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Sometimes the Wolf: A Novel
Sometimes the Wolf: A Novel
by Urban Waite
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.87

4.0 out of 5 stars The sins of the father..., July 10, 2014
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Twelve years ago, Bobby Drake's father, the county Sheriff, went to prison for drug smuggling. When he went, two hundred thousand dollars disappeared. Now Patrick is getting out, under the careful supervision of his son, a deputy, and the DEA agent who captured him. But two other men are on the loose as well, two violent psychopaths who will kill anyone who gets in their way. They want Patrick. They want the money. And they're far more dangerous than the wolves that have begun to creep back into the forest...

Urban Waite's SOMETIMES THE WOLF is a haunting, violent, intimate thriller. It starts slow, but carefully builds on itself, and once the pace becomes relentless--and it does--you realize that you actually care about these characters. Waite is treading ground that others--Larry Brown, Cormac McCarthy--have traveled before; plot-wise, there aren't really any new twists. But it's Waite's mastery of suspense that helps this novel stand apart. It's a character study; it's rural noir; it's a haunting portrait of the Pacific Northwest, and the bloody ghosts that walk its forests.

White Fire (Pendergast)
White Fire (Pendergast)
by Douglas Preston
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $9.00
74 used & new from $4.34

4.0 out of 5 stars The best Pendergast novel in a long while., July 5, 2014
I've been a Preston/Child fan from the beginning, when Pendergast appeared as a supporting character in the exquisite RELIC. I still maintain that, with the exception of BRIMSTONE (a brilliant thriller), the best Pendergast novels were the earliest ones, where the man was so mysterious, we didn't even know his first name. The mystery surrounding the character has vanished, and to complement the loss, Preston and Child have created elaborate, borderline-pretentious plots that seem to outlandish to be believable.

WHITE FIRE bares a similar plot, but the tension gets ratcheted up a couple notches to compensate. Corrie Swanson, a young girl Pendergast has helped and mentored, is in Roaring Fork, Colorado, researching a century-old bear attack for her thesis. When her investigation turns up some horrifying evidence, she immediately winds up behind bars. Pendergast comes to the rescue, and his own investigation leads him on a search for a missing, unpublished Sherlock Holmes story that may hold clues relating not only to the bear attack, but also to the finding the serial arsonist who has suddenly made Roaring Rock his bloody playground.

There are a few "twists" that the reader can see coming a mile away, and some character motivations that never really add up (Corrie, despite being intelligent beyond her years, never once listens to a thing Pendergast says, even when she herself knows better), but ultimately WHITE FIRE is a breath of fresh air in the Pendergast cannon, which has been admittedly stale as of late (so much so that the authors have taken up independent side projects, and also created another series altogether). I personally wouldn't mind seeing Preston and Child collaborating on a non-Pendergast, non-series novel at some point, relive the magic of the old days a little. However, until we get that (if ever), WHITE FIRE will suffice. It could be better, but as recent history has shown us, it could also be a lot worse.

The Murder Farm
The Murder Farm
by Andrea Maria Schenkel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.46
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3.0 out of 5 stars An atmospheric masterpiece, but something never congeals., June 29, 2014
This review is from: The Murder Farm (Hardcover)
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Author Andrea Maria Schenkel reconstructs a murder case that rocked rural Batavia: an entire family, not well liked by the locals, brutally murdered. Schenkel employes different literary devices to tell this story: journal entries, interviews, third-person narrative. This is a fictionalized account of a true story, although it culminates in a rather anti-climactic ending of the author's own interpretation. Realistic, but not worth the payoff.

That said, up until that point, THE MURDER FARM is a great atmospheric piece. I'm not a big fan of piecemeal works like this, but Schenkel's novel (maybe novella) is probably my favorite of the ones I've read. The atmosphere she builds, the feeling of dread, is worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, the short chapters and the varied styles with which they're told fail to draw the reader into the story. It's a fictional account of a real event, but it doesn't read like either a mystery novel or a true crime piece. There's atmosphere galore, but no real suspense and very little character development (in fact, I'd almost go so far as to say there are no real characters, odd as that may sound). Perhaps a more traditional approach would have been more effective.

The Drop
The Drop
by Dennis Lehane
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.64

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can't control everything in life..., June 28, 2014
This review is from: The Drop (Paperback)
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Bob Saginowski is a bartender in his cousin's running-down bar in Boston. Bob hasn't led an eventful life--well, for the most part--and he spends most of his days wishing something would change, that life would throw him a bone and that he'll be brave enough to reach for it. Then, one night after work, he hears a soft mewling coming from a garbage can. Here he meets Rocco, an abused puppy cast aside by its psychotic owner. He also meets Nadia, a troubled girl seeking some sort of redemption. And through one of those coincidences that is entirely out of our control, Bob finds a purpose in life--amid the blood, sweat, and desperation encircling his entire parish.

