Monday, November 3, 2014

A Fun Ride on the Low End to Nowhere

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is a very entertaining, hard-boiled novel featuring a skip tracer/bounty hunter who goes by the name of Streeter. He's a former football player, bouncer and accountant with four ex-wives. He now lives and works out of a room in a former church in Denver and tries to maintain as low a profile as possible while working principally for a bail bondsman named Frank Dazzler who also has his home and office in the church.

As the book opens, Streeter is in pursuit of a very sexy woman named Story Moffatt. She's the hard-charging owner of an advertising agency, and she's claiming debilitating injuries suffered in an accident. She's hoping to cash in on a big insurance settlement, but her plans go down the tubes when Streeter snaps pictures of her playing a mean game of squash with no apparent difficulty at all.

Story is disappointed, of course, but she's also a realist. And she could use a man like Streeter. Her boyfriend, a realtor and drug dealer, has recently died in a car crash. His will left everything to Story and she knows that he had a huge stash of cash concealed somewhere. She's been unable to find it but figures that someone as resourceful as Streeter might be able to get the job done. She offers him a third of whatever he can find.

Streeter agrees. The problem is that he and Story are not the only ones looking for the missing loot. Also on the hunt are an impossibly sleazy lawyer, his scheming and sexy receptionist/girlfriend, the lawyer's thuggish "investigators," and a seriously bent cop.

It's a great cast of characters and Stone really puts them through their paces. The story moves along swiftly and there's plenty of action along with a fair bit of wry humor. This book should appeal to readers who enjoy authors like Elmore Leonard and Tom Kakonis--all in all, a very pleasant way to spend a long evening.

Removing the Veil Reveals a Beautiful Story

The Painted VeilThe Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maugham handles language beautifully, telling the nice, compact story of a vacuous socialite who doesn't take life serious enough and finds herself in a very serious situation.

His economy of word fails his purpose only once, but it is an important failure and mars The Painted Veil in a way that diminishes it enough to keep it from attaining the echelon of "masterpiece" status. Our heroine Kitty's transformation (view spoiler) happens way too fast to be believable. Waugham painted himself into a corner by forcing nature (view spoiler) into the story. It made him speed up the timeline to get it all in under the gun.

Still, this is a well-told, highly enjoyable tale revolving around some good, bad and ambivalent people - most of which are all three of those at once - and as a water-tester for whether or not I wanted to throw myself into Maugham's much deeper work, Of Human Bondage, The Painted Veil was a success. A worthy good read indeed!

The Less Said The Better

The Capture of Cerberus & The Incident of the Dog's BallThe Capture of Cerberus & The Incident of the Dog's Ball by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Racist Remark and the Cover Story by Agatha Christie.

These two quickies from Christie are not her best by a long shot. Sure, they provide a light diversion, but they're not satisfying in the least.

Of the two, The Incident of the Dog's Ball feels the most like a typical Agatha Christie story. Truncated as it may be, there is a mystery plot. It even comes replete with a red herring.

It also comes with an anti semitic remark. It's not overt. It probably wasn't even intentional or recognized as such by the writer. The time of publication being 1937, this sort of thing was fairly common everywhere. It is tantamount to a white person calling a black person a nigger in passing conversation prior to the '60s civil rights movement. The slur had become so common as to sometimes be used passively without serious malicious intent. Still, it is incredibly thoughtless and hurtful.

Then came Christie's The Capture of Cerberus, a story about a Nazi propagandist whose speeches inspire a nation. This is an odd one. There's only the light veil of a mystery. It is more of a platform for Christie to spout her wishes for peace and to let everyone know she is anti Nazi. It came out in a collection of short stories produced by Christie from 1939 to 1947. As a mystery, it is perhaps her weakest and reads like her own self-serving propaganda...or perhaps it's an apology?

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