Fabian Nicieza’s Suburban Dicks opens with the murder of a gas station attendant in West Windsor, New Jersey. As a pair of inept young cops are trying to secure the crime scene, a minivan pulls into the station. The pregnant driver’s toddler has to pee, and she does… all over the evidence. The driver of the minivan, Andrea Stern, a once-promising criminal profiler whose career was cut short by motherhood, picks up more details in her brief survey of the scene than the cops can gather in weeks.
Hammett’s books are dense with action and full of twists. Snooze for a second and you’ll have to go back and re-read the whole chapter. While many have commented about Hammett’s hardboiled style and seedy underworld characters, what really struck me in this one was how the author keeps the reader grasping throughout. You never know what’s going to happen next, nor do you know the significance of events as they’re happening.
Jim Thompson sure can be bleak. Cropper’s Cabin takes place in the author’s home state of Oklahoma, in the 1940s or early fifties. Tommy Carver is the son of a mean-spirited, resentful sharecropper who is barely getting by. Tom is a bright student in his final year of high school. He’s a favorite of his teachers and of the school principal. His girlfriend, Donna Ontime, is the beautiful daughter of the county’s richest man, a Creek Indian who owns the thousands of acres surrounding Tom’s father’s ten-acre plot.
Bad Boy was Jim Thompson’s first take at autobiography. Although he was only forty-seven when he wrote it, he had already lived a pretty full life. This volume covers his escapades through age twenty-three. Thompson spent his early youth in Oklahoma, where his father was a county sheriff and one of the most popular men in town. When his father ran for state office on platform that included a commitment to racial equality, he was run out of town.
Devil in a Blue Dress is the first installment in Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series. The story opens in Joppy Shag’s near-empty bar above a butcher shop in Watts, Los Angeles. The time is 1948. Easy Rawlins, just fired from his manufacturing job at Champion Aircraft, is having an afternoon drink, wondering how he’s going to cover his next mortgage payment, when a white man walks in and makes him an offer.
This is the first I’ve read of Simenon’s Maigret series. I can’t believe the author was only twenty-eight when he wrote this. His writing has a surety and solidness that many never achieve. The few who do find it take many years to get there. This case involves what appears to be the simple murder of a traveling salesman in a Loire Valley hotel during the hot summer of 1930. Maigret approaches the investigation with the dread of one assigned a sordid, depressing, and tedious task.
Emily Calby is twenty now. The scarred but ever-hopeful survivor wants to put her brutal past behind her. Her instinct for justice has led her to enroll in law school on the sunny Florida coast. Things are finally looking up. “I spread my arms and tilt into the bright Florida sun, filling my lungs with the wet salty air. ‘What could possibly go wrong in a beautiful place like this?'”
In this superbly written overview of the Western philosophical tradition, William Barrett traces the roots of 20th century existentialism back through Hegel, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard all the way to the Greek and Hebrew traditions that formed the foundations of Western European civilization. Writing in 1958, Barrett begins by describing Europe’s spiritual and intellectual crisis after two world wars. If twenty centuries of religious faith and scientific progress led only to slaughter and destruction, then what was the good of science or religion?
The title alone made me want to read this one. It’s supposed to be a noir thriller, though it lacks the brooding spell and the sense of inevitable, darkening fate that distinguish the classic noirs. The book has a number of glaring flaws, but the story has enough twists to keep you reading. The Good There’s only one, and that’s the plot. It’s full of unexpected twists and it keeps thickening.
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch opens in New York City in an unnamed year of the twenty-first century. Barney Mayerson, a pre-fash consultant for Perky Pat Layouts, drank too much the night before and slept with his new assistant, Rondinella “Roni” Fugate. Mayerson and Fugate are both precogs, blessed with a talent for seeing into the future. At P.P. Layouts, they evaluate common cultural objects for “minning” (miniaturizing), to be sent to the colonies on Mars, Venus, and a number of moons throughout the solar system.
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