I was late to the party in terms of discovering Black Library’s epic Warhammer 40,000 events story lines. When I became a fan of 40K books the “Horus Heresy” novels the series already had 20 entries, but once I discovered those book I quickly became a fan. So I was very intrigued when Black Library announced they were kicking off a year long novel event titled “The Beast Arises.” Making the event even more intriguing was the fact that one of my favorite 40K writers, Dan Abnett, was kicking it off with the first novel, “I Am Slaughter.”
One of my favorite elements of 40K fiction are the settings. The best ones really take you to some fascinating worlds and “I Am Slaughter” did just that. Abnett began by taking up to the front lines of a planet called Ardamantua, a world just six weeks away from Terra by warp travel, where the Imperial Fists Space Marine Legion had embarked upon a campaign to exterminate a threatening alien species that recently emerged there. We’re also taken to Holy Terra for some scenes of political machinations and spycraft. That was a treat because it’s rare that a 40K novel heads back to Earth.
What made the trip to Earth even more fascinating though was the time in which “I Am Slaughter” and “The Beast Arises” series is set, the 32nd millenium. So the Horus Heresy is over and Earth has healed, but the scars still run deep. What’s especially interesting though is the Imperium is at relative peace, and that’s not something I recall reading or hearing about in 40K books. It makes for an interesting time period. Humanity is still adjusting to the physical death of the God Emperor (who is kept alive but in a vegetative state via the Golden Throne) and many of the other great heroes lost during the Horus Heresy, like some of the Space Marine Primarchs, but it is doing it’s best to move forward.
That of course doesn’t last long though because we know the whole point of “The Beast Arises” event is a massive threat to the Imperium is going to rear it’s head, and by the end of “I Am Slaughter” it does, and in a major way. I don’t want to say too much about the extent of the threat and it’s nature because it remains a mystery for most of the book and its scope and scale is one of “I Am Slaughter’s” fun reveals. What I will say is it involves an established 40K foe that I generally don’t find that interesting. Abnett makes it work though. He really plays up the frightening nature of the enemy and their new status quo.
Another element that Abnett exceeds at is his cast of characters. Much of the action in “I Am Slaughter” revolves around the Space Marines of the Imperial Fists legion, and what I like about that is when Abnett writes Space Marines he really dives into the customs and traditions that makes a particular legion tick. You come away from the book with a good sense of what that particular legion is all about.
With the Imperial Fists Abnett shows you there a lot of fascinating things going on. The first thing is that these are proud warriors who believe more than anything in standing and holding your ground. That really gives the scenes where the Imperial Fists characters collide with the mysterious threat an epic feel. Abnett is already fantastic with action scenes, but the final ones really crackle with a sense of power and poignancy that comes from standing tall in the face of impending doom.
The other fascinating thing about the Imperial Fists is at this point in time they’re a Legion that’s just gettng back into the field. For so long, many of their members stood guard defending Terra, and the Imperial Palace in particula,r and in the book they’ve stood at their posts against no real threats for decades.
Abnett spends much of his time with the Imperial Fists in “I Am Slaughter,” but we do get to meet some interesting human characters as well. Many of them serve supporting roles, but much of the Earth scenes involve a fascinating character named Drakan Vangorich, the grandmaster of the Imperium’s Officio Assassainorium. We get to see Vangorich navigate the byzantine schemes and machinations of the High Lords of Terra and we get to see him put a mysterious plan in play. So “I Am Slaughter” is both a war novel and a tale of political intrigues, and both parts are equally fascinating.
The only real criticism I can offer of the book is that for some it may be a little too short in length, but I didn’t mind it that much. It felt right to me especially when you consider it’s the first chapter in a larger narrative. That meant much of “I Am Slaughter” involves setting the stage for things to unfold later, but Abnett does so with a potent cocktail of mystery, intrigue, and all out action. Plus, as I said, we get some great character work with the Imperial Fists. So with “I Am Slaughter” “The Beast Arises” event is off to a fantastic start. I eagerly await “Predator and Prey,” the second chapter in the story line.
