A Bigger Bone

21457477Paw and Order†by Spencer Quinn
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Chet may be one brilliant bastard (for a dog), but I read this during my darker days where the nights were long and the radiator was cold, and itís hard to read (or sleep) when you have a flashlight shined in your eyes every half-hour. Sure, the cabin was fun for the first day or so, and I even pretended to like it, but not sleeping gets old really fast.

And so does Chet. Something was amiss, and I donít think it was the lack of bacon bits. Sure, Suzie Sanchez makes an appearance, and where would Chet be without Bernie by his side, but I just wanted a bigger bone, and more fresh water in my bowl (and not the kind you get out of the toilet either as thatís saved for special occasions).

But even though I missed the smell of bacon and water and more than a few scratches on my belly, I still enjoyed frolicking around inside Chetís head. The air was crisp and plenty (since it was blowing in my face), and I leaned my head out the window and squirrel and then he was running and I was running and my teeth were smacking and his lips were jabbering and I found myself being yelled at for no apparent reason. And thatís sort of what PAW AND ORDER felt like. It started out as great fun, but I ended up getting scolded in the end.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Clean And Sharp

19412928Baby Moll†by John Farris
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Dammit, I canít really remember this novel at all. So what I will say is North Dakota is really green this time of year. No, thatís not right either. If there are excess words to be found in the English language, you probably wonít find them within the confines of BABY MOLL. This novel punched me in the gut, and then it kept on swinging even after I had already hit the ground. But thatís what I love about Hard Case Crime novels. Those beautiful bastards rip out your insides, and then staple them to your forehead.

The dialogue is clean and sharp; the characters have discovered more than a few problems; the action has a brutish quality; and thereís a clear distinction between the good guys and the bad guys (and no itís not the white hats). The women often remind me of pin-up models, and I can devour a Hard Case Crime novel in approximately two hours and fifty-nine minutes. If life gets better than this, then Iíd like to see it, because that probably means thereís a pot of gold with my name on it, or a mob boss ready to shove a hand grenade up my keister. These days, one can never really tell.

Devil May Care

15799052Pale Horses†by Jassy Mackenzie
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Jade de Jong reminded me of a dude. Let me just put that out there right now, so youíre not left wondering later, and just in case you donít like chicks that act like dudes. Me, I have no strong reservations on the matter, and Iím all for equal opportunity. In fact, Iíd even go so far as to say that strong womenÖand men are interesting to me. Because itís not easy to perfect the bad*ss lassiez faire attitude with a devil may care grin plastered on your face.

But Jade pulls it off. And she does it with a smoking body and smoking attitude. Sheís not afraid of anyone, and sheís certainly not afraid to throw herself in the line of fire. David Patel is the yin to her yang, and it works. It really, really does.

The South African setting with the swan dive courtesy of Sonet Meintjies off the sixty-five story Sandton skyscraper was a new twist to me in the eventful death arena, and I must say I rather enjoyed the unique approach, not necessarily the demise of said individual.

I enjoyed the characters, the storyline, and the mystery fulfilled my attention, but I didnít feel like I was a stock car on the last lap of the track executing a mad dash to the checkered flag. Instead, Iíd call it heightened curiosity without ever becoming completely immersed in PALE HORSES. But if unique deaths and unique settings are your thing, youíll find plenty of both here.

I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

Chocolate Covered In Chili Pepper

18924329Fade To Blonde†by Max Phillips
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Dammit, blondes should definitely not be forced to fade away. Instead, the little vixens filled with honey and curves and dimpled noses should prance around from town to town just for the hell of it. I have no idea why, but I continue to be fascinated by women with honey-colored hair. If Iím being truly honest, though, I donít discriminate if sheís brunette, or raven-haired, or a redhead, but for whatever reason blondes pack a little extra wallop when I step in the ring.

So, yes, I liked Rebecca LaFontaine even I couldnít trust even six words out of a sixty word monologue that she might spout off to me between the sheets. FADE TO BLONDE felt like a true icon in the midst of my two star slump fest. But it had more bite to it than a piece of chocolate covered in chili pepper. Ray Corson had an attitude that just wouldnít quit, and the pages clipped along faster than a pair of scissors through tissue paper. So I did what seemed appropriate: I gripped my chair with both hands and held on tight. The dialogue had more firepower than a machine gun; there wasnít a spineless character to be found; the race was over in record time and it was nearly a photo finish.

