Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No One Rides For Free

Larry Beinhart
No One Rides For Free

Open Road Media, 2012 (digital reissue)

A lawyer of a large American corporation Edgar Wood steals from his own company several million dollars, gets real prison term and to prevent his incarceration, he is an old man who are used to a life of luxury, requests immunity in exchange for testimony. Wood promises federal commision a detailed account of all dirty business of the firm and its management, and the SEC will put Wood on the witness protection program at the time of interrogation.

Wood’s snitching violates attorney-client confidentiality, and the corporation management is worried that one of them can go to prison after the Wood. Then one of the corporation’s lawyers hires a private detective Tony Cassella to find Wood and find out (preferably without breaking the law) what Wood says to the feds. Cassella quickly finds a house in the countryside, where the feds hold Wood and where Wood meets a federal investigator for questioning, but the detective fails to learn anything from Wood. Wood is gunned down outside the restaurant, presumably during a robbery. Wood’s daughter does not believe that her father's death was an accident, and again employs Cassella, that he would dig into the murder. The P.I. immediately feels that the murder was not accidental.

«No One Rides For Free» is very original fiction, offering not the most common background for a detective story. The novel is set in the world of large corporations, federal agencies and edge investigations. Edge in the sense that almost all novel the detective works on the borderline between legal and illegal methods. He's a detective with the license, but he could be someone from Ocean's 11.

Cassella is on the verge not only professionally, but also regarding everything else. He cheats on his wife and uses cocaine in large doses regularly. However, Cassella is not completely fallen character: he refuses to see his “connected” uncle and doesn’t give up in the middle, no matter how dangerous the situation is getting. He even does not condemn Edgar Wood for the fact that he turned against his friends and colleagues:

«But it could get closer to the line. I hated prisons. I understood Edgar Wood's panic. I understood every punk in the world who sold out his friends to stay on the outside. Something ached in me to play touch and go with the line that had bars on the far side. It was the same yearning ache that lurched inside me when Willie Contact offered me the cool white cocaine. It was in my testicles and lower bowels. There was a sensation, as if the devil stood behind me. When I turned to look, there was nothing there, not even my own shadow.»

One of the charms of the book is to see Cassella in action. His methods of investigation are not ordinary and quite authentic.

No One Rides For Free could be called a mixture of Andrew Vachss (well detailed criminal underworld) and Michael Collins (who is Dennis Lynds; stylistic abilities), if not for the fact that this novel was published a year later than Vachss’ debut Flood, so Vachss could not influence Beinhart.

The novel has so much audacity and anger, while Beinhart has so much talent, that the following fact seems incredible. No One Rides For Free is never mentioned in the lists of the best P.I. novels of all time. And this is enormous injustice. An absolute must-read.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fade to Blonde

Max Phillips
Fade to Blonde

Hard Case Crime, 2004

Ray Corson virtually works for free for a local building contractor, and it starts to bother him. Corson came to Hollywood as a screenwriter, but also tried himself in the ring, in front of the camera, and now doing odd jobs. When an attractive blonde finds him and asks to help her with one thing, Corson immediately quits his job, knocking out the payment from his boss.

A blonde named Rebecca LaFontaine (of course, a pseudonym) offers a small sum of money for Corson so he would help her get rid of a persistent suitor Lance Halliday, and for get rid of him the girl means to kill him. Corson is not ready to kill and offers simply to scare Halliday with more peaceful ways. Halliday owns a small film studio, engaged in the production of pornographic films, as well as on the side deals drugs. While Ray is looking for ways to approach Halliday, the dead bodies begin to pile up.

It is not difficult to guess that Phillips wrote an homage to paperback novels from the 50s. The detective hero himself came as if from noir novel (eventually Corson considers killing Halliday and solving all problems), but the novel’s plot here is purely mystery. Phillips plays by the rules, scattering hints and pieces throughout the text, but doing without trickery.

Charm of Fade to Blonde lays not only in the plot and style. The novel reads more like a book from 40s or 50s that has been forgot and only now was found. It is perfect to learn to distinguish the original from the copy. Connoisseurs of old PBO novels will find the whole scenes and the individual words that you can read here, but never could find in the paperbacks of the middle of the last century.

«"You can touch one for a dollar, "she said.


"Give me a dollar," she said, drying her back.

After a moment, I took a dollar from my pocket and handed it to her. She folded it twice and tucked it under the right strap of her suit, then swung my towel around her shoulders like a shawl. Beneath it, she lowered her left strap. She took hold of my right hand, slipped it under the towel, and placed it on her breast. It was heavy and firm. The skin was still cold and goose-pimpled, but I could feel the heat inside.»

This scene gives a particularly good idea of the differences between the two eras. I find it difficult to imagine that such an episode would find a place somewhere in the book of a detective imprint (although we can not exclude softcore publishers).

Fade to Blonde is a clever homage and strong whodunit.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Boy, Snow, Bird

Helen Oyeyemi
Boy, Snow, Bird

Picador UK, 2014

The story begins in the postwar years on Manhattan. Girl with a strange name Boy Novak lives with her father in a small house. Boy does not know anything about her mother, and her father works as a rat catcher. The basement floor of Novak’s house is laden with cages with rats that Boy’s father uses for his work.

Boy has a passion for words, has a strange attraction to mirrors, has average grades in school, all due to the fact that she grew up in a family of lone rat catcher. Boy’s father often beat her, sometimes scares her with rats.

