Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellman, The Red Herrings Press (August 16, 2013)
Reviewed by Richard Reeder
The novel begins in the pre-revolutionary Havana of 1958, where we first meet Francesca Pacelli, the restless and beautiful eighteen-year-old daughter of a Mafioso casino owner. She is “pinned” to a proper and upwardly mobile Italian-American young man in Chicago, the son of family friends, and it seems that her entire life is being planned for her by others. But soon she is swept away in a passionate love affair with a young Cuban revolutionary, in which the consequences of that affair transform her life and the lives of others near and dear to her forever.
Ms. Hellman’s plot encompasses three generations of the Pacelli family often set in exotic international backdrops. She takes us back to decrepit Havana in 1991, as we witness, through some very intriguing characters, the exacting personal toll that the Revolution had wrought on the lives of ordinary Havana residents. We also experience the impact of the Angolan Civil War, known as “Cuba’s Vietnam,” on the Cuban soldiers who were there at that time.
This is the third book of Ms. Hellman’s that I have read. Each one has been fast paced, intriguing and fraught with unexpected twists and turns that constantly surprise the reader as the story unfolds. She has a superb gift for the colorful depiction of her characters. Each book has been a delight for me to read, and I can’t imagine any noir aficionado not enjoying Havana Lost.
Tomorrow City by Kirk Kjeldsen Signal 8 Press (August 27, 2013)
Reviewed by Ann Snuggs
Brendan Lavin can't seem to stay out of trouble.
Even when trying hard to go straight doing what he loves to do--bake--circumstances suck his resolve away. Reluctantly part of a robbery with fatalities, he's now classified as a murderer. He escapes New York City, seeking to start again in an entirely different world, as far removed from his past as possible.
Twelve years later he owns a successful bakery in Shanghai. With a wife and daughter to consider, he keeps a low profile. If he can stay in the shadows, the likelihood of his cohorts in the botched NYC crime ever finding him are slim. He fears them much more than the authorities. Brendan's fears are justified. A fluke misstep puts his face in public view and his fellow robbers are in his bakery before he can put plans in action to leave Shanghai. They blame him for turning them in (he didn't) and demand retribution. What they really want is his life but they say that joining them in a diamond heist will be payback enough.
Brendan doesn't trust them nor hold any desire to re-enter a criminal career but now he has family who can be threatened. He's an obvious foreigner in the city. He will stand out easily should a search result from his being exposed. He's very vulnerable. Is there a way out? If so, can he find it?
Kjeldsen packs this novel with vivid characters and difficult choices. The action sequences are fast and tense. The bleakness of Brendan's options in this convoluted set of circumstances is harsh and turns him into a sympathetic character for the reader. We want him to escape and be able to spend his life being creative with dough and pastries, then going home to play with his daughter. Tomorrow City is a riveting tale of intrigue. Perfect? No. A terrific read? Oh, yeah. Fans of dark literature cannot afford to miss this one.
About two years ago, I reviewed Sara Gran’s first Claire DeWitt novel, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, a truly special book that I really enjoyed. In fact, I echoed the blurb from author Sue Grafton: "I loved this book!"
I'll soon review the second book in the series, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway. Here’s what the publisher has to say about the new book:
"Claire DeWitt is even better this time as she scours the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area in search of her ex-lover’s killer with the help of her new assistant Claude and the writings of French detective Jacques Silette (bigger role in this book!). It’s addictive, personal, and not one to miss. And the Claire DeWitt series was recently adapted into a new television series by Southland producers John Wells, Andrew Stearn and Christopher Chulack, with Gran to write the pilot."
But first, here’s my review of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, from The New York Journal of Books, in June of 2011:
It’s 2007, a year and a half after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the resulting floods. DeWitt’s caller, Leon Salvatore, wants her to find his uncle, Vic Willing, an assistant district attorney, who has been missing since the flooding.
DeWitt herself has recently gotten out of rehab for a nervous breakdown. Her doctor, Nick Chang, a practitioner of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, sent her to an isolated place called “Spot of Mystery” to take care of goats, including shoveling excrement, as a cure. Claire seems to have recovered—for the present at least. Still, she has no desire to go back to New Orleans.
But Dr. Chang tells her: “Take the job, you have to tie up loose ends sometime.” . . . .
And, later in the review, I described DeWitt’s mentor the mystical French detective Jacques Silette:
Silette, for example, was a mysterious French detective who wrote Détection, Claire’s bible of investigation. Silette solved mysteries that others could never fathom. But the wisdom of Silette in Détection may not be for everyone:
“The detective will never be thanked for revealing the truth. . . . His only reward will be the awful, unbearable truth itself.
“The detective thinks he is investigating a murder or a missing girl. But truly he is investigating something else altogether, something he cannot grasp hold of directly. Satisfaction will be rare. Uncertainty will be your natural state. Sureness will always elude you.
“The finger that points the way is not the way. The mystery is a pathless land, and each detective must cut her own trail through a cruel territory.
“Believe nothing. Question everything. Follow only the clues.”
And Claire even provides caveats to accepting Silette’s wisdom, including:
“The book is notoriously difficult, sometimes nonsensical, always contradictory, repeating the bad news and never repeating the good, never telling you what you want to hear, always just out of reach.
“That was how I knew it was true.”
Click here to read the entire review.
But, we’re truly in luck. Sara Gran has given us some background on the fascinating and enigmatic Silette. In fact, it’s an excerpt from Book #3 in the series.
JACQUE SILETTE AND THE ORIGINS OF DÉTECTION
by Sara GranNo one knew exactly what happened to Jacques Silette in the early 1950s that caused his views to so radically change – some say, warp. In the first half of his life he was a renowned detective, by the age of 40 clearly the first in the new, “modern,” generation of investigators. All the tools and gadgets and theories the world had to offer were at their fingertips. Luminol! Blood types! Fingerprints! Freud! And yet so many of the mysteries of the world resisted their scientific gaze. Did the scientific method yield fruits? Yes. Of course. The Butcher of Lyon was caught using hair samples and gunpowder residue. The Emerald Thief of St Louis was trapped by Louis Miellieux, one of the first working criminal psychologists, an early breed of profiler who predicted the thief was born of a broken home, walked with a limp, and was above average intelligence (all of which turned out to be true; a less-popular discussion could be had about what he got wrong, like predicting that the devout Catholic would be an atheist). Crimes were being solved, bad guys were being sent away. “It was like the wild west,” noted James Hartly, the smug and self-righteous leader of the modern school in America. “We were rounding up the bad guys like there was no tomorrow.
A high moment for all humankind, no doubt – if you think Indians are “bad guys” and you think throwing people in prison is solving mysteries. But there were other fruits too, fruits of a less unqualified good than throwing Indians in prison. Detectives, as a whole, were not a happy lot. People drank. Cheated on their husbands and wives. The misogyny and racism in detective work were notorious and palpable. Silette saw many of his mentors and inspirations fall apart of the end of their lives. They had found no meaning, no truth. In substitute for an interior life they turned to alcohol and sex and pills. Bitterness flooded in to fill the void. (Perhaps this was why one of the first chapters of Détection started with: “Crime is the absence of not-crime; it is a blockage of the stuff the universe is made of; it where movement has died and been replaced by stagnation; where truth has been replaced by any one of the infinite number of things that are not true.”) And most importantly, cases were languishing, unsolved. Detectives had lost the ability to wander beyond the limits of evidence.
So the need for something new would have been obvious to the sharp, young-ish detective. But no one knew how he made his turn. Was it all it once? Was it a gradual change? No one knew how Jacques Silette came to the ideas he wrote about in Détection. Did he cut them out of whole cloth, create them whole? Or was there a whisper in his ear, a nudge from history, a sign pointing the way: answers here. No one knew.
No one until now.
Stay tuned for my review of Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway.
