Review: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

The Gun Machine by Warren Ellis
The Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

The Gun Machine
Warren Ellis
Mulholland, 2013

The last novel I read by Warren Ellis was Crooked Little Vein back in 2008 which was something of a surrealistic conspiracy laden noir that was enjoyable even if left me feeling a bit dirty after having read it. Back in January Ellis released another novel Gun Machine. My somewhat sullied feeling aside having read Ellis’ previous novel I practically jumped at chance to grab a copy when it was released and devoured the novel over the course of two days. In Gun Machine a routine call about a disturbance leaves Detective John Tallow absent a partner and with a troubling and enigmatic case on his hands: a locked apartment full of guns each one tied to an unsolved homicide case.

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Review: Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis
Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

Hard Spell
Justin Gustainis
Angry Robot, 2011

The first thing that drew me to Justin Gustainis’ Hard Spell is the cover. The layout, title and art style are all explicitly designed to mimic that of Hard Case Crime, itself a recent imprint (founded in 2004) whose covers are known to mimic pulp covers of the 40s and 50s. Always on the lookout for clever use of the fantastic combined with pulpish fun Hard Spell quickly jumped to the top of my read list. While Gustainis has written several other novels in the Urban Fantasy vein this is my first foray with his work.
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The Joe Pitt Casebooks (final 3)

I’ve already spoken about Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt Case Books but I finally got my hands on the final three audiobook editions of the series: Half the Blood of Brooklyn, Every Last Drop, and My Dead Body. Like Already Dead and No Dominion before them these volumes are narrated by Scott Brick.  As I tweeted a week or so ago: “Charlie Huston is awesome and Joe Pitt is the best vampire ever. If you haven’t read any of the Joe Pitt novels do so now.”  That sentiment still stands.  In an publishing phase when the vampire has been nigh on “defanged” by a certain teen-centric series there has been a corresponding resurgence of harder edged and frequently atypical vampire stories as well.  Let Me In by John Adjive Lindquist (both the book and film), Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s Strain series (The Strain and The Fall should be available now), and Chang-wook Park’s film Thirst stand alongside Huston’s Joe Pitt novels as shining gems amidst the dross of YA-centric vampire fiction that has seemingly been flooding the market.  All of the aforementioned titles are worth a look, particularly if your a fan of vampire fiction, but it is the Joe Pitt Casebooks that in my eyes stand at the top of a, comparatively small, heap.

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Mystery Blog/Site List

The following list of links to mystery blogs and the accompanying descriptions were generously provided by Rosemary Harris and Hank Phillippi Ryan during the ALA Convention yesterday.  Enjoy and happy reading!

Cozy Chicks Blog

Features JB Stanley, Heather Webber, Lorna Barrett, Kate Collins, Bed Baker, Leann Sweeney, and Maggie Sefton. “We blog about our writing and our lives and discuss book promotion.”  They send quarterly newsletters and hold seasonal contests for readers.

Femmes Fatales

“Ferociously talented women dedicated to the fine art of crime fiction.  Charlaine Harris, Dana Cameron, Kris Neri, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Toni L. P. Kelner, Elaine Viets, Mary Saums and Donna Andrews bring their wit and wisdom to this long-running cyberchat.


Feature two dozen authors published by Midnight Ink Books.  They blog about all aspects of the writing life–motivation, editing, publicity, marketing, book signings, and libraries.  Some bloggers are Elizabeth Spann, Craig/Riley Adams, Beth Groundwater, Sue Ann Jaffarian, Felicia Donovan, Julia Buckley, Deborah Sharp, Alan Orloff, and G. M. Malliet.

Jen’s Book Thoughts

Started about 2 years ago by a high school English teacher.  At JBT you’ll find review, interview, news about book events and author events, and special projects like “Six-Word Memoirs from Crime Fiction’s Greatest Writers.”  JBT has also incorporarted video interview on the blog.  Visiting authors have included James Lee Burker, Michael Connelly, Gregg Hurwitz, T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Koryta, Dennis Lehane, Sue Grafton, Lisa Unger, and Ken Bruen.

Jungle Red

Writing well is the best revenge.  Multiple award-winning authors Hank Phillip Ryan, Rosemary Harris, Roberta Isleib, Rhys Bowen, Jan Brogan, and Hallie Ephron write about writing, not writing, reading, and the publishing world and the real world.  Jungle Red Mondays are a special chat among all the authors, in a “View”-like atmosphere, they invite visitors to join in the discussion.  Wednesdays showcase a special guest–such as Katherine Neville, Linda Fairstein, Carolyn Hart, Mihcael Palmer, agents, editors, and some of their favorite librarians.  Fridays are “anything can happen!”

Lesa’s Book Critiques

Lesa Holstine is a library manager in Arizona who has worked in public libraries for 37 years.  her Blog features book reviews, author interview, and recaps author appearances.  Articles are frequently picked up for syndication, and can often be read in the Chicago Sun-Times.  She also reviews women’s fiction for Library Journal and crime fiction for Mystery Lovers’ Journal.

The Lipstick Chronicles

The renowned and successful lipstick Chronicles just celebrated five years online, and now include authors who appeal to a broad fiction audience.  It’s irreverent, edgy and often hilarious, it gives an up-close look at some top notch writers.  The bloggers have won every award in the industry: Brunonia Barry, Diane Chamberlain, Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak, Margaret Maron, Nancy Martin, Louise Penny, Nancy Pickard, Corneal Read, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Sarah Strohmeyer, Kathy Reschini Sweeney, Elaine Viets and Jacqueline Winspear.

Meanderings and Muses

Fan and avid reader Kaye Barley has amassed a surprising number of followers and guest bloggers. She’s a trendsetter in the mystery community, beloved by authors from every genre in the field.  This blog is a low key, friendly and informative must-read–especially if you are interested in the genre buzz.

