Hardboiled Brit crime, an American classic, a medical thriller, a swift slice of satisfying savagery, an old-fashioned private-eye investigation and an FBI serial killer profiler – settle down for this month’s selection of half a dozen different approaches to the crime-thriller genre…
THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy
Yes, this is the famous post-apocalyptic Great American Novel for the global warming generation; a desolate roadtrip through a scorched landscape in which father and son scrabble frantically to barely survive. It’s hardly an original story but, give McCarthy his due, it is powerfully told. I loathed his pointless ‘style’ of dropping speech marks and apostrophes but despite that immediate antipathy was compelled to finish the damn thing just to find out what happened.
Masterful storytelling, then, if hampered by his peculiar pretentions. Fortunately, it is short…
NOT TILL THE RED FOG RISES by Derek Raymond
In direct contrast to Cormac McCarthy, the late Derek Raymond could’ve written a laundry list and it would make for magnificent – if depressing – reading. The story is almost irrelevant; this bitter-bleak slice of gangland London life is all about blistering dialogue and sleazy characters, the stink of human fluids and the screams of tortured dreams. This takes hardboiled crime into hardcore territory, and exposes the truly grim cityscape of The Long Good Friday – before Guy Ritchie turned the nastiest people on the planet into cheerful cockney chappies.
Gut-wrenching, soul-destroying stuff.
SIX STRINGS by Frank Westworth
The sixth book in the JJ Stoner series. These books are short and pack a punch! The writing style gives you just enough to develop the tale in such a short page span. It’s not an epic tome of a read; it’s straight to the point and it’s packed of the good stuff I’ve come to enjoy about Frank’s work. It really makes you want read the author’s longer works. The Stoner stories are a perfect intro to Frank’s style and offer a quick read when you really need one. Six Strings is another gem in this developing series. Short tales aren’t for everyone but these hit the spot with me!
4/5 stars from David’sBookBlurg
PEPPER PIKE by Les Roberts
A proper old-fashioned American gumshoe investigation – not saddled with post-modern irony, explicit intimacy or an overdose of political cynicism. Instead, a clever private investigation into a mysterious disappearance, with a puzzle the reader can actually solve and a well wrapped-up resolution. Written and set a quarter-century ago, so no www, cellphones or quick-fixes using hi-tech trickery. Just old-fashioned bare-knuckled encounters with slimeballs and minor mafia guys.
A bit like a Kinsey Millhone ‘alphabet’ mystery, but with a middle-aged Slovenian as the ex-army, ex-cop investigator. Thoroughly enjoyable, an easy read which clips along and doesn’t scare any horses. An author to rank alongside Lawrence Block and Robert B Parker.
AT THE STROKE OF MADNESS by Alex Kava
An entirely adequate serial killer / FBI profiler procedural with a female central character. Features an interesting scenario and perpetrator; set in a small town with a decent whodunnit mystery wrapped up in CSI-type forensic detail. It sagged somewhat for me because I wasn’t grabbed by the investigator, Maggie. Her troubled private life didn’t add anything to the story for me and I was actively irritated by the over-used conflict between her and her superiors (in which she’s gone off piste and is getting a hard time for it).
On the plus side, the chapters are short and pacy, the writing is fluid and accessible and the plot wrapped up in a satisfying and credible fashion without dragging on in a tiresome, bullets and bravado, improbable set piece. There’s plenty of menace without a gruesome amount of explicit torture-type violence.
Overall, I enjoyed it. But would I go seek out more from this author? Not deliberately. But if I was stuck at an airport then I might pick one up.
THE SURGEON by Tess Gerritsen
Almost two decades old, this episode in the Detective Rizzolo series is often on special offer (and that explains how it ended up on my Kindle). Gloriously gruesome medical scenes are wonderfully described with decent accuracy, and the ‘serial killer stalks again!’ plot fair scampers along.
The technological aspects of the tale have dated quite badly (who remembers AOL screen names? Or when car phones were a fixed part of the car?), but the female surgeon survivor and her evil opposite number are written in robust and intricate detail which makes the story extremely engaging.
The biggest downside the in fact Rizzolo herself; an unpleasant, uncomfortable character whose chippy and impulsive nature actively repelled me. So while I enjoyed this book well enough, I’m not inspired to read more stories in which she’s the central character. I’d definitely try more medical thrillers from this author, however.
Books reviewed by Rowena Hoseason unless otherwise credited…