Tuesday 28 January 2014

Death of the Mantis (Detective Kubu, #3)Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once again, while searching for another entry into my self created challenge of reading new authors in 2014, I came across the writer duo of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who collectively writes crime fiction under the name of Michael Stanley, featuring the Botswana Policeman, Detective David Bengu nicknamed Kubu (Hippopotamus in the Setswana language) for his size.

Set in the southern African nation of Botswana (home of another very famous series created by Alexander McCall Smith) THE DEATH OF A MANTIS begins when a game ranger is found dead in the Kalahari Desert. The three Bushmen who found the dying man, is quickly arrested on suspicion of murder. Detective Kubu, based in Gaborone is asked by a schoolmate of his, Khumanego, a lawyer and a Bushman himself, to look into the matter and stopping the authorities from persecuting the Bushmen unnecessarily. Kubu, going aginst his boss, accepts to help and pushes headlong into the investigation as bodies start piling up one after another.

Detective Kubu, is a fat policeman (like Andy Dalziel), married (unlike Dalziel) with a baby girl. He likes to eat and doesn’t enjoy the salad diet his wife has forced on him. In toto, he comes out as a not-so-remarkable, but a standard fictional protagonist. He loves his family, and his dilemma over choosing between his work and family makes him more of a human. The other characters are shown, including the main culprit, in a one dimensional view.

But the book falls flat in the plot department. What made it sadder was that the plot had the potential to turn out into a page turner, and the authors, upto 65%, were taking the book into that direction. But suddenly the plot changed from being a whodunnit into a howcatchem. No prior warnings, clues or signals were given. The plot was flowing smoothly in one page, and suddenly in the next page the culprit revealed himself. There was not a single page where I felt that the detective had any inclination as to who the main culprit was. For me it’s okay if the reader is baffled, but if it turns out that even the main protagonist was out of his depths and had the culprit not revealed himself would have failed to point him out, puts a lot of question on the ability of both the author and the detective. And even the ending was just the same. Suddenly the detective stumbled upon the culprit. He had no idea, no clue whatsoever as to the whereabouts of the killer. Once again had the culprit chosen to run away, he would have never been caught. Not atleast by Detective Kubu or his creators.

But despite these major shortcomings the book was surprisingly unputdownable. Yes I felt a betrayed by the turn of events, but I never thought of putting the book down. The pace, the suspense, the thrill was ever present, in perfect proportions to make it a perfect work of crime fiction. If only a little art of detection was present, the book would have got a 5 star rating. But, since in a detective novel, the main stay is the detection part I chose to withdraw 2 stars and give it a 3 star rating.

Will you read this book? Yes, you should. Though not written by famous African writers trying to change the African world from their houses , this book, written by two men one living in Africa and the other in USA, while giving you a fast crime novel will also show you the plight of the Bushmen, their culture, the nature of conflict in Botswana between the ethnic people and the modernization all wrapped in a pulpy cover of Crime fiction.

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Wednesday 22 January 2014

The Snatch (Nameless Detective, #1)The Snatch by Bill Pronzini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As it happens that the modern world of crime fiction is full of silly protagonists with even sillier names, Bill Pronzini in the year 1971 decided to create a protagonist without a name. And, thus started the series of private investigator crime fiction featuring NAMELESS. And, truly the first book in the series shows us the depth of the statement, “What’s in a name?” because without a name, NAMELESS comes out as an original, one of a kind tough guy, who in his own admission is a not a hero, but who is just a cop. And like other true cops sees fighting crime as his duty.

Gary, the 9 year old son of millionaire Louis Martinetti, gets kidnapped from his school. And then Lou gets a ransom demand of three hundred thousand dollars. To deliver he calls upon Nameless. He takes up the job, and on the anointed time goes for the drop. In the process he gets mugged, and slashed by a knife. Eventually managing to get to a hospital he realises that both the money and the kid is gone. Nameless accepts Martinetti’s offer to work for him, and in the process finds out the kid and solves the mystery.

Going by the benchmark of a crime novel, the book is a standard whodunnit. Laced with subtle twists, the plot is fast and believable, with a reasonable ending. The character of Nameless is what grabbed my attention. Without a name he comes out as a person whose emotions, fears, sadness could be related to. I could personally relate to the emotions behind his love for pulp-magazines, or the sadness he feels when his relation goes to the docks made me feel sad too.

