This is a fairly cute and telling fictional journal/scrapbook of a New Orleans punk who, instead of going to college, decides to move to Washington, DThis is a fairly cute and telling fictional journal/scrapbook of a New Orleans punk who, instead of going to college, decides to move to Washington, D.C. and live a more "punk" life. Elliot's two years in D.C. unfold in a series of letters to his former girlfriend, letters to his little sister back home, journal entries, and three issues of "Mindcleaner" a 'zine he starts. Elliot's punk experience runs the gamut, from living in the Positive Force house, a hazy relationship with a riot grrrrl, working in a health food store at Dupont Circle, trying to organize a collective, moving to Mt. Pleasant, and of course, being in a band and putting out a record. I believe the book is pretty much based on the co-author's experiences in moving to D.C. and I suppose it captures/satirizes a lot of the D.C. "scene" pretty accurately. Although the names have been changed, plenty of D.C. bands (Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses) and scenesters will be recognizable to people in the know. The book works better as a rabid cry to "do something" instead of posing--an aim that is always laudable. It's critique/satire of the D.C. scene gets a little stale by the end, it seems to me like a lot of Elliot's disillusionment stems from idealized expectations about D.C....more
Before Matheson became a prolific writer of science fiction stories, novels, Twilight Zone episodes, and films, he served as a replacement infantrymanBefore Matheson became a prolific writer of science fiction stories, novels, Twilight Zone episodes, and films, he served as a replacement infantryman in World War II. Some fifteen years later, he set down his experiences as a novel about a teenager sent to the front lines for the Allied advance into Germany. The story covers the first two weeks of Private Everett Hackermeyer's war, as he joins an understrength squad under the leadership of a grizzled Sergeant who acts as a father figure. But having been abandoned by his drunk father to be raised by his nasty uncle, Hackermeyer has no conception of what a father figure is, or really of what it means when people are nice to him. The result is that when thrown into the tight camaraderie of small unit combat, Hackermeyer is often confused, and retreats into his head to analyze the meaning behind every gesture and phrase directed at him.
He survives his initial baptism by fire, and accidentally discovers that he has an actual talent for killing the enemy. The question becomes, will he be able to operate as a good soldier, or will his inner demons lead him into increasingly risky and bloodthirsty acts? He's a bit of a stock character, the poor kid raised by wolves and never given a chance, who blossoms under a firm and wise guiding hand. But his mental issues keep him from becoming the kind of everyman hero common to World War II stories. His fellow privates are also somewhat stock figures: the sardonic joker/college boy from California, the bumbling idiot, the religious nut, and so on. The Sergeant is an incredibly cliche figure, who even offers Hackermeyer a job on his ranch, should they ever make it back home. These character deficiencies aside, the book is notable for its ability to put the reader in the middle of the terror and tedium that was World War II. The descriptions of shelling are truly horrific, and the chaos of small scale combat really comes to life. Matheson clearly pulls no punches in his description of what it meant to be on the front line, and the fear that inspired.
I read this at the same time as watching the "Band of Brothers" miniseries, and found it very complementary. Both do an excellent job at showing the mix of boredom and horror that infantrymen faced, however this book emphasizes how utterly alone each man is on the battlefield, while the miniseries (per its title), emphasizes the camaraderie. Ultimately the book is somewhat cliche across the board, but still well worth reading if you're interested in World War II. ...more
I first came across Laura Hird through her story "The Dilating Pupil" in the Children of Albion Rovers collection. In this, her first novel, she tellsI first came across Laura Hird through her story "The Dilating Pupil" in the Children of Albion Rovers collection. In this, her first novel, she tells the depressing story of a wreck of a family living in Edinburgh. The chapters alternate between the voices of Vic, Angie, Jonie, and Jake (father, mother, 15-year-old, and 14-year-old), as they each seek escape from the shell of domestic life. Vic and Angie are going through agonizing midlife crises and a marriage that's totally dead. He's a bus driver on Prozac struggling to be decent and win the love of his family, she's a bitter, contemptuous bookie's assistant who's having a blast falling off the wagon. Meanwhile, their two teenagers are caught up in their own selfish angst of sex, friendships, drugs, and avoiding their parents.
