Monday, May 23, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: HONKY TONK SAMURAI by Joe Lansdale


     HonkyTonk Samurai is the eleventh book in author Joe Lansdales Hap & Leonard series, which also includes a TV show bearing their names on the Sundance Channel. Mr. Lansdale is one of my favorite authors, largely based on TheThicket, which was a great work of historical fiction that went beyond genre expectations. Honky Tonk Samurai is my first featuring Hap & Leonard.
     Hap & Leonard are working for friend Marvin Hanson at his private detective firm. While on a relatively simple job, Leonard finds himself taking justice into his own hands when he sees a man abusing a dog. Just as it seems the two will walk away from Leonard’s vigilantism unscathed, a crass old woman comes to the detective agency with video of the incident that would not only cause problems for Leonard, but their friend, the newly appointed police chief. But the old woman isn’t interested in money, instead she wants Hap and Leonard to look for her missing granddaughter, Sandy, the only family she has left. Sandy was last known to be working for a classic car dealer before disappearing five years ago. Without much choice, they take the case, and find that Sandy’s disappearance is part of prostitution, bribery, and murder associated with the sale of overpriced classic cars.
     One of the reasons I’m a fan of Lansdale is the dynamic characters in his novels. Honky Tonk Samurai does not disappoint. In addition to those I presume make regular appearances in the series are a family of inbred serial killers and a sexy transgendered front woman for the classic car business. Those characters are surrounded by clever, if not a little overused, writing.

“As an old gray-haired addict called Two-Toe George told me and Leonard once, ‘When you start wanting meth more than you want pussy or a rib-eye steak, then you know you got, like, a serious fucking drug problem’

Two-Toe George was a philosopher”
     
Author Joe Lansdale
     But for as many snide, funny, sometimes hilariously vulgar lines (“You could have pushed me down with a hummingbird fart”), there were also much more profound sections, reflections on life and death, aging, fatherhood, religion, and more.

“One some level, like the samurai of old, you have accepted your death. You are neither there to win or to lose. You are there to be in the moment… I might add right here that I say fuck the samurai. I planned to win. I planned to go home… And as that thought galloped through my head, another less pleasant thought showed up. Sometimes your luck runs out.”

     There were times that some of the wise-cracking, bad-assing, adversarial but affectionate bantering got a bit thick for my tastes, but it never took away from either the story, characters, and colorful action and violence.
     It is difficult for any author to keep characters interesting and dynamic after eleven books, but Mr. Lansdale has done that and more. Book twelve, RustyPuppy, is due out in 2017, and I’m looking forward to more of Hap & Leonard.    



Lansdale, Joe. Honky Tonk Samurai, Mullholland Books, February 2, 2016.
ISBN:978-0316329408




An advance copy of  Honky Tonk Samurai  was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via NetGalley.com. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

