Thursday, October 30, 2008


I surely hope someone makes a movie out of Sakey's latest novel, Good People. It has a strong story and characters, is loaded with tension, and chugs along at an extremely brisk pace to a satisfying, action-packed conclusion. In other words, it's just like Sakey's other two novels, The Blade Itself and At The City's Edge.

Except here Sakey really fucking brings it.

Good People begins with a quartet of professional thieves ripping off a movie star who is making a drug deal in a flashy downtown Chicago nightclub. Naturally, the heist goes bad and one thief ends up dead and another takes off with the whole score to himself.

Flash to a few weeks later to Tom and Anna Reed, a yuppie Chicago couple who are trying their damnedest to have a baby, and while the work certainly shows on their bank account, it isn't registering on their home pregnancy tests. The debt from the fertilization treatments is tearing apart their marriage until they find their tenant, a grumpy asshole with no family or friends, dead in his bed from a heart condition. What's more, they also find his stash of four-hundred grand...

After convincing themselves that taking the money won't hurt anybody, Tom and Anna soon find themselves hunted by the two thieves the dead man betrayed. And the drug dealer the four thieves ripped off originally. And the cops.

In other words, our J. Crew-wearing heroes are in way over their square little heads.

It's a great story that I read in no time (same as the other two Sakey novels) but this time I think he really has a handle on things. The bad guys are oh-so-fucking-bad, the good guys really get the screws put to them, and the balance between the Reeds' yuppie normalcy and the criminal underworld of the thieves is struck perfectly.

But I should say, that as with the last two Sakey novels, I still don't feel the true on-the-ledge danger, the sense that anything can happen. I never get the impression that either Tom or Anna will die or get mangled or have some other tragedy befall them (as could very well happen in a Jason Starr yuppie noir, something I kept thinking about throughout the novel). Sakey has established himself as a rock-solid crime writer, but certainly not one of the modern bad boys that have popped up in the last few years. No, he's more in line with someone like Michael Koryta, an author who no doubt brings some dark goods, but who you can also reccomend to your mom.

But then again, that's more a matter of personal taste than an actual complaint about the book. This is Marcus Sakey's story, after all. Can't blame him for not being Jason Starr (though the last half of Starr's The Follower felt pretty safe to me, making me mildly nervous about his next solo effort...). That being said, Good People proves that Sakey keeps growing with each book, and - from the rate he's been pumping these fuckers out - it probably won't be long before he tops himself yet again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


With the election just days away, now is the perfect time to pick up Jess Walter's Citizen Vince, a crime novel about the importance of the right to vote. I know what you're thinking my friends (election humor), "A crime novel about hopeful shit like voting? The fuck?" Well my friends (I'll stop now), if you skip this one you'll be missing out on some of the best dialogue not penned by Elmore Leonard or Charlie Huston, and a plot that unravels with the organic ease of a Pelecanos novel.

We meet donut baker Vince Camden a week before the 1980 election in Spokane, Washington as he bakes donuts, deals pot, makes fake IDs and runs a credit card scam. He's also juggling two women, a neurotic prostitute and a book smart donut shop customer that he pines for. It's a quiet life but Vince makes it work.

But then Ray Sticks had to arrive in town and fuck it all up.

You see, Vince Camden's name is in witness protection after some bad debts left him in deep with the New York mob, forcing him to cut a deal with the FBI. Well, it seems the FBI didn't do a good enough job because if Ray Sticks after you, that means the mob is sending out their very best to do you in. After he narrowly escapes from Sticks, Vince catches a plane to New York in an effort to figure out who sent Sticks after him.

It's a good old-fashioned crime story, a lot like something Leonard might write, but what really makes Citizen Vince hum is it's sense of place and connection to the presidential election. Some surprising historical characters pop up in this book (I won't spoil it) and it's not just a stunt - no, it actually makes perfect sense that they would be involved in this story at this time in our history. And then there's the on-going election campaigns that keep getting mention in this novel. Again, this is not just a device, "the vote" is essentially what Citizen Vince is all about.

You see, before he went in the program, Vince was a felon and therefore not allowed to vote. Now, despite all the crazy violent shit going on around him, the need to vote, to be normal, to count, is the most important thing on his agenda. How Walter pulls these scenes off without making you gag from sentimentality, how he makes you feel a glimmer of hope for the process - it's just something to fucking awe.

Boils down to this, my friends (sorry, I can't get over how lame that is): Read Citizen Vince and you might just believe in what you write on the ballot this November.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera have just put out the third trade of Scalped. their kick-ass series about a shady-as-shit Indian Reservation. I cannot stress this enough, folks: If you like noir, you should be reading Scalped. That's all I should have to say. Hands down, the comic you should be reading.

But, I'll continue because I've got nothing better to do.

This series is what I always dreamt of when I first discovered comics, an event that wasn't that long ago (I know: for a nerd I am late to the party). Scalped is a large cast crime story with a fresh environment where there are no good guys and bad guys. The violence hits hard and the dialogue is foul and funny. Basically, it is The Sopranos on a Rez. In fact, if David Chase ever adapted the series for HBO, I would give up beer.

Well, for at least a week.

So I implore you, dear nerd, to pick up the first three trades (Indian Country, Casino Boogie and Dead Mothers) then quickly get caught up on the issues. That should tide you over until the lazy bastards who put out Criminal finally pick up their current run. I swear, what is the fucking hold up over at ICON? Criminal is on possibly the most staggered and fucked up schedule of all time.

