Sunday, October 19, 2014

THE DROP a Hard-Edged Crime Piece

The Drop by Dennis Lehane is a tough, grim crime story set on the hard-scrabble streets of south Boston. This short novel features rough, blue collar characters whose terse dialogue reflects the worn bleakness of the neighborhood around them.

Bob Saginowski is a bartender at a run down local bar. His older, bitter cousin Marv Stipler, a minor mobster, once owned the bar until the tougher Chechen mob took it away from him. The bar is now used as a money drop for the Chechens' illegal activities.

When the bar is robbed one night and the mob money stolen, the violent Chechens want answers from Bob and Marv. Another problem emerges for Bob when he finds an abused puppy in a trashcan and takes the dog home to care for it. Then a sociopath ex-con named Eric Deeds shows up and says the dog is his and he wants it back or else.

Once set in motion along these lines, the story moves inexorably toward violent events, as if its characters are hopelessly locked in by their own warped natures. The Drop is a fast reading, gripping tale that will be appreciated by those who like hard nosed crime fiction.

BEACH RATING: 4 palm Trees

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

WALKING DEAD Begins Nightmarish New Season

The Walking Dead (AMC Cable TV) begins its fifth season on October 12th. The series follows the aftermath of a viral plague that has turned most of the human population into walking dead predators. A small ban of uninfected survivors struggles to stay alive in a bleak post-disaster world that has left civilization destroyed.

The strength of the series lies in its characters. The close-knit group depend on each other for protection and support as they try to make it through each dangerous day. They take care of each other. They have each other's backs. They work together as a tested, hardened unit against outside threats. It's the only way they can continue to stay alive in a nightmare world.

The vicious Walker zombies are infested everywhere. They hunt mindless and hungry for any healthy human flesh. The survivors are continually under siege by the Walkers. One wrong turn into a Walker swarm can mean a horrifying death.

Just as dangerous are the rival human bands working to carve out their own survival sanctuaries. The new season opens with the survivors having been captured and held prisoner by a ruthless gang at a place called Terminus. A violent, bloody battle is coming between the two groups to see which one of them lives.

The Walking Dead is both Horror story and grim survival epic. For the survivor band, the search to find a place where they will be finally safe at last may be forever elusive.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees

Friday, September 26, 2014

PERFIDIA by James Ellroy a Lurid Noir Crime Epic

Perfidia by James Ellroy is a lurid, sprawling juggernaut of a crime novel that pre-dates Ellroy's famed Black Dahlia-L.A. Confidential noir trilogy of Los Angeles in the late 1940s to mid 1950s.

This new novel begins in late 1941, just before the Pearl harbor bombing by Japan. The looming war and anti-Japanese fever serves as a backdrop to a politically hot murder case: the gruesome deaths of a local Japanese family by unknown killers.

Ellroy brings back familiar characters from his earlier L.A. novels. Captain William Parker, a morally ambivalent figure, later to become LAPD Chief. Detective Dudley Smith, the brutal, corrupt leader of an in-house police strong-arm squad. New character Hideo Ashida, a Japanese LAPD criminologist, is torn by internal conflicts as he works the murder case of the Japanese family.

Perfidia portrays an LAPD awash in corruption, dirty politics, and off-the-books cop beat-downs. The police are at their dirtiest during the cruel, indiscriminate roundups of local Japanese-Americans for internment as war breaks out. Captain Parker and Dudley Smith use all of it to pursue their own private agendas within the LAPD, and against each other.

Perfidia is an epic read, written in the author's trademark machine-gun style -- raunchy, driven, at times near-manic. The novel is salted with sleazy Hollywood dirt and scenes of raw, broken-teeth violence.

Crime fiction readers should find this one compelling and sure to be on the Best-of-2014 list.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees

Thursday, September 11, 2014

GRACEPOINT a Chilling new TV Mystery

Gracepoint (FOX TV) is a new 10-part series that premieres October 2nd. This sinister psychological mystery is based on the original BBC series Broadchurch, which was a hit in Britain.

The location for the American version has been moved to Gracepoint, a small California seaside town. The murdered body of a local child has been found on the beach. As police investigate, the case becomes a character-driven puzzle that points to one of the town residents being the killer.

An added problem is that one of the police detectives is a woman who grew up in Gracepoint. She personally knows people who may become suspects in the case. But can one of these neighbors she has long known truly be a child killer?

The British series version was a dark, tense drama with a shocking ending when the killer's identity was ultimately revealed. For those who have not seen the British series, Gracepoint may be a chilling new fall mystery treat.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hot New Mystery/Crime Books Upcoming For Fall

Fall 2014 will see the release of new Mystery/Crime novels by big name authors. Here are some top titles to look for:

Perfidia by James Ellroy - Set in Los Angeles in the early 1940s, this novel pre-dates Ellroy's famous Black Dahlia-L.A. Confidential Noir trilogy. The savage murder of a Japanese family creates a political firestorm in the city. (September)

The Secret Place by Tana French - A new psychological crime drama for the Dublin Murder Squad of this Irish author's previous novels. A boy is found murdered on the grounds of a private girls' boarding school. (September)

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly - Hard nosed LAPD detective Harry Bosch returns to take on a new Open-Unsolved case. A victim dies belatedly from a bullet that had been lodged in his body nine years earlier. (November)

The Promise by Robert Crais -  Unconventional L.A. private eye Elvis Cole is back in a case that begins with a missing woman and leads to missing explosives and a terrorist cell. (November)

Deadline by John Sandford - Latest in the Virgil Flowers series. A local reporter in a Minnesota small town is found murdered. (October)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

COLD IN JULY a Twisted, Surprising Noir Crime Drama

Cold in July is a new movie release that begins as one kind of Noir Crime plot, then twists unpredictably into something entirely different. A single, random violent incident sets off a chain of unforeseen events that plummet into a grotesque place.

The plot opens with a home break-in and the intruder being shot to death by the home owner. Then the dead burglar's father shows up looking for revenge against the home owner and his family.

We think we know where this is headed --- a family being stalked by a psycho, with echoes of the crime classic Cape Fear. But then the plot shifts unexpectedly, as it turns out the burglar who was shot was not who the police claim that he was.

The plot wrenches sideways repeatedly, each time taking us into a surprising new situation.  With a final, stunning switch, the real truth of events becomes all too clear. It's an ugly, stomach-turning revelation that drives the main characters --- the home owner, the vengeful father, and a cowboy private investigator --- into a fateful, violent reckoning.

Cold in July is a tense, disturbing ride with a tightly knotted plot that fans of dark, Neo-Noir Crime dramas should enjoy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

UNDER THE DOME Veers Off Track This Season

Under the Dome (CBS TV) had a very popular first season last year as a summer mini-series. The show is based on a Stephen King novel about a small Maine town trapped under a huge, impenetrable dome that appears mysteriously without explanation.

The series is back this summer for a new season, with decidedly mixed results. Some main characters have undergone abrupt behavior switches. Other new characters who were never in the first season appeared conveniently from someplace inside the sealed dome.

The basic plot of survival inside the dome has veered uncertainly all over the place. Strange new phenomena occur suddenly, apparently controlled by the Dome. Characters muse vaguely about "what the Dome wants." The main plot line of escaping the prison of the dome seems to be going nowhere.

The problem here is taking an initial intriguing plot situation and trying to stretch it too far by continually adding new filler complications. We've seen this happen before with TV series that ran out of gas struggling to sustain an opening premise. Under the Dome started strong last year, but how much longer can it go without supplying real answers about the Dome?