Archive for the ‘Reviews/Recommendations’ Category

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Review: William Boyd’s Solo in the Washington Post

October 13, 2013

Since my teenage years, I’ve been an avid James Bond fan—following both the novels and the films—and while the big-screen Bond may have gotten most of the attention in recent years, I’ve been equally intrigued with the last three books officially sanctioned by the Fleming estate, each featuring a different author: Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver, and now Solo by William Boyd. That last one strikes me as the boldest of the three in a number of ways, and I was pleased to review it for the Washington Post. Here’s a quick excerpt:

To some degree, a Bond book is a Bond book. M, Q Branch, Miss Moneypenny, some fast cars, some fast women, a little globe-trotting, a little fate of the world in the balance — then shake, don’t stir. But as with the various shifts in the Bond franchise, small changes can make big differences. Boyd’s Bond reveals himself to be reflective, at times even rueful, moved to fresh depths of moral awareness by thoughts of his past and observations about conflict and cruelty as his mission unfolds.

The full review can be found here. Art Taylor

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Review: Lillian & Dash by Sam Toperoff

August 26, 2013

Dashiell Hammett has figured frequently as a character in other writers’ fictions, often with a swift plot and a sharp dose of mystery and intrigue. But Sam Toperoff’s new novel Lillian & Dash takes a different approach to the iconic author and his long-time lover, playwright Lillian Hellman. Check out my review here. — Art Taylor

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Catching Up On My Reading….

July 21, 2013

Over the last week or so, I’ve been catching up on recent issues of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, taking some time to check out short stories by several friends—each of them a writer I admire tremendously. Just wanted to give a quick shout-out to those stories and to what stood out to me about each:

Harley Mazuk‘s “The Road Les Traveled” (EQMM‘s August 2013 issue) is another of the author’s Frank Swiver stories, about a PI in 1940s San Francisco. This one centers around a burlesque theater, a blacklisted screenwriter, and his wife—trouble with a capital T. While the plot is great fun, what I enjoyed most was Mazuk’s playfulness with details and language. When that troubled wife puts one some records and does a little shake and shimmy to lure Swiver into bed, he resists at first—and then comes a nice touch: “When Bessie Smith sang ‘Do Your Duty,’ I took Mrs. St. George to bed.” Later, during a fight scene, comes another like bit of language play: “He swung the other arm at me like a leg of mutton, and he caught me on the chops.” And cleverness too in the quantity and variety of alcohol that permeates the story as well—definitely put to good use!

In the latest EQMM, the September/October issue (on newsstands now), a trio of friends and fine writers have really delivered the goods:

  • In Dana Cameron‘s taut, tense “Dialing In,” a government-mandated assassination attempt goes badly wrong, leaving the shooter with lots of questions and some new missions of her own to carry through.
  • In David Dean‘s “In a Dark Manner,” a confession of teenage misdeeds takes some surprising turns—with just a hint of light peeking through the darkness.
  • And Brendan DuBois‘ “Breaking the Box” follows the ups and downs of a high-stakes police interrogation—and then, in a bit of brilliant sleight-of-hand, takes a very unexpected turn.

These tales reveal once more why these writers have long since been considered among the genre’s finest practitioners of the short story. Plenty more I’m still looking forward to reading in that issue as well, with stories by Doug Allyn, Jon L. Breen, and Ed Gorman and Ricky Sprague, among others—and so proud to be a part of it myself.

Beyond EQMM, I’ve also been sampling a few more of Cornell Woolrich‘s tales from the new Centipede Press collection Speak to Me of Death, but I have to admit that I think I’m going to give up on pushing through the rest of the book. While stories like “From Dusk to Dawn” and “Marihuana” (the last couple I read) offer those surprise endings that seem to be the hallmark of so much of Woolrich’s work—satisfying endings, I should stress, often with a cruel twist—the prose itself strikes me as so overwritten, both stylistically and in terms of sheer quantity, that it’s often tough going. And too often the characters act less like real people than like symbols for an idea or theme or like cogs in a plot, slowly turning and turning relentlessly in the same direction because that’s what the machinery needs. Historical interest there, of course, but there are simply other, better things for me to be reading right now…. — Art Taylor

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Review: Harlan Coben’s Six Years in the Washington Post

