THE LONG DRUNK by Eric Coyote

The tag line says ‘Ultra Noir Crime Fiction’.  Well, not so much.   Maybe Ultra Soiled Crime Fiction.

It features a former NFL football player, James Murphy, who is homeless and an alcoholic.  Possibly both by choice.  He lives in Venice, California, and along with a cast of castoffs from Central Casting, (see what I did there?) roams the streets constantly on the lookout for booze.  He is accompanied by his furry friend of ten years, a dog named Betty.

Betty gets hit by a car, and after rushing her to a vet in the shopping cart of one of his buddies, after emergency surgery, the vet tells him that the damage is enormous, plus the operation revealed that she is riddled with cancerous tumors, and he will put her to sleep for free, but the ortho and cancer treatments would run about $15,000, and the doc will keep the dog for a week, and that’s all.  Well,  Murphy has about as much chance of coming up with $15,000 as being signed on another NFL team, so he despairs.

But then the cops come around and make a sweep of the street bums to try to get any possible information out of them as to an unsolved murder of a local resident.  Of course, nobody knows nuttin’, but Murphy sees a police poster offering a $25,000 reward for info leading to the capture of the murderer.  Murphy gets the idea he can solve the case, get that reward money, pay the vet and save his dog.

The rest of the book is about this unwashed street person trying to solve the case in order to save his dog.

It is humorous, clever, poignant, and lots of other things, none of them actually being ultra noir.  It gives us a glimpse into life on the streets, and into the mindset of an alcoholic beatup ex football player.  Not even a bad mystery, now that I think about it.

‘There’s no administration costs, so all of it will go for bourbon.’

 

 

 

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IN THE DARKNESS THAT’S WHERE I’LL KNOW YOU by Luke Smitherd

“There are hangovers, there are bad hangovers, and then there’s waking up inside someone else’s head. Thirty-something bartender Charlie Wilkes is faced with this exact dilemma when he wakes to find finds himself trapped inside The Black Room; a space consisting of impenetrable darkness and a huge, ethereal screen floating in its center. It is through this screen that he sees the world of his female host, Minnie.

How did he get there? What has happened to his life? And how can he exist inside the mind of a troubled, fragile, but beautiful woman with secrets of her own? Uncertain whether he’s even real or if he is just a figment of his host’s imagination, Charlie must enlist Minnie’s help if he is to find a way out of The Black Room, a place where even the light of the screen goes out every time Minnie closes her eyes…”

This was one freaking weird book.  Well, no, not the book, but the idea.  A guy wakes up to find himself in a black space, which he eventually decides is the mind of a woman he has never met.

OK, I am trying to figure out how to describe more of the plot.  Just let me say it involves some kind of regressive action, him being him being him being him and her and different lives or worlds or …. I give up.

It was great for about half the book, then got just a little too too, and then ended definitely too too.  Maybe I am grousing because I didn’t fully follow it, fully understand it.  I am a simple peasant after all.

It kind of defies genre.  That’s what I like about a lot of the new works — they are not specifically romance, or mystery, or sci fi, etc.  this was originally written in four parts, then eventually put together in one volume and issued as a single book.  The writing was good, and the idea definitely something really different.

I read his Physics of the Dead  quite some time ago,and loved it.  You can see what I said about it here.  What I said about it was a whole lot more than what I have said about this offering, because, well, because waking up inside someone else’s head where the walls seem to be the physical mind of the person, and there are multiple universes is hard to have a conversation about, wouldn’t you say?

Side note:  Doesn’t ‘universe’ mean one verse?  As in uni being the prefix for single, or one?  So therefore, I should be saying ‘there are multiverses’, not ‘there are multiple universes’.  Food for thought, as if waking up in someone else’s mind isn’t enough food for thought for one post.

 

MURDER AT THE ART & CRAFT FAIR by Steve Demaree

Another one of the series of chubby Lt. Cy Dekker cozy mysteries. Number 6, in fact.  This one was even cozier than usual.  Kind of Extreme Cozy, if you follow.

Lt. Dekker has seen his doctor, who has insisted our boy lose weight or face dire health consequences, so he has taken up exercise by Wii, and is cutting calories.

Lots of light banter, boring detailed descriptions of the days and the food and the non-mystery related activities.   Lt. Dekker has found a lady friend, and it would seem that the heaviest romantic stuff are long kisses.  Improbable, but definitely not offensive to the prim and proper readers.

