Wednesday, May 30, 2007


by David Goodis
Hard Case Crime
252 pages

In our modern world where no intimate subject is taboo, it is routine to see television commercials about erectile dysfunction or prescription drugs to whatever ails us from clinical depression to enlarged prostates. Although these same conditions were present in 1955, they certainly were not considered polite topics of social discussion. Which is why David Goodis’ writing is so bold and daring. Goodis was not afraid to confront social taboos and expose them for what they were, all too familiar traits of frail, imperfect people.

James and Cora Bevan are having serious marital problems. Soon after their marriage, he discovers his beautiful young wife is sexually frigid. Again, one has to remember, these were the 50s, and what happened in a couple’s bedroom was sacred. There were no therapists or marriage counselors ready, willing and eager to help solve these destructive, psychological quirks. Unable to cope with the problem, James finds himself having an affair with a timid streetwalker that ultimately gets out of hand. When Cora discovers the arrangement, James, not wanting to end his marriage, breaks it off. A few weeks later he discovers his mistress has committed suicide. Because he blames himself, and Cora is still no more affectionate than before, he begins to fall apart, verging on a complete mental breakdown. He seeks help from a doctor and is told to take a trip, a vacation from his normal routine.

The estranged couple travel to the sunny Jamaica, where their situation is no closer to be resolved than before. One night, while out drinking in the slums of Kingston, Bevan is attacked and in the process of defending himself, kills the mugger. Dazed and confused, he comes back to the hotel and the next morning confesses all to Cora. Before they can reach any kind of decision on what to do next, they are approached by a native who witnessed the crime and wants to blackmail them to keep his silence.

THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN moves at a relatively slow pace, which in this case serves it perfectly. Each scene seems to build one after another until what emerges is a very powerful tale of two lost souls struggling to find love in a world that is all too often cold and unsympathetic. How both James and Cora find redemption and each other is a poignant tale I will soon not forget. Kudos to Hard Case Crime for unearthing as yet another classic crime thriller.

Friday, May 25, 2007


by Dean Koontz
Bantam Books
364 pages

This is the third Koontz’s thriller starring the psychic fry-cook, Odd Thomas. He continues to be one of his best, most original characters and one with unlimited potential story-wise. Odd Thomas can see the dead, those spirits somehow still trapped in this reality and for whatever reasons, unable to move on to the next. All too often these visitations coincide with some horrendous evil about to occur and Odd finds himself racing the clock to both discover the threat and then thwart it.

In the first book, ODD THOMAS, it was a terrorist attack on a shopping mall. In the follow up sequel, FOREVER ODD, he dealt with a group of hippie Satanist who wanted to exploit his psychic abilities for their own ends. Now, months after that last adventure, Odd has sequestered himself in a bucolic monastery located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. He’s trying to get away from the world and his past in hopes of
coming to grips with the loss of his one true love. The monastery is also home to a mission school for disabled children run by a group of self-less nuns. It seems an isolated oasis far removed from his past, dark experiences.

Sadly, Odd simply cannot outdistance his own fate and when one of the brothers commits suicide by hanging himself from the bell tower, ominous signs begin to surface that can only spell something truly bad is on its way. Once again Odd is faced with discovering the source of impending doom, fully aware it is centered about the lives of the innocent children of the mission. Things go from bad to worse when a severe winter storm blankets the mountain top retreat trapping everyone. Odd, the monks and sisters, find themselves cut off from succor and having to relay on their own courage and faith to battle an unbelievable evil. Koontz’s villain is a truly bizarre and twisted creature with delusions of godhood; the veritable snake in the Garden of Eden.

BROTHER ODD is a suspenseful, expertly paced thriller that will satisfy even the most jaded reader. Personally, I’ve become addicted to young Odd and hope that a fourth chapter in his incredible life is soon to come our way.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


by Greg Rucka
Bantam Books
481 pages

Greg Rucka first came on the scene back in 1996 with his debut novel, KEEPER. It was the first in a series starring professional bodyguard, Atticus Kodiak and it was an auspicious beginning. He followed it up with several new Kodiak books before getting into comics scripting where he wrote new Batman adventures for DC Comics. Rucka has a lean, tight prose style that made jumping between thrillers and comics an easy transition. Now comes a brand new series that emerges from that graphic media.