Meritorious Mysteries

Mystery maven and North Caroline author escort Molly Weston’s blog features mystery author guest bloggers on Tuesdays and reviews of great mysteries not usually found on the NY Times Bestseller List.  Meritorious Mysteries offers readers crime fiction gems they might not otherwise find.


Hard-boiled and medium-boiled mystery and thriller authors take turns writing thoughtful and provocative essays.  Their website says: “…examines critical themes, historical archetypes and trends in publishing, marketing and the life of the published author.”  Bloggers are: Alafair Burke, Alex Sokoloff, Allison Brennan, Brett Battles, Cornelia Read, JD Rhoades, JT Ellision, Louise Ure, Pari Noskin Taichert, Robert Gregory Browne, Stephen jay Schwartz, Tess Gerristen, Toni Marie Causey and Zoe Sharpe.

Poe’s Deadly Daughters

Poe’s Deadly Daughters bills itself as “a blog for mystery lovers.”  Bloggers are Elizabeth Zelvin, Sandra Parshall, Sharon Wildin, Lonnie Cruse, Julia Buckley, and Cheila Connolly (aka Sarah Atwell).  Often it’s books, reading, the writing process, creativity, or language, but also a vast range of topics from crime and alcoholism to parenting and animals.

Seven Criminal Minds

Seven Criminal Minds includes 12 crime writers including Kelly Stanley, CJ Lyons, Meredith Cole, Sophie Littlefield, Bill Cameron, Shane Gericke, and Rebecca Cantrell.  Each week, they respond to questions about writing reading, murder and mayhem–focusing on one topic.

The Stiletto Gang

“Women writers on mission to bring mystery, human and high heels to the world.”  Visitors to TSG are treated to “healthy doses of humor, opinion, mysteries, and information.”  Gang members are Evelyn David, Marilyn Meredith, Maggie Barbieri, Rachel Brady, Misa Ramirez and Susan McBride.

Stop, You’re Killing Me

Stop, You’re Killing Me is a resource for lovers of mystery, crime, thriller, spy and suspense books.  “We list over 3,300 authors, with chronological lists of their books (over 38,000 titles), both series (3,700+) and non-series.  And it’s perfectly fine with us if you print our pages for your private use, especially for a trip to your local library or bookstore.”

Review: LaBrava by Elmore Leonard

LaBrava by Elmore Leonard
LaBrava by Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard
Harper, 2009 (orig. Penguin 1985)

“A while ago somewhere
I don’t know when
I was watching a movie with a friend.
I fell in love with the actress.
She was playing a part that I could understand.”

-Neil Young, “A Man Needs a Maid”

It took a chapter or two, after we’re finally introduced to Jean Shaw and what she means to secret service agent come photographer Joe LaBrava, that Neil Young’s song “A Man Needs a Maid” came to mind.  I’m sure we all have that actress, or actor, who we’ve seen and who in our youth we maybe fell a little bit in love with.   There might have come a point when that actress and the parts she plays have become nigh inseparable in our hearts and minds.  Of course, given today’s fascination with celebrity and the constant vulture like circling of paparazzi the illusion that films provided is somewhat lost.  The mystery and magic of actors and actresses is shattered by the flash of the camera  and the thunder of gossip across television screens and computer monitors.  A belief that is at least somewhat thematically related to LaBrava which, while being a crime thriller, is as much about the reality of of modern times shattering the illusions of the past as it about crime.

As a historical side note Labrava, published in 1983, was written just 4 years after the area was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places (1979) and only 3 years after the Miami race riots and after some 25 years of population increases resulting from Castro’s takeover in Cuba in 1959 .  To say it was an area in both deep economic and demographic flux is perhaps putting it mildly but I think it is worth noting.  It is perhaps interesting to note as well that two years later, in 1985, Miami Vice would take home four Emmies and would remain an example and monument to eighties New Wave culture for years to come.  The bright colors of Miami Vice stand in stark contrasted to faded glories described in Labrava.

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Review: The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

The Mystic Signs of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston
The Mystic Signs of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death
Charlie Huston
Ballantine, 2009

Web Goodhue, an unemployed former school teacher, spends most his days harassing his best friend.  Web is a bit of a jerk, a fact tolerated by his few friends because of the traumatic events that led to his unemployment and the fact that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress.  However, when an acquaintance named Po Sin offers Web the opportunity to work at his “Clean Team” post death/trauma cleaning company, Web accepts.  From Web is drawn into the strange underworld of crime scene cleaning as well the problems and shady dealings of one of Po Sin’s clients.
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Review: The Crazy Kill by Chester B. Himes

The Crazy Kill by Chester Himes
The Crazy Kill by Chester Himes

The Crazy Kill
Chester B. Himes
Vintage Press, reprint 1989 (orig. 1959)

First Line: It was four o’clock, Wednesday morning, July 14th, in Harlem U.S.A. Seventh Avenue was as dark and lonely as haunted graves.

Well last week’s snow left me plenty of time to get ahead on my reading but the general malaise and lethargy engendered by a snowy couple of days certainly put a damper on my writing.  The next couple of reviews should mark the tail end of my little project and each (barring this review, and the upcoming Mystical Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death review) should cover a different decade (a late minute addition to the experience).  Now, however we’re looking at another crime thriller by the oft-overlooked (though less so in recent years) Chester Himes.  I first experienced Himes’ fiction in college while reading A Rage in Harlem (originally titled For Love of Imabelle) and found his work fascinating though, for my tastes at least, less compulsively readable then other authors of the same genre thanks in part to Himes’ tendency towards the surreal and outright absurd.

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