Leadbelly by John Silvester and Andrew Rule

On a personal level, I love this book. On a reviewer level, I think the book needs to be updated and cleaned up a little. I’ll explain.

The gangland wars that took place in Melbourne, Australia between 1994-2004 were in a sense, movements by the next crew to take over and run the Melbourne underworld. This underbelly has a fascinating history and provides some of the background as to the how’s and why’s events unfolded as they did.

The Carlton Crew, who had taken over from the Richmond Crew, were the controlling force in Melbourne throughout the 1980’s. But all underworld stories in Melbourne start with the Painters and Dockers union and it is worth doing a little background because it is fascinating.

This book covers the demise of the Carlton Crew and the rise of “The New Boys”. The book is cobbled together from what was then current crime stories being published in local papers. In some cases, the names have been left out as court cases were still being heard when the book was written.
In that sense, it seems a bit pulpy and also unevenly written. The book also changes stylistically at one point and seems like there was some last minute add-ons to merely fill the book. There is more than enough information to write volumes on the goings on in Melbourne’s underworld so I think the book was pushed out quickly.

Time now then to go back and finesse the book putting in facts, names and other material that had to be left out at first print. If you want to treat yourself to the dramatized stories that the book tells, checkout the Australian series “Underbelly”. There are several seasons which are online or I found on Netflix. It will make the book more sensible. However, it is still great crime stuff that hasn’t been over told in multiple books….yet.

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To Funk and Die in LA

I was ecstatic to read another D. Hunter mystery. D is not just an average investigator. He works security for high profile clients, is a sometime music producer and an all around interesting guy.
This time, he leaves his home confines in Brooklyn to head out to Los Angeles. His grandfather has just been killed and D goes out for the funeral, to help his Aunt and young cousin settle the estate and to figure out why his grandfather was killed.

As far as D knows, Big Danny Hunter is just a well known grocer in Crenshaw and one of the last black businessmen in an area that is changing it’s profile. He once owned a nightclub that hosted an array of black performers including one known as Dr. Funk. Think a combination of Prince, George Clinton etc. Dr. Funk is now a recluse and people are trying to find him.

As D delves into why his grandfather was murdered, he finds out more about Danny than he bargained for. Danny, in addition to his business interests runs a loan sharking business and acts as a protector for Dr. Funk. When Funk goes to big Danny’s wake, D’s nephew You Tubes an impromptu performance by the recluse. This puts D in the eye of the storm as people descend on him to locate Funk for a futuristic music project.

After I read the first D Hunter mystery, I was impressed. I hadn’t realized that I had seen Nelson George on Unsung where he frequently guest stars as a music historian. I love how he weaves his musical knowledge into these mysteries and makes it work. It would seem difficult to do but he does it well.

D Hunter is also an interesting character. Not your average PI but at the same time, he has all the hallmarks of one that make them great fodder for the mystery genre. If you haven’t read any Nelson George, do it. You’ll be glad you did.

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

Finally, a new focus for the spy genre! The Slow Horses referred to ae spies, that turning their training, on missions or for other reasons have been deemed unfit for James Bond style duty and have been farmed out to Slough House to bide their time doing document dumps and other administrivia until their retirement.

River Cartwright, one of the main characters is a particularly bitter slow horse. His grandfather was a big mucky muck in MI-5 and River was set to follow in his footsteps. Now relegated to Slough House, he blames his failure on another recruit who may or may not have had an agenda to get rid of River.

Joining him at Slough House, away from the Regency Park HQ are a variety of interesting failures. His boss Jackson Lamb appears to be merely riding it out. But is he? Slovenly, gross and all around jackass, he might also be brilliant. He knows his spycraft. Ho the technology man, Min Harper the milquetoast, Louisa Guy the angry woman, Struan Loy the office jokester, noisy Kay White and supposed alcoholic Catherine.

Nothing is as it seems though. Not even to the slow horses themselves. A journalist, marginally involved with British Nationalist interests, is tailed by the slow horses in what they consider to be a useless and frustrating training exercise. But is it?

That question is asked constantly throughout the book and it is almost impossible to decipher what is really going on. Based on snoopy Ho, you get one story about why each player has been placed in Slough House. Bu you are also privy to each players personal viewpoint.

The story does unfold kind of slowly – and not in the metaphoric sense. However, wants it gets galloping, it really engrosses you. My only frustration? It ended in a “read the next book to find out” fashion. I hated that. It means I have to read the next one to find out the end of the story. Arrrrrrrghhhhhh!

The Long Count by JM Gulvin

This was a very interesting story. It is set in the late 1960’s. Texas Ranger John Quarrie is a returned vet from Vietnam. He has been called out to travel to another town to look into a crime. Along the way he, comes across a suicide. The town is anxious to close the case but Quarrie believes it is murder not suicide.

The dead man is a WWII veteran and the man’s son, Isaac, has just got back from his third tour of Vietnam and does not believe his father was murdered either. In addition to this, a local asylum for the criminally insane has burnt to the ground and Isaac’s twin half-brother, Ishmael, is missing.
The action from here is full of twists and turns that take place in both Texas and Louisiana. Quarrie is busy running back and forth as well as returning to his home where his young son is being cared for by friends and family as Quarrie is widowed.

