Monday, November 30, 2009

Last Known Address by Theresa Schwegel

My review of Theresa Schwegel's Last Known Address is up over at bookspot.

Check it out here.

Schwegel pretty much owns the police procedural genre these days so the Nerd advises you best keep up with her shit.

And that's advice from a dude who isn't even a fan of the genre - her stuff is that re-fucking-freshing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Catching Up #46 & 47: Tomato Red & Give Us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell

Like my last post on Daniel Woodrell, I’m doubling up reviews. Also similar to the last post, again there is one novel that I’d recommend to anyone looking for fucking hoot and one that is devastating and dark as all hell. But this time out, I’d say that anyone and everyone should read Tomato Red, the more tragic and noirier (totally a word, don’t worry about it) of the two, because it is one of the absolute finest novels I’ve read in a long fucking time, a no fucking joke classic.

But let’s kick shit off with Give Us a Kiss, Woodrell’s most personal novel to date. It’s the story of crime novelist Doyle Redmond returning to the Ozarks to convince his brother Smoke to turn himself into the cops seeing how their parents are being harassed daily by the cops. When he finds his brother, instead of getting all bounty hunter on his Smoke’s ass, Doyle ends up involved in a scam.

Smoke, his girlfriend Big Annie (named not for her weight but for her massive breasts), and Big Annie’s gorgeous daughter Niagra (like the honeymoon destination but spelt wrong) take on Doyle as security for their harvesting of a fat weed crop. The Dollys (the Ozark family we meet later in Winter’s Bone) have been snooping around Smoke is worried they’re gonna rip them off. Turns out Smoke’s instincts were correct and Doyle ends up murdering one of the infamous clan. Now the foursome is really in the shit.

Woodrell is clearly having a blast telling this tale and it’s filled with funny descriptions and hilarious dialogue. A great part of the book’s appeal is just the sense of fun that permeates much of the book (Jesus, I just wrote permeate like some kind of learned reviewer fellow. I'm a douche). Hanging out drinking in the warm night air, golfing on a woodsy course where the holes are just stacks of cow pies, going down on a beautiful hillybilly babe – it’s all rendered with love and longing. Even in Woodrell’s darkest works, there’s always a bit of escapist, man-I-wish-I-was-a-dirt-poor-hillbilly fantasy going on. Yeah, life may be hard in the Ozarks but a lot of the time it looks like some good old fashioned fun.

But it’s not all fun and games, dear reader. Shit gets violent and exciting and revelations happen and all that good shit you expect from a crime novel goes down, to be sure. Like Winter’s Bone, it’s clear that shit is never going to get all tragic on your ass, and that’s just fine because you’re happy to go along for the fun, pot-clouded ride.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in Tomato Red as well, but when shit goes dark it makes your heart absolutely fucking break. It’s the story of Sammy Barlach, a drifter who stumbles West Table and also into a fucked up but extremely tight-knit family and becomes an honorary member. There’s the adorable Jamalee Merridew, a smart young gal with her eyes set on high society, her gay hairdresser brother Jason, the most beautiful boy in the Ozarks, and their mother Bev, the local whore.

Figuring Sammy for one of them “rough types,” Jamalee enlists Sammy as a bodyguard of sorts, protection for when she gets her blackmail business off the ground. Her plan is to have Jason fuck married rich women then extort them for money, eventually netting them enough cash to move to some fancy place like Florida or Hollywood. Naturally, things don’t go as planned and this sad little family gets broken up toot-fucking-sweet.

Family is a major theme in all of the Woodrells I’ve read so far, and in Tomato Red that shit really hits home. Sammy is just searching for some place to fit in and be loved and it looks like the Merridews are as good a bunch as he’s likely to ever find. As with The Death of Sweet Mister’s protagonist Shuggie, when it looks like he’s gonna lose his pathetic family, the evil in him is released. The good times and hope that Sammy experiences before it all goes to shit make it hurt twice as hard.

