Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman

Hurt Machine
by Reed Farrel Coleman
Tyrus Books, 2011

Reed's website.

Hurt Machine is being offered as a FREE eBook download from 12/20 - 12/24 on Amazon,  Barnes & Noble and Other eBook sellers.

Two reactions on reading The Hurt Machine: Wow, I'm glad I read this book; and Why did I wait this long to start the series?

First sentence: Death, not time, is probably the only lasting remedy for hurt and even that's just an educated guess.

Hurt Machine is an excellent hardboiled detective novel and one of my favorite reads of 2011. Normally I am fanatic about reading a series in order but I was offered a review copy of this seventh Moe Prager story. I've had the series in mind for a while and decided to chance starting at the end; I have no regrets. Coleman gives a new reader enough information that references to past events are not an obstacle to following the story. In fact, they make me want to start at the beginning to see how Moe gets to this point.

The Story
Moe Prager is under a lot of stress. His has been diagnosed with stomach cancer and this clouds the joy of his daughter's upcoming wedding. Moe doesn't want anyone to know until after the wedding and this includes Pam with whom has has a serious relationship.

Into this mix comes his ex-wife Carmella Melendez who he hasn't seen for 10 years. Carmella tells him that her estranged sister, Alta Consecos, was murdered, stabbed to death outside a night club. The police are not making progress finding the murderer and Carmella asks Moe to look into it. Moe hasn't been an active detective in years —he doesn't know where he put his license—but he can't say no to Carmella though it adds another level of stress since Pam isn't very happy about it. The case promises to be interesting as Alta was on suspension from her job as an EMS technician after she and her partner let a man die without rendering aid.

Moe comes from the same line of hardboiled detective as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe—pretend you know more than you do, poke around, piss people off, see what happens. And like the classic hardboiled detective, Moe makes pithy, humorous, and sometimes somber observations. If you read the comments sections on the Internet web sites you will appreciate Moe's thinking about hate mail: " occurred to me that people with hearts so full of hate must have no room in their brains for spelling or syntax."

With Moe not knowing exactly what he is looking for, he tries to find connections, figure out which events are related, who are the players. I can't say much about Moe's investigations without delivering spoilers but I will say that the author is a master at setting up situations that come to a head later in the story. I had several "OK this makes sense now but I didn't see it coming" moments.

There is a lot going on in the story and these other elements — Moe's health, his daughter's wedding, his relationship with his ex-wife, his current relationship with Pam —add layers and complications to the investigation. They are not a distraction though, they make Moe human, someone the reader can relate to.

What I didn't expect from Hurt Machine was the unexpected emotional response I have toward Moe. He and I are about the same age. With a cancerous tumor in his stomach, Moe can't help but think of life, death, things he's done in the past, what he will leave behind:
When you reach a certain stage in life, you do a lot of wondering about the people who've passed in and out of it. Soon enough, I realized, I'd be someone's absent friend. You add alcohol to thoughts like that and you get tears.
Time to think is life's Petri dish. It's the medium in which a random twinge of anxiety morphs into debilitating self-doubt, where a passing regret grows into paralytic guilt.
The way Coleman overlays the story with Moe's reflections adds a dimension to the story that sets it apart. Moe's thoughts can be brutally honest but the author doesn't let them turn maudlin or morbid. Rather, he has found a way to sum up the life of his character, a character in which he has a lot of emotional investment. I read somewhere that this is the last Moe Prager book. If so, the author has delivered a satisfying conclusion and one that is going to send this reader back to the beginning.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What to do when you can't get a book in paper or Kindle

I wondered what it would be like to read an ebook that I couldn't put on my Kindle. To find out, I purchased an ebook from which required that I use either a app on my Mac or android device, a Droid2 in my case. I give a description of this first experience on my other blog, Africa Screams.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Short Fiction by Roger Smith

Photo by Dieter Losskarn from the author's web site
We know South African author Roger Smith from his crime thriller novels but I take a look at two of his short stories on my other blog, Africa Screams. Roger proves to be as adept writing short stories as he is with the novel.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

African crime fiction in the news

If you subscribe to both of my blogs I apologize that you got this post twice. Posting here I hope will reach readers who hadn't thought about African crime fiction.

Cary Darling, writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, looks at the changing face of African crime fiction in his article "African crime writers are gaining attention outside the continent."

He starts off
We sure have come a long way since Out of Africa and The Flame Trees of Thika.

