crime fiction

Love In Amsterdam

Love In AmsterdamContinuing in my reading crime spree (a lovely ambiguous way of putting it) I finished Love In Amsterdam by Nicolas Freeling (1927 – 2003).  The novel was first published in 1962 and was the source for at least one film and two television series. It seems to me that this novel was read more frequently when the years began with 19– than in the contemporary times.  I have to be honest and say that this is a difficult novel to review and rate.  It makes sense that readers seem to be a bit polar opposite in their feelings toward it.

The difficulties in discussing this novel begin straightaway because this is a crime novel but the bulk of it is really a psychological non-thriller.  Definitely a very slow-burn, as they say.  Being honest, there were plenty of points that I would have given this, just barely, a weak 2-star rating. My reaction immediately upon finishing the novel was that it was a 4-star novel, for sure, and certainly the author is underrated and incredibly talented.

Truthfully, I strongly disliked all of the characters.  Every one of these characters I could spend a paragraph or two complaining about – pointing out their flaws and the things about them that I found off-putting.  For example, the main character, Martin is wretched with emotions and opinions and he is just generally lazy and self-centered.  The deceased of the novel is absolutely horrible in that she is very toxic and rotten.  All of the characters seem to lack morality on some level.  Usually a lack of morals or a nasty ethics is a good thing in a crime novel, but here it just makes things slog on in a claustrophobic and uncomfortable manner. The characters hang on each other, as if there is nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.  Similar feathers flocking together. Drawn to each other out of lethargy and stupidity – love and hate having nothing to do with it.

She blossomed on dramas and scenes, loved upheavals, denouncements, tremendous rages, weeping reconciliations.  That kind of thing was her daily bread and butter.  – pg. 16

I mean, thankfully, most people are not as extreme in these scenarios as this character is, but I am sure we have all met or known a person who seems to thrive on drama – creating it when there is none. Now, there are people who enjoy such theatrics, but on a lesser scale. Almost as if having any drama validates their lives or situations. Most of these people, I think, tend to just be exaggerative, acting overwrought about water cooler moments, so to speak. But the character who blossoms on great upheavals – of course becomes the murder victim, because the reader would think this sort of person developed dozens of tumultuous relationships that would result, maybe, in murder.

Yet, here we are:  the police are focused on one gentleman, Martin, because there actually are no other suspects. Immediately, more or less, we are given to believe that the chief detective, Van Der Valk, believes in Martin’s innocence.  However, throughout the entire novel, I was convinced that Van Der Valk was being duplicitous.  I did not, and do not, trust him – not even after the last page was turned. Of course, throughout the novel the detective is very much a tertiary character.  He is really nothing more than dialogue – a specifically stilted dialogue at that. We learn nothing about him; he remains more or less an empty concept with barely an outline.  Again, I do not trust him.

The novel is divided, unequally, into three sections.  The first seems choppy, but is readable. We meet some characters and its a bit difficult to believe how unlikeable so much of the novel is. Still, there is a little sleuthing, albeit very unique and immersive detecting. Martin is innocent, Van Der Valk also thinks so, except it seems like Van Der Valk is trying to make Martin “crack” and confess. Maybe he is just trying to see what Martin knows subconsciously. It is difficult to tell.

The second section is, obviously, the part that loses readers. If readers are going to quit or complain – it is definitely in this second section.  It is such a slog. It repeats the entire history of the relationship between Martin and the deceased.  The relationship, too, is hideously toxic. It is insanely claustrophobic and emotional and the characters really seem to dislike each other and just use each other – but only in a vague and lethargic manner.  The cigars and gin are not spicy and sharp like in Red Harvest.  Here, they are smog and lay heavy in the small crowded homes.  Martin quotes stupid quotes from artists and writers. The characters fight about nothing.  Obsession and stubbornness are on every page.

As I read this lengthy slog, I kept wondering why this was happening – both the chapters and words and also the in-story relationships. Why. Why any of this. Sure, it would be all right for an author to give us some background, to describe the characters by using their past narrative history.  However, after all the gray and lethargic days and nights sitting drinking first coffee then liquor, and frequently noting the runners in the lady’s stockings, the matchboxes that are used to gesture with, its too much. It feels like no background story could be worth this.

