.
It's an offer Morgan can't refuse. The excitement of beginning a new adventure rushes over him as he makes the deal to try to recover the money, and perhaps the thief who robbed the Cubans' stash.
Morgan's guide to weave his way out his haven in Little Havana is the delectable raven-haired Gaita. Her age and experience peek through the youthful glow of first appearance. Exuding sex and savvy, if Gaita proves trustworthy, having her at his side may be all the back-up he needs.
The thief Halaquez has disappeared, but one clue may force him back into the landscape. He's a pervert. The traitor wants kinks with sex. So many kinks that he is well-known in the Miami area by the madams and girls. He's been banned from more than one establishment but rumor has it that a woman known as "The Consummata" is coming to the city. This illusive--some call her mythical--dominatrix will take all comers in her temporary house that will run for a special short time in the area. Halaquez won't resist. If he can find it, that's the place for Morgan to trap him.
No matter how cut and dried the story sounds, The Consummata is so packed with shifting sand it is impossible to move much farther into the tale without spoilers. It does not disappoint in this aspect.
Rich, lurid prose. Vivid characters. Strong, honorable--in his own way--hero. Icky villains. Lush setting. Intense situations. Cunning, hot babes. Graphic but not too grisly details. It's hard to think of a critical element for the hardcase crime genre not within these covers.
A great, fun read for Collins and Spillane fans--and for some fans-to-be.
The Big Sin by Jack Webb, Prologue Books (March 15, 2012)
There was a time when dark crime stories did not rely on trappings, like X-rated language, graphic sex and violence, to make them dark and ugly. The language was PG and details were less grisly and explicit. Jack Webb's The Big Sin (1952) is of that time. Made available once more by Prologue Books, this tale of murder and intrigue has a charm that makes it absorbing and hard to put down.
Rose Alyce is an exotic dancer. she killed herself because her lover was leaving her for another woman. It's cut and dried for the police. But the image presented in the press was just that--an image. The dancer was really Rosa Mendez, a good Catholic girl. Her priest, young Joseph Shanley, knows she could never commit "the big sin," suicide.
His interview with detective Sgt. Sammy Golden, a not-so-religious Jewish boy, slammed doors in his face but he left the office with a parting shot that moved the detective to call down for the file on the case.
Asking to see that closed file was all Sammy had to do to set the ball rolling against them. A call went out from records and the vacation Golden had mentioned was immediately granted. That juxtaposition would be enough to send any inquiring mind back to the priest.
Once Sammy is convinced that something is fishy about Rosa's death, the priest is willing to ride right along with the detective as they delve into the circumstances surrounding the killing, plunging them both into dangerous waters. The detective will be persona non grata in the department and the priest may be disciplined by the Church but the two are resolved to learn the truth.
Along the way they are joined in the investigation by a girl--one who knows all the ins and outs and is willing to team up with them to unravel the tangled mess of murder, mayhem and politics.
Written in a style both readable and of the era, The Big Sin will appeal to lovers of classic crime fiction and keep the attention of fans of more recent, more graphic tales.
It is one of a series of books featuring the good Father Shanley and solid Sammy Golden written by John Albert "Jack" Webb - not the Jack Webb of TV show Dragnet fame. Reading The Big Sin will inspire many readers to search out other volumes of the set.
The Case of the General's Thumb, by Andrey Kurkov Melville International Crime (February 21, 2012)
Reading Andrey Kurkov's The Case of the General's Thumb is like wandering through an enormous, ancient, crumbling house with no light. The halls are dark. The staircases twist as they rise. Hidden passages abound. The very walls seem to move and change the shape of the rooms before an exit can be made.
That's not a negative comment. The doors are accessible but who wants to escape this labyrinth? It's far too intriguing to run away.
Viktor Slutsky is a mid-level investigator in Kiev. Burglaries, muggings, an occasional arson fill his assignments. But when the body of General Bronitsky, former high-up in the government, is found hanging from the Coca-Cola balloon Viktor is put in charge of the case. This is exciting. An opportunity for perks, promotion, more pay.
Then Five Militia Academy cadets are presented to him for his choice of assistant. A car, a Mazda, peppier than the station cars, is given him. His supervisor, Major Ratko, tells him that a phone call had put Viktor in charge.
Now the excitement turns to unease. He shouldn't be the chief investigator for this. It doesn't even belong to his unit. The general was an important man. A higher authority should be on this case. What's going on here?
And, oh, yes, the general's body is missing a thumb.
Nik just wants a better life for his family and himself. He wants to leave Saratov, Tadzhikistan for Kiev. He was lucky to find Ivan Lvovich, who offers the chance for a flat--a scarce premium--but he'll have to work on the investigation first. Only a few months, thinks Nik, then he, Tanya and Volodya will have a new and better life.
First a rest in the country, says Ivan, but the rest is short as circumstances change and Ivan rushes him away with a caution about talking with any locals. You haven't? "No," Nik lies.
Nik, the new recruit, meets Slutsky and soon they've linked in an unorthodox way and are on the road. But what a road! No goal has been set for them; no contact is connected to any other contacts. It's a warped scavenger hunt with no clue.
Viktor is caught in his own web of anonymous connections. Who is Georgiy? How does he fit into the case and why is he aiding Viktor? What is Refat's role?
The reader is well into the book before Viktor and Nik emerge as the main protagonists. A multiplicity of characters dance through this convoluted tale. Some come and go so quickly they are almost invisible; others appear with enough substance to live, breathe and become a factor in the case.
