Making Wolf

April 2, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

wolfMaking Wolf by Tade Thompson

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Tade Thompson took me by surprise with The Murders of Molly Southborne. It was a vivid story, told well, with a vivid main character and a fantastic premise. It was such an impressive story that I immediately tracked down the other books he had written and put them at the top of my to-read list. Making Wolf is the first of those, and Thompson’s debut novel.

The story is set in the fictional country of Alcacia in West Africa, where Weston Kogi returns for his aunt’s funeral. He left when he was still a teenager, boarding a plane just as riots broke out across his country. His aunt was the one who got him out of the country, so he feels the obligation to return from London to pay his respects. While there, he makes a connection with an old schoolmate and bully who ropes him into investigating the death of a well-loved hero of Alcacia. Things slowly go from bad to worse, though, with Weston seeing first-hand the brutality of violence of living in this divided nation.

The story itself is a noir crime thriller, with Weston being the investigator and Alcacia standing in for the darkened, gritty streets. The plot carries us forward, revealing itself pieces at a time, through betrayals, double-crosses, and intrigue, complete with the long-legged dames and characters with questionable morality. The story is modernized and relocated, and it feels like Thompson has things to say about Africa as perceived through the Western eye, but it’s also a solid, page-turning crime thriller with a satisfying conclusion.

Making Wolf feels like it could be the start of a series, but since the point of the story is Weston’s character growth, it’s hard to imagine there being anything else to tell. Thompson couldn’t start over again with Weston, and there aren’t any other characters in the book that could serve as the growth for a sequel. It’s not an unfinished story by any means, but it does feel like there’s more to tell. Were Thompson to write that book, I would read it because I admire his skills as a writer, and because I trust he would be able to find a way to make a sequel fresh.

With all the Swedish crime thrillers that are populating the best-seller lists, there should be room for one more set in West Africa. Making Wolf is that book, and I think anyone looking for a well-told crime thriller, set in a new place, would do well to read it.

Started: January 4, 2018
Finished: January 6, 2018

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Hoodoo Harry

April 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

harryHoodoo Harry by Joe R. Lansdale

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I stumbled across this book on Twitter, of all places, and had one of those Omigod how did I not know about this already? moments, especially when I spent part of last year making sure I was caught up with all of Lansdale’s odds-and-ends publications. This one, it turns out, was published by The Mysterious Bookshop, a well-known bookstore specializing in mysteries and crime thrillers, which could explain why I missed hearing about it (well, that, and the fact that it was only just published when I first heard about it).

Lansdale returns to his perennial characters Hap Collins and Leonard Pine in this novella, where their adventure begins when their car is run off the road by a runaway bookmobile. For Hap and Leonard, that’s not something to just brush off, especially when said bus was being driven by a twelve-year-old, who winds up dead after being thrown through the windshield of the old bus. No, this near-death encounter for Hap begets investigations and threats, which is part and parcel of what a Hap & Leonard story is all about.

The story is engaging, but it’s not the best Hap and Leonard adventure Lansdale has written. The two characters go about the small town of Nesbit, doing their investigating and getting up to their usual antics, but the mystery feels hackneyed and pedestrian, compared with some of the usual plots they’ve been involved in. Plus, while I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think about how much trouble Hap and Leonard get involved with. As many people as have wound up dead around them, it’s a wonder the last three books haven’t been set in their prison cell.

I’ve said before that Lansdale is a dependable writer, one you can trust to tell a good story, even if said story isn’t the best dang thing you’ve ever read. Hoodoo Harry is one of those stories, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Sure, you might pine for something like Sunset and Sawdust while reading this, but it’s certainly no waste of time, either.

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Sleeping Policemen

September 29, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

policemenSleeping Policemen by Dale Bailey & Jack Slay, Jr.

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A sleeping policeman, according to the opening pages of the book, is another term for a speed bump. This was my first encounter with the phrase, so I looked it up, and sure enough, this is a common term in Britain, Malta, and the Caribbean. It comes up early in the story because three of the main characters are returning from a night out and run over a pedestrian. One of the characters — oddly enough, the one born and raised amid the Louisiana oil rigs, who was least likely to know the phrase — says it aloud when they hit the man, making the connection, but as the story progresses, we learn that the phrase has a double meaning. As the characters try to escape and evade what they’ve done, they’re drawn into a circle of crime involving corrupt police, who are effectively sleeping, waiting for their opportunity. Their downward spiral is dark, profane, and graphic.

Bailey and Slay seem to be channeling Jack Ketchum with this story. It’s chock full of violence and sex and the fine line that exists between the two, but it’s lacking whatever it is that exists in Ketchum’s fiction (“charm” isn’t the right word, though it’s the one that comes to mind) to elevate it to that level. Part of it, I think, is that the characters aren’t that likable. The authors do a good job of giving them much to lose — three of them come from privileged backgrounds, while the fourth is looking to leave his dead-end hometown — but they don’t do much to make us like them. Nick, the main character, is the closest thing to a protagonist here, but early in the story, a choice he makes distances the reader from him, so there’s a drive to see how the story ends for these characters, but there’s no connection with them to make us care for them.

