This is one of those times that I liked something so much that I just blathered on for a bit, and I’m not sure how much sense it made. The first and last paragraphs are coherent, I’m not really sure the rest is…
by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Kirby Baxter, #1Kindle Edition, 275 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: July 27, 2018
Is this the best-writing I’ve encountered in a Detective Novel this year? Nope. Is this the most compelling, the tensest thrill-ride of a Mystery novel this year? Nope. Is this full of the darkest noir, the grittiest realism, the starkest exposure of humanity’s depths? Good gravy, no! This is however a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.
Think Monk at it’s best. Psych at its least annoying. Castle at it’s most charming. Moonlighting season 1 — I’m going to stop now.
So Kirby Baxter is a comic book writer/artist who breathed new life into a stagnant character which led to the revitalizing of an entire comic book company (not quite as old as DC, nowhere near as successful as Marvel — and somehow hadn’t been bought out by either). He was unceremoniously fired just before he became incredibly well-off (and investments only improved that). Following his new wealth, a thing or two happened in Europe and he gained some notoriety there helping the police in a few countries. Now, he’s coming back to North America to attend OmniCon — a giant comic con in Toronto — returning to see a mentor rumored to attend and maybe stick his toe back in the industry that he loves.
While there we meet his colorist and friend, Mitch — a diminutive fellow, convinced he’s God’s gift to the ladies (most of whom hope he comes with a gift receipt), and just a riot to read about. Molly, a fan, former coworker and friend of Kirby’s who wears her heart on her sleeve (it’s not her fault if people don’t notice it). That needs to be better. Erica is many a dream-come-true — an impossibly good-looking model and would-be actress who is sincere and sweet. Her assistant Bruce is a pretty good guy, too. Her best friend and former mentor, Andi is almost as too-good-to-be-true, and married to a renowned DJ who is providing some of the entertainment at OmniCon. There’s comic dealers, a film director, a crazy actress, Kirby’s former boss, and so many other colorful characters that my notes include a joke about a cast the size of Game of Thrones.
And then there’s Gustav. Words I don’t know how to describe Gustav. Imagine having Batman as your Jeeves. He’s a valet/driver/bodyguard that Kirby picked up in Europe, combining the cool and lethal factor of Spenser’s Hawk, Plum’s Ranger and Elvis’ Pike (except he makes Pike seem chatty). I’d include Wolfe’s Saul Panzer, but Saul isn’t the lethal type that the rest are — but Gustav has the effortless magic about him that makes Saul a winner. If the rest of the book was “meh” and Gustav was still in it? I’d tell you to read the book.
At some point, a corpse shows up — and like the comic book world’s answer to Jessica Fletcher, Kirby identifies the death as a murder — not the accident it appears to be to many. For various and sundry reasons — starting with him being correct, and continuing on to the incidents in Europe — Kirby is roped into helping the police with the investigation. Also, like Fletcher, he’s uniquely gifted to help the police in these circumstances. He’s smart, he has a eidetic memory, can catch a tell or a microexpression like nobody’s business. You throw him into a consulting role with the police, with his friends along for the ride and I’m telling you, you’ve got the most entertaining mystery novel I’ve read this year.
This book’s look at comic conventions reminded me of A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl. But where this one is played for laughs, Proehl was serious — but both show an appreciation for, an affection for the culture that surrounds the cons and the people involved. After reading this, I was ready to buy tickets for the OmniCon.
It’s a funny, fast, romp — a very contemporary take on a Golden Age-mystery. Lots of twists and turns, more crimes than you think are happening and more villains than you can shake a stick at. I thought (and still do) that Duncan MacMaster’s Hack showed that he was an author to keep an eye on — this is better.
A Mint-Conditioned Corpse hit the sweet spot for me — a convergence of so many of my likes told with just the right tone (another one of my likes), while maintaining a pretty decent whodunit at the core. I probably smiled for the entire time I spent reading it — well, at least the last 90% once I started to get a feel for things — at 8% I made a note about Kirby “I’m really going to like him,” and a few paragraphs later, I wrote “I already really like him” about Mitch. And I was right about Kirby, and kept liking Mitch — the rest of the characters are about as good as them, and the story is as good as the people in it are. Is everyone going to enjoy this one as much as me? Nope. But I can’t imagine someone not having a ball reading this. Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.
by Mark David Zaslove
Series: Tales of a Badass IRS Agent, #1ARC, 219 pg.