A must read for any crime fiction fan. Nameless and Bill Pronzini are both stalwarts in the world of crime fiction. And not reading his work is almost a capital crime.

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Monday 20 January 2014

Devil in a Blue Dress (Easy Rawlins #1)Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Starting this year everyone around me started accepting reading challenges like a fearless Gladiator, while I was still stuck, mostly, with the books I had bought way back in 2012 and 2013. Most of these books were from writers I have tasted before. So, with a determination and a sense of adventure I created my own reading challenge of getting to know as much as new crime writers as possible. New as in the sense, that I am experiencing his work for the first time, and not necessarily the author is a debut writer. So, with this target in mind, I picked up DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS by the celebrated African-American novelist Walter Mosley.

The book introduces Ezekiel a.k.a Easy Rawlins, an African-American WW 2 veteran who finds himself being handed the pink slip by the owner of the aircraft factory where he had a job. Jobless, and facing a mortgage payment he wanders into a bar owned by his friend Joppy, who in the process of helping him introduces to a white man called Mr. DeWitt Albright who tells him that for a price he might have a job for Easy. The job would be to find out the whereabouts of a white girl called Daphne Monet. Standard PI job. Easy takes the money, goes out looking for the girl, and finds himself deep in the woods with gangsters, persecuting police, racist white men and a bundle of lies and deceit from almost everyone. Up to his neck in troubles, he calls his old friend from Texas, Mouse Alexander a.k.a. Mouse. Mouse happens to be a trigger happy gangster who wouldnt hesitate to kill his friend Easy, if he stood between Mouse and a bag of money.

Purely from a Crime fiction point of view, the book was too confusing without a dynamic ending to justify the confusion. The confusion was mainly due to the presence of innumerable characters who barely had single pages dedicated to them. Had the plot, which did have some nasty shades to it, or the motive or the climax, been more awe inspiring, then the confusion might have added to the pleasure of reading. But with a standard plot, and a not too fast speed the confusion did what it does best, it confused me. I had difficulty in keeping up with character names, who they were, and what purpose are they serving in the plot. But, the plot as I said earlier was a standard PI plot, meaning that it wasn’t bad. Yes it wasn’t great, but it did have the element of suspense as its very difficult to figure out the main motive or the culprit beforehand.

Easy Rawlins is a laid off black man, who lived in the days when racism was nothing to be ashamed of. Black skin meant that “a man will always be called boy”. So, being a PI with no training or experience meant that it would be hard for him to survive. And it was hard. He faced opposition from authorities, saw how a white man can treat him like a dog without ever saying a mean word. So, in the process he called his friend Mouse, of whom he is afraid. Now this is a peculiar relation between a main protagonist and his sidekick. Most of them have a buddy or a love-hate relationship, but none of them have a chemistry where the main guy is frightened of his sidekick. Here, Easy is frightened of Mouse. And, as he is without any experience Easy tries out his connection within the community for clues instead of the standard procedures of a PI like hounding the authorities or searching files or looking up for fingerprints.

So, will you read this book? Yes, you should, as this book is an important part of Crime writing. There are very few credible African-American protagonist out there. Easy Rawlins is one of them. And, if you are not a fan of crime writing you can atleast read this book to see what it actually felt to be a black man back then, or at times even now, especially in my country, India.

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Tuesday 14 January 2014

BlacklandsBlacklands by Belinda Bauer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Billy Peters got lost eighteen years ago never to be found again. Everyone believed that he was kidnapped and murdered by Arnold Avery a serial killer of children. But, Billy’s body was never found. So, when Billy’s nephew 12 year old Steven Lamb decides to find uncle Billy’s body, and in the process bring peace and mend his broken family consisting of his mum, his nan and his brother Davey, he enlists the help of the same person accused of murdering Billy, Arnold Avery. Thus starts Blacklands by Belinda Bauer and we are gifted with an Award winning crime novel featuring a cat and mouse game between a young boy of 15, who wants to find his peace, and a murderer who wants this boy to fulfil his one last wish.