But I digress: Scalped fever. Catch it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


If you haven't been reading the Joe Pitt vampyre novels, then don't read beyond this paragraph. Instead you should go get Already Dead and prepare to burn through the rest of the Joe Pitt books (No Dominion, Half the Blood of Brooklyn, Every Last Drop) toot-fucking-sweet. And don't be fooled into thinking Charlie Huston's vampyre (sorry, it's how it's spelled in the book, probably the ONLY thing lame about the whole series) universe is similar to the other shit floating around in the toilet bowl that is current vampire media (looking at you True Blood and Twilight). Huston's books are hard-fucking-boiled noir before they are anything else, and with the latest - the penultimate in the series - Huston out does himself in the depravity department. This is rough stuff delivered smoothly via his stream-lined no-bullshit prose style.

Okay, so for those of you left, let me give you a quick rundown of where Pitt's at since we last left him in Half the Blood of Brooklyn. In the year since the previous novel, Pitt's been laying low in the wasteland that is the Bronx, a burrough where there is damn near no organization whatsoever to be had. In other words, Pitt's had to resort to more desperate ways to acquire blood. But not that desperate. He's still looking out for psychos to kill, crazed vampyres who risk exposing them all with their reckless bloody feedings. In fact, chasing just such a gang of vampyres is what brings him in contact with Lament, a sadistic child-abusing vampyre who gives his charges ridiculously sad monikers like "Low" and "Pathetic." Lament is apparently in the employ of Dexter Predo of Manhattan's Coalition and Predo makes a trip across town upon Pitt's capture. He's got a proposition for our hero.

Remember pretty little rich girl Amanda Horde and her pre-op tranny vampyre girlfriend Sela? Well, Amanda has started up her own clan called Cure and she's taking in any and all vampyres. Predo wants Pitt to be his mole within Cure and give him a heads up on how close Horde is to discovering a cure for the Vyrus, if she's going public anytime soon - stuff like that. In exchange for his service he gets his hall pass back for Manhattan. Thus Joe Pitt comes back to "civilization."

From there Pitt gets in way over his head and plays all sides against each other and generally fucks up everybody's shit. He also takes a horrifying trip up to Queens to visit the wild Mungiki gang (for those keeping score at home, Staten Island is the only borough Pitt has yet to cross into by my count).

Basically, Huston is setting everything up for the out-and-out war that we'll no doubt encounter in the final novel. There is a lot of expositional dialogue in this entry but it is generally okay because nobody does dialogue better than Huston (bold, I know, but true). There is plenty of violence and gore in Every Last Drop (an obscene amount once you get to Queens) and some fucking HUGE secrets are revealed, but it really feels like he's setting you up for the big pay-off that promises to come down upon us in the upcoming last book. More so than any of the previous three books, Every Last Drop doesn't really work without having read what came before, hence why I told you, uninformed-readers-still-reading, to stop reading after the first paragraph otherwise none of this will make any sense to you.

But I guess in another way, if you HAVE read the first three, you don't need a review to tell you to read the living shit out of this one. Thing is, because the release dates of Charlie's books got switched around, it's most likely going to be at least a year and a half before the final Pitt book comes out.


Friday, October 3, 2008


I am not a fan of reading series books out of order. Thankfully, there was only one book in the Toronto series prior to Everybody Know this is Nowhere so I wasn't ridiculously behind, but if I'd read them in order Everybody Knows probably would have read a little smoother, certain events wouldn't have seemed so out-of-the-blue. In other words, don't make my mistake: read Dirty Sweet then Everybody Knows.

And I'm not advising this simply simply because it makes the characters easier to distinguish. No, it's because Dirty Sweet is an easier way to enter McFetridge's vast world simply from a storytelling perspective. Dirty Sweet is more like classic Elmore Leonard while Everybody Knows plays out more like Clockers (okay, so despite the last few pages of Everybody Knows which were jarringly cute and tidy in a Get Shorty sort of way). But this is not to suggest that Dirty Sweet isn't as smart or exciting as Everybody Knows, not by a longshot.

Down-on-her-luck real-estate agent Roxanne Keyes saw a man shot in the head right in the middle of downtown traffic. Guy just gets out of the passenger seat of a car and pops a fellow motorist three times in the fucking face. Cops Price and Loewen question her and it's clear that she knows more than she's fessing up to. They're right: She knows who the driver of the murderer's car was, a Russian strip club owner named Boris Suliemanov. Roxanne figures she can use this knowledge to her advantage, coerce Boris into taking some real estate off her hands.

But then she meets internet porn entrepeneur Vince Fournier, a charmer with a secretive past and a bright idea for how to launder money for Boris through his web operation. There would be percentages handed out, naturally...

From here the cops and the Mounties breath down all of their necks and the motorcycle club boys try to edge in on Boris's small-time operation and, of course, murder and mayhem ensue.

As with Everybody Knows, Dirty Sweet has a massive cast of characters and doles out seemingly authentic lore left and right about Toronto, police work, porn, money-laundering, organized crime and many other topics that have rarely been covered in crime fiction so intelligently. The scam at the center of Dirty Sweet is much more complex and realistic than any I've read in quite some time.

But the real kicker here is how complex McFetridge's characters and their respective arcs are. There are no good guys and bad guys, in a sense you're rooting for just about everybody on all sides. Even the "romance" in the novel is touching and quite achingly sad. Roxanne and Vince seem to hit it off in the manner that they would in a Leonard novel, but then takes a realistically melancholy turn later in the book as their dark secrets are slowly revealed to the reader.

I hope that McFetridge keeps writing in this police precinct/Toronto underworld series. It has such a rich cast that I could see McFetridge's Toronto growing and growing to become something as wonderful as Pelecanos's D.C.