The book is like a Mike Leigh film, brilliantly put together, but totally depressing. There are many moments of humor and recognition throughout, but ultimately there's not a whole lot of hope to be found anywhere. Given how awful the women act, it's hard to imagine a man being able to write this book without getting attacked as a misogynist. In any event, Hird's obviously got loads of talent, and this book should put her right there with her male Scottish peers like Welsh, Warner, McLean, Legge, and the like....more
British hooligan authority Brimson turns his hand to fiction in this surprisingly readable bit of pulp about a top hooligan and the policeman with a sBritish hooligan authority Brimson turns his hand to fiction in this surprisingly readable bit of pulp about a top hooligan and the policeman with a sworn vendetta against him. The plot is fairly simple, DI Paul Jarvis of the National Football Intelligence Unit watched a fellow policeman die a few years previously in a hooligan rampage orchestrated by Billy Evans. Fast-forward a few years and Evans is a top man and a semi-respectable used car dealer. Jarvis discovers Evans is planning something big in conjunction with an England game in Italy, and tries every means possible to find out what. Part of that means putting the screws on those trusted by Evans, and soon enough, Jarvis has got a grass to go along with the undercover officer already on the scene. The story builds nicely to the climax in Italy, and has a really well setup twist at the end that'll leave you shaking your head. I didn't expect much from this book, and to be sure, it's not of the same quality as John King, but it does deliver a page-turning punch of a read....more
A very unusual book which could be considered a period mystery, but stands as excellent literature on its own merits. The book starts in 1936 Los AngeA very unusual book which could be considered a period mystery, but stands as excellent literature on its own merits. The book starts in 1936 Los Angeles and follows a young woman architect for just enough pages for the reader to get interested in her. Then a mysterious man shows up and claims to be her father. After 70 pages she is then whisked away on a cross-Atlantic sea voyage to help her father find a woman in Lisbon. The bulk of the book then serves to explain why. In a slightly awkward device, the woman recounts, in prose form, what her father tells her about his life. This takes the reader to Manila in 1902 and follows a her father, as a doctor as he strives to bring modern medical practices to the Philippines, helps the occupying US Army investigate a series of gruesome murders, and watches his marriage fade away and maintain a love affair. There is also a subplot involving an attempt to build a flying machine. Events build to a crisis and collapse. By now the reader understands who the woman in Lisbon is and why she is important. Boyd's strength is building a complete description of time and place at the same time as he creates characters with great depth....more
If you like your crime plunked firmly in the gritty environs of East London, triple-glazed with slang, and peopled by a colorful hodge-podge of the peIf you like your crime plunked firmly in the gritty environs of East London, triple-glazed with slang, and peopled by a colorful hodge-podge of the petty criminals and a few hard cases, here 'tis. The story is a basic first-person account by a young hustler of his efforts to revenge the killing of his childhood(lum) friend, Vinnie. He's got to hustle to stay alive and put all the pieces together to pull it off, and each chapter alternates between that tale and him writing from behind prison bars. Between the two, we get a good idea of who our hero is and where he comes from. It's a fun romp. If you like this, check out the following: Throwing the House out the Window, Diamond Geezers, A White Merc With Fins, London Noir, and the film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels....more
Latino life in the small Texas border city of Brownsville comes alive in this entirely engaging debut collection of nine short stories arranged in thrLatino life in the small Texas border city of Brownsville comes alive in this entirely engaging debut collection of nine short stories arranged in three parts. The first three stories are grouped in the section "I Thought You and Me Were Friends", and focus on male relationships. The opening tale tells of a young boy working at a firework stand and his realization that his boss isn't a nice person. The second is about a man overly obsessed with a hammer borrowed by a white neighbor, and charts the ups and downs of their friendship in relation to the hammer. The final story follows a young slacker whose best (and only) friend recently died and left him without human anyone to talk to. This last one takes a slightly (David) Lynchian turn, and isn't quite as strong as the first two.
The second part, "They Say He Was Lost", is about essentially good men struggling with life. The first story is one of the weaker ones, about an old gardener who has lost his religion. The details of his living and work conditions are far more interesting than his spiritual predicament. Next is a brilliant portrait of a man in his early 20s who married, divorced, and had a kid too young, and doesn't really understand his ex-wife, his child, what happened to his youth, and what's happening to his future. It's a heartbreaking story that shoots to the core of single-family parenting and the other parent. The third tale is of a hardworking state employee who is driven to desperate acts by a neighbor's dog. The final three stories, "Don't Believe Anything He Tells You", veer into a more odd turf. The first deals with a man whose sly cousin hustles him into prepaying for his funeral. The second is a rather garden-variety young boy/beautiful next door neighbor piece. The third is a bit of a comic turn about a geriatric bowling (the only female protagonist in the book) whose lucky bowling ball gets stolen.