In the second decade of the 21st century, some of the most compelling contemporary crime-fiction novels are either set in or coming from Africa. Much as Scandinavia became associated with the genre a few years back -- thanks in large part to Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy -- Africa may become a new capital of literary crime.
Later he points out in reference to Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana books "...this new wave is often far less soft-centered and more hard-boiled, less nice and more noir."

Cary approaches the topic by profiling two authors —South Africa's Roger Smith and Mukoma Wa Ngugi who was born and lives in the US but raised in Kenya. Mukoma Wa Ngugi I wasn't familiar with but after reading about him in Cary's article I have his book Nairobi Heat on pre-order. Taking an African-American detective from an "extremely white town" to Nairobi, Kenya has wonderful possibilities  to explore cultural attitudes, differences.

Roger Smith, as anyone who reads my blog knows, is one of my favorite authors and the one that got my interest in African crime fiction going. Though I've been corresponding with Roger for several years, Cary's interview gave me several new insights. For example, I hadn't known how Roger's books are received in South Africa. Cary also points out how Roger had to turn to electronic publication to make his latest book, Dust Devils, available to US readers, perhaps because publishers are looking for safe and commercial books.

Please read the entire article at African crime writers are gaining attention outside the continent.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In Memoriam Margaret E. Lundy

My mother, Margaret E. Lundy (née Hudson), 1929–2011, passed away at 0230 on July 30 in a Port Charlotte, FL nursing home of complications from stroke, breast cancer, and the poignantly described condition of failure to thrive.

I have a longer tribute on Africa Screams.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Forthcoming Books: Absolute Zero by Declan Burke

I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Dec but he is high on the list of people I'd most like to sink a pint with. And I've read and enjoyed his books: The Big O, Crime Always Pays, Eightball Boogie (all available from the Amazons).

The Big O and Crime Always Pays are screwball noir, a term I first heard from the man himself. Eightball Boogie is as nice a piece of hardboiled writing as you are likely to encounter. All of his books are characterized by sharp writing, clever plots, characters you are interested in, and dark humour. Reviewers have compared him to Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, and Donald Westlake to which I say amen brothers and sisters.

Declan blogs about crime fiction at Crime Always Pays, one of the best crime fiction sites in the blogosphere. I've been introduced to many good authors in his posts not to mention the insights I've gained on the genre.

Which brings us to Absolute Zero Cool, his latest, published by Liberties Press. It will be launched in The Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 on Wednesday 10 August by John Connolly. So get over there if you are within train, bus, driving, walking, bicycling, or dogcart distance.

Declan says Absolute Zero Cool will be out as an e-pub which I hope means it makes it to my side of the pond soon.

Here is a description of the story:
Absolute Zero Cool is a post-modern take on the crime thriller genre. Adrift in the half-life limbo of an unpublished novel, hospital porter Billy needs to up the stakes. Euthanasia simply isn’t shocking anymore; would blowing up his hospital be enough to see Billy published, or be damned? What follows is a gripping tale that subverts the crime genre’s grand tradition of liberal sadism, a novel that both excites and disturbs in equal measure. Absolute Zero Cool is not only an example of Irish crime writing at its best; it is an innovative, self-reflexive piece that turns every convention of crime fiction on its head. Declan Burke’s latest book is an imaginative story that explores the human mind’s ability to both create and destroy, with equally devastating effects.
And take a look at what is being said about it already and who is saying it.:

“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is unlike anything else you’ll read this year … Laugh-out-loud funny … This is writing at its dazzling, cleverest zenith. Think John Fowles, via Paul Auster and Rolling Stone … a feat of extraordinary alchemy.” – Ken Bruen, author of AMERICAN SKIN

“Stop waiting for Godot – he’s here. Declan Burke takes the existential dilemma of characters writing themselves and turns it on its ear, and then some. He gives it body and soul … an Irish soul.” - Reed Farrel Coleman, author of EMPTY EVER AFTER

“Declan Burke has broken the mould with ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which is actually very cool indeed. Funny, inventive and hugely entertaining crime fiction - I guarantee you’ll love it.” - Melissa Hill, author of SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY’S
“If you want to find something new and challenging, comic crime fiction is now the place to go … Declan Burke [is] at the vanguard of a new wave of young writers kicking against the clichés and producing ambitious, challenging, genre-bending works.” - Colin Bateman, author of NINE INCHES

“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is a surreal rollercoaster of a read, full of the blackest humour, and yet poignant. An outrageously funny novel ... The joy is in the writing itself, all sparky dialogue and wry observation, so smooth that when it cuts, it’s like finding razor blades in honey.” - Deborah Lawrenson, author of THE LANTERN

“Burke has written a deep, lyrical and moving crime novel … an intoxicating and exciting novel of which the master himself, Flann O’Brien, would be proud.” - Adrian McKinty, author of FIFTY GRAND

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Live Wire by Harlan Coben

Dutton, 2011. 978-0-525-95206-0. 375 pages.
I received this book as a review copy.

