Razorblade Tears is the follow up novel to Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, but a follow up only in the sense that they both offer a kind of new-fangled criminal noir set in the modern-day world. Razorblade Tears is a buddy story of two men, one Black, one White, brought together by a common tragedy. Ike the Riot and Buddy Lee have little in common, but for the fact their two kids married and then died violent deaths and no one seems to give a damn, including the homicide detectives, because their two kids were Isiah and Derek, not Isiah and Dorothy. In fact, neither Ike nor Buddy Lee ever were comfortable with who their two sons were and were rather distant throughout their kids’ adult lives, not accepting their lifestyles.
But now that their son’s heads have been blown up and their son’s guts scattered across the living room, the two older men are inconsolable, fueled by regrets at staying away all these years and a thirst for revenge. The tears run down their cheeks like razorblades and thus the title of this novel.
It just so happens that Ike and Buddy Lee aren’t exactly two middle class dads, though they have tried to live proper law-abiding lives since they finished doing hard time. The prison ink still lives on their skins and these two grandpas are two men that people facing them are quite prone to underestimate. The thing is that, as Ike explains, he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He was just afraid he wouldn’t be able to stop. “They could call what they were seeking justice, but that didn’t make it true. It was unquenchable, implacable vengeance,” we are told.
Although Cosby’s novel hits these hot button issues and could have descended into cliches-ville, the machinery of creation operated successfully and the novel is as dark and gritty and authentic and true as any another crime novel you might pick up. Ike and Buddy Lee don’t play at being junior detectives for long before their trail is taken up by a biker gang. The action throughout is fast and furious without any pause.
Last Redemption, the eighth book in Coyle’s Rick Cahill private eye series set in modern-day La Jolla, California, finds Cahill a bit out of sorts suffering from head injuries and, finally doing steady corporate work. Leah is finishing up her work in Montecito with the baby on her way before they settle down to blissful married life. But, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Cahill merely settled down to a boring humdrum life. The solution here is for Cahill’s private eye buddy Moira to ask Cahill to monitor her son who now has a restraining order against him from his ex girlfriend and has disappeared from the face of the earth. This leads into a sordid tale that demonstrates just how much La Jolla and northern San Diego County have become another Silicon Valley, but focused on medical high-tech and just how much Silicon Valley scandals have come south. This is an exciting private eye tale that has Cahill operating on his own and by his own set of rules until the climatic finish.
Warren Adler’s Heart of Gold is a top-notch crime/espionage/thriller that has a slumlord trickster of a New York lawyer matching wits with thugs and spies and others for ten suitcases of gold hidden away in Communist-controlled Poland in 1980 for forty years. Milton Gold reluctantly agrees to meet with Montana-bred Karla Smith in a New York deli, finding her tale of hidden gold almost too much to believe until he finally becomes convinced something’s up when a group of thugs start trailing her. Even then, he has no idea how he can help get the cold out from behind the Iron Curtain. But, Milton’s schemes and skimming are co,I got to a head and he has little left besides chasing Karla’s impossible pipe dream of finding her father’s hidden cache, estimated in value at $100 million, enough to have more than one spy agency and a band of revolutionaries sniffing around.
What separates this novel from every other one with a horde of treasure seekers matching wits and swords for a secret cache is that Adler has made this more than just another wild adventure. It has at once a story of a treasure hunt and also a story of how much we are prisoners of our pasts, of our legacies, of our heritages. It is furthermore a story about how much we bear the collective guilt or victimhood of our forbears.
Milton and Karla are as different as can be, even to the fact that he is a Jewish deli-going lawyer from New York descended from a Jewish family who had dwelled in the Pale of Settlement at the edge of Poland and Russia and she a Polish girl raised to hate Jews by her Polish-born father who secreted away a fortune while surviving World War Two. Milton doesn’t forgive the scars of the betrayal of his people by their Polish neighbors and centuries of hate before that. But it is their past in a world swept up by Nazi evil after Poland fell to the blitzkreig that haunts them both. Forty years later two people who hadn’t even been born bear the scars and enmity of that time. Moreover, despite the explosive attraction between them, Milton can never fully trust femme fatale Karla, always asking if she is for real or if she is just using him to get at the fabulous loot.