And thanks so much to Sara Gran and to Senior Publicist Michelle Bonanno from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Complex 90 by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books, May 7 2013)
The most amazing thing, hands down, about Wolf Haas’ mystery novel THE BONE MAN is the striking prose. No amount of effusiveness could live up to it. Pardon my hyperbole. The prose, aside from the novel as a whole, is a work of art in itself. Of course, given that this is a translation from Austrian, credit is due translator Annie Janusch, able to bring over from that language to English the nuances and delights of the prose.
When I say prose, I’m including the whole mode of storytelling, so maybe I should talk about that.
The narrative is in first person, but the name of the narrator is never known. But it’s somebody you know. You, the reader, enter the story as the listener as the narrator spins this tale of Brenner, gumshoe and former cop. It’s a great tale, told in swell fashion by a narrator the reader never meets--unless its one of the colorful side characters in a colorful town full of equally colorful characters, and a bit of freaky crime. It’s a nice mix with the friendly style of the tale, the darkness that is.
But I was telling you about how you never know who the narrator is, except the you that is dug into the story as observer, also never named, knows the narrator who is sharing this story with his pal, or maybe at least somebody he/she met down at the chicken shack, you know, where the human bones were found in among the chicken bones. That’s what Brenner, a character himself, in his subtle way, is poking around this small town to find out about. Except he discovers tons more chicanery than the mere murder it starts out to be.
The book brings all sorts of unexpected questions and surprising answers to questions you didn’t know you had. Zigzag, zipzap, hither-thither but all smooth flow. A brilliant book whose brilliance--haven’t I said enough to convince you?--comes through in unique and surprising ways and whose voice is among the most unique iconoclast voices in literature. The way the tale is told is as gripping as the tale itself. Pat yourself on the back, Mr. Haas. And, please, keep writing.
Reviewed by Kristofer Upjohn
CRIMINAL LONDON is an exquisite big little volume chock full of the things “buffs” love to adore--crime buffs, in this case, as well as history buffs with a penchant for humankind’s criminal underbelly. British buffs as well can find much in which to revel. CRIMINAL LONDON, subtitled “A Sightseer’s Guide to the Capital of Crime”, is, indeed, that. It’s a travel guide with a very specific focus--the world of crime in London, events past and extant relics tourists (plenty of buffs there) can visit. But it’s no mere travel guide. This has been put together with utmost craftsmanship. The rectangular paperbound volume is a work of art. Its design and tactile joys are well beyond the average paperback. There are color photos galore and story after story after story about the tenebrous side of London. The book gives the impression of a labor of love and it’s certain to inspire love in its readers. Its lush design makes for a giddy pleasure for bibliophiles. There’s another batch of buffs to add to the discussion. While overtly a nonfiction crime volume, CRIMINAL LONDON has appeal for a broad range of crime readers and collectors. Its scope is broad, touching on many things, ranging from gangsters to Jack the Ripper. It’s a reference volume of London true crime. And even a bit of not-so-true crime. This is sure to be a hit among readers on both sides of the Atlantic. A fine volume, indeed.
Reviewed by Richard Reeder
Chicago crime aficionados will love Dianne Gallagher’s debut novel, Too Dark to Sleep. The book’s heroine is Maggie Quinn, once the best crime detective in Chicago, before her nervous breakdown and suicide attempt puts her out to pasture. Quinn’s expert crime solving abilities and her unorthodox approach in police methods made her unpopular among many of the regulars in the Old Boys network of the Chicago Police Department who didn’t warm to the successes of a lady detective. Besides, Maggie’s father, Paddy, is a notorious operative for the Chicago Outfit, who, although imprisoned for life, still holds considerable political connections in the corridors of Chicago’s City Hall. However the Chicago Police Department is confronted with a serial killer, whose grisly murders are remaining unsolved, causing serious concern to the mayor who is soon to be up for reelection. Paddy arranges for the emotionally fragile, yet highly motivated Maggie, to be hired as a consultant to the Department to help solve the murders. Although beset by demons stemming from the immense personal loss of her only child, Maggie soldiers on, despite additional personal trials and tribulations, to expertly gather the evidence to identify the killer. Although the book is 381 pages, it is a fast read. I didn’t want to put it down. I was fascinated by Gallagher’s depictions of the subcultures of Chicago police detectives, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, and Stateville Penitentiary. It’s a world of clout-influenced decision-making, where "who you know," nine times out of ten, trumps "what you know." After all, that’s the Chicago Way!
Reviewed by Ann Snuggs
A chance meeting in the air. Flight instructor Cordell Logan was minding his own business headed for a landing at his home airport at Rancho Bonita in his worn Cessna 172 when the pilot of the Mooney radioed his predicament to the tower. With the airport socked in and Logan's visual of the ailing plane there was nothing else for one pilot to do for another but help out.
On the ground he is amazed and awed to learn the pilot he aided is a hero--one of his heroes--accompanied by his wife, a former pinup girl Logan himself had lusted after in younger years. It's Hub and Crissy Walker, up close and personal.
Cordell avoids liquor now so he turns down the drink but not the dinner Walker offers. Before long he will believe it might have been wiser to turn down the proposition of employment as well as the drink. Walker's daughter was murdered. The convicted killer was executed but not before his dying statement accused Walker's friend, Gary Castle, of the crime. Walker wants Castle's name cleared and thinks Logan may just be the right man for the job. After all, his military training gave him strong investigative skills.
It sounds like a recreational assignment. The Walkers live in a lush area in San Diego. Cordell will be staying in their pool house and can even bring along his ex-wife for a reconciliation attempt. He'll ask a few questions, get the information his hero wants, collect a much-needed $10,000 and be on his way. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
His questions go unanswered and suck him into a maelstrom of trouble. Death and destruction close in around him. The challenge is not only to solve the puzzle but to come out of it alive.
David Freed's background gives him an inside track on authenticity about the ins and outs of airplanes. He draws a clear and precise picture of the details of flying and the point of view of pilots. His feel for detail helps him present an array of rich and interesting characters: Cordell's landlady, Mrs. Schmulowitz; Detective Alicia Rosario; Larry, the airplane mechanic; P.I. "Bunny" Myers; World War II flier, Dutch Holland; even Kiddiot, the cat who goes AWOL; and a host of others. The supporting players are perhaps even more fun to know than the leading characters.
Fangs Out has a nice flow that will keep the pages turning--and will keep most readers guessing until the final showdown. And for the record, "fangs out" doesn't mean Logan is a vampire. It's a term from Cordell's past that means a driving passion to confront the enemy and take him down.
Sleight of Hand, by Phillip Margolin, HarperLuxe; Lgr edition, April 9 2013)
Technorati Tags: Cara Black, Complex 90 by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, crime fiction, crime novels, Criminal London, David Freed, Diane Gallagher, Fangs Out, Hard Cash, ike Hammer, Kris and Nina Hollington, Kris Hollington, Mike Dennis, Murder Below Montparnasse, mystery, Nina Hollington, noir fiction, noir novel, Phillip Margolin, Sleight of Hand, The Bone Man, Too Dark to Sleep, Wolf Haas
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.
Technorati Tags: Andrey Kurkov Melville International Crime, Ellipsis, Hard Case Crime The Big Sin, I Saw, Jack Webb, LA Sykes, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Max Allan Collins, Mickey Spillane, Mike Dennis, Nikki Dudley, Prologue Books The Case of the General's Thumb, Semblance, Sparkling Books, Temptation Town, The Angst-Ridden Executive, The Consummata, Through a Shattered Lens, Thunderune
First an announcement and a free book giveaway contest, then seven book reviews (six of them new books):
In June of 2011, I interviewed young British mystery novelist and poet Nikki Dudley for Spinetingler. I also reviewed her first novel, the gripping thriller Ellipsis. Read the interview and review here.
From Nikki Dudley's Web site: In this thrilling sequel to Ellipsis, Richard Mansen embarks on a desperate search for his missing cousin, Thom. Whilst Alice attempts to rebuild her life, she is haunted by Richard's suspicion and the secret that Thom has taken with him.