Myron Bolitar is the principal partner of MB Reps representing athletes, actors, and writers. Suzze Trevantino, a former tennis star and one of Myron's first clients, has a problem and she turns to him. She is pregnant and someone has posted on facebook that the child is not her husband's. Suzze fears that the suspicion will kill her marriage to the rock legend Lex, who Myron also represents. Myron agrees to help and with the assistance of his partner, Esperanza Diaz,  Windsor Horne Lockwood III, his silent partner/investor(?) begins an investigation that will drop into his dark past and put him into physical, personal danger, and threaten his career.

I was aware of Harlan Coben's books but had shied away because of the sports theme. I have low sports awareness and when confronted by sports enthusiasts I generally tell people that I follow cricket  because there is a very slim chance in the U.S. that I'll have to explain. I took the review copy because Coben is a popular author, a friend of mine at the public library likes him, and I was curious. This is an example of why a reader should be careful not to allow preconceptions to get in the way of a good read; I thoroughly enjoyed the book and plan to go back to the beginning of the series.

As a person who is compulsive about reading a series in order, how do I feel about starting with the latest book in the series? Pretty good. Obviously there is much backstory about the characters I don't know but I didn't feel confused. The plot hold up well on its own and Coben's skill at presenting his characters engaged me without having had to grow up with them.

Though Myron's profession is agent to the stars, Live Wire is essentially a straight-up detective story on the edge of hardboiled. Myron certainly has the wisecracking part down and, like a true hardboiled detective, he is going to crack-wise even if it means it will get him beaten up. He also made me laugh quite a few times. Also like the classic hardboiled detective, he skirts the law, if not outright breaks it, and assists in some extra-legal justice. The plot, like many detective stories, starts out simple but gets complicated the deeper Myron investigates and the more new details of the character's lives emerge. Finally, Myron does have his personal conflicts and demons. Here an incident from his past involving family surfaces forcing Myron to examine his feelings and motivations and look for redemption.

I enjoyed the set of core characters Coben created. Myron Bolitar, basketball star turned sports agent after he blew out his knee. Esperanza Diaz, beautiful, a former wrestler, and ex-bisexual party girl who is Myron's business partner and now married with a son.  Windsor Horne Lockwood III (Win), very rich and very dangerous despite his somewhat effete appearance. People who misjudge Win regret it, often from a hospital bed. Big Cyndi, receptionist at MB Reps, six-five, former wrestler, with an interesting fashion sense and a smile that makes children screen. Think Janet Evanovich's Lula but more extreme. Coben has a lot of fun with Big Cyndi.

The ending left me stunned in that Live Wire could could serve as the end of the series. I haven't read any interviews with the author so I can't say for sure but it doesn't feel like the end. Still, I'm intensely interested how Coben resolves the issues left at the conclusion.

Live Wire is an excellent read and I recommend it to people who enjoy a good detective story.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Summoner by Layton Green

My review of Layton Green's thriller, The Summoner, is posted on my AfricaScreams blog.

The Summoner is set in present day Zimbabwe and follows the efforts of Dominic Grey from the diplomatic security unit of the U.S. Embassy to find out what happened to a retired diplomat who disappeared during a religious ceremony. He is aided by Nya Mashumba from the Zim government and a professor of religious phenomenology, Viktor Radic. It is a good read made all the more pleasurable by the cultural, academic, and geographical details the author works in.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dust Devils by Roger Smith

Roger has just released his latest book, Dust Devils, as an ebook for the Kindle and Nook. I'm calling it his best book so far. Read my full write-up on my AfricaScreams blog.

Kindle version of Dust Devils from Amazon
Nook version of Dust Devils from B&N
YouTube video trailer for Dust Devils

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Currently Reading: Dust Devils by Roger Smith

UPDATE: I added the cover for the German edition of Dust Devils. The German title, Staubige Hölle, translates to Dusty Hell, which is pretty descriptive of the book. I like the simplicity of the AK47 on the German cover but the UK version tries to convey something about the location and characters. I can't say I prefer one over the other.

