Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns

Elizabeth Kelly
The Last Summer of Camperdowns

Liveright, 2013

Riddle Camperdown tells the story of the summer of 1972, which Riddle spent with her parents in a family house on the shore of the Atlantic. At the time 12-year-old, Riddle expects the usual summer holiday entertainment, from horseback riding to games with her numerous dogs. But this summer she will have to be on the public: her father Godfrey Camperdown, nicknamed Camp, puts forward his candidacy for Congress.

Strange things begin to happen after one visit of Riddle and her mother to a neighboring farm, where his neighbor Gin lives, in search of the missing dog Vera. While Greer, the girl’s mother, and Gin discuss the Devlins, a rich family, which will yet play a role in the novel, Riddle is looking for a dog in the barn. But instead of a dog Riddle accidentally overhears the strange sounds similar to the sounds of a struggle, some sniffles and the word "why?". Riddle flees in terror from the barn, finds the dog, and then runs home in tears, but does not tell her mother about the causes of her disturbance. Soon the barn where Gin was holding the horses has been burned down. Riddle is actually in panic, because there are rumors that the youngest son of magnate Michael Devlin Charlie is missing. After leaving the house Charlie hasn’t called for five days, and Devlin Sr. is already panicking, involving the police. Camp is sure that Charlie just is having fun somewhere, being pampered with money. Police and family members are hoping for the best so far, not considering the options of kidnapping and murder. Riddle quickly puts two and two together, but she tells nothing about what she’s heard.

Family house at the ocean, horses and children, the shadow of the past - this postcard we've seen already. However, the same view can be described differently, depending on the skill of the artist.
When the book is broken down into individual components, then everything seems familiar, even banal. Love triangle, which stretches from the past; child-narrator, precocious smart and intelligent; secret from the past, which dates back to World War II; a mysterious villain; an eccentric family - the familiar and the accustomed ingredients, the usual components of a decent family drama.
The familiar is not always disappointing, not every novel can be a new word in the literature. Kelly’s sensual prose is one of the most powerful features of the book. On the one hand, the narrator is a 12-year-old girl, on the other the story is told from the present, and thus Riddle in decades could comprehend the events of that summer.

The girl's parents are not less than full-blooded characters: it is a pleasure to read family squabbles, which, although they sometimes cause a laugh, but it's a bitter laugh.
The novel offers an intrigue on two levels. At the domestic level when there is some mystery in a relationship between Greer and the two men. Who betrayed who in their youth? Why had she married one and not the other? Is it all that obviously?

The second intrigue, mainly associated with the missing boy and Riddle’s silence. Part of the secret is known to us, yet something we can guess, but the finale is still impressive. The final part is somewhat crumpled up, although the events at the end are flying with the bullet speed (literally). Connection of the past and present in The Last Summer of Camperdowns does not feel false. Past mistakes, lies, fear, it’s all real here.

A clever novel from the author, whose previous works I’d like to read.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Twelfth Department

William Ryan
The Twelfth Department

Mantle, 2013

After a hot Odessa the action of the third book of the series about the captain of the Moscow police Korolev returns to Moscow. Detective Korolev takes a week off and plans to spend it with his son Yuri who suddenly decided to come visit his father (little Yuri lives with Korolev’s ex-wife Zhenya) on the dacha of the writer Isaac Babel in the suburbs. Korolev is very glad to arrival of his son, but to spend a week with him is not meant to be. In a government building near the Kremlin scientist Azarov, after whom is named Research Institute, is killed, and Korolev is assaigned to investigate the crime, as a detective, who can be trusted with delicate matters. Captain has time to only see the part of the aspects of the case (and among them the most important is that Azarov was engaged in secret research of the human brain), as NKVD officers remove him from the case, letting him know he is to forget about investigation and forget about all that he found out.

But Azarov’s Deputy, Shtange, is killed and another NKVD officer asks Koorlev to return to the investigation and even gives the confused detective a trusted paper, signed by Yezhov. But the security officers of the Twelfth Department, special department, don’t leave Korolev alone, which leads to running away from the dacha of little Yuri. Korolev has to investigate the two muddy murders, where the secrets of the state are mixed, and the son of Korolev is being looked for by all the Moscow police, and worst of all, NKVD, which Korolev crossed the road.

