Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Review: HIDE & SEEK, by Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin
HIDE & SEEK (John Rebus #2)
Otto Penzler Books, 1994
210 pages
Crime / Police / Detective

I feel guilty it has taken me over two decades to discover the talented Ian Rankin. Guilty. The second book in the legendary John Rebus series, HIDE & SEEK, is a fast, thrilling read. Rebus, recently promoted to Inspector Detective (or DI) is back!

In HIDE & SEEK, DI Rebus catches a call accidentally. A junkie's body has been discovered in an expired residential area now filled with squatters. The body is positioned on the floor Crucifix-style, minus the spikes through hands and feet. By each hand is a candle that has burned down to nothing, and painted on the wall an encircled, inverted star.

Thinking the boy, Ronnie McGrath, may have been some kind of sacrifice, Rebus begins the investigation. The questions asked turn up a flurry of seemingly useless leads, information Rebus has little idea what to do with. The deceased was a struggling artist, a photographer. His girlfriend, another vagrant, Tracy, thinks someone was after Ronnie. Ronnie's last words to her were to hide, they're after him!

Quite possibly there is more than meets the eye in this mystery. Could the photographs lead to identity of the killer, or those involved with the boy's murder?

Big time politics, lost loves, and karma come full circle in Rankin's thriller, HIDE & SEEK. We get more into the mind, and the character of Rebus. In a way he reminds me of Idris Elba in Luther. I guess the good thing about taking twenty years to discover Ian Rankin, as that he has written plenty of books to keep me busy for, well, a few months. Two thumbs up on the John Rebus series!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series,
and The Vaccination Trilogy

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Poetry Review: LATE IN THE DAY, by Ursula K Le Guin

Ursula K Le Guin
LATE IN THE DAY: Poems 2010 -2014
PM Press, 2015
112 pages

Ursula K Le Guin has written some phenomenal books over the years. Whether it is fantasy or science fiction, she always masters the genre. She’s a prolific novelist, and very much deserves her popularity. And here she has delved into the world of poetry. To say I was excited about this book is to evoke a huge understatement. 

She’s been writing this poetry for five years, and it shows in the variety she displays here. She does not adhere to a particular form or style, but instead branches out across many. She gives her reasoning in a short essay at the end of the book: she does not what to be restricted by a particular rhyme scheme or meter, but instead wants to create poetry that works however it may come to work. So she plays around and experiments with the ultimate result of an eclectic variety of poems.

The poems vary from accounts of real world things such as New Year’s Day and kitchen spoons to those that draw on elements of classicism and fantasy. I enjoyed in particular the four line poems that did wonders at evoking a single emotion or place. They were strong and visceral. The one that stood out to me though in the entire collection was one called “Dead Languages.” I’ve quoted the first stanza of it here: 

“Dreadful, this death, dragging
so many lives and lively minds along

after it into unmeaning,

endless, imbecile silence.”

How ominous it sounds. The language of a people has died, and with it has come woe and misery. What is left of the culture has no meaning; it has only silence. This is never ending because when it has been undone it cannot be remade as it once was. With language comes meaning, a way of viewing the world and a way of transporting culture and history. Kill a man’s language, and you kill the man’s past; thus, what is left is the imbecile. Whatever the language once was will never be understood; hence, the fall into unmeaning silences. Le Guin ends with the lines:

“to speak the tongues unspoken

and hear a human music otherwise unheard.”

The word music is the key. For culture rich in oral tradition, the language literally held so much of what constituted the people. For it to be unspoken is for it to be lost entirely. This poem has particular relevance in a postcolonial word where so much of traditional African culture was destroyed by the actions of the West. For me this poem reads like a lament, a statement of grief of what the world has lost and will never get back.

So this is just one of many poems in here. It’s a highly creative book, one that proves that Le Guin can write poetry just as well as she can prose. I would recommend this to fans of her novels, and also for those who want to read a little bit of contemporary poetry. There are many current themes explored in here, all of which are embellished by a modern sounding voice


Bookworm Sean is a book obsessed English student who can usually be found over on Goodreads raving about his latest read. Recently, poetry has become one of his favorite literary forms of expression; thus he has started to read more and more of it.

Boom Review: THE GUARDS, by Ken Bruen

Ken Bruen
THE GUARDS (Jack Taylor #1)
St. Martin's Minotaur, 2001
291 pages
Crime / Private Detective

I discovered Ken Bruen by accident. Came across a TV show on Netflix, JACK TAYLOR. Halfway through the season, I realized the show was based on books by Ken Bruen. So I did what any avid reader would do. I bought all of the Jack Taylor novels.

THE GUARDS is my first attempt at reading Ken Bruen. In this tale we meet Jack Taylor. An alcoholic, he threw away his career as an officer with the Guard. His former partner continued to aspire and eventually became the Guard Superintendent. Jack, on the other hand, became something known as a "finder." Private Detectives were frowned upon in Ireland. A Finder was better.

