Table of Contents

Spring 2009

From The Editor

Letter from Jack Getze

Short Stories

Patrick Whittaker

9:03

Anthony Rainone

Fall to Pieces

Phil Beloin

Late, After Dinner

Jake Nantz

Midnight on the Links

Stephen D. Rogers

Queen Anne's Lace

Mike Sheeter

Blue Fugazzi

David Moss

The Sleepy Pines Nursing Home

Fiona Kay Crawford

Successful Surgeon

Graham Powell

The Ins and Outs

John Towler

The Fall

Damien Seaman

Thursday Night Blowout

Matthew Acheson

Writing on the Wall

Interviews

Sandra Ruttan with Russel D. McLean

Declan Burke with Brian McGilloway

Jim Napier with Phyllis Smallman

Brian Lindenmuth with Craig McDonald

Reviews by:

P.A. Brown

Mexican Heat

Gloria Feit

Friend of the Devil

Theodore Feit

Death Was in the Picture

A Beautiful Place to Die

Night and Day

Claire McManus

The Hanged Man

The Poisoner of Ptah

My Sister, My Love

The Cruelest Month

Jim Winter

Trigger City

The Fourth Victim

TKO

Bookspot Review Roundup

Book Excerpt

The Big O
by Declan Burke

Featured Article

Passing of the Torch - Celebrated crime novelist dies
by Jim Napier

Bookspot Review Roundup

Incognito #1 review, new series from Brubaker and Phillips reviewed by Jay Tomio - http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2009/01/incognito-1-review-brubaker-phillips-comic-book/

Brubaker became the preeminent writer of the American Icon, by pulling off the biggest crime in recent memory, and doing it in brazen and economical fashion - you can't kill Captain America any other way. He just had him got.

Brubaker is a crime writer.

He got to his story by murdering somebody.

That's Crime 101.

It's not meant to be a statement that places limitations; crime is universal - in every era, every locale. It is society's mazes – the rat race if you will - that Brubaker chose to examine in Incognito.
What does one do when he is above the herd? What occurs when what allows for your lofty vantage is taken away? Upon getting such stature
back, how does one react– what would somebody learn? Do you escape the maze just to be put into a cage?

These are the questions that the central character of the first issue,
Zach Overkill, confronts. A past that involves him having superhuman abilities, using them for crime, being captured, turned, and neutralized. Assimilation. What happens when the means and the mask of self-importance is removed? If our heroes don't have some definitive occurrence happen to them in an alley - from Batman to Spawn – which of them don't find perch on the edge of rooftops? The art moves effortlessly in making both worlds one, where in those alleys could dwell both common muggers and super-villains alike. Where drugs remain a common escape, or act as super pills.

What makes the first issue of Incognito successful are not the questions raised and offered for examination. The success is that the psychological and social commentary is able to be put aside, understood, and forgotten long enough for an issue wrap up that is essentially an old-school, pulp villain mad scientist; whose maniacal laughter is sure to come, and something we still hear even when there remains no panel left to give echo it.

Caine Black Knife by Matthew Stover reviewed by Jay Tomio -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/10/book-review-caine-black-knife/

In previous novels Matthew Stover has shown us a star ascending, in his prime and during a fall. A god killer, creator, and husband of one - he is the unlikely pawn that is the habitual line stepper and reaches points to crown himself, but instead of turning around he jumps off. Through this, one would think we know the make-up of Caine, the complex extremity of his simplicity, and that perhaps all his stories left to be told are in the future and beyond. Caine Black Knife is a treat as we are proven wrong, we have seen the extent of the will - of the star - that acts to both humanize the character while also being what makes Caine almost super-human but we haven't seen its origin or more importantly, its utter acceptance. Stover gives us two overlapping stories; one that goes further down the road we've walked with Caine and one that backtracks to the moment that
Caine finally arrived.

There is always a danger revealing too much of an existing character; that something that gives almost terms like prequel a negative connotation , but as Stover readers know - he has no such problems with prequels. Stover makes an interesting and effective narrative choice with Caine Black Knife making it almost a complete telling from Caine that completely sells the early adventure. This is Caine's story - where he becomes center stage and chooses to never let go, as to ever let go, to question his moment of ascension is to indict himself.

Perhaps what continues to be Stover's greatest and most persistent accomplishment that is continued in Caine Black Knife is his avoidance of settling on roles. Ancillary characters are not just obstacles or helping hands and Stover does not stage them as such. Neither are they props to be universally viewed or considered unanimously. He doesn't tug at that certain emotional line anchored and represented by single characters; he understands we and they are and would be more complex than that, or simple enough to misunderstand anyway. We are not brought to choices made for us; we continually make them and have them challenged. They are subject to be reinforced or betrayed but to never be left decided absolutely and Caine himself is no exception.

I have a hard time coming up with a book I was expecting more than
Caine Black Knife.  Equally, I have a hard time coming up with a book
I more enjoyed.

Batman: Murder At Wayne Manor by Duane Swierczynski reviewed by Jay Tomio - http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/09/graphic-novel-review-batman-murder-at-wayne-manor/

David Lapham and Duane Swierczynski. The former wrote, drew, and created the series that brought the indie crime element everybody takes credit for now popularizing in modern comic with his Stray Bullets, a crime – not just comic – classic. The latter spend his nights writing crime novels that have quickly become my favorite to recommend – to currently not like Duane Swierczynski is to freely admit you'll never be hip.

The story takes place in the formative years, when Batman's fights were in alleys and along side roads, when he was the freak in the costume. A body of a women is found by landscapers doing work at Wayne Manor and the mystery begin that will challenge Bruce's foundation; the orphan's foundation – the idea, the ideal, that his father was a good man. Messing with the memory of Batman's father is putting into question the mantra that allows the Dark Knight to exist.