Tomato Red is a breeze to read but tough to take. There are scenes in here that no shit devastate so if you’re looking for something a little lighter, I’d read Give Us a Kiss first. That said, be sure to get around to Tomato Red eventually because if you don’t, you’re missing out on – yeah, I’ll just fucking say it already – a modern classic.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dealing with The Troubles: Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast and Brian McGilloway's Gallows Lane

My reviews of Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast and Brian McGilloway's Gallows Lane are up at bscreview.

Give that shit a glance right HERE.

You should already be caught up with Belfast seeing how it's the talk of the town (if every crime fiction site on the web put together makes some sort of town...), but you might not be familiar with McGilloway's shit.

In other words, your excuses for not clicking the link are fucking weak.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Catching Up #45: Brotherhood: Season Three by Blake Masters

The third season of Brotherhood, Showtime’s series about a Providence congressman and his Irish mob boss brother, is also the show’s final season and that’s a damned shame. It wraps up nicely and all, but there’s no getting around that it feels rushed, like nobody at Showtime knew what they had. Then again, most television viewers probably didn’t even know it existed so it’s no wonder they cut that shit short. Still, it’s a damned shame all around because Brotherhood was more than just the poor man’s Sopranos.

This time out, Tommy Caffee is basically the Speaker of the House’s bitch, doing the man’s dirty work and losing his soul more and more every day. Soon enough, Tommy sees a way to get out of politics and off the Hill all together in the form of a waterfront project that he is in a position to get a nice chunk of down the line. His brother Michael is running things now that Freddie Cork is in the can, and he’s having a tough go at it. He’s cheating on his wife and paranoid that his cousin Colin is fucking his girlfriend, and his paranoia is kind of warranted. Colin is deeply in love with Kath and she’s feeling slighted enough by Michael to maybe take him up on a good fuck.

Meanwhile their mother Rose is suffering from Cadmium poisoning from her many years working at the jewelry company and Tommy’s wife Eileen is pregnant with their fourth child. Also, Freddie Cork eventually makes bail and Michael’s not sure if he knows that yes, it was him who served Freddie up to the Feds. The Caffees’ friend Declan is working homicide and trying to put his marriage back together, but Tommy gets the bright idea to assign Dec to a puppet task force investigating corruption in the House. Little does Tommy know that Declan isn’t just a fuck-up drunk anymore, he’s trying to do right, so it’s a bit of shock when Dec starts getting closer and closer to Tommy’s own illegal dealings.

So that’s a lot of shit to deal with in eight short episodes, but creator Blake Masters and crew make it flow nicely and in an unforced manner. Because this is essentially Showtime’s answer to The Sopranos, there’s plenty of sex (including the most graphic and hot sex scene I’ve ever seen on television) and some kick-ass violence and mob stuff, while also some sharp satire and knowing depictions of middle-class life. But if you’ve watched the previous seasons, you’ve come to expect that shit.

What really surprises this time out is how fleshed out not only Colin becomes, but Freddie Cork. We got to see some of the inner-depths of Cork last season when his gay son died, but in the third season the fan favorite (or is “Fuckin’ Moe” the fan favorite since Pete died?) really gets to shine. When he’s released on bail, his lawyer strongly advises him not to do any shady shit. Cork’s assets are all tied up as well, so he needs to earn somehow. Seeing how on his tax returns he’s a car salesman, he calls in his chips and works at the dealership for real, only to find that he’s actually a bit of a natural. Of course, he eventually gets back in with Michael and the rest of his old gang, but instead of the hot head we’re used to, he shows himself to be extremely wise and self-sacrificing, the kind of leader that Michael Caffee will never be.

Colin gets lots of airtime this season as well, at first drinking and drugging himself into oblivion to take Kath off his mind, then trying to hide his feelings and actions from Michael, who will surely kill them both if he gets wind of their affair. Shit, Michael’s so fucking crazy these days he doesn’t even need a good reason to suspect anything is going on.

It’s all very smart and exciting and promises to come to a very gory head at end (and I mean, you’re expecting the-end-of-the-world-style tragedy by the close of the show), but like The Sopranos, the writers decide subvert your expectations somewhat. It’s still a disturbing and sad wrap up, as is fitting for such a dark show, but not the bloodbath you might’ve expected.