Jack's office was Grogan's Pub. People looking to hire him found him there. His good friend Sean (and the bar owner), kept him in booze, but always pushed the coffee instead.

When a woman wants Jack for a job, he isn't sure there is much he can do. The lady's teenage daughter committed suicide. No parent ever wants to believe their child is capable of such an act. It is when she received a phone call insinuating foul play she decided she needed someone to look into the matter.

I enjoyed THE GUARDS. The characters are well-crafted, and the story's pacing is perfect. The only issue I have is that for three-quarters of the book, and maybe a smidgen more, Jack does literally no detecting, or investigating. The book more or less revolves around Jack's rock bottom life. We learn about his deceased father, whom he loved, and his worthless mother, who was something of a bitch. There are flirtations, and love interests, battles against booze, with wins, and with losses.

Clues, and breaks in the case pop up practically out of thin air . . . with minimal or little reaction, or follow-up. Until the end. And even then, the ending is a cliff hanger, only was there ever really a cliff?

Thing is, I still loved the story. Kind of imagined Mickey Rourke as Jack Taylor (maybe because of his role in Barfly. Probably because of his role in the movie Barfly). The writing. The dialogue. And the flow --all work wonderfully well. Although I am hard pressed to call this a Mystery novel, a Thriller, or even a Crime --when in fact it is more or less a dark drama, I am looking forward to the second in the series!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series,
and The Vaccination Trilogy

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Book Review: CHARCOAL JOE, by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley
Doubleday, 2016
306 pages
Crime / Private Detective

What can I ever say differently about an Easy Rawlins novel that I haven't said in the past? Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins is by far my favorite private detective character ever. Thing that started it for me was seeing Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress. Once I found out that movie was based on a book . . . Let's just say the rest is history. I have been a fan of Mosley (Hate to say his #1 fan, because no one likes a bragger --but that would be me) ever since!

CHARCOAL JOE is another fantastic installment in the Easy series. The book takes place in Los Angeles during the 1960s. Ezekiel Porterhouse Rawlins, better known as Easy, is a private detective, and has recently opened up an official agency with two partners. With an office and business cards, and everything.

When his long time friend, Raymond "Mouse" Alexander, come to him with a job, there is no way Easy can say no. He can't say no for a number of reasons. Mouse has saved his life, and protected Easy's family more times than Easy can count. Also, Mouse is representing Charcoal Joe. Joe is the kind of man that if he asks you for something you just give it to him, and be glad you are still breathing after the fact.

A double murder was committed in Malibu. The son of a friend has been arrested by the police. Even though Seymour was found at the scene of the crime, leaning over the bodies, and possibly covered in blood, he has one other strike against him. The men dead were white. Seymour is black. Even though there was no weapon found, the police are considering the case closed.

Joe wants Easy to clear the boy of the chargers.

Easy's case was nothing open and shut to begin with. As he gets closer to the truth, he discovers the old adage is more true. The more he probes for the right answers, the more danger his life is in. Thankfully, Easy rarely works alone, and with friends like Fearless Jones at his side, sometimes it is the thugs who better watch out instead of Easy!

If you enjoy dark, gritty, noir-style novels, Walter Mosley is an author you need to be reading. I've said it before, though. You can certainly jump right in and read the 14th Easy novel, CHARCOAL JOE, but I highly recommend starting at the beginning, going back to DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS and savor the characters as they grow and bond with you from book, to book, to book.

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series,
and The Vaccination Trilogy

Book Review: THE MURDER BAG, by Tony Parsons

Tony Parsons
Random House/Century, 2014
372 pages
Crime / Detective / Police Procedural

THE MURDER BAG is the first in the DC Max Wolfe series, Tony Parsons' first crime novel. I am floored by this. It is possibly one of the best, most gripping crime novels I've ever read.

The story takes places in the London. At a Potter's Field Prep School a group of boys participated in a vicious sexual attack on a young girl. When the girl tried escaping things went from very bad, to even worse.

Twenty years later, a string of horrific murders occur. There seems no rhyme or reason
connecting the victims. A banker, a junkie, a judge, an artist, a politician . . . That is until the police learn they were once close friends at Potter's Field.
DC Max Wolfe is new to the homicide division. He's on the team charged with investigating the crimes. While the majority of the task force is focusing attention on a high profile social media suspect, Wolfe works more closely with his boss, DCI Victor Mallory, and rookie officer, TDC Edie Wren following up on leads the rest of the department refuses to see.

THE MURDER BAG is brilliant! Parsons expertly creates a main character you care about. While dedicating his time to the job, Wolfe is also a single father. He is doing his best to raise a most amazing daughter (Scout), and train a brand new, loveable puppy (Stan); these two are spliced into the story with perfect balance.

Fans of old James Patterson novels, back when Patterson actually wrote his own novels, will love Tony Parsons. It has that Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider umph! Thankfully, at this point, there are three more DC Wolfe novels available. Keep checking back. I will have more Parson reviews soon!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series,