One of the things I loved about Alex Segura’s debut novel “Silent City” was that it was something you don’t often see in the private detective genre, an origin story. In the book you got to follow disgruntled, hard drinking Pete Fernandez on his journey from worker at a Miami newspaper to becoming a private detective. It was a rare tale for the genre and did some incredibly cool things. So I was excited to see where Segura took Pete in his follow up book “Down the Darkest Street” (which will be available April 12th. I was lucky enough to score an ARC) Having just finished the book I’m happy to report that in it Segura has once again done something cool and different with Pete. He’s shown that the origin story can be a much more complex and entertaining tale that involves more than a person deciding to become something.
In crime fiction life is often complicated, brutal, and messy. Discovering your true calling doesn’t necessarily mean your life will be better and your personal demons will be silenced. Or you can be great at something and because life gets in the way you fail miserably. So the origin story is a great heroic thing, but it’s nice to see here that becoming who you are meant to be isn’t always a linear journey. As Segura expertly shows, some times it’s a case of one step forward and three steps back.
That’s what happened with Pete when Segura picks up with him in “Down the Darkest Street.” He tried being an unlicensed private eye and failed. He’s living on some savings and passing the time working in a friend’s used book store. Plus he’s wrestling with his alcoholism and haunted by all the violence and death he witnessed in the previous book. So he’s in a pretty realistic and dark place.
Pete is also still very much a mercurial tempered person who often makes poor choices and can be a real jerk at times. So he’s a hard person to like, but he’s a fascinating character to read about and root for. That’s because even though Pete might not see it in himself Segura’s prose shows us that Pete is a capable and cunning investigator who genuinely wants to do good. So he’ll disappoint you and break your heart some times by being a jerk, but like the few friends he has left at the beginning of the novel, you root for him to make the right choices and do good because you see his potential.
In “Down the Darkest Street” Pete is once again thrust into situation where he can do a lot of good or a whole lot of damage to himself and the people around him because Miami is once again being menaced by a dangerous and shadowy killer, but unlike the Silent Death (the antagonist of “Silent City”) this killer isn’t a professional one. He’s a serial killer. I don’t want to say much about the killer and spoil anything, but I will say he’s a pretty creepy villain that you want to see brought down and there’s some fun reveals about him.
Some of the surviving characters of “Silent City” also return like Pete’s ex-girlfriend Emily, and her jerkass husband Rick, but my favorite returning character is Pete’s friend Kathy, who’s working as a reporter in this story. I love that Kathy is a noble, but human character and that she doesn’t suffer Pete’s B.S. with a smile They’ve got a fun rapport.
We also meet a number of fascinating new characters like two FBI agents investigating the same murders as Pete, and Pete’s good natured, burly, and burnout friend Dave, who owns the book store Pete works at. Dave is probably my favorite new character. Early on in the book you see that he is prepared for violence and can handle himself in a fight and Segura also hints at his connections with certain elements of the Miami underworld. So Dave is almost kind of a burnout muscle figure for Pete. I love those types of characters in private eye fiction.
The other major character in “Down the Darkest Street” is of course the city of Miami. It’s Segura’s hometown and he shows it by really giving you a sense of the city. Too often when we see Miami in fiction it’s all glitz, glamour, and beautiful people and places. In this book you get some of that, but Segura also shows you the decadence and grit lurking just below that shiny, pretty surface and that the city is also home to real people struggling to get by.
The action, pace, and revelations in “Down the Darkest Street” are all well done. It’s a book that you will finish quickly because ultimately it’s a gritty, gripping. character driven tale of a guy struggling with his personal demons and trying to do some good while trying to come to grip with the fact that he has a knack for rooting out and confronting corruption and evil. It was a hell of a book and I can’t wait to see where Segura takes Pete next.
One of the reasons why I love the Warhammer 40,000 universe that Games Workshop and the authors of their fiction imprint, the Black Library, have cooked up is it’s jam packed with fun and fascinating characters and concepts. In the Horus Heresy series, which chronicles the titular galactic civil war that sets up the status quo of the 40K universe, we get to meet many legendary figures and military units and watch them make them make monumental choices that echo throughout history. So far almost each one of the novels I’ve read have focused on a different Adeptus Astartes or Space Marine legion, genetically engineered super soldiers tasked with uniting the scattered remnants of humanity into a galactic empire.