Actually, it was almost halfway through the book before we got to the mystery, and what a lame one this was.  As seems the usual case with the Dekker series, you can never guess the perpetrator because it is always someone not part of the story, some peripheral character that we never get to hear about until the last 15 pages.  So kind of like cheating.

In the series, Dekker’s partner, Lou, always has a ‘clue’ that pops into his head, some quote, or meaningless phrase, that usually has to be stretched beyond belief to have anything to do with the investigation in any way.  The clues in this volume were worse than usual.

Anyway, a vendor at the fair is murdered by being bopped on the head in his tent after everyone else went home.  And for the stupidest reason that didn’t even make any sense.

I have one more in the series to read, and I think I will pass on it.  Looks like Dekker is going to lose weight and get married to his chaste lady love whose sole attraction seems to be her tendency to one-liners.

So many books, so little lifetime.

 

 

OVER TUMBLED GRAVES by Jess Walter

“In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing over the tumbled graves. ”  — T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

A while ago, I read the second volume in this Caroline Mabry detective series, (Land of the Blind),  and I liked it sooo much that I acquired the first book.

Over Tumbled Graves has a different feel to it – more detective-y and less novel-y.  In it, in the unlikely venue of Spokane, Washington,  we meet Caroline Mabry, 36, single, skirting around an affair with her former mentor Detective Dupree, who is married,  without having actually committed to it.  This dance started six years ago after she shot a drunk wife abuser at a domestic call, and Dupree came to ‘fix’ the scene so it would be sure to be a good shoot.

Now, she botches a drug sting in the local park, chases the two perps to the narrow walkway over the falls, one of the perps pushes the other off the bridge into the roiling water, and stands there giving Caroline the choice of shooting him or trying to rescue the fallen man.  She choses rescue, and although she is unsuccessful, and the pushed guy disappears downriver, she is now caught up in a complicated serial killer situation, in which the guy who pushed that other guy seems to be killing prostitutes and leaving their bodies to be found in various locations along the banks of the river.

When it becomes apparent that the first body found was not simply a ‘one-off’ after another was found, with the same arrangement, a task force is convened, and FBI profilers called in to help.  As we might suspect, those of us who have watched with skepticism shows like Criminal Minds, much as profilers would like us to believe there is a science to this, it is clear there is not.  We watch in fascination as the FBI guy, a media attention whore if there ever was one, dukes it out with a retired FBI profiler from New Orleans, who is frankly, somewhat creepy.

The crimes evolve from two threads.  One is a small time criminal who wants to avenge the death of his prostitute girl friend, and the other involves, as so often happens, commercial property interests.

Great plot, with the requisite flawed detective.  This time, not a divorced alcoholic, but an emotionally challenged young woman trying to figure out the morals and ethics of her life.

ELEGY FOR APRIL by Benjamin Black

This is the third in the Pathologist Quirke series by Irish writer Black which is the pen name for John Banville.  I am beginning to understand this series  is not really a mystery series featuring an interesting principle character, but  a series about the life of Quirke with a side order of a mystery included.

Now Quirke, who fell down the alcoholic rabbit hole after the events in the last book, The Silver Swan,   is at the House of St. John of the Cross, a “refuge for addicts of all kinds, for shattered souls and petrifying livers,” where he’d checked in after a six-month drinking binge he could barely remember.   His daughter Phoebe tells him that April, one of her friends, is missing.  Or is she? She is an up and coming young Doctor, related to a wealthy, prominent family whose lives are immersed in Medicine and Politics. By all appearances their good name and social standing are far more important than solving the mystery of what might have happened to their daughter, their niece, their granddaughter. Phoebe and April are part of a larger circle comprised mostly of young Doctors, medical students, a journalist and a rather famous young actress. They are split on the issue if anything untoward has occurred at all. April has a reputation for indiscretion.

But the deeper Quirke, and his old pal Inspector Hackett dig into the mystery surrounding April Latimer’s last days before she disappeared, the more they are convinced someone is going to great lengths to cover-up a terrible crime. Long before DNA and CSI this one will have to be solved the old fashioned way—with intelligence.

Not a bad mystery, with an interesting quirky ending.