«I did fine at school. I'm talking about the way boys reacted to me, actually, since some form of perversity caused me to spend most lessons pretending to absorb much less information than I actually did. Every now and then a teacher got suspicious about a paper I'd turned in and would keep me after school for questioning. "Has someone been. . . helping you? "I just shook my head and shuffled my chair sideways, avoiding the glare of the desk lamp the teacher invariably tried to shine into my eyes. Something about a girl like me writing an A-grade paper turns teachers into cops.»

Boy meets a young man named Charlie, but their relationships don’t work out. Unable to withstand the regular beating of her father, Boy one day gathers a few of her belongings, steals $12 from her father and runs to the bus depot, buying a ticket to a small town Flax Hill.

Helen Oyeyemi has the ability to write vigorously. The book begins as a modern fairy tale that one girl can tell another. Dates are blurred, but there are a rat catcher, abusive father, running away from home and a small town of shadow nature. The beginning already makes guess what is in front of us, realism or magic realism?

Every sentence in this book radiates energy, and sometimes sentences themselves bump into each other, the idea might pause for a paragraph, but reappear in another paragraph. Prose here really is alive, not stereotype for the words, 70 percent of modern American literature uses. It makes me happy, you’re feeling originality, otherness.

But the first half of the book has a problem not with the style, but with the narrative, with the writer’s ability to clearly tell the story. There is just not enough clarity. Narrative wobbles and it is not clear whether the author knows where she is going, or just writes in the hope that the story itself will lead somewhere. The key point of the first chapter emerges as an ax from the pond - that is, all of a sudden, without any hints from the text. One expects from the writer who writes unique prose a certain subtlety.

But the second part is written more smoothly, without wiggle of the first, and the second part offers very thinly scattered clues, trivia, internal techniques that later get together and make the overall picture. Particularly impressive is the fact that the first and second parts of the novel are completely different, as it should be when there is a narrator change. Despite the existence of racial themes, it has no effect on the style: the entire novel is written in literary English, without its "black" version. The characters discuss the color of the skin here, but it's just one of the themes of the novel. Racial theme here is one of the components of the theme of the family.

The finale of Boy, Snow, Bird is immaculate, shocking, amazing, as however you think for something unexpected, you still will be surprised. Despite the flawed beginning for such a finale you can forgive this book a lot. Overall imperfection of this book says only that great books are rarely smooth and perfect.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Dismal Science

Peter Mountford
The Dismal Science

Tin House, 2014

Vincenzo D’Orsi is a Vice-President at the World Bank and a widower. Once a year, the board of the Bank is going to Washington to discuss the Bank’s working directions, but for the most part these meetings are of a formal nature. Managers and bankers are going to share rumors, talk about their lives, just having a drink with old friends. The Bank operates almost by itself. a The meeting of the Bank falls on Thanksgiving, and Vincenzo spends holiday in the company of his daughter Leonora, who came specially from New York, where she lives after graduating from the prestigious college and working as a waitress in a cafe, and his closest - and only - friend Walter, a journalist of The Washington Post. Walter and Vincenzo know each other more than for 20 years, their friendship began with a short interview that Walter took from Vincenzo. Now both friends already are in their fifties, and they have worked at the same place all their lives.

Everything changes for Vincenzo after his meeting with Hamilton, an expert on South American direction. In Bolivia a new president was elected, and he is the opposition to the candidate backed by the Americans. Now Hamilton asks Vincenzo cut help to Bolivia, fearing that Bolivia would seek to escape from U.S. pressure. But Vincenzo refuses to fulfill the request of colleagues. Hamilton begins to threaten Vincenzo that he would lose his job, while Vincenzo in turn threatens to go with this story to the press. Communication with the press is secretly prohibited in the Bank, and both Hamilton and Vincenzo understand that it will lead to Vincenzo’s retirement.

By evening Vincenzo decides to summon his friend Walter and talks about the pressure on him. The next day, an article has been published, which also becomes a statement about Vincenzo’s resignation.

The Dismal Science is written in the third person, and its protagonist is no longer a young man, only taking first steps in the world of finance, but an experienced man with a midlife crisis, a dead wife and a troubled daughter. Vincenzo gradually reopenes his past: from gragmented memories we learn about the injury of his daughter, and then about the death of his wife. Fully spent his life on work and career, now 54-year-old protagonist realizes that he missed the family while he had it. Now the hero is trying to regain his private life, but does not know how. Amusing to read a few scenes in the novel where Vincenzo is given advice about how in today's world to date.

Mountford draws in his novel a complex character. Vincenzo is a strange, he is apparently a coward (he cares about his pension, he tells the bank lawyer to got to hell, but only after signing the contract, retaining his pension). The subject of confrontation of the world economy and the individual in the novel leads to the creation of a nontrivial intrigue: what really was the true cause of this challenge? Was it an impulse, temporary insanity, or clearly thought out move? What drives people to do making vital decisions? Can one person change the state of the world economy? The Dismal Science is a charming portrait of an egoist, and not just egois, but egoist with a midlife crisis.

Mountford particularly surprised me by the inclusion in the novel a black CIA agent (supposedly a CIA agent, because he officially doesn’t tell wether he is CIA and or another secret service), simultaneously parodying spy novels and inventing a new type of a CIA agent, who does not need a gun or a license to kill, enough to know how to intimidate.

Mountford with this book confirmed that he's a gifted writer: he writes books that are read with pleasure and long remembered.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bibliosleuth wanted!

I stumbled upon a bibliomystery some time ago. Today I present this mystery to you.