Atmosphere is one of the best facets of The Case of the General's Thumb. In the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union, all the republics experienced (and most are still experiencing) upheaval and turmoil. Knowing who to trust and trying to stay ahead of the purges was confusing at best. Twists and turns, blind alleys for an unknown mission, rapidly changing venues, dead bodies all along the way reflect the aura of the post-Soviet disorder and the struggles of those caught up in it.
Kurkov's prose is superb. The style andformat of The Case of the General's Thumb is of the time and of the place. The confusion the reader may feel in this morass is just what the characters feel as they try to stay ahead of this twisted game.
Kurkov's The Case of the General's Thumb is not for everyone. It requires patience and a taste for muddled puzzles, but for those who enjoy such a story it just doesn't get any better than this.
The Angst-Ridden Executive, by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Melville International Crime (January 10, 2012)
Carvalho has quite an interesting past. A former Communist during the Franco era who inadvertently found himself working for the CIA, Pepe now does small-time detective work in Barcelona. Or did.
Suddenly he finds himself back in the big leagues, but doesn't know it yet.
Antonio Jauma, an executive of a major international corporation whom he met years before, has been murdered. The widow doesn't believe the official version and hires Pepe to investigate her husband's death.
Details about the murder seem to indicate that Jauma was soliciting sex and ran afoul of either a prostitute or her pimp. He was a notorious womanizer and the setup is not too farfetched. But a few of the details don't add up in Pepe's eyes. He begins to dig deeper, and the deeper he digs the more he realizes the reason Jauma died was not a woman but what he knew about his corporation. Now Carvalho's life is in jeopardy but - like Chandler's Marlowe - the more he is warned off the case, the more determined he becomes to uncover the truth.
The Angst-Ridden Executive cannot be called a "page-turner." Slow-paced and filled with minute details, it meanders along through a world of interesting characters, international manipulations and explicit descriptions of Carvalho's culinary loves and hates.
Temptation Town, by Mike Dennis, (Amazon Digital Services, Inc., January 15, 2012)
Jack Barnett was a private investigator in L.A. until he leaned too hard on the wrong man. His target's high-level connections pulled Jack's license and when the man threatened charges, Jack took off for Las Vegas.
Now he's making a dollar here and there, gambling and trying to keep a low profile.
Jack is losing at poker when a stranger appears at the door and asks him to take on a case. When he protests that he is no longer in that business, the man makes him an offer he can't refuse. Find the man's daughter who has strayed, make a report --no matter how ugly--and earn five thousand dollars. That's it. The money looks big to Jack at this point, and he begins the search. He soon learns that he really doesn't want to go where this case takes him.
Temptation Town, the first Mike Dennis novelette and the first of the Jack Barnett stories, takes the reader through the down and dirty side of glitter city. This is something Dennis does well. His life experience knows the town. His gift for vivid prose brings it to life. Jack Barnett has a future in the realms of P.I. fiction.
Through a Shattered Lens, I Saw, by LA Sykes, (Thunderune Publishing, December 2012)
LA Sykes's debut collection of short stories, Through a Shattered Lens, I Saw, is a diverse conglomerate of tales, all bleak but of varying appeal. From well-plotted and intriguing narratives of the dark side of the human psyche to short sketches filled with expletives are juxtaposed in this collection. Something for most readers of skewed, dark fiction is within.
The slightly modified title story, "Through a Shattered Lens, He Saw," is a sordid tale of police corruption with a twisted end. It will be up to the reader to decide in his/her own mind if anyone actually came out ahead.
"Diddler on the Roof," another of the pieces featuring police action, has some nice dark wit. It's not exactly funny, but grab a warped sense of humor then go ahead and laugh.
Competing for this reviewer's choice of the best story were "A Little Condescending" and "Helping Hands." Both deal with deep psychological issues, the former more objectively and the latter with more emotional pull.
Sykes is a young writer to watch. His prose is vivid--almost overdone at points--so that the reader sees what is happening. He has a talent for moving the story along through dialog, a true gift. With the potential to polish the rough edges he can become a dependable noir writer for the years to come.
About the reviewer, Ann Snuggs:
Ann Snuggs grew up in Southeast Arkansas. A born storyteller, she was regaling her mother with stories before she learned to write. As a child, she coerced her playmates into performing in short plays she wrote.
A devoted mystery/detective fan, Ann began with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and by late elementary school had progressed to Erle Stanley Gardner and Dashiell Hammett. She cried when Mickey Spillane died.
In college at Henderson State University at Arkadelphia, Arkansas, she worked on a campus literary publication.
After college she began her career as a Jill-of-All-Trades, teaching school--in grades second to junior college and subjects from social studies to English and speech to math to Spanish; working at newspapers as a photographer and feature and column writer; walking hots and rubbing horses in the barns as well as doing publicity work at thoroughbred race tracks; working in multiple positions at a florist; and on and on.
She has often said the only two criteria a writing job must have to be considered are:
1. Have I ever done this before? (Answer: No) and
2. Does it sound interesting? (Answer: Yes).
Through all this she has written - something. When asked at conferences, "What do you write?" The reply is, "What do you want written?"
At one time or another Ann has written poetry, skits, song lyrics, novels, short stories, essays, newspaper columns and feature stories, advertising copy, whatever someone needed to have written. She writes for the same reason she breathes - it is necessary for her existence.
Ann is the author of two non-fiction books on Western movies, Riding the (Silver Screen) Range andUncredited: Cliff Lyons, On and Off Screen, and one Western novel, Donovan's Trail.