The subtitle of this book is An Interactive Mystery. There is truth to the title as the book itself offers fully interactive clues, an old photograph, a coaster, a terrific section of a newspaper and more and they are there for you to examine, turn over, interact with. There is danger with stories like this becoming more novelty than substance and though the mystery itself is not one that you won't discern before you run out of the pages the discovery is that you aren't alone. It's a rather clever misdirection in that way but by no means a book that's trying to set standards, it exists knowingly as a chapter in a story that later becomes one.

Upon conclusion what you are left with from Batman: Murder at Wayne Manor is - in terms production value - is a real quality production. It's a graphic novel that was constructed with care and its biggest drawback is with little doubt its value as a book in terms of re-readability. As I noted before, the mystery itself is rather minimal, and upon a second read the comic book fan will notice appearances of some of their other favorite creators in panels but after that you are left with something that is done, something that is complete. To that, I'd say not everything in life is meant to uncorked and enjoyed at leisure over and over. Put the decanter away, take a shot with Swierczynski the wheelman, and Lapham riding 'gun. You'd be
a fool to ride along, but travel is this fool's paradise.

The Mammoth Book of Crime Comics reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2009/01/the-electric-mayhem-december-08-mysterycrime-fiction/

With the rise in popularity of crime comics in recent years it would be easy to think the marriage of crime and comics was a recent one but in fact it's a relationship that goes back decades as this collection shows. Commercial and critical successes some of the best crime fiction coming out right now, regardless of medium, is in the comics field and some of the best crime fiction writers are in. With all of this activity it would be easy to think that we are only now entering into an era of crime comics.

Some of the stories are a little prose heavy and light on art; others are heavy on the atmosphere and light on the story but all in all this is a great book for any collection and one that couldn't have come at a better time.

This collection is a must own for fans of either comics or crime fiction. For those who have ever wondered what an Ed McBain story would look like using Sin City's palette or for those who thought that a crime story written by Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore would be cool then this one is for you. Actually, regardless of who you are this one is for you.

 

Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2009/01/the-electric-mayhem-december-08-mysterycrime-fiction/

I liked Small Crimes but it's not the masterpiece that others have been proclaiming it as. It's a problematic book with an over-reliance on coincidence to advance the plot and scenes that are supposed to be rife with tension seem to lack it and are just…flat.

There also is a plot point — a did-he-or-didn't-he act from the past — that is left unresolved for much of the book until the end when the protag in a blasé, what was the point moment, casually states whether he did or didn't. There was greater tension to be had by NOT resolving the matter and leaving the reader to wonder then by inserting it at the end in order to tie up, what some would consider, a loose end.

Note to authors and readers everywhere: It's ok sometimes to leave sub-plots open, it's a device that has merit and should be considered more often.

Now I'll be the first to admit that some of my complaints are a matter of taste, specifically flat scenes and the resolution of sub-plots, and I can reconcile the two in my mind when I present a book’s faults but I do think that the over-reliance on coincidence is something set in stone and damn near indisputable and is what ultimately knocked the book down a few notches in my book.

Toros and Torsos by Craig McDonald reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2009/01/the-electric-mayhem-december-08-mysterycrime-fiction/

Toros and Torsos is the second Hank Lassiter book released after last years Head Games. The events here take place chronologically before those in Head Games. In Toros & Torsos the friendship of Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway is pushed front and center. In fact Hemingway almost threatens to dominate the story here, which is probably apropos given the gregarious nature of personality. What's really interesting about McDonald's characterization of Hemingway though is the life that he breaths into the character. He feels much more human here than his legend over the years. It's an engaging portrait and McDonald's affection for his subject is apparent on every page.

As before Lassiter though is the draw here. His personality is engaging and the scenes with him just crackle. He is quickly becoming a modern classic and one of the great characters of the genre.

Orson Welles is back and it's interesting to see these three dominant personalities interact with one another. It's to McDonald's credit that he is able to control them as much as does, especially in the case of Welles and Hemingway, because it would be easy to just fall back on the written history of these men's lives and recycle old anecdotes. Again McDonald shows great talent in being able to humanize these characters without taking away from who they were and what we know of them.

After reading two of them I'm fully prepared to say that I love the
Hank Lassiter books and with his life spanning much of the century and his adventures bringing him into contact with so many prominent historical figures Hank Lassiter is practically something of a pulp fiction Forrest Gump.

Greasing the Piñata by Tim Maleeny reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2009/01/the-electric-mayhem-december-08-mysterycrime-fiction/

Anyone who has read my reviews knows that I really liked Tim Maleeny's first two Cape Weathers books. They were a lot of fun to read and I enjoyed the stories and characters. I won't go so far as to say that Greasing the Piñata is a dud but it is the weakest book so far. The characters felt like they were just going through the motions and the sense of fun that so grabbed me for the first just wasn't there in the third. I fear that they are becoming a bit stale and predictable in their roles and actions. I think they need to be shaken up a bit somehow. If they were real I would say that they needed to be taken out of their comfort zones some so that predictable life patterns don't get cemented.

The other observation that I take away from this is that I think it suffers from what I call newspaper clipping syndrome. Sometimes you read a book and it feels like the author had collected a bunch of stories from the newspaper and decided to string them together to make a story.

All is not lost though — some of the scenes really do crackle with tension and action plus there is more of everyone's favorite lesbian assassin who could totally kick your ass.

I'm still a fan of the series and even if this one wasn't a favorite. Greasing the Piñata has done nothing to dissuade me from reading further in the series.