 

THE SILVER SWAN by Benjamin Black

As you may recall, I told you that Benjamin Black is the pen name of Man Booker Prize winner John Banville.  This ‘genre’ series, part detective story, part literary fiction, part soap opera,  starring Quirke, the pathologist,  started with Christine Falls, which I talked about here.

In this next installment, it is two years hence.  The hard drinking Quirke is no longer drinking, the sister of his dead wife, whom he always secretly wished he had married, has died of a brain tumor, his foster father, the Judge, is gaga in a nursing home, his brother-in-law, the ob/gyn Mal is morbid and bumbling around his empty house, and the daughter, who had been told was the daughter of Sarah and Mal, is actually Quirke’s daughter, and is pretty much not speaking to him.

Quirke is approached by an old school mate to request a favor.  His wife, Lauren Swan, (her chosen name) was found on the rocks, naked, in the local river, her clothes neatly folded on the seat of her car.  Obvious suicide.  But the guy asks Quirke not to do the required autopsy.  He is so distraught that Quirke agrees; but does one anyway. He finds an unusual drug in her blood stream, and no water in the lungs.  She did not drown.  Hmmm.

Lauren Swan has pulled herself out of the Flats, an area which Americans would call the Projects, married a decent guy (the friend of Quirke), and has started a business, a beauty salon which offered massages, beauty treatments of various sorts, lotions, potions and all kinds of stuff.  She had a partner, basically a scam artist, who had the ability and charm to pull in the customers.   She met a strange man, a Dr. Kreutz, who styled himself a spiritual healer.  Quirke’s daughter also met the business partner, threads among threads, and as these threads become interwoven, the plot becomes more and more interesting.

As the book closes, our boy puts all the threads and clues together and solves the mystery of Lauren Swan’s death.  Except he doesn’t.  He gets it all totally and completely wrong.

Great plot!

 

DEMIURGE-Blood of the Innocent by Michael R. Hagan

The law of averages dictate, with all the baseless predictions and educated guesses made throughout mankind’s recorded existence, some of these will have proven accurate, many others quite the opposite.  There have however  been examples of auguries or predictions which transpired to be uncannily accurate, describing events and unfolding consequences in such detail, the last remaining defense for any skeptic is the classic, vaticinatio post eventum*…. That they were in fact fraudulently created after the incidents described took place.”

This is one of those mashups of detective mystery, paranormal spirit/demon/god story, The DaVinci Code tale, thriller, archeologically-based plot that partners a somewhat loose cannon homicide detective who has some kind of special foresight or insight abilities, with a respected archeologist working in a dig in Iran, against an entity which we are not sure until the end is a demon, a god, THE god, some universal force, or what.  But this entity believes that mankind has ruined everything and the only way to cure the world is by spilling the blood of the innocent.  This entity has fathered a son with a Nigerian virgin teenager, who dies in childbirth.  The child is found to have some kind of crazy special abilities, such as curing ailments, wounds and injuries, and special foreknowledge.

Yeah, see what I mean?

The detective is called to a murder scene where an entire family has been brutally murdered and placed at their dining room table set as if for a party.  Fingerprints reveal the perpetrator to be a resident of a local psychiatric institute.  Also a resident at this institute is a former preacher, who is now apparently in thrall to the entity, and has as his life’s mission to kill the special boy.  The baby born to the teenage mother, who is now 9 years old),  has been placed in an obscure group foster home for his safety.

The archeologist and his team at last uncover a buried room in a cave in Iran which has cuneform symbols all around it making predictions.  And those same strange symbols were found painted in blood at the murder scene.  An attempt to learn their meaning is what brings together the archeologist and the detective.

The idea is that the entity inserted himself into various places and situations during the growth of civilization in order to create the events that were prophesied.   So we bounce around in the book between the archeological dig, the homicide investigation, the growing problem of protecting the boy, and flashbacks to the entity’s efforts throughout the ages.

As one reviewer put it, “Very Dark, very gnostic, very intense.”   And another calls it a horror thriller with pseudo-mystical trappings that the author outlines in a broad-brush introduction of the ancient myths.”   Yeah, that pretty much covers it.

*or Vaticinium ex eventu,   “prophecy from the event”),  a technical theological or historiographical term referring to a prophecy written after the author already had information about the events being “foretold”. The text is written so as to appear that the prophecy had taken place before the event, when in fact it was written after the events supposedly predicted. Vaticinium ex eventu is a form of hindsight bias.