Review: Killing Floor

Killing Floor
Killing Floor by Lee Child

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had to see what all the fuss was about. Jack Reacher is coffee-junkie drifter who strolls into a sleepy Georgia town looking for the grave of an old bluesman. He’s also a retired Marine MP, so when the cops converge with riot shotguns to frame him for murder, he convinces them he’s not the killer, and decides he’ll solve the crime himself. He charms a hot policewoman, and when the bad guys play rough, he churns through them like a harvester. The story is good, light fun. The novel is now 15 years old, and we’ve come to appreciate shorter, faster thrillers, but this one still holds up. Oh, there’s one coincidence to swallow when we find out who the murder victim is, but Reacher is an amicable hero and I like a novel that admits killing people is not all that difficult with the proper weapons and inclination. The tricky part is getting away with it. When it comes to unstoppable killing machines, I prefer Joe Pike, but Reacher is a good read if you know what you are getting into. And to get into the movie discussion, Tom Cruise is a horrible choice. I imagined Reacher as a big blond chunk of American prime for the ladies (and 10% of the men). That dude playing Captain America should have fought for the part.
Verdict: This is a good story that feels a bit dated and unsure of itself, the shaky start of a series that eventually defined its thriller genre. If I’d read it in ’97, I’d give it another star. The teaser for the 2nd Reacher novel, DIE TRYING, felt like a huge leap forward. I’ll be giving it a try soon.

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Review: Vanilla Ride

Vanilla Ride
Vanilla Ride by Joe R. Lansdale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this one. It had more action and laughs than some of the previous Hap & Leonard novels, without going over the top. I burst out laughing several times, and we meet a cast of grotesques who could have novels of their own. To summarize; the duo helps an old friend save his granddaughter from a drug den, and their good intentions spiral into a tornado of death and destruction. Death is too close a comrade in this one, but Mr. Lansdale shows us just how discomforting it is to make him your buddy. A fine adventure from one of our best writers.

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Review: Townie

Townie
Townie by Andre Dubus III

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent memoir that hit painfully close to home for me. Andre Dubus explains the pain of divorce for a child and the fearfulness that settles in after the shake up, and how it makes a young boy an easy target for bullies. He goes on to show with artful cogency how this fear turns to armor and muscle, as he heads toward a Golden Gloves match in his early twenties, and pounds the snot out of every bully and wifebeater he sees. This would be a glorification if he didn’t delve further, and dig out the nugget of truth behind every white knight. That it is not about saving the damsel, it is about defending his own honor and proving his own mettle.
His slow maturation as a man and a writer make for interesting reading; he lingers on the conflicts and bares the raw nerve endings that made these confrontations occur. It also serves as a sort of biography of his father, the writer of “Killings” and many other classics of short fiction. While it may be painful to see the feet of clay his father had, it shows the roots of his Hemingway-inspired vision of manhood and how falling short of such in front of his own father drove him to a self-absorbed life of narcissism. His father redeems himself in the end, and his life serves as a portrait of the generation that came after WW2 who weren’t exactly baby boomers, the war babies, and how they dealt with their war hero fathers.
I’m not usually a fan of memoirs, but this one gripped me. I recognized the relentless coyote stare of the frightened young boy inside the chiseled and toughened man. It was a fascinating and familiar read, a document of young male rage, its roots and causes, and how one angry boy tamed them to become a man, and settle conflicts with his brain and not his fists.

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Review: Mile 81

Mile 81
Mile 81 by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good old fashioned monster story by Mr. King. I’m not sure if this just feels less polished than his excellent Skeleton Crew and Night Shift-era stories, or if it’s me who’s changed. He spends a lot of time on character for people who are just going to be eaten by a transdimensional behemoth posing as a car in a rest stop. But I supposed that worked. It does get quite tense at the end, but I found the resolution almost silly and over too soon. It’s a good quick read, but why isn’t it as memorable as “The Raft,” which is essentially the same story? I don’t know. I’d have to go back and read his earlier work, but he uses more parentheses in “Mile 81” than I imagine he used in all his early story collections. I read a lot of young, hungry writers who write lean and mean, and while I like a story to be given its head and allowed to run, this one didn’t have the meat on its bones to handle it.
Skip it and read his novel From a Buick 8, which is a much better take on the same idea.

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Review: Meely LaBauve

Meely LaBauve
Meely LaBauve by Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very enjoyable read set in the Catahoula bayou, about a Cajun boy raised by his wild spirit of a father. Emile, or Meely, goes fishing or squirrel hunting as often as he goes to school, and gets beat on by the school bully, whose uncle happens to be a police sergeant. His adventures and how he fights back are reminiscent of Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a charming coming of age story, but felt a little too happy to be real. I laughed aloud many times, and the characters are all great company. A good read that’ll make you want to cook up a roux and make some gumbo.

Recommended.

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Review: Blameless in Abaddon

Blameless in Abaddon
Blameless in Abaddon by James K. Morrow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this sequel to Morrow’s excellent and imaginative novel, Towing Jehovah. This one recreates the Job story with a justice of the peace in a small town named Martin Candle in the unenviable position on the dung heap. The Corpus Dei from the previous book was bought by Baptists and towed to Florida as the centerpiece of a theme park to compete with Disney World, and Martin puts it on trial for crimes against humanity at The Hague. It’s as amusing and joyfully blasphemous as the first, and does not shy from real philosophical discussion about the nature of a benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God in a world scarred by evil, misfortune and terror. Morrow has a talent for existential absurdity and sardonic humor; half the novel is narrated by the Devil himself, whose snarky asides on human history are worth the price of admission. Morrow’s second greatest talent is crafting endearing and realistic characters, which were enough to get me through a somewhat tedious trial – my eyes glaze over during most legal drama – and a difficult ending that brings us to an inevitable, but ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.

Rather like life itself: It’s unfair. Do your part to make it less so.

Towing Jehovah comes highly recommended, and if you enjoy that, you must read this one. He closes the cycle with a third book, and I’ll be reading that one soon. It took me 10 years to get to reading the second one, so don’t wait up for me.

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Review: BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled

BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled
BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled by Glenn Gray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I have a story in this anthology.
But leaving that out, this was a great read. You got some quick hard slaps of pulpy goodness from John Hornor Jacobs, Amy Grech and Ron Earl Phillips, a heartbreaker from Patti Abbott, a great tense tale by Kieran Shea, a yakuza black comedy by Garnett Elliott, shenanigans at the morgue with Glenn Gray, and one hell of a finisher: a Joe Hannibal tale from Wayne Dundee, which shows us all how it’s done. Written with the ease of a natural storyteller, his tale of a hitman popping up at a lake resort didn’t go where I expected, and introduced me to a trio of masterfully crafted characters. The kind of writing that makes your inner reader joyful and your inner writer humbled.
Overall an excellent collection spanning the legacy of hardboiled, from newcomers like myself to a legend like Mr. Dundee, who began Hardboiled magazine.

And to toot my own horn, the story of mine in here is “Black-Eyed Susan,” picked out for several top-5 lists at Death by Killing, and winner of the Bullet award in September.

Check this one out, you won’t regret it.

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