I usually do these at the end of the month but then I went through a big reading slump March-May. And then I roared back but realized I was behind. So apologies for this being so long.
There Will Be Fire ****
A good, readable text on a moment in history I knew little about. Even after reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, I still had a lot of problem keeping track of all the socio-political dynamics so it’s good that Rory Carroll makes it accessible for a novice like me. Carroll doesn’t really do good/bad in term of the major players but looks at the story in total and its complication and tragedy. He never lets you forget that there’s a human toll.
City of Dreams***
City on Fire was an entertaining gangster potboiler. It didn’t need a sequel but Don Winslow had to ape The Odyssey so there’s a needless second part and it’s just…blah. Even for Winslow, it strains probability. The whole gangster-in-90s-Hollywood bit feels like something out of Jackie Collins and/or Mario Puzo, two entertaining authors…but authors that Winslow has long since lapped. This should have been better.
A well-done biography. Somewhat of a polemic at times, which can annoy, but also important given the times we live in.
Under Color of Law****
Giving this one the first book bump. There’s a lot to like here with setting and intrigue. Plus the notion of a Black LAPD Detective navigating a tricky murder of a Black LAPD trainee is a demanding setup and I think Aaron Philip Clark does a great job with it. What a relief for a writer to allow their MC to be truly complex. The plotting stalled in spots, characterization wasn’t great, and the love angle and ending respectively left a lot to be desired. But huzzah for a writer who shows great confidence with their first book.
The Kind Worth Killing ***
Peter Swanson has clearly read James M. Cain one too many times. Not that it bothers me! There are worse authors to ape than Cain, who wrote the best kind of domestic thrillers, many of them involving the erotic. Here’s another Cain riff and while it entertained, I still preferred Eight Perfect Murders. I didn’t care about any of these characters or what happened to them. But I was excited to keep reading in order to find out! I’ll definitely be checking out Swanson more in the future.
The Last Quarry***
This series was trapped in 70s amber where it belonged until Hard Case Crime rescued it. While I’m sure Max Allan Collins is quite happy about that, this rebooted version loses the flavor and grimness of its 70s aesthetic and worldview in favor of Too Old For This Sht barbs and One Final Job staleness (which is certainly not a final final job as HCC would go on to publish nine more). An uninspired plot, heaping doses of sexism, and just a lot of meh. If Collins had written sixteen of these before the 80s concluded, I’d be thrilled to read em. As it stands, I’ll likely have to turn my nose to finish the rest.
Big pro: Lee Child uses Reacher for half the book to dispel the POW/MIA myth that has perpetuated in the US for decades.
Big con: Reacher’s love interest in this book is a 30-year old woman who he was crushing on back in her teen years. His thoughts of her back then are referenced multiple times. Really gross and not okay!
Small pro: Reacher’s background is as an MP so it was fun watching him play military detective instead of just beat guys up.
Small con: No one lives on “Lower Broadway.” If they lived in Lower Manhattan, you’d say something like “23rd off Broadway.” Drove me nuts.
This is absolutely not the book I expected. It’s a Lew Archer tale in gangster makeup. Not as good as Macdonald, of course, but…John Farris wrote this when he was 19. 19! I can’t get over that. Slow and sleepy at times, predictable in others, it’s still a quality novel and an impressive feat for someone to publish it at such a young age.
Only the Dead Know Brooklyn***
A lot of this is right up my alley: NYC, examinations of decaying institutions, gentrification and neighborhood change and, of course, crime. And a lot of the dialogue sounds realistic. But the plot meanders and is too packed for the story it’s trying to tell. Also, I don’t care for diabolical serial killers, even if this one is more three dimensional than most.
Informative—if dense—take on what the Panama Papers are, how they came to be, and why they impacted us so much. Gets a little too deep in the weeds with name-dropping and creaky narrative formula but overall, I got a good picture of what happened and (somewhat) how. Shame that this will still continue, just under different guises.
Liked this a lot better the second time around. Mind you, I liked it the first but I was so focused on how Lethem wrote the character of Lionel Essrog that I totally missed how great of a job Lethem does telling the story itself through him. It’s a classic.
Winning Fixes Everything****
This book crystallizes how much my views have changed on the concept of analytics. I think baseball needed to be pulled into a modern era and Billy Beane did a great job expanding scouting principles to include Bill James’ work and data-focused exams to help his cash poor As teams get a leg up. The problem is: rich people ruin everything. So now, you need an MBA to run a baseball team, they’re staffed with Ivy League eggheads who are all emotionally disconnected from reality and they sort of inverse analytics to ignore the human aspect of the sport. Just reading the shit the Astros FO got up to: firing all their scouts, McKinsey consultants, having a “research and development” department…sheesh. The cheating scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. These people were terrible.
