Joe Clifford manages to get better with each outing in the series, and that's saying something considering how good the first two were. Jay’s self-refJoe Clifford manages to get better with each outing in the series, and that's saying something considering how good the first two were. Jay’s self-reflection has taken on a new, more mature depth, and the mystery this go ‘round is exquisitely layered....more
Pete Fernandez has had more than his share of bad luck over the years. You’d think losing one’s job, father and fiancée, falling down the addiction raPete Fernandez has had more than his share of bad luck over the years. You’d think losing one’s job, father and fiancée, falling down the addiction rabbit hole, and going toe-to-toe with a serial killer (Silent City, Down the Darkest Street) would be enough to break a guy.
Fernandez is cut from sturdy cloth, however.
Determined to set his life on firmer footing, he begins working as a private investigator and attending AA meetings. He’s still figuring things out, however, not sure if trailing cheating spouses is the way he wants to spend the rest of his days.
Given his recent past, part of him appreciates the reliability and simplicity of the routine, not to mention the lack of personal danger. Deep down though, another part of him is still struggling with his urge for challenges and adventure, his desire to help right wrongs and fight injustice. Which part will win out is put to a serious test in Dangerous Ends.
Fernandez’s partner, Kathy Bentley, approaches him with a potential new case, one involving one of the most infamous murders in Miami’s history. Gaspar Varela, a former Miami narcotics detective, was convicted ten years ago for the brutal murder of his wife and is serving a life sentence. His daughter, now an adult, has always been Varela’s staunchest supporter, and wants Fernandez and Bentley to take a fresh look at the case. Their initial poking around doesn’t do much to convince Fernandez of Varela’s innocence, but when Kathy is attacked and mysterious forces seem determined to flag them off the case, Fernandez’s curiosity and sense of justice are triggered and he can’t help but start pushing back.
Strangely, the threads Fernandez follow lead back beyond the events of that night ten years ago, all the way to 1950s Cuba, the place his own grandfather fled following Castro’s revolution in 1959. When Los Enfermos, a ruthless gang of pro-Castro drug dealers, enters the fray in response to Fernandez’s nosing around, it becomes clear this case has potentially life-altering implications for Fernandez.
As with the first two entries in the Fernandez series, the city of Miami is as much a character as any person in the story. In Dangerous Ends, however, author Alex Segura takes readers beyond the neon-soaked nights and sun-drenched beaches that usually take center stage in Miami-based writing, weaving in flashbacks to 1950s Cuba and Castro’s takeover. In that regard, Dangerous Ends represents a more ambitious approach for Segura than the first two Fernandez outings.
While those entries addressed a case du jour via the prism of Fernandez’s personal issues, Dangerous Ends takes a step back and filters events through a broader perspective. Segura uses the idea of struggle—good cops vs. bad, Fernandez vs. himself, pro-Castro Cuban-Americans vs. anti-Castro factions—to explore the concept of how the choices people make have consequences that impact not only their lives, for both better and worse, but can have a ripple effect that lasts for generations. It’s a nice maturation, both of the series and of Segura’s talent as an author. ...more
WARNING: This book is word crack. Do not start late at night or if you have anything pressing to do, because once you start you will not stop until yoWARNING: This book is word crack. Do not start late at night or if you have anything pressing to do, because once you start you will not stop until you're finished. Crack, I tell you. You have been warned....more
Author Brandon Daily burst onto the scene in 2014 with his debut novel A Murder Country, which was met with critical acclaim and won him the Silver MeAuthor Brandon Daily burst onto the scene in 2014 with his debut novel A Murder Country, which was met with critical acclaim and won him the Silver Medal for Georgia Author of the Year—First Novel. Any doubts that he would succumb to the dreaded sophomore slump were quickly laid to rest with the release of The Valley.
