The Blade Itself

Whoa, what a great book. This is the debut novel by an author who lives in Chicago named Marcus Sakey. Not sure how I heard about him, but you can read more about him at his website. It’s a crime thriller set in Chicago and the suburbs. The main character grew up in Bridgeport, lives in Wrigleyville, and works in construction for a developer who lives in Winnetka. Not sure why, but it’s just cool reading stuff that takes place in your city.

So there are two guys, Danny and Evan, who grew together and had a relatively lucrative trade in small-time robbery. That is, until one job goes awry, resulting in Evan getting locked up for seven years and Danny escaping without a scratch (thanks to Evan for keeping his pie hole shut). Danny goes on to live a normal life; he has a decent gig in construction, a nice girlfriend, and plenty of time for leisurely walks through the Lincoln Park Zoo. But it doesn’t last long once Evan gets out of jail and looks for some payback from Danny.

It’s a classic story line, but not tired. One half of the crime duo has a conscience and the other is a cold-blooded murderer. One wants out and the other can’t envision a life without crime. Sakey keeps it fresh by exploring Danny’s internal struggle, taking occasional shots at developers and yuppies, and making the villain really, really evil.

The ending was a little fluffy. I’ll be interested to see what others say about it.

I love the crime novel and I loved this book. Evidently, Ben Affleck also liked it because his production company supposedly bought the rights to the book. Hmmm. Sakey has his second book coming out any day now but I will sit tight for a year until comes out in paperback.


The Neon Rain

This is the start of another crime/thriller series with one main character, a genre that is my most reliable source of pop fiction. I start at book one and follow the character through each novel in succession. It’s probably my number one outlet for non-organized, brainless, leisure time. If I have a break, and it’s not long enough to think about what I should I do next, I just crack open a book like this.

The main character in this series is a New Orleans homicide detective named Dave Robicheaux and so far he is the main character in 16 books. In this book, Robicheaux is investigating the murder of a prostitute and stumbles upon a shady network of arms dealers and drug traffickers. He gets embroiled in their world and has to end up kicking some ass to extract himself from it.

It’s quite dramatic and over the top. A little too much so, that’s why I say the jury is still out on this series. Robicheaux encounters just about every possible bad guy in this book; a dirty cop that happens to be his partner, a retired general that still thinks he’s fighting a war, a Columbian drug lord, a Mafia kingpin, an ex-marine killer, an ex-CIA killer. You name it. At the same time, he falls in love with a woman he meets while escaping from two dirty cops (other than his partner), his brother gets shot in the head, and he revisits his alcoholism by going on a bender to end all benders. Wow.

It’s a good story though, but I didn’t read it under the best of circumstances. It took me a few weeks to read because I’ve been really busy lately. When this happens, I get confused and lost sometimes. I didn’t give the book much of a chance. But I will read the next few and decide if I’m going to press onward with the series.

The thing that will keep me in the series, in the short term at least, is that it has a lot of New Orleans character. This is important to me in the same way that Hillerman’s novels reflect the character of the Navajo reservation and Grafton’s novels capture the spirit of California’s central coast. I like the way Burke describes Robicheaux’s meals, all of which have a New Orleans flare. Descriptions of food always stick with me. Burke takes you to Cafe du Monde, out for oysters, and to a shack for a po’ boy sandwich, among other things. He paints New Orleans as a unique and beautiful place, albeit somewhat troubled and riddled with corruption. But it is Robicheaux’s home, and through his first person descriptions you get a feeling for the beauty and peace of the city.


N is for Noose

I’m 7 books away from being caught up to Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. I wonder if she’s just going to stop at Z. Anyway, I grabbed this one on the way out the door for a vacation in Santa Barbara wine country, which just so happens to be the heart of Sue Grafton country.

Kinda cool huh? I’m going to Santa Barbara, CA for a long weekend, so how appropriate is it to start reading a book by an author that lives in Santa Barbara and uses the city as the backdrop for her bestselling crime series? Well, I think it’s pretty damn appropriate. Plus, it’s a mangled paperback that I got on eBay so I’ll just leave it for another reader when I’m done and lighten my load for the trip back. I rule.

Not much to say. And what could I say that could possibly be interesting to a non-reader of the series or thought provoking 10 or 20 years down the road when I look back at this blog to figure out what was going on in my life in 2007? Well, I’m going to stray from my normal take on fiction and disclose some plot killers.


This book separates itself from the others for a couple of reasons. First, there are a few very intense assaults against the main character, Kinsey Milhone; more so than in the previous books. Second, I pretty much figured it out about mid way through the book; something I haven’t done yet in the series.

About the assaults; twice Kinsey is confronted by a mysterious man in a black ski mask. Even though neither occasion was an attempt on her life, they were still darker and more ominous than even the murderous attempts on her life in the past. Grafton’s descriptions of the events were right out of thrillerdom and made for good reading. And I might add, the perp in both cases gets his due when Kinsey goes on a PCP-induced rampage and kicks his ass, then drops the f-bomb. Out-of-character, but great stuff.

About me figuring it out, well, I didn’t necessarily have it wired in, but I can remember the exact moment where Grafton foreshadowed the perpetrator. During the second assault mentioned above, Kinsey said the the perpetrator “smelled of sweat.” I said to myself, “it’s got to be Brant because he goes to the gym all of the time.” Well, it was Brant, I was correct. Although I backed-off on my assessment so maybe I don’t deserve credit for figuring it out.