Each of these legions have their own customs, legends, and heroic figures, but only one chapter is so shrouded in mystery that they actively cultivate multiple and contradictory legends about themselves and that’s the Alpha Legion. That enigmatic aura and their willingness to use whatever tools are necessary to get the job done make the Alpha Legion, a bad-ass, fascinating, and incredibly cool group. I imagine it also makes them pretty hard to write about since you want to include some insights into what makes the Sons of Alpharius [Alpharius is the primarch; a sort of demi-god and leader of the Alpha Legion] tick, but you don’t want to ruin their mystique.
So in the seventh Horus Heresy novel, “Legion” Dan Abnett was faced with an incredibly difficult task; chronicle the choices and events that lead the Alpha Legion to side with the other traitor Space Marine legions during the Horus Heresy. Abnett rose to the challenge too. “Legion” is a fantastic novel packed with great characters and exciting action that not only fleshes out the Alpha Legion it makes them cooler and even more identifiable. This is a novel about characters who will come to be known as some the greatest villains in 40K history and I found myself cheering them on! That’s an amazing feat because while I think the traitor legions are great villains I almost never find myself agreeing with any of their point of views let alone cheering them on.
In “Legion” Abnett perfectly employs the Sons of Alpharius. This is a group that’s all about controlling the knowledge others have of them. Their members are known for telling outsiders that they are Alpharus and each Alpha cultivates an appearance similar to their primarch. So it’s fitting that in “Legion” most of the scenes Abnett gives us with his title characters comes via the perspective of outsider characters or operatives that are slowly being initiated into the Alpha Legion’s shadowy world. When we’re given a scene with just Alpha Legion Space Marines interacting it’s usually to let us know that what we just saw in the previous scene may not be the truth.
Doing something like that can be tough when your readers are coming to your book to meet and observe Space Marines, but Abnett makes it work by giving us a fascinating cast of human characters that are drawn into the Alpha Legion’s orbit. The bulk of them come from a storied Imperial Guard unit (The Imperium of Man’s human foot soldiers) that fought to help unite the warring nations of Earth. In “Legion” we join these soldiers in the middle of a disastrous campaign to bring a planet of resistant humans into the Imperium of Man. Because the campaign is not going well the Alpha Legion is asked to assist.
Early into the book we find out that the Alpha Legion were drawn to the planet thanks to machinations of a mysterious alien secret society called the Cabal, and their seemingly immortal psychic human agent, John Grammaticus, who has infiltrated the Imperial Guard unit. John is a pretty interesting and identifiable character. Abnett does a great job fleshing out his powers, cunning, and world weariness.
We meet many other interest members of the Imperial Guard unit, but my favorite that we follow in “Legion” is an idealistic and noble officer named Peto Soneka who gets drawn into the Alpha Legion’s world, and much to his chagrin finds himself helping the ruthless and pragmatic Space Marine Legion.
As I said, the Alpha Legion does spend a lot of time shrouded in secrecy, but we do get to spend enough time with them to understand who they are, how they work, and what drives them. These are some of the most exciting portions of “Legion.” It’s great seeing the Sons of Alpharius in action, and the sequences that reveal the reasons why the Alpha Legion chooses to side with Horus’ traitor legions are fantastic, mind blowing and powerful revelations.
So I’m only seven books into the Horus Heresy series, but for me “Legion” is one of the best books in the series so far. When I finished the book all I could do was say, “Wow!” It left me stunned and excited to spend more time with the Alpha Legion who I now find even more fascinating.
I was born in 1976. So for me the ’70s is a decade I can only experience by looking back at history or some of the film, television, books, comics, and music that was produced in that era. It seems pretty clear though that decade was a great time for crime fiction and it’s also a great era to set a pulp crime tale; the mob was this organization of almost mythic power and corruption was everywhere. In his new novel “Young Americans” writer Josh Stallings takes readers back to that time period, by melding a heist story worthy of the great Richard Stark with a subculture he was part of and loved, the Glam Rock era. The result is a powerful, fun, and exciting crime tale.
