The Max

THE MAX is the third installment from Hard Case Crime of the Max and Angela series by the transatlantic tag team of Ken Bruen and Jason Starr. Like its predecessors — 2006’s BUST and 2007’s SLIDE — it’s fast, violent, sexy, outrageous fun. In other words, just the thing to fill a late-summer afternoon on the beach, hammock or backyard.

Max Fisher, a former New York CEO reborn as a drug trafficker, has been arrested and sentenced to prison. But he’s outraged to learn that instead of some cushy, white-collar Club Fed, he’ll be doing time at Attica. Max, you see, is powered completely by self-delusion. He absolutely reeks of it. But just as he fears the worst for his fate in prison, stories of a castration/murder he merely witnessed are mistakenly attributed to his actions.

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The Lost Luggage Porter

Come with me back to a time when railroads were the predominant form of transportation, when telephones were newfangled, when the mail was delivered four times a day, when streetlamps were gaslit, and it was the Age of Steam. Go back to the year 1906 as envisioned by Andrew Martin in his THE LOST LUGGAGE PORTER, and lose yourself in this engrossing tale of the North Eastern Railway and newly appointed railway detective Jim Stringer.

Stringer is now an official detective at the York Station (he was an amateur in the first two books of the series, THE NECROPOLIS RAILWAY and THE BLACKPOOL HIGHFLYER), and early on, we see him laboriously reading the police manual cover to cover, hoping to do well on the job. But he’s in for a surprise, as his boss assigns him to deep undercover work, and there is little in the manual on how to behave like a criminal in order to catch criminals.

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CAPES, COWLS & COSTUMES >> Let’s Go Out to the Movies …

Better yet, let’s not go out to the movies! Twelve bucks for a ticket, another $12 to $15 for eats, plus babysitters and parking … then the movie has to compete with other people’s conversations, cell phones, crying babies, shrieking children and talking back to the screen. And for all that, you get maybe two hours of so-called “entertainment.”

Just read the book instead!

It’s practically a given that the blockbuster film du jour — and most lesser epics — will be novelized. A novel based on any film featuring a comic book character is a sure bet. And, more often than you would imagine, the novels are better than the movies they’re based on. Because while a movie takes your eyes places they’ve never seen before (“You’ll believe a man can fly”), a novel transports your mind to deeper and richer places through the power of imagination. Instead of showing the story, the novel tells it, trusting your mind to interpret and visualize the people and events. And your mind’s got an even bigger budget than Warner Bros! A novel can also veer off into diversions such as backstories, providing depth and texture to characters and their motivations.

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SEARCH ME >> 8.08

A sampling of some of the bizarro search terms with (thankfully) low numbers that brought people to BOOKGASM over the last 30ish days:

• “spuergril batgril sex”
• “no bra needed”
• “dont hassel hoff”
• “girls get damp when excited”
• “submarine porn classic movie -yellow”
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When David Louis Edelman stormed the science fiction scene in 2006 with INFOQUAKE, he created a one-man subgenre: speculative business-management fiction. On that premise, it could have been the most boring novel ever published. At its heart, it was a story about an aspiring businessman’s effort to create a product that would make him the most successful businessman ever, like every crappy biography about Donald Trump or Bill Gates or whoever.

But because of rigorous world-building, meticulous characterization and the way-awesome future technology he created, Edelman wrote a book in which every chance he took paid off handsomely. It was already pegged as part of the JUMP 225 trilogy, so sequels were a given. Enter MULTIREAL.

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Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form

Like pancakes and maple syrup, the two subjects of Paul Buhle’s JEWS AND AMERICAN COMICS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF AN AMERICAN ART FORM are inexorably linked. Without one, we might not have the other. It’s something I never noticed before, but it’s true, and through words and pictures, Buhle traces their entire history together.

Arranged in four chronological parts, the book begins at the medium’s dawn at the start of the 20th century, where Jewish artists plied their trade in the “yellow” dailies of the era, primarily via pencil-sharp points in editorial cartoons, often in Yiddish. Other than seeing a cartoon with strange-looking symbols in place of English letters, the other revelation is that early Jewish examples of the art form didn’t use dialogue balloons.

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QUICKGASM >> 8.28.08

quickgasmBecause time isn’t always kind: economic reviews in a world full of waste!

