South of Evil – Brian Dunford

south of evilSouth of Evil – Brian Dunford 234 pages – Murder Thriller

So, I downloaded this to my kindle as the author had contacted me through goodreads and suggested it to me. I read the blurb and found the story an interesting one and since I had a little time here, I figured why not take a break for those pulps of the 40’s and 50’s and read something set in a more contemporary timeframe. A story of a Federal Agent, a drug dealer, and a stash of cash just waiting south of the border in a winner take all tale. Well… this review is a story of timeframes, the benefits of finishing well and a reviewer ‘read all’ tale.

The first third of this novel was plagued by discontinuous timeframes, jumping back and forth, leaving me unsure where I was at times. Then there was an annoying issue with the names of characters, sometimes using a first name to identify a character but then jumping right in an using the character’s whole name and back again… when I really didn’t see it as necessary and I don’t recall any two characters having names that were in anyway similar. And, there are two characters which the author tells us are fond of calling people by nicknames. I love a good nickname, its can be very revealing and characters, but then I really got into the story, I find that only one or two characters are being referred to by nicknames… a little bit of an unfulfilled promises. As I finished the first third I figured I would rate it two stars and shelve it… but, instead, I decided to greatly increase my reading pace and move through the story at a much higher level sacrificing detail while maintaining a cohesive narrative.

As I finished the second third of this novel the timeframes had stabilized and I found myself following a more cohesive story. The characters were all well in place, their relations to one another were fleshed out a bit more, their sense of who and where they were has becoming more clear and the narrative came together and the author was able to pick up the story’s pace. As a result I decided to reduce my reading pace. I took a pause as I approached the two thirds mark and felt the story was really keeping me engaged and the characters were starting to grow on me here. Despite the fact that only ‘The Russian’ had a nickname. I was thinking that this would probably be a good, three-stars overall review if everything stayed stable.

But, every story has an ending… well, at least the ones I finish reading do! And this novel… it really had an ending. No spoilers here… I want you to read it for yourself. It really came together, well planned. The some main characters had really developed and changed in fundamental ways, others remained stubbornly, unapologetically unchanged, and climax was… climatic! It really ended well, a good four-star story once it got its feet under it. I would recommend it and see if there are more stories from Mr. Dunford.

   Strauss hadn’t heard it in a long time, but he had heard “You don’t look Mexican” enough times to know it was true. He looked European. His hair and skin were lighter, and he had the bearing and countenance of the old world.

A man went into the small café. He made eye contact for a second with Strauss, but quickly looked away.

Sometimes, he thought of them by name. Other times, he gave them nicknames: The old man, the sad man, the fat man, the man who should have known better, the man who should have stayed dead the first time.

———-      Dunford, Brian. South of Evil (p. 15). Kindle Edition.

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Neon Rain – James Lee Burke

neon rainI read the Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster) paperback version.
Right off the bat we get poignant social commentary and we meet New Orleans homicide detective Lieutenant Dave Robicheaux who may just be the target of a hitman… seems he’s investigating the suspicious drowning of a prostitute in a parish in south Louisiana that ties back to the New Orleans mob. But its deeper than just the mob… soon South American gun runners are setting him up to take a fall for a federal agent’s death. Then, suspended from the force he continues his own investigation following it wherever it leads stepping over bodies as he goes.

From a Calloused parish sheriff and a pair of his corrupt deputies, to biased and apathetic Internal Affairs investigators, the mantle of Noir fiction rest well on this first Robicheaux novel. His life, from serving in Viet Nam to facing down crime in the underworld of New Orleans while battling the bottle and other demons from his past make for a character that is surprisingly introspective and takes the time to see the beauty around him. Burke takes the time to paint a visually lush and fertile environment throughout the novel. It’s a treat for the senses and an immersive experience.

This is the third novel of Burke’s that I’ve read…. I suppose its about time that I got to read the book that started the whole series. This came out in 1987; over ten years from the first Spenser novel and five years before the first Bosch story… which is now on my list to read. There’s something about the narration of the Robicheaux stories that jumps to life… I just wish that they came out with scratch and sniff pages!

