Sunday, August 17, 2014

two reads on the existential plane: Savage Night, by Jim Thompson and The Panda Theory, by Pascal Garnier

I'm sort of inundated with family for the rest of the month so I don't have time for my usual chatty reviews, but I've finished a couple of good ones I'd like to pass along.  Actually, I don't really have time right now to even post a review, so here are the titles:

First up there's Savage Night, by Jim Thompson, one of the darker books I've read this year and really geared toward fans of said darkness and noir;

and then something a little less dark than Savage Night but still not light, The Panda Theory, by Pascal Garnier:

The cover blurb that says "A little jewel of black humour..." is not wrong, but I'd call it more on the bleak side. The Panda Theory is from Gallic Press, an imprint I've just discovered, and I liked it so much I now have four of their novels by Garnier.   Another one recommended for fans of literary darkness.

I have family here through the 30th so there's no time to read, much less update my reading journal, but I really want to talk about both of these novels so I'll table the discussions until later.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

now here's something refreshingly different: The Devil's Road to Kathmandu, by Tom Vater

kindle copy
Crime Wave Press
(also in paperback)

I'll be on this indie writer/indie press kick for a while since I have so many small-press books in my library, and some on my kindle (although I really don't prefer ebooks over real ones). First up is a book by author Tom Vater, who is not only a crime writer, but who also co-founded Crime Wave Press. As the little blurb at Crime Wave's website notes,
"Founded in 2012 by publisher Hans Kemp of Visionary World and writer Tom Vater, Crime Wave Press publishes a range of crime fiction - from whodunits to Noir and Hardboiled, from historical mysteries to espionage thrillers, from literary crime to pulp fiction, from highly commercial page turners to marginal texts exploring our planet's dark underbelly." 
Can we say right up my alley? So having heard about this small press, I decided to give The Devil's Road to Kathmandu a read, and now I'm planning on reading my way through this publishing company. Not all at once for sure, but their books will be worked into my regular crime fiction reads.

The Devil's Road to Kathmandu is divided into two different time periods, but moves easily back and forth across both; not an easy task for some writers, but here the author does it most assuredly.  In 1976, three British hippie friends Fred, Tim and Dan, make a plan to drive across Asia  to India  to buy drugs and then sell them again once they reach Nepal.  They buy a Bedford bus specifically for the trip; as Dan says to his friends, "We've got the opportunity to do something different with our lives."  They are pretty much stoned all of the time, pot, acid, opium, you name it they did it, but it's a great adventure.  In Ishafan, Iran,  the trio adds another traveler to the mix, Thierry, from France, whom they met at a nightclub called the Blue Parrot. It seems that Thierry owes some money to the wrong people and needs to make an escape.  He  joins the adventure as they make their way into Pakistan, which  turns out to be a nightmare, but the group makes it into India and finally into Nepal, where they decide to bank the drug money they've made.  Dan and Tim fly on home, Thierry decides to stay and wait for the woman he loves, and Fred just  disappears. Flash forward to 2000, and now Dan's son Robbie has gone on his own journey in the same area.  He meets up with his dad, who has returned to Kathmandu after all this time, drawn there by an email from the long-lost Fred who reminds him that the money's still there and he & Tim should come and get it. Unfortunately for all, it seems that their pasts have come back to haunt them.

There are plenty of unique, crazy and offbeat characters that fill this novel, and the author has a keen eye for detail.  The part of this story that took place in the Blue Parrot is one of my favorites, and is an excellent example of how the author sets a scene that sucks the reader right into the action. Using impressive descriptions, dialogue that's totally believable and creating such a realistic atmosphere that you feel like you're actually there along with the boys from the bus drinking it all in, he's created a world out of this nightclub that I hated to leave. And that's only one instance ... he does the same where ever the action is -- in Pakistan, India, and most especially in Kathmandu.  This is definitely not your average crime novel, which is a very good thing. Definitely and most highly recommended.

betrayal abounds in The Accident, by Chris Pavone

Crown Publishing, 2014
385 pp

hardcover from publisher, thanks!

The main focus of this novel is a  manuscript titled The Accident, which  if published threatens to take down the wide-ranging, worldwide empire of media mogul Charlie Wolfe. The anonymous author  has written a tell-all book that exposes a lot of egregious secrets about the rich and powerful, and the manuscript also churns up an incident in Wolfe's past that the author now decides to reveal.  Isabel Reed, who receives the manuscript with only an e-mail address as a contact, has to make a pretty hefty decision herself: should she make sure that this book gets published?  Should she pretend that she'd never read it or even received it? Or should she go the authorities, the news media itself, or even call the White House? Figuring that she can't be killed "in front of the whole world," if she goes public, she decides to hand the book off to an acquiring editor she knows would be the right person to see it through.  Unknown to Isabel, along with Wolfe, there's a CIA agent in Copenhagen who also doesn't want the book to be published; in fact, he doesn't want the manuscript to exist at all.  But as it turns out, the manuscript is already making its way into hands other than those belonging to  Isabel and her editor friend, as others see it as a perfect medium for saving or making their careers.  

At the heart of this novel it's all about betrayal, and trust me, there is a lot of duplicity and double-dealing going on all through this book.  Well beyond the anonymous author's exposé of Wolfe, there are people who see the manuscript as a way to elevate or launch their respective careers, there is one who sees its potential as not only a blockbuster but also a way to save a failing business, and there are other, more personal types of betrayals going on among some of the characters as well. This theme was well expressed, and the look behind the scenes at the publishing industry is quite interesting, especially the fact that it sometimes takes only a look at the first page to decide whether a book is worthy of continuing on to the second or not.  The author's bio page at his website reveals that he knows what he's talking about, since he spent nearly two decades working at a number of different publishing houses. And I do have to say that  I particularly enjoyed the piece-by-piece unraveling of one particular secret that isn't made known until the very end.   But let's face it: the trope of the anonymous manuscript that if made known will cause empires to crumble and secrets of the rich and powerful to be released is just not that original any more. Not only that, but the big secret that the anonymous author refers to in the title of his manuscript would be along the same lines as if someone had revealed that Steve Jobs had done something heinous  in his college years -- yeah, it's shocking, but that act alone wouldn't have brought down either Apple or Jobs, especially nowadays. In my head, I'm thinking that all of the other stuff that Wolfe was up to would have been far worse and better to focus on as the meat of the anonymous manuscript.  Bottom line here: while there is some suspense that kept me reading this novel, I've read better.  

I'm looking at reader criticism on another screen right now, and most people are saying that The Accident is not nearly as good as Pavone's The Expats, so I'll probably try to rotate that one into my reading schedule to see what I may have missed.  All in all, this one was just okay.