Friday, December 22, 2006

Another Deadly Year

I can't think of another annual anthology of crime stories which supplies as much sheer reading pleasure plus as much important information as the one which editors Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg lay upon us like a golden egg at the end of every year.

Their 2006 door-stopper is 576 pages of surveys by Jon L. Breen, Edward D. Hoch and ace blogger Sarah Weinman (who analyzes and chooses the best of online crime, but sadly doesn't have one of her own sharp print offerings in the book).

What stories are here are topnotch, from Sharan Newman's The Deadly Bride (which loans the book its title) through excellent offerings by James Hall, Nancy Pickard (her The Virgin of Small Plains: A Novel of Suspense was one of my own best books of 2006), David Morrell, Rick Mofina, Robert S. Levinson, Jeremiah Healy, Anne Perry -- the list is endlessly readable.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Save the Independent Book Stores

The most endangered species in the world seems to be the independent crime book store, including this one and others talked about by book people including Sarah Weinman and many others.

I use Amazon on my own blog, mostly because it's a way to get the new paperback covers on line for a non-geek like me -- and also the chance to make a (very) few bucks. Many other crime bloggers do the same.

But the point of this post is to say very loudly that if you're anywhere near an independent book store, PLEASE buy your books there -- no matter where you first see, hear or read about them. You'll feel much better about it when you do.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

An Italian Kiss

THE GOODBYE KISS, by Massimo Carlotto; translated by Lawrence Venuti

So many mysteries as strong and black as good espresso are coming out of Italy these days that a bookwatcher might just detect a trend. In the last couple of months, there have been such dark delights as The Smell of the Night, by Andrea Camilleri, and Involuntary Witness, by Gianrico Carofiglio. Like Carofiglio, an anti-Mafia judge, Massimo Carlotto has a history as riveting as any novel. In 1976, the leftwing militant was charged with murder; he fled to Paris and then Mexico before being returned to Italy, where after seven years in prison a presidential pardon set him free in 1993, and he soon became one of Italy’s most popular writers.

The Goodbye Kiss, Carlotto’s first book to be published in America (by the increasingly impressive new Europa Editions), has a lead character – by no stretch of the imagination a hero – named Giorgio Pellegrini. Still wanted for political crimes in Italy, he is hiding out in Central America, his idealism burned away. The betrayal of his revolutionary colleagues by one of their leaders makes Giorgio decide to head home to Italy, to see if anything is left of his once lofty plans and hopes.

There isn’t much light in Carlotto’s piazza, and readers expecting soothing travelogues might opt for another writer. But those with a taste – even a need – for an occasional inky cup of bitter honesty should lap this up.

One of My Best of 2006 Books... due out any minute in paperback:

Gentlemen & Players is one of those rare books that grips and holds you like an elaborate conjuring trick. It’s only after you’ve stopped gasping – after the last page has been turned and marveled at – that you begin to ask questions. What did I miss? Were there any hints I should have noticed, any mistakes the author or her editors should have caught?

Joanne Harris, who has written everything from sensuous cookbooks to best-selling novels like Chocolat, immerses us so quickly in her frightening story of a child driven to murder by hatred for a school that her new book is both socially important and vastly entertaining.

At its center is a palace of privilege – St. Oswald’s, a British school for the sons of the wealthy and powerful, an escape from the real world they will soon have to face. “St. Oswald’s was another world,” says the troubled child who tells half the story. “Here I knew there would be no graffiti, no litter, no vandalism – not as much as a broken window…I felt a sudden inarticulate conviction that this was where I truly belonged…”

The other half of the story is narrated by a classics master named Roy Straitley, who has been at St. Oswald’s for 33 years and knows the best and worst of what the school really is. He at first seems like an unlikely and unworthy opponent, chosen at random -- but turning those ideas upside down is another one of Harris’ amazing tricks. The two lead characters play out their elaborate chess match involving unrequited love, revenge and violent death.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Have a Very Noir Xmas

Greg Shepard of Stark House, along with a small and equally daring group of other paperback houses (Hard Case Crime, Felony & Mayhem, Crippen & Landru, Millipede, to name a few) are dedicated to restoring to print the best mysteries and thrillers of the past.

Shepard’s latest effort, as fascinating and exciting as it is laudable, is a double dose of Gil Brewer – a tremendously gifted, deeply troubled man who was one of the stars of the Gold Medal stable of paperbacks which so many of us used to spend our quarters on in the 50s and 60s.

Anthony Boucher, the man who invented serious mystery reviewing, applauded A Taste of Sin in the New York Times for its “vigorous pace… and its wild, incredible, yet somehow compelling hyperbole in both crime and sex.” Like a James M. Cain on booze and speed, it tells the story of a woman who wants her lover to murder her bank manager husband and steal the bank’s money.

Wild to Possess is a more complicated story, but equally gripping – about a man who first discovers his wife and her lover murdered and then stumbles on the actual killers and decides to cut himself in on their bloody business.

“They were selling pulp fiction, yes, but it was a different, upscale kind of pulp,” says the wonderfully dedicated and resourceful Bill Pronzini of Gold Medal and its cohorts in his afterward – which, together with a 1990 memoir by Brewer’s wife provides details of the writer’s life which would make a stone weep. And if the cover has a familiar look, especially to Hard Case addicts, it’s a photo from the collection of ace paperback illustrator Robert Maguire, who did the original Wild to Possess cover.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

McKinty's Gold

If I were a student at the Denver high school where Adrian McKinty teaches English and Civics, I’d try very hard to get into both of his classes. Not many people can combine obvious mastery of the two subjects – plus a pungently jaundiced dash of political history -- into one ironic paragraph as he does in his new paperback, The Dead Yard.

“The thing you had to remember when dealing with these people was that the Britain of the Empire was long gone,” says Irish roughneck Michael Forsythe as he’s about to be blackmailed into working for MI6. “The Brits may have conquered India and won two world wars but they also had a complacency and an incompetence that had gotten many people killed. Jeremy and Samantha [his MI6 handlers] were the descendants of the people who had been responsible for the disasters of the Somme and Gallipoli in World War One. The people who had tried to walk to the South Pole instead of taking dogs, who had built the unsinkable Titanic, who had lost America, surrendered at Singapore, starved Ireland, appeased Hitler...”

We first met Forsythe when the Belfast mercenary was infiltrating a bloody South Boston Irish mob for the FBI, in Dead I Well May Be. Now the resourceful, amoral, surprisingly charming young man of 26 who lost a foot and a few measures of skin and blood in a Mexican drug adventure, has slipped out of the Witness Protection Program to watch the Irish and British soccer teams (and their fans) do battle in Spain. Violence erupts in the streets; Forsythe winds up facing not only a long prison sentence as a warning against football hooliganism but also possible extradition to Mexico where his other foot might not be the only thing he loses. So when the sexy Samantha and her uppercrust underling Jeremy offer him a get-out-of-jail card and a free trip back to Boston, he agrees in spite of his anti-Brit instincts.

What Michael is supposed to do is charm his way into a small terrorist cell called the Sons of Cuchulainn, whose loose cannon status threatens an elaborate cease fire agreement with the IRA. Instead, Michael falls in love with the touching and troubled Kit, the 19-year-old daughter of the cell’s lunatic leader, and has to go up against his even more dangerous deputy, known as Touched McCuigan. There are enough bullets to stock an armory, but with McKinty it’s the words which leave the deepest impressions.