Saturday, December 31, 2011

best books of the year: comics

When I looked at the list of comics and graphic novels that I'd read this year I wasn't happy with myself. I wish I read much more, but in the second part of the year I didn't have enough reading time. All time I had was dedicated to reading fiction. Some comics that made my top were published this year, some were published before.

Best graphic novel of the year:

Eamon Espey


Kevin Huizenga
Ganges #2

Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer), Noel Tuazon (artist)

Stephane Blanquet
Toys in the Basement

Willy Linthout
Years of the elephant

Meanwhile, Between Two Eternities of Darkness

Solipsistic Pop #3

Stripburger 54

Derek McCulloch (writer), Greg Espinoza (artist)

Eric Hobbs (writer), Noel Tuazon (artist)
The Broadcast

best books of the year: poetry

I can't imagine my life without poetry. However, I've read only a few poetry collections this year. All of them made my top:

Matthew Zapruder
Come On All You Ghosts (review to come)


Robin Robertson
The Wrecking Light

Jennifer Grotz
The Needle

best books of the year: non-fiction

I'm cheating there: I've read only two non-fiction titles this year, and this couple made a list.

Gary K. Wolfe
Evaporating Genres

Anne R. Dick
The Search for Philip K. Dick

best books of the year: fiction (published before 2011)

12 great reads: they were published before 2011, but I read them for the first time only this year.

in no particular order:

Gar Anthony Haywood
Cemetery Road

Roberto Bolano
The Skating Rink

Vicki Hendricks
Florida Gothic Stories

Raymond Carver

Mark SaFranko
God Bless America

Jeff Vandermeer

Allan Guthrie
Two-way Split

Matthew Sharpe
You Were Wrong

Jeff VanderMeer
The Third Bear

Richard Aleas
Songs of Innocence

Ryan David Jahn
Low Life

John Harvey
Cold In Hand

best books of the year: fiction 2011

That was a good year for reading. I don't want to mix books from different categories in one list, so I'm going to compile individual lists for the following categories:
best fiction books that was published in 2011
best fiction books that was published before 2011
best poetry books
best non-fiction books
best comics

I've selected 20 best books for two fiction lists, but it won't be 10\10. I decided it'll be 8\12. Strange, but original, I think. I've linked the titles to my reviews.

in no particular order

Neil Jordan

Beryl Bainbridge
The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress

Anne Enright
The Forgotten Waltz

Doug Johnstone

Declan Burke
Absolute Zero Cool (review to come)

John Dalton
The Inverted Forest

A.D. Miller

Duane Swierczynski
Fun & Games

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Art of Fielding

Chad Harbach
The Art of Fielding

Little, Brown, 2011

A high school student from South Dakota Henry Skrimshander begins his studies at Westish College in Wisconsin, where he is invited to learn and play baseball by Mike Schwartz, a senior, the team captain and coach’s right hand. On one of the matches Henry impresses Mike, after which he tries to persuade not only Henry to study at Westish, but as well Henry’s father, who all his life wanted that his son instead of studies worked as a mechanic. Mike knocks out a grant for talented shortstop, and Henry settles in a dorm room with another student, Owen Dunne, who representes himself as a gay mulatto. Henry at once acquaintes with his teammates and the coach. Mike sees for Henry a great future, and therefore helps Henry later. Henry also engages in baseball Owen, who was always more on the literary side, but he manifests itself well on the field.

Another plotline of this book is connected with the college president Guert. He began an academic career as a Melville’s researcher, who once even went to Westish. Affenlight became famous in 1987 when he wrote the book «The Sperm-Squeezers», a study on homosexuality in the American literature of the XIX century. About the same time Affenlight’s daughter Pella was born, and three years after the girl's birth her mother dies in an accident. Now the 60-year-old, Affenlight is in love with one of the students, Owen. He occasionally attends games of the team to look from afar at Owen. When, during one of the game an incident happens (Henry gets the ball to Owen in the head), Owen with a strong tremor is taken to the hospital for a long time and is eliminated from the tournament. Affenlight shows an unprecedented concern for the student. He regularly visits Owen, checks that the student has been provided to all.

It’s a “baseball” novel in which - paradoxically - baseball is the least interesting thing. First of all, part of the book about baseball is hard to read. Other plotlines are far more interesting. The story about a teacher \ director of college and the student is already a cliche, but Harbach approaches gently gay love without melodrama, but with a keen attention to detail. The author is not overdoing, leaving outside of the book explicit scenes between the student and the director, and evokes sympathy for both characters. Given that this was not defilement, then affair between Owen and Affenlight is a reminder that pure love is still possible in this world (even if not between a man and a woman, but between a man and a man).

The relationship between Pella and Mike is a more complex. And if the old man's love to the young mulatto-gay causes tenderness, Pella’s love, corrupted and almost lost a girl, with Mike raises awareness. Attraction to older men, which she explains as a need for someone who'd replaced her father, is gradually passing away, and Pella is aware that her past life was full of mistakes, but now is the time to begin to correct them. Mike is the first step to improvement.

If the beginning of the book is slightly prolonged and tedious, the final otherwise, sharp and puts everything in place as the bat hit the ball. Fear of each of the characters to grow up, to look at oneself in a few years after graduation in Westish, passes. Whether the old man's death to blame, or the unexpected victory of the team in the league, but all the heroes suddenly realize that you can not always live in the same day, you need to make decisions, whatever they would be. And everyone at once throws depressive mood and start acting. The director chooses death for his own peace and the future of her daughter. Mike realizes that he is a good coach and why does not become a coach. Henry starts to play again for the team. Pella decides to dig the grave of his father and fulfill his last wish.

Miracles happen, and it seems that Westish is a place of miracles. College is like a magic academy that attracts everyone. Affenlight did not want to leave college. Pell left to study here. Mike began working here, and Henry does not want to play for the Cardinals, but wants to continue playing for the local team. Campus life is described quite realistically, and indeed all parts of the book, which describes not the baseball field, but the campus, are the very best here.

Not a bad novel, but to call this the book of the year? It would be exaggeration.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Time Break

There will be no reviews in the next two weeks. After vacation I plan to review lots of books. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Jesse Kellerman

Putnam, 2007

Kellerman tries himself in psycho-neonoir. Jonah Stem is a medical student in the surgical department of a hospital in New York. After a hard day at the clinic, John returnes home to get some sleep and then go to the hospital again. Suddenly he hears a scream and sees a black man stabbing a young woman, asking for help. Instead of calling the police Jonah intervenes in the conflict, fights with a man, and then loses consciousness. When he awakes in the hospital, he learns that the man is dead and the girl recovers from injury. Jonah finds out from the newspapers of the other participants of the incident. Assailant was a man named Raymond Iniguez, a 36-year-old former teacher and a mental hospital patient. The victim was Eve Gones, 31, a teacher of dance therapy in the same hospital.

One day Jonah comes home, where Eve waits for him. They go out to dine in one of the restaurants nearby. Jonah is surprised when he finds out that Eve went to Yale and graduated at the same year with Jonah’s sister Katie. The unexpected news comes from Jonah’s lawyer Belzer: Raymond Iniguez’s brother Simon hired a nosy lawyer and is going to sue Jonah in court. Soon Jonah's life will become a one big trouble.

After the first fifty pages I want to say "wow." Kellerman takes the best from neonoir and uses it to the maximum. Honest and unsullied hero is accidentally drawn into trouble wanting to do something good. After that, troubles continue to stratify. Of course, it's all flowers compared to what lies ahead of Jonah. Later, he will regret not only that he intervened in the fight scene, but also about the fact that he was born.

The hero is about the same as in other Kellerman’s books: a young intellectual, from a decent and moderately wealthy family. Open, honest, friendly, but too soft, with no negative experiences. It is because of his character he finds himself in trouble.

And if the first half of the book is closer to neonoir, the second is safe to add the prefix psycho-. Psychopaths are in all Kellerman’s books, they just have different forms of mania and behavior. Here again, as in his other books, there are people who give themselves for others. In the beginning, when Kellerman puts beacons that should alert the reader that something is wrong with Eve, but where the author will lead, you can only guess.

On the emotional tension «Trouble» overtakes «Sunstroke», but inferior to "The Executioner." There will be death, and until the very end you’ll be sitting on pins and needles, wondering who is going to die.

So, muttering "wow" throughout the book, we come to the finale - which is disappointing. It is disappointing that the protagonist was not disclosed. I was waiting that Jonah finally will show himself, will make a move that will allow us to judge about the hero, who is he: a coward, a murderer, superdoc, a victim of circumstances.

