Get Lucky

In case you haven’t noticed, the world is awash with Gillian Flynns i.e., Gillian Flynn wannabes. Further down the food chain you’ll find the same phenomenon – writers who think they’ve found a different shade of grey but, sad to say, they haven’t. Sadder still, more than a few get reeled in by commercial publishers and are not thrown back.

luckBut there’s some good news, too. The success of GONE GIRL (which I read and enjoyed long before the hype) has also inspired a few writers with original voices to persevere and tell their tales.

A case in point is Jessica Knoll. Her edgy voice is a mix of cleverly demonic observation, acidic wit, and relentless intensity. Even if her novel, LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE (Simon & Schuster) had no plot, I’d stop reading only at gunpoint.

You can dip inside the book’s 300+ pages and find lines with a life of their own.

Here’s an example:

“I spotted her right away when I stepped off the elevator—slouchy leather pants (if fake, good ones) perfectly balanced with a crisp white button-down and sharp silver heels, a Chanel purse dangling from her forearm. If not for her round beer face, I might have turned right around and pretended I didn’t see her. I don’t do well with competition.”

Knoll didn’t need to open the novel with a hook like “I inspected the knife in my hand.” She could just as easily have begun with the next two sentences:

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wüsthof?”

So right from the git-go (notice I didn’t say “gone-go”) you know there’s wicked stuff ahead. And something wicked is what I reach for on muggy summer nights.

No plot summary here, I don’t want to spoil the fun. I urge you to avoid reading jacket flaps, descriptions on Amazon, online reviews, and all those blurbs that drop Gillian Flynn’s name.

Get lucky.

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Summer Mysteries

What would summer be without a good crime novel, noir, or whodunit?  An empty hammock, as far as I’m concerned. So here’s a round-up of titles that’ll keep you awake nights this summer.

sleepingThe Spike Sanguinetti series by Thomas Mogford is new to me, and I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading SLEEPING DOGS, just released by Bloomsbury. The opening is so good I dare anyone to put the book aside once they’ve opened it. Murder on Corfu, perfect.

signwaveHot off the press comes the thriller SIGNWAVE by Andrew Vachss (Pantheon Books), part of the popular “Aftershock” series. Vachss has made quite a name for himself (even if it looks like a typo) and for good reason. He knows how to make the reader jump. Assassins and murder abound in SIGNWAVE.

LOCKEDIf you’re in the mood for short stories packed with puzzling scenarios, I again recommend THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF LOCKED-ROOM MYSTERIES edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard). It’s loaded with genre luminaries: Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Lawrence Block, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dorothy L. Sayers, Georges Simenon, and many others. There’s even a locked-room tale by P.G. Wodehouse — “Death at the Excelsior”— holy Jeeves!  Bet you didn’t know the esteemed humorist began his career writing detective stories. I didn’t. Since this book is 900+ pages, you probably won’t be lugging it to the beach. Instead, keep it on your bedside table.

SD NOIRIf the ‘spirit of place’ is your thing, grab one of the anthologies in the Akashic Noir Series. My favorite is SAN DIEGO NOIR edited by Maryelizabeth Hart – 15 stories and not a lemon in the bunch. If you don’t know what city to choose, try their USA NOIR —  a selection of the best American noir. Cape Cod? Yes, and also Richmond, VA and other places you might not associate with the genre. In fact, the only location that seems to be missing is Disneyland Noir, but that’s probably in the works.

GHOSTSThe one city that screams noir and mystery is, of course, San Francisco. Regular readers of this blog know my favorite series set there is Kelli Stanley’s Miranda Corbie mysteries. To date, there are three, the most recent being CITY OF GHOSTS. Not only does Stanley bring SF in the 40’s to life, her female PI is an unforgettable character — you’ll fall in love with Miranda. So here’s the deal: buy all three and start with CITY OF DRAGONS. You’ll thank me.

oldAnd while I’m on the subject of San Francisco, I have to mention Jim Nisbet — a writer of hard-bitten noir novels that go where few writers dare travel. I recently got around to reading OLD AND COLD (Overlook Press) and let me put it this way: only Nisbet could get away with two nonstop interior monologues in the head of a homeless, schizophrenic hitman addicted to martinis. Yes, this book’s beyond “offbeat.” It has strains of black humor and enough suspense to keep you flipping through its 160 pages in a single sitting. Thumbs up to Overlook for keeping Nisbet’s seedy San Francisco within reach.

crime-lbIf you want a fab overview of American crime fiction, there’s Lawrence Block’s THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES which covers the best & the brightest Chandler, Hammett, QueenMacDonald, Marlowe, Westlake, and many more. Makes for a bracing chaser when you’re between novels.