I am currently reading a pre-ARC version of Roger's third book, Dust Devils. No details until closer to publication, sorry. But, from someone who read Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead twice, I call this is Roger's best work. Readers of his previous books will find Roger's distinct combination of lean, sharp, and hard-edged prose, fast pacing, action, and violence but he has also moved his writing in a new direction, placed it in a different context.

Dust Devils will have a major spring release in Germany (May) where Roger has been well received. Serpent's Tail will publish it in the U.K. in September. Roger assures me that Dust Devils will be available to readers in the U.S. More details to follow.

Dust Devils is available for pre-order from, and

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Films: Thunder Road

Let me tell the story, I can tell it all;
About the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol.
His daddy made the whiskey, son, he drove the load;
When his engine roared, they called the highway "Thunder Road".
--The Ballad of Thunder Road, co-written by Robert Mitchum in 1957 with music by Jack Marshall

Personal Note: I'm pretty far from country but I had a feeling of familiarity watching Thunder Road. Here is why:

My parents grew up in Southwest Virginia. My maternal grandparents moved out of the city and across the mountain into the country. To get to the valley where they lived you first had to cross a mountain with so many twists and hairpin turns that my father usually had to stop at least once for me to throw up.  Later I discovered that a bag of pork rinds on the way up settled my stomach. Yeah, it doesn't make sense to me now either.

A couple miles down the road was a genuine country store, the real thing and not some manufactured nostalgia impostor.

They lived in a log house (squared logs chinked something like cement) and cooking was with a coal stove. Water was gravity fed from a nearby spring.  Getting to my grandparent's house required careful driving to keep from leaving the oil pan on the rocky, narrow road. There were times when we had to leave our car down at the state road and get to the house in my grandfather's old dodge pickup truck.

During one visit, my father walking on the road and caught a ride. The driver reached under the seat and pulled out a mason jar of clear liquid and offered him a drink. "Skull buster" was the way my father described it with a rueful shake of the his head.

My grandfather tried his hand at making whiskey. He earned a visit from the revenuers who busted up his still. Besides the annoyance of having his still destroyed, he was insulted when they told him that his product wasn't very good.

Another time day a spotter plane observed smoke coming up near the stream behind the house and called it in. Several cars of law enforcement agents soon arrived. Imagine the reaction of armed law enforcement officers when, instead of a still, they found my grandmother making soap in a large black kettle near the creek. My brother related this story during show and tell in elementary school, to my mother's horror.

Thunder Road synopsis: Lucas (Luke) Doolin is back home in Tennessee after a stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He resumes his job of transporting the moonshine his daddy makes, driving high powered automobiles fitted with tanks holding several hundred gallons of illegal alcohol.

Luke and the other moonshiners have problems, one old and one new. Their traditional enemy, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco, have a new hot shot in charge and he's leading a task force dedicated to eliminating the production of moonshine and to catching Luke. The new enemy is Carl Kogan, a Memphis gangster who wants to control the production and distribution of illegal alcohol. Where the federal agents chase the transporters, Kogan's crew ambush and kill them.

Unwilling to submit to Kogan and with the revenuers finding and destroying their stills, the moonshiners decide to stop production but Luke is bound to make one last run. It turns personal when he finds that Kogan is tricking his younger brother into making a run for him.

Review/Analysis: Thunder Road was filmed around Asheville, NC but set in Tennessee in 1954.

The picture of Mitchum on the poster doesn't have much to do with the movie. He never held a revolver, and an automatic only once. And he certainly didn't have that hunted expression on his face.

Is Thunder Road hillbilly noir as it has been described? Other than being in black and white, dealing with illegal activities, and coming out at the end of the classic film noir period, it would be a real stretch to call it noir. It is a solid classic B movie well deserving the cult status it gained in the southeast. Robert Mitchum's version of The Ballad of Thunder Road, not used in the film, was on Billboard's Hot 100 for a total of 21 weeks. The film has been a steady money-maker.

It starts and ends with a dedication to the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco. This is amusing since the audience's sympathies are with the mountain folk even if they are engaged in illegal activity. Read the full lyrics to the ballad, they are written about a hero:
Roarin' out Harlen revvin' up his mill
He shot the gap at Cumberland and screamed by Maynordsville
It's hard not to see fighter planes and calvary charges when you hear the song.

Luke's girlfriend, Francine, a Memphis nightclub singer, wants Luke to settle down. Luke where he came from:
[they believed] ...what a man did on his land was his business.