The ending was a blow to the gut and a jammed toe, but in a good way, and I may have lost a tooth before the ride ended. But I did manage to keep myself apprised of the situation, even if I had to blow my nose on more than one occasion. If you like your cases hard and your women loose, then find yourself a video camera and saddle up my friend, because this is one ride where you might want to hold on tight.

Twelve Round Beat Down

11257455Casino Moon†by Peter Blauner
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If the boxing world even remotely mimics what Peter Blauner describes with intense detail in the pages of CASINO MOONóa world filled with intimidation and manipulation, where the main objective becomes the knockout, completely immobilizing your opponent both inside and outside the ring, where a cutting board with several large knives serves as the negotiation table, where greed is the only concept that brings men together in the name of a twelve round beat downóthen Iím glad Iím a lover, not a fighter. Itís this world filled with ornate detail, where the good guys are bad and the bad guys are even worse that the reader finds himself engrossed in from the opening bell. A world where women go panty-free, fucking the hero on the rails of the boardwalk, where killing is just another word expunged between breaths and guns are touted around with as much precision as metal lunchboxes. Itís a world Iím unfamiliar with, and yet I was immediately intrigued by it.

This world has no beginning and no end: it lives on with its own life force. And yet I felt as though I had a brief glimpse into it between the pages, savoring every moment of exploding flesh, hard rights, and intense uppercuts. While I certainly understood the needs and desires of Anthony Russo and his ploy to go legitimate, or at least break himself away from his mob ties, most of my sympathies rested with Rosemary. Sheís as tough as any male character that haunts the pages of this novel, and without her, this book might have been a shell of itself. This proves an ongoing point that many good and great authors recognize: strong males need strong females. Itís a codependent relationship, and this hard-case crime novel is better for it.

If youíre into interesting reads where you get a glimpse of the street life, along with the high life, and youíre not afraid to get your hands dirty, then you might want to check out this book. I know Iím glad I did.

One Fine Piece Of Detective Fiction

9547677A Drop of the Hard Stuff†by Lawrence Block
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Hi, my name is Robert Downs, and Iím a member of Lawrence Block Anonymous (LBA for short). I can see why he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1994. He has the damaged, hard-boiled detective figured out as well as anyone else Iíve ever read, and his prose flows better than eggnog at Christmastime. And itís easy to keep on guzzling the way his famous PI Matthew Scudder used to swig the hard stuff. A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF indeed. Well, more than, but itís easy to get carried away when itís just so darn good.

If it wasnít for Amazonís Kindle Daily Deals, I might have waited a bit longer before I delved into Matthew Scudderís universe, and that would have been a serious travesty, especially considering my love of hard-boiled novels knows no bounds. Iíd travel just about anywhere with a hard-boiled gumshoe at my side.

Iíd have to agree with the critics that this is one fine piece of detective fiction, even though it would have been easy for Mr. Block to let his guard down and go for the low blow. Matthew Scudder felt as real to me as if he was standing right beside me, telling me his story over a cup of joe with a determined look and a never-back-down attitude.

The ending could have been a bit better, but it worked out just fine for the story, and it wasnít out of character for Mr. Scudder. And this proves to be a bit of a minor detail in an otherwise gut wrenching story written with near pitch perfect lyrical prose.

I must say this is one fine hard-boiled read, and if youíre into the hard stuff, itís certainly worthy of a bit more attention.

San Bernardino Mountains

18932044Plaster City by Johnny Shaw
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Dan and Kemper just might be reading geniuses. George Pelecanos notwithstanding. After all, even Albert Einstein didnít get it right all the time. But Johnny Shaw is one beautiful bastard. He even has a great one liner when he was asked to describe PLASTER CITY: ďTwo dumb guys with a really bad plan.Ē I mean, shit, how much better could it possibly get. Iíd buy that book. And when I was threatened within an inch of my life for previous sins committed against Saint George, I decided that it might be time to trickle out of the darkness and poke my head at the sun. So instead of a live grenade strapped to my waist and a bullwhip wrapped around my neckÖwell, I chose to live. Being strangled and blown to dust in the middle of California just doesnít provide me with enough excitement in my world.

If you could take all the bad luck in the universe and hand it off to two ignorant bastards, youíd probably choose Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves, and these two fools would probably be stupid enough to thank you. But thatís what made them so cute and cuddly. Pure ignorance was coupled with a wave of bliss, and I was left tearing through pages like a gun was pointed at my head with the hammer cocked.

