The first in a long line of crime novels

Naked in Death by J.D.Robb

naked in deathLast week, Victoria over at Tales from the Reading Room wrote a post about Obsession in Death, the latest in J.D.Robb’s long-running crime series featuring detective Eve Dallas. In fact, it turns out that Obsession in Death is the fiftieth in the series! I knew that I had the first novel in the sequence somewhere on my shelves, and felt compelled to dig it out and see how Dallas began…

As Victoria said, Robb/Roberts is known for her philanthropy which is lovely. She is also known for being a writing machine, producing countless novels each year, romances as Roberts, crime as Robb. Naked in Death was published in 1995 – the first of fifty, so that’s two or three per year of this series alone.

Eve Dallas is thirty. She’s a Lieutenant in the NYPSD (the ‘S’ is for Security). At the start of the novel she is called out to a murder – it turns out to be the grand-daughter of a senator who is running for his party nomination on a ‘moral’ ticket. His grand-daughter in one of those f***-you type career choices has been working as a ‘licenced companion’ – a prostitute. The scene is grisly – she was killed with 3 bullets from a hand-gun. There’s a note under the body saying 1 of 6.

Naturally, the senator is all over the department wanting to keep things closed down, but Dallas knows there may be more deaths – and there will be.  The killer seems to be expert at bypassing security systems and leaving no trace, but in true psychopath style he sends Dallas videos.

One of the immediate suspects is Roarke, an Irishman. He’s a tycoon, he owns the building she was killed in, he collects guns – which are now antiques. He has to be a suspect – if only he wasn’t so sexy – because you just know that Dallas and him will end up in the sack for some truly purple prose – lancing spears and all that!

Enough of the plot, for it was entirely predictable, I guessed whodunnit halfway in, but the pieces didn’t fall into place until later.

You don’t really read series like this for the crimes. They’re incidental, you read them for the characters. You hope for some development – and reading between the lines in Victoria’s review I can surmise that apart from Dallas and Roarke ending up married, that little has changed in fifty books. However: Naked is set in 2058; Obsession is set in 2060. So these fifty books move forward just two years.  My – that’s a full case-book of murders for anyone!

Note that near-future timeline. In 2058, guns have been outlawed, become collectors items only. Prostitutes have become legal, licenced. Various gadgets make modern life easier, but as far as I could see offer no improvements in quality of life. None but the rich can afford real coffee. Roarke is planning a space resort – so Richard Branson may continue to dream on. Yet, it’s all too familiar – in a way it’s not futuristic enough in its detail. Apart from the guns, there seemed no need to set it in the future, and even now there are collectors of old firearms – the perp could have used contemporary collectibles.

What of Dallas and Roarke? Well she is of course a feisty superwoman, and Roarke may as well be a superman, not so much Clarke Kent, but Bruce Wayne – his money can buy him anything.  Dallas is damaged goods, abused as a child – holding it all in ever since. Roarke is a chancer who hit lucky and made enough money to go legit.  She is a good policewoman with the appropriate contempt for authority and is not afraid to bend the rules. He is just sickening – too handsome, too rich, too lovey, too much!

So there we have it. Naked in Death combines crime with a steamy romance.  I liked the crime part, and squirmed a bit with the romance. As a whole, I enjoyed reading Naked in Death in exactly the same way as I enjoyed reading The Da Vinci Code. With no expectations, it was very easy to read throwaway grisly fun. (5.5/10)

* * * * *
Source: Own copy.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link – thank you):
Naked In Death: 1Glory In Death: 2 etc by J.D. Robb. Piatkus paperbacks, around 400 pages.

 

 

Charlie Mortdecai, volume two

After You With The Pistol by Kyril Bonfiglioli

mortdecai 2
This is going to be a quick post, as you shouldn’t read the second novel in this delightfully Un-PC comedy crime series until you’ve read the first – they follow directly on from each other, but I’m not giving anything away with this quote from near the beginning…

To this day I still do not know where it was that I awoke nor, indeed, how long I had been separated from my cogitative faculties, bless them. But I think it must have been somewhere awful in the North-West of England, like Preston or Wigan or even Chorley, God forbid. The lapse of time must have been quite three or four weeks: I could tell by my toenails, which no one had thought to cut. They felt horrid. I felt cross.

