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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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Total Chaos – Jean-Claude Izzo review

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“None of us have known what to do with our lives. Cop or robber, it makes no difference”

A former colleague of mine and someone I have a lot of respect for as a real bookseller’s bookseller, is known for his healthy obsession with indie publishers and publisher themed tables. Not everyone within our ranks likes these displays but I find myself unable to keep my eyes of them and neither can customers. One of my favourites is the Europa Edition table because it instantly draws your eye with interesting covers that capture your imagination. I don’t do enough digging, when it comes to picking a book, and tend to go for the more mainstream option so it’s good to be shown something outside the top 100 every now and then. It was on this table, while I was browsing, that an elderly gentlemen tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to Total Chaos.

“That’s the one you want” He said and began to tell me that it was a book he keeps with him while traveling. I’m glad for your recommendation, sir…extremely glad

Total chaos follows Fabio Montale, a suburban-Marseille detective, who sees his two closest childhood friends die one-by-one in violent circumstances. One was killed without anyone knowing why; the other was killed immediately after assassinating one of the leaders of the local underworld. Montale tries to understand what happened and gradually discovers a tangle of interests and power struggles within the Marseilles underworld and police. Fabio is drawn by a promise the three friends made to watch out for one another no matter what feet he treads on or what rules they may break, this draws him into the dark heart of the city he lives in as he finds who wanted his friends dead.

I hope a mainstay of crime fiction will find a lot to enjoy here. Classic Noir themes and beautiful description and dialogue makes each page savoured, not just turned. The city itself comes to life as the dark corners and seedy bars invite you to know more. Luckily for me, and you if you decide to try this, there are two more books in the Marseilles trilogy and I can only hope they’re anywhere near as good as this one. I’m relatively new to the crime genre but in the past year of nearly solidly reading the likes of Rankin, MacDonald, Thompson and Nesbo, Izzo easily measures up. However I would describe him, compared to most crime I’ve read, as a glass of red wine in amongst tumbler’s of whiskey. He’s dark as the best of them, but the way in which he wrote gives you a much smoother experience.  Izzo’s writing to some can be style over substance but Fabio’s thoughts at times are just as interesting as the case itself.

The Marseilles Trilogy is published by Europa Editions as part of their World Noir series

JEAN-CLAUDE IZZO was born in Marseilles, France, in 1945. He achieved immediate success with his Marseilles Trilogy. His two other novels (The Lost Mariners and The Sun of the Dying) and one collection of short stories (Living Tires) also continue to enjoy popularity with both critics and the public. Izzo died in 2000 at the age of fifty-five.

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Doctor Sleep – Stephen King Book Review

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‘Stay away from the woman in the hat, Honeybear.’

‘She’s the Queen bitch of Castle Hell. If you mess with her, she’ll eat you alive.’

If you have read my earlier post, leading up to the release of Doctor Sleep, you know that while I was looking forward to reading, macabre maestro, Stephen King’s latest offering, I wasn’t as excited as I normally am for one of his new books. I’ve been a “Constant reader” for the last ten years and, while he is one of my favourite authors, betting on a winning horse just isn’t quite the same as the discovery of a hidden gem. It’s must be a similar feeling to supporting a team who constantly wins, but after finishing book 64, there isn’t anything quite like THIS winning horse. There’s nobody that can touch a nerve like Stephen King.

Doctor Sleep picks up with the now middle aged Danny Torrance following in the footsteps of his father…an alcoholic. Like father, like son. Dan’s justification is that the booze suppresses his “Shining”, his supernatural abilities that plague his everyday life and rules his nightmares. The drink holds back the ghosts of The Overlook.

Dan eventually lands in rural New Hampshire and begins working in a hospice where, with the help of the hospice cat Azzie, he helps the elderly pass on with his ‘Shining’ ability. This earns him the nickname Doctor Sleep and with regular AA meetings and good people around him, Dan finally has all he really wants.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old and married to their RVs. The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the ‘steam’ that children with the ‘shining’ produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Dan meets Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining he’s ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival.

A few things make this book great, King’s own battle against drug and alcohol addiction makes Dan’s AA scenes completely believable, as are Dan’s thoughts towards the drink and himself. King books are known for giving nods towards his other works but even though they’re still there, the biggest nod goes to his son’s fantastic horror novel NOS4R2, which sent a shiver up my spine.

King is, and probably will always be, my favourite author. His characters breathe the same air we do and even though most of their road blocks are based in supernatural settings, the ways in which they have to deal with them are entirely human.

This book will attract some negativity because The Shining is so well loved, but Doctor Sleep is a brilliant sequel. The author is a completely different person to the drug filled alcoholic who sat down to write about Jack and the Outlook Hotel as are his constant readers and the thought of King evolving his style and outlook on the craft excites this constant reader

Doctor Sleep is published by Hodder and Stoughton and is available now.

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The Darwin Elevator – Jason M Hough

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Titan is really starting to grab my attention. With authors such as John Birmingham, Steven L Kent, Cory Doctorow and Jack Campbell, they’re increasing their market share in the genre and adding Jason M Hough and “The Dire Earth Cycle” to that list, it’s hard to find better military/psychological SF at the moment.