On one hand, the two main characters are written as if they are in near-poverty.  Neither has employment or works at well, anything other than being miserable. Yet, they seem to have an endless supply of liquor, cigars, coffees, etc.  People in dire straits do not usually lounge around draped in armchairs, sprawled on carpeted floors, leisurely wandering around bedrooms. In other words, the characters ought to be eating snow and licking dirt for meals and yet they are acting like the lords and ladies of manor homes. The characters are utterly self-absorbed creatures.  The best example is how the husband of the deceased character, Elsa, comes and goes and the characters seem to misinterpret his feelings and actions completely. As if the husband inhabits a parallel, but ultimately different world than they do.  Do not get me wrong, the husband, too, has a bunch of hideous and unpleasant personality traits that make him as unlikeable as the lot of them.

Somehow, though, I made it out the other end of this middle third. Immediately, the novel was improved. The storyline picked up again and the action and intensity was reasonable and then the resolution. The last third is intense, relatively exciting, and interesting. As I said, though, I still do not trust the detective. I thought for certain in this last section he was going to show his true face and show that he was being deceptive.  The odd thing about this is that I really do not like the main character.  So the fact that I was worried and concerned about Martin’s case does not make a whole lot of sense to me. It is probably less that I was caring about Martin and more so I could not stand to have Van Der Valk be cruel.

The water of the Amsterdamse Vaart was shaking itself and rattling at the canal banks like a bored child in a playpen. – pg. 189

The setting and place do not play enough of a rôle in this novel as I, the judicial reader, think that they should.  I think more descriptions of cold, ice, gray clouds would have suited this story. However, there is very little discussion of the location and setting whatsoever.  Actually, there is a great deal of words in Dutch, German, French that pepper the whole story. (Allegedly, Martin is fluent in multiple languages, I guess.) But using all of these languages does not help situate the story. I wonder if that is how Amsterdam was (1960s) – a place known by the multi-lingual conversations.

“….but I haven’t the men to go nosing in every corner; we aren’t the FBI with a thousand judo experts and television hidden in a baker’s van.  Not having all of this tripe means we have to use our brains, though.” – 198

I admit this quote from Van Der Valk had me chortle. The dig at USA FBI measures was delivered perfectly. Tongue-in-cheek, amphiboly sort of thing with no emotion or snark. True wit, I guess. Anyway, this is about Van Der Valk’s only good line in the novel. As I said above, readers are not really given anything about him. He remains an outline at best. Maybe the novel could have used more of him. Literally, more of him, rather than just whatever lines he was handing Martin all the time (see, I don’t trust Van Der Valk).

Anyway, this is a slow, slow-burning noir. It looks at unpleasant people and their obsessions and connections in their unhealthy relationship.  Guilt and revenge and stubbornness are examined. That whole immensely tiring middle section of the novel is horrible to have to read through. However, once its read, it fits perfectly and makes the weight of the novel and gives the characters a reality that otherwise would not be there. It is a well developed investigation of what was a gross relationship. Why did this relationship exist? Was the murder, at the end of the day, just a form of entropy? Was it revenge? And, did the relationship end before or after the murder? There is a lot to sort through for those readers who do like pondersome, heavy novels.

The best scene in the novel is a series of about five pages in which Martin is returned to his prison cell after his examination with the state-hired Psychiatrist. Martin, for the only time in the novel, is at wit’s end. The guilt, imagination, worries, fantastical thinking, catastrophic thinking, rationalization, etc show Martin’s breakdown. Alone in his cell he, for once, seems to be engaged in introspection.  One wishes he had been so introspective as he was smoking in the armchair of Elsa’s home the first few times.  But this writing is what Freeling excels at.  Its nearly perfect for this novel and would work in any sort of noir crime fiction.  Its gripping and intense – even if Martin is no one’s hero. I am giving this novel three stars. It could deserve four, to be honest. But the brutality on the reader of that middle historical section is a very muddy slog – I say that knowing that there really was not another method to plot this storyline.

