Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Djibouti

Djibouti by Elmore Leonard

I don't usually let myself read back-to-back books by the same author. In fact, I usually try not to read books in the same genre consecutively. This time I wasn't thinking about my self-imposed limitations but only about reading a good story. I think subconsciously I'm still recovering from this.

Joe Hill, one of my favorite authors, and the son of my favorite author, gave a great review of Djibouti along with a resounding endorsement of Leonard himself on his website. I don't think there's anything more I could add, so I'll just concur.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Pronto

Pronto by Elmore Leonard

The second season of Justified just began, so I thought it'd be a good time to read Elmore Leonard's other book featuring Raylan Givens. Apparently Leonard is so pleased with the television series based on his characters that it's inspired him to revisit them. So there will be a third book in the not-too-distant future.

In Pronto, Raylan takes his Beretta and his Stetson to Italy chasing after Harry Arlo. The unscrupulous bookie has been skimming from his boss for years while working his gambling operations. Harry believed that he was simply doing what every bookie does, and that his boss should consider it a cost of doing business. But apparently his boss doesn't share those same feelings and has put a price on his head. Harry decides to accelerate his plans to retire to a villa in Italy by a couple of years and disappears.

Raylan, who has managed to allow Harry to slip through his fingers twice now while he was responsible for watching him, decides to take things personally this time around and travels to Italy to protect Harry from his boss's hired muscle as well as bring him back to the States.

I enjoyed Pronto. Leonard's style takes some getting used to. He uses a lot of dialogue to tell his stories and to provide his characters' backstories. He doesn't spend much time setting his plots up, he's kind of the antithesis of Tom Clancy in that regard. Reading his books is kind of like watching a movie - you sit down, relax for a couple of hours, and enjoy the story. I find it a little ironic that so far, Hollywood has failed miserably in every attempt it's had to take one of Leonard's books and make a successful movie out of it. It makes Justified all the more satisfying to watch.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Big Blowdown

The Big Blowdown by George Pelecanos

Following WWII, Pete Karras and his friend Joe Recevo return home to Washington D.C. to find that the best money to be made comes from working as collectors for the local crime boss. But it's a job that Joe finds himself better suited for than Pete does. One night, after Pete goes soft with one of the men he's supposed to strong-arm, Joe is forced to abandon Pete so that their boss can mete out his punishment.

A couple of years later, Pete, left with a permanently useless knee, works as a short-order cook at a restaurant owned by Nick Stefanos - a central character in four previous Pelecanos novels. Their paths cross again when Joe and his gang enter Stefanos's restraunt to extort protection money from him. Nick and his team are not the types to be pushed around, and the events that follow are classic Pelacanos.

One of the things that I enjoy the most about Pelecanos's books is the way he ties them all together. He doesn't use the same character over and over as the main protagonist. For example, in The Big Blowdown, Pete Karras and his wife have an infant son, Dimitri, who grows up to become a central character in King Suckerman. Pelecanos is a compelling storyteller whose characters are flawed, but who I couldn't help but care about.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Those who know me know that I'm a huge fan of Stephen King. I don't call myself his number one fan for obvious reasons, but I think I'm up there among the obsessed. My parents bought Misery for me for Christmas one year when I was in high school hoping that I'd discover the joys of reading and got more than they bargained for. That book began my obsession with reading, and Stephen King books will always occupy the premier space on my bookshelves.

It wasn't until the last fifteen years or so that King began being recognized for his literary talents. For the majority of his career he's been looked down at as simply a pop horror writer. Fortunately and deservedly so, critics have recognized and acknowledged many of his most recent books for what they truly are, excellent stories being told my a master of the craft.

Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four commonly themed novellas. 1922 is a story about a husband who, along with his son, kills his wife. The story shows how that act causes a psychological break in both of their lives that eventually leads to their self destruction. Big Driver is the story of a moderately successful author of a women's crime series that is assaulted by a man one night on her way home from conducting a book signing. The woman decides that the only way to fill the void left in her life from the traumatizing experience is to take on the role of judge, jury, and executioner. Fair Extension is a Faustian story about a man diagnosed with cancer who is given the opportunity to bargain with the devil. Finally, A Good Marriage tells the story of a dutiful wife, who after sixteen years of marriage discovers that her dull and unassuming husband happens to be a notorious serial killer.

Each one of those stories is excellent. King is a master of taking the most relatable and ordinary people and putting them in extraordinary circumstances.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Sherlockian

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

At the turn of the 20th century Arthur Conan Doyle committed murder. He threw a man loved by everyone in England, but whom Doyle had come to despise, off of a cliff in Switzerland - Sherlock Holmes. Now, with his literary creation dead, he's ready to begin  writing again for enjoyment. That all changes when a package arrives at his estate. It contains a bomb and it nearly ends Doyle's life.

His near assassination prompts Doyle, along with his close friend Bram Stoker, to see if he can use the powers of deduction he gave to Holmes to discover the real-life mystery of who wants him dead. Is one of his fans really angry enough with him to try to kill him?

One hundred and ten years later, a similar mystery is unfolding. Harold White is attending the annual convention for The Baker Street Irregulars, the premier society of Holmes devotees known as "Sherlockians". Harold has just become the society's newest inductee and is anxiously awaiting the convention's key-note speaker, Alex Cale. Cale announced months ago that he had finally found one of Doyle's missing diaries, the diary that covered the period of time in between when Doyle killed off Holmes and when he inexplicably resurrected him again for The Hound of the Baskervilles. The night before Cale was to make the contents of that diary public, his body is found in his hotel room, strangled by one of his own shoelaces, with the word ELEMENTARY written on the wall in his own blood.

I really enjoyed The Sherlockian. It's Moore's first book, but it reads like a book written by a seasoned writer. The chapters alternate between Doyle's investigation and Harold White's. Moore does an excellent job of taking real mysteries from Doyle's life - what happened to the missing diary? and does that diary explain why he would decide to resurrect the character of Holmes seven years after his death at the hands of Moriarty? - and incorporating them into a work of fiction. It's a book that will be enjoyed by people who have read the Sherlock Holmes stories and one that will make those who haven't, want to give them a try.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