Friday, August 31, 2012

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus - Volume 1

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus - Volume 1Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus - Volume 1 by John Byrne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Byrne was largely responsible for making the Fantastic Four a must read title during the 1980's. This huge omnibus is the beginning of his run.

The first story in the omnibus is a two parter from Marvel Team-Up featuring Spiderman, the Human Torch, and Ms. Marvel taking on the Super Skrull, Byrne's first stab at drawing members of the Fantastic Four. From there, we get a tale from Marvel Two-In-One where the Thing takes a potential cure back in time to give to his past self, Byrne's first stab at writing and drawing the Fantastic Four.

Once the preliminaries are out of the way, we start with Byrne's run as the artist on Fantastic Four with Bill Mantlo and Marv Wolfman doing the writing. It's a cosmic epic co-starring Nova, the Champions of Xandar, and others battling the Sphinx and the Skrulls. You know the manure is hitting the windmill when the FF go to Galactus for help. The storyline with the Xandarians isn't bad I'm chomping at the bit to get to the run with Byrne as the artist AND writer.

It's not until the %25 mark that Byrne's epic run begins. Before that happens, Terrax was introduced, Blastaar made an appearance, and HERBIE betrayed the Fantastic Four. One interesting sidebar from this time period, at one point John Byrne was penciling both the Fantastic Four and the X-Men every month, then left the Fantastic Four to do Captain America for a few issues because two team books a month was too much.

Once Byrne takes the writing reigns, the book picks up a notch. I'm not going to say it's still not an 80's comic but it's noticeably better. Byrne makes Diablo a credible threat to the Fantastic Four in his first outing pulling double duty.

From there, the series takes a cosmic turn. Byrne introduces the Frankie Raye version of Nova, who will later become Galactus' herald, puts the gang up against Ego, the Living Planet, and sees them helping Galactus against Terrax. Old standbys Dr. Doom and the Inhumans are used but their stories are fairly fresh. The FF go up against The Gladiator of The Shi'ar and return to the Negative Zone.

A lot of other things happen as well. This is a big damn book at over 1000 pages and it's not even Byrne's full run. By the end, the Thing is still a member and hasn't yet been replaced by She-Hulk.

The way I look it, John Byrne brought his A game to the Fantastic Four and his run was as epic as Lee and Kirby's in scope. If you're a fan of the Fantastic Four or John Byrne, this is a must read.

How long do I have to wait until the next volume is released?

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Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Volume 1 by Jonathan Hickman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Fantastic Four deal with the Wizard, the Council of Reeds, Nu-Earth, and Franklin Richards' birthday...

There was a time in my life when the Fantastic Four was undisputedly my favorite comic. I must have been a subscriber for six or seven years. Aside from reading Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus - Volume 1 and Fantastic Four: 1234, this is my first foray into the FF's adventures in a decade or more.

The book starts off a little slow. The Wizard-centric story at the beginning didn't knock my unstable molecule-made socks off, but it did introduce the young Wizard clone, Bentley. The second story, however, kicks things into high gear. I love the concept of the Council of Reeds, Reed Richards from various space-time continuums that team up and solve all the world's problems. It's a great story, too. The third story takes place in parallel with the second, a vacation for Johnny and The Thing to Nu-World that goes bad. The fourth story, Franklin's birthday, has its share of poignant moments. The art was pretty good. When did the Fantastic Four start wearing short sleeves?

My only gripes with this book have to do with pacing. Not a hell of a lot actually happened. It was the complete opposite of the last omnibus I read, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Vol. 1: War of the Monsters. While I don't expect a slugfest per page, I felt like this volume was all setup for future tales.

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Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Vol. 1: War of the MonstersFrankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Vol. 1: War of the Monsters

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Vol. 1: War of the MonstersFrankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Vol. 1: War of the Monsters by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Armed with the sword of the Archangel Gabriel, Frankenstein protects mankind from dark menaces as an agent of SHADE!

Whenever I talk about comics, I normally latch on to the ones that are more than just guys in spandex punching each other. Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE, is two guys punching each other with the volume turned up to eleven.

Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE, combines the best parts of Hellboy and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD with a helping of the Fantastic Four. Cool ideas are spilling off the page, as are the nearly mindless slugfests when Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos go into action, battling entire planets full of monsters, thinly disguised analogs of Dr. Manhattan, and various menaces contained within Shade City.

Frankenstein reminds me of Hellboy quite a bit. He's a hundred years old and fairly pissed off. The rest of the Creature Commandos are takeoffs of established monster characters like the wolfman and the creature from the black lagoon. It's a whole lot of fun.

Like I said earlier, the background concepts are what make the book, like the Ant Farm, a one inch diameter globe that floats above the earth's surface and serves as SHADE headquarters. Ray Palmer as the head scientist of SHADE, complete with his Atom powers, was one of my favorite parts.

Any gripes? Not really. Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE, is a hell of a lot of fun. It's not going to make you forget about Watchmen or Starman but it's not meant to.

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Swamp Thing, Vol. 1: Raise Them Bones

Swamp Thing, Vol. 1: Raise Them BonesSwamp Thing, Vol. 1: Raise Them Bones by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alec Holland is reborn with memories not his own, memories of the adventures of Swamp Thing. Forces of the Rot are marshaling and only the Swamp Thing can stop them. But what does all that have to do with an immune-deficient child named William?

I've made it no secret that I think Scott Snyder can do no wrong when it comes to comics. Swamp Thing really drove that point home. Stepping into Alan Moore's shoes on one of the projects that took him to stardom wasn't an enviable task. Good thing Scott Snyder eats unenviable tasks for breakfast.

Snyder's Swamp Thing isn't Moore's Swamp Thing and would have failed miserably if it tried to be. This Swamp Thing is the story of The Red and The Green going up against a force that threatens both of them, The Rot. Another Swamp Thing reveals Holland's destiny to him and that the past may not be exactly as he remembered it. Throw in one Abigail Arcane and Snyder weaves one heck of a tale.

The writing is top notch. I love how Snyder has recast Swamp Thing as a warrior for nature rather than just a protector. The art is pretty damn good as well. I loved the Easter eggs in the background, like Bissette Motors and the Tottleben Hotel, homages to Moore's collaborators on Swamp Thing in the 1980's.

Now I'm ready for volume 2 to come out.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Marvel Boy

Marvel BoyMarvel Boy by Grant Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Kree ship is shot down and Noh-Varr is the only surivor... and is quite pissed! Midas, the man who shot Noh-Varr down, pursues him for the Kree technology in his possession with all of his resources, including his daughter...

Back in the day, I read Wizard magazine (RIP) religiously, even when I wasn't reading comics anymore. Marvel Boy briefly dragged me out of one of my comic hiatuses. Was it worth it? Meh.

