canaryNow that the delightfully outrageous Charlie Hardie series (FUN AND GAMES, HELL AND GONE, and POINT AND SHOOT) is behind him, crime author Duane Swierczynski decided to play it straight with his latest novel, CANARY.

But we’re talking about Swierczynski here, and playing it straight for him is as far from dull and predictable as can be imagined. So, not surprisingly, CANARY is brimming with inventive plotting, wonderfully cynical humor, and white-knuckle suspense as well.

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Don’t Cry, Tai Lake

dontcryDON’T CRY, TAI LAKE is Qui Xiaolong’s seventh book in a series featuring Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau in China. The series started in 2000 with the release of DEATH OF A RED HEROINE and is now up to nine books with the recently released SHANGHAI REDEMPTION.

This is my first Inspector Chen, and while there are some infelicities of text and plot, there’s a certain quality to the book, an atmosphere of peace maybe, or the granite core of Inspector Chen upon which the waves of chaos buffet, or maybe it’s just the frequent use of Chinese-style poetry throughout that lends the book a sense of grace, even while corruption abounds and horrible murders are being committed.

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Trigger Warning

triggerwarningNeil Gaiman takes the title of his third collection of short fiction (joining SMOKE AND MIRRORS and FRAGILE THINGS) from the Internet term that warns of images or content that might upset readers: TRIGGER WARNING. He extends the meaning to everyday life and, as he expresses it in the Introduction, “those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming.”

That’s the effect of the 24 pieces gathered together here in Gaiman’s strongest and most varied short fiction collection yet. And as his many loyal fans know, Gaiman is so much fun to read that we are more than willing to drop through all these dangerous trapdoors.

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A Serpent’s Tooth

serpentstoothWillful Absaroka County, Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire is on the rampage again in A SERPENT’S TOOTH, the ninth entry in Craig Johnson’s outstanding series that has been made into a hit television show on A&E.

There is nothing quite like Longmire on today’s contemporary mystery reading lists. A man of the Western high plains, he charts a full “10” on the Character Meter, along with his colleagues like the representative of the Cheyenne Nation, Henry Standing Bear, and Longmire’s beautiful femme fatale of an undersheriff, the indomitable Victoria “Vic” Moretti.

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Mad Movies with the L.A. Connection

madmoviesIn 1985, I was 14 and at the peak of my obsessive love for MAD magazine. Late that summer, when I read a one-sentence mention in TV GUIDE that a syndicated show titled MAD MOVIES was among that fall’s new fare, I flipped. Finally, something to look forward to in my so-called life!

Imagine my disappointment when MAD MOVIES soon premiered, and under the full title of MAD MOVIES WITH THE L.A. CONNECTION. Not only did the program have zilch to do with my favorite “cheap” mag, but I didn’t find it all that funny, either, no matter how hard its rather desperate laugh track tried to convince me otherwise. (Don’t even get me started on FTV, the woeful MTV parody that shared the hour on my local station.)

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Hush Hush

hushhushIn her latest novel, HUSH HUSH, Laura Lippman brings the kind of emotionally intense and philosophically challenging topics that have distinguished her superb stand-alone crime fiction works to her Tess Monaghan series – the PI mysteries that launched her career several years ago. While its wonderful to see Tess’s character grow and develop, the novel’s overall results are unfortunately less than satisfying.

On a hot summer morning in Baltimore, Melisandra Harris Dawes, a wealthy mother of 3 children, left her two-month old daughter locked in the back seat of her car while she sat nearby. The baby suffocated to death, but in court Melisandra was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Freed, she left the country, her husband and her two surviving daughters, determined to start over.

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3 Film-Related Reads to Capture Your Ripped-Out Heart

theme70Overall, fans of cult cinema should enjoy Mark J. Banville’s THEME ’70: TACKLING THE BEAST THEY CALL EXPLOITATION CINEMA, yet it’s important to note what the trade paperback is and is not. First and foremost, UK publisher Headpress has blessed it with a subtitle that is not truly indicative of the actual contents. That’s because the book, largely reprinted from Banville’s THEME ’70 zine of the early 1990s, offers comparatively very little in the way of words; it works best as a collection of posters and ad mats straight from the kitsch-en sink. When the author does review a movie — most of the flicks covered herald from blaxploitation — it’s short and sweet and really more of a plot summary than actual opinion. That’s not a complaint, because the book is a ton of fun, but being more collage than criticism hardly qualifies as “tackling the beast”; in other words, expect images, not insight. I would have liked to have seen an introduction that told the history of the zine (one I had never heard of until now) and, thus, placed the material that follows in solid context. More telling is that I would like to see even more of this stuff. It’s a hoot.