The collection is somewhat reminiscent of John McNally's 1999 collection, Troublemakers. Both sets of stories are primarily about working-class men living in marginalized communities between the coasts, trying to hold their own as their communities shift around them. As such, they are more directly relevant to majority of people in this country than the plethora of tiresome New York, San Francisco, historical, or academe-set novels that seem to dominate the bookstores. Casares doesn't seek to shove any messages or agenda in the reader's face, he's simply writing about people and how they live where he comes from. Great stuff....more
This is a pretty solid debut police procedural with both feet firmly set in the Camden Town area of London. Much like John Havey's Charley Resnick serThis is a pretty solid debut police procedural with both feet firmly set in the Camden Town area of London. Much like John Havey's Charley Resnick series, the reader follows the professional and personal travails of D.I. Christy Kennedy as he solves a few murders and feels his way though a relationship. Kennedy is decidedly less troubled and dark than Resnick, however. The central case is the murder of the head of a local independent record label who has recently sold out to a major for big money. There's some sort of music insider stuff mixed in, but none of it particularly enthralling in and of itself. It's more fun to watch Kennedy trawl the past and present of the Irish promoter to track down the killer. It moves pretty smoothly, although it'd be nice if Charles managed to make his chapters a tad bit longer (60 chapters over 240 pages = 4 page chapters!), as all the breaks get rather intrusive. His love of music gets the better of him with the rather silly inclusion of song lyrics at the beginning of each chapter (the book's title is that of a Nick Lowe song). These minor annoyances and few bits of a sloppy prose aside, it's a good beginning and I'll definitely look for the next in the series....more
I've always found the idea of crime in the midst of a war rather interesting, and so this French novel about a murder during World War I caught my eyeI've always found the idea of crime in the midst of a war rather interesting, and so this French novel about a murder during World War I caught my eye. I suppose I expected some kind of literary thriller, and while there is indeed a strong murder mystery plot, the book is really an extended meditation on death.
Death is everywhere in this book, as the narrator reflects on the horrific murder of a young girl in the small village he lived in twenty years earlier, in 1917. He was a policeman, but far from being deeply involved in the investigation, was instead relegated to the sidelines by the imperious judge who takes over the case. This murder was soon followed by the apparent suicide of a newly arrived young woman who had taken the schoolteacher's post. In the wake of this comes a third tragic death -- one which forever changes the policeman. Even as the first World War grinds up men by the thousands just over the hill from the town and pollutes its streets with mangled wounded, it's this trio of dead females that haunts the policeman. (Nonetheless, there are plenty of echoes of the war in how the judge and his strange sidekick "investigate" the murder, and it's hard not to think of Renoir's great film, Grand Illusion, while reading.)
The book slowly (probably too slowly for some) and very lyrically meanders back and forth over the last twenty years, as the policeman recounts his attempt to unravel the mystery of the little girl's murder while also slowly revealing the secrets of the other two women's deaths. During the telling, the deaths of numerous supporting characters over the intervening two decades are also carefully noted. (I think there are something like 15-20 deaths mentioned in the story.) All of which makes for some beautifully written, but melancholy reading. (The translation is quite amazing, with a lovely turn of phrase or epigramatic expression on almost every page.) The secret of the third death, and why it damaged the policeman, is heavily foreshadowed early on, but only fully explained about 2/3 of the way in. The secret of the suicide is also explained well before the end. However, the bits and pieces of the little girl's murder are put together over time, as information is very carefully meted out in small tidbits at just the right moments. Then, at the very end, the author yanks the carpet out from under the story with a carefully constructed twist.
This only further reinforces the book's overall bleak tone, as one is left with sense that trying to make sense of death is a meaningless endeavor, bound to end in disappointment.