Aperient Press, 2018
Read: August 13 – 14, 2018
I’m not sure I can go this book justice with a hand-crafted synopsis, I’ll just copy and paste from Zaslove’s site:
|Death and Taxes follows Mark Douglas, an ex-Marine turned IRS agent, who, along with auditing the weird and the profane, also spearheads weekend raids with his locked-and-loaded gang of government-sanctioned revenuers, merrily gathering back taxes in the form of cash, money order, or more often than not, the debtor’s most prized possessions.
Things turn ugly when Mark’s much-loved boss and dear friend Lila is tortured and killed over what she finds in a routine set of 1040 forms. Mark follows a trail dotted with plutonium-enriched cows, a Saudi sheik with jewel-encrusted body parts, a doddering, drug sniffing, gun-swallowing dog named The Cabbage, a self-righteous magician with a flair for safecracking, a billionaire Texan with a fetish for spicy barbecue sauce and even spicier women, and an FBI field agent whose nickname is “Tightass.” All of which lead to more and bloodier murders – and more danger for Mark.
Enlisting his IRS pals – Harry Salt, a 30-year vet with a quantum physical ability to drink more than humanly possible; Wooly Bob, who’s egg-bald on top with shaved eyebrows to match; Miguel, an inexperienced newbie with a company-issued bullhorn and a penchant for getting kicked in the jumblies – Mark hunts down the eunuch hit man Juju Klondike and the deadly Mongolian mob that hired him as only an angry IRS agent can. There will be no refunds for any of them when April 15th comes around. There will only be Death and Taxes.
This is hyper-violent (not that filled with blood and guts, really — there is some), a lot of guns, bombs, more guns. Sometimes played for comedic effect, sometimes it’s the good guys vs. the bad guys. Sometimes, it’s a little of both. It never got to the overkill point for me, probably because this felt more like a cartoon than a “realistic” thriller.* What was overkill for me was the hypersexualization of every woman under the age of sixty. I didn’t need to hear that much about every woman’s physical appearance — there are more gorgeous women with perfect (sometimes surgically enhanced) bodies in this guy’s life than an episode of Miami Vice.
But man, is this funny. There are sections — sometimes a sentence or two, sometimes several paragraphs long — that are the literary equivalent of a shot of espresso, they are so taught with action, cultural references, and humor that you just revel in them. This reminds me a lot of the John Lago Thrillers by Shane Kuhn — I think Kuhn shows more discipline in his plots and characters, but on the whole, these two are cut from the same cloth. The same energy, a similar style, similar sense of humor — and frankly, that stuff is catnip to me. I think the plot got a little convoluted, a little confusing — but it was worth working through.
Am I planning on reading Tales of a Badass IRS Agent, #2? Yeah, I will be keeping an eye out for it. This is a heckuva romp, and will entertain anyone who gives it a shot.
* Really, what thriller is realistic?
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion, which you see above.
So, on this little sabbatical to while my son does his initial recuperation, I’ve done some good damage to my TBR pile (the literal, I’ve purchased TBR pile, not the “I wanna read” mountain), particularly the hard copies — I’ve knocked off 12 of them in the past few weeks. And then we made a mistake, we went to Powell’s City of Books — a very fitting name, btw. Somehow I’ve managed to live in the Pacific Northwest my entire life and have never been there.
I honestly felt a little overwhelmed, the place was so big. I spent over an hour there, and didn’t get to browse nearly as much as I should have. I’m not complaining, I’m just stating. Honestly, I was tempted to walk out in the first 5 minutes and go find some tiny little hole-in-the-wall shop. I’m glad I didn’t, it’s an awesome collection of books, clearly run by people who know their product and how to sell it. If you’ve never been, and have the opportunity, take advantage of it.
I indulged, but not as much as I could have:
So I’ve knocked off 12 hard copy books and I walked out of Powell’s with a decent stack — 7 books replaced those. I know there are 8 in the picture, I may have math struggles, but come on. The other is for my son (I still may end up reading it, who are we kidding). I got a nice assortment of new, used, and remaindered — by the way, who takes a signed Don Winslow to a used bookstore? I know who left a used bookstore with one. There were 6 books I left on the shelf through will-power — plus who knows how many I could’ve added had I just wandered around aimlessly for another hour.
Now, I’ve got to get to work reducing ye olde TBR pile . . .
by Gail Honeyman
Penguin Books, 2018
Read: July 31, 2018
I steeled myself as best I could, and, with teeth gritted, using only one finger I typed:
C U there E.