 

The Drowned Life by Jeffrey Ford reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2009/01/the-drowned-life-review/

Brian Evenson expressed in a single line about Jeff Vandermeer's The Situation what I had been thinking about Ford's The Drowned Life, and much much better and more succinctly I might add.

   "It recognizes that such realities are best expressed by acknowledging them for the absurdities that they really are." — Brian
Evenson

What I liked best about The Drowned Life, what resonated the most, was the modernity of it. It doesn't shy away from problems; it absorbs them, examines them from all sides and sees them as they are. It stands there and loudly proclaims that shit is fucked up and so whacked out and twisted that it's not "normal" any longer. But more importantly it speaks to our leveling out. We've become so used to the turned about way of things that we've found our sea legs and it doesn't bother us anymore. Our baseline has adjusted and that may speak more to us than to the situation.

Once the thin veneer of life is rubbed off in The Drowned Life the craziness that existed in the abstract comes to life and is literalized. It's the protagonist being chased by literal demons.

If the two best fiction tools that we posses to describe the insanity of the new century is the language of crime fiction and the language of the fantastic then Jeffrey Ford in many ways represents the perfect nexus point of these two languages. It's from this synthesis that the power of the story is derived. I think that Ford is in a unique position to write some of the more powerful fiction of our times because of how well versed he is in both modes.

All of this speaks to Ford’s ability to talk frankly and directly to us as one of us.

The Drowned Life is a dead on classic and you should go read it now.

 

Joker by Brian Azzarello reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/12/graphic-novel-review-joker-azzarello/

I was looking forward to reading Joker and seeing what Azzarello's take on the characters would be. But I came away from the book
underwhelmed.

Given the release date of the book there are two ways to take Joker; linked to The Dark Knight and on its own merits. The former is unfortunate and the latter is necessary. I think that it suffers from the comparison and needs to be read with a mindset that is as far removed from the movie as possible.

One way in which the book suffers is the central character. Joker in the book feels static as if he is the eye in the center of the storm.

Joker has never been the calm center and always been THE agent of chaos; so should we the readers be concerned with such a mundane criminal enterprise as re-consolidating his power in the underworld.
Quite frankly it's an activity that is beneath him.

I also don't think that framing the story around a lackey POV was the best choice. Joker is unadulterated chaos and filtering it through a non-chaos lens just dilutes the brand. We want that pure uncut shit when it comes to Joker not something that has been stepped on with baby powder and laxative.

Given Azzarello's writing background (100 Bullets) one way to try and look at the story was an attempt to filter the Joker character through a crime fiction story. As an intellectual exercise it has promise but the practical application just didn't pan out. This really becomes a kind of trees and forest thing for me. I like some of the individual aspects of the book but taken as a whole it just doesn't come together and work.

But I look forward to the day, long in the future, when I can read Joker with much clearer (and non-Dark Knight influenced) eyes.

Every Last Drop by Charlie Huston reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/12/book-review-every-last-drop/

As much as I really enjoyed Every Last Drop, and there is a lot to like, I can't help but being just a little disappointed.

The end of Half the Blood of Brooklyn felt like a penultimate moment; the battle lines were being drawn and finalized, story arcs were forced closed with a suddenness that caught the reader (and Joe) off guard and, perhaps most importantly, a declaration of war; I really felt that the end of Half the Blood of Brooklyn had us perched on the edge of a precipice and I was looking forward to the glorious slide.

I'm still convinced that the slide will come but Every Last Drop feels like it's ultimately just treading water. I'd even go so far as to say that the possibility exists that elements of Half the Blood of
Brooklyn might have worked better as a book four with other elements of Every Last Drop working better as book three.

The story doesn't really start until Joe meets with Terry and Predo, then Huston is back on comfortable territory and the book really takes off. And I want to be clear about this, it may be the weakest book in the series, but that doesn't mean it's a weak book, just, for me, a little out of place for a series book. I'm actually looking forward to a re-read of the book after a little time has passed, to look at it with fresh eyes and without any baggage.

Once Pitt is back on familiar territory the story really takes off and starts playing to some of Huston's strengths, right now, as a writer; dialog that is sharper then anyone else's and action scenes that give your fingers paper cuts from turning the pages too fast.

The bottom line is that Charlie Huston isn't admiring pulp and reacting to it he just IS pulp.

Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler reviewed by Brian
Lindenmuth - http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/11/book-review-go-go-girls-of-the-apocalypse/

Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse is an over the top social satire that cuts a wide social, political and personal swath. The targets are many, the aim is true. It's absurdity at a high level.

If I were to use just one word to describe Go-Go Girls it would be romp. Yeah, that's right, I just used the word romp in a review. It’s a lot of fun but it’s also a wild romp of a book. And perhaps just a little bit insane. All of which is meant as a compliment because all of this craziness results in a certain level of originality, especially when taken as a whole. Yes, some of the individual parts may feel familiar but they have never been used like this before.

One can also see that there is on display here a block-party like celebration of exploitation cinema (especially blaxploitation), pulp fiction, westerns, B movies, science fiction and cult cinema. I'd even go so far as to say that there may be some elements of camp that have been deliberately used, especially when you consider how close the relationship is between social satirization/criticism and camp.

Putting aside these notions of subtext (I mean who really wants to hear about that) you should read this because it's a huge departure for Gischler. His last four novels have been crime fiction and it was a huge gamble that took a lot of guts to go in a completely different direction. This is the zig that should be celebrated. Not just celebrated for merely existing, but celebrated for being a success. Gischler kicked down the doors of possibility and stormed the house with this one. I hope he continues to go in whatever direction the voices in his head tell him to and that others take his lead.