Set in the Appalachian Mountains, The Valley is nothing short of masterful in the way it uses five central characters to delve deeply into the dark, often insidious nature of what it’s like for the residents of Corvin Valley trying to make their way in an all too often harsh and chaotic world.
Through the eyes and lives of teenagers Graham and Quinn, who are experiencing their first love, Sheriff Leighton and Father Northrup, the town’s secular and spiritual bookends, and music teacher Adeline, a woman desperately searching for peace that seems forever just out of grasp, the town of Corvin Valley is brought to life in an exquisitely structured narrative.
Alternating between snippets that look in on each of the characters in present day, Daily slowly unspools the threads that are holding each to the valley as well as to one another, often in ways they are not even consciously aware of. Daily adds even more depth to the unspooling by weaving in flashbacks to events that have occurred in Corvin Valley through the years, events that have shaped who these characters have become, the impact of which may be impossible to outrun.
Two of the flashback sequences in particular provide the narrative heart and soul of The Valley. One, involving Adeline’s younger brother, Samuel—a boy who we would now know to be severely autistic, but at the time was just looked at as dim—serves as the deep-rooted example of how secrets from our past and guilt can weigh upon a person, forever coloring the way they look at the world and their ability to find peace in it.
The other involves a woman named Henrietta Slang, the woman who taught young Adeline to play piano. Though not a center-stage character, it was Henrietta’s story that impacted me—haunted me, would be fair to say—in a way I will not soon shake. The events surrounding Henrietta, a widowed black woman in the segregated South who dares fall in love with a white man, act as the conscience of The Valley, making a profound impact on the boy who grows up to be Sheriff Leighton.
Writing with a confidence it usually takes authors numerous books to achieve, if ever, Daily never once rushes things in this achingly elegant, thought-proving examination of lives where things may not be destined to turn out happily ever after, but where people still have the fortitude to strive for more in a world stacked against them. ...more
Andrez Bergen’s Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (TSMG) is set in a post-apocalyptic Melbourne, Australia at an unspecified point in the future where theAndrez Bergen’s Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (TSMG) is set in a post-apocalyptic Melbourne, Australia at an unspecified point in the future where the fortunate ones live an opulent life secure under the high tech Dome which encases the city. The less fortunate live a harsh existence in rundown areas on the outskirts of the Dome in a world where the sun seldom shines and acid rain seems to fall endlessly.
Our narrator, Floyd Maquina, is a Seeker. Employed by the government to hunt down so-called Deviants for what is euphemistically called “hospitalization,” Floyd has the authority to terminate those who won’t come along peacefully. It’s something he’s only had to do once, but that encounter weighs heavily on his mind, driving him to seek comfort in drugs, alcohol, and classic Hollywood films.
Indeed, Floyd peppers his narrative with copious references to films like The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, The Big Sleep, and Brazil amongst others, and throws enough hardboiled slang around that a Tobacco-Stained Glossary and Encyclopedia Tobacciana are included as appendices.
With one foot planted firmly in a futuristic world where Seekers routinely undergo Matrix-like virtual reality “tests” to ensure they are still in the fold and capable of carrying out company orders, TSMG manages to simultaneously have its other foot rooted in an authentic, throwback, hardboiled detective vibe. And it is in that fuzzy blending of post-apocalyptic and old-school noir that TSMG carves out what is one of the most wonderfully unique books I’ve had the pleasure to read.
Along the way author Andrez Bergen works in clever jabs and astute commentary on everything from reality shows (Floyd finds himself an unwitting TV star when thrust front and center in a Dog the Bounty Hunter type show) to media manipulation by corporations and the government (that “reality” show being a carefully scripted and edited attempt to control public opinion about Deviants) to our obsession with cosmetic perfection (people in TSMG routinely get surgical enhancement, including photosynthetic technology which allows them to swap out lip, eye, skin and hair color with thousands of available shades), while the conflict between the Deviants and the citizens inside the Dome serves as a rather timely exploration of the social upheaval that results when the economic gulf between classes becomes a seemingly unbridgeable chasm.
