Grifter’s Game (Lawrence Block)

Rating 4/5

Grifter’s Game previously published as Mona cements my love of the noir genre, indeed Grifter's Gamethree out the last four books I have read have all fallen in to noir, if you look at my good reads profile (Markdini) you may notice a string noir novels to be read. So not only is The Hard Case Crime books a must for me there are a must for fans of detective fiction from the 1940’s up to the present day. I will go one further and name the out the last four book I have read including Grifter’s Game have all be from the Hard Case Crime label the moving tale of loss and the only Stephen King book I have enjoyed Joyland, The story of ex porn star come femme-fatale Angel Dare in Money Shot which is a solid modern tale of mobsters, the porn industry and money.

Exploring the femme-fatale theme Block’s Grifter’s game follows likable con man Joe Marlin, who hops from hotel to hotel stealing and grifting his way through life. Until he “borrows” the wrong mans suitcases. What’s more there is dame who is to Joe but will Joe do what is needed to keep Mona?

Block is a master of his genre Grifter’s Game is example of noir from the 60’s that holds well now. Joe Marlin develops through out the book and when the ending comes although you may not agree with Marlin you can understand how he got there. Block’s character development and story arc is tight the book weighs in at a mere 200 pages. Block writes with a rhythm akin to Elroy, in fact Block is somewhat darker than Elroy in places.

At he heart of Grifter’s Game is how far would a man go for love? And how far would someone go to be free? Despite it’s brevity Grifter’s game incorporates more in to it’s pages than most stories double the length can muster, a true testament to Block’s writing.

My Life As A White Trash Zombie

Rating 3/5

 

I’ve made references to the zombie zeitgeist in my review of The Girl With All The Gifts, sMy Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowlando I wont cover the old ground in this review but the zombie genre isn’t going anywhere just yet.

Diana Rowland’s 1st in the White Trash Zombie series, My Life As A White Trash Zombie. Takes the zombie trope and presents it from the zombie’s perspective. The best use of this I have seen is the film, Wasting Away, low budget B movie comedy horror at it’s best.

Rowland’s White Trash Zombie, Angel Crawford is down on her luck, recently woken up in hospital, with no memory how she got there, a hunger for brains and a mysterious note with instructions on how to embark on a new job at the Coroner’s office. Angel is turning her life around with a job, a deadbeat father  and dropout boyfriend in tow. But someone is on the decapitation, killing the residents of Angel’s small tow

Angel’s assent in to a normal life albeit as a zombie comes across as rather slapdash in someways it reads as an addict trying to recover only to be replaced with another addiction. It is a vehicle that assists in  driving the story but sometimes it becomes over stated short of stating: “Braaaaaaaaiiiiiiins” on every page, Rowland makes sure the reader knows Angel is a zombie, she reminds us every page.

The white trash element of the story seems tacked on and Angel never really comes across as white trash in the true definition of the label. A high school dropout who purports not to be smart as an impressive vocabulary of someone who isn’t that well read with an ability to reason and apply logic that would  make most chess grand masters blush. This element could have been fleshed out (pardon the pun) . Living in a shack with beer cans in the garden doesn’t really explore the white trash condition. And as this is a key selling point of the story, the reader is somewhat sold short on this narrative, maybe I like my stereotypes too much.

The story unfolds as you would imagine and the plot is the standard murder mystery that is often found in the urban fantasy market, “someone is killing our kind” but it is good enough to keep the story on track, there is a bit of background on Angel and her life at home that helps build Angel in to sympathetic character.  Angel could have been a lot more sassy along the lines of Anita Blake but Rowland was clever in the writing of Angel and allows the reader to line their sympathy with her.

My Life As A White Trash Zombie paves the way for the series it makes some mistakes along the way and Angel isn’t a fully developed character, but if you are a fan of urban fantasy there would be no shame in giving this a read.

Joyland by Stephen King a book review

Ratting 4/5

So if you have read my review of Titanic Thompson the man who bet on everything.you will know I have an affinity for the grifter and con-man being interested in such matters, I also have a passing interested in carnivals (fun fairs if you are from UK like me). If you have been following this blog you will also know that I am a fan of noir as Money Shot by Christa Faust and The Moving Target will attest to, you may also might have noticed a like a good horror story along the lines of A Head full of Ghost. You might have also have read that me and Stephen King have not the best relationship Stephen King’s IT: A book that that I couldn’t finish. So if you take a Noir story set it at a carnival, with a ghost written by Stephen King, I am not going to know what to to, could I suffer another 280ish pages of King again?

Joyland at it’s heart is a murder story against a backdrop of a carnival the titular Joyland. Add a dying child in a wheelchair who has a gift (I believe the King fans will call the is the shining), mix  in a young man’s story of love that was lost, drop in a story of friendship, whisk then add a ghost. You have one of the most unique pieces of noir fiction released by the Hard Case Crime Publishing house.

It’s hard to review Joyland with out spoilers and it is a story that I want you discover on your own. I would be doing you a disservice if I told you too much.

