Monday, July 30, 2012


Adam Thorpe

Jonathan Cape, 2012

Pilot Bob Winrush returnes home after the flight and finds his wife, Olivia, is engaged in tantric sex with her masseur. Bob grabs his gun and almost kills a man, shooting into the air.

After that incident, a family man Bob divorces his wife and moves into his apartment. Winrush (his name is often mistakenly pronounced as Windrush) is a pilot, freight dog. He once was a captain on passenger flights (when he met his wife, she was a flight attendant), and then switched to cargo flights. He flied with dangerous goods in all over the world, and its cargo, too, was hardly safe. On airplanes he was carrying napalm, AK-47s, ammunition, serving shady customers. He and his team, as a rule, received money in brown envelopes on arrival. He always carried a golden rule of freight flights - to ask no questions. But about two years before the described events, Bob gave up a job and went out of the deal, flying only halfway. He never cooperated with the Taliban, suspected something was wrong and refused. Walking out of a deal, too, is not tolerated in this business. Bob has received several threats after that, but that was it.

Now Bob is working as a private pilot for an Emirate sheikh, lives in Dubai, often meets with local woman named Leila. Then someone just startes digging in the two-year business, Sheikh is asked questions about Bob, and Sheikh fires the pilot, when they are steamed in a sauna in the tail of an airplane. When he gets home, Bob notices that someone was in his apartment. His captain's logs of flights are missing. Bob remembers the day of the flight, his team. Bob decides to return to the UK and books a plane ticket. The next day, Bob is contacted by Israeli journalist Sharansky, who is investigating the transport of weapons. Winrush first refuses but then agrees to a meeting, when Sharansky threatens to mention his name in a forthcoming article.

«Flight» is probably what can be called a perfect blend of thriller and "mainstream novel". The book is sufficiently entertaining, keeps suspense until the last page, makes turning the pages, but at the same time making us feel the atmosphere, enjoy the unique style, assess the language game.
In the novel, the profession of the protagonist is a pilot, freight dog, as he calls himself. Thorpe weaves amazingly the protagonist’s profession in the style of the book. There are many curious puns, metaphors, comparisons, related to the air, aircraft cabin, jets, wings, etc. Thorpe felt his character, made him a truly authentic and alive. Bob thinks like a pilot, talks like a pilot. Besides, Thorpe has real gift to write fresh and original dialogue. It really is talk of living people, especially when Bob and Al (Bob’s mechanic) are talking.

What else is saying about the skill of the author, is the balance of the book. The first part is in fact a continuous action, intrigue, danger and deaths. The second half is the exact opposite: waiting, boredom, anxiety, loneliness. But both parts of the book are identical in quality. He did not blunder. Where he writes a thriller, it's really a thriller, with its heavily twisted plot, espionage, and authentic moments. Not every mystery writer can tell a good tough story. The second part, devoid of the first brick-busting action, is interesting in its own way. This is quite a separate genre - a hero waiting for someone who wants him killed. He is essentially helpless. Those who want to kill him have the resources, they are professionals. If they want to do it, they will. Therefore, Bob can only wait and try to be alert but he needs to answer the question, who wants him dead.

Thorpe captures the hero's anxiety in his style, the changes in it. That who had flown now walks with a low hugging the ground. The hero is changing, is aware of his mistakes from the past, to somehow communicate with the flight he begins to investigate the birds. First, just for the cover, but later he’s hooked.

«Flight» is story about responsibility, vocation, friendship, and delusions. It’s a deep and live novel.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dog Eat Dog

Edward Bunker
Dog Eat Dog Road, 2011 (digital)
(Originally published in 1996, by St. Martin's)

Troy Cameron, son of the law-abiding citizens from Beverly Hills, is released after a second prolonged serving time. In prison, Troy read (including Joyce), thought about the nature of things, did push-ups and sit-downs to keep fit, and planned how to hit the jackpot with enough money till the end of life somewhere in the house on the beach. Shortly before the release, Troy receives an interesting offer from a friend. Troy with accomplices have to rob the pimps, drug dealers and other offenders who, in the case of a robbery, will not be able call the law. His friends whom he has known since the reform school are already waiting for him. One of them is a maniac and a cocaine user, nicknamed Mad Dog, the second, Diesel Carson, is a fixer who works for the local crime boss. Diesel and Mad Dog can’t tolerate each other not both love Troy, considering him a criminal genius.

Finding himself free, and rested a couple of days, Troy meets with his buddies, and together they drive to Los Angeles, the hometown of Troy, where they are to do a robbery (on a tip from a lawyer) of a black drug dealer. And if in this case everything goes smoothly, then for Troy and friends a series of mistakes and failures begins, and a lot of blood will be shed.

Bunker, who himself served prison time not one time, but plenty, knows what writes about, so those moments when the author describes prison life, are the most reliable and sometimes even touching. Troy itself is partly Bunker: they have in common a love of books, childhood, spent in the reform school, living in criminal circles, sharp mind. Troy, the son of a drunken doctor, began his path to lawlessness with his father, whom he nearly killed in an attempt to protect his mother. Troy is tired of prison and wants the freedom and all that it can offer. Troy would rather die from a bullet of another criminal, than the next - and last - time would be placed behind bars. The point is that each of the three friends already have two convictions, and the third, no matter how small it is, will give an offender life prison term. Therefore, the three friends must try to do everything, just not to fall into the hands of police.

