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The Rage (World Noir)
The Rage (World Noir)
by Gene Kerrigan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.47
108 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Dirty Old Town, April 11, 2016
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This review is from: The Rage (World Noir) (Paperback)
I loved Kerrigan's two previous crime books (Little Criminals, The Midnight Choir), so I picked this up with great anticipation. Set amidst the aftermath of Ireland's real estate bust, the story follows two main storylines. One protagonist is Vincent Taylor, just out of jail for having beaten someone on the street over some childish name calling. Determined to never again take any stupid risks with the law without adequate reward, he's busy planning an intricate armored car heist. Meanwhile, on the other side of the law is D.S. Tidey, who's been assigned to assist with investigating the murder of a wealthy Dublin property developer. As one would expect, the course of the book leads the to the paths of the two protagonists crossing (if not quite literally) via a retired nun. The story flits back and forth between the two men in a way that maintains a brisk pace, but at the expense of a little choppiness. The chapters are only 5-6 pages long, so no sooner have you settled in with one situation than you are teleported to a another.

My favorite part of the book was the heist plotline, which is packed with fascinating details (like GPS chips in shirt-collars). However, after it goes somewhat south, it all gets a bit messy in a somewhat predictable way. Similarly, the investigation into the murdered property developer leads to some very connected people who have the power to shut the investigation down once a semi-plausible culprit has been identified. D.S. Tidey faces the classic dilemma of disobeying his orders or walking away to fight crime another day. The social justice aspect of the book (crooked developers, and even the nun has a dark backstory) probably strays a touch over the line into being heavy-handed, but it's a well-crafted and well-told book stocked with fully-realized characters. Definitely worth reading if you like crime with a procedural bent, or have a particular interest in Ireland.

African Psycho
African Psycho
by Alain Mabanckou
Edition: Paperback
28 used & new from $5.17

2.0 out of 5 stars Tiresome Satire, April 11, 2016
This review is from: African Psycho (Paperback)
I picked this up hoping for an interesting cross-cultural version of something akin to Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho. Alas, although this was originally published in France two years after the controversial American novel, the author has said in various interviews that although he loved Ellis's book, the only similarity lies in the title. Here, we meet an orphaned street child who has grown up to become an auto mechanic in an unnamed African country clearly based on the author's native Congo-Brazzaville. His stated ambition is to pick up the mantle of a legendary criminal/killer, who recently died. However, like any number of neurotic Woody Allen characters, he frets about details and dithers about methods to such an extent that he's rendered incapable in following in his hero's footsteps. In the end it all just becomes a bit tiresome and not particularly amusing. And speaking of tiresome, the first-person narration has a tendency to take flight in stream of consciousness chunks that must have sounded better in the original French. The most extreme example being a seven-page sentence that reads like a parody of itself. I've since heard that the book is not not one of Mabanckou's better ones, so I might give him a second chance with something else.

The North Water: A Novel
The North Water: A Novel
by Ian McGuire
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.39
66 used & new from $13.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling Historical Page-Turner Not for the Easily Disgusted, April 11, 2016
About a year ago I read and loved The Revenant, not realizing it was being made into a movie. As soon as I finished this book, I checked, and indeed it has been optioned for a potential TV series. It's hard not to notice the similarities: both are short novels by contemporary standards, set in the mid-19th century, featuring flawed heroes in contrast to utterly amoral villains, with grippingly tense plots and language and description that is at pains to convey the visceral grime, mire, and corruption of men engaged in the hunting of animals for money.

The story starts in Hull, where a ship is being outfitted to hunt whales, even as whaling is dying down due to better new fuels and the diminished number of whales in the oceans. A terrible murder is committed in the port, and almost like a Hitchcock film where the audience is shown the impending danger that the heroes are ignorant of, the killer is placed on the crew of the ship. At the same time, an ex-Army surgeon returned from India joins the crew as a first-time whaler and story protagonist. Meanwhile, the ship's owner and captain are shown to be scheming in some manner related to the voyage.

All in all, this is not a story for the easily disgusted. It runs amok with foul language, sexual assaults, cruel violence, and every manner of bodily fluid one can imagine. The descriptions are to be reckoned with -- for example a sequence detailing the butchery of a rotting whale corpse, or the blow-by-blow of an operation on a stomach abscess. This is a decidedly anti-romantic past that no modern reader would want to spend a minute in. Nonetheless, the story is a thrilling page-turner and readers of historical fiction will relish it.

My Little Armalite
My Little Armalite
by J. M. (James M. ). Hawes
Edition: Paperback
38 used & new from $1.26

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Satire, April 11, 2016
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This review is from: My Little Armalite (Paperback)
In the late '90s I stumbled across, and loved, Hawes' first novel (A White Merc with Fins). But I didn't care much for his second book (Rancid Aluminum), so I kind of forgot about him for a decade. Casting about for something new to read, I remembered him and decided to take a flutter on this one. The premise of a middle-aged academic discovering the titular military rifle in his back yard, with wacky antics ensuing, sounded like it had potential. Alas, I didn't really connect with the satire that results. The story is basically a send-up of reflexively liberal Guardian-reading academics of a certain age, who feel under siege by the modern marketplace and neoliberal imperialism, and like to whine about it.

