Monthly Archives: December 2013

First and Only – Dan Abnett *Black Library Classics*

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It took me a while to give The Black Library a try. I’ve never been a fan of Warhammer, the table top miniature war-game produced by Games Workshop, and also of Military Science Fiction, so for the first few years of reading SF it was pretty much out of sight out of mind. I also lumbered these novels as “Tie-ins” which sometimes can be rushed to make a quick buck. After dispelling some missed placed prejudices about Black Library after being recommended “The Horus Heresy” by anyone into military SF I was so surprised by the level of quality not only in the brilliantly described war zones but in character and story development too. I admit I was wrong and in a time where new and exciting Science Fiction comes few and far between for me, it’s good to have in the back of my mind that Black Library produces high quality SF/F without becoming completely obsessed with it.

One of the most popular authors is Dan Abnett. I’ve read Hours Rising and a stand-alone novel called Embedded and was impressed with each, so when I saw Black Library were producing three stunning Classics which include Dan’s first published novel “First and Only” I had to give it a try.

The ‘First and Only’ of the title is the Tanith First and Only division of the Imperial Guard. They are led by Ibrahim Gaunt and are involved in the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, an ambitious mission by the Empire of Man to bring peace and defeat the forces of Chaos in the Sabbat Worlds of the 41st millennium. The First and Only got their unique moniker because the world of Tanith was destroyed by the forces of Chaos shortly after the Imperium called for a regiment to be created. Under Gaunt’s command, the First and Only has earned the nickname the Ghosts and has become a respected force in the Imperial Guard.

For the first ever black Library novel I think it is certainly the best I’ve read so far. Gaunt is a fantastic character and I became so caught up with the cast; it placed me further on to the edge of my seat. The first 100 pages is pretty much warfare and even though the battle is beautifully and violently described I didn’t connect with anyone apart from Gaunt until much later. I think that was purposefully done. I thought it showed Gaunt as a lone, near perfect, fighter capable of liberating worlds with a command. It’s not until he is challenged did I see how much the “Ghosts” around him come to life.

Dan Abnett’s novels for the Black Library have sold more than a million copies and this book takes us back to where it all began. This is a great introductory novel for fans of military science fiction that may not yet be familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 setting.

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James Crumley – The Last Good Kiss

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James Crumley – The Last Good Kiss (1978)

For the past year, about 80% of my reading time has been dedicated to crime fiction. SF and horror have taken the back seat to the likes of Jim Thompson, Ross Macdonald, Jo Nesbo, Izzo, Ian Rankin and more, but after reading this, I feel I can finally step away for a while and explore something else. I have just finished James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, the best crime book I’ve read so far.

Blurb:

Tough, hard-boiled, and brilliantly suspenseful, The Last Good Kiss is an unforgettable detective story starring C. W. Sughrue, a Montana investigator who kills time by working at a topless bar. Hired to track down a derelict author, he ends up on the trail of a girl missing in Haight-Ashbury for a decade. The tense hunt becomes obsessive as Sughrue takes a haunting journey through the underbelly of America’s sleaziest nightmares.

As soon as I opened the first page, I was met with this line

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma California, drinking the heart out of a fine spring afternoon.”

I was hooked and determined to write down every passage that made me groan with jealousy and awe but I had to give up on that idea quite early on. It’s just too quotable.

The book opens with C.W. Sughrue, A private investigator hired to find an eccentric writer called Abraham Trahearne by his ex-wife. After weeks of searching, Sughrue finally catches up with the writer after learning about his strange affinity for bar dogs, which leads him to Fireball and of course Trahearne.

“Whenever I found anybody, I always suspected that I deserved more than money in payment. This was the saddest moment of the chase, the silent wait for the apologetic parents or the angry spouse or the law. The process was fine, but the finished product was always ugly. In my business, you need a moral certitude that I no longer even claimed to possess and, every time, when I came to the end of the chase I wanted to walk away.”

After a misunderstanding, which leads to Trahearne taking a slug in the arse, the owner of the bar asks C.W to look for her daughter, who has been missing in San Francisco for ten years. She stepped out of her boyfriend’s car and was never seen again. Sughrue eventually accepts the case even though he feels it’s pointless and not worth the measly $85 he’s paid but it’s all the mother has and Trahearne is willing to fund the search for a few more days away from his mother and ex-wife. What follows is full of twists and turns, pint bottles of vodka and Femme Fatales that will hold you to the very last word.

Crumley nails every character to the point of tears. As Sughrue and Trahearne look for the runaway Betty-Sue Flowers, it becomes clear that they’re all running from something. Sughrue tries to outweigh his own feelings of inferiority by telling himself he’s happy with the mundane life of a PI, who has to support himself by working in bars when work is slow. Trahearne tries to run from his infidelities, alcoholism and his thought that the last line he wrote could be his last.

In a strange way, I came out of this book with optimism. It revels in celebration at the obstacles Sughrue must face. The complexity of the story, the flawed and damaged characters makes this seem timeless. I’ve only just finished the book so it will be interesting to see how I feel about it in the upcoming weeks and months but for now, this is the most absorbing and on-point piece of pulp crime fiction I have read. You owe it to yourself to try it.

“Stories are like snapshots, pictures snatched out of time, with clean hard edges. But life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”

As this is unavailable as an ebook, you will have to go to a bookshop. You never know, you might like it.

James Arthur Crumley was the author of violent hardboiled crime novels and several volumes of short stories and essays, as well as published and unpublished screenplays.

The edition I read was part of the Vintage Crime series from Black Lizard.

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