TSMG is not for everyone, there’s no way around that. Some will find the film references too frequent and, if you’re not familiar with the movies, potentially confusing. But if you’re willing to roll with them – or to put the handy Encyclopedia Tobacciana to good use – I think you’ll find they actually add a verisimilitude to Floyd’s character, going a long way toward explaining how he copes and makes his way through a world he often finds as foreign as the reader does.
In any event, I can say without qualification that not only is Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat one of my Top 5 reads of 2011, it is one of the most creative and engaging books I’ve ever read. Period....more
Though not a sequel in the traditional sense, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is built around the character of Wolram E. Deaps, last seen in Bergen'sThough not a sequel in the traditional sense, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is built around the character of Wolram E. Deaps, last seen in Bergen's Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. When we last saw him, however, things weren’t going too well for Deaps, so much so in fact that Vicissitude begins with the following observation on his part: “First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man.” He suspects correctly.
Not the nicest man in life, Deaps finds himself wandering aimlessly in a sort of limbo world, endlessly walking but never actually getting anywhere. The landscape which greets him is remarkable only in its absence; no cities or towns, rain or sun, color or sound, only barren trees on the edge of a diminishing horizon. Deaps is on a road to nowhere, surrounded by nothing. Until one day, with no warning and no recollection of getting there, Deaps finds himself outside a cottage. Wondering if the cottage is meant to symbolize the end of his journey, Deaps approaches only to discover his journey is just beginning, as the cottage’s resident, a Geisha named Kohana, has many wondrous things, both beautiful and terrifying, to show him.
Though she initially appears to Deaps as a fifteen-year-old, Kohana informs him that she in fact lived for nearly a century, and is actually a fellow resident of the limbo world. They are Gaki, she explains, “hungry ghosts” whose lot is to suffer for eternity with an insatiable hunger for the things in life they once most coveted. Kohana proceeds to take Deaps on a spectral journey back through the one hundred years of vicissitude which made up not only her life, but that of the country of Japan as well. Jumping back and forth through time Deaps and Kohana revisit the tumultuous events, both large and small, which shaped a life and a nation.
Along the way author Andrez Bergan treats the reader to an enchanting melding of fact and fiction, one which magically weaves together a tapestry of history and pop culture with references to everything from Lewis Carroll and The Wizard of Oz, to the leveling of Asakusa during World War II and the legendary Graf Zeppelin’s only visit to Japan, to James Bond and noir cinema. In this regard, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is absolutely epic in scope and lushly cinematic in its settings. And yet, when boiled down to its essence One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is first and foremost an intimate look at the relationship between Deaps and Kohana.
It’s a strange one, one which initially makes little sense to either the reader or Deaps. There is a method to Bergen’s madness however, and the patience of both Deaps and the reader is richly rewarded with a deeply satisfying journey of self-discovery, one arrived at by traveling through humor and horror, joy and sorrow, enrichment and loss. One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is an achingly poetic reminder that life is about the journey, not the destination, and that with that journey necessarily comes change. Sometimes the change is for the better, other times for the worse, but to be alive is to embrace both, for it is only through the vicissitudes of life that one truly lives.
Andrez Bergen is unquestionably one of the most creative, original authors I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and his ability to take such wildly disparate pieces as those which appear in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat and One Hundred Years of Vicissitude and assemble them into a cohesive puzzle is simply awe-inspiring....more
John Sissons is working hard to put the events of the past behind him, events that landed him in prison for a seven-year stretch. (Abide With Me) OutJohn Sissons is working hard to put the events of the past behind him, events that landed him in prison for a seven-year stretch. (Abide With Me) Out for two years, he’s been working at a market stall several days a week selling produce.
When that job dries up, John signs on with a job placement agency that gets him in working at a door factory. It’s dreary, repetitive, soul-crushing work, but twenty-five years old and knowing it’s time to get on with being a man, John sucks it up and sticks things out.