Thus, Adler at once offers us a treasure seeking adventure, a star-crossed romance, and a story of international intrigue. Well done!
Fancy Anders Goes to War is a private eye story set in the Long Beach aircraft plants during a World War Two. Rosie the Riveter has fallen to her death in the plant, but under what some believe suspicious circumstances. To solve this thorny question comes Society girl Fancy Anders in her pink Packard working undercover in the factory quite a few decades before sexual harassment was frowned on. Collins does a great job of capturing the authentic spirit of the Rosie the Riveter women working for the war effort. An enjoyable short novel starting a new series.
The Darkest Game is the third novel in the Tully Jarsdel police procedural series, set in Los Angeles, with the chief protagonist being a former history professor who decided to do something with his life that means something. Here, he’s paired in an odd couple situation with seasoned homicide detective Oscar Morales. Jarsdel is also odd man out at the Hollywood precinct, being a bit more intellectually inclined than most. The Case here is a bit obscure, involving a museum curator at the Huntington Library and Gardens and his untimely demise in a Hollywood hills home. The clues will lead Jarsdel and Morales through the archives of the museum and across the water to Catalina Island, a paradise 26 miles from Los Angeles, yet a world apart. It involves lost treasure and pirates. This one is a bit slower-paced than the first two books in the series and never quite gets to Freeway speeds.
Die For Me is the second book in the Axel Steen Danish gritty police series. Without the gritty darkness of the first book, Die For Me is not the story of a city under seige, but the story of Axel’s return to the unsolved Case that tore him to pieces and ripped his marriage apart. It is seemingly linked to a new case by similarities in the modus operandi. Of course, no one sees the connection but Axel. The flip side to the crime story is Axel’s face-off with Jens, his ex wife’s new man. The story is often told, in alternating chapters, through their clashing points of view as they spar over one woman. Axel still lives for his cases and died over and over again in them. Axel is a great character,
Unrest is the first of six Axel Steen gritty Danish police novels originally published in Danish. So far, two have been expertly translated to English. Either more have to come out in English or we will just have to learn some Danish.
For those who think Copenhagen is all Tivoli Gardens and the palace, there’s a whole world exposed here where the tourists never go, at least they shouldn’t go if they know what’s good for them. Norrebro is a haven for hippies, anti-police rebels, drug dealers, immigrants, and Axel thinks he’s the only officer left who still lives in the district. It’s being torn apart by black-clad rioters -their version of the Antifa thugs who have more recently been tearing apart American cities. Police in riot gear are struggling to keep order -any way they can. And, behind police lines, in the cemetery there’s a corpse (a new one) and it looks to Axel like the police had it out with one of the rioters. This is going to. E like a lightning spark if the media ever runs with it and he’s instructed to keep it under wraps.
Axel is the prime character, a dogged pursuer of truth who doesn’t give a hoot what’s going to play well in the news or what’s going to piss off his superiors. He is half broken inside after his wife left with their toddler for a head prosecutor who Axel has to deal with on an official basis. He can’t sleep at night. He has vivid passionate dreams of his ex-wife, often during the day when he nods off. He smokes hash to get to sleep at night, and sometimes it works. Often, the only thing that keeps him going is his homicide cases.
This one -the one in the cemetery- comes close to tearing his universe apart and brings up bits of his past.
Overall, this is -even in translation – simply an awesome bit of gritty crime fiction. A great entre into a new series.
Logan’s domestic thriller, “Lies,” is a fast-paced thriller with tension building step by step till it’s so tight it’s ready to explode. It’s set in modern London in a world of cellphones and Facebook and humdrum domestic lives of shlepping kids around. But it’s a works that can come crashing down so fast you don’t have time to take a breath. It’s hard To put down and will keep your attention.