The plot is a chain of "cases" that Troy and associates should work to raise such a sum, which would have sufficed almost till the end of life. And even though Troy seems to have a reliable team, everyone should keep an eye on everyone, especially on Mad Dog, who a few weeks before Troy’s release ruthlessly killed his girlfriend and her daughter. The action, however, slacks a little, and does not fly, because friends have rest between the cases.

And if the story mostly delivers the goods, Bunker’s style in some places are clumsy. In the action scenes there are not enough of a strain. Sentences are written properly, but there is no lubrication between them, and entire paragraphs crackle and creak. Yes, and dialogues in the second half of the novel are written with laziness, they do not have enough sharpness.

Bloody and desperate finale, in which you feels like in a cage which sucked all the air from, fairly concludes this novel about the brave people who chose the path of lawlessness.

Friday, July 20, 2012

League of the Grateful Dead and Other Stories

Day Keene
League of the Greatful Dead and Other Stories

Ramble House, 2010

This is the first collection of short stories by Day Keene, which he wrote for the pulp magazines. In fact, Ramble House plans to publish all the Keene’s stories (three volumes already had been published)!

This volume consists of eight short stories, or even novellettes, judging by the number of words, and they are all excellent. Day Keene was certainly a master. Conventionally, all the stories from the book can be divided into three categories: noir, a mystery with the elements of the supernatural and the old good private eye stuff. Only one story, «Nothing To Worry About», is pure noir and it’s anthologised in «Best American Noir of the Century», edited by Ellroy and Penzler. It's a grim story about a district attorney who wanted to kill his wife, who did not give him a divorce. And this is the shortest story in the collection.

The category of the supernatural mystery also consists of only one story, titled «League of the Grateful Dead». In it mysterious events happen: some people crumble to dust in front of witnesses, and a man says that he is the devil who came down to Earth. Keene masterfully creates growing tension: will the hero of the story have to fight with Satan, or there will be a logical explanation. Another plus to the well-plotted mystery is also the choice of the protagonist. He is a drunkard, a former surgeon who started to drink, after losing his job after a series of unsuccessful operations that led to the deaths of the patients. And if the ex-surgeon had not been picked up by a local reporter, and received from him a roof over his head, the drunkard would have died in the gutter.

In the other six stories case of varying complexity is investigated by private detectives (or trouble-fixer, as in «Marry the Sixth for Murder»). PIs in Keene’s stories are often men who can shoot, but they have brains, too, too long they worked in their lines of bussiness, too often they were into jams. Private detectives there are working in the post-war times, and then they served at the war in Europe. Private eyes are not alone. He usually has a wife or girlfriend, he has links to the police, though police give them a hard time. In some stories, detectives receive a lot of money from a client, in some they work for free, as, for example, in «Fry Away, Kentucky Babe!»:

«... Some man there ... had told her that while I charged enormous fees I was always willing to give a former service man a break and I almost always got results».

The book is full of fist-fights, shootings, self-irony so you will get a lot of fun. I should also mention the sleek Keene’s style - no fat, only muscle and nothing else:

«I lighted a cigarette while I thought it over. It was strictly business with me. Private eyes are dime a dozen along The Sunset Strip and I couldn't keep meat on the table if it wasn't for the annual retainer Consolidated pays me to pry their bad girls and boys out of the minor jams that might affect their box- office value. But this wasn't a minor jam ».

I hope that I’ll continue my knowing of Keene’s fiction very soon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Hologram for the King

Dave Eggers
A Hologram for the King

McSweeney's, 2012

54-year-old Alan Clay arrives in Jeddah of Saudi Arabia as the leader of a group of three people - representatives of the IT-company, whose mission is to show holographic presentation to the King Abdullah. For Alan, this project is the final straw, the chance to get out of life’s crisis. He owes a large sum of money to friends and partners, he’s been unemployed, he can not even sell his house to pay debts and college tuition for his daughter Kit. He has long been divorced from his wife, Ruby, who was smarter than him and wanted to change the world. Alan his whole lige has been involved in the production. He started at a young age in his home state to make a brand’s bicycles. His business was going up the hill, expanded, until it was times like these that bicycles (and everything else in the world) has become much cheaper to produce in China. Alan had to close his business, he had nothing to sell.

In Saudi Arabia, the company which represents Alan and his team has a goal to sell the latest IT-equipment for the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). Meanwhile, the site of a developing place is a huge desert, with a business center and a number of service buildings on it.