Good novel about how easily accents are displaced (self-defense is murder; man is always rapist; and laws are delicate things), about that no one is immune. But the finale is a trouble.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cemetery Road

Gar Anthony Haywood
Cemetery Road

Severn House, 2010

The narrator of this story Errol Handy White arrives in Los Angeles for the funeral of his childhood friend R.J. Burrow. Burrow has been found dead in a stolen car full of drugs, with two bullets in his head and two in the back. Burrow, White, and O`Neal Holden, now mayor of nearby Bellwood, in their youth committed a crime, which led to a series of tragic consequences, and the guilt is still gnawing at each of them after 26 years. After the crime the three friends from the hood swear that will never communicate with each other. Now Burrow dies of a mysterious death, so that even the family of the deceased, his wife and daughter, does not believe in the police version that the death of Burrow is the result of drug deal gone wrong. Holden, who became mayor, seems to have engaged in illicit affairs. Handy White believes that that what he can do for the childhood friend now is find out who killed Burrow and how his death connects with a secret from the past.

The classic beginning in no way leads to predictable results. Handy White, now a mechanic in one of the towns of Minnesota, over these 26 years that have passed since the time when the three friends made a major mistake of their lives, became a wise man, although time has not healed his wounds. «Cemetery Road» is a book written by a wise man. Almost every chapter begins with a lyrical introduction. I want to cite and cite:

«It's not a problem young people have to worry about, but right around the time he hits his middle forties, a man starts giving serious thought to dying well. In his sleep in his own bed, or in the course of a street fight meant to settle something meaningful. His end doesn't have to be poignant, just devoid of indignity.»

«No matter how it comes upon you, no man is ever adequately prepared for fatherhood. It is too inexact a science. »

«... There were many paths a man could take during his time on earth, but sooner or later, they all brought him down the same one: cemetery road.»

The lyrical component, however, does not mean that «Cemetery Road» is devoid of cruel and brutal truth. Handy White gradually recalls the bloody story from the past, which drugdealers and psychopaths were involved in, parallel closing to solving the death of Burrow. White knows that the truth will hit him in the stomach, and the past woudn’t be fixed, but White goes to the end. There are mistakes that can be corrected; there are mistakes that can not be corrected, and there are mistakes, the correction of which leads to new mistakes. Haywood's book is just about the last type of mistakes.

Haywood writes like so few people today do, he also wrote a book with impeccable storyline. All there is interconnected, and yet in a novel there are three plot lines and two finals, one more powerful than the other.

«Cemetery Road» is almost a perfect book about no matter how much a man strive for perfection, he still can not get rid of his weaknesses and can’t wash away all his sins.

new chapbooks from Nightjar Press

GA Pickin

Christopher Kenworthy
Sullom Hill

Nightjar Press, 2011

The next couple of chapbooks from Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar Press. These two stories are quite different: one tells of what happens inside of a person, other of that from the outside.

In «Remains» unnamed narrator with a torch in his hand goes through the woods, hurrying to the house to meet friends with whom he meets every year. Close to the final point, torch goes off. The hero can not move in complete darkness. He expects that friends will help him to find the right way, knowing that he is late. The hero here is faceless and nameless. The author is interested not in this particular traveler, but in the relationship between man and nature in general. People change what surrounds them, but the environment changes people, too. There is no question in what direction who changes who. The question is, what forms of communication can be between man and nature?

How does a person change inside? - Christopher Kenworthy asks in his «Sullom Hill». The narrator recalls the story of childhood, and the main character in this story is a neighbor boy Neil Kingsley:

«Usually they called him a bit slow, rather than stupid. Other kids called him backwards or mental or a spastic, even though there wasn't much physically wrong with him. To look at, you might think he was normal, apart from his lips. They were enormous, as though the rest of his face had shrunk and filled them out. There was always wet spit and dried spit and bits of wafery skin on his lips. He looked like his mouth was frosting over.»

Strange relationship between the three youths and a shocking secret make this story unforgettable.

These two stories only have in common that they both end with a kind of fliping on the nose. What's behind the door, asks a reader. It is better not to know, answer both writers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Luther: The Calling

OK, everyone loves free books. I have one copy of Luther: The Calling, first in the series of novels featuring DCI Luther, written by Neil Cross. Who's Luther? You don't know? You didn't see brilliant UK TV series Luther? Well, in that case, you can read the book first and then watch the series. (Season 1 is better than Season 2, actually.) Luther: The Calling will tell you the story how Luther became Luther.

Description from the publisher:

DCI John Luther has an extraordinary clearance rate. He commands outstanding loyalty from friends and colleagues. Nobody who ever stood at his side has a bad word to say about him. And yet there are rumours that DCI Luther is bad – not corrupt, not on the take, but tormented. Luther seethes with a hidden fury that at times he can barely control. Sometimes it sends him to the brink of madness, making him do things he shouldn’t; things way beyond the limits of the law.

Luther: The Calling, the first in a new series of novels featuring DCI John Luther, takes us into Luther’s past and into his mind. It is the story of the case that tore his personal and professional relationships apart and propelled him over the precipice. Beyond fury, beyond vengeance. All the way to murder…

“Neil Cross has created such a compelling character”
Idris Elba, star of Luther and The Wire

So what should you do to enter to win a copy:

Follow my blog (on the right panel Join this site)

Once the number of the followers would become 50, every follower will be entered in the competition.

I'll pick randomly one winner from 50 followers.

Competition is open world-wide.

Spreading the word about this giveaway is welcome.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Jesse Kellerman

Jove, 2006

The heroine of this debut novel, Gloria Mendez, is a 36-year-old secretary at the firm for the sale of souvenirs. She is Mexican in origin and is in love with her boss Carl Perreira, who is 20 years senior and, although he treats Gloria with great sympathy, does not share her romantic feelings. When Perreira goes to Mexico on vacation, he gives time off for Gloria as well. The book opens with a scene of the earthquake in Los Angeles. While the whole city is in panic, Gloria behaves calmly, can not sleep and goes to work. In the office, she finds a note from the boss and unintelligible message on the answering machine from which Gloria understands that Charles have been in an accident. American and Mexican police react sluggishly to Gloria’s request for help. After a dozen calls Gloria gets through to the police in the town of Agua Vivas, where, presumably, something happened to Perreira. Local police chief named Fajardo says that far from the city really there has been a car accident with the injured American on "Honda" with California plates. News for Gloria's disappointing: Charles is dead. Sudden death and call home rise Gloria’s suspicions. She wants to know whether her boss died, and if so, under what circumstances. Gloria goes to Mexico.

Kellerman confirmed that he is an excellent storyteller, and «Sunstroke» is really well told story. The novel, of course, is too slow and "literary" to be called a thriller, and stylistically too easy to qualify for membership in the "great literature" but this does not in any way interfere with enjoying the book. The book, in spite of the plot, in the first place is character-driven. For every hero the author creates a whole story. Kellerman gradually reveals to us how Gloria has become what she’ve become, and how her old boss became for her the most important person in the world and how she actually knew nothing about him. The hardest truth about herself Gloria realizes at the very ending of the book: she has done this double journey to Mexico, the digging into the past of Charles not because she loved Charles and cared for him, but simply out of boredom. She was lonely; she was nobody, and all her care of the deceased was only an attempt to stir herself.

Kellerman, however, sometimes talks too much by introducing third-rate characters with whole stories that do not affect the development of the plot. He inserts the anecdote for anecdote, in order to simply tell an interesting story. It was not that great sin, but sometimes you need to learn to shut up.

That's really great debut. Son surpassed the mother and the father.

Irma Voth

Miriam Toews
Irma Voth

Faber & Faber, 2011

Irma Voth is 19-year-old girl living in a Mennonite commune in a Mexican desert. Mennonites is a religious group that rejects all worldly: things of earth are the enemy of heaven. They often migrate, work hard, and avoid contact with non-Mennonites. Irma's father is an imperious man, he keeps cows. Irma's family: her sister Aggie, two little brothers, mother and father - suddenly moved to Mexico from Canada. In Mexico, Irma meets Jorge, a young man who, among other things, stores drugs at the home. After her marriage to Jorge, Irma’s father banishes her from the house, separating her to the house with her husband in exchange for that Irma and Jorge would help the father with the cows. Already in the opening scene of the novel we see as Jorge moves away from Irma, accusing her of being a bad wife. Irma on the verge of despair: she does not know how to rectify the situation with my husband. Suddenly, the film crew comes to the desert headed by director Diego, planning to shoot in the desert a film about Mennonites. Diego hires Irma in the group as a translator: she knows three languages, English, Spanish and German dialect spoken by the Mennonites. Irma is the responsibility of explaining to the actress Marijke, a German with Russian roots, in German that is required of her by the director or operator. For the fact that Irma works on strangers from the cast, father and other Mennonites despise and hate her.