They came here, fought for this country. Scratched up those hills with plows or skinny little mules. The did it to guarantee the basic right of free men. They just figured that whiskey making was one of them. 
I suppose I knew that what he [Luke's daddy] was doing was contrary to someone's law but my granddaddy had done it before him and his daddy before him and so on back to Ireland.
Mitchum plays Luke with his trademark sleepy-eyed indifference, not showing much reaction but the way he carries himself brings a real power to the role. And the film gives some depth to Luke, he isn't just a hillbilly who likes to drive fast. He talks about how the government fetched his country soul out of the valley and sent him off to war. Now
My head is full of so many things. I've been across an ocean, met all the pretty people. I know how to read an expensive restaurant menu. I know what a mobile is.

One of these days I got to fall.
You could call him a tragic figure. He's been changed, he knows that he is probably doomed, but he has to play it out until the end. One of the other moonshiners sums him up saying "he's got a machine gunner's outlook and death doesn't phase him much."

Luke also talks movingly about growing up trailing his daddy up to the still on winter's morning:
I don't remember anything dark or shameful.

I just recollect the dogwood and laurels with little tugs of ice on the ends that snap off clean when you brush by them.
I remember the clear ice on the end of laurels myself.

The driving scenes are well done by the standards of the time. They use rear projection when they show the drivers so the scenery behind the car is flat. The exterior driving shots are still excellent. I read that the production company bought the cars from actual moonshiners who used the money to upgrade. While I never had a fascination with fast cars, I still feel the excitement listening to the deep rumble of the engines.

Thunder Road holds up very well 43 years later. If you are from that part of the South you know why it is still a favorite. If you are not, well, give it a watch and let me know what you think.

Thunder Road shows a little of Appalachian culture so I'm closing with my grandmother's recipe for cornbread. It isn't fancy but it is a recipe that was cooked in a coal stove in a log cabin. My mother got the recipe by measuring the "pinch of this" and the "dash of that" as my grandmother assembled the ingredients The shortening was most likely lard. I use an 8 inch iron skillet that belonged to my paternal grandmother and is well over  a hundred years old.
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk (or 4 tablespoons powdered buttermilk in 1 cup water. I put the buttermilk powder in with the other dry ingredients.)
1 egg
1 tablespoon shortening

Combine dry ingredients.
Combine milk (or water) and egg and add to dry ingredients just before putting in the oven.
Heat oven to 450. Put shortening in frying pan and the pan in the oven as it heats so that it melts. I put it in the oven when the temperature is around 350 so it is good an hot and you get a crust on the bottom.. Remove the frying pan and swirl the melted shortening around to coat the bottom and side of frying pan. Cook corn bread for about 20 minutes.

About.coms page on Southern cornbread says that "Northern cornbread use significant amounts of sugar and flour, while Southern cornbreads use very little or none at all." I haven't been able to verify this but I think the small amount of flour in this recipe is because flour was more expensive when my grandmother was learning to cook.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith

Picador, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-312-68048-0. 290 pages.
My review of Roger Smith's South African crime thriller, Wake Up Dead, is now on my Africa Screams blog. This is Roger's second novel and it returns to the hell of Cape Flats. I've included links to background information that will help you understand the world that Roger writes about.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Mall, S. L. Grey

I just published my review of S.L. Grey's The Mall on my Africa Screams blog. It's horror, not crime, but I thought I would cross-reference it in case readers of this blog also enjoy good horror. It is a satisfying and intelligent contribution to the genre and a very clever satire of consumerism. I hope to see more from the author.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Out is not a recent book. It was published in Japan in 1997 and in English in 2003. This Vintage International edition came out January 2005.

If someone asked me for a one or two word description to help them decide if Out was a book for them,  I would call it feminist noir. A staff member at The Mysterious Bookshop recommended it as excellent noir which the reason I purchased it since I was unfamiliar with the author. I wasn't disappointed.

The setup is simple: physically abused by her husband, Yayoi Yamamoto snaps and strangles him. Panicked, she calls Masako Katori, a co-worker on the boxed lunch assembly line where they both work the night shift. Masako decides they need to dispose of the body and gets two other co-workers, Yoshie Azuma and Kuniko Jonouchi to assist with getting rid of the body while Yayoi builds her alibi. They accomplish the task in a way that is notable for its grisliness and the matter of fact way the women approach it. The improvised plan looks like it could succeed but the extramarital actions of the murdered man and the personalities and habits of the four women make exposure more and more likely. The story takes a turn in the middle that establishes it as solidly noir but also edges it toward thriller.