The Noh-Varr character was created as a throwback to the days when Namor the Sub-Mariner was wreaking havoc one minute and saving lives the next. Morrison was clearly having fun with his Marvel Boy, gouging swear words into New York by knocking down buildings, etc. Noh-Varr was a fairly original character for a mainstream super-hero comic. He could eat garbage to help hasten his healing process, run up walls, enhanced physical attributes, and had access to cool Kree weaponry.

But didn't you say "Meh?" Yes, I did. While I liked the Noh-Varr character, most of the other characters were pretty bland. Midas had an old set of Iron Man armor but was pretty much your stereotypical villain. Oubliette was okay but not very original. I did like the Bannermen but I don't think they made another appearance.

The ending was okay but I wish Morrison would have done another Marvel Boy miniseries. From what I understand, the character has been nerfed a bit in his subsequent appearances. Like most Morrison comics, he throws a lot of big ideas at you but doesnt' develope most of them. It's a 3 but that's all I could justify giving it.

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Memory (Hard Case Crime, #64)Memory by Donald E. Westlake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Actor Paul Cole gets caught in bed with another man's wife and suffers a head injury. Now Cole's long term memory is gone and his short term memory isn't anything to write home about. Can Cole get back to his old life in New York and remember who he was?

Memory was among Donald Westlake's possessions after he died a few years ago. Apparently he'd written it in the 60's but never got it published. Thanks to Lawrence Block and the Hard Case Crime series, it's finally seen print.

Since Westlake was primarily a crime writer, it's not hard to see why publishers were reluctant to take a chance on Memory. Rather than being a crime novel, it's more a of a literary one. There's a slight mystery element but it's more the story of a man trying to find himself after having his life snatched away. It explores the concept of identity and what it would be like to forget almost everything every day.

Paul Cole's life is a sad one, far from the hijinx of Dortmunder or the violent world of Parker. He suffers one defeat after another and continuously grasps at straws in an attempt to regain his memory. The supporting cast is fairly well-rounded. Cole's agent Helen is probably the most memorable.

Since this was the last published work of Donald Westlake, I feel bad only giving it a three but that's as high as I can go. It's a little on the long side and the mystery element felt tacked on. Plus the ending is pretty sad. Still, when it comes to a deceased author's work, you have to take what you can get.

On a side note, with this volume, I've now read the entire Dorchester run of the Hard Case Crime series, all 66 books.

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Guns of Heaven

The Guns of Heaven (Hard Case Crime #24)The Guns of Heaven by Pete Hamill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reporter Sam Briscoe meets up with an IRA leader in Northern Ireland and agrees to bring a letter back to the States. Unfortunately, some don't want that letter delivered and follow Briscoe back to New York to prevent the delivery...

Interesting tidbit: Pete Hamil was one of the men that disarmed Sirhan Sirhan after he shot RFK. I have to think that might be part of why this was selected to be part of the Hard Case Crime library. As far as Hard Case Crime books go, this one is on the likeable side of average. Once the story takes off, there's a good amount of suspense. Hamill throws twist after twist at you. Briscoe's a fairly typical detective story hero; smart mouth, takes a beating, and never gives up. The IRA angle sets it apart from a lot of stories written at the same time. It feels like a movie Mel Gibson would have done in the early 90's or one that Liam Neeson would do today, now that he's getting the Mel Gibson action roles now that Mel's off his rocker.

So why only a 3? It took too long to get moving. While I'm interested in the IRA and the conflict in Northern Ireland, I'm not so interested that I need a metric shit ton of IRA history while I'm reading a detective story. Other than that, it's not too bad. I wouldn't say it's an essential Hard Case by any means.

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Baby Moll

Baby Moll (Hard Case Crime #46)Baby Moll by John Farris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Peter Mallory thought he'd left his life of crime behind six years ago but a week before his wedding, he's pulled back in. Mallory has to figure out who's trying to kill his old boss in order to keep his fiancee from finding out about his criminal past. But what do the killings have to do with a family being killed in an inferno years earlier?

As I've mentioned before, the Hard Case Crime series has some duds in it, most of them from around the time this one was published. Fortunately, Baby Moll was a pleasure to read.

Baby Moll has a pretty good plot. You've got the crime boss who's going soft and wants out of the gang, the up and comer that wants to take his place, and someone who wants vengeance on the crime boss and everyone around him.

Farris knows how to build the suspense. For a slim book, there's a fair amount of action. Mallory goes through the ringer, as does most of the rest of Macy Barr's crew. The gunfight at the end was very memorable.

I tipped to the origin of the killer pretty quickly but that was mostly due to my recent reading of Hard as Nails, featuring a similar killer. I wasn't too sure which of the women the killer was though until it was too late.

"Why only three stars?" you ask. I'll tell you, Mildred. Baby Moll was a little too brief. I would have enjoyed a little more suspense. Aside from Mallory and the unexpectedly complex Macy Barr, the characters were all pretty thin, especially the women. All in all, it was still a pretty good read and a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.

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No House Limit

No House Limit (Hard Case Crime #45)No House Limit by Steve Fisher
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Syndicate wanted to shut Joe Martin and his casino, Rainbow's End, down and brought in the best gambler in the world to put him out of business. Can Joe Martin keep his casino? And does the girl who's stolen his heart have anything to do with the people who want his money?

Yeah, there are some awesome books in the Hard Case Crime series and some that are only okay. This is one of the okay ones.

I like the idea of an independent casino owner going up against the mob to keep his business. It sounds good, right? Too bad it was kinda boring. I don't find the idea of a guy playing craps with Syndicate money trying to break a casino very exciting. Sunny Guido (Guido? Really?) would have made an interesting love interest for Joe if she wasn't such a bland doormat. The subplot with Dee and Malcolm didn't really do anything for me. Other than Joe Martin, the only character I cared about was Sprig, security at the Rainbow's End. By the end, I just didn't care anymore.

It wasn't a horrible book. It was fairly well written. I just don't see the attraction of Las Vegas, I guess.

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Zero Cool

Zero Cool (Hard Case Crime #41)Zero Cool by John Lange
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Peter Ross is an American radiologist in Spain for a conference when he's strong-armed into performing an autopsy on a dead gangster. Something is planted inside the corpse's chest cavity and three gangs are vying for it. Can Pete escape the gangs before he becomes another victim?

I have mixed feelings on this Hard Case by John Lange, aka Michael Critchon. On one hand, it has more twists and turns than any Hard Case in recent memory. The writing is crisp. I didn't really know what was going on until the end. Plus, it had people being gruesomely attacked by a trained falcon.

On the other hand, I didn't care about Peter Ross very much and at no time thought he was in any real danger. Not knowing what the maguffin was for most of the book put a damper on my enjoyment. Most of the bad guys were odd for the sake of being odd, like the professor or the diminutive count.

