Wednesday, April 24, 2013

By the Skin of her...

Money Shot
Christa Faust
Hard Case Crimes (# 40)
Anthony Vacca's rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Against my basest male desires, I had to resist the urge to give this book a four star rating. I don’t really mean that this book was lacking in exactly what it was promising to deliver, it’s just probably not ethical (because apparently I think my GoodReads reviews are the epitome of my journalistic standards) to give this book another star just because I have a crush on the author. I mean, here we have a talented female author who is also a huge fan of any and everything noir and she looks like this:

I am well aware from what I have read that Ms. Faust would eat me alive, but this will not deter me from thinking she is, like, so totally super cool and/or marrying her at a moment’s notice if she so wishes. In fact this is probably true for most pretty women with piercings and tattoos who also are really interested in crime fiction (sadly, I have yet to meet any in my own city.) I will gladly meet such a woman and proceed far too quickly to think she is the greatest person ever and will marry her.
I am a weak man and prone to bad decisions.

But enough about me, let’s talk about Christa Faust’s Money Shot—a fun, hard-boiled revenge tale starring the beautiful, and very capable, Angel Dare.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Angel Dare is not really Angel Dare’s name. This is the stage name she picked back before she took the adult film industry by storm. And now, over ten years later, she is something of what I’d guess you'd call a household name and is perfectly content with her name and identity Angel Dare. She owns and manages a successful talent agency that treats its adult-film actresses fairly and respectfully. She has a good number of close friends. She has a nice house that she sees as the pinnacle of all her endeavors and successes. This is America, and there are easily a million different ways to find your own personal dream of happiness—and Angel Dare has found hers.

But things go wrong very quickly (like in the first sentence) when Angel finds herself shot and left for dead in the trunk of a car. How did she get here? Well thankfully Angel spends the first thirty pages letting us play catch-up from point A to point B.
An old director friend calls up Angel one day for a last-minute shoot of a simple no-fuss-no-muss guy-on girl scene. Now angel is technically retired but she likes helping out an old friend. There are also two other important factors in the decision that are a little less noble. 1) Angel is reaching middle age and is starting to fret about a sudden decline in her sex appeal. 2) she hasn’t gotten laid in a while and (as Angel wonderfully states it) she totally has a woman boner for the male actor she will work with in the scene.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the out-of-this world stud Jesse Black. He’s got it all: baby blue eyes, long and thick black hair, a body to die for, and the blessed endowment of the porn gods…you know what I mean. He’s the hot new talent on the adult industry scene and Angel is flattered when Jesse personally requests to work with Angel. It’s like a dirty little fantasy come true for Angel—that is until he punches her in the face, ties her up, tortures her, locks her in aforementioned trunk, and oh yeah, he shoots her a couple of times.
So why does poor Angel Dare have this happen to her? Well for one, men suck; and two, it turns out Jesse Black is involved with some nasty Eastern-European white slavers. Also there is a matter of a suitcase full of a lot of money that has gone missing. These scum bag gangsters have somehow gotten the idea that Angel knows where there money is. Unfortunately for Angel, she doesn’t. So they decide to go ahead and dispose of her.

Fortunately for Angel, Jesse is kind of a tit and does a very bad job of leaving Angel for dead. Unfortunately for the bad guys, Angel is not the kind of person you want pissed at you.

This doesn’t mean revenge is going to be an easy thing for Angel. The gangsters were also kind enough to leave a murder rap on her head so the police aren’t going to be too sympathetic to Angel’s plight. But like I said, Angel has some close friends, including the ex-cop turned adult actress bodyguard, Malloy. Pretty soon Malloy and Angel are on a race against time to find out where the missing money is and also to make sure that every single one of the bad guys end up a lot of dead.
This was a fun and fast-paced book, and also very refreshing. I have felt for a while now that the crime and mystery genre has been lacking in interesting female protagonists. It seems more often than not that most female protagonists in these kinds of books are often pretty bland and straight laced. So this was a book I had been meaning to read for a while. While I did really enjoy the book, I did not love it. There was a lot of strong characterization in this book, but I felt that Ms. Faust did not push the story as far as it could go.

There seemed to be a tug-of-war going on in the novel where the author couldn’t decide whether she wanted the book to just be over-the-top or if she wanted it to be a more personal drama. I opt that she should have gone for more of both (an example of this would be the excellent mystery novels by the writer James Crumley).

That being said, I am also aware that there is a sequel to this book—Choke Hold—and that many reviewers have described it as a strong improvement over the first. I will definitely check this one out at some point in the near future and hope to see much more work from Ms. Faust in the mystery/crime genre.