March 24, 2013

SixYearsAs I write in my Washington Post review of the new novel Six Years, Harlan Coben has long since established himself as the master of a certain kind of tale: the story of “a life suddenly unraveling, the past summoned back into a swiftly shifting present, secrets peeling back to reveal more secrets.” In this novel, college professor Jake Fisher seems to have the chance to reconnect with a lost love—if only he could prove that she actually exists! This latest outing displays clockwork precision in that regard, and while some aspects of the book defy reality, the overall effect is still both mesmerizing and surprisingly affecting. See my full review here. — Art Taylor

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Review: Emily Winslow’s “The Start of Everything” in the Washington Post

January 4, 2013

An American author living in Cambridge, England, Emily Winslow has now published two mysteries set in her new home. The latest, The Start of Everything, follows five narrators to piece together a complex tale centered on the corpse of a young woman found caught in a fen sluice gate. Here’s the start of my review in today’s Washington Post:

Fr. Ronald Knox, a founding member of Britain’s famed Detection Club, concluded his 1929 “Decalogue” for detective fiction with this rule: “Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.”

Despite being set in Cambridge and then in an English manor house, Emily Winslow’s second novel, The Start of Everything, is far removed from the Golden Age of British mysteries, but with the persistent doubling that dominates this intricately plotted tale, I could hardly help thinking about Knox’s rules. People are frequently mistaken for others. Pairs of objects play central roles (watches and sweaters, specifically). While no actual twins appear, the novel features two sets of brothers, and in one case the likeness between them provides both a poignant, unsettling scene of impersonation and a legacy of tension and trouble.

Read the full review here. — Art Taylor

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Review: Dashiell Hammett’s Return of the Thin Man in the Washington Post

November 19, 2012

I’ve long been a big fan of Dashiell Hammett‘s stories and novels (my favorite is his first book, Red Harvest), and like most folks, I also greatly admire the films adapted from his work: from tight adaptations like John Huston’s version of The Malteste Falcon to looser ones, including the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing. And then there’s that delightful series of Thin Man films that rose from Hammett’s final and most successful novel.

Fellow fans of those films will appreciate Return of the Thin Man, a new collection of screen stories Hammett wrote after the first Thin Man achieved such overwhelming success. But in some cases, those same fans might find themselves wanting to just turn back to the films themselves—necessarily so in some cases, as in Another Thin Man, when Hammett has Nick Charles explain “the electric-cord-gun-paper-water trick as it was used by the murderer” but doesn’t actually explain it himself! (Cue the DVD to see how it works….)

The central problem then, with these stories, is that they’re not finished products in their own right but just steps along the way to the final creation of the films themselves. But there’s still much to admire here, too. For a rundown of strengths and weaknesses of the new collection, check out my review in the Washington Post here. And for some additional perspectives, here’s NPR’s coverage of the new collection as well, including an interview with one of the book’s co-editors and a noted Hammett biographer, Richard Layman. — Art Taylor

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Review: B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger in The Washington Post

October 22, 2012

Having worked for many years at an art museum myself, I was very excited about the opportunity to review B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger, which takes readers into both the art world and the art forgery world through a tale inspired by the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery. There’s much to admire here, including both the main character, aspiring artist Claire Roth, who makes a Faustian bargain for a shot at fame, and — not unrelated — the novel’s overriding sense of moral consequence. But a central artistic decision kept nagging at me throughout the book, related to both the pleasures and the challenges of building a work of fiction on top of an actual event. Here’s my attempt at a catchy opening for the review:

In March 1990, two men disguised as police officers stole 13 works of art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum — works collectively valued as high as $500 million, the largest art heist in history. More than two decades later, authorities have still failed to produce any solid leads in the case, but pop culture has had fun locating the loot in a number of unlikely places. In May, Stephen Colbert confessed that he’d stolen Vermeer’s The Concert, the most valuable of the missing paintings. And two years ago on “The Simpsons,” Springfield police came across the same painting in the basement of Mr. Burns’s mansion. “Is it a crime to want nice things?” Burns asked.

Now another of the stolen masterworks seems to have turned up in B.A. Shapiro’s first novel, The Art Forger — but that word “seems” functions on a number of levels here.

Check out the full review here in The Washington Post. — Art Taylor

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