NOIR(ish) As an homage to Noir, Evan Guilford-Blake’s new mystery, NOIR(ish), is absolutely ingenious. The author must have read the entire body of work of both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett to create just the right genre phrasing and ambience. Los Angeles in the summer of 1947 is the perfect setting. The mystery’s gumshoe hero is Robert Grahame, an Indiana native and Word War Two veteran who moved out West, first to Frisco where he apprenticed for Sam Spade, before setting up a PI shop of his own in downtown LA. We first meet him about a year after he has broken up with the love of his life, and he’s hitting the bourbon a little bit too hard.
The plot centers on characters that may or may not have been involved with the murder of the notorious gangster, Bugsy Siegel. Every stock noir character appears in the story, each depicted brilliantly by Guilford-Blake. All characters have names with noir references. For example, the woman police lieutenant is Lauren Stanwyck. Even our hero’s cat has is called Greenstreet. Every noir fan will enjoy this conjuring up of the genre’s icons.
Readers may or may not find the story's conclusion satisfactory, subtle, or consistent; but that's noir anyway, no? Overall, an excellent book.
Vengeance, by Benjamin Black, Henry Holt and Co. (August 7, 2012)
These novels set in the still staid and parochial Dublin of the 1950s feature Garret Quirke, a hard-drinking hospital pathologist. The book opens with a suicide at sea. Victor Delahaye, a prominent businessman shoots himself on his pleasure craft, accompanied by Davy Clancy, the son of his business associate, Jack Clancy. Although the Protestant Delahayes and the Catholic Clancys are partners in a successful garage business for three generations, it is clear that the Clancys don’t feel like equal partners. This perceived inferiority in the partnership leads to financial shenanigans on Jack Clancy’s part, which ultimately lead to his murder.
Also complicating matters between the two families is the romantic entanglement between Davy Clancy and Mona Delahaye, the promiscuous second wife of Victor Delahaye. Toss in Maggie Delahaye, the grief-stricken spinster sister of Jack. Add the playboy identical twins of Victor from his first marriage, the naïve James, and the sinister Jonas. And for seasoning toss in a dash of Sylvia, the long-suffering wife of Jack Clancy’s infidelities and the Delahaye-Clancy stew thickens.
Quirke, with the aid of Detective Inspector Hackett, tries to sort things out. If this is your first read in the Quirke series, you might like to know a little more on the pathologist’s past and possibly more on the details and mood of Dublin in the 1950s. Yet few authors today write crime tales with the elegance and grace of Benjamin Black.
In my opinion, his prose elevates a genre (noir) often characterized by clipped and staccato writing. Fans of noir and mystery in general will delight in reading Mr. Black’s work.
About the reviewer: Richard Reeder recently published his first book, Chicago Sketches. He is an instructor in the Oakton Community College Emeritus Program. He also runs the site A Literary Reeder.
One review by Alan Michael Wilt
Jimmy the Stick, by Michael Mayo, MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (October 16, 2012)
Start with a narrator who introduces himself on page one as “a thief, a bootlegger, a bagman, and the proprietor of one of New York’s better gin mills.” His name is Jimmy Quinn. He’ll get around to explaining why he’s called Jimmy the Stick. But first, even while his girlfriend Connie tries to tempt him back to bed for an encore, the view from his window in the Chelsea hotel prompts him to run downstairs to the telephone, and minutes after he hangs up a Mob hit occurs at the drugstore next to the hotel.
It’s 1932. Prohibition is on. The Lindbergh baby has been kidnapped, and Walter Spencer, an old friend and partner-in-crime who has married well into the Pennyweight family, gone straight, and now runs the Pennyweight oil business, calls on Jimmy for some help. While he goes out of town to scout a business prospect, Spence needs some protection for his wife and infant son at the palatial New Jersey estate his marriage has yielded him.
Jimmy’s task seems straightforward enough, but in the Pennyweight mansion doors don’t always lead where you think they should, and it’s possible to come and go without being noticed. Every time you think you know where Jimmy and his plot are going, the trail that seemed so true goes suddenly false. Or, perhaps, not. Like the maze of a mansion in which much of the novel takes place, each supporting character adds to the texture and complexity of the story. All of them—from Connie to Spence’s wife and mother-in-law to the staff of the Spencer home (especially another Connie, the maid) to bungling and lustful lawmen—hold the promise of being the key that turns the novel. Or, perhaps, not.
With all this taken together, the reader never really gets a chance to relax. There is always something or someone coaxing you through what is likely to be the wrong doorway. While he ostensibly protects the Pennyweight baby from a copycat Lindbergh kidnapping, Jimmy becomes slowly aware that all is not as straight as it seems in the Pennyweight world.
Amid his tale of 1932, Jimmy Quinn tells also of his youth and his introduction to the New York City crime world. His immigrant parents long gone, Jimmy is raised by the saintly sinner Mother Moon. A schemer and a madam, she also takes care of a gang of kids who have no one else and picks Jimmy out for his potential on the schemey side of things. Work for Lansky, Luciano, and Rothstein initiates him deeply into the life from which, by the time the novel opens, he is trying to distance himself. Far from being a distraction from Jimmy’s adventures in New Jersey, these New York chapters provide both counterpoint and comparison with regard to what were, in the early 1930s, distinctly different places with widely divergent styles. Or, perhaps, not.
About the reviewer: Alan Michael Wilt is a writer and editor in Massachusetts. His novel The Holy Family will be published in October 2012.
Reviews by Kristofer Upjohn:
Fred Zackel's "Angel Noir" is a lethal mixture. It's a delicious potion concocted of extreme horror and hard, bleak crime writing. Both blunt and smooth, Zackel's prose quickens the character of Earl Dolan. As the story's most noirish element, this central character is an anti-hero. At best.
Really, this is a story without a hero. The villain of the piece IS the central character, rather than the antagonist of a more traditional tale's hero. Dolan is a compelling figure, an atypical sociopath. He is extremely self-aware, understands his own psychological make-up. If you called him crazy, he wouldn't kill you because you called him crazy--he'd kill you because you knew.
He doesn't follow a modus operandi. He ruminates over his evil side. He doesn't keep trophies from murders--he steals from the dead to make a living from his hobby. It is best, after all, if you love what you do. And Dolan loves what he does. The novella starts out as a night-in-the-life-of story. A peek into a typical night of murder for Earl, though "typical" is a broad term, indeed, given that Dolan is mercurial in method, always changing, improving, and, very important, leaving behind no pattern.
Besides, what starts as a (relatively) typical night of prowling for a victim slowly bends into the most unusual kill of Dolan's career. Right from the start he senses something is different; his instincts warn him away. Find a different victim! But Earl is drawn in by his own prey, compelled. But tonight, murder is only the beginning. Zackel's style is gritty and piercing. Elements of the story we have seen elsewhere, but not put together like this. It's a twist on twists, if you will. It's both psychologically harrowing and physically grisly.
Angel Noir begins with a grim tone and only gets darker from there. It's nihilistic spiral and gut-wrenching denouement are among the story's most effective elements. It's the darkest of horror and the meanest of crime, all wrapped up in a relentless, insightful (hence all the more horrifying) descent into doom.
For the stout of heart and open-minded only, Angel Noir is an excellent foray into the shadow and id, an artist's expression of our universal dark side.
The Gemini Virus, by Wil Mara, Forge Books (October 2, 2012)
Art, as Georges Braque said, is meant to disturb. Wil Mara's The Gemini Virus is a thriller about a virus that spreads as fast as the reader turns pages. Every once in a while you find a book that hooks you so hard you're yanked through its pages so fast that when you finally breathe and look at the little numbers up in the corner you're bona fide SHOCKED at how far into the book you already are. And at a lean less-than-300 pages, that makes The Gemini Virus burn as hot as the fevered characters who endure the wrath of this most horrid of new bugs. This one's almost ebola meets smallpox on steroids.