Several years ago, Rucka created British secret agent, Tara Chace for a comic series from Oni Press called; QUEEN AND COUNTRY. There have been several story arcs in this critically acclaimed series and now, at long last, he brings Chace to the world of prose drama. And quite honestly, that is where she belongs. Don’t get me wrong, I love comics and think the Q &C series is top-notch, but any comic can only go so far in character development, as it is a plot-driven, action orientated medium.

Now comes A GENTLEMEN’S GAME and for the first time, we readers are truly allowed into Chace’s mind and learn her fears, apprehensions and thoughts as she fights her way through a difficult, complicated assignment that almost marks the end of her career for Special Operations. The story opens with a group of radical Islamists blowing up subway trains in the greater London area leaving dozens death or badly injured. The British government is incensed and wants retribution fast. Enter the Special Operations section led by Paul Crocker, a tough spy-master who is completely loyal to his agents, here called Minders and led by Tara Chace. She is Minder One, and has two subordinates, Minder Two & Three. Polite names for assassins.

When the mastermind behind the bombings is discovered to be a radical cleric, a sanction is placed on his head and Chace given the mission. Safely holed up in his home in Iran, the religious mastermind is untouchable, until it is learned he is making a trip to Yemen to meet other Islamic leaders. Crocker is quick to deploy Chace and complete the mandate from his superiors. Chace, a courageous, lethal professional, manages to gain entry into the mosque where the target is holding religious services and there ends his life. In the process she also kills another man who was in conferences with her target. He becomes what is called collateral damage.

What Chace doesn’t know, until weeks later, safely back in London, is that the second man she killed was in fact a member of the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are enraged by the prince’s murder and begin sending out their own intelligent feelers to determine the assassin’s identity.

It is at this juncture that Rucka turns the entire routine spy thriller on its ear by twisting the plot into a truly unique and totally believable new path. One that finds Chace suddenly betrayed by her own government and left to flee both England and her team. Labeled a rogue agent, she quickly becomes the target of every international assassin and it’s up to Crocker to figure out a solution that will both bring her in out of the cold, and exonerate her at the same time. What he comes up with had me flipping pages in a frenzy to reach the book’s slam-bang climax.

There’s a lot of Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ludlum feel to Rucka’s prose, with a healthy dollop of John LeCarre. A GENTLEMEN’S GAME is a solid winner in what I hope is going to be a long, long run for the lovely and lethal Ms.Tara Chace.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


by Max Allan Collins
Illos by Terry Beatty
Berkley Prime Crime
257 pages

I’ve recently begun to think of writer, Max Allan Collins, as a Literary Master Chef with an overly generous disposition. It’s not enough that he serves up absolutely wonderful, tasty, delicious stories, but he always fills your plate to overflowing every single time. And this latest effort is no exception; A KILLING IN COMICS is filled with lots and lots of good treats.

Set in the post World War II publishing world of New York City, the backdrop is the all too familiar story of the birth of American comic books. This isn’t the first time Collins has used an historical period to stretch his imaginative canvas against. What is both interesting and amusing is his own connection with comics. For a long while, he wrote the daily exploits of the country’s most famous cartoon detective, DICK TRACY. He also, with the aid of graphic artist, Terry Beatty, invented one of the most endearing fiction crime solvers ever to grace a comic book page, the sweet and deadly, MS.TREE.

Knowing Collins’ background, I was very intrigued to see what he would do with this setting. Since this is a work of fiction, he shoves his tongue firmly in his cheek and then proceeds to describe a colorful list of characters that any comic buff worth his Superman tee-shirt would identify in a heartbeat. Here are, albeit thinly disguised, the Midwest duo who brought forth Superman, only now they are given slightly different names and their mighty alien hero is called Wonder Man. Instead of Batman and his real artist, Bob Kane, we find a vigilante named Batwing and his dapper, flamboyant owner, one Roy Krane. And so it goes, causing this reviewer to chuckle constantly from one page to the next. Collins’ is having so much fun here, it’s contagious.

