Saturday, March 21, 2009

More we missed in 2008

Every year at Crime Scene Scotland we get sent more books than we can handle. Not that we're complaining, mind you. We try and give every one a fair chance of getting read and reviewed, but some get left behind. So at the beginning of each new year a catch up post allows Crime Scene Scotland to give the skinny on those books from last year we missed out on the first time around.

Trigger City By Sean Chercover,

William Morrow, 2008, 978-0061128691, $23.95

Chercover has been up for all the big awards in the last year for his debut, Big City, Bad Blood and deservedly so: the novel breathed new life into the PI genre, one more step in its rejuvenation for the 21st century.

At Crime Scene Scotland, we dug the debut and were hyped to read Trigger City when it came across the welcome mat of the our secret Head Quarters. But it was with an air of uncertainty that we cracked the spine... could it live up to Chercover's debut offering?

The answering is a resounding yes. But more, Trigger City trumps Big City, Bad Blood to a massive degree. The narration, from world weary Chicago investigator Ray Dudgeon feels increasingly confident, the voice clearer and the humour less awkard than before. Chercover's style is massively natural, his voice engagingly human. Ray's personal and professional lives are increasingly developed here, particularly his relationship with (?) that becomes more complex and sometimes heartbreakingly believable as the novel progresses.

But what Chercover does to truly impress is mix this focus on the personal with an unexpected political canvas. It is unusual to read a novel whose focus feels so personal and yet whose scope is massively wide. As Ray investigates the life of a murderer who apparently took his own life, he stumb les across military and political conspiracies with some wide-reaching implications. Its at this point most novels implode under the weight of their own plots, but Chercover's stylish prose and focus on character allows him the leeway to explore larger issues within the scope of his thriller and not lose his characters in the bigger picture.

Trigger City merely confirms what those of us who read Big City, Bad Blood already knew: if there's any justice in the world, Sean Chercover is destined for great things.

The Drop Off by Patrick Quinlan

Headline, 2008, 9780755335497, £19.99

Quinlan's easy going style that wore its influences on the page in Smoked, before beginning to loosen its inspirational shackles in The Takedown here begins to feel utterly natural, a voice that has very much become the author's own. While still recalling the cool of Elmore Leonard, Quinlan adds his own spin to the cool, laconic voice and easygoing storytelling to create a thriller that simply flies by.

And as cool as it is, Quinlan never forgets that for all their posturing, his characters are real human beings. Returning to "Smoke" Duggan, his on-off, karate-expert love interest Lola and their partners in crime from SMOKED, Quinlan manages to evolve their relationships, creating a dynamic that flows from his earlier novel and yet changes the stakes for everyone involved. Sure, we'd all love to live in a cool-as-ice gangster movie, but what Quinlan does is cleverly show us the true downsides, especially when he takes the opportunity to get inside Lola's head as she tries to sort out the Smoke Duggan she thought she knew from the man he really is. And while Pamela, who's definitely digging being the girlfriend of a criminal named Cruz, seems to buy into the fantasy, her occasional realisation of the reality of her situation add more depth not simply to her character but to the novel as well.

Not that The Drop Off isn't also great fun, because it is: the action moves fast and the dialogue and set pieces retain that Leonard/Tarrantino hybrid that's fast become Quinlan's trade mark. The Drop Off is great fun, and Quinlan is one of those crime writers who just leaves you with a great big damn smile on your face.

The Deceived by Brett Battles

Preface Books, 2008, 9781848090286, £6.99

We'd still buy his books for the author name alone, but luckily Battles is one of those gifted thriller writers whose works keep the pages turning.

The second Jonathan Quinn finds the erstwhile cleaner going freelance following the events in The Cleaner, and still training up his apprentice, Nate. But when Quinn's latest job involves getting rid of the corpse of an old friend, he finds himself back in the dangerous underworld of conspiracies and government agencies with shady agendas.

Battles' style is fast, simple and clean: like reading a great action movie, you have a real sense of pace and character. And while the action is often thrilling, Battles never forgets about the characters in the midst of the chaos and nicely develops both major and secondary characters, even if the two potential femme-fatales - who sometimes feel a little more like MacGuffins than real people, but then maybe this is how Quinn sees them - come across as a little underdeveloped compared to many of the other characters in the book. Luckily, Quinn's developing relationship with the deadly beauty Orlando makes up for this, and when it counts, Battles really knows how to put his leads through the ringer.

The Cleaner was one of our favourite action thrillers of the past few years, and with The Decieved, Battles continues to entertain and get us turning those pages in a feverish anticipation of wanting to know what happens next...

Empty Ever After by Reed Farrel Coleman

Bleak House Books, 9781932557657, $14.95

One of the things that continues to impress us with the Moe Prager mysteries - whether Coleman intended this from the beginning or not - is how tightly connected each book in the series is. While they can be read alone, the emotional impact is even more impressive when you understand what has gone before.

If there is a central theme throughout the Prager books it seems to be that the past never truly dies; it is always reaching out to the future, as thought desperate to drag us back. And in no book has this been so self-evident than in Empty Ever After, which hearkens back to events in the first of the series, Walking The Perfect Square.

Coleman's writing is gripping, and his psychology fascinating. The Prager books have been among the most intriguing and unquely structured detective novels we've read in a long time, and Empty Ever After confirms and continues that impression. If there is one word of warning, we would say that its advisable to have read at least Walking the Perfect Square (available in reprint from Busted Flush Press along with Redemption Street and The James Deans) before starting this latest entry. Not only because its a wonderful novel in its own right, but doing so only enhances the emotional impact that drives Moe headlong into this investigation of his own past.

Russel D McLean for Crime Scene Scotland, 1/04/09