3 stars

Gallows View

Gallows ViewI finished Gallows View by Peter Robinson (b. 1950) this morning and I do not have good things to say about it.  It was published in 1987 and is the first in his Inspector Alan Banks series of novels. This summer, for whatever reason I have been up to my elbows in crime, mystery, and suspense novels. Truth be told, there are only two that I found to be good reading. Only a couple were decent reads and then the majority, I think, were quite bad.  Since I have finished this novel, I am debating with myself about whether this is the worst of the bunch or second-worst.

After reading the thing, I let the covers gently ease shut and I was frowning at it. In all honesty, if the author were in the room I would be giving him a narrowed-eyed look of deep suspicion.  I mean, I do try to separate author from book, but sometimes you read a thing and cannot help but feel uncomfortable and distrusting. The entire novel is about sex and the creepiest and weirdest aspects thereof. I do not solely mean the main crime of the book (the peeping Tom) which starts on page one in a graphic way. I also mean in the utterly toxic, obnoxious, idiotic drivel of “psychology” that the characters engage in pretending to be scientific, but realistically, just playing barroom banter.

The character of Dr. Jenny Fuller – psychology professor at York University – is quite possibly the worst-written, most farcical, cringe-worthy, embarrassment of a fictional character to ever have been written.  I do not know if I can truly explain how horrendous this character is, but allow me to just paint broadly and say:  the character is a gruesomely heavy-handed ploy to make the novel seem edgy and balanced and feminist (to a point) and yet seem objective and modern.  All of this is an absolute fail.  So, that is the theory, here is the evidence:  in chapter three, she is at a bar with the main character – this is how they have serious work meetings – and she is overcome in a giggling fit that includes a bout of the hiccups. The whole time, though, she has a weird “you had better take me (and my field of study) seriously” vibe. It is truly one of the most awful scenes I have ever read. I could write quite a bit about the awfulness of this whole thing, but I think my disgust is apparent.

The writing is inconsistent and stupid. For example, we are at a crime scene that is the home of an elderly lady.  Her place is stuffed with cubbyholes and mantles and little shelves that are full of bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, mementos, trinkets, etc.  It is busy and flowery.

The house was oppressive. . . . The walls seemed unusually honeycombed with little alcoves, nooks and crannies where painted Easter eggs and silver teaspoons from Rhyll or Morecambe nestled alongside old snuff boxes, delicate china figurines, a ship in a bottle, yellowed birthday cards and miniatures.  The mantlepiece was littered with sepia photographs. . . . and the remaining space seemed taken up by the framed samplers, and watercolors of wildflowers, birds and butterflies.  Jenny shuddered.  Her own house though structurally old, was sparse and modern inside. It would drive her crazy to live in a mausoleum like this. – pg 54, chapter 3

I found this writing to be intolerable. Absolutely awful. The author spent a lot of time describing the home and I developed an image of the place as per his guidance.  And then his idiot character, Fuller, is made to say blatant illogical stupidity. I almost threw the book after I guffawed and complained to my household. I understand what the author was attempting to say, but he stupidly chose the incorrect word. Unfortunately, he literally chose the word that would lend to the opposite imagery. Have you ever been inside a mausoleum? Its brutally “sparse and modern” in most cases. It is cruelly “empty” of human touch. Sure there are sometimes small hangers with fake flowers or perhaps a small flag, but the overall scene is cold and empty and yeah, mausoleums tend to smell a bit off. I suspect Robinson meant a reliquary or menagerie – or, worse, that he meant MUSEUM and typed mausoleum.

Every character in the book is constantly drinking.  The majority of their time is spent in a pub or drinking bottles of liquor. Immense amounts of alcohol are consumed in this novel. Literally constantly, by everyone:  morning, noon and night. There is a gross imbalance in this sort of writing. Its too much by a lot. The characters drink whenever anything happens, they are always in the pub, half of them are always drunk, they drink before they drive – and whenever they get to their destination. Its just overboard.