evilspeak3Hey, speaking of zines, that DIY art form was huge in the 1990s, particularly in the realm of B movies, before the Internet all but killed them. Ironically, the print zine has been making a comeback where cult film is concerned, and one near-sterling example is the ad-free EVILSPEAK HORROR MAGAZINE. Now on its third issue, each one is impressively designed (by Justin Stubbs) and larger than the previous, to the point that the current edition is really a trade paperback. In its 134 pages, you get celebrations of horror, horror and — yep! — horror, with a deep focus on flicks that wallow in the gutter well below the mainstream. Issue 3 also features an article on the horror comics of Eerie Publications, plus an original comic of its own. If there’s a bone to pick with EVILSPEAK, it’s that a couple of the writers tend to summarize a film rather than discuss it, and co-founder/co-editor Vanessa Nocera (currently on display in the HI-8 anthology) is most guilty of this across all issues, even giving away the movies’ endings! Good thing I get a reading buzz nonetheless.

megarevengeLast fall, I ran a review of Danny Marianino’s THE MEGA BOOK OF REVENGE FILMS — VOLUME 1: THE BIG PAYBACK, which read in part, “Maybe it’s just me, but if you’re going to write a book about movies in which the whole point is characters seeking vengeance, shouldn’t you be able to spell ‘vengeance’? … [It] is so every-page-riddled with typos, run-on sentences and other egregious errors that it’s obvious he didn’t select ‘Check Spelling’ on his self-published manuscript.” However, thanks to the technological magic of today’s print-on-demand world, newly purchased copies of the paperback reflect Marianino performing a little clean-up work, including reinstating a lost photograph that originally resulted in a big ol’ blank space. What’s important is that even with the errors that remain, the man’s passion for these movies stands front and center. His shoot-the-shit approach to discussing (vs. reviewing) the films fan-to-fan is infectious; you’ll emerge from it with a large list of titles to catch or revisit, not to mention a yearning for MEGA’s promised 2016 follow-up, VOLUME 2: GLEAMING THE CUBE. —Rod Lott

Buy them at Amazon.

Braking Points

brakingpointsI’ve said this before but here we go again. There are great baseball, football, basketball and even golf novels but there are few wonderful novels built on the theme of auto racing. Perhaps the best is Garth Stein’s THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, and you can give some kudos to Bob Judd and the short stories of Jonis Agee.

But it’s a short list. I think now we can add Tammy Kaehler to that group as her second novel featuring race car driver Kate Reilly, BRAKING POINTS, irons out the difficulties in her debut novel DEAD MAN’S SWITCH, and promises even finer things in the future.

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Kiss the Blood Off My Hands: On Classic Film Noir

kissbloodProvocatively and perfectly titled, KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS: ON CLASSIC FILM NOIR attempts to be, as editor Robert Miklitsch writes, “a collection that confines itself to the extraordinary scope and depth, the embarrassment of riches” of the genre. Now that film noir has bled over into, of all things, mainstream video games, perhaps it’s time for another where-we’ve-been / where-it-stands examination of this influential and invigorating type of Hollywood crime picture.

The University of Illinois Press paperback concludes with a four-page appendix of “Critical Literature” on the subject, and KISS THE BLOOD succeeds so well in meeting its stated goal, it deserves a spot on its own list.

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Storme Warning

stormewarningFollowing a few years’ hiatus, W. L. Ripley resumes his mystery series featuring Wyatt Storme, former Dallas Cowboys football star turned reclusive troubleshooter, with STORME WARNING, the fourth title in the series. Like the three previous novels, Storme tries to lead a quiet, solitary life but is something of a magnet for trouble and violence. Bad luck for Strome, but very fortunate for fans of well-crafted crime fiction.

It’s autumn and Wyatt Storme waits on the porch of his cabin hidden in woods of the Missouri Ozarks for the arrival of his friend, Chick Easton, a hard-drinking, frighteningly lethal ex-CIA agent whom Storme describes as “an exclamation point with legs.” Accompanying Chick is Geoffrey Salinger, a renowned film director. They have an offer for Storme.

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