I sat back, feeling a bit queasy. Illiterate communication was quicker, that was true, but not by much. I’d saved myself the trouble of typing four whole characters. Still, it was part of my new credo, trying new things. I’d tried it, and I very definitely did not like it. LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally. Although it’s good to try new things and to keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you really are. I read that in a magazine at the hairdressers.
I went into this expecting the next Where’d You Go, Bernadette — it’s “quirky,” “wacky” “hilarious” “warm and funny” “warm and uplifting”, Honeyman is the next Fredrik Backman, etc. I did not find it. I’m not sure I laughed at anything — I might have smiled at something sweet, but nothing more amusing than the above quotation. Do I think I’d have liked it more if it had been funny? Probably not. I probably wouldn’t have read it, however, if I hadn’t thought it was. This is not a bad thing, not every book has to be funny. I’m just saying I went in expecting a chuckle, a wry smile, something amusing and didn’t get that.
Instead I got a sad, but ultimately nice story about a poor, lonely, shy and socially awkward woman dealing with her personal (and repressed) demons the best she could — which really wasn’t all that well. I didn’t find her amusing, I pitied her. I felt bad for her. I got annoyed when people made fun of her. And I wanted her to figure her life out so she could be an amusing character.
Eleanor is 30, has been doing the same job as a finance clerk for a graphic design firm since she got out of university — she goes to work, talks to her “mummy” Wednesday evenings, gets a frozen pizza, some wine on Fridays and knocks off two bottles of vodka each weekend (spread throughout Saturday and Sunday so that she’s “neither drunk nor sober”), then repeats the cycle. it’s not much but it’s her life and she’s fine with that.
Her life goes in that way with very little variance for about a decade, until she’s befriended by an IT worker, Raymond, in her company. Through him, and other accidents, she meets people. She also does things like get a smartphone, go online for things non-work related, and sorta cyber-stalks a musician. Shortly before meeting Raymond, she’d attended a concert of some local bands (won tickets in a drawing at work) and became infatuated-at-first-sight with a singer — in the way that a thirteen year-old girl does when encountering NKOTB/’NSync/One Direction/insert your time-appropriate band. Eleanor’s childhood was such that she delayed this stage until now. On the one hand, I thought this was a great instigation for Eleanor’s life to change, but man, I kept cringing every time the story came back to it.
Minor, very minor, spoilers: Her social life is the best it’s ever been, things are picking up at work, but there’s this delayed adolescence thing lurking — all the while she’s having problems with mummy. Things go horribly, horribly, horribly awry — but then there’s a chance for her to put her life together again, and maybe discover what went wrong in her very bad childhood, so that she can have a better adulthood.
The characters are well-drawn, well-executed, and pretty realistic. The situations — all of them — ring true. Honeyman can write really well. I thought the story moved well, and the reveals, the twists, the heart-warming moments (and the tragic ones) were all spot-on. I just didn’t enjoy the book that much, it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great. It, like the title character, was completely fine.
Your mileage may vary — and judging by reviews (professional and otherwise), sales, and attention this book is getting, there’s a great chance you’ll think I’m out to lunch on this. I may be.
by Brent Jones
Series: Afton Morrison, Book 2Kindle Edition, 102 pg.
Read: August 13, 2018
Argh. I don’t know how to talk about this — it’s so much the second quarter of a story that I’m not sure what to say. Still, I feel compelled to try.
This picks up right after the events of Go Home, Afton and continues the story. It’s almost as good — probably about as good, but since we know this world a bit now, there’s not as much of the joy of discovery. That’s the only negative to getting the story told in novella-length chunks instead of one big book, this part isn’t the next good part of the whole. Still, that’s part of the fun of this kind of story-telling, too.
I’m not crazy about developments and the reveal in the last few chapters, but I’m not sure I get all that Jones is trying to accomplish. I’m prepared to change my mind about it. Even if he doesn’t convince me that this is the right way to go, I can still see myself enjoying the story as a whole.
There’s a crispness, a rawness to the writing that I really appreciate. I’m really enjoying the characters of Afton, her brother and the social circle that she’s found herself with (for lack of a better term), and am looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Basically, I liked this. You should read the first book in the series, and this one, too.
by Lisa Lutz
Paperbacks, 302 pg.
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016
Read: July 28, 2018
I tried to look calm and collected as I gathered my things under Ruth’s watch, but I could feel this all-over shiver, a constant vibration of nerves that I had a hard time believing no one else could see.