The Cutting Crew by Steve Mosby reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/11/book-review-the-cutting-crew/

One of the first things that jumps out is the influence of other genres.

The Cutting Crew takes place in a fictional city whose history is buried in time immemorial. History, myth and legend blend together so that no "real" history of the city exists, just fragments and bits which float to the surface like anecdotal detritus. The city is divided into sections that are each named after a different animal.
The sections were either founded by or are secretly run by one of eight brothers, or not. Who either work with one another, or not. The inability of the origin story of the brothers to be fully verified or pinned down adds to the depths of paranoia that the main character will sink into. The two become symbiotic of one another.

So if the origins of the city are reminiscent at times of fantasy then another genre that shows its influence is horror. Mosby infuses his city with horror imagery. He constantly refers to the city being alive and having a literal dark heart and soul, one that needs to be appeased. There are a couple of scenes throughout that almost seem to be more informed by horror sensibilities then crime fiction. None of which is to suggest that The Cutting Crew is a horror novel, because it isn't, just to show that it has a different gothic, moody, claustrophobic vibe to it.

The end does suffer just a bit from a rushed epiphany for the protagonist that edges slightly into info dump territory.

Mosby is a hell of a writer, one who is infusing new ideas into the crime fiction genre. As a result his books are fresh, original and among the best out there.

 

The Jones Men by Verne E. Smith reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/09/book-review-the-jones-men/

In 1972 journalist Vern E. Smith wrote an article for Newsweek called Detroit's Heroin Subculture which would become the basis for the novel The Jones Men which was published in 1974. It was named a New York Times Notable and was nominated for an Edgar award in 1975.

One of the first things to notice is the wonderful tapestry of characters, from all different walks of life, that imbues The Jones Men. Tapestry is the best way to describe it because of the diversity of the large characters, but more importantly the way that all of their lives interact with one another. The action of the lowest of junkies can cause a domino effect that will topple those in power, and those who come down on the side of the law run parallel with those that don't. This tapestry effect, where, what would be the traditional protagonist in another story, doesn't dominate but instead shares equally the page time.  From the smallest characters on up to the larger ones they are all brought vividly to life. They are all interesting enough, regardless of page time, that you want to know more about them. As the seemingly disparate plot threads all start to come together to form the completed picture it becomes increasingly interesting to see how it all plays out, partly due to the unconventional non-linear plot structure. There is also an air of uncertainty that comes as a result of the level playing field that the characters inhabit, and the crossing of plot threads, that plays itself out in surprising ways when it comes to their fates.

One of the chief ways the characters are fleshed out is through their dialogue. Oh and what dialogue there is! This is a lean and mean book and it shows in the interactions. As far as dialogue goes this is about as realistic as you get. The demotic speech patterns of The Jones Men are infused with the street, and Smith's journalism background comes into play in conveying them objectively, more like the recording of a forgotten about mic then written dialogue.

The bottom line is that The Jones Men is a book just waiting for rediscovery.

Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/09/book-review-severance-package/

At a time when workers feel increasingly insecure about their positions with The Company Severance Package acts as a pretty savage critique of corporate culture.

With a comic book feel and a throw the physics out the window off handed approach it takes the dog-eat-dog, crabs-in-a-barrel mentality of co-workers; the it's-hard-to-kiss-ass-with-a-knife-in-your-back feeling of maneuvering the office mine field; the my-nuts-just-shriveled-into-my-stomach feeling that happens when your boss calls an unexpected meeting, the tensions and concerns of the modern cube rat errrr I mean office employee are perfectly captured. Cranked up to 11 and distorted like a Ralph Steadman picture sure, but captured perfectly nonetheless.

Did you ever see one of those videos where a closed off room was filled with set mousetraps. Then a ping-pong ball is tossed into the room and with an insane flurry of chaos all the traps are sprung. Or how about the aftermath of the infamous Mexican standoff at the end of Reservoir Dogs when the dust settled and everybody was dead and you were left scratching your head wondering 'what the fuck just happened'? Yeah well those two images don't do justice to the insane plot in Severance Package. It has so many twists and switch backs that things happen before you can process them. But the time you think you've caught up Severance Package yanks the football away and just laughs at you while it steals your ball.

One of the main characteristics that serve the twisty plot so well is the characters. Specifically their almost soap opera like disposability and ability to defy death more then Stefano Dimera. Even after you have adjusted you quickly realize that you are reading by a different set of rules.

Severance Package is a little like the original Die Hard movie in that the majority of the action is confined to a small space. This constraint allows for great inventiveness in the hands of the right imagination. Swierczynski is that imagination.

All of which leads up to a chilling creature feature ending that should come with a built in Wilhelm Scream.

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/09/book-review-the-given-day/

For me historical fiction has two strengths, the ability to teach (in an entertaining way) about that era and to illustrate the cyclical nature of history by showing the parallels to the present, and the best examples of the form exhibit them both. In these two categories
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane is largely a success.

There are some great scenes in The Given Day that crackle with energy and the mental movies they create resonate long after the book is closed. Given the track record of Lehane's movie adaptations it's hard not to think of these scenes in big, wide screen glory. The opening baseball prologue is like this perfectly crafted gem.

I will say this clearly, The Given Day was worth the wait. It's a different book then Lehane's previous novels and should be read that way. There are echoes of the plot mechanics of the Kenzie & Gennaro books; there are echoes of the densely compacted intensity of a few decades of history of Mystic River; there are echoes of the Gothic and dramatic setting of Shutter Island. The Given Day incorporates them all (and more) into a book that should be read, thought about and grappled with on its own terms, using the previous books only as a solid foundation. It is its own book and should be read that way. The Given Day is epic in scope and shows a great deal of growth and the sky is the limit with what Lehane is capable of accomplishing.