Three years ago, before the time I’d gone heavy into book collection, I’d bought a first edition copy of The Wrong Case by James Crumley. This is his second novel, but his first crime novel, and that was the reason I’d chosen it. I paid $3: it was first edition, but without DJ. That is why it was so cheap.

The book went on to the shelf, where it remained for three years. Until the early March when I spotted on eBay a first edition of The Wrong Case (with the dust jacket) with a low starting bid. I had no luck with collecting Crumley before. Every time I tried to win or buy one of his books a book would flee from me as if I posed some threat to it. Thus, I had only two his books in first edition, and The Wrong Case – without DJ.

I’d won – surprisingly for myself – that auction for a low price. I was pleased. I even had a reason to celebrate: for the three years the book’s price has gone ridiculously high. Even without DJ you can find only a few copies of the book online, and the cost for a jacketless copy can be as high as $100. A copy in a condition like mine will cost $250-300.

So I’ve had two copies of the same book, one with a DJ and one jacketless. I wanted to compare these copies I had, and it was then when I stumbled upon a bibliomystery. These copies should have been identical: they are both first edition, first printing, first printed in the same country in the same year and published by the same publisher. But the boards are different! They are different colors, different thickness, different logos, different paper. The text is the same, but the copies are different.

Below you can find photoproofs.

As you can see, publisher’s imprints are the same. But I can’t understand why the boards look different.

Either I can’t see something obvious or there was some mix-up somewhere.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Richard Stark

Random House, 1971

A part of Friday Forgotten Books

Parker in the company of company Grofield and second-rate driver Laufman knock out armored car on a deserted road, but when they try to getaway Laufman rolls the car into the fence. Parker is the only one who does not lose consciousness, and he gets out of the car with a bag of money. Police are coming and there is absolutely nowhere to hide - except for Fun Island, an amusement park, closed for the winter. Parker climbs over the wall, hoping to get out later through another exit when a hype around the armored car slows down. Parker does not yet know that there is no way out of the park, and worse than that: Parker and a satchel of money were seen by two mobsters who met with two patrol cops to for the pay-off. And mobsters and cops will want to get this bag.

Those familiar with the previous books in the series about Parker without my recommendations know that you should read Stark, preferably starting with the first book of the series The Hunter. Slayground is rightly considered one of the best books by Stark, largely because Parker here is in an almost hopeless situation (though isn’t he always?). Never before Parker was not in the truest sense cornered where there is no exit. Moreover, by the middle of the novel Parker is left without his favorite weapon – a gun. But Parker, of course, is not one of those who surrender.

Slayground offers not only entertainment for a few hours, but makes fans of the series to ask several questions about the central character, Parker. I was curious, if Parker did not see any options to get out of the situation, would he choose to surrender to police, given that he is wanted for a couple of murders, or he would prefer death in a shootout?

Another issue worrying me in the course of reading can be formulated as follows: how this professional thief is always in a good shape, if he does not play any sports, doesn’t work out, does not go to the gym and spends his free time (or spent up to a certain time) on the beach sunbathing and sipping cocktails? It’s impossible to imagine Parker playing basketball with the company or in the gym lifting weights. The only exercise Parker makes when he comes to jobs, but it does not happen too often. Without the stunning physical form Parker just would not be able to do all that he did in the novel.

Prayers for the Stolen

Jennifer Clement
Prayers for the Stolen

Vintage, 2014

Protagonist, a girl named Ladydi Garcia Martínez, lives with her mother in a remote Mexican village of Guerrero in the jungle. Being a young girl in Mexico is not easy: learning about the existence of a beautiful girl, drug traffickers immediately want to kidnap her. That's why the girls' mothers make their daughters ugly, making them boy’s haircuts, putting them into second-hand clothes, banning cosmetics, and not letting anyone anywhere. In case, if the village hears the sounds of approaching traffickers’ jeeps, mothers immediately hide their daughters in a specially dug for such cases hole in the yard. These holes are in every yard.

Women in general have a harder time, especially in the absence of men. There are hardly any men in the village. A lot of men work in big cities, and those who are more gifted and more trickier leave for the United States to work there as gardeners or handymen. So it happened with Ladydi’s father, who initially worked as a bartender at a hotel in Acapulco, then moved to work in the United States, from there at first sent money to the family, and then suddenly stopped. Ladydi always loved her father, but the last time she saw him, the image of the perfect dad had been destroyed by her mother.

Ladydi’s mother, already drunk, told her daughter that her father slept with half the female population of the village. Moreover, Maria, one of Ladydi’s girldriends, is an illegitimate daughter of Ladydi’s father.

It’s hard to believe, but this seemingly full of violence story is rather funny thing. This effect is achieved due to the voice of the narrator Ladydi. Girl’s humor is a way to protect herself against the cruel world which she lives in. Ladydi that never in her life left her village and rarely went out even to the highway begins to understand the unknown world. Familiar world of school, sitting in the holes, drunken mother monologues suddenly changes. The narrator, despite the seeming naivety, is actually not dumb and quite familiar with the state of affairs in her native country. But Clement uses the literary device of keeping back, that’s why we think that we have to deal with a village idiot. Due to this, the story has a humorous tone. But the humor here is of black type, but definitely bitter. Clement through the narrator translates her vision of contemporary Mexico, which is laugh or cry.

«I only went to school until the end of primary. I was a boy most of that time. Our school was a little room down the hill. Some years teachers never showed up because they were scared to come to this part of the country. My mother said that any teacher who wanted to come here must be a drug trafficker or an idiot.»