Poor hapless Joe. His whole life shatters into a thousand pieces as the trap draws tighter and tighter around him. He thought everything was peachy. Although, as a reader, you never fully buy into Joe’s naivety, particularly when he barely raises his voice when he finds out Mel betrayed him over and over again. Yes, he’s a beta, not an alpha, but it simply doesn’t ring true.
Finally, as a whole, the plot twists seem a bit too forced, particularly regarding the resolution. Nevertheless, it’s a quick read that will certainly hold your attention.
The Ursulina is a follow up and a prequel to Freeman’s 2019 novel, the Deep, Deep Snow, which featured Deputy Sheriff Shelby Lake, who had been abandoned by her mother as an infant and raised by the Sheriff. Here, we get an origins tale told in a narrative to Shelby by her mother, explaining what happened. The stories are thus interconnected, but otherwise entirely separate.
This is the tale of Deputy Rebecca Colder of the Town of Random in Black Wolf County, a small northern Minnesota mining town, a generation earlier when it was not as common for women to serve as deputy sheriffs or to work in the mines. It is a quaint small town where everyone knows each other’s business, but it’s also A town of sexual harassment, domestic violence, marital strife, infidelity, and grudges going back to high school.
And, of course, there’s the legend of the Ursulina, a beast of the woods, seven feet tall, with claws like a giant wolverine, and there have been few sightings of this fell beast. Rebecca though as a child once saw him in the woods and another local made his living making true life documentaries about the beast. Several killings were attributed to the beast with bodies ripped asunder by giant claws till their organs spilled out.
It’s at once a horror movie and a domestic violence take and a murder mystery when Rebecca finds another victim of the Ursulina. The story is about Rebecca, told through her eyes, to her child, Shelby. It will keep you reading right to the end when things go in a direction you’ll probably not anticipate. Well-written, well told, worth reading.
In “The Burden Of Innocence,” Nardizzi’s Second Ray Infantino private investigator novel, he puts the “gritty” back in South Boston. It’s a tale of an innocent man framed and put behind bars by the testimony of some rather questionable witnesses and, fifteen years later, the mess that comes up stinks to high heaven and the stakes are high enough for someone to pull all the stops against Ray’s investigation. This is a adrenaline-loaded thrill ride of a novel taking the reader on a seamy ride into Boston’s dark underbelly of strip clubs, payoffs, informants, and connected-guys.
While this indeed fiction and not reality, Nardizzi makes it feel authentic and true. The writing is crisp and to the point. The characters feel genuine. Not a legal thriller, although it starts out appearing as if it would go in that direction.
In 1972’s You’re Dead Without Money, Chase plies his writing craft with a comedic caper story. Told by that itinerant minstrel, Al Barney, the overweight greasy no-good denizen of Paradise City’s bar scene, we get a story of greed and misfortune as Joe, the dip, the pickpocket, and his daughter Cindy join forces with a dumb mafia wannabe Vin to rob a retired movie star, a Don Elliott, who was yo be the next Erol Flynn but fir an unfortunate accident resulting in a peg leg. Elliott is a flashy man with fancy cars and the like. Little did Joey and company know but their prime robbery target had a net worth way below zero. But the fun doesn’t end there because Elliott has a lead on a packet of eight rare stamps, and the group, now composed of four, sets out to obtain the stamps. Of course, it is not going to be quite easy and it doesn’t help that state secrets are embedded in the stamps causing the CIA to be out an all points bulletin for their recovery. A fun comedy of errors.
Chase’s 1958 standalone psycho killer novel, the Case of the Strangled Starlet, alternately titled Not Safe to Be Free, is set at the Cannes Film Festival. The main characters are a millionaire producer, his young social climber wife Sophia, and his tagalong son, Jay. Apparently, no one ever suspected Jay was a psycho killer who strangled at a moment’s notice without guilt or remorse. Everyone else apparently is too busy being rich and famous. The plot moves along steadily and there are few twists and turns except when Sophia chooses keeping things quiet over bad publicity. The story doesn’t necessarily take advantage of the exotic locale. Moreover, the characters, particularly Jay, but also the supporting cast, are cartoonish, not fully developed, and lacking any real complexity.
