Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Best Reading of 2009

Well goodbye 2009, don't let the door hit yer ass on the way out. I did not enjoy last year, and I'll just leave it at that, because I don't want to take away from the fact that it was a pretty good year for literature.

I'm sure that it was an even better year than this post would indicate, but I've spent more of my reading time lately, surfing the Internet on my smart phone. So as an example, I have yet to read Connelly's "9 Dragons" and Walter Mosley's "The Long Fall" has been collecting dust in my room. Be forewarned, as I've said a few times before, "I'll keep it simple because I'm not a reviewer by any stretch of the imagination."

First on my list is "Nox Dormienda" Kelli Stanley introduces seamlessly the concept of noir into 84 A.D. Londinium (now London), and convinces the reader that this 20th Century aesthetic is right at home in ancient times. If anything, she’ll have you believing that the Roman Empire actually created noir (which in many ways, it did).

Now, what I mean by "noir," is not inserting Chandlerisms and modern ethics, and calling it "pulp." She writes a historically accurate take on that era and her metaphors ring true to that age. If you are a history buff, or if you just appreciate history, this book is for you. If you love a good mystery or a good crime novel, this is the story for you.

On a side note, you have to figure that this was the absolute last time that anyone could afford property on the West End, relatively speaking.

Listen, when I say that Megan Abbott can get me to read anything, I'm not putting "Bury Me Deep" down, by any stretch of the imagination. I mean that I will read her take on anything...anything. If she does a yarn on the Brontë Sisters, with them comparing ingrown facial hair and hangnails? I will read it. How about 5th Century Chinese poetry on the zen of cleaning chicken coops? You can be sure that I'll have a first edition. Why? Because she can make any subject worth delving into.

Now with "Bury Me Deep," I made the mistake of reading about the actual case that she based the book on, on the Internet. So I took longer than I should've to finish it because I thought I knew the, was I wrong. Don't bother to look up what I'm talking about. Just read the book, enjoy, and know that only Megan Abbott can safely guide you through Nietzsche's Abyss.

"Jack Wakes Up." Remember when Quentin Tarantino and John Woo were firing on all cylinders? Well Seth Harwood has all of that with his novel, in spades. One of the best parts of this book, is that the protagonist, Jack Palms, often doesn't know what he is doing or what he is going to do next. He's purely reactive and damn it, that's perfect. Even though he is a former actor, he is real, by virtue of how deals with each situation.

The finale is nothing short of Woo bullet ballet.

"Spade And Archer?" I thought that Joe Gores would nail Hammett's prose, the very same way that he had done previously in novels and one screenplay. I believe that he didn't try as hard as he could and maybe he didn't want the audience reading this book exactly the way they would read Dashiell.

That being said, this was a good book that while not as crisp as Hammett, is a very satisfying novel. The shadow of the real Thin Man or not, Gores does a brilliant job of creating Sam Spade's back story (don't make me use the word, "prequel") and it is a must read.

Now the beauty about anthologies is that if you don't like one story, you can always move on to the next one. As much as I love the Akashic Noir Series, it is getting harder and harder for them to sustain the quality level that the first dozen volumes had. I am not saying that they are mediocre by any means, but whereas you had no lemons before in a particular volume, you now have apples that are not as sweet (pardon the mixed metaphor).

Well, I'm happy to say with the Boston and Seattle volumes in the Series, there has been a rebirth.

Finally, we come to the knockout punch, Eric Beetner and JB Kohl's "One Too Many Blows To The Head."

Boxing, The Mob in Kansas City, a dame to die for, and a man hellbent on revenge. In our minds, the 30's were all Busby Berkeley musicals, Our Gang comedies, and Fred and Ginger. "One To Many" was a lot closer to reality than the movies have acknowledged, during or since that era.

As much as I liked Robert Altman's "Kansas City," "One Too Many Blows To The Head" is only lacking that film's soundtrack, and the book is so much better. Like good bout in the ring, it is relentless, full of tension, and it never lets up.


Randal Graves said...

I love me some history, so I'll definitely have to check out that first book. I'm so out of tune with what's out there.

Seth Harwood said...


So glad to see you liked JWU! Thanks for putting me on the list!


Cormac Brown said...


She gets it down to an actual science, and you'll even be able to smell the posca that the slaves drink (their version of malt liquor, made of diluted vinegar and herbs).


Welcome, and you're welcome. I can hardly wait for Jack's next adventure!

Deborah J said...

I am so thrilled to see Eric Beetner's "One Too Many Blows to the Head" on your list of favorites. What a great read!

Cormac Brown said...


Welcome, and Eric and JB really this up right. It's rare when a novel can sustain that kind of pace and not devolve into cheap stunts or tricks. It's a great one.