   She sat beside me, wiped ointment on my cuts with a piece of cotton, snipped adhesive tape into strips with the scissors, and taped down two big, folded squares of gauze on top of the ointment. Then she rubbed her hands over my skin, down my shoulders and back, across my chest, her eyes looking over my body without embarrassment, as though she were discovering me for the first time. I leaned her back on the bed and kissed her mouth, her neck, unbuttoned her flower-print blouse and placed my head against the red birthmark on her breast. I felt her body stretch out against mine, felt the confidence, the surrender that a woman gives in that moment when she no longer hides her hunger and instead blesses you with a caress that is always unexpected and heart-rushing and humbling in its generosity.

This time I wanted to give her more than she gave me, but I wasn’t able. In seconds I was lost inside her, her hands right against my back, her legs in mine in almost a material way, and when I tried to tense and stop because it was too soon, she held my face close to hers, kissed my cheek, ran her fingers through the back of my hair, saying, “It’s alright Dave. Go ahead. It’s alright.” Then I felt all the anger, the fear, and the heat of the last two days rise inside me like a dark bubble from a well, pause in its own gathered energy and momentum, and burst away into light, into the joy of her thighs, the squeeze of her arms, the blue tenderness of her eyes.

Rising Sun – Michael Crichton

rising sunHow often is it that I read a great ‘who-dunnit’ and it comes with quite an extensive bibliography at the end. I’m sure plenty of people are familiar with the wonderful movie version of this with Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery. If you haven’t seen it… do so! It’s a great cop movie. The book is a bit more rounded, and it focuses more on the threat that the ‘Japanese model’ poses to America. Now, this was written in 1992 and back then it did seem that the Japanese ‘threat’ was real. The 80’s were a time of technological revolution, especially in tangible consular products. The case Crichton makes for caution is well reasoned and, for the most part, compliments the story being told and is presented, mainly through the discourses of Captain Connor.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Initially, a murder has taken place in a conference room above a grand opening ceremony for a Japanese corporation. Since this is a sensitive situation, the building’s representative requests a special liaison officer from the LAPD be present. The story is told from the perspective of this officer, Lieutenant Smith… and right from the start, where Officer Smith is directed to pick up retired Captain Connor as a consultant, things are not what they appear. Someone is manipulating events, and people from behind the scene and as Connor points out repeatedly “their way of seeing things is not our way of seeing things”.

As the investigators continue through the obfuscation put in their path, powerful interests put their media agents to work. There is a newspaper reporter in their employ who works to dig up dirt or manufacture negative press, and potential character smears to threaten the investigators. Crichton really paints a compelling picture of how these tactics are actually being used in the current media.

Despite this, with the clock ticking and time running out, solid detective work wins the day. Buy not taking anything for granted, by questioning the underlying assumptions, and mostly by looking a gift horse directly in its mouth… the novel ends with a very Japanese display of ‘justice’.

After reading this, I want to read a couple of Crichton’s earlier novels. He wrote four novels between 1960 and 1970 under the name John Lange. These books have been republished as part of the Hard Crimes line, so I’ll get myself a couple of them…

   Every homicide crime scene has the same energy, and that finality at the center. When you look at the dead person, there is a kind of obviousness, and at the same time there is an impossible mystery. Even in the simplest domestic brawl, where the woman finally decided to shoot the guy, you’d look at her, all covered in scars and cigarette burns, and you had to ask, why tonight? What was it about tonight? It’s always clear what you are seeing, and there’s always something that doesn’t add up. Both things at once.

And at a homicide you have the sense of being right down to the basic truths of existence, the smells and the defecation and the bloating. Usually somebody crying, so you’re listening to that. And the usual bullshit stops; somebody died, and it’s an unavoidable fact, like a rock in the road that makes all the traffic go around it. And in that grim and real setting, this camaraderie springs up, because you’re working late with people you know, and actually know very well because you see them all the time. L.A. has four homicides a day; there’s another one every six hours. And every detective at the crime scene already has ten homicides dragging in his backlog, which makes this new one an intolerable burden, so ho and everybody else is hoping to solve it on the spot, to get it out of the way. There is that kind of finality and tension and energy all mixed together.

And after you do it for a few years, you get so you like it. And to my surprise, as I entered the conference room, I realized that I missed it.