A Can of Worms, first published in 1979, came near the end of Chase’s storied 45-year writing career in which he published some ninety crime and espionage thrillers from 1939 through 1984. A Can of Worms is the eleventh of fifteen books set in fictional Paradise City, Florida, often referred to as the Tom Lepski series after the detective who headlined the first few books in the series, but who only makes a cameo appearance or two here. The headliner here is private investigator Bart Anderson, part of the twenty investigator Parnell outfit. Anderson fancies himself a ladies’ man, spends money like it’s water, and is a sleazy operator in general. Hired to investigate a millionaire writer’s wife suspected of infidelity, Anderson stumbles on far bigger fish (like international terrorists) and, with his occasional date’s urging, schemes to blackmail everyone involved. Admittedly not great literature, but a fun fast-paced read.
Chase’s 1946 novel, Make the Corpse Walk, set in London, is one of his occasional clunkers. This novel explores the idea of an eccentric, possibly crazy, millionaire who wants to raise his brother from the dead by means of that voodoo and engages some unsavory characters from nightlife to find a voodoo practitioner. Naturally, they think he’s got sucker written all over him and the game is on. Nevertheless, this one simply doesn’t work from the cardboard characters to the ill-fitting plotlines.
Chase’s 1954 thriller, The Wary Trangressor, is set in post-war northern Italy. The main character, David Chisholm, is an American ex-pat without a work permit, who offers his services as a tour guide to the hordes of American tourists besieging the ancient sites. He’s down to his last penny when a breathtakingly beautiful Laura engages his services.
Though American too, Laura lives in a lakeside villa with her invalid millionaire husband and needs someone to lift him from time to time. Of course, Laura isn’t all that innocent and is a typical Hadley Chase golddigger impatient for the old guy to croak and thinks Chisholm is just the guy to help her and, to that end, she employs her ample charms.
Laura is a bit too one-dimensional of a character, but Chisholm is interesting because he thinks of himself as a good guy caught in the clutches of forces beyond his control. His backstory is not apparent until about midway through the book when we learn the reason he’s stuck in Italy with no work permit is that he us an Army deserter on the run. The story is told through his eyes and, of course, he’s always the innocent dupe even when he’s plotting murder.
This thriller is a bit slow for one of Chase’s adventures, but the pieces slowly and inexorably come together as the noose tightens around Chisholm’s neck and he finds himself in a cage from which there is no escape. As usual, Chase uses his story to breathe new life into common themes.
Chase’s 1951 crime thriller, set in and around Miami, is a top-notch ride. In it, Chase starts off by utilizing two popular themes in fifties crime fiction, the boxer forced to take a dive by gangster-types and the amnesia that leaves the main protagonist in a mystery about who he is and what he’s done. Chase plays out both of these homes excellently. Even if you’ve read a hundred boxing stories, this one still feels fresh and new. And the amnesia story has you guessing what’s real and what’s not because none of it makes a whole lot of sense. But, these two themes are not the meat of the novel. They are just the introduction. The meat of the story is straight out of central casting with a quarter of a million dollars in cold hard cash and a trail of bodies miles long. Chase hits all the right notes in this crime fiction symphony.
The lead character, Farrar, is basically one of the good guys except that he constantly gets cornered and is forced to take action. Told from his point of view, it feels as if he has no choice but to proceed as he does with someone be it Petillo or Della holds something over him – like a double murder rap. From his viewpoint, he simply has no choice in the matter. He feels like a prize chump and never much more than a rat in a maze.
Della is another matter entirely. She’s a stone cold gold-digging bitch without a conscience which Farrar finds to his regret. She starts out as the ultimate bewitching femme fatale, but by the end she’s not fooling anyone.
From the start, you know Farrar is going to end up in a jam, particularly when he gets talked into spending weeks masquerading as a guy who might decide to drop by one day. In the end though even that giant suitcase of money isn’t going to make Farrar feel whole.