Far too much of the novel is also taken up with Banks’ amazing struggle to remain faithful to his wife, Sandra. I mean, Banks is madly overwhelmed with desire from the moment he meets Dr. Fuller in the cop shop. That evening he begins their professional, working relationship at the bar across the street. And then, has her drive him to a crime scene in her car.  Further on in the novel, Banks ends up at Fuller’s house and “resists” the urge to cheat on his wife. Fuller knows he is married and allegedly was just testing him. Or was testing her own assessment of him. Either way, its utterly toxic and hideous.  Of course, throughout the novel, Banks avoids mentioning his collaboration with Fuller to his wife. Others (including the superintendent who requested Fuller’s presence on the case from the university) in the police force make it obvious that they suspect him of cheating on his wife.  I would really like to Banks to read Matthew 5:28 if he can stay out of the pub long enough to do so……

Two young thug teenagers have begun a life of crime. They escalate their crimes from theft, to breaking and entering, to awful behavior.  In one of their heists, they urinate/defecate all over the living room of the house they broke into. Things escalate further when, in the middle of a break-in, the owner comes home and finds them. The one teenager, who has never been with a woman, decides now is the time – and he rapes her.  Ridiculously enough, that is how the cops catch him – he gets VD from the woman and he seeks treatment at a clinic.  Seriously, the constant all-angles obsession with sex in this novel makes me uncomfortable about this author.

One would assume this is all that could be done in this little novel. Alas, I am sorry to report that there is more. One of the red herring characters is a creepy librarian with a penchant for porn magazines – a fact all the police officers seem to mention very knowingly.  Further, and worse, the father of one of the teenage thugs is currently having an affair with a woman in the neighboring apartment because her husband is often out of town.

This is a nasty little town of perverts. It is not a well-written novel! I have yet read much praise for this novel and for the main character, Banks.  Frankly, all the weird adultery aside, he is the most boring and dull detective that I have met in books. I am really floored and confused by all the praise it has been given. Once again it occurs to me that readers rate and review the novel that they THINK that they read or the novel that they WANTED to read and not the one they have in their paws. It is a strange disassociated delusion I think happens more than readers admit. There is nothing good I can say about this one, unfortunately, but I own book two of the Banks series and am unsure if I will read it.

1 star

Black Knight In Red Square

Black Knight in Red SquareI finally got around to reading the second book in Stuart M. Kaminsky’s (1934 – 2009) Inspector Rostnikov series Black Knight In Red Square (1983). I had read book one in the series way back in 2013.  I gave that novel a four star rating and I am going to give this novel the same. I knew even before opening the book that it would be four stars, so I am likely very prejudiced by enjoyment and not being very objective.

In this particular novel, Kaminsky’s work as a professor of film studies comes through very strongly as the setting for the novel is an international film festival in Moscow.  This background really works for the novel and I think that Kaminsky does a great job with it. However, anything involving film theory is lost on me. You may as well be trying to explain deontology to a goat for all the connection you would get between me and film.  I hate TV, to be honest. I think one of the earliest films (in the theatre) I saw was The Song of the South (1946) and since then, I have not seen nearly what most people have. Surest way to make me lose interest is to start talking about the camera qua eye or the formalist valuations or the cut scenes. Oh, and I can be harsh with my criticism:  sitting staring, mouth agape, at some flat screen while fakery dances before your eyes via people who live to deceive must be the stupidest non-activity modern man has developed. What a flabbergasting waste of life.  Usually when I “watch” TV/films I am usually more intent on the people around me – how are they suddenly hypnotized and de-brained so easily? Passive zombies.

It absolutely, to my mind, proves the insanity of humanity when people watch movies/TV “together.” To my mind, film or TV is utterly a singular, personal, non-group non-activity. Its farking madness that people have a sort of “where two or more are gathered in any name, let the TV be on” mentality. The majority of TV/film I have seen has come from times when I was ill, times when the weather was super inclement, or I was alone for long stretches of time.

You can imagine that I have made many many friends and allies with these views. Let us just say that the people I know must have a great deal of tolerance and patience for me.

So, naturally, I was a bit disappointed in this setting because well…. anything, for me, might be more interesting.  But then I must give credit to Kaminsky because he wrote an engaging setting without making me feel like I was suffering through more “film theory” hypnotism. Indeed, he writes a certain character who is very extreme in his film making. He wrote another, a German named Bintz, that he describes in a lively and realistic manner.

