Book Review: The Wedding Guest

Title: The Wedding Guest

Author: Jonathan Kellerman

Format: Netgalley Advancer Reader Copy Ebook

Published: 2019

Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read The Wedding Guest before it is released on February 5, 2019 in exchange for my honest review!

I really want to like this book, however, it became like a chore for me to read.  I think I read 2 other books during the time I was reading this one.  I would like to say that I did not care for the writing style of Kellerman, that is just my personal preference.  I did not enjoy frequent use of short sentences (or parataxis if I may use a big word).  It kept throwing off my pace of reading and I found it to be distracting.  If you don’t mind it, pick up this book!

The book seemed to drag on…and on.  This is number 34 in Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series.  Did I think I missed much by not reading the first 33?  No.  You are able to piece together who the characters are even with (what I found to be) a lack of background on them.  The most important part is that the characters involved in the murders (yes, more than one) are clearly described and grow throughout the story.

I felt it was a lackluster ending.  To be dragged along for so long it ended pretty nonchalantly.  I actually had to re-read one of the last chapters to understand what happened to the murderer.  Maybe it was my lack of focus and that I missed it at first.  Like I said, I was not that into this book.  If you are a fan of Kellerman I am sure you will enjoy this book.  It just was not my cup of tea.

I am going to give this book 3 stars.  If you come across it, don’t stop what you have in line for your TBR list, continue on and get to this when you do.  It does have key character development and keeps you guessing on whodunit until the last quarter of the book when we know (or assume we know) who did it and that drags on until we know for sure, he was the culprit.  To each their own!  If you pick this book up let me know how you enjoyed it!  Tune in next week for my review of Believe Me by JP Delaney!

Writer Wednesday – Bob Freeman

1. Tell us who you are and a little bit about what you write.

My name’s Bob Freeman and I write occult detective fiction. It’s a genre I’ve been enamored with since childhood. The early seventies had sparked an occult revival of sorts. Real life witches were showing up on talk shows, movies like The Exorcist were dominating the box office, Marvel Comics was publishing Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night, and The Son of Satan (to name a few), and on the small screen you had things like The Norliss Tapes and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Coupled with my early reading of Dennis Wheatley’s Duc de Richleau novels, it’s little wonder that my adult predilections have led down a similar path.

2. What is something that your fans would be surprised to know about you?

That’s a rough one because I’m something of an open book. One thing that may have slipped under the radar is my love of musicals. My favorite is the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar which, in and of itself, is probably a big shock to people who are quite familiar with my body of work and religious proclivities.

3. What made you become a writer?

I think most writers are shaped to become storytellers from an early age and I’m no different. I always loved a good ghost story, and growing up pretty isolated in rural Indiana, I spent a lot of time reading and letting my imagination run wild.

4. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Pantser, all the way. If I know where a story is going, I lose interest right away. I enjoy the uncertainty and discovery that creating stories entails.

5. What is the biggest mistake that you’ve learned not to make while writing?

Not finishing what you’ve started. I’m an author who really needs to keep that fire lit. I am…easily distracted. Buckling down and seeing a project through to the end is the best advice I could pass along.

6. What is the last book you finished reading? What did you think?

I just finished Madame Pamita’s Magical Tarot which offers a great new take on interpretations for those with an interest in cartomancy.

7. Would you like to pimp a specific project?

My latest collection is First Born, the first book in my Liber Monstrorum series. The book collects several stories connected to that mythos and particularly concerns my occult detective, Dr. Landon Connors.

8. Is there a URL or social media account you’d like to share?

My website/blog is http://occultdetective.com. The best place to connect with me online is through my twitter account: http://twitter.com/occultdetective

 

…On Life and Writing…

Life is not fair, nor just, nor even-handed. Bad things happen to good people and vice versa, not because of karmic debt, but because life happens. It is unpredictable. It is sometimes cruel and unforgiving, but this is the canvas upon which we work, where our seed has been planted, where our sword is sharpened.