At first glance it may seem a simple-minded story, but it is actually a multi-layered and fascinating story about eternal values. Toews does this in the first place because she was able to give the main character a unique voice. Irma, both naive and already very experienced, is all the while as if in motion, as well as her thoughts. She's all like the light, but her life has a mystery, and we learn about the death of Irma's sister Katie only in the final. Mennonites are far from the art, and even the arrival of the crew almost does not change anything, because Irma is not involved in the shootings themselves. But the girl herself is artistically by nature. She makes notes in a notebook, in the head plays scenes from the life that can not happen, repeat to herrself fragments of not even books but scraps of letters. And if Irma’s sister Aggie quickly and painlessly flowed into the city life, Irma constantly tortures herself by questions and doubts, which made it quite difficult for her to get away from the old life. Irma in the soul is a Mennonite, unearthly, not of this world, but she lives on earth and have to arrange her life under the earth's rules. That's why it's so hard for her, and her diubts bring misfortune to the others.

The novel is full of unusual and easy humor, especially in that part of the book where the action takes place with the film crew. The clash of two different cultures always leads to comic results. This does not mean that the book is light-weight. In places it is very dark, because conscience does not let Irma throughout the novel, is she actually guilty of something or just feels guilty.

The novel sags a bit after the departure of Irma and her sisters from the desert to the city. The author seemed a bit removed from his character, and we lose the intimacy with the narrator. By the final Toews is very good again: emotions are running high, and Irma will have to make a difficult choice.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Apostle Rising

Richard Godwin

Apostle Rising

Black Jackal Books, 2011

Detective Chief Inspector Frank Castle once could not find a serial killer, the man responsible for so-called Woodland killings. Everything pointed to Karl Black, but the investigation has failed to prove his involvement in the brutal killings. Black remained at large, and Castle was trampled. He’d been humiliated, lost his wife, was treated for depression. Now, many years later, a copycat kills people in a similar manner. Castle thinks that the killings are committed by a person who well studied original killings. The inspector and his partner Jacki Stone suspect that Black once again implicated in the killings, but detectives still have no leads. Black is now the head of the secret and powerful sect, and murders are clearly ritual. The situation is complicated by the fact that killings are commited by, perhaps, two maniacs. One kills prostitutes, the other - politicians. Castle will do everything to find a cruel copycat. Or two.

The fact that Black comes up in the second series of murders already indicates his involvement in the killings. Black’s sectarianism and violence homicides give s reader first puzzle: whether will there be a rational explanation of the crime or there will be the intervention of supernatural forces? Nevertheless, the chapters, in which we see the actions of Black, are the most tortuous and they’re almost not moving the events. One chapter is similar to another so that as you listen to an interesting story told by a stutter: interesting, but too ductile.

The investigation is moving, albeit slowly. The killer always is one step ahead. Castle, which once again is humiliated by the press for his impotence, uses help of not only Stone, but also psychologists, establishing motives and psychological portrait of of the killer. After a few sagging middle the book pleases unexpected plot twists.

Ironically, the most interesting character in the book is not Castle or Black, both of them are full of cliches, but the partner of Castle, Jacki Stone. Her role in the investigation is not exactly clear, but what makes her interesting is her relationship with her boyfriend, Don. Stone is definitely not as dependent on the investigation as Castle, but spends nearly all her time at work. The storyline with Stone and Don are not carried through, and ending suggests that perhaps we’ll see a sequel.

«Apostle Rising» is an entertaining book, but unnecessarily prolonged. The novel would be definitely better if it’d shorter by a half.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Sound of Gravity

Joe Simpson
The Sound of Gravity

Jonathan Cape, 2011

The second novel from a professional alpinist. The book opens with a shocking scene: a man named Patrick, the main character, wakes up because his wife catches him in an attempt to save herself from falling off a cliff. Patrick and his wife made the ascent in the Alps, stopping for the night. But at night Patrick’s wife gets out of her sleeping bag and her lifeline failes. The woman begins to fall and manages to grab Patrick's hand. He tries to pull her, but he was not secured by lifeline. Because of that the woman decides to fall to save at least the life of her husband. They barely have time only to tell each other "goodbye." Later, from the conversation of two men from the mountain village, it becomes clear that Patrick was found. He was very weak, barely moving. He was taken to the hospital.

The second part of the novel begins 25 years after the accident. Patrick lives and works in a small hut right in the mountains. He helps the other climbers, who can rest or spend the night at the hut. One of them is Karl, a German. In the mountains, he falls and breaks to death. The team of rescuers from the village comes for the body. However, the storm is approaching, and the body is needed to rescue fast. The next day the body is taken away and brought to Patrick’s hut. In here rescuers decide to leave the body near the hut, fasten it to the frame and throwing snow on it. Big storm is coming. This time, Patrick will have to save the life of another woman named Cassie.

The imbalance between the first and second parts of this book is the main flaw of the book. The first part begins suddenly and very promising. But after a thrilling beginning the novel bogges down and starts marking time. The book is very reliable, since the author himself is an experienced climber. But the description of multi-day struggle for life during a storm begins to tire a reader quickly. Too viscous text; you need to climb in it as in a rock to not to lose interest. The struggle for life, of course, is a thing in itself not very interesting: it’s no entertainment, if you know that you can die, - but the book would have won if Simpson had cut the first part in half.

The second part is read perfectly as a standalone work. Very lyrical, piercing style; simple but strong story; again a high level of realism. The author masterfully describes the dynamics of the relationship between Patrick and Cassie. Simpson changes the angle of view, and we see how Patrick begins to thaw a little after difficult for him 25 years, full of silent mourning for his wife. Cassie gives him new hope. The more symbolic that the new love in Patrick’s life also appears in the strongest storm in the same place, but 25 years later. To avoid repetition and thoroughly disclose the nature of Cassie, the author shows the events of Patrick’s past through the lens of the woman. How she saw that situation, how she assessed the actions of Patrick, how this case had changed her life.

«The Sound of Gravity» is generally meditative reading, but the second part is a much more dynamic. The first one could not disclose the nature of man, because Patrick remained alone with the rocks. In the second part the character interacts with others, and we begin to understand the depth of his drama.

It is a book well worth reading, with the first flawed part.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cold In Hand

John Harvey

Cold In Hand

William Heinemann, 2008

Charlie Resnick, an aging cop and hero of numerous novels of John Harvey, lives with a young woman Lynn Kellogg, also a detective, and is preparing to retire. On Valentine's Day the youth gangs dispute, and Kellogg is trying to prevent it. As a result, one girl is killed, another wounded, and Kellogg, which used the body of a murdered girl as a shield, receives minor injuries. Resnick persuade the authorities to allow him to investigate this incident with a partner. The father of the killed girl makes explicit threats to Resnick and Kellogg, believing she’s guilty in his daughter's death. When Kellogg recovers from an injury, she returnes to the stalled case, involving the illegal gunrunning and human trafficking from Eastern Europe. Witnesses in this case, two women who worked as prostitutes, fear for their lives, and Kellogg begins to suspect the connection between a police officer from the department of serious crimes and the Eastern European mafia. Resnick is busy with his investigation and does not yet know what a nightmare his life will soon become to.

Crime novels in the genre of "police procedurals" can rarely boast of originality and freshness. Their structure itself is so well established that you do not need to invent anything, everything has already been invented, you need only one cliche replace by another. Most often, the inspector in years drinks heavily and walks on the women, while investigating for weeks one and the same thing as if the criminals in this period generally disappear from the face of the earth and do not commit crimes that are actually also need to investigate. And it’s good, if the author has come up with an original twist in the ending or can write well in his/her native language, then so a book can deserve some attention. So «Cold In Hand» by John Harvey is an outstanding police procedural for several reasons. For once, there are two detectives, but they do not work together. Resnick does not drink heavily or sleep with anyone, but listens to jazz and takes care of his partner. Here are a few crimes, and the inspectors have to cope with several things simultaneously.

Harvey also gives an idea of how the police work in Britain: how departments interplay between themselves, how internal investigations are conducted, how the security of important witnesses is provided. Yes, all of these are the technical details, the theory, but the author knows practice too. Knows how win over a reader, knows how to surprise with an unexpected clue in the end, knows how to deploy a novel half-way and return it in a different direction.

«Cold In Hand» definitely shows that it’s early to give up on police procedurals.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 8

The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 8
Edited by Maxim Jakubowski

Constable & Robinson, 2011

This thick volume includes more than 40 stories. I want to just say "wow!", but is it plus to a book with such a volume, when the title has the word «best»? On the one hand, ut’s a definite plus: the editor Jakubowski read a lot and carefully, selecting stories for publication, from anthologies and print magazines, as well as from online zines and chapbooks. Accordingly, there are masters of the genre, who have a few awards on the shelf, but there are newbies as well who have no published books. The variety is almost always good, but variety does not mean quality. Are all the forty stories the best? Or there are the best, those that are worse, and those one about which people usually say "read and forgot"? Yes, those there are here too. With this number of stories it’s impossible that all the stories were equally good. If the book will be of ten stories, it would be really best of the year, but it turned out the best and a lot of good. Read the best is necessary, 10-15 stories here are good, the rest are for another reader, maybe. I will look at the top ten only (in the order they appear in the book).