“I make no movies with terrorists,” said Bintz, his hands still to his lips, his head shaking a vigorous no. “If they don’t like your movie, they put your head in a bag and shoot off your knees. Werewolves are safe.” – pg. 99, chapter 8

There are Russians who bond with film theory – maybe even invented it. And there are Russians like the character Emil Karpo – who are busy working. I am with Karpo. In fact, Karpo steals the show in this novel.  The main character, Rostnikov is still there and leading the proceedings, but Karpo is the star of the novel. I really liked everything about him in this one and he and I would be excellent friends, were either of us to have such things as “friends.”

Throughout the novel, there are some scenes that are written perfectly. For example, when Karpo interacts with the medical examiner.  That whole segment is beautifully done; the characters, the props, the dialogue is all perfect.  Similarly, the fight scene when the elevator opens and the “stubby washtub” Rostnikov is scowling at everyone is also written so skillfully. And, of course, the humor and surprise and emotion that Kaminsky plays with when he describes Rostnikov’s weightlifting competition (chapter 11)! Finally, any scene with Rostnikov and Comrade Timofeyeva is marvelous.

It is not lost on me that Kaminsky writes his book as if it were almost a movie. Or perhaps he writes the movie in his imagination as if it were transcribed into a novelization.  Kaminsky is very good at this creating these scenes and the elements in them. What would this movie be like as a film? Would it be better or worse?

Film and fiction can (and do) exaggerate.  Is this not based on the physical nature of the ancient theatre works? A stage is always the place for the melodrama and the hyperbole. It is no place for the dull, mundane, or normal. Thinking this way, does Kaminsky exaggerate or play on stereotypes of Soviet society and Russian personality? Yes and no. I think he treads a fine line and goes a little each way, but overall holds the centerline and keeps the whole thing very entertaining – which is, ultimately, what is wanted in a novel.

From time to time foreigners have attributed this quiet atmosphere to the fear of the people in a totalitarian state, but they have only to read accounts of Moscow streets before the current century to know that this is not true.  No, while Muscovites can be given to hearty laughter and heated argument and even madness, they are essentially a private people.  They drive their emotions inward where they build, rather than outward where they dissipate.  And Russians are fatalistic.  If a person is run over by a car, it is terrible, horrible, but no more than one can expect. – pg 171, chapter 12

Terrorists, or maybe just one terrorist, are threatening Moscow.  The MVD and the KGB are working “together” – in the strange and antagonistic way that they do. It is never the teamwork or the group as a whole that find success.  Instead, the focus is on the individual diligence.  Obviously a strange paradox for a communist situation. In any case, Kaminsky also relates the terrorist’s motives to film – or, at least, the stage.  Terrorism is to be seen and known, at least in Kaminsky’s 1980s.

I took a course in undergrad school called World Terrorism and it was taught by some very significant professors/experts in the field.  At that time, this was hardly a field and it was bunched into the political science curriculum.  I remember, though, the constant emphasis on “what does it show? who was the audience?”  Terrorism as film and vice versa? Heavens! no wonder I dislike film.

Overall, I really like the Russian characters, Karpo especially, but also Rostnikov and Timofeyeva. I feel like I can sympathize and understand them. I do not understand many characters in books, so this novel was a pleasant change for me. The pacing in the novel was spot-on and the writing is very well done.  The novel, which on the surface is just a little mystery thriller, is actually a bit more significant when read as a film theory.  The fact that I enjoyed this and picked up on a lot of this speaks to how skillfully this was all done! I definitely recommend this to readers and I do intend to read more in Kaminsky’s series. Also, there is a pet cat in the novel.

4 stars

The Voice and Other Stories

The VoiceThe Voice by Seicho Matsumoto (1909 – 1992) is a collection of six short crime stories.  This is the first I have read by him, but I absolutely would read everything by him based on how much I enjoyed this collection. I think the height of popularity for him was in the 1960s/1970s.  In 1952 he was the winner of the Akutagawa Prize.