Note: The book's title in French translates roughly as Grey Souls, which is also the title it was published under in the UK and the title of the 2005 film made from it....more
The phenomenon of formerly violent ex-cons turning their hands to memoir and fiction is hardly a new one. One of the more notable examples in the US iThe phenomenon of formerly violent ex-cons turning their hands to memoir and fiction is hardly a new one. One of the more notable examples in the US is that of Edward Bunker, who has written extensively on his own past (Little Boy Blue) as well as having penned a number of novels (Dog Eat Dog). Released (and presumably reformed) after 16 years in jail for murder, Hugh Collins is another of these real life gangster literati, with two volumes of memoir, and this, the first in a projected trilogy. What makes Collins intriguing is that his personal background and fictional setting coincide in Glasgow circa 1976.
This pulpy potboiler starts in somewhat confusing fashion, in the midst of a shady deal in which both sides are trying to con the other. This transaction is the catalyst for a story that will invoke all the traditional gangster elements from double-crossing to razor blades, police brutality and racism in an almost nostalgic attempt to portray the end of of an era. Barney Boone is a charming, old timey (and at 60+, old), small time grifter. Unfortunately, for the scam that kicks things off, he partners with two decidedly more violent younger men. The contrast between the solid old-time "earners" who graft every day and the younger, drug-addled, violent mobs is one of the book's main themes.
The plot is built on a series of misunderstanding and coincidences end in grimly violent repercussions. Collins jumps around a bit, zooming in on different characters a little haphazardly. For quite a while Barney gets the most attention as we learn his history and family life, and then part way through, the focus shifts from him and his two partners to two women and another, unrelated, gangster. There is also a Pakistani family who awkwardly disappears completely from the narrative. The story wraps up with cosmic justice meted out and the stage clearly set for the next in the series. The end result is a mostly satisfying Scottish riff on the pulpy crime novel which is not particularly original, but nonetheless interesting. Collins writes in the type of Scots popularized in recent years by writers such as James Kelman and Irvine Welsh. For newcomers to Scots, there's a basic glossary in the front, which is serviceable, but unfortunately omits the more obscure terms....more
The title of this debut novel by a NYC cop refers to what happens in wargames when the oppositional or attacking side (ie. the "red" team) turns on itThe title of this debut novel by a NYC cop refers to what happens in wargames when the oppositional or attacking side (ie. the "red" team) turns on itself. It's a very apt title for a story that features plenty of blue (police) vs. red (criminal) activity, but also plenty of blue (regular police) vs. blue (internal affairs), and red (gang 1) vs. red (gang 2) drama. Indeed, as in many of the better crime stories, there are all kinds of moral shades of gray flickering across the pages.
The protagonist of the story is Nick Meehan, a typically Irish-American cop (although thankfully not an alcoholic), separated from his wife (their marriage broken by the trauma of multiple miscarriages) and living with his father up in the Bronx. He's an unusual cop, introverted and wry, with a genuine fondness and eye for the absurd. He's just been partnered with Esposito, a sharp-dressing, smooth-talking, married-with-kids-ladies-man who has a genuine jones for the action from murder cases. The two have enough quirks to set them apart from the rest of the guys in their squad, but somehow form a comfortable new partnership.
Their story sprawls across a series of plotlines, opening with the investigation of a woman hanging from a noose in Inwood Hill Park. But the big running investigation is a spate of tit-for-tat gang warfare that Esposito is happy to encourage and use an informant to leverage, as it results in plenty of "exceptional clearances" of open cases (ie. the people killed are the top suspects in other pending murder investigations, and thus the police can "clear" the old cases). There's also a strange Catholic schoolgirl who keeps popping up from time to time, and lurking somewhere in the background is a serial rapist. But as much as the book revels in the the moment-to-moment policework of all these various cases, its eye is more concerned with the strange and strained tones of this oddish couple of partners. And the elephant that lurks in the room is that Meehan has agreed to "keep an eye" on Esposito for NYCPD's hated Internal Affairs.
This is a police novel that's much more meditative and structurally loose than most I've read. This leads to some genuinely moving moments throughout, but it can also at times drift into too much navel-gazing. There's enough going on with the various storylines to keep one glued to the page, but sometimes Meehan's interior life just gets a little too overwritten for my taste, especially when drawn out over the course of 450+ pages. Is it good? Definitely. Is it great? Not quite. But I wouldn't be surprised if Condon's next book is, especially with the right editor to reign in the few excesses. If you're a fan of Richard Price's work, you should pick this up....more