George Pelecanos’s THE MARTINI SHOT

9781409151340The is George Pelecanos’s first collection of short stories and once again demonstrates his consummate class, not just as a crime writer, but a writer.

The title piece is the longest of the collection but Pelecanos saves it for last. The preceding stories are a blend of what makes Pelecanos great. Stories about the street, with all the grit, soul, flair and despair that lives there.

The standout piece is Chosen. A short story that originally appeared with the eBook of The Cut and is pretty much Spero Lucas’s origin story. The piece is about Spero’s adoptive parents and how he and his brothers came to be adopted. Pelecanos tells it from the father’s perspective and I have to admit to having a few tears in my eyes at the end of the story. There was no crime in this piece. It was just life; pure, simple and beautiful. And what Pelecanos manages to capture and convey so well in all of his writings.

The title story was a whole lot of fun. Set on a television production Pelecanos was able to weave in his experiences on shows like The Wire and Treme into a very cleverly plotted murder story. There were some great in-jokes as well as a couple of scathing portrayals but at the same time a story with heart.

This is a great showcase of George Pelecanos’s tremendous talents and I can’t wait for the next novel.

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ISBN: 9781409151340
ISBN-10: 1409151344
Classification: Crime & mystery
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Don Winslow’s THE TRAIL TO BUDDHA’S MIRROR

The+Trail+to+Buddha's+MirrorThe early books of Don Winslow give a fascinating insight into the development of his style but also the stories he wanted to tell. So much of Don Winslow’s recent work has centered around the drug trade, big and small, in San Diego and Mexico. The Neal Carey series however is much more global. A Cool Breeze on the Underground took us to London of the 70s and in the second book in the series we get deeply entrenched in China.

We pick up Neal Carey still in England, lying low, after the events of the previous book. But Carey is not allowed to remain idle for too long. A new job soon awaits him. One that seems pretty straight forward but quickly sees Neal caught in a web of lies, intrigue and worst of all love. Things go from bad to worse for Neal as he botches the initial job before getting disavowed and tangled up in Triads, Communists and the CIA. And that’s not even the worst of it.

Hong Kong and mainland China are not just exotic settings for Winslow to take his story. He has an in depth knowledge of the history of both places that he weaves expertly into a thrilling plot. And after reading this it is of even lesser surprise that Don Winslow wrote Satori a few years ago.

Neal Carey is a fantastic hero. He is far from your traditional PI, more book smart than street smart but enough street smarts to survive (but not enough to stay out of trouble). And he has to rely on his smarts because he doesn’t have the brawn to fight his way out of a paper bag. Throw in his unusual upbringing and you have a nicely complicated character. Looking forward to reading more in the series.

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Open Road, December 2010
Imprint:Open Road
ISBN:9781453206225

Dennis Lehane’s THE DROP

9780349140728This is absolute vintage Dennis Lehane. Contemporary Boston, working class neighbourhood, crime is not about right or wrong it is about survival and everyone has their own choices to make.

Dennis Lehane originally wrote this as a short story called “Animal Rescue”. He then turned it into a screenplay which is about to be released as a film starring James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy (set in Brooklyn instead of Boston). He then adapted the screenplay into a novella.

What I really loved about this book was it was vintage Lehane distilled into a potent and heady brew. Lehane has recently been working on a multi-generational, historical epic. Book three of which is due out early next year. This was a return to his working class roots where right and wrong a luxuries people cannot afford.

Bob tends bar for his cousin Marv. Marv was a loan shark and fence back in the day but those days are long gone. The Chechens, amongst others, have moved in and Marv now works for them. His bar, their bar now, is one of many drop points where money is collected from all the night’s many activities across the city. Bob is just trying to keep his head down and avoid any trouble. Except trouble has just walked in and wants to rob the joint.

Lehane effortlessly bring his characters vividly to life. This is a true craftsmen at work, building his pieces, putting them together and then sadly watching them fall apart. If you have ever wondered why such high praise is heaped upon Dennis Lehane, The Drop is why.

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ISBN: 9780349140728
ISBN-10: 0349140723
Classification: Crime & mystery
Format: Paperback (198mm x 126mm x mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: Abacus
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 19-Aug-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

David Mitchell’s GHOSTWRITTEN

9780340739754For some reason I have been approaching David Mitchell backwards. I started with Cloud Atlas but then went to The Bone Clocks and have worked backward from there. This wasn’t intentional, normally I’m a stickler for reading in chronological order but The Bone Clocks lead me to A Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet because of a character crossover, Black Swan Green grabbed me next and then due to stock availability I skipped Number9dream (for now) and went to Mitchell’s first novel.

Ghostwritten is highly accomplished for a first novel and having read all his other books you can see the germination of the bigger, grander, utterly amazing things to come. The structure shares a lot with Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks but on a much smaller time scale until the penultimate chapter. The story is about 9 separate characters (not all of them corporeal). There aren’t the major jumps in time or genre as in Mitchell’s later works just slight ones and the connections between each character and their story is not always as apparent but he does tie everything together in a way you will never imagine. None of which stops this being any less wonderful. After all it is David Mitchell.

Mitchell takes us from the Sarin Gas attack in Tokyo to the finance district of Hong Kong, across the Mongolian plains to St Petersburg and on to London and a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Each story and life intersects, influences and impacts upon the other, but not always in linear ways. And the end is quite simply (and possibly literally) divine.

