Here are the books I read in April that didn’t merit a full review…
Batman, Vol. 3: Death in the Family ****
Reading a Batman-v-Joker comic is perfect for April Fools Day. I loved Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls run but wasn’t sure how I’d feel about him doing a Joker story combined with the extended Batman Family (which I’ve never been interested in). But this is a good story, a creepy one that continues to burnish Snyder’s credentials on this series.
DC: The New Frontier, Volume 1***
I like the idea but the execution left a lot to be desired. My knowledge of DC isn’t as deep as I thought as there were a lot of references that I missed.
Batman: Curse of the White Knight****
White Knight might go down as one of my all-time favorite Batman stories so I was eager for the follow up but this is just okay. Too overstuffed and convoluted for its own good. I always like learning about the greater origins of Gotham but the way it’s put to use here leaves a lot to be desired.
Batman, Volume 4: Zero Year-Secret City****
Year One will always be the gold standard of Batman origin stories but this one is really good in its own right. I love Scott Snyder’s take on the character. He blessed us with the Court of Owls and this is great too.
Finally finished it after reading it on-and-off for years. A bad book but a guilty pleasure read. Wish it could just be a bodice ripping gangster tale without the accompanying bigotry.
Batgirl, Volume 1: Batgirl of Burnside****
Going to give this 4-stars against my better judgment. The stories are hit-or-miss, the tech stuff annoying. But it does one thing I always want Batman books to do: make Gotham feel like a livable place, not just a concrete hellscape of crime. Exploring the Burnside neighborhood, gentrification, etc. was interesting and makes it unique among Batman/Batfamily tales.
Batman, Volume 5: Zero Year-Dark City****
Not as good as its predecessor volume (nor is it necessary given how good its predecessor volume is) but good enough and an essential read to understand the influence behind the new Batman movie.
Sonny: The Last of the Old Time Mafia Bosses, John “Sonny” Franzeze***
There’s a more interesting story here than the one the author tells. Of course, like many, I came for the old school mob tales but Peddie just breezes through them because it’s not possible to corroborate them with any accuracy. She recounts the play-by-play of Sonny Franzese’s life but doesn’t slow down long enough to examine how much that life impacted others. Tell more of Tina’s story or why Michael had nothing to do with his dad after he found religion. It’s interesting in a “The last hour of The Irishman is the best part” kind of way but I feel like it could have been better.
The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer****
I’m going through Twin Peaks and loving it. Decided to grab this one because it’s set between seasons 1 and 2 (I’m 6 eps deep in 2 now). Kind of like Euphoria: Twin Peaks (at least I’m assuming as I’ve never watched Euphoria), it’s nonetheless interesting to see how Jennifer Lynch brings Laura to life and, thus, raises the stakes for her death, which is central to the story even though her former fictional existence can sometimes feel like nothing more than a plot device. A must read for any fan.
Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free****
Sarah Weinman’s books have followed a familiar pattern of bringing to life the women of whom are the object of inspiration for horrible, powerful men. Just as she did in The Real Lolita, Weinman covers the lives of the women Edward Smith assaulted, with special detail to the one he murdered, and how he connived his way to an early prison release thanks in part to William F. Buckley, who denigrated the victim without knowing her. Not as tight of a story as her other book, but still mostly well told and important for understanding how the female victims and survivors of violence are often pawns in a larger narrative.
Call Me a Cab****
The book itself: it’s fine, it’s fun. Only Westlake could do something like this and pull it off. I enjoyed it.
With that out of the way: this book reminds me of the unoriginality that has befallen Hard Case Crime. Yeah, I get that the occasionally Stephen King book keeps the lights on. And I get that republishing familiar authors helps goose sales.
At the same time, this label took a chance on writers once. And it rarely does. James Kestrel’s Five Decembers sadly seems like the exception to the rule. I just wish they did more of that instead of regurgitating old stuff from Westlake, Max Allan Collins, Lawrence Block, etc. And I LOVE those writers. But they’re so familiar. Please, please give us new stuff, whether it’s getting the rights to under-published old school noirs or taking chances on new authors. Please.
Please See Us****
Unintentionally so, I’ve read a lot of books lately on violence against women and the consequences they face (and how they face them). This murder mystery, set in a decaying Atlantic City, is another. Character driven and with great prose, it’s a well-told tragedy, even if it drags in spots. I really felt for the two main characters and that’s what kept me going.
I’m trying to become a published author. I don’t have any illusions about potential greatness but it’s painful to read someone so lauded when I know I could write circles around them. No less than Sarah Weinman of the Gray Lady praised Gordon’s Bouncer series. I feel like Kanye West in “Testify” recalling his pre-fame songwriting days: I was having nervous breakdowns like damn, this dude much better than me?
Anyway, much of this was predictable, the characters are thin as paper, the less said about the main villain the better. Gordon does do pace and his atmosphere isn’t bad. This barely clears the 3-star threshold but now I need to read more to see what Weinman is talking about and maybe…maybe I can learn something?
Blood on Snow****
The first Nesbø book I finished after many other attempts. Really a meditation on perspective and storytelling (of the personal narrative sort) wrapped in a crime novel. I don’t think this means I’ll become a Nesbø fan but it worked for me here.
Tough Luck: Sid Luckman, Murder, Inc. and the Rise of the Modern NFL****
Interesting sports/mob crossover story come to life; certainly one I wasn’t infinitely familiar with. A few redundancies and inaccuracies but overall, it’s mostly well-told and kind of sad, though it does seem like Sid Luckman turned out okay.
I’d put off reading this book for years. I owned it once and it’s been loaned to me by my local library 3-4 times. Finally sat down to it and once I pushed past the first 15 pages…it’s really good! I love tales of municipal corruption and this one is layered well. Bonus points for setting it in the Bronx. Could’ve done without the White Messiash-ship but beyond that, it’s good.