Devin Jones, has just had his heart broken by a woman, he decides to get a summer job at Joyland to take his mind of things. The old timers of the carnival speak of a murder in the fun house, Devin decides to delve deeper, whats more there is talk of a ghost as well.

Now in his 60’s Devin tells his story of working  at Joyland way back in 1973. Devin’s story covers loss, love and untimely closure, King weaves his story with enough carny slang draw you in to the world of the carnival, he brings the emotions to table and sets out a truly moving story. That’s all you need to know before you pick this up, fans of Kings non horror will enjoy this, fans of noir will enjoy this too, it might not be the hard boiled we know but it works.

Joyland  does 3 things.

  1. questions what  exactly is noir
  2. Sets up enough emotion to move and hook the reader
  3. Achieves the status of being a Stephen King book I like

Not being a King fan in a world where most Horror readers are, I may be a minority but Joyland is one of Kings works to the Contrary.  Enough elements to keep everyone’s interest going. And not a demonic clown in sight.

Money Shot by Christa Faust a book review

Product DetailsRating: 4.5/5

Smut, when I was a lad in the early to mid 90’s porn was a taboo subject, Pammy and her sex tape was doing the rounds on VHS and for a young lad like me if you wanted boobs on the box, venture on to channel 5 late at night you would be treated to such films as Private Obsession, Lady in waiting or a whole host of Mills and Boone rejected titles. Other than that there was usually torn-up copy of readers wives in a bush somewhere.

Then the internet exploded: porn, blue movies smut, holiday snaps, party films; well they become main stream. The girls of porn went to Hollywood. Porn was no longer a taboo. With that in mind Christa Fuast’s Money Shot explores what happens when porn goes main stream, what happens to the stars when they are washed-up, all wrapped up in a neo-noir mid 2000’s tale. Of murder, sex trafficking and the somewhat sleazy side of L.A.

Faust introduces us to her reluctant fem-fettle Angel Dare by having our heroine locked in the trunk of a car. Angel’s story unfolds, now a retired porn star and owning her own talent agency. Angel is asked to do one more job, you know for old times sake, for a friend he will pay big and put her on the cover of the DVD too. How can she refuse?

And that is the set-up to one of the best noir stories i have read for a while, conjuring up Thompson, MacDonald and chandler all at once Faust creates a world that is a contrast of darkness and light. A contrast that runs alongside Dare throughout the book. It is a bit paint by numbers at times but that is why we read noir, it is familiar. Dare is both Sassy and vulnerable. Able to deliver lines such as :

“My brain had decided enough was enough. It had simply put on a hat picked up two suitcases, and fucked off to parts unknown.”

It is easy to take something as porn and turn it in to a postcard pastiche a carry-on film if you will. But Faust stays away from this, porn can be seedy and porn can take it’s toll on the body. Faust explains this but it never comes across as a hatchet job. The book at the time of writing is 9 years old, time moves fast in the digital world. Faust manages to catch the mid 2000’s porn scene and display it for all in the book. Now dear reader for a book about porn stars you may think this would be one of your full on, pre fifty shades novels, sex on every page, people reading it behind a copy of Cosmo. But no, you will need to get your thrills of that nature some where else.

The subject matter may turn some off (no pun intended) but this is a tightly plotted, action packed piece of noir that fans of the genre should embrace.

Stephen King’s IT: A book that that I couldn’t finish

ItThis isn’t a review as such, more of reason why I didn’t finish IT. Apparently in the Good Reads/book tube community (you tube but people talk about how many book they own on their videos). Did not finish is a thing or more commonly known as #DNF.

Now to me I like to finish a book I like to find out what happens as we all do when we pick a book to read and if you purchased a book you have made two investments :

  1. Money – now if you a decent income and you are on not on the breadline then every month you will get more money. The glories of work, which i have spoken about in other posts,
  2. Time – I am now 35, as some one pointed out to me I am nearly 40 time is something I am aware of is a finite resource. To quote King him self from on writing “I haven’t got time to read a bad book” or words to that effect

 

And why carrying on doing something you don’t enjoy? So i got to page 495 of It and it was hard going according to my Good Reads i started reading the adventures of Stuttering Bill and his friends on 31st of March it is now the 23rd Of April. To say I have not been invested in this book is an understatement. As books weighing over 500 Pages I have finished in the shorter amounts of time. It comes in at at lofty 1376 pages.

That’s the problem there is a lot of not much happening in the book, it just seems to go on and on, sometime there will be the aforementioned It on the murder (as my granny would say, “That fella he was on the murder, they nicked him for it”). Or It will scare someone but there is a lot of nothing.

If you don’t know the story there is a killer clown stalking a small town, killing children, a group of kids find out about this, get on with their lives only to get drawn back when they are adults when the killings start happening again.

King does touch on a few themes too. Domestic abuse, homophobia, the shattered american dream.

Maybe it just wasn’t for me after all not everyone likes Rock n’ roll music. But as the man himself said “I haven’t got time to read a bad book”. Sometimes you need to move away from the guilt of not finishing a book, give that book to charity and move on to the next book, as per reasons one and two above.