BonfiglioliCharlie Mortdecai, art dealer and aristo-gentleman bon viveur, all-round reprobate and womaniser, first appeared in Don’t Point That Thing At Me which I reviewed over at Shiny New Books – so head on over there to get a feel for it in detail.

First published in the late 1970s, if you crossed Jeeves and Wooster with James Bond, extra double-entendres and a total disregard for political correctness, you’ll get the idea. If you’re easily offended, these books are probably not for you…

The second novel sees Charlie Mortdecai, art dealer and aristo-reprobate forced to get married, thus getting into even more improbable scrapes, this time involving the a spy school for women and Chinese tongs…

You can also learn a surprising amount from Charlie – the following is actually true – I checked:

‘Please salt the eggs for me,’ I said by way of conceding defeat, ‘I always overdo it and spoil them. And do please remember, the fine, white pepper for eggs, not the coarse-ground stuff from the Rubi.’ (Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice once told me why waiters of the better sort call that huge pepper-grinder a ‘Rubi': it is in honour of the late, celebrated Brazilian playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. I don’t understand it myself because my mind is pure.)

I chuckled all the way through this book, and shall be reading the rest in the series before the film comes out in the spring.  Yes, if this sounds like your kind of thing, you need to get cracking in case the film is a dud. (9.5/10)

* * * * *
Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Don’t Point That Thing at me: The First Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 1)
After you with the pistol: The Second Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 2)
Something Nasty in the Woodshed: The Third Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 3)
All by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Penguin paperbacks – around 200 pages.

A Walk Among the Tombstones: Book v Film

The recently released movie A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson is based upon the 10th in the series of Matt Scudder books by Lawrence Block. I’ve read the first twelve – and have enjoyed them all, with a few more still to read one of these days. I read this back in 2006, and my capsule review from my master spreadsheet reads thus …

Scudder 10This is the tenth in the series of Matt Scudder novels from Block, and they keep on getting better. The subsidiary characters are starting to have lives of their own, and Scudder, the ex-police, ex-drunk, maverick detective is getting more complex a personality with each novel. This one sees him finally establishing a firm relationship with ex-hooker Elaine, which makes a good sub-plot. The main story this time is the hunt for a particularly gruesome kidnapper and serial killer whose latest victim is the wife of a rich drug dealer. The dealer pays the ransom demand, and his wife is returned to him – dismembered! He can’t go to the police, so persuades Scudder to take up the chase to avenge his wife’s death. Absolutely gripping. (9/10)

Naturally I was keen to see the film…

The critics have been divided over it – I’ve seen reviews giving it 4/5, Mark Kermode only gave it 1, describing it as ‘head-bangingly dull’!

a walk among film poster

There has only been one previous outing for Scudder on screen – Jeff Bridges played him in a 1986 film based on the fifth novel in the series. I’ve not seen it, but IMDb suggests it’s not brilliant.

If you except Neeson’s dodgy American accent (and wig in the flashback), I felt he fitted the role rather well, inhabiting Scudder’s melancholy, downbeat style with the right amount of world-weariness.

The film starts with a flashback shoot-out – we have to set Scudder up for why he’s no longer a cop. He gets the bad guys, but a riccochet kills a bystander – a young girl. He was drunk – he left the force.

Cut to several years later, and what I didn’t mention above, was that there is a pair of sicko sadistic killers who are preying on the wives and girlfriends of drug dealers – the one Scudder takes the case for turns out to be the latest in a series…  In these days when the internet was only just starting to take off, and cell-phones were not ubiquitous – the investigation means shoe-leather and pay-phones for Scudder. You know they’ll get the guys in the end.

However, and this is where the critics probably were split – all the way through the film, Scudder goes to his AA meetings – they keep him on the straight and narrow. It’s character-building, but doesn’t provide action – and lately, of course, Neeson has primarily been seen in action roles. Anyone who has read any of the novels will realise that AA is an important part of the sober-Scudder’s make-up.

A_Walk_Among_the_Tombstones_1I can’t remember exactly which of the Scudder books he first appears in, but he often gets some help from a smart street-kid called T.J. – particularly when confronted with technology. However T.J. wants to be a detective and always ends up getting involved – indeed without his help, they wouldn’t have tracked the bad guys down so quickly. He’s played by Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, and although it gives Scudder the chance to play Dad when T.J. has a sickle-cell episode, it does hold up the plot.