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ISBN: 9780340739754
ISBN-10: 0340739754
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (197mm x 132mm x 28mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Sceptre
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 20-Apr-2000
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

John Scalzi’s LOCK IN

9780575134348I’ve been dying to read this since Scalzi published his oral history, teaser novella earlier this year. You don’t have to read the novella before this but I would highly recommend doing so because it shows the true depth of the world building Scalzi has imagined for our near future.

To set things up a flu like virus has ripped through the world infecting millions. Many died but there were also survivors, a small portion of whom became “Locked In”. Thier minds were perfectly fine but they became trapped inside their bodies. Billions of dollars was thrown at finding a cure for the virus but instead of a cure a different solution was discovered. “Locked In” people were able to transfer their consciousness to specially designed robots known as Hadens allowing them to rejoin the world. This lead to other discoveries and innovations that have had a fundamental impact on society and the world.

Scalzi tells the story like a classic detective mystery; two FBI agents, one a veteran the other new on the job. The twist being the new agent on the job is a Haden. Their first case together is a bizarre one. One man is dead and an “Integrator” (a human who can integrate their minds with Hadens) is found at the scene. As the FBI agents try to piece together what has happened they are quickly enveloped in a world of big business, politics and technology where nobody is who they seem.

This was a lot of fun and I don’t think Scalzi is finished with this world just yet. I can’t wait to see the stories he comes up with if he does return.

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ISBN: 9780575134348
ISBN-10: 0575134348
Classification: Science fiction
Format: Paperback (235mm x 155mm x 25mm)
Pages: 336
Imprint: Gollancz
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Aug-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Monthly Round Up – August

My blog posts from August

9780571258093Kazuo Ishiguro’s NEVER LET ME GO

I’ve been on a bit of backlist bender lately and with one of my favourite books of 2014 being compared to this I thought I’d give it ago. This is one of the most haunting coming of age novels I have ever read. Set in England in an alternative late 1990s the story is narrated by Kathy who is a carer for a series of donors. Kathy is looking back on her life which brings her back to her most formative years at the exclusive Havisham School. Read more…

9780732295547Lauren Beukes’ BROKEN MONSTERS

This book needs to come with a warning that if you don’t have time to read it the rest of the day don’t start it! Lauren Beukes takes her writing and her dark imagination to another level following the utterly amazing The Shining Girls. Read more…

David Mitchell’s BLACK SWAN GREEN9780340822807

This is an absolutely wonderful coming-of-age novel by a writer who cannot put a foot wrong. David Mitchell doesn’t just get inside the head of a thirteen year old boy but brings teenage adolescence to life like I have never read before. David Mitchell captures the innocence, the naivety, the pain and the joy so acutely that you are transported back to your own time as a teenager. Read more…

9780670015672Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIAN’S LAND

The third and final volume in an absolutely brilliant series is a truly fitting finale. It is everything you want from the final book in a series. Loose ends are tied up, the gang gets back together for one last, possibly world ending, epic quest. Grossman throws you straight back into the world of Quentin Coldwater without missing a beat and five pages in your already start to dread that this is going to be the last book, the last adventure with these great characters. Read more…

Darragh McKeon’s ALL THAT IS SOLID MELTS INTO AIR9780241003312

One of my favourite books of 2013 was A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra so when he reviewed this book in the New York Times I took notice. Set in Russia in 1986 the book follows the events surrounding the nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl. The story doesn’t deal with the accident directly but instead on what it means for four characters who are caught up in the inescapable events in different ways. Read more…

 

Smith Henderson’s FOURTH OF JULY CREEK

9780434022786With cover quotes from Kevin Power, Philipp Meyer and Jenni Fagan there was no way I was not going to read this. Throw in a rave review from John Harvey describing it as the best novel he’s read since Peter Temple’s Truth and it was practically drop everything to read this book. And everything they said about this book was true and then some.

Set in Montana in the early 1980s the main character of the novel is Pete Snow, a social worker who covers a large swathe of territory across a number of semi-rural communities. It is Pete’s job to step in when things go wrong in families although that didn’t stop his own family falling apart. Pete’s wife Beth has left him taking their daughter Rachel and they are not living in the best environment to raise a teenage girl. Meanwhile Pete’s efforts to get a child away from his mother and into a good home unravel at every turn. When an eleven year-old-boy, who has been living off the grid with his father, wanders into the local school Pete is determined to help in any way he can.

Pete is drawn into the boy and his father’s world. A world of paranoia and distrust of authority. A world dominated by survival and nothing else. And as Pete slowly wins their trust he discovers secrets and lies that will rip open wounds and leave fresh scars for all involved.

Smith Henderson tells Pete’s story with tender power and fierce precision presenting a man who in spite of his flaws is determined to help those in need. What makes Pete’s story more tragic is the plight of his daughter. We get her side of the story in short, sharp vignettes at the end of chapters in a series of interview questions answered in the third person which gives Rachel’s story a detached and melancholic quality which, as we learn more, tragically becomes more and more apt.

I was totally enthralled and enraptured by this book. From the subject matter, to the structure, the characters and the language this is an astonishing debut. Smith Henderson manages to combine the raw intensity and emotion of Philipp Meyer with the haunting descriptions and beautiful language of Kevin Powers while delving into the dark shadows of society in a deeply personal and confrontingly honest way like Jenni Fagan. This is a very close contender for my book of the year.

 

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ISBN: 9780434022786
ISBN-10: 0434022780
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 33mm)
Pages: 480
Imprint: William Heinemann Ltd
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 5-Jun-2014
Country of Publication: United Kingdom