A hero in his own mind

The Adventures of Gerard

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Reviewed by: Terry
4  out of 5 stars

At Waterloo, although, in a sense, I was present, I was unable to fight, and the enemy was victorious. It is not for me to say that there is a connection between these two things. You know me too well, my friends, to imagine that I would make such a claim. But it gives matter for thought, and some have drawn flattering conclusions from it.
Thus does our old friend Etienne Gerard begin his penultimate tale of adventure, reminiscing convivially about that horrible day at Waterloo. His characteristic reserve and modesty are obviously on full display, for is not humility one of the greatest traits of this very great man? Not on your life…and we wouldn’t have it any other way. I was once again struck by the ways in which Gerard is so similar in character to Harry Paget Flashman, and yet also so diametrically opposed to him. Where Flashy blunders treacherously from misadventure to misadventure in a cowardly attempt to escape danger while still managing to cover himself in glory and praise, Gerard nobly blunders from misadventure to misadventure in a valiant attempt to singlehandedly win every battle in the Napoleonic wars and manages to escape with his life despite his foolhardiness and obtuseness. Some glory adheres to him, but it’s unclear how much is truly universal in its acclaim and how much is only in his own mind. Of course, there’s usually a woman involved as well. And she is always smitten to the core by our brave and dashing hussar. Who wouldn’t be?

Conan Doyle certainly seems to have had a knack for creating memorable, even great, characters. Sherlock Holmes is of course an icon, a literary giant that has stood the test of time. I hope that Gerard does as well, for while he is certainly less well-known than his consulting detective confrere, he is no less intriguing a character. As with Holmes it is due mostly to his faults that Gerard ought to win a place in your hearts and minds. A bigger braggart and narcissist could little be imagined (Harry Paget Flashman notwithstanding), and yet he is a lovable egoist for all of that. Gerard’s heart is always in the right place and if he happens to believe that everyone (even his enemies) truly love him, is he really, perhaps, all that wrong? He is, certainly, an eminently likable old fellow.

This is sadly the last volume of Gerard’s adventures and it runs the gamut of chivalrous exploits undertaken in the name of a lady, to affairs of honour (in the name of a lady), and let’s not forget the martial exploits in the name of the Emperor which of course override all other concerns (though sometimes a lady *is* involved). It’s a pleasure to listen as the Brigadier recalls his days of glory and for all of their inherent humour (usually indiscernable to Gerard) there is also some pathos evoked by them, for it is apparent that this jovial old grognard living on half-pay and memories alone has nothing else save the planting of cabbages with which to while away his final days, for he remained loyal to his beloved emperor and his own prospects and standing faded away as the star of Napoleon itself dimmed and disappeared. This last was certainly not without some attempts by Gerard to undo the wrong done to his master, but that’s a tale you will have to hear for yourself. I urge you to do so, the Brigadier is always a genial companion. Ah, by the bye you don’t mind springing for a bottle of burgundy, do you? There’s a good fellow.

Also posted at Goodreads

Theseus, the man who would be king

The Bull from the Sea

Mary Renault


Reviewed by: Terry
4.5  out of 5 stars

Mary Renault’s _The Bull from the Sea_ takes up where _The King Must Die_ left off and continues the legendary story of Theseus and his kingship of Attica. There are some differences between this volume and its predecessor, most notably in the fact that the scope of this tale is much broader. Whereas the first volume concentrated primarily on Theseus’ youth and time in the bull ring of Crete and covered the time involved in a fair amount of detail, this volume is much more a prĂ©cis of many events, covering a much wider range of time. Important events and periods are singled out, however, and expanded upon with more than enough detail to satisfy. I never had the sense that the tale was in any way rushed or incomplete and the broader scope perhaps allowed for a more elegiac tone to the novel, which is appropriate given the ending to Theseus’ tale. This is a memoir giving the wider story of Theseus’ kingship and deeds after the defining moment of his youth has passed.

Even though this memoir comes from the hand (voice?) of Theseus himself and is often told very much in overview I was impressed with the way in which secondary characters came to life. For example with only a chapter seen from Theseus’ POV and the things he is able to glean from implication we learn a lot about the entire youth and development of his son Hippolytos. Theseus’ great friend Pirithoos, his wives Hippolyta and Phaedra and his other son Akama are also all very well depicted even when painted with minimal brush strokes.

Another thing that struck me with Renault’s Theseus saga (and this volume in particular) was the deft way in which many other legends and tales from ancient Greece were woven into the fabric of his tale without taking anything from the tale being told, but also without detracting from their own importance. These include the legend of the famous bard Orpheus, the tragedy of the king Oedipus, the existence of the Centaurs and the apparently contradictory traditions of both their training of the heirs of kings and almost bestial gluttony and lust, the tale of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, and even echoes of the coming Trojan War in a cameo by the young hero Achilles. As with _The King Must Die_ Renault is able to retain the mythic stature of these stories while making them much more ‘realistic’.

For all of the many events that make up the career of Theseus Renault tells a tight tale, woven deftly with nary a thread left astray. We very much see him here as Theseus the King (as opposed to Theseus the wandering hero, though the latter is never wholly absent from his nature or actions) and we see him constantly trying to live according to the guiding principle of his life, learned in first trials of his youth: “To stand for the people before the gods, that is kingship. Power by itself is the bronze without the gold.”  Despite the fact that he is a heroic figure whose deeds may often seem larger than life he is also a man whose ultimate tragedy is born of the foibles of his own human nature. In the end Theseus comes to learn, perhaps too late, that all of his choices and actions, along with the fate he has willingly embraced, have a price: “Fate and will, will and fate, like earth and sky bringing forth the grain together; and which the bread tastes of, no man knows.” The taste may be bitter at the end, but the sweet was no less great and is ultimately not erased by his tale’s conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Also posted at Goodreads