I tried so hard to get this to a pity 3 stars. I liked Davey Davis’ prose and there are glimpses in this book where their talent really shines. But the MC sucks, the sex/pain consumption is a lot to get through (especially with the non-consent), the characters are thin, the mystery is poorly done, and the dystopia is barely visited (though quite accurate when it is). I get why folks liked this book, it just wasn’t for me.
Our Last Season***
Harvey Araton is a good writer and there are some beautiful moments in this book but by-and-large, the central relationship isn’t that interesting. For Knicks completists.
The Boys From Biloxi****
John Grisham here writing a Don Winslow-esque multi-generational crime epic, the kind of books I love. This one’s set in Biloxi, Mississippi. Would have liked it a little more pulpy and the character development is lacking but the environment is great and if these kinds of books are your thing (as they most definitely are mine) you’ll enjoy it.
Ex Machina Book Four****
I love Brian K. Vaughan’s work. He has a great sense of humor and writes fantastic dialogue. The stuff here on religion, 9/11, life in NYC…just beautiful. The stuff on race…eh. A lot of that weird non-apology apology stuff that’s par for the course in white liberalism. I appreciate his efforts there, mediocre though they are. At any rate, another great entry in this series I love.
This book wound up winning me over, which I didn’t think possible when I started it. It just felt meandering and obsequious about its individual scenes without a larger plot. But I continued on because I needed it for a library bingo…and by page 133 or so, it clicked for me. Didn’t care about Mike and June but I loved DeCapite’s fellow Williamsburgers, the descriptions of New York past/present/future, the quality of his prose. It took me back to a Manhattan autumn that no longer exists in an era of climate change. I don’t think it’s good — and it’s not what I would normally read — but it worked and now I kind of miss it.
There’s an interesting book in here somewhere but it’s buried under overwritten descriptions of a guy editing films and bohemian jet setting through Europe. Still not a bad effort for someone under 30.
The Crust on its Uppers***
“Derek Raymond’s” first book. Overwritten and packed with Cockney dialogue that was tough to translate for me, there were still glimpses in dialogues and scenes that showed the great writer he would become by the time he got to the excellent Factory Detective series.
That Kind of Danger****
Again with my one book of poetry I read per year. And again, it’s the same pluses and minuses I have with a lot of poetry: prose that vacillates between the beautiful and self-indulgent. But the beautiful aspect was beautiful, especially the rich descriptions of outer borough NYC life and living. Some of those will stick with me. The rest are hit-and-miss.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing***
Loved the idea of this and the pacing is good but whew, is it written in the smarmiest, most obnoxious way possible, how a dude would write a quirky female MC if AI generated her after reading a dozen Buzzfeed posts circa 2013.
So since I have nothing else constructive to add on this particular book, let’s get into the concept of an ageless Spenser.
I’ve been fearing death a lot this week due to climate catastrophes near where I live. I fear death enough as it is and though I believe in an afterlife, it’s just that: a belief.
So that said, I just love the idea that I could remain an immortal soul, forever a 40-year old Vietnam vet turned PI, as long as someone keeps writing me that way. If doing private eye work in Boston is an endless purgatory, hey, there are worse fates. Sign me up.
The first story of a crooked-cop-and-robber during a One Last Job Night was a lot of fun. The third story of firebombs and real estate was good and readable.
The second story was written with one person in mind and that person is me: 70s crime, NYC, blaxploitation and a Smooth Operator Doing Things. Oh yes indeed. 100 of the best pages I’ve read all year.
Another great edition to this excellent series. Can’t wait to see how Whitehead wraps it up.
A great debut effort on the links of womanhood and how it forms a collective energy through generations (maybe literal?) to bond against the social and physical powers of men. I didn’t love it as much as the hype; one of the characters isn’t as developed and I would’ve loved a whole book around another. But it’s still a good rookie book, quite moving in spots.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon, I Mean Noel****
A fun, quirky puzzle box mystery for the youths. Nothing will ever broach the greatness of The Westing Game but some familiar touches are there in this one.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires****
An entertaining read as far as these things go; some King homages mixed in to an easily digestible narrative. However, I read a Reddit post that had me thinking differently. The post was regarding the predatory nature of vampires in this book and I can’t say more without spoiling. Maybe there’s multiple layers here in a way I did not appreciate when I pegged it for a quality horror potboiler. Or maybe they weren’t as well done as the writer would have liked. Either way, it has me intrigued to read more of Grady Hendrix’s works.