«Dolphin Junction» by Mick Herron is definitely one of the best stories in the book. The plot is that a husband finds a note from his wife stating that she was leaving and that he didn’t try to find her. The police treat him calmly: adults converge and diverge, anything can happen, - but the husband feels that his wife was not gone somewhere by herself, but she was kidnapped. He starts to find her. This story has everything that makes a story good story: an unexpected turn, tense plot, secrets of the past, and retribution for them in the present. «Affairs of the Heart» by Kate Atkinson seems at first a humorous story, but the end is dark as in the «Dolphin Junction». Feelings can not be trusted, especially when they associate with a family, where women are called Faith, Patience and Constance.

«And that was why, on a cold night in February, Duncan Milne was up to his neck in shite. Literally. » - thus begins the story of Stuart MacBride «The Ballad of Manky Milne ». And it really reads like a ballad about a loser who got involved in shit in the literal and figurative sense.

«The Circle» by David Hewson is the only story in the collection that develops the theme of terrorism. The author leads the reader by the nose until the very end. In «An Arm and a Leg» Nigel Bird presents to his hero an upbringing class (Bird himself is a teacher), so only punishment will be far more serious than a blow by ruler on the wrist. «Homework» by Phil Lovesey is a story in the form of composition by a girl named Judy Harris. A girl studying in the school "Hamlet" and finds many similarities between Shakespeare and the history of her own family. Children had never yet convicted criminals with such care and knowledge in the literature. («Homework» has won this year's "Dagger" for best short story.)

«Unhappy Endings» by Colin Bateman is a postmodern mystery about the writer. Very funny and very dark. As I hear in Bateman the echoes of John Barth. «Run, Rabbit, Run» by Ray Banks is a simple but catchy tale of cowardice, responsibility and high self-esteem.

«The Hard Sell» by Jay Stringer begins as a screenplay for a heist movie a la Ocean's 11. Resourceful crooks have come up with a good scam, just did not take into account that experience was sometimes more important than youth. The anthology ends, as well as begins with a story of Ian Rankin. «Driven» is an ingenious blend of crime storiy and sermon. Rankin, who has dozens of novels behind, has shown that he is in great shape.

After this collection, you can easily find who in British crime and mystery are worth reading in the first place, and enjoy the finest selection by Jakubowski.

Ganges #2

Kevin Huizenga
Ganges #2

Fantagraphics, 2008

Glen Ganges returnes in the second volume of «Ganges». This collection includes two short stories. The first is a computer game. The player himself, though, will not appear, before us only the screen with a strange toy on it (and indeed it is not clear, is there player at all). After the hieroglyphs we see a choice of players, and the hero is someone like a hedgehog, but with long human legs. This hedgehog-man begins to hit other obscure characters. The meaning of this story in general and its inclusion in this collection may well have remained a mystery if it were not for one thing. The thing is that you do not need to look for a meaning there, when you can see what figures Huizenga draws. The figures, which are built from computer characters, are similar to figures of the Aztecs, the structure of a human cell and a key to unraveling the mysteries of the universe, at the same time. You have never been under hypnosis? So Huizenga’s art proficiency hypnotize you, just try it.

The second story in the book, «Glenn Ganges in Pulverize», is an unexpected continuation of the first one. This computer game is the game that all the office staff, where Ganges works, plays. In the late 90's an Internet start-up begins, something like Yahoo, pre-doomed to failure, and Ganges and his colleagues tried to make money on the internet. And just a whole day (and staying at work past midnight) the entire office was playing a computer game on the network. There were not hedgehog-mans, it was something like a shooter where players only shooting at each other. "Pulverize" gradually began to replace reality for Ganges. About this comic a lot can be said like "our whole life is a game», and this will be true, but more true to saywill be that all good things must come to an end, you’ve played, and that's enough. And the moral is simple: not work joins people together, but fun.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Truth Lies Bleeding

Tony Black

Truth Lies Bleeding

Preface Publishing, 2011

Detective Inspector Rob Brennan after the murder of his brother spent six months in a psychiatric hospital, recovering from the shock. Returning to work, Brennan rips right from the chief right to investigate the brutal murder of a young girl whose body was brutally mutilated. The body can not yet be identified, but the Brennan suspects that the girl was a local, as the killer, trying to disguise with the cruelty ordinary murder after rape. At the same time, the local crime boss Deil McArdle (the Deil, as he is called) agrees to crank a small crime, working with German mobsters, and Barry Tierney, a small criminal, brings a baby into the apartment of his drug addict girlfriend. In addition to investigating the murder of a girl, Brennan also must deal with the murderers of his brother.

Tony Black, who has written four novels about Gus Dury, for a time abandoned his serial hero and launched a new series of police procedurals about Inspector Brennan. Of the two novels about Dury what I read, one was good, one was bad, and «Truth Lies Bleeding» did not become too successful start of the series. Black writes the same scathing prose, and Brennan is a worthy successor to Dury. He is sharp on the tongue; he is always displeased with something, with troubles in his personal life. The first half of the book is good because you can enjoy the leisurely development of events, savoring some moments: the dialogue between criminals, Brennan’s rudeness, insider’s police wars. The good thing about «Truth Lies Bleeding» is the way Black writes intrigue within the police department. It is interesting to watch how the inspectors are fighting for a particular investigation, how the inspectors are trying to curry favor with his superiors, how the authorities urge their subordinates. And Brennan, of course, is not the one who is easy to handle:

«Brennan hadn't wanted the leave; the Chief Super had insisted on it. She'd wanted to put him out because he wasn'ta yes-man. Galloway was a typical careerist: she surrounded herself with the types that were no challenge to her. People like the boy, Stevie McGuire. He was a no-hoper, perfect material for promotion in Galloway's ranks. More like McGuire beneath her and her ascent was assured, carried high on their shoulders. Providing she could keep the likes of Brennan in check, that is. She still needed to rely on someone providing the clear-up rates if she was to get the Chief Constable's job»

The second half of the book is disappointing in that Brennan does not think hard, and the killer himself finally comes into his hands. And the background of murder and all subsequent events seem ridiculous and absurdly false. Everything too easy comes to happy ending.

Let's hope in the next book in the series Tony Black makes Brennan sweat.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Every Shallow Cut

Tom Piccirilli

Every Shallow Cut

Chizine Publications, 2011

The unnamed narrator, once quite a well-known writer in a narrow range, even received several literary awards, remains alone without a home (taken by the creditors), wife (ran to a lawyer), money (books are selling very bad), with only his faithful dog named Churchill. Gathering a few own things in the car, the writer wants to take them to the flea market, helping a little money. Three street robbers who want easy money attack the narrator on the street. The writer sees no reason to live, having lost everything, but something inside him snaps, and now he is fighting back the young scum, seriously beating them and taking money from one of them. Selling possessions and adding the money from the pocket of the beaten punk, the narrator buys a gun, and he does not yet know why: whether to self-defence, or to make a suicide. Alone, driving through the country, the writer goes to his brother living in New York, again without knowing why: whether to see him at last, or to start a new life.

Piccirilli, until this book having reputation of excellent plotter, this time dropped the plot altogether aside, writing an excellent jazzy prose. This is, in general, a poem in prose, stanzas about despair, anger and fall into the abyss. The hero has no name, face, desire and reason to live and flies into the abyss, yet less than a week ago he had almost everything you need for life. The unnamed narrator has no face, because instead of it is a mirror in which everyone will see one’s own reflection when will also fall into the abyss.

Something inside of the writer still does not allow him to say goodbye to this world, perhaps a desire to finish the last novel. One of the best scenes of the book, when the author visits his agent, wanting to know the situation with his unsold manuscripts, ends thus:

«I thought of pulling the piece and putting one in his thigh. The underworld heroes of my stories often shot each other in the thick meat of their thighs. It was a way of saying that they were bad but not too bad. That they could handle violence with ease but still kept life in some kind of high regard. I put my hand in the rucksack and got my fist around the revolver. I started to sweat. His laughter made me sick to my stomach. I glanced at the bookcase and wondered which of the names on the spines of the books he was in love with at this moment.
Toppling the bookcase across his office might make a bolder statement than shooting him in the leg, but the case was bolted to the wall.
I walked out past his girl and said goodbye. She wasn't doing anything. She wasn't reading or typing or texting or checking voice mail. She was just sitting there, lost inside herself. She didn't look up. I almost kissed her.»