Not a bad read but not a particularly good one either. I'd give it a 2.5 if I could.

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Night Walker

Night Walker (Hard Case Crime #16)Night Walker by Donald Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While hitchhiking to Norfolk to report for active duty, Navy Lieutenant David Young is smashed over the head with a tire iron and left for dead in a burning car. When he comes to, burned and bandaged in the hospital, everyone thinks he's Larry Wilson, the man who picked him up. It turns out Larry Wilson had a lot of reasons for wanting people to think he died in a fiery car crash...

Donald Hamilton is famous for the Matt Helm spy series, of which I have read none. I think this one of the Hard Case books that was reprinted because it was the cheapest of the author's works to secure the rights for.

Faking your own death with a hitchhiker's corpse is old hat in crime fiction. Hamilton puts a twist on it and has the killing botched. It was a good twist but the rest of the story didn't follow up on the promise. I never understood why Young felt the need to play along with Elizabeth Wilson, aside from her walking around in almost nothing and him being a red-blooded male, and without spoiling anything, I thought the ending was pretty far-fetched.

"But Dan," you say, "You gave it a three. What gives?" Hamilton's writing saved the day for me. The man new how to build suspense. While Elizabeth Wilson's character was fairly flat, Bunny and Doc Henshaw were pretty well done. Plus, he took a 50's plot involving communists and didn't make me laugh my ass off. Young wasn't a super hero and didn't walk around with guns blazing. That's was a huge plus.

Three stars but it could have easily been a 2 on a different day.

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Shooting Star/Spider Web

Shooting Star/Spiderweb (Hard Case Crime #42)Shooting Star/Spiderweb by Robert Bloch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Loser wannabee actor Eddie Haines falls in with a blackmailing ring led by the sinister Professor. But when Eddie falls for one of the Professor's targets, he has to get out any way he can...

The first of the short novels in this collection was pretty good. Eddie's slide into life as a con man was well done, as was his romance with Ellen. The Professor and Dr. Sylvestro were suitably chilling yet still plausible. When Eddie decides to get out, his uphill climb was believably done.

Bloch knows how to write a potboiler. Let's see if Shooting Star is as good.

Shooting Star:
One-eyed private eye/writer Mark Clayburn is hired to clear the name of Dick Ryan, a murdered western star. Can Clayburn find his killer and dispel the rumors of his drug use before Ryan's killer finds him?

For the first three-fourths of Shooting Star, I was enthralled. Clayburn got thumped over the head more times than Lew Archer as he looked for Ryan's killer. Every time I thought I knew what was going on, Bloch yanked the rug out from under me. Then the plot revolving around a marijuana-selling ring kicked into high gear.

Did you know that in the 1950's, muggle was another word for joint? Neither did I. The whole marijuana part of the plot was unintentionally hilarious. Every time Clayburn mentioned tea, reefer, or stick, I chuckled a bit. It was probably heavy stuff back in the day but soon entered Reefer Madness territory. Still quite enjoyable, just not in the way I was hoping.

Overall, I was quite pleased with this Hard Case double. Mr. Bloch and I will probably be spending more time together in the future.

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Murder is my Business

Murder Is My Business (Hard Case Crime, #66)Murder Is My Business by Brett Halliday
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

New Orleans detective Mike Shayne is hired by a little old lady to find her son who had enlisted in the army under an assumed name after working in Mexico as a miner for five years. Shayne's trail weaves a serpentine course through a web of lies and deceit, encountering equally dirty politicians on both sides of a mayoral race, a missing soldier, blackmail, unrequited love, and mistaken identity. Can Shayne solve the mysteries, get out alive, and get paid?

I devoured this in one sitting while my car was being worked on. It was a page turner of the highest order. Brett Halliday is a master of misdirection. I'd say almost 75% of the book was red herrings and false leads. While I suspected the old switcheroo had been pulled at some point, I had no idea how complicated things had become.

Mike Shayne seems like an ancestor of sorts of Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder. He obeys his own code more than the law and is fairly flexible as far as rates go. He took the case initially for fifty bucks and then set about getting a more worthwhile fee during the course of the investigation. I'll be reading more of Mr. Shayne's cases in the future.

While it wasn't my favorite Hard Case, this one is definitely on the worthwhile end of the spectrum. Halliday will keep you guessing until the very end.

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Gun Work

Gun Work (Hard Case Crime #49)Gun Work by David J. Schow
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Barney is a seemingly ordinary guy working at a shooting range with a violent past. One day, Barney gets a call from an old army buddy, Carl Ledbetter, and ends up going with Carl to Mexico to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend. Only nothing is as it seems and after a while, Barney has a whole lot of people to kill...

I was on the fence about what to rate this one. On one hand, it's an action packed story, almost a modern day western at times. The kidnapping ring were a good set of villains but weren't cartoonishly evil. The addition of the luchadores was odd but worked well to keep the plot going. Mano was a good supporting character. The torture scenes were gruesome and you can't wait until Barney gets his vengeance. It almost feels like a movie once Barney finally goes on the warpath.

On the other hand, it was way too long for what it was. The guns are described in lavish detail and the story could have been seventy five pages shorter if Schow would have controlled his gun lust. Someone who's really into guns might enjoy the constant gun descriptions but I grew tired of them. The tale was also pretty linear, aside from the initial twist and the one near the end that was fairly obvious.

Gun Work isn't a bad book and I even enjoyed it at times. It's just firmly in the meh zone as far as Hard Case books are concerned. I'll give it a 2.5 but not a 3.

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Home is the Sailor

Home Is the Sailor (Hard Case Crime #7)Home Is the Sailor by Day Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a career at sea, Swede Nelson comes ashore with the thought of buying a farm in Minnesota and finding a nice girl to marry. It's a shame he runs into the widow Corliss Mason, the owner of the Purple Parrot, and her web of sex, lies, and murder...

Home is the Sailor, much like fellow Hard Case entry The Vengeful Virgin, is straight out of the James M. Cain playbook. You know the plot: a guy falls for a hot young woman and commits murder for her, then starts cracking under the pressure once he realizes she's bad news.

When Corliss comes to Swede the night before their wedding saying she's been raped, who wouldn't do what Swede did? Swede's drunken binges are believable, all things considered. The big reveal near the end was a little obvious but getting there was still one hell of a ride. When the cops start nosing around and Swede begins figuring out what Corliss is really up to, tension mounts and the story kicks into high gear.

So why didn't I give it a five? I found it a little unbelievable that Swede fell so hard for Corliss so fast. As I said before, the big reveal is telegraphed slightly.

If you're a Hard Case fan, this is one of the must-haves.

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Kill Now, Pay Later

Kill Now, Pay Later (Hard Case Crime #35)Kill Now, Pay Later by Robert Terrall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Detective Ben Gates was charged with guarding wedding presents at a high society wedding. When someone drugs him and a robbery ends with two deaths, Ben goes to work clearing his name and searching for the truth, a quest that will lead him through a web of lies, blackmail, sex, and murder...