This collection was just the sort of fiction that I enjoy.  One of the characteristics is that the writing is perfectly balanced – like a nice gravy. Yeah, that is an odd thing to use, I know, but hear me out.  Most gravies/sauces are too salty, too fatty, too pungent, too potent, too sweet! Every once in a while, though, you get the joy of a perfectly balanced sauce that is blended, vibrant, and balanced.  There is no one flavor or seasoning that is overpowering. The whole thing is complementary of whatever else is being eaten. In the case of these stories, I felt Matsumoto’s writing was utterly balanced:  he absolutely had the correct scaling between giving us a robust and well-formed story and not over-writing every aspect.  The writing was excellent for short stories.

The genre of crime fiction and noir stories really matches Matsumoto’s writing skills here. At the heart of each story is not some complicated situation with many actors and many victims and misdirects and red herrings. The stories here are from situations in everyday life.  Although there are a few points that rely on coincidence, most of these stories are so ordinary as to be rather boring – were it not for the skill in telling them.

  • Kyohansha – 1965 – The Accomplice5 stars
  • Kao – 1959 – The Face5 stars
  • Chiho-shi o kau Onna – 1959 – The Serial5 stars
  • Sosa Kengai no Joken – 1959 – Beyond All Suspicion5 stars
  • Koe – 1959 – The Voice4 stars
  • Kanto-ku no Onna – 1960 – The Woman Who Wrote Haiku4 stars

The first story, The Accomplice, was stressing me out as I read it. I am a silly, basic reader and I kept shaking my head as I read because the main character’s choices were digging him deeper into the scenario and it was all because of a choice he had made a long time ago that was haunting him and tormenting him.  Now, I am quite sure, many readers would scoff at my tension caused by this character.  But there is no defense, Matsumoto knew how to get his story to resonate with my reading style, I guess. Character Hikosuke was a man who created his own demise, but he made me worry about him and his errors. Without a doubt, I gave this story five stars because unlike so many stories I read, it engaged me quite a bit – and without using exaggerated writing tricks.

The Face has some similar elements to the first story – the main character is, again, the cause of his own struggles. The perspectives of characters and the skewed decisions based on such perspective drive both of these rather mundane storylines. In this story, there are some detectives that really bring the plot to life.  I like Matsumoto’s detectives, because they are not the superhuman Poirots and they are not the pompous Nero Wolfs.  There is a fantastic scene that takes place in a restaurant in Kyoto – an imobo (kind of a yam based dish…) restaurant – that caused my heart to palpitate.  It was so subtly written and yet so immersive.

The Serial started off with such an everyday and mundane beginning that I was sure that it was not going to meet the level of the previous stories. But I was wrong! First of all, I really enjoyed the brief thoughts about newspapers that used to print serial fiction. (Maybe, in a few years, I will simply be reminiscing about a thing called newspapers!) I enjoyed this one a lot because it also played on the characters’ assumptions and perspectives. I really liked the inclusion of some of the details and the way the plot built. The main character is trapped in a situation, so, of course, I pity the character.

Beyond All Suspicion was one of the longer stories, but it kept my interest the full length. Again, a character finds himself in an unfortunate situation and does not make the best choices. He chooses revenge and thinks he can outwit everyone. Poor, miserable character. As a revenge tale it works really well because it demonstrates a revenge that is long-in-coming and not some hot-headed slash-up.  It also contains a bunch of noir elements like nighttime bars, banks, taxi-cabs, and a silly song that becomes an integral part of the story.

The last two stories are the ones I gave only four stars.  I felt that The Voice started off very interesting and super noir.  However, the second part (there are two parts to this one) got a bit too convoluted, though the detective team involved really do keep the reader informed throughout the investigation. I just felt the resolution was a bit too complicated. Or, maybe “complicated” is not the most accurate word here. Perhaps I just did not like the way it all worked out. I think that is accurate.  I felt badly for the victim; she had a lot of nonsense in her life that it does not seem she deserved – plus, she was one of us:  a fellow reader!  Similarly with The Woman Who Wrote Haiku – wow, this was quite a sad story.  The crime was entirely imaginable, though. It was difficult to not feel sad for the poor woman we readers never actually met.  I supposed we ought to be somewhat glad that there were these interested parties (members of a Haiku magazine) who solved the crime.

