Monday, May 23, 2016


     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.

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