Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Round up 2006

In this post are several short posts concerning books that arrived at the CSS offices in 2006 but that we never got around to for various reasons. Some are small presses. Some are large presses. All are available now.

UNDER A RAGING MOON by Frank Zafiro, Wolfmont Press, £6.99 ISBN: 978-0977840212

Zafiro's debut novel has shades of McBain's 87th precinct and Wambaugh's informed and deliciously real procedural novels. Indeed, like Wambaugh Zafiro is an ex-cop whose own experiences inform his fiction. When it comes to procedure and the daily life of a police officer, Zafiro is spot on.
While the novel's narrative thrust is hung on a central investigation, the focus is primarily on the lives of our cop protagonists and the kind of regular-joe police work that makes up their day. There's a lot to commend Zafiro for - his character work, the excellently executed set pieces including an officer shooting and the violent intervention into a case of domestic violence - but unfortunately the central case lacks the spark needed to really bring this debut roaring into the world (I could never figure why a semingly standard stick up guy - even if his violence is escalating - demanded so much attention from the local cops) and the narration doesn't have the zing of Wambaugh to pull you past the lack of focus that is naturally an effect of this more realistic procedural form.

One to watch, for sure, but it may take Zafiro a few more novels before he finds that absolute and defining voice that could make this genre his own.

HOLMES ON THE RANGE by Steve Hockensmith, St Martin's Press, $24.99/£16.99 ISBN 978-0312347802

Witty, perfectly balanced and somehow laugh out loud funny without ever losing its humamity, Hockensmith's debut novel is a delight for Western fans and followers of Sherlock Holmes and his deducfyin' ways. The Amerlyinger brothers, a pair of cowboys who follow the adventures of Holmes through his assistant's chronicles in the magazines, get the chance to follow in their hero's footsteps when they're hired to work on a ranch. There's murder and corruption afoot and that kind of thing wouldn't sit well in 221 Baker Street, never mind out on the range.

Hockensmith has paid his dues with several short stories and he carries that singular, gentle wit through here in a debut that is not only a great Holmes pastiche, but a damn fine tale all of its own.

BABYSHARK by Robert Fate, Capital Crime Press, $14.95 ISBN: 978-0977627691

Set in 1950's Texas, Robert Fate's debut novel is a hardboiled adventure with a dark side. When Kirstin's father is murdered and she's raped by a gang of bikers, she finds herself irrevocably damaged and seeking revenge. She trains herself to become an angel of vengeance and sets out to punish those she considers guilty.

Fate's narrative is convincing and the period detail is excellent. Kirstin and the supporting cast are built up admirably and the novel paces itself so that we find ourself making the same emotional journey. Anger. Anticipation. Realisation. Because, as she finds herself coming closer to the revenge she craves she finds that revenge is not so cut and dried and serious questions must be asked.

The novel perhaps skimps a little on the moral explanation as it moves swiftly towards its climax, becoming a cool action novel, which almost dilutes the horror of the crime committed at the begining. But Babyshark is an excellent start to an intriguing new series, and this reviewer is looking forward to the second novel due out later in 2007.

STREET RAISED by Pearce Hansen, Pointblank Press, £8.95/ISBN: 978-0809556601

Shades of Leonard in this debut novel by Hansen that sees ex-con Speedy trying to adjust to life in the outside world. He makes his way back to detroit, falls in love with a tarot card reader and falls foul or more than a few low-lifes. Like Leonard, Hansen's cast are just trying to get onto the ladder of American life, and the author manages to evoke their struggles with just the right amount of humour and cool.

There are some problems: an over the top psycho with a distinctive kind of split personality fails to convince, and seems to have been dropped in from another novel entirely. And some scenes feel a bit too familiar (the tarot reader, for example, and her flirtatious relationship with Speedy feels a very kindred spirit to Dawn Navarro in Riding the Rap), but there's an energy and genuine authenticity in Hansen's witty, gritty and cooly noiresque depiction of life on the streets of Detroit.