Before the reviews, TK regrets to inform its millions of followers that we’ll be taking a temporary break from Temporary Knucksline book reviews for a few months. I’m simply overwhelmed with projects of my own. We’ll do one from time to time, I guess, but please do not send requests or ARCS or books until we announce we’re back in action. Okay, so here are four real good ones in the meantime …
Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayers … Charles “Chowder” Thompson is a rural crime lord, a big fish in a small but secure pond. He has the local law, Sheriff Jimmy Mondale, on his side, along with a couple of cohorts, one of which is feeling ambitious enough to reach toward the bigger fish in the bigger Kansas City pond. Chowder has a daughter rough and tough enough to avoid like the plague. So does Sheriff Jimmy, and although his daughter might be able to spell, she’s also a bit wilder than your average college kid (she likes to fire a gun while getting laid).
Then there’s Terry Hickerson, a supreme fuckup if there ever was one. He also has a cohort, Cal, and when they two aren’t robbing liquor and/or convenience stores, they’re plotting the next great American score, except they may well have pulled one off already. It involved a televangelist preacher, his proclivity for men, and blackmail. Not to be outdone in the family bowl, Terry also has a child, a boy named Wendell, and the author waxes some very humorous parenting via Terry.
Then there’s the apparent gum in the works of a town that has run smooth enough, minus a body or two (including those found burnt to a crisp in their cars) … He’s an assistant state attorney looking to make a name for himself, and he’s rattled the main players on this wonderfully dark rural stage.
What’s a father to do when he learns his daughter has been sexually active with someone they’d rather see dead first? What’s he to do when he also learns his partner’s daughter might’ve had something to do with it?
No spoilers here … Peckerwood features excellent writing, humor, dark that makes so-called “noir” look more albino than black, and some of the most engaging characters you’ll meet on the page. They’re not just mean, cruel, and vicious. Truth be told, you’ll like them, or at least respect them, because they exist in a world where blood comes first, loyalty second, and everything and everybody else are what they sort out, the wheat from the chaff.
Side note: When I first started reading Peckerwood, I thought: These guys make the mob look like cub scouts. It had to do with a particularly brutal scene. By book’s end, I’m forced to reconsider my original thought about rural gangs vs. the more formal mobs. To wit, in the end, they’re all the same. Where they’re successful, corruption holds fast … where they breakdown is where corruption is exposed. The violence, like ISIS beheadings, may be tough as a visual image, but in the end, dead is dead. Whether your head is cut off, you’re burned to death, somebody cracks your skull with a tire iron or Louisville Slugger, or a pair of bullets find their way behind one of your ears, dead is dead.
Get Peckerwood here:
Rubdown by Leigh Redhead … In an age of political correctness that precludes bad habits when speaking and writing (and probably thinking), it was a pleasure to see the word “gash” on the page again. Now, before you lose your shit and hurl “misogynist book reviewer” my way, calm your jets and think context, MFers.
I remember the first time I used that word on the page after meeting my wife. She was horrified (Catholic school girl, you know) … She said to me, she said, “That’s horrible. Do people really talk like that?” Even though she was brought up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (not nearly as tough as Canarsie, obviously), Ann Marie kept her distance from the kinds of crowds I associated with, so she really did draw a blank. “Yeah,” I told her. “Not often, but it’s out there. It’s a niche word, I guess.”
Then she called me an idiot.
By now you’ve figured out Rubdown features said controversial word on the page. It does, and it was a pleasure to see it again. The fact it was used by a female author makes it twice as nice. There’s quite a few politically incorrect words bandied about in this fine, fast, and funny PI crime novel. There’s a touch of the master, Vicki Hendricks, and some wonderful surprises (as those down under words go). It’s another language at times, but easy enough to figure out, and because the character, Simone Kirsch, is a former stripper and doesn’t have much of a filter, it’s a beautiful thing.
The other take I had on this book was, FINALLY, I’m reading a crime novel written by a woman that deals with the kinds of worlds I’m familiar enough with NOT to be offended by so-called misogynistic dialogue. As I stated in a tribute to my favorite crime writer, George V. Higgins, the men AND WOMEN of those worlds (including the Rubdown world) speak another language and are NO LESS men or women for it. It is the Rome they exist in and the language, you better believe, is Roman.