Once again i was faced with a book where the suspense of a crime was absent as the protagonist and the antagonist gets marked from the very first pages. But, then the phenomena of “If we know both the parties, then why is this book a suspense novel” sets in. I got hooked into the thought of,
“Okay, Steven is a kid of 15, and Arnold is in gaol. So there must be some point lying somewhere in the pages ahead that will drive this book into a high gear suspense novel”.

I was wrong, as no such revelations are made, but I was also right as Bauer made the whole part of the cat and mouse chase dangerous, and created an atmosphere where I, the reader started biting my nails, and felt that this is wrong, and wanted to shout out at Steven, as I knew that what he was doing would surely lead him to a trap. But then Steven did not know that and he went on his way searching for Uncle Billy, and the tension rose within me as I desperately wanted to know what happened? Did he succeed, or did he fail? There were no hidden secrets in the book, but the feeling of helplessness on part of the reader fills it with nail biting suspense.

Writing a credible crime novel, with a juvenile as its protagonist is one of the toughest aspect of crime writing. John hart did it in Last Child, Belinda Bauer does it in Blacklands. And what a character did she create. Steven lamb. A Liverpool fan, who belongs to a family broken by the death of a member which happened 18 years ago. His nan, and mother doesn’t love him, he gets bullied at school. Though these might seemed clichéd, but while reading the book, Steven and his life is sure to make the reader feel heartbroken and sad.

A must read for any crime fiction lover. A book which strays from the conventional norm of crime writing, yet delivers in a big way.

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Friday 10 January 2014

Blue HeavenBlue Heaven by C.J. Box
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blue Heaven by C.J. Box starts when little Annie and her brother William, while walking in the North Idaho woods stumble upon a group of four men, who they witness executing a fifth man. Immediately the siblings get spotted by the killers, and they are on the run. Later they end up on the farm of Jess Rawlins, a rancher, who is broke and whose ranch is on the verge of foreclosure. The local Sherriff, overwhelmed by the incident of missing children, accepts the help of the same four killers, who happens to be respected ex-LAPD, for helping him in the search of the missing children.

Officially C.J. Box has become my favourite author, period. What a piece of crime writing. With this book he took the extreme risk of pointing out the good and the bad guys from the very beginning. Normally I don’t appreciate this type of crime fiction, where the element of suspense or detection is not much present. As was the case here. From page one we come to know the four bad guys, we find out the victims on the run, we also recognise the hero of the story. But, instead of getting bored by the format of the novel, I got hooked to it from the beginning. Box using his talent as a writer created moments which were full of suspense, created characters who were not totally white, but various shades of grey. And to keep the ambience of a crime novel intact, he even threw in a subplot, which at the beginning looked like a subplot, but in the end merged with the main storyline, and formed the base of the motive for the crime. Another point scored by Box was the creation of the 4 killers. He made them feel real, cold, brutal, cunning and ruthless. And the fact that he made them ex-cops also added a feather to his hat, as this made the culprits more villainous, as it showed that it can get real bad when the saviour turns into the hunter.

Jess Rawlins, I wish there were men like you in real. They used to be, but now you are an extinct breed. What a man, what a hero. Never the knight in shining armour, he fights his own personal tragedies and his fear, to save the siblings. The scenes where he sees his ranch slipping away from him, and where he sees his son, but fails to communicate with him in a normal way, can get the heart bleeding in the toughest of men. I wish there were many more characters like him in fiction and in real life.

Lastly, the setting of North Idaho. Although I like reading crime novels set in exotic places, but if the novel gets interesting I gradually start losing interest in the setting, concentrating more on the plot. Here that was not the case; he made me feel the weather, the surroundings and the people of North Idaho. He made it impossible for me to ignore this aspect, and wrote about the place in such a way that by the end of the book I felt that had Blue heaven been set in any other place than North Idaho, the book would have lost 50% of its charm.

This book goes highly recommended for all crime fiction fans. Read it not as a suspense novel, but as a western where you know the outcome, but still want to read it as it is set in a beautiful place, full of cunning criminals, a hero with a big heart and personal tragedies, a damsel in distress, and most importantly of all, read it because it is written by a great author, who knows how to write.