Was this a coincidence or did I really root out the killer? Not sure, but it didn’t impinge on my enjoyment of the book because my conviction was not that strong. I was left in doubt just about until the end.

I’m going to take a few months off from Grafton.


Citizen Vince

This is a recommendation from the Nick Hornby book I read last month. Hornby is actually quoted on the back jacket and says about it:

This terrific book…is smart, funny, dark, and moving-and Jess Walter is clearly a writer to watch.

As you know, I’m a big fan of crime fiction. I’m always looking for something that is “smart” and “dark,” so I was powerless and bought it even though I forgot my 30% off coupon from Borders Rewards. Oh well, I agree with Hornby for the most part, so it was a good purchase.

It’s the story of Vince, a small-time crook who testified against some very bad people in New York City, and now spends his time making donuts and partaking in credit card fraud in Seattle while in the witness protection program. Everything is clipping along fine, until a hired killer from the old neighborhood finds him.

Vince is a cool guy. At first it seems like it’s a classic “I’m gonna get out of the game as soon as I make enough money” crime novel. But it’s a lot deeper than that. There’s this sensitive relationship between Vince and his hooker friend who wants to be a real estate agent. There’s Vince buying and borrowing books so he can have one in-hand every morning when the beautiful woman comes into the donut shop (he starts the books, but never finishes them). There’s the beautiful woman’s local politician friend that Vince peppers with questions about his platform. And there’s Vince’s ongoing internal and external debate about whether to vote for Reagan or Carter (yes, the book takes place in 1980). All provide comic relief, character depth, and thoughtful diversions from your concern about this nice criminal with destructive tendencies.

There are even a few cool back stories. One is about the Seattle cop tracking Vince to New York. It is really moving. Another is about the local politician that Vince befriends for a night. Each story takes some very intense turns. You are on the edge of your seat at times, laughing at times, and learning at times.

Great stuff, thanks Hornby for doing me up with a good rec.


M is for Malice

One of the reasons I like Tony Hillerman and Sue Grafton so much is the continuity of the main characters. Almost all of their books have the same main characters and it’s fascinating to witness their development.

With Hillerman, I came along in the middle of the stories about Navajo tribal policemen Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. I read them out of order, so even though Hillerman is the top dog as far as I’m concerned, it would have even been better if I’d started them in chronological order and went from there (something I will do before I die).

My experience with Grafton has been ideal. I started at the beginning, with A is for Alibi, and have grown with Kinsey Millhone, the main character, over the last 13 books. This book, M is for Malice, is probably the most in-depth study thus far of Kinsey’s emotional state. Grafton really digs into Kinsey’s familial relationships and dredges up some past loves, and the mystery at hand hits especially close to home for this single, thirty-five year old, female private investigator who loves fast food. I’m not going to dig into the plot but to say that it was another solid effort and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I think that Grafton sometimes tries to hard to make Kinsey kind of quirky cool. Kinsey is cool enough without hearing more about how she doesn’t care about her hair or only has one dress-up outfit (unlike your average woman I guess). I’m not sure why I perceive this, but it could be because I read so few books by women. I just noticed it near end of this book; in the last 34 books, I’ve only read two female authors, Grafton and Casey. And there are none in the hopper, save for more of Grafton. It’s not intentional, but what does that make me? An idiot? A chauvinist? Or are there just more male writer’s than female so I don’t have any choice?

I think of my taste in books as flexible, wide-ranging, varied, open-minded, but am I fooling myself? I gotta dig into this issue…


Skinny Dip

This is a novel of suspense, humor, and satire, not necessarily in that order. For me though, the humor is the most memorable of these three ingredients. Hiaasen is just damn funny and I found myself cracking out a laugh even when I was away from the book. Something would cause me to think about the book and I would just start laughing.

For example, you kind of have to be there, but the main character, Mick Stranahan, has occasion to make phony blackmail calls to one of the villains. Now when Mick makes these calls, he imitates the voice of either Charlton Heston or Jerry Lewis. This, for some reason, has caused me to break into a fit of laughing no less than three times in the last 48 hours. Hiaasen plays these things up, then refers to them occasionally throughout the book. It is pure, comic genius as far as I am concerned…but I do have a warped sense of humor, so take it with a grain of salt.

The satire in this book is priceless also. Here are few things that Hiaasen makes fun of in a sinister, condescending, and satisfying way:

  • Cruise ships
  • Viagra
  • Condo associations
  • Real estate developments

Another theme in this book, that Hiaasen really hammers on, is the destruction of Florida’s Everglades. I am very attentive when listening to environmental issues, so it made the book even more interesting. It may bother some serious polluters though, so if you are one of those, you may want to stay away.

If you want though, you can just read this as a suspense/crime novel. It’s about a woman from Boca Raton who gets tossed overboard from a cruise ship by her scumbag husband. She gets saved by a bale of pot floating in the ocean and eventually winds up on a private island inhabited only by the aforementioned ex-cop, and hermit, Mick. They hatch a plan to get revenge on the scumbag husband and the fun begins.

It all takes place in South Florida also. I love South Florida. I refer to South Florida as the “Southwest Michigan” of Florida; it’s that great.

This is only my second Hiaasen book, and I plan on reading all of them before I die. I think I’m also going to find his column at the Miami Herald online and start reading it.