“Young Americans,” (named after the David Bowie album) kicks off in mid December of 1976 in Northern California. In the opening chapters we meet Sam, a stripper who has run afoul of a powerful rural crime boss and the only way to save herself is by returning to the family business, thievery. So Sam returns home to San Francisco and assembles a heist crew to help her get out from under the crime lord’s thumb and perhaps start a better life. We follow her and her friends and family as they form a plan, gather the materials they need, and case their target. We then go along on the daring New Year’s Eve heist of a packed disco and then the story picks up even more power and momentum as the aftermath of the heist puts Sam and company in the crosshairs of a number of powerful and dangerous enemies.
So “Young Americans” is a fun and exciting tale full of twists, turns, and great action, but it’s real strength is it’s great cast of complex, fun, and well developed characters. Our chief protagonists are Sam, a tough and cunning thief with a devotion to both her biological and chosen families; and her brother Jacob whose smarts got him shut out of the family business. So when we meet him Jake is a bright kid obsessed with the great films of his era and the great rock ‘n roll, and when his sister comes home he insists on being part of her plans to get out of trouble.
Jake’s friend Terry, a smart jock turned glitter rock kid also becomes part of the crew. Rounding out the team are Sam’s old partners in crime Candy and my favorite character in the book Valentina, an African American transgender woman. I don’t want to spoil anything by talking too much about why I like Val, but let’s just say she’s incredibly charismatic and a bad-ass.
We also meet a number of colorful, eclectic, and cool characters over the course of “Young Americans.” One of my favorites ended up being Jo jo a gay, kindly, mob enforcer with a love for ’70s TV.
“Young Americans” shines a light on how cool, capable, and tough Stallings core cast is, but the author also really shows off their humanity as well. We get to see them in their element and we get to see them dealing with the physically and emotionally taxing consequences of their actions. Those are my favorite types of crime novels; the ones where you get both thrills and excitement and the brutal and painful costs of violence. It’s a type of novel that Stallings is a master at telling too. He proved it with his Moses McGuire trilogy of novels and proves it once again here.
So “Young Americans” has a different kind of feel than Stallings previous work, but it contains all of the elements I’ve come to love about his writing: fun action, gritty street level crime, fascinating characters, and powerful and poignant drama. For me it reads like a mash up of the lurid, lightning charged rock of the post-glam punk band the Cramps and Richard Stark’s awesome Parker novels.
The novels of Robert Crais are one of the reasons why I’m a crime fiction fan. That’s because one Saturday afternoon I was walking through my library’s mystery section looking for something to read and I came across “Stalking the Angel,” the second book in his series starring Los Angeles P.I. Elvis Cole and his partner, bad-ass ex-marine and ex-cop of few words Joe Pike. I was hooked and immediately devoured the rest of the books in the series that had been released at that point.
Over the years I’ve kept up with Crais’ work. His novels have always been entertaining and packed with interesting characters, but over the last few years something really exciting has happened. Crais, who was already great to begin with, keeps getting better and better.
His last Elvis Cole novel “Taken,” which employed multiple perspectives beyond just Elvis’ first person one was amazing. Then his follow up, “Suspect,” which introduced readers to Los Angeles police officer Scott James and his new K-9 partner, Maggie, was awesome and heartbreakingly beautiful. It featured chapters from both Scott and Maggie’s point of view, and the chapters from Maggie’s perspective were so well written and perfectly captured a dog’s sense of loyalty to their pack and how their sense of smell colors the way they perceive the world. In Crais’ latest novel he brings Elvis and Joe and Scott and Maggie together and the result is another powerful, exciting, and incredibly moving tale.
I can’t say much about the plot of “The Promise” because that would spoil some of the book’s fun reveals, but early on Elvis is hired by a client to find a missing woman. The initial trail takes him to an Echo Park house on a rainy night. It’s there where Cole’s path intersects with Scott and Maggie and a vicious career criminal. What follows is a compelling hunt for the truth as Elvis, Joe, Scott, and Maggie try to uncover what really happened in Echo Park and stay out of a criminal’s crosshairs.
In “The Promise” Crais once again masterfully employs multiple perspectives. We of course get to spend time with Elvis and his first person perspective, but we also get to follow Scott, and once we again we get to see the world through Maggie’s eyes and nose. The fact that some of my favorite chapter’s in a crime novel come from a dog’s P.O.V. really says something about how great of a writer Crais is and how much he understands dogs.