Books by William Ryan are different from the usual historical mysteries placed in Soviet Russia by the fact that here a detective is investigating not the ordinary murders, but the ones where the State Security is mixed in. Ryan continues this trend in The Twelfth Department. This novel is perhaps the most personal Korolev’s case. At stake there is not only the freedom and the life of the main character (as it was in the previous two books), but also the freedom of the family of the detective. Koorlev's ex-wife is being investigated by the State Security, and maybe she could face life in camp. Son of Korolev falls into the clutches of dangerous security officers who use Yuri as a means of control of his father. Korolev has to choose between professional honesty and the health of his son, but given the fact that Korolev has dangerous enemies in the face of the officers of the Twelfth Department, the detective would have been happy to face Kolyma, not death.

Ryan continues to draw a few lines from the previous books. Here again there is Kolya, Chief Authority of the Moscow Thieves, which almost becomes a friend to Korolev. Slivka, detective from Odessa from the previous book in the series, is now working in Moscow under Korolev. Ryan continues to pull a romantic line, bringing together Korolev and his neighbor in the kommunalka Valentina.

The plot of this novel is a classic whodunnit, where Korolev, following the textbook, interrogates witnesses, examines the crime scene, relies on forensic tests. After 200 pages the plot starts to sag a little, when Korolev discusses the same information with different characters, new turns are not on the way, you can start yawning. Ryan is not the strongest plotter: the amount of twists here are very modest, but there are multiple coincedences, which keeps the plot going. For example, what is the chance that in the security officers’ trap will fall not only the son of Korolev, but the son of Thief Kolya, as well? And just the same, that the arrival of Yuri coincides with the investigation, where children, particularly orphans, are mixed in the case.

But Ryan is sensitive to the details: you sometimes do not even say that the novel is written by Irishman, who has not even lived in Russia, not by a Soviet immigrant or our contemporary living in Russia. However, there are errors and omissions. So, Ryan calls Korolev’s little son Yuri, not Yura, and the author makes Stalin General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, although in 1937, the party was called the name of the All-Soviet Communist Party (b). British dimensional system looks unnatural here: if you decided to write about the Soviet Union, be Soviet all around, using meters instead of feet.

Still, the best moments of the book are those where Korolev doesn’t question anybody and chases nobody. The most interesting to read scenes are, as Korolev is sitting in the park and looking at the resting crowd, goes to the zoo with his son and the neighbor, sunbathes with his son on the river. Ryan's prose in these moments especially radiates humanity.

Perhaps William Ryan should try himself in the so-called mainstream fiction. The writer has all skills for that.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Bad Day for Sorry

Sophie Littlefield
A Bad Day for Sorry

Minotaur, 2009

Stella Hardesty is already over fifty and she is a widow. Stella killed her husband, once struck him on the head. Ollie, a husband, constantly drank and beat Stella up, but one day her patience came to an end. Stella didn’t go to prison, and to deal with husbands Hardesty made her profession. On weekdays, Stella keeps sewing shop, and she does freelance jobs on the weekends. Clients, women from the neighborhood, complain to Stella about their husbands or boyfriends if those use their fists , and Stella has serious conversations with ne’er-do-well husbands, explaining why it is not good, to beat and mock their own wives. If husbands do not heed verbal warnings, Stella with fists and other punishment tools hammers in negligent men lesson of obedience. Typically it helps. That is just business.

One client of Stella, a young mother Chrissy Shaw, however, is faced with the situation that is more complicated: her brute husband Roy Dean did not let up after numerous warnings and kidnapped Chrisy’s young son Tucker. Stella needs as soon as possible to find the boy and his kidnapper who are in trouble with the law, and apparently even made friends with the local mob.

Stella Hardesty is a breath of fresh air after a homogeneous mass of similar heroines of semi-criminal novels written by women. Stella is far from the typical heroine of today's women's environment: she is not young, does not wear a short skirt and high heels, is able to handle a weapon, and her main occupation is not sitting in the office where the nearest to a crime that can happen is if someone throws on someone a glass of water at the cooler.

Stella doesn’t have time to sit on her bum, she works two jobs, and not for the sake of money, she doesn’t have a plentiful of children: the one and only daughter does not talk to her mother after Stella chastised her for shacking up with an ex-con. Hardesty is trying for a universal, and especially a woman's, justice.

«Early in her justice-delivering career, the thought of being suspected of favoring kinky sexual practices was intensely embarrassing, especially since the source of the rumors came about for only the most practical reasons. Being five feet six, overweight, and out of shape, Stella had managed to pull a muscle in her lower back the first time she tied up a recalcitrant jerk at gunpoint. She almost shot him by accident as she staggered around, yelping in pain. There was also the fact that the knot-tying skills she learned in Girl Scouts weren't up to the task: the same guy, as Stella waved the gun around wildly, managed to get his wrists free. It was only slightly reassuring that he immediately fell over as he tried to run away, having forgotten that his ankles were still bound.