This novella cuts like the sharpest knife.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fun & Games

Duane Swierczynski

Fun & Games

Mulholland Books UK, 2011

Lane Madden, third-rate actress, drives on Hollywood highway to unwind and breathe the air, when a psychopath begins to pursue her. Miraculously surviving the accident, Madden seeks salvation and gets into one of the empty houses in Hollywood Hills. By coincidence, soon in this house arrives Charlie Hardie, an ex-cop, now a man with a curious profession – he is a housesitter. Hardie, for a few years after the massacre of his partner and his family by Albanian mobsters, has been flying across the United States, guarding expensive houses of the rich, while they are away. The next gig is also not going to be anything extraordinary, just watch old movies and drink beer all day. But in the house Hardie meets an intruder - Madden, armed with a mic stand. The actress thinks that Hardie is one of Them, and almost kills him in self-defense. THEY are The Accident People. When the housesitter has still convinced the actress that he is not one of Them, but simply has come to watch the house during the absence of the owner, he understands that these professional hitmans will not leave alive neither him nor the actress.

If you've read once about a book that it is a page-turner and endless action, then it was a lie. Because compared to the «Fun & Games» other books may seem a snail runs. The action begins with the first page and does not stop at all. The heroes of the book have an opportunity to think only on the run, on the walk, crawling on all fours, in a jump, in the car chase. By heroes, I mean not only Hardie and Madden, but The Accident People as well. The narrative changes from Hardie’s point of view and from The Accident People’s point of view. And the mysterious killers have to come up with more and more ingenious plans to assassinate an actress, along with Hardie, that is him who puts a spoke in the wheel of well-functioning mechanism.

You might think «Fun & Games» is just another shooter. And it's true. But what is wrong with this shooting, if the author has one hundred aces up his sleeve and he is a crooked gambler. Moreover, «Fun & Games» is a science-fiction crime novel, and it is possible that the final book of the trilogy will show us that that it is not even sci-fi, but fantasy. There were quite a lot of successful hybrids of crime and fantasy in recent years, but this hybrid is absolutely original. Fantastic elements allow Swierczynski invent more and more new plot twists. Here, indeed, there is fun and games. Swierczynski is able to make his characters run. The fact that this is only the first book of the trilogy says only that the author has shown not all of his possibilities.

Hardie himself is far from original. He is an ex-cop who after the shooting of his partner and his family, refused to contact with his own family, safely hid it, so that what happened to his partner, has not repeated with Hardy. But what happens with Hardie and how he has managed to end up in such a story, this is a highly original and sometimes extremely funny.

People should build queues in shops to buy «Fun & Games».

Monday, September 19, 2011

Triple Crossing

Sebastian Rotella

Triple Crossing

Mulholland Books, 2011

Valentine Pescatore, after got into trouble in his native Chicago, moved closer to the Mexican border in San Diego, where he began to work as a Border Patrol Agent. Pescatore’s supervisor Agent Garrison is a dirty cop and carries out assignments for the serious people from the cartel. American government has long been dreaming to expose Harrison, but he is very careful and does not make mistakes. When Pescatore violates the law by crossing the border with Mexico, it offers big troubles for. American female agent Isabel Puente investigating the affairs of the influential members of the cartel, offers Pescatore to go undercover, rubbing in the credibility of Garrison, which can lead to the top of the cartel - Junior Ruiz Caballero. This way the agent may avoid prison. Pescatore, a rookie, agrees, but also manages to sleep with Puente. And if beautiful Puente entirely trusts Pescatore, then one more important character of the book - Leo Mendez, a former Mexican journalist and now head of anti-corruption unit in Tijuana – believes that Pescatore is an unreliable source that can work on both sides. Mendez is not only famous for his probity that even causes fear among dishonest: he also heads the so-called The Diogenes Group, which includes the most proven people of Mexico, and two aides of Mendez are called Athos and Porthos.

When Garrison is killed in a shootout, Pescatore is embroiled in a web of intrigue, working for the cartel. The undercover agent after a certain time is cut off from Puente and Mendez. Now, for him the most important thing is to survive.

Rotella is a journalist, who have been writing for decades about the US-Mexican border. He know what happens at the junction of the two states. Because of that the novel seems at times more non-fiction, than fiction. Human trafficking (and not only from South America but also from Asia and Eastern Europe), drug trafficking and piracy, arms smuggling, lawlessness in Mexocan prisons - all that Rotella describes as a matter of course. The author digs much deeper and dedicates the reader in the whole corrupt scheme, linking Americans and Mexicans. Subordination of the Federal Police to Mexican cartel and the city police to corrupt officials, close cooperation between U.S. senators and psychopath of the Mexican cartel. These schemes works in novel’s plot. The plot, by the way, is rather disingenuously made. Part of the intrigue is predictable, but the other part will present surprises.

Of all the heroes of the book the most interesting is Pescatore (Puente is nothing more than a faceless, but pretty representative of American power, and Mendez is roughly described fighter for justice), as the most hesitant and unsure of himself and others. He is caught between two abysses - between the thugs of the cartel and Mendez who hating the agent.

Style of Rotella immediately gives us impression that the author is a journalist. He writes dryly, at length, sometimes there is mismatch between the fast scenes and "slow" language. Here the author describes Puente: «She advanced with lithe, sure-footed strides, grinning playfully. She had her hair pulled back today like a flamenco dancer, bringing out the feline bone structure, the wide-set eyes. She was diminutive, athletically well proportioned, wearing a snug gold turtleneck and matching corduroy pants. The belt holster peeking out of her down vest was empty; US agents were forbidden to carry firearms on Mexican soil. But Méndez suspected that she was packing her second gun, a short-barreled automatic, in one of her knee-high suede boots or the bag over her shoulder.» And this is Pescatore after using drugs: «What did he remember about her? Her name: Marisol? Soledad? The tops of her breasts swelling out of a leotard. Extra heft in the hips and thighs. Turning, posing on the dance floor, swaying against him in knee-length leather pants. Marisol-or-Soledad was from Calexico. Said his accent in Spanish was cute, reminded her of this South American singer on MTV Latino. She was one of the platoon of women waiting when the homeboys arrived at the ranch. The place was fancied up for a party: mariachis, an outdoor bar, a disc jockey on the gazebo spinning tunes. Oldies for cholos: "Always and Forever," "Who's That Lady?," "Lean On Me." But the mood was less than mellow because Pelón wandered around firing one-armed volleys at the stars with his AK-47."

Perhaps in his next novel Rotella will be more concise and give up on his love for excessive descriptiveness.

«Triple Crossing» is certainly a fascinating and dangerous journey to Latin America, and Rotella in his debut novel shows that he is capable of much.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Third Bear

Jeff VanderMeer

The Third Bear

Tachyon Publications, 2010

This collection of short stories (one original, other 13 were published in one form or another in magazines and anthologies) by Jeff VanderMeer can confound all those who believe that the format of the short story had died. After reading «The Third Bear», it becomes clear to anyone that the story is alive and is not going to die for a few hundred years more at least.

«The Third Bear» is a shooting gallery for the reader. The book is populated by huge numbers of animals and the creatures that pretend to be animals, and when the eye-gun hits the target, then as a gift you take a story about an animal.

In «The Third Bear», which after the first page seems the standard fantasy, but then turns into something more sophisticated and unconventional, a kind of monster that people call for the convenience The Third Bear, attackes the village of Grommin, abducting people and devouring them. The Third Bear, of course, is not a bear, and got his nickname because of the consonance with Theeber. The village already is in a mess, but the monster eats strong men, placing the existence of the entire community at risk. Head of the village at any price has to stop the dangerous animal. You can’t find in the story typical clashes between conan-villager and man-eating bear; powerful wizards; king defender, guarding his citizens. Vandermeer does not give the answer where the bear came from and for what purpose. Author does not give an answer to the question, what kind of world is this, as well. This well may be the Earth in feudal times, this may be another planet, another world. And is it so important when you stay cut off from the world, with your village in front of the forest with the most terrible creature, which you ever saw?

VanderMeer leaves unanswered the appearance of the speaking rabbit in the story «The Quickening». Parents of 12-year old Rachel died in a car accident, and now she lives in a house with his aunt Etta. One day a stranger near the pond gives the girl a rabbit and says his name is Sensio. Sensio soon begins to talk to the girl and tells her that he is not a rabbit. The Aunt Etta, having learnt about the abilities of the beast, at first gives him royal honors, and then decides to make money. To some people the fabula of «The Quickening» may seem unoriginal: how many times we've read about talking animals? But Sensio is anything, but not an animal. This is a story (not without a bit of black humor) about the blackness of the soul and tyranny, about the narrow-mindedness and breadth of meanness. «The Quickening» could be written by Updike or Carver, if they came up with the story of a girl, her despot aunt and a creature in the guise of a rabbit.

