Year: 2006

The Impossible Bird by Patrick O’Leary | Book Review

If Door Number Three is to be considered science fiction and The Gift is to be considered science fiction/fantasy then Patrick O’Leary’s third novel, The Impossible Bird, should be considered a science fiction thriller.

Mike and Danny are brothers who were close when they were younger but grew apart as they got older, especially after one particular summer. Mike is a successful director of commercial spots who lead a rootless lifestyle and answers to no one. Danny is a professor of literature; he is a devoted husband and father. They both are paid a visit by gun toting secret government agents. Each brother is asked for “The Code”. When they don’t provide the answer they are each told that they must find their brother or they will die. Mike and Danny set out to find each other. This quickly becomes a journey of self discovery as they pick their way through the deceit filled mine field of their past.

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Od Magic by Patricia McKillip | Book Review

The genre that today is labeled “fantasy” on the shelves of your local bookseller and library (or the links of your favored e-tailer) is made up of many different literary traditions. There are the mythological and the swashbuckling, the gothic and the fable, the folk tale and the fairy tale. It is to this last group that Od Magic most clearly belongs. Eschewing any pretense of realism or grittiness, detailed settings or characters, Patricia McKillip’s latest novel is a modern fairy tale that uses exquisite language and powerful, primal symbolism to convey something as unfashionable as a moral message — as well as a strong serving of magic.

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A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane | Book Review

Not only is this the start of what can be considered in many ways the high water mark of mystery series writing, but series writers of all genres should take note of what Lehane has accomplished.

From humble beginnings great things can come. A Drink Before the War is a solidly told, by the numbers PI tale. It barely scratches the surface of the heights that this series will reach but like all first novels it does start to lay the groundwork. It introduces us to two of the most beloved characters in recent years, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. They live and work in the same Boston neighborhood that they grew up in, Southie.

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Kiss Her Goodbye by Allan Guthrie | Book Review

Joe Hope is an enforcer for Edinburgh loan shark and long time friend Cooper. After paying a visit to a non paying client Joe finds out that his daughter, Gemma, has committed suicide. Joe loves his daughter very much and was upset when she left home to go live with his wife Ruth’s cousin, Adam. Joe holds Adam responsible for Gemma’s death and goes to see him to exact a measure of revenge. When he gets there the police are waiting to arrest him because Ruth has been murdered. Joe has reason to suspect that he is being framed, but doesn’t know by whom. There are hints of dark family secrets and when Adam discovers Gemma’s diary, which sheds some light on those secrets, he teams up with Joe and becomes involved with the investigation. All of this leads to a brutal confrontation where the truth will come out.

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The Gift | a Patrick O’Leary Interview

Behind Door Number Three is The Gift of The Impossible Bird…

When I decided to re-read Patrick O’Leary’s novels to see if they were as good as I remembered them to be I also set out to track him down. I wanted to see if he was still writing and if he had anything coming out as it had been awhile since we heard from him. I hoped that his pen wasn’t silent. After some digging around I heard from him and he agreed to talk to me and luckily he’s still writing. What follows is most of our discussion.

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Drive by James Sallis |Book Review

Drive is the story of a Hollywood stunt driver appropriately named Driver. He isn’t just a stunt driver though, he is the best. On the side he also is a top freelance getaway driver. He takes a job which goes very wrong, very quickly. He finds himself in a hotel room surrounded by dead bodies. With a duffel bag filled with money from the botched job he decides to seek revenge on those who turned on him.

Drive is classically bleak noir; think films from the 40’s & 50’s, but is never oppressive in its telling. It’s interesting to note that when one looks for comparisons to Drive one inevitably gravitates towards film. If ever a book read like a film, this is it.

Maybe he should turn around. Go back and tell them that’s what life was, a long series of things that didn’t go down the way you thought they would.

Drive is told in quick successive chapters that would be equivalent to jump cut edits if it were a movie. All of the moments in the story are told out of order and it is only upon its completion that the final order of events is evident. This isn’t used a trick though to distract from a weak story. It enhances the story and perfectly compliments it in every way. Drive is a stylistic tour de force. Every moment in the story is carefully chosen by Sallis to reveal those parts of the story and of Drivers life that resonate with intensity and insight. Like a poet carefully deliberating then choosing the right word, the one that will have multiple meanings and reveal hidden depths under the guise of perfect clarity, Sallis tells the story of enigmatic Driver with a surgical precision. Despite its length it is a complex and interwoven narrative that bounces across the timeline of Drivers life with startling clarity.

She had one ear off and a wide red mouth drawn in his throat before he could set his coffee cup down.

Possibly reflecting Sallis’ own dealings with Hollywood Drive is at time a vicious satire of the Hollywood studio system. While waiting for his scenes to be shot Driver has a lot of downtime on set, he spends it with bit actors, assistant directors, script doctors and failed novelists. There are anecdotes traded that act as thinly veiled observations of the ways in which movies are made.

Uniformed Catholic schoolgirls waited for buses across from lace, leather and lingerie stores and shoe shops full of spike heels size fifteen and up.

With an economy of words that is closer to poetry then prose Drive exists in the shadows and recesses. Like Miles Davis’s classic album Kind of Blue which derived its power not only from the notes that were played but also from the space between the notes, Drive uses a kind of negative space to help define the narrative. What’s not said is as equally important as what is said.

The cover of the trade paperback version is covered with blurbs that exhort one to buy this book. There are times when such praise is unwarranted or hyperbolic in nature, this is not one of those times. Drive is perfect and deserving of all the praise and attention that is heaped at its feet.