I know it can feel overwhelming sometimes, but it’s not. It’s just life. It breathes in. It breathes out.

For all the heartache, all the loss, there is still beauty to be found in the wreckage and words to be written in blood.

I talk a lot about the negative side of writing, the work part… you know, the struggle. I’d like to take a moment to comment on how freaking thankful I am to be blessed with the storytelling gene.

Writing is ecstatic intoxication. It is surreal and wonderful and fulfilling in every way imaginable (except financially, but that’s for another blog). Brutal? Unforgiving? Yes, it is all that too, and more, but truthfully, there’s an almost indescribable elation that comes from stringing words together, from building worlds and giving life to characters, from sitting before a blank page and then filling it with nothing but your imagination.

I just felt like I needed to say that.

For all the misery and heartbreak and soul sucking excrement you have to put up with, it’s all worth it.

Words are everything. Especially when they’re yours.

Book Review-Dick Tracy: The Secret Files, edited by Max Allan Collins and Martin H. Greenberg

Title: Dick Tracy: The Secret Files

Author: Max Allan Collins, Mike Resnick, Henry Slesar, Ron Goulart, Rex Miller, Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee, F. Paul Wilson, Ed Gorman, Francis M. Nevins and Josh Pachter, Barbara Collins, Wayne D. Dundee, Barry N. Malzberg, John Lutz, Ric Meyers, Edward D. Hoch, Stephen Mertz

Format: Paperback edition by Tor

Published: 1990

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Let it be no secret that I am a Dick Tracy fan, have been since I was a kid.  Not just a fan of a particular era or of Dick Tracy from the newspapers, or the movies, or any particular medium.  I am a straight up fan of Dick Tracy.  I love the hard boiled type tales, I adore the science/technology stuff, and even absolutely go nuts over the more science fiction stuff (looking at you, Moon Maid!)  So, when a copy of Dick Tracy: The Secret Files ended up in my hands, it was something special to me.

Fortunately, I wasn’t overall disappointed.  Not overall.

Dick Tracy: The Secret Files was a collection released in 1990, in conjunction with and due in large part to the Warren Beatty movie that debuted that year (Yes, I actually liked the movie, but that’s a whole other argument to have elsewhere).  Two legends in literature, Martin H. Greenberg and Max Allan Collins, at one time the writer for the Dick Tracy strip, helmed this sixteen story juggernaut of a collection and brought on talent of all types to tackle the yellow trenchcoat wearing wunderkind of crime deduction created by Chester Gould.  From Edward D. Hoch to Ron Goulart to F. Paul Wilson to John Lutz and beyond, the list of contributors to this book held a lot of promise, a fair amount of which was fulfilled.

Overall, this is a good bunch of stories.  It appears writers were pretty much allowed to come at Dick and company in any fashion they chose to and there were a variety of approaches taken.  That part turned me off a little as I read through the collection.  Yes, there were some definite straight up true Dick Tracy type stories, but there were others that, I think, tried to hard to be something different.  As a fan, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Dick take on his old and established villains throughout an entire collection, but he didn’t do much of that in this book.  Most of the adversaries were either new oddities or they were simply ‘normal’ criminals. And let me say, Dick has come up against his share of normals, but I’d hoped we’d see Pruneface and Flattop and more of the traditional Tracy villains.

Another way this didn’t deliver due to attempts to be different was that some of the stories were not about the Dick Tracy universe.  One was a fictionalization of how Dick Tracy was created in a sense, another took Dick Tracy to Hollywood, but he ended up being a deus ex machina bit player in his own story, and still another focused almost exclusively on Tess, Dick’s wife.  Now, this doesn’t mean they were bad stories, as you’ll see when I list my favorites in a bit.  But I simply wish the collection had been more streamlined with a ‘theme’ of sorts, a spine authors worked around, more than just ‘Here’s Dick Tracy. Leave your mark however You wish.” Maybe that wasn’t what was done, but this collection definitely feels that way.