The author uses in her novel the device of overlaying a parable and realism. All the events described are based on reality. Young girls are really abducted, hundreds a year, and many of them do not come back home. Cartels and drug traffickers are terrorizing the country where everyone is afraid. Corruption flourishes. Prisons there are not set up differently as, say, in the U.S. or Russia. But a way of telling of the story is parable. That girl is kidnapped by drug lords, that actually exist in reality, but in the story drug lords are not quite drug lords, but rather evil beings like dragons in fairy tales, abducting young girls, too. Or three servants who continue to live in an empty owner's house, when they learn of the death of the family. In Mexico, there are a lot of abandoned houses, but in the novel it looks again like a fairy tale: a girl crawles into the house of three bears and starts living there. The novel has a two-layer structure: the parable seems to blunt overall violent background, but the author never lets us forget that everything that happens happens in reality, it's not a fairy tale.

In addition to an incredibly real voice of the protagonist Ladydi, Clement created a lot of complex secondary characters. There is no unimportant characters: each has its own story, to the smallest detail real and often poignant. Clement loves her characters.

The novel’s plot is almost perfect: against a one person story we read about system of the whole country. The heroine goes through three stages: village, town and prison - and each of them exciting, and each of us will learn something new about the country and the protagonist.

Most of the characters in the book are girls and women, and it is certainly very feminine novel, but it's hard to imagine a man who would not be touched by the story - you have to be either a fool or cruel-hearted.

It will not be an exaggeration if I say that Prayers for the Stolen is the best novel about Mexico that I have ever read, better than Don Winslow’s Savages and certainly better than Lang’s Angel Baby. Extraordinary.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Michael Farris Smith

Simon & Schuster, 2013

Destructive wind and rain made life impossible in the American Southeast. Incessant rains and hurricanes destroyed and eroded all the Gulf Coast, and people were forced to flee to the north. Government after fruitless struggle for the preservation of life in the Gulf Coast surrendered and announced the full evacuation. All the inhabitants of several southern states were invited to sell their property, collect everything they need and move. The government has drawn The Line separating the flooded states from the rest of the territory. Life below The Line is considered outlaw. Those who choose to remain in the eternal rains and hurricanes territory would lose any help from the state. Life below The Line is permitted at one’s own risk.

Nevertheless, not everyone left the coast, torn by hurricanes. The protagonist of the novel Cohen, a middle-aged man, lives as a hermit in his house, in the company of a horse and a dog. Cohen continually patches his home, even trying to build additional facilities. He promised spacious house to his wife and now keeps his word. Cohen's wife Elisa and their unborn child died during a mandatory evacuation. Now Cohen sees no reason to leave the house, where he expected to spend the rest of life with his beloved wife and children. Cohen has been left only with sorrow and some personal belongings of his wife.

When Cohen once again returnes from the place where he buys fuel for the generator, water, food and ammunition, he meets on the road a pair of young man and a woman. After some consideration, he agrees to drive them a short distance. In the car, the travelers attack him, throwhim out of the jeep, but do not kill him, but taking the jeep and with it a gun and provisions. With dislocated shoulder Cohen barely reaches his home. Looters already visited the place. They took almost everything that can be useful, but Cohen determines that they will still come back, at least for the generator. Among the things missing are even shoebox where Cohen kept his wife’s things.

In short summary Rivers may seem formulaic SF novel, but this is only partly true. The book stands on already acquainted and traversed, on developed soil, but it is completely self-sufficient
work. Smith has his own vision of post-apocalyptic world. This is not getting back to the Middle Ages where people ride on horses and fight with swords, butalso not techno\cyberworld where wild gang ride supercars accompanied by robots. Rather, the world according to Smith can be characterized with almost blues words: a place where everybody fell bad. Or in another way: it is a place where almost no one lives.

Smith developed the variant of a future where a hurricane like Katrina would become commonplace. But the author is not as much interested in world order, as in a story and people, what happens to people in the course of a story.

Since the action of the novel takes place in the U.S. South, the novel has a few special features of the genre called Americana. Here are working hands protagonist and a Creole girl and almighty force of a shotgun and empty spaces and hot tempers. Southerners still distinguishes by obstinacy and perseverance. Probably more so Cohen remained in the flooded area – in spote of fate, feeling some kind of duty to his native land and the graves of relatives.

Beginning of the novel and about the first third is a very good noir, where the hunted becomes the hunter. Cohen is an owner: he keeps an eye on the state of the house, keeps animals, it’s hard for him to part with things. So, appearing in the trailer camp, he insistently repeated one question: where's my things?

Brokedown protagonist makes him interesting and attractive to the reader. He is hard, but sentimental, no stranger to violence, but not a killer. The author manages to make us even love Mariposa and Evan, despite their heinous act in the beginning of the novel.

Rivers, however, is not just a story of revenge. The remaining two thirds of the book is a quest for meaning and rescue, and where this quest will lead, we can only guess. Smith is definitely a top-notch plotter.

Despite the abundance of shooting and car chases in the novel, it is nice that the novel is not sinking to the level of post-apocalyptic thriller. Cohen can handle a shotgun and a car, can survive, but he 's not a superhero, not a machine that can sweep away everyone from its way. No wonder women prisoners in the camp saw in Cohen a savior.

Smith skillfully adapts the characters' psychology to the world. The scene in the café is revealing when a small boy, who does not know life before flooding, does not understand what a waitress do collecting orders. He used to get food from the hands of his "master" or gain it from theft and raids.

