RARA-AVIS: Recent reads

From: K Montin ( kmontin@total.net)
Date: 28 May 2002

Liz Brady, Bad Date (2001). A new-to-me Canadian writer, with yet another poet's namesake as hero--Jane Yeats, true-crime writer and amateur detective. When the hooker next door is killed and dumped in her front yard, Jane starts feeling guilty for being so disdainful of her because of her occupation and to atone, investigates her murder. A large number of prostitutes have disappeared from the streets in the past few years but the police don't seem to be trying too hard to find out what's happened to them; maybe they just moved away. It was obviously inspired by the Vancouver situation, but set in Toronto. There's some feminist debate about prostitution worked in. Jane rides a motorcycle, can throw a punch, and drinks a lot--fairly literary, yet colloquial, too. Hardboiled enough for me. Brady's previous effort, Sudden Blow, won the Crime Writers' of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. I'm on the lookout for it now.

Mike Shelley, The Last Private Eye in Belfast (1984). Catchy title, right? I couldn't quite decide whether this was a spoof or not, but it was fun. Bernard Holland, private eye, goes off on a wild goose chase. He takes off over the rooftops, is involved in couple of car accidents, one of them going over a cliff, and has a few fistfights and several shootouts with assorted bad guys. Plus he takes the stage and plays a few fiddle tunes in a daring escape from danger. The Irish setting is interesting and the political allusions are few. The book has a kind of low-budget, almost self-published, feel to it. According to the cover, there are two more in the series.

Lawrence Block, A Dance to the Slaughterhouse (1992). In between AA meetings, Matthew Scudder tracks down the people who made a home video of the sexual torture and killing of a young man. A very unpleasant story, but as usual, very well written.

Jeremiah Healy, Yesterday's News (1989). A newspaper reporter consults John Cuddy about shady politics and police corruption, all tied up with a pornography ring. Things aren't quite what they seem, however. Decently written but not terribly exciting.

John Farrow, City of Ice (1990). It's about the biker war in Montreal (the Russian mafia is part of it), with a police detective trying to solve a couple of murders. There is an espionage angle, as well. Kind of gory, a few torture scenes. I found it especially interesting because it takes place in Montreal, where I live, and especially scary for the same reason. There was some discussion a while back about the reality of biker gangs and wars. They are a real problem here. The trial of the head of the Nomads
(Hell's Angels "elite"), Maurice "Mom" Boucher, just wound up, with him being found guilty of ordering the murders of two randomly selected prison guards. Another massive trial of 17 Hell's Angels is still going on.

Martin Lim󮬠Jade Lady Burning. I read this for Hispanic lit month and liked it. The protagonist hero is with the military police in Korea and he and his partner have to solve the murder of a Korean prostitute. It is a very interesting look at Korean society, at least as it revolves around a U.S. military base.

James Crumley, The Mexican Tree Duck followed by Bordersnakes. Purely coincidentally, I read them in the right order. Milo doesn't figure in the first, and in the second, alternate first-person chapters are narrated by him and Shugrue. If I were writing a thesis on the subject, I could probably find features to distinguish their voices, but in a quick read it was the content, not the form, that gave it away. That, and the helpful chapter headings. Too many people to count get killed, usually shot. The stories are convoluted and move right along. The Mexican Tree Duck I found somewhat more implausible than Bordersnakes, but they're both worth a read. I am not a Western fan, but I see elements of the Western in them, starting with the setting.

John D. MacDonald, Bright Orange for the Shroud (1965). Hey! A Gold Medal at last. At a library sale, for 50 cents apiece, I picked up half a dozen JDMs PBs plus a hardcover omnibus edition, A Tan and Sandy Silence and Two Other Great Mysteries (The Long Lavender Look and Bright Orange for the Shroud, as I realized when I got home). McGee goes after some con artists who have fleeced an acquaintance of his. He triumphs, if only partially, but there is a happy romantic ending, although not for him, the eternal loner.

Ross Thomas, The Money Harvest (1975). One of his Washington novels, in which lawyer Ancel Easter and unorthodox investigator Jake Pope (I don't think they are series characters, but I'm not sure) try to figure out what is going to happen on a certain date. Whatever it is, people are being killed over it. The plot revolves around politics, greed, blackmail, and the commodities market. Thomas plots fantastically well and his writing is equally good.

I've just started Night Work, by Laurie King, featuring San Francisco police detective Kate Martinelli, and can hardly put it down.


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