Mara manages a multi-layered story in the relatively short page count and juggles a complex plot and equally complex ensemble cast of characters. Much praise so far, but here is where I do get to play my reviewers' Insert Gripe card. Among the subplots/character arcs are: (A) Beck, of the Center for Disease Control, and Porter, a viral scientist, race to find the origins of and cure for, respectively, the Gemini Virus; (B) the political intrigue, tension mounting between countries as the possibility of terrorist involvement is pondered; (C) the story of an everyday family--they even have a pooch--on the run from the virus. There's lots afoot but those are the three main storylines--other than the general mayhem caused by an uber-deadly virus snuffing lives with a quickness. It's that last subplot that got on my nerves just a little. But that's just me. While I felt it was unnecessary--the political storylines served as sufficient breathers between scenes of Beck and Porter, etc.--many readers might connect with the all-American family caught in a horrid ordeal bigger than them and beyond their ability to control. Besides, their tale connects with the overall sweep of events in a most interesting twist.
Speaking of such, The Gemini Virus packs enough of those and pulls some clever, exciting and surprising denouements out of Wil Mara's hat of writing tricks. It's King's The Stand (minus the supernatural) filtered through the streamlining effects of Michael Crichton, with a bit of Koontz' humanity--and love for dogs.
Lest I leave you thinking this is a warm and fuzzy virus thriller, I'll note that this is among the gorier virus on a rampage novels I've consumed. Mara, though, while delivering grue slick as snot and blood, isn't lurid about it. His move-along writing delivers vivid imagery without over-the-top graphic prose. The Gemini Virus is a must-read for any fan of infectious books.
Resurrection Express, by Stephen Romano, Gallery
Books (September 18, 2012)
Forgive me if I deliberately avoid plot discussion--other than in the broadest of ways--for Resurrection Express. Take my word for this: The book moves like the second half of its title. As for the first half, well ... If I'm not going to spill (spoil!) the beans about the stack of plot twists that keeps this novel barrelling from action sequence to action sequence, I'm certainly going to leave you curious about just what "Resurrection" is.
Let's do our arithmetic here: Action plus pacing plus twists equals (already) one helluva list of ingredients. But the twists should point in your mind to the fact that there's plenty of story here with the action. A lot of it, and layered like a ginormous wedding cake. Besides the copious gunfights (complete with weaponry descriptions that have me thinking somebody's read their Mack Bolan), fistfights, explosions, brutality and so on, there is an intricate web of characters (along with their arcs) and mysteries crammed into enigmas packed to full in a big ol' box of holy freakin' crap!
Romano gives the reader no chance to find any footing. The plot persistently veers and curves like a mad Manhattan taxi driver, left turns with no blinkers keep the story simultaneously coiling in upon itself and unraveling, opening like a lotus flower to reveal more and more levels of a plot that goes deep. Way deep. The whiplash jerk-snap of the winding plot that packs not just guns but high tech hackerism, lending a (non-science fiction) cyberpunkish component to the novel.
The central character, Elroy Coffin, hardcase and computer whiz all in one package, is freshly freed from prison (through tenebrous means) and out to find his stolen wife. He finds MUCH more. Elroy is as much a victim of the hurricane of events with the bang-bang-bang and all the surprises as the reader. He's manipulated and harassed, chased and shot at. Romano puts Elroy through the same grinder as the reader, dishing out more hell on his head than that piled upon actor Bruce Campbell in director Sam Raimi's Evil Dead franchise. Resurrection Express is out of the gate like a rockethorse and the speed of the proceedings is relentless right up to the final page. The surprises, too, keep hammering away at you with no end in sight until the end - the very last @#^%# page! - of the book itself. I also appreciated the withering grimness that infuses Resurrection Express, a novel that is both intensely personal (Elroy's quest for his wife) and epic. Harrowing as any roller coaster slapped together minus a few bolts by a wicked carnie, the novel is a sucker punch of a book, laying on the blows from beginning to aaaaalllll the way to the END end, a boxer bound to take you down.
The Rustling of Leaves: An Adventure of Recovery, by Frank Costanzo, Writer's Showcase Press (August, 2000)
From the book's subtitle, you might be wonder what it's doing here at Noir Journal. This is, after all, a site devoted (mostly) to crime. It's not the homepage for a 12-step recovery program. But The Rustling of Leaves is more than just a twelve-stepper's Step Five put down in print. The Rustling of Leaves is part confessional, part spiritual reflection--and part real-life legal drama.
Writing from inside Folsom Prison, Frank Costanzo shares more than his substance abuse recovery and spiritual self-discovery, he also gives outsiders and insider's look at life in prison. On that level alone, the book is a valuable first-person document of behind-bars existence. That a man busted for relatively small-time white collar crimes ended up at Folsom Prison, of all places, points to another aspect of Costanzo's deeply personal memoir.
Costanzo's case is a touching and infuriating account about how one man began his own self-destruction and how a court of law nearly helped finished the job. It's also about finding darkness in the light. It's a multi-tiered book told in plain language. Costanzo is not a professional writer; he is a human being with a real story and it's one told in his own words and I can think of no one more qualified to do the telling. His down-to-earth style brings us vividly into not only Costanzo's life, but also his mind and spirit.
<Thanks to all the authors, publishers, and publicists for the review copies.>
Here we go again. Noir Journal's second annual Book Review Marathon. In Part 1, we'll present these four reviews from Noir Journal's senior reviewer, Ann Snuggs:
Hard Bite, by Anonymous-9
Trinity Game, by Sean Chercover
The Cocktail Waitress, by James M. Cain
Driven by James Sallis
Hard Bite, by Anonymous-9, Blasted Heath (October 20, 2012)
Dean Drayhart is a wheelchair-bound serial killer who uses a trained monkey to kill. This is a spoof, right?
Wrong. Our protagonist is a man with a mission. A hit-and-run driver put him in the chair, along with killing his daughter, so he is out to rid the world of as many of these scumbuckets as he can. He tracks them down like a bounty hunter.
Even though Dean admits that he loves to kill--as long as he feels that it's an execution--it's hard not to be on his side.
Admit it. Few, if any, people can claim to have never had the thought that the world would be better rid of certain people. Often it's a bigoted reaction to an ethnic category or political leaning, but this guy is acting on his vigilante convictions--from a wheelchair, no less.
The action kicks off with Dean and Sid--the monkey--heading out into the after-midnight Los Angeles drizzle to meet another hit-and-run killer on the pretext of selling a passport. It moves into high gear as the intended target backs off and Sid has to go into attack mode.
It turns into a messy night.
It is also the beginning of his undoing. Phrasing it to avoid as many spoilers as possible, the man he killed was not the man he thought he killed. Soon powerful forces in the underworld are hot on his track.
His apparently random killings didn't make the police radar but now certain powerful, felonious people are out for his blood.
Aided and abetted by his girlfriend Cinda, a lady of the night who finds him just what she needs for her personal relationship, Dean dodges his pursuers. But for how long?
For a short novel, Hard Bite is rich in complexities. Told by the killer, it grabs the reader from the first page. The characters--from the killer and his cohorts to his adversaries to the detectives mired in trying to untangle the web of information and misinformation--are well-drawn and vivid. The pace is excellent. The ending satisfies.
Using the adjective "delightful" for a noir tale seems discordant, but this book is quirky, dark, definitely noir, offbeat and utterly delightful in its uniqueness.
Personal note: When I read the synopsis of Hard Bite--wheelchair killer with monkey--I said, "Oh, please!" But after reading the first few pages that changed to, "Please let me review this one." I was not sorry. It's a re-reader. I can't wait to read it one more time to seek out nuances I may have missed the first time around.
The Cocktail Waitress, by James M. Cain, Hard Case Crime (2012)
James M. Cain's murky tales are a cornerstone of the noir genre. He died in 1977, leaving one unpolished novel to thrill his faithful fans. Thanks to Hard Case Crime, now The Cocktail Waitress is on the shelves, allowing devotees of the dark side one last chance to wallow in the mire of Cain's nasty characters' lives.
Poor Joan Medford. Pregnant and married at 17. A widow at 21. Her husband's family blames her for his accidental death. A police detective questions the circumstances of the accident. Her sister-in-law wants to steal her child. What's a poor girl to do but find any strategy that will bring her son back into her home and her arms?
Can she help it if the best job immediately available to a hungry young widow is that of a cocktail waitress? Or that she has a body that draws the attention of men?