The end spoils the whole picture, but we can understand the author, too. In the whole, Rivers is an impressive work, bleak, intriguing, full of humanism.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

most valuable books in my collection

Let’s try something different today.

Not a book review, but something more personal. Particularly, my list of the three most valuable books in my collection. I’m limiting myself only to three, because they all exceed $50 range and it’s a small number. The books under that range are plenty in my collection, so it makes no sense really to list any of them.

I warn you from the start: do not expect any three and four digits numbers. No $5000 books, not even $300. It is expected considering my position: part-time work, low income, living in non-English-language country, it’s all there. But bear in my mind: I here present most valuable books for me. That means they ranks in amount of money I paid for them. A market price doesn’t matter in this case. I own a lot of books that I paid little for, but their market price is much higher.

Also bear in mind that the value of these books in $ is nominal. For me once I’d bought a book, this book became invaluable. I own only the books I like and I don’t sell books for any price.

Top-3 of most valuable books in my collection:

1. Charlotte Armstrong, I See You
Published by Coward-McCann in 1966

Price: $65.

It’s not that rare a book, even first edition hardcover. The reason I paid the price is that it is a signed HC, and that is rare. Armstrong signed her books on very special occasions. You won’t find signed copies of her books lying around on the net. But what makes this even more valuable is a typed letter signed by Armstrong and addressed to her girlfriend. And that is scarce.

I got it off eBay, me being the only bidder. Fools, you’d say.

(I have a rule not showing signatures and inscriptions on my books. Sorry.)

2. Ross Macdonald, The Barbarous Coast
Published by Knopf in 1956

Price: $59

It is said that in very good condition this HC costs almost a grand. You can see I got mine much cheaper. Vintage Macdonald (pre-60s especially) are not exactly offered at reasonable prices, though they’re not in a short supply. This particular copy has a curious history, or more precisely not a copy itself, but the way this copy went to get to me. But that’s another different story.

I got it off eBay.

3. Boris Slutsky, Memory (Pamyat)
Published by Sovetsky pisatel in 1957

Price: 2000 rubles ($57)

That’s a debut poetry collection by a Soviet poet Boris Slutsky. Slutsky is my favorite Russian poet, so I decided to collect all his books. Now I own around 20 Slutsky’s books, and all of his original collections. This debut is scarcest of his books. The first printing was only 1000, therefore the price is quite high.

I got it from used books store in Moscow, and a friend of mine sent it to me.

Share in the comment your most valuable books.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Laurent Binet

Vintage, 2013

Unnamed narrator of this novel - a writer, like Laurent Binet himself - aims to tell the story of the attempted assassination of SS General Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in May 1942. A detailed account of not only attempt, but generally the events leading up to the assassination, Binet will tell in an unconventional manner, avoiding any kind of artistic assumptions, weaving into the novel facts in the encyclopedia style, talking about gathering information about Heydrich and sharing his impressions about other artistic works in film and literature describing Prague assassination attempt.

From the very beginning of the novel we know the names of two men from the Resistance Army, Joseph Gabčík and Jan Kubis, one Czech, one Slovak, who attempted to kill the Nazi leader. There is almost nothing that is known about them.

Plan to assassinate Heydrich is formed not immediately, and for several years the soldiers learned, trained, ready at any moment after the president in exile command (another president, loyal to Germany, was appointed after the entry of Germany into the territory of Czechoslovakia, also divided into two states).

The narrator knows much more about Heydrich. Frustrated musician, he served in the Navy, where he was expelled after the incident with a girl. Heydrich began dating the daughter of a Nazi, and she advised Heydrich to join the party. The Nazis couldn’t not take a capable military officer, which soon became the head of the secret service of the Gestapo, whose function was to collect information about everything and everyone. Heydrich gets thousands files which includes the smallest facts. For spying on high rank party members, he sets up a public house, equipped with microphones. Heydrich becomes close to Hitler's entourage, removing people unwanted by Fuhrer.

Binet early in the novel says that he would like to avoid fiction, sticking to the facts. In this statement there is as much as wickedness, as courage. Writer’s imagination still remains there, otherwise Binet would write a study, non-fiction, which is likely to have been written by a fair amount of writers before, but not a novel. Writer as storyteller is still here, but it’s his functions that changed.

Instead of fictional dialogues the author interweaves in the book his girlfriends (maybe they’re fictional); Binet does not skimp on historical anecdotes (including one about football); plays with the form by inserting into the novel fragments of newspaper articles. The author can not withdraw from the novel, the author is a novel, or vice versa.

Adhering to the historical truth and not wanting to come up and even think out, Binet still has to play by the laws of the novel. If even a fictional character's name is unacceptable for Binet, what to speak of intrigue or composition. But intrigue and composition are not missing in HHhH. For example, in the beginning of the book the narrator mentions “a Sten submachine gun”, pointing out at its unreliability. The narrator asks to remember this moment, and that intrigues the reader. And in fact, in the most dramatic scene of the book a Sten will play a key role. And the author\storyteller who it seens should to be cool, once he so adheres to the accuracy, can not restrain himself, cursing at the gun. This emotional breakdown of the author (such breakdowns are not one and not two there) evokes emotion in the reader, too.

As a work of fiction, HHhH is a fascinating read, rich with facts, devotional to historical accuracy. Based on a true story the plot makes you flipping through the pages.

