Sunday, December 30, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Chasing Smoke by Bill Cameron

Author Bill Cameron
     I first heard of author Bill Cameron after reading 5 on Friday feature about him on Jen's Book Thoughts. The 5 on Friday feature has a different author each week answer five questions about themselves, some about their writing, some more personal. It is a nice way to humanize the name behind the books. I knew as I was reading Mr. Cameron's answers that I had to read one of his books. He answered the questions honestly, as I'm sure all participants do, but also with humor and a sardonic tone. Here is an excerpt:
My favorite place to read is: My wife would probably say it was the bathroom. I scoff at that notion. (Ahem.) I say it’s my backyard, though of course the weather has to cooperate. Which, since I live in Portland, doesn't happen often enough to suit me. Sometimes I sit in the swing, sometimes in the Beverage Chair, and sometimes the hammock (though the hammock often causes napping to occur). They’re all equally awesome. (Though, I suppose, the bathroom is pretty great too.)  
     Although the answers were probably only six or seven paragraphs, I knew that if his novels were written similarly, I couldn't go wrong.

     I chose Chasing Smoke, but as I write this I don't remember why. The novel features Portland, Oregon, homicide Detective Thomas "Skin" Kadash. I later learned there are a series of novels that feature Skin Kadash. Chasing Smoke was preceded by Lost Dog (which I could only find as an eBook from Amazon), and followed by Day One and County Line
     Chasing Smoke was not a disappointment, both in terms of the writing style I was hoping for and a good, hard-boiled mystery. The story was told in the first person of Det. Kadash, who is near the end of his career. He is also not working as a result of a temporary disability; bladder cancer. While convalescing, his partner asks him to help take a look at a death she is investigating, the latest in a series of deaths of cancer patients all seen by the same doctor as Det. Kadash. The deaths all appear to be suicides, but the daughter of one of the victims thinks they are murder. As Det. Kadash looks into it, he doesn't find much other than a few coincidences. In the process, he ruffles feathers that a lot of people would have preferred have been left undisturbed. 
     Like every good hard-boiled mystery, the protagonist has a difficult time following the rules, has an adversarial relationship with his supervisor, and is better at antagonizing the people he interviews than getting valuable information from them. He has sharp wit, razor tongue, and a gift for sarcasm. But he is also very introspective, although often seems ambivalent, about his career, love life, and cancer. Kadash seems likable to those who really know him, but sadly, that is a small group of people. And he doesn't seem to have a problem making the group smaller. 

     The book was a little slow to get started; it took about a third of the way through the book to get that feeling of being there and caring about the hero that is so important to a good mystery. There was also sideline about a romantic interest of Det. Kadash, Sylvia. It was a small portion of the book and seemed somewhat insignificant, just not enough about it for me to really care about either Sylvia or how her role mattered to Kadash.  
     Kadash talked about basic training and being in Vietnam, and a childhood friend of his being killed in Vietnam. However, in another part of the book Kadash said he was 10 years old in 1967. That would have made him only 18 years old in 1975; US involvement in Vietnam ended the Spring of that year, making Kadash and his friend a little young to be in basic training preparing to be sent there. A minor inconsistency, but sometimes those little things that are easily avoidable sticks in my craw throughout a book. 
     *** EDIT: Just after publishing this review, I discovered Mr. Cameron also discovered his inconsistency in Det. Kadash's age; he blogged about on his site. And I should restate that although I noticed the age issue, it didn't take away from my enjoying the story, it's just something I noticed. *** 

     I enjoyed Chasing Smoke, especially the second half. My first impression about Bill Cameron was right: he is fun to read. A smartass of the first order!

Cameron, Bill. Chasing Smoke. Big Earth Publishing, October 15, 2008.
ISBN-13: 9781606480199

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Perfect Kill by AJ Quinnell

AJ Quinnell, 1940-2005
     I was introduced to AJ Quinnell books after reading Man on Fire when it was re-released at the same time the movie featuring Denzel Washington was. As usual, the book was 100 times better than the movie, and I searched for more from Quinnell. I was disappointed to see that all his other books, four featuring mercenary Creasy, were out of print. Last week I was happy to discover that all of Quinnell's books are now available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

     The Perfect Kill is the second of the four Creasy novels. It jumps ahead several years to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in Lockerbie. On board were Creasy's wife and four year old daughter, with whom he has lived in peace and contentment on the Mediterranean island of Gozo after his last act of vengeance years earlier.  Of course, their deaths awakened the call for revenge and justice that he thought had died many years earlier. Plans for the Perfect Kill are set in motion, and Creasy works methodically and coldly to accomplish his task.

     Like Man on Fire, I enjoyed The Perfect Kill. It was well balanced between action and story and the character of Creasy. A reader could tire of the coldness of him, or at least of the emphasis of it, only to find that he's not so cold after all, but it was only a minor detraction from a well told and action packed story. 