Stella realized she had to make some changes. She started a fitness program, but she knew she also needed to find a more reliable way to subdue a man. She had a vague notion of learning some paramilitary restraint techniques that might rely more on finesse than brute force, but Google searches for words like restraint and shackle kept popping up bondage sites.»

A Bad Day for Sorry is the first book in the series, with a touch of pulp fiction and lively plot, flavored with salty language and like running-into-the-problems style.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Shanghai Factor

Charles McCarry
The Shanghai Factor

Mysterious Press, 2013

Nameless narrator, an aspiring spy, working for an organization with called only HQ, is coming to China to become a sleeper agent in Shanghai, to learn one of the Chinese dialects and to live a normal life of a student. So he does, except that he accidentally meets on the street, after one incident, a young Chinese girl named Mei, who becomes his permanent mistress and teacher of Mandarin at the same time. Agent thinks that Mei herself works for the Chinese intelligence, but he does nothing about it. Mei tells nothing about her life, and the agent does not ask questions.

Then the agent is called to Washington, after which he returned to China, where he receves a job offer from the director of the influential Chinese corporation CEO Chen. By that time Mei disappears somewhere, but she is replaced by another girl working on the corporation. Work for a corporation ends as abruptly as it had begun, but the agent receives a new assignment from his superior officer Luther Burbank, the only person in the HQ who knows about the agent’s job. Unnamed spy must recruit children of influential parents, and he is trying to do just it. The agent is caught between HQ and the Chinese intelligence Guoanbu, and the key to everything may be the missing Mei.

After this novel is hard to argue with the fact that the spy fiction should be written by professionals, spies to be exact. Charles McCarry is a former CIA agent, and he knows his business. The novel is written brilliantly, but amateurs also can write brilliantly about spies. The Shanghai Factor distinguishes the accuracy of details and the knowledge of what is going on in the mind of the spy.

Unnamed spy from the book originated somewhere in the classical fiction. He is not an heir and not a child of Bond, Matt Helm and Sam Durell. Spies here don’t destroy the army of terrorists by themselves that are often found in modern espionage literature, do not shoot with two hands and one foot, do not try to save the world, which already seems to be not in need of salvation. Everyday life of a spy is not explosions every minute and betrayles every day, but learning the language of another country and reading e-mail.

The nameless hero is not quite common. Agent in the novel is a rookie (although he has done some fighting in Afghanistan) spy-wise. He just learns the ropes: the book has a few scenes where the hero, not knowing how to act and what to think, wants to quit his job. Along with the hero the reader also learns spy stuff, and the reader is too far from how intelligence works. This is the cause of the fusion between the character and the reader.

McCarry reduces action to a minimum (unnamed agent at the beginning of the novel is kidnapped and thrown into a river by the unknown Chinese, but it is perhaps the only more or less fighting scene here), but in the details shows the life of a spy, his relationship with his superiors, the essence of the method of tracking and counter-intelligence. And it's an amazing read.

The Shanghai Factor is a book which is also about accidents and coincidences. Is there any coincidence in the spy business, or everything matters?

This book is a must-read for any self-respecting admirer of spy fiction.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Two for the Money

Max Allan Collins
Two for the Money

Hard Case Crime, 2004

Initially, two novels Bait Money and Blood Money, which make up this book, were published separately, but here on the author's intention they are made in one novel, as if divided into two parts.

Nolan, a professional burglar, is not a youth no more. The thieves do not retire, Nolan's peace is not expected, as well. After killing a mobster’s brother 16 years ago and taking the money that did not belong to him, Nolan made a run, forced to retrain from club manager to a robber who with a group of professionals robbing banks, armored trucks and other institutions, suffering from an overabundance of money. Nolan robbed and robbed, saving money until one day he was recognized by the mobster’s friends and got a couple of bullets in the side. Hardly recovered from his injuries, Nolan now has to act: all that he had saved now not available and he has to somehow put up with the mobster and try to get money for retirement.

Charlie, mobster from the top of the Chicago organization, has forgiven Nolan for his brother's death, but never forgave the humiliation. Charlie gives Nolan a task: Nolan has to pay Charlie 100,000 dollars, then they will be even. Nolan had to go to the next robbery, and not with the professionals but with amateurs, with the youngsters, among them is Jon, nephew of the former robber and collector of comic books.

«Only it was Charlie's laugh: if Nolan fucked up, and died, or ended in stir, Charlie would just love it; and if Nolan did pull this off, Charlie would be a hundred grand ahead and would have saved face with the Family. Nolan would've appreciated the joke, but for the dull ache in his side from Charlie's last attempt to kill him».