Easily some of the best stories I have read in this year. The style of writing is exactly what I enjoy and the crime/noir was neither gross nor over-done.  Nothing was exaggerated, nothing was unnecessary. I do not re-read a lot of fiction, but I do think that I could re-read these stories.  I wish I could get my hands on all of the author’s fiction, because he has a lot of skill that makes reading his stuff an enjoyable experience.

5 stars

Dirty Deeds

Dirty DeedsThis blazing hot and overcast afternoon I finished Dirty Deeds by Armand Rosamilia.  It is another book that is different from my usual go-tos.  Another small press publisher / self-published effort that I have enjoyed.  I did not know what to expect, honestly, but the author photo was of him with a beard and described him as enjoying metal [music] and baseball and being from New Jersey. So, I knew this guy was probably pretty cool. Seriously. Do not mock the 45+ year olds who love baseball and metal; we are cooler than you kids will ever be.  I saw 40 awhile ago, have scruff on my chin and I love metal and baseball, and I am from New York. Even if Rosamilia’s book was trash, we would still be pals. 

Do not worry! Dirty Deeds was not trash! It was one of the more enjoyable and fun reads I have read in awhile. The evening I started reading this, I read the first forty-seven pages and was pretty amused and interested in the storyline. I mean, I had the book in the house since February [its nearly August], but I have so many books to get to! Its really nice when you can finish a book and then the next one is precisely the sort of thing your mood-level wants to be reading.  This one started off in media res and moved really quickly!  Five pages in, the main character was in the back of a police car.

Most of the other reviews that I glanced at had some minor comments about how the overarching plotline is kind of unrealistic. Well, sure it is; if you want realistic – read non-fiction.  I admit a small measure of suspension of disbelief is needed for this, but again, I would not expect that to be any issue at all for a reader. The concept of this novel (and series) is that the main character is rather one-of-a-kind and the work is unbelieveable. I am so very thankful to have read a novel where there was something unique and new and interesting instead of the usual plots and settings.

I really like the main character, too. Although, yeah, there are times I want to deck him.  I wish he would take better care of what he eats – he’s a stress eater – and would maybe think about fitness a little (or at all).  I like his honesty and his confusion and his skewed morality and his confidence.  Instead of being the Hero Skilled at Everything, he is a bit of an Everyman who just happens to have a very unusual life.  Now, in the early parts of the novel, I felt the main character was a bit too smooth, too perfect an operator. By mid-book, we see this guy knows what he is doing, but maybe does not handle so many changes and abrupt shocks all at once. I like that he is honest about it – his hands shake, he buys baskets-full of junkfood from gas stations. He copes. 

If I had any direct complaint about the novel it is that maybe here and there are a few awkward constructions or elements that do not work as well in my eyes as they did coming from the author’s fingertips onto the keyboard. No big deal.  These did not have any ultimate effect on the story whatsoever, but they did sometimes speed-bump the reading a bit.  Just sentences that did not flow correctly. 

Besides the relatively unique concept for the series, I really like all the other constructions. I love that the main character has a side-business that he would rather be his main business, which is selling/trading Baseball Cards.  Its such a fantastic idea for a story – and it fits so absolutely perfectly with the main character and the concept of this book.  This is a really great idea and I wanted to high-five the author about it.  Yeah, yeah, I know not everyone has a concept of baseball card collecting/selling. I also know that not everyone truly, really understands baseball. But for those of us who do, who remember those 70s, 80s, 90s baseball cards…. man, this book is a real treat.  Lots of nostalgic moments here – those outrageous 1990 Donruss cards with the RED border! Or those 1982 Topps cards that looked so 80s! Or, my favorite, those amazingly ugly 1975 Topps Rookie Cards – by position, with the four pictures on the front! 

I will stop now. 

Anyway, toward the end of the novel, I felt the storyline was getting a little wonky. I mean, it seemed the main character was spending a lot of time in the backseat of cars being driven here and there after flying to all these cities – but nothing was really happening. Also, some of these cities were in different time zones and some of the timeline just seemed too condensed. I know the author was really trying to press his character – put the squeeze on from a variety of angles and never letting the reader know who the real bad guys were. However, maybe it needed to decompress here and there. 

