Re: RARA-AVIS: Where have you gone Rara-Avis

From: Karin Montin (
Date: 13 Jul 2010

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    I see it's been a year since my last recent reads post. The usual reasons apply: work, family and volunteer obligations. Plus I'm trying to write my own stuff. Plus I've been watching The Wire from the beginning. I stopped keeping my book journal (a starkly unannotated list) when I started posting my reading on Facebook, then stopped the FB posts--there are only so many hours in a day--which means I don't even know if I remember everything I've read. Correction: I know I don't.

    So a quick rundown.

    Not Long for this World (1990), by Rara-Avian Gar Anthony Haywood. This is the second novel featuring Aaron Gunn, a black PI in Los Angeles. He's hired by the defence lawyer of a youth charged with a drive-by killing of a minister. Various gangs are always shooting somebody, but this time something different is going on. I'd call this hardboiled.

    Dirty Sweet (2006), by John McFetridge. This has been mentioned here a few times. A Canadian novel! Set in Toronto! In the Elmore Leonard tradition, but not quite up there on the same level. It was a good read, though. Real estate agent Roxanne Keyes (haha) gets mixed up with online porno magnate Vince Fournier (another haha, if you get it) and the Russian mafia. Double-crossing ensues. Ten points if you spot all the classic rock references. No Googling allowed.

    By mistake, I first purchased John McFetridge's earlier work, Below the Line (2003), cowritten with Scott Albert. It's set in the Toronto film industry, and uses a Documents in the Case approach: there is straight narrative, then there are all sorts of things like shooting schedules, memos, lists of performers and so on to provide additional information. I'm not crazy about this kind of approach, so I put it down. But I will continue it later. The main character, the location manager, is pretty good, and there's a love interest developing.

    Blackfly Season (2006), by Giles Blunt. This is Blunt's fourth novel. I'd read the two preceding ones, both featuring Algonquin Bay police detective John Cardinal (not Native, despite his name). This one involves a woman with amnesia, some kind of dumb guys who want to sell drugs despite the biker gang monopoly in the area, and a mysteriously charismatic man called Red Bear who seems to have special powers. I found it quite good. The characters are generally well developed, criminals and police alike. Cardinal has to contend with his bipolar wife, his estranged daughter and his own guilty conscience about a misdeed in his recent past. There is some magic involved, but you don't have to believe in it.

    Small Crimes, by Rara-Avian Dave Zeltserman (2008). His first, I believe, and very good, as many other people have said. It's a "man out of prison" novel and interesting from that point of view. Unfortunately the timing was wrong for me and I kept putting it down, so it took a long time to read and lost some of its impact. Not Dave's fault. I'll read his other crime books as I find them.

    The Fools in Town Are on Our Side (1970) and Ah, Treachery! (1994) by Ross Thomas. I think Thomas is great and fellow Rara-Avian Mark Nevins was good enough to send me these. Thomas makes outrageous political intrigue and CIA activities seem very plausible. The plots are convoluted and he's got a dry sense of humour.

    Charm City, by Laura Lippman (1997). This is an old one, the second in the Tess Monaghan series. I enjoyed it. Her later ones are better, though.

    The Cleanup, by Rara-Avian Sean Doolittle (2006). Now this was a page-turner. I really liked the characters and the action moved right along. A big plus--the murder that sets off the chain reaction is of a violent man with criminal connections by his battered girlfriend. A complicated cop tries to help her out. Things go from bad to worse pretty fast. Lots of moral grey areas to keep you up at night.

    Three French (Quebec) ones. I forget if non-English books are allowed. Here goes anyway.

    Chiens sales, by François Barcelo (2000). A young woman living on a small island receives a houseful of strange visitors one day. A kind of cute guy she's met once, a couple of men who've been hunting and think they've shot and killed the minister of hunting, fishing and recreation, and a bunch of people in Indian regalia who arrive in a huge canoe filled with cigarettes. The bridge to the mainland is destroyed. The police surround the house and there's a shootout of sorts. Of all the people in the house, only a few survive. Barcelo has a dark and kind of whacky sense of humour. The ending is very dark. Chiens sales refers to the cops: filthy pigs.

    Un chien de ma chienne, by Mandalian (2009). Another "dog" title, bought at the same time. One night a young guy is having a smoke on a fire escape, when down comes an attractive young woman not wearing any underwear. They fall into bed fast, and he decides to follow her when she gets on a bus from Montreal to Sherbrooke. It turns out that they have mutual acquaintances in the smaller city of Sherbrooke, so their paths do cross again. There are drugs and violence and a biker gang. And a knapsack full of something that several parties want. The first and last chapters are the same, a not entirely original technique, but quite effective. The author borrows another trick from a classic often mentioned here. I won't say which one, because that would give it away. In this case the expression means "I'll get even," but literally refers to saving a pup from your bitch's litter for someone.

    Montréal Noir, edited by François Barcelo (2003). Being in French, this is obviously not one of the Akashic series, and when I inquired as to whether they would be interested in a translation, they replied that they may well do their own book with this title eventually. It is a collection of five novellas by some well-known Quebec writers, but not all of them are known for crime or noir. François Barcelo's story kicks it off. The narrator's lover dies from an accidental fall as he is leaving the apartment, and leaving him. Because he's afraid of being suspected of killing him for his lottery winnings, the narrator decides to get rid of the body. Not usually a good idea. The whole thing takes place during a terrible snowstorm. I really liked two others, really disliked one (narrated by an angel) and thought the fifth one was pretty good. Each story is illustrated by two black-and-white photos, which are very effective. The other authors are Marie-Claire Blais, André Truand, Chrystine Brouillet and Gilles Pellerin.

    Karin M

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