Tuesday, 1 September 2009

What I Read In August

VANILLA RIDE - Joe Lansdale
Published: 2009
Setting: East Texas
Protagonist: Hap Collins and Leonard Pine
Series?: 7th
First Lines: 'I hadn't been shot at in a while, and no one had hit me in the head for a whole month or two. It was kind of a record and I was starting to feel special.'
At long, long last, East Texas' finest - Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are back. Hap is a white trash, good ol' boy, with an eye for the ladies, but a penchant for bunny slippers; Leonard is a black, gay, martial arts expert and Vietnam veteran. Together they've been through many years of dead end jobs, romantic troubles, fights, fun and friendship. In this outing, they agree to help an old friend, whose granddaughter is living with a local, small-time drug-dealer. A little skirmish later and our heroes have rescued the girl. Job done. Unfortunately, the drug dealer is tied to the Dixie Mafia - a rather scary bunch of guys with a seemingly never-ending array of assassins, all of whom now seem to be after Hap and Leonard. A great mix of viloence, thrills, humour, and added philosophy from Hap. This is one of my very favourite series, and Joe Lansdale is a truly brilliant writer, and a wonderful storyteller. As I wrote those first lines out for this summary, I wanted to get the book off the shelf and read it all over again. Love it, love it, love it. And here's a great podcast interview with Joe Lansdale.

THE TWILIGHT TIME - Karen Campbell

Published: 2008
Setting: Glasgow
Protagonist: Sergeant Anna Cameron
Series?: First
First Lines: '"Put your arm back through." "No, darlin', no. I got to breathe."'
When Sergeant Anna Cameron arrives at Glasgow's Stewart Street police station to take charge of the Flexi Unit she shows a very confident front - composed, successful, and more than a little frosty. Her personal life, however, is anything but composed and successful. Prostitutes are being viciously attacked and Anna's team is tasked with solving the crimes - a task made much more difficult by the often suspicious and sometimes downright unhelpful nature of the victims. In addition, Anna gets involved in the case of an elderly Polish man who is the target of racial abuse. Anna is a really interesting character - sometimes frustrating, sometimes cold, often very likeable, but above all, never dull. All the characters are very well drawn and some of them are surprisingly touching, without being cloying and melodramatic. In places the book is very dark and not for the squeamish. Along with the darkness there are also some great touches of black humour which mean that it's not a depressing read. The setting is one of the best depictions of Glasgow I've read, and it's shown as the schizophrenic, gritty, in-your-face, characterful city it is. On top of all that, there's a gripping plot that is full of twists and turns. But this is not a bog standard police procedural. It's an insight into real peoples' lives - police, victims and criminals - who all come across in shades of grey.

Published: 2009 (originally 1935 and lost to the world)
Setting: Glasgow, Chicago, New York - 1930s
Protagonist: Bob Moore
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'It is a pity there are getting to be so many places that I can never go back to, but all the same, I do not think it is much fun a man being respectable all his life.'
This is the autobiography of Glaswegian Bob Moore - sailor, adventurer, engineer, world traveller. He's also racist, sexist, violent and, more often than not, pickled in alcohol. Breaker of almost every law imaginable, he's also a thoroughly charming rapscallion. He keeps telling us he's not a crook, and you almost believe him. He doesn't steal things - he borrows things and just doesn't return them. And besides, usually it's the owner's fault he doesn't give them back - they should have been more careful shouldn't they? He has a callous disregard for human life, sometimes breathtakingly so. Moore travels the world in the 1920s and 30s - America, South America, Europe, China - partly because he has a real sense of adventure and seems to revel in danger - but partly because towns, cities, countries and even whole continents often end up a little hot for him because he's...well, let's face it...he is a crook. Bob Moore wouldn't know a scruple if it jumped up and bit him, but he knows how to spin a great yarn.

THE SINGER - Cathi Unsworth
Published: 2007
Setting: Mostly Hull and London
Protagonist: The members of punk rock band Blood Truth
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'You can tell its love by the expression on their faces. Four, maybe five hundred of them, packed together so tightly they've formed a kind of human sea, rolling and lapping in waves around the rim of the stage.'
It's 1977 and, like many young people at the time, Stevie Mullin has discovered punk. He and some mates form a band and, when they meet their edgy but charismatic singer Vincent Smith, it seems as though everything falls into place. They shoot to fame on the punk scene and make powerful and inspiring music, despite the tensions under the surface - mostly caused by Vince, who is quite a destructive character. Then, in 1981 Vince disappears. Twenty years later, journalist Eddie Bracknell is intrigued by the story and delves into the secrets and lies that surrounded his disappearance. Cathi Unsworth was a music journalist during the punk era and the atmosphere is totally authentic. I found myself trying to work out whether some of the characters were based on real people. The story and the characters reflect the passion, energy, aggression and rawness of punk, as well as the deprivation, social unrest and alienation of the times.

Published: 1949
Setting: errrr...a city somewhere along the Ohio River
Protagonist: Captain Sam Birge of the Homicide Squad
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'The yellow fog was already creeping up around the Marne Hotel, mingling with the white breath from the sewers, carrying west the faint, sweet, rotting scent of the Ohio River.'
Captain Sam Birge is a dedicated and overworked homicide detective. His latest case is the brutal murder of night club hostess Janice Morel - or, as the front of the book describes her "blackmailer, hostess-entertainer, a lady of no virtue. Somebody wanted her dead." Janice lived in a sleazy residential hotel and when Birge and his partner, Lieutenant Charley Hagen, start their investigations, they interview a number of colourful characters, most of whom have mysterious pasts, or tortured presents, and Krasner brings them all to life with a few deft touches. We get to know Janice herself through fragments of diaries she has left which chart her downward spiral from hopeful, naive small town girl with ambitions of fame and fortune, to used-up, old before her time good time girl. This is an excellent, noir-feeling book, which has a wonderfully seedy atmosphere. Highly recommended for lovers of noir or hard-boiled or TV series like Dragnet.

EYE FOR AN EYE - Frank Muir
Published: 2007
Setting: St Andrews, Scotland
Protagonist: DI Andy Gilchrist
Series?: 1st
First Lines: 'Rain hangs from the sky in silver ropes that dance on the street and spill from choked gutters. Lightening flashes. His face flickers white.'
A serial killer called The Stabber is terrorising Saint Andrews. The victims are all men who abuse women, they are all attacked during storms, and they are all stabbed in the left eye. I sighed when I read the prologue - why must serial killers always write in italics? I mused to myself, twisting the legs off a wasp. However, there was a lot about this book that I liked - particularly the main character - DI Andy Gilchrist, and a couple of the supporting cast. There were things he did that I didn't agree with (she says, vaguely, so as not to give anything away), but I found him an easy and interesting character to read about. The dialogue is excellent and it's very well paced. I also enjoyed the St Andrews setting - traditionally the home of golf and where princes go to university.


  1. I don't get the problem with italics. Somebody said that from the stage at Harrogate as well.??? Some excellent choices here, Donna. I keep meaning to read Lansdale.

  2. Mick - I think for me it signals that it's a 'serial killer with a message' sort of book :o)I have no issues with italics as a breed :o) You definitely need to read Lansdale - he has such a wide variety of work it's difficult to say which! For hard-boiled humour - definitely a Hap and Leonard. My other favourites of his are THE BOTTOMS and A FINE DARK LINE. I'm looking forad to getting hold of LEATHER MAIDEN. Errr...you know what I mean!