On the first day Alan misses the shuttle, which takes the group from the hotel to the site, Alan can hardly call a taxi. Talkative taxi driver turns out to be an Arab named Yousef, who had studied for some time in the States, and is now taking business courses in SA. Before getting into a taxi, Yousef examines a car: the husband of one of Yousef’s former girlfriends suspects that she is cheating on him with Yousef, and the taxi driver fears that the jealous husband could kill him. Arrived at the place Alan is a bit stunned by what he has seen: his group is not placed in the building, but in the tent. Young employees, including one man and two women, complain that inside the tent the Internet connection doesn’t work: there is no cable connection, and Wi-Fi is very weak. Nothing has instructed the group. Alan and his team for a long time will be waiting for the arrival of the King.
If you do not know what to write a book about, simply put a protagonist in a hotel room in another country, and the story will tell itself. That’s a piece of advice to young writers. Eggers is far from a newcomer, but he did not disdain to use this scheme. How many novels have been written about how the middle-aged men, desperate, lost, lonely, are a thousand miles from home in search of answers to vital questions? Hundreds. Does Eggers discover new land? No. Does this mean that his book «A Hologram for the King» is bad? On the contrary. Egger’s novel turned out a strong one: catchy, funny and sad. If previously Eggers was famous for his baroque style, five hundred pages and more novels, this one is an example of conciseness and brevity. The author has thrown everything superfluous out, removed unnecessary fat from the bones of the book, leaving the bare necessities. His prose has nothing hip and hipster now, just man's cold prose, prose that not afraid to point to human wickedness.

Mot so much is going on in the novel, or even next to nothing, just waiting (the epigraph is taken from Beckett), driving between the tent in the desert and the hotel. The novel though is not boring. Pages fly no worse than in any thriller. Eggers fills slow 'now' with the protagonist’s memories of the neighbor’s suicide, the failure of the business, swimming in a river with crocodiles, pulling his wife out of jail. Alan, though his life seems to be falling apart, never wonderes "what if? '. He can not even imagine that once at a certain part of his life he could try to change himself. Move to another activity, find another wife, save money for a rainy day. All of this speaks not only of Alan as incurious, but that he looks forward. He did not intend to surrender, ending the novel points to this too.

This novels is rather comical, the situation itself which Alan and his team are in is causing a smile. After the first half the novel becomes more profound, but more uneven. Journey to the castle with Yousef (a reference to Kafka) reads quite strange, the story sags a bit, the book slips. But the ending redeems all.

What else impresses in «A Hologram for the King», is the fact that this is a story of not just one person, but the whole Western civilization. Eggers tells not just the story of a man whose life is falling apart, but of civilization, which also goes by the wayside. The Western world has become a nation of cats, which are curled up on the couch, not wanting to do anything. The Western world is now producing only holograms and the websites that you can not touch. All the rest is produced in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Western world has become hostage to the East. Eggers does not predict what will happen to Western civilization, but we see Alan as a victim of the coming changes.

This novel is a lively, full of emotions and feelings, the one that you can touch. It’s a real thing, not a hologram.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Greg Rucka

Mulholland Books UK, 2012

Jad Bell, a former military man, who fighted in wars in the elite U.S. troops, now unemployed, remained without a job not a long time. From the head of one of the secret services Jed gets an offer - to become a consulting security manager in one of the largest entertainment parks of the country. Bell feels that something is wrong, but accepts the offer, and the management of the park happily takes Bell to work as an undercover. The park is similar to Disneyland: thousands of visitors every day, billions dollars profit every year, maximum what can happen is one of the kids falls down and scratches his knee. The only thing that gives a signal to the alarm is a dead body of one of park employees found next to a park, and there are serious concerns that a man was killed in the park.

In parallel Rucka tells the story of a young man from Odessa, recruited by a terrorist organization, which makes a young man an American, transporting him to the United States, sending to serve in the American army, and then to university. The Ukrainian, whose real name is Matias, will be a leader of the capture of the park, and Bell will try to neutralize the terrorists, especially since on the day of attack in the park comes Jad's ex-wife and his daughter Athena.

The book has been compared with “Die Hard”, and they do have similarities. The resemblance is superficial, as in "Die Hard" not for the first time the plot about the release of the hostages by a tough guy has been used. Bell, as the military (even then, probably, the word "former" is superfluous), leads a team of soldiers, all of whom serve in the U.S. Special Forces. The point is, a team of terrorists was trained in the same Special Forces. Rucka surprises, when makes Bell’s daughter deaf: Athena and her classmates come to the park from the school for deaf children.

Rucka will surprise the reader a lot of times, especially you here will be tormenting by those questions: who are these terrorists and what they need. Although Rucka also tells the story from the bad guy’s point of view, it does not make the situation clearer. The novel will be read in two sitings, as the pages will fly.

But still: «Alpha» is a good commercial fiction, but not just a good fiction. Too many cliches here, too much calculated, and you can see, how an editor and writer have work on the plot. There is the violence there, but it is harmless. There are twists, but not too much, so that the reader won’t be confused.

Last year, Mulholland Books published two books by Duane Swierczynski, «Fun & Games» and «Hell & Gone». So Swierczynski played with cliches and patterns far more successful, he much less worried about what reader would love and what not. His books are more fun and more original.

«Alpha» is a book from that category, so it is impossible to close the book before the ending, but I hoped it would be something more than this.