March Reading Retrospective

In March I blazed my way through 7 books, I was lucky as 6 of them were good reads. Here’s how I got on;

        Station Eleven 

Product DetailsThe first book I picked-up in March was Emily St-John Mandel’s excellent take on a post apocalyptic. fusing a sense of wonder and lost together for a world without society, electricity or modern trappings. Each character joins the dots to brilliant 3rd act

Station Eleven

 

The Girl With All The Gifts 

Product DetailsNext it was M.R Carey’s fantastic take on the Zombie story. Like Mandel’s Station Eleven above it focuses on the a post apocalyptic world and  a group of survivors with a small zombie
child in tow

The Girl With All The Gifts

 

The Troop

Product DetailsNext up to bat was Nick Cutter’s The Troop, a cross between Lord Of The Flies and Slither. unfortunately for me this fell flat. unlikable characters and it had a feel of being done before.

The Troop 

 

 

The Name Of The Wind

Product Details

Time for some high fantasy in Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name Of The wind. Losses it pace in  the middle but beginning and ending more than make up for it. Even if the main character is annoyingly perfect.

The Name Of The Wind

 

The Moving Target

Product DetailsTime to get hard boiled in Ross MacDonald’s Moving Target. Introducing Lew Archer investigating his first case. Money, kidnap and religious cults are all used in this classic noir story.

The Moving Target

Fight Club

Product DetailsChuck Palahniuck’s debut novel, left it’s mark on culture and had everyone quoting from it. A social commentary of the 90’s that still stands 20 years latter.

Fight Club A book review

 

Titanic Thompson

Product DetailsLast up was Kevin Cook’s treatment of Titanic Thompson’s life. Profiling the highs and lows of the the greatest conman of the 20th of century. In one with a pass interest in hustling, conmen, golf or even American folk heroes.

Titanic Thompson

 

 

And there you have it not a bad month for reading, six solid books and one that fell flat percentage wise that is good odd as Titanic Thompson would say.

Titanic Thompson the man who bet on everything. Kevin Cook (a book review

Rating 4/5 

 

Titanic Thompson by Kevin Cook

Before the email scams, before the internet scams, before people hacked face book and before ransom were scams. There were the grifter the honest to god conman. Names like Soapy Smith, Minnesota Fats, Amarillo Slim, hustling pool, sharping cards, hustling golf pros out of thousands travelling up and down the continental USA. Out of all these men and women who plied their trade offering bets with impossible odds and sure things. One man stood out among them all, the best of the best of the road gamblers; Titanic Thompson.

Kevin Cook’s biography tells the tale of the gentleman conman who travelled America making and losing more money in a lifetime then most could dream about. Thompson , golf hustler, card cheat, crack shot and master of the prop bet. Titanic’s story is set against a back drop of prohibition America, pool halls, back room poker games, Hollywood and swanky hotels. Thompson blazed across the states in his Packard, loaded with his.45, a set of of golf clubs both left and right handed and what every man who makes his living gambling a suitcase full of money.

Titanic is the romanticised grifter if there ever was one. Rubbing shoulders with the great and the good. Everyone from Howard Hughes to the local sheriff most people move in Thompson’s circle.

Cook’s portrayal of Thompson to the reader seems a little far fetched. The reader if they have had no knowledge of the conman’s modus_operandi would question what Titanic and his friends managed to get away with. The story can read somewhat fantastical. According to Cook it is true except one key scene that Cook reviles in the last part of the third act.

Many years I have spent learning the card sharp skills that Cook describes that Titanic executed poker games. I’ve never had the bravery to pull them of in a live game, most card cheating happens in private games Titanic him self said “It is to difficult to cheat in Vegas”. The card manipulation Titanic achieves is certainly real and can be done with practise. But where Titanic exceeds is golf hustles.

I am not a fan of Golf, it’s neither a sport I would sit down and watch let alone play, I have heard golfers wax lyrical of the game. I am in the Mark Twain camp of “Golf is a good walk spoilt”. In fact I have now read three books where golf features prominent; Alice Cooper’s Golf Monster which reads across between Autobiography and gold manual, James Ellroy’s first novel Browns Requiem and now Kevin Cook’s Titanic Thompson.

A mark of an excellent writer is to keep his audiences interest even when the reader has no interest in the subject. Cook by no means had me reaching for the Nine Iron I have ever enjoyed the golf scenes Cook puts to paper.

Like all Folk heroes when wrote about the author can fall in to the trap of sycophancy. Cook skirts in to this a couple of times but never fully immersing him self hero worship as soon as he treads the water he heads back to shore.

Thompson’s life had everything, wealth, women , friends, fans the twist at the end is a tragic ending that anyone can have. Cook knows his subject well and conjurers up the sympathy for his hero.

Cook’s biography on Thompson has a little bit of everything. But the characters larger than life and real are the reason the reader will invest their time in Titanic’s story. He took a few more years to sink than his name sake, but faded almost obscurity now. Cook helps bring the story of a remarkable man back in to lexicon of the conman. Forget your Ponzi and Madoff Thompson was charming good crook, a man who killed five people his charm never waned.

A worthwhile read of an American folk hero