Thursday, June 20, 2019

OVERKILL by Vanda Symon


Vanda Symon’s Overkill, featuring Constable Sam Shephard, first appeared in Symon’s native New Zealand in 2007 and the series has since run to five books. But this edition of Overkill is both Symon’s and Shephard’s first appearance in the United States. Shephard is a “sole-charge” police constable in the rural town of Mataura, in the Southland Region of New Zealand. A place where everybody knows everybody else. The economy is based on cattle ranching and beef processing, and serious crime is something on television news rather than a real-life experience.

When Gabriella Knowes is reported missing, leaving her young daughter unattended at home and a suicide note on the kitchen table, Sam takes the initiative and organizes a search party. Sam quickly finds Gaby’s body washed up on a river bank. At first glance, Gaby’s death is a suicide, but as Sam investigates, it becomes clear Gaby was murdered. To further complicate things, Sam is removed from the case, suspended from her job, and treated like a suspect in Gaby’s murder. All because Sam didn’t tell her boss that she and Gaby’s husband, Lockie, were lovers before he married Gaby.

Overkill is an entertaining, but flawed first novel. Among its many strengths are the depictions of small town life. The rumors and comraderies, the finger-pointing and rivalries. Sam is a likable and relatable character, but she is often more whiny than she is tough. The novel’s major flaw is the Prologue because it shows the reader what really happened to Gabby. It undercuts the potential suspense since it takes Sam half the story to catch up with what the reader already knows. But Overkill’s flaws are easy to overlook because the how of Gaby’s murder is less important than the why, and, for this non-ranching city reader at least, the why is a wild and satisfying concoction.


Saturday, June 08, 2019

A TALENT FOR KILLING by Ralph Dennis (Coming Soon)

This is good news. Brash Books is bringing out a brand new Ralph Dennis novel with an intriguing history. A Talent for Killing is two novels combined into a single narrative. The first novel, Deadman’s Game, features Kane, a retired and memory impaired Agency assassin:

But the expert killer in Kane rose up again, and now he was working the private side of the street—killer for hire.


Deadman’s Game was published as a standalone novel by Berkley Medallion in 1976, but it was intended as a series by Ralph Dennis and his editor at Berkley. As explained in A Talent for Killing, “the editor who championed the book left [Berkley], leaving Deadman’s Game without a champion in-house and without the editorial support for a robust marketing campaign.” And Berkley’s new editor rejected Dennis’ second Kane novel outright.

Brash Books’ release of A Talent for Killing combines Deadman’s Game with Dennis’ never before published sequel, Kane #2, into a single, wonderful thriller. This new book, along with Brash’s recent releases of Dennis’ Hardman novels and The War Heist (originally published as MacTaggart’s War), is a welcome addition to Ralph Dennis’ canon, and—far too late—corrects the error of New York publishing’s shutout of Dennis in the late-1970s.

The only bad thing? The value of my copy of Deadman’s Game is going to plummet. And, A Talent for Killing, isn’t scheduled for release until September. Although, you can pre-order it now.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Nightmare"

Nightmare, by Edward S. Aarons, was published as a hardcover by David McKay in 1948. The edition that caught my eye was MacFadden Books 1963 mass market edition. The pink hair sold me. The artist: Jerry Podwil



The opening paragraph:

Afterward, when it was all over, it came back to Nolly Bayliss in one-shots, in kaleidoscopic scenes and tableaux that were like shell holes on the surface of his memory. Some of it he wanted to forget, and some of it he struggled to recall for many anxious hours. It was vital to recapture every shade and every detail of that Friday.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

GIRL MOST LIKELY by Max Allan Collins


Girl Most Likely is the first in a two-book series from Max Allan Collins, featuring chief of police Krista Larson. Krista’s patch is Galena, Illinois; the small and beautiful and tourist rich birthplace of Ulysses S. Grant. Krista is a second generation police officer. Her father, Keith, was a decorated detective in nearby Dubuque, Iowa, and at 28, Krista is the youngest female police chief in the United States. 
Krista is looking forward to her 10-year high school reunion in the swanky Lake View Lodge. She’s kept close contact with many of her classmates and Krista likes everyone except for the beautiful television reporter, Astrid Lund. Astra stole Krista’s boyfriend years earlier and shortly after the reunion opens, Astra is found stabbed to death. Krista calls in her father to help investigate the murder, and it doesn’t take long for a link between Astrid’s murder and the murder of another classmate, Sue Logan, to emerge. The big question is who had the motive and opportunity to kill both women? 
Girl Most Likely is an enjoyable traditional-ish mystery with enough action to keep the pages turning. Ish, because it creeps close to a thriller with several scenes that feature the killer in the same way serial killer novels do. Krista is likable and intelligent. The mystery’s solution is played well, but, with the help of the scenes that feature the killer and a steady mystery reader’s nose, not surprising. But my guessing the killer’s identity before Krista and Keith was as much fun as the gossipy and snarky interplay between the former high school classmates. Girl Most Likely is an entertaining mystery that reminded me why I skipped my last high school reunion.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Thift Shop Book Covers: "Close-up"

