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Book Review- “Down the Darkest Street” by Alex Segura

January 23, 2016 Leave a comment

Down the Darkest StreetOne 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 choicesSegura 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.

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Categories: Book Review

Book Revew “Legion” by Dan Abnett

January 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Apha_Legion_PrimarchOne 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 Dan-coolwith 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.

Book Review- “Young Americans by Josh Stallings”

January 1, 2016 1 comment

Young AmericansI 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 JoshStallingsgreat 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.

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