 

Movie Review – Wanted reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/06/movie-review-wanted/

Wanted strives to be the ultimate in post-Matrix action; a gun-fu movie taken to the nth degree. It succeeds in laying the dance mat out on the floor and placing its feet into the shadowed footprints. It gets the steps right but does so without much, if any, heart and soul.
But even if calories are empty doesn't mean the snack can't taste good, right? So, despite the vacuous nature of the movie it mostly succeeds in being very entertaining. From the opening sequence through the climax and finale Wanted leaves you breathless with action scenes that are marvelously choreographed and a wonder to behold. The CGI FX are especially impressive, never attaining that cartoonish look that plagues some movies and more then once I was impressed with what I saw.

The stripped masculinity and changing roles of cast aside men in society has been a central theme in the work of Chuck Paluniuk for more then a decade and similar territory is tread in Wanted. So simply put the white collar office angst and Ikea joke were already done and done better. So this element of Wanted doesn't have the resonance that it strives for. Instead we try and shake our heads of the déjà vu feeling and remind ourselves that it isn't Edward Norton that we are watching up on the screen.

In short, Wanted is riddled with thin characters and a mystical story that requires a healthy suspension of disbelief but is well worth your summer movie dollars as a fun (and funny) make-things-go-boom movie. Wanted is a Hong Kong style action movie that has been stripped of character, elegance and grace but becomes an entertaining, kinetic wonder.

Scalped: Casino Boogie by Jason Aaron reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/05/comic-book-review-scalped-casino-boogie/

In this volume we will start to see the broader canvas of characters, their fractured personal histories and the intricately plotted connections that inform their depths.

Red Crow becomes further a Shakespearean figure carrying the weight on his shoulders, the weight of identity, the weight of history and the weight of power. He is compelling, interesting and dare I say that he is a tragic figure; I do have to wonder if his days are numbered. Gina Bad Horse decades later still carries the wounds of one moment in time, when two federal agents were killed, and still can't reconcile the embodiment of 'the end justifies the means' that everyone and everything around her has become. She will be a catalyst for explosive change. For Catcher, the alcoholic medicine man, it remains to be seen if he is strong enough to handle what he sees, and more importantly, what he will do. He is the wildcard. Interestingly it's in Diesel, a white man who claims a 1/16th Kickapoo heritage and self identifies as an Indian, that we get an interesting study in identity politics. He is fervent in his belief of the purity of his heritage but revels in the stereotypical trappings of the race. He is a caricature but a dangerous and violent one. He is a steam roller plowing through everything so his role remains unclear. Dino Poor Bear, who we saw in the first volume, comes from a once powerful family, and is ambitious but a dreamer. His story will be an interesting one, to see if he becomes a pawn moved by greater forces or accumulates some power and changes the configuration of the board. His is a character to watch.

Casino Boogie capitalizes on the strengths that were shown in Indian
Country and improves at every level to tell a compelling and interesting story. It will take us from the top of the power structure all the way down to the kid who mops the floor of the casino and everyone in between. We will go from fifty-five years ago to the present. We will go to the spirit world and come back changed. What's next? Dunno but I can't wait.

The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/04/book-review-the-open-curtain/

Sometimes you read a novel so original and forceful that it stuns you into silence when finished. You find that it’s hard to choose the right words to describe the experience because those words would fail. The Open Curtain is one of those books. I've read Evenson's short fiction over the years and as stunning as it is it does nothing to prepare you for this novel length assault.

The Open Curtain is broken up into three sections and this structure is important to the success and effect of the novel. In the first section Rudd meets up with his newly discovered half brother and discovers a newspaper article about the William Hooper Young murder and begins to identify with him. It's in this first section the Rudd starts losing time. What the origins of this are we don't know. But the language used to express and show these moments as well as the insertion of these two people into Rudd's life is used to its highest possible effect. In the middle of one of Rudd's biggest black outs the section ends. We are introduced to a new character in section two. A girl whose entire family has just been killed. As she tries to cope she becomes friends with Rudd and for all the wrong reasons (primarily that she doesn't want to be alone) she lets him move in and they get married.

The final section of The Open Curtain is a virtuostic tour-de-force. It may be the finest sustained piece of writing to come along in years. Never before has there been a descent into madness portrayed in writing like the one on display here. There is such a palpable tension that derives from the intertwinning of the real and the unreal, and our own uncertainty of which is which, that it becomes a slippery propulsive force. Evenson never gives the reader an easy way out or a simple solution.

If Jim Thompson were alive today he'd want to write a novel like this.

Arkansas by John Brandon reviewed by Brian Lindenmuth -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/04/book-review-arkansas/

One of the more interesting things that Arkansas does is set up an interesting dichotomy in the two leads, Kyle and Swin. One of them brings street smarts to the table and the other brings book smarts.
The totally different skill sets that they represent, and how their paths even came to cross, make for an interesting partnership. At different times the application of these two skill sets (sometimes together sometimes apart) ends up being the nucleus in this relationship.

Johanna is a fascinating character that never even for one second casts an eye towards the too many cliches that female characters in crime fiction are often relegated to, in this case the criminal's old lady. She is idiosyncratic and a little maddening. Incorporating some parts of both Kyle and Swin's influence she sometimes makes decisions based on her head and at other times her gut. She is tough and vulnerable without either one being exaggerated.