At the end to Greg Bear’s THE FORGE OF GOD, Earth was destroyed and humanity had to flee. The surviving adults, helped by a consortium of aliens that had also faced the destroyers, sent their children on a revenge mission to hunt and punish the bad dudes. Sequel ANVIL OF STARS is about the journey of these children, as they hunt for clues, train for the coming assault, debate internally about the morality of their mission, and have a decent amount of teenage sex. Bear is a master in his field, but ANVIL is really a stumper. The majority of the book is slow, if vaguely ominous, and while the universe and characters he’s created are pretty great, the pace of character development is glacial. As the conclusion gets closer, things start to pick up, both plotwise and philosophically. But this would be far superior as a novella or even a series of short stories than a full-blown book. Bear’s writing is as crisp as ever, but not even that can bring ANVIL up to the level normally expected from such a brilliant writer. Head to BLOOD MUSIC or DARWIN’S RADIO to get a better sense of what Bear can accomplish with the written word. —Ryun Patterson

Bart Schneider’s THE MAN IN THE BLIZZARD crams in enough hipster references in the first few pages. That lost my attention faster than if George Bush talked at a Mensa gathering. I get it: You’re hip and “with it.” Its references to Facebook, YouTube and Pitchfork will age the book faster than milk being left out overnight. Augie Boyer is a private eye in Minnesota who comes off as some sort of poetry-spouting pothead Sam Spade. Sadly, it seems everyone in this novel has taken a college course in poetry and aced it, since it’s constantly talked about, to the point of overkill. If I wanted a poetry lesson, I’ll pick up some W.H. Auden. Schneider does not mince words or politics; all Republicans are painted as some crazed group of jackbooted Nazi-like figures who want women to deliver babies live at the Republican National Convention. It does not help that before any of the story finally grabs the reader’s attention, most would have put it down. —Bruce Grossman

If you want to see some of the coolest graphic design of 2008, pick up FORECAST: NOZONE X. If you want to be sent into a spiral of deep depression, also pick up FORECAST: NOZONE X. Two birds, one stone. Part magazine, art book, comic and political polemic, the Nicholas Blechman-edited duotone journal makes sharp points about global warming, carbon footprints, foreign oil and a litany of other hot-button issues via charts, illustrations, cartoons and whatnot. The contributors are quite skilled in crafting cool visuals, but geez, is this subject matter bleak! Decidedly leftist, it struck me as dealing in the kind of fear-mongering that the right is often accused of (and with damned good reason). Even if you agree that the country is screwed up (and it’s hard not to, given all the evidence), this overplays the doom and gloom … and looks awesome while doing it.

As the basis for the Spike TV animated series, Takashi Okazaki’s AFRO SAMURAI: VOLUME 1 is not without plenty of martial-arts action. The lead character is No. 2, a strong, silent type with a ‘fro that actually looks more Carrot Top than any African-American. He’s armed with a sharp sword and out for vengeance for the suckas who killed his father. Heads roll, as in plural, as he looks for and finds the quintuplet monks who have a contract out on his own noggin. As much as I love old-school samurai and kung-fu flicks, this manga is sadly flat. ‘Tis a decent story, but Okazaki’s art is ugly, muddy and sometimes impenetrable because of the dark shading. Or it could just be that this drawing style has never sat well with me.

They say there is comfort in repetition, and OVER & OVER: A CATALOG OF HAND-DRAWN PATTERNS proves that, for more than 250 pages. Edited by Mike Perry, this delightful art book offers a kaleidoscope of visually striking and pleasing patterns from 50 artists, with many presented as full-bleed spreads. Their moods range from totally twisted to buttoned-up and serene, and it’s hard not to get lost while gazing at them, drawn in by their hypnotic pull. Whether simply outrageous or simply beautiful, more than half of these cry out to be framed or co-opted for desktop wallpaper. For anyone who’s ever marveled over the curve of a serif in an original typeface, I strongly recommend this largely letterless and utterly gorgeous tome — a graphic designer’s dream.

Titanic buffs will do backflips over TITANIC: THE LAST GREAT IMAGES even if its author, marine geologist Robert Ballard, doesn’t claim to be one himself. “I don’t go to bed at night and dream of it,” he writes. And yet, he found the damn thing, in 1985. With writer Ian Coutts, he examines the wreckage with a little bit of history and a whole lot of photography in this heavy coffee table book. The vintage pictures and magazine illustrations were of most interest to me, while the numerous underwater photos aren’t super-crisp — then again, submerged as the subject is, how can you expect them to be? If rusty, barnacle-ridden dead ships are your thing, this one’s for you. —Rod Lott

Buy them at Amazon.

BOOK WHORE >> 8.26.08

book whoreShe’s back, pimpin’ out notable new releases to place on your radar!