Terrall delivers the goods in this Hard Case tale. While it's a little heavy on dialogue and light on action, it's still a good read. I had no idea of the depth of the plot until about halfway through, just like Ben Gates. The writing isn't flowery but it gets the job done in noirish style. Terrall's descriptions of the women Gates met in the course of the investigation were well done.

The only thing I wasn't impressed with was Robert McGinnis's cover. Does he know how women are proportioned?

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The Corpse Wear Pasties

The Corpse Wore Pasties (Hard Case Crime, #62)The Corpse Wore Pasties by Jonny Porkpie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Victoria Vice, widely hated in the burlesque world for being a blatant plagiarist, winds up dead, none other than Jonny Porkpie ends up being blamed. After all, he's the one that the entire audience saw hand her the prop bottle containing real poison. In order to clear his name, Porkpie goes on a quest through the burlesque world to find out who framed him. Only, maybe things aren't exactly as they seem...

The Corse Wore Pasties, aside from having one of the better titles in the Hard Case Crime Series, is a pretty fun book. Lots of humor, mostly at the expense of poor Jonny Porkpie. There's a tiny bit of smut but its no where near as dirty as The Money Shot, for instance. The plot isn't bad either, although I guessed who the killer was about halfway through.

To sum up, The Corpse Wore Pasties isn't going to win any literary awards but it's a fun way to spend a few hours.

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Branded Woman

Branded Woman (Hard Case Crime #11)Branded Woman by Wade Miller
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Catherine "Cay" Morgan travels to Mazatlan looking for The Trader, a jewel smuggler who carved a T into her forehead for dealing on his turf five years earlier. Cay is aided by PI George Hodd, and Walter Kilmer, a fisherman. In her quest for vengeance, Cay learns of a fortune in buried gold. Only nothing is as it seems...

First off, I almost liked this but there was definitely some blandness to it. While the plot was good, Cay was unsympathetic sometimes and I found it hard to care what happened to her. Other times, I just didn't believe the way she was acting was consistent with her character. I knew the Trader was in her midst early on but didn't figure out who it was until it was too late. I'd say my favorite part was the cat fight between Cay and Concha. It was about the only memorable part of the book other than the end.

I'm giving this a 2.75. It's not bad but not great either.

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House Dick

House Dick (Hard Case Crime #54)House Dick by E. Howard Hunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pete Novak is a hotel detective (or house dick) working for a Washington DC hotel. Novak takes a shine to a gorgeous guest, only to find the murdered body of her former sugar daddy in her room and the jewels he gave her missing. Can Novak find the jewels and keep the woman out of jail?

First off, I almost dismissed this one as one of Hard Case's more dubious picks, like the Robert Parker book that wasn't by the Parker everyone was thinkng of. E. Howard Hunt was involved in the Watergate break-in, after all. Well, I was wrong.

Hunt's writing is top notch and Novak is a great noir protagonist. He's a lonely hotel detective with a budding drinking problem. The web of sex, lies, and murder is very easy to get caught up in and hard to get to the center of without being devoured by it. I should know. I read the whole thing in one sitting. It's a little lighter on violence than some Hard Cases but heavy on twists. It took me forever to catch on to what actually happened regarding the jewels and Chalmer's murder. On the surface, the plot looks simple but once all the players are introduced, it becomes much more complicated.

If I could only recommend one Hard Case to someone, it would probably be this one. Who knows? It might become someone's favorite book with the word dick in the title*

*Yeah, it was an easy joke but I had to do it...

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Blackmailer (Hard Case Crime #32)Blackmailer by George Axelrod
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher Dick Sherman gets offered the last book of a dead prize winning author by a mysterious woman and gets drawn into a web of lies and murder. Who sent the thugs to his house looking for the book? Who killed the woman who first offered it to him? Who really owns the book? What does his old flame have to do with it? And does the book even really exist?

I really dug this entry in the Hard Case series. There were a lot of twists and turns and enough red herrings to make figuring out who did it pretty difficult. Dick's a good character and doesn't act like a super hero. In fact, he gets his ass handed to him more often than not. The whole plot around Charles Anstruthers's last manuscript is fairly engaging, as is the three way deal surrounding it.

Blackmailer is defintely worth the few hours it will take to breeze through it for any fan of detective fiction.

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Fake ID

Fake I.D. (Hard Case Crime #56)Fake I.D. by Jason Starr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tommy Russo, an out of work actor with a gambling problem working as a bouncer in a bar, gets a chance to be part owner of a race horse. Only, he doesn't have the ten thousand dollars he needs to buy in. What depths will he sink to to get it?

While the story entertained me, I hated Tommy and couldn't wait for him to get what was coming to. He's a slimeball. Lying, stealing, lying, etc. I actually felt dirty reading the story. Finding a protagonist that you actually like in a Jason Starr book is like trying to decide which shit sandwich you want to eat from a buffet of shit sandwiches. "Well, that one hasn't got so much shit on it..."

I guess to sum it up would be to say that while the story is full of twists and turns and well written, don't expect to get attached to the protagonist. I think I'm done with Starr's asshole slimeball characters for a while.

It's been about a year and a half since I read this and I've decided to give Starr another chance IF I win the Firstreads giveaway for his new one.

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Losers Live Longer

Losers Live Longer (Hard Case Crime #59)Losers Live Longer by Russell Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Legendary PI George "Owl" Rowell hires down on his luck detective Payton Sherwood for a job picking out the tail on his client. Before Sherwood learns the specifics, Owl is hit by car right outside his building. Sherwood investigates what happed to Owl, leading him into a web of intrigue involving a missing millionaire, his junkie girlfriend, a detectivev Sherwood used to work for, and a Ukranian femme fatale named Sayre Raur. Can Payton crack the case before the case cracks him?

I'm always skeptical of the Hard Case originals, as the reprints are often more my cup of tea. Losers Live Longer is a win for the new guys. The story is a twisted web involving a Ukranian child porn ring, a millionaire that's on the lam, and an iPod containing stolen files. The ending came out of nowhere and getting there was like navigating a country road through the hills during an ice storm. The writing is good, noir flavored with modern touches.

The front cover says that Losers Live Longer is a Payton Sherwood mystery. I guess my feelings on LLL is best summed up in the fact that I'll be looking for more of his cases.

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Passport to Peril

Passport To PerilPassport To Peril by Robert B. Parker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

John Stodder, an American reporter, goes to Hungary with a forged passport to look for his brother who disappeared after a bombing run in WWII. Only the passport Stodder received wasn't forged. It was that of a murdered man. And Stodder just happens to run into the murdered man's secretary on the Orient Express. In her possession is a mysterious Manila envelope that belonged to the dead man. Stodder's trip to Hungary to look for his brother goes way off course as both the Russians and the Germans want to take the envelope from him, one way or another...