Dennis Lehane's THE DROP is short; clocking in at about 200 pages, I actually read it all in one sitting. Not hard to do, since it's Lehane's most propulsive book yet. Surprisingly, it's more of a character study than his other works; oh, there's murder and street wisdom, the gritty fingerprints Lehane leaves on everything he touches. But THE DROP has, amongst its plot twists and sudden violence, actual charm; it's a novel about a man coping with himself, and finding a way out of his inner turmoil. This is the closest Lehane has come to being sappy; never fear, he stops well short of Hallmark cards. THE DROP is, in many spots, brutal, and it raises a few more questions about morality (a Lehane trademark); it also has a third-act twist that genuinely caught me by surprise, and that took the book to a whole new level. Sure, there are a couple of plot threads that lead nowhere, and it's hard at times to establish some solid character motivations. But besides that? This is the best Dennis Lehane novel in quite a while. And the best of the best isn't something you should pass over.

True Detective [Blu-ray]
True Detective [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Various
Price: $39.96
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There's all kinds of ghettos in the world.", June 21, 2014
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This review is from: True Detective [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
1995. Detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) are called in to investigate a murder. A girl's body has been found in the Louisiana cane fields, bound, with heavy religious and occult overtones. The two detectives don't necessarily get along; Cohle is a borderline suicidal nihilist, and Hart is arrogant and a hypocrite. But the two pair together to hunt their man. Seventeen years later, another body is found, and Cohle and Hart are forced to relive the case, and the tangled mess that was their partnership.

TRUE DETECTIVE is a truly brilliant show. It starts with the performances: McConaughey is a stunner (this performance is among the highlight reel of his career comeback), and Harrelson slow-burns his way through his characters complexities. Of the supporting cast, Michelle Monaghan shines as Hart's wife, and it's always nice to see Shea Whigham pop up (here as a revivalist). But the performances wouldn't mean much if not for the script and directing--both the same for all eight episodes, which helps the story seem complete and unstilted, even as we jump back and forth between through the years. Through it all, the setting of rural Louisiana comes through like a third leading man, helping this show cement itself in reality, even as the final couple of episodes pile the facts into a vaguely confusing bundle. This first season of TRUE DETECTIVE (which stands on its own; I like to think of it as an eight-hour movie) may go down as a classic television experience. Time will tell on that, but for now, it's safe to say that you aren't going to see a show this good every day.

DVD ~ Stephen McHattie
Offered by High-Def Media
Price: $19.49
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5.0 out of 5 stars An ingenious, clever, disturbing little film., June 15, 2014
This review is from: Pontypool (Blu-ray)
Grant Mazzy is a talk show DJ who's just been fired. Coming into his last shift, he and his two producers get some disturbing news about a riot taking place in their small Ontario town of Pontypool. The situation begins to spiral out of control, and people start dying, and the world as we know it may never be the same.

I won't say much more about the plot; it's hard to describe PONTYPOOL without spoilers. Perhaps this best describes it: it's a thinking-man's zombie film. Although it's not really a zombie film, but there you have it. It's a film that explores culture and linguistics, that pits the horror genre against itself. It's a character study (anchored by a fantastic starring role from character actor Stephen McHattie) set against an apocalyptic backdrop (probably). Tony Burgess's script (based on his novel) is smart and savage, with doses of dark humor that actually enhance the horror going on. Bruce McDonald's direction is sure-handed and solid, limiting the film mainly to the radio station studio. The supporting cast--Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, and Hrant Alianak--give realistic performances. The entire film is anchored in reality; this is one of those movies you watch and think, "Well, if this were to happen, this is how it would happen." This reality, combined with the intelligence behind the premise, is what makes PONTYPOOL so terrifying. If you want jumps and dismemberment and the typical cliches, go elsewhere. If you want a film that will linger in your dreams, will keep you thinking the next day, give PONTYPOOL a shot.

Mr. Mercedes: A Novel
Mr. Mercedes: A Novel
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.93
134 used & new from $12.72

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to form., June 10, 2014
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This review is from: Mr. Mercedes: A Novel (Hardcover)
They call him Mr. Mercedes. As the sun broke over a chilly dawn, he drove a stolen Mercedes into a throng of job seekers, then got away scot-free. The lead investigator, Detective Hodges, retired with the case still unsolved. Lost in his depressed retirement, the case haunts him. Until the day he receives a letter from Mr. Mercedes himself. Hodges is being watched. Mr. Mercedes--a conniving, thoroughly insane young man named Brady Hartfield--is planning two crimes, one personal, one grandiose. What he didn't count on was lighting a fire of life in Hodges's old soul.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse chase that races across the pages. MR. MERCEDES is a little overlong, and reaches its conclusion a little too quickly, but overall it's a thoroughly chilling return to form from Stephen King, whose previous novels have been good, though haven't reflected the true thrills from his past efforts. That's the kicker here: MR. MERCEDES is a straight-up thriller, no chaser (it's dedicated to James M. Cain, what do you expect?). It's got nifty twists and turns, some of them dark and unsettling, and great characterization; Hartfield comes off as a very realistic psychopath, troubled and tormented (though never truly sympathetic, thank God). And Hodges is an old man with a new flame rekindled within.