In the year 2283, the last habitable place on Earth is Darwin, Australia after aliens constructed an elevator from Darwin, into space. A global plague has turned all but a small percentage of humans into crazed “Sub-human’s”. Darwin is safe from the plague because the space elevator emits an aura that protects the area around it but the origin coincides with the human interaction with it as they established orbital colonies along the elevator’s cord. Was the plague also left behind by the alien builders?

Skyler Luiken and his fellow immune scavenger crew are struggling. Skyler is finding leadership tough and the crew are borderline mutinous. When he leads a mission into the dangerous wastelands beyond the aura’s edge; he has to learn to lead quickly because the fate of Darwin could depend on it.

At the top of the Space Elevator, a battle for control begins. Neil Platz and his groomed assistant Dr Tania Sharma are trying to find a pattern in the appearances of the builders, but Neil knows more then he’s letting on and this keeps him a few steps ahead of the ones trying to claim control of all he built. When the master manipulator sends Tania along on Skyler’s mission, he becomes the catalyst of Earth’s next phase.

Jason M Hough’s debut is an ambitious one. It’s a mix of SF, mystery, corporate espionage and zombies. You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking Hough might have taken on too much for this book but as you race through the story, in a shower of bullets and debris, you realise that not only has Hough executed all of the above, he has taken on a whole lot more and pushed The Darwin Elevator to the front of modern SF. It’s incredibly fun but without being trashy, and I guarantee you won’t see the ending coming. It is great that such a relatively straightforward adventure story provokes so many questions. Hopefully this will show writers, new and old, that there can be more to Military SF.   There’s huge scope for the next two in the series so let hope Jason builds on this excellent start

4.5/5

Dire Earth Cycle are all published this year by Titan Books

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The Ace of Skulls by Chris Wooding. Book Review

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“All good things come to an end. And this is it: the last stand of the Ketty Jay and her intrepid crew. They’ve been shot down, set up, double-crossed and ripped off. They’ve stolen priceless treasures, destroyed a ten-thousand-year-old Azryx city and sort-of-accidentally blew up the son of the Archduke. Now they’ve gone and started a civil war. This time, they’re really in trouble.”

I’ve been following this series from the beginning. Retribution Falls was picked up on a whim because of its fantastic cover and I’ve been hooked on every word since. It’s not often I find a series as good as this one and every time I’ve picked up the latest on release day, it’s been like coming home. From the opening line I’m pulled back into Chris Wooding’s world and “The Ace of Skulls” was no different.

It’s hard to review the forth book in a series, because I don’t want to spoil anything for potential readers but I’ll try and keep it brief.

Darian Freye, Captain of the Ketty Jay, is good at starting fights, most of the time it’s purely accidental, and dragging his dysfunctional crew along for the ride but this time they started a civil war. They must decide which side they’re on before they’re caught in the cross fire. Frey’s choices have always been extreme and mostly selfish, whether it’s stealing from an orphanage or trying to save his own skin from Daemon’s like The Iron Jackal, but the crew follow him anyway.

As Vardia’s war rages, they find out Frey led them into danger to find the woman he loved and lost, the infamous Pirate Queen Trinica Dracken, and it threatens to tear them apart. As the story unfolds, Frey’s hold on the crew starts to slip but when Frey needs his crew the most, who will be left at his side?

The Ace of Skulls is fantastic with tonnes of action and heart pounding moments. The crew have come on so much since the first book without losing a step. I genuinely care about each of them and their individual plot lines. The dialogue between them can be hilarious at times but heart breaking at others and in this book it feels like Chris has really got into his stride.

These books really are incredible. It’s a mix of Firefly and Pirates of the Caribbean just without being cut short too soon and defiantly without Orlando Bloom. If you could somehow describe them in one word, it would be “fun” but they achieve this without ever becoming trashy. They include some really dark scenes which are quite hard to read. My particular favourite is Crake’s, a daemonist of high society, and his childlike but brutal Golum Bess. How they came to be aboard the ship is a constant theme throughout and their story runs even deeper in this one.

To experience everything The Ace of Skulls has to offer, you need to go back and read the first three first. Trust me the pay off is 100% worth it. The series goes

1 Retribution Falls

2 The Black Lung Capitan

3 The Iron Jackal

4 The Ace of Skulls

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I’ve heard that this could be the last of the Ketty Jay books. If it is, it’s a perfect bon voyage. I would love him to continue the series but I would rather Chris go out on his own terms rather than suffering through a dip in quality. I’ve had such a good time reading these books and I’m looking forward to what Chris produces next. So fill up those aerium tanks one more time. You in for a helluva ride, I promise.

So whether you’re new to the series or seasoned swashbucklers I’d love to hear how you get on, so get in touch on here or twitter @Europa_Outlaw

This book is published by Gollancz and is available now

http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/chris+wooding/the+ace+of+skulls/9595048/

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Jo Nesbo – The Bat

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“Then Harry was alone. As we always are.”

