Here is an overview of a few of the books I’ve read in the past month.
Walter Mosley – Fortunate Son
This one is a bit of a departure for the acclaimed mystery writer, delving into mysteries of the human spirit as opposed to criminal acts and gangsters. There are some amazing, if not inspirational, characters in this novel, one of Mosley’s strongest and most moving ones to date.
Ed McBain – Tricks
What can I say? McBain was simply one of the best in the crime fiction business. He could be witty or wise, depending on his mood and the context of the story. This mid-80s novel is another memorable addition to his catalogue.
John McPhee – Irons in the Fire
This collection contains some of McPhee’s masterful essays and reportage. McPhee’s natural curiosity and probing questions always lead to interesting takes on seemingly mundane subject matters. Forensic geology and cattle rustling are just a few of the subjects that are given the McPhee treatment in this volume. As the jacket says, these are stories about “real people in real places.”
John Sandford – Shock Wave
A new Sanford book, whether it’s one of his “Prey” novels, or another series, means that I stop whatever else I’m reading and plow through it immediately. This book is the newest in his recently started Virgil Flowers mystery series, and it will definitely have you wondering “whodunit” until near the very end. At times the dialogue slips into utter silliness (come on; bombs are going off and people are dying, yet Virgil and his new pals are constantly cracking jokes and having a great time hanging out), but the pace never stalls and there is indeed some very funny laugh-out-loud stuff in the snappy dialogue.
Patti Smith – Just Kids
A heartfelt memoir of her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, focusing on their years living in New York City in the late 60s and early 70s. This book only skims the surface of her music career, tantalizing recollections that will make Patti Smith fans hope that she writes more books about her fascinating life.
Robert B. Parker – Rough Weather
Another Spenser novel, which means it’s a quick, fun read. Like other novels in the series, this is a real page-turner, but sometimes the glib dialogue and non-stop joking around becomes a bit tiresome. With all the murders that abound in the story, there isn’t much tension to be found.
Newton Thornburg – Cutter and Bone
I’d never heard of this writer before until a customer brought in a copy of this novel to my bookshop, raving it about it. This edition includes a forward by George Pelecanos, also praising the novel. It sounded like this would be something very special, so I took the plunge. Indeed, this is a very interesting novel, but it was written in the early 1970s and the dialogue is a bit dated. Not your typical work of crime fiction, but according to the author, that wasn’t the intention. The book is very character driven, and in particular shows what the horrors of war (in this case, the conflict in Vietnam) can do to decimate a person who has “survived” the experience. Thornburg, who died earlier this year, wrote several other novels in addition to this one, which was later turned into a film.
Ishmael Reed – Japanese By Spring
I read several novels by Reed back in the 1990s and enjoyed them very much. I found a hardcover copy of this one in KL recently and thought it would be fun to read Reed again. Alas, this must have been one of his weaker novels. Very weird plot and weirder characters, and any sort of statement the author is trying to make is lost amidst the abundance of weirdness. Needless to say, this is not the best Reed book for the novice reader.
Adam Hall – The Ninth Directive
This is one of Hall’s Quiller espionage novels, and the cool thing about this one is that it is set in Bangkok back in 1966, when the novel was first published. I found it fun to read about various places and streets in my adopted hometown. Like other novels in the “Quiller” series, this is fast-paced and well written. An espionage classic.
Carsten Stroud – Lizard Skin
Stroud has always been under the radar in the world of mystery novelists, which is a shame because his books are always interesting and well written. This one, set in Montana, is no exception. Another gripping tale of lust and murder.