Oh, and least we forget, there is a murder here and it does have to be solved. Employing the format of an old Ellery Queen and Rex Stout mystery, we are introduced to the entire narrative by one Jack Starr; a World War II veteran, now employed by his stepmother as a Vice-President (make that trouble-shooter) for the highly successful Starr Syndicate, which handles top-notch strips for newspapers around the country. Maggie Starr, his late father’s third wife, was once a famous striptease dancer before marrying the senior Starr and eventually inheriting the business. She’s a beautiful, smart cookie who appreciates Jack’s loyalty. They have a very good, easy going relationship.

When the head of Americana comics is murdered during his own birthday party, suspicion turns to the two creators of Wonder Man, known to have a legal proceeding in the works against Americana. At the same time the boys are also signing a new contract to bring another of their creations to Starr Syndicate. Maggie does not want her company associated with murderers and puts Jack on the case to help clear their names and find the real culprit. As always, Collins plays fair and the clues are carefully laid out as Jack begins his hunt through the world of the early burgeoning comic book community. It is done with such deft skill, a reader without any knowledge of how comics were started, will still enjoy this delightful book. It is full of colorful characters, clever plot twists and moves at a really good clip.

Comic fans will have the experienced heightened considerably, as I did, when recognizing those thinly disguised iconic figures who launched those amazing four-color magazines. An added bonus is Collins’ artist pal, Beatty, adds a handful of terrific comic illustrations to spice up the read. All in all, this is one of the most enjoyable Max Collins’ books I have ever read and, I for one, am keeping my fingers crossed we haven’t seen the last of Jack Starr and his sexy stepmother, Maggie. These two deserve to be brought back, and soon. And you deserve to do yourself a big favor and pick up A KILLING IN COMICS. You can thank me later.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


by Richard Aleas
Hard Case Crime (Available July 7)
258 pages

This is not an easy book to review. Not because of the technical aspects, Aleas is a professional and knows what he’s doing. Nor because of the actual talent he possesses as a storyteller. No, the reason why this novel is so difficult to grapple with is the subject matter itself; the underworld of sexual enterprise that exists in big cities like New York. What with cheap hookers on street corners, all types of massage parlors from low end to high class that cater to prominent New Yorkers, to escort services and the elite of the world’s oldest profession, high priced call girls. Regardless of its veneer, it is a world of hedonistic depravity where, for the right amount, anything can be purchased, including a person’s soul. The Devil must love big cities.

Former private investigator, John Blake, is attending Columbia University and working in the Writing Department. That’s where he encounters the beautiful Dorothy “Dorie” Louise Burke, a young woman from Philadelphia, who has come to the Big Apple to make her fortune. Blake meets her as a student in one of his classes. Upon getting to know here better, he learns that there are cruel ghosts in Dorie’s past that ultimately steer her into the world of sex trade. She makes a living and pays for tuition by doing private “massages.” Having been raised in the city, Blake is non-judgemental. He thinks he’s seen it all and truly wants to be Dorie’s friend. When he finds her dead in her apartment, an apparent suicide victim, he refuses to accept the evidence. Blake is sure the woman he has come to love deeply was murdered by one of her perverted clients and thus begins his hunt into the depths of human cruelty.

The action and characters move quickly across the landscape of Blake’s hunt, but what is truly revealed isn’t so much Dorie’s past as Blake’s own inner demons. By the time he’s been shot at, kidnapped and framed for as yet another murder, John Blake slowly begins to understand he’s not as street savvy, or jaded as he perceived himself to be. As each new twisted, sick revelation is uncovered, his own spirit becomes mired in an unrelenting tragedy from which he has no escape. His footsteps lead him to a dead-end of the heart and a transformation that is both shocking and despairing.

There is little hope left in Aleas’ climax and that is the hallmark of noir thrillers. Noir is a pessimistic view of the world stripped away of false beliefs, without faith or any basic human decency able to stem the tide of darkness. If such turns out to be valid, then all of us had better start praying and fast. None of which lessens the end result here, SONGS OF INNOCENCE is a great book!