Like Orrie Hitt’s Sleazeball grifter Nicky Weaver, Hadley Chase sets his 1954 crime thriller, Sucker Punch, around Chad Winters, a sleazeball money-grubbing grifter. Winters, a lazy no-good bank clerk, seizes the bull by the horns when he is tasked with the account of Vesta Shelley, a withered old spinster who happened to be just about the richest woman in the world. He finds ways to make coin off her name and credit and her delight in his hard ways. And, when creaky ole Vesta falls for his charms, Winters follows through and sets his eyes on the whole caboodle. Winters is a genuine scumbag with no morals, no ethics, and no compunction to stop at anything. What Chase does brilliantly is he tells the story through Winters’ sleazy little eyes and gets the reader to see things from his point of view. What else Chase does cleverly is he surrounds Mr. Winters with a money grubbing mean-spirited cast so we as readers see and feel his horror at a lifetime with Vesta and the realization that he himself is being played for a sucker. The novel starts with the ending. The story is all about how Winters climbed down into the sewers and got himself in this pickle.
Chase’s 1954 crime thriller replaces the ever-popular private eye with a writer for a crime magazine, looking for the latest scoop. A missing burlesque dancer is that scoop. She’s been gone fourteen months and the trail is cold, but dogged investigation leads Slade up and around Northern California from nightclubs to private estates with the mystery growing every step of the way. Don’t try to find these towns on a map. Chase has a convoluted sense of maps and he places Tampa in California. Also, don’t let the use of the investigative reporter throw you. It feels just like a tough as nails private eye story of the era.
Mallory, first published by Chase (the most well known pen name of Rene Barbazon) under the pen name Raymond Marshall, is a tightly wound post-war thriller featuring elements of espionage novels and elements of crime fiction. The plot involves unfinished business of members of the French resistance out to exact revenge on someone who betrayed them to the Gestapo.
An odd assortment of former resistant fighters are carrying on now in London, a serious woman named Jeanne who had all the life ripped out of her heart, dressed all in black, and hard as nails, a one-armed one-eyed man seemingly too soft for this business, and Jan, the man with the gun who is fine taking action, but not so much with the planning. Enlisted to help them with their lost cause is former British spy Martin Corridon, now living off his reputation and taking money from anyone fool enough to trust him.
From these characters, Chase creates an exciting thriller filled with doublecrosses, frame-ups, police chases, gun battles, and Corridon who doesn’t know what he’s got himself into, but handles it competently getting out of jams left and right. When Chase was on his mark, he put out well-crafted thrillers like this.
Skipping right by Autumn, “Come Winter” is the sequel to Evan Hunter’s infamous coming-of-Age shocker “Last Summer.” It’s five years later and the troika of interconnected kids, Peter, Sandy, and David are now in college, although apparently occasionally getting together for what is now actual ménage-a-trois. Peter though is in therapy for his guilt with what happened to Rhoda and his therapist doesn’t like Peter’s reliance on his two buddies. The action is often interrupted for transcriptions of Peter’s therapy sessions.
The story now takes place on a ski weekend in Vermont with the three in inane bubbles of chatter, a bit callous in their dealings with others, but overall enjoying the downhill action. Their hijinks now include talking about breaking the leg of a lonely Schlub who latches on to them, funny till it really happens and they glimpse real evil. In the end, this one’s more about a crisis of conscience than Summer was, starting with Peter’s uneasy guilt complex about what took place five years earlier. Five years older, but perhaps still lacking full maturity.
The difference though between this one and Last Summer is there is no illusion about young innocence here. And, much of it feels like filler till the climax comes late in the story.