“You in some kid of trouble?” Ruth asked.
“No trouble, I said. “I just found a place to stay, long-term.”
“Don’t fool yourself,” she said. “It’s all temporary.”
Tanya Dubois’ husband died in a stupid household accident. She wasn’t heartbroken by this, but she wasn’t pleased about it. Especially once she realized that while it was an accident, it was one that would at least get the police to take a good look at her while they were deciding that. So she tried to cover things up, only to realize very quickly that she couldn’t, and that be starting to try, she’d made things look less like an accident. So the police would look even harder at her than they would’ve before. This would be a real problem for her because, technically speaking, Tanya Dubois’ doesn’t actually exist. So she grabs her dead husband’s truck and as much cash as she can get (hitting up a few ATM’s while she’s at it to get more) and splits.
She trades in the truck for something else, trades in her (dyed) blonde hair for something shorter and brown, a wardrobe change and became a new person — she says “I looked like so many women you’ve seen before I doubt you could’ve picked me out of a lineup.” Which is a pretty telling way of talking. She’s also able to make a phone call and demand a new name, new identification and some cash. By the time she arrives in Austin, she’s Amelia Keen.
Amelia meets a bartender named Blue, who sees through her right away, but isn’t going to try to turn her in or anything. Mostly, she wants to know where she got such a great passport. Not that either woman tells the other what brought them to the name and place they’re at, but they know that something similar as brought them to this point. Neither trusts the other, but in one way or another, to one extent or another, they need each other. At least for a little while — maybe longer.
At some point, for reasons you should discover for yourself, she leaves Austin and heads west. Then she has to leave that one behind and head elsewhere — eventually, she covers a pretty decent amount of ground, and involves herself in some pretty interesting situations — becoming both a hero and a villain on multiple occasions. All the time proving what Ruth said above, “It’s all temporary.” Well, except one thing — the past. That’s forever, as Tanya/Amelia/etc. learns.
Scattered throughout the book are emails between a Ryan and a Jo — starting years before the Tanya’s husband’s tragic fall, but eventually catching up to the present time. These provide us with a good idea of the life that was left behind by the woman who lived as Tanya and Amelia and so many others all without coming out and telling us that led to her leaving.
Something about Blue made me think of Alice Morgan from the first series/season of Luther (yes, I know she’s in more than that, but keep that vision of her in your mind) — and that image stuck, I don’t care what Lutz said she looked like or sounded like — I heard and saw an American version of Alice when Blue was around. Not the murder her own parents vibe — but the charming, dangerous, potentially duplicitous and erratic, while friendly and helpful vibe. (wow. Could I have qualified that comparison more? Probably, but I’ll hold back)
I never had a good handle on Tanya/Amelia/etc., primarily because I don’t think she did either. We (the readers, and I think she herself) got close to something real with Debra Maze — but she had to abandon that one quickly (too quickly, I liked that existence for her, as doomed as she and the readers knew it was).
There are plenty of other great characters, great moments through the book — some horrifying, some tense, some . . . I don’t know what to say. There’s a Sheriff from Wyoming — he’s not Walt Longmire, but they’d probably get along just fine — who is probably my favorite non-Tanya/etc. character in the book. We don’t get enough of him, but I’m not sure that more of him wouldn’t have hurt the story overall. There’s another bartender who is nothing like Blue, and probably one of the better people we meet in The Passenger, some depraved folks as well — one family that you cannot help but feel horrible for.
There’s a good number of twists along the way, a reveal or two that are really well executed — one I didn’t see coming (not only didn’t see coming, I didn’t even consider as an option). In general some pretty good writing and story telling.
I’ve been trying to get to this for years — and every time I get close (close = it’s one or two down on my list), I have one of those “Squirrel!” moments, and forget all about it. Well, I finally got to it — and was honestly underwhelmed, maybe it was the mental build-up. It didn’t have the Lutz humor, that’s for sure — even How to Start a Fire had some good chuckles. But that’s okay, she doesn’t have to be funny to be good (see the non-funny moments in How to Start a Fire). I also think Karen E. Olson’s Black Hat series handles the woman running from her identity and past better (at least in a way that captures the tension and the fear better). Which is not to say, at all, that this is a bad book — it’s not. It’s also not as good as I think Lutz is capable of.
Oh, and the story behind Tanya/etc.’s tattoo? I loved it. Should probably give the book another half-star just for it.