«My manager was extremely thin, made of plastic, with paper covering the plastic» - so begins «The Situation», very weird office farce. Conspiracy is building up against the protagonist, his Manager every day asks whether he loves her, colleagues mutate. The expression "office plankton" should be understood literally. Very weird.

Each story in this collection is not what it seems. «Fixing Hanover» is more than steampunk. «Errata» is more than a postmodern story on how to write a story. «Shark God Versus Octopus God» is more than a story based on a myth. «The Surgeon's Tale» is more than the retelling of "Frankenstein."

Vandermeer has everything that a good storyteller should have: he is original, he knows how to build a structure of a story, and he can change style depending on the story. Read this book, or you will be eaten by the bear.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Ed. by Sandra Ruttan and Brian Lindenmuth

Snubnose Press ebook, 2011

This collection of six stories, which the publisher calls an anthology, looks like a sampler than a full anthology. The authors presented in the book are probably not familiar to the reader of popular fiction, while you can’t call them newcomers. Nik Korpon, Richard Thomas and Jonathan Woods have published books, Nigel Bird has released two self-published collections of his stories in an electronic format, Matthew C. Funk widely published his stories in various magazines. Nevertheless, they did not become the authors of bestsellers. These writers are not alike at all, and you should pay close attention to some of them.

Stories by Nigel Bird and Jonathan Woods are complete opposites. «You Dirty Rat» by Bird is too simple. This is a story of revenge of soldier to his officer after the Second World War. Bird also writes in simple, abrupt sentences, designed to show anger and sense of purpose of the French soldier. Bird is capable of more; this story is not his most successful thing. «Crash & Burn» by Woods on the contrary has too complicated plot. The author in the final brings together several plot lines. But the story is told too quickly, causing the heroes seem flat, and you do not empathize them. Woods, it seemes, wrote complex mathematical equation, where the only interesting thing is the answer, but not the solution process.

The best stories here are Korpon’s and Thomas’. Stylistically, they are most interesting, despite the almost complete absence of plot. «Mori Obscura» by Nik Korpon tells the story of a journalist with a criminal past who is facing a difficult choice: break the law again or refuse tempting offer and stay law-abiding. Thoughts of the hero of the story, from whose view the story narrates, are confused, and we will not know what choice he makes.

If the story by Kopron only lasts about half an hour of real time, then «Herniated Roots» by Richard Thomas is stretched over a longer interval. Michael, alcoholic cut off from the world and has been for 6 years trying to stay sober, meets a woman in a supermarket. Alcohol almost ruined Michael’s life some time ago: «When he first quit drinking, he gained a lot of weight, needing to do something with his hands, to drink something else-water, iced tea, soda, juice. He was slightly overweight now, but you wouldn't know it from looking at him. He had nobody to tell him that his gut was an eyesore... No woman had seen him naked in a long time, and this was also part of his plan». Michael’s plan is at all costs remain sober. But meeting with a charming Sandy could start the journey to hell for him. Thomas paints in the dark colors the existence of a single man on the edge. How long Michael would be able stick to his plan, here's a question we get the answer to after reading.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Help Yourself

We all started to buy and read ebooks. They're great. Part of us, writers, realized that ebooks is a great oppurtunity to bring back in electronic formats out-of-print novels, collections, novellas, to bring together stories from different anthologies and magazines. Now writer shouldn't wait when publisher will decide to finally publish short story collection of non-commercial author. Part of us, readers, now can buy cheap books and no longer track used bookstores trying to find expensive out-of-print copy of some book.

However writers not only bring back old titles, but publish new self-pubbed novels and collections as ebooks. That's great, too. A lot of experimental works can reach readers now. A lot of good books refused by traditional publishers now will get their readership. But it seems not all self-pubbed writers realize that they have to not only upload their books on Amazon, but have to bring information about their books to reader.

If you start to browse on Amazon among self-pubbed works, you can see that lots of books don't have proper information. You click on Amazon page of some title, and all you see is a couple of sentences on book. How a reader could decide should he buy your book or not, if you don't give him proper info what this book is about and who are you, a writer. Reader just clicks on another book with proper info and buys it. You sales remain the same.

Now I want to give some advises to writers who upload their works on Amazon/Smashwords. I hope they will help your sales.

1) Post on your book page proper info about plot. It's really important. Not a couple of words: a couple of paragraphs. Covers on Amazon are small, and they don't really matter. Proper info is far more important.

2) If your book had been published by traditional publisher on paper somewhere, say so. Maybe a reader after finishing your ebook will decide to hunt and find this out-pf-print title.

3) Get some blurbs from good writers. Maybe not so famous, but good. Writers you like. Blurbs are important too. You wrote a book and couldn't make a good writer read it? It's a shame. Blurbs make readers feel that you are good: writer X praises you!

4) Small bio would be good. Yes, maybe you don't have awards, you hadn't been published much, but you wrote a great thing. We read not bios, but short stories and novels.

5) If it's possible, include in description your website link.

Interesting but even books published by Amazon imprints don't have proper description.

If you want that your book haven't been lost among a thousand of different titles, spend an hour to write a decent description to your book. You spent 2 years on your masterpiece and can't spend an hour to write a description? Well, in that case no one will read your masterpiece.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Songs of Innocence

Richard Aleas
Songs of Innocence

Hard Case Crime, 2007

A former private investigator and currently the administrator of the course «Creative Nonfiction» at Columbia University, John Blake once lost his beloved and barely survived himself. 30-something-year-old Blake, himself attending a course on creative writing, moves closer to Dorrie Burke, who also attends the course. When Dorrie found dead in her apartment with a bag over her head and a book «Final Exit» next to her, the police do not doubt that she committed suicide. Dorrie's mother is not so sure of it and hires Blake to conduct an investigation of suicide and show to her that it was murder. Dorrie trusted Blake, and he knew her secret that she kept from her mother. Dorrie worked in massage parlors like sort of a prostitute and once took Blake's promise that if it something’d happen, Blake would have to remove all traces of the second life of the girl. The PI removes all information from Dorrie’s laptop that may reveal her secrets. On the Internet Blake looks for clues, how he would find people with whom she Dorrie worked. Among them is a dangerous mobster, a Hungarian by birth.

It is difficult to say who has written this book so well, Richard Aleas or John Blake. Aleas cleverly combined the two professions in Blake, a private detective and a writer, and this is what explains why this Blake not only knows where and whom to look for, but how apply words to each other, but still with such grace. There are enough detective writers in the world literature, Aleas is not the first in there, but he successfully solved the problem, which troubled many readers of detective stories about private detectives, written from the first person view: why do these men who shoot well and hit in the face (and are hitted themselves not less) well tell their stories so good? Here the answer is obvious: Blake has the literary talents.

Blake, however, is not demure and not a homebody. In his past as a private eye he had lost any kind of innocence, and because of that the tour to massage parlors of New York (and «Songs of Innocence» is exactly this trip), with its meetings with the lower social classes, dangerous criminals, strong prostitutes, does not scare or surprise Blake at all. He has already seen it. He already has passed it.

Aleas not only writes well, he's a masterful plotter, with each chapter throwing new puzzles. The novel is built by the canons of 30-50s pulp fiction, and if not the sudden appearance of a laptop in the first chapters, one would think that the action is taken place in our time. However, «Songs of Innocence» is a story of today, with mobile phones, laptops, Internet, e-cards in the subway. It should complicate the task for a writer, because he must take into account new elements added to the classic story. And here Aleas manages to be original: not revealing the plot, I will note only that modern technology plays a key role in the highly twisted plot.

This is a book about the irreversibility of the secrets and mysteries of the people; about that always there is a line that under no circumstances must not be crossed. Already closer to the finale Blake recalls that he once has been told by a detective from the NYPD:

«You work like a bastard for days and days and nothing makes any sense. You're lost, you're confused, you've got no answers and you're wasting your client's money. You're a fraud, you've always been a fraud ... one day, you think of something. Or you see something. Or someone tells you something. And suddenly, everything that didn't make sense does. Only here's the thing: nine times out of ten, you wish it didn't. You wish you were a fraud again. Because the things people hire us to figure out are the ugliest fucking things in the world».