 

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SUMMER CHILLS

SAVOYMillions of mystery lovers know the best way to beat the heat is with a Swedish crime novel—preferably a series like the Martin Beck books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö  (available from Vintage Crime/Black Lizard). If you’re one of the few people on earth who haven’t discovered this quintessential Swedish series, you’re in for a thrill – ten books! While I’m thinking of it, let me add a  word of caution. When you get to #6,  MURDER AT THE SAVOY, DO NOT READ THE INTRODUCTION.  It’s a perfectly fine introduction, but it reveals the ending of the final book in the series THE TERRORISTS (#10).  May I suggest to the publisher this simple remedy: in the  next printing  add the words “Spoiler Alert. Readers can then go back and read the intro once they’ve finished the series.

But what does one do when – like me – you’ve read all the Martin Beck books twice?

pyramid1The answer: lose yourself in the 13 Kurt Wallander novels by Henning Mankell. All are available in paperback from (you guessed it) Vintage Crime / Black Lizard. Don’t think because you watch the popular BBC series based on the books that you don’t have to read them.  Good as the TV productions are, they only scratch the surface tension. If you want the real deal, you’ve got to eyeball the words.

I’m spending my summer vacation with Wallander and I invite you to join me with the first in the series, THE PYRAMID. (Watch this page for a future review.)

9781616956264-398x600Another sure thing for summer is Peter Lovesey’s DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN (Soho Crime), part of his Peter Diamond Investigations. I’ve read them all except for UPON A DARK NIGHT  but I’ll fix that soon enough. See my previous post for more on Lovesey.

mountainLooking ahead to the dog days of August, don’t miss TO THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN by Arne Dahl from Vintage Crime / Black Lizard. This novel is part of the Stockholm Intercrime series. I received an advance “uncorrected proof,”  so I’m not at liberty to quote from it. But I love the first sentence and since it doesn’t have a typo and gives nothing away, I’ll reveal it here:

‘I didn’t see anything.’

That’s what I call a hook. Now you can look forward to August.

DEADWATERAs you can see from this selection, exotic, atmospheric locations are what readers crave. Crafty escapism… a mystery that takes us away from the familiar. Two series titles that will help you “get away from it all” (except from crime, of course) are Ann Cleeve’s DEAD WATER (Minotaur Books), part of her popular Shetland singaIsland series, and William L. Gibson’s new Detective Hawksworth novel, SINGAPORE YELLOW (Monsoon Books). The former has plenty of  island atmospherics going for it, while the latter takes us back in time to Singapore and Malaya in 1892.

NEW-ANGEL-for--order-pageFinally, let me recommend a book published under an imprint of my own small press: ANGEL OF EVERYTHING by Catherine D’Avis (New Urge Editions). It’s not a mystery, per se,  but erotic suspense. If that’s your cup of tea, drink up.

Happy reading!

 

 

BARRY FUNNY

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Dave Barry is a very funny guy. I’ve been told I’m funny, too, but nobody has ever said I’m as funny as Dave Barry. That’s because I’m not as funny as Dave Barry. Dave Barry is LOL funny.

I’m reading his new collection , LIVE RIGHT AND FIND HAPPINESS (ALTHOUGH BEER IS MUCH FASTER)  – published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.  While reading Barry’s introduction, I laughed out loud seven times. (Yes, I kept count.) Now that’s what I call a good start. But it gets better.  For example,  there’s his  letter to his 16-year old daughter who is about to get her driver’s license. It’s a full-tilt guffaw-for-all. There’s alos a wonderful witty piece on the “Greatest Generation.”  I put that in quotes because I’m not convinced it was the greatest, although in the hands of this humorist it seems like  the “Funniest.”

I don’t want to belabor the point, but this is a funny book. I’m not crazy about the title…it’s not as amusing as his earlier collection,   YOU CAN DATE BOYS WHEN YOU’RE FORTY. But then, so what? Nobody buys a book for it’s title. If they did, my book NAKED LUNCH AT TIFFANY’S would be #1 on the bestseller list. OK, that plug was uncalled for, so shoot me.

Bottom line, if you’re in the mood for laughs…you can’t go wrong here.