Froggy's sections are interesting because they are presented in the second person perspective. His character is basically invisible to the other characters, a name only, boogey man that operates his network through underlings to maintain buffer zones and the distance of the second person "you" affords the reader the same level of distance as
Swin and Kyle. In other novels we have seen the interspersing of third and first person perspectives as a means to drive up the tension but the effect here is different since he could literally be anyone. The reveal of who he is is handled well and it snaps his sections into clearer focus.

There is a great moment, stylistically speaking, near the end where the second person perspective shifts mid-section to the first person perspective. The abrupt shift from "you" to "I", as Froggy becomes any one of us as a part of his efforts to secure a new identity was a tiny stroke of brilliance, and a great finish.

Arkansas is a strong debut novel by John Brandon coming from the never dull and always interesting McSweeney's with complex characters whose multiple facets contain conflicting sides of their personalities that come together too in the telling of a wonderful book. The use of language in Arkansas is precise, intricate, heady and approaches brilliance at times. Brandon is a talent to watch.

The Clinch Knot by John Galligan reviewed by Professor Crazy -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/12/book-review-the-clinch-knot/

A mystery involving trout fishing, a man nicknamed Dog who has been traveling around in a Cruise Master camper for four years fishing, and skinheads protecting the property of an action film star and who seem bent on preventing anyone from fishing the fenced-in Roam River. What's not to like?

The novel starts slowly, maybe like a slow-moving, meandering stream on a warm summer day when the fish aren't biting, the pace picks up around eighty pages into it. I began liking it more and more, and though some time and pages are spent earlier on getting to know the characters like Dog, his fishing companions D'Ontario, Sneed and
Jesse Ringer, and a cast of very eccentric extras - the time and pages spent doing this pays off later on.

John Galligan skillfully makes it all work, weaving together a wonderfully colorful tapestry of a novel. The action of the rest of the book more than compensates for the unhurried beginning of it, sort of like a big brown trout that's been hiding in the depths of a pool biding its time coming to the surface with a rush like lightning to snag a mayfly on the surface.

If you like to read mysteries set in the Great Outdoors with lots of action and adventure, you're sure to love The Clinch Knot by John Galligan. You don't have to have read the first two novels in the Fly
Fishing Mysteries series, The Nail Knot and The Blood Knot, to get into this novel, which is a plus. However, I have no doubt as you read
The Clinch Knot you'll get "hooked" (terrible pun, I know) and want to read the entire series.

The Cat Trap by K.T. McCaffrey reviewed by Professor Crazy -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/12/book-review-the-cat-trap/

Like many spellbinding, suspenseful mystery stories, there are dichotomies set up in The Cat Trap, between the characters who are "good," and those who are "evil". And, like the mysteries which are well worth reading, as this latest one by K.T. McCaffrey is, these two categories are not populated with characters who are wholly good or evil, black or white, but with ones who overlap in some respects, and contain within themselves shades of gray, exemplified perhaps best with the rich, bitchy-acting women of Ireland's snobbish elite horsy set that get together the first Friday of each month to gleefully plot devious revenges against anyone who dares to rouse their anger.

Other books set in Ireland by Irish authors came to my mind as I read. For instance, there's Ken Bruen - whom I haven't read any novels by, but has been recommended to me as a good author - whose book, The Guard, is referred to in The Cat Trap.  Then, one which I thought of was Declan Hughes, who has authored a series of excellent novels with "Blood," always as a part of the titles.  His novel, The Color of Blood, my favorite of them so far, involves the horse racing world of Ireland much like The Cat Trap does, but to an even greater extent.

If you like complex, suspenseful, page-turning mysteries, I would recommend you check out The Cat Trap, by K.T. McCaffrey.  It has lots of twists and turns to it, memorable characters, and reading about how Emma finally exonerates Connolly makes for a pleasurable way to spend one's leisure time, indeed.

Dead Woman's Shoes by Kaye C. Hill reviewed by Maria -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/12/book-review-dead-womans-shoes/

Dead Woman's Shoes by Kaye C. Hill is a very fun read. Lexy has enough going on to fill more than one book (which is good because this is probably the start of a great series.) She's running away from her husband for very good reasons, she's broke, she has no job and she gave herself a bad haircut and a tattoo as a disguise in the hopes that her husband won't find her. When a local mistakes her for a private investigator, she takes the job hoping to earn enough cash for another meal for her and her dog.

The cast of characters alone—each with a unique story that comes out in dribbles and drabs—is enough to make you keep reading. Just to name a few, there's Kinky the Chihuahua, a missing cat, a vet, a policeman, an entire drama club, and of course, the nefarious husband. This story has twists and turns, capers aplenty, and many threads woven into a completely captivating tale. I thought I had guessed the murderer about halfway through and congratulated myself for picking up on a loosely dropped clue. Only…wait! There were other possibilities…and the plot was indeed thickening. Like the best of mysteries, there is more than one crime. Like the best of mysteries, they all come together in the end.

This book would have easily made my top 2008 list had I not already turned it in.

 

Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick reviewed by Maria -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/07/book-review-stalking-the-vampire/

Stalking the Vampire, the second in the "A Fable of Tonight" by Mike Resnick is much like the first book, Stalking the Unicorn. In fact, it is so similar I wondered at times if the two were really written fifteen or twenty years apart! The series is pulp hardboiled/fantasy/urban fantasy. After I read Stalking the Unicorn—the first in the series–I was interested to see how the writer's style might have changed over the years, but Resnick stuck very closely to the original style. In fact, if I had a complaint, it would be that he stuck much too closely—the characters, if anything, didn't evolve enough to be at all surprising.