I was also excited that we got some chapters from the perspective of Elvis and Joe’s ally, Jon Stone, an ex Delta Force operator and soldier of fortune, who Crais really started to explore in “Taken.” In “The Promise” we get some more insight into what makes Jon tick and what he’s capable of. It’s pretty fascinating stuff. I hope Crais continues to write about Stone. I would even love to see a novel where he plays a starring role.
“The Promise” also features chapters from the points of view of new characters and a character we’ve met before that we only got to see through another character’s eyes. The new character is the book’s villain, Mr. Rollins. He’s another character I can’t say too much about except that he reminded me of a nastier version of Neil McCauley, Robert Deniro’s character from Michael Mann’s masterpiece “Heat.” The familiar character is Scott James’ sergeant, Dominick Leland, who we met in “Suspect.” Leland is a great character and I loved the chance to step into his world for a chapter and see just how much dogs mean to him.
Again, I have to be vague about the plot and the action of “The Promise” because I don’t want to take away any enjoyment from reading the book, but what I can say is this is a book loaded with emotional power. Crais expertly conveys the drives of all his characters. It’s powerful, haunting, and in some cases so moving you may want to have some tissues nearby to wipe your eyes. That emotional resonance gave the narrative power and momentum. It made for a quick and highly enjoyable reading experience.
So once again I’m happy to report that with “The Promise” Robert Crais has delivered another fantastic crime tale, and continues his streak of getting better and better with each novel. It’s an exciting thing to have happen to one of your favorite authors and I can’t wait to see where Crais takes his readers next.
So once again I start off another book review with a spoiler warning. If you’re not caught up on Michael Connelly’s amazing series of police procedural novels starring Harry Bosch do yourself a favor and go get caught up right now, because I feel there’s no way I can properly discuss or elaborate on the events of the latest book in the series “The Crossing” without touching upon the end of the series last novel, “The Burning Room.”
Okay, for those of you still here “The Crossing” is another phenomenal example of why the Bosch series has remained so fresh, relevant, and exciting for 23 years now. Over the course of those almost two and a half decades It’s main character Police Detecive Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch has changed. The cases he investigates and the choices he makes impact his life, and we readers have been there to see all the heartbreaking, poignant, and powerful effects they’ve had on his life. As I hinted at earlier the choices Bosch made at the end of “The Burning Room” had a huge impact because they effectively ended his association with the Los Angeles Police Department.
When we catch up with Harry in “The Crossing” we see he’s been cut off from his calling of finding justice for those who no longer can and his life has kind of become directionless. Then his half-brother, another one of Connelly’s unforgettable creations, defense attorney Michael “Mickey” Haller, offers him a chance to get back to his mission, but to do that he has to do the unthinkable. He has to “cross over” to the other side and help his brother, the self styled “Lincoln Lawyer” prove a client’s innocence.
Following Bosch as he comes to term with his brother’s offer and with the fact that he doesn’t have the shield of his badge anymore to protect him in his investigations is fascinating. He’s a resourceful detective trying to find his way in a new world, one where his brother cops are going to turn their back on him and hassle him for “Crossing” over. Some readers might remember that several years back Harry gave up his Detective’s Shield for a few novels and became a private investigator, but what makes “The Crossing” different is the fact that in those novels Harry wasn’t actively working for a Defense attorney, something that would be anathema to him.
So this is definitely a novel where Bosch grows and changes as a character, and it’s exciting to watch him try and succeed at some things he’s never done and also make some large mistakes. It also gives the book a timely feel and forces Bosch to confront some dark truths about the criminal justice system.
“The Crossing” isn’t the first time Bosch and Mickey Haller have been in a book together, but it’s less like the novels “The Brass Verdict”and “The Reversal” where the characters were almost co-headliners. This novel is Bosch’s, but we do get to spend some time with Mickey and he remains a fascinating and fun supporting character. The chemistry he shares with his half-brother is fascinating.
We also get to spend some more time with Bosch’s daughter, Maddy, who we’ve watched grow up these last few novels. She’s getting ready to graduate high school and her relationship with her father is interesting and feels authentic. I hope if Connelly ever retires Bosch that he’ll focus on crime and detective stories with Maddy.
