Thursday, March 04, 2004

Matty Groves

I also write reviews for Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, a little magazine that comes out (I think) quarterly from the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference held at Ball State University. Here's the last batch of books I reviewed:

MCKENZIE’S FRIEND by Philip Davison
Harry Fielding is a perhaps only slightly retired MI-5 agent who gets mixed up in the affairs of an old pal with a lucrative side business as a crooked cop. In telling the story of Harry Fielding, Davison evokes and updates John Le Carre’s George Smiley for the 21st century, adding a dollop of Nick Hornby-style dry wit with his observations of contemporary British culture alongside the muscular prose. A satisfying read.

THE VIKING FUNERAL by Stephen J. Cannell
An L.A. cop with myriad personal problems is dealt a real whammy when he sees a dead partner cruising down the freeway in a souped-up muscle car. Before long a deeply-engrained conspiracy with tentacles all through the L.A.P.D. comes to light, with the unstable cop at its center and his disbelieving lover and coworkers all around him. Cannell is probably best know as a television writer (with series like THE ROCKFORD FILES and THE COMMISH under his belt), and his writing still carries a whiff of that medium, with its glossy plotting and somewhat simple characterizations. Still a fun read, especially for fans of his television work, and part of a series featuring protagonist Shane Scully.

A curious genre-bender, placing a hard-boiled noir-style detective in a medieval fantasy setting; sort of Richard S. Prather by way of Terry Brooks, or Mickey Spillane by way of Gary Gygax, and if you know what I am talking about then this whole series of books by Cook is right up your alley. Liberal doses of comedy, along with the traditional fantasy and mystery elements, makes it a palatable enough concoction, but might not be for all tastes.

SAND BLIND by Julian Rathbone
In today’s political climate, this thriller from the mid-90s by British author Rathbone is probably worth another look. A sadsack Brit with an unraveling personal life ends up, through a complicated sequence of events, getting involved with the impending Gulf War; but whose side he is on, and how he got there, is at the core of the mystery. A complex politically-themed suspenser, SAND BLIND ping-pongs from the palaces of Hussein to the corridors of Washington and everywhere in between, and is rife with double- and triple-dealings and sudden twists of fate. Though not without its flaws, Rathbone’s novel is certainly food for thought when seen through the lens of current events.

TISHOMINGO BLUES by Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard has had a long career spinning stories of tarnished cops, soft-hearted crooks, sardonic flim-flam men, motor-mouthed hookers, and other denizens of the fringes of crime. His early novels were largely set in Detroit, but lately Leonard has been taking his cast of characters to new locales far and wide. TISHOMINGO BLUES finds a high-dive daredevil getting mixed up with opposing criminal forces vying for the burgeoning drug trade sprouting up around local casinos in Tishomingo, Mississippi. Many colorful locals, and a surprising denouement at a Civil War re-enactment, add some variety to Leonard’s usual modus operandi of witty dialogue, offbeat situations, and sudden, explosive violence.

Caustic, corrosively funny British novel features a somewhat lackadaisical horror writer whose career—and life—begins to take many sharp twists and turns after he first befriends, and then subsequently angers, a menacing local crime boss. The crime boss dispatches a hitman who, fortunately for our hero, is an old schoolyard chum who believes he still owes a debt of gratitude to the writer. How this hitman then insinuates himself into the rest of the writer’s life is at turns hilarious and chilling, leading to a stunning conclusion. Reminds one of what “The Sopranos” might have been like had it originated on the BBC, THE DEATH YOU DESERVE is dark-humored and hard-nosed.

A grifter whose mind is able to weave complex sting operations--but is also often seized by crippling obsessive-compulsive disorders—finds his life changing dramatically upon the arrival of a long-lost teenaged daughter. Garcia evokes the edginess of Jim Thompson, and blends it with deft characterizations and situations, for a compelling story. The inner workings of the various scams, and the equally complicated inner workings of a family, are interesting reading throughout. An admirably byzantine plot ends on a bittersweet note, but Garcia has created a fully-realized world and characters the reader can invest in.

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