This book seemed slower paced than the first, but I think part of that was because the styles were so similar, I could see what was coming—the detective wandered around Manhattan, sorting through clues with a cowardly vampire in search of a killer vampire. The character actions became repetitious in spots, especially concerning Farina, the cat girl. Negotiations between Mallory and the cat-girl were very consistent, but not necessarily enjoyable—much like listening to two children squabbling in the back seat during an endless car ride.

While individual scenes described were unique and interesting, I wanted more from this second book—a faster pace, a few less puns and more dynamic characters that did more unexpected things. It was nice to see old friends, but world-building has never been my favorite even if it is a unique world.

I did enjoy Resnick's stabs at the writing industry and various genres (one of the incompetent "helpful" characters just so happened to be a pulp fiction writer with low sales. He decided to follow Mallory, a "real" PI, to get material for his books.) There were many veiled references to tropes, literary styles and names; a well-read person could enjoy an intellectual journey trying to figure out all the references and "inside" jokes. In some ways this book reminded me of Donna Moore's "Go to Helena Handbasket."

The book is written with a witty style that it is easy to drift through; it's a quick read, something for an afternoon on the couch with some popcorn and soda.

Stalking the Unicorn by Mike Resnick reviewed by Maria -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/07/book-review-stalking-the-unicorn/

Stalking the Unicorn by Mike Resnick is sort of like The Dresden Files meets Alice in Wonderland. It's a reprint of an urban fantasy from the 1980s before urban fantasy was a popular genre all by itself. Not only that, it's a pulp detective story with a classic opening scene of the
PI in his office, broke, suddenly wife-less, down on his luck and a last bottle of good booze (Hmm. I guess it has a bit of country-western music in it too!)

Resnick doesn't disappoint; this book gives any Dresden File book a run for its money—the plot, which is more like a quest than a mystery, makes sense and any serendipitous turns are inserted with skill. This isn't really a page-turner, more of a steady-as-she-goes kind of story. It's interesting enough that you just keep reading without it being a book that really makes your heart pound. It's funny and witty without being laugh-out-loud.

Mallory, the PI, is hired to find a unicorn in an alternate Manhattan that he doesn't know about–at least not until an elf shows up and begs for his help. Mallory goes along with it, mostly assuming the liquor he consumed has much to do with what he is seeing. There's no boring parts where Mallory accepts the realization that what he's seeing is real—Mallory just starts adjusting to it in practical New Yorker style: He's cold so he buys a coat and so what if it has a button to adjust to the temperature or rain?

The chase after the unicorn leads him through several almost familiar places with lots of odd characters, bizarre settings and danger that is enough to keep you interested. Mallory faces some philosophical questions about good vs evil, but there's really no doubt what choice he will make—more a case of wondering how he will mete out his own version of justice.

At 288 pages, this is a quick read. It's good old-fashioned fun without trying too hard.

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy reviewed by Maria -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/05/book-review-state-of-the-onion/

State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy was a great little read! Adventure, job issues, a deft touch with detail and enough danger to keep the pages turning. I'd label this one a cozy, because it has some of the standards; recipes, romance and sleuthing by an amateur. There were many a zany moment, but the heroine (Ollie—short for Olivia) didn't end up in hot water due to incompetence or sloppy writing.

The story begins when White House assistant chef, Ollie Paras, stops an intruder from entering the White House. It was a rather serendipitous event, and Ollie actually gets in a bit of trouble for interfering with the Secret Service. Her boyfriend isn't too pleased with her for being in danger either. Ollie really doesn't need attention drawn away from her cooking skills; she's trying hard to earn the head chef position in the White House kitchen.

Hyzy doesn't overdo the politics—whether it be national or in the kitchen. She focused solidly on the story, keeping a steady stream of suspects parading through. She also doesn't overdo food tips, but she has enough authenticity in the story to make it believable—from the description of the food and food preparation to the occasional description of things like the White House china. Ollie doesn't have the most supportive of boyfriends—or I should say, the boyfriend is a bit inconsistent about whether to be supportive or just angry. There's certainly room for the author to add character development to Ollie's current boyfriend or have Ollie hunt up a new one as the series continues.

This is a terrific beach read that moves along at a good pace.

 

CSI:NY Four Walls by Keith R.A. DeCandido reviewed by Jeremy -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/09/csi-ny-four-walls/

I've always thought that one of DeCandido's strengths was his ability to write characters, whether it's the main characters from the universe in which he is writing or the characters he has created to enrich the story.

The story itself followed the classic CSI formula.  Typically there is an "A Story" (murder investigation) and a "B Story" (murder investigation).  This makes sure all of the characters have a prominent role in the story.  Four Walls also had simultaneous murder investigations.  One investigation is a pair of murders in the exercise yard at Richmond Hills Correctional Facility.  That case takes on a sense of urgency because one victim is a former police officer.

Our second murder investigation involves the murder of an employee at Belluso's, an Italian bakery in The Bronx.  Both investigations progress in the classic CSI style that is familiar to even casual viewers of the TV show.  We have primary suspects who the evidence finally exonerates, then smug new suspects who the evidence finally nails.  We also have a twist in one of the murder investigations, which is discovered through the talent of the crime scene investigators, and takes the investigation in an unexpected direction.

Throughout it all I felt connected to all the characters.  Whether it's Star Trek or CSI (speaking specifically of the universes in which
I've read DeCandido novels) he doesn't write a story that happens to take place in the universe.  He understands the fullness and richness of the universe and uses that as a strength in the story, making it his own for the duration.

