A Bit Of A Guess

9584960The Albuquerque Turkey by John Vorhaus
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I had problems with the voice in THE ALBUQUERQUE TURKEY. It seemed a bit off to me, like my GPS had lost its signal. It took me a bit of time to figure out it related to word choice and some unusual phrases and dialogue. So at various points along the way, I was ready to give it up, and move on to my next read. But I’m glad I stuck with it, and that I punched through the metaphorical brick wall with both fists.

Sure, it was a bit odd, like my friend Snuffy who may have taken one too many sniffs from that superglue container I left out on the kitchen table, but like Snuffy, this novel still had its entertainment value. The plot may have seemed a bit convoluted and possibly a bit coincidental until the story truly found its direction. But the jokes were there, and so was the entertainment value, and so was the group of pranksters that staggered across the page. For starters, there was the cross-dressing absentee father figure, the nude model with the fair skin and feminine charms, the slaphappy artist with a slightly questionable work ethic and talent, and that’s just in the first half of the story.

It was always a bit of a guess as to what would happen next, so if you like being turned upside down and shaken around a bit, then this novel might hold as much promise as spiked Kool-Aid. If not, then you may want to skip out on this circus, and build your own big top in the backyard. And if that’s not enough, I’m sure you can round up a few barnyard animals to help the festivities run a little more smoothly. So to sum up, there was certainly promise, but it may have failed a bit in the execution.

I received this book for free as an early registration incentive for Left Coast Crime.

A Strong, Particular Shine

17931878The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

Made it to 300. Not sure what that says about me, other than the fact that I probably have too much time on my hands. I should probably spend a bit more of it writing, instead of reviewing, but I plan to rectify that situation as well. Otherwise, I’ve checked the gauges, and all systems are a go.

Once again, I’d like to thank all the people who are smarter than I am who have already written a review. That’d be Karen and Kemper and Amanda and Trudi. But as usual we may have a difference of opinion or two, and those errors are more than likely of my own making, so I do have that going for me.

What made me weigh in on THE SHINING GIRLS more than anything was the dichotomy of ratings that spanned my friends’ lists. From over-enthusiastic high ratings to ones that lumbered near the nether regions, this novel brings out the little demon in all of us, some more prominent than others, just as the supernatural house did for Harper Curtis.

“Why did you kill, Harper?” You might ask.
“Because the house told me to.” He’d probably reply with a stint in his eye.

And that was when I wanted to haul off and smack the bastard. Sure, he may have had his reasons—women filled with hope and promise and a strong, particular shine—but those reasons were never completely fleshed out for this reader. So he ended up being more of a machine as the body count ratcheted up, and the violence took a turn for the worse. Which wouldn’t have been all that bad, except his motivations continued to remain less than clear throughout the entire tale. I can say yes to violence just as fast as a football player, but I needed character development and building to give this story a more rounded out finish and a bit of polish. Instead, I ended up more than a bit disconnected, and that out of body experience continued to the end of this blood bath, with women slaughtered like lemmings.

Kirby Mazrachi, the one that got away, had motivation and conviction and a strong sense of purpose, but even she seemed a bit one-dimensional. She held hard and fast to her principles, even as she was being disemboweled on a sandy beach. But she let this one particular focus consume her entire existence, and it nearly swallowed her whole.

And the time-traveling premise while interesting made me want to head on back to my apartment and end up in 1969 with my hair out of line. Like the rest of this novel, it seemed a bit too convenient and forced.

While I can understand  Lauren Beukes‘s reasons behind writing this genre-bending tale the way that she did, it doesn’t mean I have to agree with the final result. Had this novel not hit so close to her home, the execution and gaps might have dried up faster than the Sahara, and she might have ended up with a stronger book in the end.

Tough Bananas And Crackers

18090121Under A Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

So I have to tell a personal story, and if you don’t like it, that’s just tough bananas and crackers. Sometimes it pays to wander around aimlessly in the middle of a mystery conference. You never know what wonderful solutions you might stumble upon. In this particular instance, I happened upon Elizabeth Haynes, and her newest novel UNDER A SILENT MOON. Of course, I had to bypass a slightly impaired individual first, who when I asked her, “What’s everybody in line for?” She promptly and without the slightest hint of a smirk or a smile responded, “A book signing.” Thank you, Captain Obvious. Here would have been the perfect opportunity to offer up any number of wisecracks, all of which slipped right on by me in my semi-agitated state.

But I walked around, burned off a bit of steam, and discovered a treasure trove when I made it all the way to the front of the line. I received one signed ARC courtesy of Elizabeth Haynes and one signed hardcover courtesy of Alafair Burke, so yeah, I’d say it was worth the trouble. I also conveyed to Ms. Haynes how much I enjoyed INTO THE DARKEST CORNER, and I didn’t even need to fib. That alone probably could have put Albany on the map for me, but there are other stories to tell. None of which have anything remotely to do with this novel, so I’ll save them for another round on the merry-go-round.

