Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Imagine Dashiell Hammet or Raymond Chandler smoking a lot of 60’s era Hawaiian or Mexican pot and then writing a Coen Brothers movie. That sort of touches on what it is like to read Inherent Vice. There are noir elements and plenty of psychedelia in what is at its core a detective novel set in 1960’s era Los Angeles. The back beat of the novel involves one imagining a surf soundtrack. I guess you could add Tarantino’s ear for good soundtrack music to the story. But I digress….

The main character is Larry “Doc” Sportello, a perpetually pot smoking private eye who is trying to figure out what is going on with the mysterious jazz/surf musician Coy Harlingen; who killed an ex-con named Charlock and where his girlfriend has disappeared to with an enigmatic developer named Mickey Wolfmann.

Into the mix are dumped a couple of Dr. Feelgood types, some bent cops, some neo-Nazi’s and some mobsters. And just for fun? Something or someone or many one’s put together calling themselves the Golden Fang.

The story is very non-linear and very surreal which for some, will be a turn off. I didn’t find it detracted from the story at all but it certainly forces the reader to concentrate more in order to follow the story. There is an extensive list of characters, many with very sixties era names (Amethyst, Japonica, Jade to name a few) and many of these also sport nicknames that are used interchangeably. This adds a challenging element for the reader.

The story bobs and weaves around the Los Angeles and Orange County areas with a quick trip to Las Vegas in the middle just to keep things interesting. There is heroin smuggling, shade real estate developments, prostitution, dentistry and legal and illegal gambling activities that Doc must sort out in order to figure out how and where all the players fit and secure his friends and his own future.

I enjoyed it and I took my time reading it. This is not something to jump into and read quickly. It is not straight forward story telling so Pynchon is probably a required taste. A taste worth acquiring but not for everyone. For me though….a solid four stars and motivation to try some more Pynchon.

The Serial Killer’s Wife by Blake Crouch and Robert Swartswood

This was an interesting twist to the thriller genre. The serial killer in question is already in custody and in prison having been found guilty for what are being called “The Widower Murders”. The designation comes about because the ring finger and wedding rings from each of the female victims has been removed.

The wife in question, rather than go through the sadness and humiliation of the trial, ran away with their infant son and has been in hiding for the last five or six years. As the story opens, she is working as a teachers assistant at a school. She receives a mysterious phone call threatening the life of her son.

As the story unfolds, the wife has 100 hours to bring the ring fingers and the rings to the voice on the phone or her son will be killed. Each hour she receives a photo of her son laying on a bed, his mouth taped with a C-4 laden collar tied around his neck.

She has to basically backtrack her movements returning to places she hid out in order to receive help from people she has trusted in the past. Many of those who help are at risk and additionally, there are enough shady characters she has had to rely on that the reader is never 100% certain that those she trusts are really there to help or hinder. This adds a level of intrigue to the story that keeps the reader off balance.

It’s a chase and a race against the clock. Others are pulled into the story including an FBI agent who was disgraced after the wife ran away and did not testify. His son is abducted by the same mysterious stranger and also has a C-4 collar on his neck with the threat of death imposed in order to solicit the FBI’s help in retrieving the fingers. Why do they want the fingers and rings?

Ha! That, you will have to read the book to find out. Suffice to say, the reason is surprising as is the outcome of the book. I love a story that you can’t get the ending until its the end and this is one of those. This is truly, a very good thriller. While I can’t say I felt any one way or another for any of the characters, I did enjoy the thrill of the chase. Well worth a read.

Stateline by Dave Stanton

As the detective/thriller genre goes, this was a great read. The private investigator, Dan Reno is very much in the tradition of hard drinking, smoking Bogart style with an ex-wife who still befriends him, the sexy tough guy aura that women seem to love and the ability to kick asses that male readers will appreciate. This detective also has the touch of humor that makes these books fun and a great cast of supporting characters.

Dan Reno is going to a wedding of his ex-wife’s niece in Lake Tahoe. The story is set in the Lake Tahoe/Truckee/Reno areas during the winter months. Without giving anything away, the groom and one of his best men are murdered. The groom is from a wealthy industrialist family and the patriarch hires Dan Reno to find the killer and bring him in – dead or alive.

Into this mix, Dan brings on some old high school friends. A few are ne’er do wells and another is a San Jose cop on leave. He is up against organized criminal interests involved in the drug trade and casino business. Holding up the criminal interests are a core group of bad cops and sheriff’s with a couple of good ones who are able to join forces with Dan.