A_Walk_Among_the_Tombstones_3The film definitely shows the grubbier side of New York – Carrier bags stuck in a chain-link fence of a dis-used lot. This contrasts with the nice pads of all the dealers whose wives have been targeted. Dan Stevens, (yes, Matthew from Downton Abbey) plays Danny Kristo the dealer whose case Scudder takes. He may have dark hair and a moustache here, but you can’t mistake those eyes.

One big thing that’s missing from this film is women in any major roles other than as victims or fellow alcoholics at meetings. There’s no girlfriend Elaine for Scudder – he lives on his own in a small appartment. Apparently, Scudder’s policeman friend Joe was changed into a woman cop for the film – but all her scenes were cut to keep the hardboiled noir feel. This is mens’ work. It may be wrong not to feature any strong women’s roles, but it does emphasise the brotherhood aspects. There isn’t enough time to give any of the guys a real home-life unlike in the books.

The violence, particularly against the victims is nasty, in book and film.  If you can stand the gore, Neeson is a suitably haunted and thoughtful PI, and I’d rather like to see more of him as Scudder.  (Film 7/10)

This will work either way – book then film, or film then book. I’d seriously recommend the books though…

* * * * *

To explore the Matt Scudder books on Amazon UK, start here:
Sins of the Fathers (Matt Scudder #1)
A Walk Among The Tombstones (Matt Scudder #10)

Jumping into a new to me crime series…

Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

Murder-in-Pigalle-397x600

I usually like to read a series of crime novels from the beginning, to get any back-story in the right order and to see how the recurring characters develop. Sometimes, however, it’s good to jump into a series knowing that if you enjoy a later volume, that you may have the pleasure of reading all the earlier ones to come. This is what I did with Cara Black’s latest crime novel – her fourteenth featuring chic Parisian P.I. Aimée Leduc.

Leduc runs her own detective agency, aided by best friend René and computer hacker Saj. They appear to specialise in cyber-crime, but there’s not much going on at the moment for Aimée is five months pregnant.  Her lover, Melac, doesn’t know – he’s in Brittany near his ex-wife, and where his daughter lies in a coma. Aimée, who has obviously had parent issues of her own, is confused by her own impending motherhood – the baby is beginning to really kick.

A quiet life is not going to be for her though.  In Pigalle, the night-life heart of Paris, a serial rapist is following young girls home from school and raping them, and one has died.  Aimée has been helping Zazie, the young teenaged daughter of her favourite café owner with a school project, and one day she disappears.  Zazie’s mother enlists Aimée’s help as the les flics won’t respond until she’s been missing for 24hrs and awash with hormones Leduc flings herself into the case with a passion and zeal that will land her in big trouble.  It appears that Zazie has been shadowing a man whom she thought was the rapist…

With a sub-plot involving a robbery gone wrong by one of the girls in danger’s fathers, things get quite complicated quite quickly. Leduc finds that none of the parents of the raped girls are telling the full story – whether from guilt, shame or ignorance, and her blundering in puts her in danger too.

It’s hard not to like Aimée.  Think of a pregnant and French V.I.Warshawski and you’re getting there with regard to her character, however she’s not as good a detective as Sara Paretsky’s V.I.  Like most Parisian women, she’s typically BCBG (Bon chic, bon genre) – well as a P.I. maybe less of the BG – but still wouldn’t dream of going anywhere under-dressed, (nearly) every item of clothing has its labels.

The Dior shirt stuck to her back. She had to change. In the back armoire she picked one of Saj’s gifts, a loose, Indian white-cotton shirt – the soft fabric breathed, thank God. She pulled her short jean jacket over it, stepped into an agnès b. cotton-flounced skirt with a drawstring waistband and slipped into a low-heeled pair of sandals.

Black clearly does her homework in Paris for these novels. The detail feels authentic, but using the odd French words and phrases scattered throughout feels a bit unnecessary – the police are nearly always les flics, a bloke is un mec, no-one ever says sorry – it’s always désolé and so on.  If it were a French novel translated into English a translator wouldn’t do this.

Thirteen year old Zazie, although better behaved in general and certainly less potty mouthed, has echoes of Raymond Queneau’s independent spirit of Zazie in the Metro from 1960 (my review here) – I don’t know if that was deliberate or a happy coincidence.