The authors have a great command of the language. Their style is introspective and poetic, and their observations on the human condition are thoughtful and apt. The story itself, though, is brutal and difficult to read, which is odd because the language and the tension kept me engaged. It’s the kind of story that shocks and might offend, but it’s also the kind of story that you can’t turn away from.

Sleeping Policemen is a dark journey into youth, privilege, and greed. I enjoyed reading the book for the narrative voice, but not for the story itself. I get the feeling that, a year from now, when I try to recall details from the book, I’ll come up blank, though I’ll definitely remember the imagery and certain scenes. Fans of dark, nihilistic fiction, like Jack Ketchum or Chuck Palahniuk, are probably the right audience for this book.

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My Dead Body

July 6, 2014 at 10:14 pm (Reads) (, , , )

My Dead BodyMy Dead Body by Charlie Huston

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My Dead Body was another series I hadn’t originally planned to finish, but when it came down to it, I wanted to see how the Joe Pitt Casebooks would end, so I tracked down a copy of the book to read at the last minute.  It was good timing, too; the book arrived right after I had finished the book that preceded this one in my reading list.

I had forgotten a lot of what had happened in this series, so I found some good summaries of the first four books here and there to get a general sense of what had occurred previously, but it turns out I could have just started reading the book and gotten a lot of that back.  Huston did a good job of covering in broad strokes what had taken place before this book, enough so that I came across stuff I hadn’t found through my own research.  Characters came back to me, if not when I first came across them again, at least through the reminiscing that Joe covered in his narrative.  And, like the events, I rediscovered characters I had forgotten that I had encountered before in this series.

(I should note that enough time had passed since my reading this series that I realized I had confused some of the events from The Strain and its sequels with stuff that happened here, and vice-versa.  That led to a lot of those revelations above.)

Huston wrapped up the series well, tying up loose ends and bringing the story to a satisfactory close.  When I first started reading these books as a series, and not just individual books, it felt like Huston was pulling in different ideas, and not working an overall plot that followed the entire series.  With My Dead Body, he shows that he had a pretty good idea of what he was doing with the series from the beginning, as all the different plots from the previous novels came together into a cohesive conclusion.  Or else he’s extraordinarily good at winging his plots.  Either way, the feat is impressive.

In some ways, the ending was a little too pat.  There were a lot of double-, triple-, and even quadruple-crosses in the story, enough that I was worried that those crosses would be the death of Joe Pitt, but he managed to escape most of them unscathed.  That makes sense (he’s been our first-person, present-tense narrator this entire time, so if he didn’t escape them, the story would have ground to a halt), but for a series that’s been as brutal and profane as the average Saw movie, I was surprised that we didn’t see a bit more tragedy here.  Don’t get me wrong; this movie wouldn’t be a Hallmark Movie of the Week, but after the nihilistic ending of the Hank Thompson series, I was expecting something a lot darker.

I wasn’t impressed with Every Last Drop, enough so that I almost didn’t finish out the series, and that would have been a mistake.  Charlie Huston continues to write gritty, compelling stories filled with anti-heroes and plot twists, and this was the right way to bring the Joe Pitt series to an end.  If you’ve enjoyed the series up to this point, you owe it to yourself to see it all the way through to the end.

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Galveston

April 10, 2014 at 7:09 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

GalvestonGalveston by Nic Pizzolatto

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Like most everyone else who saw the TV show, I decided to read Galveston after enjoying HBO’s “True Detective.” I didn’t need to know much more about it other than the fact that it was the same author, and that the novel got some good recognition even before the show was such a hit. I figured it would be a literary thriller, and while I was right about that, the novel turned out to be so much more.

The story is about Roy Cady, one of the muscle men behind a small-time loan sharker in New Orleans, who winds up going on the run when his boss tries to set him up to kill him. Along the way, he picks up a young prostitute named Rocky, and the journey they take from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas makes up the bulk of the story. Like the first season of “True Detective,” the story flashes back and forth between the main events that happened back in 1987, and what’s happening to Roy in the present, in 2008, but most of the story is set back in 1987 where they were forging what relationship they had.

I haven’t read a lot of noir fiction, but Galveston certainly feels like a noir novel. It’s narrated in the first person, it involves crime bosses and their goons, and the main character is a good guy with a bad history who has done (and continues to do) bad things. It’s reminiscent of Joe Lansdale’s more recent works, and like those works, Galveston is sharply written, with vivid, descriptive prose, witty dialogue, and notable turns of phrase that carry the story beyond being just a well-told tale. It feels deep and important, like it’s telling you something you need to hear. even if it’s only whispering it to you.

It’s obvious that anyone who enjoyed “True Detective” will find a lot to like in this novel, but I think it would also be worthwhile for fans of Lansdale and even Charlie Huston. Shoot, anyone looking for a well-told, well-plotted story with a touch of the literary added in would find a lot to like here. It’s an extraordinary work.

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