Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Paperback, 316 pages

Published July 2012 by Quirk Books

Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original (2013)

The lone cop who gives a shit about a murder, that no one else thinks is a murder to a trope way over used in mystery or cop dramas so you have to give credit to Winters her. It is hard to make a mystery original at this point, but every genre has been over done at some point. One of the most fundamental ways to breath life into genre writing is cross genre. Science fiction does this all the time. It is not a new thing, but I am not sure how much this tactic is used by traditional mystery writers.

Ben Winters is a writer who lived in my home state of Indiana and got on my Radar last year when he cracked my personal top ten with the intensely political alternative history book Underground airlines. While this book gets filed in Mystery it is certainly more science fiction to me.

Set in a world that is 77 days from the end, the earth of The Last Policeman is on a collusion course with asteroid big enough to end everything. Social-norms are out the window and things are bad in this small New Hampsire town That Hank Palace a 27 rookie detective is trusted to solve crimes. So when he finds a man hung in the bathroom his buddies just consider it "another hanger."

Suicide is all too common in this world so no one, not even the put upon medical examiner wants to consider this latest case a murder. Palace of course can shake the case. From here it is a trope-fest. I mean the corny cop dialogue, love interest involved in the case, deeper involvement in a larger case it is all there and perfect. I mean those perfect tropes set against a new apocalyptic setting is what makes this one special.

I think the familiar moments are what made me feel so comfortable reading this book. I enjoyed the dialogue. If there is one weakness is that the mystery ends up feeling pretty low stakes consider all that is happening in the world. That can work out if the themes grow in the next two books. Yeah this is a trilogy and I hope Winters treads a little new ground in the next two books.

Winters is a interesting writer I was impressed by this but even more so by his Underground Airlines. Sorry this review is a little short I neck deep in writing a novel at the moment. So my attention is a little scattered.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Magazine Review: Cemetary Dance Joe Hill Double issue

Cemetery Dance issues #74/75

Cemetery Dance is one of the longest running magazines for horror fiction and I admit I missed a few issues, since my local bookstore Mysterious Galaxy carries I am going to make a point to buy each issue. Now if only they would carry Dark Discoveries.

I was pretty clear that I was not a big fan of the last Joe Hill novel the Fireman, but that is OK because I am huge fan of his work and him personally. So when I saw this double issue was coming I knew I wanted to get it. I also enjoy the usua suspect essays, even Thomas Monteleono's MAFIA pieces even if I disagree with the points being made.

I was excited for the Joe Hill interview being done by long time Stephen King expert, assuming that his knowledge of the family might provide fresh questions. It was fun interview but maybe not as deep as I was hoping.

I skipped the Fireman excerpt as I have already read the novel but the new novella "Snapshot 88"is excellent piece. A somewhat experimental mystery that takes the narrative and wraps it around a story about dementia. What is cool is as the characters spiral into insanity the narrative loses it's form and becomes more and more strange. Well done.

There are plenty of short stories by other authors but three stood out for me. The story by Ray Garton was my favorite, followed by Lisa Morton and Josh Malerman's short by very interesting story.

Big thumbs up.

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published January 2017 by Flatiron Books

It is really hard to talk about this book without spoilers. I am going to try very hard to discuss this psychological thriller without ruining the reading experience for those of you who have not read it. I tried to go in knowing as little as possible and I think that is the best way to go.

I discovered Sarah Pinborough in 2012, when I learned that she had written a book with one of my writing heroes F.Paul Wilson. I decided to check out the first book of a trilogy called Dog Faced Gods. That first book A Matter of Blood was one of the best books I read that year and a rare book i have considered re-reading. It is a master work of supernatural neo-noir dystopia and still my personal Pinborough favorite. As I continued to follow the output of Pinborough I have read masterpiece after masterpiece.

You can find reviews of Murder, Mayhem, Death House and of course the rest of the Dog Faced Gods Trilogy. I think many readers will be introduced to her from this latest book which has become a #1 bestseller in her native England. I think in time it will grow to have just as many readers here in the states. I mean they are selling this bad boy at Costco. For us to see someone from our community hit mainstream success is super wonderful. It couldn't happen a better and more hard working novelist.

So the question becomes is it worthy of all the hype?

First let me say that BHE is compulsive and additive read. Pinbrough always had skills for plotting, emotional depth and of course creating terror on the page. The big leap here is just magnetic the pull forward of the narrative. You will tear through this. You might not realize it but you'll have suspend disbelief and kinda ride with it at times. This is not supernatural novel but you will have to take a leap and if you do you'll be glad.