Of course, I missed some of the back-story in her friendship with the dwarf René, her love Melac and her Godfather Morbier a Commissaire in the police, but even without that, this mystery stood pretty well on its own. I don’t know whether I’ll read the whole of the rest of the series, but I will look out for some of the previous titles as it would be fun to get to know Aimée Leduc a little better. (7/10)

* * * * *
Source: Publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
Murder in Pigalle: (Aimee Leduc Investigations) by Cara Black, pub Mar 2014 by Soho Press. Hardback, 310 pages.

Growing Old Disgracefully …

The Little Old Woman Who Broke All The Rules by Catharine Ingelman-Sundberg

the-little-old-lady-who-broke-all-the-rules-978144725061601Let’s get it out of the way. If you enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson as I did, (my review here), I’m certain that you will enjoy this novel.

This is primarily because the two books have the same translator, Rod Bradbury, and the English editions thus share the same writing style.

It is a shame however that the (different) publisher went for a lookalike cover for The LoL, as I shall call it, because that did make me think it was going to be a total cash-in on the 100 YOM’s success, and frankly I was almost put off by it. The LoL, despite initial similarities however, is different enough that I really enjoyed reading it.

The LoL is the story of five old folk, led by 79 year old Martha, who are being shabily treated by the penny-pinching staff of their residential home.  Being kept lightly sedated, virtual prisoners, fed plasticky meals and with coffee and biscuit rations ever decreasing, Martha decides to led a rebellion. To do that they need money. Martha thinks they could hold up a bank initially, but research shows that’s a non-starter.

The next day, while the guests, or the ‘clients’, as they were now called, at Diamond House were drinking their morning coffee in the lounge, Martha thought about what she should do. In her childhood home in Österlen, down in the south of Sweden, people didn’t just sit and wait for somebody else to take action. … The murmur of voices rose and fell all around her as she surveyed the rather shabby lounge. The smell was decidedly reminiscent of the Salvation Army and the furniture seemed to have come straight from the recycling depot. The old grey 1940s building, with its asbestos fibre cement cladding, was like a combination of an old school and a dentist’s waiting room. Surely this wasn’t where she was meant to finish her days, with a mug of weak instant coffee to go with a plastic meal? No, damn it, it certainly was not! Martha breathed deeply, pushed her coffee mug aside and leaned forward to talk to her group of friends.
‘You lot. Come with me,’ she said and gave a sign to her friends to follow her to her room. ‘I have something to talk to you about.’

Martha tells them her plans – and they’re all in!  The first thing is to escape the home though. This achieved, they hole up in a couple of suites in the Grand Hotel (just like the cons in the BBC’s Hustle), where they plan to rob the rich clientele. Having worked out that this won’t generate enough dosh, instead they hatch a clever plan to ransom a valuable painting or two from the city’s art museum. Everything is planned to the last detail; Derren Brown, who used a gang of OAPs to steal a painting in his TV special before Christmas this year would be proud of this lot.

They realise that they may end up in prison, they’ve seen on the telly that in prison they wouldn’t be treated any worse than in their home, and at their age … The caper proves to be so much fun, even when things don’t go totally according to plan, that they get a taste for it and decide to grow old disgracefully.

The LOL is gentler than The 100 YOM. There are no hilarious and ingeniously gory deaths, for instance.  It is also told all the in present, there are no flashbacks to earlier in the gang’s lives – they are rebooting their lives in the here and now.

There is plenty to chortle about, especially in all the character traits of the quintet. Martha, the bossy one, is the natural leader, Brains (real name Oscar) is the – er- brains of the outfit, and inventor.  Rake, a former seaman, is stylish and very much a lady’s man. Then there are her two lady friends, Anna-Greta who is very thin, very tall and very old and Christina, the youngest, who was used to high standards and needs to be persuaded they’re doing the right thing.  Add to them, the sadist Nurse Barbara, an assortment of other criminals, and the bungling police inspector, natch, and our rich cast is near complete.

The central caper was well thought out and great fun. The lasting memories of this novel though will be of five people who had been made geriatric before their time, rediscovering their joie de vivre, alongside a cautionary tale for those with relatives in a home to monitor the home’s performance as well as their loved ones’ well-being. (8/10)

* * * * *
Source: Review copy from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. Pub 2 Jan 2014 by Pan Books, paperback 438 pages.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Quercus paperback.