The action is pretty consistent throughout the book. There are very few lulls, lots of well drawn characters and a story that keeps twisting and turning enough that the answers aren’t telegraphed. I believe this is another book that has a series around it so that if a reader likes Dan and his hi-jinks, there are more books out there to read and enjoy. I love a good detective story and this one fit the bill. It is done in the best imitation and traditions of a Dashiell Hammet. Recommend it with a solid 4 stars.

Love and Fear by Reed Farrel Coleman

I’m not sure who the target group is for this great little mystery book but I think it’s a quick, fun little read for advanced readers and a great introductory read for new readers. Those new readers could be young adults – there is nothing in the book too racy in either language or content that would cause concern for schools or libraries.

The lead character is wonderful. His name is Gulliver Dowd and he is described as a very handsome detective who also happens to be a dwarf. He is a private investigator and has a cast of other characters assisting him in various aspects of his investigations. His size and his vantage point provide him with a point of view that is not available in other detective stories.

This particular story appears to be the third in the series. In that sense, there was some background that was included in this book that I couldn’t put with anything but it wasn’t enough to detract from the story at hand.

In this edition, Gulliver is investigating the disappearance of a mob boss’ daughter. I really couldn’t say more without giving away the story. The book isn’t that long and the story is great. I can easily give this book 4 stars but just want to point out that it is an extremely quick and easy read. Great book for young adults – I would say from junior high all the way to adults. I would also add that the typeface was large which is great for readers with vision issues. I think I will seek our Gulliver Dowd’s earlier cases too!!

The Dying Hour by Rick Mofina

I cannot get excited about this book like most other reviews. I enjoyed the story. It was interesting and kept moving and had a good premise. What completely ruined this book for me were the details.

I am a native, third generation Washingtonian. A native of Seattle. If you are not from a place and you are going to write about it, either choose to make the whole setting fictional or choose to do your due diligence as an author and get the details correct.

This author made unrealistic estimates of the time required for characters to traverse distances. There was a mix of real cities, Bellingham for instance, set in a county that does not exist in Washington, but that does exist in Canada. The author is a Canadian and native of Toronto which is East Coast so I cannot even excuse this as a British Columbian and fellow Pacific Northwesterner. It was just sloppy.

The sloppy factor ruined it for me. Those details stuck out and were so obvious, that it ruined what was otherwise going to be a great story. I wouldn’t have even cared if he chose to create a fictional Washington State and made that consistent. If you are going to write about a place, then make it either accurate, so that readers who know it well can easily relate and those that don’t paint a picture in their minds eye that really showcases place.

The story was wonderful and if you aren’t from here, don’t believe the travelogue and if you are from here, it will drive you to distraction. If you can suspend belief, the story itself is not bad. I can’t go above two stars because of the distractions.

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Loved it. Absolutely dark and absolutely hilarious. Also a damning indictment of the United States health care system and Witness Protection. As far as the health care part goes, I think one would do better to go online, make the best diagnosis of one’s own condition based on your own intelligence and common sense and then avoid any and all hospitals at all costs!!

Witness Protection? Johnny Manziel did a better job with fake mustache and sunglasses than the government will likely manage.

Peter Brown aka Pietro Brwna aka Bearclaw aka someone, is a doctor at a rundown, crappy hospital in Manhattan. He spends his days rushing from patient to patient providing the obligatory five minutes allotted, supervising a bunch of last in their class interns and trying to keep people alive. He is also a retired hit man in the Witness Protection program.

The story moves back and forth between the unfolding series of events that finds him becoming a hit man, the reasons why and the reasons why he continues to do so and then reverts to his current situation in the hospital.

The story has the mob, a shark tank, Romanian’s, Russian’s, Coney Island, New Jersey, Little Odessa, human trafficking, killing, escaping, drugs, a best friend named Skinflick, incompetent doctors, more incompetent surgeons, even more incompetent hit men, patients who have been grossly misdiagnosed, tears, laughter, love affairs. This is one great romp.

I would also add that often, I will read a book and think, hmmmmm, maybe good for the girls but not the guys. This is one guys will love. So there you go – buy a guy in oyur life this book and listen to hi laugh his way through it. Women will love it too but it rare I know for sure that men will find a book so hilarious. This is one of those rare books that is literally for everyone. 4 stars, great fun.