P.S. If possible read the last 50 pages with a Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack playing in the background.

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Monday 6 January 2014

Wycliffe's Wild-Goose ChaseWycliffe's Wild-Goose Chase by W.J. Burley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While randomly buying books there always remains a risk of paying for a book, which is not worth the money spent. But then there is always a chance of stumbling upon a book or a series which turns out to be generally unknown but very enjoyable, making every penny spent worth it. This book fell into the latter category. I had never heard of either the series or W.J. Burley, but what I read would easily fall into the sphere of a well plotted British gentleman police procedural.

Aptly named, the book starts when Wycliffe stumbles upon a revolver while taking his morning walk. Following this discovery he discovers that the gun is a part of a burglary which took place earlier, the loot consisting mostly of antiques. Within a few days of this discovery, the local antique dealer turns up dead while his brother and his yacht goes missing. Wycliffe, not sure whether the gun is connected with the crime, or whether at all the death is a murder, or was it a suicide, starts his investigation involving the crime and burglaries of antiques.

The book is slow. But it has its own charm. Somehow I felt had it been blisteringly fast paced, the plot, the ambience of the book couldn’t have been justified. This was a classic British whodunnit, which required clues, detection and a sedate pace which would maintain its charm of being an easy and interesting work of crime writing without turning it into slow paced and boring.

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Friday 3 January 2014

More Twisted: Collected Stories Vol. IIMore Twisted: Collected Stories Vol. II by Jeffery Deaver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jeffrey Deaver, has been wasted, and he is himself responsible for this waste of his talent. Had he written anything, by which I mean “SERIOUS” literature, he would have got himself shortlisted for any number of awards which puts the mark, “I AM A LITERARY SNOB” on ones lapel. He is that good. Had he written some obscure literature he would have been heralded as a genius, whose book makes you a better human being, and forces you to write 4000 words long reviews, and if you do read his books, you would be sure to be branded as an intellectual. In short he is a F***ing talented guy, who has simply wasted his talent writing crime novels.

But, he is also a compassionate guy. He realised that by wasting his talent, he would basically bring joy of tears on the faces of intellectually handicapped fatsos like me who just cant give up on crime fiction. He sacrificed his stardom for charity. He is such a great and straight man, yet he called his short story collection TWISTED, and MORE TWISTED, because he may be a great guy, but his short stories are really TWISTED, and time and again they proved that come what may, he remains and will always remain as one of the best short story writer of all times (this fact would have been more publicised had he been a “SERIOUS FICTION” writer, one of them did write short story and got herself a Nobel).

Now, to the book, and to the stories. Ratings are given on a total of 5,

Nice story, with more than enough twists. But an ending which doesnt justifies the tension the story created.

A pure work of art. The story shows us to be good to everyone, not to be rude, and to speak softly on your cellphone.

A bit long and tedious, but the end justifies the length. And the use of a famous fictional detective(not created by Deaver) adds spice to the story, and saves it from becoming boring and plain.

A Heist story, with a predictable ending. But the way to the dusty end creates enough twisty moments to keep the reader hooked.

5. BORN BAD – 5.0
A story which will make you feel, that you might know whats gonna happen, but the style of Deaver makes you second guess, and in the process makes the ending highly enjoyable.

Pure work of bondage art. This is the kind of story which makes me realise that at the end of the day a good crime story doesn’t necessarily means the good guys winning.

7. AFRAID – 2.0
A story with a moral, and with a loose plot.

A legal thriller, which makes not liking it almost illegal.

9. TUNNEL GIRL – 3.5
As inside a tunnel, this story is dark and chilling with a nice twist to end it.

A Lincoln Rhyme short story, which gets tangled un in the gadget blabber, but without it, comes out with a nice plot, but a predictable ending.

Once again, please be polite to people around you.

12. COPYCAT – 4.5
Its not always rosy and safe being a writer. A short story which is kept short and sharp, with an ending which cuts through.

13. Voyeur – 4.0
A sad story, which highlights the plea of a middle age bachelor.

A long drawn short story, which ends with a twist worthy of a standing applause.

An OKAY sort of story, featuring an escaped convict, a salesman, and a family.

This was a good story about a family extracting revenge. But, not the best story to end the book with.

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