The stories in this collection, though, that do stand out are numerous.  Dick Tracy and the Syndicate of Death by Henry Slesar, The Cereal Killer by Rex Miller, Auld Acquaintance by Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee, The Curse by Ed Gorman, Homefront by Barbara Collins, The Paradise Lake Monster by Wayne Dundee, Old Saying by John Lutz, Whirlpool, Sizzle, and the Juice by Ric Meyers, Chessboard’s Last Gambit by Edward D. Hoch, and Not a Creature Was Stirring by Max Allan Collins are all great stories and hit on most, if not all the right notes for a Dick Tracy collection.

Dick Tracy: The Secret Files is a hard one to rate for me. Using the blog’s system, I’d have to give it 3 out of 5 pages.  This has a lot for Tracy fans as well as quite a bit for fans of Detective stories, but the scattershot approach to how Tracy’s world is addressed will probably make this a not read for many.

As for my usual scale, this gets four out of six bullets.  The strong stories outweigh the weak ones and my issues with the organization of the collection enough to make it one that hits more than half of the things it’s aimed at.

Book Review-Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins

Title: Devil’s Garden

Author: Ace Atkins

Format: Paperback edition by Berkley

Published: 2010

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Before Ace Atkins became noted for being the writer chosen by Robert B. Parker’s estate to continue the adventures of Parker’s best known creation, Spenser, he was an accomplished novelist in his own right.  Although definitely a crime/mystery/noir author, Atkins made a career out of tackling some of the biggest crimes out of American history and turning them into knuckle cracking, action packed historical fiction novels. Fortunately for readers of his work, these are also the crime/mystery/noir novels he is known for.

Now, having made the claim above about the crimes Atkins tackles, please note.  Many of the murders, kidnappings, and other assorted evils he turns into great fiction are probably not events most people today recall or even are aware ever happened. These crimes, however, when committed, literally shook the foundation oftentimes of society as it was then.  If you believe that scandals as well as people being tried in the media before in court is a new thing, then Ace Atkins will gladly prove you wrong again and again.  Much of what Atkins tackles in his novels still applies to our modern era, even though they are set in the past, usually the early to mid 20th Century.  And it’s not that Atkins has to stretch or change things for the stories to be timely.  He actually simply tells a good story, using what is available to him.  It just so happens, as Devil’s Garden shows, yesterday and today have a lot more in common than most think.

Devil’s Garden focuses on the events leading to and the trial of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, beginning in September 1921.  A name lost to history except for its connection to this case, Fatty Arbuckle was the Hollywood comedy star of his day.  Known for playing outlandish characters and particularly making a name for himself in the Keystone Cops shorts, Arbuckle was at the top of his game and lived life as if he were truly king, throwing lavish parties, driving a Pierce-Arrow complete with bar and toilet around, and essentially doing whatever he wanted.  Until a party in a hotel in San Francisco in September 1921 ended with a little known starlet named Virginia Rappe dead and Arbuckle accused of crushing her to death with his enormous body.

With this as a premise, Atkins takes an aspect of the case and turns it into one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.  It turns out that Dashiell Hammett, the author of The Maltese Falcon and one of the leading masters of mystery fiction, often credited for perfecting the hard boiled detective, was assigned to the Arbuckle case. Hammett worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the late teens into the early 1920s and was one of the operatives assigned to help prove that Arbuckle did not have a part in Virginia Rappe’s death.

This book is really three stories in one, and Atkins delivers with all three of them.  First, it is about Hammett and the man he was behind and before the great books he wrote.  Atkins pulls no punches, writing Hammett as a real human being, husband,  tough guy, lunger (Hammett suffered from tuberculosis), and most notably a man struggling with himself as much as the world around him.  Atkins not only paints a complete and full picture of Hammett, but he also gives readers a believable, credible, and fallible hero to follow as Hammett weaves his way through the complicated tangles that made up the Arbuckle case.