First off, this isn't a bad book. There is a fair amount of suspense and enough twists to keep it going. So why didn't I like it? It's not much like the other Hard Case novels. It's more like a spy novel than anything else. Not my cup of tea. There were other things that bothered me. Stodder and Maria fall in love a little too fast. All of the non-American characters are one dimensional villains. Most of all, I didn't really care what happened.

This one is definitely going on the Meh pile as far as the Hard Case Crime series goes. I could see giving it a three if I'd been in the mood for something like this.

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Casino Moon

Casino Moon (Hard Case Crime #55)Casino Moon by Peter Blauner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anthony Russo is the stepson of an Atlantic City mobster who desperately wants to get away from the family business despite his stepfather's wishes. To get out, he borrows a lot of money from a loanshark and backs an aging boxer's comeback. Meanwhile, the feds are getting close to the family's operation, led by a local cop affectionately called Pigfucker. Anthony soon learns that the lady wrestler he's begun having an affair with isn't half as sleazy as the world of professional boxing...

I really wanted to dislike this book when I got it in the mail as part of the Hard Case Crime book club. It's got a few strikes against it already. It's bigger than most Hard Cases by fifty pages. The cover is good but not great. It's from a weird time period. Most Hard Cases are pre-1977 or originals just for the club. This one's from 1994. And it isn't written by Lawrence Block or Donald Westlake.

So why do I like it? It's a good story, that's why. Anthony's trapped in a life he can't stand and is feeling desperate. It's not so hard to see why he makes the choices he makes, even though they're the wrong ones. The battle between family loyalty and going legit weighs on him through the whole story. The violence, when it happens, is on the gruesome side and not pretty at all, especially the boxing match at the end. The line "Something's wrong. I can move my jaw with my tongue." immediately comes to mind.

I recommend this to all Hard Case fans, as well as fans of mobster stories and the Sopranos. Michael Imperioli would make a great Anthony Russo.

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Lemons Never Lie

Lemons Never Lie (Alan Grofield, #4)Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Theatre owner and part-time hood Alan Grofield goes to Las Vegas for job. Once he figures out the guy running things is crazy and the job is a long shot at best, he backs out, along with another crook, Dan Leach. Only Myer, the guy running things, is crazy. He ambushes Grofield and Leach, then makes off with Leach's winnings from the casino. From there, Grofield goes back home and Leach goes after Myer. When Leach turns up at Grofield's theatre with multiple knife wounds, things get messy...

Lemons Never Lie was my first Richard Stark novel and I enjoyed it. It was more serious than Westlake's work under his own name. The capers were believeable and Grofield turned out to be a pretty likeable character for part time criminal. The twists were unexpected and Stark never lets you catch your breath for long.

I guess I'll be tracking down more Stark/Westlake once the to-read pile gets a little smaller.

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Money Shot

Money Shot (Hard Case Crime, #40)Money Shot by Christa Faust
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When you shoot a woman and leave her in the trunk of a car, you'd better make sure she's dead...

Former porn star and current talent agency owner Angel Dare is duped into meeting an old friend, beaten, raped, shot, and left for dead in the trunk of a Honda Civic, all because of some missing money she knows nothing about. But Angel doesn't die and, with the help of an ex-cop named Malloy, goes looking for those responsible...

Money Shot is a quick read, full of action and suspense, as befits its place in the Hard Case Crime series. Angel's quest for vengeance leads her through the underbelly of the porn industry and the seedy world of sex slavery. Her feeling that her life was stolen from her is completely understable. The action is quick and brutal. Christa Faust is a fairly capable writer. Money Shot reads like an action movie. I suspect porn enthusiasts would enjoy it even more than I did.

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Songs of Innocence

Songs of Innocence (Hard Case Crime #33)Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three years after the events of Little Girl Lost, John Blake has quit the detective game and gone back to school. When his friend Dorrie turns up dead in her bathtub, John puts his detective hat back on and goes looking for why Dorrie ended up dead. The trail takes up through New York's seedy underbelly of "massage" parlors and up against the Hungarian mob. Can Blake piece together what happened before he ends up dead too?

Ho. Lee. Crap. Songs of Innocence is the most powerful of the Hard Case Crime series I've read so far. Blake's desperation is a tangible thing. The mystery of what happened to Dorrie gets worse and worse, as does John's situation. I didn't see the end coming until it hit me like a freight train. The characters are well done. Not only Blake, but the supporting cast as well. It would have been easy to make the other masseuses into stereotype sluts but Aleas didn't skimp.

Like I've said before, I was prepared to dismiss Richard Aleas (aka Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case) as a pretender but the man has made a believer out of me. You can definitely tell that the Hard Case Crime series is a labor of love for him.

If you're itching for a good crime story, Songs of Innocence fits the bill. You might want to pick up Little Girl Lost first, though, for a little more background on Blake and Susan.

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Stop This Man!

Stop This Man! (Hard Case Crime #58)Stop This Man! by Peter Rabe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tony Catell stole a gold ingot from a university science lab. Too bad the thing was radioactive. Now Tony has to get to LA to unload the radioactive gold bar on someone. The FBI is on Tony's trail, as is an alcoholic ex-lover. Can Tony's syndicate connections get him out of trouble? And what about his young lover?

Sometimes, I wonder how they pick the reprints for the Hard Case series. While this one was well written and fairly exciting, the main character wasn't likeable at all, especially in regard to the way he treats women. The way Lila takes his crap makes him even more unlikeable. The idea of having a radioactive gold bar and not knowing what to do with it was new but not enough to make me enjoy the rest of the story. Once Tony got to LA, the story meandered a bit.

While it was an exciting read, I didn't particularly enjoy it. 2.5 out of 5 at best.

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The Max

The Max (Max & Angela, #3 - Hard Case Crime, #47)The Max by Ken Bruen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since the last Bruen and Starr Hard Case effort, Max Fisher has been thrown in the hoosegow for his illegal dealings and Angela is on the run. Max lands in Attica and starts making enemies all over the place. Angela meets up with a suave Englishman who isn't what he seems. Throw in a prison riot, a murdered landlord, and an author who is obsessed with the M.A.X. and there you have it.

If you've read the other two Bruen and Starr books in the Hard Case line, you already know about Angela and her rotten choices in men and Max's line of bullshit. They're the same characters they've been in the previous two books. Every time Max, or The M.A.X. as he refers to himself, opens his mouth, I cringe a little. Not because of the writing but because Max is a dead ringer for a boss I used to have. He was a conceited douchebag too.

