"The Use of Landscape," by Robert Boswell, in Houston Noir, edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda, Akashic Press, 2019.
The publisher sent me an advance reader copy of this book.
I want to start by acknowledging the cleverness of editor Zepeda. These noir city books are always divided into three or four sections and the editor has to come up with names for them, which are often subtle or less subtle references to Crime, Money, Sex, etc. Here are the dividers Zepeda used: Desirable Locations With Private Security, Peaceful Hamlets Great For Families, Minutes From Downtown and Nightlife, and Up-and-Coming Areas Newly Revitalized.
And deep in Desirable Locations, Robert Boswell has offered us a charming story about sociopaths. Cole is the planner. We are told he loves no one. Doesn't care much about sex although he will use it to get what he wants, which is money. Not much interested in buying things with it; money is just a way of keeping score.
His girlfriend is Herta. They met when she tried to rob him. She says he will eventually try to kill her, but hey, she's not perfect either.
Tariq rounds out the crew. He's a bartender and an expert on cleaning crime scenes. Tariq has pointed Cole to a young woman, rich in money, poor in personality and brain power.
"Did I tell you what happened at Affirm today?" Madelyn asked. Affirm was her gym. She described the days activities in excruciating detail, a saga that lasted nearly twenty minutes. Summary: she exercised.
You will be mightily entertained as the trio the narrator calls the Criminal Element plot their nastiness while discussing women's underwear and the books of Virginia Woolf.
Monday, April 22, 2019
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
The publisher sent me an advance copy of this book.
"You're Jewish, aren't you?" the editor of Blitz Magazine asked me.
"Yes, I am." I felt uncomfortable. "Why do you want to know?" That kind of question coming from Germans irritates me. It runs in the family, I guess.
"Then you must have known Mark Lazar well," he said.
Because obviously all 30,000 of the Jews in Berlin must know each other, right?
Great opening for this story in which a freelance journalist is asked to look into the death by drowning of a prominent politician. Suicide, accident, or something else? Could his death be related to his immigrating from Russia after the Soviet Union fell? Or to his plans to run for mayor?
The investigation is very interesting, the effect it has on the narrator even more so. This is a very cynical story, which makes it very noir indeed.
Monday, April 8, 2019
Big typo corrected. Apologies.
This is the second appearance here by Beck.
Take a look at her. Even if it's hard.
You won't want to look at her because she stinks and is filthy from head to toe. You think you know what you'll see but take a look anyway.
That's how the story starts. It seems like a bit of sociological fiction, an analysis of a mentally ill homeless person. But there's a lot more going on here.
The narrator is Dora's brother. He explains in detail how his sister's life has slowly derailed and the damage it has done to the whole family.
And then, well, things happen. Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, once said, as I recall, that she likes stories that turn out to be something different than they appear. I suppose that is almost but not identical to a twist ending. Read "Dora" for an excellent example.
Sunday, March 31, 2019
The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book.
I have read novels with less plot than this story. Somehow Dapin manages to keep all the balls in the air.
The narrator, Chevy, is a half-Laotian architect. He is on remand - that is, in prison awaiting trial - because the police think he killed his best friend, Jamie. A security camera caught them fighting, and Jamie hasn't been seen since.
Fortunately, Chevy has a lawyer. Jesse is his former lover and a very complicated person. ("I used to say that I only loved for people -- two of them were Jesse...") Unfortunately, no aspects of her personality involve legal skills.
And then there are the Vietnamese in the prison that want him dead, apparently because he is Laotian.
I haven't even mentioned the Lion King, a gang boss who runs the cell block. He is a truly disgusting person and is taking an unhealthy interest in our hero.
If I listed all the other threads in this tale you would think it was some kind of postmodern experimental fiction, all bits and pieces that don't connect.
Don't worry. The author knows what he's doing. But does Chevy?
Monday, March 25, 2019
The publisher sent me an advance proof of this book which opens with a pastiche of, or homage to, a well-known crime novel. It's a very clever piece of work.
Robert has just arrived home after years overseas. He reluctantly attends a birthday party for an acquaintance named Fred. The reason for his reluctance is that Fred's daughter is Robert's former lover, who cheated with, and then married, Julian, a friend of Robert's.
Fred confides that Julian has disappeared with a trace. Perhaps Robert can inquire among their mutual friends? It turns out that that bunch had been pushers and users and Robert doesn't want to get involved with them.
But he gets drawn in and discovers some terrible stuff going in. You might say that the biggest difference between this story and the book that inspired it is the question of nature versus nurture: Which is responsible for the catastrophe that has occurred?
Monday, March 18, 2019
This is Allyn's fourth appearance here.
I don't know if I would call it a subgenre exactly but there is a type of crime story known as the didactic mystery, in which the setting becomes part of the story. Dick Francis, for example, taught you something about horseracing in every book, but especially in the latter novels he would also inform you about a different industry: glassblowing, liquor, investment banking.
Doug Allyn is a form rock-and-roller and this story is about Murph, leader of an over-the-hill heavy metal, struggling to keep them all alive, functional, and headed down the road to the next paycheck. This gets complicated when, during a gig in Detroit, someone fires three shots at the lead guitarist, wiping out his Stratocaster and almost taking him with it. Or maybe the guitarist wasn't the intended target...
To get his band back on the road Murph needs to help the lieutenant dig into the past to find a potential killer, before he strikes again. A satisfying story.
Monday, March 11, 2019
This is the second appearance in my blog by McCormick. It is his third story about Tasia and Eleni, two young women who, with their mother, run a lodging house in Odessa at the turn of the century.
At the moment their only lodger is an actor named Oleg Olehno. He wants to hire the women as claquers, that is, members of the audience secretly paid to raise enthusiasm for a certain actor. Tasia, our narrator, doubts the ethics of such an occupation, but her sister is delighted to get paid to attend a show.
The complicating factor is the arrival of a giant - truly, an eight foot tall man - who is hunting for Oleg. Fee fie fo. Oleg explains that he borrowed money from the claquers guild in Moscow and this monstrous debt collector has been chasing him all over Russia.
Ah, but this is theatre, and theatre is all about illusion... This story is a lot of fun.