Sunday, May 27, 2007

Preston, Douglas and Lincoln Child. Still life with crows. New York: Warner, 2004. 592pp.

I love the occasional seriously over the top thriller and this series by Preston and Child fits the bill perfectly. This is the fourth in a loose series, the first being Relic, then Reliquary and Cabinet of curiosities. There are three or four more that I haven't gotten to yet.

Gonzo, grizzly and gruesome, the three g-words that describe this great novel. The setting is a microscopically small town in Kansas where a series of increasingly bizarre and violent killing take place, potentially disrupting a hoped-for economic biotech spin off in the town. The killings draw the very stange FBI Agent Pendergrast who teams up with a local teen misfit to solve the crime. It sounds like it shouldn't work but it does. Preston and Child give the book enough narrative drive and gory detail to keep you interested. And Pendergrast is a quirky and odd enough character to keep you coming back to the series (although he isn't in all the previous books, like I said the series so far is quite loose). While Pendergrast is a little too alien a figure to give the books a intimate human dimension, the authors always come up with a local character to identify with. This time it's teen misfit Corrie Swanson, a goth kid who's ostracized by the community but is smart and savvy enough to be a real help to Pendergrast. I think we'll be seeing more of her eventually, as she would surely make a good long-term sidekick one day.

One minor complaint about the series, though. I find they always tease supernatural causes for the mayhem but in the end it always ends with a naturalistic explanation -- and that's ok. I don't need a horror novel to be supernatural, human nature is scary enough. My problem is that they always end up having the whole thing be a bit stretched to the bounds of credibility for my taste, as if they felt the need to push the limit while they were writing and they had to squeeze in the reality at the end.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Estleman, Loren. Lady yesterday. New York: Ballantine, 1988. 211pp.

This is a novel in Estleman's long-running Amos Walker series of novels about a hard-bitten Detroit PI. It's a pretty good novel, nothing too fancy. A girl-gone-bad-gone-good looking for her father gets Walker to help. He digs deeply into her past, finding out some things that she doesn't want to know meanwhile pissing off various members of the criminal underground. A fairly standard tough-guy mystery, but with a good plot, good characters. Short and sweet, to the point. I look forward to trying out more books in this series and by this author.

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Shubin, Seymour. Witness to myself. New York: Hard Case, 2006. 250pp.

So, this kid possibly commits a crime at 16 while on vacation with his parents, an assault on a young girl, but didn't stick around long enough to tell if the girl lived. Years pass, he becomes a successful lawyer but he still doesn't know what happened all those years ago. So, he researches the crime, to see if anything was in the papers in the small town where it happened. And from there it commences, he draws attention to himself, he attracts a weird stalker and it all comes to a head and not how you think, either.

A bit of departure from straight noir, as nobody is really a stone criminal but nevertheless I found this novel to be pretty entertaining. It's one of the first of the Hard Case Crime novels that I've read that was not a classic reprint but an original novel. In fact, it's a bit disconcerting when the guy does most of his research on the web (although he does end up at the town library), it almost seems a bit unnatural for modern technology to impinge on the noir genre.

In any case, Shubin is a classic noir author so I guess it all evens out. I recommend this book heartily. It's not a classic but it's got enough twists and turns to keep anyone happy.

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