Seeing the fiery inferno headed my way, I chose to stand on the sidelines and watch the blaze roll on by. It tore through trees and tumbleweed and California sand before it passed out just short of the San Bernardino Mountains, and I found it hard not to look away. No, I stared directly into the flames, and I might have even had the slightest uptick of a smile.

The dialogue punched me in the gut and knocked me on my ass, and some man with steel cables for arms nearly took out my nose. I might have lost two lead pipes in the fight, but I was damn sure going to walk away with my pride. And maybe a stupid grin. In the end, Iíd say it was all worth it, and I have no doubt Johnny Shaw and I are going to get along just fine.

Damn Fine Noir

8127642Queenpin by Megan Abbott
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

QUEENPIN was my first introduction to Megan Abbott, based on a Kemper review of said author, not said novel, but it certainly wonít be my last. The voice carried me like a tumbleweed in the middle of New Mexico. It sang like a blue canary in the middle of spring. It had heart, promiseÖWell, you get the idea.

The unnamed narrator proved every bit as powerful as she did mysterious. She jumped up on stage, fully exposed, front and center, with hardly a stitch on her, and proceeded to take on all comers. She had guts, panache, and often a clever way with words. She showed first-hand why noir novels can be such powerful reads. While we saw the other characters through her eyes, they were fully fleshed out as well.

The story was raw, exposed, and everything a great noir should be. I donít know if Iíd call QUEENPIN great, as it had a few flaws, like all the characters within the confines of the novel, but it was a damn fine read.

The storyline clipped along at a thoroughbred pace, and like the main character, I raced rather dramatically toward the ending. As for the ending, it may not have been a complete surprise, but it wrapped up the story rather nicely. If you like noir, especially with a female lead, you may want to hop on the Megan Abbott bandwagon. And have your red flag ready, youíre probably going to need it.

Well-Timed Comebacks

13013084Bullet For A Star†by Stuart M. Kaminsky
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I like the pictures. A lot. Iím not ashamed to admit it either, because I donít think liking the pictures and liking books are mutually exclusive. And I love a good, strong hardboiled character as much as the next guy. So reading about Errol Flynn and Peter Lorre, along with a Gary Cooper cameo appearance, made this one extremely enticing book reading experience.

The details felt spot-on, as dames and broads and abercrombies filled nearly every page. And I found myself skipping along to the end. BULLET FOR A STAR went down easier than a Jack and Coke, and I was drunk with passion and on a nicotine-induced high throughout much of this tale. Had it been any longer, I might have been forced to stumble home.

Toby Peters may not have had two dimes in his pocket, but he totally won my heart with his stick-to-itiveness and well-timed comebacks. He may have been swinging from the rafters as he tried to put the pieces of the mystery together, but that didnít keep him from a well-placed kick or a hard right.

As for the mystery itself, it proved an enticing tale, but this novel felt more at home inside the studios and name-dropping actors and actresses and taking its action both inside and outside the bedroom. In the end, that was more than fine with me, as this was one tale that I breezed through faster than a New Mexico sandstorm.

The Past Attacked

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

While Kit and Grif still had plenty of appeal and charm and various other pleasantries, I found myself a bit lost with this particular read. Sure, the hard-boiledness still captured and held my attention, and sure, the story moved along at a rather reasonable clip, but I found my mind drifting toward the nether regions, and my heart didnít miss a single beat. A nurse may have visited me while I was counting ceiling tiles, and I may, or may not, have had an IV injected in my arm, somehow improving my overall well-being.

The past may have attacked my faded blue jeans, and my hat may have been tilted just a bit to the side, as I tipped it in the direction of the skirts and blue-eyed wonders that happened to cross my path. THE LOST left me a bit red in the face, and more than once I was forced to consult the map on my passenger seat. I probably missed a turn or two, but I was certainly happy when I reached my final destination.

The mystery certainly intrigued me, but it wasnít a perfect logical leap from the first tale, and it wavered a bit during various increments along the way. I found my attention vacillating and my car swaying as I took more than a few turns too sharply. Blinking a bit too rapidly, I propelled myself into a ditch, since I didnít have Griffin Shaw to show me the way.

Kit came alive in this novel after a bit of a slumber in the first go round, but it wasnít enough for me to rate this novel higher. Maybe it was my place in the universe, or my sense of self, or I might have gotten just a bit spoiled after I first dipped my toes in the swimming pool, but Iím a bit sad to admit I didnít like this one better. A part of me feels as though Iíve somehow failed this book, but with the curveball headed my way, Iíll probably take one more last swing for the fences and hope I donít spin myself around and tumble to the ground.