For the same reason we read books: to get to the dark corners of human soul, to look at these ugliest things, to be a little different after reading. And songs of innocence no longer play in your head.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Kiss Her Goodbye

Allan Guthrie

Kiss Her Goodbye

Polygon, 2006 \ Hard Case Crime, 2005

Joe Hope works on an Edinburgh loan shark named Cooper. If someone owes money to Cooper, Joe (with baseball bat) pays a visit to a debtor. When his daughter, Gemma, commits suicide, Joe blames for this her boyfriend Adam, who did not keep up with Gemma. Furious, Hope flys to the other side of Scotland, where Gemma was living in the complex for writers and screenwriters, organized by Adam. Upon arrival Hope is arrested on suspicion of murder of his wife, Ruth, with whom he had a hard relationship. But Hope did not kill Ruth:

If Joe had killed her that's how he'd have done it. But he hadn't, had he? At the time he was - well, he didn't know where he was. Fuck it, he knew nothing. He didn't even know when she'd been killed, did he?

Someone has framed him. Having fake alibi, Joe comes to freedom. And while he has time, he must find the real murderer.

If the action of «Kiss Her Goodbye» was put twenty years into the past, it would be almost perfect revenge novel. But events in the book occur in the middle of 00s, and it hurts credibility of the book. Wanted for the murder, a man walks through the streets of Edinburgh, uses his cell phone, doing everything to get caught. But for the plot Hope should remain out of prison, and all the modern technology remain in the past. Plot instability is compounded by simplicity of the final, although both ends meet, Guthrie is a professional.

Despite the flaws of the plot, «Kiss Her Goodbye» is a very good as a portrait gallery of the lower classes in Edinburgh. Hope, the muscle with a university degree who hates his wife, but not able to fully cheat on her. Hope’s lawyer, a young professional, selflessly helping the fugitive. Cooper, greedy on bodies of young girls. Tina, a prostitute, often at night welcoming Joe, the only one whose services he used. All of them are somewhat broken down, all with their flaws, but Guthrie makes them attractive to a reader. Anyone who falls once, not necessarily the fallen man.

There is enough of violence, justified or not, but violence does not shock anyone here, it is everyday life of the heroes of the novel. Whether the book has more elaborate plot, it would become one of the best examples of modern neo-noir. But so - kissed it goodbye and forgot.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Low Life

Ryan David Jahn

Low Life

Macmillan, 2010

Loner-accountant Simon Johnson goes to work even on weekends to kill time in his worthless life. In the evenings, he gets drunk to fall asleep faster and not think about nothing. The whole social life of Simon comes to communicating with two colleagues during the lunchbreak. On the road from work, Simon occasionally calls in video shop to watch a porno movie in the booth. Simon’s meaningless life is over one night, when someone breaks into his apartment and wants to kill Simon. Not getting lost in the darkness, Simon in self-defense kills the stranger, who looks exactly like Simon. Thinking that the police won’t understand the situation, would it be self defense or not (and Simon almost smashed the head of the attacker), Simon puts the body in a bath filled with ice. All that now remains for Simon to do is find out who the attacker is and why he wanted to kill Simon.

If the previous novel by Ryan David Jahn «Acts of Violence» was solid, but undistinguished thriller, this is quite outstanding one. Very entangled plot, rising till the end of the books suspence, pressing reality of the situation, the psychopath protagonist, the inexplicable cruelty - all this is enough to get a quality reading. But Jahn does not stop there. He tells the story not as an omnipotent author who knows what will happen to the hero on the next page, but as a counterpart of Simon, who knows no more about what is happening than the protagonist. Simon is not a great detective with excellent logic, not a man with connections. He can not untwist cleverly woven network of puzzles withing a few hours. He is a sociopath, a loner, a little man, who only with his own assertiveness can solve his problem.

Simple style is for a simple man, and the author achieves high level of paranoia in the first place because of his style. Simon thinks of simple sentences, speaks simple sentences, and acts simply but well.

The answer will be terrible, but Simon knew it from the moment when decided to leave the body of the stranger in his own bathroom.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You Were Wrong

Matthew Sharpe
You Were Wrong

Bloomsbury, 2010

26-year-old math teacher Karl Floor returnes home when on the road two of his students beat him up. In the house, which Karl received after the death of his mother on the condition that he would take care of his stepfather, a beatiful robber waits Karl. A girl named Sylvia Vetch, which is obviously hiding something from Karl, selects what she might take, and Karl, who for all his life barely spoke to girls, offers to help to choose together. Later, with some things taken out of the house, Karl and Sylvia travel to suburban squat inhabited by strange hippi commune. Karl on the same night gets drunk, wakes up in the morning without his hat and wallet, and among all of yesterday's party people he finds one strange guy with no less strange name Arv. Back home, Karl barely restrains while listening to a lengthy speech of his stepfather Larchmont Jones, can not let go Sylvia from his head and has no idea that soon he will make a lot of unpleasant discoveries.

«You Were Wrong» is, no less, almost perfect novel. A perfect novel probably does not exist in nature, so this one is almost perfect. It can be shaken inside out, cut to the individual letters, but you won’t find a significant flaw. The first reason for the almost-ideal lies in the enigma of the book. It is possible to find a single layer, or ten layers there, but as soon as you start to think that it is this one, a single layer of novel is the most important, Matthew Sharpe imperceptibly will wink to you and make a nod to the title: you were wrong. The reader was not right and did not see another layer, which was the most important one. Although it’s awkward to write about importancy: all parts of the novel, all the layers are equal, as equal fingers on the hand, with each performing its own function.

Prose of Sharpe is uncomfortable, as if you are reading the proposal, written backwards. One could say that this could be written by a math teacher (it’s a profession of the main character), but it would mean that the author's style is too prudent and dry, but when it’s on the contrary, natural, but difficult, as the most artfully arranged snowflake. Sharpe, of course, does not open new possibilities of language, but he works on the stylistic fields that almost no one used.

Sharpe is a worthy successor to John Barth, but more elegant (though perhaps less funny). «You Were Wrong» is a kind of detective story, the story of conspiracy, too. If the writers can be divided into stylists and plotters, Sharpe is a plotting stylist. And it says that the book is never boring. Each chapter ends with cliffhanger. There is a scene of the strangest "murder", an episode of pedophilia; there are numerous trips between New York and its suburbs.

The protagonist of the novel Karl Floor, whose life is rushed headlong head over heels after beating by his own students, until now was afraid to come into contact with the surrounding reality. Karl, in whom unknown, stirring him feelings conceive, realizes that he may experience these feelings only being in contact with the world. World is far more complex and difficult than most difficult mathematical problems. Karl is a debutante (there are a lot of things he had never seen in his life, for example: He had never seen the man with eyes closed.), Which in his debut wants to be first, but so far he only makes mistakes and mistakes. Incipient love of Karl to Sylvia is awkward, and Sharpe finds a good way to express their relationship:

«They did not kiss so much as their mouths exchanged brief, pensive, tactile communications.»

«Her slow dabs were so smooth, warm, and moist that he suspected she was making them with her tongue, but did not seek to verify.»

«You Were Wrong» is also a satire on contemporary American society, which breaks the fates of people like Karl, at first by making them helpless, confused, passive, but sensual, honest and fair.

Matthew Sharpe can often be found in the lists of underrated writers. So, if you have not read him or even never heard of him, you were wrong.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Wrecking Light

Robin Robertson
The Wrecking Light

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

This collection by British poet Robin Roberston consists both from his own poems and translations. Among those who Robertson translated, there are names such as Baudelaire, Ovid, Neruda. And if translations are often ploted, Robertson’s own poems are plotless (except for those that are based on myths.)
Robertson's eye is the photographer’s eye, how accurately he captures some part of the nature. Nature, everything that surrounds us, according to Roberston, is ominous and sometimes dangerous. But the poet finds those words that even at the most terrible you look at least with curiosity.

I go to check the children, who are done for.
They lie there broken on their beds, limbs thrown out
in the attitudes of death, the shape of soldiers.
The next morning, I look up at my reflection
in the train window: unshaven, with today's paper;
behind me stands a gunman in a hood.

Roberston is often contemplative, but not a participant. And to contemplate, it is necessary to step back, refuse to contact. Because of that the lyrical hero, sometimes present in the poem as "I", sometimes as a spirit standing behind photocamera, just pushing on the button of the camera, that seems a lonely and sympathetic, hiding his secret desire to get into nature, into the nature of things.

I remember the tiny stars
of her hands around her belly
as it grew and grew, and how
after a year, nothing came.
How she said it was still there,
inside her, a stone-belly.
And how I saw her wrists
bangled with scars
and those hands flittering
at her throat,
to the plectrum of bone
she'd hung there.