Joan narrates the account. She's tired of taking the blame when everything that happened was bad circumstances. She wants to put down for the record the details of all that happened. If she was portrayed in a bad light, it was because others slanted the story. She wants to set it right. Now it's up to the reader to decide where the truth lies.
Cain gives Joan a plausible voice. Young girls can often be caught up in situations they fail to understand and find unexpected repercussions rippling through their lives. Is Joan an innocent caught up in the whirlpool and way in over her head? Or is she a conniving, scheming gold digger, using her body to gain her greedy aims?
Whatever Joan may be, Cain used his talents to create a tangled tale, sucking the reader into her story, no matter what conclusions may be drawn at the end.
And speaking of the end, there is a terrific, wicked noir twist in the last pages, easily grasped by older readers who remember the mid-1970s but possibly lost to younger readers. No court could ever punish with the harshness of this possible aftereffect. Any reader not immediately recognizing the consequences of Joan's actions should read the Afterward by Charles Ardai to understand the next crisis Joan may face.
The Cocktail Waitress is another gem for Cain fans - and all lovers of classic noir. Thanks, Hard Case Crime.
The Trinity Game, by Sean Chercover, Thomas & Mercer (2012)
Father Daniel Byrne is a man with unresolved issues. His parents died when he was born. His uncle who raised him was a Bible-thumping con man. Discovering that, at thirteen he ran away. The Catholic priests who took him in taught him boxing to release the tensions within. When he went into the priesthood he left behind newsgathering, dedicated reporter, Julia Rothman, the love of his life.
Now he seeks miracles. As an investigator for the Vatican's Office of the Devil's Advocate he travels extensively to examine claims of miraculous demonstrations of the presence of the Lord on Earth. In his years of doing this he has yet to find the true miracle he seeks to confirm his faith.
Now he has been sent to investigate the uncle he abandoned. It seems that Brother Tim Trinity has begun speaking in tongues with a hidden message. No longer is his gibberish simply garbled syllables. When the recordings are played backwards and sped up one-third they are prophesies. AND they are coming true!
The Catholic Church must have this man discredited.
Unknown to the Church, two international organizations - competitors - with tentacles reaching into Catholicism as well as the offices of governments throughout the world, know of Trinity's accuracy and they to want to stop or perhaps use him.
Meanwhile others are discovering this phenomenon. Brother Tim predicts weather and accidents on the freeway, sure, but he also throws in a few sports scores and horse racing results. Now organized criminal elements that control gambling recognize him as a threat.
Is there anyone not after this man?
Daniel's first step is to contact speech pathology experts. How would a person learn to do this trick? How many recordings would it take to perfect this charade? Can't be done, they tell him and then set out to prove it.
Confronted with this evidence, Daniel has no choice but to go face-to-face with the uncle he never wanted to see again. What he learns takes him on a high speed quest for the truth. On the way he discovers things in his uncle's history he never could have imagined, reconnects with his one and only love, revisits the sites of his early years and grows in the faith via unexpected paths.
With unique and interesting characters, fast-paced page-turning, a plot chock-full of twists and shifts, The Trinity Game is fascinating and hard to put down. Sean Chercover has created a great read - and maybe a great RE-read.
A word to the wise: The book will not be for everyone. Conservative religious readers might feel some parts tinge on blasphemy. Anyone who gets caught up in the con elements of Brother Tim may do an occasional eye-roll. (Those who think he's over-the-top have no familiarity with the Southern preacher/con man circuit.)
To enjoy this book to the fullest, it's important to remember that this is Daniel Byrne's story. Yes, a LOT of characters with attention-grabbing qualities are in these pages but the bottom line is: If they weren't contributing to Daniel's life situation, they wouldn't be in this book. He's a wonderful, complicated character. I'm glad I met him.
Driven, by James Sallis, Poisoned Pen Press (April 3, 2012)
When James Sallis' novel, Drive, first appeared in 2005, critics called it "perfect" . . . "a masterpiece" . . . "essential" . . . and a host of other superlatives. It's hard to challenge any of the praise.
This story of Driver--like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti Westerns he has no name - has layer after layer of depth built into it. The sparse, lean prose suits the protagonist. Driver is laconic, focused on what he does--drive --and has little concern for the niceties of life.
Placed in foster homes when his family disintegrated - read book for details--Driver discovered as a teen what he did best--drive. He raced a few cars but escaped his last foster home to run to L.A. There he found a new use for his talent - stunt driving in films. As a sideline he also took on a little criminal driving.
A heist gone bad takes him deeper and deeper into the dark side. He is caught in a web that requires more of him than just driving in order to survive--yet survive he does.
Seven years later Sallis presented the waiting world with a sequel to Drive--Driven.
Driven begins six years later in Driver's life. He has put the world of crime behind him, developed a success business in Phoenix and is moving toward marriage with the woman he loves.
His past comes back in a rush, out of the blue, when one Sunday morning he and Elsa are attacked. He kills both the attackers but not before they kill Elsa. It soon becomes plain that something from his previous life has come after him. Driver just doesn't know what or why. Unless he can unravel the wherefore and who, he may not get out of this one alive.
Using his ability to live with the bare necessities and the help of a few good friends he manages to stay a step or two ahead of his pursuers.
Both Drive and Driven give the reader fast action and a tangled tale to weave through.
However, read Drive first. Though it is possible to follow the action in Driven without reading Drive, part of the picture is missing. Much of the back story is fleshed out in Drive.
For this reviewer, much of the appeal was in the compactness of the narrative. Drive--with all its action, complexity, flash backs , and philosophy--took less time to read than the run time of the film based, - VERY loosely, on the book.
And there's a caution. Anyone who thinks, "I saw the movie. Why should I read the book?" is far off the mark. Buddy, you don't know what you're missing if you skip the print.
These books are riveting. The little nuggets of philosophical comment tucked amid all the fast action are intriguing. Existentialism? You bet. In spite of the feeling of constant movement and rapid pace, there is a rich, thoughtful texture that makes them a real pleasure to read - with one little complaint.
Driven has one of those "write the details yourself" endings--always a bit annoying. A book is the author's story, not the reader's. From this viewpoint, an author has not completed his job if he does not present the reader with his unabridged vision.
And one last picky comment from a noir purist: Though these have been categorized as noir, they don't meet a purist's criteria. It seems that nowadays any dark crime tale gets dumped into the noir bin, but pure noir requires certain elements. Driver has an almost tragic aspect in his persona. He is what he is and reacts as he does because he is what he is. He can no more alter this than Antigone could let her brother lie unburied. (Character essence is what makes the difference between melodrama and tragedy.) While there can be an element of tragedy in noir, pure noir must also contain a moral facet. Drive and Driven are definitely not morality tales.
For all who want skip the philosophy and just cut to the chase--nice suitable phrase here--go read these books. You won't regret it.
About the Reviewer
Ann Snuggs has written everything from advertising copy to poetry; newspaper columns to novels. She wrote her first novel, Donovan's Trail, a number of years ago; but it is available to the public for the first time this year, in Kindle format. Currently, Ann is working on memoirs with child star of the 1930s Dick Jones and is editing a second novel for Kindle.
Thanks to all the authors, publishers, and publicists for review copies of these four novels and many more.
Coming soon: Book Review Marathon, Part 2.
Noir Journal's ace reviewer, Ann Snuggs, just published her own first novel.
Donovan's Trail, by Ann Snuggs
Donovan's Trail, written by Ann Snuggs, is now available in the Kindle format at Amazon.com. A traditional Western, definitely PG-rated, Donovan's Trail tells the story of Tom Donovan, sheriff of Sundown, whose devotion to duty and the letter of the law conflict with personal considerations when his finance's brother goes wrong and the man who killed his father reappears in his town.