Mr. DiCandido is a native New Yorker.  It showed in the story.  I have never been to New York City but I felt like I was being taken on a tour by a local tour guide throughout the story.     That brings me to what I enjoyed the most about Four Walls -  the vibrant backdrops in which  the story unfolded.

If you like CSI:  NY you're going to like this book tremendously.  The
CSI: NY universe is safe and will thrive in the hands of DeCandido  If you know little about CSI: NY, DeCandido provides the background to bring you into the universe.  His talents are such that Keith R.A.
DeCandido books are worth reading for his name on the cover alone, not necessarily for the specific universe that he's writing in.

Majestrum by Matthew Hughes reviewed by Pierce -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/07/book-review-majestrum/

Majestrum has many fine points. The characters are fey and immoral and somewhat Vanceian, but, to Matthew Hughes's credit, very much their own people. This novel has the feel of a Jack Vance universe, but the characters are Matthew Hughes's. I particularly like the interplay between Hapthorn and his familiar. The exchanges are often droll and dry, and very funny. Toward the end of the book, Hapthorn requires his familiar to perform what seems to be a dangerous action. The familiar refuses. The dialogue brought more than one laugh-out-loud from me. Very nice.

So the characters are good and some are very real. The mystery is not all that mysterious, and the reader is not supplied with enough information to solve the case. Not bad, but not a true mystery.
The setting tends to be flat. There is just not enough description of the world around our team. Curiously, this might be said to mimic Jack Vance, whose worlds often seem a bit vague, especially when compared to the creatures who inhabit them.

Vance meets Holmes? I will give in to the Vance part with the caveat that Matthew Hughes's characters are his very own and should be appreciated and enjoyed for this. They are not merely Vanceian pastiches, they are real. And often quite good.

Holmes, no, I think not. But this is not a bad thing. Once again, Henghis Hapthorn, his familiar, and his soon-to-be-ego are individuals their own selves. This is not really a mystery, but an enjoyable story about a detective—I mean a freelance discriminator.

Majestrum is a delightful book and highly recommended. If you like Jack Vance you will most likely enjoy these characters. But also, enjoy them on their own. The plot is above average and combined with Hughes's excellent writing style, moves along quite well. I enjoyed this to the point where I will go back and catch up on the doings of Hapthorn and also go forward and read the newest book, The Spiral Labyrinth, as well.

 

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford reviewed by Trinalor -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/07/book-review-the-shadow-year/

Almost two years ago when I reviewed Ford's collection The Empire of Ice Cream for FantasyBookSpot, I noted that Botch Town was my favorite of the bunch. It was something of a mystery story meshed with a coming of age story that had a feel of the "fantastic" about it.  Shadow Year is based on that novella; but The Shadow Year isn't just a re-telling of Botch Town. Ford expands on his original story, makes some major changes to it, adds a significant character, and then continues on to a much more resolute ending.

At the same time that little Charlie has disappeared, a Peeping Tom has been making the rounds in this neighborhood and a stranger trawls the streets in an old white car. All of these occurrences seem likely to be related, and Jim recruits his brother and sister as well as George, the family dog, to gather clues and investigate.

The focus of The Shadow Year is as much on these mysteries as it is on family, and that is where Ford expands on the original story the most.
Ford's portrayal of this family and its dynamics evokes feelings of compassion and even understanding.  There is a lot going on in The
Shadow Year, and Ford moves the story effortlessly through such accounts of family life to the disquieting effects of the prowler's appearances in folks' backyards and a stranger in a white car (also the prowler?) whose presence is somehow sinister and alarming.

By the end of The Shadow Year, the mysteries are solved, and if there is any flaw to be found in this book, that may be the one: the neatness of its conclusion. Nonetheless, Jeffrey Ford has written a captivating novel of a year in the life of a young boy. The characters have that feeling of authenticity that makes them instantly recognizable, and the story has that feeling of nostalgia without any of the sugary sentimentality.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly reviewed by Trinuviel -
http://www.bookspotcentral.com/2008/06/book-review-the-book-of-lost-things/

Irish author John Connolly is perhaps best known for his crime stories that hover on the edges between traditional detective stories and supernatural horror, but with The Book of Lost Things, Connolly travels deeper into fantasy-land, reinventing age-old fairy tales in a beautiful and poignant story of childhood and loss.

In The Book of Lost Things John Connolly engages with several different, yet interrelated literary traditions. His novel is structured as a portal-quest fantasy in the tradition of C.S. Lewis, where the protagonist enters parallel world, but the world David enters into draws extensively upon the tradition of fairy tales with an emphasis on their darker aspects, touching upon the horror genre.

Connolly handles these different aspects extremely well, weaving them into a coherent whole with an emotional underpinning that is both poignant and psychologically truthful.

In a sense, John Connolly highlights the workings of the traditional quest fantasy by making explicit the fact that the external quest often stands as a metaphor for the internal journey of the protagonist. David's quest through his dark and twisted fantasy-land is driven by his need to work through his grief, to accept the loss of his mother and the presence of his new brother – a need that is not met in his own reality due to the emotional absence of his father. But at the same time, Connolly leaves the reader in doubt about the actual presence of this fairy tale parallel world. It both is and is not real, for The Book of Lost Things is also a story about the power of stories.

The Book of Lost Things is brilliant take on a modern fairy tale – dark and scary but also beautiful and moving in its depiction of a child's loss, grief and ambivalent jealousy as is it filtered through the fantastic. The emotional underpinning of Connolly's story is its most powerful element, but his re-workings of popular fairy tales also work very well. Their emphasis on the horrific touches upon all that is scary, while at the same time addressing the fact that most of the fairy tales we know today were heavily edited in the 19th century.

 



The Forever Girl is available now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble