Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sucker Punch by Ray Banks

All right, you should know the drill by now, dear readers:

I did a review and it's up at Bookspotcentral.

For those of you too lazy to, you know, type in the words bookspotfuckingcentral (I wish it was spelled like that) and add a "dot com" to the end of said fucking phrase, you can just click right fucking HERE.

Don't say I never looked out for you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

You kind of want to hate the shit out of Josh Bazell.

Dude’s a goddamn doctor and a badass crime novelist with a debut to beat the fucking band? If I were the envious type (and I am), I would hate the holy hell out of the man.

But I can’t. Beat the Reaper kicks too much ass to be petty about it.

I mean, this thing is just so fucking aggressive in its badassery that you can’t help but take notice. You know it’s hardcore shit from the very first sentence:

“So I’m on my way to work and I stop to watch a pigeon fight a rat in the snow, and some fuckhead tries to mug me!”

That awesomeness right there precedes a fight where our hero, Dr. Peter Brown of Manhattan Catholic, disarms the mugger, snapping the guy’s arm like a twig and forever turning the poor bastard’s nose into a mere memory.

It’s obvious that Dr. Ross Peter Brown ain’t.

In fact, his real name is Pietro Brnwa and he was a vicious hit man for the mafia before he went into witness protection and became a doctor. If you think that all that shit’s behind him, you don’t read much.

There are two stories going forward in Beat the Reaper and they’re told in alternating chapters. The primary one is that of a hectic day at Manhattan Catholic where Brown comes across a possible epidemic in his ward and also is made by an ailing patient with mob ties (You better believe some crazy motherfucking mob dudes show up on his ward toot-fucking-sweet!). The alternate chapters fill you in on Brown’s past, how he became a hit man, how he ended up a doctor - all the juicy back story shit.

You’d think that the lengthy back story would get in the way of the Duane Swierczynski- style-ticking-clock plot but you’re dead-fucking-wrong, dear ridiculously-skeptical-reader. Bazell is such a natural at pace that he keeps you riveted through it all. It’s like - Tired of the medical drama shit? Then here comes some crazy mob stuff in the next back story chapter. - and so forth.

But the real reason to pony up the bucks for this beast is Brown/Brnwa/”Bearclaw” himself. He’s a killing machine who looks like a dumb brute but is as actually as sharp as they come. Not only does he tell a hell of story and do some badass shit, he also informs. Yes, dear reader, there are crazy facts up the ass in Beat the Reaper. Shit about anatomy, healthcare, the holocaust, Romanian politics, mafia history - it’s all here, often related by way of footnotes.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re all, “If I want to fuck around with footnotes I’d take another crack Infinite Jest, thank you very much.” Again, you’re wrong, dear reader. These are footnotes like your po-mo lit 232 class professor has never fucking encountered. They are hilarious and informative and fucking disturbing (in other words, you won’t skip over them like you did with your American History text.)

But I have to admit: the biggest draw here is the last fifty pages or so. There is some violence in here that I just want to fucking scream about from the rooftops, a certain weapon that is so fucking ingenious that I tell random people that I know for sure will never read the book just because it blows my mind so fucking much!

It’s turned me into the worst kind of fan boy, into that guy, the guy-who-keeps-talking-to-you-about-a-movie-you-haven’t-seen-nor-do-you-want-to version of that guy. But seriously, you’ll know what I’m talking about when you come to it. It’s taking me a lot of will-power right now not to type it - I swear it’s that fucking awesome (not to build it up or anything…).

So don’t hate on Bazell. Show the dude and his kick-ass debut some love. So what if he’s a doctor and an exciting new noir novelist? As Dirk Diggler said, “Jealousy will get you nowhere.” I mean, he may save lives or whatever, but he also sure as shit is willing to warp some fucking minds.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Catching Up #21: Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover

First off, yeah, I know. I'm late to the party with this one. All the cool kids got their mitts on this bitch eons ago. But I, the Nerd of Noir, am not a cool kid. I wasn't even invited to the party, didn't even know there was a party to be late to. Okay, that's a lie. I've been hearing about Sean Chercover's debut for a long time. The Great Richard Katz at Mystery One in Milwaukee tried to stuff the fucker in my hands before it was even for sale, but I opted for the other Chicago-centered novel making its glorious debut at that time, Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself.

You see, PI novels don'y usually turn my crank.

At least that's what I always said, anyway.

You see, I had long been of the belief that the PI novel was dead, and that Lehane's Kenzie/Gennaro books and Pelecanos' Strange/Quinn books had put the corpse in the ground. I would smugly say to myself, "What more can be done with the form that those two titans of crime haven't already covered?" and then I would retire to my study and smoke a pipe in front of the fire.

But then Bruen started doing the Jack Taylor novels, fucking with everything you've ever known about private dicks. Then Michael Koryta's Lincoln Perry books just did the form so goddamn well - so much so that I didn't even balk at the lack of effenheimers (and the Nerd likes him some "swears," in case you couldn't tell). Then Dave White's Jackson Donne books just kicked so much fucking ass and Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt books rocked my shit. Then Ray Banks punched me in the balls with his extremely intelligent Callum Innes series...

So basically, I've come back around on the tried-and-true old bitch.

But why-oh-fucking-why did I shit on the PI novel for so goddamn long? Well, let's investigate that little question, dear reader. Let's investigate like...a fucking private eye, I suppose. Shit.

My aversion to the PI novel is primarily because so many of the fuckers are just rehashes of the same thing. Plenty of writers do it plenty-well, but it's just the same old story over and over. Even dudes who are - no doubt - good writers and bona-fide noir badasses like Andrew Vachss (and the villain is...an exploiter of children. Yet again. Oh.), they get pretty old pretty quick.

What Pelecanos and Lehane did was yeah, they had a series and certain familiar things would happen in each novel and whatnot, but the SERIES had a beginning, middle and end, not just one after another of the same old shit like a Lawrence Sanders book (oh, he fucks a hot chick and acts suave. Sweet.). The characters changed, the novels had an arc and the SERIES had an arc as well. It's kind of like how on The Shield those just tuning in can enjoy Dutch and Claudette getting some sort of case that'll probably be wrapped up by the end of the episode, but for the long-time fans you have the more serialized elements of the Strike Team's shady doings. It's THAT SHIT that floats my boat.

And all those dudes I mentioned above GET that and do it right. I don't feel like any of them - though none are done with their series yet - are gonna stretch this shit out to Grafton-like lengths.

I've only read the first of Sean Chercover's series, but I already feel like he'll be one of the good guys too.

From the first pages of Big City, Bad Blood, we learn toot-fucking-sweet that Chicago private dick Ray Dudgeon is a fucking badass to beat the band (though speaking of bands, Dudgeon does love jazz, the genre of beret-wearing-finger-snapping-prentention-oozing-hep-cats, which knocks him down a few pegs in the Nerd's book). We meet Dudgeon as he is arranging a meeting with Outfit boss Johnny Greico on behalf of his client, Hollywood locations manager Bob Loniski.

Loniski is in town working for a studio called Continental Pictures, and his job took a turn for the worst when he rented a location from an Outfit hood running a scam where he rents to people month-to-month, no lease, to cover up the fact that he doesn't actually own the place he's renting out. Now Loniski is set to testify against the hood but needs protection to survive the ordeal. Dudgeon tentatively agrees to the job. But first, he's gotta check something with Greico.

You see, what's so awesome about this opening meeting is Dudgeon straight-up tells the reader that if the gangster in question is protected by Greico, he'll back off. He'll just say fuck it, let poor old Bob get whacked. That is ridiculously awesome. It sets Dudgeon up as a flat-out badass, a realist, jaded as all hell. You can't help but get a hard-boiled boner (that sounds painful) right from the start with this one.

Thankfully, Greico says the dude is of no concern to him so that, you know, we can have a story.

And from there Dudgeon only proves himself more awesome with every page. He is a hard man, with no qualms about killing a guy in cold-blood - not self-defense - if it's for the good of a case. The guy is stone-cold cool.