When the lyric hero finds himself in his own image as he becomes part of a sinister world, the hero does not experience the illusion of his own purity and integrity. He is as grim as the world around: No light shining back at me, just shame.
Robertson’s poems are not loudly; on the contrary - often full of ominous silence: If you're absolutely silent and still, you can hear nothing but the sound of nothing.
You want to remember by heart the poems from this book, to pronounce privately, but not out loud.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hating Olivia

Mark SaFranko
Hating Olivia

Murder Slim, 2005

The beginning of the 70s. Max Zajack (story about his childhood years can be found in the novel «God Bless America») still hopes to become a famous writer like Henry Miller, so that he can live on the big fees. Now Max is far from such a carefree life: he rent a room, is barely able to scrape together money for rent, working as a loader at the post office and periodically meets with the wife of the district attorney. Life changes drastically for the future writer (and he thinks that for the better) when he meets Olivia. The girl, too, sees in herself the hidden literary possibilities, and Max and Olivia begin to live together, to indulge in love and in between write brilliant prose.

But life gives a good kick in the ass to young lovers, without giving them relax. Max changes one job for another, later Olivia goes to work too without stopping long in one place. Lovers could barely make ends meet, and Olivia begins to go mad. Max’s life becomes hell.

«Hating Olivia» is a very strong novel from the author of «God Bless America» with the same main character. Loser since childhood, Max Zajack and in adult life does not suffer from an excess of luck. The only time fate turned its face to Max - he got a job at the phone company, where he was just sitting in a room with a partner, but Max could not stand that either. He nearly died of boredom, so he’d quit. In his failures Max was not alone. It seems that he is surrounded by similar losers. A neighbor, whose ear cockroach crawled into. Colleague, drinking from boredom who almost killed his girlfriend. And Olivia is in the same company too. Max and Olivia are infantile, irresponsible, lazy couple, never thinking about tomorrow. Thus, one month Olivia bought so many expensive clothes, not caring about the cost and not thinking how she would pay for purchases in a month, but when the bill came through, it was infinitely surprise for her: «There isn't a penny in my checking account. I thought maybe you'd toss in something to help ». While Olivia knew perfectly well that Max hadn’t even a dollar in his pocket. Most time novel's heroes are hiding from collection agencies.

Love had come to an end too soon. Olivia was in hysteria, locked at night in her room, and later began to have affairs with different men. Max also put himself in a favorable light, as if he was trying to save a relationship. He put his negative emotions on paper, and even wrote a novel. This love \ hate to Olivia helped him to finish the manuscript for the first time and feel like a real writer. (Needless to say, that Max was happy not so long.)

«Hating Olivia» is a first-class novel.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ganges #1

Kevin Huizenga
Ganges #1

Fantagraphics/Coconino, 2006

Glenn Ganges - the protagonist of the first volume of the series «Ganges» - is a dreamer, an eccentric, a loving husband, but first and foremost a restless man. Meaningless details do not give rest to him, he makes a mountain out of a molehill, and his fantasies replace the reality. Five stories under one cover are the five pieces of a day in the life of Ganges. These fragments were not worth any attention to, if their hero was someone else, not Glenn Ganges. Ganges goes to the library. Ganges returns home. Ganges sits next to his wife while she works at the computer. Ganges goes to sleep. Ganges is asleep.

But Huizenga splash with something each of these individual stories (although the book is done in only three colors: black, white and shades of green). On the way to the library Ganges moves in time. Then he sees the cyclist, throwing trash on the road, and moves ahead in the future of the cyclist. Then he argues with his wife because of the song. Then he goes to bed and thinks what love is. Ganges himself steps into the background, replacing himself by his own imagination. And all those themes and issues that Ganges raises in conversations with his wife or, more commonly, with himself, how serious they wouldn’t be, you can’t take them seriously. Last, night, part of the book, when Ganges and his wife go to sleep, is the most sophisticated in terms of art. There is no division between the panels, Ganges’ ideas are moving and moving, not letting him fall asleep, and the darkness are enveloping here, but not sleepy.

I’d like to meet this Ganges.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Inverted Forest

John Dalton
The Inverted Forest

Scribner, 2011

1996. At summer camp in the U.S. state of Missouri for a few days before the opening several people fired. One night the owner of the camp Schuller Kindermann caught part of counselors: young boys and girls, swimming and running on the beach, were strip-naked. Kindermann, an old man, brought up as a Catholic, is experiencing shyness in front of the female, so he could not tolerate such behavior. Almost all of the junior staff was fired. The next day, Kinderman finds that for two days he is to find a replacement and hire a new staff, 14 new employees. Linda Rucker, director of summer camp, sends announcements, watches summary, and a new team is recruited. However, one feature has been withheld from the new staff: newcomers were promised that they will work in a camp with children, but the first two weeks in the camp there will be disabled, mentally retarded people.

Among the counselors is Wyatt Huddy, with a deformed face, too little retarded - or at least he has such an opinion. He works at the store, and when he’s given the opportunity to get out of town and try somewhere else, Wyatt gladly accepts the offer, supported by Captain Throckmorton, owner of the shop. Wyatt is put in the charge of a dorm 2. He must accompany guests to and from the dorm and at the evening to lay everyone in the bed and then his free time starts.

This novel is reminiscent of Philip Roth's recent novel Nemesis. Also summer, also a limited number of people, too, one day-event that changed life forever. Only Roth rose the theme of confrontation of God and a man, in this book this theme is not presented.

The book is written from a third person view, and the story comes from those three characters: Harriet, Kindermann and Wyatt. They all share a disability - everyone has their own - and some uncertainty. Harriet suffers because of her skin color, Wyatt from external deformities and in addition he is certain that he is mentally retarded, Kindermann - because of the tyranny and the lack of women next to him. Each of them in their own way blame themselves for what happened. Every one of them, looking back, sees their mistakes, ready to go back and change everything, but it is impossible to implement. Dalton picks the perfect tone: he does not let the reader inside the character, but not looks down on him. We empathize with the characters of the book, while being on the minimum distance from them.

Dalton, selecting the site of action as the camp, closed space with a limited number of participants, wins there as well. A small number of characters lets describe them in more detail, to give every background, choose to focus on specific scenes in the camp. Changing at the end of the book temporary layer and transferring to 15 years ahead, Dalton thereby allows himself and the reader to look at past events with cold eyes. Passions had subsided, but the ones whom the murder really changed do not forget about it ever.

Perhaps the book would be even better, if the author reduced the volume. There would be more dynamic and tension that the book sometimes lacks. Nevertheless, Dalton has written a serious book with memorable characters and authentic details.

The Cat’s Table

Michael Ondaatje
The Cat’s Table

Jonathan Cape, 2011

It is the story of an 11-year old boy Michael (or as he is called - Mina) on his three-week trip aboard the "Oronsay" from Sri Lanka to England. In the book the protagonist Michael and Michael Ondaatje itself (according to Wikipedia) has much in common: the writer, too, like the protagonist of this age, has left Sri Lanka, also lived in England, became a writer, lived in the States, in Canada. But this is hardly a fictionalized memoir of the writer, the book is taken as fiction.
”Cat's table” from the title of the novel is a place where passengers from the lower strata meet. Among them is Michael, two of his friends, Cassius and Ramadhin, Michael’s cousin Emily, and dozens of other characters, about whom we learn from the narrator. To somebody Michael devotes several chapters, for someone a couple of pages. In England, the boy is waited by his mother, who left Sri Lanka four or five years ago, so the boy himself does not even remember what she looks like and when she left. Michael is taken care by one of his aunt (the so-called aunts and uncles are all adults on board, so this woman has no real kinship with Michael) in the first class, but they rarely see each other, so that the boy is traveling alone.
The three boys quickly become friends, get up with the crack of dawn, meet each other and spend all day in the overall company. The first surpsise on the ship for them is the fact that at night on the deck a criminal goes for a walk who goes to court in England.

Ondaatje’s novel is a kaleidoscope of fates, and the most interesting is that time there is essentially condensed to three weeks, and the place at all to the size of the deck. The novel is written in clean English, so clean that you think that it is well rinsed in seawater. Although the book's title refers to a place where people of so-called second-class gather in the novel, there is no opposition between rich and poor, higher and lower classes. Those, who gather at the Cat’s Table, have interesting fates, sometimes full of secrets, the rich yet seem to be the object of study rather than jealousy. The narrator almost never have to face aristocrats on the ship, so terminally ill Sir and Michael’s aunt are the least deep characters in the novel, they are even more cartoonish.

The world of childhood is full of puzzles, and Ondaatje adds to the book as individual subplot real mystery, with a convict, murder, secret intrigues. This does not hurt the book: it does not appear that the author added the detective elements just to amuse the reader.

The narrator, in his memoirs about post-Oronsay period, says reader\viewer should not be considered novel’s characters stupidier and worse than himself. These words can be assigned to Ondaatje: the book is written with such love for its characters that the reader can not help but love them.

However, it should be remembered that at the heart of the book the memoirs of eleven-year old boy, and therefore you should not trust everything he says. Certainly, there was something exaggerated, something the boy hid, but the cast of the memory of the three-week journey from one life to another one is delight.