Salvatore Lombino, best known as Ed McBain, wrote this as Evan Hunter. It was also a highly successful motion picture in 1969. In it, We are treated to an adolescent narrating about the endless days of summer on Fire Island with what would become his two best friends in the world, Sandy and David, a threesome centering around Sandy and the three teens’ exploration and coming of age. But, it’s a teenage relationship so powerful that the individuals loose themselves in it, merging into the one and nothing exists or matters for themselves outside their little group. And there lurks the danger for outsiders who have not melded into this threesome and for who, ultimately neither Peter, nor David, nor Sandy has any loyalty toward. What Hunter does here is give an honest sense of what Peter feels through this process as the three begin by cruelly tormenting a bird and gravitate toward bigger things from that. On the way, he demonstrates how powerful these teenage friendships can be to the point where no one else exists for these teens. We get a sense of what people are capable of becoming in groups, often so different from what they are like one on one.
“The Eighth Detective” is a wickedly smart novel that teaches us about Russian nesting dolls and stories within stories. In it, Pavesi unwraps the skeleton of murder mystery dramas by breaking down the stories into their constiuent parts. The conceit is that a publisher visits a writer who disappeared from view twenty years earlier and is now willing to talk about his anthology of his own work. Interspersed with some seven murder mysteries, complex for the crossing patterns of suspects, killers, and victims, is a mystery involving each of these stories. Each one of these stories is creepy in its own right from families of stranglers to women falling off cliffs to those stuck in the same cabin with a killer. Even if you don’t care for the classic murder mystery setup, you will find this puzzle fascinating.
The theme of the ninth book in Smith’s Arkady Renko Russian thriller series is Bears and Oligarchs. Bears cause they have always represented Mother Russia, because they are big and ferocious, and when you are in their world, you know there’s not much that can stop them. Indeed, the book opens with a pair of giant bears on a jailbreak from the Moscow Zoo.
Moscow investigator Renko heads to Siberia in chase of a confession he doesn’t quite trust and in chase of girlfriend and investigative reporter Tatiana. In the vast depths of Siberia, particularly along the banks of Lake Baikal, the deepest freshwater lake in the world, away from Moscow, we see a barren empty world where only bears and oligarchs can feel at home.
The pace of much of the book is about setting the stage for the conflicts that come later. You kind of zip along waiting to find out what’s going to happen and, when it does, it’s quick and understated and shocking. In the end, it’s about survival and what it takes to survive among the bears and the oligarchs.
“Bobby March Will Live Forever” is set in 1973’s Glasgow, Scotland, and offers up a superb taste of Scottish noir. The third in the Harry McCoy series has McCoy facing off against his nemesis, Raeburn, a corrupt incompetent boob who takes over the investigation of the crime of the century, the disappearance of little Alice.
Meanwhile, for spite, McCoy is frozen out of the investigation, leaving him available to find a dead rockstar and a needle. Meanwhile, the niece of the commissioner above McCoy has run off and he’s asked to find her on the down low. Don’t expect neat organized resolutions to any of these situations. Don’t expect that justice will be served or that everyone lives happily ever after. The point of this tale is really to follow McCoy’s experiences as he grows further and further morose and cynical.
Parks does a great job of setting this novel both in time and place. Although Bobby March is not too active in McCoy’s timeline, we learn about Bobby through a series of flashbacks. For McCoy, his Glasgow is filled with graft, police brutality, and menacing crime lords who are deeply linked throughout society.
Parks’ Harry McCoy novels, all four of them, are an unexpected treat.
In the first of six novels in French’s Cal Rogan series, French takes gritty to another level by featuring a Vancouver police detective fallen to a homeless junkie as his main character. Instead of a slow descent into hell, Cal begins on the far side of hell and slowly works his way back to life. Like many homeless, Cal hangs out in alleys and flophouses near his former home, and lives for the brief Saturdays when he changes clothes at the house of a childhood friend from his prior life so that he can have supervised custody visits with his seven year old daughter, who in turn does cartwheels for her time with daddy. If you accept this conceit at the heart of the story, you can enjoy this novel about a man shocked by his best friend’s murder into kicking the drugs and finding his friend’s killer. On the way, he stumbles into the hefty world of pharmaceutical development and stock traders. Yet, the heart and soul of this novel is Cal’s desperate journey to come back from the edge of civilization.