The pacing of the book is not hurried which is great because there are a lot of little details to unravel. Even so, there is anticipation and things that pop up that make you consistently re-evaluate what you think you understand about what’s happening.

I read this book reasonably quickly but the print is small in the paperback edition. If you are reading this on your Nook, Kindle or other e-reader, you will have no problem adjusting the font.
A solid 3-4 star thriller and crime procedural.

Great Movies II by Roger Ebert

Why or why did I find the second book first? The story of my life. Now I have to backtrack and read Book one too. The book is a collection of essays by Ebert discussing some of the greatest movies of all time.

This is not a second tier ranking after the films discussed in book one. It is simply a compilation of essays from Ebert based on his watching and re-watching of many of these films as well as reviews by he alone and those he worked on with Gene Siskel.

One thing I love about Ebert is the emotion he writes with when discussing these films. His true love for the medium as well as his deep knowledge of all things film, comes across in his writing.
The movies cross eras, genre’s and nationalities. From France to China, from Japan to Italy, from the United States and Kingdom’s to Russia, Ebert covers so many films that you are inspired yourself to seek out some of the more difficult to find titles.

Streaming has opened film buffs to a bevy of opportunities to see films that would have been restricted to their home countries or only available to true film buffs in obscure, hard to find places. Netflix, Hulu and others have opened doors not just to great movies but also great directors and character and leading actors who have not worked in the United States.

Roger Ebert’s untimely death was a huge loss for all of us. His love and warmth regarding films just pours out onto the page and you as a reader fall in love with film as you read. It is like having Ebert beside you bringing detail and ideas to your attention as you both eat popcorn with a tall coke and get lost in celluloid.

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

As my readers know, I have fallen hard for this author and his main character Harry Hole. Harry continues his off again-on again affair with the bottle and his own demons as well as rubbing everyone he meets the wrong way.

I had a hard time putting this one down. In fact, another all nighter was pulled when I got halfway in and just could not put the book down. So be warned – late nights ahead. Get your flashlight or nook under the blankets and prepare for a wild and thrilling ride.

Somewhere in Croatia, there is an assassin known as “The Little Redeemer”. He has been deeply affected by war crimes against Croatian’s during the dissolution of Yugolslavia and the ethnic cleansing that occurred. He is on the hunt for a member of the Salvation Army with ties to the region.

The Salvation Army in Oslo plays a central role in this story. The homeless shelter, the hierarchy of the Army and the officers housing provide the base for most of the action. Right from the beginning it is difficult to tell who in the army is involved, how and why. Quite frankly, it does not get resolved until the end which is what made this so compelling to read.

Nesbo continues to add depth not to just Harry but many of the usual supporting characters as well. Beatte Lon, the woman who never forgets a face as well as other officers and new characters. One of the things that I love about local writers describing their cities, they are prone to reveal the underbelly.

I think people outside of the region view Scandinavia in general with a poetic vision of egalitarianism, low crime and problem free society. Nesbo dispels it but even at its lowest ebb, one can easily see that a society that takes care of its own is still better than those in which many of us live. That being said, drugs and prostitution as well as homelessness and alcoholism are oft discussed in Nesbo’s books.

The interesting idea of redemption is explored here. From the Christian Army beliefs, it is fiery rhetoric but something that one has to rely on in the abstract. From Hole’s and The Little Redeemer’s position, it is an event that is active, direct and required to even the scales of justice.

Scandinavian Noir opened with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series but I am so
happy that it brought us Harry Hole. And yes, I have another two in the queue. Sigh! 

Dead Irish by John Lescroart

3.5 stars. This book was great. I needed a new author to follow and Lescroart provided me with a new character to puzzle over. Dismas Hardy is a hard drinking, former attorney turned bartender/private eye. Like all the best of his ilk, he is flawed in ways that drive you as a reader crazy but that make his story and motivations far more interesting. He has a complicated relationship with his ex and with himself.

The owner of the bar where he works asks Diz to investigate a case related to a family member. The cops are calling it suicide, the family is calling it murder. And while there are some who have motive, these are not clear cut or at all obvious which complicates the case.

The story is set in San Francisco evoking those old Chandler settings with a modern twist. But I loved the fog rolling in and the tours of neighbourhoods where suspects live and work.

This book has a lot of twists and turns and does not forecast the ending so that just a few pages in, you keep changing your suspect list. Right up to the end. Diz’s favorite weapon seems to be a cast iron skillet and frankly, it’s refreshing to see someone bashed over the head the old fashioned way instead of just shot. It lends nostalgia I guess!

The book does start a bit slow. I stuck with it and it picked up fast. It is more character than action driven so it requires a lot of patience to listen to Diz’s inner dialogue. This is the first book in the series so I am guessing that the deeper you go into the series, the more Diz will evolve and that is something important to remember with these series books. Main characters almost never start out fully rounded but become so over time.

I can’t write much more because of the plot twists. But if you love a series with a good flawed main character, this one is for you!