This is Stephen King's fastest-paced novel in a while, and easily his most unnerving (other than the first 100 pages of DOCTOR SLEEP, perhaps). It's not a horror novel, which may throw off some readers, though Constant Readers know King dabbles all across the genre spectrum. However, if you're a King fan, then dive into MR. MERCEDES knowing you're in for a treat. If you're not a King fan, this isn't a bad place to start, though you'd be doing yourself a favor to start from the beginning and work your way forward. Either way, let me say this: MR. MERCEDES is the Stephen King novel we've been anticipating for quite a while.

The Supernatural Enhancements
The Supernatural Enhancements
by Edgar Cantero
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.86

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great on atmosphere, lean on characterization., June 5, 2014
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Edgar Cantero's THE SUPERNATURAL ENHANCEMENTS is one of those novels that tells its story through different "mediums;" I'm sure there's a name for this style, though I generally think of it as "patchwork." You have diary entries, letters, video transcripts, newspaper articles, sound recordings, etc. If that's your bag, then maybe you'll want to give this a shot.

It's not my bag, however; I generally see such technique as all show, no substance. And for the most part, that's generally what you get; think of all those "found footage" horror films that are so popular nowadays, and you'll see what I mean. This is the literary equivalent of a decent found footage film. Cantero actually does build some pretty solid atmosphere--the Axton House becomes something of a third leading character--but it comes at the cost of characterization; our protagonists, A. and his young and mute companion Niamh, never really pop, except in a few small scenes (because that's basically what you have here, a few small scenes that revolve around an inherited and haunted mansion, and a bourgeoning treasure hunt). Cantero nicely captures the Victorian feel (A. is a descendent of H.G. Wells, so it fits), which goes hand-in-hand with his mastery of atmosphere. But the plot feels contrived, mainly because of the execution. I can't help but think what we would have if Cantero had decided to tell a straight up story, instead of focusing on HOW he could tell the story.

A Swollen Red Sun
A Swollen Red Sun
by Matthew McBride
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.59
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A twisting, violent little thriller., May 27, 2014
This review is from: A Swollen Red Sun (Paperback)
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On a routine drug bust of Jerry Dean Skaggs's trailer, Deputy Sheriff Dale Banks discovers a bunch of money. A whole bunch of money. Without thinking, he takes it. He's an otherwise honest cop--cares about rural Gasconade County, hates how the community is succumbing to the scourge of meth and pot, violence and anarchy. But Deputy Banks has a family to raise, a future to provide for. Unfortunately, his ill-conceived act has far-reaching consequences, setting off a chain of events that rapidly build toward an inevitable conclusion.

This isn't really a new story; in fact, part of what makes A SWOLLEN RED SUN so enjoyable is how author Matthew McBride plays with convention. We get some truly interesting characters, particularly Deputy Banks and the terrifying Reverend Butch Pogue. Unfortunately, there are so many characters that they start to run together; if each character was given more screen time--instead of frequent short chapters that mix and match--they might be a fine cast of miscreants. Instead, we get a few great characters, and a few disposable ones, with interchangeable subplots. Still, there's a lot here that helps A SWOLLEN RED SUN stand out: atmosphere, violence, and an earnestness to capture the truth that is refreshing. Matthew McBride is a promising new author, and if he keeps writing like this, he's gonna give us some true crime gems.

American Woman
American Woman
by Robert Pobi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.48
52 used & new from $2.93

4.0 out of 5 stars A visceral and intriguing thriller., May 26, 2014
This review is from: American Woman (Paperback)
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Alexandra Hemingway is a tough NYC homicide detective, born into privilege, but chose to work her way up through the police ranks. She's seen her share of violence. She doesn't take s*** from anyone. And now she's pregnant. But before she can digest this news, the mutilated body of a small child washes ashore in the East River. And then another. And another.

Robert Pobi's AMERICAN WOMAN is a dark, bloody rollercoaster. It's truly visceral; yes, there's blood and guts, but the true horror stems from the atmosphere Pobi has created. This is a book where you definitely don't expect everyone to dance off happily ever after. The only true problem is Pobi's plot, which throws in so many twists and red herrings, they get old after a while. In fact, the plot never truly makes all that much sense. In the end, maybe that's a deal-breaker for you; but there's enough atmosphere--and solid writing to back it up--in AMERICAN WOMAN to make it, if nothing else, a uniquely interesting thriller.

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