Another Mysterious Summer Ahead

Memorial Day has come and gone which means it’s almost time for my “Summer Mysteries” round-up. I’ll whet your appetite with a few titles I’ve enjoyed recently.

mono

Whenever Hercule Poirot appears on the scene it’s cause for celebration, if not a beach party. Hercule’s presence usually means a dead body has turned up and in the case of THE MONOGRAM MURDERS there are a whole bunch of bodies at once – all found in their rooms at a posh London hotel. Sophie Hannah was given the honor of continuing the series by Agatha Christie’s estate, and she does an admirable job of bringing our favorite Belgian detective back to life. Watching Poirot’s mind at work is always a lot of fun – especially when the plot is a complex as this one. Is it plausible?  I daresay it’s not, but that won’t stop fans from enjoying the ride. (Note: the book will be available in paperback June 9th.)

THE MONOGRAM MURDERS
Sophie Hannah
William Morrow
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9781616956264-398x600

If you haven’t discovered  Peter Lovesey’s Peter Diamond  series yet, you’ve missed a lot. Fortunately Soho Crime keeps the titles in print – so you have about 14 books to look forward to. DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN will be available soon and it’s one of the author’s best. This time around Diamond finds himself trapped in Sussex with his annoying supervisor, Assistant Chief Constable Gorgina Dallymore. Yes, even her name is annoying, and this set-up provides Lovesey with some nice humorous opportunities. The crime(s) here, however, are no laughing matter. The novel is fast-paced, suspenseful, with enough twists to keep you awake in the hammock.

DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN
Peter Lovesey
SOHO CRIME
CLICK HERE TO ORDER ON AMAZON

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herb

If you want laughter with your crime, then you’ll have to investigate Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender series. The L.A. burglar is in good form in HERBIE’S GAME —  a definite “beach read”  —  packed with enough cynical humor to keep you laughing through Labor day.

HERBIE’S GAME
Timothy Hallinan
SOHO CRIME
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Soho Crime has also released a reprint of the novel GBH by Ted Lewis, the author of GET CARTER. Haven’t read this one yet, but it looks very promising and into the picnic basket it goes.

More soon!

Barthelmeville & other odd places

MISTAKEHaven’t read anything by Frederick Barthelme in ages, but  have fond memories of MOON DELUXE and SECOND MARRIAGE. Here, in his new novel, THERE MUST BE SOME MISTAKE, he’s up to his old minimalist tricks. Hard to describe what he does exactly, like grains of sand shifting under one’s feet. He captures the weirdness of the mundane, of lives hunkered in condos, and the strange way we talk when there’s nothing to say. This novel is consistently funny, strange and touching…  with an eerie ending that will definitely haunt you.

A trio of novels of suspense worth your time. I’ve already raved about Beatrice Hitchman‘s PETITE MORT which is an astounding debut.  For fans of GONE GIRL,  THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by  Paula Hawkins  is worth the ride and full of twists. And speaking of twists, Harriet Lane‘s novel HER  keeps you guessing the whole way through. It  draws you in slowly and then doesn’t let go.  It’s sure to be a hit at the beach this summer.

riverhead booksHERmort

PLEASANT

 

After reading Michel Houellebecq‘s relentlessly depressing novel PLATFORM, I found myself in need of some comic relief. Thankfully I had a copy of S.J. Perelman‘s THE RISING GORGE within reach.  After devouring that, I went searching for some contemporary  sources and was rewarded by CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT?  — a deliciously grim & very funny  memoir by cartoonist Roz Chast.

 

herbieSince Donald Westlake isn’t around anymore to satisfy my periodic craving for comic crime.  I’ll turn to Timothy Hallinan and his Junior Bender series. Right now I’m reading HERBIE’S GAME.

 

 

crime-lbOh, and I can’t forget my friend Lawrence Block who remains as prolific as ever. Just received a Kindle edition of his THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES (what a terrific title!) —a collection of his introductions, appreciations and observations on some of the genre’s greatest, from Poe to Westlake. This one goes to the top of my reading list. I’m taking Block to the beach, eat your heart out.

 

 

Finally, you’ll have to forgive me for tooting my own horn here, but I have a new book coming out May Day from JEF Books: NAKED LUNCH AT TIFFANY’S. This is a collection of parodies and satire I’ve written over the years that takes a poke at erotic literature. It covers pretty much everything from the KAMA SUTRA to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and takes no prisoners. It also features an outrageous introduction by the one and only Nile Southern—author of THE CANDY MEN: THE ROLLICKING LIFE AND TIMES OF THE NOTORIOUS NOVEL CANDY.  I hope you’ll have a chance to check it out.

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