Devil’s Garden is also a brilliantly executed courtroom thriller.  As much time is spent on the proceedings in the first Arbuckle trial as is on Hammett’s investigation of the case.  Not only does Atkins deliver fantastic interpretations of the principal players, but he also illustrates the actual courtroom action in a way that makes it as exciting as Hammett chasing down the mysterious ‘Dark Man’, a character integral to the book.

Lastly, this novel turns out to be a multifaceted love story.  Three couples, really, are at the center of the romance here- Hammett and his nurse wife Jose, Arbuckle and his actress wife Minta Durfee, and… well, let’s just say the third couple involved a movie actress and a man who single handedly, for better or worse, may be responsible for the state of journalism today.  As much betrayal, scandal, and heartfelt emotion is displayed by Atkins dissecting these three relationships as is done by any other focus in the book. And the beauty of all of it is Atkins takes all three of these ‘novels within the novel’, and ties them perfectly together into Devil’s Garden, a book that should be counted as a crime noir classic all its own.

Devil’s Garden is definitely a Five Pager for me.  And in my own parlance, this definitely gets six out of six bullets for me. It is a fully loaded gun that goes off and hits every target it aims at.

Book Review- The Sleep Detectives by Matthew Bieniek

Title: The Sleep Detectives

Author: Matthew Bieniek

Format: Paperback edition by Matthew Bieniek

Published: 2013

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This review, in all honesty, is actually an older review of mine.  It is not one that has ever appeared here, but was posted once long ago on my now deceased personal review blog.  The reason it is being posted here, slightly updated to allow for the passage of time and new thoughts, is that due to a series of circumstances worthy of a fictionalization at some point when I’m really hard up for material, my previous blog is completely missing from the ether of the internet now, a vacant lot on the information superhighway.  The author has asked more than once to see this review, so after scrounging up the document I originally posted, I have decided to make sure he- and the rest of the world- sees it here.

Set in 1983, The Sleep Detectives focuses on Tony, who is a regular run of the mill type guy who works in a grocery store. That is, a regular guy who has the ability to use his dreams to essentially go back in time to watch past events as they actually occurred.  Using this strange ‘power’ to catch legendary concerts and such that he’s missed, Tony, with the encouragement of his two friends, Danny and Mike, decides to try to put this mental time travel to better use, to help others find things they’ve lost.  What follows is the development of not only Tony’s ability, but also his growing pseudo career of uncovering secrets and finding the truth while he sleeps.  Although this is not a high action adventure novel, Tony and his friends end up in a situation that places them and those they hold close in danger and have to decide if it is best to continue to use Tony’s gift for others or if he should go back to watching Jimi Hendrix in action.

The Sleep Detectives is an odd little book, and that is very good in this case.  It is quite honestly as if the author has put a camera into Tony’s world and just so happened to catch an interesting situation, one that he continues to follow, much to the joy of the reader.  Bieniek builds characters slowly, deliberately, revealing things about Tony and his buddies as necessary, not wastefully.  The author carries this skill even further by giving a vibrant life to even the most rudimentary of supporting characters, such as the bad guys involved and Tony’s boss.  This book is equal parts mystery peppered with the supernatural in a sense and slice of life/growing up in the 1980s.  All in all, a pleasant experience with just enough unique to stand out.

As far as the writing goes, the author’s voice is strong overall.  There are moments in the book that could be more intense, have more impact. Most of those relate to the actual danger that Tony and others find themselves in.  It feels as if the author is trying to make those events seem as commonplace as the rest of the ‘slice of life’ aspect of the book.  I understand that desire, but I think those scenes would have benefitted from a tighter narrative and more descriptive phrasing.

The Sleep Detectives definitely demands a 4 out of 5 pages from me.  It is most definitely a book anyone interested in quirky action and characters to match would enjoy.  Using my own scale, this book definitely gets 5 out of 6 bullets, only losing ground slightly during the scenes fraught with danger.