So I’ve mentioned The Sopranos like thirty fucking times in this review and to be honest, that shit isn’t fair. There are similarities to be sure, but it’s a lot to lay on a show that is really great on its own terms. Despite the revisionist assholes out there who say The Sopranos was over-rated, it truly isn’t. It is the most painful, smart, satiric, entertaining, bleakly true and ballsy exploration of American upper middle class life we’re likely to see ever again (yes, that statement is huge, but it’s true – and I love me some The Wire but there’s no getting around the greatness of The Sopranos), so pitting the decidedly modest but still wonderful Brotherhood against the show is not really fair at all. Its aims are smaller, but its aims are true as fuck.

Actually, because this is, you know, my fucking blog and I can do whatever the fuck I want, let me use some space in this review of shit you’ve probably never seen before to plead a case for The Sopranos. I don’t think we’ll ever see such a viewpoint properly expressed in television again. I mean, the show was basically an anti-drama in a lot of ways. Where damn near all stories are about a character changing, The Sopranos stayed brutally honest to a theme we rarely see handled well: man’s inability to change. The show is essentially about people who have shots at redemption, only to turn it down because it is hard to change, because they’re lazy or financially satisfied or their family and friends are terrible influences. I mean, think of Vito Spatafore, Carmela, Tony himself, both of their fucking kids – they all give in to the temptations of either the mob lifestyle or American middle-class life in general.

Then there’s just the writing itself, how eventually the show became about brilliantly undercutting and subverting your expectations of the storylines. They’d build something up to look like it was going to lead to the biggest pay off of all time, then fuck you over with an even more random turn. Shit, the randomness of life is something an entire other blog post could deal with as well. Then there’d be major plot things that would just pop up out of nowhere and be handled in that very same episode (I’m thinking particularly of numerous season five episodes – the most entertaining season of TV of all time, a close second being season three of The Wire). But through all the randomness and fuck yous, the mob shit was always engaging and violent and approachable and the suburban shit was painfully familiar. And it was probably the funniest show of all time too.

Okay, I’ll wrap this shit up now because you can probably find similar views elsewhere on other blogs that do this shit better. What was I talking about again? Oh yes, how Brotherhood season three was really fucking good, if a little shorter than it should’ve been. See that shit. Also, respect The Sopranos. Or see that shit as well, but if you haven’t seen it yet, what the fuck? Are you fucking culturally illiterate or some shit? Wow, this turned into a fucking mess, but like I said, it’s my blog and I can do whatever the fuck I want.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Catching Up #43 & #44: Daniel Woodrell's The Death of Sweet Mister and Winter's Bone

Don't even start - you know what the Catching Up series is for, dear readers. It's for, like, catching up and shit. Pretty self-fucking-explanatory. So yes, until recently I, the self-proclaimed Nerd of Noir, had never read a fucking Daniel Woodrell novel. Ever. I'm ashamed, indeed I fucking am, but I am fixing the situation as best I can. Besides, maybe there's some of you out there in the noirosphere that have yet to read Woodrell either. Maybe I'm doing the world a favor by admitting that yes, even dark crime junkies like myself make an oversight, can leave something deathly important and exciting at the bottom of the TBR pile for too long.

Or maybe I've just lost the respect of my discerning readership, doomed myself to never being read again. I'd understand that backlash because, no fucking shit, Woodrell is that necessary, that fucking amazing. But blogs are part masturbation and part nobody-fucking-cares confessional so here we go irre-fucking-gardless (I know that irregardless isn't a word, but it rules, you know, irregardless).

I've got two reviews rocking and rolling for you today that showcase that Woodrell is both for the basement crazies but also for, well, fucking everyone, I suppose. First, let me sate the basement crazies with The Death of Sweet Mister, a nasty little slice of awesome that will make your skin crawl and your noir boner rage.

It's the story of Shuggie Akins, a fat boy who lives with his sexy mother Glenda and junkie thief "dad" Red in the Ozarks of Missouri. Well, Shug and Glenda live together anyhow, Red is usually off with junkie pal Basil ripping off pharmacies and shut-ins for pills then partying for weeks at a time. And when Red is around, he's either ragging on Shuggie or beating him, though sometimes they'll do "men stuff," i.e. Red forces the boy to help in his latest score. But when Glenda gets involved with a classy chef with a fancy car (well, for West Table, MO he's classy), Shuggie's shitty life begins to get even shittier.