I could go on and on about Dudgeon but what I also like about this book is that it isn't really a mystery. We know who all the bad guys are and there are little turns here and there but no big reveals, no crazy-ass twists (it was Dudgeon's best friend all along! Noooo!!!). We just follow Dudgeon as he tries to keep his client alive and fuck over enough of the higher-ups so that he can save his client's skin, not to mention his own. It's a nifty plot (I'm a 1930's paperboy) and it honestly never feels too big, too over-the-top. Also, we get to see all kinds of PI tricks that Chercover himself, a former PI, has most-likely used in the past. There are techniques and devices in this book that I have never heard of and it made it all the more refreshing (whenever I write that word a picture of a can of Sprite appears in my head. I don't even like Sprite that much. Dammmmn youse ad-ver-tis-ingggg!!!).

But the capper, the icing on the proverbial-fucking-cake, is Chicago itself. I can't say I've been to Chicago a billion times, but I recognized a lot of places as I read this book and Chercover's perspective is similar to my own. He paints Chicago as a place of corruption, history, and working-class badassery that is being coated in Disney safety plastic every day. We get to see the town warts-and-all, the only way it should be seen, and damn if it doesn't just feel so fucking right.

So yeah, this bitch turned out to be more of a journey of self-discovery (the most boring journeys to be had) than a review but I think you can tell that I dug the shit out of Big City, Bad Blood. Will I read Trigger City?

In the words of Omar Little, "Oh in-deed."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

It must be said that The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death ain’t your typical Charlie Huston novel – whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean. Yeah, it has the blood (tons of the stuff), it has the kick-ass dialogue, the one-of-a-kind stream-lined prose, and it moves along like a motherfucker – but this is no doubt a major departure for Huston. Shit, I’d argue that Mystic Arts isn’t even noir.

Yeah, I fucking just said that. Deal with that shit.

That said, it certainly still kicks some major fucking ass.
Mystic Arts follows Web Goodhue, a smart-ass slacker who seems content to mooch off his best friend Chev and sleep away most of his days. He’s a dick to anybody who cares about him and an even bigger dick to those who don’t, but he’s got a reason for his attitude: a sad, nasty event has rendered him unable to deal with life.

Regardless of all this, fat-ass trauma cleaner Po Sin has decided to take him on board as an apprentice in his dirty business. First gig: cleaning up shit (literally) in a long-dead shut-in’s place. It’s a baptism by blazing fucking fire and he does a good enough job to garner a second day of work, this time cleaning up after the grisly suicide of a wealthy Malibu man with a smoking hot daughter, Soledad. Soledad and Web hit it off and soon the grieving woman asks Web to clean up after a more private, more illegal violent act…

After this encounter with the sexy femme fatale Web gets involved with deadly smuggling hicks, dumb-ass Hollywood wannabes, and rival trauma clean-up businesses – the makings of an awesome wild ride in Huston’s violent funhouse world, right?

You’d think so, but no, dear reader. It’s…different.

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death has a crazy crime plot, but it isn’t about its crazy crime plot, you dig? The book is actually more of a probing, aching character study of Web, a man forced to come to terms with the pain of his past. Yeah, I know – doesn’t sound like good old-fashioned pulpy fun, right?  Sounds like a fucking Cheever story or some shit like that (not to say Cheever wasn’t awesome but still, this is Charlie Fucking Huston we’re talking about here, the modern master of down-and-dirty noir!).

A more accurate way to describe Mystic Arts would be to compare it to the great novels of Sean Doolittle. Like Doolittle, Huston uses the crime plot as an excuse for some action to move the story forward while the real business, the real meat of the book is simply getting to the bottom of a great central character. We get deep inside Web, know his family, know his past, know his pain – know him.

Yeah, there’s hilarious line on every page and the caper shit is rock solid, but it all comes back to Web’s internal journey, his personal growth. The climax is not one of Huston’s amazing, horrifically ape-shit violent action scenes – though there is some good violence, no doubt – but Web starting to get his life in order. And Web is not a tortured killing-machine like Hank Thompson or Joe Pitt – he is a regular guy who will do anything he can not to kill someone.

So basically, don’t go into Mystic Arts expecting a violent thrill-ride with a body count to rival Predator like his previous novels. This beast is a bit more tame, a bit more humane. Shit, it may even win the guy some well-deserved new fans. But still, we’re talking tame for Charlie Fucking Huston, people. It’s like saying The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is just a vicious crazed junkyard dog instead of a fucking rabid feral dog.