Another interesting aspect of “The Crossing” that I don’t believe Connelly has done much of in the past is he gives readers a chance to spend some time with some characters that are ultimately the villains of the story. We actually follow them for a few chapters. I don’t want to say much about those characters or the chapters for fear of spoilers, but they’re pretty interesting and effective. The more you spend with these characters the more you want to learn about their involvement in the story and the more you want them taken down.
So “The Crossing” is another reason why Michael Connelly is the best Police Procedural writer working today and a fantastic novelist. You get to follow character who feels like an old friend at this point through a powerful and exciting crime tale and a crossroads point in his life. The “Burning Room” left me excited for Connelly’s next Bosch novel and the finale of “The Crossing” has me even more excited to see what’s next for Connelly’s shared universe of characters.
I try to keep all my reviews spoiler free, but John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel picks up directly from the explosive conclusion of the last book in the series, “The Wolf in Winter.” It also answers some questions about the larger supernatural story the writer has been telling over the course of the series, while raising more interesting questions. So I’m going to have to kick this review off with a very large SPOILER WARNING! If you haven’t read any of the books in Connolly’s Parker series go read them, and if you’re behind get caught up! you’ll be glad you did!.
So now that that’s out of the way let’s dive into the latest Parker novel “A Song of Shadows.” It’s quite an interesting read seeing how for most of it our lead character is trying hard to recover from the near fatal shooting he suffered at the end of “The Wolf in Winter.” So Parker is broken in body, but not mind or spirit. Connolly picks things up with his protagonist renting a house in a Small Maine vacation style town named Boreas So there’s a cool and almost melancholy vibe when things begin. It’s almost like the fascinating first season of BBC’s “Broadchurch”; not in terms of plot, but initial mood or tone.
Parker is in this town trying to get better with the assistance of his friends (two of the best supporting characters in crime– and heck any genre fiction!) Angel and Louis. It’s nice to have Angel and Louis as part of the story from the get go. It makes sense too considering these guys would be there for Parker as he’s trying to overcome his devastating physical injuries and decide if he’s going to go back to his old job as a private detective or become something different.
So Parker is testing himself physically day by day with walks and strengthening exercises and then trouble arrives to test him mentally and spiritually. That trouble appears in two forms; a body that washes up on shore and a haunted single mother neighbor whose sick daughter Parker bonds with. That connection opens the door to the emergence of a character who has become a regular reoccurring character in these books, Parker’s daughter, Samantha, who comes to visit him and has a playdate with his neighbor’s daughter.
I’ve always liked Sam. She’s been a cute and interesting character, but in “A Song of Shadows” you get a glimpse of just how interesting Sam really is. Questions are raised like does seeing and communicating with ghosts run in Parker’s family? And like Parker, does Sam have a larger supernatural destiny? Connolly provides some definite answers to some of those questions and some cool, creepy, and tantalizing hints about the others.
The parts with Sam were some of my favorite sections of the book, but the main mystery is fairly interesting as well. The washed up body puts Parker in the sights of hitman and a sinister conspiracy of people who have lots of blood on their hands; blood that’s decades old. So it’s not his reoccurring foes, The Believers, but it’s a conspiracy of people who are arguably just as evil, if not more so.
Investigating those crimes and recuperating brings Parker back into the circle of some other fun and fascinating faces, both old and new. Characters like the Fulci brothers and Parker’s Ex Rachel make some entertaining appearances, but I also enjoyed spending time with Parker’s state police contact Gordon Walsh, who finds himself becoming even more immersed in the Detective’s dark and sinister world. I also liked the Chief of Police in Boreas who found herself strangely drawn to Parker.
As far as big cases and explosive action go the one in “A Song in Shadows” is relatively quiet. Some people might be disappointed in that, but it makes sense. Ultimately, the novel is not about that. It’s a more quiet piece about a wounded man finding his way back and deciding what kind of destiny he wants for himself, while also discovering if he has any choice in that destiny. What Parker finds in those last pages of the book are both chilling and exciting. It sets the stage for some truly epic stories and takes the series in a new and interesting direction. As always, I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.