Foggy Past & Present

threesome

Three noirish novels set in the City by the Bay — what more could you ask for to start the summer off. Two take place in the 1940s, and one in the future.

Kelli Stanley‘s addictive series featuring Miranda Corbie sails on with CITY OF SHARKS. Thick with atmosphere and hard-edged nostalgia, the novel’s undertow  is the war in Europe which is pulling America into the conflict. Miranda is planning to travel to England in search of her mother, but a new case has its tentacles around her. A  publisher has been murdered and a manuscript is missing. The shadow of Alcatraz suddenly rears up like a shark’s fin and the plot grows more complex and seductive.

Christopher Moore‘s NOIR is hard-boiled humor—fog, snakes and wisecracks. Moore plunders the genre for clichés to hang his fedora  on (“She was a blonde, the dirty kind…”) and you will find yourself smiling throughout. The terrain is familiar, but the ride proves a nice distraction during a heatwave.

THE NIGHT MARKET is an eerie dystopian novel set in the not too distant future. In fact, the city’s skeleton is a completely recognizable dreamscape turned nightmare.  Something is terribly wrong. in the city,  but  apparently no one saw it coming. Jonathan Moore‘s  novel will be compared to Blade Runner and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but he’s managed to carve out his own space in speculative fiction. Don’t miss it.

 

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Summer Mysteries

What would summer be without a good crime novel, noir, or whodunit?  An empty hammock, as far as we’re 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!

 

 

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!

—Carla M. Wilson

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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Channeling the Master

black-eyed

THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE: A PHILIP MARLOWE NOVEL
by Benjamin Black
Henry Holt & Company

Tampering with dead authors usually comes with a curse warning readers: stay away. There have been a few exceptions, most notably Joe Gores’ brilliantly executed prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese FalconSpade & Archer (Knopf, 2009).

Well now you can add The Black-Eyed Blonde to that short list of exceptions.

Benjamin Black—the nom de plume of Irish writer John Banville—brings Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe back to full-blooded life—complete with inner turmoil and honest, hard-boiled dialogue. This is not a pastiche, but the real deal, kicked up a notch with clever traces of irony. It’s tightly plotted, has its share of blunt violence and wise-cracks, as well as descriptions of L.A. that puncture the city’s elaborate façade.

Banville has been compared to Joyce, and this novel confirms the comparison. You’ll find memorable passages that demand to be read aloud. For example, here’s Marlowe behind the wheel, lost in thought:

I hadn’t known where I was headed until I got there. The air was fresh, after the rain, and had a melancholy fragrance. I had the car window down, enjoying the cool breeze on my face. I was thinking of Mandy Rogers, and of all the other kids like her who had come out here to the coast, drawn by the promise of one day getting to play opposite Doris and Rock in some mindless concoction of schmaltzy songs and mink coats and white telephones. There was bound to be a boy in Hope Springs who still pined for her. I could see him, clear as the rinsed light over the Hollywood Hills, a gawky fellow with hands like shovels and ears that stuck out. Did she ever think of him, there among the cornfields, pining for her? I felt sorry for him, even if she didn’t. I was in that frame of mind; it was that kind of hour, after the rain.

That poetic riff captures perfectly the melancholy soul of Philip Marlowe.

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UPDATE 3/6:

Benjamin Black’s Favorite Noir Books

Music to Die For

tooth

Peter Lovesey scores again with his latest “Peter Diamond Investigation”: The Tooth Tattoo (Soho Crime).  Fans  of the series will not be disappointed, while aficionados of classical music will be on their feet applauding.

British detective Diamond is clearly not a connoisseur of “the three Bs,”  but the discovery of a young woman’s body  in a canal leads him to investigate the classical music scene.

Lovesey skillfully misdirects the reader, weaves leitmotifs,  and conducts a climactic sequence worthy of Hitchcock.

Bravo!

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