But we must be aware that most of the book is devoted to not Czechoslovak heroes, but to the Nazi leader. There is a shift in emphasis, from the protagonists to the villain, but it is a history bobble, not author’s: there is a lot more information about Heydrich than about Gabčík, Kubis and others.

One must also keep in mind that this novel is full of antics, half-anecdotes, and some author’s attempts to be clever on the background of extremely serious topics such as the Holocaust. And when one page describes how a concentration camp is set up and a practice of killing of thousands of people, and on the other the author almost is picking his nose – let’s say, not everyone may like it. And someone may even call the author vulgar.

Translation from French here is on the brilliant level, among my complaints only a couple of Britanisms and a name Natasha, which in the novel mutilated into Natacha.

HHhH is a bold and experimental novel, well worth reading.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Ruby Slippers

Keir Alexander
The Ruby Slippers

Corsair, 2014

The old woman Rosa, accompanied by her dog, trudges through the streets of New York City on St. Patrick's Day. After taking grocery products from her only relative - her nephew Michael Marcinkus, the owner of a grocery store - Rosa drags on until an accident happens. Miraculously surviving it, Ross is brought to the hospital, where she stays in a coma. The nephew who thinks that his aunt can die at any moment is notified, and with his wife he goes to inspect Rosa’s apartment.

Rosa in recent years almost lost her mind, did not talk, just wrote her name on the paper asking for products, and suffered from that she did not throw anything away. That is, in general, from fish tails to worn stockings. Michael and his wife at first are horrified, seeing the situation inside the apartment. Mostly sickening smell of putrefaction and decomposition discourages them from entering. And when he comes for the second time to sort through things, he finds among the heaps of garbage stored in a box ruby slippers. These shoes are not just another junk but iconic relic. In these shoes Judy Garland played a role in the movie “The Wizard of Oz”.

Michael is dumbfounded by his find ( which has a letter attached). Shoes certainly are worth millions, but Rosa is not dead yet, and for her this pair of shoes is probably the most precious thing, the memory of Hollywood past.

Alexander in her novel weaves intrigue around a pair of shoes, but the storyline is clogged with cliches and coincidences. Secondary plotline - about the relationship of father and daughter, James and Siobhan - is of greater interest, but remains in the undeveloped state.

Leaving a family because of an opened homosexuality is a vast topic, giving an opportunity to understand the motives and hidden sexuality and to see the reaction of society, and suggest that a victim of the effects of a broken home can become not only a child but also the parents. Alexander approaches the topic with uncertainity. Position of the families of lovers Paolo and James is too banal (James’ father is angry at the sight of his son, calls him faggot and we don’t see Paolo’s at all), the history of relations between Paolo and James is also unknown to us. James, for all his goodness, thinks more about the deceased lover, but not about a living daughter, who sorely misses not only the father but also the truth about him. The seven-year separation is not easy to restore to their former relationship, but here the conflict has strikingly been simple solved already after a couple of meetings between James and Siobhan.

So vast theme with inexhaustible resource has shrunk in size to a happy ending, the author is more interested in a game of cat and mouse with the slippers. Suppose Rosa was really a dresser of a famous actress. And she really left the shoes as a memory. But why has Rosa become crazy? Why her nephew did not support her all this time? Gave her food, but could not come to visit and talk? Couldn’t hire someone from the social services? Why Rosa lost her speech, but did not lose her ability to write? Rosa’a story, her move to the States, life in the Baltic States, is not that is banal, but something like that we have read many times. But too much does not fit with Rosa, to be able to understand her and Michael.

The other characters are drawn to the slippers by chance. For James Garland is a gay icon, and he wants to have something that belonged to her. Not too convincing. Or James is gay only because in this case he could be interested in the auction? The black boy also just accidentally overhears Michael and his wife. Harrison is still not a member of a youth gang to blackmail Michael and even commit robbery in broad daylight. And the reason for blackmail is frankly labored.

Thus, a large part of the plot rests on coincidences. Motives for almost all the characters are too far from reality. It is not enough to weave fates, it is necessary that these fates were supported by at least some credibility.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Wind is not a River

Brian Payton
The Wind is not a River

Mantle, 2014

Journalist John Easley with a team of six people crashes in the Aleutian Islands near Alaska. Easley on a parachute lands on one of the islands, becoming the only survivor from the team. After recovering from the fall, Easley helps to get out of the water to another survivor, an aviator with another vessel.

They do not know whether this island inhabited or not, but in case of the Japanese soldiers stationed here, Easley and an aviator find shelter in a small cave, make a fire and dry aviator’s clothes. Aviator, twenty year old guy from Texas named Karl is younger than Easley for fifteen years, and despite his rank, he is less experienced in surviving in the cold and lack of food.

Karl says to Easley that he should not even been on a plane, and that is so. Easley’s younger brother, Warren, died in the English Channel. Brother's death spurred Easley to cover the war. Writer and journalist, known for articles about nature, Easley wants to illuminate obscure corners where the war is on, too. In 1942, the Japanese occupied two islands that are part of the Aleutians, and American troops in turn occupied the rest. This is the only section of the front where the war is going on in the United States territory as the Aleutians is a part of Alaska. All reports are prohibited from there, the information is encrypted carefully, and all the journalists were forcibly deported from there. Among them was Easley, at the time working with local people, Aleuts, many of whom are Russian descendants. Easley nevertheless did not want to leave alone his story of the Aleutian Islands and planned to return there illegally. He forged the documents, taking the name of his brother, used his brother’s uniform. Returning to the island turned out not quite so, as Easley imagined it.