While I enjoyed reading about Max making the dog's breakfast out of his prison stay, Angela's part of the story wasn't much different than in her other two appearances. I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I enjoyed this book, it wasn't quite as good as Slide or Bust, although the prison setting was interesting. If you've been following the unsympathetic protagonists this far, you might as well give this one a shot. I wouldn't start my Hard Case experience with it, though.

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Slide (Max & Angela, #2 - Hard Case Crime, #36)Slide by Ken Bruen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Max Fisher, the business man from Bust, is back and is a crack dealer. Felicia, a stripper from Bust, is his woman. Meanwhile, Angela is back in Ireland and has hooked up with a psychopath calling himself Slide. Slide's goal in life is to become the next big serial killer. Throw in a cop that's seeking revenge on Fisher for the cop killed in Bust and you have Slide.

Slide, while not as good as Bust, is a pretty good read. It's a little light on Angela but Max is a more interesting character anyway. He's as delightfully sleazey as ever and has no idea how ridiculous he's become, thinking he's like Scarface. Slide's fairly interesting. Angela is still Angela.

Slide probably won't win any awards but it's a fun story and a hilarious entry in the Hard Case series. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Max and Angela in The Max.

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Say It With Bullets

Say It With Bullets (Hard Case Crime #18)Say It With Bullets by Richard Powell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bill Wayne is touring the country, conveniently stopping at cities where old partners of his live, trying to find out which of them shot him in the back years ago in China and took a shot at him in front of his house weeks before. His tour guide is a girl that had a crush on him when he was in high school. His old partners keep turning up dead and a sheriff named Carson Smith keeps showing up at inappropriate times.

The title of this book is what caught my interest a couple years ago. While it was good, I didn't love it. The action was good and parts were pretty funny but I'm not sure if the humor was intentional or not. Wayne's partners getting whacked got repetitive after the second one. The ending was a little predictable but only because there weren't very many other possibilites.

So, Say It With Bullets was an entertaining read but not one of my favorite Hard Case books by a long shot. Still, love the title.

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Somebody Owes Me Money!

Somebody Owes Me MoneySomebody Owes Me Money by Donald E. Westlake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Chet Conway, a cab driver, gets a tip on a horse instead of money from a customer. The horse is a longshot but Chet puts 35 bucks on him. The horse winds up winning but when Chet goes to collect, his bookie is dead and everyone seems to think he did it. He goes on the run with the dead bookie's sister, searching for the bookie's killer and trying to get his damn money, with two gangs and a detective on his trail. Will he ever get his money?

This was a light-hearted tale with a lot of twists and turns. Ardai's 50 to 1 owes a lot to it in terms of tone and style. Chet and Abbie were both interesting characters, if a little thin. I would never have guessed who it was that bumped off Tommy McKay. Since my initial reading, I learned that Westlake stuck the ending on after Somebody Owes Me Money got reprinted by Hard Case.

Fun stuff but not gritty at all, if that's what you're looking for.

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Little Girl Lost

Little Girl Lost (Hard Case Crime #4)Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

P.I. John Blake's childhood girlfriend, Miranda Sugarman, is found dead on top of a strip club. John follows her backtrail from her enrollment in medical school to a relationship with another woman, to a career touring the strip club circuit and a million dollar robbery. Only, things aren't as they seem at first glance.

I hate to admit it since I was prepared to write off Richard Aleas/Charles Ardai as a phony before I read his stuff but the man knows how to turn out a paperback original. The story had plenty of twists and turns and I only figured out what was really going on a few pages ahead of Blake. Great stuff.

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Grave Descend

Grave Descend (Hard Case Crime #26)Grave Descend by John Lange
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

James McGregor gets hired to investigate a sunken yacht. Only he finds out that the yacht hasn't been sunken yet and everyone is lying to him. Throw in diamond smuggling and hammerhead sharks and that's pretty much it.

Grave Descend is a lighting quick read, full of action and intrigue, just what you'd expect from a Hard Case read. But it's a little too breezy. The print is larger than any Hard Case I've yet encountered and it was probably about 150 pages long when it was first published.

John Lange, aka Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame, writes a pretty passable detective story.

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Straight Cut

Straight Cut (Hard Case Crime #21)Straight Cut by Madison Smartt Bell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tracy Bateman, a former film editor, goes to Italy to cut a film for a friend. Throw in his ex-ish-wife Lauren and a mysterious briefcase and the ensuing chaos, and you have Straight Cut.

First of all, there were things I liked about this book. The writing was good and I liked some of the ideas, like how Tracy figured out how to smuggle the briefcase back to the states. I felt sad when Tracy had to put down his dog at the beginning. Poor dog.

The things I didn't like? Not a lot happened that I cared about. None of the characters really gripped me. It felt like seventy pages could have been easily pulled out. Do I really need to know how difficult the film was to cut? Not in a Hard Case book I don't!

So, I guess you could say Straight Cut isn't a bad book. It's just not a particularly good one either. It's just there. I'd give it 2.5 stars if I could.

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Kiss Her Goodbye

Kiss Her Goodbye (Hard Case Crime #8)Kiss Her Goodbye by Allan Guthrie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Joe Hope is the muscle for an Edinburgh loan shark. When his daughter dies, an apparent suicide, he's heartbroken and wants revenge for whomever is responsible. He flies up to Orkney, only to find himself wanted by the police. A passage in Gemma's journal seems to indicate Joe raped her and to top it off, Joe's wife Ruth's body was found in the trunk of his car at the airport. Joe spends the rest of the novel running from the cops while trying to figure out what the hell is going on and get revenge.

The writing in Kiss Her Goodbye is good but kind of exhausting to read, because of the stark violence and all the swearing. It reminds me a lot of a Guy Ritchie movie. In fact, Vinnie Jones should play Joe if they ever turn it into a movie.

To sum it up, it's another quality entry in the Hard Case line. If you like Hard Case, you'll like this.

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Killing Castro

Killing Castro (Hard Case Crime, #51)Killing Castro by Lawrence Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Five Americans are hired to go to Cuba and assassinate Fidel Castro, the survivors splitting $100,000. Two of the five join revolutionaries in the hills, two hole up and build a bomb, and the last rents a hotel room overlooking the site of one of Fidel's speeches. Can any of them get the job done?

While Killing Castro isn't my favorite of Lawrence Block's Hard Case books, it's also not the worst. Some of the characters are a little thin but each one is fairly reallistic. There's also a little smut, not surprising since Block wrote a lot of that kind of thing back in the day.

The best parts of Killing Castro? Watching Block develop as a writer and experiment with different techniques. I enjoyed the way he shifted viewpoints between characters and I also liked the way he paralleled the events in the story with an account of Fidel Castro's rise to power.

All in all, an easy read and an entertaining way to spend a few hours reading.