The Art of the Comb-over & American Hustle

American Hustle (15)

It is a brave film that spends its opening minutes with its overweight paunchy, balding superstar acting lead perfecting his comb-over.  Christian Bale put on 40 lbs to play Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time Bronx hustler who gets caught by the feds and offered immunity if he helps them in a big scam down in Atlantic City in the late 1970s.

american-hustle-poster-2Bale’s partner in crime is Sydney Prosser played by Amy Adams, who perfects a cut-glass accent as a British aristo with access to a good line of credit to haul in the marks on their get rich quick scheme. Amazingly Sydney falls for Irving – obviously not for his body, but his brain and ability to talk himself out of nearly anything.

The pair get trapped by agent DiMaso – Bradley Cooper in a poodle perm. Together the plan is to take on all the crooked politicians in Atlantic City, led by the likeable Robin-Hood of a Major (Jeremy Renner).

However the scheme gets out of hand when a) the Mafia get involved, and then later when b) Irving’s wife Rosalyn, (Jennifer Lawrence in blonde bombshell mode) can’t keep her mouth shut.

It gets good and twisty, and Irving has to work harder than he has ever done before to tread water and keep the sting alive. There is a magnificent uncredited cameo in the Mafia boss from Miami by … well I’m not going to spill the beans!

Adams and Lawrence are both magnificent – but Lawrence in the smaller part gets the amazing scene in which she is angrily cleaning her house in yellow gloves whilst singing along to Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die.

If hairdos are the main recurring visual (hair-rollers also feature big-time), the soundtrack is to die for – from Steely Dan’s Dirty Work over the opening credits, to Elton John, ELO, David Bowie, plus Horse with no name, White Rabbit, Delilah and I feel love and plenty of jazz too, I was singing along all the way through (I went to the afternoon showing this afternoon which had about 30 people in the big screen).

At 138 minutes it is a little long, and a little self-reverent,  but I revelled in the sheer late 1970s-ness of it, the level of detail was phenomenal, as was the on-going homage to Marty Scorsese. I never thought I’d want a fat, balding guy with a comb-over to survive what I thought would be the inevitable ending either, but by the end of it I did, Bale made Irving almost loveable.

For fans of the late 1970s and Scorsese, American Hustle was fab, and will doubtless get Oscar nominations for its stars.  I really, really enjoyed it.

The game’s afoot once again…

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

The vogue for new writers keeping others’ literary characters alive has never been stronger. I would wager that no one character has continued to be written more about than Sherlock Holmes, although James Bond must be getting close.

Most of the non-Fleming Bond novels are, however, officially commissioned by the Fleming estate. This is not the case with Holmes, but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily bad at all – Laurie R King’s Mary Russell books in which an ageing Holmes takes on a new female apprentice (my review of the first one here) are rather fab, but unauthorised.

house of silkWhich leads me to Anthony Horowitz’s novel The House of Silk which is fully sanctioned by the ‘Conan Doyle Estate Ltd’ – viz the red seal on the front cover of the hardback edition.

Horowitz will be mostly known to many as a writer of adventure novels for older children – The Alex Rider and Power of Five series are popular and, so I’m told, brilliant fun. He is also, however, the creator of two long-running TV detective series – The Midsomer Murders and the WWII-set Foyle’s War, and has long said that Sherlock Holmes has been his inspiration, so upon reflection – an ideal choice for continuing the Holmesian canon…

This was our November read for book group, and we discussed it last Monday over our Christmas curry outing. Despite a table laden with spicy delights, we did manage to talk a little about the book!

I won’t dwell on the plot suffice to say it is suitably complex, but clues are there, and you do get a sense of certain characters having a bad side to them. All the features you’d expect are present from the Baker Street Irregulars gang of urchins, to the peasouper fogs, opium dens, bent coppers, lots of nasty Victorian gents and murder.

The novel is narrated by Doctor Watson, as are all the Holmes stories.  After Holmes’ death at his home on the Downs, (not the Reichenbach Falls), Watson is recounting some of the stories he has not been able to tell so far, and had been kept in a vault for one hundred years – a neat little device to explain the new stories. (Yes, stories – apparently Horowitz is writing another.)

The book was easy to read, page-turning and thoroughly enjoyable, and everybody in our group liked it.  Indeed, it awakened an enthusiasm in several of us to read some of the originals (again). We would have liked a bit more Victorian detail in the locations, but that was a small quibble.