The novel is based on factual material but that does not make it less artistic. Occupation of two islands belonging to the United States during World War II slipped between the pages of history books. But Payton is not limited to the expansion of our horizons. Selected historical period and place of action are the best backdrop for an exciting story. Payton doesn’t expose, a newspaper article would be enough for that, and but makes what, in general, an writer should do - showing something secret, such that we can not see in real life.

From the first page the book captures us, throwing the protagonist in the thick of things. Eventness gradually reduces, or rather the external eventness reduces but internal one rises. Gradually, the author talks about the history and inhabitants of the Aleutians, expands the main character’s past, stopping on his relationship with his brother and wife. And while the younger brother was cuter, funnier, more active than the older brother that was annoying to Easley, Easley all his life experienced some guilt to his brother, from the childhood, when he almost lost his brother at the station.

Leaving the protagonist almost on an almost uninhabited island, Payton could thus commit suicide. A lone hero in inaction could not pull the novel, lost in the monotonous depression or drowned in the past. However, Payton finds expressive means for loneliness. There are enough of hallucinations and survival skills to kill two birds with one stone - metaphysics and the law of the jungle, here should be called the law of wasteland.

Leaving his journalist protagonist, the author uses the metaphor of silence. The task of a journalist is to cover the events, tell the truth, and the protagonist wanted that coverage. But on the occupied island Easley has no one to tell, on the contrary, he should be silent, not to betray his presence to the enemies.

The storyline about Easley’s wife, Helen, could become a burden to the main plotline, if it were not that much interesting. All attempts to find a husband can be compared to what at the time Easley himself experienced. Civilian life is easy - the novel dispels this myth. Live in ignorance is physically difficult, not less difficult to search for your love ones. Helen also survives, but in a different environment and with other methods. When she gets in the entertainment group, she still struggles because she grew up without a mother. She didn’t know a maternal warmth, grew up without women's advices, even about her periods she learned from an elderly doctor.

Brian Payton excelled at all levels: he knows the history, knows how to build a story, elegantly switches between the main characters, has style, has an eye for detail.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Ursula DeYoung

Little, Brown, 2013

Events of the summer spent with numerous relatives in a big house on the Maine shore in 1928 are recalled by lawyer Richard Killing, who on that summer was only 13.

Together with his mother Caroline Richard travels from New York to Shorecliff, where for the first time all the relatives of the mother of the boy should be gathered. Richard's father, a successful lawyer, stays in the city, and boy is glad. Hatfield Sr. is a hard man, loving discipline and order, and he never punished his son by beatings, but everyone is afraid of him.

In Shorecliff first time in a long time the whole family are in full: a few Caroline’s sisters and their husbands, her brother Kurt, as well as numerous Richard’s cousins. He is the youngest in the company, the oldest among children is the mysterious Francesca, 21. Of all the brothers and sisters, Richard is most familiar with Pamela, who is older than the boy by only six months. He rarely had seen the rest of the extended family and knows them not well enough.

Large family is good, but when a large family gathers together, it is not very good. Shorecliff successfully convinces us of this. This novel plays with semitones, and the author's voice never rises louder than a whisper. The subtlety of style makes this book quite successful - a satisfying reading of familiar ingredients.

Ursula DeYoung does not offer us anything new, but she makes the old shine. Did not we read books with young boys as narrators? We did. Did not we read books where the characters eavesdroping and spying on each other? We did, of course. Are we not familiar with atmosphere of tension in a big house full of people, at home on the edge of the earth? And this all has happened before. Or is it unfamiliar to us, a book about human weaknesses, of betrayal and jealousy? Books are changing, but the people remain the same, and thus also their weaknesses remain unchanged.

Shorecliff for all its cliches successfully accomplishes several tasks. First, the author managed to describe many characters so they do not get confused in one’s head while reading. Due to the small details, we can easily distinguish Francesca and Pamela or Fischer and Tom. Of course, not all the cousins play an equally important role in the novel’s events, it’s hard to confuse the characters. Not all of them are colorful characters, everyone is clear and compelling.

Secondly, DeYoung does not use cheap tricks, trying to surprise us on every page. In the end, the action takes place in a family house in Maine away from the city and not in Disneyland. The book still surprises but when it’s realy needed. The author prepares us for surprises, carefully revealing the relationship between relatives. Learning the characters closer, we can better understand their motives.

Third, the book is written very smoothly. Voice of the narrator is measured, such, that is immediately obvious – it is the memoirs of a mature man, not a boy. The author knows how to build a composition, how to suck the reader in, how to prepare us for the surprises.

The novel is far from the original, but I have not found a reason not to love it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Troop

Nick Cutter
The Troop

Gallery Books, 2014

A group of teenage boy scouts led by their mentor come to an abandoned island located off the coast of Canada for the weekend to do what Scouts usually do: set fires, navigate the terrain, telling each other stories and generally comprehend the lessons of survival in the wilderness. Scouts do not take with them any mobile devices, but because of the threat of the storm ahead Scoutmaster takes one radio, in case they’ll need to contact with the mainland. Two days later, a a boat is to take the troop from the island to the mainland. The troop has no boat, they are completely cut off from the mainland.

The troop is led by Tim Riggs, a former military doctor who knows his scouts almost from the cradle. Teens respect Tim, although it is obvious that their Scoutmaster is not macho, he’s quite an ordinary man, and even his leadership abilities are overrated. Riggs and five teenagers, Kent, Shelly, Newton, Ephraim, Max, stay in the house, where previously were imported products and other necessary items.