Two for the Money is a pleasure to read for someone who is familiar with Richard Stark's Parker novels. Collins himself admits that his books about Nolan are such voluntary rewriting of Stark’s novels, Parker rip-offs. Collins’ novels read at first only to find borrowing from Stark. Here is a description similar to the description of this of Stark’s book, and this character as if straight from Stark. Collins borrows plot lines, motivations, descriptions. But by the beginning of the second book, Blood Money, we begin to notice not the similarities but differences. Nolan is much older that Parker and from time to time think about his retirment. Parker is a thief who can not be not a thief. Nolan is a thief not by calling, who dreams of his own club and a quiet life. And even more so Parker would never have allowed himself to become friends with a greenhorn, also a collector of comic books (in Jon, it seems, Collins expressed his passion for comic books).

In the second book Collins is gradually released from the Parker complex, and began to write more relaxed, less looking at the venerable teacher. Collins’ novels, of course, is not on par with Stark’s novels, they are secondary, but it's good entertainment stories, with lively dialogue (here, by the way, the dialogues are much more natural than in Quarry).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

comics I read last week

Sam & Twitch: Udaku, 1- 4

Image Comics

Two New York cops left the service to become private investigators, but quickly went back, when they were unable to earn as freelancers a minimum. Sam and Twitch, however, behave more like private detectives: Very Dark City (and the action takes place there, rather than in New York) has some sort of police problem, since Sam and Twitch are working on their own, only obeying coroner and no one more. Lieutenant of the two detectives has been found with his head severed in the basement, God rest his soul (Lieutenant, not the basement).

For four issues announcements convince us that Sam & Twitch adjoins the Spawn universe, but we are not even close to Spawn (which can not be said about the other damn things). Bendis avoids the "bubble" dialogue, all conversations are tied by the threads to their characters.

At the end of one issue Bendis said that Sam & Twitch was inspired by a dialogue with his wife, who has seen enough of the great TV series Homicide. So the main question that arises while reading Sam & Twitch, should not sound like, "Where is Spawn?", but as «Where is Pembleton?».

The Bulletproof Coffin, 1-4

Image Comics

When life gets to you, you can use a help of a bottle of vodka, but you cango upstairs to your room and read comics. The protagonist of The Bulletproof Coffin is the owner of an unusual profession: he is Voids Contractor. After one cleaning in the hands of Steve Norman lands an unusual collection of old comic books, which actually should not even exist. These comic issues are created by David Hine and Shaky Kane, they also created The Bulletproof Coffin. Yes, it's post-modern comics. Yes, it's a kick in the ass to superhero comics.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Daniel Orozco

Faber & Faber, 2011

Less is better - it can be said of the collection of short stories Orientation by Daniel Orozco. Nine short stories, collected under the book cover for the first time, were published in magazines throughout the decade and a half. It happens sometimes that a writer for years publishes his short pieces in magazines and anthologies, these stories are quietly praised, but the author goes unnoticed because there is no book. Orozco has a book now, and at last we can say that we are now able to introduce to ourselves a great writer.

There is not one story here that is a bad one, among the nine of them (which is rare for the author's collection, where there are always a fly in the ointment). Orozco is not a prolific storyteller, though a skilful one. The author writes stories in the first, second and third person, playing out of genres and patterns and buys you over with humanity.

Orozco has his special relationship with humanity. His stories often do not suffer, but abound in this feature, which is usually called detachment. Orozco makes a hero of the story always outsiders. The author keeps his character from a distance, and it would have made the prose cold and inaccessible. But it does not matter how much the author is far from the character is more important how the character is close to the reader.

Orozco with detachment gains the love for the heroes of his stories. Here in «Officers Weep», written in police report style, a couple of officers, a man and a woman, ride all day responding to requests and make records, detain suspects. Orozco experiments with form and with the protocol prose (and it is in itself ridiculously funny) seeks the visible extent of the situation. But when the reports are interrupted with the emotions of officers, these emotions and feelings are at times more powerful than usually, because they are emotions in the restricted area.

«Officer [Shield # 325] approaches vehicle. Her stride longer than her legs can accommodate, she leans too much into each step, coming down hard on her heels, as if trudging through sand. As she returns to Patrol Unit, a lock of her hair - thin and drab, a lusterless, mousy brown - slips down and swings timidly across her left eye, across the left lens of her mirrored wraparounds. Officer tucks errant lock behind ear, secures it in a place with a readjustment of duty cap. Her gestures are brisk and empathic, as if she were quelling a desire to linger in the touch of her own hair. Officer [Shield # 647] observes entire intimate sequence from his position behind wheel of Patrol Unit. Officer enthralled. Officer ascertains the potential encroachment of love, maybe, into his cautious and lonely life. Officer swallows hard.»