Book Review: Catch a Falling Clown: A Toby Peters Mystery by Stuart Kaminsky

Title: Catch a Falling Clown: A Toby Peters Mystery

Author: Stuart Kaminsky

Format: Paperback edition by Penguin Books

Published: originally 1981, Penguin Edition 1984

catchafallingclown
Before wading off once again into the land of reviews, a bit more clarification about me that should be added here, for those who are on this great literary adventure of my opinions with me either as new readers or as someone who read the first review I did last week.  Although I consider myself a voracious reader who can read anything and everything that has words pressed against paper, either literal or digital, I, like most beings of the human variety, have preferences.  Those predilections tend to veer toward reading works that have a mystery or crime at their core.  They also, more often than not, have to do with books in series, or at least books that feature characters that have appeared in books previous or will appear in books future.  Again, not anything against stand alone books or dramas, science fiction, etc., because I do love my Genre Fiction.  I just have a jones for one Genre more than the others.   And the author of Catch a Falling Clown is one of the reasons why.

Stuart Kaminsky, although known for several books and characters, is near and dear to many a mystery fan’s heart for his creation, Toby Peters.  Set in 1930s and 40s Los Angeles, Toby is a semi hard boiled private detective with a policeman brother who he has a rather rocky relationship with and a penchant for getting cases from and involving the famous and infamous of golden Age Hollywood.  Everyone from John Wayne to Errol Flynn to General Douglas MacArthur, Toby has done work for, crossed paths with, and in some cases kept out of jams that would have ended their lives and careers.  In Catch a Falling Clown, well known circus clown and star Emmett Kelly hires Toby when the circus is in town to come out and investigate a death, what Kelly believes to be a murder.  Of an elephant.  Of course, once Toby is involved, murder sort of catches on and spreads like a bad cold to circus members of the human variety and Peters finds himself not only having to figure out who has it out for the circus, but also to prove that he isn’t the murderer he’s looking for!

Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters series appeals to me for all sorts of reasons.  First, I am a major aficionado of the time period and of the type of detective that Peters is.   One of the great things about how Kaminsky crafts Toby Peters is that he is what a hard boiled detective in the real world would be like.  He has back problems, is haunted by a mad clown in his nightmares, and functions day to day in and around dysfunction, sometimes of his own creation.   Yet he’ll also push the limits, pound the pavement, fight with both fists, and demand people do what they don’t want to if need be, even if it kills them.  That is the biggest pleasure I get from reading a Toby Peters book, that sense of reality in the lead character.

Another big positive for the Peters series is that Kaminsky, a Professor of Film, uses his great knowledge of Hollywood and movies to make the Peters stories extra special.  Not only does Toby come across as someone of flesh and blood, but Kaminsky adds gristle to the bone of the legends of entertainment and history that we all love.  In Catch A Falling Clown, we literally see the man behind Emmett Kelly’s famous clown face and he becomes three dimensional.   Also, a particularly British and rather corpulent director makes an appearance in the tale as well and Kaminsky renders him quite efficiently.  The fictional characters, from the snake lady who Toby ends up having a rather strange relationship with to the corrupt and angry policeman out to get Peters, are all well defined and yet each have their own quirks that add to their realism without making them stereotypes or pastiches.

Another fantastic part of this book is something that is present in every Toby story from Kaminsky, and that is Toby’s supporting cast.  From his best friend, who also happens to be a dwarf who had been in the Wizard of Oz, a wrestling poet, a rather inept dentist, to his often angry, usually cranky cop brother, the characters that regularly recur in Toby’s life always add dimensions to each story and in this one, get actively involved, which makes for fun reading.

All in all, Catch a Falling Clown is a good, solid read, an acceptable entry into the Peters series.  It was not my favorite of Toby’s tales, primarily because of a slow build up, something that isn’t normal for a Kaminsky book of any stripe, and then a twist at the end that, while quite brilliant, left me slightly disappointed. Having said that, Toby’s time on the other side of the law as a fugitive about midway through gave the book a sparkle and pace that definitely engaged right until the end and was pure Kaminsky.  So, five out of six bullets for me, or for you Book in the Bag types, a good, strong four out of five pages.

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