First night on the island scouts already have gone to bed in a cabin when Riggs notices how a boat closes to the island. A man gets out of the boat, goes to the house and asks Tim for food. In the dark Riggs looks at the stranger and notices that he is incredibly thin. Not daring to refuse a stranger, Tim gives him food and allowes to sleep in the house, after closing the door of the room where the scouts sleep. The stranger wakes everyone at night, smashing the radio to the floor. Tim calms the stranger down and examines him better. The man is a bag of bones, so thin people just can’t be. Under the skin of the stranger Tim notices movement, as if someone creeps under.

Sometimes it all comes down to a cliche. There is a book, built entirely on a pattern. We accept this pattern as something self-evident. And then everything depends on the writer: how well he will be able to decorate a cliché, how he can genetically modify a pattern.

The Troop is a fairly typical horror, almost adjacent to the subgenre "zombie horror." There is a virus that causes a person to eat everything in his path and the carrier of the virus itself almost becomes a skeleton, so he loses muscle tissue on the body. Infection can be passed, and, as in the case of zombies, getting quite a small amount of tissue from an infected person is enough to get sick infected. Nick Cutter varies a tired zombie scheme so that the action of the novel takes place not on the large territory as it usually happens, but on a strictly confined space. Cut off from the world, five Scouts will have to fight for their life not with a zombie invasion, but between themselves.

Impermeability gives the author to forget tricks of fighting with flesh-eaters and focus on psychology. Cutter gradually reveals the nature of each scout, throwing into the novel a fair amount of flashbacks. And not without a cliché: a boy who has an anger management problem, the second scout is such fat geek, dreaming of a normal life, the third is a sadistic psychopath. The idea of a sociopath in the world full of zombies is also not new, though not so common. But the character of Shelley helps to better reveal the nature of cruelty, enthusiasm to violence among children.

The book doesn’t offer plot twists on every page, but you can not say that everything is predictable. Suspence keeps up to the finale, and it may seem obvious, what happens in the finale, the important here is not the "what" but "how" and "why."

Gradual unfolding mystery of the escape of the experimental patient and secret experiment using documentary pieces can be called successful. Cutter does not lay the blame on anyone for what happened. Fragments of transcripts from the tribunal, record experiments, magazine articles give the book the effect "based on real events."

The Troop does not open new lands, but it is above average in the category of horror. And yes: it’s a novel for adults rather than for teenagers, because of the abundance of foul language and some scenes with blood and guts.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Night Train to Jamalpur

Andrew Martin
Night Train to Jamalpur

Faber, 2013

India, 1923. The protagonist of the previous eight books in the series Englishman Captain Jim Stringer with his wife and teenage daughter is on secondment to the East Indian Railway. The main purpose of trip is investigating possible cases of corruption among top management of the East Indian Railway.

At the beginning of the novel Stringer takes the Night Mail train from Calcutta to Jamalpur in first class carriage with five companions, among them Major Fisher, who was set as a partner to Stringer to investigate corruption cases. Stringer does not trust Fisher, considering his dark personality, he is able to do anything behind Stringer’s back. Fisher behaves surly and despises all Indians.
In the car, our narrator meets with Jim Young, an Anglo-Indian, who is also working on the railway. At night during one of the stops someone kills Young, escaping in the desert. Everyone in the car have heard the shots, but no one has caught the killers. The lock on the door of Stringer’s compartment was broken and Stringer concludes that perhaps someone wanted to kill him, not Young. Someone calls the police, and Detective Inspector Khudayar Khan of the C.I.D. is assigned to the case.

Stringer takes an interest into this matter investigating available suspectes in his spare time. The third case, which Stringer also takes unofficially, becomes "snake killings" in the first class carriages on the Railway. Someone throws poisonous snakes, including king cobras, in first-class compartments. Snakes have killed more than four people and continue to kill. People become afraid to go first class, although trains are carefully checked. Stringer wonder who can do this, because only the master can control the snake and put it in the car without hurting himself.

In the main corruption case Stringer has two primary suspects, William Askwith, top brass in the traffic department, and Douglas Poole, his deputy. Both are Englishman, as other brass on the Railway.

Perhaps those who read the previous books in the series will have even more fun, but even as a stand-alone book Night Train to Jamalpur is quite a smart mystery. Martin throws the bait immediately, starting the book with murder, and then slowly spins all three (even four, if we take into account the matter with Stringer’s daughter) plotlines. The novel continues without haste, that in general it is quite clear. The detective has the three investigations at the time, one officially and two semi-officially, and he can not solve them all immediately. However, it turns out that the main plotline, corruption case, remains in the shadows.

The novel is written in the first person, the narrator Stringer generously shares with the reader the obtained information, and the detective and the reader are on an equal footing, having the same evidence and conjecture. Martin fills the book with suspects in all three investigations. Especially tickles the nerves that someone wants to set Stringer up for murder. All three cases are resolved quite logical and using deduction, although you have to admit that in the books of this kind everything is possible.

In addition to the suspense of plot, Martin delivers on the atmospheric front. Indian background is colorful and bright, details are believable, excursion in history is such that you feel the era, but do not feel that as if you read glossy booklet about India. Martin knows rails and sleepers, as his own ten fingers.

What's confusing is the main work activity of Stringer. He spends little time on his main job, driving around idly to and fro. You can see corruption behind this.

It is a good genre novel.