Even though Harry Hole is now a well-established character in the world of crime fiction, this is the first time I’ve decided to pick one of these books up. I’ve been told for years by customers and colleagues that Nesbo is a must read. A flaw of mine is stubbornness and if somebody gives me a glowing recommendation I tend to stay away. Recently my stubborn ways have fallen a little, my recent found love of the Rolling Stones through close friends being one of the many examples, and as I get older I’ve come to realise that Andy James isn’t always right.

Harry Hole, a recovering alcoholic, is sent to Australia to investigate the murder of a Norwegian childrens TV presenter, Inger Holter, but on arrival he is firmly put in his place by the Australian authorities and told he is there only to observe.

Harry is introduced to Andrew Kensington, an Aborigine and Detective for the Sydney Police, who takes Harry under his wing and tells him a lot of tales about life in Australia as an Aborigine. This is my first of two problems with this book. There are a lot of stories that don’t really help you along. Situations are pretty easy to understand are often explained through storytelling and the first half of the book gets a bit bogged down with setting the scene. He also meets Birgitta, a Swedish redhead, and they begin an emotional relationship. Harry tells her his deepest secret, that he caused an accident whilst being intoxicated, which made him quit drinking.

The second half switches gear to full-blown thriller that nearly causes whiplash. I found myself having to go back and re-read some pages because I was franticly scanning in an attempt to relieve some tension. Harry falls off the wagon in horrific fashion and everything falls apart. It’s only when meeting the homeless Joseph, an ex-skydiving instructor, Harry discovers an important lead.

There are times when this book is fantastic. Harry is such a likeable fuck-up, but because this is the first Harry Hole book, I saw teething problems with a particular plot point towards the end that made no sense to me at all. I am being overly critical because Nesbo is considered at the very top of the Scandinavian crime pile. If you’re expecting to be blown away by this, you won’t be. This is a set up to Harry as a dysfunctional human and, even in times of detective brilliance, he still makes big mistakes.

What this has done is made me excited to read more. There is no way I can’t. Nesbo really engages and, unfortunately for my bank account, I feel he will be on the reading pile again very soon.  The only question now is do I wait for book two, The Cockroaches, or go straight in for The Redbreast? I don’t think I’m going to be able to wait for it.

Jo Nesbo’s Police, due for release in the UK this year, has sold out its first print run in Norway. They printed 270,000 copies. Further evidence that Jo is at the very top of this genre.

Jo Nesbo is printed by Vintage Random House

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Terra – Mitch Benn

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Before the kind folks at Gollancz sent me a copy of debut author Mitch Benn’s Science Fiction book, Terra, I had never heard of him. This was a good thing because I went into it not having any preconceived ideas. Not knowing Mitch was a comedian made it all the more satisfying when the novel made me laugh.

The first thing I saw was the Neil Gaiman quote on the cover, comparing this book to the likes of Dahl, Adams and Pratchett for being “wise and funny”. I wasn’t particularly impressed by this, as I’ve never been a fan of any of those authors, but I think this book is better than those comparisons, however, a quote from Neil Gaiman will be worth its weight in gold. This book is also allegedly the first book to be acquired due to a twitter exchange. I think this is fantastic. The image of Mitch just kicking his heels in London for a few hours and being asked to go into Gollancz towers to pitch his book is brilliant, and the result?

The book opens with a very stereotypical family scenario. Mr and Mrs Bradbury are constantly at each other’s throats, arguing over absolutely everything. When driving one night, an alien spacecraft appears in front of them. The Bradbury’s are so scared they jump out of the car and run as fast as they can. After more arguing they realise they have left their baby daughter in the car and find, when they return, she has gone.

Lbbp, an alien biologist, is researching Earth when he appears in front of the humans and, when the pair run away and leave their child, he thinks the parents have abandoned her and decides to take her with him back to his home planet of Fnrr. It’s here where newly named “Terra” grows up among the inhabitants of Fnrr without to much predigest. One thing the natives seem to lack is an ability to think for themselves and create. It takes a malfunctioning piece of educational equipment to show everyone the power of imagination. This is a glorified look at our race but also a delightful one. The comment some people I’ve seen saying that scientists are portrayed as not being able to be creative is in itself rubbish and a pretentious statement. They’re aliens and its fiction so get over yourself.

Like with all new ideas there are teething problems as the school try to put on a new introduced Shakespeare play. I can’t remember the exact wording but the title is something like “Two families hate each other, their children fall in love but then kill themselves at the end” This had me apologising to fellow tram passengers for belly laughing and interrupting their Silvia Day enjoyment.

Terra begins to gain a unique perspective on the worlds involved and feels like she can make a difference, which gets called into question when Furr faces a horrific war.

This book isn’t going to change the way we think about Science Fiction but what it does do is take the reader on a tight and enjoyable journey with interesting and fleshed out characters. Bravo Mitch Benn, looking forward to your next one. No pressure 😉

I apologize in advance to Gollancz for the amount of book pitches that I’m going to tweet you

TERRA is published by Gollancz and is available now  

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