Close-up, by Len Deighton, was published as a hardcover by Atheneum in 1972. The edition that caught my eye was Signet’s 1973 mass market edition. The black background frames the title (as theater marquee) and lurid illustration perfectly. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)

















The first paragraph:
The heavy blue notepaper crackled as the man signed his name. The signature was an actor’s: a dashing autograph, bigger by far than any of the text. It began well, rushing forward boldly before halting suddenly enough to split the supply of ink. Then it retreated to strangle itself in loops. The surname began gently but then that too became a complex of arcades so that the whole name was all but deleted by well-considered decorative scrolls. The signature was a diagram of the man.
Close-up was a departure of Deighton’s mainline work of spy and suspense fiction and it is more satirical than thriller, but it’s a must read for Deighton enthusiasts.

Monday, May 06, 2019

ONE FOR HELL by Jada M. Davis

Stark House Press released a reprint of a 1952 Fawcett Red Seal original titled One for Hell written by Jada M. Davis back in 2010. Davis is a writer I wasn’t familiar with and after reading it, I really don’t know why. It is terrific and one of the best hardboiled noir tales I’ve read. It resembles the work of two pulp writers, W. L. Heath—particularly Violent Saturday—and Jim Thompson. It has the violence and dark shadows of Thompson and the sociology of secrets that Heath did so well.

Willa Ree is a drifter and a petty criminal riding the rails toward a small Texas boomtown. His plan is simple: fleece the town and move on. What happens is beyond Ree’s expectations. The town is a gold mine, and he just may stick around for a big score. 
One for Hell is pure entertainment. There isn’t a protagonist. The supporting cast, Willa Ree is the main player (and he’s pure bastard), come and go like visitors to an amusement park. One by one they ratchet the pressure on Ree until he is ready to break. And one by one Ree pushes them aside until he no longer can.
The plot is tight and woven with a sophistication of character, morality and corruption. The town has secrets—everyone has something to hide and Ree uses this underlying human weakness to his advantage. He culls his enemies from the herd and eliminates them. He has a girlfriend who is an arch-type of the flawed woman. She possesses strengths and the weaknesses alike, but she is mostly good.
The action is developed with an audacity that separates this novel from so many others of its type. There is a scene in the middle part of the novel that covers 18 pages that changed my view of what can be done with both violence and action in a prose story. It rolled like a freight train and changed Ree from a smalltime hoodlum to a big time psychopath. It was the crux of the story, the beginning of the end for Willa Ree, and the push that leads the reader into his twisted mind.
Everything works in One for Hell. From the plot to the characters to the psychology to the prose and it wraps itself together in a tight weave. Willa Ree spends much of his time trying to guess the actions and motives of other people and the internal dialogue is simple and interesting:
“Maybe the old woman knew. Or maybe she found it, though not likely. Baldy wasn’t a trusting sort of person, and she wouldn’t have guessed he had money in the first place. He sat on the trunk and surveyed the room. Pictures? Too simple.”
One for Hell is solid proof that Stark House is the best publishers of classic crime fiction going. 
This review was written in the long ago, and this is a slightly altered version.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Teklords"

Teklords, by William Shatner, was published as a hardcover by Ace in 1991. The edition that caught my eye was Ace’s 1992 mass market edition. Its foil gold background and embossed title perfectly frame an imaginative and intriguing science fiction scene. The artist: Boris Vallajo

 

The first lines:
Friday, May 16, 2120, was grey and rainfilled across most of Greater Los Angeles.
It was not going to be an especially good day for Jake Cardigan.
There were nine Tek novels with William Shatner’s name on the cover, and each was written by the savvy and accomplished science fiction writer Ron Goulart. Teklords is the second in the series and my memory of reading it in the early-1990s is a very good one. The Tek novels were translated into a comic book series and four low-budget made for television movies and an even lower budget series.