Unfortunately, though, my complete intoxication made her newest novel just an okay read for me. Sure, it was a police procedural; sure, Louisa Smith (or Lou for short) has a soft voice, a sweet body, and a good head above her breastbone; sure, there was more than one body deader than a skunk on the side of the road; sure, the pace moved along in a rather efficient manner once I dipped a bit more than my toes in the water; sure, there was more than one bout of suffocation sexcapades that really set my imagination afire; and sure, the women and men were all equal parts intriguing and mind-boggling. And there might have even been a free love department marathon, not that yours truly was complaining.

But this novel didn’t make my toes curl, the way her debut novel did. I mean that was some serious shit, and this was merely minor shit. And I know I shouldn’t compare the two novels, and I know Ms. Haynes can write circles around plenty of writers and still have a few more spins left in the tank, and I know I probably would have enjoyed this novel had I not read her debut novel, but I can’t erase the image of that particular masterpiece from the equation, since it touched me on some deeper level, and nearly caused me to forget who I was for about six hours. While this tale just was strictly a wee bit of entertainment.

Oh, and I’d be a bit remiss, if I didn’t mention the situation near the end of this story, so cover your eyes and ears, if you’d prefer not to see how your eggs are cooked. *BEGIN SPOILER* Suzanne Martin was a perfectly excellent villain, and might have been a bit too smart for her own good. But, seriously, you’re going to spout off the entire story of how you killed Polly Leuchars to Andrew Hamilton. I don’t care if he’s a fuckwit of an investigator, and you’re going to turn around and drug his ass later, and even if he was a rather entertaining shag for a few hours. *END SPOILER*

Otherwise, I’d say we’re doing just fine here. Just not fine enough for my heightened expectations.

I received this ARC for free at Bouchercon.

Your Latest Life Lesson

10859145Pest Control by Bill Fitzhugh
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

If you’re here for your latest life lesson, it’s this: Don’t ever answer an exterminator ad. You might find your life terminated, after the CIA takes a hit out on your ass. Sure, the money sounds good and all, but fifty grand ain’t what it used to be. And if I have a choice between life and death, I think I’ll go with life, Bob.

PEST CONTROL finds us in the midst of a painful existence of one Bob Dillon (not to be confused with the Bob Dylan) who has some trouble with bugs after he shoves a garden hose up his boss’s nose. Yes, the man has anger management issues, and he’s probably breathed in his share of toxic fumes (which doesn’t really help his cause). What he lacks in employment, though, he more than makes up for in spirit. Or you could just call it gusto. He hops up on desks and shouts to the heavens and breeds beetles in his spare room and deals with one pissed off landlord on a semi-regular basis.

If that isn’t bad enough, he also has a hit man named Klaus (not to be confused with Santa) breathing down his neck. There’s also a little person who has a penchant for pink panties, which wouldn’t be so bad except the she is a he; a hit woman (after all we’re equal opportunity employers here) with a fondness for shoving white truffles down the gullet of her latest victim; a cowboy with his own rodeo and a fondness for killing; and other nefarious individuals who shall not be named.

If you’re looking for the straight and narrow, you won’t find it here. What you will find are enough strange individuals to fill an entire city block, an over-the-top plot that at times had trouble maintaining believability, dialogue that shuddered, a narrative that might have had a loophole or two in logic and a bit of a jump in time, and pages plastered with dead insects in every possible manner known to the pest community.

If you can believe it, this was even musical material. While I’m not sure I understand that particular angle, I did find myself amused at what took place over the course of this tale. If you have a penchant for half-baked tales that could have been composed on the back of a napkin after you (and possibly the author) surrounded yourselves in a smoke-filled haze, then this story’s for you. Just make sure you wash your hands first and then possibly after.

Hugs And Kisses And Machine Guns

5819399Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

While it did take me one month to finish this book, I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy it. Yes, I just executed a double negative (the double dribble of the writing world) for those of you who only approve of appropriate grammatical choices. But I wanted to prove and emphasize a point. And my point is that I really did enjoy BAD THINGS HAPPEN. I was appropriately amused and entertained, as I filled my life with hugs and kisses and machine guns.

David Loogan can juggle more than just oranges, and he has more than a few tales from a previous life. Some of which we learn, and some of which Harry Dolan probably holds back. Because why should you give up all the goods on the first date, or in this case a debut novel. You may flash your six pack at the woman across the bar, or maybe it’s just a smile and wink, but you don’t know how many other fellas she’s been with. And frankly you don’t need that kind of trouble with a crazy ex-boyfriend who pounds pills like he pounds heads.

With temptations around every corner, it’s better to start running now. Sure, the blonde looks like a winner, but she might also whack you in the head with a shovel while you sleep. Or the detective may show you a nice pair of handcuffs, but you have more than a few reservations about being held against your will.