The Death of Sweet Mister starts out as a by turns funny and sad slice of life story about white trash in the Vietnam era South, but as this short novel races to the end, it becomes a classic noir story, then a much more twisted, disturbing thing all its own. It's a coming of age tale where your protagonist doesn't become older and wiser, but more hardened and evil than we initially thought possible. It's a complex work and at times awesomely creepy, but also reads like a fucking dream.

Woodrell's prose is sharp and his storytelling skills sly as all hell. And the dialogue? Fucking hysterically true. And don't get me started on the man's details and lore because I'll fucking blab all afternoon. Dude just plain knows how much to leave in and how much to take out. This shit is as direct and fast-paced as the best thriller while also managing to take the time to wow you with some "writerly" touches that don't bug the shit out of you in the least.

But if you're looking for something to stuff in stockings this Christmas (look at the Nerd, getting all Oprah's Favorite Things on your ass), you should really pick up Winter's Bone, a book that I'd recommend to anyone, no fucking reservations. It's the story of Ree Dolly, a sixteen year old hillbilly gal from Rathlin Valley in, again, the Missouri Ozarks. Ree takes care of her touched-in-the-head mom and two younger brothers in their shit shack while her pops is off cooking meth and generally raising hell. But one day the sheriff drops by and warns Ree that her old man is due in court for a drug charge in a week and nobody's seen hide nor hair of his ass in quite sometime. Shit of it is, the dirtbag used their house as collateral for his bond so if he doesn't show, the bail bondsman takes the house and Ree's shaky family is left in the cold.

Thus begins Ree's search for her father, a journey that will put her in all kinds of danger seeing how it puts her at odds with the rest of the Dolly clan, a powerful old hillbilly force in those parts. But Ree's got the sand to confront the old ones and the old ways when it comes to saving her family - shotguns, meth-crazies and beatd0wns be damned.

There are a billion things to recommend in Winter's Bone, but what struck me first is Woodrell's ability to make you feel like you're getting an inside look at a culture you didn't know existed anymore. The rules and heirarchies of the Dolly clan are absolutely fascinating, from their weird religion to the story behind why certain boys are named what, it's all so exciting and fresh and fucking alive.

But just shining a light on a little known culture is not enough to recommend a book (though when you look at what's popular at your local bookstore, apparently it is these days), so thankfully Woodrell's characters come alive and the story never disappoints. Ree is one of the most hilarious and believably tough and totally human characters I've come across in good goddamn while and there's nary a supporting player who doesn't ring true as well. Yeah, shit doesn't get as fucked and dark as it does in The Death of Sweet Mister but I had absolutely no problem with that because no shit, you come to love Ree Dolly like she's your kid sister.

And did I mention that this shit is fucking sly as all hell? There's this blink and you miss it reveal at the end of the book that just makes me fucking red with envy. Jesus, it's fucking perfect (if you've read it, you know what I'm talking about. Or you missed it and I'm totally smarter than you. Excuse me while I pat my own back).

But like I said, this book is fucking for everyone you know. It's fun enough, dark enough, smart enough, and just plain fascinating enough that I dare anybody to talk shit about it. I saw it's being made into a movie (with Deadwood favorites Garret Dillahunt and John Hawkes as part of the cast!) but don't fuck up and see that shit first. I mean, book's not even two hundred pages, for fuck's sake.

So there you go, dear readers. I'm catching up with Woodrell slowly but surely. And if you are like I once was and ignorant of the man's work, here's two perfectly good excuses to get fucking de-ignoranted or some shit like that. Yeah, you're fucking welcome.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Crime Comics for One and All (Except Cozy Fans, regrettably)!

My review of Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth's Stumptown (issue one); Garth Ennis, Jimmy Palmiotti and Mihailo Vukelic's Back to Brooklyn; and Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jacques Tardi's West Coast Blues.

You've got no excuses to strike out at the comic book store these days, dear reader. Unless you're looking to get laid there, I suppose...

Check it out right HERE.