Behind Her Eyes is the story Adele and Louise two women whose lives are intertwined. Louise is a single mom who has chance encounter with a man at bar. It is just a kiss but one to remember. So when that man walks into her work and becomes her new boss it is a horrible coincidence, made worse by the fact that he is married. Louise tries to keep it personal but she slowly falls for the man.

His wife Adele is a special case. Survivor of a tragic accident that her future husband David saved her from. Adele and Louise share more than a man. Victim of night terrors and a survivor of a tragic teenage experience that left her with nightmares. It is what bonds Adele and Louise who become friends. Louise is now keeping a secret from her new friend and her husband that she is sleeping with. There is more going on but this love triangle is one that is best to enter with as little heads up as possible.

The book is being promoted with a hashtag #wtfthatending. When I first saw that I thought it was a mistake, Because how could the story still surprise? I thought of Old Boy the Korean movie with one of the best twist endings ever. I once told someone they would never guess the end and of course half way through he did.

This book is excellently plotted and when I closed the book the ending got me for sure. I was impressed and seething with jealousy That Pinborough pulled off such a great ending. I mean I am a total geek for story plotting and structure and goddamn it this was so tight it was hard not to be jealous.

BHE is a fantastic read, if you like domestic thrillers like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train you should check this out. This book is in that genre but it takes a writer like Sarah Pinborough to cross the lines that she does. She does one thing those other authors as good as they are would not dare to do.

"You should read BEHIND HER EYES. Even if it's not a thumping good read, it's bloody brilliant." - Stephen King

"I'm being perfectly honest when I say "Behind Her Eyes" is a quantum leap for her. She's always been good but she surpasses her best here." - F.Paul Wilson

Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Paperback, 388 pages

Published March 15th 2016 by Broadway Books

This is the second book in a row that I read because of Facebook posts by authors I respect. In this case it was a post by one of my all time favorite authors F.Paul Wilson who said "It’s a work of amazing imagination...Its influences come from all directions: the Old Testament to Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” to regression analysis and beyond." That was enough to sell me on it. I put on my hold for later in the library and now just seemed the time.

It is a weird and amazing fantasy novel that is challenging to explain. The dust jacket of the book says:

A missing God.

A library with the secrets to the universe.

A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.

The Main Character of the novel is Carolyn who was brought to the library in the 70's after losing her parents. She has a new Father who we eventually learn is a god. The library outside of space and time is a massive pyramid filled with all the knowledge and secrets of the universe. Makes sense right, her brothers and sisters are at library to learn the knowledge of the universe but when their father disappears they are dragged back to our world to try and find him.

This novel is cross between high fantasy that verges on the feelings evoked by biblical and greek gods in fiction with moments of gonzo violence and bizarro surrealism and humor. I was not expecting some of the crude humor but the novel never feels dumb. With chapter titles like Buddhism for Assholes this is C.S. Lewis style fantasy. The level of imagination and creativity is just as extreme as some of the humor.

As fantastic as the setting is the characters at the heart of the novel Carolyn, Steve and NSA agent Erwin are fully realized. Erwin is probably the character I most related to, and he has some of the best moments and lines in the novel. Carolyn is interesting and certainly this is here story, you can not say she is a hero. A deeply flawed character that has access to godhood. Hawkins smartly rolls out her back in the second half of the book.

This is a excellently written, paced and realized novel. I didn't give it higher markings because I just didn't connect with it. However I read it quickly and laughed often while reading. This bizarro fantasy novel will probably please most readers. The last 80 pages I felt really cooked. I think it is cool to read a epic fantasy set in our modern that also celebrates the magic of a Library.

Book Review: The Valley by John Renehan

The Valley by John Renehan

Hardcover, 433 pages

Published March 2015 by Dutton

>Named one of Wall Street Journal's Best Books of 2015

>Selected as a Military Times's Best Book of the Year

With a title like The Valley you horor readers may think that this was a Bentley Little novel written under a pen name. Nah, this is a novel I learned about from a facebook post by Steal Team 666 author Weston Ochse. Now Weston is a man who served in country and when he praised the book I became interested. Little side note. This is why it is good to support the book-o-sphere by talking about and reviewing the books that you like. This novel would not have been on my radar any other way.

The Valley is a mystery thriller, set against the back drop of the never ending military occupation of Afghanistan. Written by a former intfintry man turned Lawyer the Valley is from what I am told a realistic look at the occupation wrapped in a thriller. Sounded cool to me. This books has more detective novel tropes than war novels ones. That is what makes it interesting.

I suppose it is bot a murder mystery as the investigation that Lt. Black is sent to do is a not a murder. A platoon at a remote outpost is at the heart of this story. A goat at a remote village was killed this has potential to destabilize the remote Valley that gives the novel it's name. No one in the book seems to mind that goat was shot, it was a warning shot and a tribe's dead goat is what sends Lt. Black in to action. Keep in mind he has not left base in a long time, and being sent to investigate something as seemingly trivial just seems like a waste of time. There is of course more going on.