One thing we did discuss was whom we all envisaged our Holmes to be – you can’t help read a book whose lead character has been filmed so many times without a vision of one of these incarnations popping into your head. For some it was the ‘original’ Basil Rathbone, for others Jeremy Brett, for me Benedict Cumberbatch has superceded any other actor who may have played Sherlock in my mind; no-one went for Robert Downey-Jr.

So great fun and a good addition to the Holmes canon. (8.5/10)

Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The House of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel (Sherlock Holmes Novel 1)by Anthony Horowitz (2011), Orion paperback, 416 pages

Jazz Vampires – another case for Peter Grant

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the second novel in Aaronovitch’s ‘Rivers of London‘ series of humorous police procedurals involving magical crimes in contemporary London. If you’ve not read the first volume Rivers of London – head over here to find out about it – for you won’t understand much of what’s going on in the second book otherwise.

moon over soho

Detective Constable Peter Grant is continuing his tutelage as the Metropolitan Police’s only trainee wizard under DCI Nightingale at ‘The Folly’ – the Met’s secret magical crimes unit in Bloomsbury.

He’s called out to look at the body of a saxophonist who dropped dead after a gig in a Soho jazz club – there’s a definite aura of magic, ‘vestigium‘ in the air, typified by riffs from jazz standard Body and soul.  Grant will find that a suspicious number of jazz musicians have died in past years.

Grant recognises the recording of Body and Soul, but can’t place it and heads off to his parents flat.  His father used to be a great trumpet player, but had to stop. No longer able to play his horn, even though he’s retired, Richard ‘Lord’ Grant has turned to keyboards and is contemplating making another comeback.

Then there is a particularly gruesome murder in one of the Soho Clubs, again reeking of magic. They have a suspect but she’s going to be hard to catch. Grant enlists the help of Ash – one of the tributary river-Gods to follow her – but she twigs and Ash nearly ends up like her other victims, but Grant is able to get him back to the river in time by hijacking an ambulance – something that will get him in big trouble.  The murderer gets away though and soon news of another brutal killing comes through …

My Dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you’re born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train’s pulled into Piccadilly Circus they’ve become a Londoner. He said there were others, some of whom were born within the sound of Bow Bells, who spend their whole life dreaming of an escape. When they do go, they almost always head for Norfolk, where the skies are big, the land is flat and the demographics are full of creamy white goodness. It is, says my dad, the poor man’s alternative to Australia, now that South Africa has gone all multicultural.

Jerry Johnson was one of the latter type of non-Londoner, born in Finchley in 1940 by the grace of God and died in a bungalow on the outskirts of Norwich with his penis bitten off. That last detail explaining why me and the scariest police officer in the Met, her beard and two motorcycle outriders were doing a steady ton plus change up the M11.

Highlight the text above for the full goriness of Johnson’s murder if you dare.

All these elements will tie up in the end, and DCI Nightingale and Grant, aided by pathologist Dr Walid and DC Stephanopoulis will have their work cut out to solve the mystery.  Eventually they get a concrete lead – from a seedy agent cum pimp who is scared of the magic he thinks he saw.

‘At least, I think I saw it,’ said Mith, and he seemed to shrink down into the collar of his shirt. ‘You’re not going to believe me.’
‘I’m not going to believe you,’ said Stephanopoulos. ‘But Constable Grant here is actually paid to believe in this stuff. He also has to believe in faeries and wizards and hobgoblins.’
‘And hobbitses,’ I said.

I love all the throwaway one-liners.

Although lacking the impact of discovering the author’s magical world for the first time, Moon over Soho shows an author who loves London, and is keen to show us how messy life in the great metropolis can be.  The main plot is quite transparent, but we have great fun in getting to the denouement.  The recurring characters are all built upon from volume one, and I’m desperate to see how PC Lesley May does in the third novel, having been relegated to supporting in vol two due to having nearly died in the first.  It was lovely to meet Peter’s father, jazz fan and vinyl afficionado, (l.p.s – doncha miss them?).

Some might quibble about the series-aspects of this novel – it doesn’t stand alone, but not me.  These books would make a wonderful TV series – it would be wonderful to see what the Sherlock team could make of them for instance, (Sherlock is back on New Year’s Day – yay!).