LEATHER MAIDEN by Joe R. Lansdale — After a scandalous affair costs him his job in Houston, Cason Statler — Gulf War veteran and Pulitzer Prize–nominated journalist — returns home to the small east Texas town of Camp Rapture. Cason is a wreck. He drinks too much, he’s stalking his ex-girlfriend, and he’s wallowing in envy of his successful older brother. To get back on his feet, he takes a job at the local paper, and when he stumbles across his predecessor’s notes on a cold case murder file, he thinks he’s found the thing that’ll keep him out of trouble. No such luck. The further he digs into the case, the more certain he is that the unsolved crime is connected to a series of eerie, inexplicable events that have recently occurred in town. And he knows his suspicions are right on when he finds himself dragged into a deadly game of blackmail and murder that clearly has evil as its only goal.

ACACIA by David Anthony Durham — Born into generations of prosperity, the four royal children of the Akaran dynasty know little of the world outside their opulent island paradise. But when an assassin strikes at the heart of their power, their lives are changed forever. Forced to flee to distant corners and separated against their will, the children must navigate a web of hidden allegiances, ancient magic, foreign invaders and illicit trade that will challenge their very notion of who they are. As they come to understand their true purpose in life, the fate of the world lies in their hands.

IDENTICAL by Ellen Hopkins — Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical down to the dimple. As daughters of a district-court judge father and a politician mother, they are an all-American family … on the surface. Behind the facade each sister has her own dark secret, and that’s where their differences begin. For Kaeleigh, she’s the misplaced focus of Daddy’s love, intended for a mother whose presence on the campaign trail means absence at home. All that Raeanne sees is Daddy playing a game of favorites — and she is losing. If she has to lose, she will do it on her own terms, so she chooses drugs, alcohol, and sex. Secrets like the ones the twins are harboring are not meant to be kept — from each other or anyone else. Pretty soon it’s obvious that neither sister can handle it alone, and one sister must step up to save the other, but the question is: Who?

EMPIRE RISING by Sam Barone — Into this violent, unsettled land come the outcast Korthac and the remnants of his mighty desert fighters. Joining forces with Ariamus and his brutal band of thieves, the invaders set their sights on the biggest prize of all: the burgeoning city of Akkad — already renowned for its riches … and for the courage and wisdom of its two leaders. The former barbarian, Eskkar, and his beloved wife, Trella, face a challenge far more daunting than the savage horde that previously threatened the young city they built together and have sworn to protect. For, while Eskkar roams the land, hoping to bring other towns into his growing empire, an insidious menace is slipping unnoticed into Akkad, intending to wreak havoc from within — to loot and enslave … and bring death.

FIRST DAUGHTER by Eric Van Lustbader — When a terrible accident takes the life of ATF agent Jack McClure’s only daughter, Emma, and his marriage falls apart, Jack blames himself, numbing the pain by submerging himself in work. Then he receives a call from his old friend Edward Carson, who is just weeks from taking the reins as President of the United States when his daughter, Alli, is kidnapped. Because Emma McClure was once Alli’s best friend, Carson turns to Jack, the one man he can trust to go to any lengths to find his daughter and bring her home safely. The search for Alli leads Jack on a road toward reconciliation … and into the path of a dangerous and calculating man. Someone whose actions are as cold as they are brilliant. Whose power and reach are seemingly infinite.

Buy them at Amazon.

The Darker Mask: Heroes from the Shadows

Summer has brought us countless movies about angst-ridden superheroes, so why not anthologies about them, too? On the heels of WHO CAN SAVE US NOW? comes THE DARKER MASK: HEROES FROM THE SHADOWS (also available simultaneously in paperback). Like WHO, MASK is less interested in costumed derring-do than real-life characters. True to its title, it also paints many a picture in a palette colored bleak.

Although some well-known authors contribute to the project — among them, Walter Mosley, Tananarive Due, L.A. Banks and Peter Spiegelman — some of its brighter spots come from lesser-known and unknown talents. Naomi Hirahara’s “Tat Master” refers to a quiet woman who’s run away from something in Japan, but unfortunately has followed her to America.

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Occupational Hazards

Bernard Cockburn is a prick, to put it nicely. As the main character of Jonathan Segura’s modern noir OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS, he’s a reporter for an Omaha alternative weekly newspaper that has a readership of dozens. Cockburn puts forth a lack of effort into his work, until he comes across a crime scene in the ghetto, which leads to a much larger investigation.

He’s there to cover what is a father-daughter hostage situation that does not end pretty and opens up a can of worms of far greater magnitude — namely, a vigilante group of citizens who are trying to take back the streets via intimidation and public ridicule by exposing men who frequent prostitutes by posting their names online.

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