The dialogue proved both realistic and entertaining; the story (once I really got into it) clicked along faster than a cowboy with an itchy trigger finger; the women and men had as much potential as they had flaws; and David Loogan, along with Elizabeth Waishkey, proved interesting enough that I hope they both stick around for a while. Oh, and the writing and editing tidbits weren’t lost on me. I sucked those up faster than honey from a spoon. Otherwise, it was just another story (shrugs), but a really good and entertaining one.

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 I’m 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 I’ve ever read, and his prose flows better than eggnog at Christmastime. And it’s 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 it’s easy to get carried away when it’s just so darn good.

If it wasn’t for Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deals, I might have waited a bit longer before I delved into Matthew Scudder’s universe, and that would have been a serious travesty, especially considering my love of hard-boiled novels knows no bounds. I’d travel just about anywhere with a hard-boiled gumshoe at my side.

I’d 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 wasn’t 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 you’re into the hard stuff, it’s certainly worthy of a bit more attention.

Boy Howdy

20333955Any Other Name: A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I had decided to linger awhile before I opened up my world to this particular read, but then I reevaluated my original decision and decided a few more of you need to get on the Craig Johnson bandwagon before we run your ass over. Whether I decide to drive this truck, or sleep in the passenger seat, this is one ride filled with beautiful prose and strings of curse words (courtesy of Victoria Moretti), a rather large Indian, and more than a little folklore and Wyoming history weaved through its elegant pages. And that doesn’t even include the man himself. Longmire, or so the TV series goes, but most of you probably know him as Walt. He may have his way with the ladies, and he hates to run for more than a mile or two, but he can drink a longneck better than any redneck, and he has friends who can commune with the spirits, so yeah, he’s got that going for him. He’s also a bit stubborn, and he has this habit of actually finishing his cases, and not leaving a single man…or woman behind.

To top it all off, he’s on the verge of his first grandchild, and he’s been left to the Wyoming elements more than once in his life, but that just means he’s gotten good at dealing with the cold and the snow and even a few coldhearted souls who show their fangs at the first available opportunity. With a lingering sensation at the back of my neck and hairs standing at attention saluting the sky, I charged through this read with my elbows out and my game face on, and I plunged into a universe filled with more than just dead bodies.

Victoria “Vic” Moretti might just be one of my favorite fictional characters of the female persuasion. She’s got a mouth on her that could get you arrested in Colombia, and she has more curves than the letter S, and she nips earlobes and other available body parts at will. Boy howdy. That’s all I have to say about that. Now that I have picked my jaw up with the back of my right hand, we’ll move on.

Dickzilla. Not to be confused with Bridezilla can be one evil bastard. He’s not known for intelligence, or even a slight amount of competence, but he’ll lead the charge and stomp you into the nearest cow patty. But once you hose yourself off, you’ll soon realize it’s nothing personal.

ANY OTHER NAME certainly made me loud and proud and more than a little glad I had the opportunity to do so before the masses. I was entertained for the better part of this tale with my six-shooter on my right hip, and my wink ready to go, along with my cowboy boots and sweet lass on my right arm. But if you really want to see Craig Johnson exhibit his true talents, you may want to start a bit earlier in this series. If you’re a longtime fan, or even if you’ve fired off a round or two with the man himself, you may find yourself happy you hopped along for the ride.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

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 didn’t 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: “Two dumb guys with a really bad plan.” I mean, shit, how much better could it possibly get. I’d 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 neck…well, I chose to live. Being strangled and blown to dust in the middle of California just doesn’t 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, you’d probably choose Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves, and these two fools would probably be stupid enough to thank you. But that’s 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, I’d say it was all worth it, and I have no doubt Johnny Shaw and I are going to get along just fine.

Well-Timed Comebacks

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

I like the pictures. A lot. I’m not ashamed to admit it either, because I don’t 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 didn’t 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.

Formal Style

19204586 by
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

The rhythm of DANGEROUS ILLUSIONS felt off to me. Like I was the one playing the drums, instead of Phil Collins up on stage pounding away in front of thousands, bringing The Garden to its knees. The style felt a bit formal, a bit stilted, like Joseph J. Gabriele understands the rules of writing, but he left all of his passion and sensation back at his former place of residence. And when I finished the novel, I found myself shrugging my shoulders and saying, “So what?”

Don’t get me wrong. The man can write. He breathed life into Eliot and Blaire and Yvette and Laura and other individuals that flitted across the stage of this three act play, but I found myself never really fully invested in the outcome. I found myself dropping my eyes in the cheap seats and listening with only one ear. I stared out into the great abyss, and then I promptly averted my gaze.

Even the story felt a bit off at times. Like we’d hit more than a few potholes on some backcountry road and now my wheels were out of alignment. A new set of shocks wasn’t entirely out of the question either. But I kept pressing, kept moving forward in the hope that I was wrong. In the end, though, I don’t think I am.

I wanted to believe in this tale, but I lost my faith somewhere along the road, and I couldn’t figure out a way to bring it back.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.