So read the first book first, then if you like it (I hope you do), you’ll enjoy the second too.  I can’t wait to get stuck into the next two now.  (8.5/10)

* * * * *
Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London 2) by Ben Aaronovitch (2011), Gollancz paperback, 375 pages.

Introducing Bernie Rhodenbarr

Lawrence-Block-author-photo-croppedIt’s some years since I read one of Lawrence Block’s crime novels, and then I’ve only read the first twelve of his seventeen Matt Scudder books. In this series alcoholic ex-cop turned private investigator Scudder plies his trade around the shady joints of NYC. Scudder is a very likeable PI, but the books are quite dark.

Block has several other series, but apart from Scudder is mostly known for his ten novels featuring the gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, who also lives and works in NYC. The Rhodenbarr books are much lighter fare than Scudder, and Bernie is very much a modern day Raffles (see my Raffles review here).

The first in the series is Burglars can’t be choosers.  Bernie can’t believe his luck when he is offered five grand to lift a blue leather box from a  desk in a posh apartment by a chap who won’t give his name but seems strangely familiar.

Rhodenbarr 1I rode to the fourth floor, poked around until I found the stairway, and walked down a flight. I almost always do this and I sometimes wonder why. I think someone must have done it in a movie once and I was evidently impressed, bit it’s really waste of time, especially when the elevator in question is self-service. The one thing it does is fix in your mind where the stairs are, should you later need them in a hurry, but you ought to be able to locate stairs without scampering up or down them.

On the third floor, I found my way to Apartment 311 at the front of the building. I stood for a moment, letting my ears do the walking, and then I gave the bell a thorough ring and waited thirty seconds before ringing it again.

And that, let me assure you, is not a waste of time. Public institutions throughout the fifty states provide food and clothing and shelter for lads who don’t ring the bell first. And it’s not enough just poking the silly thing. A couple of years back I rang the bell diligently enough at the Park Avenue co-op of a charming couple named Sandoval, poked the little button until my finger throbbed, and wound up going directly to jail without passing Go. The bell was out of order, the Sandovals were home scoffing toasted English muffins in the breakfast nook, and Bernard G. Rhodenbarr soon found himself in a little room with bars in the windows.

Applying his lock-picking skills, Bernie is soon through the door, but there’s no box. Then two policemen burst in. Bernie is old friends with one, and has come prepared with ‘walkaway money’. The other younger cop isn’t so sure but takes the bribe, and goes to the bathroom only to come out shouting there’s a body in the bedroom and it’s still warm, or words to that effect, before fainting. Bernie runs, thinking he’s been framed.

He ends up at an acquaintance’s apartment. Rod, an actor, is away on an acting job, and once in Bernie prepares to lie low for a bit. However he is awoken by someone knocking over the plant by his bedside. She introduces herself as Ruth, come to water Rod’s plants.  Ere long, Bernie has involved Ruth in his plans to clear his name, and the two also hit it off in the bedroom. The mystery turns out to be quite convoluted – I’d have never solved it. But Bernie sorts it all out in the end.

The crime isn’t the main thing in this novel however – it’s introducing Bernie. We get to know that he’s been in prison when younger, and that he doesn’t plan to go back. He does just enough jobs to finance his lifestyle, but is addicted to the thrill of the heist. I also have a feeling that he’ll have a different girl in every book.

Personally, I much prefer Scudder who is an essentially honest guy, but is more fallible with his own demons to fight too. Bernie is fundamentally dishonest – a slick thief who has a way with the ladies and is good at comic one-liners. He does have a redeeming feature though that I’ve yet to encounter … In the third book in the series, he takes over a bookshop, which he then keeps afloat with funds from his burglaries.  That will keep me reading!  (7/10)

* * * * *
Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Burglars Can’t be Choosers (Bernie Rhodenbarr Mystery) by Lawrence Block, 1977. Currently o/p but s/h copies available.

Crimes & Casinos, Miami & Puerto Rico – R.I.P. Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard. Photo: Lisa Carpenter, The Guardian.

Elmore Leonard. Photo: Lisa Carpenter, The Guardian.

I was sad to hear of the death of Elmore Leonard a week and a half ago. He was 87, and had suffered a stroke earlier in the month.