Slowly, things seem to be taking a turn for the better. John settles into the pattern of the work, the money’s coming in, and he even starts dating a young woman who works in the factory office. And then news arrives that changes John’s world forever.
Ronnie Swordfish, the man John’s testimony helped put in jail for murder two years ago, has been killed in prison. John knows that doesn’t mean his problems are over, they’re just beginning. Ronnie was a nasty piece of work, but one who had a circle of friends and family who are incredibly loyal…and who are now equally incredibly pissed off at John.
John may have served his time, but as he soon learns some debts are never really paid.
When readers last saw John Sissons in Abide With Me, the debut novel from Ian Ayris, John was little more than a kid whose world revolved around football (soccer), friends and school, in that order. And though things were always rough and tumble in John’s East London neighborhood of Bethnal Green, John was still, at heart, a kid who looked at the world with a kid’s optimism still intact. Following his time inside and subsequent years scrapping to get by on the outside as the crush of daily existence steamrolls him, that optimism has all but been snuffed out when we meet up with John in April Skies.
His mid-late teens and early twenties having occurred somewhat in a vacuum because of his time in prison, John is in many ways still a man-child struggling to become a man, and doing so in a world where the deck seems stacked against him. As he did in Abide With Me, Ayris once again drops readers into the immersive and atmospheric surroundings of Bethnal Green, complete with the rough-edged vernacular of London’s East End. (Readers easily offended by profanity take this as fair warning: it abounds in this book.) Right from the start Ayris lights the fuse on John, letting his wheel spinning and quiet desperation at his inability to take control of his life progress at a slow burn for the first two-thirds of the story.
Once the news of Ronnie Swordfish’s death drops, however, Ayris douses that fuse in petrol and things heat up fast. First John’s job at the factory takes a bizarre, decidedly not good turn when he’s picked to accompany another worker on a mysterious out of town delivery run, and then his sister, now seventeen and a day-student at university, goes missing. When it becomes clear that the events are not only related to each other but to Ronnie Swordfish’s crew, John knows it’s time once and for all to step up and meet things head-on no matter the outcome. The way it plays out is fast, raw, and not for the faint of heart, as Ayris tackles the ending of April Skies with a brutal efficiency and lack of sentimentality. Which is fitting. John is no longer a boy with boyish dreams, but a man burdened by the demands and vagaries of a world that marches endlessly on without concern for those in it.
Able With Me is one of my all-time favorite reads. Ayris tapped into something special in that book in a way I’ve rarely seen an author pull off. Admittedly, I was extremely curious to see if he could duplicate that in the follow up. The fact is, he didn’t duplicate the effort. Despite its rough edges, there was always an underlying innocence and sentimentality present in Abide With Me. That’s gone in April Skies, and with good reason. Neither Ayris nor John are in anywhere near the same headspace as they were when Abide With Me was written. April Skies captures a very different time in John’s life, that final transition from man-child to man, with all the burdens and baggage that comes with it. That necessarily makes April Skies a darker read than Abide With Me, but one every bit as powerful.
Though April Skies can be read on its own without having first read Abide With Me, I highly recommend you read both. Individually they are powerful reads that each captures a specific snapshot in time in the life of a boy/young man. Together they are an astonishing one-two punch of writing that shows the progression of a boy/young man struggling to understand and come to terms with a life he knows is not destined for much, but which he still hopes to make the best of and build what little he can by surrounding himself with the love of family and friends and being the best man he knows how to be.
I admit, as fan of Ayris’s writing I wish we could check in again with John at some point, maybe twenty-five years down the line and see how life’s treated him, whether he ever got out of Bethnal Green, married and had kids of his own, see if his beloved West Ham United ever won again. But if it’s truly time to say goodbye to John, as Ayirs seems to have done, it’s a privilege to have experienced what Ayris and John were willing to share....more