Many of the characters in Orozco’s stories do not have names, only nicknames - Baby, the Presidente-in-Exile, Officer # - if not only "he" or "she," but even those that have names could very well be without them. The reality in Orozco’s stories is not really our reality, with seemingly recognizable signs. And the author is attentive to detail. Only in one story Orozco makes a logical error: in «Only Connect» action of the story runs into the future, which for some reason still remains present.

This Daniel Orozco has a right orientation, he should be read.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fish Bites Cop!

David James Keaton
Fish Bites Cop!

Comet Press, 2013

What the stories by David James Keaton resemble, it is the feeling as if someone shouts something right in your face. And the shouts are not the most pleasant thing. This collection of short stories are hard to read because as a first reaction to the outcry in the face is to step back and look away, though, and you can shout something in return. But just as the reader is essentially a passive person, he can not to answer with the cry.

To not have laid ears, you’d better read Fish Bites Cop! in small portions. Keaton has gathered numerous short stories in his collection, all written over the past few years. All the stories to a more or less degree are against the authorities (and here, in addition to the cops, it is firefighters and paramedics, too), variety of genres collected here is a matter of respect. There is horror, crime, what is called weird fiction, pure realism.

Variety of genres should not confuse you in this: Keaton is experimenting not only with the plots, but mostly with style. If the short stories to cut into individual components and see what can be called a plot, we will not find there anything radically new. Humbled and humiliated student kills his school coaches. Up to his neck into debt because of a woman, a casino dealer is planning to cheat the casino, where he works, for a small amount of money. A gang of degenerates keeps surviving remnant of a small town off the water. If Keaton did not experiment with the delivery of these plots, more than half of included pieces would hardly deserve the reader's attention. But Keaton juggles stylistic devices and has thereby attracts attention to his prose. And when Keaton-fantasist and Keaton-stylist find each other, and then we have unusual, weird, amazing stories, like «Queen Excluder», «Schrödinger's Rat» or «Third Bridesmaid from the Right».

However, the same experiments sometimes harm the stories, even to complete unreadability. Keaton can be turned the wrong way, and a story, which already consists almost entirely of dialogue, becomes a mere chatter about nothing. Keaton also utilizes part of the ideas for several time, so that you can find almost the same monologues in different stories. A number of stories are half-baked in general: these are the rudiments of ideas that need more polish and editing. Bumping into weak stories in the book, you come to the conclusion that it was necessary to filter stories better. Weak stories smeared overall positive impression about the book and the author.

And it is so hard, of course, when someone shouts in the face without stopping.

Friday, June 7, 2013

comics I read last week

Let's kick off a new column with a formal review.

Eamon Espey
Songs of the Abyss

Secret Acres, 2012

The second book of Eamon Espey was released four years after the first, Wormdye. These four years we have enjoyed a reality, resting from the nightmare that Wormdye was. In Songs of the Abyss we are again immersed in the dream and see the nightmare worse than the previous one. Songs from the title of the book are a lullaby to help us fall asleep; they are also prayers for the dead to help us fall asleep forever.

Retelling other people's dreams is a vain exercise. What could see stabbed to death by his brother Abel? Death, cradling a child? A severed head in his hands of an Egyptian god? What would be a nightmare for the devil? Manna from heaven throwing off by the aliens? Lynching Santa Claus? Each page in «Songs of the Abyss» is an excerpt of another's sleep, interrupted, staccato flowing from one nightmare to another.

The book is formally divided into several parts, but inside there is no logic of our world, only dream logic. The pages of the book are populated by the same monsters, otherworldly creatures, drawn as if Espey during the making of his book held regular spiritual seances and talked personally with the evil spirits of all kinds.
Espey continues to draw maps of hell, a "hell", which is known only to him. The book is entirely made with ink, which gives it the appearance of ancient manuscripts. In ancient myths Espey seep elements of modernity: On some pages you can find a moving line, flying saucers’ aliens, cars, guns. All this seems to be alien to the ancient objects, but who said that in the nightmares cars can not be combined with devils’ rig?

At the end of the book Espey succinctly describes each page of the book. It is superfluous: the author said and did everything with his art and without words. Therefore, these descriptions can be read as poetry, and they are written like poems:

«the children are of the snake
ghost and warrior go into the elevator
the door opens and enery pours out
a phoenix emerges
inside the flame is the ocean
the whale is no longer in a bowl
he swims without constraint
in his belly joan has lived and prayed for forty nights
she cuts through the blubber with her sword of truth
water earth