Reviewed by Kristofer Upjohn
There are probably a lot of arguments among fans of the Western. At least, there's definitely some generation gap, culture clash, whatever you want to call it. You see, it has been argued by some that there is the classic Western and then there is the new Western. Cinematically, you can point back to [fill in the blank of John Wayne movie here] and witness classic Western cinema. You can turn to the likes of Sergio Leone and his "spaghetti Westerns" as a watershed moment for the Western. Now you have "modern" Westerns such as "Unforgiven" or the "3:10 To Yuma" remake, the likes of which stick in the craw of fans of more vintage stylings.
The same could probably be said about the Western novel. L'Amour, Luke Short, Max Brand, Zane Grey, et al, have huge canons of fiction to represent the old guard. Then you have Larry McMurtry and others representing the more contemporary Western (by "contemporary" I mean style, not temporal setting of the story, but you probably figured that).
At any rate, the Western has changed.
So it will come as a joy to long-time Western readers of the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it variety to know that such a novel as Donovan's Trail by Ann Snuggs has ridden into town. Doffing its hat and introducing itself, the novel reveals to the reader that there's lots of introducing in the works. Snuggs has filled her exemplary novel with a full cast of rich characters. No fear, though; the reader needn't chug through page after page after get-on-with-it-PLEASE! page of introductions. The characters are deftly integrated into the story as their presence is required and we get to know them through the much-lauded/oft-ignored show-don't-tell method.
Which is to say, Snuggs by no means tortures the Western fan with laborious exposition.
That's good. Great, in fact. Sure, a huge historical epic with a massive temporal scope, such as James Michener was wont to write, warrants lengthy passages and a heady page count. Not so the traditional Western.
And that, folks, is what we have here. I was reminded strongly of the character depth and economy of words that are hallmarks of great Western fiction (that same economy applies to crime/noir, as well, but that's a different review, isn't it?), and Louis L'Amour came to mind more than once. However, let's dispel any inferences that Snuggs is just following the L'Amour template. No, her book invites qualitative comparisons to L'Amour but Donovan's Trail is hardly derivative.
For a genre that's been around for a long time and which has produced a boggling number of slender--and some not-so-slender-- volumes for the gazillions of oat opera fans to consume, it says something for Snuggs as a storyteller that one doesn't feel like he (or she) is retreading the same old ground. Despite the assertion I've heard more than once that there are something like six basic Western storylines, I credit the author with a healthy serving of originality, heaped up like a cowboy's hard-earned dinner. By now, the Western palate ought to be thirsty for suchy a book, like an outlaw crawling in from the desert craves agua.
One disclaimer is in order: Just because I consider this old-school Western writing should not suggest that it's (a) inaccessible to contemporary readers or fans of the modern Western, or (b) wordy like some of the REAL old-school Old West writers. Snuggs' prose is as lean as her book is packed. The prose is economical yet vivid, and the story gallops forward with nary a stumble. The reader isn't given the chance to be bored. There's nothing but meat here - no fat. Everything is in place, from a story tapestry woven out of several engaging plot threads (none gratuitous) to a colorful cast of characters, each imbued with depth and dimension. Standouts are a dastardly bastard of a villain, mean as hell and just as cunning - and no cardboard cutout. Katie, Sheriff Tom Donovan's love interest, is more than just a pretty face in a pretty dress wringing her hands, awaiting rescue from the guy in the ten gallon.Donovan's sidekick Ben is a particularly robust character, especially given his co-starring role.
And, of course, there's Donovan himself, who must be at the very least an interesting lawman for the readers' sake. Snuggs meets and exceeds that bar as she does all others. Donovan is a great Western lawman, moral quandry or no. But his soul-deep wrestling with trying to get his black-and-white morality to jibe with all the grays is at least as compelling as the surface story with which it is entwined. Further, in the course of learning that there's a spectrum between good and evil, he has to be careful to accept shades of gray without sliding all the way over to the evil himself and becomng the very thing he hates.
About the Author
Ann Snuggs was creating stories from the time she could talk. Her mother transcribed then - for family enjoyment only. A lifelong writer, she has written everything from advertising copy to poetry, newspaper columns to novels. She considers herself a true writer-- one who writes like she breathes, no matter what she writes, because it is necessary for living.
Donovan's Trail is her first novel, written a number of years ago but available to the public for the first time this year. Currently it is available only in Kindle format but Ann hopes to have a print edition available before the end of the year.
She has two other books to her credit, Riding the (Silver Screen) Range and Uncredited: Cliff Lyons, On & Off Screen, both non-fiction on the topic of Western movies.
Having an interest in design, Ann also created the cover art for both Donovan's Trail and her book on Cliff Lyons.
At this time, Ann reviews for Noir Journal; is working on memoirs with child star of the 30s Dick Jones, who was the voice of Pinocchio for Disney; is editing a second novel for Kindle availability; and, of course, journals.
Technorati Tags: 3:10 To Yuma, Ann Snuggs, Cliff Lyons, Donovan's Trail, John Wayne, Kristofer Upjohn, L'Amour, Larry McMurtry, Luke Short, Max Brand, noir fiction, noir novel, On and Off Screen, Riding the (Silver Screen) Range, Sergio Leone, spaghetti Westerns, Unforgiven, westen, western fiction, western novel, Zane Grey
Noir Journal 57 features a guest post by noir woodcut artist Loren Kantor from L.A. as well as a sampling of his work and links to his site.
Loren Kantor on His Noir Woodcuts
I was first exposed to film noir as a child through the Warner Brothers cartoons. There was a Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1946 called Racketeer Rabbit that featured animated gangsters based on Edward G. Robinson and Peter Lorre. I used to mimic the cartoon voice of Edward G. without knowing who he was or where he came from. My father was a film editor at Columbia Pictures and in the early 70's he borrowed 16mm film prints and screened them in our living room for the neighborhood. This is how I saw my first true film noir, DOA. From the moment Edmond O'Brien walked into the police station to report his own murder I was hooked. There was something twisted and mysterious about the film, an edge I couldn't find in the boring Hardy Boys books I was reading.
On Saturday nights, my dad took me, my brother, and my sister to a revival film theater in Hollywood across from Fairfax High School. We watched vintage silent comedies (Chaplin & Keaton) and old Republic Serials (Flash Gordon, Captain Marvel). My favorite movies were the detective classics like Murder, My Sweet and The Big Sleep. I became obsessed with Bogart and I often stayed up late watching Bogie on tv.
During my college days at UCLA, I took a film noir class and immersed myself in the classics: Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Laura. I fell in love with the stark black and white photography, the sinister shadows, the cynical heroes and enticing femme fatales. My favorite film noir was Fritz Lang's The Big Heat. Police detective Glenn Ford takes on a syndicate boss and his evil henchman Lee Marvin. When Glenn Ford's wife is killed by a car bomb intended for him, you realize you've entered a film world that does not play by "happily ever after" rules. Lee Marvin's character takes pleasure in burning women with cigarette butts and throwing hot coffee in his girlfriend's face. The movie is ruthless and intense and the hero is only able to carry out justice after resigning from the police force and living by his own moral code.
The heyday of film noir (post-WWII through the mid 50's) equated with an America that was emerging from a decade of depression and four years of war. People were ready to be happy again and with the advent of inexpensive houses, cars and appliances, America was a fantasyland of possibility. But beneath the surface there were rising tensions of racism, anti-Communist paranoia, and fear of the nuclear age. Film noir allowed writers and directors to explore the dichotomy of the period; the dark shadows beneath the bright lights; the collusion between police departments and organized crime; the commonality between violent thugs and successful businessman. Noir showed the audience that the old America filled with honor and truth was not to be trusted. The system was corrupt and only those who forged their own way following their own moral code could emerge with their soul intact.
My interest in woodcuts began in the mid-1980's. I attended a German Expressionist art show at LA County Museum and I encountered the woodcut prints and paintings of George Grosz, Kathe Kollwitz, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. I was mesmerized. I loved the stark lines and bold imagery. I was also blown away by the dark subject matter. Characters expressed emotional angst and images focused on the violent and unpleasant aspects of society. I was writing screenplays in those days and I never envisioned attempting woodcut carving myself. But the images remained in my subconscious and whenever I saw a woodcut print I felt a sense of excitement.
