Recent Reads

April 12th, 2010

Absolutely no one has asked me to revive this feature, but here it is anyway.

It’s been kind of a stretched month — had to review galleys for THE QUEEN OF PATPONG, read two books (both killer) for blurbs, and wrote a HuffPost blog.  Oh, and I did two book proposals, which is the only part of writing I truly loathe.

But some good reading. (I know I sound really definite below, but these are my opinions only.  And I mostly don’t review books I hate.)

WHITE SHADOW, Ace Atkins —   I think Atkins is one of our treasures, and in this book he slices off a big sloppy piece of Florida history in the 1950s — Italians on the decline, crime-wise, Cubans on the rise; Fidel Castro looming on the horizon in Cuba; and the corrupt little town of Tampa is deeply unsettled by the brutal murder of Charlie Wall, a former bookmaker and criminal eminence grise known as the white shadow.  Who killed Charlie and what did Charlie tell whoever
it was?  Those questions drive the journalists, cops, and crooks trying to figure it out.  Must be 30 characters, and they all work — even Castro, who makes a late appearance to cap a wonderful subplot about a young female Cuban revolutionary who turns the female-in-peril paradigm on its pointed head.  Great, dense, exciting as hell.  Ace Atkins is the real deal.

MONEY SHOT, Christa Faust — Rules of disclosure require that I tell you I had lunch with Christa once, but other than that I don’t know her from Eve. But I’ll read anything she writes in the future. This is noir so dark you can barely see the white on the page, and also (not often, but often enough) very funny.  Angel Dare is a former porn star, now retired from on-camera skinwork and running an agency for, um, talent in the adult film and strip-club industries.  Called out to make one final appearance as a favor to the director she always liked best, she’s brutalized, thrown into the trunk of a car, driven to the ass end of nowhere, shot several times, and left for dead.  But boy, is she ever not dead.  The rest of the book is a tapestry of revenge, disillusionment, and double-cross that moves at warp speed and never, ever takes the easy way out.  I know some people will hate it, but I took it like an aspirin.  And Lord, can Christa Faust write.

THE LAST CHILD, John Hart — Okay, I liked Hart’s first two books, although not as much as many people seemed to, but this one makes me want to go back and
reread the first two to see what I missed.  This is a heartbreaker of the first magnitude, the story of a kid who is just 100 pounds of spirit and fight, who’s been dealt a hand so raw it’s enough to make you wonder about karma.  Johnny Merrimon’s twin sister was abducted a year ago, and only Johnny thinks she’s alive.  His father disappeared not long after and his mother, now pretty much a walking blotter for booze and pills, has fallen into the hands of a charming and very rich sadist who just loves to bounce her around.  Johnny won’t accept help from anyone, not even the cop who pities him and has a deeply hidden torch burning for Johnny’s mother.  This was a two-reading book for me, and it would have been one except that someone of my venerable years needs to close his eyes every 24 hours or so.
One of the best books I’ve read in the past year.

A DEATH IN VIENNA, Frank Tallis — I’ve been reading a lot of period mysteries about Berlin and Vienna lately, and someone said she liked this, so I tried it.  I knew immediately it wasn’t for me, for two reasons. First, it has a Sherlock Holmes character, and I have no patience for Sherlock Holmes characters other than Nero Wolfe.  Second, it’s got real people in it (Sigmund Freud, in this case) and I’m not usually crazy about that, either.  But I gave it 50 pages.  Then I gave it 100 pages.  Then I finished it and ordered the second and the third from Amazon.  The wonderful thing about having prejudices is that they give you opportunities to build
character.  I recommend this to anyone who likes big, fat, well-written, highly atmospheric mysteries set in a fascinating milieu.  Oh, and Freud tells Jewish jokes, and a couple of them are hilarious.

THE DAWN PATROL, Don Winslow — Oh, just buy it.  Buy all of them.  Make him rich and famous.  He deserves it.

IRON RIVER, T. Jefferson Parker — Is that a great title, or what?  This picks up the saga that Parker is apparently going to write about for a while longer, the story about cop Charlie hood and the woman he loved, a female descendant of Juaquin Murrieta whom he introduced in LA OUTLAWS and pursued through THE RENEGADES.  She’s dead now, and her son is the focus of Hood’s concern.  For good reason — the kid is running guns to Mexican drug cartels.  As always, the writing is just completely transparent, a style so accomplished and apparently effortless (despite multiple viewpoints) that you’re never aware of it, but I kind of wish Parker would go back to standalones.  I think he’s one of the top crime novelists (as opposed to crime writers) in the world today, but this string of books hasn’t thrilled me as much as, say. THE BLUE HOUR.  Full disclosure — Parker has said, in print, some extraordinarily nice things about my books. But that’s not why I’m saying he’s a wonderful writer; it’s why I feel guilty for not liking this book a little more.

EXECUTION DOCK, Anne Perry — I love Anne Perry.  I know some people don’t like her as much as I do, but then some of you probably vote differently than I do, too.  I think it’s easy to take for granted the level of her craft, her skill with character, and most of all, the vividness with which she brings Victorian London to life in all its lurid hypocrisy.  I like all her books, but I liked this one more than many.  There’s no point in doing a synopsis or anything (except to point out that this one  has a particularly heinous villain and noting that this is a Monk book and that I like Monk more than I like Thomas and Charlotte).  If you like her, you’ll love this.  If you haven’t read her, I think you should.


MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND, Helen Simonson — Well, I loved it.  I laughed myself silly, got embarrassingly choked up at times, feared deeply for Mrs. Ali at the hands of the village snobs, and loathed, loathed, loathed Major P.’s son and the surviving family of his recently deceased brother.  Oprah’s magazine loved it, which means I probably wouldn’t have read it, but (disclosure) Simonson used the FINISH YOUR NOVEL material on my website to help her through some rough spots and we corresponded five or six times when she had questions.  I’m even in the Acknowledgments.  All that notwithstanding, this is an extraordinarily accomplished first novel and a truly delightful read.

THE HARVARD PSYCHEDELIC CLUB, Don Lattin — A cautionary tale about psychotropic drugs and scholarly arrogance featuring Tim Leary, Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass), religious historian Huston Smith, and the serpent in the garden, Andrew Weil.  A riveting read for anyone who’s experienced psychedelics, or just has some curiosity about where the hell the Sixties came from.  Weil ratted out Leary and Alpert at Harvard — got them fired — not because of any principled moral stand but because they wouldn’t give him any dope although they turned on his friends.  He spent a lifetime trying to apologize to Alpert, and I’m delighted to say that despite a lifetime of consciousness expansion and spiritual growth, Alpert/Ram Dass remained ripely pissed off.  My favorite line in the book comes from Leary, who got a thousand strangers  high, talked hundreds of them through bad trips, sold his friends to the cops, and gradually developed an ego the size of the atmosphere: he said, “You get the Tim Leary you deserve.”

INTERVIEWS WITH BUSTER KEATON, various — Not the world’s best interview subject but certainly one of history’s greatest filmmakers, Keaton resolutely refused to get theoretical about his approach to making such sublime movies as THE GENERAL, THE NAVIGATOR, STEAMBOAT BILL, OUR HOSPITALITY, and SHERLOCK, JR.  I bought a huge DVD set of practically all his surviving films and read the interviews as I watched.  Best time I’ve had in front of a television since the Army-McCarthy hearings, which I did not see live.  I’m not THAT old.

8 Responses to “Recent Reads”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    I’ve been looking for some new fiction as I’m finally able to see my bedside table which was drowning under a pile of unread books.

    I think I’ll start from this list, I’ve not read anything on it!

  2. Suzanna Says:

    I really envy your voracity for reading! And I enjoy just reading your take on these books.

    I saw a Buster Keaton movie a couple of weeks ago. Didn’t see the beginning titles so I don’t know the name of it. Keaton was on a sinking ship not far from shore and “cannibals” were trying to get on board the ship to take him and his woman ashore. With no fancy special effects, and probably no stunt people to help him, Keaton was arguably one of the hardest working entertainers to ever live. Reading his interviews and watching his movies does sound like fun.

    Had no idea Andrew Weil was such a weasel at Harvard. He does give some pretty sound health advice though.

  3. Sphinx Ink Says:

    I so enjoy your reading lists, because you do such excellent pocket reviews. You capture the essence in no more than a neat paragraph. (It’s quite a skill, and one I haven’t acquired.) And your reviews make me want to read the books, too.

    My favorite, however, is this one: “THE DAWN PATROL, Don Winslow — Oh, just buy it. Buy all of them. Make him rich and famous. He deserves it.”


  4. Larissa Says:

    howdy. I’m glad that you’re reviving this feature. I did a bit of a book review on my blog the other day after a good long while. Ah, Russian Literature! It’s inspiring I guess. hehe. Anyway-glad to see what you’ve been up to. 😀

  5. Rachel Brady Says:

    Iron River is on my shelf in the TBR pile and this is the second praise I’ve heard for Money Shot in as many days. It’s going into the TBR stack too.

  6. Dana King Says:

    MONEY SHOT is a hell of a book. Good story, well paced, in a style Mickey Spillane would have liked. great cover, too.

    I like these lists, and have missed them. You should keep doing them. This is the kind of thing that keeps a Diane von Furstenberg coming back, you know.

  7. Phil Hanson Says:

    Glad to see that you’ve breathed new life into this feature, Tim; it saves me a lot of time and I can always count on your opinions leading to books I’ll actually enjoy reading. Do the names Natsuo Kirino, Joe Lansdale, and Jamie Freveletti ring any bells? There are others on my short list that I’ll read as time permits.

    We’re agreed about Don Winslow; he does deserve rich and famous. Highly recommend The Power of the Dog and The Winter of Frankie Machine in addition to the aforementioned The Dawn Patrol.

    Oh, yeah, and Christa Faust goes to the top of my short list. For some twisted reason I find noir (the noirer the noir the better) fiction especially appealing.

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Gosh — If I’d only known. Think of the hundreds of books that are now bobbing unreviewed in my wake.

    Seriously, glad you guys like it. Will keep it alive. Actually reading Eric Ambler now and discovering what “old master” actually means.’

    Riss — Loved the reviews. People should never allow life to interfere with reading. The only thing that should be allowed to interfere with reading is writing.

    Dana — You really think? You think she’ll come back? I was afraid the Barry Diller/crucifixion remark might offend. But she’s almost certainly bigger than that.

    Sphinxy, I just love Don Winslow. All of him. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF BOBBY Z is hilariously over the top, ball to the wall all the way, and CALIFORNIA FIRE AND LIFE is a model of thriller writing. Also, THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE just doesn’t have anything at all wrong with it. They’ve very, very guy, though.

    Suzie, that’s the end of THE NAVIGATOR, one of the best American movies ever. Keaton bought for $25000 a decommissioned ocean liner and put his female co-star and a four-man crew aboard and put to sea. When they got back they had their movie and he sold the ship.

    Rachel and Sylvia — if you aren’t necessarily looking for a thriller, Helen Simonson’s book is just deliriously good.

Leave a Reply