     Creasy, noting his advancing years, also begins work on a protégé who can not only help with this mission but carry on after Creasy can not. In doing so Creasy learns, in part as a result of what he has caused, that he does not have a, "monopoly on vengeance."

Quinnell, AJ, The Perfect Kill. 1992

Saturday, December 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Devil She Knows by Bill Loehfelm

     The reptile house. The snakes. That was what her father liked best...The snakes didn't scare her, they bored her silly. They never moved. Ever...What the hell had her father been looking at? The same snakes in the same glass boxes, every time.     Now, eighteen years later, draped over the back of the couch, her legs coiled beneath her as she gazed out the window, Maureen knew what her father had seen in those glass boxes. He'd seen himself, and the similarity didn't end with living in a box...Maureen figured both she and her mother should've spent more time looking into her father's eyes. Maybe one f the would've spotted him for the fake he was. 
     Dark, right? And that passage from The Devil She Knows by Bill Loehfelm is actually one of the more enlightening moments in the book. 
     The Devil could be the darkness inside the characters in this book. Maureen, a late twenties waitress. Amber, her mother, never moved on from being abandoned by her husband eighteen years earlier. Nat Waters, a broken down New York City Detective, who buried his regrets in his job and never looked back. Dennis, Tanya, Vic...owned by something they can no longer control. All of them broken, exhausted, tired of a life that they felt they couldn't change because of choices made long ago. 
     Or the Devil could be Francis Jordan Sebastian. The man that owned them all, in different ways and for different reasons, but owned them not the less. 
     There area lot of devils to choose from in The Devil She Knows

Bill Loehfelm
     This book was wonderfully balanced with descriptive writing, deep and complicated characters, good dialogue, and a plot that was not particularly complicated but sufficiently gritty to satisfy readers. 
     What I enjoyed the most was protagonist Maureen Coughlin. She was merely surviving, defining success as scraping by waiting tables while leading an empty life surrounded by empty people. Because she saw something she shouldn't have, something that she gladly would've forgotten, she became the focus of an evil, homicidal, man. But she took control of her life, her destiny; she decided she would no longer settle for the emptiness of just getting by. 
     Amber shot her a look. "You got nowhere else to go, so suddenly you're interested in your mother?"....     "I got a life full of strangers," Maureen said, "people I see all the time and know nothing about. I met Waters three days ago and I know more about his life than I know about yours. Why is that?" She dug her fists into her armpits. "I don't wanna be strangers, Ma. Not now. Not anymore."
    Bill Loehfelm is one of the authors I had the privilege to meet at Bouchercon 2012. It was a chance meeting, when he generously shared his table at a crowded hotel lounge. This is his third novel but the first I've read. I recently learned there will be a sequel, The Devil in Her Way. I'm looking forward to seeing how Maureen responds to a world in which she has redefined her existence. 

Loehfelm, Bill. The Devil She Knows, Sarah Crichton Books. May 24, 2011. 
  • ISBN-10: 0374136521

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Shoulders of Giants by Jim Cliff

     The Shoulders of Giants is a great first novel by British author Jim Cliff. Set in Chicago, it is told in the first person from the point of view of the very green private investigator Jake Abraham. Jake is a lover of the mystery fiction genre himself, and throughout the book thinks back to stories he read in his youth. 
     He takes his first case looking for the daughter of a disgraced Chicago Police Captain, who at the peak of his career lost everything, and now his daughter.  When she is found dead, he keeps Jake on the case, doubting the Chicago police will do him any favors solving the murder.

     Cliff jumped into the plot without much buildup. While at first this worried me, thinking he would be incapable of any character development or deeper story telling, it worked very well. The book moved quickly, plot was complex, and there were lots of red herrings to keep readers guessing. I could be in the minority in this, but I liked that Jake seemed to play by the rules, cooperated with police, even worked with them and shared ideas, instead of going rogue as so many other detectives in the genre. I also liked that some relationships were what they appeared to be, and not a deeper part of the plot in a genre where betrayal is often the norm. It kept Jake much more real to me.

     Although I enjoyed the book, it was not without some shortcomings. Foremost was the use of British slang; takeaway instead of take out, straight away, dressed smartly, ear defenders instead of ear muffs or ear protection, and having a bath instead of taking a bath, for example. Perhaps it's only noticeable to American readers, and it didn't change my enjoyment of the book, but since the novel is set in Chicago and from the first person point of view of an American, I would have expected a more American way about the writing. 

     Another thing that bothered me was the author's discounting of the bright light emitted by a handgun fired in a dark room. This would have had a small impact during one seen in the book.

     Overall, the likable and real characters, great plot, and Jim Cliff's writing ability make The Shoulders of Giants an excellent novel. Considering it is his first effort, I look forward to great things to come.

Cliff, Jim. The Shoulders of GiantsCreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 13, 2012)

ISBN-13: 978-1477642658