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Bust (Max & Angela, #1 - Hard Case Crime, #20)Bust by Ken Bruen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Max Fischer hires a hitman to kill his wife so he can marry his secretary, the surgically enhanced Angela. Little does he know, the hitman is actually Angela's boyfriend and they're plotting against him. Throw in a blackmailer who catches Max and Angela in a compromising position and you have Bust.

Trying to choose someone to root for in this story is like trying to choose which shit sandwich you want to eat. They're all double dealing. You lose count of all the double crosses in this book as it weaves its serpentine course toward the climax. Wheels within wheels as Jeeves would say. Max Fischer reminds me of a boss I used to have so I was waiting with baited breath for him to take the fall.

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Honey in his Mouth

Honey in his Mouth (Hard Case Crime, #60)Honey in his Mouth by Lester Dent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a close call with an angry man he swindled, photographer and con man Walter Harsh is approached by people in the employ of the ruler of an unnamed South American country. It seems Walter bears an uncanny resemblance to El Presidente, which fits nicely into their schemes to get access to the sixty-five million dollars El Presidente is known to possess...

I'll be real honest with you. Lester Dent's writing in the Doc Savage tales never really floated my boat. Maybe it's because he was writing for a penny per word. That being said, I liked Honey in his Mouth a lot. The writing was lightyears ahead of what Dent did in the early Doc Savages.

The plot moved along at a fast pace. Walter's a scumbag but still likeable. The people plotting against El Presidente are a diverse crew, including El Presidente's psychotic castrado brother, Brother. The subplot involving Harsh trying to break into a safe at Brother's estate keeps the story moving while everyone's trying to determine El Presidente's whereabouts. The ending surprised me and pretty much everyone got what they had coming to them.

In short, Lester Dent proved me wrong. This is a worthy addition to any Hard Case Crime fan's collection.

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The Wounded and the Slain

The Wounded and the Slain (Hard Case Crime #31)The Wounded and the Slain by David Goodis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

James and Cora Bevan go to Jamaica in an effort to repair their ailing marriage. Instead, their marriage undergoes more stress than ever when James accidentally kills a man and Cora finds solace in the arms of another. Can they put their marriage back together before Jamaica manages to destroy it forever?

This book sure is a downer. While it's well written, the whole thing is unsettling, much like Lawrence Block's A Diet of Treacle. James's alcoholic benders and Cora's temptation are well done. You feel for Cora but still aren't that enamored with her as a person, not until the end. Once James tries to pull together to save a man who's going to hang in his place, you really get behind him. The ambiguous ending was a very nice touch.

While not a cheerful book, I'd say The Wounded and the Slain is a well-written one, and a fairly powerful one for a book of its kind. While it looks like a crime book from the outside, at its core it's a study in psychological trauma and self-destructive behavior. Not what I normally look for in a Hard Case but still good.

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Robbie's Wife

Robbie's Wife (Hard Case Crime #29)Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Washed up screenwriter Jack Stone goes to England to get away from things and hopefully get back into the swing of writing. However, the wife of the man Jack is staying with proves to be a much more interesting distraction. Interesting enough... to kill for!

Robbie's Wife is a tale in the mold of The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, the tale of an affair that leads to murder. The first two-thirds of the book are worthy of James M. Cain himself. Robbie's wife is something else and you can't really blame Jack Stone for falling for her, at first anyway.

Cricket and baseball both have batsmen but it isn't the same game, is it? That's a quote from the book and I'm using it to illustrate why I thought the last third of the book sucked. Hill had me going, right up until the big event happened. Then the book slows down to a snails pace and all comparisons to Cain and other greats go right out the window. Seriously, the last 60 pages tempted me to quit and/or tear the book in half. The twist at the end made it worthwhile to finish it but it was a chore getting there.

I'm giving this book a three despite my misgivings. I liked the first two-thirds enough not to give the book as a whole a two but I was sorely tempted. Not my favorite Hard Case but not terrible either.

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The Peddler

The Peddler (Hard Case Crime #27)The Peddler by Richard S. Prather
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tony Romero rises from being a poor unwanted Italian kid to being a big player in the rackets, specifically, pimping. Tony kills and schemes his way up the ranks until he meets the one woman he doesn't want to put to work. Will he leave pimping behind for her or is he already too deep in his life's work as a Peddler?

Richard S. Prather has a rare talent, one that's seldom seen outside of Richard Stark and Max Allan Collins: he made me care about a lowlife douche like Tony Romero. Romero's a liar, a user, and a woman-beater, in addition to being a pimp, but I still wanted him to rise to the top of the rackets. Not that I wasn't happy with the ending...

There's a good amount of action and a fair amount of titillation in The Peddler, enough to keep anyone interested.

"What about the three rating? What kept it from being ranked higher?" you ask. I'll tell you. Nearly all of the female characters were exactly the same apart from physical descriptions. I didn't buy Tony falling for Betty, considering she didn't have much in the way of personality to distinguish her from the others. Other than that, I may have subtracted a half star or so because the dialogue is a bit outdated. Tony says God and Jesus in the same sentence and people are acting like he's the Demon God of Vulgar Language.

All things considered, The Peddler is worth a read. It's quick and, as part of the Hard Case Crime Series, is quite affordable.

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Dutch Uncle

Dutch Uncle (Hard Case Crime #12)Dutch Uncle by Peter Pavia
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three days out of jail, Harry Healy gets talked into making a cocaine delivery. The delivery goes south and when Harry goes back to the guy he was working for, he finds him dead, a bullet wound to the head. Worse yet, Harry's a suspect. Can Harry escape from the law or will he wind up just like his Dutch Uncle?

I'm not really sure what to think about this one. On one hand, I enjoyed the three separate threads; the cops investigating Manfred's murder, Harry trying to forget about the law nipping at his heels, and the killers enjoying their ill-gotten gains. There were some good twists. On the other hand, the threads didn't converge that well and at least fifteen pages felt like filler. Also, the subplot about Harry and the waitress felt tacked on.

While it was an exciting read at times, Dutch Uncle is strictly middle of the road as far as Hard Case Crime is concerned.

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Justice League International, Vol. 1

Justice League International, Vol. 1Justice League International, Vol. 1 by Keith Giffen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first comic I ever subscribed to was the Justice League of America. Unfortunately for me, it was when the League had a fairly crappy roster including Vibe, Gypsy, Vixen, and Steel. Fortunately, it was cancelled a few issues later and replaced with Justice League International.

JLI made comics fun again. Blue Beetle and Guy Gardner provided the laughs with Batman playing the ultimate straightman for their jokes. And we can't forget about poor hen-pecked Mister Miracle either.

This book collects the formation of the JLI at the hands of Maxwell Lord and goes up until they get the International status and Martian Manhunter becomes the leader. Fun stuff. For a lot of people, the Justice League is the Big Seven. For me, it's the roster the League had at the end of this book.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

All the Flowers are Dying

All the Flowers Are Dying (Matthew Scudder, #16)All the Flowers Are Dying by Lawrence Block
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After framing an innocent man for three brutal murders, a killer from Matthew Scudder's past has resurfaced and means to get revenge on Matt and everyone he holds dear. Can Matthew find the killer before the killer finds him?