I guess this was the second in the Simone Kirsch mystery series, but it works fine as a standalone. Simone has a PI boss named Tony (the tough as nails type) and they get involved in the search for a missing supposed-to-be debutante (of sorts). The daughter of a high profile lawyer (they call them barristers) is off the reservation, possibly dealing with drugs and the sex industry. Simone is on her tail, except not inside the flat where she apparently kills herself. There’s an ex-boyfriend and his frustrations at failing to get down Simone’s pants/skirt/jogging shorts, etc., and when his current girlfriend gets pissed off enough, well … it’s some of the fun that continues throughout, to include witty sarcasm, some strong sexual tension, and an Aussie-China sex trade connection. The characters that inhabit the sex industry are as sympathetic and/or disturbing as the well-to-do lawyers and their quirks. It always depends on from which angle you get to see them. Ms. Redhead does a GREAT job of making all the peripheral characters in this book interesting, which lends even more credibility to Simone. The fact she has a tongue as sharp as a razor makes it fun to boot.
The author does a wonderful job with the sexual tension (ready, fellas?) … turns out women have the same lustful desires as men, and Simone isn’t shy about them. She’s also fallible, so when she comes very close to being a victim herself, we get to remember she’s one of the good guys (so to speak).
No spoilers here, not ever, but take a bite of this apple and you’re on your way to an entertaining start to finish read. I heard Ms. Redhead read at the Philadelphia Noir at the Bar, and she had the place in stitches at times. She knows how to weave a storyline that draws a reader onto the next page through to the end.
Rubdown is a fast-paced romp through the sex trades of our times, with a dynamic woman armed with witty cynicism and oozing sexuality. Readers are guaranteed to want more of Simone Kirsch as the pages turn with both anticipation and fear. Viva la Ms. Redhead!
Get Rubdown here:
American Static by Tom Pitts … it’s a thriller from very early on straight to the end, with a sadistic SOB (Quinn), a former dirty cop (Trembley), and another former cop, a guy we’d all like to be our grandfather (Carl). When Quinn picks up young Steven after the kid was robbed and left for broke, he takes him for a ride to San Francisco, where the action goes 100 mph to the end. There’s lots of bodies left in a wake of bad blood, and it all has to do with revenge.
Theresa is the woman of the moment in American Static; the daughter of a bad guy[(s)?] with enough clout to make bad things happen. The top dog claiming parental rights is no father of the year, but for some reason he wants his daughter back. Is it because she’s become drug addicted and basically homeless? Is it because he seeks to re-bond with a kid he never bonded with in the first place? Or is it something else? Or is it a combination of all of the above?
Orrrrr, is it politics?
Let's face it, most politicians "would crawl over their mothers to fuck their sisters" (or vice versa). Okay, but what about why the other guys are after her (her non-fathers ... or are they)? What can this poor kid mean to so many mean sons of bitches? And poor Carl, he’s lost his friend and partner on this wild ride … Can Carl save him? Can Carl save Theresa and Steven? Can he save himself? You’ll have to read to find out, but you’ll take a wild ride from the valley to the streets of San Francisco and wind up in the bowels of Oakland.
American Static is a missile on a rollercoaster of a ride, dripping with blood from blades through the hearts that are lost in San Francisco. You’ll turn the first few pages and won’t stop. It’s as simple as that.
Get American Static here:
Hunger by Knut Hamsun … It’s difficult to say exactly why this novel took me in and refused to let me go. Is it because I’ve gone through similar states of emotional confusion? Is it because my wheels have often turned too fast for the mind to allow rest (i.e., thinking taking the place of sleeping?) … Was it the good me countered by the bad me feeling guilty the good me wasn’t good for the right reasons and therefore was the bad me after all?
Confused? You might think so, but that’s how much of Hunger reads, minus the tirades, dizziness from lack of food, the vomiting from eating too fast after not eating for too long, etc. All I know is I read a book without a plot that I couldn’t put down, and I’ll likely read it again someday. My Facebook hero, Gonzalo Baaeza, recommended it, and it gets a super star review from me. There was more than a touch of Dostoevsky with our protagonist in Hunger, and the self-torture of a mind at battle with itself was every bit as real as caffeine headaches that last for hours (or days) at a time … but in a good way. In such a good way.
I’ll be revisiting Hunger again, but first I’ll want to read some more of what Hamsun wrote, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, before dying in disgrace for being a Nazi.
Get Hunger here:
Please Note: Temporary Knucksline will be taking a temporary break from book reviews for a few months while I catch up on some projects of my own. We’ll be back, so stay tuned …