The story takes place over the course of a few days when the protagonist's wife has taken the kids away on a holiday so that he can focus on finishing the Very Important Paper he is slated to deliver in a week. This paper that could be the resurrection of his creaking career, which has been adrift since the revelation that the East German poet that he championed and made his reputation on was actually a major in the KGB, spying on dissident artists. In any event, procrastinating from his writing leads him to a little night-time gardening, which leads him to the gun, and then in turn, a boozing session with a thuggish neighborhood watch type, a ride into the teeming streets of late-night London revelers, a scary visit to Peckham, and then a whirlwind trip to Prague and Dresden. Wacky antics do indeed, ensure -- they're just not necessarily all that amusing.

The best part of the book is his trip to Prague, where he books a session of instruction at a local gun club, where he is shepherded by a an ex-Sarajevan Muslim, who explains the world to him. But all in all, the satire is just too broad, the protagonist too unlikeable, and the plot twists too silly, for me to really enjoy the book.

Glock: The Rise of America's Gun
Glock: The Rise of America's Gun
by Paul Barrett
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.99
99 used & new from $3.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting as a Case Study in Product Design and Development, April 11, 2016
I remember setting aside the Bloomberg BusinessWeek that had the Glock cover story in 2009 to read, and never getting to it. Three years later it appeared in greatly expanded form as this book, which I picked up and subsequently spent four years not getting to. Finally picked it up the other day and blazed through it. It's a quick read partially because its chopped into twenty short chapters, and partially because like a lot of magazine articles punched up into books, it's a bit repetitive at times and allows for some skimming.

My favorite parts had to do with the engineering and sales and marketing aspects of how the company and fun came into being and rapidly took over the US handgun market. That all makes for a fascinating business case study. Aspects of the company's lobbying and legal strategies that tied into this and were also of interest. Less engaging to me were broader sections about gun culture in the US and the detailing of shenanigans going on inside the company. The first half is worth reading even if you're not a gun owner or have much of an interest in guns per se. Second half, less so.

Shadow of the Scorpion: A Novel of the Polity
Shadow of the Scorpion: A Novel of the Polity
by Neal L. Asher
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
44 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Serviceable Military Sci-Fi Prequel, April 11, 2016
I'd heard good things about Neal Asher's science fiction so I picked this one up because although it's connected to his "Polity" series, it's billed as a standalone, so I wasn't committing myself to anything -- that, and it's under 250 pages, which is rare in this particular genre. From what I can tell, the book functions as a kind of prequel, or origin story for his most famous character "Agent Cormac." The book follows two strands and timelines -- the first, and lesser, takes place during Cormac's childhood on Earth. The latter, which is given a good 2/3 to 3/4 of the pages, follows him on his first mission as a soldier, as he gets caught up in some serious high-stakes undercover work.

I guess at the end of the day, it's competently written military sci-fi, with a good dose of intrigue to it. The childhood stuff wasn't ever really that interesting to me, but those who've read a bunch of books featuring this character might get more out of it. Asher's strengths seem to lie in concocting reams of interesting future technology and assembling it all into a vivid tableau. The underlying politics and dynamics weren't totally clear to me, not having read the full series, but there's enough to get by on. Asher's other strength is in setting up and unveiling small scale combat sequences that are dark and bloody.

It's all solid enough and readable, but Cormac is never really developed as a character, so it's hard to get that invested in him. Really, he comes across on the page as a fairly generic action hero. Can't say I'm inspired to read others in the series.

The Throwback Special: A Novel
The Throwback Special: A Novel
by Chris Bachelder
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.74
71 used & new from $9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ticking Clock, April 11, 2016
Every November, a group of 22 middle-aged men gather in a nondescript motel off of I-95 for a weekend ritual in which they reenact a single play from a 1985 Monday Night Football game between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants. That's the game in which Joe Theisman's leg was snapped by a Lawrence Taylor sack, and it's that 5-second play that they enact. As it happens, I was a 13-year old Washingtonian, glued to the TV for the game, and vividly recall the play (and replay), but I also really liked the Bachelder's novel U.S.!, which was the impetus for picking this up.

The football reenactment is almost beside the point -- it's more or less just a quirky framework for allowing Bachelder to riff on contemporary middle-aged manhood. Or more specifically, middle-age and mostly middle-class white manhood. (There's one non-white character, and he features in a six page tour-de-force exploration of the racial coding around which player he picks to reenact.) And riff he does -- in a tone that occupies an interesting place between comic and pathetic. These guys are kind of shlubs, but not easy targets, their weekend is borderline insane, and yet the one moment they can count upon in a year of juggling work, kids, and life's neverending threats. Mortality is a big theme here, and it's hard not to read and feel anxiety as the weekend ticks down to the end, just as one's own clock is ticking down to the final whistle.