THE DOMINO GAME by Greg Wilson



     Nikolai Aven worked in the financial industry in post-Cold War Russia and did very well for himself, his wife Natalia, and their young daughter, Larissa. Nikolai was an optimist, he wanted to do some good for his country and fight the corruption that was becoming rampant. So he quit his job and became an agent with the FSB, the replacement KGB. But it wasn’t long before he learned that fighting corruption in a system that thrives on it isn’t easy, and found himself with with video evidence that got his source killed within a day of turning it over. He can’t go to the company that the evidence was stolen from and can’t go to his bosses, as they’re implicated. So, trusting his FSB partner, he turned to the United States CIA and their offer of a new life and new identity in America in exchange for the evidence. Station Chief Jack Hartman gave his word, but before the deal was made, Nikolai is arrested, tried, and convicted of treason. He is sent to a Russian prison and endures unthinkable acts during the nine years he spends there before his escape. Once out, he’s ready to get answers and settle scores. And he does both by combining his intelligence, financial and investigative skills, and the ruthlessness he developed in prison.
Author Greg Wilson
     Greg Wilson’s The Domino Game is a well-told international espionage thriller providing readers with an idea of life, government, and industry in post-Cold War Russia. The story is topical, a warning that the events in Russia should not be ignored.
     Mr. Wilson did best writing the events leading to Nikolai’s fall and subsequent time in prison. The character was a good, honest, altruistic man turned into a hard, ruthless killer in order to survive. But the good guy was not entirely lost, even after the life and family he knew was stolen from him. The transition of the Nikolai Aven character was well done.
     Mr. Wilson provided a strong and thrilling ending. The last hundred pages were so intense I found myself wanting to skim ahead to find out what happened, but not able to skip a single word!
     The Domino Game is not a short book. At over five hundred pages, even with a powerful beginning and thrilling ending there was a lull in the middle, particularly when describing how the money trail and laundering process worked. Even with time taken to explain it, I was still somewhat confused about how the Russian oligarchs were infiltrating American businesses and what dangers that infiltration represented.
     Despite the development of Nikolai Aven that I liked, other characters in the book were lacking. Some started strong, like Tom Hartman’s daughter, Kelly, but fizzled as the book progressed. Others that played significant roles in the book seemed more like extras, which discounted their betrayal.
     The Domino Game is a good book with a strong story that could have been great with some extra attention to editing and character development.


Wilson, Greg. The Domino Game, Equis Publishing, March 18, 2016. ASIN B01A970SEG




An advance copy of The Domino Game was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via NetGalley.com. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

COLD BARREL ZERO by Matthew Quirk


     Hayes and his unit were black ops, knowledge of their operation would be disavowed if they were captured or killed. When returning from a mission, they were ambushed. Hayes saw the man behind it and recognized him as an ally of his ambitious Colonel Riggs. Upon return to base, Hayes saw the same man killing-massacring-the civilian population. Hayes fought back, tried to defend the civilians, but it was too late. Riggs reported that it was Hayes and his men that turned, murdered the civilian population; it happens sometimes, he said, that black op units turn, forget what’s right and what’s wrong, he said. And, according to Riggs, it happened to Hayes.

     What would you do if your government was trying to kill you? Frame you for killing innocent civilians while serving honorably halfway around the world? Hunting you like a terrorist? Would you run? Create a new identity? Or try and kill those who set you up?
     In Cold Barrel Zero, the newest novel by Matthew Quirk, Hayes and his crew of US Special Forces soldiers didn’t do any of those things. Instead, they continued to protect and serve their country while dodging bullets and missiles meant for them, courtesy of the United States military.
     Hayes and his crew went beyond clearing their names and reputations. Hayes viewed himself as a soldier whose responsibility it was to protect and defend the people of the United States, even though the government had turned on him. At one point, while a friend was trying to convince him to flee:
I’m not running…”
“They’ll try you.”
“I knew what I was doing. If I broke the law, I’ll pay the price. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“Don’t,” Byrne said. “They might execute you.”
“I can’t kill them all. I can’t make the believe at the point of a gun. This is too big for Riggs to control anymore. I have to trust my country”

Those words, “I have to trust my country,” in a time where there is so little trust, were powerful to me, and were perhaps the greatest explanation of a motive for Hayes. But maybe Hayes had to trust his country, because there was nothing or no one else to trust.

     Cold Barrel Zero, as a thriller, accomplishes its goals: it is exciting and fast paced, lots of action; an impossible mission of revenge, a race to prevent a terrorist attack in the United States, and even a little romance.

     The ending was satisfying, but I have to admit a little disappointment that Quirk, having nicely set up for a follow-up, decided to see the story through. I would enjoy more from Hayes and his crew.

Quirk, Matthew. Cold Barrel Zero, Mulholland Books, March 29, 2016. 
ISBN 979-0-316-25921-7




An advance copy of Cold Barrel Zero was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via NetGalley.com.  No compensation was provided for this review.