Yes, the ending is a helluva cliffhanger. Obviously, the author did this on purpose to set up the direction for the next book, which he hopes you will buy. Some readers took issue with this.  I guess they felt it too obvious. I am fine with the way this ended – it is very much open ended, no closure, but so what? Continuation in a series is a tactic and it beats all the fake “tied-up-in-a-neat-package” endings that sometimes we readers suffer through. Besides, I have read a lot of PKD novels – those are some choppy ended novels.

So, I had a lot of fun with this one. I enjoyed nostalgia. I like the main character. The story is very fast-paced and easy-going. I recommend this to readers who want to enjoy what they read and can be content with popcorn, a Coca-Cola, and an engaging crime novel.  I do own the second in the series and intend to read it and I am interested in maybe trying out some of the author’s other work.

4 stars

Gumshoe Blues

Gumshoe BluesGumshoe Blues by Paul D. Brazill is a short story/short collection of really fast-paced snapshots of a self-described private investigator named Peter Ord.  For the readers who are very fastidious about their categorizations, this would be considered modern noir – “Brit Grit.”  Under one hundred pages, this little copy is via Close to the Bone Publishing, which is  U.K. publishing house specializing in crime fiction and modern noir.  Their edition of Gumshoe Blues is from 2019.  I think Brazill had published some amount of this work in some other manner at some point previously, but I am not a biblio-historian.

Paul D. Brazill seems to be, and I say seems because I am hardly an expert in anything anymore, something of a good benchmarking standard in this genre. After reading Gumshoe Blues, its easy to see why. He has a really good style that matches the genre.  His mind’s-eye for scene and setting is sharp, as well.

I do not read a lot of this genre, but I am reading a bit more of it. Its become very challenging to get through any dense tomes with complicated plotlines and extreme character development. I do not have the time to invest in these works, at least, not currently. You may politely ask why not and I will mention that I have really upped my physical training for hung gar (I have 18 years of this training) and I have been spending a lot more time fishing. I have utterly lost track of where the TVs are in my home.  Anyway, reading fiction has kind of taken a backseat (BUT NEVER NON-FICTION).

Certainly, this genre is not for everyone. I am really enjoying the small print/publishers focusing on crime fiction. Long ago I became unimpressed with what “suspense/mystery” meant in the mass market LoBs. It seemed overrun by the same authors who, to an extent, seemed to be publishing the same novels? And yes, some of that is expected. Tropes and formulaic writing is the backbone of pulp media.  I still have a whole mess of such novels I want to read, do not get me wrong – I like reading! However, there is something refreshing and edgy and curious about what the small print/publishers are able to do for authors who do not want to compete with James Patterson.  This particular publisher and writer are working in a genre that is gritty and dark and definitely comes with warnings for readers.

One of the things I liked about Brazill’s writing is that his turn of phrase seems utterly seamless and smooth – nothing forced or awkward. I worry that many authors can really write “gritty crime” without making what should be noir and street-worthy somehow goofy and ridiculous. Brazill does really well with that and even injects a little wry humor. What’s more, though there has to be a lot of coarse language, it absolutely did not have that egregious display of gratuitous filth that some writers are unable to balance.

Gumshoe Blues is a short page-turner of snapshots of Peter Ord’s current life in Seatown.  It rains a lot, there are way too many seedy locations, and everyone seems to know everyone. Without describing every single aspect, Brazill has the reader follow along with Ord as Ord hangs out in pubs and clubs – and as a reader I found it quite convincing. I felt that feeling of not wanting to lean on the furniture, get too close to the walls, and cringing at the sticky floor. Its dark and smells like stale everything.

The writing is less about characters and more about snapshots of this genre. I enjoyed my time in Seatown, I guess, and hanging out with Peter was a unqiue experience. I am glad I read this – and I will probably try to read more by Brazill. Recommended for toughened readers, readers who don’t read for character relationships, and readers who laugh at tragi-comedy.

4 stars