I became an Assistant Director and worked on films, commercials and tv shows through the 80's & 90's. In the early 90's, I moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco where I became a freelance writer and videomaker. I lived near the San Francisco Mission District which housed small art galleries on every block. I came across a new generation of woodcut & linocut artists, most of whom were Latino. Again, I was enthralled.
I moved back to LA, met my future wife, and got married. Several years ago, my wife surprised me with a woodcutting set for my birthday. I checked out a few online tutorial videos and I dove in, head first. The carving process was difficult at first. I cut myself often, the blocks were ragtag and I felt like a kindergartner with his first set of finger paints. But before long I got the hang of it.
The idea to carve images from Classic Movies and Noir Films came about because we needed art for our walls at home. I realized the stark imagery of black & white films was a perfect match for the carved lines of a woodcut. The roots of film noir cinematography came from German Expressionist movies so this provided a nice link to the woodcuts.
I'll soon be carving a series of femme fatales (Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, and Rita Hayworth) as well as woodcuts based on the film noir posters of Director Jules Dassin (Rififi, The Naked City, Thieves Highway, and Brute Force).
Film Noir continues to inspire me. Hopefully film preservationists will continue to unearth new gems that I have yet to experience. I can't wait.
Loren Kantor is a screenwriter and woodcut artist based in Los Angeles. He loves classic movies and old Los Angeles. His woodcuts are featured on his blog woodcuttingfool.blogspot.com
WOODCUT LINKS (from my blog)
Technorati Tags: baca, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, bogart, Brando, Brute Force, Buscemi, Cagney, Corleone, DOA, Edmond O'Brien, Edward G Robinson, femme fatale, film noir, Fritz Lang, George Grosz, Glenn Ford, Jules Dassin, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Kathe Kollwitz, Lee Marvin, linocut, Murder, My Sweet, n Kantor, Palance, Racketeer Rabbit, Rififi, Rita Hayworth, Robert Mitchum, The Big Heat, The Big Sleep, The Godfather, The Naked City, Thieves Highway, woodcuts
Laurence MacNaughton recently released his debut novel, the supernatural thriller, Conspiracy of Angels (NLA Digital Platform LLC, June 14, 2012).
Noir Journal thanks MacNaughton for the following guest post, info and reviews, as well as a sneak preview: Chapter One of Conspiracy of Angels.
Guest post by Laurence MacNaughton
The Long Way Down
Before I became a full-time writer, I had a day job test-driving prototype vehicles. Trucks, luxury cars, experimental hybrids, you name it. We covered them in black padding to disguise their body contours, then wired them up with sensors to track everything from how many hours the headlights lasted to how much vibration we got when we slammed the door. Those hand-built vehicles sometimes cost the manufacturers a half-million dollars or more. So we tried to crash as few as possible. But sometimes, accidents happen.
My driving routes brought me through areas of Denver that few people ever dare to visit: abandoned factory buildings, mud-choked construction sites, railroad yards covered in graffiti. By the end of the day, my mind was a labyrinth of dark and dirty places, populated by the odd people I'd sometimes see there. I'd often write about them deep into the night, until they ended up populating my debut novel, Conspiracy of Angels.
But not all of my test drives were confined to the city. One crisp October day, we had an assignment to take a prototype SUV on a high-altitude test. Some Detroit engineer who had never set foot in the Rocky Mountains had made up a test route that took us up an old mining trail through an undeveloped mountain pass. My driving partner and I dutifully threaded our way up past the treeline around boulders and washed-out ditches, trying to cope with the fact that the "road" that we were supposed to follow basically didn't exist. The track was so narrow and steep that when you looked out one window, all you could see was rocks and tundra. Out the other window, nothing but empty air and steel-gray clouds.
As we neared the top, it started snowing. The visibility dropped. The temperature plummeted, and the rocks we were driving on got slicker by the minute. Right then, I knew that no one belonged there on that mountain trail. Not in a 4x4 truck, not even on foot. I stopped and checked our surroundings, but I couldn't see much more than rocks and falling snow. Something about that place was so lonely, so forbidding, that it's still frozen into my memory. We could die up here, I thought. And weirdly enough, at that moment I knew how my book would end. Funny how the mind works.
I think the best stories are born in moments like that. When we push beyond the boundaries of our everyday lives, we reach a limit that we never knew existed, and we have to make choices. Those choices define us.
I chose to abort the altitude test. My partner and I were professional drivers, and we got down off of that mountain without incident, but in hindsight we never should've gone up there. Not in those conditions, not in those vehicles. Our overconfidence led us up into that rarefied air near the mountain top and kept us going, even when one slip could have sent us plunging over the edge into nothing.
Moments like that never leave you. I don't know how everyone else makes sense of them, but I write stories.
Conspiracy of Angels is a story about what happens to people when they step up to the edge of the abyss, and they look out, and the decisions they make in that moment change them forever. You come down from the mountain just a little bit changed. And that's the moment I try to capture every time I sit down to write a story.
Author Bio: Laurence MacNaughton
Laurence MacNaughton's articles and stories have appeared in Writers' Journal, The Rocky Mountain Writer, Pyramid Magazine, Cabal Asylum and The Inkwell. He teaches fiction writing at YouCanWriteANovel.com. For more information please visit http://LaurenceMacNaughton.com.
Just out of prison, ex-convict Mitch Turner is determined to put his life back on track and find out the truth about his daughter’s mysterious death. But when his daughter’s best friend, Geneva, discovers a cryptic piece of top-secret technology, the two of them are thrust into the cross-hairs of a deadly living weapon.
It’s known only by a code name: Archangel. It’s fast, invulnerable, inhuman. And its next target is Mitch.
The Archangel is more than just a relentless killer. It’s a gatekeeper of the dangerous boundary that divides this world from the next. And it’s Mitch’s only chance of learning the dark truth about what happened to his daughter.
Outnumbered, outgunned and on the run, Mitch and Geneva race to outsmart an elite force determined to silence them. Can they uncover the conspiracy before the Archangel unleashes its deadly secret on all of humanity?
"Killer dialog, plenty of action, and an uber-cool cast of characters make this a must-read."
—J.A. Konrath, author of the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels thrillers
"Conspiracy of Angels is a terrific read, a white-knuckle thrill ride that grabs you by the throat—and the heart—and doesn’t let go."
—Jenny Siler, author of Flashback and Shot
"Laurence MacNaughton's Conspiracy of Angels is a thrilling adventure--a mix of horror and thoughtful intrigue. A debut of a new talent well worth exploring deep into the night."
—James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of the Sigma Force series
Conspiracy of Angels
When Mitch heard the crash in the backyard, he thought about getting his .45, and then remembered it was all the way upstairs in his bedroom. He set down the plate of barbecue ribs on the kitchen table and picked up the big steel spatula Bryce had given him as a parole gift. As quietly as he could manage, he crept over to the back door and peered outside.
The backyard was knee-deep in weeds, the leaves shaking in the cold Colorado rain. A big tree limb had busted off the apple tree just inside the wooden fence. Bare splinters of wood littered the ground. As he watched, a girl climbed out of the branches, trailing leaves. She had straight black hair and eye shadow he could see from across the yard. The rest of her was lost inside an old black overcoat. She looked young, barely out of her teens. About the age Jocelyn would've been, if she were still alive.
She spotted him through the clear glass door, so he slid it open and stepped out onto the chilly back patio. As she brushed off the leaves, she never took her gaze off him. She had eyes that were older than her years. Tense, but not scared. Her breath steamed in the cold air.
Mitch had the impression she was sizing him up. A sleepy-eyed ex-con pushing fifty, sandy hair edging toward gray, arms thick from killing too much time lifting weights. She didn't look too impressed.
She brushed long strands of wet hair out of her face. "Your name Mitchell Turner?"
He walked out to the grill, ignoring the rain, and shut the lid. He leaned on the warm handle, suddenly conscious of the fact that he was still in his bathrobe in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, when ordinary decent people were at work. It embarrassed him a little. "Tell you what, kid. First, maybe you should explain to me why the hell you're trespassing in my backyard."