I am trusting that this setting is accurate, the accuracy of the world seems to be there but what do I know. Considering the praise of those who have lived in country I will buy it. The mystery is not about something as simple or standard as a murder. the mystery is complex but it also highlights many of the confusions that come from the culture clash caused by military occupation.

The writing is very good, the prose is simple but driving. Stylized over written prose would work against a story like this. Not to say it is poorly written. Renehan is an excellent writer who unfolds the story close to perfection. The mystery stays intact through 3/4 of the book but we get enough clues to be interested, confused and ultimately paid off.

As a war novel this work is not preachy infact everything it says about the occupation is do very subtly, so don't think Platoon this is more like a mystery that just so happens to be set against the back drop of America's longest engagement on foreign soil. your political feelings wont factor in most readers judgement of this book.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Book Review: Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Paperback, 202 pages

Published 2015 by Fungasm Press

Laura Lee Bahr is a fantastic storyteller. A multiple platform artist who has starred in, written and directed films. She has written stand out story stories in anthologies that were filled with the biggest names in genre fiction and her first novel Haunt won the wonderland book award for best novel. That novel Haunt is a absolute masterpiece of LA bizarro noir. It is a one of a kind book that is part choose your adventure, part horror and never feels like a traditional novel.

On the surface this a more straight forward narrative than Bahr's debut, but the subject matter and story elements are just as subversive. This is a funny book in many ways, and pokes fun at Hollyweird. Bahr writes LA like King writes Maine. With a completely different tone LFRP explores LA just as her first book did.

The story of aspiring writer - director Madeline Hunter who is desperately trying to get her Indie film made. The key to getting it made cast George Clooney in the story of Dominique Colt - a woman who murdered her partners in a three-some romance. Mads is not having having luck getting the movie started but perhaps her friend revealing that he is a vampire will change things. He reveals that vampires are all over the industry, operating like a cult.

The writing is excellent and most important for a structure geek like me the story unfolds perfectly, balancing the Madeline story with the back story that inspired her film. The main characters are well constructed, but in many ways I found Dominique to be the character I was most interested in.

LFRP is great storytelling unleashed from mainstream expectations and Laura Lee Bahr proves again she is one of the most impressive voices in Bizarro. This novel doesn't forsake intelligence for crude humor Although the book has one of the most cringe worthy farts in a book I have ever read. At times this book is erotic, funny and always weird. Not of that stuff would work for me if not the hands of a gifted storyteller. Thankfully it is.

One of my top ten reads of 2016. I read this on a flight between San Diego to Indiana, only stopping to switch planes. I was almost a month late with the review, but not I loved this book.

Book Review: The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

Hardcover, 384 pages Published July 2016 by Doubleday

There are a few critics whose opinions I value more than others. This book got the top slot on "The novel Pursuit" top ten list by California critic Marvin Vernon. Since it was his novel of the year I was very interested. I can say right off the bat I didn't like this novel as much Vernon, but after reading this book I can also understand why he liked it and I didn't.

The Heavenly Table is hillbilly noir set in backwoods Ohio in the nineteen-teens around the same time as the first world war was raging in Germany. The narrative has a main point of view family in the Jewitt gang, but interludes and side characters make up a thinly connected mosaic.

The Jewitt family made up of three brothers Chimney, Cane and Cob have grown-up with Pearle a widowed illiterate farmer. Their father believes the heavenly table they go to after death is what is important. They are poor dirt poor when Pearle suddenly passes the boys feel sudden freedom. No one to tell them not to eat all their food, to go to bed. They have a brother who can read and they are all about pulp western books about Bucket Bloody Bill. Why not become outlaws? They need money and food and start by robbing a bank. They want to avoid violence, but as you might suspect their plans don't exactly work out. Their outlaw life does in many ways mirrors the pulps they love.

The Heavenly Table also follows several other characters some directly connected to the story, some with very thin connections. This is one place where the novel lost me. Sometimes this move away from the main narrative confused me. When I hooked on the main story - ten pages on some other unconnected story can lose my attention. There is a subplot about a Gay solider that was more interesting to me than most of the other interludes.

The prose is excellent, the characters are vivid and Pollock paints a grim world. That said there is some weird off beat humor and it is not stretch to compare this book to Cormac McCarthy. I think my problems with the book was a lack or narrative clarity, and a personal dislike for how redneck the book was. Not sure I was in the mood to be in this world.

That said I didn't enjoy this novel, but I respect it enough I am interested to read more by this author.