He was one of my favourite crime writers. I liked him particularly for his ability to make me laugh and of course for his distinct style which he worked out to help him remain invisible in his novels. This he encapsulated in his ten rules of writing:

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

* Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”

Leonard’s writing is very action driven, he really isn’t big on description, and yes, he doesn’t use adverbs to modify dialogue, they’re rare in the rest of the text too. Yet, from the characters dialogue and what they’re doing, the reader can intuit what they need.  But you need to concentrate! (note to self – use less exclamation marks, rule 5).

I realised that I hadn’t read one of his books for absolutely ages. Glitz, published in 1985, was his break-out crime novel.  He had started writing westerns in the 1950s including Hombre which was made into a film with Paul Newman in the 1960s, before changing direction into crime-writing.

Glitz by Elmore Leonard

glitz

One of the things that Leonard is brilliant at is opening lines…

The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming.

We’re straight into meeting Vincent Mora, an off-duty cop in Miami, who gets shot by a mugger on his way home from getting the groceries. He takes a slug through his side and ends up in intensive care, but not before firing back at his attacker. Vincent decides to convalesce in Puerto Rico, which is also where Teddy Magyk is, fresh out of prison. Enjoying himself, Vincent meets a girl, Iris. She’s been offered a job at a casino up in Atlantic City as a ‘hostess’. Iris also has the misfortune to be spotted by Teddy, and tells him about her new job.

Meanwhile once a cop, always a cop, and Vincent is helping the local police to keep busy – there are two bodies – a taxi driver and a little old lady.  Vincent has spotted Teddy watching him and Iris, and vaguely recognises him from somewhere – turns out Vincent put Teddy away seven years ago.  They can’t prove he did the murders yet, but deport him back to the mainland anyway.

Teddy promptly hotfoots it to Atlantic City, and then sends a ‘message’ that will get Vincent to follow too.  Vincent immerses himself in the business of Spade’s Boardwalk Casino where Iris was working and entertaining a gentleman from Bogotá. This unbeknowst to Nancy Donovan, wife of Tommy who owns the casino with Jackie Garbo – she is one sharp businesswoman…

‘A player brings in a lot of cash, hon, we have to look at it impartially, only as money, nothing else. In other words we have to keep our eye on the player’s line of credit. Guy bets heavy, offers us a shot at him, we have to concentrate on taking about twenty percent of his dough if we expect to make a profit.’ Tommy frowned. ‘I explained all this once before, didn’t I?’
Wrong wrong wrong. Jackie held onto the arms of his chair. She was going to kill him.
‘Mr Osvaldo Benavides, from Bogotá,’ Nancy said, ‘deposited a million nine, in cash, and left with our check for almost a million eight.’
Jackie watched Tommy twist in the chair again, the schmuck finally realizing what was happening to him. He took a moment and said, ‘That’s not twenty percent but, see, it averages out.’
‘Once a month,’ Nancy said, ‘you fly Mr. Benavides here in the company plane-‘
‘Just from Miami,’ Tommy said.
Jackie closed his eyes.
‘He draws up markers for up to two million in cash, loses five to ten percent, never more than that in the last seven months,’ Nancy said, ‘and goes home with a clean check for the balance. Mr.Benavides is laundering his money in our casino. Since you’re aware of it, both of you, I have to believe you approve.’
Tommy said, ‘Honey, Jesus Christ …’
Nancy waited, ‘Yes?’
‘Hon, this is a tricky, complicated business.’
Nancy waited again, Jackie watching her. Broad was a f**king shark. Gets her teeth in you and never lets go – and though, Wait a minute. She’s in the boat too, isn’t she?

glitz current uk

Again Vincent ends up informally helping the local police, particularly by stirring things up between the local hoods - ‘Wonderful things can happen,’ Vincent said, ‘when you plant seeds of distrust in a garden of assholes.’

All this time though, Vincent is unwittingly playing a cat and mouse game with Teddy, and Vincent is the mouse…

Glitz has everything that we’ve come to expect from an Elmore Leonard novel – the quick-fire repartee and cracking gags, guns and money, dumb hoodlums and sassy women, and always a couple of characters you can feel for.

Plotwise, this probably wasn’t my favourite so far of those I’ve read (I have a soft spot for Maximum Bob), but it was complicated and entertaining in equal measure. I’ll be reading lots more, including Hombre to see what his westerns are like.  (8.5/10)

* * * * *
Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
GlitzHombreMaximum BobElmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing – all by Elmore Leonard