She came closer, her chin thrust out, trying to look mean. Like maybe she didn't trust a big, half-dressed ex-con who was old enough to be her dad. Of all things.
Her gaze went to the open door behind him, checking it out, then back to him. That seemed more than a touch suspicious. He didn't know what she was planning, considering she was half his size. Maybe she had friends out front. Mitch straightened up.
Quietly, she said, "Are you Jocelyn's dad?"
It caught him off guard, this punk kid bringing his daughter's name back from the dead, like it was no big deal. Like maybe Jocelyn had just run out for cigarettes and she'd be back any minute now.
Sometimes, he felt like that. Like she would just walk in, the door would bang, and she'd be home. Mad at him for something or other.
But she wouldn't. She was dead, four years now, died in a hospital in some mountain town he'd never heard of. He'd been called out of his cell and told by a counselor. He'd had to use the grimy prison phone to arrange the funeral.
"Hey, hello?" The girl waved a hand in front of his face. "Are you Jocelyn's dad or not?"
He cleared his throat and looked down at the girl with the eye shadow and black lipstick. "Jocelyn's passed away. I'm sorry."
"But you're Mitchell Turner. You're Jocelyn's dad. Yes or no?"
That caught him off guard. "You knew my daughter?"
"I'm the one asking the questions here."
"You heard me."
Mitch felt his temper lighting up. "Look, what the hell do you want, kid?"
"I want to know what they told you. About Jocelyn's death."
Mitch wanted to ask, What who told me? But he felt himself going into a slow boil. "Listen, kid. Whatever business my daughter had with you, it's finished. It's done. Now get the hell out."
"It was your project that killed her. It was your fault."
"You turn around and get the hell out of my backyard. Better yet, how 'bout I throw you over the fence myself?" He took a step toward her, went to grab her by the arm.
She stepped back out of reach, quick, and brought up a chunky black pistol in both hands. "Don't even." She didn't blink. The pistol didn't shake. She aimed it right at his chest.
It made Mitch hesitate.
He held his hands up slowly. This changed things. But he figured that as long as she kept asking questions, she wouldn't really shoot him. Not yet, anyway.
"Drop the thing," she said.
She pointed with her chin. "The thing."
The spatula. He was still holding it. "All right, fine." He reached over to set it on the grill.
"Drop it. Now."
"Take it easy. This is my favorite spatula." He set it down gently.
"Whatever." She glanced at the open doorway, then back at him. "You know, you don't look much like a scientist."
This kid just kept getting weirder. "Science wasn't my best subject. But I'll tell you what. I'll say 'billions and billions' a couple times. How's that?"
She didn't even hint at a smile. Probably didn't get it. And she was still aiming that funny-looking gun. Mitch didn't recognize it. He figured maybe it was one of those plastic guns, the kind that fooled metal detectors.
He tried a different tactic. "Honey, look. I just got out. Okay?"
"Of prison. You obviously got me mixed up with some other Mitch Turner. There's a lot of us in town. Just look in the damn phone book. I'm not a scientist. I'm not anything."
"Yeah? Well, I'm not your honey."
"Okay, fine. Long as we understand each other, you can put the gun down, huh?" He waited. "No? All right, listen, why don't we get in out of the rain, at least?" That way, Mitch figured, maybe there was a chance Bryce would pull his head out of the computer long enough to hear them and do something. God only knew what. Hopefully not call the cops. That was the last thing he needed, giving the cops an excuse to crawl around his house and find the guns he'd just bought.
She didn't budge. "I want to know why you started Project Archangel."
"Don't play games with me. You're Jocelyn's father. You were in charge of the program."
"Honey, I never been in charge of anything. And that's a good thing. A guy like me takes charge, things get a habit of turning all screwy."
She started to look a little unsure of herself. She glanced back over her shoulder, the way she'd come in. But with the tree limb busted off, there was no climbing back out. She was stuck here.
"So what's your name?" Mitch said.
She looked all around, like she was weighing her options. "Geneva."
"Geneva. That's a place."
"Ha. Ha. No, really, I've never heard that before."
He shrugged. "I'm going inside. You want to come in, you better put the hardware away. You like barbecue ribs?" She didn't answer, so he stepped inside and leaned on the door handle. As she walked by, he got a good look at the gun.
It wasn't real.
It was made out of plastic, for one thing, and a little green light glowed near her thumb. The barrel didn't end in a hole, but a lens, like one of those video game guns Bryce kept up in his room.
Mitch let out a long breath. Every muscle in his body seemed to unclench, and he felt like bursting out with a laugh. At least now he knew what he was dealing with. Some nutball kid with a toy gun.
She looked around the kitchen. "Nice place." The sarcasm was obvious.
He went around to the table and sat down. "Yeah? My brother kept it up while I was inside. All the comic book stuff, the Nintendo in the living room, that's all his. Don't touch it."
"So. Prison. What did you go for?"
"Breaking into people's houses and asking them stupid questions." Mitch picked up the biggest rib on the plate. The steam coming off of it made his eyes water. It looked so good, so charred and spicy and perfect, he had to swallow before he opened his mouth. "I been waiting five years for this rib. You know that? Five freakin' years."
He sank his teeth into it, and for a moment his mouth was overloaded with sensation. It was every bit as good as he hoped. Spicy, but not too hot. Tangy, with a touch of smoke. When he opened his eyes, the girl was still standing there, glaring with eyes thickly lined in black.
Still chewing, he pointed at the plate. "You want one?"
"Why'd you do it?"
"Oh, for the love of . . ." Mitch put the rib down and wiped his mouth. Damn, it was good. And she was ruining it. He talked around a mouthful of barbecue. "Look. I'm going to say this one last time. And that's it. So listen. I'm no scientist. I don't know any angels. And no amount of you standing there giving me the Morticia Addams is gonna change anything. You got that? So you can either get out of here, or sit down and have a rib. Either way, shut up and let me eat. That's the deal."
"Nice performance," she said, a hint of fake sweetness in her voice. "You get an Oscar."
Mitch hung his head. This kid was going to give him indigestion.
He heard Bryce come out of his bedroom and come thumping down the stairs. Please, Mitch prayed, let him be dressed. The last thing he needed to add to this mix was his three-hundred-pound brother walking in wearing tighty-whities and a Superman shirt.
Bryce stopped midway down the stairs. He was wearing pants, thank God.
Bryce looked at the kid, then Mitch. Mitch figured Bryce couldn't see the toy gun from the stairs, not with the way she was holding it down by her hip.
Bryce looked completely at a loss. Not used to visitors. "Who's this?"
"Bryce, this is Paris."
"Geneva," she said.
"Whatever. She was just leaving. You wanna get the door for her?"
She squared her shoulders. "I'm not going anywhere until I get some answers."
"What are you gonna do? Change my channel?"
"You don't want me to shoot you."
"Oh, yes I do. Go ahead." Mitch held his arms open wide. "Come on, you can't miss me from here."
She brought the plastic gun up in both hands.
Bryce gripped the banister like it was going to fall off. "Dude, she's got a gun!"
Mitch sighed. "It's not a gun."
"That's right," Geneva said. "It's a pulse weapon. Just like the one your people designed. It's the only thing that can hurt the Archangel. But it can't kill it. And that's what I need to know."
"You lost me in the middle there."
Slowly, she said, "How do I kill the Archangel?"
Mitch turned to Bryce. "You see what I'm up against?"
Bryce's forehead wrinkled up. "I think she's serious."
"Oh, for the love of God. You." Mitch stood up and came around the table. "Get the hell out of my house. Right now."
She backed up, the gun aimed steady at him. "Don't make me do it."
"You know, this was funny for a little while. Now you're pissing me off." He grabbed her arm.
The world went instantly white, like an insanely bright flashbulb had gone off with him in the middle of it. A bolt of lightning scorched through his body. Time stopped. All of his thoughts crashed into each other in a mad jumble of white heat. His body hung in the air, suspended in the blinding light. Behind him, glass exploded into ghostly crystalline whispers.