The women of Out are treated as objects, sometimes valuable objects, but objects nonetheless. Anna, a secondary character who works in a hostess club run by Satake who becomes the nemesis of the four women, come to this awakening with the realization that
Maybe it was the same with men: they wanted women the same way she'd wanted the poodle, and she meant no more to Satake then the dog did to her.
Masako, Yoshie, Kuniko, and Yayoi are victims of men and the rigid society in which they live. They all want out of their current existence. They are treated with indifference or neglect or abandonment or violence in one form or another. They are doing jobs nobody else is willing to do. Masako compares herself to a washing machine run without putting the laundry:
Disolved in a whirlpool, drained, rinsed, and spun dry—it was precisely what they had done to her. A pointless spin cycle, she thought, laughing out loud.
The one act of female solidarity, disposing of the body, doesn't last long, leaving them as much alone at the end as in the beginning.

For me, the strength of Out is in the way the characters are developed, all the characters and not only the four women at the core of the story. The author progressively pulls away layers revealing the person underneath. No one is particularly likable. It is possible to empathize with and come to understand and perhaps relate to these characters but there are none that I liked. The only character that goes through the story as an (mostly) innocent observer is Roberto Kazuo Miyamori, half Brazilian and half Japanese, who works in the same factory as the four women. Alienated from the culture of his Japanese father, Kazu, lonely and desperate to connect with another person, becomes pathetically obsessed with Masako.

I'm still not sure about the ending. Is it positive? Is there hope? If anyone who reads this review has also read the book, please leave a comment with your thoughts on the last 18 pages.

Out is well plotted with excellent character development. I recommended it to readers who can handle noir mixed with some grisly ingredients. The translation by Stephen Snyder reads smoothly with no awkwardness.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Bar on the Seine by Georges Simenon

The Bar on the Seine was originally published in 1931. This Penguin edition, translated by David Watson, came out in 2003.

My reading in early works of crime fiction is woefully inadequate which prompted me to buy some of Georges Simenon's novels about the French police detective Inspector Maigret. This is the first I've read in the series which has 75  novels and 28 short stories published between 1931 and 1972. The Bar on the Seine (originally titled La Guinguette à deux sous) is one of the earlier in the series (no. 11) by this prolific author. Based on the strength of this book, this is a series which I will dip into when I need a quick, interesting, and pleasant read.

In The Bar on the Seine, Maigret visits a condemned man on the eve of his execution. The man, Lenoir, tells Maigret that there are others who should also be awaiting the guillotine and describes a murder he observed when sixteen. True to the code of honor among thieves, he won't give Maigret the name of the murderer but does tell him the name of the bar the man frequents, La Guinguette à deux sous.

Maigret takes a stab at checking out the story but can't find the bar and puts it to the side as he prepares to go on holiday. By chance, while trying on a new bowler hat, Maigret overhears another shopper mention that he will be part of a skit held at La Guinguette à deux sous. Holiday notwithstanding, Maigret follows the man to a rendezvous with his mistress then to his home where he collects his family and they drive off along the banks of the Seine. The man, Basso, and his family are among those who have abandoned the heat of Paris in the summer. When the family unloads at a villa, Maigret goes to a nearby inn.
 He enters to check things out but, in an amusing turn, finds himself pulled into a party of friends who have been vacationing together at the same place for years. Though Maigret is a stranger, he is immediately plied with Pernod and made a participant in the evening entertainment. Now Maigret has to find out who committed murder six years ago.

Maigret follows police investigative procedures but his strength is in observing people. Here he applies his keene mind is sussing out the character of the holiday goers, their relationships and interactions. He even develops a friendship of sorts, with James with whom, back in Paris, he consumes a staggering amount of Pernod.

The story moves at a leisurely, though never plodding, pace as Maigret tries to narrow his list of suspects and balance his desire to join his wife on holiday with his policeman's duty.

If this book is an indication, the Maigret stories hold up well after 70+ years and I recommend them as non-violent and character driven. If you enjoy other books written around the same time, such as Agatha Christie, I'd say that the Maigret stories are a must read.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tooth and Nailed, Sarah Lotz

My review of Sarah Lotz's Tooth and Nailed is up on my other blog, AfricaScreams. This is her second novel featuring Cape Town lawyer George Allan and his dog and constant companion, Exhibit A. Exhibit A is also the title of the first George Allan novel.