Sunday, August 23, 2015

2015 in Books

Crime Irvine Welsh - Detective Inspector Ray Lennox is taking some much needed R'n'R with his fiance far away from the damp and cold, the drug problems and burning bridges, not to mention the ghost of murdered little girl, back in Edinburgh. He's arrived in the sun-fucked, paved paradise of south Florida and it's only a matter of hours before he's ready to ditch sobriety, fidelity and all future plans. It's at his weakest moment that he encounters a scene so pathetic, so bankrupt and cliche and terrifying in the banality of its evil his rusty old gears begin to click and he finds himself the temporary guardian of a little girl whose mother is in jail and probably in deep shit with some gangsters and dirty cops. A lot more heart-on-its-sleeve than I was expecting from Welsh who's plenty capable of emotionally investing me in the pathos of horrible people, this one seems as determined as its protagonist to find some redemption in the mess out there. The expected nasty is brought (the conspiracy Lennox stumbles into is some world-class awfulness) and the satire is turned on the the broad bullseye of Americana (which is fun, sure, but such a fish-shooting proposition it takes away some of the bite), but the single bravura sequence - the night of debauchery turning to a horrifying awakening - stood out so starkly against the fine if fairly conventional thriller aspects of the book it left me wanting more like that. Maybe I'll backtrack in my Lennox stories and read Filth next.

Dogs of God - Pinckney Benedict - The lone novel from a master of stories that reads like a collection of linked shorts concentrating on a fledgling drug cartel/cult in the wilds of West Virginia armed to the teeth, built on the back of slave labor and led by a messianic figure - Appalachian Apocalypse Now ain't too far off a description. The language is beautiful, the imagery striking. The tone vacillates between wryly observational and Biblically furious and it features a large cast of characters so disparate in focus and point of view you'd be forgiven for losing their place in the tapestry before the final knot's been tied off, but holy hell the final third of this book spins so hard on the fragile axis of reality the warbling at the edges is where you see all the best shit. I'd love to see another novel from PB, but he's got three terrific collections of short fiction and I'd be damned happy to have more. 

Freight - Ed Kurtz - Down and out in Texas is as good a place as any for a crime story. Make it half a heist thriller and turn it into a road novel and a revenge tale and maybe even a redemption and add one of the many voices knocking around the cranium of Kurtz and you've got something akin to Jim Thompson or Joe Lansdale in tone and scope and filmed in wide-angle Texi-vision. Crime Factory's Single Shot line of brief, blustery, blistering criminal chronicles has a winner here. 

GBH - Ted Lewis - George is the man at the top of London's underworld, controlling all manner of illicit goods and services, but his time on top is just about up. Someone with an intimate knowledge of his business is taking too big a slice and George can't let it slide. He begins an investigation into his organization, taking it apart from the top down with a hammer and a blow torch and leaving a string of bodies and ruined testicles in his wake. The narrative is split into two time lines: The Sea - George in hiding in a rundown resort town avoiding the public eye and reflecting on the events of The Smoke - George burning through trusted associates and rival crime syndicates without pause or mercy. The callous, casual tone that depicts scenes of torture, or bizarre sexual practices and dark pornographic corners where the real money comes in is chilling and without humor, but by the book's end has a humanity to care about enough to feel the loss and horror of its descent into paranoia and insanity. I think I said it earlier - the climax melted my face off. If you're a fan of fare like The Long Good Friday or Lewis's more well known Jack's Return Home (filmed thrice as Hit Man and the title the book's recently returned to print under, Get Carter) you'd better run, don't walk to pick this one up. Also - go give this piece by Andrew Nette at The Los Angeles Review of Books about Ted Lewis a go.

Goodbye Kiss - Massimo Carlotto - Giorgio Pellegrini is an unrepentant scum bag criminal who operates by psychosis in lieu of a code. Not to say he's crazy exactly, he's just so stone cold, so ruthless, so untied to anything resembling a moral north star he judges the value of everything and everyone in the world by what it/they can do for him and oh, buddy, has he got some plans. Probably my read of the year here, kids. This is hardboiled crime fiction at its purest, most potent and most propulsive. The pace at which Carlotto churns through plot is stunning. Pelligrini stars in several mini-novels in this brief and amazing book. We get vignettes of his criminal career starting with his time as a left-wing guerilla soldier, moving on to prison, turning stool-pigeon, ex-con street thug, nightclub bouncer, pimp, heist mastermind and setting the stage for his most chilling personae - legit business man. I compared the second Pellegrini book, At the End of a Dull Day to fare like Scott Phillips's Wayne Ogden novels (notably, The Adjustment), but this one is more like an even more hardcore version of Richard Stark's Parker books. Hate to say it's out of print now - I landed a used copy - but you should seek it out if you read this blog, it's so very for you.

Love and Other Wounds - Jordan Harper -  Mad Dogs, Road Dogs and Pit Dogs fight for scraps beneath the table of the American Dream in this collection of short stories as visceral and vital as any other crime fiction you're likely to encounter between now and the rest of your life. Nobody makes me more jealous with a turn of phrase or as sexually aroused with an account of violence than Harper and if you didn't catch this one the first time around with the title American Death Songs you should fucking rectify that shit right now. Stick to your ribs crime stories with wicked sharp prose make this a must for fans of hardcore American criminal mythos.

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