Lights Out by Jason Starr | Book Review

Jason Starr is quickly establishing himself as one of the best writers around. Lights Out is a strong book that may be his most accessible one to date.

At some point in time the word noir, when used to describe a certain type of fiction, became synonymous or even interchangeable with the words crime and hard-boiled. Three separate groups of fiction that despite having some shared traits all had distinct qualities that stood them apart. When looking back on the early noir novels it’s readily apparent that they aren’t crime novels even if a crime is present. Classic novels like They Shoot Horses Don’t They and A Streetcar Named Desire are described as American Noir and serve more as an examination of the sometimes downtrodden parts of the human existence. The Library of America published two omnibus editions a couple of year’s back that served to highlight the so called American Noir novels. They brought some attention to some deserving books and writers and are a real educational eye-opener of what the potentials of fiction are, and the heights that it can rise to. Jason Starr’s latest novel, and his first hardcover release, Lights Out consistently reminded me of those classic noir novels from the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s.

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Bust by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr | Book Review

Bust is destined to become a modern classic of crime fiction. It is the first collaborative novel in the Hard Case stable and a better paring couldn’t have been had then Ken Bruen and Jason Starr. With every outing Hard Case continues to live up to their stated goal to “bring you the best in hardboiled crime fiction, ranging from lost noir masterpieces to new novels by today’s most powerful writers” by putting out some of the best crime novels being published today. Sometimes when books are written jointly the two styles don’t blend well and the differences are often noticeable, especially when each contributor has their own unique style as Bruen and Starr do. Starr and Bruen came up with a unique approach to this common problem they decided to write each others parts, Bruen handled the Starr parts and Starr handled the Bruen parts.

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Chance Fortune & The Outlaws by Shane Berryhill | Book Review

I couldn’t help but smile when reading this and could easily imagine Berryhill doing the same while writing it.

Chance Fortune takes place in a world that has a prevalent super-hero population. The goal for those with powers is to be accepted into the Burlington Academy for the Superhuman. Josh Blevins has one goal in life, to be a superhero. But there is a problem; he has absolutely no powers to speak of. But his luck changes when a retired superhero, Captain Fearless, moves into his neighborhood. After Josh discovers his true identity, Captain Fearless agrees to train Joshua and teach him everything that he knows. When Josh’s application to the Academy is rejected Captain Fearless interjects and pulls some strings creating a false identity for Josh, Chance Fortune, whose power is unnaturally good luck. When Chance gets accepted into the academy Josh is off to new adventures.

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The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie | Book Review

Hugh Laurie is a naturally funny, creative and entertaining person. He’s the type of guy who goes on interview shows and doesn’t need pre-approved stories from the producers. He has done a wide range of projects over the years. In 1998 his first, and so far only, novel was published, The Gun Seller. It is always an interesting proposition when actors write novels, I for one may be the only person to have read Ethan Hawke’s books, and wish to god that I hadn’t. But I really do like the work of Laurie so I figured I would lift the ban on actor written novels and tread softly through that turd filled territory once again. Grab your crayon’s boys and girls and color me surprised. The Gun Seller is actually very good. In fact Laurie went so far as to submit his manuscript to publishing houses pseudonymously. Only after it had been accepted for publication did he reveal that he had written it.

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A Simple Plan by Scott Smith | Book Review

A Simple Plan was the basis for the movie of the same name. It uses a simple premise to set up a psychologically taut thriller that explores the boundaries of love, family, marriage and friendship.

Two brothers, who are no longer close since the death of the parents, and a friend, find a downed airplane in the middle of the woods. The pilot is dead and no one knows that the plane is there. Inside the plane is a large duffel bag that is filled with packets of bound $100 bills. The total amount of money in the bag is $4.4 million dollars. The three men come up with a simple plan, one of them will hold the money for 6 months, that will allow enough time for either the plane to be discovered or for any missing plane reports to be announced. If at the end of the 6 month period of time everything looks safe then they will split the money. If at any time they think that they will be found out then the money will get burned. Needless to say this puts them on a slippery path and the almost immediately the situation spins out of control.

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To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman | Book Review

Laura Lippman, author of the popular Tess Monaghan series, takes a break to explore a stand alone novel. In To the Power of Three she takes an old mystery novel concept, the locked room mystery and updates it, using it to explore upper middle class suburbia in northern Baltimore County.

To the Power of Three opens with a letter being written on the eve of a school shooting by the shooter. Before the start of first period the next day a murder will take place behind a locked bathroom door. Three seniors who were life long friends: one will be dead, one will be critically wounded and the other injured. The only living witness and most of the evidence points to one outcome but a few minor pieces of evidence and the professional eye of a veteran murder police point to other possibilities. What really happened in that room? What caused such a breakdown in this supposedly unpenetrable friendship? Is someone lying, if so why?

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Three Days to Never by Tim Powers | Book Review

Tim Powers’s novels are so unlike anything else that I think John Shirley said it best over at Emerald City “Tim Powers is his own genre”. Or maybe he is the most unpredictable predictable writer alive, either way he is the most consistently originally fantasy writer of the last 30 years.

In a perfect world I would post a review for Three Days to Never and I would be bombarded with replies that say ‘Shut up already, we’ve already bought it and read it. You’re the one that’s behind!’

In a slightly less then perfect world I would say what does Charlie Chaplin’s handprints, Albert Einstein’s unpublished theories, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, gold swastika’s, astral projection, harmonic convergence and the Mossad all have in common and everyone would cry out in unison ‘we don’t care, but we trust Tim…’ and then run out to the store to buy a copy.

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