It's a slim book that can read in one 2-3 hour sitting, and it manages to be one of those kinds of books that each reader one can make as much or as little out of as they want. It would be very easy to take it all as quirky light comedy -- a kind of low-budget indie movie. But there's plenty in there that could act as a mirror for one's own anxieties and doubts, allowing for a deeper, richer experience with it. Interesting writer and an interesting book.

The City & The City (Random House Reader's Circle)
The City & The City (Random House Reader's Circle)
by China Miéville
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.11
175 used & new from $1.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Premise and Themes, But No Compelling Characters or Story, March 8, 2016
Like pretty much all of Mieville's work, there's an interesting idea providing the framework and rigging for this book. Somewhere in south-eastern Europe (think Balkans, Kosovo, Macedonia, etc.) there are two cities that exist simultaneously on the same landscape. Beszel and Ul Qoma are overlain on one-another, and citizens of one city are not permitted to see or acknowledge those in the other city. To do so is to "breach", and there are agents of an all-powerful entity known as "Breach" watching to punish those who transgress.

The story kicks off when Inspector Borlu of Beszel's Extreme Crime Squad is assigned the case of a mysterious murdered woman. It soon leads him into the politics of those seeking to unify the two cities, those seeking to keep them separate, and those seeking signs of a secret third city. That sounds interesting -- unfortunately, it never really is. Although the premise functions as a nifty metaphor for the insidiousness of nationalism (it's hard not to read this book and think of Sarajevo or Jerusalem), Mieville hasn't really given the reader any characters to care about, or really, even any stakes. Of course there's a murder that demands to be "solved," but the engine of genre isn't enough to propel the entire book. Might have worked better as a short story or novella.

Treachery in the Yard: A Nigerian Thriller
Treachery in the Yard: A Nigerian Thriller
by Adimchinma Ibe
Edition: Hardcover
43 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Weak Nigerian Police Procdural, March 8, 2016
Nigeria's megacity of Lagos is well known around the world, but this debut police procedural takes place a 10-hour car ride down the coast to the east, in the comparatively unknown Port Harcourt. Make no mistake, although the city is only about the 5th or 6th largest in the country, it's still got more than 1 1/2 million people, and its position in the heart of the Rivers State delta oil country make it important. The crime that kicks off this slim book is a bomb targeting a candidate for the state's governorship. Even through the candidate isn't killed, a witness is, and soon homicide Det."Tammy" Peterside is poking around the rich and politically powerful. Unfortunately, neither the story or characters are that interesting.

Peterside is a pretty typical fictional detective, obsessed with his job, unreliable as a boyfriend, and more than keen to antagonize his superiors. His investigative methods are pretty basic for the genre, and have the unfortunately unintentionally quasi-comic effect of creating a trail of corpses. I can' t say that I'd be excited to read the next two in the projected trilogy starring him. The story also leans heavily on the various power dynamics between various kinds of police and various ranks of officers, and I could never really work out the relationships between each. Ultimately, the Nigeria depicted, is a fairly superficial contrast of rich and poor organized around a traditional patronage system.

All told, the book doesn't have a ton going for it in terms of plot, character, or writing. There's a kind of twist that most readers will see coming from far away, and I can't really imagine who would really enjoy this, other than readers particularly interested in Nigerian fiction.

The Sisters Brothers
The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick deWitt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.37
230 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow and Dark West, March 8, 2016
This review is from: The Sisters Brothers (Paperback)
Ever since I picked up and loved Charles Portis's True Grit, I've been dipping my toes into other fiction about frontier America, including this one. Set sometime during the California Gold Rush, it follows a pair of gunslinger brothers who are in the midst of a mission on behalf of a powerful frontier boss known as "The Commodore." It's structured as a picaresque, as they travel from Oregon to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, by way of San Francisco, encountering all manner of interesting characters along the way. There are Indians, dangerous animals, drunken whores, obstreperous waiters, a witch, various mangy outdoorsmen -- a number of whom are killed by the brothers. It's a vision of the American West that is rooted more in deadpan dark humor than it is in rip-roaring adventure, and I was reminded greatly of the tone of the recent film Slow West.

The brothers make for a classic buddy-story duo -- the younger Charlie is subservient to his brother, a little bit naive and romantic, and with a kinder heart but dangerous when angered, while his brother Eli is more of a cold-blooded killer. Their banter, conducted in stylized, almost formal, period jargon, is the highlight of the book. When the brothers do catch up to their quarry, they are struck by simultaneous bouts of conscience and gold fever, and things get a bit messy. Definitely worth checking out if you like your period fiction to have a little bit fo a sideways gait to it.

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