"Wow!" is the best way I can sum this one up. I've read that Block wrote this one to be the series ender and it easily could be. As usual, Block delivered the goods and had me guessing, even though I knew who the killer was when I opened the book. There was a red herring that I just couldn't ignore even though I was positive he wasn't the killer.

Matt's supporting cast is all there. The long-suffering Joe Durkin retires, Danny Boy Bell reveals he has prostate cancer, and Mick Ballou makes another cameo. Matt's finally carrying a cellphone which I find hilarious for some reason.

The chapters written from the killer's point of view are some cold, chilling stuff, just like in the previous volume. While I had a pretty good idea Scudder wasn't going to die, who knew who the killer would be taking to the grave with him? The whole Preston Applewhite angle showed what a sick bastard the killer was.

Block hit another home run with this one. Not to be missed by Matthew Scudder fans.

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Hope To Die

Hope to Die (Matthew Scudder, #15)Hope to Die by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hollanders are brutally killed by a pair of burglars who have a falling out and kill each other. At least, that's how it appears initially. Matthew Scudder takes a closer look and stumbles upon a serial killer. Can he stop the killer before he kills again?

Once again, Block pulled the wool over my eyes. I knew my guess as to who the killer was was wrong when I noticed there were 120 pages left. Block planted a series of red herrings and Scudder and I both fell for them initially. The killer was cold and scarily reallistic. The chapters told from the killer's point of view were pretty chilling.

I've touted Matthew Scudder's supporting cast and character development as favorite attractions of the series. While we get appearances by Danny Boy Bell and Joe Durkin and a cameo by Mick Ballou, that's about as many of the continuing supporting cast appears. Actually, Matt's relationship with his estranged sons changes quite a bit, now that I think about it. TJ trying to get Matt to use a cellphone and a computer are amusing. Plus, how many detectives age as their further adventures are chronicled? Matt was 44 in the first book. Now he's 62.

While Hope to Die isn't my favorite Matthew Scudder books, it's still really good. Not to be missed by Matthew Scudder fans.

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Everybody Dies

Everybody Dies (Matthew Scudder, #14)Everybody Dies by Lawrence Block
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Someone has declared war on Mick Ballou and his criminal enterprises and Matthew Scudder is caught in the middle, first having a friend gunned down in front of him and then nearly being killed at Mick's bar. Can Matt figure out who is behind the attacks before anyone else close to him is killed?

Wow. After I finished Even the Wicked, I thought Lawrence Block might have been phoning in the rest of them. How wrong I was!

The thing that keeps me coming back to the Matthew Scudder books is the fluid nature of Matthew Scudder and his world. The supporting cast are as big of an attraction to me as Scudder himself. Hard Way Ray, Joe Durkin, Danny Boy Bell, Lisa Holtzman, then all make appearances in this one. A couple of them will never make appearances again. That's what made Everybody Dies so powerful. A few long-running cast members end up dead at the hands of a criminal gunning for Mick Ballou. Not even TJ gets out unscathed.

I had an idea who the mole was in Mick's crew about halfway through but I didn't figure out who the big baddie was until about a paragraph before Matt. This one had a finale that sticks out as one of my all time favorites in crime fiction, a glorious shit storm of violence. Like Matt said to Elaine near the end "Everybody else is dead."

I'd been waiting to read a Matthew Scudder story centering in Mick Ballou for a long time and this one did not disappoint. It's easily in the Scudder top three.

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Even the Wicked

Even the WickedEven the Wicked by Lawrence Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A vigilante calling himself The Will of the People is killing undesirables and gloating about it in the Daily News and Matthew Scudder is one the case. But what, if anything, do these killings have to do with man afflicted with AIDs being gunned down in broad daylight?

Block lead me around by my nose through most of this one. It took me forever to figure out what was going on with Will and what was behind Byron Leopold's murder. I liked how TJ kept trying to drag Matt into the computer age. As in most of his cases, Matt struggled with ethical dilemmas.

Matthew Scudder and the supporting cast continue to grow as characters. Matt quits seeing his mistress, the bond between Matt and TJ continues to grow, coming to a point at the end that I saw coming books ago. Hard Way Ray makes strides as one of Scudder's supporting cast and the ever put-upon Joe Durkin makes a welcome appearance as well.

If you've stuck with Lawrence Block and Matthew Scudder this far, you'll want to devour this one like the rest of them.

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A Long Line of Dead Men

A Long Line of Dead Men:: A Matthew Scudder MysteryA Long Line of Dead Men:: A Matthew Scudder Mystery by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A club of 31 meets every year to observe the deaths of its members. Only someone is making sure the members don't die of old age and it's up to Matthew Scudder to find out who is behind the killings. Can he stop the murders while there are still club members left?

While it wasn't my favorite Matthew Scudders story, A Long Line of Dead Men was still very enjoyable. I figured out who the killer was about halfway through. The rumplestilskin clue clinched my earlier hunch.

Lawrence Block's writing is very underrated. I found myself writing down phrases I liked, like "orphans of the storm" and "I come from a long line of dead men." I also liked that Matt's AA membership storyline advanced a bit when he took Jim Short as a sponsee and tried to get him into AA. I also liked that his relationship with Elaine progressed a bit. Mick Ballou, as always, made me want to pester Lawrence Block to write some books about him. That's one thing that separates Matthew Scudder from a lot of series characters. Things progress and develop rather than stagnate.

If you like detective fiction and the idea of a recovering alcoholic detective pleases you, give old Matthew Scudder a shot. You shan't be dissappointed.

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The Devil Knows You're Dead

The Devil Knows You're Dead (Matthew Scudder, #11)The Devil Knows You're Dead by Lawrence Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An acquaintance of Scudder's is gunned down at a pay phone and it looks like a homeless man is the culprit. The homeless man's brother hires Scudder to clear him. Scudder's investigation takes him through a world populated with transsexuals and blackmail. Also on Scudder's plate are the pancreatic cancer of his ex-girlfriend, his relationship with Elaine, and the affair he's having with the dead man's wife...

The Devil Knows You're Dead wasn't quite up to par with the rest of the Lawrence Black's Matthew Scudder series. It wasn't a bad book but the plot meandered and the resolution of the case felt tacked on. (view spoiler)[It did start Matt's affair with Lisa, though. (hide spoiler)]
Scudder and his supporting cast continued to grow. The character pieces were the saving grace of the book, particularly Jan's predicament and TJ's reaction to the trannies.

To sum it up, TDKYD was worth a read but it wasn't the greatest of the Scudder books by any means.

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